Originally appeared in The Secrets of Magic
That night, in a dream, Virot stood alone on a vast expanse of polished black stone. The wind whipped past his ears, filling his head with an endless, droning roar. Far in the distance loomed a huge mountain that shimmered with reflected moonlight. Something vital was at its peak, something old and vast and valuable beyond measure. He started toward it.
He marched for an eternity toward the mountain, but the pyramid-shaped mass came no closer. He realized that was because as he moved toward the mountain, it moved away.
“You are the one.” The booming voice replaced the wind in his ears. Like the wind, it seemed to come from every direction. For the first time in his adult life, Virot Maglan dropped to his knees before someone other than his mother.
Virot squinted upward. “I am Virot Maglan.” His voice was half-defiant, half-questioning.
The booming voice chuckled. “For now.”
The mountain was looming larger but not because he was approaching it. Instead, it was bowing at its middle like a gentleman, the peak rushing downward at a frightening speed. He could see the pyramid for what it was - a giant pile of gold coins. A huge crowned figure sat on a lavish throne at the very top. The figure bent forward in its chair to get a better look at Virot, and the mountain bent forward to accommodate its king.
Virot started. This was suddenly familiar to him, the mountain, the coins, the throne and its occupant. He read about such a scene in the ancient text that gave him the spell he used to finish off the Ilyssa conspirators.
“Kuberr?” he said, and the wind died, leaving an eerily calm silence. “Are you the Wealthy One?”
“Once,” the voice said. “Perhaps someday again.” Virot saw the figure’s outline clearly now, but its features were lost in the shadows of moonlight.
“You are the one,” the voice said. “The one who called me. The one who offered treasure to the god of wealth.”
“Your offer was accepted. What do you seek?”
Virot was never intended to be a politician, but he recognized the opening of negotiations.
“Position,” Virot said. “Power. Dominion over all who come before me. I want their fear. Their respect. Their awe.”
The mountain stooped even lower, and Virot saw the figure on the throne clearly for the first time. It was a gargantuan, organic humanoid, almost featureless in the dim light. It seemed to be dressed in a high-collared robe, but the garment was the same pitch-black as the figure, and Virot could not see where the body ended and the robe began. On its head was a crown with spear-long spikes.
A huge crescent smile revealed row upon row of the figure’s razored teeth. Above the smile was a row of eyes, evenly spaced around the entire head. Kuberr opened his mouth wide, his grin expanding to fill Virot’s field of vision, his eyes in constant motion, searching the horizon in every direction as he spoke.
“Fear, respect, and awe. These things can be yours. For a price.”
Kuberr laughed, shaking Virot and the ground around him. “Slowly, slowly. Let us test each other with a small bargain. I will give you what you have asked for. In return, you will enter my service.”
Virot started, fresh panic rising. “Kuberr is kind to offer such treasures as a ‘small bargain.’ But I cannot accept. I am already pledged to serve another.”
“No matter. I do not ask you to break from your filial duty. I only ask that you do as you have already done. In my name, and with my methods, continue to serve your family. That is how you will serve me.”
“Before you answer,” Kuberr said, “understand. In my service, you will learn what true wealth is. All that you treasure now will become hollow and drab, and when you finally understand the greater gifts I offer, you will do anything to possess them. This is no game or confidence trick, Virot Maglan. I will give you what you want, and when I am done, you will beg me for more and thank me when I give it to you. For indeed, the prize is worth the price.”
Virot Maglan smiled. “Show me, then. For power as you describe it, I will serve you, Kuberr.”
“Then serve you shall.” In the distance there was a crack of thunder that sounded like Kuberr’s laughter. Kuberr’s arm swung forward, and he extended an index finger, taller than Virot, to touch the Maglan enforcer on the forehead. Virot shuddered, fell, and kept falling.
The wind whipped up once more, and the mountain began to straighten. The laughing figure of Kuberr was carried up and away.
Virot awoke with a painful jerk. The sun was slowly rising outside his window, and he could feel the electric hum on his forehead where Kuberr touched him. He rushed to the mirror at his bedside but found no marks on his face. For a split second, he wondered if the dream was a curse sent by the Ilyssa or a playful fancy sent by the twins. But when he looked down at his hands, he could see the ghost of the character he had inscribed on his victims’ foreheads earlier. He steadied his trembling hands, clenched them into tight fists, then jerked the bell cord. After a short while, a graying servant shuffled in.
“Yes, Master Virot?”
“Take my hand.”
“You heard me.” The servant tentatively reached out, and Virot grabbed on with his fingers and palm. The servant moaned, and when Virot let him go, he staggered back, rubbing his hand.
“Will there be anything else, sir?”
“Yes,” Virot said, wishing he could remember the old man’s name, “in fact, there is.
“Servant,” he declared. “Suffer, wither, and die.”
The old man gurgled, convulsed, and collapsed into a pile of black shards and leathery debris. Virot stifled a roar of delight.
He could kill with a touch and three simple words. By way of an introduction, Kuberr had made him the most powerful witch in the city, and all he had to do in return was employ that power. From this would flow the recognition and respect he had requested.
“If these are your lessons,” Virot said out loud, “then I am ready for more.”
Outside, as if in response, a chill wind kicked up and a soft peal of thunder rattled like the laughter of a god.
To be continued...
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