Written by Aaron McQueen
Illustrated by Jennifer Lange
Copyright April 7th, 2018
This story is dedicated to my family, my friends, and my most generous subscribers, whom I have listed below. Without their help, support, and contributions, this production would not be possible.
Azarelle set the final reagent down. The pattern was complete.
They were right. It was beautiful beyond calculation, beyond the strange composition of magic, the balance of discord and harmony, the symmetry and asymmetry. It was…perfect.
This was going to work.
Jyll was late.
Azarelle glanced around. The sandbag was empty, but that wasn’t important. They wouldn’t get another chance anyway. In less than an hour the city prosecutors would be knocking at the door; then they would knock it down.
The door opened. Jyll emerged with a tray in his hands.
“I’ve got breakfast.”
He came over and set it down in front of her.
“And something special for you.”
He uncovered the tray. There was bacon.
Azarelle looked up at him.
“This is hardly the time.”
He raised an eyebrow and straightened up.
“Who are you and what have you done with my fiancé.”
She pushed the tray away.
“We have to start.”
His face fell.
Azarelle frowned. He had gone out of his way. She knew that, but there was too much at stake. They had to focus.
She covered the tray back up.
“We’ll keep it warm and enjoy it after. Right now we have work to do.”
She could tell he was upset, but he didn’t understand. They didn’t have the time.
Azarelle turned to the armature.
“I’ve got a new isolation pattern worked out.”
He looked around, noting the changes.
“I don’t recognize it. We never did anything like this on paper.”
“How’d you come up with it?”
She hesitated. There was no way she was going to answer that.
“I got inspired.”
Jyll shook his head.
“I thought we agreed that we would do all the research together, a check on each other.”
Azarelle waved him off.
“I know, I know, but we’re out of time. Don’t you see? This is our last chance.”
He looked at the door.
“They’re coming, aren’t they?”
He came over.
“Honey, maybe it’s time to stop all this. We’ve been trying for so long and look where it’s gotten us. And now we’re rushing. We aren’t even observing proper safety procedures. If we fess up now, maybe they’ll take our progress into account. What if something goes wrong?”
Azarelle shook her head. No. It couldn’t end like that. They’d come too far and gotten too close. She could taste it in her mouth.
“Nothing will go wrong. Jyll, just one more time. It’s going to work. The pattern is perfect.”
He took a long breath.
“We always think that.”
The sound of voices rose up in the hall. Someone was coming up the stairs. Azarelle went to the door and locked it.
“Please. I can’t explain it. Just help me one last time.”
Jyll paused for a long moment.
“Alright, but you’ll owe me for this.”
She moved to her position.
He raised an eyebrow.
She looked up. He smirked.
She gave him a flat look.
“Will you focus, please?”
His smirk became a grin.
Azarelle smiled, even as her ears detected the heavy plod of booted footsteps coming up the stairs. They went to their positions and began the casting. The spindles of the armature began to turn.
Someone started pounding on the door.
Azarelle struggled against the chain. She had to get out. Whatever offers Valis made…he couldn’t be trusted. He was a detestable human being.
Whatever Asterious had done to her had restored more than just her recollections. It had revealed what had been done while she was under the influence of his spell, trapped in a dreamlike stupor at his mercy.
He had taken far more than her memories.
She recalled what her vacant eyes had seen. She could feel the lingering pressure of his fingers against her flesh and the tug of his intent against her cloak. Forgiveness was not for men like him.
He would die.
But the chain held fast. It was shackled around one of her legs, the other end fixed firmly to the iron foot of the stove, fastened to the floor. She didn’t have the strength to free it.
But the undead…
Their minds were more than weak; they were missing, lost to death and unseemly magic. Unfortunately, to command their actions required magic as well: bone, sapphire, glass blackened with soot, and sinew.
She had none of those things.
But Valis must have.
If had to be somewhere in the room; otherwise the undead would have dropped to the floor the moment he left. Even if the casting was persistent—for there were ways to forge enchantments to last, like the one upon her cloak—they would still only stand dumbly in place without their master to command them…unless he had left some means of sustaining his will behind. It was hanging somewhere, or hidden in a secret compartment.
Azarelle began to whisper. The words felt like old grease as they moved across her tongue. She disdained the magic of death. She only knew it because it was a required course at the university.
Then again, she’d been getting quite a bit of mileage out of her undergrad had come to use since she’d come to Kalkonu: basic composition techniques, alchemy and the imbuing of liquids, and now necromancy.
Base magic for a base land.
She’d always preferred the higher forms. The simpler practices were inferior. Too easy. Not worth the time; yet since she’d come those same simple techniques had saved her life many times. Now, they would rescue her freedom.
Whisper, whisper, whisper.
To control an enchantment cast by another was difficult, but far from impossible. Similar to dispelling, the key was to root out the means and methods by which the spell was composed and cast. Normally it took hours to make such a determination.
Luckily, she had seen a picture.
The amulets that Valis was so intent upon had come from Tormar. No doubt he was using their same tools to maintain his…staff.
She felt the tremble of magic at the back of her thoughts. Her eyes darted to the floor in the corner of the room, where two empty graves lay bare under the snow and ice that covered the well-worn floor.
She crawled. The chain only gave her a few feet of freedom, but it would be enough.
The undead turned toward her.
Azarelle paused and they stopped. They would be following precise instructions. To control undead was an exercise in clear instructions, or so her teachers years ago had said. How would Valis have worded them?
Stop her if she tries to escape?
No, that was too complex. The undead couldn’t interpret intent. No, it would be something like: restrain her if she moves…some measure of feet.
Azarelle nodded. Something like that.
Perhaps if she moved fast enough they wouldn’t have time to react.
She dove across the floor, foul magic slithering over her tongue. How she hated it, but she could feel the spell under the dirt. She dug. Her fingers clawed at the earth as the dull hands of the undead closed in, grappling her legs and shoulders.
She felt it. A small object in the loose earth.
The undead hauled her back toward the stove, dragging her across the floor. With a yell and a kick, she lunged, snatching it up as she rushed through the final words of the casting.
The undead went suddenly still.
Azarelle took a long breath. Too easy. Not worth the time.
If only her professors could see her now. She let her head fall back and laughed.
Special Thanks To: