The Sorcerer’s Circle

by David Darling

 

Drex, a young boy, wants to leave the village and his life as a servant, but the only way out is to apprentice to a traveling sorcerer. Tales of dark magics and conjuring were preferable to the life of servitude.

 

During their travels, Drex is taught how the sorcerer summons daemons, and instead of being fearful, the young man learns not to compel the daemons but befriends them. They want to help. The creatures from the netherworld have had access to powers for untold millennia, but they’ve never had a human as a friend.

 

Thousands of years ago, great daemon wars raged across the land, and it took the combined might of a thousand sorcerers to lock the Black Vortex and restrict access to the world. Daemons can only be summoned and bound by strict magic. Sorcerers across the realm are fearful of the young apprentice’s abilities and what terrors he could unleash from the locked recesses of hell.

 

While fighting for his life, an imp tells Drex the secret of his birth. The young man is determined to find answers and prepares to combat sorcerers of the world with the only thing he has.

 

Friends.

 

Chapter 1

 

The forked-lightning ripped across the night sky, illuminated the towering cloud formations and fifty square miles of countryside. The rolling thunder rose to a crescendo seconds later, and the barn shook. The animals below stirred in their pens, and the lone cow let out a mournful bellow as the Gods warred in the heavens.

A howling east wind brought the moisture and heat, and it met the cold front from the mountain range. The very air was charged with energy, and the hair on Drex’s forearms stood on end. The next blast made the timbers creak as the building vibrated and stood against the force of nature. A close lightning strike was seen through the gaps in the boards, and the animals nervously shifted.

            It was close to midnight when the raging storm dissipated, and Drex Shar’il burrowed deeper into the pile of hay and pulled the blanket over his head.

Drex climbed down from the loft five hours later, holding back a yawn. There was no need for a rooster crow to awaken him. He had done the same chores for most of his life, and his body knew the time to be awake despite the late storm. The goats never stirred in their pen, but the cow huffed when he passed.

            “Easy girl. It’s too early. I’ll be back.” His whisper and a caress on her side calmed the large bovine. Drex slipped out the barn’s side door and left it open a few inches. The chickens would find their way outside with the morning sun to scratch in the yard.

The sixteen-year-old was small for his age, barely three inches above five feet, and lean. The shock of blond hair glowed like a beacon in the remaining moonlight as he strode along the dirt path to the farmhouse. The sandals on his feet were for a child, and his toes hung over the end. It wouldn’t be long until he burst the seams on the leather straps. The brown linen trousers had been patched and sewn too many times and were little of the original cloth left. An old length of rope acted as a belt.

The shirt, however, was the newest piece of clothing the young man owned. The short-sleeved white cotton top had two crossed war hammers embroidered on the upper left chest and a thin red band around each cuff. While the shirt was nice, it also marked him as a servant.

Drex took a deep breath, held a hand to his side, and tried not to wince. Yesterday he had forgotten to weed the herb garden before the summer rains blew in, and he had paid for it. A spectacular black and green bruise decorated his side, but no ribs were broken. The landowner had kicked and threatened to crush his skull if it happened again. Tocnor wasn’t usually physical with Drex, only when he was drinking—which meant once a week.

He slipped through the back door of the kitchen and paused. Tocnor’s snoring filtered down from the second floor. Quietly, Drex filled a water flask and stored a heel of bread and a wedge of cheese in his pack. Drex ran a thumb along the side of the utility knife before sliding it into a sheath—it would need sharpening when he returned. After he slipped both arms through the straps, he was ready.

Drex fell short of many physical requirements for farm work, but his uncanny ability to hunt mushrooms made up for it. His master had a successful daily income selling the results of his forging.

When he was young, the path across the fields and through the woods terrified him. Drex had jumped with every noise, fearful of bears or dragons that lived in the shadows. Young ears made the scrape of a branch resemble a sword being drawn, and the wind in the trees could have been an incantation. He grew to fear Tocnor’s whip more than the imaginary beasts, and after many beatings, he knew there were tangible things to be afraid of than his imagination and darkness. Scars on his back were proof enough.

Tocnor was over six feet, with a massive chest and shoulders from thirty years of swinging an ax in battle. His dark hair and beard were braided and streaked with gray, but there was no sign of weakness. Muscled forearms were crisscrossed with scars, and he walked with a limp from a broken hip that never healed properly. Tocnor had inherited the farm from an uncle and had little choice to retire from the army. When he took over, the property came with three field hands, a housekeeper, and Drex.

