A short fantasy story inspired by an AC/DC song. Enjoy!
Chapter 1: A New Day
It was another cold, bitter morning and the air was dank and moldy. Castor opened his crusty eyes and gazed at the room he was in. As usual, it was dark as a dungeon, and for good reason since he was in one. But there was always that glimmer of hope.
And like an angel answering his miserable prayers, a wake of light glimmered in the hall way. Alertness shattered through Castor’s sleepy body, and his ears were straining to pick up the distant muttering.
“…this way…watch your…not too close to that one…”
A part of Castor knew that the guards would simply walk by, if they even went this deep into the dungeon at all. There was no reason they would want to talk to him, let alone fulfill his fantasy of freedom. Alas, he did hope they would walk by. His curiosity was starved for information. If he had been a man of lesser self-control, he might have even salivated at the opportunity to eavesdrop on the guard’s conversation.
The voices drew nearer.
“Will he go for it?” Someone asked.
Castor didn’t recognize the voice. He knew the voices of all the guards who worked the dungeons, and this was definitely not one of them. If he had to guess, it sounded like the voice of a man, older in years, but not old, and one who held some degree of authority. A man of privilege.
“Thad’s hard t’say gov’na.”
Ah, now that was William’s voice, the chief of the watch.
“But I’d reckon he’d go fer a swim’n the pig sty if it meant he’d get t’see the sky.”
There was a brutish laugh that Castor didn’t much like, one that begged to be punished. But his anger was an old thing, a small flame on a massive wood pile, and it wasn’t hard for him to resist the urge of stoking that fire.
Besides, they weren’t talking about him after all.
“Best keep’er quiet now. He’s not far ahead.”
The torch light grew brighter. Castor listened to the footsteps on the stone floor. The sound of leather thumping mixed with the jangling of chain mail filled his ears.
First he saw Richard, one of the younger guards, holding a torch. The blond haired man, not much more than a boy, stopped in front of Castor’s cell. Then another man appeared, this one with fair brown hair and a neatly manicured beard and mustache dressed in a heavy fur cape and dark linens. Lastly was William, also holding a torch, his face covered in the dark rough stubble of a man with a dull razor.
Both guards were draped in long chain mail coats and pointed half helms with a small pillar of metal to protect the bridge of their nose. Oddly, both of them carried heavy pick axes.
“Is this him?” Asked the man in the fur cape, the man who had the voice of a noble.
William nodded his head. “Certainly is.”
Castor smiled to himself at the way William pronounced the word certainly, like a four year old tumbling over a tree trunk and struggling to stay on his feet.
The noble stepped closer to the bars of Castor’s cell, his black eyes turned into hazel orbs as the light shone on them for the first time.
“We have a problem, and we need someone with your…talents…to remedy the situation.” The noble paused and Castor wondered if the man had seen the slight spark of hope in his own cold blue eyes. “You’ve been in here a long time, wizard. You take care of this problem, and you’ll have your freedom.”
Every fiber of his body was poised to scream in agreement. There was nothing in existence he wanted more than to be free again, yet his amazing self control was not yet exhausted, even after all these years of imprisonment. Somehow he managed to repulse that urge to melt into the noble’s arms and agree to whatever the man said.
Instead, he replied with what ragged restraint he could muster. “What’s the problem?”
The noble winced at the rasped animal voice that wafted from the cell. “There’s little time for that. Give me a yes or no.”
This time there was no hesitation. “Yes.”
“Good.” The noble’s head nodded, like a teacher glad his pupil had seen reason. He looked over at William and gave another nod. “Break him out.”
The two men set their torches into the wall and raised their pick axes with both hands. The iron chisels slammed into the stone walls surrounding the bars, shattering flakes with each strike.
Castor slumped against the back of his cell and sat on the floor as he waited. His mind drifted back to his last day of freedom and the words of another noble, an irate man with a red face and flowing straw yellow hair yelling “You’ll rot in there to the day you die you venomous ******! You’re flesh will sag and rot off your crumbling bones day by day and I’ll see to it I will! I’ll have them throw away the key. You’ll never see the sun again!”
He wasn’t lying. Castor chuckled to himself and the gesture actually stirred a pain in his chest, but he let the smile work itself to his face, creasing the cake of dirt on his pale cheeks. They actually threw away the key. And now look at them! They have to use pick axes to literally break me out of jail.
