Authors: Irina Syromyatnikova
Copyright © 2014
Irina Lobatcheva, Vlad Lobatchev. All rights reserved.
I got used to Suesson. One might say I sunk roots there.
house was sheltered by rocky hills, in the place where life timidly pressed against the bottom of a valley as if lurking behind a mountain range. The range towered as a gray wave on the horizon (though there was no shame in hiding from the things that dwelled beneath these mountains). Quietude and reverent silence reigned there until six in the morning.
And then Polak
would awake and habitually scold Bandit for peeing in his slippers. His angry shouts, heard throughout the house, would wake up the rest of us. Unlike Johan and Quarters, I wouldn't rush to get out of the blanket: a dark magic spell around my bedroom muffled the noise caused by the cat. In a quarter of an hour Polak would calm down and start cooking breakfast. These minutes I usually spent on philosophical reflection. That's how our days began.
A couple years ago
I was hungry, energetic, and proud. For a measly hundred crowns I chased the otherworldly from farm barns in the suburbs of Redstone. Now, being a specialist with two degrees, I was permanently employed as an alchemist and casually as a combat mage. Some time ago I bought a house, which local villagers cleverly renamed into the Tangor Estate.
couldn't say that my life became serene: my enemies - evil cultists aimed at destroying dark magicians - menaced me, but I became accustomed to this threat - it didn't make my heart skip a beat. The presence of
in my head ceased to bother me. Some people have glitches; my monster was real, at least. I stopped even writing my diary.
I kept reminding
myself that the world was full of the evil machinations of sectarians, but when in the evening I came back to my comfortable house with an already cooked dinner and enjoyed delicious food with my friends, my sense of reality became blunted. Your being wins over your consciousness, as they say.
nnatural desire to stop fussing around, bask in the sun, and maybe write a poem often came to my mind at the time. It was early summer, almost a year after my graduation…
global catastrophic risk to life on earth forced Ingernika's authorities to run another necromantic ritual on human remains from a vanished civilization. Of course, they came to me. I was fascinated by the prospect of raising an ancient corpse; this time it would be an inhabitant of Capetower. And if the golem from the ancient mine was truly their job, then…then…my fantasy was flying high.
willingly agreed to help the government satisfy its curiosity for one more reason. If our Circle achieved success, I would demonstrate to the authorities that Giom and his accomplices from Salem's Brothers killed the poor orphans for nothing, and our bureaucrats would cut their funding! It will be my dark magic revenge to the Brotherhood!
was set on negotiating better terms in my new contract with NZAMIPS, but when their representative arrived at my house, it turned out that NZAMIPS already took into account all my wishes. To my disappointment, the new contract was practically flawless. I urgently needed to come up with something to counter-offer.
"Please include access to the
lab of the highest security level."
to test something in my spare time."
I kept the
precious booty from Undegar's mine in my shed, which wasn't suitable for experimenting with the dangerous golem's material. I had in my possession about thirty kilograms of pseudoflesh successfully concealed from Reich though, despite my numerous attempts, I didn't unravel the incomprehensible weavings of ancient masters, let alone rebuild the unstoppable machine of death. The golem's flesh was stored in the enchanted containers and looked like grains of dirty sand - nobody would guess what the harmless dirt was capable of!
felt for me a deep respect tinged with awe - in his memory I was the first to recycle the unstoppable death machine.
material was unlike anything that I had ever known. The construct was built from tiny identical units resembling sandy gnats, though of a much higher complexity; they could aggregate into structures with totally opposite properties (sometimes it was a razor-sharp blade, other times - a stretchable, elastic cord). Not to mention that the original genius masterpiece - the golem - could use as a source of energy alien curses and was intelligent enough to search for prey at a distance. In the golem's control circuits I recognized necromantic symbols of logic - similar weavings helped me take control of the coluber in the ancient mine. Now I tried to build my own technomagic construct capable of intelligent behavior. I practiced on the most insignificant beings: my home was filled with cockroaches and flies from the golem's flesh.
idea was that any complex behavior could be approximated by a sequence of elementary behavioral actions. If each grain of "sand" was programmed to perform one of these simple motions and on my signal was able to take charge of the other grains in the body of a construct, then the entire golem, guided by my step-by-step instructions, would behave by my will.
I needed to describe a chain of motions my creature would have to perform and compose an array of grains that would make my golem behave correspondingly. When I estimated the mental effort required for this work, it made me sick and I decided to cheat - to experiment with less intelligent objects like cockroaches and deduce the needed grain sequence by observing the behavior of live bugs.
By the way
, my golem-cockroaches turned out to be almost indistinguishable from the live ones; I even managed to get maggots from the golem-flies! Polak didn't know the particularities of my experiments and bought a fly swatter. The aggressive bugs harassed Bandit, and the poor cat felt relatively safe only near another zombie - my dog Max. Johan plunged into our biomining project and did not see what crunched under his feet, fortunately for him.
pestering me: "Tom, use your magic! Beasts have overpowered us."
