Friday, 12 February 2010

No Rest for the Wicked

Today I'll post another story. This one, called No Rest for the Wicked is set shortly after Shining the Light and is about the mission that Nathaniel Drakkon mentions in the epilogue of Shining the Light. At some point I'm going to post a timeline of Nathaniel's life which will help people understand where all the different stories are taking place since I've written out of chronological order.

No Rest For The Wicked

--- A whispered thought, a shattered dream.
Hand of fear release this scream. ---

He had to run. It was all he could do. Fear clouded his mind; tears flooded his eyes, making it difficult to see. He stumbled and ran on, feet clattering on the wooden floor. As he ran, heart racing, pounding in his chest and throat, he could hear the approaching footsteps. Thunk, thunk, thunk! It echoed his heart, but not every beat. Slower, every third beat was followed by thunk. The man was after him, but in no rush. The sound was terrifying, like some mythic beast chasing him. But it was a man, just a man. That thought was no more comforting, thunk, thunk, thunk! The man did not stop; the man was going to get him. The thought seemed to be mocking him as though his mind already knew what his body, his legs, did not. He ran on through the warehouse, seeing only darkness through the windows, a dim outline of the other buildings in the city of Ledek.

--- Words of the wise fall on deaf ears.
A forgotten story lost down the years. ---

Kinch ran on. He wished he could forget what he had read in the book. Mage stuff, Lorkin had said. Lorkin knew what he was talking about. Kinch wished he had not read the book, but once the soldiers were dead or finished; there did not seem much harm. He wished he could forget what he had read in the book. Lorkin had been right, mage stuff. Lorkin was dead now, poor git, that mage had blasted him to mush. Kinch was alive though, and that was all that mattered. All the others were dead, dead and gone. He was alone and he could still hear the doom approaching. Thunk, thunk, thunk!

--- I am lost, I cannot see.
There is no truth for me. ---

The mage walked sternly through the warehouse, following the last criminal. He wore black robes which were wrapped tightly around his body, making him seem taller and thinner than he already was. The robe had short sleeves and a hood attached directly to it. The cloth was rich, well-made, and along the hem of the hood there was a strip of similar coloured material with a runic pattern. He continued walking, thunk, thunk, thunk! His boots made solid impacts on the wooden floorboards. He thought back to the short conversation he had just finished, heard it replay in his head.

“Sir, five of the guards are dead, three wounded. And the mage, she’s, unconscious... but it’ll take time to clear the crates that fell on her.” The soldier had said.

He had replied “They won’t take long.” He had aimed a hand at the crates, casting a spell which picked them up and threw them across the warehouse, out of the way. He had said “Secure the area, Sergeant Wade, secure the perimeter, and secure the shipment. Then send four men to follow me.” He had walked off at a brisk pace after the criminal scum who had fled from the scene with the book. He had been reading the first page of the damned book.

The voice of Sergeant Wade trailed after him “Yes sir, at once.”

He continued on after the criminal, thunk, thunk, thunk! There was no stopping him, he could not, would not be deterred. The book had to be destroyed, it could not be allowed to disappear into the black market or end up in the hands of anyone with the magical ability to use it. There was too much at risk to wait for the soldiers. He would catch this criminal. After all he had faced, he could handle one cowardly piece of street scum.

The book was dangerous, he knew that. The Bechaudu Grimoire was a mind-warping, madness-inducing spell book. Written by an ancient and powerful demon called Bechaudu, the book contained dark magic, necromancy, demonology, black rituals and demonic, supposedly prophetic verses which made little sense. The mage lords, or at least some of them, wanted the book in the tower of Ataya. They wanted to study it. After all, no harm ever came of reading a book, he thought glibly. They still had not properly learned the lesson, and it was only months since it had been cast before their very eyes. Mere months since he had brought such matters visibly and viscerally to their attention. He had not let them make the mistake then, he would not now.

