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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24. Changes

Carol was practicing her newly gained abilities in the backyard of her parent’s house, when she heard Maraydel swear behind her.

            The magus had been watching her progress, and for the most part seemed satisfied with the things she was learning.  She was holding several of the small chips of diamond that they had removed from her mother’s jewelry in her left hand, and with concentration she could feel energy flowing into the diamonds and through her body to her right hand.  Throughout the course of the day, the magus had tutored her on the arcane language that he used for twisting the world’s energies to his uses, and her understanding had progressed at an unnatural pace.  She understood without being told that her new medallion was acting to augment the powers of her mind, and she strongly suspected that this was the reason she could now learn a dead language at such an astonishing pace.  She had been just about to speak the word that would convert the raw energy in her hand to electricity when she heard Maraydel swearing.  Her concentration slipped, and she uttered a curse of her own as she felt the energy drain from her body back into the world around her.  Irritated, she whirled to face the wizard.

            Maraydel seemed completely unaware of Carol’s irritation.  He continued to speak some of the vilest curses that Carol had ever imagined for another long moment, but Carol’s intent glare finally broke through his outrage and got his attention.  “Don’t give me that look.  I have good reason to be angry just now, so don’t force me to take my frustrations out on you.”

            Carol took a long, angry breath and held it until she felt her the fires of her anger sink to a smolder.  When she felt that she could be somewhat civil again the young apprentice said, “Maybe if you told me what’s making you angry, I could help.”

            Maraydel bit back a hot reply of his own.  “It’s the damned shaman.  I had hoped to trap him outside his body once more if he was stupid enough to leave it again, but apparently he’s getting smarter.  I know he’s communing with someone, but I can’t find my way into his vision.  The bastard is getting much better at the things he can do, and frankly I’m tired of it.  Damn the man!”  Maraydel would never admit it, but the shaman’s rapid progress was also scaring him more and more as time went on.  He had never met an opponent that was so adroit at foiling his every attack, and the simple fact of the man’s survival was both an irritation and a huge worry to the magus.

            Carol realized that she really had nothing helpful to offer.  The best she could do was to learn to harness the energies that she was just learning to manipulate.  “Sorry.”  The apology was insincere, and she found that she no longer cared about such niceties.  She turned around to face the tree stump that was her intended target and began to once more summon energy through the diamonds in her left hand.  “Now could you keep it down?  If you want me to be more helpful, stop being a distraction.”  Before the magus could reply, Carol spoke the word to produce lightning and she was rewarded with a small arc of energy that leapt from her palm and added a black mark to the weathered stump that was her target.

            Maraydel was impressed in spite of himself.  “Well done,” he commented mildly.  In truth, the praise was much less than the girl deserved.  She was showing a rare knack for learning the language of destruction and creation, and she was learning to manipulate energy at a rate that rivaled the speed with which he had learned his craft.  Of course, Maraydel’s master had been very reluctant to teach him anything—with good reason as it turned out.  As soon as Maraydel had been certain that the old fool had nothing more to teach, he had killed him in his sleep.  And by that time, Maraydel had already discovered the secrets of cheating death, so he separated the head and heart from the body and melted down the old master’s medallion.  He then embarked on a campaign of equal parts power and guile to remove any threat from among his own kind.  If there was another magus whose power rivaled his own, he found ways to place that magus in opposition to other strong magi.  In the matter of only a century, Maraydel was the strongest surviving magus in existence.

            Satisfied that he was now the highest power among the magi, he had set out to enjoy every twisted pleasure that his diseased mind could imagine.  Women and men were tortured for his pleasure.  The loveliest women were raped and beaten repeatedly until all of their beauty—both internal and external—was destroyed, and then Maraydel would have the luckiest of these ladies killed.  The truly unlucky women were sent back to their families in shame and ruin.  Most of these unlucky women ended their lives in madness and seclusion.

            And so Maraydel had ruled for centuries until finally the forefathers of the Cherokee Indians had banded together all of their strongest braves and all of their medicine men to fight him.  At first he had laughed at their attack, but soon he realized that this was a threat more dire than any he had faced.  He had never believed that the wild, free flowing magic of the nomads that he abused could challenge him.  He still did not believe that the medicine men posed any real danger until he had been bested in the contest on the mountain.

