Keeping the Lamp Lit - Part XV

Thomas sat quietly in Phil's room, an island of calm surrounded by upset and frustrated mages.

"He's been under complete mind control!" declared Wessex angrily. "The glyphs have been in place so long that Macaban's mind could be permanently damaged if I remove the spells, My Lord. And not only that, but he has been enchanted again and again with sometimes contradictory compulsions. "


"This is a terrible abuse of magic, sir. The spells are all kindergarten stuff, mixed together, like. Even an evil mage would have done things easier to reverse. It's like trying to fix something after an incompetent has attempted a repair. Usually the incompetent 'fix' does far more damage than the original problem."

"What do you suggest, then?" asked the Lord of the Manor.

The boy-in-body sighed. "I need more time, m'Lord. We can't leave him like this, that's for sure. But reversing things will be a horrible risk. Give me a week or two, then we can take it on."

"I see. Just one question, though. Could Macaban have possibly been responsible for his actions at all, recently? That child Rupert brought in has suffered horribly, and Loriod's chief servant had to know what was going on."

Wessex pursed his lips. He could sympathize better than most with Loriod’s victim. Healer Coe had just reported that the kid was now age regressed to about 13 years, and would stay male. But he was in horrible condition, having arrived terribly dehydrated, covered with infected sores and burns, and psychologically completely out of touch with reality. His body would recover, but what about his mind? "No, Duke Thomas, he cannot have been responsible for his actions in recent times. I am quite certain of this. And the Macaban of old would never have tolerated such a thing. I knew him well in the days before the current Loriod took over the throne."

"Then put him up in a good guest suite, and keep a guard over him for his own good. Wessex, I feel for poor Macaban, but Phil's problem comes first!"

"Aye." And with that single syllable Wessex became glummer still. "The Prince's problem just does not want to resolve itself , My Lord. We have found out a few things, but nothing concrete."

"Did you analyze the carrots?"

"That we did, and so far we've learned almost nothing. Rupert's detection kit, and for that matter all the equipment in Metamor save Pascal's dark room shows nothing, but our splotchypine's rig detects a faint glow. This is not supposed to happen."


"Indeed, My Lord. Our current theory is that we are still missing a piece of the puzzle, but what it is I cannot imagine."

"And what have you learned from the censor?"

Wessex’s lips wrinkled in distaste. "Hideous thing, that. But not a trace of magic in it. I don't know why Rupert even carried it out."

In the background, the gorilla looked up at the mention of the powerful device. He knew very well why the golden eyesore emitted no magic. But how could he tell what he had done, when the secret of the powder was so dear to Whales? It was necessary, though, he could see. Rupert still had not taken off his pouch. Reluctantly he pulled out the pipette and edged in between the two Metamorians.

"What is this, Rupert?" asked Thomas politely.

Chattering, the gorilla reached over slowly and pulled an enchanted talisman at random off of Wessex’s hat. Understanding, the youth allowed him to take it. Then, using almost the last of the dust in the pipette, Rupert killed the magic in the little ornament.

Wessex was impressed. "What..." he began. Then he became angry. "That was to fix my aching tooth! Ow, it hurts..."

Healer Coe spoke up. "Wessex, I've asked you and asked you to let me pull that!"

Rupert chattered apologetically. Then he held up the pipette again and shook it.

"Are you saying that you killed the magic in that golden monstrosity, just like you did my little talisman?" the mage asked.

The ape nodded, and did a backflip to underscore his point.

"Well. That's interesting! Was it powerful?"

Carefully the ape set the toothache talisman on the table, and indicated a distance between his index finger and his thumb. They were separated by about a half inch or so. Then Rupert pointed at a spot on the floor and walked away. He was well into the hall when he quit and pointed to another spot about 20 feet away. It was clear that this was the amount of dust he had used to "kill" the censor.

Obviously, the golden burner was powerful stuff. As Rupert knew and Wessex already suspected, the amount of dust needed to kill a magical object was not a linear function. If twice as much dust was needed, the object was four times as powerful...

The boy-mage gasped in shock. "Rupert, is this stuff permanent?"

Phil's bodyguard replied with a definite headshake.

"I... see. Friend, you should have warned me!"

Rupert rocked his head back and forth and chattered. Clearly, he hadn't thought of it. Any mage of Whales would have known of the dust. Even professionals sometimes make stupid mistakes....

"I have precautions to take! Right now!" Wessex declared, and with that he was off in a flash of childish eagerness.

Under the circumstances, Thomas forgave him his lack of formality.

Staring at the censor of unholy evil, Wessex pondered on the question of whether any more protection spells were needed to contain the filthy thing. He had already lain on every single one that he could think of to contain evil and to prevent the corruption from spreading any further. Yet he had no way of gauging their effectiveness while the censor was still magically dead. According to Rupert, they had a little more time before the anti-magic dust finally wore off. That would be when the real excitement started!

