Lex lounged on the couch. He'd finally found it a few days ago, and it was more comfortable than his cot. It had been buried under a metric ton of books, but it was real leather and exceedingly soft. Soraperion hadn't even noticed when Lex had shifted the books around so he figured the old mage wouldn't mind.
Soraperion was searching again. Lex could see him through the doorway to the workshop, sitting at the round table in the center of the room with his books spread around him, still tracing runes in the air. The patterns were more complex now than they'd been before, and they were still getting more and more complicated as he worked longer.
Lex had finally begun to wonder if he should run away again. Soraperion provided him with some protection, but he'd learned a trick or two since he'd been attacked by Sue. If he could make it out of
It was early in the morning, and Soraperion didn't own a television. Still, he might as well wait for sunrise . . .
From the workshop came a yell. Soraperion was standing, and there was something glowing in the air above the books. The runes had contracted into a spherical crystal, and inside was a wooden box.
Soraperion laughed, his grin so broad that tears streamed down his face. "There it is, there it is."
Lex stood, coming into the workshop and looking down at the box. "What is it?"
Soraperion sighed deeply, still smiling like a clown. "It's immortality, of a kind."
"Like a vampire?"
"No. Not at all. Have I told you anything about Vampires?"
"They won't attack you if they're afraid of you."Soraperion smiled as though Lex had made a joke. "I meant, about where their powers come from."
"Vampires are consumed with the hunger for blood. The older and more powerful the vampire, the better he or she will have controlled their hunger and turned it into something that they can use to fuel their abilities and powers. This, though, is something that doesn't require that same damning hunger or impose the same half-life limitations." Soraperion reached out and touched the bubble, which flickered and then vanished.
"Where'd it go?"
Soraperion laughed. "That was just an image. A guide to the real thing. So we follow where it points."
"Yes," Soraperion looked around the room, and then down at himself. He was wearing one of his brown work robes and as far as Lex knew he was still working off a few moments sleeping at his bench from the day before. "Get dressed," he ordered Lex, and then swept toward his bedroom.
Lex was already wearing his only clean set of clothes. Since he'd moved in with Soraperion he'd only scrapped together one change, and when it was dirty he still wore his old jeans and jacket.
Soraperion returned a few moments later wearing a heavy black robe and carrying a tall silver staff.
Downstairs, the gray car was pulling around. It didn't have a driver and Lex suspected that Soraperion didn't know how to drive at all. How it guided itself was a mystery to him.
They both got in the back seat of the car, Soraperion laying the staff across their laps. Soraperion gestured, and the car set off in the night, and Soraperion made a set of gestures. A circle of pulsing blue runes appeared in the air, and as they drove Soraperion gave instructions to the car, which drove through the darkened streets of
Soraperion growled at every red light, and finally, out of the outskirts of the city they reached a gate and the car stopped.
"Come along," Soraperion said, and got out of the car.
The gates were iron and heavy, supported by two huge stone posts and walls extended into the grayish twilight on either side.
Soraperion looked up at the gate, and spoke a word. The bars glowed blue white for a moment. He shook his head.
"They have no imagination," murmured Soraperion.
He gestured at the gate vaguely. "The bars are enchanted."
"So what do we do?"
Soraperion walked over to one of the stone pillars that bordered the gate. He turned to Lex and gestured for him to follow.
As Lex approached, Soraperion cast a spell. Something hit Lex from behind and he stumbled, but Soraperion caught him and pushed him forward at the same time. They stepped forward through the stone.
There was a roar and something pitch black spun around him, like a swarm of minute bees. He could feel them glance off of his skin and then spin around him. Soraperion pulled him forward and through the darkness, his feet slipping and sliding on what felt like marbles until he fell out in the silent night on the other side of the wall.
"Enchanted the gate, but they didn't do anything to the walls," Soraperion said smugly.
Lex looked wide eyed at the stone. There was a gaping hole in the stonework, but as he watched tiny pebbles of gray stone gathered back together and resolidified with a murmur.
Soraperion shook one last bit of stone off his cloak. It flew back to the wall and clicked into place, leaving the pillar completely whole again. Then Soraperion turned and started walking up the driveway, and Lex followed along behind.
