Winter's First Chill - Part III
oriod's surcoat proved to be quite revealing, in fact, a little more revealing than the young mage would have liked. The augury as Wessex had learned it drew out potent images that were ingrained in the object through either powerful magic, or fierce emotions. Tension and anger burned the moment into the cloth, and sexual desire stained it. So it was that Wessex nearly found himself vomiting at one sight, nearly breaking the enchantment in the process.
The first thing that had become clear from his augury, was the image of a simple unadorned room, with only two occupants. One was some priest, tall, with a short brown beard, dressed in a simple smock, tied down spread eagle upon a bed. The other was Loriod himself of course, one hand rubbing one of the priest's legs beneath that smock, a sick taste filling his heart. It took a moment for Wessex to recognize the man as Father Hough, before the curse had made him a child as well. He'd only heard about what had happened to the man, never seen any of it. Yet, to observe Loriod practising even a bit of foreplay for his disgusting appetites, made the boy feel as if he'd immersed himself in dung.
When Loriod groped Hough, massaging his genitals in preparation for something even more repulsive, Wessex had to grip the staff between his hands tighter, and push past the sexual disgraces of the late Altera, and into more subtle images. The spell about him glowed a brighter blue then, almost the same hue as the sky, while the concentric circles flared. There was something more to this bit of cloth than just one of Loriod's depraved escapades, it was just a matter of digging down to it.
Wessex had spent the last few hours before nightfall arranging the remainder of the clothes in a heap in his study, having no further need of them. After he was finished, he imagined he would have them sold and the money returned to Lorland. He'd placed a single mirror at the far end of his workroom, so that if anybody should dare enter, he would always be able to know. After that, he'd simply drawn the spells, and let the power that was inherent at the Winter Solstice fill him. With the setting of the sun, it was at its peak, and so then, he began his incantation, setting the Symphony ablaze with blue light.
The garment had at first been strangely reluctant to abandon its secrets, but Wessex had suspected that if Zagrosek had touched it, then it would have countermeasures to prevent an augury from working. That was why the boy mage had waited for the natural flows of magic to be at their strongest before commencing, so that he would have little difficulty burrowing past the defences to the nugget of what Loriod had seen.
And of course, Wessex had been right, as it had taken him thirty minutes alone to force the garment to reveal to him the visage of the molested Hough, seeking to find his Eli in that moment of sadistic rape. Yet, despite the churning of his belly, Wessex persevered, pushing into a blackness, drowning out all the images for a moment as he explored the fabric's contents. It was like swimming through mud at times, and for each stroke he took, the muck sucked at his feet, drawing him ever further down, determined to smother him. The boy took one palm from the staff, and placed it within a small circle he'd drawn outside the one surrounding the garment, but inside the next. It blazed with an orange light, burrowing into the blue that coalesced about the garment. All about him, he could feel the mud boil and burn as it touched him.
Lifting his palm from the smaller circle, he could feel the mud sinking back in to close around him. Grimacing, he slapped it back into the circle, the chalk lines once again radiating that electric orange, forcing the walls of muck to retreat. And so, like that, Wessex dug his way through the quagmire that Zagrosek had left for any who would seek him out. It was not long then before the boy managed to pierce that black wall, and into light again. Above the garment, images flashed, and took shape, and finally, the young mage found what he had sought.
It was another room in Loriod's castle, but this one was all too familiar. He had been there once, during the siege last April, he'd strode to this room, and found the dead lord nestled with a giant spell that had been traced out all over the floor. And standing to one side then, had been Zagrosek, the murderer of Dorson and the instigator of too many evils. Yet, when Loriod had climbed to this high tower before, he was the only one there, aside from what stood in the centre of the room, tendrils of black radiating all about it. It was the censer that Rupert had absconded from the Loriod estate, and had created that tear in Metamor Keep itself. It was still there in fact, waiting, pulsing behind that one wall, in the expectation that he, Wessex, would open it again.
The boy cringed at the sight of the thing, the dæmon's cavorting on every side, raping the damned, slashing their flesh with claws and whips, and searing their bodies in the stygian fires of Hell. Jewels glinted form every side, festooned about its every decoration. The malachite, lapis lazuli, sapphires, and rubies all gleamed sickly pale imitations of colour, while the chevrons fixed into the base glared at him mockingly. How he hated it and everything it represented, for it had been a doorway into the underworld, and it had tricked him before, allowing Dorson to die.