A bell chime sounded throughout the room, a soft dulcet tone intended to warn him when anybody approached the room. The boy turned to face the single doorway that the Keep itself had provided when an isolation chamber had become necessary. Standing in it was one of his assistants, a rather precocious ferret of the name Dorson. He'd been with the mage for several years now, studying and learning, and someday the apprentice would become quite the master himself. Wessex was very proud of him.

"Ah Dorson, did you get the magical powders I asked for?"

"Yes, Wes." Dorson stepped inside the room, passing easily through the shields in the doorway that were attuned to only a handful of the Keep's mages. The ferret was the one Wessex had decided was most qualified to assist him, as Dorson's training included some unusually deep studies into protection from contagious spells. Setting down the large pouches of magical dust, the apprentice couldn't help but stare at the censor. It was a truly horrendous sight, masterfully engraved with depraved scenes of demons and their victims. Every vice a man could lust after seemed to be imprinted somewhere upon its golden surface. It promised many things, each one exacting the same price: the user's soul.

Wessex was already uncomfortable, having spent the last half-hour in a small room with the horrid thing. Taking a moment to sift through various dusts, he noted that one of them was not of quite the right consistency. Had Dorson taken some of the dust from the bottom of the barrel as he had been trained, the stuff would have been perfect. Wessex glared at the incompetent ferret and let his suddenly strong unease burst forth in little display of uncharacteristic bad temper. Clenching his fists, he demanded, "Dorson, how many times have I told you that you need to take dust from the bottom first?"

The apprentice seemed shocked by the unexpected outburst but accepted it stoically. "I'm sorry. Do you want me to go get another batch?"

"No, I'll do it myself! I seem to have to do everything around this place!. You wait here and keep an eye on this... thing." He pointed at the censor. Though he didn't like leaving the student alone with such a blasphemous object, there seemed to be little danger. After all, Rupert's powder was still strongly in effect. Well, there had been one small insignificant flicker of magical power only a few moments ago. But it had been brief, and too small for even many trained wizards to notice. It would be OK, a voice seemed to tell Wessex. Take a break, it will be OK...

The boy waltzed out of the room, glad to be leaving that "Thing" behind. Dorson watched him go, a bit abashed at his beloved teacher's display of bad temper. But he shouldn't have to be ashamed, though. After all, the ferret reasoned, he was learning very fast, and almost never made mistakes these days. The kid really ought not be yelling at him anymore, especially not over trivial matters such as the consistency of the powders. What gave a boy like Wessex the right to treat him as a child? Dorson had once even caught his mentor dressed as an ordinary boy and enthusiastically flying a kite in the courtyard. He seemed to have no sense of the dignity befitting his station at all. What would it be next for the magician? Playing soldier? Dorson snorted in disgust.

The apprentice found his eyes straying to the demon-encrusted censor. It was perched in the center of room, chalk lines and wards drawn all about it on the floor. It only took Dorson a moment to realize that something was odd about the markings. There were errors in them. It was almost as if A real child had drawn them, they were so sloppy. Why hadn't one of the most specialized mages in all of Metamor noticed this? Dorson set about to redrawing the flawed lines, fixing the sloppy work of an impertinent infant. It wouldn't be the last time he had to cover for the little snot, he told himself...

It only took him a few minutes to get the glyphs into what was clearly the proper alignment. Now Metamor would be completely protected from the evil the censor possessed. It could not spread. That is unless it was called forth by a mage, and even then its power would be held in check by the powerful wards that Wessex had so nearly botched. Not that the censor was all that impressive, in and of itself. The ferret studied the golden object with his magic sight, and saw nothing of consequence. Clearly, the thing could hurt no one.

Looking about further, he saw around the base the sharp metal rods that were used to light the candle in the center of the censor. Dorson wondered just what sort of fragrance that candle might give off? What harm could there be in ascertaining the particular flavor of the incense? After all, it was harmless now.

Dorson reached over, taking the two metal rods from their place, and began striking them together just over the wick that was held perfectly straight up as if in expectation of the spark. When it came, the candle flared brightly, and suddenly the cloud was lifted from Dorson's eyes. The censor flared to life, black oozing magic poured forth from every crevice, radiating an unholy fire the likes of he had never before seen. Even the lines he had carefully redrawn revealed themselves to be illusions. In their place were circles of power, drawn to channel energy into the center and whether lied there. The only thing that was still in place were the protection wards that kept the room sealed.

