Part 3 – The Soul’s Hunt
For one who has sought that which is most dear in a lost memory, and found it on the far end of the growing river of time, there remains only the face of the enemy to fuel life with revenge. This face eluded my baser senses, etching itself with painful strokes across the most secret surface of my heart, or the little awareness of it I retained. This face I would use; I would shape and distort it, and give it to my subjects with the mask of humanity, so that I might hold them together with a purpose while I labored in front of no eyes but those from the looking glass I had destroyed.
The Yearly Feast
It was the day my twentieth year passed. I had vaguely remembered how humans received gifts from loved ones on the day of their birth. I had no remaining loved ones, nor was I human any longer. For me, the rules had changed; rather than receive anything, I would give my followers precisely what they wanted.
I prepared a monumental feast and celebration in the castle hall, allowing all to loosen themselves before delivering my statement; I would need as much loud cheer as I could harness. Ozzie sat at one end of the table stuffing his face with meat and mead, his cheeks growing so red from drink as to remind me of his “Saint of Claws” disguise from years back. After several hours of festivities he had broken six chairs falling to the ground, and had to be lifted by a team of imps and bats into a new one each time. By his seventh chair, he was so intoxicated that he seemed to have forgotten English and reverted to some ancient mystic tongue for his ranting. “Bodufu Bah Pooktah!” He would shout over and over, his face increasingly covered with various creams as the night passed. I never bothered to learn the phrase’s meaning, though it was apparently something the gargoyles found particularly amusing.
Flea was putting on a fire-throwing act, amusing some of the henches, and Slash was receiving fond attention from a group of naga-ettes while he told stories of battle and bravery; two had arms draped around his shoulders, one was playing with his hair as he tilted his head backward, while four more sat curled by his feet, playfully fighting for the privilege of removing his boots and massaging his feet. I spotted several more henches sneaking off with a bromide of one especially popular naga-ette.
A second table had been dragged out for some sort of wrestling spectacle. Atop it, two mud imps were grappling and pounding on each other, while a ring of their companions surrounded them on the floor, chanting and hooting. One of them eventually trapped the other in a headlock, then pulled with all his weight and sent them both tumbling to the floor.
Until now I had been brooding over a goblet of wine that remained mostly filled, studying my reflection in the brilliant red and occasionally observing the sport around me. Deciding it was time, I stood up, sent a wave of energy toward Ozzie’s passed out form and watching as he changed and grew into a large gray elephant. His new eyes popped open with shock, and his noises and predicament had my intended quieting effect on all present. When all had silenced, I returned him to his original form and motioned six imps to splash a pail of hot snake blood across his face. He gasped, screaming like an elderly human woman until I quieted him with mute.
“Brothers and sisters,” I began, sweeping my gaze over all yet none, “I came to you as a pup, an outsider, as chattel. You raised me, fed me, trained me until I became of able years, and in loving appreciation I let most of you live.” I paused, not entirely sure how proper that sounded but not giving it further thought. “Tonight, I prepare to show all of you just how much more you deserve of my affection than I am willing to give.”
I motioned to Flea, not waiting for them to figure out whether or not my words were a compliment. He immediately stepped back and, in a puff of white smoke, created an image of the creature I had had him memorize: something between a small volcano and a large, awkwardly shaped porcupine.
“Behold, the mighty Lavos!” I shouted, brandishing my scythe as an instrument of pointing. “Too long have the humans controlled this world at our expense. They drove you into the cracks and caves long ago, and took your land and your food. They exiled me and would have enslaved you all, if not for my divine intervention. They worship the terrible star that brings us disease, and would banish the comfort of the clouds and the void for eternity. Yet now, I bring you special tidings from the Black Wind. I bring you fate . . .”
I raised my arms, and Flea murmured a chant. The small image of Lavos erupted, sprouting countless illusionary gobs of fire and lava. An immediate panic swept over my subjects, and I could not help but grin as I watched them run around like a frenzied team of headless ants, howling and knocking each other over. When they realized they still had all of their skin, it took them nearly ten minutes to calm back to a halt. “Idiots.” I mumbled to myself.
“For us, it was an illusion. For the humans, it will be real!” I shouted, followed by the healthy roar of applause I had expected. Several henches fell over, their senses dulled by drink, and one was slapped by a heated Naga-ette.
“The true Lavos is many times larger, and the carnage will be many times greater! No corner of this miserable human world will remain standing!” The applause picked up twice as loud, and took longer to die down.
One somewhat besotted gargoyle stood on the backs of two of his swooned comrades, trying to fly. “Bring Lavos now! Destroy the humans now!”
“Now!” A strong chorus followed, quickly becoming a chant.
“Hold!” I shouted, striking the ceiling with a bolt of lightning and reclaiming most of my attention. The gargoyle who had spoken flew into floor, forgetting the distinction between up and down. “If I were to wake the great Lavos now, some humans would survive his wrath. We must let him slumber only one year more . . .”
