The Darkness Within

By E. M. Aguilar

Fantasy, Thriller

eBook

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427
6 mins

CHAPTER 1

Cyrus shuffled his way through the King’s Road. At intervals, his walking stick crunched on the broken cobblestone ground. The sun descended to the horizon. He stood in front of two paths: one snaking toward the right and the other twisting toward the left. Cyrus took out his crumpled map from his traveling pack and scanned along his route. There was no indication the King’s Road split into two trails at this point. He swiped his brow and felt the cool rush of the night’s air touch his skin. Cyrus was a young man in his twenties. He was medium built with short black hair.
Blue darkness descended upon the land. He heard something far, in the distance. A child was crying. He sprinted through trees and bushes. The sound became more urgent. He took several different turns until he realized he was just a few feet away from a sobbing boy. Cyrus barreled through the last wall of plants and saw a frightened boy clutching a broken doll. Cyrus felt iciness in the pit of his stomach.
The child said, "Mister, what are you doing?"
"My name is Cyrus. Do not be afraid."
"You do not belong here."
A scream pierced throughout the forest. Cyrus tried to get closer to the child, but the child moved away. Cyrus concentrated and felt his magic fill his being. An orb of fire about the size of a fist glowed in mid-air. The child shrank.
"It’s okay," Cyrus said. "We have to leave."
"No," the child said.
The noise got closer. The child fidgeted with his hands. Cyrus noticed the child’s body was odd. The kid’s spine was crooked and his head hung to the side.
"Are you hurt?" Cyrus said.
"I do not feel anything anymore. They told me I cannot go see my parents," the lad said.
"Who told you that?"
"The Necromage," the child said.
Cyrus recognized the name. The Necromage was the keeper of the dead. He was supposed to be a master necromancer who made a deal with Death to be immortal. However, he was deceived. He now lives in the shadow of death and life.
"The Necromage is only a legend," Cyrus said. "He is not real."
"Yup, he is real."
Silence hung in the air.
"Who was making that noise?" Cyrus said.
"A banshee. She is here to get me," the child said, wiping tears from his eyes.
A glowing woman came into sight.
"Gerald, please come with me. You have to stay with us. You do not belong in the land of the living," she said.
The lady was beautiful. Her face was flawless with high cheekbones and large lips. However, her eyes were gone. Two gaping holes stared back at him.
"Gerald," the banshee said, "you are dead. Let the mage release his guardianship over you."
"I am not a mage," Cyrus said.
The banshee bent over and produced another bloodcurdling scream.
The eyeless sockets seemed to stare at him and said, "You do not belong in these woods."
"Where am I?" Cyrus asked.
"The haunted forest," the banshee said. "Only the dead can travel here."
"I do not know how I got here," he said.
"You cannot leave. You have to talk to my master," she said.
"No," Gerald said, "I want to see my mommy."
The banshee gave the lad a frightful grin.
Cyrus said, "Gerald, listen to the lady. You cannot go back alone. I will go back with you."
"Will you?" Gerald said.
"What is your doll’s name?"
"Tom," Gerald said.
Cyrus said, "Tom said he wants to go back."
"No, he didn’t," Gerald said.
"Ask him."
Gerald stared at the doll and said, "We will go back, if you go with me."
"It’s a deal. Maybe, the Necromage can help you find your parents," he said.
Cyrus and Gerald followed the banshee through the forest. The half-moons shone through the trees. Cyrus saw specters through the bushes, forms that defied his imagination.
"Gerald," Cyrus said, "How did you die if you don’t mind me asking?"
Gerald said, "I fell down a cliff."
"Is it different being dead?" he said.
Gerald furrowed his brow and said, "Well, I don’t feel anything. I just want to see my parents, one more time."
"It must be difficult. Hey, at least the banshee stopped screaming," he said.
Gerald smiled. The banshee turned around and smirked at him.