The ferret tried to scream out for help, but up from the candle a black vaporous mist spiraled upwards, filling the room, and his lungs. He gagged at the scent, but it quickly lifted him up, entwining his body and restraining his struggles. As if stepping out of the fog, a form suddenly appeared before him. It was that of a tall lanky human with black hair, dressed in black robes ornamented with a blood red shield imprinted on the sleeves. Inside each shield was a human palm, and inside each palm was a white sword. The man's eyes bored down into him, and his smile was quite cold. The fog evaporated a second later and the two of them were standing alone in the room, the censor snuffed.

"I really should thank you for that," the figure remarked in an amused voice. "Accept a token of my gratitude." He held both of his hands out before him, and then twisted his fists violently. Dorson's head spun about on his shoulders, the neck snapping loudly. The ferret's twitching form suddenly went limp, and then fell to the ground, a dead mass of spiritless flesh.

The evil wizard smirked at the sight, and then turned back to face the censor. Looking about the room at the lanterns stationed along each wall he grimaced. There were no shadows here that he could use. But that was easy enough to rectify. Stepping to each torch in turn, he quickly extinguished them with a word and a gesture. He was at the last one, standing before it ready to speak when a gentle bell tone sounded. Looking up, he saw Wessex standing in the doorway, a dazed and shocked expression pasted upon his youthful features.

Wessex stared down at the dead form of his apprentice, and then up at the unfamiliar man in the dark robes. Then his eyes returned to his dead student. With an outraged cry, he leapt through the spell barriers, and prepared to unleash a mighty blast against the murderer of his charge. However, he was struck dumb by a sudden bombardment of hideous temptation that flooded into his mind. Images of himself upon the Ducal throne, or even of ruling the entire world poured into his mind. Forbidden knowledge was prepared to lay itself bare to him if only he willed it. Riches beyond imagination were there for his taking. Everything he had ever fantasized about was waiting for him if only he would embrace the censor....

Suddenly there was a titanic tearing sound that seemed to rip the world into pieces. It was as if every fiber and muscle of his body were being pulled apart, as if reality itself had been mortally wounded. His ears pulsated, ringing from the screeching almost-sound. The boy’s mind rebelled from the idea that such a sensation could possibly exist.

And then just as suddenly, it was all gone. Climbing back up to his hindpaws, Wessex peered about into the shadowy darkness. With a snap of the Mage's fingers, all the torches burst into bright incandescence. Not only was the wizard gone, but so too was the censor. The black residue of its passing was imprinted upon the floor for all to see. It took the form of a hole into the blackest pits of the underworld, and to one as magically attuned as Wessex, the screams and odors that issued forth were horrid indeed.

He knew what he had to do. Wessex crawled over to his bags of powder, and one by one, poured their contents into the filthy hole, all of the magical stuff disappearing into the nothingness that awaited them. Striking out the lines of power that had been drawn, he crafted new patterns, patterns that would seal off this unholy opening for all time. It was but a small rift, one torn rudely open in the act of the dark wizard's escape. Yet even a small rift could quite easily become a larger one. It was fortunate that the boy’s sealing spells on the room had remained in place. If the last torch had been snuffed, there would have been nothing he could have done to stop all of Metamor from entering the realm of the Demons. As it was, his precautions had proven barely enough.

Grabbing Dorson, he dragged the ferret's corpse from the room, and then stood in the doorway. Nobody deserved a fate such as the doom he was about to pronounce upon this ill-begotten place. Then, just as he uttered the single terrible word that would activate all the powders, he felt a terrible evil trying to pass through the new portal between the worlds. Wessex stood still, watching as the entire room seemed to contract towards that single hole in the floor. It cracked and shrieked loudly, attracting attention from down the hall. Several other Keepers came running to see what was happening. But Wessex did not enjoy what he saw. This was the magic of death, the kind of magic he would rather not ever have to perform.

Something large and evil raged just beyond the thin door, but the wards held long enough as the building Changed and warped in incomprehensible ways. In the end, the entire wall became a blank, black slate, the room perpetually and irrevocably gone. Never again could a room exist in this location, despite it's the Keep's variable geometry. This place was forever more sealed till the end of time. It was better that way.

Wessex bent down over the body of poor Dorson, feeling the deceitful magic still upon the corpse. The poor apprentice had been tricked, just as Wessex himself had been. He never should have left the student in the room alone. Such an item of evil was cunning, too skilled. Others stood by, confused, not sure what to say or do. The boy looked at them and grimaced. "Find Duke Thomas. Tell him, there's been an accident." Several ran off towards Phil's chambers on the other side of the palace.

And then Wessex finally had time to weep, for the ferret he had loved much as he would a son. He wept deeply and bitterly for the young life that might have been.

No longer was there any doubt in Wessex’s mind that Loriod was being controlled. The wizard he had seen was a part of it. And the same man had killed his beloved apprentice Dorson. "He will pay, my friend, I promise you, he will pay." Wessex whispered quietly over the dead ferret-morph. Oh yes, the wizard would indeed pay...

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