Ashes of the burned-alive warriors combined with the dust; the tears and sobbing of the widows and bereaving mothers; and the stench of the rotten pride of the anguished king smothered all hope in the kingdom of Levinia as he bent the knee to a notorious, powerful mage, Sholreg, who single-handedly destroyed the castle and slain half the people.
“Well, well,” Sholreg said dryly. “The all mighty king who banished me, hunted me, and demanded my head, is now groveling before me. How amusing!” He laughed at his expense as he put a foot on the king’s back, making him kiss the dusty floor. “Pity… you are no higher than my foot.”
Before succumbing to darkness, Sholreg had been acknowledged to be the most powerful mage of Levinia – even in Pyra, where he had grown. The rumors said that he’d slain many invisible demons alone with his fire magic. Another rumor said that he could ignite a very specific part of the air from afar. However, he’d craved for more power. Being an idol to the young mages had meant nothing to him. He had studied every forbidden book of dark magic. He’d even acquired the power of his enemies–monsters and other mages by taking a bite from their hearts. Most of his spells were either created or developed. Sholreg’s fire spells became invisible, and he could burn a man from a distance just by stretching a hand.
Sholreg stepped away from the king. He had the seeming of an ordinary man: tall with white skin and ebony short hair; his eyes were wide and black. He walked towards the exit of the shattered castle, wearing a darkling coat with grey magical marks on his back, black trousers and a wide grin on his face.
“I’m very sorry,” said Sholreg as he spotted four injured mages, past their twenties, crawling on the dusty floor. “I wouldn’t abandon you if I knew you still wanted to play.”
The four mages had faced Sholreg in the battle of Levinia in order to protect the kingdom. There were four remaining kingdoms: Levinia, Altumons, Pyra, and Silva. Sholreg had destroyed the kingdom of Fluvia and slain all its people, alarming the remaining kingdoms to join forces against him. Each of the four kingdoms had a color that represented it: white for Levinia, silver for Altumons, red for Pyra, and green for Silva. The four mages were undoubtedly skilled, but they were no match for the dark mage.
Sholreg walked towards Corvox, from the mountains of Altumons, who was reaching for his silver greatsword, Iudicium. “You still want to fight, young man?” he said. “Very well…” He raised his hand in the direction of Corvox, who stopped crawling and screamed loudly, rolling on the floor and taking off his silvery coat. It was the first time that anyone heard him scream, for he was a proud fighter and known to be very powerful.
“Extinguo!” shouted Fastur, the mage with a dark red coat, and Corvox stopped rolling as the invisible fire was extinguished. Fastur’s brown eyes narrowed, as thought he’d put his remaining strength to quench the flames.
“Well done!” Sholreg clapped, smirking at Fastur. “You remind me of the spells I was using when I was half your age. The kingdom of Pyra really refuses to develop.” He turned his stare to the white mage, Levinus, a blue-eyed mage with short blond hair and a dirty white coat. “Tell them about Levinia, my successor. Tell them how hard we work to develop our magic.” Sholreg glanced at the collapsing castle behind him. “Not anymore, I guess.”
“I am no successor of yours,” Levinus said, struggling to rise to his feet.
Sholreg rolled his lip dryly. “I had high hopes for you. What a shame!” He peeked at the green mage crawling behind Levinus: Solum, a green-eyed with black hair, wearing a dark green coat, then turned his stare to Levinus. “How about you heal your comrades so we can dance again?”
Levinus glanced behind his shoulder then at his two comrades behind Sholreg. They had been no match to him in full strength, let alone now they were injured. He raised his arm towards the smirking Sholreg, his hands trembling as though his courage had forsaken him. He lowered his hands, and Sholreg’s smile widened.
“Wise choice, my succe…”
“Vim Natruae, I call for thee…” Solum shouted behind Levinus, his hands facing the dark mage. “Grant me thy power to bury thy foe.”
Levinus raised his hand at once. “Lumen!” He casted a light blinding spell, dazzling Sholreg, whose soil beneath levitated and caged him in a big sphere.
Fastur sat on his knees at once and aimed for the sphere. “Ambustio!” Infernal fire ignited from his hands towards the smothered Sholreg.
