Read Nightlord: Shadows Online

Authors: Garon Whited

Tags: #Parody, #Fiction, #Fantasy

Nightlord: Shadows (8 page)

BOOK: Nightlord: Shadows
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In the arena, a dragon appeared. In scale, it was probably about forty feet long. It was quite pretty, all green and black, with some reddish glints on its scales. I remembered, without remembering where I learned it, that the things summoned from the memory would have a certain independence and quasi-reality. The spell would manufacture what the participants remembered, with all the qualities and powers they recalled.

“Impressive,” I observed, and thought for a moment. I never saw a dragon that big, but I have seen some things to compare.

A helicopter gunship appeared. As the dragon roared and flapped toward it, the gunship unloaded its missiles in a massive barrage. The dragon disappeared in the explosions, leaving only the steady
whup-whup-whup
of the hovering vehicle.

“What is that?” Hagus asked, wincing as his mental creation was destroyed.

“It’s a dragon from my homeland,” I replied. Round one to me. The gunship faded from existence.

“Very well,” Hagus said. “You win that one. Winner goes first.”

“All right.” The advantage was generally to the loser. The winner picked something, while the loser merely had to come up with an adequate response.

Well, I have memories I don’t know about, obviously. I blame my overeating in Zirafel. So I thought to myself,
What’s the most powerful and dangerous thing anyone in Zirafel could have ever known, seen, or experienced?

The Iron Bull of Colchis. Nice place, Colchis. Lovely climate, nice ocean views, had a thriving trade with Salacia. Known for its iron mines. It also had a massive bull, all of iron, thirty feet at the shoulder, that acted as the city’s primary defense against invaders. Every year, the magicians of the city would gather around it and enhance it in some way. Colchis fell to sea invaders, who stayed in water too deep for the Bull to reach them while they simply bombarded the place with fire and spells. With no city to guard, the Bull simply lay down on the beach and never moved again. It may still be there, buried under sand and tides.

Hagus’ eyebrows went up. I think I surprised him.

“I didn’t think anyone had ever actually seen the Iron Bull. I almost thought it was a myth!” he said. I shrugged. I wondered what he would come up with.

He didn’t disappoint. The sizzling, smoking thing that appeared was only a little larger than man-sized, but it was amorphous. The Bull stepped on it, and it squished—and didn’t care. Indeed, it started crawling up the Bull’s leg, sizzling and eating away at the iron as it did. The Bull bucked and scraped, trying to get it off with another hoof, dragging it through the sand, twisting in ways no normal bull could manage. Whatever the thing was, it sizzled everywhere it touched the Bull. It didn’t like the scraping against the sand; that seemed to smear it in large patches.

While they fought, I examined the spell I was in. It’s hard to do that from inside a spell, especially when it’s a spell that drags you into your own head, or out of it. There didn’t seem to be an easy way to escape it. Well, there was: stand up. Since it wasn’t my spell, though, that wasn’t really an option; this one included a binding spell to keep me in it, which meant I was, effectively, tied to the chair.

At the end, the Bull won, but only on points. All four legs, both horns, and much of the face was gone, eaten away. The sheer mass and size of the thing was too much for the acid monster to eat away quickly. With the goo all over the body, the remaining part of the Bull writhed and twisted in the sand, crushing, squishing, and scraping the goo into a dull smear on the arena floor.

Hagus grimaced and rubbed at one temple. Round two.

“I think I am taking a dislike to you,” he said.

“I already know I don’t like you. Here, try again.” I attempted to recreate the Iron Bull, but nothing happened.

“You can only use anything once,” he pointed out.

“That’s new. I don’t recall that from the original version of this spell,” I said. He looked startled.

“The original version?”

“Yes. The one used in Zirafel, for magicians’ duels. Back then, you could summon the same thing over and over again until your opponent found a good counter for it, or conceded.”

“Wait. You know this spell from Zirafel?”

“Of course. I haven’t studied in Arondael, at this new Academy of yours,” I told him. Hagus’ expression was almost unreadable, but I detected a trace of concern.

“Just how old are you?” he asked, almost casually.

“Older than I ever expected to be, that’s for certain.” I thought about it for a moment. If I consumed half a million souls in Zirafel, and I kept, say, just one percent of their accumulated knowledge and experience, that would be five thousand lives. If the average age was—let’s low-ball it—about twenty years old, then that would be a hundred thousand years of experience. Let’s say that ninety percent of that is stuff common to everyone, leaving only ten percent that actually counts as unique experience. So, only about ten thousand years.

I really don’t feel that competent. I suspect I don’t even keep one percent; it’s probably much lower. See how easy it is to make the numbers sound intimidating?

“At a guess,” I told him, “it’s definitely no more than ten thousand years, probably somewhat less. How long ago was Zirafel cursed?”

Hagus said nothing, but looked less than happy. That was fine with me. I wasn’t here to make him happy.

“Your move,” he said, finally.

As our game wore on, I learned a lot about the strategy involved, usually at the price of having a sharp lance of pain go through my head and stay there. I learned why Hagus had that unpleasant expression on his face; he wasn’t planning to have a major headache so early on. I’m glad he did; I didn’t need him to be at his sharpest.

When going first, it was important to have something with strong general defenses; the countermove generally came out swinging. That limited the options for the winner, as well as giving the loser a chance to fine-tune his counterstrike. Worse, each conjuration could only manifest once for each participant; it was a good idea to keep a few really impressive things in reserve, because, once used, it couldn’t be called again.

