By Tim McHugh
The dancing torchlight cast tall flickering shadows across the stone walls as fifty men and women filed into the dark room. Clasped in their deep purple cloaks, the guild members circled along the edges of the small space to watch the ritual. Feet scraping along the flat ground was the only sound that could be heard.
Barric caught a couple of nervous eyes darting back and forth. He did his best to act calm, to set an example, but he dreaded the ritual too. He was just watching from the crowd, but that was still too close. He drew his purple cloak tight around him as if it would protect him and leaned casually against the flat stone wall on the edge of the room, crossing his arms.
Barric turned his head slowly to glance around the room that lay deep under their massive temple. His gut twisted as he eyed all the empty spaces around him. The space was large enough to hold about a hundred people, normally too small for the whole guild, but they had lost nine-tenths of their number in the past year.
The Magi Guild tried to remain peaceful, agreeing to live under the rule of the King of Sark decades ago. They did however expect a few privileges; they only used their sorcery to help the realm, never to hurt the king’s enemies, and the treasury provided them with whatever gold they needed.
Their arrangement had been beneficial until King Lucian died and his teenage son, Prince Gregory, rose to the throne. Gregory was impulsive and wasted no time playing at war. He was caught up in an ill-fated attempt to conquer the Kingdom of Mulde, just east of Sark, until he realized he couldn’t win. Beaten and desperate, he ordered the Magi Guild to intervene on his behalf. When they refused to participate in any war, the king immediately sued for peace in Mulde, and turned his swords on the Guild out of spite.
Barric watched as six sorcerers stepped to the center of the room and slipped off their purple cloaks. Aland stood shoulders back and chin high with a frosty look in his eyes as he pulled on the scarlet cloak for the ritual, with the other five following his lead. The scarlet cloaks were worn by sorcerers who were undertaking a ritual that would result in their death. It was a mark of pride to don the scarlet cloak, those are the sorcerers brave enough to sacrifice themselves for the guild, but it also meant they would be laid to rest that night.
Aland circled slowly around to take a last look at his brothers and sisters. Barric noticed his raven black hair faded to grey around his ears, and even with the cloak draped over him, he could see his broad shoulders and massive arms. When he locked eyes with Barric, he paused for a moment. Barric felt the judgment wash over him, whether it was intended or not, and he looked away in embarrassment.
According to their laws, when the king declared war, the guild’s Leader of Peace stepped down, and they voted on their Leader of War. Aland had been the clear choice. The man was strong, decisive, and understood battle as well as any man alive. Throughout the war, he led them through many difficult battles, killing tens of thousands of the king’s men. It wasn’t his fault that the king was willing to send endless waves of his own soldiers to their death.
The war had cost the guild over four hundred brothers and sisters. Only a few were actually killed by weapons, most of them had collapsed under the weight of their sorcery. Spells powerful enough to kill humans were dangerous to use, and they took a toll, one of the reasons they avoided war.
Those battles had led them to this room, to attempt this ritual. It was a desperate measure, and no one knew how it might turn out. Aland wasted no more time with words. He knelt, donned his hood, and bowed his head. The other five in scarlet knelt next to him, forming a circle.
Barric held his breath when the guttural chants lifted into the air. The noises coming from their throats sounded inhuman. After a few seconds, the chants began to sound far away and were replaced by a low ringing in Barric’s ears. He stood up off the wall and tried to shake his head to clear it, but his vision just grew shaky. I’m too close. He tried to take an awkward step back, but his shoulders hit the stone wall behind him. The torchlight light fell away at the edges of his sight like he was looking through a tunnel to the center of the scarlet circle. A few more seconds passed, his head was throbbing, and the room fell away.
The pain grew in Barric’s head, he felt as if he were in a painful void, being lifted by an invisible force until without warning, it stopped. His vision returned, the pain subsided, and he felt his feet planted firmly on the stone ground.
The six magi in the center of the room collapsed lifelessly to the ground as if they were marionettes cut from their strings. Barric heard a couple of moans from the crowd around him as everyone regained control of their senses. He looked down at Aland, his immense body sprawled on the stone floor, blood pooling around him. Barric felt a wave of nausea as he realized the ritual had worked.