Corvox picked Iudicium, his divine greatsword, and put a hand on top of the blade. “Vim Divines, I call for thee…”Corvox enchanted, and the blade lighted. “Shine upon thy servant, and thy foe shall be foredone.” He jumped forward and halved the sphere of soil, shattering it, as the soil turned to ashes.
Corvox sighed and laid down his sword, gazing at the rain of ashes, consumed by his injuries and the weariness. He fell to his knees; his comrades were equally worn out. He turned his gaze, his eyes blurring, and spotted a silhouette of a man from afar.
“Did you… really think I was done?” Sholreg said, sitting on a rock, his hands behind his head and his legs crossed. He stood and strode towards the four mages, smiling lips and eyes, his hands behind his back. “I admire your hustle. Truth be told, I see my old self within you. And that’s why I want to release you from all the… what was it again? Fire, nature, divine and light nonsense…” He put a hand on his mouth. “It nauseates me. Why don’t you become my underlings? It’s not that I need you”– he chuckled –“I can rule all the kingdoms by myself. I mean, what will remain of them. But I am interested in you.”
The mages plunged to the ground, except Levinus, who hardly managed to stand.
“Look at your comrades,” Sholreg said, staring at Levinus, who was terrified. “I only suggested, and here they are, groveling before me.”
“No one will ever grovel to you,” Solum shouted, failing not to groan.
“Kill me now,” Fastur roared, “or I will kill you the next time we meet.”
Sholreg couldn’t keep his giggle. “How pathetic!” He turned to Corvox. “What about you, ‘The voice of the heart’? Or do you prefer ‘divine warrior’?” He laughed louder.
Corvox, breathing heavily, stared at the annoying dark mage, whose laughter was piercing. He clenched his jaw, picked up Iudicium, dug it on the ground, and whispered shortly. Iudicium ignited and so did Corvox’s hand.
“Death and honor,” said Corvox, lifting his greatsword and pointing it towards the dark mage. His comrades were motionless on the floor, aside from Levinus who was standing with dreadful hands and shattered knees.
“Forgive me, the voice of nonsense,” said Sholreg, sketching a hand towards Corvox, “but you will be my underling against your will.” He casted a nonverbal spell that broke both Corvox’s arms with a terrifying crack, making him drop back to his knees, releasing a dreadful cry near his comrades.
Sholreg soared, both his hands towards the shattered mages. Purple light emitted out of his hands in a circle. “Every night, when the sky goes dark, until dawn, one of you shall turn dark as well.” The purple light darkened. “You are four mages, so I give you… four days”—his smile widened—“to come to Darce and defeat me in my castle. If you don’t, you will turn to warlocks forever.”
“He’s bluffing,” said Levinus, grinding his teeth. “He doesn’t have the power for that.”
“What do you know about my power?” He glanced at Levinis; the spell turned black at once. “Let’s see if you can survive each other… until the next time we meet.” Sholreg’s brows tightened and joined. His hands jinxed the spell towards the four mages. Fastur was sprawling on the floor, his pride bitterly biting the dust. Solum rose his hands fruitlessly to cast a protection spell; Corvox agonized before him, his broken arms were as good as torn off. And Levinus despaired, yielding his fate; his light magic would kneel before the dark storm that befell them. It was dawn, but it got darker than midnight. They watched the black rays raining upon them as Sholreg uttered his curse.
Corvox opened his eyes to the sight of Levinus sitting beside him, his hands sparkling on top of his broken arms that were no longer aching.
“What happened?” Corvox asked, adjusting himself.
“Please don’t move,” Levinus exclaimed. He laid his comrade’s upper body again and whispered as he stretched his hands upon the injured arms again. “Sanitatem Intra.” His hands sparkled again. “We passed out. Sholreg wasn’t here when I awoke.”
Corvox pressed his lips. “Where are the others?”
“Haven’t awoken yet.” He turned his head towards them.
The two went silent. Corvox’s head rose and perceived the sun straight above them. He clenched his hands, recalling how Sholreg ravaged the kingdom and burned hundreds of innocents.
“Calm down,” Levinus said. “You’re not fully healed yet.”
