a year ago
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Summoner's Regret
So... I see people share their writing on here a lot. So I figure I'll start sharing mine, since I have no idea what else to write about. Comments and constructive criticism very, very, very welcome.
He watched, helpless, as the door closed behind her. His legs became weak, unstable. Without wanting to, he dropped to his knees, his eyes overflowing with tears. He knew that the last thing she said to him would haunt him for the rest of his life. “It’s okay. I forgive you.” But he would never forgive himself. The door disappeared, disintegrated into thin air. He was left alone in the mostly-darkened room, a single candle left burning, the white chalk which formed the summoning circle still staining the floor, a reminder of all that he’d done. His head lowered, he choked out a few words, desperate words which he knew would reach no one. Yet he had to say them. “Tiana… I’m sorry…” “Tobias, will you get your nose out of that damned book already?! We have real work to do!” Tobias growled and slammed the book shut. His older sister seemed to always choose the wrong time to want to bother him. And on top of that, it was always to nag him about something. “For your information, Ana, this is real work! And I almost had a good grasp of it until you came along bugging me.” “Yeah, studying magic you know you shouldn’t perform… oh, that’s ‘real’ work, alright.” She punctuated her sarcasm with a tug on his ear. “Since I apparently have to remind you for the umpteenth time, as you seem to have been living in a cloud instead of on Earth, summoning can only be performed by certain powerful wizards. You are not one of those wizards.” “Who says?” “Every last single magic tester who’s been anywhere within ten feet of you for more than five seconds, that’s who. Not to mention the law.” He scoffed at her. She was right on both counts: it was illegal to use ritual magic to summon monsters, as experiments had proven it to be an unstable, dangerous method of doing so. You were only allowed to summon if you were born with the power to do so. Toby did not possess that power. Not that that was any deterrent to him. “What do they know? The whole reason they’re just testers anyway is because they’re too weak to work any other magic. And the scientists who first experimented with ritual magic just didn’t do it correctly. But not me.” He grinned down ambitiously at the book in front of him, dark brown hands clenching the tome excitedly. “They can say whatever they want, but I’m smarter than all of them... once I summon Caethar, I’ll--” “Caethar?! Are you insane?! No one has ever called on a demon and lived! And you’re supposed to be so smart!” “I am not so weak… I can easily use a binding spell on her… I’ve bound creatures bigger than the largest trees and more powerful than all the greatest wizards combined, it should be nothing to bind Caethar until she gives me what I want.” “And if you die trying?!” “It will never happen. I will summon Caethar, and then I will become a summoner, the most powerful summoner to ever walk the earth! Once I have that power, everyone will see what I am truly capable of! No one will be able to deny me!” Ana laid a hand on his shoulder gently. He looked up at her; her dark brown eyes were filled with concern. “Toby… Mom and Dad are dead. You don’t have to live for them anymore.” Toby stiffened, his face hard. “Who said I was doing this for them?” “I know you, Toby… ever since we were kids, you’ve been trying to please them. They were always hard on you, and I know that. Nothing was ever good enough for them. But we’re adults now… we can live for ourselves. We don’t need to think about them anymore.” Silence. A pregnant pause. And then Toby laughed, amused, and at the same time, arrogant. “You seriously still think I care about them? This has nothing to do with either Mom or Dad.” He thumped his chest with a closed fist. “This is all about me… Ana, I need a challenge. I want to prove, for myself, that I am the greatest wizard that ever lived.” “You’re already great… you’re the youngest to graduate from the academy, your grades are the best in the school--” “Ha! Grades! Trophies! Superficial glories! I want to prove what I can do. I want to test my skills for real.” “But you have time for that, Toby. After you graduate, you can get a job--” “-- as a higher wizard’s assistant. Don’t you understand, Ana? I was meant for something more. I was meant for greatness.” He grapsed both her shoulders, staring her dead in the eyes. “This is how I’ve chosen to achieve that greatness.” They stared at each other for what seemed like