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Every man has evil in his heart, even the best of them. What am I to do then? He who harbours not only the evil nature of mankind, but also the evil soul of The Darkness?
“Welcome it…let it transform you. Why do you insist on fighting me so?”
Because I know what you are. I’m a paladin knight: the only reason I haven’t wiped you from the universe is because I don’t know how.
Ganymede rubbed his temples as the voice of The Stranger rose to a deafening screech. “You said that I’d live forever with you inside me, but Aramos knows after a year with you I don’t think I can stand it much longer.” The knight got up and tried to shake off the effects of his migraine. One year ago the hero had gone up against a dark warrior that had been plaguing the land for centuries. He had won the battle only to find out that the real enemy was pure evil magical energy that had corrupted its former wielder and taken control of him. The Stranger tried to take his mind too, but Ganymede’s strong will and devotion to Aramos helped his mind to overcome the Stranger and take it as his own. Unfortunately, the Stranger hadn't been completely defeated and Ganymede had been resisting it for the past year.
Not to say there weren’t any benefits to having the Stranger’s power. His powers had increased tenfold, and because of this, the region he called home had been quite peaceful the last year.
As if spurred by its hatred of peace the Stranger attacked his mind again, and again Ganymede held him in his place. He got up and started to make himself some breakfast, remembering the days when he would sleep outside, under the stars relishing in the constantly new experiences he found in venturing throughout the land to assist wherever he was needed. That soon changed however, and now Ganymede led a boring day-to-day life in his house in the capital port city of
Breathing a sigh of relief he said, “Thank you Ira Dei… now to the University!” The University for the Arcane Arts was established by the founding fathers of magic, dedicated to the study and advancement of higher magical knowledge. If there was a place where he’d learn how to destroy the Stranger, it was the place.
Walking through the pristine white marble of the large University grounds he was assaulted by stares and by the sounds of wizards practicing magic. The large decorative space was the pinnacle of modern architecture. Almost blindingly white stone columns and buildings, and arranged in the middle, a sprawling garden that had almost every type of plant discovered growing in it. The centre was occupied by a large tower that rose into the sky, higher than any building before it and inside were the quarters of wizards, alchemists and other magicians going about their daily business of pursuing magical excellence. At the base of the tower were the main lobby and the Arcane Library: the supreme source of knowledge throughout the entire civilized world. Around the tower were the five buildings dedicated to the teaching of the five streams of legal magic: Agressia (Attack Spells), Shielos (Defensive Magic), Imbuera (Enchantment), Alchemy, and Mysticism. It was toward the Arcane Library that Ganymede made his way to. And along the way he had to keep hoping that the Stranger would not be his undoing in the end.
He remembered clearly the unacceptable loss of control and the ensuing damage that had been wrought the first couple of months before he learned how to keep the Stranger down. Even then, it didn’t always work. He’d never forget the horrors of losing control. It first happened to him the day after he “killed” the Stranger. It was a beautiful and cool night, and Ganymede was on top of the world…
His heart flew with him as he rode the thermals in the night wind away from the remains of the Stranger’s mountain to find where danger lurked, where evil men were taking from the innocent. Where Ganymede would showcase his brand new powers.
Elation tinged with grim determination swept through his heart as he heard the sound of distant screams. Tonight I shall see how much more powerful I am! Making quick hand signals he completed a quick enchantment that gave him the eyes of a hawk, and sped toward the sound he had picked up with his enhanced ears. It took him no longer than five minutes to come to a village being raided by a gang of thugs, or rather what was left of it.
Smoke billowed up through the air and Ganymede saw the glow long before he could smell the acrid stench of burning flesh. Alighting on the ground he took a quick survey for life and whispered a short prayer for the innocent lives lost. Using a spell to detect the energies being given off living things he was able to determine that there were no survivors.
Just like that, a whole community wiped off the map. Resisting the sudden urge to cry out in rage he reached into a magical pouch and produced a small ring, which he put on. His vision shifted and the night was revealed to him as clear as if it was day.