* * *
Chapter 2: The Light
Walking out into the light for the first time in years, Castor couldn’t even open his eyes. By the sound of the noble’s voice, the Governor was irritated.
“How long will it take him to adjust?” He nearly snapped at William. “A blind wizard’s no good to us!”
“Easy gov’nah, I’ve seen this many times b’fore. It’ll take a few minutes-“
“It’s been a few minutes!”
William’s tone was remarkably calm for someone of his low status speaking to the governor of the city. “A few more then…ah, here it is.”
Castor squinted his eyes and tried to see what was going on. He caught a glimpse of a long stick in William’s hands. The guard shoved it over.
“You’ll need this.”
Slowly the old cob webs tore loose as the gears in his mind began to spin. The wooden stick was a staff and the feel of those old ribs of gnarled maple unleashed a flood of memory. As he grasped the wood, he could feel the ancient runes inscribed upon in, and a tendril of power sparked through his body as he was reconnected with the shards of power.
Painstakingly he had crafted that staff over a year’s worth of careful effort. The staff itself was a root of an old maple tree that had been straightened and hardened. Precisely fourteen pieces of crystal were implanted into the long shaft and at the head of it was a large dull red stone about the size of a child’s fist. The intricate placement and craftsmanship was the key to a wizard’s power. Without it, Castor was but a man, plain and simple.
With the staff in his hands, he was much more than any mere mortal. Power coursing through his veins, filling the fibers of his weakened muscles, he opened his eyes and let the blazing rays of the sun scorch through. The pain was his, and with it he was alive…and free.
The Governor must have noticed some change fall over Castor, as the man’s voice lacked the authoritative edge it had previously held. “Remember our bargain, wizard.”
Castor’s blue eyes swept over the governor. In the light of the sun, they sparkled with a gleam of madness he had not seen in the dark gloom of the dungeon’s cell. For a moment, the governor actually trembled in fear, but just as quickly as that bright flame of terror had sparked, it died down, and those blue eyes returned to something much more akin to normal.
“Tell me…” Castor’s voice was still as rough as ever, “…where is this problem.”
* * *
Chapter 3: The Problem
The thing in the market was fairly hard to describe. For starters, it was tall, perhaps fourteen feet to the top of its arching back. Its skin was a deeply dark crimson, almost black, like obsidian glistening red as light glanced across it. The shape of thing was a mix somewhere between a troll and a wolf but with a human like face and horns coming out of its misshapen head. Perhaps the most frightening thing about it, besides the way it ripped people in two without so much as a grunt of effort, was the glowing eyes.
“A hellbeast.” Castor muttered.
“Som’ sorcerer summoned the damned thing in t’market, claimed a merchant jilted ‘em.”
“What happened to the summoner?” Castor asked, looking over at William.
William shrugged, not because he didn’t know the answer, but because someone screwed up. “First thing the guards did was cut t’ man down. After that t’ thing started kill’n people.”
An enraged beast of protection. The results were gruesome.
Around the overturned carts and scattered merchandise were the various pieces of peasants and merchants and perhaps a few guards. Blood and gore were plastered across the street like a painter’s brush strokes.
Castor watched as a trio of guards armed with pikes tried to stab the beast from behind. One of the men actually jabbed the thing near the spine, but it whipped around with such fury that the guard was flung to the ground. The other two guards, amazingly brave or incredibly stupid, lunged forward at the hellbeast’s chest. The creature swatted away the pikes and snapped one of the guards in its fanged jaws. Castor could hear the sickening crunch as it crushed through chain mail and bone.
The other guard was torn in half by a casual backhand from the beast’s razor sharp talons. His upper torso smacked against the wall of a house while his lower body slunk to the dirt, a few red spurts emptied what life he had.
“Can you stop it?” The Governor’s voice was trembling as his eyes watched the demon tearing through his town.
Castor didn’t reply. The Governor’s worries did not require any words on his part. With the staff of power in his hands, he felt more like flexing his muscles than flapping his tongue.
After no more than three steps, the hellbeast reared its ugly head toward Castor, its face twisted into an evil smile.
The wizard that walked toward the beast was no more than a skinny man of average height. Long brown hair matted in dirty clumps hanged down from his head and face. His body was clad in filthy torn rags revealing glimpses of soot colored skin. But his gait was that of a man with purpose and intent. There was not an ounce of fear in his being.
