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.


14. Struggles

Sarah was a bundle of nerves as she sped towards Asheville.  She had to keep reminding herself to slow down since a ticket would cost her more time in the long run than a little extra speed would gain for her.  She could hardly believe how her life had changed in a matter of days.  Only a few days before, she could never have imagined speeding towards a hospital with murder on her mind.  She knew that what she was planning to do was right, but the rapid change in her thinking was a little shocking nonetheless.

            Her thoughts turned to the pistol on the seat beside her.  The bulky weapon was another reason to watch her speed.   She knew she would have trouble explaining it to any policeman if she was pulled over.  And if she was completely honest with herself, she had her doubts about whether she could actually use it when the time came.  It was one thing to talk of murdering another human being in the heat of her desire to help her man.  It was quite another thing to have an hour or two to think about actually pulling the trigger and watching a bullet plow its way through a person.

            All Sarah knew was that John was too important to her to let him die.  And it had looked like he was in serious danger of dying when she left Adam’s store in Cherokee.  He was completely unresponsive, and trying to touch his mind only caused her thoughts to touch briefly the thoughts of the monster that was somehow holding John captive.  Those thoughts were a whirling black cesspool of violence and anger, and she knew in her heart that killing such a monster would be a service to humanity.  God alone knew what such a man would do if he were allowed to rampage unchecked through a society that had forgotten that such men even existed.

            Sarah tried to clear her mind of doubts and steel herself for what she had to do.  She would kill Maraydel to save John.  Her man needed her help, and she was determined not to let him down.


            “Damn it!  Danny, pull over.”

            The words penetrated the fog that had slowly settled over Danny’s mind.  He shook his head to clear it and quickly realized why Carol had spoken.  The early afternoon sun should have been shining in his face as he traveled west towards US74 before turning south for Cherokee.  Instead, the light of the summer afternoon was glinting from the driver’s side mirror to stab into his eyes.  He was driving east again.

With a frustrated sigh he pulled the car over into the breakdown lane.  He knew that every time they stopped they increased their chances of attracting law enforcement officials that would ask uncomfortable questions about the stolen car they were still driving.

            But what could they do?  Every time they started to drive away from Asheville, as soon as their attention wandered even slightly they would find themselves driving back towards the hospital and the monstrous man that it harbored.  Danny rubbed a trembling hand against eyes that were dry from strain and too much driving in too short a time.  This was the beginning of their third lap around Asheville, and their chances of escaping and finding help appeared to be dwindling away rapidly as the malevolent force in their minds continued to grow stronger at an alarming rate.

            Danny looked over at Carol and the look on her face told him all he needed to know.  They were beaten.  The exhaustion that he was beginning to feel was evident in her face.  She had leaned her head back against the headrest, and tears had begun to leak slowly from her eyes to make shining trails down her cheeks.  They had put up a good fight, but the will to resist was rapidly being replaced by hopelessness.

            “What do you want to do?”  Danny asked the question, but he knew there was really only one answer.  Since they clearly could not get away, they were faced with the horrible fact that they would have to return to Maraydel’s side and serve him as they had been bonded to do by the power that the magus wielded.

            Carol sighed deeply before drawing a slow, sad breath to answer.  “You know what we have to do.  I hoped we could get away or at least find help, but it looks like God doesn’t have the time or the desire to help us.  So fuck it.  Let’s go to the hospital.  And I guess I can look forward to being a sex toy to that thing again.”  What little composure she had maintained in her exhaustion broke and she began to sob wearily.

            “Maybe we can kill ourselves.  I know I’d rather be dead than see him do that to you again.”

            “You know as well as I do that he won’t let us do that.  If we try, he’ll only find some way to stop us, and the more we resist the more we’ll suffer for it later.  What did we ever do to deserve this?  Can you tell me that?”  Her tear-reddened eyes snapped open to look angrily upwards.  “Huh?  I’ve gone to church my whole life.  Maybe I didn’t go every time the doors opened, but I went and I worshipped you and you let this happen to us.  What kind of God are you anyway?”

            Danny could only sit in mute silence.  He had no answers for her.  He had the same questions burning in his mind, and they were making him furious.  How could any God allow something like this to happen to people like them?  They had never hurt anyone.  They were good to their friends and to each other.  What had they done to deserve this?  He prayed silently for answers, but the answers did not appear.  After long moments spent in despair, Danny gave a lengthy sigh of his own and prepared to merge into traffic.  After waiting for a Dodge Ram to pass, he accelerated smoothly into the flow of traffic and continued onwards towards the destination that neither of the unhappy couple wanted to reach.


            Sarah watched the Dodge Shadow in the breakdown lane carefully.  It always paid to be careful when you were driving.  It seemed like people drove more idiotically with every passing year, and she could not afford to have an accident if the car in the emergency lane suddenly decided that it needed to go regardless of whether she was there or not.  She had a brief moment of tension when she saw the car begin to accelerate down the side of the road, but she rapidly passed the moving vehicle and saw it move into the lane behind her after she passed.  Okay, so that driver at least was no idiot.  She put any thoughts of the car from her mind and concentrated on finding the exit for the hospital.

            Spotting the green information sign for the hospital ahead, Sarah turned on her signal and merged easily onto the exit ramp.  She gave her attention to following the signs and never noticed the Dodge Shadow that was following her every turn.


            “Well I guess that truck is going to the hospital too.”  Danny was making small talk to try to take his mind off of their destination.

            Carol opened her eyes and glanced at the truck briefly before closing them again and returning her head to the headrest.  “Yeah, it looks that way.”


            Maraydel stirred in his bed.  The motion brought more pain to his tortured body, but the pain was much less than it had been only hours before.  Besides, there were more important things to consider.  For the time being, the shaman was still managing to stay hidden from him, but that battle was taking up little of his concentration.  The slaves were now his main concern.  The bonds that he had placed on them had done their work, and the two traitorous teens were on their way to him.  They were very close, and he was glad.  Soon he would be strong enough to rouse from his healing trance, and it would be time to deal with the two that had left him for dead.  Of course, they would not be killed.  They still had their uses after all.  But they would definitely receive another harsh lesson in what it meant to cross him.

            The magus considered the fresh tortures that he would heap on Carol and Danny for only a moment.  In his distraction, his link to the shaman was threatening to disappear, and if that happened, the source of the energy that he was using to fuel his healing would also disappear.  He returned his attention to the shaman and trusted his power to bring the slaves to him.


            John was still sliding silently and swiftly through the depths of the lake where he was hiding. 

            He was gliding through the water near the surface when he noticed a lull in the storm that was still shaking the world outside the lake.  He stopped swimming for a moment when he realized that he felt something familiar…and wonderful.  He could feel the link to his body again.  The connection was tenuous, and he was afraid that he could lose it at any moment, but for now it was there.

            He began to swim for the point on the shore where he had entered the lake.  The lull in the storm seemed to be over and lightning began to lash downward at irregular intervals all across the lake.  John knew without knowing how he knew that the storm was the presence of Maraydel.  Something had distracted the magus for a moment and the link to his body had reappeared while the evil presence was distracted, but the storm’s renewed vigor signaled all too clearly that Maraydel’s attention was once more focused on finding John.  The return of the wizard’s attention was unwelcome and horrible, but there was one important difference.

            The link to his body was still there, and John struggled to maintain the connection as he swam furiously towards the shore.


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