Ganymede set about to tracking. After a small amount of time he was able to find fresh horse tracks leading away from the village. Sure that he would eventually find his pursuers, he decided to avenge the villagers after a day or two. After getting a bearing on which direction the gang was heading he began to run in that direction when a sudden thought entered his mind. Why run when you can ride? And just like that the ground trembled and a great gout of purple flame burst up in front of him. Engulfed by it was a pure black stallion with a fiery purple mane and flaming hooves. Ganymede approached the beast tentatively while it started to sniff the ground Ganymede was examining earlier. The knight ran his hands through the flaming mane to find that it was a solid thing, and at his touch the horse bent to let him mount him. Then he heard the whispers of thoughts not his own.
“My name is Kynagos. I am yours for as long as you’ll have me.”
Ganymede mounted the horse and gave it a silent command to follow the tracks of the raiders and without another word the horse sped off at a furious gallop with Ganymede riding hard. Ganymede, a skilled rider, found that Kynagos galloped at full speed without so much as breaking stride over any terrain and was eerily quiet relative to regular horses. Ganymede wondered how long the steed could keep up the furious pace before tiring, and sensing his thoughts the horse answered tersely, “You will tire before I ever could. In fact you’re in need of rest right now.” Ganymede couldn’t agree more, and much to the chagrin of Ira Dei, he made his way to an inn for the night, allowing the raiders to get further away.
Early next morning Ganymede rode hard on the trail of the murderous band, and by he had caught up to them. The band was a ragtag group of cutthroats and thieves. They were camped in a small valley and judging by the fortifications, this was their base of operations. Ira Dei erupted in a flame of anger at the vile deeds the group had committed, and the Stranger grew anxious and excited. Ganymede itched for battle and threw all caution to the winds charging in to do battle… then everything went dark.
Upon awakening Ganymede tried to recall recent events. He was covered with congealed blood and all around him were bodies literally ripped to unrecognisable shreds. As he took in the horror of the bloodbath around him, the battle revealed itself to him in full clarity. “What have I done?”
“You wanted them dead did you not?” The stranger’s voice speaks in his head, and Ganymede knows what must have happened.
It wasn’t the last time he went into battle and lost himself to the Stranger, it would happen again and again before his ruthlessness drove many criminals away from him. While he didn’t lament the latter point so much, the fact that he was susceptible to even those temporary murderous rampages brought on by the Stranger was enough to cajole him into finding a solution to his little energy crisis.
“Welcome back Lord Valenthyne,” the cold, clear but cheerful voice of the Library’s chief caretaker and the University’s historian called out in greeting.
“I don’t think you’ll ever get it Hieronymus, call me Ganymede,” he responded amiably. The two embraced and continued deeper into the library and Ganymede continued, “I’ve made progress in my research but I’d like your assistance. I am in need of someone skilled in my weakest magical discipline.”
The old man stroked his long grey goatee and pondered the request. The powerful mage was one of the most respected wizards of all time and had made immense strides in the field of spell making and in Mysticism. “If you had accepted the numerous offers to teach at the University, there would be a small chance that you wouldn’t need to ask for help you know. In any case, I’m still surprised that you would need help, even if this is a problem with Mysticism,” As Hieronymus spoke, acolytes and other university scholars passed them with mild looks of interest and some with jealousy. “You know, I’ve read the transcripts of your lessons on the practical uses of temporary Imbuement during combat, the essay you wrote on furthering magical potential in one’s body, and that interesting report on your last elven ruin expedition,” Legend tells of a race of elves that existed before humans, these elves may have been early humans or could have been signs of a world inhabited by several intelligent species instead of humans. Recently explorers had uncovered what they believe to be the largest elven ruins yet. This had sparked much adventurism and interest in the search. Not even the Stranger could dampen Ganymede’s daring nature. He planned to go to the ruins and begin uncovering the mystery as soon as he could.
Hieronymus was done with listing Ganymede’s scholarly contributions and asked, “So you require more insight into the higher forms of magic Ganymede, may I ask why?”
Ganymede stopped and looked up into the tall wizards eyes, “Only if you promise not to tell another soul, and to help me.”
The man rolled his eyes and dropped his voice to a conspiratorial whisper, “Fine, I’ll play it your way. Now what have I gotten myself into?”
“Well you know I ‘defeated’ the Stranger about a year ago?”
“Yes, an amazing bit of magic moving that mountain I might add.”
“Well the Stranger is actually just sentient magical energy that is so powerful it overwhelms most who try to use it, not a flesh and blood enemy.”
