Authors: Daniel Bensen
Tags: #Fantasy, #Horror, #Epic
The Kingdoms of Evil
The Kingdoms of Evil
A Novel of Necromancy and Regime Change
By Daniel Bensen
Copyright © 2011 by Daniel Bensen
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer's imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is purely coincidental.
All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author.
Cover art by Daniel Bensen. Cover design by Catarina Leal.
This book is dedicated to Pavlina, especially the gooshy parts.
Obicham te mnogo
They called their nation Between.
The rest of the world, they called Good and Evil. Not that they recognized much difference.
"Whether you were painting rams' blood on the standing stones or roasting mutton to feed the knights," the old ones would say, "doesn't it amount to about the same? And we sure as hell have to sacrifice virgins, whichever side decides to pass through our territory. So where does that leave us?"
In Between, of course.
Few peoples are as certain of the world, or their place in it. But there are always those who disagree with accepted wisdom. Occasionally, someone will reason that "if we live between Good and Evil, wouldn't it make more sense just to walk west down the mountains and go all the way over to Good? It should be better than here, right? By definition?"
And so, one day, one particular young man left the village of his birth and took the One Road down the mountain to seek his fortune.
Pon walked westward and downhill, picking his way over the roots and frost heaves with the jerky over-compensated reactions of a person whose nerves have begun to fray. He had not expected to take so long getting down the mountain. The sky was rapidly dimming, and he realized that he did not know exactly where he was.
Being lost was a new sensation for Pon, who had already traveled further in one direction today than he ever had before. But that direction was downhill and westward, so things could only improve.
The night air was cold, sliding through the needles of the pines overhead and carrying the scent of blood and ozone from the east. A small animal rustled through the undergrowth as Pon passed, and it was all he could do not to cry out.
"Get a hold of yourself!" Pon whispered as his heart pounded. "The village is up East now. You're safer than
there." Yes. East. That much closer to the Evil.
Pon concentrated on breathing deeply. The dark magic of the creatures beyond the mountain would grow weaker as he kept walking. Eventually, all the way down the mountain in The Rationalist Union, his own wheel-stone talisman—well, his
talisman—would fail as well, but then the magic mirror---well, the
magic mirror---would start working.
He just had to learn word-magic to use it.
The light was fading and Pon could barely see the ground at all. Perhaps that was all that was making him nervous. Not the way the forest sounds seemed muted and strange, or how the shadows seemed to spin at the edges of his vision.
Pon reached into his satchel and pulled out the wheel-stone he had stolen from his father's medicine kit that morning. It dangled from its leather chord: a polished roundel of soap-stone with a hole drilled through its center: a talisman to his nation's God. "Naobel."
The wheel turned around its chord. Once. Twice. White light glimmered across its surface, and shadows pulled back from Pon's peripheral vision.
Taking a deep and calming breath, Pon lengthened his strides, holding the talisman before him and letting its small light drive away his fears. As he walked, he muttered to himself, as he often did when nervous. "Can't depend on this—gonna be a superstition if I go much farther downhill this mountain. Got to give up superstition in wizard school. Word-wizard…gonna be…"
The stone's glow flared, and winked out.
Pon's half-unconscious monologue cut off with a gasp. In rising dread, he cursed himself for his lack of faith. Without the talisman's protection, what might befall him? Pon closed his eyes and murmured another prayer to Naobel, Protector of the weak, Guardian of virtue, Bulwark against the Storm Across the Mountain.
The glow returned, and the stone began to spin faster. The talisman swung out on its chord like a magnet, tugging upward and backward. It was pointing at something behind him.
A few more steps, and suspicion and nerves became fear and certainty. A new sound had joined the hiss of spinning stone.
It was soft at first but grew rapidly more distinct, even as Pon increased his pace. Through his rising terror, Pon heard the noise at first as the creaking of a rusty machine, perhaps the handle of an old pump or a little-used door hinge. But he knew it was neither of these things.
The stone spun faster with each beat, growing feverish. Pon began to run.
Still the sounds grew louder. The screaming was no longer mechanical. Now it sounded like what it was.
They were short, sharp screams. Like those a man might make under his breath as he was forced to walk on a broken leg. Like the sounds a dying man makes, when just raising his chest takes more effort than he can stand without agony. Pon's lips moved soundlessly in the darkness.
"A necromancer's carriage."
There was no time to think. Clutching the spinning, burning talisman in his hand, Pon leaped from the path and into the embankment on its downhill side. He landed wrong and nearly cried out in pain, but managed to keep his silence as he collapsed into the hollow formed by a root and the side of the raised road.
Pon's hand found the wheel-stone, stilled its spinning, blocked its glow. He began to pray again as the hot stone burned his skin. "Oh great Naobel. My nation's god, Protector of the weak…"
The screaming was closer now, and Pon could hear that each shriek was punctuated by a gasp of pain, as if the man walking on his broken leg did so under a slave-driver's lash.
