The Biomancer Chronicles: Chapter 2
January 21, 2013 3 Comments
I awoke and found myself laying upon a table where I knew I hadn’t passed out. Strangely, I didn’t seem to be anywhere near as dead as I should have been. A thick, sterile doctor smell pervaded the room. You know the one – gauze, bandages, antiseptic, ointments.
Across from me, in front of a workbench, a blob slowly came into focus. It’s a man, I think. Yeah, definitely a man, older – much older than me, white smock, white hair, glasses. OK I must be in a hospital, or some kind of –
“Lab, Ark. Yes, you’re in a lab.” The blob never looked up from his work as he spoke. Of course, a lab.
All right, never mind. It’s just a dream. Or maybe I’m dead? There’s no way he read my mind. Or knew my name.
The blob came into full focus as it moved towards me. “And no, you are not dead. Nor are you dreaming.”
He needed to really needed to knock that shit off.
He looked me over. “How are you feeling?”
I wiggled my arms and legs and found that I was strapped to the table by my wrists and ankles. How very terrific. “I’m feeling like I’m having a very bad day.” I lifted my head and nodded at the straps cutting into my wrists to illustrate my point. “And that it’s about to get worse.”
He grabbed the end of the leather strap on my left wrist and jerked it tight. I winced. “Well, I’ve got good news for you.” He did the same for the right strap. They cut into my skin and I started to bleed. He saw this and smiled. “How your day ends will be completely up to you.”
I tried to use some power to heal my wrists, but none came. I let my head fall back against the table. “I thought you might say something like that.”
“You were in very bad shape when I found you.” He peeled up an edge of the adhesive which held a large bandage onto my stomach and peered underneath it. “Curiously, your body maintains a limited ability to heal itself while you’re unconscious. Without it, I might not have been able to piece your stomach back together.”
He replaced the bandage. “It looks like you’ve got a clean bill of health, Ark.”
He walked across the room and retrieved a large stack of papers from his workstation. “Well, now. So you’re the man who has spent the better part of the last half century undoing my work.” He shook the papers.
My stomach sank. I thought I’d been working so discretely. “Have you considered retirement? It might give your employers a chance to get some fresh blood in here who can actually give me a challenge.” I tried to call my power again, but still felt nothing.
“Oh, don’t you worry. I still have many more years left in me. Actually, I feel as though some of my best work is yet to come.” He sat on the edge of the table, a little too close.
I stared at the ceiling, trying not to show my discomfort. “Why don’t you let me off this table so we can work out your future?”
“My name is Dr. Vorkain, Ark.” He removed his glasses. “And I need your help.” It wasn’t a request.
I remained focused on the ceiling. “Help? The last time I chose to help someone I got shot by an arrow which tried to eat me, was stabbed in the stomach by my dead apprentice, and then woke up here in the presence of your sunshiny disposition.” I turned my head to find he was staring at me. “Forgive me if I decline.” The man was pale. Very pale. “You don’t get out much do you?”
He broke eye contact and put his glasses back on. “My work keeps me busy.”
“I would love to hear you explain exactly what you think your work is.” I knew who he was and what he did, but I wanted to hear it from him.
He smiled and sat up a bit straighter. “I find ways to put an end to this war.”
“And by ‘ways to put an end to shit war’, you mean you spend your life ghouling around in this basement finding better ways to kill people?” He didn’t flinch so I pressed on. “The world might benefit from you working less and tanning more.”
We made eye contact again. “And maybe you would benefit from not moving your mouth long enough to hear my offer. If you find yourself incapable of complying, I can stop it from moving for you,” he growled.
“I’d say that the chances of me helping you are somewhere around…” I paused as though I were actually performing the calculation in my head. “Zero.” I even threw in, “Kill me if you must,” as dramatically as possible.
He walked back to his workbench and picked up a liquid filled syringe. He pointed the needle upwards, flicked the tube with his index finger and squeezed the plunger gently with his thumb. Liquid shot out.
“There are things worse than death, Ark.” He came at me with the syringe. I tensed and struggled to break free from the restraints. No such luck. God, I hate syringes.
I felt a prick in my neck as the needle entered.
He used his thumb to push my right eyelid open, looked into my pupil, and then did the same to my left. “Just relax and count backwards from ten, Ark.”