                                                        •••

They crossed a league. When Cyrus glanced at the banshee, colors swirled around her. Cyrus had the ability to see magical energies. The former court master mage called this, Wizard’s sight. Besides this magical power, he could only conjure glowing illusionary spheres. Any first-level apprentice could conjure this spell. He could even make rough shapes out of these magical globes.
"Gerald, what is your favorite animal?" Cyrus asked.
"A dragon," Gerald said. "Or a unicorn."
Cyrus focused and his glowing orb changed into a rough shape of a dragon.
"Wow," Gerald said. "Can you make it move its wings?"
The dragon's wings started moving.
"Wow!" Gerald said. "What else can you do?"
Cyrus wondered the same thing.
"Stop!" the banshee said. "We are here."
They stood in front of a grove of tall cedar trees so dense that he could not see through them. The plants shimmered. His Wizard’s sight picked up a small tremor. A blue glowing hue rippled around the foliage. The trees changed into strong granite walls rising high into the sky. Cyrus was dumbfounded. A yawning portcullis beckoned them inside.
The banshee said, "What is your name, mage?"
"Cyrus."
"Beyond these walls are the halls of the dead, tread carefully. Your power cannot match the Necromage," she said.
A heavy mist shrouded the forms within. A slight breeze stirred the fog. They stood along rows upon rows of graves, thousands of them. Amid the tombs, spirits floated, talking to each other. Cyrus’s body shook. The spirits, as if noticing his discomfort, started coming towards him. His heart thundered as the phantoms crowded around him.
A voice cracked through the cemetery, "Do not touch him! He is under my protection!"
The spirits flew away.
They followed the banshee up a long path through the graves. He saw a large edifice of a castle on top of a hill. Its design was in an ancient gothic tradition of pointed spires and jagged spikes. Ancient knights stood inside the entrance, pointing their spears at him.
"The master wants to see these two," the banshee said.
The knights lowered their weapons and stood against the walls.
"This way," the banshee said.
They walked into an immense central courtyard. Cyrus’s boots clicked upon the inlaid granite stones. His Wizard’s sight saw power emanating from the very walls, dark and powerful. He trailed the banshee up to a tall stately building. He sensed magical energy so strong that he almost doubled over in pain. A door, of strong cedar wood with metal bars, stood ajar. A man dressed in livery waited for them. He bowed.
The man said, "You can leave now banshee."
She turned back. Cyrus and Gerald shadowed the man through several hallways and doorways. Their path stopped at a hall with thousands of torches held by sconces attached to the walls. Even with all the light, the hallway was dim. It was as if the darkness swallowed the light. They walked through this passage and into a chamber with a large dome ceiling. Several paths branched from this room, and the manservant took a turn toward the left. They followed and found a similar hallway as before with thousands of torches along the walls. The manservant’s pace started to become faster even though he walked at the same rate. Cyrus tried to keep up. The manservant and Gerald were gone. The lights darkened.
"Welcome Cyrus," a voice said.
Cyrus scanned around the room. He could not see the other end because darkness swirled around the edges. People stared at a high dais. Their backs were facing him. Upon this platform was a large gilded chair. A figure, dressed in a scarlet robe with gold intricate patterns, sat upon the throne. His cowl was over his head, obscuring his face.
"Please come forward," the figure said.
The people turned toward Cyrus. They were all dressed in the fine clothes of the aristocratic class. He stood on a velvet carpet, which reached toward the platform.
"Do you know me?" the figure said.
"You are the Necromage," Cyrus said.
The figure chuckled and said, "Yes, but do you know my given name."
"No, sir," Cyrus said. "Why did you bring me here?"
"Because of your father," the Necromage paused and said, "your real father."
Cyrus said, "I do not know my real father. My foster dad is the only dad I know or care about."
The Necromage removed his hood. He was the manservant. Purple veins peppered his skin. He had long silvery hair tied in a ponytail that streamed along his right shoulder.
"My given name was Solaran. I knew your father during the Dark Wars," Solaran said.
"The Dark Wars were a thousand years ago. How can this be? I would be a thousand years old," Cyrus said.
"I do not know. You must be hungry," Solaran said.
"Yes, I haven’t eaten since this afternoon," he said.
Solaran waved his arms in a concentric pattern. The room diminished from Cyrus eyes. He felt disoriented. A bright light flashed and he stood before a long table. A grand feast was before him: roasted beef, succulent hams, buttered turnips, broiled duck, and loaves of warm bread.
The Necromage said, "Go ahead and eat, the dead do not dine."
Cyrus ate, choosing different types of delicacies and savoring every single bite. Cyrus stopped while he was spearing an apple cobbler with his fork and said, "Solaran, do you know about the murders of the children at my town, Platos?"
Solaran smiled at him and said, "Ghastly killings. I have seen some of the victims pass through death's doorway."
"Do you know who did these crimes?" Cyrus asked.
"Ah, I only dwell between the edges of death and life. I do not know or care," Solaran said.
"I seek justice."
The Necromage said, "Beware, Cyrus, what you seek. I feel the taint of black magic upon the victims. It lingers on like bittersweet perfume. Justice can be mistaken for vengeance. Why do you care for these children? They are not your offspring."
"I care because these children do not have anybody to fight for them."
"Your father also had strong convictions about such trivial matters," Solaran said.
"Necromage, I do not mean any disrespect. But, I do not care about my real father," he said.
"Your father sacrificed everything to have you live," Solaran said,
"I do not care."
"Ah, you should," Solaran said.
Cyrus said, "Why am I here?"
Solaran held up a charm fastened on a silver chain. He said, "This is for you. I promised your father, I would give it to you when you were ready."
Cyrus grasped the charm. It was round and smooth, about the size of his hand. There were no discernible markings of any kind written on the surface.
"What is this?" he said.
"You will understand in time. And before you go, your dad wanted to say that he was sorry," Solaran said.
Cyrus slumped to the ground.




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