Trapped, staring frozen into the bonfire, Rubin felt the presence swelling behind him. Screaming internally at his body to respond, it was as if his spirit was no longer attached to his body. This wasn’t fear that froze him, he’d known that failure enough to recognise it. This was magic, but so subtle and natural that it could have been breathing.
Vibrations shook the air around him. Not the air, he realised, the ether. His spirit shuddered like a leaf before a mounting storm, the proud Weatherford scholar felt very small and powerless. The vibrations grew, unconcerned by Rubin’s terror until they were almost too much to bear. Instinctively he sought to protect himself from the onslaught on his senses, willing his eyes closed and his hands to cover his ears, but whatever form he now held seemed incapable or unwilling to obey.
And then the thundering roar of the ether stopped.
Something is different, was the first thing he noticed, the colours seemed more vibrant. He looked around and was startled to find that he could. Around him the woods stood, exactly as they had before, but in every way alien, like someone had recreated the world from perceptions of it rather than objective reality. Rubin turned slowly on his heel, cautiously taking in the world, searchingfor explanation or reason. Finding no answer he sought the familiar power of his magic, opening his essence to the ether as he’d done countless times before and instead of trickling forth as he was used to this time the magic erupted like wildfire, igniting the very nature of what he was and burning his very soul. The sudden, indescribable rush of power was too much, far too much for Rubin to contain, let alone control. He screamed, thrashing wildly in his torment when a voice pounded inside skull.
“Kneel. Kneel and worship me.”
Somehow through the mind destroying agony, Rubin remained conscious enough to understand and believe the words. Collapsing into a ball on the ground, he grovelled as sincerely as he could through the pain, praying earnestly for release.
And it was granted.
Weeping on the ground, as much from relief as the recently banished pain, Rubin remained motionless where he lay. Every nerve ending felt raw and tender, every sensation felt a thousand, thousand times more intense, such that the light breeze felt like sand paper. Even this, was bliss compared to the memory of before.
Eventually Rubin opened his eyes, it felt like hours later, but time seemed less real than it had. The woods, exactly as they were in reality, not that terrible other place, but he lain upon his bedroll and it was bright like the sunrise.
Slowly he lifted his head, feeling the weight of his body again. It was heavy, he’d never noticed how heavy it had felt simply to be in his body. Looking around he saw the others going about their early morning business. There was no chance that was a dream, he thought, though the evidence may points, it was simply too much to not be real. With a groan he rolled onto an arm and shakily pushed himself off the ground. Heavy footfalls nearby announced Telfor’s approach.
“Take a walk with me Rubin,” the gruff voice scraped itself across the scholars shoulder before boring its way into his ear. Without waiting for an answer, the grey soldier stomped past, moving into the woods. Unwillingly, but not wanting to start a fight just yet, Rubin followed despite his stiff joints and burning skin. Telfor took him deep enough into the wood to be out of earshit before he wheeled upon him.
“What happened during your watch?”
“I don’t know,” Rubin replied honestly, something about the way the question was asked made him want to lie, “Something happened. It was… horrible.”
Telfor raised a querying eyebrow, his grey, semi-beastial features made him less expressionate than most but this one was obvious. It was disbelief. That brought Rubin back to himself, heat filled his cheeks and he straightened his posture.
“It’s the truth. Some magic took me, and did something that I cannot explain yet. It must have been the work of that witch you made us bring along.”
“Careful, Rubin,” Telfor’s voice was low and quiet, not threatening, but also not without steel, “That’s a serious accusation considering you just told me you don’t know what happened.”
It was true, a malediction like he’d just described was a death sentence. His rational mind understood this, and told him to drop it, but he couldn’t. Something inside him snapped. Anger and frustration refused be contained and before he realised it, it was flowing out of him.
“No. No I refuse. I will not. I have been ignored, assaulted, and overriden. I am not one of your soldiers, Telfor. I am a Journeyman of the Weatherford University. I was entrusted to your band to bring a Necromancer to justice, and now she travels under our protection with promises of secrecy. A crime, punishable by death. I have had enough of your Leadership, on this matter. We have failed to report the undead we encountered in timely fashion. Verumaleus is dead. And The Necromancer has maledicted me. This is where I draw the line, either you arrest her. Or I’m leaving.”
After the words were out, he already regretted them. He somehow felt wearier than he had before saying them. But unwilling to back down, he set his gaze and waited for a response. The pair stood staring at one another in silence for a time, until eventually Telfor bowed his head.
“Alright, Rubin. I’m listening, tell me exactly what happened. I believe you.”
Third consecutive upload, and this one wasn’t completed the night it was due. Go me.
I’m quite pleased with this one, it’s probably fairly obvious how much I enjoy cosmic horror, I have a deep appreciation for the unfeeling, incomprehensible, things that awe and terrify us. Whether that concept comes to you through the vastness of space, the search for meaning or purpose, or something else, I find that style very powerful.
And as a fairly novice writer who enjoys a thing, I probably overuse said thing. I expect the story will become more grounded by the time the party arrives in the city. The series is called Blood and Lies after all, and we’ve had surprisingly little of both.
In news about my life; writing off the blog has gone slowly, and to my shame I haven’t read anything new, but I’m continuing to lose weight down 3kg now, and finally I’m very excited to run the first game of new Vampire: The Requiem next sunday.
My song for this installment: Baying of the Hounds – Opeth
Featured art: Shadow Demon by Keith
Hope you enjoy it,