Running.

He stepped out into the mist, watching the swirls coalesce around him. He drew a deep breath into his lungs, tasting the moisture, the hint of decay that drifted from the massive trunks around him, craggy bark rising up into the sky to occlude the stars.

He stepped forward, blinking his eyes. All around him, the trees rose up – but out in front of him, a clearing opened up, pale moonlight shining down through the hole in the canopy. The dim light painted the scene in black and white and innumerable shades of gray, a monochromatic masterpiece.

The boy sighed, feeling tension ebb from his limbs. No one else knew about this clearing but him. He nodded when the elders warned him not to venture out too far beyond the limits of the village, not to stray into the darkness.

He nodded – but inside his head, he clung fiercely to this place, this private retreat.

His field. Continue reading

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The Rot

His footsteps were sure and steady, despite the slipperiness of the moss underfoot. He knew his way to the little knoll, had walked this path many times before.

The mist swirled in around him, and he held the lantern high, although its light failed to illuminate much of interest. Should a boar or other denizen of the forest emerge, the light would grant him no advance warning, no increased chance of escaping to safety.

The mist soaked into his robes, making them grow heavier as they clung to his body. He paid little heed to how they clung to his skin. The journey was more important. No matter whether the forest was dry or wet, he would complete his journey, would reach his destination. Continue reading

The Girl with Purple Eyes, Part II

Continued from Part I, here.

“Magic.”

I glared across the table at the woman sitting there, her eyes not meeting mine as she toyed with her cup of mead. “Magic,” I repeated. “You can use magic.”

Purple eyes flashed up at mine, anger and distrust warring in her irises. “Yes.”

I took a deep breath, and then let it out in a whoosh as I realized that I didn’t have any real response to this. “Good gods, woman, what have I gotten myself mixed up with?” Continue reading

The Girl with Purple Eyes

My eyes caught the girl as soon as she stepped into the tavern. She couldn’t have looked more out of place if she’d been draped in glow-worms.

Of course, I wasn’t the only one to spot her arrival, her appearance, and I knew it. All around the dim, damp, musty room, the scum of Calaphel shifted in their seats, hands straying towards weapons.

We all sensed wealth, and we hungered for it. Continue reading

Thaddeus the Ender, Part III

This story begins here.

“The War of Darkness,” Old Thad repeated to us as we sat bolt upright, staring back at him.  Our minds were barely able to believe what he was speaking – and yet, he somehow banished all doubt.  “The worst moment of humanity.  And yet, it was the best it could have been.”

“The powers to reach the gods?  They are beyond your imagining,” Old Thad confided to us.  “And so many men were burned out by just trying to channel that level of power.  But other men, they were changed by its touch.  They were twisted, turned into shells of themselves, driven by nothing but the desire that kept the atoms of their bodies held together.

“And there was no caring of what had to be sacrificed to reach those goals.

“Throughout it all, I stood by.  I had lost my gift.  I could do nothing against these men who built their towers to the sun, blotting out its light as they strove to rend open reality itself.  So I did the only thing that I could think of.  I picked up a blade, a little scrap of useless metal, and I swore to bring an end to the attempts.”

Old Thad once again looked down at his hands.  “Perhaps I was selfish,” he admitted.  “I wanted no one else to have what I had.  But I knew that it was too much power for humanity.  It would destroy us all, even if we didn’t all die in the attempt to reach it.  So I, alone, powerless, stood against it.

“The first few wizards didn’t even know what I was doing.  They died quickly, easily.  The later ones knew what I wanted, what I tried to do, and they did their best to stop me.  But I knew every trick they used.  I had done it all.  Discovered most of their secrets.  And one by one, I brought them down.

“And so,” Old Thad confessed, “I became an angel of death.  I visited genocide upon the wizarding race.  And I became The Ender.”

“Eventually, enough damage had been done to make my intentions clear.  The rest of the wizards, fearful of what I would do to them, agreed to stop their attempts to reach the gods.  An accord was struck, an agreement forged in blood and fear.  But it held.  For as long as I existed, none dared to violate the agreement.  And I would exist for perpetuity.”

Thaddeus shrugged his shoulders, working out the knot that had been forming in them as he had hunched forward.  “And it still holds,” he said.  “All of those who signed, who wrote it, are now long gone.  Even their memories have faded into obscurity.  But I remain.  And now, I work here, to ensure that such circumstances never arise again.  There will never again be a call for The Ender.”

