This issue is dedicated to Dan Appelqvist - my prime example
Rrrrrrrr. Rrrrrrrr. Rrrrrrrr.
Irritated, Cronos Warchild grabbed the phone.
"Yeah?" he groaned, a vision of an evil monster wearing off in his subconsciousness.
There was a brief silence, then someone cleared his throat on the other end of the line.
"You Cronos Warchild?" a voice inquired.
"What's it to you? Know what time o'day it is?! I..."
"We've got an assignment for you, Warchild," the voice interrupted, "Get to H.Q. on the double!"
Why did everyone always want to call him when he was just having one of those fantastic dreams where he was single-handedly beating, nay, slaughtering the entire enemy forces of Spectra?! People never gave him any privacy. He hated all mankind for it. They were lucky they were the ones paying him, otherwise he would gladly have tested one of his recently acquired killing gadgets on them - it wouldn't have been pretty sight, even though he did like the sound of blood dripping on the floor.
Rrrrrrrr. Rrrrrrrr. Rrrrrrrr.
"Yeah!?" Cronos bellowed in the receiver that he snatched off the hook as if it was an insect that needed to be killed, "Warchild speaking, dumbhead! You'd better have a damn good excuse to bother me again at this Godforsaken hour!"
Another silence, that lasted maybe three seconds.
"Oh. I am so awfully sorry, sir," a feeble voice muttered on the other end, barely audible, "but it seems that I have dialled the wrong number."
Warchild's face went red, then purple and eventually took on a green hue. A deep grumbling sound emerged from his throat as he clenched his teeth, took a small device, held it close to the mouthpiece and resolutely pushed a button labelled "KILL".
"AAaarghh..!^$œ....mmmbblll*("œ$.....aaaaaaarrgghh!!!" it went on the other side of the phone, immediately after which the line went dead. Warchild looked at the device and cursed. The voltage had been set too low. Probably, the line had been the only thing to go dead. Lucky bastard.
Warchild's steps sounded heavy and damp as he walked through the early morning mist. The streets were wet. It had rained all night. The sun was about to throw some light onto the scene, but it had obviously decided the moment hadn't quite arrived yet.
A black cat flitted across Cronos' path. Lucky for it, it succeeded in getting away with its life instead of ending up as an easy breakfast snack for the mercenary annex hired gun. He cursed a string of curses as the cat escaped from his huge hands, only to keep on observing the violent human from a safe distance, partly hidden behind a pile of trashcans and other assorted garbage.
"GOVERNMENT BUILDING" it read in dimly lit lights ahead of him as he stopped. He rapped his gauntlet heavily on the door; it made an awful noise and someone had better open the door soon or the whole neighbourhood would be widely awake. But nobody did as of yet. Cronos rapped another time. If doors could groan, it would have.
After a while, someone lit a light in a house opposite the government building, after which a window was opened. A man's face appeared in it, sleep-infested.
"Hey buster!" the man yelled agitatedly, "You know what time it is?! If you don't quit that noise, I will get down and..."
The man's eyes went blank and his words died in his throat as Warchild turned around with the speed and agility of a panther. The man sighed deeply, then slid to the floor.
"Jack? What's happened? Jack!?" a female's voice started crying inside the house as she saw a small red spot become visible, wet and getting larger, just between the man's staring eyes.
Cronos turned around, ready to grant whoever startled him the fastest possible passage to the realm of the dead. Just in time, however, he recognized a butler in tails that had opened the door he had previously been abusing. Flicking the safety switch back in position, he put away his Exact-O-Kill Gun and followed the butler inside, muttering something about the time it had taken until someone had finally opened that bloody door.
"Good morning, Cronos," the prime minister greeted, ignoring Warchild's indignant look as he was ushered into the politician's office, "how are things going?"
Warchild merely continued looking at the man. Obviously he had not been ordered to get to H.Q. just so that people could inquire as to how things were going.
"Cut the crap," Cronos said, "Get down to business."
The prime minister felt ill at ease now he had seemed to have lost the initiative. He also didn't particularly like the fact that the mercenary seemed to refuse to say "Sir". He cleared his throat.
"We need you once more, Warchild," he said, "Top secret stuff. State security. That sort of thing."
Warchild kept looking at a spot a few inches behind the prime minister's head, apparently unmoved. The politician sifted in his seat, clearing his throat again.
"Ever heard of 'Thunder Master'?" the man ventured.
Cronos shook his head. "Something you can eat?"
"No, stupi...uuuuh...Mr. Warchild," the prime minister corrected himself, "it's a new and ultimate weapon we've designed. We want you to drive it. To hell and back. Right into enemy territory and back to base, some way to restore the unity in the world. The 'Thunder Master' is a spacecraft, but not just any craft. This one's about indestructible, and armed with tetranuclear propulsion missiles guided by undecodable oral frequency and a magnetic sustenation MV module with 117 GigaWatts per second firepower. It's controlled by a 128 bits Inmotofel T8006809080986 transprocessor at 4,77 GHz. Someone must fly it to a planet called Kryptium and annihilate some military installations that we believe can be dangerous to the earth. All we need, basically, is a daring pilot. You."
The man sighed as he relaxed again, feeling pretty pleased with himself. He had wanted to say something quite different from "daring pilot", but he had decided against using it what with Cronos being in the mood he was in.
Warchild sat down, still seemingly unaffected by what had been said.
"What's the pay?" he said levelly.
"Let's say fifty grand. Plus expenses."
"What currency?" Cronos asked, his interest aroused somewhat, "Lires, Yens, Dollars, Kruger Rands? Swiss Francs? Maybe even Dutch guilders? I don't accept pounds. Too unstable."
Every time Lord Blessington summoned this man, each time he had to make some sort of deal with him, tiny beads of perspiration came onto his forehead. He took his handkerchief and removed them. Then, carefully and meticulously, he folded the piece of textile and re-inserted it in his pocket, trying to keep his hands from shaking.
"Dollars," he said after clearing his throat once more, "On a Swiss account, of course, if need be."
Cronos looked thoughtfully at his gauntlet. The prime minister shifted on his seat uneasily - for all he knew the mercenary might be wondering what the result would be of that thing's impact on his bald head.
"No deal. Not enough," Warchild said finally, making a gesture as if he was going to leave the room - after having terminated this pitiful politician, of course. He hated mankind. He hated politicians in particular. Lord Blessington's handkerchief was drawn from his pocket again.
"Right, right. OK," Lord Blessington stuttered, trying to keep in control of the situation, "But I'll have to take this up with my superiors if you want the amount to..."
"Shut up, fool!" Cronos said, his voice thundering through the room and leaping at the poor politician from just about every corner of his mind, "You have no superiors. Or would you perhaps mean King Charles?"
Warchild's trigger finger itched - it was quite a while ago since he had killed his last politician, and he had certainly liked the hang of it. His Exact-O-Kill Gun seemed to sense this. It almost started to burn in Cronos' pocket, like money.
"Besides, midget," Warchild added as an afterthought, "I don't want none of your stinkin' money."
Lord Blessington glanced in the mirror that hung on the mantlepiece. Was he that small? Noone had called him 'midget' before. Nobody, that is, except possibly for His Royal Majesty.
"Then wat do you want?", the man ventured. He was beginning to look very nervous now, and acting accordingly. His hanky remained outside of his pocket now, too.
Warchild stood up and leaned menacingly across the heavy wooden table, making the prime minister shrink back in his chair, just out of reach of a red alarm button he was almost dying to press. Cronos seemed to stretch his hands out to Lord Blessington's throat, who closed his eyes frantically and imagined he saw a man clad in black, scythe in hand, beckoning him to come near.
Warchild took the prime minister's handkerchief instead, however, and wrung it out before the terrified man's face.
"You shouldn't perspire that much, Mr. Blessington, sir," Warchild exclaimed, his face brightening, "It's like waking me up too early in the morning - bad for you health."
Lord Blessington thought he was seeing angels already. He tried emphatically to hear their heavenly chants, but only Warchild's prediction of doom echoed through his mind. When he opened his eyes, all he could see was the massive figure of Warchild, holding a dry hanky in his outstretched hand. He noticed a small pool of fluid on his desk. He was still alive, or otherwise hell looked distinctly similar to his office.
"I'll take on the assignment," Warchild said, matter-of-fact. "Fifty grand. Sir." He added the last bit with a sneer.
He patted Blessington on his shoulder quite thoroughly, who immediately continued sweating rather vehemently.
"Only next time," Cronos said, putting sufficient threat in his voice to scare off a Blitzkrieg army, "don't call early."
Lord Blessington felt close to fainting. He nodded his head in confirmation.
"The file with your orders and required data is on the desk," the prime minister said, his voice barely more than a somewhat frightened whisper - but Warchild had already left, taking the documents with him.
Lord Blessington guessed he needed a vacation. Preferably a long one. Or perhaps a transfer to some distant planet.
Outside, someone laughed. A cat screamed.
Original version written November 1988. Rehashed November 1992.
With space and time being the size they are (too big), it's not surprising that some stories get lost in memories. Usually they turn up again to haunt or tantalize; sometimes, again and again and again; always when you least expect it.
The night in the Tavern had been a lively one. I did not have a minute to myself all night. The nearest that I got to a conversation was when some guy joked about my pure white hair. Potentially an interesting question, but I just didn't have the time.
Later, two time travellers got talking about causality violation and ended up in a very heated argument about cause and effect. Quickly the fists and boogers started to fly. The bouncers came in to bounce their skulls. A few of the bystanders got clobbered just for good measure.
As Big Joe (king of the bouncers) always said, there's no such thing as an innocent bystander.
Understandably, this spoiled most folks' night out. The bar cleared out fast, leaving only the regular hardened drinkers. It would take more than a fight to put them off their drinks.
I had just finished cleaning up the bloodstains when a familiar short figure lurched into the the bar. He tripped over the leg of a broken chair and nearly dropped the lumpy, soccer ball-sized, brown paper package he was carrying. Alburt Greshin. His anorak and silly walk brought back memories of one of the strangest stories I'd ever heard.
