Four

Lord Barth of the Sacred Hood of Truth and Knowledge gazed into Morluch’s eyeless sockets with a mixed sense of wonder and fear. Dabbling in godly magic was strictly forbidden by the Hood, punishable by banishment and sometimes even death. If the Hood found out he was merely in the presence of Morluch, he would most likely be expelled. Using the eyes of the dead and beyond, though, would almost certainly ensure his execution.

Barth felt a prick of shame in his heart for using the eyes. He agreed with the Hood on their stance on its use. The dead should be respected and allowed to rest. These were dire circumstances, though. His suspicion that Rath’s followers would attempt to bring him back from the grave was too strong not to follow up on. Besides, he figured, I’m using Rath’s eyes. What greater way to anger him than to use his eyes to thwart his followers’ plans?

“What do you see?” Morluch asked, his razor-sharp voice startling Barth out of his thoughts.

“I see darkness.”

“The clouds of time. They will clear in a moment.”

Sure enough, the darkness faded into a picture. Barth was in a forest. The sky wept heavily, periodically ripped open by lightening. A naked man stood drenched in mud in the forefront of Barth’s vision, his back turned. His skin was leathery and dark, giving him the ability to stand unseen in the darkness. Barth’s first thought was that the man was mad, but his mind changed the moment he saw the man’s face. It was a beast-man, one that Barth immediately recognized. It had once been a canine, but now called itself Grull. Barth had absolutely no doubt that Grull was one of Rath’s disciples. It knew only cruelty and savagery, the only virtues Rath upheld.

Morluch sensed the alarm in Barth. He saw it like a drop of ink in a cup of water. “What is it you see that distresses you?”

“I see a beast-man.”

“A pupil of Rath’s?”

“Undoubtedly.”

“He is familiar to you. How?”

Barth hesitated. “It’s not important.”

The image began to fade as Barth’s concentration waned. He tried to focus, but distant memories flooded back, bringing with them feelings of bitterness and misery. A moment later, he saw nothing but the bottomless pits of Morluch’s empty eye sockets. He felt a rage of frustration rise in him like a fire. His fingers tightened into fists at his sides and choked nothing until they turned white. He opened his mouth to order Morluch to use the eyes again, but only cursed when he saw the old wizard slump into his rocking chair, weakened by the initial effort.

“Don’t be bothered,” Morluch said, noticing Barth’s distress at losing the vision. “You saw what you needed to see, yes?”

He was right, Barth thought. Though he briefly saw only the beast-man Grull, it was enough to confirm his suspicions. Rath wouldn’t have been watching Grull from the next world if he didn’t have some place for the creature in his plan, whatever it may be. The fire in Barth receded.

“Yes, I did. I am grateful for your services.”

“Appreciation is not what I seek.”

“Of course.” Barth approached Morluch, reaching into his robe. “How much do I owe you?”

Morluch paused, then smiled with his toothless mouth. “What price seems fair to you, Lord Barth?”

The End

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