Magus

A young couple takes a hike on the Appalachian Trail that leads to the resurrection of an ancient evil. The rise of the Magus signals the return of forgotten powers to the world, and one man will rise to stem the growing tide of evil.

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1. Prologue

It was a clearing much like a hundred others in the Appalachian Mountains.  Standing in the midst of the great oaks, poplars, and pines, Danny and Carol saw only a great spot to pitch their tent for the night.  The ground was level and covered with leaves and needles from the trees that huddled close around the little clearing.  The stream that ran from a spring at the bottom of the draw to the south meant they could fill their canteens and wash their mess kits before continuing on the Appalachian Trail in the morning.

The young couple had seen the “No Trespassing” signs shortly after they left the Trail, but had assumed they were a ploy from some hunter to keep others off his favorite hunting grounds.  It had even been necessary for them to claw their way through a nasty deadfall to reach this little clearing, but they paid little attention to the extra work.  They were young lovers, fresh from high school, sharing a summer adventure on the Trail before going off to college in the fall. Danny and Carol had been on the Trail for a couple of days and had only dated for a few months before school ended.  They had not even made love yet, although both thought that could change tonight; hence the search for more privacy than the standard campsites offered.  

Carol was a bit worried, since it would be her first time.  She did not consider herself a prude, but she had been unable to justify sharing her body with any of the losers she had dated before Danny.  With Danny, things were different.  She loved Danny's gentle nature, his keen intelligence, his quiet competence, and his strong farm boy's body.  He was always considerate and never pressured her for sex.  They had fooled around of course, sharing kisses, with some petting and groping for good measure, but when she said stop Danny always stopped.  Now, she finally felt confident in his love, and she had decided that tonight was the night.

 

Soon the happy couple settled into their nightly routine.  Danny pitched their tent as Carol set up a small propane grill.  She took out their mess kit and opened a large can of Beanie Weenies.  As she pried the lid out, she slipped and managed to slice her finger on the lid of the can.  She cried, "Damn!" and popped the finger in her mouth, but not before several precious drops of her blood vanished in the leaves beneath her.  Danny hurried over and helped her bandage the cut, and the incident was all but forgotten.  Danny finished with the tent while Carol put the finishing touches on their simple dinner.  The young lovers finished their meal, cleaned their dishes in the stream, and bedded down for an eventful evening…although in not quite the manner they anticipated.

 

 

Had this happy couple only known the secret history of this clearing, they would have found another place to make their camp.  They had no way of knowing that the signs and the deadfall had been placed there by the last surviving member of a family that had passed a certain responsibility down through countless generations over the course of several millennia.  This duty was old when the white man came with his whiskey, guns, and disease.  A few members of this family managed to remain hidden while their friends and relatives were rounded up and marched away on The Trail of Tears.  They could remember, through their oral histories, when the small expeditions of tough, bearded men with pale skin and red hair passed through from the far north.  And before all else, they could remember the time when that hilltop had been laid bare, when great slabs of rock had stood in concentric circles around a huge stone altar in the center.  They remembered the men that reveled in the blood sacrifices on that altar.  They remembered the horrendous war that was fought, the costly victory, and the oaths to bury that memory forever.  After the battle, members of the same family had toppled the stones, buried their enemy beneath the altar, covered the stones with earth, and planted the forest to hide the spot from men forever.  

This family then guarded the spot from the prying eyes of the world through the long, countless years, until modern man, with his disbelief in all things not explained by science, caused the family to fall.  These later generations sneered at the ancient tales and would not take up the task of their ancestors.  Finally, one lonely old man set up the deadfall and placed the signs, tottered back to his cabin, said a prayer to the spirits, and died.  But beneath the clearing, below the altar, the ancient enemy slept and waited.

 

 

Maraydel felt something new and powerful.  Well, the feeling was not new in the strictest sense of the word, but its memory was buried so far back in the mists of time that it was startling, vital, and deeply invigorating.  For the first time in millennia, he awakened and began to take stock of his surroundings.  

