Time of Faith #003
Char edged forward through the darkness, sandals crunching on rocks. A thick fog surrounded him, hot and clammy.
His staff flickered with a dim green glow, enough to see by. The hair on the back of his neck prickled. His stomach clenched tight. His mouth was dry. Was he panting?
Char stopped walking and bowed his head. He concentrated on slowing his racing heartbeat. He had to control his emotions.
Master Joseph echoed in his head, “Master your emotions or they will master you.”
He wished he could hear those words again. His eyes began to well up with water. He swallowed and brushed a hand over his face.
Breathe, Char. Breathe. He brought his mind into focus. He had to stay in control. He imagined leaves swirling in a fall breeze. He imagined the bending of grass in a clearing.
His breathing became even and strong.
The glow of Char’s staff intensified.
You should get out while you can.
Char’s eyebrows rose. It was his voice, yet it was not his thoughts. It was the Overlord.
Char waved his hand in a small circle and spoke one word, “Clear.”
The fog around him fled. As it went, Char’s mind became clear again. Fear scurried away from him. He pressed his lips together. It was a spell of fear.
“Resist evil and it will flee.” The old saying made him smile.
Amusement turned to anger. The Overlord had killed his master, and Char had come to seek vengeance. He raised his voice to the darkness, “Enough games, Overlord. I’m not leaving. You’ll have to show yourself.”
The voice in Char’s head laughed. It was Char’s laugh, but not his. It made him feel like he was laughing at himself.
Is it bravery or stupidity that makes you come here? Do you think you can command me in my own house? Very well. If you will not leave, I will make myself known. I hate to stab a man in the back.
On the walls of the cave, torches sputtered. One after another they burst into flames. The room filled with heat and light. Char held his staff tight.
He was standing at the entrance to a huge throne room. The tunnel behind him had walls of stone. Ahead were four walls of glittering white marble. Each wall held torches set in ornate golden fixtures. The fire lights caused something in the back of the room to glitter. Char’s eyes pulled to the stacks and stacks of gold. It was a pile fit for a dragon. There were coins, goblets, flatware, jewelry, medallions, and heavy-looking bars. Dotted amongst the loot were jewels of every color, in every imaginable size. The sight made his eyes boggle.
In the middle of the treasure sat a fat, golden throne. Atop the throne, the Overlord lounged. He smirked and waved with a gold scepter.
“Have you come to join your master?”
The Overlord’s dress was dramatic, like a king—purple robes and fur-trimmed cape. Long sleeves draped thick over each armrest, pooling on the bed of treasure. His curly blonde hair coiled and bounced on both shoulders. He had a handlebar moustache that curved upward on both ends.
The Overlord’s ornate scepter emitted a black glow that pulled at Char’s soul. That must be the Overlord’s power source. Char could see magic auras—it dripped magic.
Master Joseph had warned him, “If you see the Overlord, you won’t know if he is friend or foe.”
The Overlord was a dark magician of the highest order—a mercenary for hire. He’d been fighting wars on both sides of the fence for years.
The Overlord stared hard at Char, considering. The words spoke into Char’s mind again.
Now I can see it. You have power, young one. Someday you might have even been a match for me. You still lack the necessary skill.
It was not smart to come here. That was foolish.
The Overlord cleared his throat. When he spoke, his voice was haughty and bored. “I grow tired of always speaking with my mind. It is good to exercise now and again, is it not?”
Char said nothing.
The Overlord filled the void, “I spend most of my time going from place to place, finding creatures to enslave. I make them do my work. The holders of my contracts reward me generously.” He motioned to the pile of riches around him.
Char pressed his lips together.
The Overlord continued, “There’s a trick to controlling creatures, you know. Did your master ever tell you?”
He leaned forward in his seat as if he were reaching the best part of his story. “Your name is Char, right?” He waved a hand, “You don’t have to tell me. I could see that plain as day in your mind. No first name. No last name. Only Char. And it’s not a nickname? You should guard your young mind. You don’t know who might use what they find there against you.”
The Overlord narrowed his eyes, staring at Char. “You see, I must know a creature’s true name if I am going to command it. Allow me to demonstrate. Char. I command you to approach my throne.”
Before he knew what was happening, Char was gliding forward. He hadn’t meant to and realized in horror that he could not make himself stop. He tried to pull back, but his legs wouldn’t listen. He moved forward, straight-legged, like a stiff soldier.
