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Jason Dookeran Jason Dookeran
Recommendations: 12

The Gloaming

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For Fools

“Murderers! You’re murderers!” the young man shrieked as he was led to the guillotine. The blade cranked up again, the ropes arguing with their strain as the sharp edge of the metal gleamed. The steel had gained a pale red tinge, for having been stained with so much blood.
“Shut yer yapping,” Carlossen the executioner said and thrust the man down unceremoniously onto the wooden head block.

The crowd jeered as the young man was fastened into the headboard. “Kill him! Kill him!” they shouted, making their voices heard.

“Murderers! All of you…” the boy started and then Carlossen let the blade fall. The cheers reached fever pitch as the young man’s head leapt from his shoulders, the eyes still open and the mouth still working as though his head hadn’t quite realized it was no longer attached to a body. The jubilant chorus rose higher and Carlossen wiped the sweat off his brow. Things were getting pretty bloody.

Nothing out of the ordinary for the city of Ilthuain; one was used to seeing spectacles like this to please the commoners. The mages that ran the city realized that the denizens were intrigued by the spilling of blood and so set about to please the riffraff with regular executions. This had a two-fold effect of preventing crime and at the same time popularizing the ruling wizards.

Ilthuain was the only city in the Enn Empire to have a council made completely of wizards. Since wizards were on the whole rather hard to find in this day and age, to consider that one city had access to three very powerful wizards to run it made it seem like a perfect place to live.

Carlossen knew of the City Council’s powers, and after working for ten years with them, he could safely say that he understood the majority of their ideas and aspirations. He knew, for example, that they hated sharing the rule with each other, but that they saw this as a necessary evil. Carlossen was not a stupid man, and he knew well enough to keep his thoughts about the council to himself. They had only allowed him to live after what he had witnessed in their chambers because they thought him a rather dim-witted oaf.

“Ah! Carlossen, my dear boy,” floated a familiar voice out of the darkness. He had been so taken with his thoughts that he had found himself halfway to the dump with the body of the young man that was just guillotined.

“Good day to you your Grace,” he said to the red robed man that had joined him.

“Come now,” the man said, his brow wrinkled. “When we aren’t in the council chambers you can refer to me by my name.”

“If you say so your Gr…er…Wizard Rennard,” Carlossen said, catching himself.

“That’s better,” Rennard said and relaxed. “We need some ingredients for an experiment we’re doing.”

“What kind of experiment?” Carlossen asked.

“Never you mind what kind of experiment it is,” Rennard said, visibly ruffled. “The thing is, I, Georgio and Kysorn need these things by tonight. After you’ve disposed of this body,” he sniffed derisively at the corpse, “you shall get these to us and meet us at the conjuring room in the council chambers.”

“As you wish your Gr…Wizard Rennard.” Carlossen had quickly changed his words being inspired by the hard stare of the wizard.

“That’s better,” the older man said. “See that you’re not late, the consequences could be dire.” Rennard spun around and walked back up the road as the road opened up into the graveyard. He would have to deposit this body quickly and see about Rennard’s requests.

The moon loomed over the fence of the cemetery as Carlossen finished digging the grave. He climbed out of the hole and lost his footing. Tumbling back into the grave his hands flailed,  grasping anything they could in order to save himself from the fall. The result was that he ended up half-buried in debris. To add insult to injury, an old bottle that seemed to have been buried in the gravesite came crashing down on his head. In a rage he seized the bottle up and tossed it hard against the side of the grave. The stopper flew out with a comical pop and a large cloud of gleaming, shimmering silvery smoke seemed to hang in the air.

“This doesn’t look good,” Carlossen muttered to himself.

“Much thanks for releasing me,” a voice from the smoke uttered and Carlossen took a step back, tripping over more debris to end up flat on his ass.

“What?” Carlossen asked.

The shimmering smoke seemed to solidify for a second and shrink down to the size of a man. “It’s quite a hassle being inside a bottle for three hundred and thirty three years,” the smoke-being said.

“What?” Carlossen said again.

The smoke dissipated completely and Carlossen found himself staring at a man whose skin was so pale it reflected the moonlight. His eyes were dark and his face was clean shaven except for a small goatee of a beard. His ears seemed to stick out, and the tips were slightly pointed. “Haven’t you ever seen one of my kind?” the man asked.

