The following is the first chapter in a novel. For more information on Cursebrand, read this post. The next chapter will be posted next Thursday. Share and enjoy.
Brandon shuffled slowly out of the gates of the great mountain city of Vegjuvet, which slammed and locked behind him. A thousand armed men, watched him with casual curiosity as he trudged into their midst. As he crossed the windswept plateau, they encircled him, but kept their distance.
He had been received as an emissary, and while that provided him entrance and a certain degree of protection, his hosts were not known for their willingness to negotiate. This diplomatic mission was a formality. Brandon knew it, the Lords of the city knew it, and the piecemeal army that was the Cult of Oreamnos knew it. If Brandon offered anything but the unconditional surrender of the city, the army would begin its siege the following day.
Brandon, though, had no offer of surrender to give. He was actually not there to negotiate, nor was he there as a sacrifice to diplomatic propriety. He was there to fight the war that the city couldn’t. The city was facing an army led by a powerful cleric of the Mountain God. The people of Vegjuvet had neither an army nor a mystic of their own and so they had turned to an unlikely volunteer: a wizard with a grudge.
Brandon trudged across the desolate plateau towards the platform upon which sat Father Magnus, the High Priest of Oreamnos. Brandon leaned heavily on his cane and moved with labored purpose. As he struggled to within a hundred feet of the holy dais, a young man in priestly robes shouted across out for him to stop. “Approach no farther!” cried the man, “A heathen such as you may not approach the Holy Father! Speak your piece and be gone!”
“A heathen such as myself, eh?” chuckled Brandon loudly “What sort of heathen would you prefer? Something more like this, perhaps?”
The ragtag army watched with increasing alarm as the withered old diplomat that had shuffled into their midst began to glow beneath his hooded cloak before he burst with a flash of light and a puff of smoke, and left in his place a strong, dark-skinned young man, standing proudly, still steaming slightly. One eye seemed to glow in the moonlight, the other hidden behind straight dark hair. Brandon’s entrance was met with fearful whispers of “sorcery” and the crowd of farmers-turned-crusaders tensed.
“Do I have your attention?” He spoke with a voice which seemed to fill the plateau as he walked in a slow circle with casual confidence, addressing the entire assembled army. “I have old business with your leader and no quarrel with any of you. Interfere if you desire, but you will find that I am no less dangerous an adversary than the High Priest himself.”
One man in the whole of the army of Oreamnos showed the fortitude to test Brandon’s claim. He drew his bow and loosed an arrow across the hundred feet to the boasting wizard. Without a glance, the young wizard snatched the arrow from the air and with an utterance sent it back across the gap into the archer’s chest. The man fell back screaming and lay bleeding on the dirt. A wicked glare from the young wizard deterred anyone nearby from moving to help the wounded man.
This show of force inspired a response from the High Priest. He rose from his throne upon a dais and waived aside his attendants. His voice boomed out across the divide. “You dare bring dark sorcery into my camp?” he shouted. “You must know that we cannot suffer a warlock to live. You shall die this night.”
“I think not, Holy Father, unless you intend to kill me yourself,” Brandon responded with brash insolence. “Or do you have a champion you think willing to battle a sorcerer?”
“Your powers are useless against me and the blessed of Oreamnos!” Father Magnus boasted as he sat back in his throne and tossed back some wine. He waved one of his honor guard forward “Brother Aleks, put the wretch out of his misery.”
A tall, strong man stepped out with confidence in his divine protection, white tabard blowing in the wind to reveal chain armor beneath. As he drew his sword, Brandon flashed a wry grin. He muttered something in a dark tongue and with a wave of his hand, the blade burst into flames which then crawled up the swordsman’s arm. He threw down the sword and retreated to the dais beating down the flames.
The Holy Father wavered. “How…” He had a moment of panic flash across his eyes, but he recovered quickly. He relaxed and allowed his attendants to feed him before speaking again. “How is it that a wizard of your obvious power has come to haunt our crusade? Be assured that your cursed existence in this world is at an end, but I find myself curious as to why you would expose yourself. I will allow you to speak your piece before your death.”
“Is it not obvious?” Brandon bared his teeth in a malicious grin. “Do you not recognize me, Father?” He pulled back the hair that had been concealing his right eye to reveal an ornate scar. The swirls and slashes that grotesquely decorated the right side of his face from forehead to cheek were the mark of the cursed. It was a rune applied as a brand to trap the demonic soul residing within a witch or warlock before they were burned, thereby destroying it along with the body. As he exposed his cursebrand, gasps escaped from members of the audience and one of the sisters in attendance of Father Magnus visibly shuddered.