Thunk, thunk, thunk, thunk! He quickened his pace, the criminal running out of warehouse to run in. Soon he would get outside, and the perimeter would not be secure yet. He had to stop the criminal in time. As he began to jog after the flagging man, who was clearly running out of steam, he flexed his left arm instinctively, seeing the tattoo there. He was still not entirely used to it. Normally his left hand held his staff, but he had left it behind with the soldiers. All he needed was his arming sword, plain and unadorned, finely crafted none the less. It was still sheathed in the scabbard, too cumbersome to chase here with it drawn. The tattoo would be unfamiliar to most, but it had great significance for certain people. On his left forearm, his skin bore two Weissland helmets, one looking left, and the other right. Below the helmets was the symbol of Weissland, just like the stained glass window at his estate. Above the helmets was an all-seeing eye symbol. It was known as the eagle eye, the just eye, and its original name, the eye of Gewail. He did not fully know the history yet, but he knew enough to recognise the honour in the tattoo and what it entailed.

--- I have seen the darkness, I’ve heard the whispers there.
And I have felt the pain when, you have ceased to care. ---

Kinch ran, as fast as he could. There was a slim chance he could get out the back of the warehouse, get away and lose the mage and his soldier hounds in the myriad of streets. Ledek could be confusing if you did not know the streets, like any city. Kinch knew them, knew them well from years of walking them. The soldiers did not seem local, but who could say about the mage, with his daunting eyes and determined, dogged pursuit. Kinch stumbled, boots skidding and scuffing as he ran. He bolted through the building, which seemed unbelievably huge and never-ending now. His shins felt as if they were on fire, he had a stitch in his side. But he could not stop running. What was worse was that he could not stop listening to the thunk, thunk, thunk, thunk, thunk, of the floorboards. His boots, the mage’s, it all jumbled together. Worse still, he could not shake the verses of the book, clutched in his arm, the words pounded in his head. They scared him, made him feel panic clawing at him. The words frayed the edges of his mind, and he prayed they would stop.

--- Tear through the layers of your mind.
Find what you wanted to hide.
Tried to forget all along.
The fact that you do not belong.
Outcast, exile, traitor. ---

Both men ran as fast as they could. Kinch was slowing. The mage picked up his speed and reached out for the man’s shirt, but Kinch just out distanced him. The mage pulled and found only a scrap of fabric in his hand. He had slowed in the few seconds and flung the tattered fragment of cloth to the ground angrily. The mage began running fiercely again while shouting “You’re just making this harder on yourself. Give it up!”

Kinch yelled breathlessly “Piss off! I’m not stopping!”

The mage rushed forward calling “I don’t like to run. When I catch you, I’ll make you pay, and then I’ll make you dead.”

Kinch dug deep for that extra reserve and found it widening the gap again. He shouted back “Eat my dust mage, I’ll never die!” Foolish bravado.

--- Everything that is and was will be.
Forced to live forever upon this earth.
Forced back again with unnatural rebirth. ---

Ahead was the door. Surrounded by stone walls, it was near the outside corner of the building. Running towards the door meant running parallel with a wall, limiting the chances of dodging and avoiding pursuit. Ahead was the door, dark wood which swung outward. Kinch ran as hard as he could, his goal, his escape, was in sight. Boots hammered on the wooden floorboards, dust puffed up from the impacts. The mage was close, and closing in. Kinch tried to focus, to think only about running and slamming his hands against that door and bursting through to the outside world. His vision seemed to narrow, disregarding the left and right, only seeing the centre.

The mage thundered forward, chest heaving with gasping breaths. There was no doubt that he was fit, well-trained, and active. But it was not long since his injuries. He was healed now, recovered fully, but still he wondered just how much he could push his body. As they neared the door, the mage increased his speed as much as he could. He almost drew level with the criminal, and he leapt forward, sweeping his leg out. The criminal was catapulted forward, his legs flailing out behind him. But they were too close, the criminal slammed into the door and tumbled outside, the door smashing into the outside wall and flying back. The mage regained his footing and kept running, smacking the door open with his shoulder and continuing until he got outside. The dark night was thick about him, but he could see the criminal struggling to his feet, pulling a knife from his boot as he did so.