            For millennia he had dreamt of his return.  And while he was dreaming, the world forgot—for the most part—that his kind had ever existed.  When Carol and Danny had unwittingly roused him from his slumber, he had been delighted with the things he had learned from Danny.  The world had seemed ripe for retaking, and he had set out to kill the only threat that was nearby as quickly as possible.  As it turned out, he was convinced that this had been a major error.  Every time he had faced the shaman, he had been defeated.  It was maddening!

            He roused himself from reflecting on the distant and the recent past.  His attention returned to Carol just in time to see her fling another, much larger bolt of lightning at the stump.  This time there was a strong smell of ozone in the air and the stump was split in two.  Carol whirled to face Maraydel, and seeing that he was impressed, she ran to him and flung her arms around his neck.  The young woman was breathing hard, and she ground her crotch against him as she hugged him.  His body responded, and Carol laughed.  She grabbed his crotch playfully with her right hand before turning and hurling another bolt of electricity at the stump.

            Maraydel was never one to be teased, especially by an apprentice.  He stepped forward and spun Carol around by the arm.  He yanked Carol hard against him and growled, “Never forget who the master is.  I can take your power as easily as I gave it to you.  You would do well to remember that.”

            Carol had initially flushed with anger and fear, but her recent success made her bold.  The fearful look faded from her eyes as she smiled seductively.  “Let me show you how much I appreciate what you’ve given me then…Master.”  The last word was slightly impudent, but Maraydel ignored her mild rebellion as she tugged him to the grass of the yard.  Sometimes it’s nice to have a willing partner, Maraydel thought.

 

            The sun was setting outside as John finally roused himself from his vision.  Sarah, Adam, and Danny had been having a muted conversation for hours about inconsequential items.  All three felt closer for the time spent together, but they were also relieved when John opened his eyes.  They had seen no signs of a struggle, but Sarah and Adam had filled Danny in on what had happened the last time John went looking for a vision, so his safe return loosened a band of tension from around the chest of each person that was waiting for him.

            John sat up and crossed his legs to sit more comfortably in the center of the circle.  He gazed intently at each of his friends in turn, but still did not break his silence.  Danny opened his mouth to ask if everything was okay, but the words never passed his lips.  Before the eyes of every person in the room, John had begun to drift gently upwards from the floor.  Danny’s mouth dropped open in astonishment and Sarah was wide-eyed with awe, but Adam simply relaxed back against the couch with a smile on his face.  “I see you’ve learned a thing or two,” the old man said.

            When John was levitating at the correct height, he lowered his feet to the floor and stood up as if the whole scenario was more natural than breathing.  “I’ve learned more than a thing or two, my friend.  Tell me, how long have I been gone?”

            Sarah glanced at her watch before answering.  “You left us at about 2:30 this afternoon.  It’s nearly 8:00 now, so you’ve been gone about five and a half hours.  Why?”

            John stretched.  “It feels like I’ve been gone for days and days.  I guess time passes differently there than here.”  The shaman shook his head as if to clear it.  “Hey, do you want to see something cool?”  Without waiting for an answer from any of the other three people in the room, John started to squat down.  Before the motion was finished, his form flowed and a cheerful wolf was sitting in the circle where John had been standing a moment before.  Danny jumped to his feet and started to move behind the small sofa where the three had been sitting when John awakened, but in another instant John was squatting on the floor in the place of the wolf.  “Relax, would you?”  John said with amusement clear in his voice.

            “How the hell did you do that?”  Danny asked.  He had stopped his rush around the sofa, but he did not seem quite ready to return to his seat.

            John laughed for a moment before answering.  “That’s just it.  It’s kind of complicated but kind of simple.  I don’t know if I could tell you how to do it if I tried.  You just have to reach out and feel the magic.  And there it is.  It seems to do whatever I ask it to do.”  John paused as another thought crossed his mind.  “Hey, I want you to try something.”  Danny gave the shaman an apprehensive look, but did not immediately disagree, so John continued.  “Grab that big container of salt and throw it at me.”

            Danny looked at John as if he had lost his mind, but he retrieved the salt container and weighed it in his hand.  “How hard should I throw it?”

            “Put your back into it.  Really heave that sucker at me, okay?  Try to knock my head off with it.”