The monotonous whines of pain were nearly above him now, and Pon could hear the sounds of creaking leather and jingling harness buckles as the carriage moved. He pulled back further into the shadows, gripping the talisman even as it hissed against his palm.
The sounds stopped.
Pon held his breath. Then, something snapped in the dark overhead like a canvas sheet caught by the wind.
There was a scrabbling in the pine branches, and the carriage let out a sharp yelp. Its cries slowly faded away down the road.
Pon let out his breath. "Thank you, my god, Naobel." His burned fingers released the wheel-stone.
And it swung out on its chord, spinning, whining, blazing like a tiny sun.
Was that a hiss from the branches above him?
Frantically, Pon yanked his talisman out of the air. This time he thought enough to fold part of his jerkin around his hand before he clamped down on the stone. He could still feel its heat through the cloth.
Was there still a monster out there? Had it seen him? What could he do?
The old men of Between would have advised Pon to stay hidden. The old men would have never have left their village in the first place. That was why they had lived long enough to become old men. But no. Surely there was some other choice than hide or be eaten. Surely a real hero, a Rationalist word-wizard, would be able to do something.
Pon felt the edges of the Rationalist talisman in his pocket—an octagon of worn metal roughly the size of his palm. A word-magic mirror.
Now what was the rune sequence for 'help?' Pon scratched several onto the mirror's surface until he got one he was pretty sure was right, but the metal remained dark. He was still too far away from the nation of word-magic. Its god wasn't active here in the mountains.
Pon could do nothing but wait until the forest had grown absolutely silent again. By the time he felt safe enough to stand, full night had fallen.
The pop of the bones of his spine as he stood almost drove him back into his hole, but eventually Pon stood on the embankment below the empty road. He wondered what to do.
"Go back home," he told himself softly, "the smart thing to do. Don't try to warn the guards at the Keep." Defending their realm against incursions from the Kingdoms of Evil was their job, and besides, how could he get to the Keep ahead of the carriage?
"No, have to go back home." No telling what his parents might say, but what choice did he have? Pon had traveled farther today in a single direction than he had ever traveled before, and now he turned, knowing he would never go farther.
Pon began to climb up the embankment to the road.
And there, in the tangle of moonlight and shadow cast by the trees, Pon saw the monster.
It was impossibly tall and thin, towering over Pon with its antlered crown caught in the lower branches of the trees. Its leather cloak rustled as it glided toward him, its feet silent and invisible while the points of the crown scrabbled through the branches like living things. Moonlight gleamed from its teeth as it opened its mouth.
The wheel-stone spun up into an air-burning frenzy; its heat sizzled the skin of Pon's hand.
"Naobel!" He gasped the name of his god, and before he could even bring the talisman up before him, holy light exploded forth.
There was a scream in the sudden glaring light, and a sound like flapping leather.
"Those are no antlers," whispered Pon as his mind floated away from his body, "and that is no cloak it wears. Naobel!" The light flooded out from his fist again, and again there was a frustrated screech from the air above him. A hot, fetid wind washed over him as the creature, the monster from the other side of the mountains, spread its huge, leathery wings and flapped away from the searing light of the protector god.
"Naobel!" Another burst of heat and light from the stone, now a vortex burning in the air around the smoking leather cord. It was enough to keep the monster away, but not enough to drive it off. Pon did not hold his ground and wait for the power of his nation's god to banish the incursion of evil into his nation's land. Instead, weeping with fear and the pain in his ankle and hand, the boy ran. Downhill.
Twenty minutes of terror, running across packed earth and tripping over roots, flailing arms at the pine branches that whipped his face. Every now and then, when he remembered, Pon would pant the name of his god, and each time, the flare of light would be dimmer, and the burning in his hand would be less intense. Eventually, the reaction stopped completely. The wheel-stone swung on the blackened leather strap, not even turning.
Pon stopped, gasping. It was impossible. There had been no sensation when he crossed the border, nothing like what he had expected, and yet it was clear what he'd done. For the first time in his life, Pon had left the nation of the god Naobel. Which meant…
The mirror. Hunched under the twisty branches of a manzanita, the sound of his blood roaring in his ears, Pon again scratched the runes into the mirror. The runes that, in the language of the word-god of this nation, spelled 'help.'
At first, nothing. Was Pon still too far from the centers of word worship? Was he trapped between the zones of divine influence, magic-less? No, for a skein of blue light appeared on the mirror's surface, as dim and delicate as the shadows cast by ripples in a pool of clear water. The aged metal vibrated in his hands once, twice.
"Hello," it said, "you have contacted Rationalist international emergency services." The voice rang like a temple bell. The glow was like a beacon. Pon could almost feel the hungry eyes lock onto him. "At the tone, please clearly state your location and the nature of your emergency situation so that---"
The voice faded as Pon's panicked throw spun the mirror away into the darkness.
The boy waited, hand still raised, eyes and ears straining to catch signs the monster had found him again.
Something flapped above him, like leather sheets in a hard wind. The wings, which he had first thought were a cloak.