Underground Ring: Book 1, page 22
I felt cold steel against my throat. So, they were actually going through with it.
“Good-bye, Augrais,” Trosian said, “and thank you…for everything.”
The blade was raised to the sky.
“No! Please!” Ben interrupted. “It can’t end like this, you can’t just kill him. Please, Trosian, please, so we can say our goodbyes.”
“At dawn, Trosian,” Ben reiterated. “Just six hours is all I’m asking.”
“Very well,” my rival said softly. “You have six hours.”
One by one, my former companions left me in my soft prison, giving me the time I needed to complete my healing transformation.
The minutes and hours blurred as I lay powerless, unable to move or speak. More than once I attempted to move but to no avail. I was about to give up when I was shaken violently. I opened my eyes. The light of the moon burned them as I recognized Ben’s weak smile.
“Wake up, Augrais,” Ben whispered, glancing about as if he were afraid the darkness itself would attack him. “Get dressed, get ready. We have to escape. Come on, buddy, get up.”
Very good, Ben, I thought. Very good. I tried to speak but it only came out as moaning.
“Shh,” he silenced, putting his palm to my mouth. “I don’t want Lokus to hear us, buddy, OK? Come on, breathe, breathe. Get up. Let’s go.”
Ben collected some of my things, shoving them into a large satchel in a disorganized fashion. He then came to me, sighed, and began to move me. I don’t know how weak little Ben was able to carry me down the stairs without making a sound, but he managed to get me out of the house and into the van. I was pushed into the backseat, falling loosely like a dead body. This must have frightened Ben.
“Come on, stay with me, Augrais. I can’t lose you now.” He grunted as he tried to get my legs out of the door’s way.
In a moment the van began to move, with me deep in my stupor. It seemed as if only seconds had passed before we stopped again. I was pulled out in the same clumsy way and moved to another location and onto a soft bed where I was wrapped in sheets and blankets that felt more like prison chains than comfort.
“There you go, buddy,” Ben panted. “Don’t die on me now. Get better by tomorrow night, OK? Get some rest.”
He left. I would be better by the next night. I would be fully transformed into something that no one could stop. That no one could even think about challenging. I would emerge from this cocoon something very different. I would emerge as the darkness itself.
I awoke with a start into a very new world. I squirmed and struggled and the blanket and sheets began to tear from my effort. Falling off of the bed, my hands smacked the floor as the final piece of the ripped blanket fell from my legs. My limbs shook as if they belonged to a new- born horse. Then, as if the air in my lungs returned my strength to me, the shaking and weakness stopped. I had finally completed my metamorphosis. I stood up, the power leaking from my cells. Indeed, I was far more powerful than before. Now, I thought, to be unstoppable I would need Balmung. The chain had ancient Magick that Lokus clearly wanted so I must also gather that before I attempted to slaughter everything in my path…starting with the Violet-Eyed Demon, Laucian.
I dressed in my warmest clothing and readied myself to leave, when the door opened and Ben entered with groceries. He gasped in excitement and surprise as he saw me standing there before him, in all my glory.
“Augrais!” he cried, approaching me, but then he stopped and stared at me, sensing the very fabric of my being.
I smiled wickedly as he began to back up. “No,” he sobbed as he took a step back, “no, no, no, no.”
“Yes,” I responded taking a step towards him much like a predator waiting for its prey to run. “Yes, thank you, Ben. I could not have done it without you.”
Ben’s back hit the door behind him. He was cornered as I closed in upon him.
“Nowhere to run, Ben,” I said softly and a chuckle escaped my lips.
In a fit of fear or rage, maybe a bit of both, he threw a punch directly at my chest with no energy involved—as if it would have mattered anyway. He might as well have punched a concrete wall. Wincing in pain, he attempted to raise his energy to strike me again. But I gave him no time to do that. I grabbed him roughly by the throat and raised him above my head. He was helpless, like a child.
“Let go, Augrais.” He coughed from the strength of my grip. Had I wished, I could have strangled all remaining life out of him. “This isn’t you, this isn’t who you are.”
