Into The Wild – Chapter 31
Chapter 31 – Mat
Chewing his lip, Mat watched Devon walk from the cave. He only looked back once. First at Mat with a failed attempt at a smile and then at Lok laying crumpled on the floor.
The voices in Mat’s head were fighting again.
The one was reminding him regardless of what he’d done, Lok was still a life.
The other, Mat’s anger, was screaming for retribution. This piece of shit had ordered him flogged.
Mat closed his eyes and tried to settle his mind until the real he could come to grips with the urgings of the other two voices. Breathe. Breathe. Settle your mind, he told himself. He’d struggled with this his entire life.
As his shoulders relaxed, he slowly opened his eyes and carefully worked his way across the lines of the pentagram towards where his victim lay. The voices in his head continued to rage, threatening to distract him. Mat cast a levitate spell, lifting the crumpled druid off the floor, still in a fetal position. When Lok hovering at what Mat felt was the correct height, he started to arrange the frozen figure’s limbs—straightening the legs. Rotating the body to a more standing position and pulling the arms down to his side. When Lok was upright, hanging in the air, Mat nodded and looked up at the head, which was downcast. He decided not to change it. He didn’t want to risk what he might find in those eyes, giving sway to any of the voices in his head.
He chewed his lip.
Stole another glance at the door.
Boy, had they fucked this one up. They? Devon didn’t do it. It was all on him—his arrogance. Devon had just wanted to follow the rules—to check-in with the Druid’s guild. Now the leader was battered and bruised suspended in a circle of power. The village, he shook his head, he had no idea what condition the town was in. The voices stopped arguing long enough to correct him; they said, “dead. They’re dead,” and then returned to bickering.
Ok, set the beating aside. What has Lok done?
He’d imprisoned them. He’d taken advantage of their naivety. Though Lok didn’t know he did, he had. They never suspected there was danger in visiting a guild. Then there was the flogging. Mat couldn’t set that aside.
“YOU BEAT ME,” screamed Mat. He watched powerless as his own fist come around and slammed into the druid’s jaw. Blood exploded outwards in tiny rivulets from the muzzle and onto the ground of the circle, which slowly consumed the precious liquid. It was already semi-awake and waiting for its sacrifice.
He chewed his lip.
Looking back at the door, he realized there was no positive in what he was about to do. Devon, though he would forgive and move on, would never forget. It would be another mark scratched into the walls of their friendship. How many were there, thousands he was sure. Little things, big things, all absorbed, noted, and overlooked. They weren’t notches on a wall. He wanted to think it was that benign. It wasn’t. They were scars on the living body of their friendship. Mat was always cutting new slashes, sometimes in his own arms, sometimes in the arms of Devon’s trust.
Closing his eyes, he found Darth. He was perched on a tree a few dozen feet outside the cave. Looking through his eyes, he found his friend. He was sitting alone, his arms wrapped around his knees, which he’d pulled up against his chest. He was frowning. Another disappointment Devon was having to endure.
The battle ended. His eyes snapped open. He lifted the druid’s head and met his eyes. Anger had won.
“I don’t know if I have the strength to kill you yet, so I’m going to put you on ice for a while,” he said in a whisper, inches from the druids face. He could see the pleading in the eyes. He heard the kinder voice again. Anger told that voice to shut up. But it didn’t scream, it begged. Even the angry voice was uncomfortable.
The spells. What spells? What order?
Silence first. Devon can’t hear this.
He cast a shell of silence, first over just the pentagram, then he expended it to encompass the entire cave. No sounds would escape from the sphere.
Good, now it was just them, Mat and Lok.
Searching his bag, he found the items he needed and set up his altar. Devon had never seen it. He’d kept it hidden. He knew that secrecy would eventually come with a price. Gods didn’t like you being ashamed of them. But still. The one he’d found and bonded with was sadly not a good god but perfect for him and his personality. He realized early on that necromancers didn’t choose the gods they wanted but the ones who wanted them. Bugg-Shash was his god. He’d always believed Bugg was fictional. Back home, it was part of the Cthulhu mythos. A blob with thousands of mouths and eyes. All watching. All screaming. It hated all forms of light. It was the perfect god for an exquisitely flawed rouge/necromancer. He usually wouldn’t need to summon his deity for such a simple spell, but today he could feel the pull, Bugg-Shash wanted to watch. He’d never yet actually been in his god’s presence, and the thought of doing so on this day only added another layer to the whole horrific event.
When the altar was ready, he slipped from his clothing, knelt, and sliced his wrists. As the blood filled a small chalice on the altar, he began to chant. In a loud, proud voice, he announced, “Bogg-Shash I am but a vessel, come, come from that place of darkness, do this meaningless form the honor of your presence. Help guide my hands as I imprison a fresh soul for your pleasures.”
As the entire cave darkened, Mat felt a cold chill waft through the space and across his body.