Loriod approached the censer, broke a bit of chalk that had been sitting to one side, and dropped it into the bowl. Instantly as it disappeared into the basin, a ghastly fluid erupted from the gold metal itself, and a black fog rose from the liquid, billowing out to consume everything that was in sight. Wessex felt himself snatched up and drawn into the folds of the nauseous clouds, trapped just as Loriod had been, only capable of witnessing. Gripping the staff in his one hand tighter, he felt the blue nimbus clutch about him tightly, shielding him from the noxious poisons left behind in the memory.
Yet, in that darkness, something even darker existed, pulsing with an unholy life. It appeared to be a cylinder of sorts, turned on one end. It was like peering down a tunnel that led into nothingness. But from out of that tunnel, stepped a trio of figures. He blinked once, and gazed at them, shocked, but indeed, there were three figures stepping from that tunnel. The central figure, dressed in a black smock with red shield, palm, and white sword upon his breast was all too familiar. The narrow eyes glinted with inborn hatred, and the child knew this was Zagrosek, possibly the very first time that Loriod had ever seen the man.
To his right there was a woman, almost as familiar to the boy as Zagrosek himself was. Dressed in purple robes, with the insignia of pointing hand upon the front, he knew her to be that Runecaster that had prevented him from saving the Patriarch's life two months ago. Her bloodshot eyes cast about with contempt, settling on Loriod like they might settle on a dirty pig tracking the contents of its feed trough into an ornate ballroom.
Before he had a chance to study the third figure, a man with blonde hair also dressed in purple robes, he experienced something that he never had felt before in attempting an augury. He heard their voices speak as clearly as if he had been there himself to live through it. Though he had not had occasion to hear it often, the first voice had belonged to the late Lord Loriod. "You wanted to tell me something?"
And then, the familiar sound of Zagrosek, though spoken harsher than he himself had ever been subjected to. "You have needlessly dragged the priest into this situation. Do you think the Ecclesia is so easily trifled with? His absence will be noted almost immediately. And embarrassing questions asked. Besides, you should have known he will never talk. Patildor priests are specially trained to maintain silence about certain things. Did you not know this?"
"I have heard of these things. And his involvement is NOT needless! You have said again and again that Matthias needs to be controlled. I am merely trying to make this happen!" When Wessex heard Loriod's voice that second time, he found himself nearly spinning. These three mages had attempted to use Loriod to control Matthias? Yet if the rat was already in league with Zagrosek, then why would they want this fat idiot to control him?
The answer, which was now obvious, made the boy tremble in fury. Zagrosek had used him, Wessex, just as he had used everybody else around him. By placing Matthias in his dreams, he had spread the seeds of doubt and suspicion through the ranks at Metamor, leaving each and every one of them vulnerable to whatever the black Sondeckis wished to do. He would have to alert Phil and the rest to this terrible news as quickly as possible, and to reassure them that Charles was free from guilt, that he'd never done anything wrong except hide the fact that he knew who Zagrosek was.
While the Runecaster said something else to Loriod, Wessex set his mind to planning what could be done now. He would need to send a note to Lorland, insisting on having the Prince present while he also met with Matthias. The rat would of course need to understand just what they knew, and what he could do to help stop this man. Zagrosek could possibly try and gain entrance to the Keep again through Charles, using their old friendship to gain some advantage before betraying them all. It would be bittersweet irony if Matthias would betray Zagrosek into their hands, bringing justice for Dorson, the Patriarch and his men.
Yet, when the third figure spoke, his head snapped to gaze at him, for his voice was very, very familiar to the boy. "That is something we cannot tell you. We have risked much in just giving this warning. Only one thing more can we say to you now. Beware the Hare of White, for his cunning and ingenuity far exceed your expectations. Do not try anything else that may bring him to you again. Also, do not attempt to approach any of Matthias's friends. Phil is watching them closely."
Wessex's ears captured every word, and plumbed each nuance of the speech, determined to know who it was that spoke. The man was taller and broader than Zagrosek, with wavy, flaxen-blonde hair that cascaded about his shoulders. His lips were curled into a tight smile, and were his eyes not gleaming like Zagrosek's and the Runecaster, he would say that the man had a remarkably affable face, quite friendly in fact. Yet what he saw there was anything but that. His purple robes were pulled tight about his chest, and his hands were hidden in either sleeve. Yet, along those sleeves and down the front of his chest, lightning bolts were engraved.