Corvox rose to his feet, ignoring Levinus. He picked Iudicium and swung it with one hand, despite its size. “I am fine,” he said. “Go and heal the others.”
“You’re not the strongest for nothing,” Levinus said. He tottered towards Solum and Fastur, kneeled, and put a hand upon their chests. “Sanitatem Intra,” he whispered.
“What will we do now?” Corvox said, standing tall with Levinus behind him.
“If what he said is true, we have a dark journey to venture.”
“Do you believe him?” Corvox clenched his greatsword.
“I don’t know what to believe. He has the ability to wield your power with a bite of your heart,” said Levinus, staring at the silver mage of the mountains.
“I’ve heard a lot about him, back in Altumons.” He ran a hand behind his neck and tilted his head with a crack. “He’d easily defeated my uncle when our kingdoms were in war. I cannot imagine how strong he must be now.”
“I’ve heard a lot about you, too.” A smile drew on Levinus’s lip. “At least we don’t fight each other anymore. I don’t want to face you in a battle.”
“We will fight each other soon,” Solum said, lying beside Levinus. “I’ve never seen such dark magic. Sholreg is different from the warlocks I’ve faced.”
Levinus turned his gaze back at Solum. His comrade’s green eyes opened and flickered under the sunlight. “Feeling well?” he asked.
“Yes. Focus your healings on Fastur,” Solum replied; then adjusted himself.
Levinus scanned his comrade; then nodded. He turned his hand to Fastur, but it got stopped and deflected.
“I don’t need your healing,” Fastur snapped, not bothering to open his eyes.
Levinus stared, rolling his lips. He rose and stepped back. “Understood,” he said.
“We need each other’s help,” Solum reminded, sitting beside Fastur. “You can go back to your arrogance after we defeat Sholreg.”
“Arrogance?” Fastur exclaimed, straightening his back at once, staring at the green mage. “This weakling couldn’t stop from trembling before the enemy. I don’t need his help!”
“We were bested,” Solum said. “There was nothing he could do.”
“Why did I bother myself fighting for a kingdom that wasn’t mine?” Fastur stood tall before Levinus. “Why did I burn out protecting your people while you were only playing with light?” He stepped forward. “Mages and warriors came from Altumons, Silva, and Pyra. The only survivors I see are Corvox, Solum, and myself.”
“Because your kingdoms would be next!” Levinus shouted, glaring back. “We all know what happened to the kingdom of Fluvia. The river will never be the same.”
“Calm down, red mage.” Solum interfered and pulled him back. He stood between Levinus and him. “Despite all our differences, we answered the call. Besides, I can sense that we’re not the only survivors. Many are safe in this kingdom.”
“I will destroy Sholreg myself,” Fastur said, walking away from them. “Tell the rainbow fairy to not slow me down.”
“Fine,” Levinus said, turning his back, and left.
Corvox stared at the green mage, holding his greatsword on his shoulder. “Can you sense Sholreg’s presence?”
“He’s not near,” Solum answered. “If he’s true to his words, he went back to Darce.”
“It takes exactly four days by horse to reach Darce,” Corvox said, running a hand through his black hair. “And that is if the river is calm…”
“Perhaps we should get moving,” Solum suggested.
Corvox nodded. “We must.” He glanced right and left. “Use your earth magic to bring the two idiots back here.”
Solum gaped at him then laughed. “All right!”
Levinia’s king granted four horses to the cursed mages. They rode north, beginning their journey to face Sholreg again.
After what seemed like six hours, the four mages sighted a lively village that luckily hadn’t been targeted by the dark mage.
“Solum?” Corvox turned to his companion.
“Humans,” Solum answered. “I sense no magic in the village.”
“We can stop and have some crumbs,” Fastur barked. “I’ve burned all my energy.”
“Are you really thinking about your stomach?” Solum glanced at him.
“It may be our last chance to eat.” Fastur’s stomach roared, and he patted it. “We can even take some food with us.”
Corvox glanced to the silent Levinus. “What do you say, white mage?”
Levinus raised his head at once, perceiving Solum and Fastur staring at him. “I—I think there’s no harm to stop, but we shouldn’t stay too long. The sun has set already.”
