The Dead Sorcerers 08

When last I had seen those eyes, they had been cowering in fear before me. Now I felt a cold, hard lump form within my open gut.

His eyes burned in rage.

“Do you know what you have cost me? Do you realized the work you unraveled with your little stunt?”

Between fear at my helplessness before my old enemy, I panicked as I expected my mouth to begin forming answers to his questions. Fear turned to puzzlement when I felt no compulsion to do as demanded. In any case, I could not force a response, and so I waited in anguish as I waited for him to vent his rage upon my helpless self.

“Who taught you that spell with the chicken? No way a moron such as you could have come up with that on your own.”

He seethed, his eyes aglow with an angry blue light. I could do nothing but stare back at him.

I heard another voice from behind me.

“Shouldn’t you be reading some books, Useless One?”

I saw those shining eyes blaze brighter with impotent rage. With a flourish, he turned and stalked from the room.

“So, you are the one who has my companions in such a state of excitement. With that aura, I can see why, certainly, and I also suspect that I know who sent you. Look at me, now.” The voice was rich, deep, and full of an easy confidence.

By degrees, I turned my head to face the newcomer. He was swathed in robes from head to foot, and all but his eyes had been bound in strips of grey cloth.

“How is the Necromancer these days?” he asked and I could not help but respond, though I could see my lungs moving from my opened rib cage.

“Quite excited, last I saw him.”

“Excited? What is he up to?” Suspicion gleamed in those dark eyes.

“Bringing me back to life.”

“Oh? This is a tale I must hear. Tell it to me. All of it.”

And I did, all the way up to my entry into this world. I would have spilled everything, including how I was plotting against him and his ilk with the Plant men, were we not interrupted. Well, I did in fact say those things as well, but he was unable to hear them.

The Dead Sorcerers 07

It soon became apparent that my fears of them asking me questions, and of causing me to spill my metaphorical guts about my intentions, were unfounded. They had no more interest in my thoughts than they would those of a fly.

And yet, my actual guts held a great deal more fascination for them. I was commanded to lay myself upon a stone table and the entire group went to work cutting into my flesh and inspecting my innards. I was intensely grateful that I felt very little of it, though the act itself certainly unnerved me. Between the odd pronouncement of things like “You see this here? I never would have thought to use such a technique. Not even a Kreshing stone could rip the soul from this corpse!” I could do naught but wait, and hope that my body still worked after they were finished inspecting it.

At length, they tired of their investigations and wandered off, discussing in detail the things which they had learned. Without understanding much of what they said, still I gathered that they held the work of the Necromancer in high regard. Indeed, as much as my situation seemed hopeless, I found an odd flicker of hope arising. If he was as good as they said, and I could somehow finish my quest and acquire the nine items, I had no doubt that he would be able to do as he promised.

But even as that spark of hope flashed into life, the glowing eyes of the creature who next entered the room quickly extinguished it.

The Dead Sorcerers 06

I wanted to believe that I was capable of fending off any questions as to my origins or mission, that my will was strong enough to fight against talking. They may have taken temporary control of my limbs, yet I fought within myself against the fear of having my will to think and speak as I sought fit ripped away from me.

Awaiting this final indignity, I could nothing but mull it over within my own mind. I could not run, could not plan, could do nothing at all but wait in endless patience upon the whims of sorcerers, whose cruelty I had already witnessed whilst gaining entrance to this city. Any fascination I may have had for their magical powers, in other circumstances, had been replaced completely with an abject terror I could not give in to.

At some point, during the long hours of my immobility, nearly half of them left the room, sweeping by me in their long robes without so much as a curious glance. Their stride bespoke purpose, while their words to each other had shifted to some language I did not recognize.

The sun had crossed the sky and descended beneath the wall’s edge by the time the remaining few had finished with whatever tasks held their interest and turned to regard me.

“It is an interesting specimen,” one stated, though the bland tone of voice did not match the words.

“Yes, I agree, brother,” another answered. “Though, I am torn between a desire to see what it is capable of and what its innards look like.”

“I understand the urge,” yet another said. “I’ve not seen the like in its construction. You see how the binding points are set? I can’t imagine why someone would do such a thing, unless this creature here is being punished for something. Why go to such efforts to keep such a wretch’s soul intact? And to such a pitifully damaged vessel.”

“Why, indeed,” said the one who had found me. “Maybe punishment, as you say. Or maybe only he has access to something his master requires? Maybe secrets have been burned into the very fabric of his soul?” The eyes of that one burned with an intense greed.

“The possibilities are indeed endless,” said the one who had started the exchange. “It is all rather delightful! I can not wait to begin unraveling it all to find out.”

