Dark Revelations. Pt2

The basement laboratory of Umeffaeh was usually cluttered with an assortment of occult equipment, from multicoloured glass vessels of exotic design to the most peculiar implements that defied any easy explanation. As Aggie stepped into the light she saw the lab was in a total state of disarray, the furnishings and paraphernalia pushed haphazardly aside out of the way to make room for all the chalk writing that, quite disturbingly, covered every square inch of the black marble walls and floor. The writing was of a type of arcane symbology she didn’t understand, but that knew she had seen before. In Aldous’ Tome of Dark Miracles. But it wasn’t something mortals were supposed to be able to read. The symbols by design were something the human vocal cords could not speak, mortal eyes could not read, or hands sign the glyphs. But here they were scrawled all over the room, in the frantic penmanship of a deranged madman.

Aggie took the whole bizarre scene in for several long moments, astonished and speechless before she turned back to Aldous, silently imploring him to explain the meaning of all this, though she was beginning to have a sinking feeling she sensed what he was leading up to. Her father would be far from the first mage to go off the deep end.
Aldous stared just as intensely as Aggie. “I have a lot of questions I have yet to find answers to. Yet one thing is painfully clear.” He snapped his fingers and reached into his robe, taking out the midnight purple leather bound book he had brought with him from the Nine Hells. “Something or someone showed your father the ways of this book,” he said with anger in his voice. “Mortals shouldn’t be able to focus on a single page for long enough to even make their eyes focus, let alone translate it.” Aldous tossed the tome open on the floor before them with a great thump. “But there it is… the text matches, albeit in a much sloppier scrawling!”

Aggie knelt down to look, remembering that her father had for years wanted Aldous to translate the tome and that it was the only command the subservient demon had ever refused to obey no matter how much he was pressured to give up the secret. “So my father finally deciphered the language without you?”

Aldous shook his horned head. “Master Umeffaeh couldn't have translated it himself. The book has got too many failsafes, or rather it’s meant to.”
“My father was one of the best mages to ever come out of Miekrannis and he never backed down from any scholarly challenge,” Aggie said with sad pride. “He must have found a loophole.”

“Impossible,” Aldous said definitively. “More talented mages than your father have tried, if they didn't know better.”

Aggie took a breath and controlled her grief. “So what you're trying to tell me is he foolishly extended his ambition beyond his reach and got himself killed poking into things he shouldn't have been. What did he do? Cast one of these dark spells and it backfired on him?”

“No, he did not cast one, but the man was trying.” Aldous rubbed the bridge of his nose. “I figured out what it was. Immortality.” Aldous tapped his finger dilibertally on a specific spot on the wall. “Old Umeffaeh cracked it alright.” he added bitterly, spitting on a pile of papers scattered across the floor.“Thing about these spells, though, is if you don’t have blood like mine, the blood of Infernal kings, they come with a cost, a grave cost.”

“Ïmortality?”Aggie said, the irony causing her to shake her head in disbelief. “If he cracked it, then why isn’t he alive? It came with a cost?”

“Yes.” he nodded, “Your father wanted to live forever without the pesky downside of lichdom.” giving pause so Aggie could take in his words. “But a cost, yes, not as troublesome as what one must do to become a lich. But in a way the cost is greater.” Aldous said, turning to face her again. “What does The Fair Lady teach?” he asked rhetorically, holding up his palms in the air flat, making them imitate a balancing scale. “Perfect balance is something one must strive for. Everything in equal parts. Good and bad, hungry and satiated… a life for a life.” but when Aldous said this one hand tipped higher. “Or so your father thought.” he tapped the wall again pointing to a glyph that had been translated and Aggie could read. ‘Flesh’. He turned back to her. “Do you understand what I mean?” he asked, like a teacher and not like he was speaking down.

“I don’t quite think I do…” But he could tell she had an inkling of what he was talking about.

Aldous craned his head back looking at something above him before returning focus to Aggie.

“I do not have the whole picture,” Aldous stressed. “Your father should have been in no danger whatsoever from the book. No matter how much it tempted his intellectual curiosity and his aspirations to power, there would be no way he could ever be able to understand a word of it. Not without special help, but I am at a loss as to where that help originated. Whatever or whoever is responsible it was like giving poisoned candy to a baby.”

“You’re saying this was intentional?”
“That's what we need to find out. The question is what or who, and why. If it was a person, they not only committed murder, but a crime against the universal balance.”
Anger began to spark amidst Aggie's confusion. “Could the High Church of Sarnia be behind this? They decreed my father a heretic and put a bounty on his head.”

“This strikes me as far too subtle for those dunderheads, and none of the research was seized” Aldous said. “Not that we can rule them out entirely. I sense a darkness lying at the heart of that church, but I wouldn't go so far as to say it's run by demons; and only the oldest demons are fluent in the language of this book.”

“What about the destruction of Miekrannis?” Aggie asked contemplatively. “What if this is connected to that somehow?”

“You may be onto something there,” Aldous replied, pulling a chair over and sitting down on it. “I remember your father was overwrought at the news. He raved about how Miekrannis was without peer as the centre of magical scholarship in Aeran and the loss of its faculty and students, not to mention its vast collection of works, could not be overstated as a blow to civilisation.”

“I was glad I took the semester off,” Aggie said, still not able to believe her luck.
“If your father's death is connected, I can only surmise that someone out there is trying to eliminate magically learned people, or magical learning itself from this part of the world. Due to war, repression, and catastrophe, arcane knowledge has been in steep decline for the past century. It was Miekrannis as an institution that was trying to curtail that. If there is a grand conspiracy at work, Aggie, we need to find out if any other great mages have died recently, and under strange and mysterious circumstances.”

Aggie frowned, not accustomed to hearing Aldous talk so seriously that she hardly recognised the hedonistic, ofttimes foolish demon, who had been bound to her father's service all her life. “My father might have a list of contacts and files we can use but that will still be easier said than done. Most mages tend to live rather secret lives.” She cocked her head. “Wait, I just remembered something that the King's Justicar told me. He thought there was a possibility this might be the work of a faction of elves that are said to have declared war on the kingdoms of men.”

“I have heard those same rumours, and I hoped they were just that.” Aldous stroked his jaw. “So the Justicar thinks this might be part of a coordinated attack on human mages? I don't know if I buy it. Elves can be subtle, but there is nothing subtle about those elves, and I don't see how any elf could have pulled this off. They may live longer lives, and be a little better attuned to magic, but they're mortals too. My book would confound them as much as it would any human.”

(cowritten by rosemary)

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