Author: Lacie Carmody PM
When the western province has been struck by an unseasonable cold the king orders all witches and sorceresses to death. But darker forces may be to blame. Now it will take a nameless sorceress and a knight to summon a goddess before the lands destructionRated: Fiction T - English - Fantasy/Adventure - Chapters: 6 - Words: 16,511 - Reviews: 3 - Favs: 1 - Follows: 1 - Updated: 04-15-12 - Published: 12-22-11 - id: 2981792
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
It had been after sunset when he had finally set out to the abandoned shrine. The two horses pulled along the cart slowly, fighting through the thick mud of early spring. The sun had clung on that day, only to be extinguished by the lingering chill of winter and the darkness that could stretch on forever if the opportunity presented itself. The cart's driver pulled his cloak closer to his form only to have the wind brush it back. His body shook, but whether it was from the cold or the sense of excitement coursing through his veins he couldn't tell. He glanced back at the cloth sack in the cart and grinned. If the offering worked he wouldn't feel anything near cold ever again.
The first order of business after he made the offering, he decided, was going to be changing his name. Immortality would be a fantastic thing but, not if his name was lackluster, no one named Altus had ever struck fear in anyone's heart. He had decided while loading his cargo that evening that somewhere in his name there needed to be the word Lion. Altus the Lion, seemed far more befitting a god than Altus the historian, particularly considering the task required to earn such a title. No one would point and laugh at Altus the Lion, they would fear the wrath of a man with such a name, of that he was nearly certain.
Three days earlier and by mere coincidence, Altus the historian and sometimes librarian had stumbled upon the heavy leather book, tucked away beneath historic texts of the war between the prevailing god Laros and the nearly extinguished goddess Feriana. As it was, Altus the historian was still something closer to Altus the apprentice and as such, had never written a single word about anything even remotely historic, finding his time wasted instead on sorting and cataloging the scrolls and novels in the capital city's library. He was a slight and fairly quiet young man with skin as pale as milk and thick black hair that tended to hang in his eyes and, as far as those who knew him were concerned, was less than memorable. He tended to agree with them, and had always been the young man who had always found the comfort of the books far more companionable than people, and based on what he could tell they usually shared a similar sentiment in his presence especially the fairer sex.
Setting aside the historic texts that day, and taking up a corner, the heavy leather book in his lap Altus read of abandoned shrines to old gods and how one could gain a little bit of magic and eternal life. He had tucked the book away and collected the necessary components before setting off a few days later. There was an aspect about the ritual that sent chills up his spine and made his stomach churn. He glanced back at the sack once more before drawing the carriage to a stop. The blood of a virgin witch, not an easy commodity to come by, but he had managed it and as he pulled the sack over his shoulder and her shudder of fear echoed in his ear he silently hoped that the end would justify the gruesome means.
Witches and sorceresses were a rarity anymore. The early texts Altus had read detailed the once vibrant and magical landscape where matriarchs were far spread, where magic reigned supreme and immortality was not something reserved strictly for gods. But that was a world far off and times had changed now that Kreios was king, and very much mortal and male. Altus quite liked the king and like most of those who were born without magic held very little love for his queen Anya, the daughter of the former ruler and a known sorceress who had been rumored to keep mortals for slaves. He smiled slightly, soon enough he would be able to obtain a woman as beautiful as Anya for a wife...pretty soon he would be able to have slaves of his own if he so wished.
The entrance to the shrine was dark, the once brilliant stone carvings crumbling around the thick ivy growing around it. Altus swallowed and walked into the shrine dragging the sack with him. The interior was no less dark, the marble floor caked with dirt and grime. At the far end stood the altar where offerings were made, a statue of the god Laros towering over it. Altus stared at the statue, frozen in place. The body was muscled, the jaw line strong and the gaze foreboding. Laros had been a great god, sacrificing himself so that his rival the goddess Feriana would have to forsake her powers. Only by the blood of her descendants was Laros able to sustain himself in the pits of the netherworld.
...or so the history texts told.
Altus was like most men who no longer lived in the constant shadow of immortals, and believed that the gods were all but dead, forgotten by all save for the historians and the few magic born scattered about. But if it was true, if the sacrifice of the young witch he had brought forth brought him eternal life, than he, like the others who had made the offering, would stand and see the rise of the god once more.
He took in a breath, the musty air choking him slightly before rubbing his hands together and setting about the preparations for the ritual. He lit the candles to illuminate the altar, and set the heavy leather book at its base. The sack moved slightly he bit his lip and retrieved the sacrifice. The woman he had chosen was young, fifteen at most, with long blonde curls that fell around her shoulders in golden cascades. She would be beautiful in her time, perhaps even coveted by the men in the village. the tiny bit of magic she had been gifted with could be used to heal people who came into her care if she received the proper training, if not it could perhaps grant her an unnaturally long life, or perhaps it would fade into nothingness if left undetected, not that it mattered much any longer. She stirred in his arms but did not fight. The brew used for sedation had been designed to keep horses calm during the strong storms that whipped through the country side. A small dose had left the girl in a haze too strong to be fought.
