Read Nightlord: Shadows Online
Authors: Garon Whited
Tags: #Parody, #Fiction, #Fantasy
I waited out my sunrise transformation in the throne room. It’s never pleasant to go from alive to undead, or vice-versa. I sweat a reeking foulness that reminds me of sickbeds, gym socks, and clogged toilets. Of the two, undead-to-alive is worse; midway through the process, I have to breathe. I hate it.
It’s even worse when I’ve had to heal a lot of injuries overnight; my vampire regeneration apparently produces extra-awful byproducts. At a guess, filling out the mass of a quasi-skeletal me required a lot of tissue growth. I
. I felt not just filthy, but slimy.
Is this why the undead are considered “unclean”? Is it because we’re just unnaturally filthy? Or is it merely justification for a case of religious prejudice?
Another cleaning spell took care of the worst of it. I decided, right then, to find a bath. Somewhere in this whole mountain, there must be a spring or something. If nothing else, I could rinse in the lake or a canal, but a place this huge and complicated damned well ought to have a bathroom! Someone, please tell me I dreamed a bathroom into the mountain.
On the other hand, this place was huge and complicated. Finding it could be a problem.
Well, I could try asking the mountain. It would take a while—talking to my gigantic pet rock is always a slow process—but the sooner I got started, the sooner I’d be done with it. I didn’t like the idea; I felt as though there was something I should be doing. What that might be was a mystery, but I blame it on a really long nap. I’ve been asleep for ages; now I’m awake and ready to go out and do things and have no idea what to do.
At least, I think that’s what it is.
I sat on the throne: a solid, massive sculpture, done in a dragon’s-head theme. The throne was really the dragon’s neck, coming out high on the wall and snaking down, with the space between the back-swept horns acting as a footrest. The head was large enough that I could use the snout as a seat, but the contours would be impossibly uncomfortable. On the neck, I almost reclined rather than sat. I guess it’s more like a tilted couch than a chair. My only real objection was the lack of armrests. Still, it was easy to sit on while wearing a long piece of metal on one hip. That counts for a lot around here.
It was, however, stone. It wasn’t really all that comfortable, but it was impressive.
The carven, vertical-slit pupils each held a ruby of some size, cut in an elongated way to match the eyes. It made me wonder again about the mirrored, gold-plated ceiling. At least the ceiling was functional; with the firepits lit, the ceiling scattered light all through the room. These rubies were just decoration.
Or, can the mountain actually see through them? I don’t really know. What would it see? It lives so much more slowly than organic life... a lot of blurry things, flittering by? Or would it see perfectly and just react very slowly?
I settled in as well as I could and started shifting my time sense into a lower gear. The spell worked its way into the stone while I kept decreasing my personal time. The living mountain was at least a hundred thousand times faster than a typical piece of geology, but that’s still nowhere near the speed of us more animated types. So I relaxed, reached into the stone, and tried to take my time. Eventually, there was a sense of awareness, a contact, and we slowly started to move toward a synchronization.
Gradually, I began to feel the mountain as though I were part of it—a rather familiar sensation, actually. It seemed a strangely easy, if slow, process. The mountain and I merged, becoming part of each other again, and I remembered my way around inside it. I remembered what those four towers on the upper peak were for. I remembered the arrangement of the ventilation system, and the water system, and the layout of the streets. I recalled the hidden depths of the mountain passages and the secret of the canals.
A million little details flooded back to me, too many to retain, too much to recall in detail. For those moments that lasted hours, I held the whole of the city and everything beneath it within my mind, as perfect and clear as a single drop of water before it falls from a leaf.
Yes, this was my mountain. We had dreamed a city together. I dreamed the forms and it grew into them. We wandered together in my dreams while I taught it to be a city—how to grow, how to flow, how to breathe, how to live. What should grow back as thousands of feet and wheels and hands and shoulders rubbed against it. What to change and how to change to accommodate the fast-moving flesh.
It was happy that I was pleased with it. I was pleased it was happy. I concentrated on finding a bathroom, and we knew where all of them were, both public and private, above and below.
I let go of the spell and returned to a human time scale. It was already past noon, but I had learned—or remembered—much. Impressions remained of a thousand details, none of which I actually knew, but which would seem familiar to me when I saw them again.
And, strangely, the throne seemed a good deal more comfortable.
Who adapted, the stone or I? Interesting question. It certainly moved a bit, changing the angle, moving the horns closer together and tilting them up into an attack posture. They still didn’t make good armrests, but now I have something I can put my hands on while trying to look regal.
Cats and horses have their ears. Dragons have those two large horns coming out of the back of their heads. I have a headache, because I’m remembering things I have no business knowing.
Without hesitation, I headed to the royal chambers. The quick way: out through the rearmost door in the throne room—excuse me, “great hall”—and into a small sitting room. Then up a narrow spiral stair of stone, and through a private door into my study. Barren and empty for now, like the rest of my chambers, but I could envision how to furnish everything. The study, the bedroom, the receiving room… step outside onto the high terrace—small for a terrace; perhaps really a patio?—along the north face of the mountain’s peak, under a heavy brow of overhanging stone. Walk along the balustrade, look over the city and the surrounding plains… step back into the receiving room and pivot the door closed, run a finger along the seam between door and wall, watch the stone weld together; that’s how you lock a door, if the mountain likes you. Now, through the bedroom and into the bathroom.
A waterfall dominated the room. It was only about eight feet; it plunged into a pool the size of a hot tub in the stone floor. The overflow vanished through a hole in the side of the tub and ran below what was obviously the toilet. A small stream of water emerged from the wall inside the toilet and swirled around before joining the tub runoff and flowing away.