Although I was pleased to see him, I gave a mental groan for I knew that after a few drinks he would tell the story again. And again, and again!
"Yo! Hello, stranger. Not seen you in here for a while, Albo!" He carefully put his package on the bar and jumped up onto one of the taller bar stools.
"Not been about, Tony boy. Been on a management course. The old boy's retiring soon."
Who he meant by the 'old boy' I couldn't remember. Think that Alburt was still doing a bit of private investigating the last time that I saw him. When was that? Six months ago? A year? More?
He slapped both my shoulders and I slapped both his back.
"Who would have thought it? The old bugger must be nearly into the middle of his second century by now." I said.
"More like his third. Start the bombs flowing, buddy!"
"Still doing the dick-tective work?" Without waiting to be told what to pour, I started to pour out his drink. Three fingers of Polish White vodka; another two of barley wine and a dash of lemon. For the final touch, an olive. Does this guy have a self destructive streak in him, or does he have a self destructive streak in him?
I tried one of Albo's 'bombs' once. It made me sick almost instantly. Yuk! I can't stand olives.
"Yup. The way things are going, I'll someday end up owning the company. It's been one step up the ladder followed by another and another and another. Cheers!" He threw the drink back in a single gulp, swallowing the olive whole.
Now that he'd been jump-started by the vodka and barley wine he'd need something to soothe his throat. I poured out his beer.
"How'd married life work out?"
He didn't answer for some time. After gulping anything containing a lot of Polish white vodka, it is advisable to hold your breath for at least a minute.
"Great, Tony boy. Just great!" He coughed. "Sammy's just as lovely now as the first time I laid eyes on her. If it had been up to me, we would have been married years ago. Things have never been better."
"So you're finally getting ahead in the world?"
"Yeah, you could say that!" He grinned, gave a laugh and patted the brown paper parcel. "Ahead, ha! Ahead, that's a good one! Did I ever tell you how I met Samantha?
"Probably," I sighed.
Don't know how he'd managed it but he'd found an excuse to tell his story again. He usually waited until he was drunk to tell it. He'd broken his own record.
"It was nearly five years ago. I was unemployed and of no fixed abode.
The reason for my state was that I was one of the victims of the HOLKELIN tests. The so called synchronicity drug. It left me with what they still call enhanced senses. It's amazing, isn't it? Science invents a drug that allows people with "the gift" to develop it, but would they officially admit that extra sensory perception exists? Would they hell!
Anyway, I couldn't put up with all those thoughts belonging to other beings inside my head 24 hours a day. For nearly a year I lived out in the mountains of Scotland as a hermit. Eventually the effects of the drug weakened to the point where I could only use the so called enhanced senses if I really concentrated.
It was then that I went back to civilization. Three years later and I was practically still living on the streets. These days that's not actually a bad place to be. I imagine that it was a different story before the human race learned to control the weather. Even then, back in 2080, weather control was very nearly spot on.
In fact, if my memory serves me correctly, the people who do such things were so good with the weather that it was about then that they started to terraform Mars.
Think that the bevy must be reaching my brain cause I'm getting side tracked already. Where was I? Oh yes....
I'd just turned thirty and had been getting very depressed lately. I needed to get a home, a job and settle down with someone nice and raise a family. Not very likely at the moment. No permanent home would be coming for at least another six months. I'd spent the last few months living in bed and breakfast-land courtesy of the DHS. There were not even any females about worth focusing my thoughts on.
Life was really getting me down. What I needed was a goal to work towards. One Thursday, I found one. Her name was Samantha Mercury.
She was sitting behind the wheel of a large bright red American Salamander that was parked in the shadow of the DHS building. What she was doing hanging about outside the dole I couldn't even begin to guess. She smelled of money. Even if bankruptcy had recently struck her, she would not need to sign on for a long long time. That Salamander could easily go for a megabuck in a quick sale. More, if the money wasn't needed in a hurry.
Ground effect cars like the Salamander were much in demand by millionaire playboys as toys. Indeed, they were the only people who could afford to buy them. Sleek, ceramic bodies designed for speed not looks. Zero to a lifting speed of 40 miles an hour in 7 seconds. Slow, but once in the air, the cruising speed was 80 miles an hour on ground effect. If licensed for it, the Salamander could jump from ground effect to full flight.
I've heard that when in full flight mode they could only just make the 200 mile an hour speed mark but that the efficient cold fusion pile and regenerative ramjet engines could hold that speed for days. Wonder if it's true?
I slowed my walk and curved my route to have a closer look at the beautiful car. I hadn't yet realized that the driver was far better looking than the vehicle.
The car looked deceptively fragile and inefficient. This was a manufactured deceit for the Salamander has been dubbed the world's safest car. The roof, wings and side walls were retracted - she would have been crazy to have the car shut up in this programmed hot weather, though it was probably well air-conditioned - but, if danger threatened, then the car could fold in seconds into an armoured tank of shining red ceramic laminate.
I really didn't expect someone of her obvious social status to speak to me. When she did, she took me by surprise.
"Could you tell me the time?"
Her voice was almost too feminine. Mellifluent in the true sense of the word; her question stuck in my brain like sugar smothered in honey.
I was shocked into silence by her voice and her unexpected good looks. Approaching from the back of the car, I hadn't seen much of the driver except her closely cropped red hair. Now I was suddenly aware of a beauty that, in my eyes at least, matched the smooth fragile look of the car.
For a short while, she stared at me with those gorgeous baby blue eyes. Then after wrinkling her small (cute) nose she nervously asked the question again.
"Do you have the time?"
"If you've got the place?" I wanted to say. She would giggle. I would grin and the ice would be broken. Didn't a car like that have a clock?
Waiting for a reply, she sucked momentarily at the side of her well rounded bottom lip. The tight, pale lemon T-shirt that she was wearing was low cut. The movements of her bosom as she breathed was intoxicating. Ashamedly, I realized that she was breathing too fast. I was making her nervous.
"I...er, I...yes, sure!" I mumbled, amazed at the nervousness that I noticed in my own voice. Fumbling at my wrist, I eventually found my watch button.
"It is 11.15 A.M." it said in the voice of some star from antique movies. Think she was called Madonna. Tacky I know, but it was a present from my youth.
"Oh, he said to meet him here at 20 past." Her long dark fingernails clickity-clicked in annoyance on the lighter red of the car door. "I thought he was late. The clock must be fast again. Thanks for your trouble."
"No trouble. Any time."
Please, who are you? Do you know you're lovely? Will you go for a drink with me? Are you married? I had a strong urge to reach over and run my fingers through her short hair. Then gently hold her chin whilst I kissed her ever so softly on the lips. What was wrong with me? I'd never felt like this about anybody before?
I stood there a few seconds clearing my throat and trying to summon up enough courage to say something. God, was she magnificent! I was a wimp if I let this beautiful creature go without fighting for her.
I was in trouble. My powers of speech were too far gone to help me out of this one. Without realizing it, my jaw must have swung open. I was almost drooling by the time that I came back to my senses.
With hindsight, she must have been projecting very strong emotions which my enhanced senses were picking up and affecting me. For a second I toyed with the idea opening my mind and reaching out to her. That was not a good idea. Peoples' private thoughts are an off-putting chaos best left alone. The nicest person alive can appear like a raving loony in their thoughts. You'd be amazed how much sexual stuff flicks through nearly everyone's thoughts almost constantly.
They can be having an in-depth conversation to me about buying a new bin whilst their thoughts might be something like, "I wonder if he's gay or straight?"
It's difficult to judge people by their actions when their innermost thoughts are hammering at you non-stop.
My stare made her shift position with embarrassment. I hoped that she didn't have "the gift". Its not for nothing that it's known as the synchronicity drug. She suddenly clasped her hands together.
"Well, like I said thanks."
As the car folded shut I sobered up and realized that I'd been staring at her cleavage. My eyes sliding all over her body, examining all the available curves.
You blew it, Albo!
Red faced, I wimped off into the nearby DHS building to sign on. Inside, I joined the nearest queue and listened to my senses. My blood was pounding in my veins like molten lava. I was sweating. There was a lump in my throat and I felt sick.
What an idiot! What a prize idiot! Why didn't you ask her for a drink? Go back now and do it. How do you expect to end up with kids if you can't even do something as simple as asking her out? You've done it lots of times before with other women. What made it suddenly so hard this time? You silly sod! Please, oh please, oh please, oh please God let me die right here and now. Make the ground open up and swallow me! Oh God, I need to get drunk fast!
After a few moments of observation, I started to calm down realizing that I was in a condition to be compared to shock. No one could hear the beat of the blood in my ears but me. My wild thoughts were mine and mine alone. There was no one else about with the gift.
By the time I'd reached the front of the queue, 20 minutes later, I was feeling much better. My compu-cred card was renewed and I had money to last me another week. I could afford to get drunk at least once a week and it looked like this week's session would be starting in a few minutes.
That reminds me, this beer is too wishy washy. Gimme another bomb Tony.
Ahhh, that's better!
This story is probably sounding like a load of sloppy crap to you. It sounds like a load of sloppy crap to me and I'm in it. I've tried to describe my feelings as closely as possible. If anything, I've played them down a lot which is just as well otherwise you'd probably be sick. Yes I know, shut up, Albo your ruining the story. Where was I? Oh yes...
I hadn't expected to ever see her ever again so when I left the building I was amazed to find that she was still there. I mean, her car was still there. For no logical reason I assumed that it was still occupied. Perhaps I had just wished it was. It was still closed up and was now sitting in the sun light as the passage of time had made the shadows grow ever shorter.
I should have gone straight to the pub and not looked back but the molten lava had came back and shouted NO! This was another chance to grab the bull by the horns. From out of the Twilight Zone popped that old joke into my head. Do cows have bells because their horns don't work? I almost gave in to an insane urge to giggle.
You're losing it, Albo!
I licked my lips and smoothed back my hair - stupid, as although I couldn't see through the mirrored windows, she could see out -and tapped at the drivers window.
For a moment I thought that the car was empty. Then with the soft whir of a motor, the window slid down.