“What?” Carlossen asked again.

“Oh come now,” the man said exasperatedly. “I’ve been stuck in a bottle for three hundred years or so and the entire language has degenerated to one word?”

“No,” Carlossen said.

“Two words then,” the smoke-man replied.

Carlossen shook his head and rubbed his eyes. “What are you?”

The smoke-being’s face brightened. “Ah, so you CAN speak! Excellent! As for what I am, I am a Tsuda. Are we in the Enn Empire? Then I suppose I would be called a ‘Genie’.”

“I don’t believe it,” Carlossen said, getting up from the ground and dusting his pants off.

“See a lot of mist-beings come out of glass bottles then?” the genie asked smugly.

Carlossen hesitated for a moment. “Not really no, but that could have been a trick.”

“Someone went to an awful lot of trouble to trick you this time of the night in…are we in a graveyard?” The genie looked around, recognizing his situation for the first time.

“In a grave actually,” Carlossen said, climbing out of the hole successfully this time.

“Remarkable,” the genie said, taking a deep breath. “Smell that earth.”

“If it’s manure you want to smell, I have a stable-boy would be glad to help you out.” Carlossen grunted as he heaved the body into the hole and picked up his shovel.

“You’re going to fill that hole in, are you?” the genie asked Carlossen.

“No I was going to use it to plant daisies,” Carlossen replied flippantly.

“Oh,” said the genie, taken aback. “Well if you WERE going to fill the hole, I could help you out.”

“I only got one shovel,” Carlossen said simply, picking up a shovelful of dirt and tossing it onto the spread-eagled corpse. “I don’t suppose you have one in that pair of funny-looking pants somewhere.”

“Sadly, I do not,” the genie replied. “I can, however, do this.”

With a wave of his arm, the dirt that Carlossen had excavated neatly found its way into the hole he had dug and arranged itself so perfectly that one couldn’t even see the edge where he had cut. Grass shoots sprouted from the new earth covering it completely until it seemed like just another plot.

Carlossen stared at the spot, dumbfounded. “That’s amazing.”

“It’s easy when you know how,” the genie said lazily. “I’ve taken a liking to you I think.”

“Why thank you, sir,” Carlossen said, losing the flippancy he had before. Anyone with magic was a powerful ally to have and it wouldn’t do to let his tongue get the better of him.

“What do I call you, proud laborer?” the genie asked.

“I’m called Carlossen,” the man responded.

“They call me Izzt,” the genie said and paused. “Well, they used to call me Izzt back when I was a man.”

“How did you become a genie?” Carlossen asked.

“The Gloaming changed me,” Izzt replied.

“The Gloaming?” Carlossen said, perplexed.

Izzt looked at him as though he was talking to an idiot. “Any child schooled in magic knows what The Gloaming is.”

“Things have changed since your time,” Carlossen said. “Children no longer learn magic. It is far too dangerous.”

“Magic? Dangerous?!” Izzt asked incredulously. “Who on earth would put such rubbish in your heads?”

“The city council is run by three wizards who try to train apprentices, but the apprentices all go crazy or die from their methods,” Carlossen explained.

Izzt shook his head. “Something about this is wrong. Very wrong.”

“You mean in your day children used to train in magic,” Carlossen asked incredulously.

“Not only were they trained,” Izzt said, “but some of the best wizards I knew were children.”

Carlossen thought about this for a minute. “Maybe magic has changed since your time.”

Izzt eyed him as though he was crazy. “Magic can change as much as a bowl of water can change or a breeze that blows in from the coast can change. It is a force of nature, much more immutable than you or I.”

“Then how come the magic causes the apprentices to go crazy or die?” Carlossen asked.

“I’m sure you can figure that one out for yourself, you don’t seem particularly dim” Izzt said. “Of course I could be wrong.”

The truth crashed on Carlossen like a tsunami. “The wizards are sending them crazy.”

“No doubt to maintain their stranglehold on power,” Izzt said. “If there are no new wizards, there can be no challenge for the council.”

Carlossen thought for a minute. “They seem like right decent fellows though,” he said. “They’ve managed to cut down the crime in the city considerably.”

“Do the people love them?” Izzt asked.

