The Stranger

Part Two - To Death and Back

 Reader, I feel that now is a good time to interrupt my story and explain to you the differences in magic. There are two different types of wizardry: Runic, and Elemental. Elemental wizards, such as myself, are quite common. We rely more on wit to do things, needing to gather ley for most large tasks. We require a focus object to bring us in contact with the flow of ley, such as my ring, or Natalia's necklace. Without the focus object, an Elemental wizard is powerless. Elemental wizards can gain added potency to their spells by binding one element to themselves, restricting their magic to that element. They are, however, affected more by magic of the opposite element- Fire / Water, Earth / Air, Light / Dark. All elemental wizards are hardy, able to soak up more damage than a Runic. Runic wizards, such as Layla, all began as Elementals. They devoted much time and power to the study of the Runes, learning to use and control their power. Layla, at the age of thirteen, is the youngest Runic wizard to date, having been trapped in a temporal loop that gave her infinite time to study. To use wizardry, Runic wizards study the rune they need. When they feel they have mastered the complexities of the rune, they etch it into their skin, with the help of an Elemental wizard. There are no second chances, and many Runic wizards have been lost when they were ill-prepared. Runic wizards have more of a hairpin trigger, more likely to leap into action instead of analyzing the situation. Having Elemental wizards around can temper this attitude, but they're always a long way off from the cautiousness that comes from being an Elemental. Runic wizards are more immediately powerful, and are essentially glass cannons. The art of healing tends to flourish under the command of a Runic wizard with the right powers under his or her control, as does the art of destruction.

The world around us slowly rebuilt itself. We were back in our fortress. It was morning, and light shone through the large hole in the wall. I turned towards Layla. "Mind helping with the wall?", I say. There is no response but runes sparking to life. I grab onto a minor ley line, and we have the job done in a matter of moments. The matter of our protection dealt with, I turn my attention to the golden katana. As I call the blade into existence, it catches Layla's attention. "Salin?" she says, a note of fear in her voice, "where did you get that?" "I don't know. It came to me during the fight." "Salin, that's an ancient weapon. It was sealed into the ley lines to protect humans. If you have it, something's gone wrong." "Really? I doubt it. What makes you so sure?" Layla's eyes narrowed as I say this. Her reply is fiery. "When you're trapped in meditation for two hundred years, you learn a few things. That blade was created by the Devourer, and was locked away so that no wizard could use the crippling magic that waits inside it." Her statement bothered me. It seemed insane, as the blade had flew on it's own to protect me from dark magic. The Devourer was a dark god, any assistance to forces of light would be against the blade's nature. Unless, of course, it could get something more powerful in return. My internal monologue was interrupted by a sharp cracking sound. A pyramid of light appeared between myself and Layla. It was a vibrant orange, showing that it was a message from the Wizard's Council. There was fear in Layla's eyes as it spoke into our minds. *Salin Impedimenta and Alf Layla Wa Layla. Greetings and defiance.* My eyes narrowed at the use of the familiar term, normally used by parties sent out into the Shadowlands to eradicate particularly troubling dark wizards. You may be there to destroy them, but there was no need to be rude about it. The pyramid continued speaking. *You have been found guilty of possesing artifacts of The Devourer. As you may know, the penalty for this is death. Deactivate any protective runes around the area, and throw a Fireball at this monolith when you are ready. If you do not do so within thirty seconds of the end of this message, The Council will be notified to send assasins.* At this point, the crisp, official voice changed to one of regret and worry. *Accept your penalty, Salin. I don't want to have to fight you. Remember, you can only be punished once.* I wondered about this, then realized the meaning of the statement. I nodded to Layla. "Do what he says. There's no point in delaying the inevitable." She looked at me in shock, but did as I asked. She raised her palm, and the runes upon the walls instantly returned to her. I gathered the ley for the fireball. I savored the experience, knowing that it may be the last thing I ever did. I released the fireball in the direction of the monolith. It swirled within the pyramid for a moment, then changed it to a lance of fire. It shot out in two directions, striking us both in the chest. Quickly and painlessly, we died.

Death is a murky place. The ground that I could see was dull and gray, flat and featureless. A thick, impenetrable fog filled the air. I could only make out Layla's outline, and she was merely a foot away.

"What happened?" Layla said. I opened my mouth to answer, but a new voice issued from the mist.

"Isn't it obvious?" The voice was deep and commanding, chilling both of us to our bones. "You're in my domain now." As the voice finished it's statement, the mist cleared in front of us. A cloaked, hooded figure stood there, wielding a tall, sharp scythe.

"Who are you?" Layla narrowed her eyes as she asked, twisting her wrists to activate Fire runes. Not a spark came to her fingers.

"Don't bother," says the man. "This entire plane of existence holds not a spark of ley, unless I will it."

"and you're dodging my question. Who are you?"

The man chuckled. He lifted an arm and pulled back his hood, revealing nothing but a human skull. "I am Death," he said, "and you are mine. Now, let's process you." A desk appeared between him and us, with a scroll of parchment atop it. Death flourished a quill pen that appeared in his hand. "Name?"

"Salin Impedimenta and Alf Layla Wa Layla," I say. Death raises his head and gives me a look with the same effect as raising an eyebrow.

"You're early," he says. "You weren't supposed to die for years."

"Great. Can we go back?"

"I refuse to intervene. When you die, it doesn't matter if you met the projection. You're still mine."

"Then I have no choice. There's a way out, isn't there?"

"I thought you'd never ask. You can fight." Death clicked his fingers, and I could feel a rush of power as masses of ley flooded the area for hundreds of meters around us. An aura of power surrounded Layla, making every rune on her body begin to shine. Symbols of the wizardly Speech shimmered into existence around her, crackling with raw power. These symbols described her completely, telling an observer everything about her. As they began to die, I thought I spotted an irregularity, something that shouldn't be there. They faded away, and I wasn't sure if I had even truly seen it.