She looked as if she had been crying. Her eyes were damp and her cheeks were streaked with tears. In my mind's eye, I reached out and wiped a tear from her cheek and lifted it to my lips. Then I....
"Oh, there you are!" Came a rough masculine voice from behind me.
"Huh, indeed. There I am searching the dole for you and you've already met Samantha by yourself. The synchronicity drug?"
"Probably?" I was confused.
The voice belonged to super sleuth Samual T. Sponge. He grinned his perfect smile. He looked, as usual, to be in his forties. I'd heard on good authority that he was well over a hundred years old. At the moment, his hair was black and short. He had a thick moustache. Last time I'd seen him he'd been blonde and long haired.
In actuality, he was bald and never needed to shave because he had had all his facial hair roots removed decades ago.
I had known him for nearly two years. As a last resort, he would sometimes pay me to go to the scene of a crime and use my enhanced senses to pick up latent vibrations of the events that had happened. It was money for old rope. He didn't believe in extra sensory perception. Why did he listen to me then?
"Whatever crap gets the job done, gets the job done." He told me a long time ago.
"C'mon. Get in the nice big red car. I've got a quick job for you. The usual rate of payment." He said quickly.
"Negotiable," I said.
"Thought that was the usual rate of payment?" He opened the back door and got in.
"The usual then." I smiled and followed him.
Don't know why, but Sam was an instantly likable character. I've never tried to open his mind and I don't think that I ever will. He just gives off good vibes. He makes me feel good about myself. That doesn't happen too often. When it does, I won't spoil it by trying to analyse the reasons why. I know this much, its not my gift picking something up because he makes nearly everyone feel like that. Think he must have a bit of the gift himself and projects it instinctively.
In the back of the car he set the scene for me. The young woman was called Samantha Mercury. A silly name that I found strangely appealing. Her uncle, Dr. Richard Thrum, was a scientist. He was rich. Very rich. He worked for no one but himself. His latest project would make him the richest man on the planet, if he could pull it off. A super conductor that was 100 percent stable at ANY temperature.
His lines of research had lead him in to avenues where no one else had ever contemplated going. In the past, he had made enough discoveries in other areas to gain the respect of the scientific community and had almost doubled his fortune doing so.
His superconductor theory was straight out of the fiction of the last century. Stasis fields had to be the perfect super conductor. His matter freezing experiments were preposterous. Even if by a miracle he could permanently freeze the electrons in their orbits and stop the protons and neutrons from vibrating, nobody believed that he would have created the perfect superconductor. Superconductors still relied on quantum nuclear forces. If the matter was totally 'frozen' how could the quantum forces still operate?
Much to the amusement of the scientific community, he had "conveniently" discovered discrepancies in current quantum theory that allowed his theories more elbow room. This time he was way out of line. People had begun to think that he was out to lunch. Or rather, that HAD been the general way of thinking. Recently he had begun to get results.
So interesting were the results he released, that a very large multi-conglomerate had tried to buy him out for one billion creds! He wasn't interested and told them so.
Nearly a week earlier he had disappeared along with a lot of lab equipment. Think that I remember hearing something on a newszine about a mad scientist going missing. That was obviously Dr. Thrum.
"What do you think?" I asked Sam. The back of the car was partitioned off by a sliding panel of armoured glass. There was no way that Samantha could hear us. Where was she driving us to anyway?
"I think he's dead. There was signs of a lot of violence and an annex was being built at the time. The electrically drying ferro-plascrete floor had been put down that day."
"So, a slit in his throat and thrown into that Olympic swimming pool sized area of wet 'crete. That's what I think. Somebody ran a current through it and his body is as safe as in the Bank of England. You're my last hope. If you can't pick something up then all that 'crete's coming up."
The car stopped and the three of us got out and went into a tower block. The lab was in the basement. The lift doors opened out onto the largest underground work floor that I had ever seen. Every square inch was taken up with some sort of electrical equipment. How anyone could tell that some of the equipment was missing I'll never know. I couldn't see any uncluttered floor space at all.
From the main lift, the annex was in the right hand wall. It was only a quarter of the size of the first room, but massive in its own right. The instant that I stepped over the threshold I began to feel very odd. My skin felt as if it had a small current running all over it and I felt as if I was about to have a panic attack.
"You look uncomfortable. You feel something?" Said Sam.
"Yes. It's very strange. It's like, er, like, oh I can't describe it!" I said.
"It's like someone is in torment. Not in the past. Right now. A massive intellect being tortured. Think that I better sit down for this one."
I sat down on the cold floor and leaned against the wall. Closing my eyes I began to concentrate on relaxing my body. I'm more receptive when I'm relaxed. After a few minutes, I opened my mind and reached out. Something grabbed at my mind and took control of my body.
"I'M ALIVE!" It screamed painfully through my lungs. My brain was overcome with an incredible amount of information....
The time when my sister Jackie sat on a wasp. (I don't have a sister?) It was her fifth birthday. She was having a ride on my tricycle when it stung her.
On her twentieth birthday she borrowed my ten-speed racer and went for a cycle in the nearby countryside. On the way back she sat on a wasp. (What's a wasp?)
I remembered the time when I was seven. I found out that IT was true. The most horrible thing that could happen to a male was really true! You really did have to touch a girl with your whatsit when you were married. How awful!
I'd rather devote my life to science. (I hate science?)
Then I remembered all those good times when I was about seventeen and Mary Rush had proven that it wasn't awful at all. Sigh! (I've never known anyone called Mary Rush?)
I remembered Samantha Mercury being born to my sister. Jackie died without ever seeing the baby. The baby nearly died too. Samantha you didn't mean to kill your mother! I love you! (So do I!). Your daddy was a one night stand and he doesn't even know about you. You're too small to be so alone in this world. I'll look after you for ever.
I cried when the dog got cancer and had to be put down. (I've never had a dog?) Next was the day that I won the Nobel prize. Samantha's a woman now. When is she going to meet someone and get married?
...I was drowning in someone else's memories.
Suddenly, the memories were gone. Fragments remained like the memory of a dream. I opened my eyes. I was lying in a bed. The room was dimly lit. There was a mask over my face and a drip in my left arm. I knew that I was in a hospital. I felt safe. All that had just happened was confusing. Only one thing was certain. The infatuation that I felt for Samantha was gone. It had been converted into love by the other person's memories that had been whizzing through my head. I felt as if I had known her for most of my life.
"I love you, Samantha." I whispered. I closed my eyes again and slept for a long time.
When I eventually woke Samantha was by the side of the bed holding my hand. She smiled like an angel and offered me some water. When my head had cleared a bit, I realized that Samual T. Sponge was sitting on the other side of the bed. He told me what had happened.
One night Dr. Richard Thrum was working late at the lab by himself. He did that most nights. Three men broke into the lab with the intention of killing him and stealing his project data. Not straight away. First they had to have a bit of fun. After a bit of torture they pushed his head into the chamber of his own matter freezer and turned it on.
Richard Thrum's theory was proved correct. His head turned into a superconductor. Now that his head was also a frictionless surface, the rest of his body separated from it in a massive gush of blood. There was no way that the perpetrators could hide the evidence of all that blood, but they tried anyway.
The body and head went into the ferro-plascrete. An hour of current and the crime was well hidden. The head of the good Doctor was superconducting his thoughts. He was alive in there and thinking thousands of times faster than normal. In the week in which it took to find his body, he had lived several lifetimes. In his thoughts, He perfected the matter freezer and other devices. He spent the equivalent of several decades stark staring mad.
The thing that brought his sanity back was when he thought up the idea for psionic mechanics. He invented a device that could transmit and receive thought waves without the user having to have any of the gift.
Then I wandered in and opened up my mind to him. His massively powerful superconducted thoughts were enough to take my mind and body over completely. Where I went to, I don't know. Perhaps I went into some sort of hibernation.
Deprived of all his senses for so long, he had gone wild at the input he received from my body. Ignoring everybody he used my body to construct the psionic device. If anything had happened to my body he would have been stuck alone inside the limbo of his superconducting head forever. This was his only chance to build the device and he wasn't going to waste it.
Bit by bit, Sam and Samantha got the story from him as he worked at a furious speed. Richard was aware of the way I felt about Samantha and told her about it. He didn't realize that the love he saw in my sleeping thoughts was put there by his own memories. Samantha didn't know me from Adam, but she was willing to give love a chance. Days later, when Richard had finished with my body and gave me back control, I was so physically exhausted that I collapsed and nearly died.
Two weeks after I left hospital, I moved into Samantha's apartment. It wasn't quick enough for me. Thanks to her Uncle, I knew her better than herself. And the rest, as they say, is history."
"What ever happened to Richard?" I asked.
"I was hoping you would ask that Tony. He is bored with science and wants to be left somewhere where he can talk to a lot of people with interesting stories to tell." Said Albo.
"He could do much worse that stop off here."
"That's what I thought. Here take this and put it on. It's that psionic device I mentioned. Its adjustable." He gave me an object which looked like a silver locket on a chain. I put it on.
"I better be going now. See you another time." He said, winked and left.
Then it sank in. He hadn't said that last sentence at all. It had been transmitted straight into my brain by the locket. I took the locket off and examined it for a while. It was made of a silvery shiny stuff as smooth and cold as ice. Too smooth. Perhaps it was made out of that superconductor stuff he had told me about. What did he mean, adjustable? There's no buttons or switches on it.
Alburt Greshin had left several minutes ago. I noticed that he had left his brown paper parcel behind. I gave a grin as I guessed what was in it. I opened it and placed the slippery object contained in it on a high shelf above the mirror at the back of the bar.
Later a short black man walked in and ordered a Surfboarder. There wasn't any fresh cream. He took it without anyway.
"Hey, what's that shiny thing?" he said nodding.
"A mirror." I said just to be irritating.
"Don't be daft! That creepy thing above it on the shelf."
"Oh that! That's the head of a scientist. Want to talk to it?"
Original version written November 1991, (c) Bryan H.Joyce.
I - Youth
Ail had always been the odd one out, ever since he had been a small child. Although he looked pretty much like any other child except for his somewhat darker complexion, something about his attitude made people feel uncomfortable when they were around him. There was nothing you could put your finger on. He was just different.
