Lan shuddered involuntarily as she slinked through the make-shift tunnels. The air was damp and hung thick with moisture. Everywhere roots penetrated the walls, refusing to be brushed aside or forgotten as those that had dug the tunnels hurried in their excavation. It was dark, unwelcome, and home to things that she neither liked nor trusted. It was, however, where she needed to be in order to fulfill the wishes of her employer.
With every step further into the earthy tomb, the lantern’s sway created tangles of shadow snakes on the walls. Coupled with the unnatural sounds of her own footfalls, Lan could not wish harder than to be finished with the project. “Once this ritual is secured, the vengeance will be mine. Their pain, I can taste it – everyone will share it. I won’t be alone, not anymore.”
Her thoughts trailed off as she pressed on further into the bowels of the hillside, the yellow glow of her lantern beginning to fade. The pitch black of the tunnel crept toward her, narrowing the light into a dull afterthought. On the fringes of the light’s existence, it turned into a deep, dark mesh of purples, blacks, and midnight blues. “He’s still at work,” she thought as she rounded the last bend into the spell weaver’s room.
Candles were embedded into the hard rock of the room, their light providing a ghastly illumination throughout as it died in the presence of the man’s magick. All around, symbols were etched into the rock, glowing with the same disturbing purple that snuffed out the light. He was draped in a fine silken cloak with a long forgotten symbol stitched upon its back. He did not wear the traditional robes that she imagined all mages must wear; instead, he was adorned in ragged leathers, all dyed a charcoal black and burned with the same symbol as his cloak. Long and lithe, he seemed to crowd the room with his height, though simultaneously, by shifting his body he seemed to disappear. He was facing the far wall, his back open and inviting to Lan, his hand slowly moving in front of him along the rock face. “He is careless,” she thought as she entered. “It would be so easy to end his life right now. He would never know I was here.”
“Oh, but I would.” The man’s voice was calm, though haggard, like he was straining to speak, but he continued doing so. “And I would not be the only one, Lan. We have a guest.” The man turned and faced Lan, and that was when she saw that he had been working his magick; the whole of his right hand was soaked in blood that dripped down from his fingertips. Upon the wall behind him was another symbol, a mixture of crescents overlapping one another, captured in the finite confines of a triangle. As Lan watched, the symbol began to radiate the same purplish hue as the other symbols. But her attention to it was fleeting; the guest took priority.
The figure emerged from the depths of the shadows, cloaked as always. He was not as tall as the mage, but beneath his clothing, Lan could see he was both broad-shouldered and strong. He walked quickly and more silently than she could have imagined, his cloak never rustling or parting from his body. And when he spoke, it was as though his voice came from all directions at once, filling both the room and Lan’s head with the intimacy of his thoughts.
“They are ready?”
Lan’s voice caught for a moment before she could muster a reply. “Yea- I mean, yes, they are. Placed exactly as instructed. And I, uh, added one for enjoyment’s sake. To spice up the occasion.” A sharp, knowing smile broke across her lips, but it was met with a palpable, deafening silence. “They cannot know,” she thought bitterly, “of the pain, of my need to see others with it.”
“Then let us go. I have arrangements elsewhere, and he should be finished here soon. I shall like to see the fruits of this labor before I depart.” Turning to the spell weaver, the man spoke with finality. “See that this is not a failure. The packs are restless and we cannot go unnoticed much longer with continued follies.”
With the silent exchange of understanding completed, the mage turned back to his symbols. Lan escorted the cloaked man through the tunnels, the strength of her lantern returning the further she got from the magick of the underground room.
“What will we do once this is complete?” She had never been privy to more information than what was immediately necessary, but she refused to continue working for someone whose own goals and intentions weren’t easily readable; she found it harder to manipulate people under those circumstances.
“Simple,” replied the man, whose steps fell into unison alongside hers, “I move to the next phase.”