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Rated: 18+ · Prose · Fantasy · #2269592
Against a building sense of doom, can Voltaire keep his beloved safe from her old student?
Ghost-white in the conjured light, beautiful Spellmaster Elisha smiled and tickled the piano keys.

Sparks and puffs of smoke fill the room in place of disappearing students. Only four took the time to run past the gray-haired man as he ambled to the head of the class.

“Ah, my love!” Elisha leaned forward for a kiss. “Have you the dispensation?”

At the touch of her lips, Voltaire's lungs convulsed. To keep her close, he hugged her before nodding her answer. “Headmaster LaFey assured me he 'supports our plan.'"

Elisha nodded. "As an alumnus, Gian poses the same threat to the School's reputation that he poses to the people of Viseki town.”

She gave the man too much credit. Voltaire narrowed his eyes. "More to the point, Cain LaFey 'supports' letting us wade into danger for him.”

Outside the window, a bird flew east from the direction of the headmaster's tower.

Had Spellmaster Cain warned the corpsebound Gian already? The headmaster would do anything to break Elisha's tenure–whether in the academy, or in life. Voltaire nodded at the bird. "Gian will be expecting us."

She glanced out the window and smiled, tapping out a stirring march of battle and victory. "Would you have it any other way?"

"Absolutely." Like a pawn on the chessboard, Voltaire could hope to advance or hold his ground--nothing more. "I wouldn't go there with a hundred of us."

She tapped out a few falling intervals. "Neither would I. It's nearly impossible to coordinate with two spellmasters."

"The law of two," as they named it, was not restricted to evil spellmasters; there she had Voltaire. He rarely bothered to argue with Elisha, even when she had no piano within reach–because she always has the right idea. Yet this time, her brilliance inexorably led to doom. "Gian has vicious power–"

She nodded. "And a tenuous hold on his life support."

Though corpsebound, Gian had much to do before he could secure his otherworldly life force. If he let Elisha close enough to strike while his bonds are slim, he would have no chance. But if Spellmaster Gian behaved like a rational man, Voltaire could very well lose Elisha–a fate worse than death. "Is there nothing I can say that will keep us out of this?"

"And rob you of sleep for the next decade?" She stroked his hair out of his eyes. "Besides, no rational man would ever be corpsebound."


The autumn air stank of corruption, of the rot of the leaves in the wind, the decay of the collection in the dumpster. Voltaire polished his fingernails and harrumphed, rejecting the obvious conclusion. Other magi got omens like that, but he had to rely on more academic sources. Synchronicity brought him only the reflections of half-truths prematurely considered.

No, the scent of creeping doom told him only this: he had already accepted defeat.

Headmaster Cain LaFey stopped short on the sidewalk. He looked Voltaire up and down and smirked. "What vole has been chewing your herb garden?"

The caustic energies burned in his throat as he sidestepped onto the grass. "Blisters!" Voltaire said.

Red welts flickered over Cain LeFays face and hands.

Wiping the curse away more easily than a nasty word, Cain Lefay continued on with a tip of his hat.

The momentary satisfaction turned to a taste of ash as Voltaire trained his mind on the road ahead. As he envisioned inscribing Elisha's grave marker, a chill ran up his spine. With a failed-apprentice's release of magical energy, he burned a hole in the grass beneath his toes as he muttered an oath: "I would never let her go, not for all the world."

The spellmaster's oath echoed to the farthest reaches of the cosmos, and the cosmic mind affirmed the dedication.

Books fell on the sidewalk. "Spellmaster Voltaire? Even you spelleak?" Acolyte Yadille had her hand on her mouth.

Abashed at his childish work, Voltaire swallowed his pride in order to uphold his standards as a professor. "Did I not say, even the best must hold to the drills?"

Acolyte Yadille nodded.

Voltaire picked up her books. "The passions get the better of any of us."

Yadille conjured a bag for her books. "It's about Spellmaster Elisha. She's okay, I hope?"

"Mind your business, young lady." He straightened her collar and winked. "Just a worrisome task ahead of us."

"Does it never end?"

"Responsibility? Never. Though, many people abdicate."

"I would never want to be a dropout."

"One day, you will. " Each of us faces a day like that one, he reasoned, and straightened his own muffler. "That is the day you will know Yadille and her measure."