I swore that I would make a repellent
as soon as I received a chemical for it. When a mailman delivered two large aquarium tanks, I moved all my multi-legged zombies into them. As a result of my experiments with the golem's flesh, I developed a device for managing a gang of golem-bugs. It remained to fine-tune the nuances of the control and perform a field test. The last clause in my contract, requesting access to the military lab, provided me with an opportunity to continue these experiments.
Luckily for me, the ritual was
scheduled to take place in Finkaun: I always wanted to visit the city where I was born! My friends saw me off under the accompaniment of our gramophone; such a rarity - a dark mage risking his life for the sake of the public interest - deserved a high honour!
The day before
Colonel Reich came to our party uninvited and got drunk, so he had to stay overnight. The security perimeter alerted me that someone else tried to join our company, but I did not want in my house a gang of "cleaners" having fun at my expense.
my good-bye party I questioned Johan about the progress with our epochal project that was supposed to make me wealthy.
"It's going f
ine," he said, but then honestly added, "though slow. I hadn't worked with fish before; some things must be developed from scratch."
Do you need anything special? I will be back to civilization tomorrow and can get it for you there."
He frowned, obviously
trying to formulate his problem in simple language that I could grasp.
"I ran into a natural bar
rier in the system," he said. "The presence of a predator helps the survival of the best specimens, but restricts their reproduction. So far, to propagate the drillers, I have to remove the cases with them inside from the water and transfer the worms into a special breeding cage".
Yeah, it was next to impossible to create
a silly predator that would be repeatedly losing his appetite for tasty and easily available flesh. That was a serious problem! To begin with, lifting up cases of ore from the water tank was not an easy task - they weighed about five hundred pounds each.
you want me to buy one more aquarium? Once in a while we can shovel the fish out of the worm tank into an empty one."
thought he would bark furiously at me - that's what I would do to the bugger who dared to advise me on alchemy, no matter if he was right or not, but Johan's face reflected intense mental labor. He didn't respond - the white mage fell out of reality again. I did what I could and let him sort out his problem alone. He was a master of natural magic, after all!
morning Reich finished the leftovers from yesterday's party and enthusiastically helped us carry my luggage and Max to the train station. Given that it's insanely difficult to engage the dark in volunteerism, I suspected that the "cleaner" was hoping for some favor from me. I suspected that upon my return I would find one more inhabitant in my house!
The closer the time of
my departure was, the stronger my intuition urged me to stay at home. My teacher Charak would simply follow his hunch and cancel his contract without any explanation, but stubbornness typical of the dark took hold of me. I spit on my vague premonition – I couldn't cope with a desire to tap into someone else's life again. The spirits of my forefathers warned me of impending trouble, but finally gave up on their obstinate descendant.
fter the suppressed rebellion in Septonville Edan Satal was in high spirits. The former coordinator savored the accomplished revenge in NZAMIPS office, putting his feet up on his boss' desk. Larkes was watching Satal, thinking of him as mentally incapacitated at the moment. The former coordinator floated in blissful oblivion, recalling the details of his Septonville victory.
"I hit him on the
knee - bang! Then on his muzzle - bang! And took him by…"
Larkes cleared his throat: Satal
had been depicting the moment of his triumph for two hours already, and the number of attacks he had undertaken and the shields he pierced grew with his every repetition of the story.
We aren't done with the sect. Its executives are free."
What else can we do?" Satal shrugged. "Clearly, there was a leak from the top echelon of power."
It would be strange if the dark mage
admitted his guilt.
"The situation is much worse," Larkes
slowly tapped his fingers against the table top. "There were no leaks. One of the white patriarchs, a supposed artisan leader, changed his mind about going, with no reason, and sent his vice to Septonville. You've missed the vice, too, by the way. The people we suspected as associates of the vice either died or disappeared. The same happened once to my predecessor: he was about to apprehend the sect executives, but their head suddenly changed his plans and fled, leaving everything and everyone behind. Our analysts believe that the artisans' leader had experienced premonitions; it's a rare and almost unexplored talent. If this is true, we have no chance to catch him. I have asked the Salem Brotherhood for help."
"I do not like them - they are smart asses!"
"We owe them recipes
for half of all the combat potions."
They are no fools."
The coordinator glanc
ed sideways at his interlocutor, "Did you deal with them before?"
"Once, when I was a student. They brought their experimental shield to the testing ground, and it blew up like hell! Nearly all my classmates were killed. I was among the lucky few who gathered the remains of the others. We dug for two weeks and found not a single tooth. I wonder how many students died during trials from their combat potions."
n incomprehensible grimace momentarily contorted Larkes' face. He smirked and shrugged, "I am sure they used volunteers."
