Chapter I - Evil Sown
He didn¡¯t remember the Long Dark Road ever being so cold.
The tall man ran through the darkness, his long cloak billowing out behind. The echo of his boots upon the cold, stone floor rang in the gloom, reverberating the length of the tunnel. The musty air tasted of dirt, and he swallowed hard. Necessity drove him onward. Rage hastened his progress. His shirt and cloak were soaked with perspiration, and the frigid tunnel air sucked the last vestiges of warmth from his body. Only his reckless flight kept him from succumbing to the cold completely.
He settled into an easier gait. After all, he had more than a few miles to go. He cruised through the blinding darkness with the surety of a man who knew the way without fail. Truth be told, he did know the way without fail, but truer still he had no need for light or guidance. He could see through the gloom like a bat in the night. All NiDemon could.
Bulcrist smiled through his rage. Perhaps there was still hope. He was not powerless. Despite his defeat, he could still wield magic as before. The boy was stronger but he would not come into his full power so quickly. Perhaps there was still time to make sure that he never would. What he needed was an ally.
Bulcrist quickened his pace. His mind raced. Yes! Of course! The Nomadin!
The Nomadin would not need convincing. They truly believed that the boy was the Prophesied One, the forbidden child of Nomadin heritage who was destined to release the Necromancer from his prison. Fools! They did not know the boy¡¯s true identity. Ilien Woodhill was the Necromancer himself.
Bulcrist spat. It did not matter. The Nomadin desired the boy dead and he could use that in his favor. Their plan to use the Witch Queen to do their dirty work had failed. What they needed now was a new plan. He could give it to them. He knew the boy better than any of the Nomadin. He knew the boy¡¯s strengths and weaknesses. Together they could destroy him before he grew too powerful.
Bulcrist lurched to a stop in the darkness. He stood for a moment to catch his breath, a sudden doubt settling upon him. The boy¡¯s words came back to him.
You will return to Ledge Hall and live out the rest of your days alone. If ever you set foot outside its gates, the rune I placed upon you will strike you dead.
The boy was powerful indeed. But was he truly that powerful? And what of the Nomadin? They might think otherwise of his plan. After all, he was a NiDemon. He was their enemy. Why would they listen to him? Why would they need to? They had the boy¡¯s mother. Ilien would go to them. With their combined might they could easily destroy the boy.
A smile stole over Bulcrist as he panted in the darkness. The boy would be destroyed. That was all the mattered. As long as the boy died for what he¡¯d done, he would rest easy. As long as he died.
Bulcrist frowned suddenly, recalling Ilien¡¯s final words.
Do not linger. You have until nightfall to make it back home.
With a curse Bulcrist shook off the cold and started forward once more.
Without warning, a writhing black shadow detached itself from the tunnel wall. Like a net of darkness, it dropped to the floor before the NiDemon and flew up to block his way.
Bulcrist drew back, his hand before his eyes. The creature pained his vision, as if it leached the very sight from his mind. A stab of fear drew the breath from Bulcrist¡¯s body. The Nothingness exuded an unwholesome power he had never experienced before, an overwhelming dismay, a senseless brutality that oozed from it like blood from a wound. In defense, his fingers traced the Light rune.
There was a brief flash of brilliant, yellow light in which the Nothingness shone like a column of smoke, a brown illusion that sickened the eye. Quickly the light dimmed, cowered to a dingy glow, then died completely.
Do not be afraid, said the Nothing.
Bulcrist stumbled back, clutching at his ears. The words deafened him though he could hear them plainly in his mind.
"What are you?" he asked, his own voice stabbing the silence.
The Nothing advanced upon him.
I am friend and brother. I am aid and ally. Do not be afraid.
Bulcrist retreated, feeling the wall with one hand as he went. The creature was no ally, that much he knew. Whatever it was, it was powerful enough to steal his NiDemon sight and break his Nihilic spell. But what was it doing here? And what did it want of him?
I want what you want, Tannon Bulcrisst.
The Nothing expanded as it hissed his name, as if saying it gave it power over him.
Bulcrist froze, paralyzed, unable to retreat from the growing void before him. His mind filled with panic as an icy finger prodded his thoughts.
The word lanced like a sliver of ice through Bulcrist¡¯s consciousness.
The boy musst die.
Bulcrist stiffened against the Nothing¡¯s touch, fighting to stave off the incorporeal assault. But the power of the Void was overwhelming. Slowly his mind gave way. By degrees the Nothing gained control over him.
Bulcrist¡¯s body spasmed as the word ripped through the remnants of his mind. He moaned as the Nothing leaped upon him. Blackness enveloped him, condensing into an impenetrable, suffocating shroud. Bulcrist remained rigid, silent, as the blackness seeped into his skin. A moment later he stood alone in the tunnel once more.
"Yess," he whispered.
The Nothing opened its new eyes and surveyed the darkness in silence. Yess indeed, it thought. Now the boy¡¯s death was all but assured. There was power in this new body. Power to add to its own. Power to destroy the boy once and for all!
It raised its new hands and marveled at the glowing runes they drew. A geyser of white-hot fire erupted from its fingers and raced to the ceiling. The pressure-heated air exploded, cracking the walls and raining debris to the floor. The torrent of blinding magic smote the stone above in a glut of white sparks, turning it instantly to liquid glass. The molten rock poured from the blasted ceiling and pooled upon the ground. Soon the entire tunnel raged like a blast furnace. Still the Nothing stood, unharmed, impervious to the power it wielded, and leveled its rage upon the earth around him.
Yess! I will kill the boy! Ilien Woodhill will die!
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Cover Art Copyright 2003 by Jeffrey Maraska
© Copyright 2008 Pine View Press and Shawn Cormier.
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