Inside, I cringed. It appeared my soul was to be tormented before being sent back to the firy hells I had already experienced once before. I fought against the iron will keeping me still, though to no avail.

Their chatter continued for some time, though aside from talk they did no more than poke at my flesh once or twice while circling me. My body had become a statue that looked like rotted flesh but move no more than carved stone. My sanity, everso fragile, had begun to slip once more. What a fools quest I’d thrown myself into!

Zombified servants were called in, animated corpses quite obviously free of their old souls, to drag in boxes of equipment. A table was set up and I was directed to lay upon it.

They would soon begin a deeper inspection.

The Dead Sorcerers 05

With every step bringing me nearer to what I assumed was an eternity of servitude, I inwardly cursed myself, the old Plant, and every other aspect of my circumstances I could think of.

My vision had narrowed to the back of the robed figure before me. I strode purposely behind him, but only because he had willed it. A simple word spoken, and I was naught more than a puppet dancing on an invisible string stronger than iron chain.

At length, he entered a broad room which had been modified with a roof of sorts, several lengths of heavy cloth which had been stretched across the further half of the structure. A cluster of sorcerers in similar garb stood about an oval table of a heavy, dark wood.

Once within the room, my new master bade me wait just inside the intrance whilst he approached the others.

“My brothers, I have stumbled upon an enigma.”

They all turned to look at him. I could barely make out only one or two of a dozen faces. They looked mostly human, although there was something in the eyes which would have chilled my blood, were it not already a lifeless, superfluous fluid.

“Whose servant is that,” one of them muttered. “His aura… that can’t be correct.”

“I don’t believe he belongs to any of us,” the one who had chanced upon me said. “He is an interloper, perhaps sent by Caspus? I questioned him only lightly, as I assumed the rest of you would wish to be present for the full interrogation. Where is Trenserentan?”

“He informed us this morning that he came across news of the Third Scroll and went to investigate.”

“Oh, that is good news.”

They continued to talk amongst themselves about various topics, none of which I could follow in the least bit, and I could do naught but wait. Patiently or impatiently or filled with terror it mattered not, until they deigned to turn their focus back upon me.

The Dead Sorcerers 04

So thoroughly had I been cursing my lot at being in this place, and so thoroughly had I been lost to fear, that my thoughts had ranged too far and prevented me from noticing that I had finally wandered into a room which was not empty.

“Hold!” A voice called out, deep as the Earth and penetrating to my very bones.

I could not help myself. I stopped. And found myself unable to move. At first I put it down to surprise, but after a few uncomfortable moments, I realized that my body was no longer responding to my wishes.

Panic began to set in.

“You are not one of mine. Speak: From whence came you?”

Just as I could no more sit than flee in my panic, I could not prevent my mouth from forming the words which nearly damned me.

“From another world. Earth.”

“How came you to be here?”

“I am on a quest to restore my humanity. This world has an ingredient I require for this purpose.”

Internally, I raged against my body, my mouth, my complete and total lack of will. It was as though some other entity had possessed me and caused me to speak. And, at the same time, it was only me, recognizing that I was nothing before this great and powerful being. My mouth, my body, knew that I owed this creature my complete and total fealty. Fighting against it was near futile.

There was silence for a time. Being reduced to a puppet, I could not speak unless bade to by question or order. As yet, I had seen no one. The Other stood somewhere behind me and off to the side. I had blindly walked into a small room, thinking only of getting through it to the hallway at the other end.

“Fascinating. Who is your master? I see no obvious fetters upon you.”

“I… have no master. I am….” I stumbled over the words, not out of any struggle against the complete and total mental domination I was under, but because I had been asked an impossible question.

More silence.

“I see. Follow me, then, masterless one.”

A figure swathed in robes of black and grey strode past me and toward the far hallway. I caught the faintest scent of blood and dirt. As if on strings, I obediently followed after.

As we wandered more mazelike hallways and rooms, my thoughts locked upon the distinct possibility that I might just be stuck in servitude to these cruel sorcerers for a very, very long time.

The Dead Sorcerers 03

Eventually, I passed beyond the field of suffering Plant Men. I had an eerie time of it, those last several dozen yards to the city wall, hearing the occasional scratching sound mixed in with that of things turning within the earth. Such light sounds underlining the great mass of writhing pain that had passed beyond my sight.

Thus far, I had observed no other life. Or, unlife, rather. For a few moments I faltered, knowing that I still had time to flee this place, to avoid the potential horrors which lay within. Better to run back now, and force the flower from that weak old plant, the frantic part of my mind screamed, than to become a victim of sorcerers as powerful as the ones who dwelled within the walls I had traveled so far to enter.