When he sat in school the benches near to him were usually not occupied, when he worked in the fields people avoided being at the same patch of ground. Everybody seemed to act as if he suffered from something contageous, something invisible he carried with him that might leap at you unexpectedly when you came too close.
Ail had learned to cope with the isolation that was forced upon him by the other villagers. He didn't need the other children to entertain himself. He would wander through the nearby forests for hours, or he would sit in his room thinking about everything and nothing, daydreaming, or drawing.
At least his parents treated him with care and love. He was their only child and they were proud of him, though they were reluctant to show it too clearly when they were around others. Probably for that reason the villagers still spoke with them and frequented their place - be it only when Ail was out wandering in the forests or sitting in his room, entangled in his deep thoughts.
Ail would often stare at the sky, dreaming away. He would gaze at the stars, which held for him a true beauty he had yet to see reflected on earth. Somehow, the stars seemed more pure than earthly things. Somehow, the galaxies that floated high above him succeeded in diverting his thoughts from the day's chores and his outcast position. He would float among those eeriely flickering points of light amid infinite darkness, possessing the power to decide what would happen to those people far below, the people who roamed Morvynna, the people who did not accept him because he was different, the children that harassed him because he did not like their games. He would soar higher than the mountains, higher than the clouds - like a true god.
Ail knew he was different. He realized it himself, too. All others of his age were interested only in chasing and kicking balls, or catching birds. He, on the other hand, was completely engrossed in thought most of the time. He found other children's interests petty and useless, opposite to his own. When he saw a tree he would wonder how it was shaped and which powers were great enough to do so. He fantasized what trees would have looked like if he would have created them.
The most important thing that set him apart from the other villagers, including the adults, were the nightmares. Almost every night, he would wake up with his eyes wide open in fear as if he had seen visions of the worst things imaginable, unspeakable evil, doom encompassing everything that existed. His parents had found this odd, the village's Healer had considered it yet another sign of the boy's difference. There was no cure. It would simply go one day - or stick with Ail for the rest of his days.
In the nightmares he would see the earth blackened, fires burn the trees, volcanoes erupt, skeletal armies slaughter women and babies. He would gaze into the eyes of Undead, tremble at the sight of concentrated, hot malice burning like two little red suns in the hollow depths of their eye sockets. Death roamed the lands, the heavens were coloured dark grey with clouds stampeding across them like marching armies hurling physical destruction.
The most frightening thing was that, each time, his nightmares seemed to start and end in terrible heat, seclusion, a prison. Through the black skies he saw no stars, no sun and none of the moons but one - the third moon. It would hang above the horizon threateningly, as if suspended, unnaturally. Distant yet much too close. It would loom above the horizon, silently, as if gazing down on the ravished and plundered lands with a smile wrought upon its barren surface.
The night was cold and starless when Ail woke up. He had torn his clothes partly off his body, his bed cover lay atop a rug on the ground. He had had one of those nightmares again. He could still hear his own cry of terror fade away around him, as if it was being sucked up by the furniture in his room.
He heard the sound of some movement on the other side of the wooden wall; his parents had learned not to come to him when he woke up after a nightmare, but they had not quite found themselves capable of sleeping through the cries with which he would wake up. After a short while he heard the rustling of blankets stop, their voices cease.
Ail looked outside.
The three moons were visible, the largest one partly hidden behind the horizon. Yet the red moon, the third moon, somehow seemed to be more prominent, more poignant in the way it hung above the forests. Ail recognized the smile on the barren surface - or at least he thought he did. It was the same smile he always saw in his nightmares, the same smile that haunted his every waking hour of the day. A shiver ran up and down his spine, making his hair stand up on his skin.
He turned around, trying to go to sleep again. He found himself looking at his own shadow, with the light of the moons around it, tinged red. Even when he closed his eyes he could not ban the luringly red light from his mind. It seemed as if the moon was calling, beckoning like the grim reaper beckons a sick man on his death bed.
Ail jumped out of bed. His stomach felt gnarled, as if he had swallowed something bigger than his body that was fighting its way out. Thoughts of getting to sleep again were banned from his mind as though by a mysterious force. He gazed at the moon much in the way he used to stare at the stars. It did not hold their serene beauty but it was obsessive in very much the same way. He could not tear his eyes off the red globe that seemed to float on the darkness yet support it at the same time.
He put on his clothes, careful so as not again to awaken his parents on the other side of the thin wall.
At first he thought he was merely imagining the moon calling at him. It was ridiculous. Moons don't call. Moons are inanimate objects and everything you think they do is but a figment of your imagination. But something out there was calling, even if it wasn't the moon. Something. He felt it in his head and in his abdomen. It was a call he could not resist, not even if he would have wanted to. And he did not even want to resist. Maybe that was why he was different.
He stalked out of the house. He didn't really know where his feet were leading him. It seemed logical to walk in the direction of the moon that loomed above and amid blackness. A light breeze caught his hair as if urging him on.
Within minutes he seemed to be enfolded by trees on all sides. At night the forest he knew so well had suddenly transformed itself to something he could no longer feel at home in at all. He heard sounds he had never heard before - quick rustles in the undergrowth, calls of animals that did not roam the land at daytime. The trees seemed to bow down on him, making him want to tremble.
He reasoned his fear away. He knew this forest was well known to him - all that it lacked was light to fall upon it. All of it was just like he knew, only painted black instead of the luscious greens and browns he was used to see.
Boughs seemed to have grown where previously there had been none; they slapped against his body and in his face. Vines seemed to grapple at his legs as if wanting to make him fall, as if waiting for an opportune moment to tie their victim to the ground and consume him whole.
Suddenly the trees seemed to bend back, boughs retreated and the vines no longer held any power within their inanimate structures. They released Ail into an open spot within the forest where the light of the third moon fell unrestrained. The ground seemed to be dipped in blood; it even seemed to drip off the trees of which the long leaves hung down disconsoledly.
Looking around him, expecting anything to vault at him from those ominously dark red shadows around him, Ail carefully walked towards the middle of the clearing. Somehow, it held him bound as if by a magical spell. There was nothing in the middle of the open space, yet he seemed to be convinced it was the place to be at.
The red moon looked down on the frail figure that walked stealthily towards the middle of the clearing. If only it could, the burst smile upon its surface would have widened.
Ail arrived at the spot in the middle. He had anticipated someone - or something - to step out of the darkness around it and come to him now that he had made himself most vulnerable.
The moon kept gazing down, silently, threatening in a strange way - like in his nightmares. He had expected skeletons to stagger out of the shadows, wild animals to get attracted to his scent, and attack. He had expected anything. Anything, that is, except for what did happen.
A sound as if wood was growing and breaking at the same time arose from around him. It came from all sides, and it softly grew in intensity. What had first been a wooden whisper he could barely hear now gradually became a sound as if his clothes were being torn from his body, as if wood was being ground on wood within his own ears. He could not guess where the sound originated from. It seemed to come from all directions around him yet from within.
He looked at the ground, startled by the growing intensity of its redness. It seemed as if he was standing knee-deep in thick, coagulated blood. It seemed to creep up his legs like ragged gasps. He tried to escape but found that he could not move his feet. The earth seemed to have come alive - it held his feet in an iron embrace that he could not tug free of.
Then he was temporarily deaf and blind. The redness of everything around him was for a briefest of instants replaced by a whiteness as pure as flawless diamonds lying on fresh ice in a cloudless midwinter night. He could not hear his own desperate cry even though it made his throat hurt, his cheeks ache, his jaw muscles tear, his eyes sting. After that brief instant, vision and sound came back with a force that felt as if they would obliterate every nerve in his body, shatter every muscle, grind every bone.
A fork of lightning had struck him, fire running up and down his body as if wanting to undo him instantaneously. Yet he did not cease to be. Instead, he absorbed the tremendous power fed to him by the elements, his body bulging in its extreme efforts to contain all this energy.
As the cacophonic sound and visual mayhem wore off, leaving all of Ail's senses utterly numbed, he thought he heard a deep rumbling voice echoeing through his skull.
"Ailric...you are the one...you are the one...are the one...the one...one...one..."
Somehow Ail succeeded in staggering back to his parents' place, in spite of his being thoroughly dazed and confused. The entire world seemed to reel around him, heaven seemed below and for all he cared hell could be above. He bumped into trees, thin low branches flung in his face, other things hanging beside his path lashed at him. He felt none of it - all he did feel was that enormous power contained within him that surged through his veins and flowed through his brain like molten lead.
When he came home he inadvertedly woke up his parents. He slammed the doors behind him, grumbling to himself like someone possessed. He lay down in his bed, not bothering to take off his muddy clothes. He instantly dropped into a comatose sleep.
II - Adolescent
Young Ail grew. He often wondered what had happened precisely that fateful night in the forest but found that his mind couldn't handle the implications. Lightning had struck him yet he was still alive. If anything, he had suddenly grown stronger and more intelligent. Whereas previously he had tried hard to ignore other youths that made fun of him, he now didn't even notice them any more. Encapsulated in dark, brooding thoughts, Ail would let their insults bounce off an invisible wall. His body would not register dirt or sand thrown at him.
He became more isolated within his own walls of confinement. The knowledge that he was something different now strengthened him in his resolve to ignore the entire world - ignore it, that is, until he would be in a position to rule. Deep inside he felt that, one day, his voice would be heard and his opinion would count. People would have to listen to him, would have to take him into consideration. Maybe, one day, he would really soar higher than the clouds, touch the stars, look down upon others with disdain in the way the others had hitherto looked down on him. He dreamt on like he had done all his life.
One day, the village was aroused by a warlord with his troup of soldiers that was staying over at "The Lost Dragon", the local inn. They brought with them many tales of war and conquest. The villagers could not help but listen to these heroic yarns, enthralled, as sun-painted soldiers related adventures that took place in distant countries.
A feeling deep inside Ail urged him to go there and hear those stories, too. If he ever wanted to rule those who now made his life a misery, he would have to gain knowledge. Knowledge of what was happening in the world, knowledge of who was at war with whom.
