The harsh electric lights blinded his sensitive eyes, so thick creamy candles dripped in candelabras scattered about the study. The two-story windows, with their ornate stained glass upper panes, were open to the night’s moonless sky. Heavy, dusty brocade drapes hung limply next to the windows, ready to be dragged, in a moment’s notice, across the room’s eyes.

Books, leather- and cloth-bound alike, lay abandoned on the desk and two Victorian fainting couches that were the room’s only furniture. More tomes idled in random piles around the room. A chalkboard, covered in spidery notations, lingered in the corner next to the windows, forgotten in its master’s agonized fury. The once luxurious carpet was now worn down to a memory, tossed aside upon the barren ocean of hardwood.

The room’s master, bare-chested and wearing only a pair of silk-soft ancient jeans, paced around the oasis of light in the center of the room. Growling murmurs escaped his parched lips. He chanted to himself, repeating two phrases to himself in an effort to escape his prison. His feet, roughened by months of shoelessness, nimbly avoided the mountains and molehills of abandoned books.

Abruptly, his left foot just rising to begin another journey, the master halted. His breath rasped in and out of his chapped lips; his chest heaved in aching longing for the sweet night air. Frantic with remembered illusion, the man raked through the discarded books, searching for his prize. But the piled tomes revealed no more secrets than they had in the beginning of his quest.

The sickeningly sweet odor of his breakfast being prepared pulled the man from his research. His quivering stomach yearned for the warm, dripping meat of a fresh kill, but his mind, still a reasoning thing, refused to yield to the beast inside. Silently, he waited, hands clasped tightly behind him as his maid timidly presented his repast.

His time was up. Reason fled, leaving only the beast. Alone. But for a single, petrified, girl.


Mind traps

It sucks, to be locked inside your own head. There are no bars, no chains, nothing, really, to keep you shut away. But shut away, you are.

In my head, I scream for help, but, of course, no one hears me. In my head, I beg for help from the few visitors my body receives. My sister comes to visit every so often. Less so, now, than when I first got locked up. She tries, bless her heart, but she can’t stand to see me like this. It reminds her too much of her own troubles, I think. I want to tell her I know how she gets locked up, but I can’t. Besides, it’s not the same. Mine is my own head, hers is her husband.

My aunt and uncle come to visit, sometimes together, sometimes one or the other. My aunt sits and recounts every detail of her oh-so-perfect life, which my uncle dismisses on his visits. When they arrive together, though, it’s always tales of how much the outside world has changed, or how much it’s stayed the same. They never, on any visit, mention my parents. I suppose it’s how they try to help me.

About once a year, a reporter manages to get into the visitor’s queue, but they never last long, not once they figure out that I can’t really say anything about the accident. They always tell me they’ll be back, but they never come back. Not one.

My brother has never come to visit, though he sends flowers every week. Always daisies. They were Mom’s favorites, not mine. But he never paid attention to me, anyway. I suppose it’s sweet, the way he tries to cheer me up… and assuage his own guilt about never seeing me.

Mom and Dad are in my head with me. She chases me down, like she always has, but it’s my mind, so I know more hiding spots than she does. She’s getting closer, though. I thought I’d gotten rid of both of them a few months ago. It got really peaceful and quiet in here and I thought I might finally have a chance to break out. My sister was here, then. I think she noticed something, because she leaned forward in her chair and reached for me.

But then she called me by name. The name of my mother. And like it conjured the bitter old hag, Mom popped up, between me and my exit. So I fled back into the dark places of my mind. I heard her laughing. It echoed in my head, so loud I almost didn’t hear his whimpering. But I have to stay away from Dad, too. I can’t save him. Like he couldn’t save me.


A magical boyhood

The freckle-faced boy with the sandy hair twirled the long-handled wooden spoon in his tiny hands and intoned his most secret of secret words.

“Babba-codabra, misa-loo, bumpup-tada!”

He smiled to himself, the little mischievous grin that he saved for his most precious of moments. He twirled in place, the gold-star studded navy cape fluttering behind. The boy adjusted his matching wizard’s hat, the cone shape smashed in on one side from a magical mishap earlier in the week.

From across the magic circle – a hand-knotted rag rug his grandmother had made – came a squeaking, tired roar. The patchwork cat with large, blue button eyes stretched and purred at the boy before pouncing on him and nuzzling against the freckled face.

“C’mon, Patches. Let’s esplore,” the boy giggled.

He grabbed one of the many books from his tiny, boy-sized bookshelf and thumbed through the pictures until he found a suitable frame to explore. He tossed the book onto the rug then pulled the patchwork feline to him.

“Bubbley-de, bubbley-be, doobie-do,” he intoned, with as much seriousness as he could muster with the playful cat nuzzling against his ear.