hours, each trying to make the other concede the argument. Finally Ana sighed and broke the eye contact, gently peeling Toby’s hands off her shoulders. “I just hope you’re sure you know what you’re doing.” He nodded once. “I do. On my honor as a wizard.” “And now, for the final event in the Dophisa Academy graduation ceremony: the top ten graduating students will show us their skills!” Toby sucked his teeth. Parlor tricks. This is what the graduates were being asked to do: put on a show, like a circus monkey, in order to “prove” how good you were. As far as Toby was concerned, this little annual performance proved nothing except for how talented you were at entertainment. He closed his eyes, trying to drown out the voices that had suddenly filled his head: the ghosts of his past once again returning to haunt him. They spoke to him, not of back then, but of today, as if they were both right there next to him. 'Congratulations Toby! You’ve finally become a man, the first and youngest in the family to graduate from the academy!' 'You know, your father would have only been nineteen when he graduated-- only two years at the academy, can you believe it?-- if only he hadn’t had to drop out to take care of you and your sister. It was a shame he couldn’t finish his education, but he knew what his priorities were.' 'You make sure to get a good job, son! When I was your age, I’d already had ten jobs, all with great pay! I was such an ambitious child back then… but it was all to take care of you. Those old jobs helped pay for the academy, after all!' 'Oh, I’m so nervous about you starting your new life already! I do hope you’ll be able to take care of yourself… you don’t keep up house very well, and your appearance could use work… but I suppose once you’re in your own place, you’ll work on all that.' He shook his head in an attempt to dispel the voices. They’d see soon enough… when he became a summoner, he would absolutely propel into a good paying job. “First is number ten, specializing in charms and divination… Isabelle Powers!” Tobias watched disinterestedly as his schoolmate showed off her charm work. He stared glassy-eyed at the remaining performers in the same manner, save for his sister, at number two, whom he cheered on as she worked her spells. “And finally, at number one, a young man as well-rounded as his sister, perfect grades in every subject, and the youngest in the school to graduate, our valedictorian… Tobias Lancaster!” Toby sauntered up to the stage when his name was called. He stood to the center and awaited the obstacles that were to be sent his way. Three targets popped from the ground like daisies; Toby shot three magic missiles at them, destroying them as soon as they emerged. A burst of fire melted the ice needles that tried to impale him; a wind spell sliced into the wooden shuriken which came flying at him; a bolt of thunder decimated the water golems which rose from the melted ice. A mass of daggers shot from the ceiling, hurtling straight towards him; he focused his mind, and the daggers pointed themselves away from him and flew upwards to stick in the ceiling. He took a deep breath to replace the yawn which threatened to escape his mouth as the attendants cheered. With a swagger in his step, he returned to his seat. “Congratulations to our top ten roster for all of their performances!” 'Especially mine,' Toby said to himself, 'after all, I’m the greatest wizard in the school.' “And congratulations to all of our graduates for their hard work in making it this far! You will all go on to do great things!” 'Not as great as me,' Toby thought. “Now for the moment you’ve all been waiting for: when I call your name, come to the stage and claim your prize!” “And there’s still nothing I can do to talk you out of this foolishness?” It was about a week after the graduation ceremony. Toby had been preparing his ritual since yesterday, having finally gotten the hang of the procedure. Tonight was finally the night: he was going to summon and bind a higher spirit, and make a contract with that spirit to allow him to perform more summonings. Most wizards would be wary of such a ritual… but for a prodigy like him, it would be a piece of cake. “There is nothing. And it’s not ‘foolishness,’ Ana. You’ll see. With this ritual, I will be the greatest wizard in the world. No one will be able to stop me.” “Ana, is Toby still trying to summon spirits?” They both turned towards the source of the voice. Lydia was a friend of Ana’s, tall, copper-hued, coily-haired, and hourglass-shaped. Toby just knew they were going to gang up on him any minute, so he needed to get rid of Lydia fast. “Yep. He still thinks he’s such