Thaddeus slid forward, standing up from his desk.  For as long as I could remember, the man had been a hunched little goblin – a caricature of the old, forgetful wizard.  A figure to be mocked, to be parodied.  But now, he straightened up, stood tall and proud.  And it seemed as though the rest of reality dimmed, as if he was all that existed.  And it filled me with a fear I’d never before felt.

“This will never be spoken of again,” Thaddeus commanded.  We knew that we could do nothing but obey.  “This will be kept to yourselves, never shared.  All true wizards know this, but it is never spoken about.  But it will remain with you, in your souls, until the end of your days.

“This is my lesson on the dark side of your power, on what you can become.  And you will never become this.  For I exist, and I say that it is so.”

We all filed out of Old Thad’s classroom after the hour had ended, every last one of us silent.  Nobody spoke of what Thaddeus had told us.  He had gone on, laying out the framework of true power, showing us the horror and destruction we could create.  He painted a picture in darkness, a picture where every color was black, scraping it into our souls with a knife as his paintbrush.

But around the corners, the older students were waiting for us.  “Hey,” one of them greeted us, patting my shoulder gently.  “He has that effect, doesn’t he?  Best not to think about it too much right now.  C’mon, the hall’s open for lunch.  Let’s eat.”

The older students somehow managed to break that tension.  And now, we walked away from the classroom, unable or unwilling to look back at the room where the man remained after we had left.

Thaddeus Constellariae the Ender.  Powerless, lacking even the slightest magical ability.  And the true victor of the War of Darkness, the most powerful wizard to have existed.

Thaddeus the Ender, Part II

Continued from Part I.

We were all spellbound, staring at Old Thad – which was especially remarkable, as he had just revealed that he could do no magic.  Why was he a professor at a magical academy?  Who was this man, to teach us about magic, when he couldn’t even do that which he taught?  We were filled with confusion, frustration, even rage.  And yet, we needed to know why.  We listened, and Old Thad spoke.

“I have been here,” Old Thad spoke, in his old and dry voice, “for far longer than you can imagine.  I have been here long before this school stood, before the idea of teaching magic was more than a passing thought.  When I learned these spells, there was no structure.  Magic ran wild.”

Old Thad tilted his head back, his gaze lost in his memories.  “I don’t think that I was the first wizard,” he said, his voice so far away, “but I was one of the first.  We didn’t know why we could call forth this power, why certain gestures and actions seemed to create these effects.  We had to learn through doing, through trying.  Nothing was recorded, or passed on.  Magic was a secret to be hoarded.”

“But we were determined,” Old Thad laughed.  “Perhaps we had to be, to persist with such insanity.  Our friends, colleagues, competitors, they all died by the day.  We teach you how one wrong word can turn a spell’s power back on the castor.  We found this out through trials, learned these lessons in blood.

“And yet, we continued.  And oh, the things that we did!”  Old Thad’s voice had a deeper strength to it, a tone we’d never heard from the ancient man before.  “There were no rules then.  Nothing to hold us back, to force us into structure.  We were titans, rulers of the world!  We bent reality and shaped it to our will!

“And for a lucky few, we met the gods.”

The entire class was frozen.  Our mouths hung open as we listened.  The gods?  Old Thad spoke this so casually, as though he was going out for a spot of tea.  We couldn’t even fathom the power he spoke of.

“The gods,” Old Thad repeated, shaking his head.  “Now, that was a bit of magic that I’m glad to see has been lost to time.  For the gods are cruel, capricious.  And when I tore open the soul of the world to find them, they offered me a choice for my hubris.”

Old Thad spread his hands wide.  “I think they were concerned by my power,” he said.  “Is that presumptuous?  Perhaps.  But I think that I scared them at some level.  And so they offered me a taste of their power.  Immortality – for my gift.”

Old Thad stared out at us in our desks, and his gaze was filled with judgment.  “What would you do?” he asked, and we all had to pull our eyes away instead of staring back into that infinity within his pupils.  “Would you give up all that you’d learned – to exist until the end of time?”

After a moment, Old Thad took a deep breath.  “I know what I did,” he said, looking down at his hands.  “I made the trade.”

