Artwork provided by the incredibly talented Eugene
the Red Priest,
felt it when the boy was born. Half a continent away, right in the middle
of a casting a complicated spell to heal some foolish street urchin who
had broken his back falling out of an apple tree... and he still felt
"A toast!" Zolf, wizard and mercenary extrordinaire, sloshed his glass towards his best friend and business partner, Gentry Bellmourne -- who was, he noticed blearily, looking quite drunk. Had he himself been thinking more clearly, Zolf might have realized that yet another toast was probably not in their best interests, particularly if they wished to remain upright. Unfortunately, the thought was lost in a rather pleasant warm haze before it could fully form within his brain. "To your wife," he said. "The ever-radiant Alicia, who, against all odds..."
"We've already toasted my wife," Gentry interrupted, grinning lopsidedly as his eyes struggled to focus on the man before him. "Three times now, I think. Or... was it four?"
Zolf laughed, his voice echoing in the vaulted ceiling of the dining hall. He struggled to stand, but his legs didn't seem to be cooperating, so he wisely changed tactics and remained sitting. "Then, to your son," he said, only belatedly realizing that they had already toasted the newborn several times as well.
But apparently that didn't seem to matter, for Gentry straightened in his chair, raising his own glass with such a wild gesture that most of the contents spilled over the side onto the white lace tablecloth. Zolf winced. Alicia was going to have a fit when she saw, but... oh well.
"Yes!" Gentry exclaimed. "To my son. My son! Heir to everything that is mine!"
Zolf tipped his glass eagerly. "May he be as great a warrior and sorcerer as his father."
"Nay... May he surpass me! May he bring honor and glory to the name Bellmourne!"
Satisfied, they clanked their glasses together and drank.
With the toast complete, Gentry suddenly slumped back into his chair, the drink, weariness or both suddenly overcoming him. Though his energy seemed spent, the smile didn't leave his face, nor the gleam fade from his unfocused eyes. "Yes," he said quietly. "He will be great. I can feel it. You should see him, Zolf. Healthy, strong..." His smile faltered slightly. "And... there's something about him..."
Outside, in the distance; the jangling sound of metal on metal...
Distracted, Zolf peered up from his empty glass. "Something?"
"Um," Zolf grunted, not understanding.
Zolf's unsteady gaze shifted to the curtained window. The sound of metal on metal...
Gentry didn't seem to notice, too lost in his own muddled thoughts. "Magic... I think..." he said, propping his chin up with one arm, staring off into the distance. "Maybe it's inborn talent, or... I don't know. Can't explain it. Never felt anything like it, really..."
From the kitchen, just off of the dining hall, there was a great crashing, clattering sound, as if someone had dropped a tray of dishes. Startled, Zolf and Gentry both glanced over to the swinging door just in time to see a kitchen maid stumble through, her expression apologetic and a bit dazed as she looked at them through heavy-lidded eyes. "Master Bellmourne..." she said.
And then she slumped to the floor in a slumbering heap.
A violent surge of alarm-induced adrenaline cleared Zolf's alcohol-addled mind in a rush. He pushed himself to his feet, even as Gentry did the same, their eyes locking with the same fear and anger as they both understood.
Sleep spell. Somehow, a sleep spell had managed to penetrate the estate's magical wards. They were under attack.
"Alicia," Gentry whispered in horror. And then his eyes widened, even as he turned to rush out of the dining hall and up the stairs to the living quarters. "The baby..."
But understanding came too late. Even as Zolf quickly followed, he felt the magic's influence seep through his lowered defenses, and saw that the spell was having the same effect on his friend.
With a clearer mind, he might have been able to cast Reflect, or even some kind of offensive spell, like Flare Arrow... though it wouldn't do any good without a target. And he didn't have a target. Not one he could see, at least...
Zolf cursed aloud as he felt himself slipping down to the floor in unconsciousness. The last thing he saw before the darkness claimed him was Gentry, stumbling with wild, weary desperation up the stairs, yet falling, slumping...
Rezo lowered his staff, the jangling metal rings quieting as the last of his sleep spell blanketed the house. Unsurprisingly, he could feel that his adult grandson had put up the most fight. The boy might even have lasted longer against this, his mildest of magics, had he not been so falling-down-drunk in the first place.
It was just as well. In spite of whatever emotional distance he had placed between himself and his descendants, he wished them no harm. He had no desire to fight with his own.
His true battle lay elsewhere, after all. This current unpleasant task was simply to ensure that his enemies could not create a pawn to use against him in the future...
He glided easily through the warded doorways, inwardly pleased that these offspring of his were not completely without common sense. The magical defenses around the house would have defeated many an invader, sorcerer or otherwise. But they were as nothing in the face of his power.
The house was near pitch black, all the lamps extinguished -- a side effect of the encompassing miasma of the sleep spell. But, to a blind man, darkness was darkness, and Rezo slipped through the halls, silent as a ghost, passing the fallen, sleeping bodies of servants.
He found his adult grandson, snoozing peacefully halfway up the grand staircase, and paused for a moment.