Instead, he was a fiery furnace of anger.
The hellbeast stared long and hard at the wizard. It sensed a kinship of fury. Castor had been imprisoned for twelve long years and had nurtured a festering hate he longed to be rid of. Staring up at the towering ghoul, he pointed his staff and uttered a guttural curse in a foreign tongue. A whisp of lightning curled around his fingers and the gnarls of the root staff as a glob of pure power erupted into a beam and shot out from the dull red capstone. The magical thunderbolt stabbed the beast in the chest with a bloodcurdling scream.
Yet the beast did not die.
Wounded, the creature bellowed its rage and lunged toward the wizard, talons scraping in mad glee, teeth chomping at the air.
Castor stood his ground and uttered another incantation. His staff weaved across his feet and a wall of emerald fire exploded from the dirt street. The green flames licked at the beast’s skin. Boils exploded in agony as the heat blistered the creature’s flesh.
That bought Castor enough time to slow the hellbeast’s attack and launch his own. He began the next series of summons but he knew it wouldn’t be enough. This spell was going to require something extra.
As the elder words dripped from his tongue and his staff danced through the air, Castor’s eyes searched the littered street for a body. His arctic blue eyes came across the majority of a slaughtered torso just ten feet away.
It would have to do.
Altering the words, he swept his staff at the body. One moment the mound of flesh, blood, muscle, and bone was bleeding on the street, the next it was consumed in a black swarm of hunger. With the sacrifice satisfied, Castor threw the bewitchment back at the monstrosity, pumping the fresh vapor of raw energy at it, focusing it into a blade.
Again the monster cried, but this time the wound was grievous. The hellbeast hunched over, hands clutching its chest, heaving breaths rasping from its nostrils. The panting grew slower. Cautiously, Castor waited for the beast to die. He did not summon any more magic as it was unwise to use more than what was needed. He was not present when the summoner called the beast so there was no way of knowing what type he had raised from the netherworld. If this thing was of marked intelligence, it could counter his spell and use it against him even in the throes of death.
A wheezing snort gasped from the creature as its body fully slumped to the earth. Still Castor waited. He could still sense the beating of the thing’s heart. It was only when the massive organ stopped that he let out a breath and relaxed.
“You did it!” Yelled the Governor. “I freed the wizard and he saved us all!”
A few brave souls crept out from nowhere and began to steal looks at the carnage. The bodies, the monster, chunks of wood, stone, and earth haphazardly arranged in the epic scene of battle. And there at the center of it all was a beggar covered in his rags and holding a strange staff. Yet the eyes revealed the beggar for what he was.
Castor was tired. He felt empty, hollow, and his body trembled from the strain of battle. For twelve years he rotted in a sunless room and here he was casting spells at the flip of a coin. It took every ounce of his will to remain on his feet, and even then he was leaning heavily on his staff.
“You did it!” The Governor repeated. “And I’ll keep my word. You are free wizard. Whatever it was you did, you are forgiven.”
“Free.” Castor tasted the word but it was beyond the ability of his tongue. His whole body quivered with jubilant ecstasy as that brilliant flavor washed over him. Freedom.
The anger was still there, but it was no more than a candle in a cavern now. Castor took one more look at the smooth, beautified face of the noble governor and nodded in thanks. He looked over and saw the chief guard William who didn’t quite smile though his mouth was upturned at the corners. The wizard saw the fear in the man’s eyes though. It had been a long twelve years, and William had been there for most of them. Yet Castor was never tormented during his stay, not by the hand or tongue of anyone there, thus he had no problem sparing the man’s life.
Instead he turned his back, spied the nearest looking thing for a chair and slumped into it. Around him people gathered. They looked at the street and the dead beast and the old weathered creature sitting on a broken barrel, almost human in appearance, whose hands were tightly gripped on a staff that was obviously the weapon of a powerful sorcerer. Men and women strolled up to him and offered their thanks.
It was too much for Castor.
For the first time in a thousand years…a wizard wept.
"I believe toys resonate with us as humans, we can hold them, it's tactile, real! They are totems for our extended beliefs and imaginations. A fetish for ideas that hold as much interest and passion as old religious relics for some. We display them in our homes. They show who we are. They are signals for similar thinking people. A way we connect with each other...and I guess thats why I do toys. That connection." -Ashley Wood