"Do vampires live here?"
The house came into view around the curve of the driveway. The building was huge, four stories high and it had parapets like a castle.
There was a circular road in front of the house, and Soraperion walked right into the middle and stood there, looking at the building as though he wasn't worried about anyone seeing him. He gestured, and the circle that he'd conjured in the car reappeared, but now he enlarged it, adding symbols on both sides at once, and speaking forcefully. The noise seemed to be trapped in whatever he was building in front of him.
The pattern of lights grew larger, until it was a plate of moving runes three feet across, when suddenly it collapsed together and flared brightly. The box had reappeared, and it was pulsing. As he looked, Lex realized that a trail of blue fire, part of the nimbus that surrounded the box, was slowly flowing off toward part of the building. It was pointing to the third floor, to the left of the door.
"Aaaaaaahhhh," Soraperion sighed, and then turned to Lex. "When we go in, I'll be very busy. I want to give you this. If you're in trouble, open it, and it will protect you." He fished something out of his pocket with his free hand, and handed it to Lex. It appeared to be a small shell clasp, like a locket.
"I think I'm prepared then." Soraperion said. "Nothing more to do now except retrieve the box."
He turned back to the house, and they walked toward the door. As Soraperion approached it, he gestured with his staff and something white flashed, and the door disintegrated into dust, blowing backward in a boom. Somewhere in the house a keening wail rose, almost like a baby crying. It wasn't natural though: it never stopped for breath.
Just inside was a darkened room. Soraperion spoke a few words, and lights sprang up, dancing through the hallways until the entire place was filled with brilliant grayish yellow light.
The entryway was huge. It was two stories high, and at the back of the room was a marble grand staircase covered with a red carpet. There was even a crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling.
Someone bounded out of one of the hallways but encountered a ball of fire from Soraperion's staff and crumpled screaming to the floor. Another bolt of white light collapsed the arch of the hallway through which the man had come.
Lex stared at the burning figure, suddenly wishing that he hadn't come along, or at least that there was something he could consciously do to protect himself. The scream from the burning body trailed away and the the form twitched a few times before going still. The scent of burned blood washed over him and he gagged and almost threw up.
Soraperion gestured at another hallway and a latticework of iron grew into place through the stonework entrance like a metal creeping ivy. There were voices from that direction but no one appeared through the gaps in the metal.
"Don't want to make the same mistake they did though," Soraperion said to himself and swept his staff out. There was another burst of light and this time red and a crimson haze spread out and painted the formerly white surfaces with dark ochre slick. There was a smell almost like burned oil from a car.
"Third floor I think," Soraperion said to Lex. "Come Along."
They went up the stairs, and at the top of the stairs they headed left through an opulent hallway. Lex could hardly stop himself from looking around at the fancy surroundings even though he knew that he should be looking out for more people. I wish I was rich enough to live like this, he thought to himself, trying to imagine it but failing.
Soraperion's conjured lights were floating in concentrations around one of the doors in the hallway, which turned out to be another stairwell. They climbed one floor, and went through into a darkened hallway. Soraperion summoned more lights, and they continued.
At the end of the hall was a plain door made of wood. Compared to the others that lined the halls it looked rather ordinary. It didn't even have simple paneling and wouldn't have looked out of place in a warehouse to Lex. Soraperion gestured with his staff again, and there was a boom, but the door didn't budge.
"Better," he said and began to cast runes in front of him, spinning them together like thread until he had a knot of them in his fist. He gestured, almost like the glowing ball was a yo-yo, and it jumped forward at the door.
For just a split second Lex could see the heavy yellow and purple spells glowing spells protecting the door. Soraperion's knot spell splattered against them and the blue runes began to eat through the protection spells and through the door itself like acid. Within a few moments the door was a melting pile of sludge, and Soraperion stepped through.
There were in a large room, and it was filled with shelves that contained gold, jewels and pieces of artwork. Soraperion gestured, and the heavy shelves pushed out to the edges of the room. At the far end was a tapestry. The mage gestured again, and the tapestry was flung aside, revealing a safe door.