A light mist slowly formed in the center of the room. Barric watched in horror as it spread. The light ricocheted off the cloud in odd directions. It swayed like a banner that was being waved from two directions simultaneously. The mist grew thicker until it was milky white, taking up as much space as a human form.
He stared at the cloud and an oddly warm feeling filled him up. The more he stared, the more he could see. The outline of a woman’s hand came into focus. It was pale white and seemed to hold a low glow at the edges. He looked harder and saw the vague outline of a woman’s curves. Only certain parts of her came into focus in the mist.
He sank deeper into the trance, seeing a flicker of gleaming silver eyes that shot a chill through his spine. He wanted to look deeper into the eyes but someone nudged his right arm and the trance broke. The woman disappeared, leaving only the milky mist.
He glanced over. “Snap out of it,” the man next to him said.
Dread rose in Barric as he realized he had almost been entranced. He nodded his thanks and dropped his eyes, fixing them on the clean stone floor.
The lightsiren had been summoned. A lightsiren is a beautiful beast. She started as that light mist, enticing you to look deeper. As you stare, you see more of her haunting beauty. The more you see, the more of the world falls away around you, and the more lost you become. Anyone who sees her full form and looks deep into her silver eyes for too long never comes back. They don’t quite die, because their hearts still beat and their organs still work, but they collapse to the ground, and their eyes go lifeless.
“Thanks for coming,” Anika said as she moved out of the doorway to let Barric into her chambers. She wore a loose green tunic slashed with gold, brown leather pants, and black boots that almost reached her knees. Her blonde hair was pulled back into a tight braid, and her green eyes shone brightly against her pale skin.
“Of course,” Barric said as he entered. He slipped off his cloak and draped it over a finely carved wooden chair. He breathed deep, taking in the strong scent of something herbal, like lavender leaves. The room was small but elegantly decorated; she had a large bookshelf in one corner filled with neat stacks of leather-bound books and tightly wound scrolls, and her desk was mahogany carved with stripes of elaborate designs. Two chairs with grey cushions sat on a fine blue and white carpet in front of the fireplace.
Anika gestured to the chairs, and they both took a seat. “Why did you want to see me?” Barric said as he settled in.
“I want to make sure we are still united,” she said with a stern voice, but Barric could hear nerves edging her tone. Anika had been elected leader earlier that day after Aland died in the ritual.
“I know you wanted to succeed Aland, but I want you to know—what’s wrong?” she asked as he broke eye contact and dipped his head.
“No, nothing, please continue.”
She went on warily, “I know you have many followers in the guild and I need to know that we’re on the same side before I use this lightsiren.”
She looked at him sternly, waiting for a response. She thought he was disappointed she had won. She didn’t understand that he had urged his followers to vote for her. He wondered if it was her youth that made her naïve to the responsibility of leader. Did she think it was an honor? Or was she just so brave herself that she couldn’t understand why others wouldn’t want it?
He took a long look around the room, taking a second look at a few trinkets on her desk. Then he turned his gaze, looking down into her eyes. They were glittering, a beautiful deep green specked with diamonds. He wondered if she had altered their color.
“Barric? Are you listening? This war is more dangerous than ever, and I need to know we’re not divided.”
He forced a smile. Anika was young but he knew she was an extremely gifted sorcerer and well-respected by everyone, including him. Maybe it was the right choice to have her elected.
“We are not divided, Anika.” She sat back, clearly relieved, “You’ll make a fine leader.”
“I’m pleased to hear it. I’ll need you to lean on.”
“You’ll have me.” Barric looked around again. “Wine?”
Anika smiled and stood up. She crossed the room to a small cabinet, produced two stemless silver goblets, and filled them with a bright red wine. She came back and handed him the cup. It was solid silver, heavy in his hand. The wine was sweeter than he liked, but he sipped, anyway. Anika just swirled the wine in her hands.
“This war is a nasty business,” she looked back up at Barric, “but this lightsiren will surely win it for us. Aland was wise to summon it.”
Barric took a long sip of wine and silently stared at the fire.
“You have other thoughts?”
Barric shuttered as he thought back to the ritual. “This type of sorcery is a double-edged blade.”