a prodigy that he can just summon spirits with no consequences. I keep telling him he’s being ridiculous, but he’s all ‘I’m an all-powerful genius, I can do whatever I want.’” “Ah, the mind of the conceited man.” Lydia shook her head incredulously. “All that attitude’s gonna get him is in trouble.” “Yeah, I know, and I’m going to have to pick up the pieces,” Ana responded, with a sideways glance at Toby, her eyes portraying a different emotion than her sarcastic tone. “Lydia, don’t you have something to do?” Toby prayed that she would catch the hint in his voice. She smirked at him. “Why, yes… as a matter of fact, I do.” Turning to Ana, she asked, “shall we begin?” “Wait a minute,” Toby interrupted, “you’re doing whatever it is here?” 'Oh gods, why?' “Of course… you think I’m going to bring her all the way over to my place when I’m already right here? And you’re supposed to be the smartest in the academy.” “Why don’t you come over here with us? You should be training too, anyway,” Ana added. Toby sighed. “Why me? Why do you guys always have to bother me when I’m getting ready to work? Anyway, I don’t need to train; geniuses don’t train.” “Then how did you get into the top ten in the first place, genius?” Lydia asked, with a playful smack to the back of Toby’s head. “You don’t get the grades without doing the work. Besides, your precious summoning circle isn’t going to get up and walk away just because you spend some time training with us. Quit complaining and grab a pair of gauntlets.” Toby sighed once again and did as she requested. The training gauntlets were leather gloves, infused with minerals designed to reduce the mana output of the wizard wearing them. They prevented wizards from killing each other during simple sparring matches, as well as preserving mana for when it was truly needed. “Alright, you guys ready?” “As a well-done steak,” Ana replied. “Only weaklings would answer that question ‘no,’” Toby scoffed. “Great. Let’s get to it!” They kept their battle restricted mostly to projectile spells. Even with the training gauntlets, elemental magic (especially fire) was far too dangerous to be used just for sparring. Wizards all too often had accidentally electrocuted their friends, or burned them alive, or drowned them, when using elemental magic to train. It didn’t matter what either of them did, however: after all, Toby was the top student for a reason. Sure, his sister proved to be a challenge-- she was able to dodge quite a few of his attacks, and had even gotten past his shield multiple times, something Lydia was unable to do-- but she was still just second place compared to him. When they’d finished, all three of them sweating and pausing to catch their breath, Lydia announced, “Well then. Looks like you win again, Toby.” “Your powers of observation never cease to amaze me.” She threw her gauntlets at him, laughing. “You know, you never were much of a gentleman in the social department.” “I don’t have to be. When you’re a prodigy, you can do as you please. The world is yours for the taking.” “Even prodigies aren’t immune to everything, you know. There’s always something someone can’t do, and when you find yours… it may turn out worse than you might expect.” She had suddenly lost her bubbly demeanor, turning somber and serious. Toby quirked an eyebrow. What’s this all of a sudden? He sighed when realization hit him. “Lydia, if this is about that explosion in mystical chemistry--” Lydia put up a hand to stop him. “I know what you’re about to say. It’s not about that exploding potion… yeah, it kind of sucked that that happened and I’m supposed to be a potions master, but that was actually kind of funny. And it’s not self-pity… more like a cautionary tale.” She looked him in the eyes. “I’m your friend too, Toby, and I’m worried about you. I don’t want you biting off more than you can chew.” In response, Toby drew a simple sign over his heart, a heart inside a circle. “On my honor as a wizard, I promise you both… I can handle this. I will not be beaten. Once I’ve obtained this power, no one will be able to stop me.” The circle was perfect, complete, unbroken. The candles were precisely aligned, not a single one out of place. The binding stones were all set in just the right spots. Now it was time for the spell ingredients. It was when he had grabbed the golden chalice which would hold the ingredients that he noticed something was off. He checked the summoning circle for any errors, walking around once, twice, three times… It was in the middle of this third revolution that he realized what was wrong. Some of the symbols around the outer circle had been redrawn, and the entire circle was now completely wrong. If he tried to use this circle, it would fizzle and die. Worse, it would be risky to simply erase and redraw the symbols… even a smudge could irreparably destroy the spell, and could be dangerous to the wizard. 