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.


22. Covenants

Carol snapped awake from another in a long line of feverish dreams.  Her pillow was soaked from the sweat of her nightmares, and the sheets were pulled loose from where they should have been tucked in at the foot of her bed.  The nightmare was fading quickly, and her sweat was rapidly cooling on her body in the chilly blast from the air conditioning vent near her bed.  She looked at the alarm clock on her nightstand and was alarmed to see that she had spent nearly the entire previous day in bed.  She could vaguely remember waking up from one nightmare or another only to fall asleep and slide back into the same series of bad dreams, and twice she had risen long enough to relieve herself before stumbling back to bed.

            Carol sat up and realized that she was hungry.  More than that, she realized that she felt rested.  Apparently Maraydel had not been the only one that needed to rest and regain his strength.

            Carol could feel the thoughts of the magus from her parent’s room, although she could not actually read his mind.  She tiptoed quietly in her bare feet into the living room and looked into the door to the master bedroom.  The magus was still lying in the same position that he had assumed on the previous day.  A small, strange smile was curling the corners of his lips, but otherwise he was motionless.  Carol stood watching him long enough to detect the slow rise and fall of his chest before moving past the master bedroom and into the kitchen.

            Carol looked through the refrigerator until she found some bagels and cream cheese.  She popped a bagel into the toaster that was always present on her mother’s counter and waited restlessly for the bread to brown.  While she waited, her mind turned back to the unexpected offer that Maraydel had made to her on the previous day.  The voice of the desperate and scared young woman began to clamor for her attention almost immediately, and Carol idly gave in to the voice’s urgings.  She looked at her arms where they emerged from her t-shirt and saw the thin lines of the scars where her blood had been drawn for her master’s resurrection.  She lifted the front of her shirt to examine her breasts and saw the bruises she had suffered while Maraydel raped and tortured her.  She also saw the scars where the knife had traced the mystic symbols from the altar on her skin.  All of this should probably have angered and terrified her, but she felt strangely detached from all of the damage that had been done to her.  The voice that was pleading for her sanity quieted to a whimper and finally fell silent as the other, angry part of her psyche began to give serious consideration to the offer that Maraydel had made.

            Carol’s musings were interrupted as the bagel popped up from the toaster.  She used a fork to pull the two halves of the bagel from the toaster and lavishly slathered cream cheese onto her toasted treat.  She left the mess of her hasty breakfast on the kitchen counter and carried her food into the living room.  Before she left with Danny for their summer adventure she would never have left a mess in the kitchen or eaten in the living room, but such things seemed unimportant to her now.  She sat on the sofa, ignoring the dried blood where it had pooled on the couch when Maraydel was healing her side, and flipped on the television as she ate her breakfast.

            Her mind was far from the inane ramblings of the newscasters.  Instead, her thoughts kept steadily circling back to the offer that Maraydel had made.  Could she trust him?  She knew that he was an evil bastard, but he was also a powerful bastard.  Was it possible?  Could she really learn to wield such powers herself?  And did she really want to?  At this thought, the pleading voice in her head tried to reassert itself, but she ignored the voice and it again faded away to nothing.

            As she finished one half of her bagel and began to absently gnaw on the other half, she realized that she did want to learn to do the things that Maraydel could do.  If nothing else, with such power she would never have to be a victim again.  Yes, she had been violated and defiled, but with power she would be safe.  She knew that she would have to submit completely to Maraydel in order to receive his instruction, but she did not care.  He had already taken anything that she had once had to be proud of anyway.  As she finished the last few bites of her bagel, the voice in her head made one last effort to save her, but the new, angry part of her ruthlessly choked off its pleas and Carol felt that scared part of her fall away into an abyss that had opened in her soul.  The new Carol left the crumbs from her breakfast on her mother’s coffee table and strode confidently into her parent’s bedroom.

            Maraydel’s eyes slid slowly open as Carol approached the bed where he was resting.  She never hesitated as she unbuttoned the khaki shorts that the magus was wearing and slid them from his hips.  She stood proudly erect and slid her shirt over her head before tossing it into the closest corner.  She slid her loose-fitting shorts off of her hips and stepped naked to where Maraydel was lying on the bed.  The magus was waiting with open arms as Carol signaled her acceptance of his offer by willingly surrendering her body to him.


