Copyright © 2001 R. Christina Lea. All rights reserved. CLICK HERE to return.
Ezren looked anxiously around the clearing again as he hung his lantern and set his equipment down. He normally felt more at home in darkness, but tonight he took comfort in the lantern's glaring sphere of light. He had been hearing unnatural sounds trickling through the forest ever since he left town.
The clearing in which Ezren was unpacking had once been a temple. Now it was defined only by a few crumbling, vine-covered stone walls and a circular pit. Trees that were bigger around than Boran the innkeeper had grown up through the flagstones. The half-fallen walls, great standing stones, and broken towers around him carried strange echoes.
Ezren shivered. He knew why the wood seemed so hostile. Sometimes even the thought of a demon was enough to bring it close to the material plane, and the entity with which Ezren was dealing was more than a demon. Ezren closed his eyes and concentrated, bringing his thoughts back to order. If he lost focus, if his emotions got away from him, the entity would be able to ride those spiritual currents right through his defenses.
He opened his pack and started laying his equipment out. The floor was broken, so the usual practice of drawing all the symbols with chalk would leave dangerously large gaps. Ezren had therefore prepared a bag of colored sand and lugged it out to the ruins earlier that day. After he had poured a summoning triangle around the pit and a circle of protection for himself, he drew the smaller symbols around the edge in chalk.
Having completed the symbols, Ezren laid a pile of herbs and roots with the rod, wands, dagger, and sword inside the protective circle. He set the brazier up on its tripod and lit it. Then he shut off his lantern and lit five candles from the brazier, leaving only their shuddering flames and the red glow of the coals to light the temple. He picked up the dagger, which was curved like a sickle and carved with the sigils of protective deities from the Azarian pantheon. Like much of the ritual he would be performing, Ezren had discovered the sigils by studying the carvings - and one half-decayed collection of scrolls - left in these ruins.
He smiled bitterly. Kasmordo, who said Ezren lacked the intelligence to master theurgy, could never have deciphered the language of this long-dead race. Kasmordo, who said Ezren was too reckless, would never have thought to account for the differences in ancient astrology. Kasmordo, who said Ezren was weak, could never have commanded the spirits he had called up in preparation for this night. Nor could Kasmordo or, Ezren was sure, anyone else accomplish what he was about to accomplish.
After making sure the candles were spaced evenly around the circle, Ezren consecrated it by tracing its outline with the sword. Like the dagger, this sword was inlaid with Azarian glyphs. He knelt in the center of the circle and began, "Bright Ceridwen, guide my hand with the silent wisdom of the natural world." With that he drew the dagger across his right palm. He continued, "Stern Taranis, fill my words with the strength of your thunderbolts," and made a perpendicular cut across the first one, forming a solar cross. He raised his palm to the central star in the constellation of the lotus, now conjoined with the ringed planet, and said, "Great Kheperis, fill my soul with your light that I may bind the unclean spirits in your name."
He had performed this ritual many times, and the rush of energy always thrilled him. He had never had the opportunity to take advantage of an astrological conjunction like this one though. This time the passion swept so violently through him that it jerked him to his feet, clenched his fist around the wounded palm, and left him gasping with joy. Once again bringing his emotions under control, Ezren prepared himself to deal with less agreeable forces.
He dropped a handful of henbane seeds into the brazier and began a litany in the Azarian tongue. At least it had been a litany once. There had been no congregation to echo these words since before the ruined city was built. Even the Azarian carvings barely remembered the dead god whose rituals Ezren had reconstructed. As he spoke, the words became more than language. He could feel their vibrations thundering through the ether, smell the swirling vapors of other worlds, and see the patterns they were weaving in the astral plane.
He held his hand over the brazier and squeezed some blood onto the coals. "Great Typhon, Dragon of the Elder Earth, smell this blood and remember. Remember the flesh of the Titans from which the gods built this new world. Remember the blood of the Titans from which the gods spawned this young race. Hear my voice, awaken, and remember!"
A terrible sound, like the hissing of a hundred snakes and the roaring of a hundred lions, rose up from the pit, followed by a wave of unbearable heat. The earth trembled, and Ezren could see the lurid glow of molten rock shining from below. A writhing mass of enormous snakes crowded out of the pit and turned as one to face Ezren. A huge eye with a sickly orange iris and rust-red pupil hovered over the snakes. "Blood of my blood," the monstrous heads hissed, "I hear and remember. I have come to bring you home."
"No!" Ezren threw up his arms to shield himself. Then he remembered his defenses, chided himself for flinching like a novice, and concentrated on the circle of protection around him. It had to be just as solid in his mind as it was on the ground around him. The snakes struck at him. Most of them hissed angrily upon rebounding from the invisible barrier. Others roared like lions. Some trumpeted like elephants.
Regaining his courage, Ezren stood up and thrust the magical rod into the brazier. The eye blazed with green fire. The serpents howled and thrashed in disarray. "Impudent mammal!" they roared, slightly out of synchronization. "You dare-?"
Typhon howled again as Ezren burned the rod a second time. "Speak as a man," Ezren said, "or your suffering will increase a hundredfold."
The snakes melted and flowed together. A whirlwind of slime writhed around the eye, hiding it. The twisting column condensed around its axis until it became a spinning globe, which gradually slowed down until Ezren could see that it was actually a human-like head. The head stopped spinning and glared at him. It appeared to be made of granite, but its eyes blazed the same sickening shades of orange and red as the single orb they had replaced.
Ezren raised the rod again, "I commanded you to appear as a man. Now-" Ezren started to punish the dead god again, but his arm wouldn't move. He felt his heart jump. If Typhon could do this through his defenses, then his defenses were useless. He caught himself and concentrated on the circle, the symbols. It was too late. He could see the holes. For every one he plugged, he saw another -larger- hole appear.
The stone lips sneered, and Ezren felt himself pushed to his knees. The rod flew out of his hand, breaking against one of the ancient walls. Tears gathered in his eyes as his head was bent down. He had failed. Again. He could already see the smug satisfaction on Kasmordo's face and the somber head-shaking of those moronic townspeople when they found his mangled corpse.
Typhon said, "For millennia I have lain dead and silent in the earth. Now you awaken me, and dare to command me. Why?"
Ezren looked up into the terrible eyes, wondering why he was not already being tortured to death. "I had- I wanted to bargain with you."
The granite head stared silently at him for a moment, then asked, "To what end?"
"Knowledge," Ezren said. "Your priests were the most feared magicians of their age. I wanted to learn what they knew."
Typhon laughed. It was a cold, grating sound without mirth. "And what could you offer me in return for such a boon? Freedom from your pitiful tortures, perhaps?"
Ezren shook his head, but kept his gaze locked with that of the dead god. "Life."
Copyright © 2001 R. Christina Lea. All rights reserved. CLICK HERE to return.