He laid her gently on the altar, shackling her hands to the stone slab lest she come out of her haze unexpectedly and fight. Shadows played across her body and Altus pondered the effect being ripped into the netherworld could have on such a frail form. He shook his head, too frightened of losing his nerves to think any deeper. He retrieved the book and began reading the words to call upon Laros and his followers;
"All ye who look upon my face shall know me as servant.
For I pledge my unwavering allegiance to Laros the true king of kings.
Know me; acknowledge my gift of untainted blood from your immortal foe."
Altus pulled free a short dagger from inside the sleeve of his cloak and raised it above his head. The girl opened her eyes and looked at him. He hesitated slightly but carried on;
"With her death come eternal life and the promise of your return…
For my master, for my king."
Altus squeezed his eyes shut and drove the blade through the girls chest, too frightened to acknowledge the fear filled gaze of his victim. She screamed and writhed upon the altar, grasping for the blade just out of her reach, the effects of the drug gone. Altus stepped back and watched as blood from the wound trickled across her body onto the altar. The candle light grew intense and her wails knocked him backwards onto the marble floor. The fire from the flames became entangled and enveloped the altar, drowning out the cries and harsh gasps with their roar. Altus attempted to move away but found himself glued to the ground, too mystified to flee.
Seconds felt like lifetimes in that instance. Altus didn't know how much time passed between when the fire had engulfed the altar and when it had return to the flicker of candles, all he knew is that the young woman was gone and in her place laid a blonde man, nude save for a flamboyant mask marring his facial features. Altus stood slowly and approached the altar studying the unconscious young man. His body was thin, his blonde hair long like the young woman's. He opened his eyes and gazed at Altus, sending the historian back a few steps.
He sat up slowly, peeling the mask off his face, his eyes tracking ever step Altus made. He grinned a feral grin and rose from the altar. "To whom do I give my thanks?"
"Thanks? Are you Laros, God of Shadow and Darkness?"
The young man laughed, "Goodness no. I, my dear mortal, am what you would call a Virtuoso."
Altus traced through his memory trying to recall what he knew about Virtuosos but his mind felt hazy. The blonde man was closing the space between them. Altus considered running but his legs were uncooperative. "Are you going to kill me?"
The blonde man nodded, "You've left me no choice I'm afraid. That girl was too weak. Pithy little sacrifices do little to sustain one such as myself in the mortal plane for more than a few moments immortal though I may be, the seal is far too strong. This body will fade before too long and I'll be lost to the shadows before I've ever seen the sun. Best make use of my powers before they wither no?" He snatched Altus by the collar quickly, moving with a grace Altus had not estimated, pinning him to the marble floor. "Your body is quite healthy however, and I like your bone structure quite a bit. I'm looking forward to the styles this century has to offer, if we had more time I'd ask you about them."
Somewhere in the back of Altus' mind it occurred to him that he was going to die. "What about eternal life?" he croaked, "I'm supposed to be granted eternal life, and magic for serving Laros."
The blonde man reaffixed the flamboyant mask over his eyes before he slowly tapped his chin, "And I'm sure that when my master returns he will remember you amongst all the others who have given their life for his cause. In the meantime, I Fayiz, I serve Laros, so much so I've been bound to that altar for the last two thousand years waiting for someone to come along and let me out of this wretched little shrine so that I can revive my dear master. Eternal life is a fantastic thing, but not if a good portion if it is spent locked inside a stone box however, you, dear boy, you have done me a great service, and for that I'll make this as painless as possible."
Altus went to protest but the dagger he had used to puncture the young woman's chest slashed his throat. He tried to cry out, tried to claw away from Fayiz but the darkness and unyielding grasp of death claimed him too quickly. The last thing he recalled before total darkness was that Fayiz was no longer blonde or, the person kneeling into his chest was no person at all but only his reflection.
Fayiz pressed his lips to the dying man's wound and lapped at the blood. Images rushed his mind of the books and people who had known Altus. Two thousand years locked away in the altar of an abandoned shrine had passed slowly for him, and as knowledge of the way the world had changed rushed him, he found himself quite thankful that the individual who had chosen to make the sacrifice had been a historian. When the corpse was quite dry and Fayiz found himself sated he stripped the body and donned the too large clothes. Things would have to change he decided, for he, Fayiz was not a cowardly little historian, he was his master's most trusted servant. He was a Virtuoso.
He stepped out of the shrine, the moon light cracking through the splintered branches of the low hanging trees overhead. The world looked the same in the shadows. He shoved his hands into the depths of his coat and moved towards the horses and cart. Something had changed however, of that he was certain. In his time, no man of knowledge would have ever committed himself to a shrine of Laros, so why now? The beasts cried as he came nearer, tearing from the cart galloping into the dead of night. Fayiz watched them flee and laughed. Some things had changed and some things had remained quite the same. The only question remaining was how exactly he was going to bring Laros back, particularly now that the once electric feeling of magic that had danced throughout the air seemed nonexistent. It was going to take someone quite easy to manipulate, someone who could be beguiled by the grin of a masked Virtuoso.
It was going to take a mortal with far too much power.