            Danny snapped awake from his makeshift bed on Sarah’s sofa.  He had been having a terrible dream, and he shouted, “No!” as he awakened.  Sarah and John both came running into the living room from the kitchen, and Danny was suddenly aware that he could smell another delicious country breakfast cooking.  Adam had gone home the previous evening, and had apparently not arrived at Sarah’s house yet.

            “What is it?”  Sarah moved to kneel beside Danny.  She could tell from the wild look in his eyes that something was wrong, and with all the craziness of the past few days of her life she was honestly a little afraid of Danny’s answer.

            Danny reached up to his face and was somehow unsurprised to find tears on his cheeks.  He could not remember his dream, but he knew that something was wrong with Carol.  He felt like his heart was breaking, and he had no real idea of why.  He brushed the tears away and tried to answer Sarah.  “I don’t know.  Something is wrong with Carol, I think, but I don’t know what, and I don’t know how I know.”

            John and Sarah exchanged a worried look for a moment, but John kept his peace as Sarah asked, “Do you remember anything from the dream?”

            “No.  I just know something terrible is happening to Carol, but I don’t know what.”  Danny sighed as he swung his feet to the floor.  “What are we going to do?”

            “Wait just a minute, Danny.  Lie back down,” Sarah gently commanded.  Danny gave her a questioning look, but followed her instructions.  Sarah was not sure what she was going to try until she laid her hands on Danny.  Her efforts to find Carol and the magus were unsuccessful on the previous night, and she had finally given up with exhaustion.  But now her intuition was telling her that she had a good chance of finding the people she was seeking, and she was following her intuition as she so often did when giving readings to clients.  “Close your eyes.”

            Danny hesitated for another short second before complying.  He obviously had his doubts about the whole process, but he had learned to trust Sarah and John over the last two days, so he closed his eyes and relaxed.  As soon as Danny’s eyes closed, Sarah felt a connection being completed.  She could see Danny’s love of Carol like a bright flame in her open eyes, and when she closed her eyes to see more clearly, the strength of Danny’s love for Carol nearly blinded her.  Tears rolled slowly from under her lids as her body reacted in a physical way to the metaphysical light that Sarah could see.  She forced herself to back away from the light of Danny’s love and was astonished to realize that she was suddenly looking down at her house from a great height.  Below, superimposed on the image of her house, she could see three energetic forms in the area of her house that held the living room.  Energetic lines of varying colors and intensities were connecting the three figures in the living room, but the line that Sarah was most interested in seeing was the line that she knew to be Danny’s love for Carol.

            Sarah focused on the energy line that contained Danny’s feelings for Carol.  She made a conscious decision to maintain the same distance from that line as she willed herself to follow it.  Slowly at first the earth rolled by beneath her, but as she grew more accustomed to following the line, the contours of the Appalachian Mountains began to fly past.  As she passed over Asheville, Sarah recognized the stretch of interstate that she had followed during her desperate race to the hospital to save John.  She used the interstate from then on as a reference point to track where the line was leading her.

            The line was golden and shining when it left Danny, but as the mountains gave way to foothills as it traveled northeast it began to change colors.  Sarah noticed the changing color, but gave it little thought due to the level of concentration she was committing to keeping her bearings as she traveled.  Finally her progress began to slow, and she realized that she was looking at the outskirts of a small town a good distance to the north of Interstate 40 and many miles to the east of her starting location.  She took a moment to try to memorize the layout of the roads in the area before concentrating her attention on the place where the line ended.

            A good distance below her viewpoint, Sarah could see the line where it entered a well-maintained house.  The house had brick walls, and its windows had forest green shutters attached to the walls outside of them.  A battered Dodge Shadow was parked in the driveway of the house, and a large screen of cedar trees shielded the house from the road.  Sarah took a moment to register all of these details before once more paying close attention to the line.  She was astonished to realize that the color of the line had grown much darker.  As the line crossed the screening cedar trees, it changed from an ugly brown to an oily black.