His first awareness was of darkness and oppressive weight on the desiccated vessel of his spirit.  As he searched through his mind, memories of better times came forward.  Ah, how those memories burned within him now.  The memories of power wielded and desires fulfilled spurred him to greater efforts at understanding.  Suddenly, the source of this renewed vigor became clear.  

Innocence…  The thought was like a whispered word.  Maraydel reached out with his mind, for the first time in ages, and searched for the source of this renewed strength.  The source was close, he noted, with something like glee.  But what was this?  He could sense that the fall of the most vital portion of that innocence was close.  He could not allow that now, when freedom from countless years of confinement was so close!  Once more he reached out, but not to search.  No, this time he reached out to control.

 

Carol felt Danny stiffen beside her.  What was wrong?  She knew this was right.  They both wanted this, so what was the holdup?  

Things had been going well.  They had crawled in the tent and fallen into each other's arms.  The kissing and petting had progressed along age-old lines until both lay naked.  Carol thought Danny would be moving soon to consummate their love, but instead he lay stiff and…trembling?…beside her.  

"Danny?  Danny, are you ok?" she asked.  He did not answer.  My God, was it some kind of seizure or something?  She fumbled about in the darkness until she found the little flashlight where it hung suspended from the peak of the tent each night.  She quickly switched it on and recoiled from what she saw.  

Danny lay beside her in all his naked glory, and a remote part of Carol’s mind noted his attractive physique and obvious arousal.  These things were not the cause of her shock, and she ignored them in spite of the activities of a moment earlier.  In all her life, she had never seen someone so pale and rigid.  Danny’s eyes were opened wide and his pupils were dilated, in spite of the flashlight shining into them.  And as she watched, in the time it took for one beat of her racing heart, his green eyes changed to the palest blue she had ever seen.  She touched his arm, and it was rock-hard and as cold as ice.  

"Oh my God, Danny, what's wrong?"  Still he did not answer, and Carol started to search for her clothes, so she missed the color returning to his body.  She glanced back towards Danny, and was relieved to see that the tension was gone and that his color looked more normal.  His eyes were still that pale shade of blue, however…  

As Carol watched, Danny's eyes rolled towards her, and he began to smile.  There was something about the smile that turned the blood in her veins to ice.  This smile was devoid of Danny's warmth and caring and instead was hard, and cold as an Arctic winter.  Danny sat up, began to reach for her, and then swung a fist hard to her temple.  The last thing she saw before the darkness swept her away was the grim look of satisfaction on his face.

 

 

When Carol regained consciousness, the first thing she noticed was the sound of digging.  She lay face down on the leaves and needles in the small clearing, still naked, with her hands and feet bound behind her.  Her knees were bent so her hands and feet could be tied to each other.  She turned her head to look for the source of the sound she had heard, and groaned in pain as her bruised temple made contact with the ground.  The movement intensified a throbbing in her head that had been unnoticed before but could now scarcely be ignored.  

Carol’s groan attracted some unwanted attention.  She heard footsteps, and then saw a scratched and bloodied set of bare feet stop just in front of her face.  She rolled her eyes to look up at the figure beside her.  

"Danny?" she asked.  "What are you doing?  Why are you doing this?"  

"Your Danny can't speak to you just now, although he is trying."  It was Danny's voice, but the cadence and inflection was all wrong.  The slow, stilted speech sounded almost like someone trying to learn a new language, but there was no discernible accent.  "You won't be speaking to him for some time.  I just wanted you to see this, so the building terror can sweeten and empower that innocent blood of yours."  

Danny bent to lift Carol and carried her to within a few feet of a new excavation in the center of the small clearing.  He laid her down on the carpet of leaves and helped her rock back to a kneeling position with her feet tucked beneath her. "What the hell are you doing?  And if you're not Danny, who or what are you?"  Carol eyed the freshly turned earth before her and added, "Is that a grave?"  

"Patience.  You must have patience.  All of your questions will be answered soon enough, though I doubt if you'll like the answers much."  With that cryptic answer, Danny turned and stepped into the shallow excavation he had made in the clearing.  He grabbed the pot that he was using for a shovel and began to dig feverishly once more.  The earth was soft, and dirt was soon flying from the hole.  