From the boy's lips, the name finally escaped, being absorbed into the black fog instantly. "Yonson!" The Weathermonger stood there before Loriod, and beside Zagrosek, a conspirator in their devilish plans. Yet, Wessex had examined him magically when he'd arrived at the Keep back before the Summer Solstice. There had been not a trace of evil intent, or of any association with Loriod. There had been no memories of this event, for surely, he would have to have had some. How could this possibly be?
Yonson then added, snapping Wessex's mind back to the augury. "Also, stay clear of the north side of Metamor walls."
"Isn't that where you had me..." Loriod began, his voice curious.
"It is best not to even talk about it!" Zagrosek interrupted, shouting the fat lord into silence. Wessex wondered what could be on the north side of the walls, for it was a very difficult area to reach, being perched on the ridges. One had to walk all the way around from the southern gates, and it was not an easy walk. Why, the last time anybody had bothered was last May, when they'd found a spell anchored there.
With a grimace, Wessex recalled what that spell had been. It had been a weather spell, holding the warm, dry air over Metamor, melting the snows prematurely. Had it remained in place, then the valley would have been flooded, leaving only Loriod with any food supplies left. So the Runecaster had taught him to cast a few simple spells, and Yonson had supplied the weather spell to ensure Loriod's supremacy, had Thomas not sieged his castle. The only thing that did not make sense to the boy was how he could have missed the evil intent in the Ambassador from Marzac.
Suddenly, Wessex stared past the images floating above the red garment, faded to black in the blue light, and saw something reflecting in the mirror. Lifting the staff from the ground betwixt the circles, he ended the spell, and commanded the room's lights to return. In the mirror, he could see his own form, crouched over the spell, gazing back at himself, and then somebody standing behind him, kneeling forward with something indistinct in their hands.
It only took him a moment to realize just exactly who it was. Dressed in her purple robe, the pointing hand glaring back at him in the silvery sheen of the mirror, he knew this to be the Runecaster. Her eyes shone in that glassy surface, and with a quick thrust, she'd slipped the bit of wire she'd held in her hands over his head and drew it tight against his throat.
Wessex nearly dropped the staff in surprise, his other hand reaching up to grab at the wire, to give himself some air before this woman choked the life from him. Spinning the staff in his hand, he plunged the tapered end over his shoulder and into one of her eyes. He'd not had enough force behind him to jab it into her brain and kill her, but the punctured eye exploded in an instant, the mucus splashing across his ear, even as her face streamed with red in the mirror before him.
Her scream filled his ears for a moment as her right arm reached back and yanked the shaft from her eye, revealing an empty socket, black and red with the gaping hole torn into it. Her one good eye flared even brighter, as she tightened her grip on the wire. Wessex gagged, feeling the metal cut into his neck. His left hand became sticky as his own blood seeped through the wound to cover it. Wessex felt his brain lance with fire as he choked for breath, and breath, instead of the blood that was beginning to fill his lungs. His vision began to distort as the numbness stated to fill his limbs.
With one last bout of determination, Wessex took both of his hands from his neck, and furled them with a spell. Throwing his finger tips at the mirror, spires of blue light shot forth from each tip, bouncing off the mirror's glossy surface, and arcing back over his shoulders to strike into the Runecaster's face. Another scream came to his ears from behind him, and he felt the wire go slack about his neck. Falling forward, he tried to put his hands out before him to catch his fall, but they were limp beneath him. His head smacked into the hard slate, eyes only able to gaze back behind him at the woman, her face scarred by the bolts, the skin burning off and curdling beneath their heat, frantically drawing runes into the air to stop them from burrowing into her brain.
And with that last image of partial victory before him, Wessex felt his eyes close, bringing a darkness even deeper than any Zagrosek could hope to conjure forth. It felt rather peaceful in fact, like snuggling into his covers at night, memories of bright days filling the cracks. In fact, he could almost see them, and his friends and family. There, in the distance, a smile etched onto his musteline brow was Dorson, his black eyes ever youthful. And just behind him, his father and mother, both standing tall, fierce pride in their eyes as they gazed at him.
"Mother? Father?" he called, trying to run towards them, but there was something holding him back, something that had caught a hold of him, and was drawing him deeper into that darkness. "Mother!" he screamed, but she could only watch, her soft brown eyes sorrowful, one hand reaching out from her breast. And then, they were all gone, and the blackness remained with him, pressing him down tighter and tighter into an unwholesome vessel.