I didn’t give him the courtesy of my speech. I pulled him down and threw his body through the door. The wood shattered into tiny pieces as Ben’s useless body skidded across the concrete. He had taken us to a motel of all places. The faint neon sign lit our stage as I approached him again.
“Where are my things, Ben?” I asked sweetly.
“Augrais,” Ben struggled to get to his feet, blood dribbling down his lips, “stop. Please.”
I struck him so hard with the back of my hand that he spun around uselessly like a top before crumpling to the ground, spitting out some of his teeth and more blood.
“Where did they hide them, Ben?” I asked again over his loud crying.
He looked up at me like a drunk who had had one too many, blood and drool dripping onto the concrete. In his eyes, I could see his reality splitting at the seams. Augrais was my brother, he thought, why was he hurting me?
Roughly, I pulled him to his feet by the cuff of his shirt. “Don’t make me ask again, brother,” I said, using the last word as an insult.
Ben’s head bobbed about, giving me no answer. He would not talk. I smiled widely as an idea popped into my head.
“If you cannot give me the information I need, you will be used for another purpose,” I told the semi-conscious Ben as I threw him into his van. I got in on the other side and tried to remember my one and only driving lesson from the scared boy next to me. I reasoned that I was better than any mortal alive, even at driving. Indeed, I was immortal. None could touch me. None could harm me. Ben’s blank eyes stared at me from the back seat. The trip itself was relatively successful as it was late and no other vehicles got in my way. The van creaked to a stop a few hundred yards before Trosian’s uncle’s house. I quickly scooped up Ben and dragged him neck first towards the home. He did not struggle, though he was fully conscious, feet dragging across the stone ground. I rounded the large villa, hiding at the edge of the light so as to not be seen. To my surprise and delight, I watched Trosian exiting through the back of the house and Lee running up from the path in the river. They met in the middle, both clearly distraught and angry.
Lee panted for a moment, hands on his knees. I covered Ben’s mouth and veiled my energy the best I could.
Lee began to speak but Trosian interrupted him with a raised hand. He was trying to sense out his surroundings. Good boy, I thought. I was barely able to stifle a giggle as the anticipation of their fear gripped me. When Trosian finally nodded the go ahead, Lee continued.
“Where’s Lokus?” Lee asked, then added, “I couldn’t find them. What the hell is Ben thinking?”
Trosian shook his head. “I don’t know. Lokus is travelling westward, thinking Ben may have returned to his childhood home to hide Augrais from us.” He ground his teeth and continued “We must—”
“Oh. My. God,” Lee interrupted. He saw me as I emerged from the darkness, restraining the struggling Ben with my chokehold.
Trosian pulled his handgun free with mechanical speed and precision and pointed it directly at me. Though his face was calm, I could sense the dread beginning to scratch at his mind.
I let my dark power flow around me once more. I let go of Ben’s mouth and positioned my arm to show that he would die if either of them attempted to attack.
“Don’t come near him,” Ben cried. “He’s changed.”
Lee said nothing, but readied his hunting bow by pulling the string notched with an arrow to his cheek.
“Let Ben go, Au
My smile widened, showing my teeth, and a slight, evil laugh came from my throat.
“You truly believe you can compel me, Trosian?” I clucked my tongue and looked at him as if he were a child. “You know better than that.”
Trosian glowered in response. “Just let him go.”
“I plan to, just as soon as you tell where my possessions are.”
Both of the Mystics said nothing, but kept trying to find an opening in my human shield so they could take a clean shot.
“Well,” I said and sighed as I looked to Ben, “I guess you won’t be needing him anymore.”
I then began to squeeze his neck.
“Wait,” Lee cried, lowering his bow to the ground. “The forest—they were given to the Pagans.”
“Where?” I asked abruptly.
“To the east, Yayel’s old home.”
“I will search those woods. Do not lie to me.” The Water gift began to rise up in me.
Lee winced as he tried to resist me but failed. His eyes went blank as he spoke. “They use three locations and they will be there for the next few days.”