I hesitated just outside the walls of this silent city. The voices, the fear within, grew loud enough to prevent my foot from crossing that final threshold. I stood there, I know not how long, before turning my head back to look upon the line of forest upon the horizon, thinking strongly of abandoning my mission. The writhing bodies upon the fields of suffering caught my eye then, and my sympathy for those poor souls crashed against the fear of my weakness, and I found the strength of will to cross that thin line into the city proper.

Cursing the nonsensical mazelike passages of the plant people, I wandered for several long minutes without encountering another soul, damned or not. I could not tell if I moved in loops and circles, or if I truly wandered into the depths of the place. Each hallway and room appeared identical to the dozens of others I passed through. The clear sky and sun shining above the open roof mocked my efforts.

Though I considered hopping upon a wall to get a better view of the city’s layout, my sense of self-preservation nixed the idea. I had no interest in standing out here. My best hope was to be overlooked. Overlooked and ignored until I could perform my simple task and slink away.

Yet one basic flaw existed in the old Plant’s plan; one simple, easy-to-overlook problem which almost unravelled the whole affair.

The Dead Sorcerers 02

Below me lay a long, shallow valley. My first glimpse did not reveal the extensive, mazelike walls of the lost city; nor did it catch the surrounding beauty of the natural world.

The old plant had been wrong. The Sorcerers had not slaughtered those left behind. I saw them now, those survivors, before me, hundreds of plant men freely roaming upon the fields before their own city. Each twisted and turned in endless agony. Branch-like limbs clawed at dirt or their own bark-like skin. It was a scene of silent madness. Not a whistle or voice broke that scene. For the first time, I counted myself lucky that I could not hear the Mind Talk of these plant men. I did not doubt that their world was anything but quiet.

My walk through that field was a small trip to hell in itself. I strode past limbs raised to me in supplication, a horror show of self-injury and quiet suffering. More than a few grasped my ankle in desperation and I was forced to shake loose from the desperate grip. Thoughts and images of my time in hell awoke and I quite nearly did not make it. Part of me wished to save these creatures from their misery, either by a quick death or leading them beyond the edge of the vale and the source of their agony.

Yet I knew such a move would ultimately be fruitless and likely ruin the chances of my mission’s success. Aside from the hopelessness of seeing to the sheer numbers of plant folk, no doubt the Sorcerers would quickly become aware of my meddling. If I were to save these unfortunate souls, it was essential that I continue on as planned. Still, it felt as though a piece of my soul shriveled away as I made that long trek.

At long last, I made my way beyond the field of sufferers and to the walls of the lost city. The Sorcerers, and my mission, awaited somewhere inside.

The Dead Sorcerers

I was clothed once again. It was a very rough cloth, much worn and ragged, yet the majority of the damage to my body was covered, to my great relief. I detested my undead state and the many times in my short trek in which it had been bared to the world made me feel hideous and less than human.

The thought had occurred to me on numerous occasions that I might begin to doubt my own humanity after experiencing years of undeath. What might I become? If I should fail in my quest, perhaps I should live out my eternity as a hermit. But then, if recent events proved anything, it was that if I failed in my quest I would likely be back in the clutches of Xbalanque. I steeled my resolve and continued on.

It pained me, as I walked the distance between the city of the plant man and the city of the dead sorcerers, that I traveled away from the very thing I sought. I had had quite enough of these plant men and their ways, and every step made me more and more impatient to be done with this and on the way to my next destination.

Still, there were moments where beauty surrounded me. I appeared to have arrived during the early summer, when the sun shines brightly from high above, yet has not had an opportunity to bake the greenery from the land. Though I could not feel it, the air looked warm while a light breeze stirred the branches about me. Wild flowers were scattered amid the broad stretches of grass and stands of oak. In the distance, I could see peaks covered in pine.

Though I had not been gone long, I felt a sense of nostalgia for my home. This land seemed very much like my native Northern California, albeit without signs of human habitation.

My heart felt both heavy and light at once. During the days and nights of my trek, I felt sadness at what I had lost and what I was separated from, pain at the harshness of my plight, and a kernel of joy at the simple beauty of that which surrounded me.

I did not waste time with sleep, and I had no need of food, and so was able to make speedy progress. I had been provided with detailed maps, which I was to bury outside the Sorcerers’ abode for the return trip, and they held me in good stead.

What little peace I felt fled when I crested that final ridge and stood looking down upon the valley containing my destination.

Tea and a Garden 05

I wonder how things would have gone if the old plant had done as he first intended, and simply handed over the flower. Pointless speculation, for certain, but I cringe inside to think of the beauty I was ultimately a part of destroying.

He had turned away from me and taken a couple of steps toward another part of the garden when he stopped and turned back to me.