            Danny still looked doubtful, but he did as he was asked.  He took a stance much like a major league pitcher and hurled the salt at John.  The metal spout was closed when he threw the container, but the force of his throw still caused a few loose grains of salt to go flying across the room.  The grains of salt did not behave as they were expected to, however.

            As the container flew towards John a peculiar thing happened.  The container and the loose grains of salt began to slow as if they were stuck in some sort of invisible web.  Only six feet or so had separated Danny and John, but before the container was more than halfway to John, it stopped to hang inert in midair.  As everyone in the room watched, the container slowly spun around until it was upright and the spout opened.  The errant grains of salt slipped themselves into the open spout which promptly closed behind them.  Finally the container moved gently towards John and dropped softly into the hand that he opened to receive it.

            Sarah and Adam exchanged a relieved look as they realized that John must truly have learned a lot while he was away.  Danny stood looking at the salt container with astonishment for a long moment.  He finally realized that he was standing with his mouth open and closed it with a snap.  John chuckled again and asked, “So can we go get something to eat, or what?  I’m starving…and I’m buying.”

            Sarah smiled lovingly at John as she said, “Sure honey, we’d love to…just as soon as you put your shirt on.”

 

            Maraydel rolled off of Carol and collapsed panting on top of the covers beside her.  “So what else do you have to teach me?” Carol asked.

            Maraydel chuckled as he rolled off the bed and onto his feet.  “There will be time for more learning in the morning.  For now, little slut, you’ve worn me out.  I’m going to relieve myself and then I’m going to bed.  We’ll continue your training in the morning.”

            Carol rolled to a sitting position on the edge of her parents’ bed.  The sheets were a knotted up mess, but she made no move to straighten them.  Instead, she got to her feet and walked naked from the bedroom.  There was another bathroom just down the hall between her bedroom and the guest room, and this was her destination.

            As Carol stepped into the bathroom, she flipped on the fluorescent light overhead.  She walked past the sink and primly sat down on the toilet.  It only took a moment to finish her business, and she flushed the toilet as she regained her feet.  She stepped to the sink to wash her hands and then splashed water on her face.  The cool water felt good against her sex-heated skin, and she paused for a moment to let the water cool her as she looked at her reflection in the mirror.

            The new medallion really was quite beautiful to Carol.  The serpent’s eyes were chips of blue ice and the diamond in its mouth was obviously a focal point for the energies she was learning to use.  She thought she might like to take a closer look at the fine details of the medallion, so she reached behind her neck to find the clasp of the chain.  It was then that she realized that the clasp was gone.  Thinking that perhaps she had just missed it with her hand, Carol slipped the chain around her neck while the medallion remained dangling just beneath her throat.  After perhaps a half minute of fruitless searching, she faced the facts.  The chain was seamless.  If she did not know better, she would have sworn that it had somehow been made with her neck already in the chain.

            Carol left the bathroom and walked quickly back to her parents’ bedroom.  The magus was waiting in the bed for her, but his eyes were closed and his breathing was already the deep breathing that led the way into sleep.  He started awake as Carol slapped him hard across the face.  “What the hell did you do?  How do I take this damned thing off?”

            Maraydel looked at Carol in obvious puzzlement.  “Why would you ever want to do that?  Have you ever seen me remove my medallion?”  The palm print from Carol’s slap was turning into an angry red welt, but the sting seemed not to bother the magus in the least.

            “Well I’m not you, you son of a bitch.  How do I take it off?”  Carol was angry, but she had a sudden, sinking feeling that she was not going to like the answer to her question.  In a moment, she discovered that she was right.

            Maraydel closed his eyes as he answered.  “You can’t take it off.  Ever.  It is forged of magic and silver and is unbreakable.  Now go to sleep before I lose my patience with you.”  His cold blue eyes snapped open and his icy gaze held Carol transfixed.  “And don’t ever strike me again.  You are growing important to me, but there has never been anyone on this planet that was irreplaceable to me.”

 

            Danny was trying to sleep, but sleep kept eluding him.  Something was very wrong with Carol, he just knew it.  There was no explanation for what he was feeling, but the feeling was there, and it was ruining his sleep.  He rolled over on Sarah’s sofa and punched his pillow.  All he wanted to do was get some rest.  Was that really too much to ask?