A cloud of gold and blue smoke puffed up from the edges of the magic circle and in a flash, the boy and his patchwork cat were standing in the middle of a fairy forest. Trees in multitudes of colors grew in alphabetical shapes. The purple and pink grasses swayed gently, despite the absence of a breeze. The air smelled of bubble-gum and apples. Tiny blue and green bunnies frolicked with yellow and orange squirrels and chattered together in amazement at the sudden appearance of the newcomers.

The sandy-haired boy laughed in delight. He let go of his cat, with one last happy squeeze, then set off through the forest in search of more adventure. The patchwork cat followed, yawning at the playful animals it passed.

Lights of all colors flitted around the boy’s head, causing him to giggle and duck his head. His wizard’s hat slipped from his head, but his following companion caught the rogue headwear upon his own head. The little magician giggled to see his friend so dressed.

The pair spied an ivory and gold castle ahead. Together, the friends bounded through the forest, skipping through the colorful grasses and singing the alphabet song.

At the open gates of the castle, the patchwork creature paused, mewling his concern at the tiny wizard. But the boy just laughed and pulled the kitty to his chest. The young wizardling sauntered into the mouth of the castle, without a care in the world.

The darkness inside fell slowly over the both of them and soon they were both snoring peacefully.

Mother pulled the colorful alphabet-covered blanket higher over the pair and kissed the boy on his forehead. She set the cape and conical hat on top of the small, boy-sized bookshelf and whispered, “Dream on.”


The fallen god’s messenger

With his chair rocked back on two legs and his booted feet propped up on the table, Malcolm Eady looked like any one of the other dozen men in the department’s morning meeting. The captain, a smugly serious man, glared at the withered arm dangling at Malcolm’s side while he handed out morning assignments. Like every other morning, Malcolm Eady just grinned his devilish grin at the captain.

“Eady,” a voice from behind whispered into his ear.

The raven-haired god dropped his chair to the floor and let his feet slam hard against the cold tile. He turned as another officer, a desk-jockey, hand him a scrawled message. Malcolm nodded his thanks, dismissing the junior officer from his presence and his mind.

The note was short, hastily scrawled and unsigned, but it told the god everything he needed to know. Malcolm Eady rose to his feet, ignoring the startled stare his captain shot at his back. Then he sauntered out of the meeting room and out of the station.

The god-man stopped at a street vendor for breakfast, steamed sausages floating in fragrant cheeses and topped with a pile of sliced tubers. He slipped a chilled bottle of fresh spring water into his pocket, along with a wooden spoon, then he hurried on his way out of the district.

At the edge of his precinct, he slowed his pace, glancing around to make sure he wasn’t noticed. Sensing no prying eyes, Malcolm Eady slipped between two buildings, into an alley barely wide enough to allow his bulk.

In the morning shadows, the fairy girl’s platinum hair stood stark and shining. Her sapphire eyes landed on the food the god-man held. Malcolm Eady grinned, then shoved the food at the girl’s outstretched hands.

“You’ve done well,” the dark-haired man said. “You see, when you provide results, I provide for you.”

The frail girl wolfed down the food, nearly choking herself in the process. She nodded, never looking directly at Malcolm. When she was finished with the biodegradable carton, she tossed it carelessly to the ground.

“Pick it up!”

Malcolm Eady’s voice was sharp, low, and menacing. Startled, the girl snatched the refuse from the ground, hugging it to herself. Her teary eyes turned to his.

“This,” he snarled, anger getting the better of him, “isn’t your slum. This is my district.”

The fairy’s tattered wings wrapped around her body, a futile attempt to guard against his ire. Her body trembled and her eyes dripped tears, but Malcolm could tell neither was from fright but righteous indignation.

He chuckled, his anger flying from him. He beckoned the child with his good arm, pulling her to him by his force of will.

“Now, my pet,” he purred, “tell me all about your gathering of my army.”

The god’s proposal

The scream twisted in the night, shuddering from a high-pitched terrified shriek to an undulating, moaning complaint of extinguishing life.

Malcolm Eady heard the scream, but he ignored it. None of his business. Not tonight, anyway. Tonight, the raven-haired god was on his own time, not the department’s.  He intended to find some fun, well away from the suffocating restrictions of his civilized district.

In the bowels of the old city, laws ceased to have meaning. Here, with warlords battling over ever-changing territorial boundaries, law and order were only words to be cast aside. Deep in the heart of Valora, even a god could find the sweet release of death, if he wasn’t careful enough.

Malcolm crossed the broken pavement of the nearly deserted street, careful to avoid the shining pools of light cast by the regularly placed gaslights. His finely carved face broke into a devilish grin when he saw a scantily clad woman ahead. She held her fingers in a gesture at her side, showing those in the know that she had more than just her body to sell.