--- If I have walked in darkness, I was blinded by the glare.
At least I opened my eyes, to see if something was there. ---

The criminal kept the knife ahead of him, waving it slightly as he prepared to attack. The mage stood his ground, making no move for his sword. From beneath the black hood of his robe, only the slight outlines of his features could be seen, cast in shadow.

With a moment of hesitation the criminal lunged forward to attack. The mage kicked out, knocking the knife out of Kinch’s hand, seeing it spin away. The knife landed with a metallic clatter on the cobblestones. Without thinking Kinch charged at the mage roaring. The mage grabbed him by the head and arm, turned and slammed him face first into the wall. Not breaking the motion, the mage dragged Kinch back, throwing him bodily to the ground. Kinch tumbled, grasping for the book, clutching it close. The words whispered in his ear, Kinch shivered like ice water was running down his spine. He shouted “Bastard! Leave me alone, it's mine.” Standing he leapt at the mage again.

This time the mage kicked forward, smashing Kinch in the gut and flooring the criminal. Kinch howled “I’ll kill you, I’ll kill you!”

The mage drew his sword quickly and aimed the point at Kinch’s face. In a deep voice he said “Give up now, you cannot win this.”

Kinch gloated “Maybe I can. We dealt with them soldiers easy enough. And that mage girl. Maybe you mages aren’t as tough as you make out? You don’t frighten me!”

The mage seemed to draw himself up to his full height, the darkness of the street acting like a shroud around him. He seemed to emanate an aura of disdain and contempt. He radiated hatred and bristling anger. Taking a menacing step forward his voice exploded in righteous fury “Silence scum! Or I will give you something to truly be scared of.”

Kinch whimpered “Not so tough. You don’t scare me mage. Not so tough. Dealt with that mage girl, an’ those soldiers.” He seemed to rock back and forth, holding the book to his chest comfortingly.

The glowering mage said “That mage was young and inexperienced; you took her and the guards by surprise. Much like my men took you by surprise. You should have died with your criminal friends!”

Kinch blurted out “Who are you?”

“Nathaniel Drakkon, your second worst nightmare.” The mage boomed.

Kinch looked at the mage as he huddled on the ground. “Second?” He ventured.

Nathaniel pointed with his sword “That book is your worst nightmare. It was written by a demon. It requires great willpower to read it and withstand its effects. Everyone who reads this book without the willpower to resist is driven insane.”

Kinch looked at the leather-bound book. With some effort, as if his limbs were slow to react to the urging of his brain, he threw it at the mage “Here, take it.”

--- Land of lightning, land of thunder.
Land to tear your life asunder. ---

Nathaniel hammered the book aside with his left arm, averting his eyes. He dare not read from the book. He said “You don’t know what you’ve gotten yourself into. You only read a page, the effect will be lessened. But it will still drive you mad.”

Kinch pleaded “I didn’t know, please. You have to help me!”

Nathaniel laughed darkly, like rumbling clouds “Help you? The only way to help you is to end your miserable life. It would be a mercy.”

Kinch felt tears welling in his eyes “Make it stop; I can hear the words in my head. I’m trying to think of something else, anything else, but it’s not working.”

Nathaniel said “I could end it for you. It would be better than the gut-wrenching, eye-gouging, hair-ripping insanity which awaits you.”

Kinch sobbingly repeated “Make it stop, make it stop.”

Nathaniel turned his attention to the book. It lay on the ground, cover facing up, pages sprawled open, and thankfully downwards where he could not glimpse their words. He spoke clearly, the words of a spell forming. Hovering in his hand, a ball of flame, bright orange, appeared. He cast it at the book. As the flame hit the book he recoiled slightly, a horrific, screeching, squeal came from the grimoire. He added more fire and turned away, forcing his eyes to focus on the criminal.

Just then, the four soldiers ran up, armour clattering. Nathaniel ignored the criminal, now repeating his pleas again and again. One of the soldiers said “Everything is secured my lord.”

Nathaniel asked “The mage? How is she? And the wounded soldiers as well? What did the healer say?”

The soldier shook his head and said grimly “One of the wounded men was too far gone. The healer couldn’t save him. The mage, Mariel Rainstalker, is bruised, but otherwise ok. She has a concussion, but is awake.”