"You've given me a lot to think about."

At least he had done his work as a professor. Voltaire gave her a long look, nodded, and waved her away.

* * *

The click of the cobblestones on the wooden wheels kept time for his incantations as he checked the wards for stealth and refreshed the fading runes. Voltaire held up his due diligence. Yet the greatest defense would be the walls of their great college, far from the diabolical mess that duty had them heading toward. The time to drop out drew nigh; if only the dear woman could see the looming disaster. "Elisha, do you not worry that we might be in the wrong?"

"Not since I set out on the road." Elisha's wide blue eyes looked deep into Voltaire. "Tell me that you don't."

The danger quickened his heart. "Of course I do," he lied.

She raised her eyebrow.

"We have no right to be deciding the fates of other practitioners."

This alarmed her, and she snapped her fingers. "Voltaire: the truth."

He could have- and heaven knew, should have resisted the spell. Yet, Voltaire had promised never to do so, and had not the will to deny her. He sighed. "By overstepping as we do, we stand in the wrong, surely."


"Just as surely, on balance, the world is made better."

"Quite right, my black-hat hero." She stared a moment, and nodded. A touch to the brim of his dark blue hat. "Speaking of overstep…"

The apology for the truth spell, as obligatory as the taking of attendance at the beginning of class. He nodded, and made the banishing gesture. She hit all the right notes; Voltaire almost forgot Gian's shadow looming over the world–almost. "Think of it as null."

* * *

As the mule pulled them toward Viseki, the cart swayed to and fro. Voltaire couldn't shake how the sickly yellow wood of the rickety cart brought to mind the mouse traps made in the early years. The pale lines of the wood grain represented well Elisha's fate. Enclosed circles ran round to useless infinity. He wanted to run, to turn the cart around, or even abandon the path that had him shaking like a half-frozen mouse in the tangled wood.

Elisha cringed and stiffened.

He followed her gaze to the storm clouds above, scratched about in his pockets for the scrying glasses.

Her fingers desperately tapped out a tune on an unseen keyboard, playing the harmonics of a spell.

From the alarm on her face, Voltaire saw no time to interpolate the tune or guess the spell's nature. He put on the glasses to see a giant, batlike monster spitting venom in their direction before Elisha's wave of clouds blew in to swallow it whole, venom and all.

"Does he have that kind of power already?" Voltaire asked, laying his hand on her shoulder. "Perhaps we should turn back."

"Not even." She smiled wryly. "Attracted, not summoned."

Voltaire raised his eyebrow at that. The demon or dragon he had seen could well have been investigating Gian's activity. So she had a point, however convenient. Frowning, he polished and put away his glasses.

She continued, "The question, did it seek to befriend or destroy the Corpsebound? I've no idea."

Voltaire harrumphed into his lap. "Good a theory as any, if you're bent on this mission."

She smiled and patted Voltaire on the shoulder. "And a terrible one, if you're thorgabent."

Glassmakers, some people liked to call humans: thorga–afraid their toys will break. Voltaire smirked at the dig. "Come by the huma bent honestly."

"But do we?" Elisha tilted her head in that way that made Voltaire feel like a prized tome in an ancient language. "You and I, we are so much more than these fragile human frames."

"Yet we depend upon them as much as any."

"But have we any right? Any loyalty to this flesh?"

Elisha's words evoked the image of her gravestone, the black, polished granite tower of honor and imprisonment a mage's burial demanded. He vowed, if any dared erect that monument, to shatter it, thus to open wide the door that would bring her back to him. "You will not be kept from me."

"Seriously then. What are you worried about?"

That my oaths fade to lies? "Nothing worth putting to words."

She tried to smile but her left face frowned, evidently unwilling to accept Voltaire's logic as his personal truth. "Either path leads through a dark and dangerous wood."

He nodded. "I have no wish to sleep upon that bed of thorns."

"This is the shortest path through the darkness."

"Perhaps," Voltaire angrily matched her foolish smile, "we should seek out the surest."

Her face flared with the same peevish ire that boiled just below Voltaire's breastbone. "What fun that would be."

As Voltaire drove further into Gian's grip, the twisted vines about them, like the sinews of a ravenous serpent, flexed in the wind.


As the rattling wagon rolled over the top of the last hill, the image of Gian, like a ghost over Elisha's funeral, cast its shadow on all the realms.

