Chapter 2

Enjoy, and stay tuned for chapter 3



2
Wizard or not, I still feel fear when surrounded by darkness. Having a pair of firearms doesn’t change anything when you know deep down that your prey is unaffected by both darkness and bullets. I stood very still as my eyes, slowly adjusting to the darkness, picked up subtle hints of movement. A twitch here, a jerk there. I willed my magic right into my guns and I opened fire at the closest hint of movement. All hell broke loose, as flashes of red from my enhanced bullets showed giant reptilian figures scurrying around and running up walls. Angry hisses surrounded me, and I knew there and then that if I did not kill these monsters soon the predator could very easily become the prey.
There exist several types of magic but they essentially boil down to two: Wizards can simply wave their hands, say some words, and something happens. Or they can use channels. Channels can be just about anything: guns, knives, swords, bows and arrows. There is a downside, however: Everyday objects made by everyday people are too brittle to handle any real power.
So when I fired off more rounds and saw that I was getting nowhere, I decided to switch tactics before my guns disintegrated from sheer pressure. I holstered them with practiced ease and grasped the handle of my short sword, unsheathing a double-edged blade half a meter in length. The moment my fingers wrapped around its leather-wrapped hilt the blade glowed a faint azure hue.
Unlike my pistols, the short sword is perfect for magical channeling. Its main feature is the aura, or life force, of a Jinn fused into the weapon itself. I affectionately named the sword Djinn and it has been my faithful companion for years.
The Lizardmen’s hisses grew louder as the blue light hit them, and they retreated deeper into the safety of the shadows. Relishing my victory, I poured even more energy into the blade and held it high. The faint hue became a blazing explosion of light. I approached the two Lizardmen in front of me, now clearly visible, and held the blade in front of me like a shield. The giant reptiles thrashed in writhing agony and their hisses decreased in octaves to become mewling chirps, reminiscent of those of newborn birds.
My victory was short-lived.
Feeling danger approaching from behind, I dropped and rolled to my left just in time to avoid the clawed swipe of a third monster. My momentum carried me to the other side of the room and, even at that distance, I stabbed in my assailant’s direction. The short sword’s blade elongated disproportionately, skewering the giant lizard and embedding its tip in the wall behind it. I cancelled the spell, reverting the blade back to its original form, and spun and scanned the room for the two remaining monsters. I spotted one at the far end of the corridor, scurrying in retreat. I reversed the grip on Djinn, holding it point downward, and swiped with all my might, slashing the distance between me and my quarry. A crescent-shaped wave of blue energy erupted from my blade and streaked toward the lizard, bifurcating it. I smiled at my second victory.
Momentarily letting my guard down.
Too late, my senses warned me of danger as I felt a mighty blow on my right side, which knocked me into a door, crashing me inside a dimly-illuminated classroom.
The monster, erect on two legs, hissed furiously and stormed into the classroom after me.
I groped for Djinn and found nothing. “Crap, crap, crap, crap,” I cursed, each word louder than the one before it. I pulled out my pistols and started squeezing their triggers at the Lizardman—which was nearly on top of me—pouring every ounce of magical aura into the guns and the bullets it was firing. After what seemed like a year, I opened my eyes and saw a dead Lizardman splayed on the ground, its head resting comfortably between my legs.
“That went well,” I muttered in relief as I retrieved Djinn. A series of deep breaths helped my racing heartbeat to regain its normal tempo. I made it back to the pitch-black corridor and prayed that that was the last of the Lizardmen.
I noticed the telltale signs of a spell cast only in the corridor, a spell meant to coat the entire area in darkness. It also served as a dampener, reducing one’s sense of smell, sight, and sound. Lizardmen, which used their heat-seeking abilities, just like a snake, would not be hindered by the enchantment. This magic was clearly meant for any unfortunate idiot who happened to stumble in.
There are many ways to counter a spell. A subtle and cunning magician would simply dismantle a spell covering this wide an area. The trick is finding the right component to remove and such things require patience and subtlety—two things with which I was never compatible. Brute force, on the other hand, was second nature to me.
For the second time, I raised Djinn high above my head, holding it as if it were a trophy and I the athlete who had just won it. I poured as much energy as I could into it, making the blade glow intensely. Blue became white and after a few seconds, hot, searing, smiting, supernova light pushed back against the swallowing darkness of the spell, although I had to shut my eyes; the luminosity was too painful. Atmospheric pressure dipped and my ears popped. And then it was over. The pressure dropped, and both light and darkness vanished, leaving behind a ringing silence broken only by my panting breath. Natural light hit the walls, revealing a very mediocre paint job. My hearing picked up things that had been dulled out before: the chirping of birds, the distinct, tense orders from the police officers outside. And the muffled whimpering of children. I followed the latter sound, turning around corners and running down adjacent corridors, until I came to a plain, wooden door. I placed one hand on it and extended my supernatural senses as I closed my eyes, groping for any hint of a foreign aura.
Behind the door were fourteen spastic and scared aura bundles, presumably belonging to the children. They were huddled in a corner to the right. Directly in front of the door, as if it were some grotesque bouncer, was a jagged and sharp aura, vibrating at an erratic pace and swirling in unnatural patterns. Its shape, color, and texture was completely different from that of the children. This was the aura of the final Lizardman.
I willed my eyes open and blocked my aura-sensing, trying to replace the image of the swirling and erratic blob of energy with the image of a giant lizard. I did not plan on facing it in combat. If I made a single error, one of those kids could end up suffering and that was unacceptable in my book. So I calculated the position of the monster and pointed Djinn at where I assumed its chest would be. I placed Djinn’s tip on the cheap wooden door and channeled my own aura into the sword, which promptly elongated for the second time. The azure blade shot through the door and embedded itself inside the Lizardman’s sternum, skewering and pushing it farther back into the room. Releasing the spell, I opened the door and was greeted with the satisfying sight of a giant bipedal lizard thrashing agonizingly on the ground before stopping abruptly and remaining still.