            After several more long minutes spent trying to relax, Danny gave up.  Maybe the television would help put him to sleep.  He sat up, grabbed the remote, and turned on the set.  The volume was high on the television, and he hurried to find the volume controls on the remote before he woke up Sarah and John.  At last he had the volume set on a more reasonable level, and he flipped through the channels until he found a movie that he had already seen.  He leaned back against the cushions and propped his feet on Sarah’s coffee table.  Apparently the movie he picked was just the distraction that he needed, because in less than five minutes he was asleep.

 

            John and Sarah were just settling in after quietly making love.  They had heard the television turn on in the living room, but the loud babble of voices had quickly been muted.  They figured that Danny must be having trouble sleeping, and neither of them could really blame him.  Sarah had taken John into her confidence regarding the line that she had seen snap, so they were both worried for Danny, but without saying anything to each other, both had already given up their hopes for Carol.

            Sarah rolled over to throw an arm across John’s chest and use his shoulder for a pillow.  John rubbed Sarah’s back with one hand and caressed the arm thrown across his chest with his free hand.  The young lovers snuggled together without speaking for a time, but John gradually became aware that Sarah was shaking against his shoulder.  “What is it honey?”  John asked.  He gently tugged on Sarah’s chin until he could see her face, and he was dismayed to see tears rolling from her eyes.  “What’s wrong?”

            Sarah removed her arm from John’s chest just long enough to brush away her tears.  “I’m just a little scared, okay?”

            “It’s more than okay honey.  I’m scared too.”

            “You may be scared, but you’ve got all these new abilities and what do I have to offer?  I’m only a country psychic.  I can’t change my shape, or levitate, or stop things in midair, or any of the other things that you can do.  I honestly didn’t even really think that I was a very powerful psychic until I met you, but somehow you seem to amplify my powers.  What can I do to help you John?  I’m worried for you.  And I’m worried for us.”

            Fresh tears began to slip slowly from Sarah’s eyes, and John hurried to answer her before despair could overwhelm her.  “You want to know what you have to offer.  I’ll tell you.  You have my heart.  I trust you completely, and I can’t imagine going to face that man without you on my side.  You give my world meaning, and you give me something to fight for.  I love you Sarah, and don’t you ever think you’re not important.  Something tells me you’re going to be more important than either one of us can imagine before this is all over with.”  John tenderly kissed away the tears from Sarah’s eyes.  “Please don’t cry.  We’ll get through this together.”

            Sarah rolled on top of the shaman and threw her arms around his neck in a fierce hug.  John returned her hug and Sarah delighted in the strength of her man’s arms.  Her fears ebbed slowly away were replaced with a desperate need to hold her man close once more.  She kissed John long and passionately, and she could feel him stirring against her thigh once more.  She broke the kiss to breathe and John whispered in her ear, “Again?”  Sarah only nodded in reply, and both of the young lovers surrendered to their needs once more.  Their lovemaking was urgent and powerful and served to push away the troubles of the world for one more night.

 

            Adam was sleeping in his small bed in his apartment behind the store.  His dreams were restless, and he was sweating profusely.  Nightmarish figures chased him through his dreams, and he struggled to awaken, but the dreams would not let him go.  He fled through a forest as quickly as his arthritic knees would carry him, and an unknown monster was crashing through the forest behind him.  He kept casting fearful glances over his shoulder, both hoping and dreading to catch sight of his pursuer, but the shadows were always too thick to allow him to see.

            He had just looked forward again when he saw a light in the forest ahead.  Gasping for air, he stumbled towards the light and as he drew closer he was relieved to see his old friend Charlie waiting for him.  Charlie smiled and opened his arms to Adam.  The old man stumbled into his embrace and Charlie supported his friend as he sagged with relief.  The crashing noises in the forest behind Adam had stopped as soon as he reached Charlie.  Adam turned his head to look over his shoulder, but the forest behind him was empty.  Charlie spoke, and Adam was both saddened and relieved at what his old friend had to say.  “There’s no need to look back any more my friend.  You’ve done everything you had to do there.  Come with me.  Our time in that place is through for this lifetime.”

            In his small bed behind his store, a smile formed on Adam’s wrinkled old lips.  He took a long, relaxed breath, let it out, and never took another.

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