“…and in that year, he will grow stronger!” I continued one year later, the very same night, with slightly more visible dark circles under my eyes; for mystics must be kept eager if they are to be used properly, and mystics have far more trouble remembering the details of a promise than they do remembering a grudge. “Strong enough to burn the skin from every living human! Strong enough--“
“--to return our dreams to us, come four hundred nights from this moon!” I continued the next year, with ever a more weary face. Though I did my research on Lavos alone, Flea and Slash were helping me forge the beginnings of an ultimate weapon that would, in theory, destroy Lavos. A smaller part of me added that doing so might also undo everything the demon had set in motion, returning me to a happier time, but revenge was still the fire I knew most. I kept the warrior and the magician ignorant of their true cause, convincing them that they were helping me build a device that would help to raise Lavos. Though their loyalty to me was unwavering, their sympathies were including Ozzie more than I liked. Ozzie, meanwhile, remained ignorant of the entire object and continued to gloat and bloat amongst the lessers. “Now is our time to—“
“—sharpen our teeth and prepare for a feast larger than this, to drink a richer wine and quench a thirst far deeper.” I then strode to a smaller table, grabbed a swooning green imp (the least intelligent sub-breed) who had been hiding underneath by the feet and held him upward. “Many comrades remain in hiding through the world, driven into holes with sore claws and trembling tails, believing the prophecy of my arrival a myth to explore throughout uneasy slumber and hardship. We must bring them here, show them the teeth of our trials!”
I released the imp’s leg, and he went plummeting back downward head-first. “We must stand high for all to see!” I added.
“Daguk vooo!” The imp cursed in his native tongue, scurrying away.
I then removed a tied bundle of scrolls from my belt, loosened them and hurled them into the crowd. “ Tomorrow eve, you are to begin a crusade to every corner of this world and place these where you hear tales of other mystics, lurking or slipping around human awareness. Each of these has magic embedded within, sensed by mystics alone, that will enable them to find us. Each shall swell our ranks by one, ten, twenty . . . ”
“. . . one hundred, . . . ”
“ . . . one thousand, . . .”
“ . . . one million!” By now, the castle had been expanded several times more to house my growing army. Many long tables now spread across the main hallway, with countless smaller tables and exhibitions to the sides. I watched in compounding weariness as hordes of imps, henches, avian freelancers and other creatures unaffected by sunlight dove into the pile like frenzied sharks in a sea turned to blood. “When you have all returned . . .”
“We shall all be ready to raze our enemies with the message of Lavos, and greet him as he wakes to deliver us!”
Of course, it was now seven years since the first feast, yet this year I knew would be the last I would need. Until now, I had depended on the mystics’ terrible temporal awareness and inability to count higher than the number of fingers on each hand. Knowing this celebration out of all was the true promise bearer, I found myself for once sharing the excitement of my ever-faithful, blissfully leal followers.
A freelancer then took to the air, landing gracelessly with a thump on the table in front of me. I scowled as feathers flew in my face, more so at the very unapologetic look across his features. “Yeah?” He squawked, carrying every drop of his race’s venomous attitude. “I’ve ‘eard your face flap for a dangin’ long time ‘bout this laa-vose, but I ain’t seen so much as a spark. Either you lyin’, or maybe you just too—“
“Chicken?” I finished, grabbing him by the neck and lifting him. He let out a painful, half-smothered squawk as I unsheathed my scythe, pointing it at his belly. “If you have so little faith in my ‘guts’, perhaps we should see yours?”
He shook his head rapidly, as much as he could in my grasp, and I hurled him to the ground. He let out one more terrified scream, then darted up a flight of stairs with several companions.
I then turned to face all my subjects who remained on their feet with clarity and judgment, raising my fist in direction.
“Hhh-aill-aill-llll—Mag-ag-g-gguss-ss-ss-sss!” They responded, a bit more jumbled than I had hoped but with an echo long and true.
“H-h-h-h-HAIL! Magus . . .!” Ozzie cried, then fell forward and broke his section of the table, landing on the floor with his face and shoulders caked with remainders of each of his seven courses.
The Ritual Broken
Twenty score moons from that evening, I was prepared to claim my life’s reward. As I knelt to finish the last phase of the chant, alone and enveloped by darkness, a strange memory surfaced; one of a very similar darkness, my life before life, the belly of she who had once been my mother. Only now there was no comfort; only a terrible, terrible excitement.
“Neuga, ziena, zieber, zom . . .
Now the chosen time has come . . . ”
I spoke, straining to keep my voice steady lest I miscast the final cantrip.
“Exchange this world for..!”
And then, just as what happened long ago in the world of my mother, I felt a change. I then remembered her hands, long cold, nearly drowning my infant body in the water marked by Lavos. This time, it was fire that sprung up around me, accompanied by the returning, all-too-familiar toll of the Black Wind.
Sensing a presence behind me, I whipped around and froze, assaulted by more memories.
The boy I had seen in another life stood before me. To one side of him stood the girl with glass over her eyes, holding a projectile weapon of some sort. To the other stood a ghost of ten years past, holding a sword that by all rights should no longer have existed.
“Magus!!!” The voice, though somewhat less human, was unmistakable, as were all the emotions it carried. Over the years I spent researching Lavos, I had every so often questioned whether or not I was truly black enough to make such a trade as I had, until moments ago, planned and carried forward with success. Now, as I remembered what I had done to torment this creature, all such doubts about my role as destructor faded. Only fury remained, fury at these fools interrupting the one purpose I had been granted.
I scowled. “I . . . it's that stupid frog! Kissed any princesses lately?”
“I rather enjoy this form. And I oweth it all to you!
I have something for you!” The man-frog brandished the Masamune.
“Ah . . . The Masamune,” I answered, not hiding my contempt, “I bet you're just dying to use it . . . ”
The Black Wind, my earliest and most basic power, was now screaming through my ears louder and more painfully than it had ever before, but I managed to keep my battle-ready composure. “The Black Wind begins to blow . . . Ok . . . Give me your best shot! If you're prepared for the void . . .”