She pursed her lips, “Hmm…”
Barric let the silence hang in the air, looking at her with a casual gaze.
Her face began to harden. “Aland, Godwin, Roland, Agnes, Edme, and Bren died for the lightsiren. Do you suggest we don’t use it?” Her tone was cruel, but her face changed as soon as she spoke; she realized she had been too harsh.
He leaned forward, so they were eye to eye. “I will never forget that night.” he assured her with a solemn look, “They were all so brave to make the sacrifice.”
Some color rose in her cheeks. “I know, I apologize.”
He leaned back but kept a stern tone. “As our leader, I will trust you, but you must consider this power we are unleashing into the world.”
She leaned forward. “As long as we can control it—”
“We can’t control that thing.” He interrupted.
She ignored him. “Now that it’s summoned, we can call it wherever we will it,” her tone was steady. “I can control it Barric.”
He wasn’t sure if he agreed, but he convinced himself to believe her. He nodded in surrender. “Okay, I trust you.”
Barric went to take another sip, but his cup was empty.
“More wine?” Anika asked.
“No, I’ve taken enough of your time.”
He bid Anika goodnight and left her room, wandering back into the cold maze of the Magi Temple. He dragged his left hand along the unadorned stone walls as he absentmindedly headed back to his chambers.
He pushed open the door to his room and closed his eyes as he took in the scent of lemon and bergamot. The fragrance and warm air immediately calmed him; he tilted his head and took in another whiff. Opening his eyes, he saw Celest standing next to his desk. She was tall and slender in a tight-fitting tunic. Her brown skin and delicate features shined in the orange glow from the fireplace and scattered candles. Her thick onyx hair was pulled back into a braid that fell almost to her waist. Barric stepped in and immediately felt her warmth.
“Barric,” She said with a smile.
He didn’t answer, just crossed the room to her and placed a quick kiss on her cheek.
“Oh my, I’ve never seen you so passionate!” She smiled slyly.
He sat with his back to her and put his elbows on the desk. He placed his face in his hands and rubbed his eyes a little too hard. Celest stood behind the chair and ran her hand through his hair. He leaned his head back, resting it on her stomach, and closed his eyes as her long, slim fingers rubbed his head.
“Tell me what’s on your mind.” her tone was soft.
“Well, what’s usually on your mind? I’d love to know that as well.” She said in a playful tone.
After a moment of silence she spoke again, her tone turned serious, “So, Anika is our leader.”
“Yes, she is.” His ears felt hot.
“I assumed that you would step up after Aland…”
Barric knew that he would have been the sensible successor to Aland. He was well loved and talented, and though he had not yet reached forty years of age, he was senior among the remaining guild members.
Barric put his face back in his hands, “Yes, well, I guess I’m not cut out for it.”
Celest pulled up a chair and sat facing him, “What’s the real reason?”
He thought of Aland, twisted on the ground.
“Tell me Barric.”
He thought of the blood leaking from Aland’s eyes and ears.
“Are you listening to me?”
The way his bones crunched as he hit the stone floor.
“I don’t want to die.”
Celest pulled back. The shame turned his face red as he looked into her eyes. She stammered then spoke, “You don’t want to die? We’re in a war Barric.”
He let out a breath, “I know that. And I have killed hundreds of people in battle. I’ve risked my life.”
“So, what are you afraid of?”
“To die!” He shook his hands in front of him, “Am I truly the only coward among us?”
“We’re all scared to die, that doesn’t make you a coward. But we all are risking our lives…”
“No. There’s a difference between going to battle in the back lines and being the leader. No leader survives war, everyone knows that. There will always come a time when we need a spell that’s too powerful to survive, or there will come a time to don the scarlet cloak.” The thought of the scarlet cloaks twisted his gut. He felt that he should have been there next to Aland. He didn’t understand how others could be so brave. It filled him with admiration. And shame.
“The guild is bigger than us, Barric.”
He stood and started to pace the room, “I know that! But it’s more complicated.”
“You want it both ways, you want your life and victory.” Her tone wasn’t judgmental, it was understanding as if she could finally make sense of his actions.
“No one else is in my position. Everyone else can say they’re willing to die but I’m the only one who is actually expected to make the sacrifice. It’s easy to talk when you’re not next in line to sacrifice yourself.”
