Magma Core (A Mage's Journey)

Chapter 13

The Royal River Inn had a grand name, one that didn’t match the mediocreness it exuded. It had cost Sarah hardly anything for three nights, although I wouldn't consider the price a bargain. All basic necessities were taken care of, no matter how poorly the hotel managed to do them. Plain gray walls enclosed Cloud’s and Sarah’s small claustrophobic rooms. I was luckier. My room had a window which overlooked the vast prairie. The night sky swirled dark violet and blue, while stars pierced this dark veil, speckling it.

I had trouble sleeping that night. I feared being caught and killed while I laid in a warm but not terribly cozy bed. A bed that was slightly too hard that it reminded me of lying on cold dirt but also soft enough that I preferred it over cold dirt. A bare minimum of beds.

I cursed. My door hinge groaned loudly as I slowly pried it open. The sound of the tortured door echoed down the hall, probably audible through the paper thin walls. I had a sliver of hope that no one had heard me, but I also knew that miracles rarely happened.

The night was cool. Cooler than anything I had witnessed south of Hedvor. Some people would even say it was cold. I didn’t find it cold. I enjoyed wandering the empty abandoned streets, the quietness.

Each swivel down another road brought with it something different. Some were lined with houses while others were lined with stalls, and others with businesses. Nothing I’d seen so far had surprised me. The small town was unique in how ordinary it was.

I turned the corner. A faint glow illuminated one of the buildings windows. A matt screen was pulled in front of it, blocking most of the light, but some peaked through the edges of the window.

Like a moth, I crept towards the dim glow that illuminated a small rectangle of the stone street. I was less interested in the light and more interested in what was going on inside the building. I hunched over and peeked through the small crack in the window.

“Maybe the town wasn’t so ordinary” I thought as I shuddered.

I leapt in shock when I felt someone touch my back. I turned around to find a pale man. Like the one in the window.

“It’s dangerous to be alone at night. It’s not uncommon to disappear without a trace, to be killed by whatever lurks in the night.”

The pale man grinned showcasing his jagged knife-like teeth. They weren’t human teeth. No, they were more like bear teeth, transplanted on a human body.

I barely activated my obsidian shell in time. The pale man punched me with an inhuman amount of force, sending me crashing through the window pane. Glass shards sprayed in all directions. I tumbled onto the floor, my captors now stood over me.

I woke to the most intense headache I had ever felt. The last thing I remember was the boot of the pale man colliding with my face. I tried moving my arms but I quickly discovered I had been strapped to a chair with heavy wire. It was clear they weren’t taking any risks.

I wasn’t the only one in the room. More than a dozen men sat tied up like me. Most were tied up with just regular rope but I noticed a few others who my captors had used the wire on. I urged for molten lava to rise but I only felt emptiness. It was as if all my power had been stripped away from me.

I desperately tried to wiggle myself free. I had witnessed what they did to that man. No one deserved what they did to him, no one deserved to die in that fashion. I exhausted every idea I had thought of yet I still was stuck in the chair. Hours had passed and the others had begun to wake up from their slumber.

Silence. Not a word was spoken from the nervous looking people in chairs. I watched some fidget, some struggled to free themselves from their bindings.

It was easy to spot who had been there the longest. Their bodies were frail and their skin matched that of the captors. I wondered how long they had been down here, stored away from the sun.

“It’s picking time!” shouted one of the pale men as he made his way down the decrepit wooden stairs and into the lair.

I noticed nervous eyes glancing back and forth from the newer prisoners, although they were trying to hide their fear. The older prisoners had stone cold expressions that rivaled the best poker players I’d seen. I had never been great at that game. My facial expressions were pretty animated so I often gave away what I was feeling.

Three of the ghoul-like men joined the one who had entered the room just seconds ago. The one I assumed was the leader, slowly walked around the room inspecting each tied up body. I quickly realized that he was looking for something. Whatever he needed I wasn’t going to give him. It’s not like I had anything of value on my person anyway.

One of the pale captors pulled several throwing knives from his pockets. They weren’t particularly special. I could tell they were poorly smithed even though they were decorated to look ominous.

Thud. Thud. Thud. The knives were thrown at a frail prisoner. He was like a statue, the stone cold expression still plastered on his face. If I hadn’t seen him move his eyes earlier, I might have assumed he was a mannequin. The pale thrower was clearly frustrated. He had failed. I was sure of that. Although what he failed was still a mystery to me.

Another one of the pale men stepped up to the prisoner to my right. The prisoner was newer than the one they had thrown knives at but was still a veteran compared to some of the others. The pale captor snarled at the prisoner, showing off his canines. He gently ran his razor sharp teeth up along the prisoners neck. The slightest amount of pressure would puncture the prisoners throat.

The prisoner stood firm, not budging, not acknowledging the pale captors deadly teeth. Being unsatisfied, the pale captor moved on to me. He used his absurd strength to lift me up into the air, with one hand grasping my neck. My feet dangled in the air.

I laughed. His hands were quite ticklish and I wasn’t scared of the buffoon in front of me.

My captor dropped me onto the ground. I would be lying if I said the impact didn’t sting a little bit.

“Wait.” said the inspector captor as the pale buffoon walked to the next individual. “This one doesn’t understand. He’ll witness the ceremony and I’m sure tomorrow he’ll ready himself.’

“Yes.” replied the heathen captor.

The captors continued to try and elicit reactions out of the other prisoners. Why they were doing this I had no idea, but I was sure I would find out soon.

A victim was chosen. He had faltered when slurping down the dark vile sludge the pale captor claimed was poison. Nothing changed, it was really quite pointless. But whatever had not happened pleased the pale men.

“It’s your lucky day. Your sacrifice will not be in vain. Yesterday, you were a vile rat with no purpose. Now you serve a far greater one.”

The pale men did not wait for their boss to finish. They had already elevated the chair and carried him back to the surface, where something horrific was likely waiting for him.

“Don’t forget that one.” said the boss captor while pointing at me. Sure enough my chair was also lifted and was also being pulled up the stairs.

The floor was decorated with a pentagram. The gloomy dark red and black walls, lit only by some dim candles gave off an ominous appearance. I was seated at the edge of the room as far away from the pentagram as possible. They weren’t going to risk me interfering in whatever ritual they were performing.

The chosen prisoner was placed in the center of the pentagram, still tightly secured. I watched the prisoner desperately struggle to free himself from his binding without any success. The pale men, five of them in total, surrounded the trapped man. A melodic hum exited their throats.

The pentagram glowed a bright orange, growing brighter and brighter as each second passed. The struggling man was now struggling to stay awake. As his life force was being sapped from his body, his futile attempts to escape became more sluggish.

The pale men weren’t men anymore. They had lost any semblance of humanity. Bones snapped and clacked, causing the pale men’s teeth to extrude from their mouths. Drool flowed from their jaws and feral noises periodically left their scratchy deformed throats. As the sluggish prisoner lost consciousness, they striked.

I wanted to look away as the monsters stripped the man of his flesh, but the sight was mesmerizingly brutal. Only a few scattered bones were evidence that the pale prisoner had even existed.

Once their food source was depleted, they lashed out at me. Luckily, the pentagram had some sort of invisible barrier in place that prevented them from clawing me to death. They struggled to penetrate the barrier. I sat in that chair all night, awake, watching the monstrosities try to murder me.