The beauty of the god that approached was not lost on the tired-looking woman. She straightened her stringy hair and slipped her many-times-broken toes back into the torturous spiked heels she kept nearby. Her smile revealed surgically implanted squared teeth. She was careful to keep her identifying canines hidden behind the taut skin of her lips.

“Evenin’,” she cooed. “I got everything you need, god-man.”

Malcolm Eady stopped short, keeping his muscular frame from entering the lighted area where the consort stood. He beckoned to her with his strong right arm, letting his withered left arm dangle at his side.

The woman laughed, low and silky, then moved to stand with her supposed-client. The eyes she turned to him, once they were out of the glare of light, were drug-blank. Malcolm smiled to himself then shook his head. He slipped a pair of gold coins into the woman’s hand then moved on, leaving the consort to wonder at his back. His fun wasn’t to be found in a drugged-up whore.

Malcolm Eady’s meandering path took him deeper into the ruins of the city. He crisscrossed territory lines without thought. The rare tender he encountered ignored the god’s progress. Even bearing a lame limb, Malcolm Eady was no push-over.

Nearing dawn, the deity found his fun. In an alley between two warlords’ boundaries, in a no-man’s land, a slim platinum-haired child slumbered under a pile of ragged blankets. Malcolm Eady sank to his knees beside the girl. His right arm lifted the blankets, revealing the tattered wings folded protectively around the frail body.

When his roving eyes finally focused on her face, he found startled sapphire eyes staring at him. His roguish grin brought no returning smile from the girl.

“I have a proposition for you, fairy-ling,” Malcolm Eady purred.

The tyrant’s ball

The musicians played beautifully, their practiced pieces bouncing through the halls of the palace. Men in their velvet brocades and starchy linen blouses paraded through, guiding their ball-gowned women in the intricate steps of traditional dances. The full silk and taffeta skirts swished and swayed, sweeping lightly across the smooth-as-glass-floor.

The royals, a high prince and his lady, sat upon a dais, high above the crowd. They observed the festivities through jewel-encrusted binoculars, held to their eyes by servants in black crushed velvet. Murmured conversation passed between the two, decisions of life and death, the balance of the kingdom in question.

Flickering light wavered through the crowd of dancers, yellows and reds twisting and cavorting in time to the music. Painted, feathered, and jeweled mask-covered faces turned to the dais as the revelers passed, a quick bow or nod to acknowledge the royals sitting in judgement.

Beneath the plexiglass floors, four stories down, battles raged and fires burned. Cries of anguish and terror drifted into the silence of distance. Charred velvets and stinking silks drifted along in a heat-fueled vortex of air, ash flung far and wide.

With a nod, a wink, or wave of a hand, the high prince decided who lived and who flew. Soldiers moved, untouched in the crowds, to escort the lucky few. Men and women, unfit for the new order, pushed to join the battle, fodder for the usurper’s war.

In velvets and silks, cotton and taffeta, the unwilling soldiers in a tyrant’s crusade, died by the hundreds, their blood cementing his resolve, building his walls.

Birth of evil

When darkness fell, he welcomed it, his arms spread wide. His smile, cruel and selfish, was a long, thin slash across his pale face. His eyes stared blindly into the abyss, his heart thundered wildly.

As the stone was rolled across the top of his prison, he laughed. The sound echoed in the deep pit, shrill and sharp. Above, his captors shivered in their cloaks, but it wasn’t the chill of the winter air that gave them pause.

In the ebon stillness, the imprisoned man whispered, soft and sibilant words, calling forth the creatures lying dormant in the frozen earth. He coaxed the smallest, he cajoled the largest, he cooed to them all.

In the darkness, they came. Fully alive or depressingly dead, they harkened to his call. The tiniest of insects yearning for succor, the deadliest of skeletal warriors clamoring for revenge, each and every one followed his song.

The cries of surprise and clanging of pitched battle dimly pricked the prisoner’s ears. He threw back his head and cackled, picturing the scene in his mind’s eye. He lounged, leaning against the hard frigidness of earthen prison, waiting for his release.

The darkness of his prison soothed him, blanketed him in comfort. His bony fingers twitched, calling his beasts of battle to him. With terse instructions, the mad wizard directed his minions to roll away his prison door.

Rattling bones and chittering feet worked together to allow his escape. He paused, at the apex of his rise, to call to the battered soulless bodies remaining on the bloody battlefield. Up, they rose, to heed his demands.

Upon lifeless shoulders they carried their master, through the deepest hours of night, to the edge of the city, splayed out below.

The wizard called once again, ripping bones from earth. His call delved deep, below the world, to call the horrors to his side. Mingling on the hilltop, the melange waited for his signal. When it came, the horde swept down, covering the streets with bleak twilight even in the brightening dawn.

When darkness fell once more, the city of his birth was no more and his army was swollen to massive heights.

The necromancer was born.