That night he went to "The Lost Dragon". He entered it unnoticed, for everybody was preoccupied listening to all those tales of valiance and honour. Laughter and excited cries arose from the group of people that sat around the fireplace. Even the landlord had left his usual spot behind the bar so as not to miss as much as a word of what was told. An occasional phrase drifted across the room to where Ail stood - usually involving slaughter, death, or technicalities that had to do with weaponry, strategy or warfare in general.
Ail noticed he was not the only one who sat excluded from the people that had gathered around the fireplace. A stranger clad in a dark cloak sat huddled in another corner, his face hidden in hooded darkness. He seemed not at all interested in the tales of supposed bravery. Occasionally he took a swig of ale from the large mug on his table.
Ail realised it must be the soldiers' warlord. Boldy, he seated himself opposite the hooded man. He tried to discern a face under the hood but the darkness within it was complete, like looking down from the edge of the world. The warlord did not seem to see the young man at all, even though Ail tried to be noticed.
Suddenly the man flicked back his hood, revealing a roughly hewn face with a hawk's nose amidst ragged black hair. His eyes with the colour of steel stared intently at the young man. He looked up and down Ail's arms and chest, glancing at the eager look in the eyes, the black hair and the athletic build.
"Why don't you go and listen to the stories my warriors have to tell?" the man sneered.
Ail didn't reply, incapable of knowing quite what to say. Why didn't he sit near the fireplace? Surely the warriors' tales would be far better capable of stirring any young lad's imagination?
Then it dawned on him - he was different. He was not just any other young lad.
"That's not what you came here for, was it?" the man now inquired.
Ail nodded, still at a loss for words. He thought for a while, then said: "I want to see more of the world, but not like them," he said with contempt, "I want to learn, to be taught to do things others can't."
The warlord chuckled and took another swig of his ale.
"Sure, son," he said, "you sound just as mixed up as my cousin, what's-his-name, in the Seeker's Tower or something."
Ail's eyes lit, the small flames inside them suddenly appearing to be on the verge of leaping.
"Seeker's Tower?" he breathed.
The man nodded. "Down south, east of the Verholst delta. You can't miss it."
"What's it like?" Ail asked, enthusiasm seeming to writhe within his bowels, consuming, "I mean, what do they do there?"
A deep laugh, almost out of control, echoed through the inn. Some of the people near the fireplace got temporarily distracted, but decided it was not worth while missing the current story's more spectacular bits for, whatever it was.
"Well, son," the warlord said once he had got his laughter under control, "they seek in Seeker's Tower...they seek...Knowledge."
Ail felt as if he was out of breath, even though he hadn't moved a finger, only his lips. His heart beat in his throat; he could hear the blood flowing through his eardrums.
"What Knowledge?" he asked.
The man snorted derisively, pulling the hood over his head again. Obviously, he did not consider it necessary to say another word.
Ail stood up and walked to the exit. He caught a glimpse of people laughing and jesting in a corner of his eye. He did not heed them and went outside, deep in thought as usual. He went home where his father bade him the usual goodnight.
That was the last thing any of the villagers saw of Ail.
The third moon was nowhere to be seen in the night's sky. Instead, the first and biggest of the moons shed enough light on the valley for Ail to discern the ominous silhouette of Seeker's Tower, looming up higher and higher before him as he came closer.
Curiously, no moonlight fell on the building, as if it was afraid to be cast off or dismissed, sent away. Although the Tower's entire surroundings bathed in soft, pale light, the thing itself was visible only because of its sheer blackness in contrast with everything around it. It looked like a well of darkness that could suck you in and swallow you whole.
Now Ail also noticed the silence. On his long journey the sounds of nature had always been there to accompany him - even at night he had heard the sound of thousands of crickets and the odd owl, nightly serenades to the gods. Now there was a silence so complete he almost thought he must have been stricken deaf. Not even his own boots made any noise on the ground, not even the sound of the wind in his ears could be discerned.
Ail came closer. The Tower seemed to grow, louring ever more threateningly. Yet he felt no fear, only a sense of purpose. His entire future, indeed, the future on the world, depended on him entering that Tower. He would enter it, at any price.
The first sound he heard again was that of the impressively ornamented oaken door that closed off the entrance to the Tower. For a moment Ail didn't even realise it seemed to be opening itself, as he was completely absorbed by the intricate ornaments and arcane symbols that were engraved on the arch around it. Its hinges whined a cold welcome, that seemed to slice his bones in half, seemed to pierce his soul with frozen steel.
"Come on, come in," a creaky voice spoke from within the darkness within the Tower, "we...have been expecting you."
For a moment Ail felt a fear striking his body that was more genuine than any other he had felt before. The moment he passed the threshold, however, the sensation disappeared. The door closed itself silently behind him, finally shutting with a deep thud that sent a low tremor through the floor and Ail's legs.
His eyes grew used to the darkness almost instantly. It was as if, within this Seeker's Tower, his senses were increasingly aware of what was going on around him. What had been silence now revealed itself as the soft whispers of dark-robed figures that sat near the walls, observing him. Ail could now also see the man who had let him in. It was a frail figure, his gnarled hands telling tales of ages of writing. His eyes were large, almost completely white with small light blue pupils within the wrinkled face to which clung grey, matted hair. The man had a nose like a hawk's.
Ail looked around a bit more, feeling oddly comfortable between these old Seekers within what seemed to him their almost sacred place of Dark study. The ceiling was far above him, with huge rusted chandeliers hanging down. The scarce light was emitted from candles and a few torches that lined the stairs that ran up around him along the walls, disappearing high up in the midst of darkness.
"This is Ail," the old man now emphasized, almost solemnly. The murmur around the young man increased, the huddled shapes in their black robes now bending over to each other to exchange excited whispers, gesticulating energetically. Ail pointed his ears but did not succeed in catching as much as a lost whisper of any of the conversations that took place around him. He looked at the old Seeker, only to find the man's white eyes staring at him, not looking away until the hushed droning along the walls had worn off.
"Ail...has come to us to...study," the man now said, a brief gleam of what could have been joy seeming to pass across his face and eyes, "...to study."
One of the men that had sat along the wall now came forward from the shadows, folding back his hood. Another nose like a hawk's protruded from the face that was lined by many years of study and thought - yet from it looked eyes that seemed that of a rather young man's by comparison.
"I am Master Felgar, your tutor," the man said with a voice that fitted the relative youth that his eyes radiated, "Please follow me."
Ail went after Master Felgar who went up the winding stairs, following the rustle of heavy robes and the shuffle of sandals on the steps of polished stone.
The Tower must have been higher than Ail had estimated. He even began to think he was starting to breathe with more difficulty when, after what seemed like hours, the Master halted on a floor that was filled with bookshelves, each nearly giving way to the weight they had to suffer. It must have been some sort of library, albeit one that had not been visited frequently in recent times judging by the smell of dust and cobwebs that pervaded the air.
Master Felgar lit a torch that sat perched on a ledge like a bird of prey, as if guarding the books and scrolls that lay stacked and piled on chairs, tables and shelves. Some of the books had locks, some of the scrolls seemed to have fields of protection that shimmered in the flickering fire light.
"This is the Sacred Library of the Very Darkest Arts," the Seeker said. He paused, as if expecting Ail to ask something - yet the young man had nothing to ask. Everything seemed, in some strange way, to add up and fit together. He had no questions. It all seemed logical to him, as if he was living a dream that lived his life for him.
Ail did not even notice his Master descending the stairs again, so instantly absorbed was he by all Dark Knowledge stored within this gloomy, vaulted chamber high in Seeker's Tower. He felt he had been after this all his life, without ever precisely having known what it was that he wanted.
One stormy evening, when thunder shook the Tower and lightning blinded the windows, Ail was disturbed by an unusual sound that arose into the Sacred Library from below. Somehow, the Seekers down there must have been acting much more agitated than normal, as if something highly unusual was happening.
Unable to reign his curiosity, Ail went down. It was the first time he went there since he had arrived at the Tower, some three weeks before. His only contact with the rest of the world had been his Master, who often brought him food that he often left untouched. Ail was entirely devoted to absorbing all Dark Knowledge present in the library, not wanting to do anything else.
Whereas it had seemed to take hours until he had ascended the stairs upon his arrival, he now went down them within a matter of minutes to join whatever was happening in the main hall. The Seekers shuffled to and fro nervously, their hushed but excited whispers mounting to a murmur that echoed up the stone walls.
The first thing other than the superfluous movements of bewildered Seekers to attract Ail's attention was the strange smell that lingered through the hall. It was, he seemed to recall, something like the scent of perfume, the scent of a woman. For a moment he envisioned the girls that had stood in the background, laughing, pointing, when the village boys had kicked him or had tied him to a tree. For an instant he experienced an upcoming and quite nauseating feeling of bad memories which left just as quickly as they had come when he actually saw her.
She stood near the huge wooden entrance door, talking to the ancient man with white eyes that had also welcomed him upon his arrival at the Tower. Seekers walked around them, absent-mindedly, succeeding in apparently having an excuse to catch a glimpse of what was probably the first female ever to enter the Tower.
Ail looked at her. She didn't look at him; she was still talking to the old man about something or other. She wore a dark blue robe of some exquisite material that engulfed her body as if it were a logical extension of her natural skin. Her long hair fell about her shoulders in some kind of magic way, flowing curled and golden, accentuating her almost unearthly beauty that seemed as if inherited from the heavens.
The old man seemed to sense Ail's eager eyes burning on them, for he interrupted the conversation and lead her to the young man to be introduced. Ail saw her walking towards him and suddenly felt that strange feeling in his abdomen again - the feeling of having swallowed something huge that seemed to be fighting its way out. This time, however, it felt good in a peculiar kind of way. For the first time he beheld stars on earth - her astonishingly light blue eyes that looked at him, quite unaware of the kind of damage they could cause to any mortal man.
She bowed ever so slightly, after which Ail bowed low.
