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Anyway, here’s part six. More non-fiction next week before I continue the story.
Previous: part five
Next: part seven
Farrow seemed dismayed the moment they had gathered their horses.
“What?” Vince glared over the rump of his mount at the pale man. “You expected us to walk for a month?” He had abandoned his guard uniform for more common clothes and looked far less threatening without the green sigil on his chest.
“Well, no…” began the Gypsy, “I just…” he eyed Vince’s piebald mount and winced.
“You can ride with me,” Reyst told him, saddling her own grey gelding as she spoke.
“That’s not the problem,” muttered Farrow.
Reyst turned to frown at him and noticed her horse was also looking in the pale man’s direction. Her mount snorted softly, tossing his mane in a manner she recognised as uneasy.
Vince noticed it, too. “This a Gypsy problem or an evil magic problem?”
“We don’t have time for this,” Reyst told them firmly, reaching out to take Farrow by the hand and guide him towards her horse. The gelding shifted his feet and tried to keep his eyes on the Gypsy but, with much coaxing and a few sugar cubes, he let the man approach.
Vince watched from his saddle as Reyst helped Farrow onto her horse before climbing in front of him.
The trio were silent until they reached the edge of the town and moved their mounts onto the road that would lead them to the forest. It was only after a while of riding that Reyst felt Farrow’s rigid form begin to relax a little.
“My apologies,” he said softly from behind her, “animals are not at peace around me.”
“I guess you’re lucky that Moonlight is used to uncomfortable situations.”
“…Moonlight?” she heard him murmur.
Reyst flushed, glancing back at her new companion. “I was thirteen when he was given to me.” She thought she caught Farrow smile from the corner of her eye.
There was a silence between them until the Gypsy added in a quiet whisper, “I would have called him ‘Grey’.”
The woman might have berated him for his sarcasm if she didn’t feel like he was finally relaxing into the ride. It would be less discomfort for her mount that way. Besides, this was the first time she’d seen humour from the man and it was far more pleasant than his cautious fear.
“I’ve seen Gypsies on horseback,” she added after a while, this time within earshot of Vince as he trotted his mount beside them, “so I take it this is to do with your magic?”
She felt Farrow tense behind her. “Yes, well…”
“Necromancy’s evil!” Vince told her firmly. “That’s why.”
Reyst snorted, “Necromancy and diabolism aren’t the same thing, Vince.”
“But he can… necromance, can’t he?”
“A diabolist can use the power of necromancy, but they are not a necromancer per se…” Farrow added cautiously.
“So what’s a di… dia… what are you?”
Farrow fell silent.
“From what I’ve heard,” Reyst said, glancing back at the Gypsy as best she could, “diabolists make deals with demons to get their powers.”
Slowly, Farrow nodded.
“Great!” Vince threw up his hands, the reign still in them, making his mount toss her head unhappily. “Demon bargainer necromancer, if it couldn’t be worse.”
Reyst shushed her cousin and they spurred their horses to make more ground. There was no more conversation between them for the remainder of the day.
Farrow opened up the further they travelled. It had only taken them three days to reach the Braisen Woods, the ‘dreaded forest’ from Farrow’s tale, and another four for them to reach its heart.
“Starting to see why they tell so many stories about these woods,” muttered Vince as they set up camp for the evening.
The place certainly made Reyst uncomfortable. This far into the forest, the road became small, barely enough for their mounts to walk in single file. The trees were so gnarled and thickly gathered that the sky was completely obscured, the area far darker than it should be in the late afternoon. If it wasn’t for Farrow’s assurance that they were on the correct path, they would not have known in which direction they travelled.
Thankfully, an area just off the track provided enough room for them to water their horses and rest for the night. Once they had finished off the remainder of the rabbit Vince had hunted the previous day, they settled down with Farrow offering to take the first watch.
Reyst was not sure for how long she had slept, or if it was the voices or the uneasy feeling that awoke her. At first she did not open her eyes, and of the voices that reached her, only one was familiar.
“I cannot,” whispered Farrow, a desperation that Reyst had not heard before evident in his voice.
At first, Reyst thought other voice was too low and gravelly for her to make out its words. It occurred to her a moment later that this was not the case. It simply spoke a language she had never heard before.
“Not here, and certainly not now. If you can wait until I bring my companions to their destination I will-” He paused. “No, please. Not now. No, I will not harm them.”
Reyst’s eyes flashed open and she sat up immediately. “Farrow?”
He stood on the edge of their small clearing, the branches of the trees forming a thick canopy above which blocked out any light the moon might have provided. It was only by the light of the fire’s last embers that she could see the figure to which he spoke. A dark, shadowy form far larger than a man.
When it turned to look at Reyst, she could see a deep, blue glow where its eyes should be. It rose a shadowy hand towards her and growled something in its guttural tongue.
Farrow spun to look at her, panicked. “No, wait-”
Something left the creature’s hand, a dark, gaseous mass that shot towards her. Reyst scrabbled to her feet, but Farrow was faster. The Gypsy stepped into the path of the black bolt, snarling in pain as it his him square in the chest.