“Well,” Carlossen said and hesitated. “Not particularly, no.”

Izzt sighed. “The Gloaming starts at midnight, and I need to do something before it begins.”

Carlossen thought for a moment. “If you help me with my tasks, then I shall help you with yours, I’m sure we could get it done much quicker. And aren’t you supposed to be my slave or something after I free you?”

Izzt smiled. “I see you’ve been reading old stories,” the genie said.

“Well, I’ve heard of genies, just never met one,” Carlossen said. “In any case, I have to get a move on and get these items.”

“What is it you need to get?” Izzt asked. “Perhaps I can just materialize them and you could be on your way.”

Carlossen pulled out the parchment that Rennard had given him. “I need the finger bone of a freshly dead man, the bud of a dew-catcher and three seeds of bleeding polyp.”

Izzt frowned. “Who are you getting these things for?”

“For the wizards at the council,” Carlossen said. “Why do you ask?”

“How well do you trust these men?” Izzt asked again.

“Why, I would trust them with my life, they are my employers after all.” Carlossen sniffed at the hidden accusation. “They’ve only had my best interests at mind ever since they got to ruling.”

“I think you’re blinded by your loyalty, my dear friend Carlossen,” Izzt said and frowned. “I shall give these things to you, but on the condition that I am able to come with you to where they want this package delivered.”

Carlossen frowned, his eyes narrowed in thought. “I don’t know, the wizards are rather picky about who is allowed into the inner sanctum, and I only just met you.”

“I shall be as if I wasn’t there. They won’t even see me,” Izzt said.

“Can you do that?” Carlossen asked. “Well, of course you can you’re a genie. I suppose I do owe you something for saving me hours of trudging back and forth to find these things… Fair enough, you can come with me, but if you get caught, on your own head be it.”

Izzt nodded solemnly. “If I get caught I don’t know who you are, friend Carlossen.”

Carlossen rolled his eyes. “Let’s just go, shall we?”

The pair walked back towards the inner sanctum in silence. The roads were deserted this hour of the night, and it would take him some time to get the cart in which he had been carrying the body in to the stable hands. It was good that Izzt did help him out, Carlossen thought. Between running the errand and dropping back the cart, he would never have made it to the conjuring room on time. Silently, he thanked the Gods, but he had a feeling that Izzt was a lot more trouble than he was worth.

In the distance, the bell-tower chimed ten strikes. The crier’s thin voice floated down the dark roadway, assuring him that it was indeed ten of the clock and all was well.

“You’re not a very talkative lot, are you?” Izzt asked Carlossen as they walked.

“I usually talk a bit, but I don’t feel like it tonight,” Carlossen admitted. “Something about tonight feels wrong.”

“Even non-magical beings can tell The Gloaming is wrong,” Izzt said, kicking a loose cobblestone piece that was in front of him and watching it roll and hit the stone wall of a house at the side of the road with a relatively loud thunk.

“Don’t do that, you’ll wake people up,” Carlossen said, turning to face him. “And what do you mean it’s wrong?”

“I suppose someone will have to tell you sometime,” Izzt said. “But frankly you should have known already.”

“What is it?” Carlossen said impatiently.

“You know that the number three is important for magic right?” Izzt asked.

“Yes, I learned that before,” Carlossen said, and he had indeed learned this many years ago from Rennard.

“Every three hundred and thirty three years, a Gloaming happens,” Izzt began. “During the Gloaming, strange lines of magical flux appear on the surface of the world. Only those trained to see magic can see these lines though. They form sort of a web around the world, meeting at nodal points and branching out again, covering the world in a huge net. During the Gloaming strange things occur, and although magic is at its peak, and magical spells are most effective at this time, there is danger in using magic.

“No-one truly knows where the magic of this world comes from. Some say it comes from inside the earth and at the Gloaming, the magic bleeds out and covers the world. Others say it comes from another dimension, and leaks across during the Gloaming because the thing separating this world from that one is at its thinnest. Whatever it is, when magic is used on the Gloaming it attracts beings which we call The Shadows.

“The Shadows are just a name given to the creatures, because they are made up of a lack of light. Their edges are blurred, as though they are being cast from something by a candle light or lantern. But they are real. Their touch is fatal. There are some types of magic that can only be performed on the Gloaming though. The making of a genie is but one of them.”