"Adept Ail," the old man said, trying to fill his voice with dignity, "this is Princess Cheryss of Morvynna." He then turned to the Princess. "Your Highness, this is one of our finest and most zealous students, Adept Ail. He will, no doubt, find pleasure in showing you around Seeker's Tower."
Kneeling down and suppressing a tremble, Ail took her delicate hand in his as gently as he could and brushed it with his lips. It seemed as if little sparks flew to and fro between them during that brief moment.
"Your servant," Ail muttered. He heard his own heart beat in his ears. He looked up at the Princess to find her blushing at his behaviour.
"Don't be silly," she whispered, smiling. The old man didn't seem to hear. Ail rose to his feet again, offering her his arm. His eyes did not leave her face - the blush remained, her lips prolonged the silent smile that her eyes echoed. Ail saw tiny stars flickering within their depths.
He lead her up the stairs, still not quite knowing what else to say or how to husband the wild beating of his heart. Obviously she didn't know him. She did not know that he was different, she was not one of the girls that laughed and made fun of him behind his back. She was far above the rest, floating high on an invisible cloud above all other mortals Ail had met before. She was the loveliest creature he had ever laid eyes on. It was the scent of her perfume that he had sensed when he had come down from the Sacred Library.
He seemed reluctant or too nervous to start talking with her, which Cheryss did not fail to notice.
"It's actually much less nasty in this Seeker's Tower than I thought," she said, "I had expected grumpy old men bowing over endless spells and charms, quite incapable of doing anything else - let alone show hospitality to a Lady."
Ail didn't answer. He was too enchanted by the music in her voice, that seemed to bring forth yet unsung hymns and spellbinding melodies played on a deified instrument no one so far had been able to make in earthly life. If he closed his eyes he saw endless pastures with birds, blooming trees and dancing nymphs.
"So you are Ail," she said, interrupting his thoughts. "The old man with the white eyes told me you came here last. He seems to think highly of you and your capabilities."
Ail found himself blushing and looked away. Normally he knew exactly how to handle any situation, but this young woman made him feel strange, uncapable of uttering coherent words or a simple thing such as looking straight in her eyes.
During the guided tour he gave Cheryss, he had to concentrate hard. At times he found his heart commanding him to tell her "You're incredibly beautiful" or "You are the most gorgeous creature I have ever laid eyes on". He swallowed them back just before his lips began to form the words.
She had him all confused.
He was glad when the guided tour was over. It gave him an excuse to be without her without appearing rude - so he could think things over and try to work out why this young woman made him act in such an irrational way.
Cheryss could get along fine with Ail. To some extent he could confide in her. She seemed to understand his childhood, make him feel comfortable. For the first time in the weeks he had spent in the Sacred Library he could tear himself away from the gathering of Knowledge.
They sat up late, talking about a wide variety of things. She had been surprised by the storm and had decided to take refuge in the Tower. She did not tell him why she had been riding in the Bollgar Valley on her own, but he guessed it was none of his business anyway. All he knew was that fate must have guided her here. He was convinced that she was destined for him and that he was destined for her. One day, he knew for sure, he would have her as his wife and rule the world with her on his side perpetually.
He told her nothing of his ambitions, however; most of the time when they were together she was the one who spoke. Her tales were of royal life, hunting, games and the wonders of faraway kingdoms. He was pleased to notice that none of her stories included a Prince of some kind. He would listen to the musical rivulet of her voice and dream away, gazing at her delightful face and those twinkling little stars he thought he could see deep within the blue of her eyes. Each time she smiled at him his heart leaped, each time he heard the music of her laugh his soul seemed to hurl itself up and down between his throat and his stomach.
The table in the Sacred Library lay silent, the torch perched on the ledge went out and remained unlit. Only outside the cold fangs of the wind seemed to want to tug at the very stones of which the Tower consisted. Scrolls written with the blood of virgins lay untouched, books remained open at the spot where Ail had been studying them when Cheryss had arrived. On them shone the weak, red light of the third moon that seemed to gaze intently at everything that was happening within the Tower. For the time being, the young man no longer seemed to be interested in Dark Knowledge. He was now only interested in Cheryss, this Princess that seemed to be the embodiment of virtue and loveliness, music and joy.
The storm did not relent for two days. The Tower seemed to sway in the gale as if the elements were in league trying to tear its entire structure asunder. Inside, however, only the occasional thunder and lightning would come through, and sometimes the howling of the wind through a small crack. Cheryss and Ail would sit together, huddled around a smouldering fire in another room high up in the Tower - talking and laughing until they both fell into deep, untroubled sleep.
On the third morning after the Morvynnian Princess had arrived at Seeker's Tower, the sun shone. Its warmth gladdened the hearts of the Seekers, and the very Tower itself seemed to sigh deeply after having withstood so much undaunted violence for two straight days.
The sun should also have gladdened Ail's heart but it didn't. While the weather's turmoil outside forced the Princess to remain inside the Tower he was able to increase his hold on her. Now the sun shone again and the birds sang their songs, he knew she would want to go.
It was as if a frozen claw clasped his heart. Perhaps everything had been a dream. She had not been nice to him, she had not laughed, he had not been able to bask in the joy of her presence and the attention she gave him. It had not meant anything. She would go and he would be alone once more, the only purpose in his life being the gathering of Knowledge so that one day he could fulfil his ambitions, teach the world a lesson.
There was a soft knock on his door. A voice inside told him it was Cheryss. She would come to say goodbye and leave the Tower, leave him, walk out of his life. She was no different from the others after all.
He did not reply. The soft knock was repeated. Again he kept silent, hushing the voice of his heart that cried out with the fell voice of true love, for the first and last time in his life.
Something inside him broke when he heard her turn around, followed by the soft sounds of her feet going as she went down the cold stone stairs.
He opened the window and looked outside. He cursed the sun, he cursed the birds. He cursed the freshness of the after-rain smell that entered his room. He clenched his fists in powerless anger. One day, everything would be different. He swore he would get even with that cruel and vicious world that had labelled him different.
The hinges of the Tower's entrance door, far below him, whined their goodbye to Princess Cheryss of Morvynna as she left on her horse. She did not look back and grew smaller and smaller as her horse lead her back home - until finally she was indiscernible even before she had reached the horizon.
Ail closed the window, shutting his heart with it, and went back to the Sacred Library. He lit the torch and continued where he left off with his study of the ancient writings.
III - Man
With renewed vigour, Ail threw himself on the gathering of Knowledge. Master Felgar continued bringing him his daily food, which Ail increasingly often left untouched. They would exchange greetings and the Master would launch an occasional attempt at social talk - but Ail didn't want any of his Master's attention, wanted nothing of the man's pity.
One night all three moons were present just above the horizon. Looking up from the books and scrolls, Ail once more saw the crude smile that seemed to be engraved on the third moon's surface, on the round redness that looked so unmistakably like a face. Somehow, its light was more powerful than that of the other moons - it had succeeded in dipping the entire Library in the almost familiar shade of bloody red, in spite of the orange and yellow light the lonely torch desperately tried to cast.
Ail heard a deep rumble that he first mistook for a distant earthquake - but the Tower was not moving and none of the volcanoes at the horizon were lit. The rumbling increased and transformed into what seemed like laughter - deep, bellowing laughter. It was the laughter he had heard so often in his youth, but now it was magnified. He closed his eyes and ears, but was unable to block it out; it might just as well have come from his own throat.
When he opened his eyes the moons had disappeared behind a dark veil of clouds. The laughter had ceased - all he could hear now was the sound of the torch slowly being eaten by its flames. The entire library was, however, still painted red; if anything, the colour seemed to have intensified.
He looked around. Where there had previously been shelves filled with nothing but tomes there was now an enormous throne, made of smooth stone. It seemed as if the stone was glowing, as if it consisted of molten rock being held in shape by some mysterious, very powerful force. On the throne sat a man, looking at Ail with interest. His arms rested on the sides of the throne, his fingers tapping in an all but impatient way. He seemed to radiate some kind of power, Evil power. The eyes were bright white with black centres, staring at the young man, trying to gauge a reaction.
Ail had read a lot. He knew much. He knew enough to recognise a Demon when he saw one. This was definitely a Demon - possible a second level one.
"So you're called Ail now," the Demon snorted.
Ail had heard that voice before. He couldn't quite remember where and when, though. He only knew, deep within, that it was familiar.
The Demon seemed to sense Ail's thoughts and could not help but chuckle. "Maybe things will be more clear to you if I call you Ailric."
Then it hit Ail like a blunt battle lance. For a brief moment he felt as if he was hurled mercilessly against a brick wall, as if someone had hit him with a bell, the echo of its toll slowly wearing off inside his head.
"Who...who are you?" Ail asked, not able to suppress the fear in his voice, "What do you want?" He slowly realized this was a Demon of none other than the first level, the highest level - the Lord Demon. The pope's equivalent in the underworld.
The Lord Demon coughed, irritated. "Don't you know, pitiable half-human?" he bellowed, "Are you really as dim-witted and naive as you try to make me believe?"
Ail shrank back in his chair, trying to hide behind his own shadow. He gazed involuntarily at the Lord Demon's incredibly white eyes that seemed to be ablaze with evil. He didn't understand what the Demon meant.
Once again the evil Lord was one step ahead of Ail's thoughts. "Yes, you're a half-human. Half human, half demon, Ailric! I am your father, Guardians of Hell forbid!"
It was as if Ail collided with another battle lance, more sturdy than the one before, and heavier. The bell tolling inside him was louder, almost up to the point of deafening him from within. So that was his difference. That was why nobody had liked him - he had been a half-demon all his life, product of unholy lust between the Lord Demon and, probably, a human witch of sorts. The people that had brought him up had not been his parents. He had his interests for Dark Knowledge impaled within his soul, carved within each cell of his being. The difference. Now he knew what it was.
As the shock gradually wore off, though, he began to relish the thought. His entire life he had wanted to rule, he had wanted to inflict his will upon all mortals. Now he knew he was the son of a Lord Demon - if anyone would be able to reign the lands it would be him.
And, of course, Cheryss would now, ultimately, be his.