'Damn you, Tiana…' He carefully wiped away the circle on the floor and began redrawing it with the original symbols. He wasn’t even upset solely at the fact that she had destroyed his circle… it was that she dared insult his intelligence by thinking he wouldn’t find out. Or maybe that hadn’t been what she’d been thinking… Toby paused, one of his symbols half-drawn. It would take him at least two or three hours to redraw this circle… perhaps she thought that he would give up, not wanting to do the work all over again. Or possibly that she would be able to stop him before he finished. 'Hmph. I’ll show her… I’ll show all of them.' He pointed two fingers at the door, sealing it with a locking spell. It was simple for him to cast, but not commonly used, meaning that if Ana did show up, it would take her some time to figure out what counterspell to use. Given that, by the time she got the door open, she would be too late to stop him. Once he had finished redrawing the circle, he grabbed his chalice and got to work. Root of mint… thyme leaves… ground turmeric... rose water… witch hazel… bark of yew… silver fairy dust… a few drops of his own blood… combined in the chalice, stirred and crushed with a pestle… Now to speak the arcane words. Everything had to be done precisely, else something was bound to go wrong. Of course, Toby was confident that it wouldn’t. Such a phrase wasn’t even in the vocabulary of a prodigy like him. “Kahdarah iuntraga ghalan… inukah, azkh’arai… khalathara, ahbide.”  With both hands, he slowly poured the contents of the chalice directly into the center of the circle. Later than he expected, he heard the doorknob clatter, as though someone were trying to open it. “Toby? Open the door, Toby.” He ignored her and continued. “Kintherath, okanuth ankharai… khantharai, ioncha. Inukhaithare, ahbide.” He raised both hands, palms facing outward, fingers spread. The mystical concoction in the center began to glow. He could feel the air in the room beginning to stir. None of this fazed him in the slightest. He now heard pounding on the door. “Toby! Stop!” The doorknob clattered again, and he heard the chanting of a counterspell. As expected, it was the wrong one. He smiled and moved on, the failing chant repeating in the background. “Nnkholai, ikhan estanah, kahmine ekohniah. Garanach, estunia inkhalach. Kahmaranach, ahbide!” Twin bursts of light shot from his palms, beaming into the mystical liquid. It glowed ever brighter, and the air picked up further, gently lifting the hem of his robes from the floor. A flash, and a burst of wind suddenly shot out, coming from the summoning circle. Toby shielded his eyes with his arm, refusing to tear them away from the spot. An arch rose from the circle, growing steadily taller and wider. As it grew, Toby could see that it was a door, a portal to another world, rising from the floor. It rose as though it were being pulled from quicksand, or perhaps a tar pit, until it was fully situated flat on the floor. The door opened slowly, and from it walked the spirit he had summoned. The spirit took the form of a woman, slender, long-haired, and gray-blue in tone. She appeared unclothed, her eyes closed. As soon as she stepped out of the door, long tendrils of light harpooned from the binding stones, wrapping themselves around her wrists, her arms, her ankles. She opened her eyes as they tightened themselves, staring slowly at the bindings with mild curiosity. “Binding spells. How clever.” She looked up to meet Toby’s eyes. “It is you who cast this summoning spell?” “It is I.” Toby looked her dead in the eyes, keeping his face straight and free of the excitement that permeated his body. “I wished to speak to you.” “And what would a child like you possibly have to say that would interest me?” He narrowed his eyes at her. “I am no child. I am a graduate of Dophisa Academy. My power is beyond that of any wizard! I am a genius, a prodigy, a wizard beyond any you will ever meet!” In response, the spirit… laughed. She laughed, gleefully, mockingly. Toby was tempted to strike her down right then and there for her insolence. “Only a child would brag to a creature such as myself of their human intelligence, as if I care.” She said the word human derisively, like a dirty word. “I could care less about your silly material accolades. However, I must applaud your audacity and intellect in thinking to bind me. Most who summon me do not think to do so. Or