"You're seriously out of tune." Elisha brushed his shoulder. "And you're usually so euphonious."

Only around you, he thought. The idea of losing her had thrown him out of tune. He looked away from her.

She tugged at his sleeve. "I've never heard such disharmony from a living mage."

He took a deep breath and met her eyes. "I told you. We should not be here."

"We shall be fine. Just be sure you channel that into Gian and not into yourself."

Her favorite lecture was 'Harmony and Health: The Deadly Power of Dissonance in Combat and Medicine.' "Refresh me on the principles?"

She laughed at his joke as they rolled to the bridge. "Best not to study too hard before a test, isn't it, Spellmaster?"

The green skinned, upturned nose of the gate guard thrust out of the shadow. "Halt, Thorga."

Voltaire pulled the mule to a stop. "Hail, Urgan Guard. I come in peace."

"How come thorga in peace when fail daughter Yadille?" The guard kicked the rickety guard-shack door in half.

Yadille was human, thoroughly; not a trace of Circe's blessing. Of that, they always made sure: an urgan acolyte required different curricula. Had she come to be adopted by an urgan woman? Or had Gian's dark magic already warped the townsfolk?

"Madam," Elisha whispered. "Please understand that Yadille is a brilliant student and it is the…"

The guard raised her mace slowly over her shoulder, leaving Elisha plenty of time to raise a magic shield, and for Voltaire to ready the right words.

"Clean out your ears of glass, urgan filth," Voltaire grunted. The urgan ear found politeness confusing and offensive. He doubled down by mocking the urgan speech patterns: "Yadille got better grade than deserve. My dog could do better, and so can she."

"Ha." The urgan smiled at that, and tapped Elisha's auric shield with her mace-wielding fist.

Voltaire took care to mask his relieved sigh as an annoyed grunt.

"Watch yourself, glassworkers." She pulled the gate lever and allowed them to enter.

Everywhere in this town, the light failed to reach. The eyes of the people, frightened and twisted, peered from the shadows at the strange humans in the wagon.

"Granted, I have asked that we abandon this mission." Voltaire grabbed the back of his neck. "Forgive me that, for we cannot allow this to go any further. Gian's magic…."

Elisha nodded; nothing else to be said.

* * *

The corpsebound spellmaster, Gian, stood up behind his desk. He threw his quill and sneered, skin cracking and falling as he did. The flakes rolled cleanly off Gian's suit and swept themselves in a dustbin. "You come prepared, Spellmistress."

Voltaire crackled the scroll he carried. In a fit he hissed, "Spellmaster."

Elisha nodded, not acknowledging the twin insults. "I have the formula written half on my skin, half on Voltaire. Careful with the fire magic."

"The 'formula?'" Gian laughed. "Do go on."

"Ah but, 'That would be telling.'" She took her turn to sneer, and shook her head. "Even a hint of what it does would be worth a spellmaster's ransom."

Gian shrugged in mock sadness. "Oh, and I went to all this trouble, fireproofing my manor for you."

"If you don't mind losing out on the greatest secret of all time…."

"Even as an obvious lie, it's an excellent strategy." Gian flexed his hands, generating a sickly, purple-black glob of energy. He tossed a ball of power at both of them, and pointed proudly to a suit of men's funeral clothes. "It is a game I can play, as well."

The suit, too small and shabby for Gian, hinted to Voltaire of Elisha's funeral.

Gian's opening volley slid off both their shields. Elisha's chin dropped as she looked at Voltaire.

Had he offered to carry Elisha's coffin, Gian could have done little crueler. Preparing to cast a wave of destruction, Voltaire dropped his shield and focused everything he had on Gian.

"Voltaire, don't play his riff!"

"Now, spellmistress!" Gian purred, having already landed the attack; a thin thread of purple death closed about Voltaire's throat. "Destroy the sacred tome. And with it, your feeble hope for the pathetic little man as well."

"Yes! Do it! Forget…" Voltaire struggled to restore his shield through Gian's tendril. "Life support."

"I dragged…" Elisha gasped as she ducked a ball of purple goo that splatted on the wall, "...you here. Not leaving without you."

"Touching." Gian pranced about the room. With a flourish he beckoned the blob to come toward Elisha. "As touching as it was predictable."