Reyst drew her daggers as she moved quickly towards Farrow. Behind her, Vince was awake and grabbing for his sword with an alarmed cry. She dropped to Farrow’s side as Vince readied himself on the Gypsy’s other side. The pale man was on his knees, hands digging into the ground. It was hard to see his wounds in the dark, but the scent of blood rose from him as he panted and gasped. What she could see, however, was the unusually bright blue glow of his eyes.
“Get back,” he panted at her, his voice strained and desperate.
“What is that thing? How do we-”
The creature thrust its hand out towards them, the vaporous limb elongating as it slammed into Vince, throwing him against a tree. Nearby, their horses began to panic and strain against their bindings.
A deep, guttural sound lit the air, but it did not come from the creature. With a final, growling pant, Farrow stumbled to his feet and hissed like a beast. Around him, blue light flared and the ground rumbled. The creatures that clawed their way out of the earth had blue fire for eyes and decrepit, rotting flesh which sleuthed from their hides. They launched themselves at the creature as Farrow screamed, hands curled to fists at his sides, gaze on the shadowy creature.
“Farrow…” she tried, as Vince pulled himself back to his feet. When the Gypsy turned his glowing gaze on her, lips parted, a growled panting pouring from his mouth, Reyst knew she could not talk sense into him. He took a step towards her, and Reyst skittered back a few steps, not wanting to hurt him but also terrified of what he might do. Movement caught his eye as the shadowed creature thrust a hand in her direction.
One of the rotting wolves slammed into its side, then, making contact as if the gaseous creature was solid. With a shuddering sound, the creature diverted its arm to strike at one of the wolves. From within its mass, more arms appeared and they swept up the creatures that tore at it. It made short work of them but, even through her terror, Reyst thought it seemed smaller somehow.
In response, Farrow let out a howling scream. A sickly blue light rippled from him as he did so, shrivelling all it touched. As it reached her, Reyst felt sick, as if her insides were rotting and melting away. The creature didn’t like it, either. It struggled and shuddered and its form seemed to dissipate. With a blinding howl, it simply vanished.
Farrow seemed not to care. His snarls grew in pitch and he no longer looked towards where the creature had been, he simply stared at the ground in front of him. The feeling within Reyst continued to grow, and bile rose to her throat.
“Farrow,” she called. “Stop, it’s gone. Please.”
The man did not respond, and through her blurring vision, she could see the horses’ desperate rocking begin to slow, and her cousin shuddering and retching. Desperately, she began to make her way towards the Gyspsy as his violent cries continued, and the blue light ate at everything it touched. Her shuddering walk became a crawl as her legs gave out, but she would not stop.
Farrow, too, had fallen to his knees. His head arched back towards the sky, deep blue light now pouring from his mouth as well as his eyes. When she finally reached him, she grabbed him weakly by the shoulders and shouted his name.
It was no use, and Reyst slumped forward, head against the Gypsy’s chest while her hands still gripped weakly at his arms. “Please…” she whispered.
As suddenly as it had started, the feeling was gone. The forest around them was silent and black as night and Reyst thought she might have passed out. She knew this to be untrue as she heard a soft, weak whimper from her companion and a gentle hand on her hair.
“Gods…” Farrow’s whisper was weak and rasping, “I am sorry, I am so sorry.”
“What was that?” The soft voice from the darkness nearby was Vince’s.
“It wanted sacrifices… I couldn’t let it, not you… I-”
“Lost control of yourself,” hissed Vince, “nearly got us killed!”
“No!” Farrow cried, and Reyst could feel the shudder that ran through him as she remained slumped against him. “I… I should not have travelled with you. I placed you in danger…”
“Did that thing come here because of you?” Reyst asked weakly, trying to sit herself up; she felt Farrow’s hands assist her.
“No,” he whispered, “it dwelled in the forest.”
“Then you saved us.”
She heard Vince scoff. “What?!” Nearby, there was a flicker of light as he managed to find and re-light the fire with his flint.
Now she saw the blood and singed garments that covered Farrow’s stomach. Still feeling weak and sickly, she turned away to retch and found herself feeling faint.
By the fire, Vince was slumping down onto his side. “We’ll talk tomorrow,” he murmured weakly.
Reyst felt herself moved closer to the fire by gentle hands, and sleep claimed her again.
It was nearly midday before anyone had said a word. They had risen solemnly, each weak and feeling unwell, and left without breakfast. Here, the trees were thick but the trio could see that they were thinning slightly.
Finally, behind her, she felt Farrow shift. “We can make use of demonic powers, but these powers can sometimes get the better of us. For a diabolist to lose control, to become enraged, is very dangerous. I… do not let it happen very often. If you wish to part once we are out of the forest I-”
“No.” Reyst’s instant response surprised even her. “Had we gone through that forest alone we would be dead.”
“What he did nearly killed us after that thing disappeared!” snapped Vince.
“But it didn’t. He stopped,” she tried to look behind her at Farrow, “didn’t you?”
He nodded, but would not meet her eyes. “In these situations, a diabolist will not often stop until all that surrounds them are dead.”
“Then why did you?” She frowned.
“I heard your pleas and I had no desire to hurt you. It helped me to… overcome the insanity that gripped me.”
“Well,” grumbled Vince, “I guess it worked. But the moment we get to Caevrin, I never wanna see you or your corpse-hounds again.”
They fell into silence once more.
tl;dr – ‘A little bit of dark magic never hurt anyone’ is a phrase not often said.