even try. They think this silly circle is enough. Now, what do you wish of Caethar, child?” “I wish to gain the power of a summoner. I want to be able to control monsters from beyond.” Caethar quirked an eyebrow. “Do you not already have the power? You were able to summon me, after all. If you were powerful enough to make me come to you, surely you would be able to summon anything you want?” “I used a ritual to summon you. You are aware of this. I wish for the power to be innate… to be able to summon creatures anytime I wish, from anywhere, without the use of a circle.” Caethar smiled slyly. “I didn’t think you’d be clever enough to see through my trick. I’ve met wizards as arrogant as you before, and most of them have died by my hand. You seem far more perceptive than they, however.” “Obviously. I am like no other wizard.” She smirked shrewdly. “Okay. I will grant you the power which you seek. However… there is a price to pay for such power.” “I will pay any price you ask.” “Will you? In order for me to grant you the power, you must give up that which you love the most.” That which he loved the most? It couldn’t be a lover… Toby had never had any lovers at the academy. Not that he hadn’t found anyone attractive-- on the contrary, there had been quite a few who had tickled his fancy. Nor had it been that he had not been popular-- far from it. Rather, he had devoted all his time at school to his studies… you didn’t get to be a prodigy without hard work, after all. Nor could it be a friend… he had never really gotten close to anyone except Lydia, and she was closer to Ana than she was to him. Toby looked around. His eyes fixed themselves upon his staff… it was the first trophy he’d ever gotten for his skill, a testament to his vast power and knowledge. It was tall and slender, made of the finest silver, and a gold-rimmed cap encrusted with small jewels which focused his power. He didn’t actually need to use the staff--no wizard truly needed their staves, they were merely a symbol of power, carried solely for intimidation. Though it would hurt him to give up his prized possession… if he wished for the power, he knew he had to pay the price. He nodded once. “You shall have it.” She spared him a nod of acknowledgement. “It is done, then.” She waved a hand to him (the bindings only trapped her within the circle: they did not restrict her movement); a gust of air swirled around him, causing his robes to flap about. He felt a strange sensation spread through his left hand, up his arm, and throughout the rest of his body. When it all stopped, Toby looked at his palm to see a mystical circle marking his skin. He stood for another minute, waiting for Caethar to levitate his staff to her. When she didn’t, he asked, “You’re not going to claim your payment?” “She hasn’t arrived yet.” Wait a minute… she? Realization hit him, faster than he’d wanted it to. No… it can’t be… Ana burst into the room at that moment, having found the right spell. “Toby, tell me you didn’t--?” “Ana, get out of here!" Her eyes landed on Caethar then. Her eyes widened at the sight. “You did it… you really did it!” “Yes, but that’s not important right now. You have to get out of here… she’s going to take you away!” “Me? Why?” The sly smile returned to Caethar’s face, this time more demonic. “You are my payment, young lady.” “... payment?” “No! Please, you can’t… take something, anything else, but not her!” “There is something you love more than this young lady?” Remembering the staff, he ran and grabbed it. “This! It’s… it’s my first trophy from the academy. I got it after I passed the final exam in my first year. It’s my most prized possession.” “You mean to tell me you love an inanimate object more than your sister?” For a second, Toby froze. 'How could she know that Ana’s my sister?' He had to make up a lie, and fast. “She… she means nothing to me.” He stood tall and looked Caethar in the eyes as he spoke. “You think I care about her at all? All I care for is myself, and my power.” “Then why are you trying to keep me from taking her?” “She has a friend who knows me… if that woman finds out I let you take her, she will be angry and phone the authorities. I simply wish to avoid the drama.” He knew it must hurt Ana to hear him say such things… but he would explain later. He would make it up to her. Not that it worked. Caethar laughed again, even more mockingly than before. “And you seemed so clever at first. You truly are just like every other human.” She turned to Ana. “Come, young lady. You belong to me now.” “You leave her alone!” Out of options, Toby prepared a spell, ready to strike Caethar down; she flicked her chin, and Toby was thrown