Celest nodded, he had a fair point. She had said she would die for the guild but she hadn’t actually been asked to do it. She had always known that others were ahead of her in line, there was no pressure for her to volunteer for a scarlet cloak, to lead the spells in battle, to stand in the front lines. She wondered if she’d be brave enough if she were called upon.
She understood Barric, but still felt he was letting them down. “You’re letting Anika make the sacrifice.” She said, almost in a whisper.
“I know.” Barric dipped his head in humiliation. He was too scared to take the responsibility, but she had jumped at the opportunity. “I do wonder though if she knows what she’s volunteered for.”
“You think she’s naïve”
He pushed his lips together, “I’m not sure.” Did he want to believe she was naïve? That would be a convenient way to explain how she had done something he was too scared to do. But if she was so naïve is he responsible for placing her in this position? The questions whirled painfully around his brain.
Celest saw his struggle and changed the subject, “What do you think of this lightsiren?” That question just added to the whirlwind.
“That thing can’t be controlled.” He said with a shiver.
Barric was usually who she looked to for comfort, but the look on his face, the way his hands shook, and the fact that he had no plan, all terrified her. A knot twisted in her stomach as a cold, fearful silence grew between them.
Barric stood side by side with Anika at the head of their column, overlooking a sea of iron and steel. Celest stood towards the back as Barric had insisted. From their vantage point atop a small hill, they could see most of the ten-thousand soldiers organized before them. A cool wind was snapping at Barric’s cloak but he didn’t bother to pull it tight.
His dark eyes were shining with malice as he made out a figure in gold enameled armor sitting atop a white horse in the reserve column. A thick maroon cloak flowed from his shoulders and a silver crown crested his helm. Barric turned around and looked at his brothers and sisters. Usually before these battles, he had seen nervous eyes and tense movements, but now he only saw stone. None of them would die today.
They were ten leagues from their temple. It had only taken them a week or so to walk this distance on foot. They were traveling towards the capital city to meet the royal army head-on. Along their way, they had spied a few outriders scouting for the king. They decided to let them go; there was no sense in hiding their movements. It made no difference where this battle took place. They were only a day’s journey from the city gates when they noticed the army grow over the horizon, so they chose their vantage point and waited.
Grey clouds were rolling in overhead, but the sun was still fighting to peek through, casting a pale light over the whole scene. Anika turned to Barric, the wind was tugging her blonde hair across her face, framing her emerald eyes. Barric nodded to her, and she stepped forward to the crest of the hill to call the lightsiren.
One of the king’s commanders noticed the movement and wasted no time. A horn blared across the grassy field, followed by a loud snap that filled the air. Barric casually looked up to see a swarm of arrows racing across the dreary sky. They hovered over the field, then dipped their steel points at the modest column of sorcerers. Barric looked back down at the king as the arrows fell all around the magi. Each shaft bit harmlessly into the grass.
Anika hadn’t even looked up, she was muttering softly, eyes closed tight towards the ground. Summoning the lightsiren had cost the lives of six sorcerers, but to call her to the battlefield was a much simpler task. Barric looked away as he saw the shimmering mist form again. He focused instead on the army; they had hundreds of finely armored cavalrymen, all with long lances. Thousands more footsoldiers, all in heavy plate, who held swords, maces, hammers, and other glistening weapons. The few hundred archers were sending another volley of arrows their way.
The arrows cut straight through the air, singing a deadly song as they rained over the magi. But again they just found the harmless spaces between the sorcerers. Anika finished her incantation and sent the mesmerizing cloud forward to drift hauntingly through the whipping grass. Barric noticed a line of blood dripping from her nose. He made a move towards her but she just waved him off and dabbed her nose with the edge of her cloak.
The king’s soldiers immediately noticed the lightsiren as it moved closer to their front lines. The men on horseback were having trouble keeping their steads under control. The horses whipped their heads and reared, screeching in fear. The footsoldiers tried to push back, repelled as the mist grew closer, but it took less than a minute for the first man to become entranced. It happened one by one, until hundreds stood there, heads tilted. Their grips loosened, and weapons dropped to the ground to disappear in the deep grass. Within two minutes, soldiers started falling. A wave of them emanating from the front line collapsed. Ringing crashes and cracks filled the air as armor smashed against the ground.