The water steamed slightly; somehow, the mountain heated it. Geothermal processes? No, magical processes. I think. I couldn’t quite recall. While asleep and dreaming a city, the mountain and I came up with something. All I knew for sure was that we’d taken care of it.
I stripped out of my outfit, ran a cleaning spell over all my stuff, and stepped down into the tub.
I still sink like a rock; the density of my flesh is much greater than that of a human being. I’m glad we included an underwater ledge for a seat in the tub. I missed having soap, but a good soak did me a world of good. Lounging in the churning water was surprisingly sybaritic. No towels, but drying off with magic is, while less satisfying, equally effective. Good enough. I headed outside.
The day was into the early afternoon as I took another walk on the top step, all the way around the courtyard wall. The scenery was pretty, but relatively boring. Rolling plains everywhere, sharp mountains to the west, canals running off toward the cardinal points, and a lot of dead
going bad in the sunshine. I felt oddly sad about that last one, probably from a sense of the waste involved. That was meat enough to feed a thousand people, hides enough for blankets, cloaks, even tents…
I walked up one of the staircases along the inner wall of the courtyard and looked through the wilderness area above. The upper slopes of the mountain had been allowed to grow wild with trees, bushes, and vines. Several of the bushes looked as though they might have berries in their season, and many of the trees fruit or nuts. Nothing seemed ready this early in the year, though, so I just gathered up some more fallen wood to take back to the firepit. Something like a snake with batwings looked at me from one tree; I ignored it as long as it stayed where it was. It didn’t seem hostile, just wary.
Back in the great hall, I stacked wood by the firepit and I realized I probably needed to enchant some permanent or semi-permanent lighting spells for the place.
While I thought about different types of lighting spells, I went back out and stood on the steps of the outer courtyard wall, looking south, resting/leaning on the wall between two merlons. I couldn’t see Mochara as anything more than a dark blot to the south and there was no sign of Bronze, yet. I wondered if I might be able to see it more clearly at night. The world is supposed to be flat, after all, and my vampire eyes see as though darkness were a form of light. Then again, smoke, dust, fog, even mist from the ocean would obscure vision eventually…
As I stood there thinking, a power came over me. I felt the spell drive home like a bolt of lightning and just had time to realize what was happening. The world darkened and disappeared.
Fade to black.
Falling. Hot. Cold. Hotcoldhotcoldhotcold, merging rapidly into a generic warmth, like pulses of light so rapid they become a single, steady glow.
And not falling.
I was sitting in a comfortable chair. Before me was a circular Colosseum in miniature, no more than ten feet across. I looked down into it, saw smooth, black sand for the floor.
“Ah, there we are.”
I looked up. Across from me was another chair. A man occupied it. He looked amused. His face was round, with a trace of jowls. Thin, blonde hair, possibly going silver, crowned his head. He smiled a lot. To the left and right, other chairs, other occupants, all shadowy and not-quite-there, ringed the miniature arena.
I tried to stand. I couldn’t get out of the chair. It was as though I was a part of the chair, or vice versa. Disconcerting and annoying.
“Last I recall, I was standing in a courtyard,” I observed.
“Indeed. We saw that. But now your body is lying in a courtyard, and your consciousness is here, with us.”
“I presume you have a reason?”
“Of course. This is a dream-spell. Together, we have reached across the miles to bring you here, to this arena. Since you are difficult to challenge physically, you will face us here.”
Dream-spell. I knew this spell, sort of. I couldn’t have cast one—at least, I don’t think so—but I understood immediately what it was. It created a pocket of dreaming for combatants to use as a personal battleground. This was a lot like a contest of wills, a duel between wizards, but the magicians’ version of it. Normally, magicians of Zirafel would both cast the spell, with a third coming along as arbiter, but it could be cast on an unwilling subject if you could manage to get close enough to him, and had enough power reserves to force it.
Of course, that made it less of a duel and more of an assassination. Zirafel outlawed them outside of formal dueling occasions. The person casting the dream-spell could end it before being seriously harmed, but the target of the spell had no choice—and, therefore, could eventually be killed. Hence, an assassination tool, rather than a dueling spell.
If the Church is no longer after me, will I still be a target when I go home? Something to think about, since someone obviously
after me. I don’t like it.
That was on the surface of my thoughts. Deeper down, there was an enraged thing that was entirely displeased with having someone interfere with my mind. I did my best to chain it, to harness it, but I’m not sure I was entirely successful. I have a lot of repressed anger.
“Aren’t these things illegal?” I asked, and I could hear my tone, cold as a killer frost. I saw him wince.
“Slightly. We have a special dispensation from the King of Rethven.”
“I see,” I said, trying hard to suppress the rage at what had been done and deal with the situation in hand. “All right. Is this one pure imagination?”
“No. Only the things you have seen or experienced. Real things, not some phantasm conjured from the depths of your twisted fancy.”
I looked around the arena.
“And the things your assistants have?”
“Yes. You are immortal, after all, and we have no way of knowing how long you have lived.”
“Not exactly fair,” I noted, still struggling with my tone. He licked his lips and shrugged.
“No, but this isn’t meant to be. Are you ready?”
“No, but that won’t stop you. By the way, is there some way you would prefer to be addressed? I don’t want to just say, ‘Hey, you.’ It seems impolite.”
“You may call me ‘Magician Hagus’.”
“And these?” I asked, nodding toward the shadowy, wavering figures. Hagus smirked.
“Assistants in bringing the spell to you,” he said. “No one of importance.”
“I see. Thank you. You may call me ‘Halar’.”
“Very good. I shall go first.”