“This isn’t much of a compulsion. I’m not even trying. You should be able to break my control.” He tsked his tongue. “So untrained.” He widened his smile, exposing yellow teeth.
Char squeezed his eyes shut, concentrating hard. He slowed his breathing. He found his core and focused on it. He was one with everything and everything was one with him. He felt the Overlord in his mind. His thoughts were like fingers exploring his consciousness. He was playing games.
Char pulled his mind back and pushed the presence away. Char stopped moving forward—back in control of his body.
“There,” said the Overlord. “That wasn’t so hard, was it? You could train to do what I do.” He waggled a finger. “But you aren’t here for a lesson. I smell a silly need for vengeance.”
Char ground his teeth. “I have no times for games, Overlord. I am here to kill you. I have all the power I need to get the job done.”
The Overlord sat back in his throne and placed his hand on his chest, “Oh, dear! If I had any feelings, they would hurt.”
He cracked his knuckles. “Were you not paying attention, boy? You are nothing. I am the one with the power here. I could turn you and your empty threats to ashes in an instant. I could make you bow to me and pledge your unwavering devotion. I could destroy you with a blink. I could even make you kill yourself and save me the trouble.”
He let out a long sigh. “The problem is no one has paid me to kill you. I have a strict code about such things. If I start giving away killings for free, well, that’s just bad business.”
The Overlord smiled at him over clasped hands. “Besides, if I wanted you dead, I would have stoked the fire hotter when I burned your parents.”
It was like a punch in the stomach. Char felt his magic rushing to him even before he called for it. Tightness gripped his chest, like the world crashing in around him. His vision grew black at the edges. He hefted his staff high above his head. “You killed my parents! You made me an orphan! Die, Overlord!”
The air around Char sizzled and snapped. An explosion rocked the walls. Bright light surged from his staff, streaking through the air in a sharp, jagged arc. Char could feel magic coursing through him, burning hotter than his own anger. Thunder rocked Char’s eardrums. The bolt of lightning struck, pinning the Overlord to his throne. White energy flashed across his muscles as they convulsed. His body thrashed under the current.
Hot tears streamed from Char’s eyes. “You took everything from me!” he channeled his anger into the lightening, making it burn hotter. The Overlord’s robes burst into flames. He thought he could hear his flesh sizzle and pop. Char clenched his jaw as he squeezed as much power into the bolt as he could.
And then it was gone. Char stood panting, hot tears flowing down his cheeks.
From the cloud of smoke, the Overlord started to laugh. It was a deep guffaw that turned Char’s stomach.
The Overlord began to pat out his flaming robe. He stopped after he realized there wasn’t much left to save. Smoke drifted up from the remains of fabric in lazy circles.
Still smiling, the Overlord leaned forward. He lifted a hand, displaying a gaudy ring in the shape of a dragon’s head.
“What kind of mercenary would I be if any random wizard could vaporize me with a lightning bolt? See this ring? No creature from this realm can ever harm me.”
He gazed at the ring. “Too bad I had to kill the witch after she crafted it. You can’t risk that kind of protection falling into the wrong hands.”
He looked down at his smoking clothes. “I am afraid that you have ruined my robes. It is so hard to get a good tailor to travel to the top of this mountain. I suppose I deserved it with that whole thing about burning your parents. Business is business. I hope we can move past this.”
Char opened and closed his mouth. He was in over his head. He had depleted a good deal of his limited magic out of anger. It would take much more than a lightning bolt to defeat him. Was it even possible? Char gulped. His mind whirled, trying to invent an escape.
The Overlord fixed his gaze on Char. “We should start over, young man. Why don’t you sit down?” It was a question, but Char felt the power of compulsion pulling him down. A plain wooden chair appeared behind him. Char told himself he was choosing to sit down.
He tried to banish the Overlord from his mind as he did before, but this time the control was stronger.
“Even though you have not been too polite, I will still give you another chance, Char. There is much I could teach you. I have been meaning to take an apprentice.”
“You.” Char faltered, licked his lips, and started again, “You killed my family and my master. Why would I ever work for you?”
“When the Union wants someone dead, I’m not going to argue. Their gold was quite impressive.”