He couldn't see him with natural sight, of course, but he could sense the young man with the astral sight that, in spite of all its power, could never satisfy the ache within him; the burning desire he had to see with physical eyes all the nuances of color and texture, light and shadow and pure human expression that he knew must exist, but could never experience...
The boy had obviously done well for himself, if the house and surrounding lands were any indication. He was physically strong as well, with a lean, muscled form that spoke of plenty of fighting experience. And, of course, there was the aura of magic that, though only a fraction of his own, still resonated with familiarity... and Rezo found himself feeling a strange emotion. A flicker of... pride?
He began to lean over, his hand outstretched. He couldn't see... but perhaps, if he could only touch the boy's face...
He froze, then, shocked at his own lapse of reason, and pulled back, straightening. Now was not the time for such thoughts, or even misplaced feelings of sentimentality. He had work to do. Turning sharply, he ascended the stairs, leaving his grandson behind.
Up the stairs. Down the hall, to the room where mother and infant lay... sleeping...
Rezo paused outside the room in surprise. Powerful, active magic swirled within.
What on earth? he wondered in amazement and curiosity. Is it the child?
The door opened before him, and he stepped through.
His daughter was sitting upright in her bed, very much awake and frightened as she clutched her baby to her chest. A strong white-magic shield spell surrounded her and the child, keeping the miasma of sleep magic at bay.
If Rezo was surprised at this, he was even more surprised at her sudden gasp of recognition as she saw him.
"You!" she exclaimed.
Oh dear, thought Rezo.
This was not good.
"You... know who I am?" he asked, his voice carefully quiet and neutral.
Her mouth worked soundlessly for a moment before she managed, hoarsely, "Know you? Of course I know you. I would know you anywhere. You are Rezo, the Red Priest. One of the Five Wise Men of the Age. The most powerful human magic user alive. And... my father."
Rezo could say nothing in the face of such truth, except, "Yes."
They faced each other silently, neither moving.
As he stood in the uncomfortable silence, Rezo wondered, for what would not be the first time that night, why he didn't just put an end to the awkward situation by dissipating her shield with a thought and putting her to sleep.
But he could hear her breathing, in shallow, frightened gasps. And he could hear the infant in her arms, stirring restlessly. The baby didn't cry, and yet he seemed to sense his mother's distress. The power Rezo could feel flowing from the child was tainted with a silent, unfocused anxiety...
"I... looked for you," his daughter said finally, her voice trembling. "We both looked for you... Mother and I. We looked everywhere, following the rumors and stories of your 'healing benevolence.' And yet, while everyone else who needed your compassion seemed to be able to find you... we... never could..." The bitterness and pain in her voice were unmistakable.
Rezo sighed, and slumped imperceptibly. This certainly was an unexpected turn of events, and would have to be handled delicately. He could tell her all of his reasons for why he had left so long ago, and none of them would make any difference. Nothing he could do would heal this wound. And he was ill-prepared to even try.
Perhaps it was best to just be up front and honest with the girl. The woman.
I'm sorry. I'm sorry that I'm such a selfish bastard. I'm sorry that my desperate all- consuming need to find a cure for my blindness has left me incapable of giving you a father's love. I could say I'm sorry forever, but all the apologies in the world won't make up for my neglect, and won't erase your pain...
Rezo lifted his head and turned his sealed eyes in her direction.
"I'm afraid I am not here for a family reconciliation, nor to apologize for being a bad father," he said.
"I guessed that," she snapped, anger burning through her fear. "Your little sleep spell was supposed to get me as well. Well, I hate to tell you this, Father, but I happen to have a bit of magical talent myself, in case you haven't noticed."
He heard her swallow hard. "Well then... if you haven't come to apologize for abandoning your pregnant lover to a life of shame, struggle and hardship forty-three years after the fact... why are you here?"
Rezo's reply was silence. She seemed quite a bright girl, after all.
And she was.
She drew back in horror, clutching her infant son tighter to her chest. "No..." she whispered. "No, you... you can't have him."
"I don't want him," he said quietly. "I think it should be painfully apparent at this time that I am quite unsuitable for fatherhood."
He could sense her confusion, her fear hanging palpably in the air. "Then... what?"
And here was where he needed to tread delicately. "Your husband," he said. "Do you... know who he is?"
"Wh-what..? I... I don't understand."
And she didn't. He could hear it in her voice.
"Why are you asking about my husband?" she asked, anger flaring once again amidst her fear. "If you've hurt him, I swear I'll-"
"Your husband is fine. He is sleeping downstairs." Well, technically, on the stairs, but there was no need for her to know that.
More importantly, he now knew that she didn't know that she and her husband were both his descendants. Which probably meant that his grandson was unaware of his ancestry, even if his daughter was aware of hers.
He didn't feel the need to enlighten her to that particular unfortunate twist in her life. He had caused her enough pain, and in this case, ignorance was most certainly bliss.
And now, a half-truth would serve as well, if not better than the whole truth in this instance.