Quick as a flash the sagely wizard came to the correct conclusion, “So you didn’t kill the Stranger; it’s inside of you. But I wonder… just who is in control, my friend?” Ganymede searched his heart and tried to find the strength to say the word ‘me’ but could not bring himself to do it. At his silence Hieronymus realised the grave importance of his friend’s research.
Ganymede continued deeper into the library until he found the corner where he had set up a temporary office. “The only way I can get rid of the energy is by trapping it inside of an object. But-”
“But,” interrupted the expert sage, “You are nowhere near the required skill level to coax this entity out of its current container to the one of your choosing, are you?” He sat down at a chair and started scanning the books that Ganymede had been studying. Ganymede stood sheepishly off to the side and watched as Hieronymus muttered under his breath. Most of it was unintelligible but Ganymede was sure he caught him saying, “Rubbish… all of it rubbish,” and “What was the boy thinking here…” Ganymede took all of it in and patiently waited while the older wizard set to work.
Suddenly Hieronymus grunted, “Hmph, here I am solving your damn problem and all you do is stare into space. Get me a drink, and these books here,” the piece of paper had 5 titles on it followed by a drink request. After fulfilling his friend’s wishes he decided to start research more research into the mystery of the elves.
The two of them worked long into the night, and eventually Ganymede arose to return to his home. "I'm afraid it's time for me to get some sleep. I will return in the early hours of tomorrow morning." Hieronymus merely grunted and then in a flash, he, the books, desk, and chair he was sitting on disappeared. No doubt gone to study in his quarters. Glad to have the wise man on his side, Ganymede made his way toward his home through the dark streets of Onopha and took a much-needed rest when he arrived.
True to his word, the next morning saw him make his way to the Arcane Library. When he arrived at his study corner he found that it was still empty, save for a conspicuously placed note. Ganymede picked it up and read the short message.
Hold on to your breakfast.
Before he could react the world shifted and blurred and then solidified into a large dusty room filled to the ceiling with books. In the middle there was a clearing and in it sat Hieronymus dozing in a chair. Not wanting to wake him up Ganymede approached cautiously but the old man woke up anyway. “Lord Valenthyne! I mean Ganymede! Took me a while but I figured out a solution to your problem.”
Ganymede was stunned. Hieronymus was an expert yes, but to do in a day what Ganymede couldn’t in months was astonishing. “R-really?” The unintentional stutter gave away his fear. After so long with the Stranger he wasn’t sure if it would ever let him go without killing him. He would also be much weaker. But looking into his heart he knew that he had to go through with this. The Stranger had to go.
Hieronymus looked hurt, “Of course! ‘Really?’ I must say you should have more faith in me.” He pulled out a scroll and said, “This spell tome is a powerful one. It allows the spellcaster to transport himself to anywhere he thinks of.”
Catching on quickly Ganymede took the tome and finished the thought, “I can use this to transport myself to where the Stranger is and destroy it!” The plan was genius. With this he could be sure to be destroying the Stranger itself. It would know he’s coming though and so he had to move quickly before it decided to leave him or it got prepared. “We must do this soon, and quickly. Tell me how to get back.”
Hieronymus muttered a short spell and then placed one hand on Ganymede. After several seconds he removed it and there was a glowing print where his hand had been. “That anchored you to me, when you need to come back I can pull you here.”
Ganymede was itching to go, and his body was already pumping adrenaline into his bloodstream. Opening the tome, he read the words clearly and loudly and it began glowing. When he was done there was a flash of intense blue and a glowing orb of energy appeared before him. Books flew everywhere and Hieronymus cursed and said something about “cleaning this up” but Ganymede wasn’t listening. In his mind he was holding the thought firmly. I want to destroy the Stranger. Take me to where it resides. A second later he stepped through the gate, and into destiny.
At first it was dark. But then as Ganymede tried to get his bearings everything changed. He was standing on a mountain, the sky grey, and he was staring at a tower. NO! This couldn’t be possible! Thoughts raced through Ganymede’s head as he tried to figure out how he could be back here. Then he caught on. Teleported him anywhere he wanted. He wanted to be where the Stranger was. The stranger was currently taking up residence in his mind. It’s not that he would be fighting the energy. He’s fighting the soul that guides it! That meant that he was playing the part of his own soul, and that if he should die… Better to not think about that.