Carol sat and considered her situation.  Her most immediate concern was obviously her naked, and apparently possessed, boyfriend digging furiously in the clearing.  The gray light of dawn was giving way to what looked to be a glorious, if cool, summer morning.  She was naked and tied quite effectively.  Their camping gear was all on the other side of the dig, so there seemed to be little hope of crawling to their packs to find something to free herself.  Also, the couple had hiked at least a mile from the Trail to find this site, so the odds of a scream being heard were slim.  Still it never hurt to try, right?  

"Help!  Somebody help me, please!"  

The words were scarcely out of her mouth before Danny was out of the hole.  He delivered a vicious slap to her face that split her lip and tumbled her onto her side.  

"Shut your mouth, woman, or your agonies shall be worse than anything you have ever imagined."  

"Why should I?" Carol spat back at him.  "You're going to kill me anyway."  

"There are worse things than death.  Test my patience again, and you shall experience them all before I allow you to die.  I have not waited through countless years only to be thwarted by such as you."  Danny glared down at her for a moment.  "Perhaps a lesson is needed.  Certainly, you should be punished for the attempt."  Without another word, he bent and pinched her left nipple loosely between his thumb and forefinger.  "Would you like me to demonstrate, or do we understand one another?"  

Carol was too groggy and terrified to reply.  She simply whipped her head from side to side to indicate that a demonstration was not needed.  Danny increased the pressure briefly before turning to resume digging, and a dull ache settled into Carol's breast in response to the abuse.  

Carol lay trembling and tried to fight the rising panic within her.  The conversation had confirmed her worst fears; Danny intended to kill her.  She struggled to wrap her mind around her situation.  What exactly was wrong with Danny?  What did he mean by "…countless years…?"  And what was it he said about her blood?  The entire situation was insane.  One thing seemed certain.  Her sweet and gentle boyfriend was no longer in control of his body.  And just exactly why was he digging?  Based on the amount of dirt around the excavation, it seemed like an excessive amount of work just for a grave.  

It seemed that the reason for the dig was about to be revealed, since the sounds of digging had just changed from metal on earth to metal on stone.  She heard Danny say, "Ah, there you are."  This was followed by an evil chuckle that sent chills down her spine.  The digging then began again, more vigorously than before. All too soon, from Carol's perspective, the digging stopped again.  She cringed as the pot which had served briefly as a shovel sailed out of the excavation to crash to the ground a few feet from her head.  Her unintentional movement caused the ropes binding her hands and feet to tighten even more, and she bit her lip to stifle a cry caused by the pain of the ropes.  

Carol saw Danny climb from the hole, and then heard him rummaging through their camping equipment on the far side of the hole.  Soon, he climbed back into the hole carrying the rest of the rope from their packs.  A few moments later, he climbed back out on Carol's side of the dig.  She saw the gleam of his hunting knife in his hand and began to cry.  Her tears brought a cold, cruel, satisfied smile to his face as he bent to cut the rope binding her hands to her feet.  Danny picked her up and tossed her on his shoulder like a sack of potatoes, then turned and carried her into the pit he had made in the center of the clearing.

 

Maraydel was well pleased with his progress so far.  The body he was controlling was young and strong and had rapidly cleared the altar and freed his desiccated body from the earth that had held him captive for so long.  The next part would be tricky, since his control would slip as sensation returned.  

Maraydel's task would be simplified considerably by the slave's lack of knowledge and belief about his kind.  Maraydel could hardly believe how completely knowledge of his race had been extinguished.  From the mind of the young man under his control (the girl’s Danny, apparently), Maraydel had learned how little these people knew of the powers he possessed.  Of greater importance, the fools had somehow forgotten even the most basic means to protect themselves from his powers.  The plundering of these people would be delicious indeed.  