The coordinator looked at cheerful
Satal and decided to bring him back to his senses: "I have long wanted to ask you, Dan…if you do not mind."
"What were you busy with, when you locked yourself up in the closet for a few days?"
ce floe of memories hit the former coordinator, and when it subsided, Satal's mindless euphoria was completely gone. This spectacle was mesmerizing.
"The monster sho
wed me the consequences of some mistakes. Not mine, of course," the magician said in a colorless tone. "
evoked horrible pictures over and over again. I have decided I won't allow myself to make mistakes," his eyes flashed with fanatical light. "I won't leave myself a chance to make a wrong choice!"
Larkes nodded and thought that
Satal was ready for a promotion. It was time to move him into some parallel department - two senior coordinators in one region wouldn't get along. Satal outgrew the role of subordinate. Now he possessed everything that was required from a good leader: power, skill, wisdom, and motivation for personal progress.
d himself to see his colleague off to the porch (to make sure that his colleague left), then took out of his safe a carafe of alcohol - clear as tears - and poured himself a drink. The coordinator threw into the glass a chilling curse and decided to re-read an excellent report on the artisans' tricks, a copy of which Zertak had passed to NZAMIPS.
* * *
The dazzling white walls of a large three-story mansion on the shore of Long Lake were visible from afar and seemingly accessible to all. However, neighbor-farmers knew about the overgrown thick green lowlands around the estate. White mage-naturalists had done a good job: to break through the bushes to the estate of Lord Evergreen without the permission of the owner was impossible. The kings of Ingernika were long gone, the prefix "lord" had become a mere formality - a tribute to tradition - but in the Evergreens' memory the past was still alive. The current head of the Evergreen clan, Patrick Mylo, watched with irritation as the boats of commoners disturbed the quietness of his lake. In the past, trespassers would be beaten to death for swimming in his waters.
have gathered in the mirror hall," the butler stiffly bowed.
The guests sincerely envied
the Evergreens' skill in choosing servants - obedient, loyal, and honest. They didn't know that this wonderful devotion was achieved through "magical training". The only place where the Evergreens didn't venture to use the same approach to servants was their metropolitan mansion.
What have we come to?! A parvenu with a police badge decides what use of magic is acceptable! I have to depart from the honed-to-perfection traditions! Kept for seven centuries! Is it better to allow a servant to struggle with temptations, when you can totally rid him of them? Too much reasoning in the mind of a kitchen helper is a bad thing for all,' Lord Evergreen entered the mirrored hall, habitually checking amulets hidden under his clothes.
hildren with a talent for magic weren't born to the Evergreens, and this aroused compassion for the family in some white; but the clan considered the lack of magic in the blood of its members as a matter of pride. Patrick Mylo firmly believed that only people like him deserved to see the new, safer and brighter future; he wasn't interested much in learning how, in particular, the white from the Order of the Celestial Knights would cleanse the world off filth.
ternoon, ladies and gentlemen! It is my honor to welcome you to my home."
exchange of introductory greetings, conversation turned to the contents of newspapers, scattered in disarray on the tables around.
Events in Septonville took an unpleasant turn for Light and the Justice!" said a fairly known healer, who devoted to the Order forty years of his life. "Or, perhaps, I don't know something?"
A bearded magician with a
n easily recognizable face, known to others as Master Haino, smiled benignly: "Be our judge, Lord Evergreen. Please share your opinion whether Minister Michelson will develop his success."
The name of the Minister of Public
Safety made the homeowner wince. "He won't," Lord Evergreen muttered. "He won't dare. Any of his large-scale raids and arrests we'll present as a coup d'état attempt. Michelson's got enough on his plate with the nationalization of Arango's lands." These parvenus would answer for that, too!
famous white nodded. "In Septonville we got rid of the ballast and tested our enemy's powers. Besides, we have prevented the possibility of massive repression in the near future, virtually losing nothing!"
I regret that we failed to test the Liturgy of Light with the newly reconstructed artifact," muttered a thin magician of indeterminate age.
"My dear Gregory
," the bearded magician smiled, "I am confident, soon you will have another opportunity to conduct your tests, and more than once." After the Order's victory there would be enough dark captives.
"Excellent, Master Haino
, our ranks have been cleared. What's next?" the healer recognized the rightness of the patriarch with a gesture.
"First of all,
we need to get rid of all problematic followers."
looked at each other, and Patrick Mylo sensed once again that not only common faith guaranteed their loyalty to the sect, but something else, more powerful, kept them dedicated. 'Perhaps, some sort of bewitchment," he assumed for a moment and then dismissed the thought in fright.
iscussion of plans, which looked a bit like joint meditation, lasted until the evening. After remaining for a proper interval at the meeting, Lord Evergreen politely took his leave: if the board wanted something from him, they would find a way to pass along their message.