If this was his mind then he should be sort of like God here, Ganymede reasoned. While he was standing there reasoning this, the Stranger, taking the form of a panther crept ever closer to his prey. The panther got close enough to pounce but never got the chance as the ground fell away from under him and Ganymede turned around with a smile on his face. He drew Ira Dei and called out to the Stranger, “Try harder next time! It’ll take much more to take my soul!”
As if in answer a charcoal black dragon burst up from the ground beneath Ganymede’s feet, and Ganymede had to call on a spell of Icarian flight to jump out of the way. Black dragons were almost impossible to defeat. The thick dragon hide is nearly impenetrable and its acid breath can burn down to the bone with only a glancing strike. Its claws were wicked things, 8 inches long and curved for the maximum efficiency of shearing flesh. But Ganymede had slain dragons before. Never alone of course, the thought came unbidden to his mind.
The Stranger reared up before Ganymede and sucked in its breath, and Ganymede knowing what would come next used his innate control over the environment to build a wall of rock in between him and the Stranger. However, he noted that the Stranger closed its eyes when drawing in its breath. When the acid was released, it almost burned right through the wall and Ganymede called once again on his environment manipulation to bring a slab of rock underneath his feet. He found that he could control the rock’s movement with not but a thought and was soon flying circles around the dragon casting stunning spells to keep the Stranger unfocused, while drawing the circle tighter around it like a noose. Then he took a flying leap and landed on its back. A dragon’s hide is impregnable, save for when being faced with another dragon’s breath, or by a very powerful magical energy. As if in response, Ira Dei ignited with the impossibly powerful flames of a red dragon.
Where most swords would have shattered upon contact after Ganymede thrusted into the Stranger’s thigh, Ira Dei sank in deep. The heat from the blade burned the inside of the wound, almost completely cauterizing it. The pain sent the Stranger over the edge and in its frenzied spasms Ganymede felt himself flung far into the air.
Landing with a roll Ganymede faced his now injured opponent. However he didn’t have much time to rest. The Stranger began spitting small globs of acid at him and Ganymede did all he could do to dodge or block the deadly fluid with rocks. It was at this moment the idea crossed his mind that he could do more than just manipulate rocks, and almost immediately he covered the whole area in an impenetrable fog. Then he spawned a handful of goblins to begin attacking the now blind stranger. Goblins, being creatures of the deep caves had infrared vision and had no problem seeing the large creature, and Ganymede had cast a spell of life detection seconds before.
The Stranger began attacking the goblins, blindly firing acid in their direction while Ganymede snuck in close. Almost too late the Stranger noticed Ganymede’s proximity, and in a panic transformed into a crow, but in mid-transformation Ganymede was able to score a slash to the torso. Ganymede brewed up a storm and took to the skies on a conjured griffin and quickly gained on the crow, but the Stranger had led him into a trap, flying slowly so he can get in close. The crow changed into a flying humanoid with great black wings and came at Ganymede with a slender black sword, very nearly disarming him. Responding to the move Ganymede grabbed the Stranger, tucked himself into a ball and lashed out with his feet. Then as his foe flew backward, the griffin followed him down with slashing claws and a nipping beak.
The Stranger recovered and the two of them began to joust at each other in the air, until the Stranger got in a lucky blow, and killed the phoenix. Now falling Ganymede let himself fall to the ground, which promptly turned to water. When Ganymede emerged from his sea the Stranger had landed and began to stalk him. Done playing games, Ganymede went on the attack. The Stranger had no problem blocking Ganymede’s sword, but soon had to deal with dodging flaming hot geysers with every step. Ganymede kept up the dual attack for a while and then suddenly leapt back throwing two daggers with blinding speed and astounding accuracy. He could tell his opponent was hurt now. One of the daggers was buried close to the heart, and the other in his lower abdomen.
Cursing, Ganymede killed the singularity and started rotating warily. He expected a sneak attack by the Stranger, but he wasn’t prepared for it anyway.