“Very well,” said Corvox. “We’ll have some rest.”
The cursed mages tied their horses and treaded towards the village. It was quite hectic and flamboyant. The villagers’ eyes widened as they stared at four mages from different kingdoms. It was already very rare to see two together. The comrades feasted in a large inn, and it was only after Fastur devoured his second chicken and quaffed his fifth mug of beer that they exited the village, dragging him from his coat.
“Now I don’t care if the three of you turn to warlocks,” he shouted, pointing at them, “I will defeat you with one hand!”
“Of course you will.” Solum chuckled. “Vim Chickenis, I call for thee!”
Levinus laughed, glancing at Fastur who was ecstatic to satisfy his gluttony. Corvox turned back at them. “We should hurry. Come on.”
Solum gazed at the silver mage walking ahead with Iudicium tied on his back. “Do you think he’s all right?” he whispered to Levinus and Fastur.
“I don’t know,” said Levinus. “It’s the first time I met him.”
“He seems maddened since he fought Sholreg.” Solum noted.
“I don’t have your analyzing skills”—Levinus smiled—“but I believe he’ll be fine.”
Solum glanced at Levinus, whose blue eyes flickered, and turned his gaze to Corvox.
They mounted their horses and pranced through the forest of Umbra. Corvox was leading; behind him was Fastur talking with Solum about the food he brought, then Levinus, staring at the three. The white mage kept thinking about their fight with Sholreg and how Fastur called him a weakling. He clenched his hands, and the horse suddenly stopped.
His comrades glanced behind their shoulders. “You’re all right?” Solum asked.
Levinus fell from his horse, and Solum raised his head at once. The sky was black. They hid the horses and stood before him. He was screaming, his head faced down, his fists hitting the ground. His blond hair and white coat both turned black, and his skin was rather grey.
“Levinus?” Solum said, trying to peek.
Levinus rose to his feet, and his comrades noticed his white eyes. He raised his palms, green energy emitting out of them, and the ground trembled.
“So Sholreg was not lying!” Fastur shouted, stumbling. “What do we do? Attack him?”
“No!” Corvox negatived. “We might kill him. Let’s wait.”
“Let’s wait until he kills one of us!” Fastur precised.
Levinus raised his hands higher, and the ground stopped trembling as his green magic on his palms quenched. He raised his head, facing his comrades, and half a hundred skeletons rose from the ground.
“What kind of sorcery is this?” Fastur snapped.
“N—Necromancy…” Solum stuttered.
“A light wizard turning to a necromancer?” Corvox’s voice softened; he drew Iudicium from his back. “We’ll take care of the skeletons then use your magic to cage him, green mage.”
“Understood,” Solum crouched and laid his hands on the floor.
“All right. I’ll burn some dead men!” Fastur roared, raising his hands.
“Don’t!” Solum exclaimed. “We’re in a forest!”
“Nature mages are no fun!” Fastur laid down his hands.
The skeletons around the three mages rushed towards them, circling them as the necromancer levitated above.
“Solum!” Corvox shouted, and the green mage caught the skeletons with the trees’ branches. “Vim Divinis, I call for thee…” Corvox enchanted his greatsword. “Shine upon thy servant and thy foe shall be foredone.” Iudicium gleamed as he clenched it with both hands.
Solum levitated the ground in a circle beneath Fastur and him. Corvox spinned his divine sword with great force and shattered the skeletons down.
“Vim Naturae, I call for thee…” Solum aimed towards the necromancer staring at them hollowly with his white eyes. Before Solum could finish his enchantment, the warlock ignited with darkling green magic, and teleported away, leaving the three mages staring.
“W—Where is he?” Fastur shouted.
“Solum?” Corvox raised his head.
The green mage focused his power. “Give me a moment…” He turned his head towards the village where they had stopped. “Oh, no!”
The three mages galloped back to the village, their hearts bouncing more than the horses. “Whatever happens tonight, we keep it between us,” Solum shouted. “He is under the curse!”
They arrived at the village that had been lively when they left it. The smell of blood reeked throughout the streets, and all the mages could see was the butchered villagers and the endless number of skeletons.
“Levinus…”Corvox whispered, wielding his greatsword.