Chapter 1: Prologue and Chapter 1
Rupert tore wildly through the bushes, manicly swatting hanging branches and impeding leaves. His leg ached with effort, burning coals relaxing muscles. The fevered run turned to a fear filled walk, to a haphazard stumble. Rupert's face met the soggy ground. The absolute silence of the forest enveloped him. He was alone, and yet not so. He knew what was quickly approaching, what had dogged him for years.
And it had finally bested him, but it wouldn’t win that easy.
With the last of his strength, Rupert reached into the tattered remains of his cloak. His calloused fingers brushed against rough parchment, and closed around that feeling. Slowly, painfully, his hand withdrew from the cloak. Rupert gazed at the red scrawls on the tattered sheepskin, mumbling under his breath. The words seemed to fill him up, ignite a long dormant fire within his eyes. Rupert stumbled to his feet, the mumble turning to a chant, rhythmic and deep. The arcane words thrummed with an unnatural power, stirring the cool night air. The shadows danced to the chant, moonlight itself bent to the sound. The chant grew louder, and Rupert began to convulse, drops of blood leaking from his already red-rimmed eyes.
Rupert’s mouth went slack, but the words continued. It was beyond him now. The words had ceased to be his. The parchment began to burn; blackened ash falling through his loose fingers. The tempest grew in ferocity around him, the chanting swelling along with it.
A hellish scream echoed from the distance. A flash of fear returned to Rupert’s eye.
“Too soon,” he thought, “the ritual!”
Another scream cut through the night, much closer than the first. A third came, closer still. Rupert was in a cocoon of chaos, entombed in raw power, but he knew it would not keep his pursuer at bay. It was when the fourth wail came that Rupert began to feel the final effects of the spell.
His soul was on fire. White hot pain racked his body, exploding out of his mouth in a scream to match the approaching beast’s. Visions floated past, taunting him, mocking him, torturing him. The chanting grew more aggressive, sensing his pain, feeding off it. The beast broke into sight. It stood slightly taller than a man on it’s hind legs, covered in matted brown fur. It had no eyes, but in their stead twin coals burned, illuminating the ground in front of it. Monstrous claws hung at limply at it’s side, disguising their true purpose. The beast then cocked it’s head, sniffing
the midnight air. Abruptly, it locked it’s unseeing gaze upon Rupert.
It charged, claws held forward, moving with deadly speed.
“No!”, Rupert screamed, twisting, fighting to stop what he could not.
Claws met flesh, blood met air. A look of satisfaction crept over Rupert’s face, as the last of his blood fled his body. His pale hand clutched the furry one imbedded in his chest.
“Too......late..”, he croaked.
The forest erupted in a nova of sound and light. Purple tendrils of power exploded from Ruperts body, wrapping both the beast and Rupert in a cocoon of light. The tendrils dug into the beast’s flesh, boring burning holes through his unholy body. Consuming them both. Both fuel for the fire.
Then, as quickly as it started, it stopped. Nothing remained, save a small pile of ashes.
And the chanting. It on echoed still, resonating through the quiet chatter of crickets that had returned to the wood:
“...THURISAZ AHH ISA AHH JERA PERTH AHH THURISAZ AHH ISA AHH JERA...”
“...PERTH MANNAZ BERKANA PERTH MANNAZ BERKANA...”.
Words of power were written on the walls, crudely drawn in ancient script. They seemed to glow in time with the chant, breathing in the harsh, guttural tones.
Aristine watched the elders perform the ritual with awe. Their arcane hand motions held her in rapture, the honied words that flowed forth from their mouths enthralled her. She could see the dark tendrils of energy swirl menacingly in the air, trapped by the words of power written on the walls. The seven sorcerers stood within a protective circle, their voices combining to form one chant thick with dark power. In the very center of the circle, there also stood a warlock, designated by the bloody trim of his robe. The other acolytes watched with a mixture of boredom and confusion, none of them saw what she saw. None saw the raw swirling power contained by the fragile wards around the cavern.
The chanting began to fill the cavern, not just like a sound, but as a solid force, a wall of pulsating power. The other acolytes began to feel what they couldn’t see, the ropes of power twisting in the damp air. The chanting began to slow, one voice standing out. The voice took a new tone, started speaking new words. Subconsciously, Aristine began to chant along with the new voice, her hands effortlessly miming the the motions of the head warlock. The ropes of power had twined themselves together into a pulsing column of pure energy, purple and black twined with
blue and blood-red. The column swirled in a lazy circle around the upper part of the cavern, nearly touching it’s tail as it completed the circuit. All chanting but the warlock’s had ceased and they stood, heads bowed within the confines of the protective circle. His hands began to make sharp vertical motions and the energy obeyed.
In one violent motion, the column slammed down into the circle of sorcerers, sending them flying into the rock, or, in one case, into the invisible barrier of the wards. A couple acolytes gasped and one fainted, but Aristine continued her chant, eyes locked on the warlock, who had been untouched by the blast. He raised his arms and so, the energy followed, now trapped in the bodies of the seven sorcerers. Their bodies were raised aloft, dark energy crackling over their skin. The speed of the chanting began to increase and the voices of the seven sorcerers slowly returned to the chant. The warlock smiled. He lowered the sorcerers to the ground and dismissed the ward with a flourish.
The audience stood astonished, jaws dropping to the floor, all except Aristine. She stood mute, staring straight ahead. The warlock looked into her eyes, taking in the deep purple of her iris.
“Come forth, child,” he said to her, extending a gloved hand to her.
Aristine wordlessly came forward, and stood directly before the warlock. He pointed to one of the sorcerers.
“Can you see it?”, he breathed hopefully.
“Yes,” Aristine responded curtly. The warlock’s purple gaze met her own once more.
“Finish your ritual, brothers. This one and I have special business to attend to.”
The warlock lead Aristine away as the sorcerers produced ornate silver daggers. She paused and turned. The sorcerers advanced on the alcyotes, blades held before them. The acolytes were paralyzed with fear; they stared, stricken as their inescapable fate drew nearer and nearer.The leftmost acolyte was first, so scared she barely managed a throaty scream. The crimson tide that flowed forth was almost hypnotic. The sorcerer, still crackling with dark energy, began to bathe himself in the blood. All down the line, throats were slit, with various grunts and gurgles emitting from the crowd. Eventually, all that remained was a sea of blood and the sorcerers bathing in it.
“Come, child. We have work to do,” the warlock lightly said, once the killing was done.
Aristine nodded, and turned to follow. She paused.
“What should I call you?”, Aristine blurted, a
tinge of fear entering her eyes.
The warlock turned and smiled, “Child, call me Sebastian.”
“Yes, Master Sebastian,” Aristine intoned, dropping her gaze.
“Just Sebastian, child,” Sebastian once again smiled warmly, completely at odds with his surroundings.
Aristine stood confused. There was a meticulously laid out hierarchy in the cult. One wrong word to a superior and you most likely would end up dead the before the next ritual. This breach in formality set Aristine on edge more than anything else that had happened that day.
A rank wind ruffled the black folds of Sebastian’s cloak; Aristine shivered despite herself.
“Come, come, Aristine,” he said without her ever saying her name, ‘’We really do have important work to do.”