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The Long Dark Road to Wizardry

by Richard K. Lyon

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Book II: What Was Found in the Cellar

Episode 3: The Undead Book

PREVIOUSLY: After King Thilloden treacherously arranged for sea raiders to attack Sir Druin’s wedding, killing his father and nearly all his other relatives, Sir Druin goes in search of the grandfather he has never met, the Wizard Mardarin...

The two men had walked away from the campfire into the windswept darkness of the icy wastelands. Now they stood on the top of a low hill under a sky of diamond-hard stars. One of them, Sir Druin, was elegantly dressed in an ermine-trimmed greatcoat. His highly civilized appearance seemed incongruous in this desolate wilderness.

The other, Curnur Halfface, was in his element. The wolfskins he wore seemed as natural on him as they had on the wolves. A lone wolf, he could not run overlong with a pack, for his ruthless savagery had made him an outcast among the world’s most lawless barbarians.

Druin spoke. “Now what is this great secret you brought me out here to tell?”

“The men are planning to kill you tomorrow.” For an instant the savage enjoyed the aristocrat’s shocked look, then he added, “But you won’t have to worry about that.”

“Why not?” Druin asked in seeming puzzlement.

“They want to rob you,” the huge barbarian continued, grinning sadistically as much of a grin as his ruined face permitted, “but I don’t want to share the loot with them so I’m going to kill you now.”

“You can’t do that,” the nobleman protested in civilized horror, “I’m your employer.”

“What’s to stop me?” asked Curnar Halfface, his single eye gleaming with anticipation as he drew his long knife. Seemingly Druin would be at a hopeless disadvantage in the coming fight. His foe was more than a head taller than he, powerfully muscled, and moved with an easy animal grace. While Curnar had a long curved knife, needle-pointed and razor-edged, the aristocrat had no weapon. Instead he had a large leather-bound iron-hinged book.

“Well,” he said slowly, “I suppose you might take my money, but really you simply can’t take this book.”

“Just watch me!” Curnar snarled, snatching the book from Druin. In the process of grabbing it, he opened the Undead Book.

It devoured him.

Curnar’s initial screams of dismay dissolved into a burbling sound of animal terror as the Words — the unclean, forbidden words of occult power — poured from the book like hornets from their nest and pulled his soul from his body, tore his flesh and blood off his bones.

While his victim writhed on the ground, Druin stood calmly above him. A gust of wind suddenly threw back his greatcoat. For a moment as it flapped he seemed transformed. No longer the polite, civilized man but now a ruthless hawk standing triumphant above his latest kill.

When it was over, the words swarmed back into the pages of the Undead Book. Now that it was freshly fed, Druin could read it. This morning it had been a book of blank pages, but now, even in the night’s dim starlight, the words were fully legible. Indeed they seemed to demand that his eyes read them.

Turning to the map, Druin studied it. His grandfather’s home on Floating Mountain was still drifting near the far end of the Valley of the Bones.

Good. I should be there the day after tomorrow.

Putting aside the book, Druin took off his greatcoat and spread it on the frozen ground. The moon was just rising and its spectral light revealed that a pentagram had been painted in blood on the coat’s inner side.

“Uncle,” the nobleman whispered tentatively.

In response to this calling, a bloated creature appeared within the figure. “You,” it murmured softly, “did that murder rather skillfully. My congratulations, nephew.”

“I only did what was necessary,” Druin snapped.

Waving a cautionary claw it replied, “Please, my boy, don’t be defensive. Your problem is that you still have some trace of your conscience left, and there’s really no room for that on the road you’ve chosen.”

“I knew that when I started,” Druin said flatly.

“Good, good,” the thing rocked on its haunches, smiling horribly. “However, nephew, your men really are planning to slit your throat tomorrow. This pentagram’s been a convenient way to travel, but I really can’t do much to help you while I’m in it.”

“How do I free you?”

“Take that knife and cut through the figure. Yes! Yes! That’s good, but now just let me borrow the book for a moment.”

While Druin handed the book quite willingly to his “uncle”, the book itself proved unwilling, writhing in the demon’s grasp, struggling to open its pages. The demon’s taloned claws were more than strong enough to hold it shut, and ignoring this difficulty the thing said, “Next, Nephew,there’s something I want you to understand. You are about to join a very demanding family. No room for weak sisters. Your grandfather’s instructions to me were that I was to help you on your journey, let you get well started, and then when it would leave you in the greatest possible peril, I was to leave.”

As the thing faded into black mist, it continued, “That way, if you survive tonight, it will be a useful part of your education. And if you don’t, well, your grandfather won’t have had any use for you anyway.”

“Damn it, Uncle,” Druin protested, “at least...” His voice trailed off for he was talking to the empty air. He had just been left alone, defenseless and unarmed save for a knife, in the midst of men who meant to slay him... And throwing back his head he laughed uproariously.

“Goodby, Uncle, and Good Riddance! I knew from the start that you were as trustworthy as a viper!” From the start of this trip his “uncle” had been quite useful and a constant threat. The only solution to the problem had been to trick the demon into striking at a convenient time, a time when he could survive its treachery. Now he’d done just that.

There was still the awkward detail that a group of nine vicious and well-armed renegades were planning to kill him at dawn, but all that needed was a bit of creative lying. The men were superstitious and no little frightened about the supposedly demon-haunted valley which lay over the next rise.

Druin would go back to camp. After announcing that he had observed occult signs of approaching danger, he would order various nonsense precautions, prayer, incense burning, the wearing of medallions sacred to Theba.

Of course he would send someone out to bring Curnar the protective medallion he’d refused when Druin offered it to him. Curnar’s dead body would be all the proof his men would need. They’d be convinced that only his leadership and arcane skills could save them from the attacking demons.

It’s a perfect plan... Or at least it’s perfect if my tale of demons from the Valley of the Bones doesn’t turn out to be true. That thought disturbed Druin. His “uncle” had implied that he would find tonight “educational.” Was the lesson of the coming education that liars must be careful about inadvertently telling the truth?


To be continued...

Copyright © 2009 by Richard K. Lyon

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