backwards into a wall. What the…? “How? You’re bound!” A devilish, sociopathic smirk spread across Caethar’s face. “I am unlike other spirits… you may have bound me, but that does not mean that all my powers are sealed. Now then, I will be taking my payment now.” “Over my dead body, demon!” “Enough.” Ana spoke up then, interrupting their argument. “It’s fine. I’ll go.” Toby turned to his sister. “Tiana, no!” His eyes plead with her to run, now. Instead, she smiled sadly and hugged him tight. “They really were so hard on you. I knew their parenting would mess you up somehow. I just wish I could have done more.” She turned around, making to leave with Caethar. “Wait… no…” She looked back, still smiling. “It’s okay. I forgive you.” She walked into the summoning circle, to stand in front of Caethar. “Kindly remove your brother’s binding spell, if you please.” Ana obeyed, extinguishing most of the candles and knocking away the binding stones. The tendrils of light dissolved around Caethar’s limbs. “Thank you.” She put an arm around Ana’s shoulders and led her towards the door. And Toby-- all-powerful and luminescent as he was-- was powerless to stop them. Lydia entered the room a few minutes after Ana was taken away. “Toby?” She looked around the room. “What happened? Where’s Ana?” “... it’s my fault.” “What is?” “I…” Toby swallowed, his eyes no longer leaking, but still not dry. “Lydia… I’ve done… something terrible…” Lydia walked until she was standing in front of him. Kneeling, she grabbed Toby by the shoulders, and spoke when he looked into her eyes. “Toby. What. Happened?” Toby swallowed again, and then told the whole story. His eyes burned as he spoke, but he held it in valiantly. Lydia listened with a calm, unreadable expression. “... it’s okay… if you hate me. I know I…” SMACK! Toby couldn’t say he hadn’t been expecting the slap. Nor could he quite say he didn’t deserve it. It did, however, still cause some sort of stir in him. “Get your act together, genius.” Her voice dripped with rage. “If you feel that damn badly about it, then make it right.” “I don’t know what to do…” It was the first time in his life that he was at a loss for a solution. “What do you think you need to do? Get her back!” Now Toby raised his head to look up at her-- she had risen from the floor at some point. “How? You can’t break a contract with a spirit! It’s impossible!” “The hell you say.” “I read about this stuff, I know--!” She interrupted by shoving a hand in his face. On her palm was a circle, similar to the one on Toby’s hand. “You think you’re the only one stupid enough to make deals with demons?” Toby finally rose, taking her hand in his, examining the marking. “This… how did you get this? Why did we never know?” “I never told anybody. I didn’t want anyone to judge me.” She took her hand away. “Wait… then you really weren’t talking about the potion back then…” She shook her head. “And… were you the one who changed my circle?” “Me and Ana both… we had hoped that you wouldn’t notice, and that the spell would just die. Ana went upstairs to check on you when she realized how long you’d been up there… I guess our plan didn’t work out.” Toby had only one more question. “Why did you do it?” “It was my little brother… he got sick one day. Really sick. The healers said they couldn’t figure out what it was, that he only had a few months to live. I couldn’t lose my little brother like that. So I summoned a spirit-- not Caethar, but still pretty powerful-- and begged him to save my brother. He took my mother as his payment.” Toby stared, shocked. “You said your mother died…” “That’s what Father and I tell everybody. He actually doesn’t even speak to me. He’s hated me since then.” She looked back up at him. “Anyway… I’ve been trying to get her back ever since. It can be done, the contract can be broken… but it takes a powerful wizard to do so, and it’s illegal to try. Safety and whatnot, spirits can be really temperamental. The only place to find a contract-breaker is in the black market, in the underbelly of the city. I’ve never tried to go, though… I’ve been to scared to go there on my own…” “Then we should go together. I need my sister back.” It’s been a year since I lost my sister. Since then, I’ve gotten everything I wanted. Well, almost everything. For instance, I never expected to become a bounty hunter. Nor would I have expected to particularly care about my profession. You see, my parents would never have approved… they always called bounty hunters “murderers for hire.” But I couldn’t care less. Not anymore. I don’t even care about what I’ve accomplished since then. None of it means anything without her. And becoming a