He had very little memory before life on the farm. There were vague memories of other families and living in a town, but Drex was too young to make any sense of the images.

As the rising sun peeked over the horizon, there was enough light to make his way through the trees and into the boreal forest. He followed an old game trail through the towering oaks and pines, heading to a familiar location.

Drex scrambled up a steep incline, using saplings to pull himself to the elevated plateau. His body had toughened to the climb, and his feet knew where to step. He took the same journey five days a week, and the distance and effort were given little thought.

After an hour of traversing the rough terrain, he arrived. The canyon was a mile long and a quarter-mile wide and was created when three lower mountain ranges merged. A waterfall filled a lake at one end, and the stream flowed along the canyon’s length. The water kept the humidity levels elevated, and there was enough sunlight to make the conditions perfect for mushrooms.

While Tocnor believed Drex worked all day to fill his pack, it actually only took thirty minutes. After years of picking, he knew where to look, requiring little effort. Drex had built a small shelter from pilfered supplies, piece by piece. The thatched cabin was made with cedar logs and chinked with clay from the stream. The building was a simple square, seven feet to each side, and had enough room to stand without hitting your head in the middle. The fireplace had taken over a year to build with fieldstones and slate from the mountains, but it had been worth it. The cabin in the small clearing was his, and no one else knew of it. That alone made it special.

After harvesting a bright yellow and orange mushroom from two fallen oaks, Drex filled his pack. The fungi were meaty and tasted like chicken—it would sell quickly and bring in half a silver, not that he would see the money. He would spend the remainder of the day swimming or fishing in the creek before heading back. There was also a strong possibility of allowing the running water to lull him into a brief rest.

After lunching on the cheese and bread, Drex stretched out on fresh spruce boughs and closed his eyes. He slept until midafternoon, and the explosion jolted him from a deep sleep.

 

 

Chapter 2

 

Drex scrambled to his feet when the second explosion shook the ground. There was a moment of silence then the sound of a large tree falling, followed by a deathly screech, filled the canyon. Wide-eyed, he ran outside. At first, Drex couldn’t pinpoint what made the noise until he turned west toward the waterfall. Above the treetops, a bright narrow purple beam shot into the sky and then disappeared. Gouts of flames quickly followed, accompanied by another screech that set his teeth on edge.

            When his right hand ached, Drex noticed he had drawn the knife from the belt sheath. White knuckles cracked around the hilt as his heart threatened to burst in his chest. Letting out a slow breath, he sheathed the blade and picked up the pack of mushrooms.

            “It’s time to leave.” He struggled to overcome the fear that made his hands tremble.

            Drex pulled the plank door into position and ran. The narrow path ran parallel to the creek before turning south. When another explosion rocked the valley, he picked up the pace.

            Was that closer?

            The sound of boulders tumbling down the ridgeline resembled last night’s thunder, and he broke out into a cold sweat as he labored for breath. The pack thumped against his back with each step as he made the bend in the trail. However, instead of turning south toward home, Drex stopped.

            The trail had disappeared under a series of rocks larger than his cabin, and massive trees had toppled haphazardly, making it impossible to continue. His breathing labored, and he struggled to think.

            “There has to be another way out. If not, I’ll make one.”

            He didn’t have an answer, but the hair on his neck stood on end. Drex’s knees grew weak when he spun around and nearly collapsed.

The daemon stood twelve feet tall and had bat-like wings with a twenty-foot wingspan. Its upturned nose resembled a pig’s snout, and tusks grew from the lower jaw to curve upward on the cheeks. On either side of the prominent brow, two horns protruded. Talons extended from the fingers, and instead of feet, cloven hoofs tore up the forest floor. The daemon’s skin was blackened with scales on the chest and arms. However, it was the eyes that held Drex captive. They were bright yellow, with a vertical black bar in the middle, like a wolf, and glowed with intelligence. Right now, they focused on Drex.

            A five-inch talon pointed at him, and the creature growled. “You will assist me.”

            Drex came close to wetting his pants. “I—”

            A beam of purple light struck the daemon but was blocked by a green shield of light that flickered around the creature. The wings folded inward with a rush of wind. A limb from a white pine intercepted the beam, burst into ash, and floated away on the breeze. The daemon dropped to one knee and screamed in torment as talons dug into the mulch. Drex wanted to draw a sword, charge the creature, or hurl a spear. Instead, he fell to the ground, hands over his head, whimpering as the smell of sulfur filled the air.