Soraperion examined the door, and frowned. "Very good actually. This is a passageway. Very clever." He looked at Lex. "Stay here. If someone comes in, use the device. Do you understand?"
Lex nodded, swallowing.
"Good then." Soraperion reached out and took the handle of the vault. There was a noise so loud that it flung Lex backward, and a five foot circle around the safe jerked down, pulling Soraperion and the safe out of sight into a black hole that opened up in the floor.
And then there were a few moments of silence.
Lex went over and looked down through the hole. Despite the magic lights that Soraperion had conjured, the sides of the hole were so deep that it vanished into darkness. "Soraperion?" he called and when there was no response, he tried louder.
Lex backed away from the hole, and looked around at the treasures that surrounded him. A few weeks ago he could have sold anything in this to pay for Lia and himself to live comfortably for a year. Now the idea of taking something was pointless. Soraperion would care for him, and even if Lex left, he wasn't sure that Soraperion couldn't simply kill him from a distance.
As he thought about it, he couldn't quite understand why he'd followed Soraperion. True, the mage had taken him in and protected him from the vampires, but breaking into this house, killing those people in the hall seemed extreme. It was wrong. They could sit in jail for years although Lex wondered if the authorities had any prison that could hold Soraperion. Or himself, for that matter.
There was a commotion at the door that Soraperion had melted, and Lex turned to see a group of people stumble through the door.
Most of them were women wearing night gowns, but one of the women, the one in front, wore black robes that reminded Alex of Soraperion's robes only she wore a yellow scarf around her neck.
She was short, and a little bit overweight, and she was smiling kindly. She reminded Lex of an aunt that had always been nice to him as a child.
"Who are you, dear?" she asked.
Lex didn't know what to say.
"Hold him," the woman said pleasantly, and two men started out from behind her toward him.
Lex's fingered fumbled with the catch on the shell device, and for a second he thought he wouldn't get it open before they reached him. Suddenly, his fingers worked the clasp and the two pieces opened.
There was a spell inside.
The runes were tiny, much too small to be written by Soraperion's fingertips. The glittering thing expanded, and Lex realized that this was by far the most complicated thing that he'd ever seen constructed out of runes and light. There were libraries of letters, and for a moment he could almost make out that each individual rune was composed of thousands of smaller runes.
The spell floated for a moment. Time for Lex slowed to a crawl. It was like the two men were fighting through molasses, but he couldn't look away from the little glowing thing in his hands. He wondered for a moment if it would throw fire at the witches and their men, or if it would act like the spell that had broken through the door.
The spell shivered, flickered, and then poured into Lex.
He screamed immediately from the pain. He was pretty sure that he was unconscious and he could no longer sense the room around him. There wasn't even a satisfactory noise to reassure him that his lungs were fine and working and that despite the pain he was still alive and screaming.
When things faded back into view, there was a slight blue tint and blur to everything that he could see, almost like he was underwater. A hand flickered up, and the two men coming toward him were thrown back into the far wall.
"Meredith Bliss," said Soraperion's voice. "You haven't changed a bit."
"And neither have you, Soraperion," the woman with the yellow scarf said happily. "Still using interesting people, I see."
"Do you like him?" Soraperion said, and Lex's hand lifted in front of his face. Lex suddenly realized that Soraperion's voice was coming through his mouth. He tried to move, but as he struggled he realized that he was no longer in control of his own body.
"An untrained mage," she said. "Also an untrained warlock, and perhaps a hint of something else as well. There are not many people that are so many things. It's much too bad he fell in with you."
Lex's body shrugged. "I knew that he'd come in useful sooner or later."
Meredith looked back at the people gathered behind her. She gestured five of them forward, two pretty younger women, one older woman, and two men. "Kill him," she ordered them, smiling. "Bybreak, you and Bear are with me."
The people that she'd ordered stepped forward, the women raising their arms and beginning to chant and the men pulling knives out of their coats.