He was so engrossed in his own thoughts and dreams that he did not notice the Lord Demon fading away, back to his Dark Domain.
"I'll be seeing you," the Lord Demon said, tearing Ail's mind back to reality, "one day."
"No, wait!" Ail yelled, afraid it might be too late already, "I need to know your name!"
He needed to know it, of course, for otherwise he would never be able to summon the Lord Demon when it deemed him fit. Within his mind he thought rapidly. He had to challenge his father, beat him, become him. But he needed to know the name!
"Lerxt," the Lord Demon spoke, his voice carrying with it the realization that this had been the first nail in his coffin. Then, with the sound of his evil laughter disappearing into nothingness, he evaporated. On the spot where the throne had stood were now once again the old shelves filled with books and potions.
At night, Ail's dreams became increasingly horrid. They were now filled with people wading in blood, forks of lightning unmaking the earth, his own soul being torn apart between evil choices. His hands dealt death, his commands were obeyed by dread creatured he had thought would not dare to occur even in the most evil of dreams. But now he would not wake up listening to the echo of his waking cry, nor would he be bathing in sweat - instead he would relish the nightmares, enjoy them, memorise them for the future, feast on their taste of fear and decay. One day it would all be his. He would be the one to wield the scales of his own justice, brandish the scythe of death, show the licence of his own hate.
As if haunted by all his past fears, Ail read through chapter after chapter in the learned books of the Very Darkest Arts. He would file spells away in his mind, learn to recite the blackest incantations by heart. He knew what he had to do - he had to challenge his father, the Lord Demon himself, and defeat him utterly. He needed the power, he lusted after it. The sheer thought of possessing it almost made his mouth water, made his eyes ever more greedily devour the Sacred Writings.
He studied, no longer bothering even to cast a glimpse at the meals his Master left daily. Sometimes, the Tutor would try to communicate with his pupil but to no avail. Ail was fully occupied with his mastery of whatever would be needed to challenge the Lord Demon, to challenge his father. There was no doubt in his mind that he would succeed, no doubt in his very soul that he was the Lord Demon to be.
He would not sleep for more than an hour or two each night. He would continue reading and making notes when the moons had almost set already, and would get up with the earliest morning rays of the sun. He became a ghost of his former self, pale and unhealthy. His muscles went weak, his eyes became large dark orbs amid seemingly hollow sockets - much as if they were kept afloat in a black void.
It did not take long, his stamina leading him through the required books and scrolls at almost frightening speed, before Ail had gained the knowledge he reckoned he would need to challenge and defeat the Lord Demon. It was one of those proverbial starless nights, with dark clouds covering the moons as if in anger, when Ail chose to write the Blackest yet most immanent page in the history of his life - his, and that of the world. He prepared candles, appropriate scrolls, incantations, potions, everything he thought he might need for this challenge of challenges.
He put out the torch and the candles. Immediately, the library of Dark Knowledge bathed in an intense black, like velvet. Ail whispered a soft spell, upon which his body started radiating a soft orange glow.
Then he started to chant. At first the murmers that arose from his lips were barely audible, but they gained clearness until the walls reverberated that one word - the name of the Demon Lord.
"Lerxt! Lerxt! LERXT!"
Ail's voice gained strength at each uttering of the word, until it arrived at the stage where it was too immense to come merely from one human being. The floor started to tremble and vibrate; it seemed to transform itself into a sea of molten lava out of which a large stone arose - an enormous throne atop which sat Lerxt, the Lord Demon.
The Demon kept silent, his lips wrinkled in a mute smile with a touch of gloomy foreboding. After a couple of seconds that seemed to crawl by like years, he spoke.
"So you've decided you're up to it, Ailric, my son," Lerxt spoke, his voice tinged with solemnity, "up to challenging the Lord Demon - your father."
With that a lightless crack of thunder shuddered the tower, sending a shiver down Ail's spine. Something rose in his throat. Quickly, the young man regained his composure. He swallowed and shook his head. He could not afford to show any weakness, let alone fear.
"Yes," Ail replied, his voice suddenly too frail to carry meaning. He saw Lerxt raise his eyebrows and flinched.
"Yes!" Ail now cried, his chest uttering the word as if it was a last desperate breath.
For a while a blanket of silence seemed to clasp both opponents' throats. It seemed to numb their senses, postpone the passing of the very material of time and space. It seemed as if the world held its breath, as if nature itself hung suspended in the air.
Then the Lord Demon began to laugh. At first he only moved his cheeks and his eyes. Then his body started to shudder. His mouth fell wide open, his white teeth showing, his eyes closed. His abdomen started rising and sinking. The sound increased from a soft grunt to a heavy rumble that again succeeded in shuddering the floor and making cracks appear in the ceiling. Ail clasped his hands over his ears, closing his eyes.
He had no chance. The Lord Demon was too powerful. His father laughed at him, straight in the face. No chance at all. He would be crushed, smashed utterly, defeated, reduced to a meaningless dead silhouette of ashes. None of his dreams would come true, he would never rule the world like he had so often almost experienced within the intensity of his fantasies.
Yet the next moment the laugh ceased. Its echoes seemed to disappear within the cracks in the ceiling, behind the impressive throne the Lord Demon sat on. The sudden silence was almost physically painful, sending ringing noises to Ail's ears. But it did not cause a fragment of the pain he experienced next. A terrifying sound enveloped him from all sides until it seemed to come from within his head, from within his bones, from within the core of his ears, from within his feet and working upward. He seemed to be the sound itself. It sent him to the ground, kneeling, writhing, screaming, causing him to cough up phlegm, acutely nauseated. From the corner of his eyes he saw walls crumble to dust, stones fall to the ground. His guts told him he was falling down.
He strained his muscles to look up at the throne on which the Lord Demon sat. Lerxt's face now seemed to portray intense pain.
Then the skin started coming off, as if the Lord Demon was peeling himself. Soft red tissue was revealed, blood trickled down the throne onto the floor and started crawling towards Ail's hands and knees. It was flowing towards him as if some mysterious force controlled it. It circled around him until it had gained in quantity. On the throne now hung a skeleton with dried skin and ligaments loosely attached to it.
All blood had gathered around the challenger. It seemed to extend paws as if probing. Then the mysterious force suddenly seemed to lose control over it. A wailing cry seemed to break the tower in two as a fiery sensation crawled up and down Ail's body as if possessing him. When the pain eased off the redness around him had formed a large, formless puddle amidst which Ail found himself sitting when the silence once again was complete.
The throne had disappeared. There were no walls - only ruins. Above him was the sky, with the clouds having formed one hole through which glanced the third moon.
He was stunned, panting heavily.
Then he knew.
"Now I am Ailric! Ailric! AILRIC!"
IV - God
The battle had crumbled Seeker's Tower. Amid the smoking ruins Ailric stood mightily, power leaping across his chest and arms like little flashes of crackling lightning that seemed to feed on him. He, Ailric, had now finally reached what he had yearned for all this time, all his life - absolute power. He had challenged the Lord Demon, his father, and had become the God of Turmoil. Finally, he had fulfilled his ambitions and found himself in a position to wage war on the world, to teach everybody a lesson - and a lethal lesson it would be!
His muscles rippled and pulsated as he tried to contain the fierce powers that raged and gathered within him. His mouth uttered demonic laughter, increasing until he himself seemed to become the personification of it. His eyes flashed, absorbing everything around him. There was nobody, nothing that could challenge him now. The mages among the Seekers were mostly killed, the rest had scattered and fled. No power in Morvynna could ban him or stop him from achieving his ultimate goal. He would rule the lands and make Cheryss his Queen - a Queen worthy of him, worthy of a God!
He was now the most powerful creature on earth. He could do anything he wanted. He could invoke any demonic powers he cared to. He would invoke them!
He stretched out his arms before him, lightning blazing between his hands. Strange sounds arose from the earth. Howling, crying, chanting, breaking, tearing. Around Ailric the earth seemed to move in waves, like an ocean, with shapes breaking forth from it. At first the forms were made of mud, unshaped. As they continued to grow from the soil, however, they took on the guise of black horses with red eyes and light grey manes, the forms of winged skeletons and reptilian soldiers - all armed to the teeth with lances, swords, battle axes and spears. They all growled and grunted, their joints cracking at each movement while their transition was not yet complete. Shrill cries were uttered as if they were all swearing allegiance to their God and Creator, Ailric.
"With this army I will enslave the earth. Nobody will be forgotten. I will get even."
Ailric created more and more evil creatures, his magic unrelenting, his foul imagination shaping every creature more repellent and hateful than the previous. Thousands of evil creatures arose thus - built from mud, dust and Dark Magic.
One night, a messenger on horseback arrived at the Castle of King Kelin of Morvynna. The horse was not a normal one - it was deepest black with dark red eyes that radiated hate. Its light grey manes seemed to lick at its rider like flames. The soil seemed to whither away at every spot where its hooves touched the ground. On it sat a rider in a robe as black as the colour of its horse. Its face was not visible except for two little red sources of light that must have been its eyes.
The guards dared not touch nor hinder this mysterious messenger, afraid that it might strike them dead with one fell swoop of some diabolical weapon it might have hidden somewhere within the many folds of its robe.
"Bring me to your king," a voice said from under the hood. The voice was deep, broken, unnatural, carrying with it an almost palpable threat which the creature did not bother to conceal. One of the guards ran off to tell his king about this Dark messenger. The foul creature did not have to wait long until the guard came back, panting, bidding it to follow him. Marksmen and knights had gathered around the messenger, ready to strike and shed their lives when called upon.
The messenger was ushered into the king's hall of audience. Many more knights and other warriors were present, poised around the throne on which sat the king accompanied by his daughter. Ailric' servant pulled back his robe which caused murmurs, gasps and shivers to be sent down the ranks of mortals - for it was no man but some gruesome animal nobody had seen before, perhaps it was a demon, even. Knights grabbed the hilts of swords when the creature took something from a fold in his robe. It was an sealed scroll, written on parchment. On an invisible forcefield it floated towards the king who took it from the air, failing to suppress a tremble.