"That," says Layla, "felt good. I haven't felt a power surge since I met Salin." (That, Reader, is yet another story.)

I cleared my throat. I felt the ley, but had no focus object. I couldn't manipulate it. Death looked at me, and seemed to understand. A ball of light formed in front of me. I could feel intense power radiating from it. Power of the elements, each one represented equally. Earth, Fire, Air, Water, Light, and Shadow came together in perfect harmony to create a ball of intense white light. The ball rushed towards me and sank into my chest. As it did, I felt a link forge between myself and the ley. It sprang to my fingertips, raw power at my command.

"Hmm," I say, "This should be fun."

"A fight between Death and two wizards who were dumb enough to get themselves killed? I don't think so."

With those words, Death dissipated, his body dissolving into a mist that surrounded myself and Layla, robbing us of our vitality. It took effort, but I managed to conjure a ball of pure white light. I held it between us with one hand, grasping Layla's with the other. The ball warmed us, chasing away Death's parasitic effect. As Death's body re-formed, I threw the ball at him, mentally reforming it into a javelin as it flew. It struck Death squarely through the ribs. Death laughed as he stepped away from the javelin, moving as if he had barely felt it.

"It's going to take much more than that to deal with me, Impedimenta."

"Not too much." Layla and I both knew that there was only one way. What Runic wizards know as a surge, what Melodic wizards call a crescendo, and Elemental wizards know as the Fury. I threw myself into the ley, my body dissolving. As Layla did the same, I felt her consciousness bubble in next to me, intertwining with my own. The ley lines began to stretch as we poured power into them, reaching through to the world outside. I felt the network created by the spires, and made a link at a peaceful spire - the only one remaining. We pulled all the power possible through our single, tentative link, and with it, the power available to every wizard, Light and Dark. We took that power and compressed it into a single point, holding it as long as possible as we funneled more and more power into it. When we finally released, the explosion had the power of two hundred nuclear bombs.

Gasping, Death grasped his scythe as the ley lines died down, and our bodies reformed. "Alright," he says, "I'll send you back. It'll take a while to do the paperwork though. You may mingle with the dead souls until then." He waves his hand, and an old-style city forms around us. "I will summon you when it is time for you to leave me."

Layla's eyes light up, and a half-finished thought drops from her lips. "The wizard who first fought The Devourer must be here."

"That is true," says Death. The next moment, she disappears in a column of fire. An instant after, there's a knife in my hand. I hold it up to Death's skull.

"Where is she?" I say.

"With that wizard. This domain obeys my will, and for now it obeys yours. Merely choose a destination, and you will be there."

I can tell that my eyes have lit. I knew where I wanted to be. An ethereal fire surrounds me, and I hear the ringing of hammer against iron. A new location forms around me...

I was at the forge of the greatest magismith to ever live. A low fire burns in the corner, and his ghost has his back turned to me. He faced the anvil, and sparks flew as he worked. I could feel thick ley lines in the walls that he tapped to forge the object he worked on so diligently. As I watched, it cycled through every element in the magical spectrum, before settling to the a cool silver. A color associated with no known element. The artifact was a chain, with a ball in the center. Suddenly, the ghost turned. He threw the chain at me, and it extended, the ball shooting towards me. All I could do in the moment to tap the ley and throw up a shield. The ball crashed through it, blowing me to the wall. I was pinned there by a strong magic.

"Boy," the magismith grunted. "You know who I am?"

I nod.

"You one of the living?"

"I'm going to be. I won against Death, and he's going to restore me."

"You know what this is?" he says, gesturing towards the ball and chain.


"It's a ball and chain. An elemental ball and chain. The chain can extend thousands of yards, restrain the most powerful of wizards, and will always return to you. The ball can never leave the chain, and can take on any element as it's master wills. The more adept you are with the elemental magics, the more powerful the two will be."

"I see."

"You see? I don't think you do. In my time, elemental wizards were smiths. That would be it. I want them to have the glory they deserve. Without us, magic wouldn't EXIST! But my artifacts must stay with me, I can't leave Death." He was silent for a long moment. "Are you an Elemental, boy?"

"Yes, sir."

"You want it?"

"I would be honored."

"Hold out your hands and keep still." The smith placed each end of the chain in my hand. "Your name, boy?"

"Impedimenta. Salin Impedimenta." The smith nodded. He tapped the ley lines, and inscribed a rune onto the ball. The sigil for master, combined with my family crest. The ball and chain sank into me, much as Death's ball had.

"Boy," he says, "If you're half as good as your ancestors, you'll make me proud. I must warn you, though, even I have no idea of the extent of that thing's powers." I turned to leave, then hesitated.

"Sir, what you said about restraining wizards..."

"Yeah, boy?"

"Does that apply to dark gods?"

The smith was silent for a moment. "What do you know about the Devourer?

"Only that he's coming back."

"You need to talk to someone else about that. There's one person here who's considered an expert on the Devourer. The wizard who defeated him." At that moment, a column of fire rose next to us. Layla emerged.

"Salin!" She exclaims. "I learned everything I need, and-" The flames rise around us, cutting her off. We emerged at a swirling, multicolored portal. A welcome change from the the shades of gray making up Death. Death himself stood by it, fully cloaked.

"Salin Impedimenta and Alf Layla Wa Layla. You have entered my domain and bested me, and before you lies a choice. You may return to your world, or you may take over from me."

"Thanks, Death, but we'll just go."

"Very well."

Layla cuts in, as the portal begins to envelop us. "Wait!", she shouts. Her screams go unheeded, and we are once again whisked to our world.`

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