"Listen to me carefully," Rezo said quietly, "and I will explain to you why I am here." He took a deep breath. "Your son is in danger."
"Danger?" His daughter's voice was tight and thin. "Yes, from you."
He shook his head. "Not from me. From my enemies, which are many. My blood runs strongly in your son's veins, and the power that you can feel from him now -- power that feels like my power; that screams out to anyone who knows me that he is of me; that he is mine -- is the result."
"He is not yours," she hissed. "You have nothing to do with him!"
"Don't deceive yourself," he responded sharply. "You understand my meaning. You can feel as well as I, that your son's power is virtually identical to mine."
She fell silent at that.
"They will come for him unless I do something."
He could hear her shaking her head. "No," she whispered, and there were tears in her voice; no doubt on her face, if he could only see them. "No, you're lying. He's just a baby..."
"That is to their advantage, for it will make him easier to manipulate as he grows, and he will not be able to defend himself."
"I will defend him," she cried. "My husband and I will fight together! We will not allow anyone to take our child!"
"So," Rezo said quietly. "You believe you can defend him from Mazoku?"
Rezo sighed; a heavy, world-weary sigh. "I'm going to let you in on a terrible secret, my dear. There is a man who is working to resurrect the Dark Lord, Shabranigdo." He heard her sharp intake of breath at that. "I have been trying to stop him," he continued, "but just in case I cannot, I have also been working to find a way to destroy the Dark Lord himself, should he ever be brought back to life."
A half-truth. But enough of the truth, that he didn't feel too guilty...
"Because of this, as you can imagine, there are many Mazoku who would like to destroy me. Or, better yet, see me destroyed by my own grandson, for reasons that have hopefully become obvious to you.
"You have the power to wield magic, child, but you cannot hope to stand against Mazoku. They will come and take your son from you, even if they have to pry him from your dead hands, and then they will corrupt him for their own evil purposes."
In the silence, he could hear her sobbing.
Finally, she spoke. "What... are you going to do... with my son?" she asked brokenly.
Rezo bowed his head. "I am going to seal away his power. Once I do that, he will not be able to perform any magic. But he will be able to grow up and live a normal life with you and your husband, without any of you having to live in fear because of my misbegotten legacy."
His daughter wept. She knelt on her bed, her legs curled under her as she cradled her infant son, rocking back and forth...
Eventually, her weeping subsided. Then, slowly, she moved to the side of her bed, stood, and came over to him.
"I hate you," she said.
Rezo suppressed the urge to flinch. "I know."
"You're not doing this for him. You're doing this for you. You're not afraid for him. You're afraid of him."
Rezo didn't respond.
She reached out and handed him the bundled infant. He took the tiny child carefully, and rested him in the crook of his arm, surprised at how weightless the boy seemed.
"Do what you have to," she said coldly. "And then leave. I never want to see your face again."
Rezo nodded his head in humble acquiescence. Then, as she turned away, he eliminated her shield of white magic and caught her slumping body with a thought as she fell instantly asleep. A slight amount of levitation, and she was resting peacefully on her bed.
And now, to get this unpleasant business over with and behind him.
The infant stirred in his arms suddenly, tiny arms and legs jerking within the tight confines of the blanket that swaddled him, and Rezo hesitated, wondering with the faint stirrings of panic if the child would cry. "Hush," he whispered, gently, but with a touch of anxiety, hoping he could stop the wailing before it began. "Hush, now..."
To his surprise, the child didn't cry.
Instead, to his even greater discomfort, he thought he could feel the baby... looking at him.
Impossible. Rezo tried to shrug off the feeling as his stressed imagination, taxed by the disturbing events of the evening. After all, the boy was only a day old, and newborns were well known to be practically... blind...
Then, reluctantly... almost fearfully...he reached out with one hand to gently caress the face of the infant boy nestled in the crook of his arm.
He felt soft skin; a light thatch of thin, silky hair. The small, delicate curve of an ear, the whisper of an eyebrow, the little bump of a nose. And then he felt tiny, warm hands reach out and grasp his fingers in a surprisingly firm grip...
He suppressed a gasp... then marveled silently, a strange, unfamiliar warmth filling him at the touch of the infant's hands. So strong, this child...
And, at that moment, as he held the baby, felt the warmth and life in the tiny body cradled in his arms, he knew.
This child was his. This infant boy belonged to him, far more and far deeper than he belonged to his daughter or grandson. For while the boy's parents might each claim a single bond of blood, the child was bound to him twice and again, with ties of both blood and power...
He had told this very thing to his daughter, but at the time, those were just words, without any real power over himself, meant only to convince her to give into his wishes...
But now he understood that he was more right than he could have imagined.
This boy. His.
And now, he - Rezo, the Red Priest and healer - was going to break those ties... and cripple the boy for life.
But... it was for his own good.
It had to be.
"Come, little Zelgadis," he whispered. "It's time."
And, as he began to cast the spell, it was only then that Rezo realized that there were tears leaking from his sealed eyes...