Voltaire rasped, "Don't you dare." He dropped his shield and directed his destructive magic on the charmed tome that kept his enemy alive.

Elisha yelled, "No, Voltaire. Always defend." She threw her own shield to protect the tome.

With his defenses dropped, Voltaire felt the blood rush to his face. All the world darkened to purple. Bands of fear about his lungs only loosened once he accepted the slide toward death.

"He will live to see you die; of that, I assure you." Gian shrugged off the tendrils of Voltaire's curse and gentled his own attack. As the tendril faded, the light returned to Voltaire's eyes. "Perhaps even long enough for you to heal him. You have only to vanquish me without destroying the book."

The book that kept Gian alive could do the same for Voltaire. But by the time she killed him directly she might be mortally wounded. "No, Elisha. That's only so he can slow you down." Voltaire dropped his defenses and sent them toward Elisha.

"I can do it." Elisha ducked the latest volley. "Destroy his silver cord and bring you back."

With a flick of the wrist, Gian deflected Voltaire's orb of pain onto Elisha, driving her to her knees.

By then, Elisha's harmonic shook Gian. Coming from every direction. her magic enveloped Gian, shield and all.

Leaving no time for Gian to switch to a full circle ward, Voltaire lobbed orb after orb of acid and pain.

Snarling, Gian dropped his shield and sent all the power he could muster into Elisha's harmonic, blistering her hands and reddening her face.

Unopposed, Voltaire's orbs pelted Gian again and again. Meanwhile, the very floor buzzed against the corpsebound. Elisha's spell rose up to wash over the undead body. It sizzled, then shattered, then melted. As the final, violet drops of Gian's remains evaporated, the book released the corpsebound soul to the mazes beyond.

Gian's vanquished soul sent a final strike that rose from the ground and threw Elisha toward Voltaire.

He lurched forward to grab her lifeless form. "No, no, no." His arms shook as he dragged her to the healing table.

He reached the tome and, in his frustration, failed to find the answer. "Oh, bleeding…" He siphoned his life force into her.

Even as she came to life, he felt his face turning red and his vision, purple. He wandered away and took a seat at Gian's desk.

Barely able to keep her head up, Elisha glared. "Voltaire, how could you?" She stumbled to the book, flipped through it. Her fingers danced over unseen keys on the imaginary piano.

He gritted his teeth. "Had to. Couldn't take you with me."

She smiled and took his hand.

The pain twisted his smile into a grimace. "But we made it."

"Yes, we made it. Now get on the table; I'll make sure you pull through." She looked down on the book and slammed it closed. It looked like she mouthed the word, sacrifice?

"Yes, we made the sacrifice and won the day." Voltaire climbed on the table and laid back, scratching at the place where Gian's tendril had torn at his throat.

Her hands shook as she hummed the spell that would preserve Voltaire's life. At the end she became dizzy and rushed for the desk chair.

"Are you alright?" Voltaire sat up, and a fierce ache arose in his body.

"Yes, my black hat hero." Elisha grabbed the desk to help her stand. "Just rest."

"I really think I should…"

But she started the great harmonic lullaby.

Any other day, Voltaire could resist a working like that. Though the slumbering power she sent only went halfway, in the morass of pain and exhaustion, his resistance only went a third. He tried to fight and yet, in that state, could not remember why.

* * *

When next he woke, a layer of dust thick as a sheet lay on his arms. He shook it off, brushed his lapel, even his face. He grunted and applied the cream Elisha had laid upon the table to the cracks at the edge of his lips and eyes.

The sizzling violet dust where Gian had been slain had paled but still remained. A green pile of dust sat at Gian's desk, beside a note in Elisha's runes.

"Dearest Voltaire, my love,

"It has been a privilege and an adventure. I apologize for not hearing your words, never knowing that you already had come under Gian's attack.

It is only an apparatus, this fleshy coil that I have sacrificed to preserve you: a tiny portion of my being.

For so long as your spirit walks the earth, if you listen, I shall ever be with you. Bound not by the power of this book but only by the force of love.

Your eternal attendant,

In the great room, a few doors down, a piano sang greetings to Voltaire's bound spirit as it gave voice to the magnificent ghost of his beloved Elisha.

Can their spirits find peace?
Part II "Haunted Requiem

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