King Kelin broke the black seal and unrolled it. Then his eyes travelled slowly across what was written. A tear appeared in his eye. He had to swallow. He passed it on to Cheryss, his daughter. She, too, read it - but she sank on her knees, sobbing, not quite capable of handling the implications the message brought. The King held his head in his hands for a while, then looked up facing the foul creature and cleared his throat. He arose from his chair, trying to look respectful.
"Never will we give in to your master's wishes, heinous fiend!" he cried proudly, "That bastard of hell will never get my kingdom nor will he ever get my...my..." he struggled in an attempt to steady his voice, "...my daughter! If war is what he wants, then war is what he'll get. Either that or he will have to kill me!"
The man sank back in his chair, hiding his face. His daughter, wiping away her own tears, tried to comfort him.
The Dark messenger turned on its heel, its robes flowing dramatically behind it. Outside the hall of audience it mounted its black steed, had it cavort on its hind legs and then galloped away, back to its Evil Master Ailric, the God of Turmoil.
Inside the hall of audience, king Kelin ordered all of Morvynna's mages to gather at castle Lordsfall in the north of the land. Something had to be done to stop Ailric from reaching his vile goal. Something had to be done to protect the land - not to mention Cheryss, the beautiful and most vulnerable heir to his throne.
Night came and went. The frail morning saw no sun to light its drab greyness, it heard no birds that could make one forget the sound of the wind sweeping across the plains around the king's castle, nor that of thunder gathering at the horizon. The entire surrounding land seemed to be festering with hate - the trees had been corrupted, having been bent, wrinkled and made leafless overnight. They formed evil figures, an audience for the war that would take place here. The earth was black as if scorched, echoing the colour of clouds that rumbled impatiently, pregnant with fiery storms and torrents.
Ailric was in control of the elements. He wielded lightning as deft as a warrior would a knife, he controlled the flow of the winds, he commanded the downpour of rain to suit his evil intent. The skies literally vomited rain.
The God of Turmoil's armies appeared at the horizon late in the afternoon. At first they seemed like trembling mountains on the horizon, but when they came closer lookouts could tell that it was a huge army of monsters, of Undead, of walking skeletons that no longer abided the laws of life and death. Ailric had corrupted the world, the sun, life. No man's heart could help but feel desolate in the face of such monstrosities.
Within what seemed like mere minutes, Ailric' foul armies swept the castle. Men died like whithered leaves being torn off dead trees by a winter gale; intense fires consumed wood, stone and metal. Loyal men fled; proud warriors threw down their swords, sunk on their knees and wept until they got slaughtered. Blood coloured red the ruins of the once proud fortress that kings had ruled Morvynna from for many a generation. Within a few dark minutes, black pages in the history of Morvynna's monarchy, it was reduced to a meaningless pile of rubble.
In the end only the King stood, wounded, his sword hanging limply in a paralysed hand. Only his crown, golden amid the blackness of the world, stood on his head with a remnant of pride, its diamonds shining defiantly. Guards lay around him, killed in horrendous ways. It was a sight even maggots would have thrown up on.
Not so Ailric, God of Turmoil, who descended from his black steed and walked towards the monarch. His evil warriors left the King untouched, not daring to defy their Lord's commands though their fangs dribbled rabidly with anticipation of death and slaughter.
"Or I will have to kill you, eh?"
For a moment Ailric breathed in his triumph, then his face darkened - this was not the castle where magicians were at that very moment trying to prepare the spell that would attempt to banish him forever to some distant place. Furthermore, he had not found Cheryss here.
The King looked at Ailric, reading the thoughts from the deep frown embedded on the evil fiend's face. He smiled a smile of content. Ailric' victory was not complete. Not yet. The God of Turmoil could yet be defeated. He had bought time, precious time.
King Kelin smiled his last smile. Frothing with anger, Ailric took a dagger from his belt and with a fell swing of it decapitated the old man. A noiseless cry froze on the King's lips as the head flopped off the neck and rolled down amid blood and dirt.
Ailric jumped on his black stallion, not looking back as the King's body dropped to the earth, just like any other casualty. The God of Turmoil uttered a silent command. He rode north with lightning speed. His army followed him, lethal and agile like some evil mythological creature.
For a moment, Cheryss felt a tremble shuddering her bones, her brain, the very core of her being. For a while she saw the world turn around her; she could not focus her attention on the incantations and the chants uttered by the magicians around her.
She felt that her father, King of Morvynna, had died. She felt the last beat of his heart echo through her head, refusing to abate for long seconds during which seasons seemed to pass within her. He had stalled time. She prayed it would be enough, she hoped he had not died for naught, that his life and that of all who had died with him would count. Already she felt Ailric's cursed attention upon her; she could imagine a cold hand, like that of a corpse, resting on her shoulder. She could see herself turning around to stare within those fiery red eyes filled with anger and hate no mortal man had ever possessed before.
Driven as if by some evil inferno, Ailric and his army drew towards castle Lordsfall. What would have been many a day's journey through dense forests and across endless plains was decreased to mere hours. The God of Turmoil combined all his tremendous power to make his army move on the wings of the wind's frenzy. The forests below seemed to greet them with warped trees stretching out towards them, the blackened planes radiating some eerie power of darkness that urged them on.
Early in the morning - or perhaps it was in the middle of night - the lookouts at castle Lordsfall saw Ailric's army and heard the stampeding of unnatural horses. They sent hurried messages down into the bowels of the castle where the magicians were feveredly trying to complete the preparations for the Banishment spell. They could not rehearse. There was no time to double-check. This one had to succeed in one go - either that, or the entire world would enter a period of dark infinity it would surely never wake up from.
Ailric rode at the head of his army, that he seemed to hold back. Lordsfall would have to be taken more carefully, as he did not want Cheryss to be hurt. He needed her for himself to become a whole person, he needed her to sit beside him on her own throne, the two of them ruling the universe supreme.
Ailric crushed the ancient wooden gates from their hinges, storming through the first defence with a handful of his Undead lieutenants - straight at the core of Lordsfall, where he would find Cheryss and those accursed magicians that had somehow gained the courage to challenge him, to try a feeble attempt at banishing him, even!
He slew the second defence ring, that guarded the room deep inside Lordsfall from behind which the God of Turmoil sensed a large concentration of magic. A flash of light, the sound of thunder. The door ceased to exist, transformed into as many small bits as there are stars in the universe.
When the dust cleared he walked in, full of confidence and ready to strike at whatever would dare to attack him. He saw the shapes of the magicians, but only dimly. In the centre of the ring sat Cheryss. Beautiful Cheryss, the woman he had yearned for so long. The only mortal who had ever seemed to understand him, who had not laughed at him, who had not found it necessary to kick him.
Now he heard the arcane hum that hung in the air. Now he saw Cheryss's hands, stretched out at him - but not as in a welcoming embrace. They held a jewel.
He sensed excessive magic.
V - Exile
For a moment, Ailric stood frozen. His eyes opened wide, filled with the fears of recently forgotten memories. The God of Turmoil was made painfully aware of the fact that there were more powers in the universe besides his, besides Dark and Evil ones. He now felt all forces combined - and being used against him. All shades of grey, red, yellow, white. They were all there. Mages looked at him as if they would personally want to banish his pitiable being to some faraway planet. Within the fraction of a moment that passed between the realisation of defeat and the actual banishment, his eyes flashed to and fro the mages. To Cheryss. Cheryss. The only human he had ever truly felt some affection for, the only mortal that he had wanted to make his, that he had wanted to share his life and his powers with. Her eyes looked at him, filled with hate but tinged with pity. Her hands were stretched out at him, holding out the intricate jewel, on the verge of casting that One Spell all sorcerors had prepared. The banishment spell Ailric had never considered possible, the surge of power that spelled out utter defeat in bright, coruscating capitals.
His Undead legions stood as motionless as their master, their victims rescued in mid-thrust, their Lord's mind not being able to control them anymore. Frantically, Ailric thought of ways to deflect this ordeal. In his mind he tried to leaf through the scrolls and tomes he had studied for all that time in Seeker's Tower. Words flashed, but they did not connect to anything he could make use of.
He looked in Cheryss's eyes one last time. They still seemed like beautiful little stars, but now they only predicted his defeat. He was about to sigh when his entire being was enveloped in fire. It scorched his body like he had scorched the land, his arms and fingers grew gnarled like the trees he had bent, his eyes burnt in his head as if scornful birds had pecked them out. He sunk to his knees, helpless, powerless, weakened completely. The sorcerors' chants softened and died off as he seemed to be moving away from them. He could see nothing around him, nothing but a vast blackness and then, suddenly, everything was red. He could not move. He dared not think. He felt as if he were encased in something solid and infinitely big. It felt as if the red colour had frozen solid, redness incarnated.
The red moon, the third moon. His prison for eternity.
Outside Lordsfall, Ailric's Undead legions crumbled to dust, their shrill cries of defeat echoing up the heavens as if hailing their master for one final, horrible time.
Then there was silence.
A thousand years passed by.
The land forgot its sufferings, the people went back to living their normal lives. Evil powers were banished from the earth, all levels of black magic repressed. The monarchy flourished. Kings died natural deaths and peace ruled the land.
Generally, everybody was happy.
Everybody, that is, except for the odd mage with blacker interests than those of his tutors. These formed small guilds in obscure places - communicating, learning, brooding, gathering. Ultimately they got the ambition of releasing the legendary God of Turmoil from the ethereal womb of his banishment.
For years they studied, much in the way Ail had done when he had been a young lad, although it was made more difficult for them as most Dark Knowledge had been written down in books that had been destroyed a long time ago. New incantations had to be devised, forgotten scrolls had to be sought, restored and interpreted. The Black Magic Guild slowly regained the Dark Arts, their minds occupied plotting the symphony of destruction. Some Undead were seen roamed the land again.
Nobody noticed - or perhaps nobody wanted to notice at all. Slowly but certainly, the rotten core within the lands grew in size and power. It infected, administering decay and dissatisfaction to those eager to be fed. And there it strained to remain hidden.
Hidden, that is, until the sore spot burst.
Original version written April 1992. Rehashed April 1993.