            Suddenly, as if a switch had been thrown to turn off the lights, the line disappeared completely and Sarah felt her thoughts snapped back into her body as if they were on a huge rubber band.  A wave of vertigo swept over her, and she abruptly sat down on the floor in front of the sofa so hard that her teeth clicked together in her head.  She pulled her hands away from Danny and used them to cradle her suddenly aching head.  She was relieved to feel John’s tender touch on the back of her neck as he asked, “Are you okay?”

            Sarah took a long, shuddering breath before she finally opened her eyes to see John leaning over her.  Danny was propped on his elbow where she had asked him to lie on the couch.  The emotions in his eyes were an obvious mixture of concern and sadness.  Sarah pulled her eyes away from Danny and focused on John.  “I’m okay.  I just got a little dizzy as all, and my head hurt for a moment.  It’s already starting to feel better.”  This statement was true.  The harsh throbbing that she had briefly experienced had now given way to a much milder and more manageable ache, and even that ache was rapidly disappearing.  “Help me up, would you?”

            John readily obliged and soon the three friends were sitting side by side on the couch with Sarah in the middle as the obvious center of attention.  When John was certain that Sarah was feeling up to a question he asked, “What did you see?”

            Sarah took a moment to compose an answer.  She had a hunch that she knew the meaning of the severed line, and she was reluctant to hurt Danny.  Finally she decided to tell a guarded version of the truth.  “I know where they are.”  She noticed that both men were about to start blurting out questions, and she held up a hand to stop them.  “Just wait.”  When she was satisfied that the men were going to follow her lead she continued.  “Danny, I have a question for you.”

            “What’s the question?”  Danny was obviously impatient for Sarah to stop being cryptic, but he kept any sharp comments to himself for the moment.

            “Does Carol live in a brick house with green shutters and cedar trees by the road?”

            Danny’s eyes opened wide in amazement.  “Yes, but how did you know that?”

            “Because that’s where they are.  I saw it.”

            “Is she okay?”  Danny seemed on the verge of running for the door, and Sarah had to put a hand on his shoulder to calm him.  “Come on.  We have to go get her.  Who knows what he’s doing to her.”

            “Just wait a second.  As far as I can tell she’s alive, but I didn’t try to see inside the house.  I was a little worried that he would know I was watching.”  The last sentence was the only real lie that Sarah told during the conversation, but she still felt bad about it.  She was fairly certain that the line had snapped because Carol had made a choice that ended her love for Danny, but she could not bring herself to crush the young man that way.

            “What do you mean wait?  Did you wait when John was in trouble?”  Danny’s voice was growing angry, and Sarah was very worried that he was going to do something rash.  She was relieved when John interrupted.

            “Look, we can’t just go running into another confrontation with him.”  John hurried to continue speaking before Danny could interrupt.  “I think we’ve been very lucky so far that none of us have been killed, but I can practically guarantee that someone will be hurt or lost if we don’t take the time to prepare for our next meeting.  I can feel him getting stronger.  He’s never really been ready to face me in any of the times that we’ve met since you and Carol brought him back.  The first two times he was cocky and I was lucky, and this last time he managed to get a cop killed.  And when we met behind the hospital, as hurt as he was, he was still more than I could handle.  So how about you calm down and we keep doing what we’ve been doing?”

            “But I can’t just sit here.  I have to help her!”

            “You won’t help anyone if you go running off and get yourself killed.  Look at it this way.  Now we know where they are.  And I don’t think he has any intention of leaving for another day or so.  By then, I hope we’ll be ready, okay?”

            Danny gave up and allowed himself to sink back into the cushions.  He took a couple of deep breaths to calm his nerves before asking, “So what’s the plan again?”

            John allowed himself to relax slightly.  “First we eat breakfast if it’s not already burned.  Second, we buy you a rifle.  This afternoon, we bury my grandfather, and tonight I try my best to contact him again.  After that, we’ll see.  Are there any questions?”  Sarah and Danny shook their heads in unison before moving to the kitchen to finish breakfast.


            Maraydel and Carol were going through her mother’s jewelry. 