bounty hunter is the only way I can think of to save her. I’m actually in this inn, this city, just to rest for the night. I came here to claim a bounty. Lydia and I captured him about a hundred miles from here. He was having some sort of little resting time on his own. By “resting time,” I mean he was drunk out of his mind and fast asleep. I almost hadn’t wanted to capture him, it seemed too easy for a powerful wizard like myself-- but I had decided long ago to treat all bounties equally. Any one of them could have information. I tried torturing him for information at first-- I used a levitation spell to hold him in the air, and a body binding spell to keep him from moving. I woke him up, asked him for what I needed, and when he refused to answer, I used a wind spell to try and carve some sense into him. Two hundred and ten lashes of razor wind later, I still hadn’t gotten any information. And I was actually getting pretty frustrated. “Come on… wouldn’t it be easier to just tell me what I want to know, instead of fighting me?” “I ain’t gotta say nothin’ to you, gov’ment man. I ain’t gonna sell out my gang just so’s you can slaughter us all.” “You know, at this rate, you’re going to die anyway. Your wounds are bleeding out, and you’re going to collapse. You have nothing to lose by just telling me what I want to know.” “I don’t sell out to gov’ment men, ya little punk! Ya think I’m gonna spill my guts just ‘cause of your little tricks?! I ain’t got a damn thing to say to you, ya little bast-- aaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrggggggghhhhhhhhh!” That bit of caterwauling was the result of the two hundred and first lash. I didn’t particularly care what he said to me, I was just getting tired of his voice. It was beginning to grate my nerves. I turned away from him, angered by his insolence. Gangs and their nonsense about “honor…” exactly what honor is there supposed to be in thievery and murder? It seemed as if all these people really had going for them was loyalty. 'Calm down, Tobias.' I took a deep breath. I had to think… torture obviously wasn’t working. He obviously had a high tolerance for pain, or his adrenaline was kicking in. So what other weaknesses did he have? He appeared to be quite arrogant, to speak to me the way he did, in spite of the fact that he was at my mercy. How could I use that against him…?” A devious smile split my face. I quickly regained my composure before turning to Lydia. “Lydia… I would like to speak to this man alone.” “Is there any particular reason for this sudden privacy?” “There is something I need to discuss with this man,” I responded, discreetly making a circle with my thumb and forefinger. “I need you to not interrupt, if possible.” Lydia stared at me for a few moments before nodding once and leaving us alone. I knew she would probably hide somewhere out of our line of sight and watch. This man did not, however. “You know… I may have misjudged you when I captured you.” “Right about that, you are.” "You seem like a very reasonable man. And a courageous one, to resist my spells.” “Ain’t nobody ever called a wanted man ‘reasonable.’ All you want’s for me ta talk, and I ain’t saying nothin’.” “What exactly would you have to tell me? Nothing you have to say is really important to me.” His face twisted into a strange expression, a mixture of surprise and disbelief. “You… you’re lyin’...” “No, I’m afraid I’m not ‘lyin’.’ I don’t actually care about your gang; I’m not even personally looking for them.” “You… ain’t you a bounty hunter?” I gave a dismissive wave. “A front. That’s all it is. A front to gather information for myself. So you understand, I had to rough you up a little earlier, to convince my partner I was serious. “However… now that she is no longer present, I have a proposal for you.” I looked him right in the eyes. “All I need from you is to answer my question… and it’s nothing to do with your apparent gang affiliation. “All I want from you is this… I want you to tell me how I might safely break a contract with a summoned deity. I figure those in the underground should know a little something about breaking contracts.” Oh, he had given me a dirty look at first, until I sweetened the deal. “If you give me what I need, I could release you. Right now.” Now he was a little less onery. “You… you mean that?” “For sure. You’ll be free to go if you just talk to me.”  