The problem faced by both Hagus and myself was the unfamiliarity of some of the moves. He had never seen a main battle tank; I had never even heard of some of his monsters. One of them looked like a mouth full of teeth with a hundred long, whippy tentacles—nothing else. Another reminded me vaguely of a scorpion, but with spear-like appendages instead of pincers, and a tail that had three barbed lashes instead of a stinger. I wondered if they were from other worlds, seen through scrying portals, or creatures created in magicians’ laboratories. Of course, Rethven is one small kingdom in a very large world…

Also, when going first, one could alter the terrain. After a loss, I found Hagus gave his monster—something like an eight-legged panther with a sharp, scything tail—a jungle to play in. I countered with a Harrier and a load of napalm. I could have used a dragon, I suppose, but keeping the opposition worried and off-balance is important, too.

While we played, I discovered that I could direct my summoned creations myself, or leave them to their own devices. Either course was possible, depending on the situation; the Harrier didn’t need much help to lay napalm on a jungle, for example. Hagus directed his creations himself, at first, but started letting them fend for themselves as we continued. The smarter the thing conjured, the less it required tactical help from the player.

Moreover, as time went on, we both developed rather severe headaches. Every loss was another lancet of pain. I don’t know how Hagus felt, but I was wondering when my brain would start bleeding. The most I could hope for was to hurt him enough that he finally gave in and stood up to end the spell. For me, that would be victory: surviving.

I lost count, but I think we were at eighteen to sixteen, my favor, when the sunset started. Even in this quasi-real dream realm, I felt it.

“Oh, you sneaky, underhanded, backstabbing bastard,” I said. He smiled knowingly.

“Is there a problem?” he asked, almost sweetly.

“You know what the problem is!”

“I should hope so. Why do you think I’ve been taking my time between moves? Or pondering so long on each one? Or allowing you to take your time?”

“To make sure that if the game went on long enough, the sunset would catch me in the courtyard.”

“Indeed. It’s hardly an ideal outcome, but I’ll be content to have you burn.”

“What would be ideal?”

“I’m not going to explain. Suffice it to say that I, personally, will settle for your complete destruction, even though it costs me dearly. I
hate
your kind, all of you, and wish you had never existed!”

I gripped the arms of the chair and flexed. They bent a little, but nothing broke. I rammed them back and forth; the chair creaked and groaned, but nothing gave. I planted my feet and pushed, trying to topple the chair backward; it crackled and popped, but it remained fixed. The spell was too strong for me to simply break out of.

Hagus was white-knuckled in his own chair, metaphysical sweat beading his brow. His look of concentration was absolute. I could tell he was focused on maintaining his spell, and that I was straining it. If I could break free—and, during the night, with that kind of power at my disposal, I might—then I could escape the spell entirely. Or… could I… since we were both actually here, in a very real, if non-corporeal way…

After a few minutes, while my transformation was ongoing, I realized I wasn’t on fire. It didn’t hurt. At least, it didn’t hurt any more than it normally does. After a few minutes more, I relaxed.

I smiled at him, showing fangs. He turned white and his eyes tried to jump out of their sockets.

“Want to give up now?” I asked.

“How have you managed to avoid destruction?”

“I have no idea. You’re out to kill me; I’m guessing someone doesn’t want you to,” I said. His eyes flicked left and right, at the figures seated at either hand, then focused on me again. I continued with, “I guess it’s possible I was in enough shadow during the sunset that I’m just badly hurt, rather than destroyed, but I don’t think that’s it.” I thought about it for a moment. “No, I get the feeling that someone helped. It’s just a feeling, though. I don’t suppose you’d care to quit now and let me go check?”

Hagus’ mouth turned into a narrow line as his lips pressed together.

“Then we’ll just have to kill you more than once,” he observed, and focused on the arena again.

“I thought you might say that.”

While we spoke, I reached out with the dark lines of my spirit, slithering them along the chair, down to the floor, and around the arena. The shadow-figures were real, I discovered, but not truly connected to the spell. They seemed to connect through Hagus, which made magical sense. He was the one casting the spell and participating in the contest. They were just along for the ride, loaning him the power necessary to push the spell far enough and strongly enough to drag me into it and keep me inside it. Hagus was the key to the spell; they were just extra batteries.

If I could sever their connection, the spell wouldn’t have the power to continue. Unfortunately, they were grouped together somewhere far distant, and connected only through Hagus. I would have to reach through him to get to them, or even to get to the connections between Hagus and them.

On the other hand,
Hagus
was here. My tendrils could reach him.

The arena filled with a heaving mass of formlessness. It ate at the eyes with colors indescribable; it fluxed and shifted in ways that defied geometry. I was instantly repulsed by it, feeling an instinctive, fundamental revulsion. It was a something that had no business existing.

Hagus grinned at me.

“There you go. Defeat that.”

I wanted nothing to do with it. It reminded me far too much of Things Man Was Not Meant To Know. For all I knew, it was exactly that. I wondered where Hagus had conjured it from and then realized I wanted desperately to never find out.

I’ve never seen an actual nuclear weapon detonation. I’ve seen lots of film, though. It was worth a shot. I shielded my eyes and handed it what I recalled from the Castle Bravo nuclear device.

The arena blazed white. I could see the bones of my hand through the skin. Hagus screamed.

The light faded. The arena, undamaged, was empty. Hagus was white and shaking, pressed back in his chair with his hands over his eyes.

Hmm. Apparently, things in the arena can affect us
, I thought. It might be important. On the other hand, if the bomb had been to scale, we were close enough that we should have been vaporized, or at least deep-fried. The arena must incorporate some sort of safeties. They probably didn’t anticipate something that gave off that much light, though… So, at a guess, it couldn’t
really
affect us, other than as something we could see.

Okay. I could use that.

I continued to feel my way along with tendrils, delicately tracing the legs of Hagus’ chair and working my way up along the sides and back. Hagus took a minute to recover, and I let him take his time.

BOOK: Nightlord: Shadows
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