            The daemon growled, and the ground shook with the vibration. A clawed hand traced a design with a finger, and a rune outlined in flames hung in mid-air.

The twelve-foot-being grimaced and glanced at Drex. “You better move, young one.”

            “M—move?”

When a vertical slash of darkness split the air, Drex gasped and figured out what would happen. Heeding the advice, he rolled to the side behind a fallen oak as the daemon leaped through the opening. With a crack of thunder, the darkness disappeared.

There was no sign of the creature.

No longer held back by a shield, the beam of purple light shot forward and bathed the rocks in energy. Right where Drex had stood. He turned away from the intense heat and was prepared to run, but the light had disappeared.

There was nothing but silence in the canyon. The usual bird calls and chatter of squirrels had disappeared. An odd ticking noise came from the rocks as they cooled, and Drex thought he could hear the distant waterfall.

Struggling to his feet, the young man walked over to where the daemon had disappeared. He waved a hand through the air but encountered nothing. The scent of sulfur dissipated with the creature.

When a branch snapped north of his position, Drex froze and waited for another daemon to appear. Down the slope toward the creek came a groan, but not from a fel creature of the underworld. It came from a man.

He slipped the pack of mushrooms off his shoulder to rest on the ground, and then his hand hovered near the belt knife. Cautiously, Drex moved forward, down the incline.

The man wore black robes trimmed in gold around the cuffs and collar that hung above the ankles with black trousers underneath. He appeared to be in his late fifties, with gray hair and a short dark beard. The deep lines on his face and dark circles under the eyes made him appear older, but Drex wasn’t sure. The man swayed back and forth and clutched a staff to remain on his feet—without it, he would have collapsed. The ashen pallor and hand pressed to his left side showed that he was wounded.

“Master?” Drex’s whisper carried thirty feet, and the man’s eyes had trouble focusing. He took a step closer, and that’s when Drex was noticed.

“Who are you?” While it looked like he would fall over any second, the man’s voice was strong.

“Drex, master.” The young man looked over his shoulder and scanned the tree line. After witnessing the daemon, his heart still hadn’t returned to normal, and his nerves were frayed.

“Come closer.” The order brooked no disobedience. He was someone used to being obeyed.

Drex shuffled closer. He could see the robes were wet on the side, not from water but blood. When ten feet separated them, he halted. Once he saw the man’s condition, there was no doubt in the servant’s mind he could outrun him if required.

“How far is it to Reberg Keep?”

From Tocnor’s farm was a thirty-minute walk. His master went there every two days to sell the mushrooms. “An hour and a half, that way, sir.” Drex pointed over his shoulder toward the escarpment.

“I’ll never make it. What’s closer?” There was a wheezing to his breathing, and drops of blood speckled his beard.

“Nothing.” Drex took a step backward. “I have to return to my master, sir.” It was getting late, and the sun would set early in the canyon. He still had chores to do or risk another beating.

“I need your help….”

“Drex, sir.”

“I’m sorcerer Weveus from Niaham. I must make it back to report to the Circle.”

Drex’s eyes grew wide at the confirmation of the man being a sorcerer. He had heard the tales from the farmhands of those who could use magic, epic battles across the province and the capital city of Niaham. When he was younger, the stories fed his imagination and occupied his mind as he grew. There was little else but to daydream when doing menial farm work or hunting mushrooms.

“Nobody works for free, Drex.” A shaking hand opened the pouch at his belt, and bloodstained fingers drew out an imperial gold coin. “One for you and another for your master when I get to town.”

Drex’s mouth opened wide, and he stepped forward to take the payment. It was heavier than he thought and the most money he ever held. With this much gold, he could buy enough supplies to live in his cabin for a year and disappear for good. Tocnor would never miss him should an imperial gold be pressed into his palm. In his hand was freedom and the key to a lifelong dream.

Drex darted forward when the man cried out in pain and collapsed. He managed to grab the robes with two hands to prevent the sorcerer’s head from hitting the ground.

“I have a small hut not too far from here, master. I’ll do what I can, sir.” Weveus never answered. He was unconscious and bleeding out. Determined, Drex got to work.