I made a discreet signal with my hand, in case Lydia was thinking about coming out of hiding. “You’re obviously a smart man… I think you can see that this is a good deal for you.” “You… you really mean that? You gonna let me go?” “On my honor as a wizard.” Now he was smiling at me. It was as if he believed we were old friends. “Okay, I don’t know nothin’ about no spirit contracts, but I can point you to a guy who does. Name’s Adrian… he’s a wizard too, but a wanted man like me, ain’t no good at all. Knows all about that sort of shady magic. Lives on the outskirts of the city, in a big mansion, kinda looks like a castle.” “And you’re sure about all this?” “As the sun rises in the east, I am. It’s in an area not too far from our turf… you tell ‘em I sent ya, they’ll be glad ta show you the way.” “Good. I thank you for your help. We may part ways now.” I held out a hand, shooting a beam of light from my palm. When it hit the ground, it formed a circle which positioned itself beneath and to the right of my charge. Several little imps appeared from it, their gaping maws open and hungry, revealing sharp teeth. “Wha… what are them things?” “They’re called imps. They are quite dangerous to humans, all except their masters. And mine are rather hungry, as you can see.” Realization dawned on him rather swiftly. “Wait a minute! Ya swore you’d let me go!” “And I will. Don’t worry; I fully intend on releasing the spell I placed on you. You will drop to the ground as soon as I do.” “But you… you told me I’d be free to leave!” “And you will be. If you can outrun the imps.” “You lyin’ little piece of--!” “I’ll have to stop you right there. I never lied to you, good sir. I merely said that I would release you. Killing you was never brought up.” Another lash, and the criminal’s ear dropped into my hand. “This should be enough to prove my encounter to the forensic mages. I wish I could tell you how much you’re worth, but sadly, I must be off. Good day sir.” With that, I snapped my fingers, releasing the spell and the man. I could hear him protest, screaming in fear, as I walked away from him, leaving him to deal with the imps. Lydia came to meet me when I was about halfway to her hiding spot, which turned out to be a pair of trees not far from where we were having our conversation. “Well. That was pretty creative of you. Kill two birds with one stone like that.” “People are predictable like that. You warm up to them enough, and they’ll spill their guts like nothing.” We sat by the trees and watched the criminal as he continued his attempted escape. It wasn’t working out for him: one of the creatures eventually caught him by the ankle and dragged him to the others. He begged and screamed throughout, scratching at the ground in a fruitless escape attempt, and grew even louder as the creatures began devouring him. “You know, just because a wanted poster says ‘dead or alive’ doesn’t mean you always have to kill them.” I quirked an eyebrow at her. “You’re defending him.” “Of course not. I’m just saying, you could have still used him… if you had him around when we went to the underground, they’d be more willing to warm up to you…” “I have his name and his word. That’s all any of these criminals need.” “And what will you tell them as to how he died?” “An unfortunate accident on the way back. We tried our hardest to save him, but we were too late… magic cannot do everything, after all.” And what about the fact that we’re bounty hunters?” “That can stay quiet until we’re done with them. What, you think I’m going to just traipse into the underground and yell ‘guess what? I’m a bounty hunter! Where’s Adrian?’” “No, but we are wearing these.” She tapped the badge on her chest, of which I wore a similar one. I took mine off and tucked it inside my robes. “Inside pocket, Lydia. Inside pocket. And if we get stopped, I can flash it discreetly enough and tell the guy what I’m doing.” She stared for a few moments, as though wanting to make another argument, before turning back to the imps still enjoying their feast. “Fair enough. I’d still feel more comfortable if we had him around as insurance, though.” I didn’t respond, instead watching as my imps finished their meal. When they were finished, I gave a command and returned them to the world they came from. Now we are in this inn, resting for the next day. I’ve already turned in the proof of our capture, of course. Lydia is still downstairs finishing her supper; I went to our room early, as I don’t have much of an appetite. All I can seem to think about is the underground. Will Adrian really be willing to help me? Will he be able to? What if nothing really can be done to save her…? I clenched my left hand. No. I can’t think like that. I can’t let failure become part of my vocabulary. I will save her. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.
Final note: All my formatting is gone and that makes me sad.
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