The site was glorious as Barric looked over the hectic scene. Men were frozen as the lightsiren moved through their ranks. They went from panic to stone as she approached. He found the golden king in the chaos, yelling in panic, “Kill it! Kill it now!” A smile formed on his face as Barric watched cavalrymen fail to steer their horses toward the lightsiren. One brave foot soldier stepped up and ran towards the mist with an axe in hand. The moment he touched her, he collapsed into the pile of his lifeless allies.
“Retreat!” the king himself yelled. Thousands of men tumbled over one another as they turned to run. Horses crashed to the ground, their feet tangled in the fray of running bodies. Hundreds more just stood there before collapsing in the lightsiren’s wake. As the battlefield cleared, Anika slowly led the magi down the hill to gauge the damage. The wind picked up, and a light rain started to dampen Barric’s cloak
Barric slowly stepped over the steel-clad bodies. The piles of tangled men seemed to touch the horizon. The rain dinged off their steel with no rhythm, and crows had already flown down to peck at their empty eyes. No one said a word as they wandered across the field.
A young face caught Barric’s eye. He shooed a crow away and crouched down for a better look. The man had hazel eyes staring between streaks of matted brown hair that escaped from under his halfhelm. Barric slipped the halfhelm off, and his head just fell back against the ground. Barric nervously stuck two fingers on the young man’s neck. He held his breath and lightly felt around until he found the faint drumbeat of a pulse. It was faint but clear, he could even feel heat coming off the boy’s skin. He quickly pulled his hand away and climbed back to his feet.
He looked back to see Anika staring up at him. “It had to be done,” she said. He stood and stared out over the field, thousands fallen, without a drop of bloodshed. Over half the army had been entranced before the king had called his retreat.
“We’re going after him,” Barric said in a flat tone to no one in particular.
The Guild walked through the streets of the city, passing stout hovels and tilted wooden structures led by Anika. She walked with determination, the sun bouncing off her pale hair and illuminating the diamonds in her eyes. She stared forward, not wasting a glance at the common folk running from their path. Barric was at her right arm, his hood pulled over his wavy dark hair.
They had followed the retreat to the capital city. It had been almost a full day since the battle and the clouds had parted to let the sun blaze through. As they approached the center of the city, the wood structures fell away to sturdy stone buildings, and finally, they reached the gem in the center; a massive fortress with crenelated walls made of large blocks of sandstone rose eighty feet overhead. A score of guards stood between the crenels above, with crossbows pointed at them. Anika halted before the massive steel-reinforced wooden gate.
“Turn back!” a guard directly above yelled down. He wore gleaming chainmail and a gold-enameled barrel helm. A maroon cloak flowed over his back, marking him as the leader of the guard, but Anika still ignored him. She just pulled up her hood and concentrated on the ground. Her lips moved rapidly as she called the lightsiren.
“We will shoot! Turn back!” Fear was teeming in his tone. When Anika made no answer, he grew frantic, “Fire at will!”
A hundred crossbows snapped and a hundred bolts tore through the air at the magi. Each one stuck in the dirt around them harmlessly. The mist started to form, “Fire!” Another volley fell between the sorcerers. By the time they pulled back their crossbows for a third shot, the mist was a thick white and Anika took a step back. Crossbows fell from the wall, breaking to pieces on the ground below. The guard in the maroon cloak stopped giving orders, all just stared at the mist.
Barric’s eyes latched onto the lightsiren for a little too long. The surrounding noise started to fall away. He began to stare at a brief flicker of glittering silver eyes. They were magnificent, as if they produced a pale light of their own. He saw the form of a woman start to take shape. She had this haunting beauty, but only certain parts came into focus. He wanted to see more of her, to understand where her light came from…
The woman turned to mist again as Anika shook him hard by the arm. He looked up at the walls and saw no more heads peeking over. He looked back at Anika, dazed.
“What are you doing?”
He shuttered; he had almost been entranced. He shook his head and cleared his senses. “I’m fine, I’m fine, let’s go.” They walked forward, and the gate swung open with a loud creak as they approached. Barric didn’t even risk a glance at the lightsiren floating behind them.