“It occurs to me,” he said, “that this flower is worth a great deal to you. And I fully understand what you have suffered through already to come even this far, with much of your journey still ahead of you. But… I must ask you for a great favor before I bestow this one upon you.”

I could feel my fists clenching in frustration. I am certain that my eyes narrowed and a part of me considered using force upon the old man to get what I had come through so much to acquire.

“You wonder why my people have been so… unaccepting of you. Let me tell you why, and then you will understand why I ask this thing of you. A thing, you must understand, that only someone of your nature is in a position to accomplish.”

I forced myself to relax. At least I had not been accosted since entering this garden, and it was a pleasant enough place to hear a tale told by someone from whom I was asking a favor of my own.

“My people have ever been blessed by the gods of Sky and Sun, Earth and Rain. We are a chosen people upon this world, and have been for many millennia. We live in harmony with the natural world around us, having, as we do, the innate ability to touch the minds of each other and those of the lesser animals around us.”

Aside from the mythological mumbo jumbo, this was the first admission I had had of their psychic powers.

“However, a generation ago, when I was a much younger soul, we were invaded by men, most likely from your world. These were not normal men, but a cabal of sorcerers, what we call the Cursed ones. They were no longer living, yet they were still animate, as you are, and would not follow the natural order of decay.

“These men entered our world and destroyed several of our cities, burning and defiling the ground wherever they went. Our warriors fought as bravely as they could, yet these Cursed ones used their infernal powers to attack our great strength, our Mind Talk. Any who opposed them directly found their souls pulled apart by a great mental wailing. The few who escaped the reaping which followed were never the same and constantly talked of a great screaming which would ever echo within their minds. None of those unlucky few… survived… for long.

“We have lived in fear ever since. For though the Cursed ones do not follow us, and seem happy enough to have taken up residence in those lost cities, they also seem to never age or die. We live in fear that they will one day become restless and descend upon us once again to take more of our land, and our sanity.

I had a terrible sense of where this was going. Aside from my one experience with a sorcerous neighbor, and he was but one person and far from a powerful group of undead who could wipe out whole cities with impunity, I knew very little of how to defeat such beings.

“I don’t see what I can do…,” I began but he held up a branch to quiet me.

“Of course I do not expect you to wade into their midst with a spear and dagger and wipe out a menace which has stymied a whole race for a generation.”

Had I breath, I would have exhaled in relief.

“Yet… there is a thing which you can do. A task you are uniquely suited for, for you do not have our weakness of Mind Talk for them to exploit. You alone may be able to infiltrate their midst, for they have many servants from the ranks of the dead, and perform a simple task which will give us the advantage. With this advantage, our own brave warriors will be strong enough to wipe their scourge from our beautiful world and return the balance to normal.

“If you do this simple thing, I will provide you not only with the healing flower you need, but will also provide another boon which I may not speak of before my friend here.”

I had forgotten about the man in the cage and looked over at him now. He looked to be observing the both of us keenly, though quietly.

“What say you?”

I hesitated briefly.

“What choice have I, really?”

I looked upon that false, smiling Sharpie face and wondered how these plant men truly showed their emotions. I could not read this being, though I felt I could trust him. Indeed, I may even have liked him if I had had time to get to know him and was not in the very early stages of the most desperate quest of my life.

“What do you need me to do?”

Tea and a Garden 04

I relayed my full tale then, in a beautiful garden beneath an alien sun, with an elderly plant man and a human trapped in a cage as my audience. Both listened intently, though I could see the man in the cage wince at times. I wondered at his story and if he understood what it was to be tortured and separated from loved ones.

Silence reigned as I finished my story. Both man and plant appeared to be lost in thought for a time, though it was the plant who spoke first.

“Normally it is anathema for any of us Thurians to assist a Necromancer in his impure tasks, yet I find myself moved by your story and this promise of achieving life once again. Therefore, I will provide that which you seek. It is just that it be so, for I am the High Gardener, and this place you see before you is my life’s work.”

I looked about me, at the array of beautiful flowers and other assorted plants. There seemed a pattern to it all that my mind could not fully grasp.

“It is a lovely garden,” I said. “I have never seen its like.”

“And you never shall again,” he said with simple conviction. “Each plant here has been bred to be the pinnacle of its species in beauty and efficacy. I alone understand the interweaving of geomantic lines and roots, of what each plant needs to meet its own potential and how it interacts with all other life here, in this place. It is sacred, it is the express will of our silent gods.”

“And him?” I asked, pointing at the man in the cage.

I received a chuckle in response.

“A friend, sworn to a course of action he must never complete. If you ever meet him again, it will be because I am dead and this garden a shambles.”

I asked no more questions.

“Now, let us get this flower you require, this prunella vulgaris.”

Tales of Daring and Adventure