The wicked heroine, p.41
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       The Wicked Heroine, p.41

           Jasmine Giacomo


  The dusky-skinned man lay prone on the black stone floor, his night-hued robes splayed around him. His fingers brushed the wall before him, though those on his right hand were encased in a silvery, metal glove that moved like real skin. Torches gleamed in the stygian darkness, revealing endless textual carvings on the surrounding basalt walls. Yet there was a blank circle in the carved wall above his head, at about chest height, as if the words and symbols had simply melted away.

  The silence in the room was so complete that he could hear the breathing of the handpicked followers who had accompanied him here on his annual pilgrimage. He liked to remind them of the power he possessed, getting them all in here unharmed. He also liked to demonstrate that power directly, and it was just about time to do so.

  He rose to his feet, adjusting his robes, and turned to face the enormous room behind him. His white-irised eyes fell on the black dais rising smoothly in the center of the room. Between it and him stood a dozen low-level, yet nonetheless loyal, minions. The passion of zeal burned in their eyes.

  Which to choose? The man knew that he needed to weigh the value of his selection’s talent against the impact of its loss on the rest of the group. His eyes lit on a young man, tall and handsome in the light of the torch he held aloft.

  “You.” The man spoke in a whispery voice, as he pointed at his target with a silvery finger.

  The young man followed his master onto the black dais behind them, and the group turned to watch, unaware of what they were about to witness.

  “You follow the Hand of Power?” the master asked.

  “I do.” The young man nodded, eager.

  “What gift do you bring to augment our power?”

  “I can focus my strength, do amazing feats. All for the glory of Dzur i’Oth.”

  “How pure is your zeal?”

  “None here is more dedicated than I!” the young man shouted, looking down at his fellows in challenge.

  The white-eyed man nodded in satisfaction. “Then your sacrifice is acceptable.” He drove his silvery hand into the man’s chest, shredding his tunic and grasping his heart. The minion gasped in agony, but did not struggle. There was barely a murmur from the watching torch-holders. The dying body of the sacrifice tumbled to the dais, leaving his heart in the master’s hand. Fetching a small golden goblet from his robes, the master squeezed the heart over it, hearing the blood’s trickling stream echo in the small container.

  All eyes were on him. He dropped the heart onto the dais next to its corpse and raised the goblet high in his unsilvered hand. “The Hand of Power is eternal,” he called, his voice echoing. His chosen minions echoed his chant. “The Hand of power is infinite. The Hand of Power is life. The Hand of Power is death!” All eyes dropped to the corpse, and the people at the foot of the dais prostrated themselves in submission. The master knew his message had been received. From now on, these too would be his. He tipped the goblet against his lips and drank of the thick, cooling liquid. The dead man’s ability would begin to manifest soon.

  Bloodmagic is nearly all we have left, he thought, draining the last drops of blood. Without the Great and Dire Tome of Ages, it is the only way to hold onto my power. Soon, though, my long-laid plans will fruit, and we shall rise from the darkness on a wave of power the world has not seen in centuries. We will take our place once again as the feared and wondrous wielders of magic, and the world will tremble to see our deeds.

  The man ordered his minions to rise and clean up the mess, then stepped off the black dais. He walked to the near wall again, pressing a hand against the smooth circle there. He’d had the ‘priest’s journal’ sent across the sea nearly four years ago. Knowing that little in the world motivated one like threatening the life of one’s child, he expected instant action once this supposed path to safety appeared. Yet there had been many delays. Years had passed. He had not lost hope of success, though, since his resonance spells found that the Great Tome’s name was being spoken aloud with greater and greater frequency.

  Until recently. The last few weeks, his spells had returned almost zero vibration from the name of the Great Tome. He smiled in the dimness. She was coming.

  She will give me the Tome. And with the Tome in my possession, I can right every wrong the world has done to itself.

  The body and the blood were disposed of, and the master led his minions out of the Heart of the Dragon. Fate willing, he thought, the Great Tome–and the world–will be in my hands before next year’s pilgrimage.

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