They walked through the halls of the castle; they passed intricate tapestries and glamorous artifacts, walking over carpets with sprawling designs. Windows were carved into the sandstone walls every couple of feet, with torches placed between them. As they drifted between the thick walls, nerves rose in Barric; they hadn’t passed a single person, no guards, no servants, no one. He felt uneasy, but he kept his face a mask.
They made it to the throne room and pushed open the tall wooden doors by their solid gold handles. They entered shoulder to shoulder, the light siren floating eerily in their tow. Anika stopped abruptly and looked across the white marble floor. She had expected to see an army, but instead, the king sat smugly atop his throne across the room, crown slightly tilted on his blonde head, a smile twisting his face. Only four armed guards stood at his side, but the room was packed, crammed with members of the royal court.
At least a hundred men in fine garments and as many women in colorful dresses all turned to eye the sorcerers. There were a few old women and men sitting in chairs, and scores of young children, hiding under their parent’s arms. Each person looked at Anika with a fearful gaze. Another hundred or so servants, mostly young men and women, stood along the walls between the tall paned windows.
Barric ground his teeth in anger. He’s using them as a shield. He looked at Anika, she didn’t know what to do.
“Welcome Magi Guild!” the king boomed in a sarcastically regal tone. “I was so excited for your visit that I assembled the whole court to await your arrival!”
Barric grabbed Anika by the arm, “We have to leave.” She looked at him with questioning eyes. “We’ll come back on our terms.”
Her face hardened, she nodded in agreement and signaled the magi to leave. Barric angrily wracked his brain to find a solution, a way to kill the king without casualties. Any spell would cause too much damage. And the lightsiren…
As the horrible thought came into his head, the mist floated over them, settling in the middle of the room. The king pushed himself up but the arms of his throne, his look matched that on Barric’s face. Screams broke out amongst the crowd, and the sea of people parted from the lightsiren’s path. Barric was shaken by the scene; the stammering king, screams from the women and men, wails of fear from the children. The horror encased him, freezing his senses, leaving him to stand helpless at the edge of the room. But when the screams went silent, a chill shocked his body into motion.
“Look away! No! Look away!” Barric yelled as he ran towards the nearest group of people. He grabbed a woman by her silk-clad shoulders and shook, but she just stared over his shoulder. He knelt in front of a young boy to block his view, but it was as if the child could see straight through him. He looked around and saw every single man, woman, and child staring at the mist. The sorcerers, knowing better, stared at the ground, and made sure no one next to them was staring.
The thud of bodies hitting the floor filled the air like a horrifying ballad. Bones cracked as bodies smacked against the marble. Barric shot his head back and forth, not knowing how to help. Half the room was on the ground, the others just stared blankly. He took no pleasure in seeing the king slump from his throne.
“Stop this!” Anika screeched, “Stop!” She marched up to the mist and looked right at it, muttering a spell in a low voice. Hope filled Barric, she would know how to stop it. She told him she could control it. Her lips moved rapidly as she tried to stop the beast, but the longer Barric looked, the slower her lips moved. Then they stopped.
Barric’s eyes grew wide. He ran to her. Grabbing her by the shoulders, he shook her whole body, but she wouldn’t respond. “Anika!” He turned her face away from the lightsiren, but her eyes wouldn’t meet his, they just looked into the distance. She grew heavy in his arms before collapsing fully into him.
“Listen to my voice, Anika.” She just stared as he shook. Barric’s vision blurred as tears welled in his eyes. He yelled at her to move, he shook her, but she wouldn’t respond. He didn’t hold on to her out of love, or grief, or guilt. He clung to her as one clings to shelter in a storm.
“Barric! We have to leave!” Celest’s voice sounded distant but it cut through the haze.
He stood and looked around the room. The lightsiren had disappeared but he knew it wasn’t gone. It had left heaps of humans with beating hearts and lifeless eyes.
Barric knelt back over Anika pulling a dagger from his belt. He wasn’t going to leave her to this unnatural fate. He let out a sad breath but wasted no time plunging the blade into her chest. She didn’t react. He put two fingers to her neck and felt the drumming of her pulse. The beats came softer and softer until they stopped altogether.
