Friday, January 23, 2009

An Epic Tale - 15. Plans

It was a long walk out of the dead forest. I had plenty of time to think.

The voice had given me great power, but there was weakness there as well. Its influence had made me emotional, foolhardy. I would have to learn to control my impulsiveness if I was to -

What, exactly?

I had spared no thought for the future in the rush of the moment. What was I to do? What did I want for myself? With this power -

But no, I reminded myself. That way lay madness. I needed control.

Lucifer's soft laughter grated inside my head.

"Do you think yourself so strong, to gain dominion over me?"

I clenched my teeth and shook it off. I didn't need to outmatch the voice, only to claim some room for myself.

The voice cut at me, stripping away my defenses.

"Perhaps you are confused," the voice said. "You are not a mighty warrior. You are a puppet. Your strength comes from me, and to me it will return. Your thoughts are my thoughts, and your plans are my plans."

As he spoke, my mind burned. His displeasure was like acid, burning at my brain. He was scouring me, ripping my mind apart to get at my one spark of hope - the single, perfect grain of certainty that he was wrong.

I was no man's puppet.

At once, the pain ceased. "Very well then," said the voice, dissatisfied. "Enjoy your shred of freedom. You are lost without me anyway; had you considered that? Without your power, you are nothing but an ugly burned boy."

I said nothing, but a smile tugged at my lips. I had won something, that much I was sure of. How much it would prove to be worth, I would learn in due time.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

An Epic Tale - 14. Survival

It was done. I was alone.

I fell to my knees, coughing. The magic of the forest was too much for me all at once. Its power was seeping into me, but so too was its rage. I felt its anguish, its disbelief at being so suddenly ended. And the voice was unhelpful.

"This is why," it said, through what I imagined were tightly clenched teeth, "when I tell you to kill someone, you kill them, then and there. You do not wait for his strength to grow, and you certainly don't do anything so abysmally stupid as this."

"I'm sorry," I gasped. I was panting, fighting for air. Who was I talking to? What was I sorry for? The killing? The waiting? Ever being born?

"Do you feel this pain? This is what happens when you disobey me. Learn what you can from it. Mark it well."

"I feel it!" I shouted back. "I feel it! Make it stop!"

The voice continued to rage, but it knew nothing. The pain was nothing. It was a horrible sensation, true, but nothing compared to the guilt. The loneliness. I was acutely aware that I had just killed every living creature in a ten-mile radius. The sadness of that death - the sorrow of every insect as it passed away forever - was mine now, and always would be.

It was some time before I was able to think clearly.

I had thought the forest quiet before, when the winter snows had frozen it into slumber. I knew now what real silence was. The groaning of the growing trees, the faint skittering of insects working deep under the soil, the lightest brush of a bird's wing as it settled into its nest - all these were gone now, felled in a single touch.

At that moment, I swore I would never use my powers again, not even if my life depended on them. The consequences were too great, the price too dear to pay.

I brushed my hand against the tree, the one I had foolishly chosen to test myself with. I was shocked to see how raw my skin had become. Could I call it skin if it no longer covered my flesh? Then, too, was it truly flesh on my bones any longer? One thing was certain - whatever I might be, I was not mortal. No mortal could have attained such hideousness as I had, and live.

"You were beautiful at first," the voice whispered. "Then pride showed its face. Look at yourself now. That's pride."

"Mine or yours?" I whispered back, and laughed when it had no answer.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

An Epic Tale - 13. Connections

The goblin and I walked together in silence.

I reached out with my mind, trying to contact whatever had given me this power, but it was nowhere to be found. Had I bothered it so much with my display of independence? What if the voice never returned?

A chill ran through me. I had to test my power. I had to be sure I could fend for myself.

I reached out my hand and brushed it against a tree branch. It was an old oak, tall, strong, and powerful. Though it lay dormant, I could feel the life force inside of it, biding its time, waiting for spring.

Somewhere inside the tree a family of birds had made its home, tiny creatures huddling together for warmth, sharing what little warmth they could find. Depending on each other for survival.

And then, with a breath, they were gone. Tiny wisps of potential wafted up from the old oak's insides, only to disappear in the foggy morning.