Maraydel pulled himself from his musings.  Before anything else, he must complete the ritual to return himself fully to the world.  Maraydel, using Danny as an unwilling puppet, placed the girl on the altar.  How delicious she looked, so sweet, helpless, and terrified.  He wished it would not be necessary to kill her so he could sample her flesh as a man, but to restore him, all of her blood would be needed.  Ah, well, there would be many, many others, once he was restored.  

Quickly, Maraydel reviewed his preparations.  The huge stone slab of the altar, approximately 9 feet by 4 feet, and nearly 12 inches thick, had been made fairly clear of dirt on top.  The arcane designs on the surface of the slab had all been carefully cleared, as had the channels to carry the blood from the extremities to the large pentagram in the center.  From each point of the pentagram, the blood would enter the outer circle and flow down through a hole in the slab to the dried up body beneath.  The rope had been used to fashion restraints that passed beneath the slab to hold the girl in place.  There were loops for the hands and feet, as well as rope to bind her around the neck, hips, and knees.  All was in order. It was time to prepare the sacrifice.  Maraydel's link to Danny had helped him to rapidly master the strange language of these people, so with no hesitation he relayed his instructions to her.  "I'm going to free your hands, briefly.  Don't try anything foolish if you want to remain conscious for your remaining time in this life.  If you behave yourself, I may even restore you to your flesh in short order."  The offer was genuine.  It was well within his power to restore her, although she would be his slave and little more than a target for his lust.  The girl had no need of that information, however.  

Still using Danny as the vehicle of his consciousness, Maraydel cut the bonds on Carol's hands, and she meekly waited as he slipped each arm into the waiting restraint.  Carol seemed to have retreated inside herself, as he had seen so many do before her when faced with their own inevitable demise.  Next, he used Danny to quickly secure the ropes across her hips and throat, free and retie her feet, then bind the last rope across her knees.  Maraydel forced Danny to step back from Carol to admire the sight of her young body bound naked before him.  How strange that these women should remove all the hair from their bodies; yet it was certainly enticing.  He decided that he would restore her to life for his amusement, as soon as his return was complete.  

Maraydel then used Danny to check the preparations beneath the altar.  His anger burned hotter because of the condition of his flesh.  Little remained of the tall, proud man that he had once been.  The robes of his order had long since rotted away, until little remained of them but a few tattered scraps of red cloth.  The word flesh was hardly an accurate description, since all that remained of his flesh were a few shreds and flaps of muscles and sinew and a withered and blackened thing in his chest that must once have been a living, beating human heart.  Danny's lips twisted into an evil smile as the thing controlling him realized that even the worms must have feared contact with that dark center of his soul.  

Danny crawled beneath the altar so Maraydel could turn his attention to the most important elements of his restoration, those items of power that his enemies had overlooked in their rush to erase all knowledge of the existence of his kind.  His great medallion still lay upon his ribcage, where it had been hidden beneath his robes.  The silver chain was still clasped behind the bones of his neck, though its links were now tarnished black from years in the earth.  The medallion was exquisitely fashioned from silver in the form of a rattlesnake.  The eyes were small, polished orbs of obsidian.  The rattle had been cunningly crafted from turquoise.  In its mouth, the serpent held a large quartz crystal.  Bracelets of similar design encircled the bones of his wrists and ankles, although these bracelets were fashioned so the bodies of the serpents coiled around his limbs.  

Maraydel was satisfied that everything was in order, but he was bitterly angry over the loss of his staff.  Apparently the little savages had sent the staff elsewhere, since it was certainly far beyond their power to destroy.  The energy he had placed in the staff would have insured its immunity to the effects of time as well.  He could fashion another, but would much prefer finding the original since he was much stronger with his staff in hand.  Well, there would be time enough for searching once he was fully restored to the world.  

Maraydel turned the body of the slave to crawl from under the altar just as Carol began to scream for help once more.  He had to admire her spirit, but she must be silenced, and quickly.  He had waited too long for this opportunity to lose it, so he snatched the rope beneath the altar that circled her throat and pulled gently until her screams were choked off.  He maintained the pressure on the rope for a few more seconds before releasing it.  Carol was still coughing and gasping for air as Maraydel caused Danny to crawl out from beneath the altar.  