Nathaniel listened to the soldier in silence. His mood darkened, too many good men, good soldiers, had died because of this. Kinch said “So you’ll help me?” Please, you said you could end it. Please, it’s, it’s getting worse.”

Nathaniel placed a hand on the soldier’s shoulder and said “We lost good men today. We will remember them.” The soldier nodded with a slight smile on his face of pride and understanding.

One of the other soldiers said “What do we do with him sir?” He indicated the criminal.

Nathaniel turned to him and said “Take him to the Ledek prison. Let him rot.” He laughed darkly to himself “ha-ha-ha. Let him rot!”

Two of the soldiers moved to drag the man up. Kinch moaned and wailed barely intelligible noises “No! Noooo... wwww, aar, gah... no, please, you promised. Don’t do this to me.”

Nathaniel sheathed his sword and began to reconsider. It was wrong to let this man suffer. But he had read from the book, he had helped to kill those soldiers of Weissland. He was a criminal who would have killed them given the opportunity. Nathaniel could mete out swift justice, here and now, but he wondered if it was enough. Did those soldiers deserve the criminal’s death, or did they deserve his suffering? Finally he said “Take him inside; slap him if he won’t shut up. I will deal with him in a moment.” The soldiers picked Kinch up, as Nathaniel checked the book was burning properly. He said to himself, but loud enough for Kinch to hear “No rest for the wicked.”

--- Land of lighting, land of thunder.
Land to tear your life asunder. ---

Nathaniel was about to turn away and leave, when something caught his eye, and it was not the fire. A spell sphere raced towards him. The dour mage stayed where he was, as the glowing orb stopped and hovered near his head. A voice spoke and he recognised it instantly. Nathaniel Drakkon raised a hand and dismissed the soldiers. Two of them dragged the man away. The voice of Jarroth Boralays said “Burning books again are you Nathaniel?”

Nathaniel replied curtly “Only the ones which need to be burnt.”

Mage lord Boralays said “I suppose you are right, but don’t let the other mage lords know I said that. Although we always have to be alert for these books, and it would be best to have them locked away in the tower of Ataya, rather than destroyed.”

Nathaniel responded “Of course, but that was not possible in this case. At least I never wasted two months hunting for the mauve grimoire of Honibar just to find it was worthless.”

Boralays chuckled “Well, Hafasik thought it was legitimate, given the rumours about it. Honibar was a dangerous individual, he was mad you know.”

Nathaniel said darkly “Hafasik was never very good at investigating, too na├»ve. He should have been paired with Tarmas, a healthy dose of cynicism and insight into behaviour would have ended that debacle much earlier.”

Jarroth Boralays stroked his greying brown beard and said “That’s a little harsh on Hafasik. He doesn’t leave Ataya nearly as much as you do. The rest of the mage lords thought it was dangerous.”

Nathaniel said sarcastically “Yes, very dangerous.” The younger mage continued “That Dwarf Honibar was mad. They called him Honibar the unhinged. That should have been the first clue. He called the blasted book the mauve grimoire, mauve! He wasn’t even a bloody mage!”

Boralays cut his former student short “He didn’t need to be. He could have come into contact with a demon or anything. As for the book’s name, as we’ve already established, he was mad.”

Nathaniel nodded “He was a couple of spears short of an armoury. And the book had all the dark magical power of a doily.”

Boralays laughed heartily “Very funny Nathaniel, I’ve missed your wit. Now, getting serious for a moment, I need you to return to Ataya as soon as possible.”

Nathaniel asked “Why my lord?”

Boralays answered “There is something I need you to do, something which needs to be done discreetly, secretly. I cannot trust anyone else with this, only you. I’ll say no more until you arrive.”

Nathaniel Drakkon grew slightly suspicious, but spoke anyway “I will return quickly my lord. I will meet you at the tower of Ataya.” The spell sphere vanished. Nathaniel Drakkon walked away, wondering what was coming next. As he walked he cast another ball of flame at the ashes of the book, obliterating all trace of it. No rest for the wicked, he thought.

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