Lex felt himself smirk, and he began to struggle again, but whatever had hold of him was not letting go. He sketched out a combination of wind and fire runes, and as they formed under his fingers he spoke a word of power and the simple spell expanded out into a sheets of fire, filling the room. The older witch finished her counterspell in the nick of time, and the flames stopped just short of the women.
One of the younger women, a pretty brunette, finished with her spell and launched it. It wasn't much of a spell. It would have stopped Lex's heart and he couldn't let her do that. He flicked it back at her and concentrated on the next woman, a blonde, as the brunette stumbled, gasping.
She was trying something slightly more ambitious. A seething ball of fiery plasma erupted in front of her, and streaked out at him. Lex sketched a barrier rune against fire, and let the ball harmlessly burn against it. He sketched a similar barrier rune but this time added a complex set of energy specifications onto it, and flung it at the opening to the hole. Bliss had been making her way toward it, but now she slowed and was forced to examine the impediment.
The old witch had finally finished her first offensive spell. She didn't want to attack Lex directly, so she dissolved the floor below him instead. Lex could have prevented it, but instead he sketched a set of air runes and flew up as the floor turned to sand below him.
Now that he was airborne, there were certain things that he had to guard against. He launched a series of protective spells, and then sent a series of force runes at the women. The older women and the recovering brunette managed to block, but the blonde was caught in the middle of her second spell, a real doozy, and she was slammed back into the wall. Her unfinished spell sputtered and exploded, surprising the brunette, who flinched back and stumbled again but still managed to keep her feet.
The old witch launched a wave of ice at him, but he just swung the fire protection rune around, and her ball of cold was eaten by the blonde's fire spell. Yellow light flared for a moment, and a ribbon of golden light raced out and caught his arms. It was a smart trick by the brunette but not enough to catch him.
A few carefully chosen words dissolved the bonds but by then one of the men was in attack range. He jumped up, stabbing with his knife at Lex's floating legs, but one of Lex's protection spells guarded him. Before the man could jump again, he gestured, and the man dropped his knife, sitting down in the middle of the battle with a blank look on his face.
Bliss was almost through Lex's barrier but from below came a brilliant blue light which filtered through the glowing mesh of the spell and resolved into a creature that resembled a spider, if only spiders had eight scorpion stingers instead of legs and were six feet high. A large man with long dark hair and tattoos, a Native American perhaps, stepped in front of her, and started to defend her with a staff or spear of some kind.
The Brunette had conjured a nifty looking knife from her position still sitting on the ground. She balanced it for a moment while she spoke to it, and then launched it at him.
"You don't want to do that," Lex said to the knife, which paused mid flight. "Aren't you more comfortable back with her?"
The knife seemed to realize its mistake and shot back toward the dark haired witch. Whatever spells she'd enchanted it with were effective. It cut through her own protections like butter and thunked into her shoulder with a happy splortch.
The second man was almost on him. Lex floated higher, momentarily out of reach and then flicked a fireball at him. The man's protections stopped it just above his skin, but the fire quickly heated the knife to a dull red. He screamed and dropped it, which he seemed to realize was a mistake about the same time his protections shattered and the remaining fragments of the fire burned deep into his skin.
The old woman had been working for a few moments, and she raised her hands. A wave of something black passed over him. It was like all of Lex's hairs were on fire, and on the inside he screamed again. On the outside though, he just smiled. "Not very effective," said Soraperion's voice, and he summoned a slew of firey arrow heads and fired them in her direction.
He glanced over at the barrier. The spider creature was dead, and Bliss, Bybreak, and the Native American were gone. Oh well, nothing for him to do about it now.
The arrow heads had paused inches away from the old woman's outstretched hand, but she was sweating, and the arrowheads hadn't dropped yet. The brunette, even with the knife in her shoulder, managed to gesture and shout something, and the arrowheads all dissolved into smoke.
As they vanished he sketched out a series of things. Water and air swirled together and were modified with a set of brilliant electricity runes. Lightning flickered out toward all of the women, but it only struck the already unconscious blond woman. He was hoping to surprise them, but another woman, middle-aged and with her red hair tied back with a white scarf stepped forward with just enough time to put up a defense. The bolts of lightning bounced off of her magics and into the shelves lining the walls, vaporizing several expensive looking works of art.