“Of course, that wasn’t the end of it.  No, I couldn’t keep what I had done a secret.  And soon, others wanted what I had.  I never revealed my secrets, and I don’t think anyone else ever truly met the gods.  And thank goodness.  I can’t even imagine what destruction that could have unleashed upon the world.  Even a pale shadow nearly broke us apart.”

Here, Thaddeus paused.  He was looking out at us as if waiting for the answer.  And I knew what he was speaking about.  “The War of Darkness,” I said, my voice barely audible.

But Old Thad caught my words, and he nodded.  “Yes,” he confirmed.  “The great war.  When man attempted to fight the gods…”

To be concluded!

Thaddeus the Ender, Part I

I wanted to write something magical.  High fantasy.  Harry Potter.  So here it is…

His name was Thaddeus, Thaddeus Constellariae the Ender, but none of us called him that.  To us, he was just Old Thad, always hanging around in the hallways.  He’d yell at us if we got too rowdy, it was his duty as a teacher, but we knew that his heart wasn’t in it.  Most of the time, when he wasn’t giving his dusty and dry lectures, he just sat and watched.

Most of our class didn’t have much respect for this man.  Not only was he dusty and dried-up, like most of our teachers, but he didn’t even use magic!  What could he hope to teach us?  All of us, even bumbling Quincy, could work the rudimentary forms.  We could summon forth showers of sparks, pull and push the world around us, reach out and make little adjustments to our reality to give us something more.

We had the gift.  And Old Thad didn’t.

And yet, the school still kept him around.  For some reason, they thought that he was a valuable resource.  He had been here forever.  Longer than anyone’s memory could stretch back.  For as long as there had been the academy, there had been Old Thad.

Yes, some of his lectures were useful.  He mainly talked about theory, about constructing deeper enchantments with many layers, and the results always sounded impressive.  But he never put on demonstrations.  There was never a show in Old Thad’s class.

Instead, he’d ask us for alternatives.  Always asking about the alternatives.  “How else would you handle this?” he would say.  “What if you couldn’t use that magical spell?  What else would you do?”

What stupid questions! we all thought.  Of course we’d use magic!  Why even think of anything else?

The older students never seemed to give Old Thad any trouble.  We asked them why, tried to figure out why they gave this daft old man such reverence.  “Just wait,” they’d tell us.  “He’ll let you in on his secret soon enough.  It will change everything.”  But they’d say no more.

We all made wild guesses about this secret, about what it could be.  Thaddeus Constellariae the Ender.  The name was engraved on his door, on the plaque on the front of his desk.  Ender of what?  Some students thought that he was the one who pushed for dark magic to be regulated.  Some claimed that he had brought peace to a strike between the academy and the teachers.

A few students even suggested that perhaps he had been involved in the War of Darkness, when the very powers of good and evil had picked up spells and marched off to battle.  Continents had been razed in that war, entire civilizations summoned into being and then banished as though they had never existed.  Reality itself had been all but broken, before peace had somehow been established.  The man who had finally ended the annihilation had been known as The Ender.  But it couldn’t be the same person.

That war had been millenia ago.

The end of the school year was rapidly approaching.  For once, we began to look forward to Old Thad’s lectures.  Was this going to be the day that he finally revealed his secret?  We were dying of curiosity.

Finally, when we walked into Old Thad’s classroom one day, there were no diagrams on the dusty chalkboards behind his desk.  There was just Old Thad, sitting on top of his desk.

“Take a seat,” he told us as we entered.  His voice was as ancient as the rest of him, dry and dusty like the rest of him.  We sat, our notebooks and quills out.

“No notes,” he said, and we put our notebooks away.

“You all know the First Forms,” Old Thad began as we straightened back up, our books back in our bags.  And we all nodded.  The First Forms were the absolute basics, taught to all wizards as a way to channel their magic when their abilities first appeared.  Even infants could perform them in rudimentary ways.  They produced nothing more than a flash of light, a small clap of noise, a little shower of sparks.

Old Thad raised one hand, his voice speaking the words of the Opening Form.  We all waited, watching for the little glow of light around one finger that came with the final word.  But as Old Thad finished, nothing happened.

His form had been textbook.  The results were clear.  We all understood.

Old Thad couldn’t do magic.

As our mouths fell open, Thaddeus lifted his non-glowing finger.  “That is my secret,” he said.  “And now, I will tell you how I got this way…”

To be continued…