I reeled against the restraints. How about I count backwards from ‘I’ll carve your fucking heart out?’”
I started to feel lightheaded. The sun was on my face. It was in my eyes. I raised a hand to shield them so I could see…
I crested the hill that afternoon on my way home from working the fields and smelled the smoke before I could see it. I dropped my tools and ran. Our home, which I had built with my very own hands, stood burnt out and in ruins. The bodies of my wife and daughter lay on the front yard. Their skirts torn off. Blood ran from their noses and caked their faces. Their throats were cut.
My mind was flooded with images of my wife crying out for me. A group of soldiers stood in a ring around she and my daughter, laughing and cheering, each awaiting their turn. Another group of men carried food, supplies and blankets from our home and loaded them into wagons.
She looked up at me and we made eye contact. She mouthed the word “help”. I sprinted to her, shoved the soldiers aside, and attempted to tackle the animal on top of her, but he wasn’t there. None of them were. They were long gone.
I begged them to get up, but I knew they wouldn’t. I screamed as I cradled my wife in my arms. Tear ran down my face. Her body was still warm. I called their names over and over. Pleading with them to come back to me.
I dug their graves between sobs. It took hours, but I laid them to rest just before dark. I said a few words, and that’s when I heard it. Muffled voices? From under the dirt and rock? It was her! It was my wife. Thank you.
Wait, that’s not how it happened!
I clawed at the fresh mound of dirt with my bare hands. I had to free her. Had to save her. Had to hold her. I dug until my fingers bled. I dug until I uncovered her face. Her beautiful face. I smiled and caressed it. “Talk to me!” I brushed the soil and hair out of her face. “I just heard you! Talk to me, dammit!” And that’s when her eyes and mouth snapped open. My smile disappeared. She screeched into my face, blowing dirt and bloody spittle all over me.
I turned to run, but stopped short. My daughter was standing behind me. Her grave open. Her head was cocked at an inhuman angle. She opened her mouth and screamed. Someone make them stop! There was so much pain and loss and anguish in their voice. They screamed and screamed. Both of them. I covered my ears. Oh, please stop, I’m so sorry.
And suddenly I was back in the lab. “Remarkably vivid, isn’t it?”
“That’s not how it happened,” I growled. “I’ll kill you!” My chest heaved. “That’s not how it happened!” My heart pounded. I was completely out of breath.
I felt warm tears rolling down my face.
He flashed a creepy, detached smile. “Thankfully, you won’t know the difference.”
He undid the straps on my wrists, then my ankles. “Walk with me, Ark.” He showed no signs of fear, which I found strange since I was about to kill him. “But bear in mind that you have been dosed with an extremely powerful hallucinogen. One that your powers are incapable of healing. And of course, if I were to suffer any unfortunate”, he trailed off, twirling a finger in the air, “accidents, there will be no curing you. You will descend into madness. As the poison works through your body, you will experience more of these.” He paused again, as if trying to select the perfect word. “Daydreams, which will increase in both frequency and intensity.”
I stood up and removed the bandages on my stomach to find I had mostly healed. My back and legs were sore from exertion.
He led me through a doorway and down stone steps past heavily armed guards. We entered a series of pens similar to the ones I had blown up while baby snatching, except these ones contained tiny albino homunculi.
The smell was horrific. A few of them were laying in their own waste. Some of them huddled in a corner on patches of hay. Upon seeing us, they began to squeal and push themselves against the gate. The doctor pushed a button on the wall and the little creatures squealed, rolling on the floor clutching their heads. He pushed the button again and they stopped.
He gestured to them. “What do you see here, Ark?”
“I see ghoulish little creatures which should be put out of their misery.” I looked down the hallway to the sentries. ”Guards open the gates, immediately!” Neither of them flinched. It was worth a try.
“Where you see ghoulish little creatures, I see the end of the war. These subjects will be the most powerful weapon the world has ever seen.” He’d clearly rehearsed the line a hundred times.
I looked back into the cage to find one of the soon-to-be ‘most powerful weapons the world has ever seen’ was now masturbating while another was chowing down on a pile of its own shit. “Sure, if your enemy is terrified of horny, shit-eating, pasty little people, you’ll have this war wrapped up by spring. Let me know how it works out.” I turned to leave.