Char felt despondent. Everything was gone. What could he do? Was there enough magic for him to do anything? He felt a wave of despair. He felt dizzy.
He frowned and berated himself. Why had he come here? What had he expected?
Anger began to boil again. It nibbled at the side of his perception. It dripped into his lungs. It tightened his chest. His master had said that he could tap into the limitless fount of the earth. There were mighty rivers of magic below him. He had purpose and desire.
Char imagined his mind was a drill—going deep into the Earth. He didn’t feel any magic at first, and then he sensed warmth. He continued to dive with his mind. , he felt the familiar warmth. He was back in business. He narrowed his eyes as he looked up at the Overlord.
The Overlord couldn’t continue this way. He killed and took. His reign must end. The words of another spell played across Char’s mind. The head of his staff burst into flames.
The Overlord shook his head and tsked again, “What a waste. Did not we just discuss the ring?” He sighed. “Very well. I can tell that you are not going to change your mind. Learning is not your strong suit.” The Overlord stood and lifted his scepter. “Remember that I gave you an alternative. I have other matters to attend to. You are wasting precious time.”
An aura of magic surrounded the Overlord. It expanded outward, changing from black to deep purple and finishing with a bright red. Char could feel the wave of magic as it washed over him. It seemed familiar. He leaned back, closing his eyes.
The ground began to rumble.
The Overlord continued. “I will make an exception of you. Since you are keeping me away from making money, your death will allow me to make money. I will take that as payment for your contract. Congratulations! You earned yourself a free slaying!” he laughed. “That was funnier to me than I am sure it will be for you.”
He continued, “I will make your death something extraordinary. I mean, look at you, you have come all this way. I have so many creatures at my disposal. Most of them are strong enough to kill you. You do not want an every-day death, do you?”
He tapped his chin with a finger. “Hmmm.” Then he nodded. “Yes, that will do. Only the best for my houseguest. May I introduce you to my favorite demon,” He chuckled again. “For your sake, I wouldn’t struggle. It will be over faster.”
Char could see something appearing in the air before him—a sliver of light yawning open. It sliced the air until it connected floor to ceiling. It stretched wide, letting in a flood of light. Char had seen this before. That’s why the magic seemed familiar. The Overlord was opening a Gateway to another world and summoning one of his minions. He said it was a demon? That was very non-specific. Any creature from another world could was a demon.
The Overlord smiled, satisfied. He stood and waved his hands in the air. A gilded door shimmered into existence. The door swung open at his approach. He strode through. The door closed behind him. The doorway faded again into shadows.
Char looked back to the Gateway. It was continuing to widen. He didn’t have much time.
His mind shouted at him to flee. Rising with shaking legs, he half turned to run. Again, the words of his master stopped him dead in his tracks.
“No magic is stronger than other magic. The strongest fire is defeated by air or water. For every spell, there is a counter. If the magic cannot be overcome, try moving the target.
Char closed his eyes and took a deep breath to center himself. He had trained for this. He had tapped into a new magic source, so he had his full book of spells at his disposal.
“Ok, think, think, think.” He ignored the sound of rushing wind as the Gateway connected to another world. He planted his staff on the ground ahead of him, rolling it between his palms. The wood ground on the floor, making a small ring of dirt.
He visualized the rocks underneath him. He drew upon his new magic source like pulling in a breath. His staff started to shine with brilliant light, growing warm under his fingers. Char opened his eyes and began to chant words of magic.
Char channeled magic into the head of his staff, which was still ablaze. He added static charge to the fire. Each impact would deliver a bolt of shock along with a burst of flame. He didn’t know how many charges it held. He hoped it was enough.
Turning his attention to the other end of his staff, he channeled more magic. The wood flickered. Ice crackled as it covered the end of the staff. A touch of that side of the staff would freeze a target solid.
With those two spells finished, Char readied his mind to cast a spell of vapor concussion. The spell would attack with an invisible hammer of air.
He needed to see how vulnerable this demon would be to the elements. He had fire, shock, ice, and air. If he had enough time, he would also try earth.
Char gazed hard at the Gateway, staff gripped tight.
A low howl drifted through the air.
In the Gateway, a shadow appeared. It was man-sized at first, but as Char watched, it grew larger and larger. Soon it was double man size. A single hoof emerged to plant itself on the stone floor with a hollow click.