            Carol’s mother was a jewelry fanatic, and her father had spent the years of their courtship and marriage feeding his wife’s addiction on every birthday, anniversary and Christmas.  Maraydel had already selected several silver necklaces, and to this pile he added rings with diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires.  The collection of stones was richer than the collection that Danny had bought for him in Asheville, but there were still a few components that he would have liked to have had.  Still, the stones that he was collecting from the jewelry should be enough to suit his immediate needs, so the magus was actually pleased with their progress.  Now he just had to start following through on his offer to Carol.

            Maraydel took one of the silver necklaces in his hands, an especially gaudy piece with fashioned from large herring-bone links.  In his other hand, he took two small chips of sapphire and the largest real diamond that he had managed to find among the rings.  He coiled the necklace into a bundle in his fist, damaging the delicate links of the chain in the process.  When he had the necklace and stones situated in his hands the way he wanted, he brought his hands together at about shoulder height, closed his eyes, and began to chant in the strange language that Carol had heard him speak so often.

            Black smoke began to pour from between Maraydel’s fingers and an evil red light could be seen flickering as well.  The pace and volume of the wizard’s chanting increased as the light grew brighter and the smoke grew thicker.  Carol watched in astonishment as the light abruptly vanished and the smoke was suddenly sucked back into the area between Maraydel’s cupped hands.

            The magus smiled and opened his eyes.  He unclasped his hands, and lying in his palm, Carol could see a near replica of the medallion that was hanging from the wizard’s neck.  There were only minor differences of size and composition between Maraydel’s medallion and the one that he had just created.  The new medallion was slightly smaller.  Instead of obsidian eyes, the new medallion had eyes of sapphire.  And in place of the quartz that his own medallion held in its reptilian mouth, the new medallion had the large diamond that Maraydel had held in his hand when he started chanting.

            The magus sorted through the remaining necklaces from the assortment of silver jewelry.  He settled on a sturdy silver chain that was made to resemble a rope.  He passed this rope necklace through a hole in the medallion that had obviously been created for just such a purpose.  When the medallion was dangling from the chain between Maraydel’s hands, he turned to Carol and waited expectantly.  Understanding what the magus wanted, Carol turned around and pulled her hair up and away from her neck.  Maraydel stepped close to Carol and draped the medallion around her neck to lie between her breasts.  He fumbled with the clasp on the necklace for a moment before finally securing it around Carol’s neck.

            As soon as the chain was rejoined behind her neck, Carol felt a surge of heat from the medallion.  Maraydel chanted a word with his hand still touching the necklace and suddenly the clasp was gone.  The necklace had been modified to become one constant, unbroken rope around Carol’s neck. 

            Carol was too caught up in the rush of sensations she was feeling to notice how the chain had been altered.  With the first flush of heat, she could feel energy pouring from her body into the medallion.  The sensation reminded her of dying, and she had to momentarily fight against a surge of panic and doubt.  Gradually, as the medallion cooled against her skin, Carol became aware of a feeling that she had never felt before.  It was as if another eye had opened in her mind and she could somehow see more than she had ever seen, but the feeling was also more than that.  She felt like her thoughts suddenly had a weight and power that she had never suspected.  The idle thought crossed through her mind that she would like to know what Maraydel was thinking, and without conscious effort she could feel her mind attempting to enter the mind of the magus.  His mind was closed to her efforts, and she heard the wizard chuckle behind her.

            “Congratulations.  You’ve already discovered how your mind has been freed from its previous boundaries.  I would issue you one short word of warning, however.  Stay out of my mind.  Never try to invade my thoughts.  You are now one of my kindred and that is something we never do to each other.”  Maraydel chuckled again.  “Don’t worry.  You’ll have plenty of other minds to plunder and control.  In the meantime, you need to learn to shield your mind from others.  After all, we still have the shaman to deal with.”

            Carol nodded her understanding and pulled her thoughts back from the magus.  “What do I need to do?”  She was eager to learn.  She had committed herself fully to the choice she had made, and her memories of her old life were rapidly falling away as the lust for power took her.

            The magus and his apprentice sat down on the floor of the living room and Carol’s dark training began.

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