“Ark,” he called. “I won’t have to let you know how it turns out, because you’re going to make it happen.”
I stopped and turned to face him. “Or,” I stressed the first word, then paused for dramatic effect as I took a few steps towards him. “I could just kill you right now.”
He laughed. “That certainly is an option. An especially terrific one should you wish to spend the rest of your short life in zombie vacation-land with your wife and child. The only way to get the antidote is to do what I ask. And no, the antidote is not in this location, so don’t bother harming me and then looking for it.”
It was time to find out what he wanted. “And what do you ask?”
A victorious grin spread across his face. “Now you’re talking!” He clapped his hands. “You’ve heard of the Gem of Trannalox?”
Myths. Fairy tales. Necromancy. “Yes. Yes, I have.” I waved my hand dismissively. “It’s a myth. It doesn’t exist.” At least I hoped it didn’t.
“Ah, but it does exist.” He pointed an index finger into the air to punctuate his proclamation. “And the Wytherans have sent an expedition to locate it. Your mission is to find the gem before they do, return it to me, and,” he raised his hands in the air with a flourish, “you receive the antidote.”
I sighed. “Assuming this thing exists, and assuming I can both find it and return with it, how do you plan to use it?” I closed my eyes and rubbed my temples. Maybe it was better if I didn’t ask.
He motioned towards the homunculi. “The little creatures have manifested the magic of Necromancy!” He clapped again excitedly.
“It’s said that the Gem of Trannalox has the power to enhance the physical, mental and magical attributes of its wearer. With it, I can turn these twelve,” he paused, “what did you call them? ‘Horny, shit-eating, pasty little people’ into unstoppable, plate armor wearing, necromantic battle mages with power the likes of which world has never seen!”
I looked back at the cages. One of the creatures stuck his finger into another ones ear, pulled it out and then sucked on it. Color me doubtful. “All of this is about raising the dead?”
The doctor smiled. “No, it is not about raising the dead. It is about raising armies of the dead!” His face lit up. “Think about it. Armies striking one another down on the field of battle, but we will have the power to leverage the fallen! We can turn our friendly and enemy losses into mindless killing machines.”
Yep, I shouldn’t have asked.
I hated the jungle. I hated Necromancers. I hated this guy. “And I should trust you?”
“To be quite honest, you don’t have a choice, Ark.” His face and voice grew grim again.
“Let me get this straight. You scooped me up off the forest floor after I failed miserably during a simple mission to steal a baby and blow up one of your labs and you somehow think I am going to have what it takes to retrieve some mythical gem which has been lost for centuries in the middle of the jungle probably surrounded by all manner of living and dead beings and return with it?” I inhaled deeply. That was the longest sentence ever.
He smiled. “Absolutely.”
“After my spectacular failure, what makes you so certain I won’t botch this?”
“Because you’re going to have help.” As if on cue, a door opened. Armed sentries led in a familiar looking young man wearing a leather duster. His face and hands were inked with tattoos. He shot me a manacled wave and an apologetic smile.
The doctor stepped between us. “Ark, I trust you’ve met Korlonn.”
“Just long enough for him to use my dead apprentice to stab me in the stomach and leave me to die in the woods.”
The doctor clapped. “Oh, how clever! I’m now even more excited that I’ve chosen you!”
He pulled out a parchment map and laid it down on the table.
“You’ll work together to recover the Gem, and together you’ll return with it. If you fail to meet either of these conditions, you each will return to your personal vegetative hell.” Apparently Korlonn was juiced as well.
The doctor circled an area in the Detar Mountains with his finger. “The Wytheran expedition is headed to this area. You will have thirty days to return with the gem before toxin completely debilitates you.”
This caught Korlon’s attention. “Completely debilitates me?”
“Yes, its effects will increase in intensity until you can no longer discern fantasy from reality. It usually ends,” he shook his head, “rather spectacularly.”
If the gem existed, I couldn’t possibly hand it over, but I had thirty days to figure out another solution. “If you get your gem, I get my antidote?”
He smiled. “That’s the idea.”
I turned to Korlonn. “You have one hour to gather what you need. Then meet me at the Pittsford Inn.”
“Oh, and Hunter…” He turned to me as the doctor was unlocking his chains, “keep those fucking arrows away from me.”