Chapter 3

The captain sighed in reluctance as the wooden doors were opened by two armed guards, one on either side. His body became stiff as he marched slowly into the throne room. "Enter, my child," the familiar voice hissed. "And report."

"He has eluded us, my Lord."

"That disappoints me, my child," he coolly replied. The captain bent down on one knee as he approached the Dark One's throne. Mørkt looked down at his foolish captain, expressionless. He clutched his infamous orb, which clung around his neck like a leach to its prey, still staring, always staring.

"My Lord," the captain said slowly, "forgive me for my unwise choice. Let me correct my error."

"My child," the Dark One replied, "Mørkt has been very patient thus far. I grow tired. But you shall indeed correct your error." The captain looked perplexed at Mørkt's third-person reference, but said nothing. Mørkt then whipped his left hand around in a counterclockwise circle. The captain screamed in pain as his flesh burned away, leaving his skeletal structure standing, as if being held up by a line. Mørkt Servio flipped his fingers upwards, making the strange force holding up the captain's skeleton vanish, causing it to drop to the ground rather unceremoniously. Once it fell, it began to quickly decompose. Servio bent over what was now nothing more than ash. "You are forgiven," the Dark One said, blowing the ash away with its cold, heartless breath.

The boy's birth had been especially jubilant. His father was well at that time. That was before the priest had come to save him. His mother was a gentle creature, full of the magic long forgotten. She kept it from her husband. She loved him as a man, but knew he could not understand the depth of her gifts. When she gave birth in the old way, she blessed her son with some of her gifts. But no one knew this, only she. Yet somehow people knew he was special. The great King Calamon himself had visited his birth ceremony. "What name have you bestowed upon the lad?" Calamon had asked curiously. And the answer came: Cornelius.

At his crib, she would whisper to him words of the Old Ways, before the holy wars. She told him of the rule of three, and the old Rede. An' it harm none, do what thou wilt.  She secreted into his mind the knowledge that she believed to be true. As the boy grew older, she began to sense the power in him, beyond the power she had bestowed. She winced the more she felt it. The boy had the power of a mage, but that meant.. No, it couldn't be. Not her son. She had seen him play with the other little girls, even stealing a boyish kiss. Mages were milis súile. Her great-uncle had been a mage, and had never known true joy without his anam cathram.

That was why she had taken her son out for a stroll one evening. They walked happily, watching the sun's pinkish colors fade into the horizon as it set. "Cor, you're not like other boys." He stood in silence, watching the sun. "You have a gift. You can harness power and use it - for good or for evil. But beyond that gift, you are a mage. It is in your blood, though I wish you didn't have to endure it. The Goddess has chosen you to do enormous things. Things no man should have to endure. Your power will be greater than mine." She sighed heavily, a tear dripping down her cheek. "And you will know great sadness. With your gift comes milis súile. That means you shall never have a wife." She began to look about her at the breeze calmly blew her hair. It was quiet.. no birds were chirping. Something was wrong.

"But I'll always have you, mum," little Cor said, looking up at his mother's worried face. "What's wrong?"

She looked down at her son, distracted. "Nothing, dear. You'll always have me, yes."

"What does milus.. whatever-" he started.

"It means that the goddess wants you to be unhappy for some reason! You will want what you cannot have. At least not here. That's what you must do. When you are of age, and ready, escape here to find a love. Milis súile means you can only be happy in the bed of another ma-"

"THERE SHE IS!" bellowed her drunk husband. He drew his sword. The newfound cardinal was next to him.

"Hail the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.." The Cardinal was muttering a prayer. Cor's mother stood there, infuriated. Then she looked down at her son.

"The Goddess has plans for you, my son, larger than anything I could do in Her service. Stay here.. No matter what happens." King Calamon burst out of the castle behind Cor's father and the Cardinal. She ran into the forest, out of Cor's sight, and stood, waiting.

The group of three followed her into the woods and stopped before her. "By decree of the Pope.. and God," the Cardinal added as an afterthought, "all witches are to be destroyed!"

"My king," she stoically said, "I'm sure you can stop this foolishness."

"It's out of my hands now," the king lethargically replied.

"Obviously. It's only your kingdom," she said.

"God has decreed it," the king continued.

"Has he?" she asked. The king waved his hand at the Cardinal, who pulled an ax from beneath his heavy robe.

"Closer to the tree, love," the king muttered.

The pope's will was done.

"I don't care if you saved me," protested Cornelius, "I am not yours."

"You are a mage. I see you, sweet eyes. Oh yes I do." Cor looked at the odd man oddly. "Yes, I do know something. But I won't tell until you show!"

"Great gods! Your mind is filthy, old one."

"Show it, yes show it, little one." Cor sighed, rolled his eyes, and removed his tights. The old man gasped in a sick pleasure.

"Tell me, you old goat. Honestly! Just because I'm milis súile, you'd think I'd take anything that walks. I'm not like that." Cor complained.

"Oh, I know, dear. I know. I saw your other half. It just is not fair; my other half is not to be found. Killed he was."

"I have an anam cathram?" Cor asked in joy and alarm. "Where?"

"Far, far away," the old man replied.

"Where?!" demanded the youth.

"It's not where, but when," the wizened mage replied. "Now, my child.. mmm, such supple legs.. I could just bury myself in.. but no, no. I have brought you here for more than sport. Ah, yes. You must be trained. Where is your amulet?"

"Amulet?" questioned the youth.

"Every mage has one! It's his source of power, his life-force. The Goddess has decreed it so since the beginning of time!" The youth looked sadly to the ground. "You don't have one? It cannot be! Something is amiss.." But then Lifeshield called out. The boy went over and held it up, curiously. "Impossible! No, 'tis true! Lifeshield is your amulet. The most powerful source known! I thought you were merely the deliver, but no! You are the bearer!"

"I know tales of Lifeshield," the youth replied quietly, "but what on earth are you speaking of?"

The man was breathing excitedly, but forced himself to slow down. "You and the bearer of Demonsdeath are to end his two servants. You are to fix time!" Lifeshield glowed green in agreement.