“Please help me extract this soul. To store it. Until I find its purpose, I offer it to you, as a toy, something to occupy your time. As meager as the soul might be, please teach it to value its suffering and how to obey. All this servant asks, is when the time comes to use this soul that you will allow it to return to serve my needs.”
Ripples formed in a section of the ground just behind where Mat knelt, at first glance, it appeared to be little more than a disturbance in the loose soil. As his voice rose and the chanting grew louder, the very rocks of the cave responded to the emerging presence. The surroundings became darker as the ground began to ungulate out from a central center, like waves crashing against a beach. The sand on the floor, in little rivers, snaked its way towards the emerging womb as it grew larger. The cave rang with a sudden pop, like air escaping from a vacuum, as from the center a smooth, pliable, putrid form, like rotting flesh writhing with maggots, emerged. The amorphous mass continued to expand until it towered over everything, bumping against the top of the cave. Mat’s voice fell away as he turned in time to see a single eye appear in the waxy surface; it blinked twice then opened fully. Then another, and another. Now dozens, no hundreds. All looking around, taking in their environment.
Mat stood, turned, and knelt again, his god waited. With Bugg-Shashs arrival, Mat had all but forgotten about Lok. That was until one of the god’s eyes shifted to the suspended form. He watched as the other eyes followed; they were studying the druid. Time felt frozen, no one, nothing moved.
Seeing the look on Lok’s face, Mat knew what his captive was feeling. He was struggling as well, that sense of unspooling. The creature before them was so foreign that the mind had trouble putting the disjointed manifestation together into something comprehendible. It was like he was teetering on the edge of sanity. Knowing that at any second, that fine line between what he perceived as reality and what it truly was would snap, leaving him abandoned to flail lost in a chamber of madness and chaos. Again something shifted and brought Mat back from his thoughts. An eye had turned away from the druid and focused on him. The cold examination was like millions of biting insects crawling across his bare skin. It blinked as the other eyes snapped their attention to him as well. Another ripple in the ever-shifting surface. “You dare disturb me with such a sad offering.” Mat clutched his ears as the thousands of mouths spoke simultaneously, each voice like tiny blades running along the surface of a raw nerve.
“Forgive me, my lord,” pleaded Mat as he internally questioned what he’d done.
“Wait, you are not of you. This you is not the you you were. This is one of the games of the others. Yes, I will give you latitude this once.”
Mat could feel his mind unraveling. Being a necromancer isn’t just about the ability to control life, to bring disease, to choose death, or to have sway over the soul. The real success was to have the stamina to deal with the gods who fueled your talents. That was why so many in his craft eventually went mad. To look into the eyes of the abyss and have it look back. Every person knows they have flaws, but when a god looks upon you, through their examination, those flaws are magnified and reflected back for you to see yourself as you truly are.
“What is it you wish?” asked Bugg-Shash.
“To imprison this soul.” Mat stood and retrieved the crystal.
“Hold it closer.”
Mat stepped forward, his shoulders squared. Don’t show fear. It feeds on fear. He held it out.
“Yes, this will do. Step into the circle.”
Mat bowed his head, stepped over the lines, and positioned himself. The druid was immaterial at this point—just a reagent, nothing more.
“You may proceed,” intoned the deity.
Mat tried to close his eyes. They snapped open instantly. The second the lids covered the orbs, closing off the world, he saw his deity’s domain. His mind wanted to splinter. There was no frame of reference, no way to understand Bugg-Shash’s realm. Waves of pain, horror, and suffering washed over him.
Preparing himself, he tried again. This time he weathered the torrent of emotions that slammed against his resolve. With uncooperative muscles, he spoke the activation words to begin the extraction. He felt the crystal leave his fingers and rise to float above the reagents head. He stood. With a small bow, he turned his back on his god. His old training screamed at the danger he was in but knew it was necessary.
The crystal now hung suspended just inches above Lok’s head. That’s when the screams began anew.
“You must concentrate. It’s cries; they distract you. I will silence them, for now. You are still awakening. In time you will learn to enjoy their screams,” he heard Bugg-Shash say from behind him.
As the sound of suffering faded, Mat began to chant, the first of the spells had nothing to do with his victim. These were about him, his safety. With care, he spoke each word, and with each word, the pentagram came to life. The inner circles began to glow, then the runes, one at a time, filling with energy, next was the inner outside circle. The power runes were next. Mat could feel the strain as the mana was drawn from his body. His voice grew louder, the outer ring, the most important one had stalled, only half alight. He pushed with his will. It closed.
With a gasp, Mat watched the cave fall away. They were no longer where they’d been. Now it was just the three of them floating in the emptiness of the void. He and Lok enclosed in the circle. Bogg-Shash just outside. The hundreds of mouths smiled, showing their countless teeth. “Sloppy but no less effective.”
Mat ignored his god. He couldn’t let his mind wander. At this point, if he failed, he would never find his way home. He’d be trapped forever here with a disappointed diety. The suffering would never end.
He again found his voice and began to speak the spell. He was amazed at how strong and confident his voice sounded because he was not. This had been a mistake, a new toy which had turned on him.