Still using Danny as the vessel of his consciousness, Maraydel turned and strode rapidly to where the couple's belongings lay in a pile.  He picked up Carol's tee shirt from the previous day and hurried back to the altar.  Without a word, he grabbed her chin and forced her mouth open wide, then stuffed a large portion of the shirt in her mouth, stifling the protest she had just begun.  Her terrified eyes stared up at the possessed body of her lover, pleading for her release.  Briefly, Maraydel considered punishing her, but decided to waste no more time.  He was eager to feel his own flesh living and breathing again.  Also, as unlikely as it seemed, her cries could have been heard, and he was in no mood for a confrontation, at least until he was up and about once more.  There would be plenty of time to punish the woman then.  

It was time to complete the ritual.  

Maraydel grasped the hunting knife firmly in Danny's hands and used Danny's voice to chant in a language that predated all the languages known to modern historians.  Tears rolled from Carol's eyes and her chest heaved as she panted in terror.  Slowly, the knife descended to the skin between her breasts.  As the tip of the knife pierced her pale skin, the spell settled into her body.  Though her eyes were alive and terrified, her body relaxed, and her breathing became slow and steady.  

As blood began to flow, Maraydel's manipulations of Danny's body became quick and precise, and the chanting increased in tempo.  With shallow cuts and the skill of a surgeon, he reproduced the arcane inscriptions from the altar on the smooth, warm skin over her sternum, then on the flesh of her wrists and shins.   As the first droplets of blood fell into each inscription on the altar, those inscriptions began to glow with a hellish red light.  When the inscriptions were all completed on Carol's skin, he drove the knife completely through each wrist, then sliced deeply into the flesh along both her calves.  Blood poured from these wounds and began to collect beneath her in the pentagram.  Maraydel paused until the pentagram was filled, then completed the ritual by ending the incantation as he severed her carotid artery. Maraydel caused Danny's body to step away from the altar in order to see the beginning of his own restoration.  As the first drops of Carol's blood fell from the funnel in the pentagram to land on Maraydel's medallion, the gems on the serpent began to pulse with an eerie light.  The blood seemed to be absorbed somehow into the medallion, and the light pulsed brighter.  In seconds, the bracelets about his wrists and ankles began to pulse with the same bright light.  And as the girl’s heart beat one last time, the black and shriveled remains of his own heart swelled and took on the shape, form, and function of a healthy, human heart.  With the first beat of his own heart, Maraydel's presence left Danny's body, which collapsed beside the altar.

 

 

Danny awakened to a world of pain.  Every muscle in his body ached.  His feet and hands felt raw.  His head throbbed with an ache that was worse than any pain he had ever experienced.  On top of everything else, he seemed to be lying naked on freshly turned earth.  

What the hell is going on?  The last thing he could remember was the feel of Carol's body in his hands.  She had been lying naked beside him with her long brown hair spread over her pillow and her hazel eyes staring lovingly into his own eyes.  He had been just about to (finally!) roll over between her long, tanned legs when he had been…invaded, for lack of a better word.  

The feeling had been horrible, although he knew he would never be able to adequately describe it.  It had been something like driving a car, having a stranger somehow materialize inside the car, forcing you to pull over, locking you in the trunk, and then stealing the car.  Only the car was his body.  He had still had some awareness that his body was doing things, but he had no idea what, no matter how he had fought to escape and regain control.  

Danny opened his eyes, but immediately wished he had not.  The sight before his eyes was horrible, yet somehow fascinating, and decidedly unbelievable.  It was strangely like the movie Hollow Man, with Kevin Bacon, when the ape became visible again.  Before his eyes, arteries and veins were growing on a skeleton.  As he scrambled backwards up the raw earth slope that he had been lying on, muscle and sinew began to appear.  However, he missed the rest of the transformation as his eye fell upon the altar and the shape lying on it.  

