Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Life in the Balance

Jack took his familiar's advice, and ran like hell.

The day had started out so simply, too. A bit of studying his vaisseau forms, a presentation before the Magi of the University of Feaux, and then a night of celebrating with friends. What went wrong? Ah, yes, Alexandre. Crystal blue eyes, lovely slim hips, and an uncanny knack for getting himself into the worst kinds of trouble. And Jack never could quite say no to him.

He heard the ringing of steel behind him. The bravos Alexandre's money had provided were valiantly attempting to stem the tide of undead sweeping down the corridor. Valiant, and stupid. Sinew and steel, no matter how well paid, are pointless against Acnev's abominations. As Jimen had said, running was the best course.


There were the stairs. A dozen steps, and even the fading afternoon light would be enough to make the skeletons halt their pursuit. The bravos would never make it. Even now, Jack could hear the frantic hopelessness creeping into their battle cries.

There was no time to build a circle, or even to properly clear his mind. He had only two choices. Run, and listen to the death screams in his nightmares forever. Or play the one card up his sleeve, pray to all the gods that it worked, and brand himself an outlaw forever.


For the thousandth time, he wished his mother had been a grasping whore. Then maybe he wouldn't be burdened with this Pollyn-cursed conscience.

Jack turned back into the passageway. Jimen jumped up and down on his shoulder, pulling his hair. "Master!" the bat-winged monkey shrieked. "Master, you die! I die! No! Run! Run!". Jack did his best to ignore his companion. Even a familiar must take a back seat to conscience.

He came upon the battle. It was not pretty. Of the six bravos, three were dead, and two were seconds from death. The last was lucky, with no more than a broken arm and blood flowing from a scalp wound.

Jack knelt on the ground. He drew his dagger, and wrenched the polished quartz crystal from the handle. He spoke two quick words over it, waking the magic that he had bound to it over a year before. He flung it down the hallway.

It glinted with a light that was not here, under the earth.

It passed the last standing bravo, illuminating his form as it transformed into a bar of white fire.

The two who had just fallen were bathed in light as the bar lengthened to a lance.

The empty skulls of the walking corpses glowed with the purest light of life, that part of sunlight that makes the grass to grow. That part of sunlight that is hateful to those who should be at rest in the ground.

The beam of light expanded, filling the hallway and the space beyond. The silent shrieks of the spirits that rode the corpses also filled the corridor, pressing upon the senses of the young wizard. For a moment, he was pinned between heaven and hell.

Then all was silent.

A sob from the corridor broke Jack's reverie. Pollyn be praised, the light of life had kept the two badly injured bravos out of death's grasp! He leapt to his feet, and lurched into the wall. The moment had taken more out of him than he thought. He staggered forward, and fell to his knees next to the injured.

"Wizard," the standing bravo said. "What have you done? What were you thinking?"

"I was thinking I was saving your thrice-cursed life, you oaf!" Jack snapped. "Now help me get these people out of here. We only have minutes before the next wave arrives."

They reached the surface with less time to spare than Jack thought. Even as he laid the injured woman out on the grass, he heard the hissing sound of the unliving meeting the sunlight still peeking over the horizon. Jack shoved the gibbering fear in his heart aside, bending over the wounded. "I can keep them from dying," he said at last, "but their wounds are beyond my ability to properly treat. They need a healer. I trust you know one that will be discreet?"

The last bravo was still standing there, gaping at Jack. "You know what you have done, wizard. You have brought white necromancy to bear against the lawfully created minions of Acnev. It is the death sentence, and worse, for you. It is the same for us, simply for witnessing it. They will find you."

"They can try," said Jack, quietly. He knew the words were true. The priest of Lord Emperor Acnev who had raised those abominations would already know what had happened. It would not take him long to narrow down who had done it. Jack's life was over, and he had no choice but to run, as far and as fast as possible.

After long moments of silence, the bravo grunted. "Come on. We need to get these two to the healer. Hopefully they will be pardoned by way of being unconscious. Then the two of us need to hit the road."

Now it was Jack's turn to gape and blink. "What do you mean, us? I'm a fugitive now. Price on my head, wanted throughout the Empire, that sort of thing. There is no 'us.'"

"Don't be an idiot," the big man replied. "I wouldn't be standing here if you hadn't done what you did. And both of my friends there would be dead as well. I'm not the kind to forget that. Until you get set up somewhere, I'm going to be keeping an eye on you. Gotta make sure I can repay this debt". The big man gave a lopsided grin as he used his good arm to help Jack to his feet.

Jack returned the grin. "Well, if I'm going to have a bodyguard, I should know your name."

"My name is Cal."

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