“So that’s why you said the Gloaming was responsible for making you a genie,” Carlossen said.

Izzt nodded. “The prolonging of life is another ritual that can only be done on The Gloaming. It allows one to live in the prime of their life until another Gloaming comes around. The two are two sides of the same coin. To live for so long requires the sacrifice of a single life, suspended in time as a genie. If anyone were to free the genie before Gloaming night then the spell would be broken and the caster or casters would return to their old selves.”

“Who was it that turned you into a genie,” Carlossen asked.

Izzt waved his hand. “It’s not important. What is important is that you take care of yourself tonight. The Gloaming is dangerous, even for a non-magical being as yourself friend Carlossen.”

“Carlossen! Good!” Rennard’s voice came to Carlossen’s ears and he snapped his head forward sharply. “Did you get the things I put on the list?” the wizard asked.

“Yeah, they’re all here,” Carlossen responded, showing Rennard the little pull-string bag which held the ingredients.

“Excellent, excellent,” Rennard said, and his eyes seemed to lose focus for a moment. “Who were you talking to just now?”

“Don’t say anything about me,” Izzt said urgently. “He can’t see me.”

“Oh nobody,” Carlossen said quickly. “You know how I have this habit of talking to myself…”

“Aye,” Rennard agreed. “When you start answering yourself though, you should go see a physician. Now come with me, we have much to do and little time to do it in.”

“It was just ten of the clock,” Carlossen said. “I thought you were going to start at midnight? I still have to drop the cart off…”

“Leave the cart, someone will pick it up,” Rennard said. He shifted from foot to foot uncomfortably, as if something was burning under his feet. “We must hurry, the time is short.”

Without waiting for Carlossen to argue, Rennard seized his hand and pulled him forward. Carlossen took one step in the alleyway…and the next moment he was in the conjuring room inside the council chambers. The room was wide and had a large, arched roof. There was a stained glass mosaic along the roof that let the moonlight in, casting an eerie glow on everything. Carlossen noticed Georgio and Kysorn standing in the shadows. Both seemed to have aged considerably since the last time he had seen them, some two days ago. Both men had deep furrows in their brows and their beards and hair had gone white. It seemed as though they had aged more than a hundred years.

“It’s about time,” Georgio called to Rennard. “Someone’s destoppered the bottle, we have less than an hour left.”

“Right, well, let’s get started,” Rennard said. “Would you please come with me Carlossen?”

Sudden realization dawned on Carlossen. Izzt had said if he was released before the Gloaming that those who put him in there would age. That had to be what was going on.

“No,” Carlossen said to Rennard who stopped in his tracks.

“I beg your pardon?” Rennard asked.

“I said no,” replied Carlossen. “I will not go with you.”

“Come now…” Rennard started.

“Izzt,” Carlossen replied.

“Goddamn him, he knows!” Georgio said loudly and before Carlossen knew what was going on, his arms seemed to be shackled and his legs were moving of their own accord. “If you won’t go, then we’ll take you there,” Georgio sneered.

Carlossen tried to fight it, but he couldn’t control his muscles. They seemed to move of their own accord, but he found if he concentrated hard on his legs, he could slow the rate at which they moved.

“Can’t you make him move any faster?” Kysorn asked. “I’ll die before he gets to the circle.”

“He’ll get there in enough time,” Georgio replied.

“We might as well get set up Kysorn, so that when Georgio gets him to the circle it’s just to get him settled and lock him in the bottle,” Rennard said, walking to the far end of the room.

Carlossen saw a circle inscribed on the ground, bearing strange alchemical symbols all around the rim. Inside the circle were three smaller circles and in the middle of those, another much smaller circle. The circle in the middle gave off a faint bluish-green glow and Carlossen could feel the hairs on his arms stand up. A sudden blast of coldness entered the room, even though there was no window open anywhere.

“Quickly, before the Shadows come!” Kysorn said and took up a position in one of the three circles that surrounded the glowing one.

Rennard stood in another of the three circles and together they started chanting:

“When the walls bend, when the walls bend

With your breathing, with your breathing

They will suck you down to the other side

To the shadows blue and red, shadows blue and red”

Carlossen saw first one, then two, then a whole slew of creatures start coming out of the glowing circle, each one a standing shadow , outlined in either a red or a blue tint.