Two against one wasn't nearly a fair fight for the witches, but with the brunette still helping out with defense they were just managing to keep themselves alive against Soraperion's Lex puppet.
Down below there were noises, bangs and booms, and the occasional gust of colored smoke. Inside Lex struggled and struggled, but the spell had complete control of him. With Soraperion's spell inhabiting him he understood the runes though. The magery made perfect sense to him.
He also realized that the runes were all Soraperion knew. Everything was done with runes and modifiers and spoken words to add subtle variation and power. Lex had never needed any of that before. The part of Lex's mind that was still Lex looked around the room as Soraperion's Lex looked at the hole after a particularly loud bang.
Behind him on one of the shelves was a golden statue. As Lex's head turned away, he couldn't see it any more, but that didn't matter to what he had planned. He still struggled with the Soraperion Lex so that it wouldn't get suspicious, but he also reached out with his simpler telekinetic powers, grabbed the cow statue and jerked it forward.
For a second, he was worried that nothing would happen, but suddenly there was a shock and he fell out of the air, sprawling out on the sandy floor and seeing stars floating before his eyes.
With Soraperion Lex distracted, Lex suddenly found himself winning. One of his arms grabbed his other arm. For a moment, Lex wasn't sure which one he controlled, but neither was Soraperion Lex.
There was mostly silence in the room though. The witches were looking at each other and at Lex, lying on the floor, his arms clasped together.
"Did you do that?" the middle-aged witch asked the older witch.
"I don't think so," the older witch said, looking at him. "Stay back, it might be a trick."
Inside his head, Soraperion's Lex was still struggling with the real Lex. If you don't allow me to take over, they're going to kill you, Soraperion's voice whispered.
They can try, Lex replied.
I can protect you, the voice said almost desperately.
So can I, Lex bitterly replied.
A lick of probing fire glanced off of Soraperion Lex's remaining protections, most of which had vanished when Lex had knocked himself on the head.
He sat up, and looked at the women. There were lots of objects around. Behind the women, coins, boxes, statues and vases jumped off the shelves and started pummeling them viciously. The middle-aged witch let a bolt of something fly, but Lex lifted a hand and it glanced off like it had bounced off a mirror.
I need to get out of here, Lex thought to the voice in his head.
You have to wait for Soraperion.
Aren't you Soraperion?
The voice didn't respond.
Suddenly, the lights in the room flickered and went out and the floor shook. The Soraperion voice in his head suddenly began to buckle and fragment, even though Lex had ceased to struggle with it moments earlier in surprise.
He also felt his understanding of the runes fading away.
Internally, he grabbed the edges of the voice, which seemed to cling back.
Help? It suddenly seemed to think at him.
I need a way out, Lex reminded it.
This symbol, this symbol, and then say "Yona calla 'hrippe."
Alex started to sketch. Even with the voice showing him how to move, the symbols didn't come effortlessly, like it had under Soraperion's control. He had to take the time to carefully sketch them so that they wouldn't be ruined.
As he started the second rune, something rose out of the hole. It was the woman with the yellow shawl and the Native American, and neither of them looked hurt, or even as though they had a hair out of place. Bliss was carrying the box Soraperion wanted in one hand, and a bloody red staff in the other hand. She looked over at the women, and then over to Lex as though surprised to find them both alive. Before she could raise her hands, Lex's fingers finished the final line.
"Yona calla 'hrippe!" He shouted, and suddenly the runes flared. Something jerked him straight out of the building through the wall, sending stone and plaster exploding outward. He flew down the driveway, over the gate, and landed heavily in the gravel next to the car.
Can you move? inquired the voice.
Lex groaned. He tried to move his arm, but he couldn't. For a moment he thought that Soraperion's voice had taken over again, but it was just hanging at an odd angle. He'd hurt it when he landed.
Instead of his arms he used his head. His powers dragged him to his feet, opened the gray car's door, and propelled him inside.
The voice said, It will only take instructions from Soraperion. Let me use your voice.
"Home," Soraperion's voice ordered, and the car started and began to drive away from the gate and the house of witches beyond it.