“Thank you, Lee. Do me a favour, would you, and kill your cousin?” I nodded to Trosian and, with that, I let Ben go, shoving him towards the others. Ben stumbled forward as both of them ran to grab him. As they did this, I disappeared into the shadows of the trees, moving as quickly as I could. Trosian unloaded his weapon, hoping to catch me with a stray bullet, but the echoes of gunshots were the only result. Little did he know, I was out of sight but I could still hear them quite well. I listened as Ben gasped and coughed from the effect of my choke.
“He’s gone,” Lee said with anger filling his voice. “Why the hell did you take him, Ben? The darkness had taken him; we all knew it. Why, Ben? Why?” Lee spoke angrily as he pulled Ben to his feet.
“I don’t know,” Ben responded desperately, his voice hoarse and weak. “I just, I just didn’t want to believe that.”
“That your friend would be changed into something so different from what he was?” Trosian asked calmly.
“Yes.” A sigh of relief from Ben turned quickly to a whooping cough as Trosian punched him in the stomach.
“We forgive you,” he said. “But only because we must unite in order to survive.”
Ben wheezed as the air slowly returned to his lungs.
“Haste is a factor here.” Trosian spoke in his commanding tone to both Lee and Ben. “Augrais will probably be making his way to the Pagans right now. We must hurry if we are to warn them.”
He was right. I had already taken the van and was long gone.
I quickly figured out the location of their moving base, remembering the exact camp where I had originally sought them out. I found it ironic that they were so close yet so far. Better yet, how many times I had just missed their camp? When I got there I left the van and scaled a tree as if it were a ladder. I could only see one dimly lit fire a few kilometres away. That must be them, I surmised, and began to sense the warmth in the area. Gerald, Vincent, Ravenfury, Anandus, and even Selene herself were there. Selene. I smiled at the mere thought of her. She would be happy to see me so…unrestricted. To top it off, she would definitely know where my possessions were. I leapt from the branch, the foliage cracking about me, landing easily on the ground 10 metres below as if I were only stepping off a slightly raised root.
The camp itself was made of ramshackle tents and one small fire, but the Pagan numbers were vast, a few thousand at least. This must be the resistance force Selene was talking about years ago. There were guards posted in small cells in a semi-circle around the cave. All of them looked exhausted and depressed. I wondered how many they had lost over the years. The soldiers began to stir as five people exited the cave: Gerald; Vincent; Ravenfury; Anandus; and—my heart jumped into my throat—there stood Selene, Balmung strapped proudly to her hip. Her face, though still beautiful, painted a picture of an emotional whirlwind raging in her. She excused herself from the group. Ravenfury seemed to argue but she shook her head, smiled weakly, and then proceeded to walk to the edge of the camp. A small troupe of five Pagans, including Vincent, followed but kept their distance.
Yes, come to me, my dear, I thought. I saw my opportunity when Selene slowly moved out of the light of the fire a few dozen metres from me and into my home: the darkness. I scaled the nearest tree, as silently as I could. I then leapt to the next, then to another, until I was right above the Pagan leader, ready to pounce. I glided down like a ghost, landing so softly that she didn’t even hear me. Again, I hid my evil energy from her mind. She turned to me and jumped back in fear when she realized who was behind her. My sensing and hearing told me that the troupe were still unaware of my presence.
“Augrais!” Selene gasped.
I bowed slightly, using the Water gift not only to make her love for me grow stronger, but also to search her mind for any inkling that I had changed. She didn’t suspect a thing.
“Oh, Augrais,” she said as she dove into my arms. This show of affection shocked me. “When Balmung was delivered to me, I believed the worst. But here you are, alive and well.”
Her soft body, though vivified by energy, still seemed so fragile in my embrace. I could crush her at any moment.
“No, my dear Selene,” I spoke solemnly, but the sweetness of her trust and love for me made it hard to hold back my laughter as we looked upon each other. “I was incapacitated and the others decided Balmung would be safer in your hands than in ours.” I smiled broadly as we held our gaze for a moment longer. After a few seconds of silence, I asked, “Where is Balmung?”