Focused back on Lok, he began the incantation of entrapment. It started slow but grew in speed. He knew the course of this spell; he could feel his mind giving it to him. With a hint of confidence, he looked up, into his victim’s face. Lok’s eye’s met his, and there again was that pleading. The mouth open, screaming silently.
With his next command, he saw small tendrils of smoke appear at the druid’s feet. It wasn’t fire. This was a black, oily-looking substance. As it drifted up, working its way towards the crystal floating above the druid’s head, he noticed the stands were composed of tiny glassy structures. When the two met, the crystal and the essence, a pinpoint of light flickered to life inside the crystalline matrix. The glow intensified as it found a taste for the waxy substance, Lok’s soul. Mat kept chanting. The wisps became torrents of dusty black ribbons, all snaking upwards towards their entrapment.
Mat looked down and found Lok’s body below his knees gone. The crystal was absorbing him, the spell converting him into something it could devour. That is when one of his voices, watching through his eyes, realized this was not their bodies floating in the void. Those were still back in the cave. These were their souls.
Mat again felt the pressure of his gods stare. The weight of where they were, coupled with the realization of what this spell was doing, began to press down upon him. He could feel his resolve tying to falter. Struggling, he continued, his voice growing louder and louder as the crystal grew brighter as it consumed Lok’s body. It was now at his waist. Everything below gone. The hundreds of ribbons were swirling violently around them both, bumping against the outer walls of the protective ring, begging to get free. He could feel the insistence as the soul waves fought against the pull of the crystal as it devoured them hungrily. They saw a God, that’s where they wanted to be.
Next went the druid’s abdomen. Then the chest. The arms, the neck…Mat watched as the muted screams stop as Lok’s mouth vanished in a cloud of particles, sucked upward. The crystal now glowed darkly. This was not a brightness. His god didn’t like brightness. The crystal was now a beacon of nothingness. The rays of blackness so absolute that even in the darkness of the void, their absence stood out.
As the last of the body vaporized, the crystal realized there was no more and exploded in a flash of sheer emotion so intense Mat let out a scream as the pain consumed him—Lok’s last retribution against his enemy. The blackness consumed Mats’ very being, and he passed out.
When he awoke, he found himself still in his circle. The cave was back. The light was back. It hurt his eyes. Looking up where Lok had been, there was nothing. His eyes tracked down until they found the glowing stone laying at rest on the sandy ground.
He turned quickly to where Bugg-Shash had been. He, too, was gone. Mat breathed a sigh of relief.
Standing, he ran a hoof across the ground, breaking the rings and ending the containment. With speed, he rushed over, exhausted, and knelt at the altar to thank his god. He struggled to settle his mind as he lay prostrate before the shrine. When he felt the pressure fade, he knew Bugg-Shash’s attention had turned elsewhere. It was only then, with care, he began to dismantle the alter. Taking the time to carefully clean and wrap each piece before returning it to its storage container.
He took a deep breath; he felt so weak. His body bone tired, his mind exhausted. He continued snuffing out the remains of the ring, leaving no hint of it behind. Finally, he bent to retrieve the crystal. It was warm. He studied it. He almost thought he could see the druids face etched in the very structure inside the stone. He knew that was his imagination. With care, he wrapped it in a cloth and returned it to its spot in the box, beside the still empty one. As he put it away, those voices spang to life again. “Why did they give us two. Are we destined to do another soul soon?” He shook off the thought as he pulled on a fresh pair of tights and his boots. Still shaky, he turned and headed outside. As he walked along the sheer cliff face, he found a spot to pee as Darth landed on a perch just above him. “The other master is up on your rock, Master.”
“I know,” answered Mat as he began working his way up the short path.
“Is it done,” he heard before he saw his friend.
“Yes,” was his only reply.
“Where is the body?”
“The body was consumed.”
“Did he suffer?”
“I did not hear anything if he did.”
“Did you have a silence spell cast?”
“Yes,” answered Mat. Devon just nodded. “Are we ok?”
“Yes, I may not like it, but this is the world we chose. With that choice comes consequences. This is the first of many I fear.”
“I don’t know. What do you want to do,” asked Mat.
“Go back to town. I don’t think I can stay in the cave right now.”
“Should be close it up for good?”
“No, I still love it. I need some time and distance from what it’s just seen. I can feel the darkness. As a druid, I see life, whatever happened in there was the opposite.”
“Can you cleanse it?”
“Yes, and I will.”
“Then get packed, let’s get moving,” said Mat.
“Are you up to the travel? You look exhausted.”
“I know, Mat. You always do. Are you OK?”
“Does it really matter? As you said, these are the consequences of our choices.”
Together they walked back to the cave, packed in silence. Devon cast a cleansing spell. Together they replaced the wards then turned and walked away, along the same path they’d taken back when they were far more innocent, optimistic, and less soul weary. Their first lesson had been hard—both in spirit and body. The newness of this adventure was now truly gone.