Family Man - Chap. 1
by Scott McGough
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Originally appeared in The Secrets of Magic

“And just who are you supposed to be?”

The tall man smiled as he closed the door behind him. He faced three men across the bare wooden room, casually noting their various bodyguards waiting in the shadows. He knew all three by name and reputation, each a powerful witch from a powerful family. He stifled a derisive snort.

“You may call me Virot,” he said. “I am here to represent the Maglan family’s interest in the port.”

He wore a form-fitting tunic of hardened leather and a luxurious black cloak, a long saber at his hip. His proud, bald head and sharp features loomed high above the other men’s. Though he was slightly older than they, his shoulders were broader than theirs, his eyes clearer, and his skin smoother.

The man who questioned Virot was squat and hairy like a boar. He wore a coarse hemp shirt with the Ilyssa family crest embroidered on the shoulder. His thick, black beard covered the upper half of his chest, and his piggish eyes glared suspiciously at the newcomer. The men flanking him stood silent, one with an eye patch, and one whose features were hidden behind a grinning silver harlequin mask. Both looked back and forth between the bearded man and the new arrival.

“This is a private meeting,” the bearded man growled, “and you are not welcome. Get out while you still can.”

Virot’s smile remained unchanged. “The port is ours and always has been. The likes of you aren’t even allowed to think about it without our permission.”

“Watch your tongue, filth,” the bearded man said. He snapped his fingers, and in response, three shadowy figures shambled forward from the darkened depths of the room. “I am the second-born son of the Ilyssa house. I will not be insulted by a Maglan errand boy.”

Virot Maglan laughed. “ ‘Filth?’ You come fresh from the cemetery, caked in graveyard dirt and reeking of corpses, and you call me filth?” He shook his head. “Only the Ilyssa could maintain such pride in the face of reality.”

The bearded man snarled, and the shambling figures advanced on Virot. Two human zombies and a reanimated wolf stepped into the light, grasping and moaning.

“This will be a short meeting, Maglan. I’ll send your still-living head back to that viper you call a mother as fair warning. She should choose her envoys more carefully in the future.”

The one-eyed witch put a hand on the zombie maker’s shoulder. Sweat had broken out on his brow, and he daubed at it with a silk handkerchief.

“A moment,” he hissed. “This meeting was supposed to be secret, yet the Maglan are here. He may not be alone.” His voice never rose above a hoarse whisper, and Virot wondered if he had lost a lung as well as an eye. “My family is not willing to antagonize the Maglan. Not openly. Not yet.”

The Ilyssa witch sneered, and his zombies hesitated, lost without his continued direction. “The Maglans are in decline,” he said. “That’s why we’re here. Killing him will make it even easier to achieve our goals.”

The harlequin giggled, whinnying through his nose. His voice was high-pitched, and it echoed behind the metal on his face. “I agree with Ilyssa. If they knew about us meeting, they would have come out in force.” He whinnied again. “I think he is all the force they have.”

Virot smiled. “I see the Ilyssa have not lost their touch for choosing the best and bravest to conspire with. But how did such clever folk make the catastrophic mistake of allying with such common gravediggers?” Virot’s saber slid out of its sheath, and he pointed it at the bearded man. “As for you, corpse-grinder, I assure you that mother chose very carefully when she sent me.” He ran his palm across the back of his blade and shook his own blood onto the floor, first to his left and then to his right. Wisps of smoke rose off the spatters of blood as Virot spoke a few guttural syllables, clapped his hands together, and said, “Rise.”

A small bat-winged humanoid rose from each spattered line of Virot’s blood. Each was covered in coarse black hair, and their eyes glowed orange. The feral imps bared their fangs in unison, then spread their wings and began circling the room.

The one-eyed witch took a step back, hissing in alarm. The zombie maker and his masked cohort both jeered.

“Is that all?” said the face behind the mask. “A dandy with a sword and a pair of homunculi?” He whinnied. “Nine hells, you Maglan are arrogant. Here. Let me show you a real witch’s bodyguards.” The man puffed air through the pursed lips of his mask, creating a high-pitched whistle. There was a flash, and the room was suddenly crowded with a seven-foot-tall ogre, a two-headed goblin, and a small buzzing firefly that spat sparking embers around the room. The goblin bore a jagged rock tied to a stick, and the ogre carried a heavy wooden club spiked with shards of bone. It crouched as it rolled the club over in its hands.

The zombie maker said, “Well, Maglan. You said you were here to represent your house. In fact, your only chance of getting out of this room alive is to carry this news back to your mother: Withdraw your claims on the port. It now belongs to the Ilyssa and our allies.” He indicated his partners on either side of him. “All three of our noble houses stand together against you. If we see any of you curse-merchants on the docks, we won’t leave any pieces big enough to bury.”

Virot’s smile hardened. “I have a counteroffer. Stretch out your necks, fools. Close your eyes, and die quietly. The alternative is much, much worse.”

“Enough,” the bearded man said. “He dies now. Agreed?” The harlequin nodded, whistling laughter through his nose. The one-eyed man dabbed his brow but did not reply.

Virot shrugged. “So be it.”

The room’s occupants exploded into action. Virot clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth, and the imps came screaming from the rafters. One of them slashed the firefly from the air as it flew past, and the volatile insect exploded on contact. The ogre leaped forward with a wild swing of its club, and the goblin let out a war whoop as it followed behind. The zombie wolf crept around Virot to attack from the rear, but the human zombies remained at their master’s side.

The first imp darted past the undead humans and grabbed two handfuls of the zombie maker’s beard. It jerked him into the one-eyed witch while the other imp tore silver and flesh alike from the harlequin’s face.

Virot hopped back from the oncoming ogre, smoothly reversing his saber, so that the tip stuck out behind him. He felt the point drive home into the wolf’s body. It wouldn’t kill the undead animal, but it would protect his hamstrings while he fought the others.

The ogre’s first wild swing fell short and took out a chunk of the floor. Virot rolled over the ogre’s weapon and slung the wolf off the end of his saber, into the oncoming goblin. Neither creature was intelligent enough to determine friend from foe in these close quarters, and they fell into a tangled heap, snapping and tearing at each other. The ogre realized that Virot was now straddling its club and tried to reverse its swing to crush him against the ceiling.

Virot was far quicker than the musclebound brute, however. Positioned as he was, he had only to extend his arm to bring his hand close to the ogre’s face. He spoke a clipped series of guttural sounds, kissed his bleeding palm, then clamped his hand across the ogre’s nose and eyes. There was a soft implosion and a foul odor.

Immediately the ogre howled and clapped both hands to its face, dropping its weapon in mid-arc. With a precise, powerful swing, Virot embedded the long edge of his saber in both the ogre’s wrists, cutting into but not through the bones. He gave the blade a vicious twist as he pulled it free, and the ogre’s half-severed hands flopped grotesquely back and forth on its ruined arms.

Its face was no better off. Virot’s spell had flooded the brute’s head with noxious black magic designed to cripple an opponent’s senses. The ogre’s eyes were melting into slime, its tongue swelled to bursting, and blood poured from its nose and ears. It gagged and choked as it tried to draw air, and sank to its knees as the life ran out of its arms.

To be continued...


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