Scared of death and scared of the unknown, Anika had been a sort of haven, stepping up so he didn’t have to. But now the storm beat down, the wind tore the roof off his sanctuary, and he felt the water flooding in.
Barric led the remainder of the guild into the ritual room, a hard look on his face. He would be their leader, at least for tonight. He stopped when he reached the center of the room. The rest of the purple cloaks whirled around him, clinging to the walls. He sighed in contempt as the other five sorcerers he had chosen joined him in the center.
Barric took a handful of his cloak and fingered the soft purple wool. Then he ran his finger across the silver chain on his chest and unclasped it, letting the cloak fall from his shoulders. He took a long moment before donning the scarlet cloak for the ritual. The color seemed odd as he looked down at himself.
He found Celest standing against the far wall of the room, a few tears were streaming down her face. Barric crossed the room and stood in front of her. He put a hand behind her head and placed his forehead on hers. A few tears escaped his eyes as he felt her warmth and his heart beat fast as he placed his lips on hers. He pulled away after a long moment and looked her in the eyes.
“Wherever this takes me, I’ll spend every moment waiting for you.”
Her body shuddered as she sobbed and he could feel himself shaking. He pulled her close.
“I love you.” She whispered in his ear.
He conjured the strength to let her go and walked back to the center of the room, wiping tears from his face. He stared at each of the other magi in scarlet. Three women and two men stood before him, each with iron in their eyes. Barric nodded his head, and they knelt down, creating a circle.
Barric took in a long breath and let it leak out slowly from his lips before he began. He would miss this place. He bowed his head and the other five followed him, then he began the ritual. Guttural noises escaped from his throat and in a moment, the mist rose between them.
The other five joined in and Barric instantly felt a pressure build in his head. He pushed through it, keeping his eyes shut tight. The words of the ritual filled the room. They filled his head. His blood grew hot, and pain started thumping in his skull but he just chanted louder, agony slipping into every word. The rest of the room was dazed, trying to look away as the lightsiren took full form.
Barric chanted louder, his voice bouncing around the small room. The drumming in his skull was deafening, the pressure felt as if his head was being hammered on an anvil. The chanting continued to rise as the mist swayed in place. As the chants reached a climax, the pressure grew strong enough to crack Barric’s skull. He yelled through the last words in agony before falling lifeless to the ground.
The Magi surrounding the room looked around, their senses returning. The six sorcerers in scarlet were sprawled on the ground in their own blood, but the milky mist was gone. The room collectively breathed a sigh of somber relief.
Celest was the first to step forward. Her hood was pulled forward, hiding her long onyx hair. She walked up to Barric and looked down at his face. She closed her eyes and bowed her head, placing it on his chest. She whispered a quick, silent prayer for him before shutting his lifeless eyes.
Through tears, Celest gave the signal and the rest of the guild converged to pick up the scarlet figures, carrying them from the room. They took them to a massive stone staircase that swirled deep under the temple. The air grew colder the further down they went until they finally reached the crypts. The room was dim, lit only by the single candle burning at the foot of each granite tomb.
They carried the six men and women to their own open tombs, where they laid them to rest. They dragged a heavy lid closed over each one and said a prayer for each in turn. Barric’s tomb was closed last. Celest looked over him, his eyes were closed peacefully but his face was stained with blood leaking from his nose and mouth. She leaned over the edge of the tomb and rested her hand on his face, she ran her fingers through his hair. Gathering all her strength, she pulled her hand away and nodded.
Two men dragged the heavy lid over his peaceful-looking face. She watched until the last sliver of him was covered. She lit the red candle that sat at the foot of his tomb, it burned steadily. The whole guild took a long, silent moment to honor him as the red wax began to run. After paying their respects, they all filtered out of the room without a sound, leaving Barric to rest with his brothers and sisters, alongside all the sorcerers who had donned the scarlet cloaks and sacrificed themselves for the survival of the guild.
About the author: Tim is an aspiring young author in the fantasy genre. He currently works full time in the software industry but has a love for fantasy and sci-fi literature. He loves grey characters, moral ambiguity, and stories that tell us something about the world.
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