A look of disappointment crossed Selene’s face as she released me from her squeeze. She attempted to hide it well. “Oh, of course.” She reached for her hip and unbuckled the blade. “Right here.”
The Mother Pagan unwittingly handed over her own executioner’s weapon. What a fool. Hiding my anticipation, I slowly lifted my arm to reach for my weapon.
“Stop!” It was Lokus.
Selene hesitated, confused by the sudden interruption, and I acted. In one quick movement, I snatched the blade from her and drew it. Balmung sang its metallic song. Oh, it was intoxicating.
“Yes,” I cheered, letting my newfound energies from my transformation pour out. I raised the sword to strike her down. This would be the end of my last tie to humanity.
“No,” she said quietly, as I allowed her to see the true form of my power.
“Run!” Lokus cried as I started the downward swing.
Our two Vitae Lord’s blades clashed in a clang of sparks as Lokus knocked her aside, and then stared at me with those intense eyes that I remembered all too well.
“Ah, my old teacher,” I smirked as I forced him back with a single arm, “come to spoil my fun.”
“Back, demon!” he roared with such fury.
In an instant I was upon him again as we clashed blades. Using my greater strength, I pushed him back into a nearby tree. His yelp was drowned out by the grinding of steel.
“You can’t concentrate old man.” A slow smile came over my lips. “We both know you can’t summon energy without your precious mental clarity. What’s the matter?” I made an exaggerated face of sadness. “Can’t stand to see your student become a God?”
“You’re no God,” Lokus spat, now shaking violently. “You’re a monster!”
Before I could respond, a sharp pain struck me above the shoulder blade. The Pagan troupe must have realized what was happening and come to protect their precious Mother. Taking advantage of my distracted mind, Lokus slipped under our swords and struck me hard in the abdomen with a solid kick. I slid back, taking no serious damage from his attack. Indeed, it had barely enough energy to force me away. The Pagans were upon me, pity they would only be walking to their own doom.
“No, stay away!” Selene cried
I smiled as she tried to warn her comrades. I liked the hunt. I turned and swiftly jumped towards the surprised Pagan warriors, like a bird of prey diving upon their food.
I slew the group of five with such celerity that even I did not know what attacks I had used. Vincent didn’t even have a chance to react to their deaths. As they were slain, he was charging at me, spear thrust forward, meek voice calling out. As the last Pagan fell, I merely sidestepped, allowing his neck to come in contact with my outstretched arm, breaking the spinal cord cleanly. He crumpled to the ground like a folded chair.
My hand clasped around Lokus’s throat as I spun around to cleave him in two, when suddenly I was in mid-air, an invisible force knocking me away. I slammed into the tree. The branches and leaves shook as I nimbly landed on my feet like a cat.
“Stop!” she commanded. Blood was pouring from her hand and arm from the circle she drew upon her palm with a dagger. It was this power that allowed her to throw me back.
“Where did you learn that trick, Pagan?” I smiled as I stood fully. As confident as I felt, I still remembered her being able to strangle the life out of Shadows all those years ago.
“Step back, Augrais,” Selene said, holding her bleeding palm up at me again.
“It looks like it’s just you and me now.” I nodded behind Selene as Lokus disappeared, fleeing away like the coward he was.
Selene said nothing, a grim look on her face.
My mind, of course, was elsewhere as I sensed the entire camp descending upon my position. My Mystic friends were among them. I had no time to waste.
“I’ll see you soon,” I said and disappeared into the darkness just as the others entered the fray.
With a large boost of speed, I made a giant circle and took refuge under some shrubbery quite close to where my slaughter of the Pagans had taken place. Close enough to watch and listen. Close enough to smell the blood. I had to know where they had hidden the last piece of my possessions, the one thing that could make me into something unstoppable. Not even Laucian at his full strength would be a match for me. To do this, I would need information. Horrified crowds stood in silence over the bodies of their fallen brethren.