The first sign of trouble was that everything went dark. Fine, thought Ganymede, I can handle this. The second sign of trouble was that neither the light of Ira Dei’s flames or his illumination spell did anything to dispel any of the dark. Next he tried to use his night eye ring but that didn’t help either. Suddenly the familiar voice of the Stranger echoed from somewhere in the dark, “Nothing you do will work fool boy,” the Stranger spoke in a deliberately slow drawl, and every second of it served to heighten Ganymede’s anger.
Soft footsteps echoed around Ganymede and being blind, he had no idea where the sound originated. Suddenly Ira Dei gave a shiver and instinctively Ganymede let it guide his hand, just in time to block a slash from the Stranger. However, he wasn’t fast enough to block his oncoming fist and was knocked back by the devastating blow. Off-balance but not out of the fight yet, Ganymede started to recover, but was caught off guard by a leg swipe from behind. Ganymede cursed under his breath as he swung wildly with Ira Dei and started to run away from his position as fast as he could. He had to escape this darkness, but as he ran along he found no sign of an end to the black. Desperate and still being pursued by the Stranger he made a last-ditch effort to break the Stranger’s spell of darkness. But today Aramos was not in tune with him as much as he had been the last time he fought the Stranger’s power, today he was at his mercy. Unlike the Stranger however, Ganymede’s essence wouldn’t survive.
Anguish ran through his heart as he realised that the Stranger would take him after all, and in his pain
he released a pulse of energy from the core of his very soul. The blast was pure unfocused energy, and the intensity of it was so strong, so bright, that Ganymede finally broke the Stranger’s spell of darkness. But Ganymede was spent. He barely had strength to stand, and when the Stranger gathered his energies for a final attack, Ganymede had nothing to do but wait for it.
The Stranger’s hands worked in blindingly fast and complicated symbols. As if to explain himself he said, “You’re too valuable to waste. As much as I am stronger, you were strong enough to resist me for this long.” With his spell completed he held his hand out to Ganymede and finished his thought, “Therefore I owe you the honour of absorbing your energy before your soul is lost forever.” He had poured out his energy into this spell and Ganymede felt the intensity of it before it was even released, and it mounted just before it left the Stranger and came speeding toward Ganymede.
He had finally lost. He, Ganymede had lost the battle of his life, his body, and his soul. Oh Aramos, prayed Ganymede, Take me into your arms. Then for the third time in the past hour, everything went black.
Ganymede wasn’t sure how long it was dark. Does time pass slower or faster when you’re dead? After a little while however he found himself able to hear voices. No. A voice. Ganymede tried to call out to the distinctly masculine voice, Are you an angel? Or, he thought with a deep sense of awe, Aramos himself?
“Not quite, but I have to say I’m a damn sight more useful to you aren’t I?”
Ganymede forced his eyes to open and was assaulted to the comparatively bright room. “Hieronymus, what in the Nine Hells happened?”
With a sly wink he pulled out a small black and red sword. It was clearly enchanted and its aura was so powerful that the air directly around it actually warped and bent. “Well I had a feeling that the Stranger was much too powerful to be easily destroyed, so what else can I do with magical energy?”
“Put it into an object.”
Laughing he held up a black robe with red trim, “Two actually. The Sword has the more powerful enchantment, but even so, the two of these items are… scarily powerful.”
Ganymede tentatively gripped the sword and tested its heft to find that it was perfectly crafted and honed to an unnatural sharpness. He found it to be too short for his liking but even as the thought entered his head, the sword lengthened and changed into a curved blade instead of the long slim sword the Stranger preferred. This can be interesting. “Ganymede, I entrust these two items to you.”
“In turn Hieronymus,” Ganymede replied, “I will have to give you my older equipment. Even I cannot stay in control of all that energy and these.” Hieronymus nodded and Ganymede turned to leave with a million new adventures playing themselves out in his mind. “Thanks for what you did back there Hieronymus, I owe you one.”
“Two actually,” came the terse reply.
With a heart lighter than it had been in months, Ganymede chuckled and hesitated in the door. “Two then, friend.”
Hieronymus however stood up and called after him, “Wait! Where are you off to now? You need to get some rest!”
Ganymede dismissed the suggestion with a shake of his head and called back, “No time! I need to visit some ruins. And I need to learn how to fight two handed before I get there.” And with that, Ganymede walked out of sight, past his battle with his inner tormentor and into brand new adventure.
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