Agathe snarled between her teeth, clenched as tightly as she could ever remember them. Her garments were beginning to stain from her own blood, even while the boy's pooled about his chest, the flesh already beginning to lose its colour. One hand over the hole where her right eye had been, she started to draw symbols in the air. The burning in her cheeks slowly subsided as the spells ceased their burrowing. She would never again be able to walk openly among mankind, as the scars that this boy had left her with would mark her an outcast, a monster. For that, she intended to condemn him to something far worse in his last few moments.
Feeling assured that her own wounds could remain as such for the time being, she knelt over the body, and slowly traced out an intricate pattern, first before his face, and then over his chest. It was not one of the runes that were taught to purple Runecasters, but it was part of the knowledge she had gained for herself since leaving that enclave. With her sultry grin returning, despite the agony it wrought, she bound his soul into the flesh, tying them together, turning him into something horrific. A being without life in its body that somehow moves and crawls and lives – undead.
The tiny eyelids began to creep open, eyes that should not see, saw the blood that his deceased body lay in, saw the last gasps of his humanity slip away into the night. What was Wessex slowly rose to its feet, a shriek bubbling up from its lungs, only to gurgle forth in caking blood from the hole in its throat. Agathe stared at the ghastly thing, its hands reaching for her flesh with anger, anger at all things living that it be condemned to walk the Earth even after death.
She nimbly stepped aside, though without her right eye, found it hard to do so. Grabbing his hands in her own, she forced the child against a wall. His strength was greater than any child's should have been, but that was to be expected considering the evil that now inhabited the body. No torture could be worse than to be denied death like this, and to find oneself in such cold remains, the only thing that could heat their still hearts was a desire to torture those that still lived, was the worst possible fate that could be bestowed upon any with a loving soul.
However, Agathe had no intention of leaving him as just a walking corpse, but had her own plans for him. Her fingers began to trace runes upon his chest, fast and quick they came, far more elegant than anything Loriod could have hoped to master. Her art was just that, an art. No smudges or second guesses went into the crafting of these runes, these spells that were clutching tight about what was left of Wessex. They would bind him to his task, and nothing else.
However, once done, she could not help but glare into his two eyes with her one. "For this," she spat, "I leave you in agony. I want you to know that you are going to do just what we want. You are going to open that room and plunge your precious Keep into darkness forever. They will not touch you though, our allies. They will leave you as I have made you, a pathetic creature doomed to wander these halls for all time, and to know the horrors that will befall all you hold dear. I hate you, and can leave you with nothing better!"
Agathe felt sullied after she had said it, but it had calmed her own raging anger. She released the boy, and the zombie shambled from the room, his shirt stained red from his own blood, and the scar across his neck making his head wobbly as he walked. No longer was her body shaking with the fury at how he had scarred her, but her mind still reeled from it. An inch more and she would have been killed; the thought made her queasy.
However, she had her own job to perform. Stilling her stomach, Agathe gazed about the workroom. The augury was ruined, the white chalk drenched in Wessex's blood, so there was little to worry from that. Reaching inside, she traced out a single rune that resembled the letter F. The garment burst quickly into flame, smouldering almost instantly, until all that was left were a haphazard pile of ashes.
Crossing over to the mirror, she took the boy's staff and smashed the glass, shattering it across the floor. The shards spread about her feet, glinting in the torchlight. She set the staff down between them, and drew yet another rune. The rod glowed brightly then, before bursting into a brilliant yellow incandescence that absorbed the shards of glass. Agathe stepped back and out the door, even while every piece of slate that the light touched began to melt into useless slag.
Stepping into the boy's bedroom, she quickly traced out the F rune on the desk and shelves, watching them burst into flame. It spread quickly to the rug, and then the dancing fire licked at the base of the damask lounge and the ivory stanchion, as well as the mahogany of the small bed.
She did not wait to be certain that everything was incinerated, as the sound of voices out in the hall startled her. Dashing into the study, she saw the pile of Loriod's clothes in one corner. Once more, the flame rune found its mark upon them, and soon, that side of the wall was lit up in a roaring conflagration.
Agathe grabbed a bit of fabric before it could catch fire, and wrapped it about her face, leaving only a small opening for her left eye. Tying it in a knot behind her head, she dashed out the front door, and into the varied halls of the Keep itself. In moments, Agathe was at a parapet, blinded by the dark sheet of white snow. And then, she was gone over the wall, disappeared into the deep night.
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