The Cost of Life

Orange smoke poured from the cauldron as the wizard tossed in a handful of ingredients; the cry of a wolf, a babe’s foot and the egg of a dragon.   The brew sizzled and crackled as the ingredients blended into the potion. It had taken over a decade to gather the ingredients and make this mixture.  He struggled as he creaked over to the nearby table. He had lived many human generations, but now he could barely walk. If all went well this would pass.

His hand cracked and he grunted as his arthritic joints clasped the brush and the bottle of manticore blood.  He muttered a short spell to remove the shaking from his palsied hand. He had to be exact with this. The slightest mistake would destroy years of hard work.  He had slept for three days in preparation for this. He looked over the arcane shapes, runes and demonic names needed for his spell.

He could barely lower himself down to the floor, but managed it, he had so much left to do.  He had spent centuries preparing the Kingdom of Balteen for the coming chosen warrior. Now he sat on the verge of that important event and his body was failing.  He had dug deep into the darkest magics he knew of to find this spell of life. It would cost his soul, and he shuddered at the horrors he had faced to prepare the magical ichor that was the base of this.  

Shaking his head the ancient mage dragged himself to the present.  He found himself lost in the past more and more. He couldn’t afford a lapse like that now.   Ignoring his protesting body he began to draw on the floor in the manticore blood. Once the first line was created he could not stop, no matter how long it took him.  He forced himself into a trancelike state and drew symbols that seemed to twist reality.

For three solid days, he drew intricate patterns, perfect in every way.  Voices taunted him from the beyond as he wrote the names of the most profane of demons on his floor.  They wished his failure so they could claim his body when he spoke the final words. Despite their taunts, he continued slowly, methodically and exact.  His body screamed at him to stop. More than once he had to hold his arm for a moment to stop the shaking. Still, as the time finished he stood and saw not a single mistake.  He was not done yet, he had too much to do.

He took a pile of parchment made from satyr skin, and the ink of a Kraken.   He began to write his life. He had to be exact here too. Any detail skipped, any event, no matter how small, would be lost to him should he not write it down.

He again spoke a complex spell.  The chanting caused smoke to pour from his mouth and his eyes glowed a bright red.  As he finished, his life burned a path through his mind. Centuries of actions, events people and more flowed through him and he began to write.

He remembered his birth, as his mother pushed, his magical self sucked the life from her body.  She died, leaving his father bereft. He became a drunkard and was often violent towards his youngest child.  He had stolen her from him. The boy, even as a toddler, knew more than those around him. The spirits whispered the secrets of the world’s truths to him.   At 2 he cast his first spell. A simple circle and a hawk’s feather, with a short chant. It strengthened his body, preparing him for the beating he knew his father had prepared for him on his birthday, the day of his mother’s death.  The beating came and he knew without his spell he would have died. His father punched, slapped and whipped him. His father grew angrier as his knuckles began to bleed and the boy stood unharmed. He pulled a knife and stabbed, the blade twisting away from the child.

Terror filled his father and he grabbed the boy and shoved him in a burlap sack.  The child knew only darkness and fear as for an hour the bag was dragged over rough terrain.  Then came a splash and he sunk, weights tied to the bag. Fear filled him and he desperately called for help in his mind.  Spirits wrapped his head, giving him air until he felt something life the bag from the water and pull it open. It was a balding man in an orange robe.

The man stared at him a long time as if trying to make a decision.  Finally, he took the boy’s hand and led him to a small cabin. For the next century, the man taught him every secret he knew.  It was never enough. When the man wasn’t teaching him, he called the spirits to tell him the mysteries of nature. He grew, sickly but powerful.

Finally, the man said he had taught him all he could, and revealed his destiny.  He was to create the greatest Kingdom in the history of the world, but in the process, he would do some of the greatest evils possible.

Finding the Kingdom, he summoned a tower from the earth. He slowly began to manipulate the royalty and people.  Some he would teach, others he would slay in their cradle. He forced wars to strengthen the men, and cast spells to bring equality to the people.  Now he was a mere decade from the results of his centuries of work. His apprentice could have finished the work, but he had to see the results. He had worked so hard.

He finished writing, pages and pages of history written in tiny spider scrawl over hundreds of pages.  He knew not how much time had passed, but his ancient body cried in fatigue. His eyes closed and he nearly nodded off but caught himself.  He couldn’t stop until finished.

He stepped gingerly into the circle and place the pile of parchment on the floor.  Speaking a few words the paper burned in a green flame and the truth of himself burned his mind.  He then spoke the final words in a shout. He waited as the manticore blood circle began to glow and burn, the heat blistering his skin but he did not flinch.

After an endless time, four forms surrounded him, twisted and dark.  They all walked to him, and one after the other they laid a hand on his forehead.  

The first spoke “I give you time, threefold what you have already lived.  I take in return your soul, to be tormented forever,” the wizard felt the years flow ahead of him.

The second came forward and spoke “I give you your youth. In exchange, I give you torment.  Every dark act or thought will burn in your mind, reminding you of the dark creature you are,” the wizard felt the years melt away, and he wept as he remembered the death he had caused, the murders, the heartbreak and suffering he put forth to create his perfect Kingdom.

The third creature came forward and spoke “I give you your power.  Your magic will flow greater than anything you have known. In exchange, I will hold your mind.  When death comes you will be a husk of a soul, suffering for reasons you will never remember.” the wizard felt the power flow into him, and a hand clasping his mind.  He shuddered and wondered if he had made the right decision.

The final creature came forward and spoke “I will make sure your works succeed.  What you have sought will come to pass. In return, in the last century of life, everything you have worked for will collapse.  Memory will turn to myth, and all will be gone from the world. That is the ultimate cost. If you had passed gracefully to the afterlife your Kingdom would have lasted 1000 years.  Now it dies with you.” the wizard collapsed at this. He didn’t know. He knew there was a cost. He had doomed his Kingdom. His greed had cost everything.

A flaming door opened and the four beasts disappeared into nothingness, leaving the young, powerful wizard knowing his works would die, his mind gone and his soul burning in hell for all eternity, never knowing why.  He was such a fool.

He stood after a long time and walked to his books.  His body, full of energy, was ready for anything he might desire.  He searched his books for a way to reverse his foolishness before all he cared for was gone.  He did this in vain, his new power told him the contract was unbreakable.

Published by Robert C Hartwell

I live in Northeastern Vermont in the US. I am currently working towards becoming an author. I am the proud father of two great kids.

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