“What’s he doin’?” Carlossen shouted. “This is The Gloaming!”

“We know,” Georgio said and an evil laugh escaped him. Carlossen saw that the shadows were now walking out of the circle and moving towards him.

Suddenly, the constraints that forced him to the circle snapped. Georgio’s face paled. “Show yourself Izzt, I know the taint of my magic when I feel it.”

Izzt materialized between Carlossen and the Shadows and made a motion with his hands. The shadows were lifted off the ground and slung towards Rennard and Kysorn. The both dived out of the way but Kysorn was too late and one of the shadows touched him.

Kysorn screamed and his body seemed to melt into a tarry substance that fell onto the floor and evaporated in a blast of fire. His screams continued for a short while after the tar was gone and them they too stopped abruptly.

Georgio gritted his teeth. “Serves him right, he wasn’t strong enough to rule.”

Izzt kept an eye on Georgio and flicked his face back to Rennard. The younger wizard seemed to be engaged with holding off the Shadows from touching him.

“Run friend Carlossen,” Izzt said. “This is not your fight.”

“It is my fight, last I saw,” Carlossen said and ran to Izzt’s side. “They wanted to turn me into a genie.”

Izzt smiled. “Took you long enough to notice,” he said. “Let’s dispatch these tyrants, shall we?”

“Dispatch this,” Georgio screamed and tossed a flaming ball at Izzt. The genie calmly deflected it and returned with a spike of arcing purple electricity.

“Come now Georgio,” Izzt taunted the wizard. “Surely you can do better than that. You’ve had over three hundred years!”

Georgio cursed and loosed a stream of forked lightning. Carlossen cringed, expecting it to strike him, but Izzt had erected some sort of dome temporarily over them that absorbed the lightning.

“Your language is still as terrible as ever,” Izzt said.

“Behind you!” Carlossen hissed and Izzt turned around just in time to see Rennard fire a series of small, deadly spikes at the duo.

“Duck!” Izzt yelled and Carlossen hit the ground. The spikes shattered on a wall of air that Izzt had erected momentarily. They fell to the ground making a sound like that of breaking glass.

“Your time is up gentlemen,” Izzt said. “And one of your number is gone. Give up your pursuit of immortality, it is over!”

“It will never be over!” Rennard said, his eyes flashing red as he brought up his hands into a fist, and clapped it down upon his palm. The room shook and Izzt fell to the ground next to Carlossen.

“There is one way we can prolong our lives,” Rennard said, his eyes now looking as though they were coals embedded in his head. “We can kill that which we borrowed life from.”

Izzt looked stunned. “You wouldn’t…”

“Watch us,” Georgio said and raised his hands.

A ribbon of grey light wound from Georgio’s hands to Rennard’s and back, the air between the two wizards quivering. There was a sense of impending doom and Carlossen looked at Izzt, his eyes filled with tears.

“I don’t want to die,” he whispered.

“Neither do I,” Izzt said.

The wizards started to chant in low guttural tones. Whatever language flowed from their mouths was coarse and rough. The sounds made Carlossen cringe as he heard them. Suddenly, he felt as though a large hand had been placed over his heart, stifling its beating. Izzt’s eyes widened as he too felt the same sensation, as though his still-beating heart was being ripped from his chest. His eyes dimmed for a second. He felt his body on the verge of letting go of his spirit, then he fell to the floor, breath coursing back into his lungs as he heard both wizards scream out loudly.

The Shadows had crept up on them. Whatever Rennard had been using to hold them at bay had expired when he started devoting all his strength to killing Izzt and Carlossen. The shadows seemed to swarm over the men and their screams filled the domed room. They didn’t melt into the ground like Kysorn, but seemed to be taken, bite by bite, by the Shadows as their ghastly hands clawed and rent the flesh of the men. Soon all that was left of them was a small pile of bloody innards on the floor. Even after their bodies were devoured their shrieks echoed in the hall until the last of the Shadows faded back into wherever they came from.

Carlossen was still unconscious, but Izzt suspected that he would live. He was looking forward to seeing a sunrise. It had certainly been too long.

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