“Do I seem more familiar to you now, oh Holy Father?” Brandon seemed to grow larger as he spoke and the shadows billowed from his cloak while horrified members of the army slunk away. “I see some familiar faces. It seems some of you know mine as well. Friends from my old village.” His voice dripped with malice for his former neighbors, but his attention returned to Father Magnus. “It has been six years since you branded me and tried to have me killed, but the curse I bear is not my own, it is yours.”
“Brandon!” The rattled young sister blurted.
“Do not…” Father Magnus began to preach, but Brandon was unwilling to give up his audience and stole the words from him.
“Do not speak that name for it is the name of the body of a demon! It is stripped and forgotten! The names of the cursed are poison on the tongues of the faithful!” Brandon was bellowing in mock sermon. “Your words, Father!”
Magnus seized control back from the lecturing warlock. “And you should long be dead. Your escape shall be rectified this night, Cursebrand. Seize him! Burn him!”
Three more of the holy honor guard left the dais and approached with caution, they considered drawing blades, but thought better of it as they saw their brother still nursing his burns. Brandon took advantage of their hesitance to continue his rant.
“I should long be dead, yes. When you allowed me to escape you told the villagers that the mountain would exact my punishment. That Oreamnos, having been shown my cursed soul, would not allow me to live in his sight.” The honor guard had crossed half of the gap to Brandon, but he continued, unconcerned. “But He did not kill me, He nurtured me. He gave me shelter and food and led me here, today. Again I say, I am not cursed, I am your curse.”
“Lies! Blasphemy!” Shouted Father Magnus.
The men attacked.
The first found himself unexpectedly impaled as Brandon’s cane transformed in a shower of sparks and smoke into a long thin blade. He stumbled backwards, blade lodged in his shoulder. The second, having attempted to flank the young wizard, found himself engulfed in flames before he could even attack as a ring of fire sprang up around Brandon. The final assailant leaped with fury through the flames but as he grabbed for the wizard, found nothing but the shadows of a flowing cloak, and then found himself caught in the wizards magical grasp.
As the flames began to fade, the army could see the burly warrior kneeling before the wizard, clutching at his throat. The dark mage did not touch the man, but held him trapped between outstretched hands with invisible force.
Brandon, with a slightly annoyed tone, restarted his speech. “I am your punishment for your blasphemies.” You were the favorite of the Mountain God and you were seduced by a witch. You betrayed him and fathered a child by a cursed woman.”
“Lies!” Father Magnus tried to laugh it off. “You cannot expect these blasphemies to be believed!”
“Use your own eyes.” Brandon whirled to show himself plainly to the audience, letting the guard drop choking to the ground. “Do you not see the resemblance, the marks of lineage in my features? You cannot deny this, father.”
The audience erupted with mortified whispers. Brandon grinned and returned his gaze to the High Priest, who was starting to squirm under the suspicious gazes of his flock. “You had the chance to make amends. You burned the witch but allowed the boy to go free. You were given time to repent, you have instead indulged. At last Oreamnos has led me here to pass judgment.”
The aging priest stood and, despite the protests of his attending priestesses, drew a sword and stepped down from his dais. He called out a prayer and erupted with light and smoke. As the smoke cleared, his cloak seemed to radiate with white light under the moon and his previously hunched frame was broad and strong. He approached the wizard with confidence. “A moment of weakness that will not be repeated,” he bellowed. “I will do what I should have done myself years ago. Prepare your -”
The priest stuttered and stopped dead in his tracks, seeming to choke. He looked with sudden fear as Brandon reached out a hand towards him and began to close his fingers as if crushing something within. Magnus looked back at his dais, but seemed to find only greater terror there. He grasped at his chest and fell.
The army fell silent. There had been no grand display, no great battle, no righteous punishment for the demon. Their Holy Father had simply fallen dead at the will of a cursed man. One priestess, though, dared make a move. She sprinted across the divide towards the now stone-faced wizard. “Brandon!” she cried as she barreled into him.
There was a moment of silence as the two seemed to hold each other in a frozen tableau before he threw her off of him, shock covering both of their faces. Brandon clutched at his guts and began to stumble away as the priestess stood, holding a dagger dripping with black ichor and starting to smoke and flame. The cursed wizard ran for safety, but he, too erupted in flame and lurched screaming into the crowd which fled, panicked, before him. In the confusion and fire he hurtled towards the edge of the cliff and fell screaming from the precipice to the forest below.