Initially Danny's brain refused to accept what his eyes were seeing.  Then the awful truth hit home.  "Carol…?" he whispered as he stumbled to his feet and raced to the altar.  "Oh God, Carol, no!" he wailed as he bent to clutch her still form.  As his hand reached to caress her cheek, Danny noticed the blood on his hands for the first time. He reeled backwards, then stumbled on the raw earth slope and sat down hard.  He stared at the blood on his hands.  Was it possible?  Had he truly done this horrible, horrible thing?  As he looked up slowly towards the altar again, his eyes passed his hunting knife where it had fallen before settling on the shape beneath the altar.  

Suddenly Danny understood at least a little of what had happened.  That…that monster had somehow used him to butcher the only girl he had ever loved.  And he knew no one would ever believe that.  If he were lucky, the courts would execute him.  He did not want to live with this grief and guilt anyway.  But since his life was effectively over, the least he could do was kill the bastard that had murdered his beautiful Carol.  Danny bent to grab the knife and crawled forward towards the man under the altar.

 

 

Maraydel snapped back into his own form and was instantly immersed in an ecstasy of pain.  He could feel each vessel, each cell, and each nerve as they were restored.  The feeling was an itching, burning agony that he reveled in, since the pain was much to be preferred to the long years of his imprisonment.  And as the agony passed through him, it was followed immediately by a blessed sense of cool relief.  

As soon as his lungs reformed, he gasped in his first, sweet breath in ages.  He felt his chest expand as he began to breathe.  The sensation was so sweet that he barely noticed the pain as his skin grew and his hair followed.  His eyelids felt a bit strange until his eyes rapidly grew in to fill the sockets.  

Finally, the process was complete.  He took a deep breath and smiled a cruel and satisfied smile.  He had done it.  He was alive!  After all the years, he was alive and free to walk the world once more!  

His exultation was short-lived, for suddenly he heard a snarled word, "Murderer!” in the language he had just learned.  Maraydel had forgotten the young man whose body he had enslaved!  He snapped his eyes open to see a knife descending towards his chest.  He barked one sharp word in the language of power that the world had forgotten for so long.  The knife stopped its descent a hair's breadth from his chest.  The young man crouched frozen above him, trembling in his fury and desperate, unsatisfied thirst for revenge.  

Maraydel's cruel, satisfied smile returned.  He reached up and shoved the slave roughly to his back, then crawled from beneath the altar and stood to tower over the helpless figure on the ground at his feet.  

He considered briefly what to do with the young man.  He could simply kill him, but perhaps he would be more useful alive.  Maraydel had learned much from the link they had shared, but he still found the ways of this era to be strange.  Perhaps, if an understanding could be reached and the proper bindings fashioned, he could have his first servant in ages.  His decision made, he altered the spell to allow the young man to speak.  

"You've done me a service, and I offer you something in return, slave."  

"Fuck you, you murdering bastard!  If you want to do something for me, cut your own throat!" Danny spat at him.  "Or let me go and I'll do it myself."  

"Surely you can at least hear me out.  If you'd have your girl alive and breathing once more, you should definitely listen.  You must know by now that I have some power over life and death."  

Danny bit back a hot reply.  What if the murdering shit was telling the truth?  What if he could bring Carol back?  Didn't he owe it to her to at least listen?  Besides, he was fresh out of other options.  And maybe, just maybe, the bastard would make a mistake and give him a chance to get his revenge.  "What's your offer?" he growled.  

"Agree to serve me.  Teach me about this 'modern' world.  Willingly undergo the rituals to bind you to my service, and I will bring your Carol back to life.  You will both serve me, but you will both live.  Serve me well, and in time you may even become my apprentices.  But refuse this offer, and you will certainly die.  What will it be, slave?  Make your decision quickly, for I am eager to be about in this age."  

Danny thought it over.  His decision did not take long.  What other choice did he have?  He had everything to gain and nothing more to lose.  And if the bastard really did manage to bring Carol back, well then, all bets were off.  “He'd better be watching his ass, cause I'll be looking for payback”, Danny thought.  

"I guess I'm in," Danny told the monster standing over him.  

"Excellent."  Maraydel smiled.  "But before I free you, I'll need just a bit of your blood."

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