I pulled harder. I would have to be stronger than that to survive on my own. It was not birds I was after, though their tiny frozen bodies would make a poignant addition to the hollow of the tree. As I strained against it I could feel the old oak's spirit fighting back, desperately clinging to the earth it was rooted in so deeply.

It was not enough. I ripped the tree's spirit from its body, holding it away from the forest that enfolded it. In my mind I could feel it struggling in vain against the force of my will.

And then, suddenly, a blast of fire - a physical sensation that wrenched me back inside myself. The goblin's flames were scorching my flesh. I could smell the acrid stench of burning skin.

To face the goblin I would have to let go of the tree. But the tree, I was sure, would give me great power - its ancient frame held secrets beyond imagining. Secrets that I would lose, unless I held onto its spirit until it was dead.

So I held on, though my body burned.

"So you wish to know if you can stay alive without me?" the voice whispered mockingly. "Here's your answer. Power you have, and more, but wisdom? You will need to depend on me for that."

"Unless," I replied through gritted teeth, "I can find a way to take some for myself."

In its last second of life, the oak tree's spirit released a scream of agony - so pained, so penetrating, I thought for a moment it was my own.

I had tapped into something primordial. The tree's roots ran deep into the ground, where they entwined with the rest of the forest. I had thought I was killing one individual tree, ancient and mighty though it might be. When I consumed its soul I realized my mistake.

This entire forest would die now. I had killed it.

For a moment the fire goblin stopped his attack. He had no choice - his machinery was choking, clogged by thick, dark smoke. It was everywhere, erupting in billowy waves from the ground, the trees, the air - everything I had touched, everything I had come near.

It was all dying at once, and giving up its potential all at once. Clouds of it were escaping into the air, choking and suffocating the goblin as well as his device. I suppose I was choking too. The horrible searing pain from the burns made it hard to concentrate on.

"You can't do this!" the goblin coughed. "This forest - my home! You've killed my home!"

I shook my head, sucking in the magic of nature. The magic of its end.

"And now it's time to kill you, little goblin."

"Do it, then!" the goblin snarled. "I've done my duty. I've burned you. Marked you! Now everywhere you go, they will see your hideousness. Someone will destroy you!"

"Perhaps," I said, "but not you."

And then I killed him.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

An Epic Tale - 12. Conscience

"So," said the fire goblin. "We're alone now."

I turned to face him, letting the corpse of his servant fall from my hands. He still wore that infuriating smirk. I reached out to punish him for it.

"Don't." A blast of orange flame dissuaded me. I might have been filled with the eldritch power of a being that defied comprehension, but fire was still hot.

"I killed your friend," I said.

"So I see."

"I could kill you, too."

"I would ordinarily hesitate to put it so bluntly, but not if I killed you first."

"Want to try?"

"Don't." The goblin put up a hand of peace. "We seem to have gotten off to a bad start."

"That would be the one where you took me prisoner, or the one where you were about to kill me?"

"How about the one where I saved your life? Or had you forgotten? Cold can be just as deadly as heat. Speaking of which - where were you thinking of going, now that you've dispatched your tormentors? You weren't exactly getting on on your own."

I hesitated.

Kill him, Samael, the voice whispered. Kill him now. I will provide for you.

"Be quiet," I whispered back.

"Sorry?" The goblin said. He seemed to sense there was something going on. Something he was powerless to affect. I think that angered him more than the death of his fairy.

"What do you propose?" I asked the goblin. I could feel a proud anger rising from my chest, and was sure that the voice had sent it. Let it rage. I had spent enough time chained to one master or another. This voice would soon learn that Samael was slave to no one.

"I.. propose a truce." The goblin was becoming more nervous. Whatever he could see in me was frightening. Good. I forced a cold smile.

"What kind of truce?" I asked.

"I know where to find shelter. I can lead you out of these woods, never to return."

"And in exchange I spare your life?"

"I could not expect that. You've been touched by some powerful evil. Whatever it is, it's nothing I've seen before. It will never let you let me live."

"Perhaps you misunderstand whose body this is."

The goblin and the demon laughed in unison. It was the eeriest thing I had ever heard.

"If you think I'm going to kill you," I said, "then why help me leave?"

The goblin smiled. "I think you're going to try. But maybe - just maybe - if I pick my moment, I can kill you first."