I sheathed my sword and spun to face the kids, just to make sure that none of them were hurt. Ignoring their looks of awe and bewilderment, I turned my back on them and took out my cellphone.
The air in front of me popped and a Lizardman materialized out of thin air. I froze and stared at it, eyes wide open. This one was clearly different from the others. Its hide was a different shade of gray, lighter and milkier. Its eyes shone yellow and were shaped like a cat’s, rather than a reptile’s. Its joints were more slender and its muscles more wiry, perfect for speed attacks. Its tail, which, according to the few depictions I’ve read, Lizardmen used as a sort of counter-balance to aid them walk on their hind legs, was shorter and stouter, as if its owner had evolved beyond the purpose of needing a tail. Its long snout was considerably shorter, as was its neck. But the real danger was the claws. The unusually straight, sharp claws it bore on each hand were serrated on one side.
Nature had already given Lizardmen all they needed to survive; the claws, the teeth, the thick skin, and tail. There simply was no need to evolve. To my knowledge, none ever had serrated claws, or indeed any of the features that this particular specimen bore. I realized with morbid horror that those serrations were self-inflicted. The monster’s crocodile smile widened and it dawned on me that this monster, unlike its primal brethren, was intelligent.
Then with a blur it plunged one clawed hand into my chest.
As I fell onto my knees and onto the ground, I thought, Did that giant gecko just chuckle at me?
                                                __________________________________
Any normal person, wizard or not, would have been dead by then. Yet, despite losing half my blood I was still conscious and relatively rational. But, I am not just any normal wizard. I was born under a family curse, one which so far has only affected me.
Well, that’s not entirely true. My twin sister, was affected by it, but she got the good side of it.
Maybe I should start at the beginning. My ancestors were not the Merlin-type wizards. They were old-school warlocks and in those times none of the laws existed which govern us today. Modern warlocks abide by a golden rule: Do not tamper with other realms. We can watch, observe, study. But my ancestors took it a step further. They marched from dimension to dimension in search of knowledge and power—until they met a power which could stop them. I don’t know who, or what, they pissed off, but after a century of realm-plundering, they stopped abruptly. Later generations realized that they were cursed. No one asked why or how. The subject is still considered a taboo in the Ashendale bloodline. That is, until my sister and I were born.
My sister has an affinity for most branches of magic, whereas most wizards have at most two or three, making her nothing short of a genius; a brilliant tactician, wizard, and leader. Her only drawback is that, albeit knowing all these powerful spells, she does not have the raw energy necessary to perform half of them.
That is my side of the bargain. I am cursed with a titanic aura; energy levels which rate way off the scale. In terms of magical energy, very few people can actually come close to what I have. The downside is that my own energy is too much for me to control. Thanks to this, I am unable to cast any spells on my own, requiring the constant use of a channel in order to do magic. It is only recently, after nearly two decades of intense training and rigorous concentration exercises that I have become able to conjure up the weakest of spells without some horrible punishment. It took a lifetime of training and discipline in order for me to produce just enough flame to burn a cigarette. I wouldn’t dare use any more on my own. The after-effects are too great. It starts with pain; the bigger the spell, the more intense the pain. I can handle the pain; it’s that feeling of slowly fading away, as if your very soul is being doused and torn. I never tried going past that feeling. I’ve heard too many stories about overzealous wizards spontaneously combusting or melting into a puddle of goo. At best I would lose my mind.
There is one upside to my condition, however, that has proven to be very useful in my line of work. My body is constantly regenerating itself, healing the daily collections of scrapes, cuts, and bruises, as well as the occasional bullet or claw wound, almost instantly. My magic is strong enough for me to automatically heal my body with enough raw power left over to cast very taxing spells repeatedly and without fatigue. Already magical energy had gathered around the hole in my chest, reducing blood loss and regenerating tissue. Pain coursed through my body, but it passed as quickly as it came. The super Lizardman had barely taken four steps toward the cowering kids before I’d gathered enough strength to get up and point both Berettas at it.
“Hey, ugly,” I said. My voice was calm but every word oozed ethereal power as if I were possessed by the spirit of an arcane deity.
The Lizardman spun, poised to attack.
I squeezed both triggers at an inhuman pace, forcing the guns to spit magically-enhanced lead at a rate that no human could ever achieve. The shrapnel tore the Lizardman’s body to shreds. With a blood-curdling scream, its corpse disintegrated into dust with the same pop that was audible when it had magically appeared.
Detective March chose that exact moment to burst into the room through the window and in seconds the room was littered with police.
“Nice job, er— Holy shit,” Roland exclaimed as he pointed at my guns.
I raised them to eye level and examined the damage. The barrels had completely melted and molten steel was dripping down like water. “How the hell?” I remarked as I emptied the guns from any bullets, and tentatively pulled their triggers. As I did so, both pistols simply exploded into a million pieces, leaving me standing there with nothing but a pair of nearly broken grips. I looked up and saw the entire population of the room staring at me, shaking their heads in disbelief. I glanced at the nearest police officer, a blonde female. “I’m too hot to handle.” I winked at her.
She blushed and scowled before scurrying out of the room.
It was Roland’s turn to shake his head. “Don’t bother. Every single cop in this town has heard stories about you,” he said as he patted my back mockingly.
“All good stories, I hope.”
“Good stories, yes. Funny ones. But none of them picture you in a good way,” he said, no longer trying to hide his amusement.
I sighed. “Then they’re probably true.”
  
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