"Sounds like the basis of a firm friendship."

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

An Epic Tale - 11. Power

I was in pain. Such pain as I had never known. My mind, my very soul was on fire.

I must have screamed; I must have fallen. All I knew was the pain. It blinded me. It pushed me. I was a guest in my own body. The pain was in control.

And then the voice, cool as an autumn breeze, whispering into my consciousness.

"The pain is necessary," it said. "Some parts of your soul must be killed, in order for new ones to grow."

"You never told me that!" I screamed. "You never told me the cost!"

"It was necessary," the voice said.

I was on the ground. The snow was red, sticky with blood flowing from a gash in my head. Had I hit a rock?

Belinda was next to me. "Are you all right?" she asked. She tried to lift my arms. She tried to see where I had fallen.

"Get away from me!" I snarled. I raised my hand to strike her, and in that moment, I saw the horror on her face. Belinda was the first to know what I was.

She tried to escape but I was faster. It was easy - even in my weakened state, newly born as I was, it was a tiny leap to grab her, the merest gesture to wave away her magical attacks.

"Please," she said. "Have mercy."

I took her in my hands and snapped her body in half.

I had killed before. Jerek the cowherd had, at any rate. Predators would threaten the herd, and Jerek would kill them with rocks and a sling. Sometimes a cow would need to be slaughtered before it could be taken by the butcher. Like most jobs on the farm, that was Jerek's.

This was different. When Belinda's life ended I felt something - a wispy tangle of energy. It floated out of her and disappeared into the air. I wondered what it was.

"That's her potential," the voice said. "When you kill a person, you kill a thousand people that first one might have become. You will get used to it in time."

I shook my head. The pain was beginning to fade.

"I don't want this," I said. "I didn't know what it meant. I don't want to be a killer."

I could swear the voice was laughing at me.

"Yet a killer is what you are. I have made you and I have named you - you shall be called Samael, and by your will, the world will be created anew."

"Samael," I repeated. I could feel it binding me, restricting my potential as surely as I had destroyed Belinda's. "It is a good name."

"It is yours."

Friday, January 2, 2009

An Epic Tale - 10. Escape

Who was I?

I had been Jerek, the cowherd. I had lived and I had loved and I had died as Jerek. My resurrection had altered me, but I had still come from Jerek, reborn from him like a phoenix. Would a phoenix change when it was reborn? Would it suffer a crisis of identity?

I had nearly died a second time, when the fire goblin rescued me. And now that same goblin planned to kill me. I needed to change the game.

That's when I heard the first whisper.

"This is a harsh world, youngling. Would you rather not be killed after all?"

From deep in my chest I felt a sudden screaming panic - a terror unlike any I had ever felt. And then, an instant later, it was gone. Not dulled - gone. A part of myself peeled off and left me. I felt a clarity that had been missing since my fall in the river.

"What did you do?" I whispered.

"I killed," the voice whispered back. "That river spirit was needless baggage. He thought to use you for his own short-sighted ends."

"And what do you seek to use me for?" I asked.

"I am older than the river and its petty games. I don't want to adjust the balance of power. I want to overturn it. I want to remake the world."

"And with my help you can do it?"

"On the contrary," the voice whispered. "With my help, you will do it. And the new world will be born in your image. All you must do is accept my power. Become my proxy, and wreak my vengeance upon the world."

"I would have to kill?" I said. For the first time, Belinda seemed to notice my whispering to myself. She flew to the goblin's ear and began conversing with him, urgently, in hushed tones.

"Of course you would kill," the voice said. "You will kill a whole world. An entire existence will wither under your touch. Men will amass themselves to fight you, and women will scream and hide their children at your approach. That is the price."

I considered. The fire goblin was waving Belinda away as he would a mosquito. Try as he would, she could not attract his attention.

I thought of Amanda. What would she say if I turned into a killer? Could I have saved her from the butcher, with this kind of power?

"Of course you could," the voice whispered. "This is your world. You can destroy what you like, and save the rest. You may find little enough worth saving, however."

I looked at the trees, dark and laden with snow. I looked at the goblin, face full of hate, swatting at his most faithful companion. I thought of my parents.

"I accept," I whispered.