Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Mage Eater

So, I didn't place with this story. Sad really, but I still really like the story. And since it's no longer held up in the competition and I'm working on short stories for other competitions and life (which is more complicated than it sounds), I'll throw this one out there for y'all to read. I really enjoyed the magic system and characters in this story, and it has gone through quite a few drafts (unlike By Your Powers Combined, which is coming at y'all first draft). It'll probably be another week at the best before I can get chapter 11 of BYPC out, but I hope this holds you over.

Mage Eater

            Jayex lumbered into the dismal excuse of a town that was clearly not on fire. If a mage were here, everything should have been burned to ash by now. Especially with this heat and lack of rain. His stomach growled. Spending this last month trekking across the desert better pay off.
            As the second moon rose, casting crimson across the town, windows opened, and bumpkins came out of their hovels to begin the day. Merchants set up street shops along the dusty road into town while children came out to play in dirt-colored slacks.
            Did they even know a mage was suspected of being here?
            No, if they did, they’d be screaming for mercy. Moving deeper into the town, Jayex reached into his pouch, pulling out a piece of jerky. It reminded him of Vea, but he had to eat it.
            The excessive salt covered the stringy meat well, but the garbage-like aftertaste burned his dry throat.
           Vea … Why did I leave you alone? He patted the waterskin hanging from his belt then felt the pouch beside it. No water and only a few slices of jerky. No matter how he felt about Vea losing her innocence to the purple energy, he had to find the mage in this town or starve.
            If only Vea were still alive—
            Clanking footsteps from behind drowned out the other sounds.
            Guess the church stooge made it out of the quicksand. Jayex frowned before turning to glare at Ae.
            Dingy yellow hair tied up in a bun and sand-covered blue robes. The three moons had burned her exposed face and hands to match her ruby rings. She stood almost as tall as Jayex, a head taller than the bumpkins. Her round body contrasted her hard face, and luckily, she no longer wore the Fist of God necklace that constantly reminded him of Vea’s final moments.
            “Not dead yet?” Jayex asked, his voice hoarse.
            “This mage will not continue to soil God’s name.” Ae’s flat voice was somehow haughty, like everyone from the church.
            “How are they soiling your god’s name?”
            “She is everyone’s God.” Her pig-like nose needed a good punching.
            “Doesn’t answer my question.”
            “Their existence is enough to soil God’s name.”
            “Forget it.”
            “You mage eaters are too full of yourselves to question the church like this. Is it because your kind runs around without guidance?”
            “Don’t need guidance.” Jayex started forward again. “If your kind wants to be useful, find out where all the mages have gone.”
            “We found one.”
            Ae crossed her arms. “How are we supposed to find them if they are not destroying villages or killing people with their corrupted power?”
            Jayex headed towards the center of town. “Shouldn’t your god tell you?”
            “Insolent fool. For the last time, she is everyone’s God.” Her fists trembled at her sides—the most emotion she had shown since they began this trip. “But no. God is not here to answer your stupid questions.”
            “Then what good is she?”
            “God gives us morals. She gives us society. She gives—”
            Don’t need her preaching right now. “Sorry.”
            “Why are you so worried?” Ae moved up beside him. “Your job is to nullify their magic, eat it or whatever you do, and capture them.”
            “Yeah…” Jayex’s stomach grumbled, louder than before.
            She reached into her backpack and pulled out a cloth-wrapped bundle, holding it out to him.
            Jayex pushed the food away. “Not hungry.” For anything from the church.
            Ae stared at him. “So, it is true.”
            Street shops filled the town square. Merchants sold various kinds of meat. Some jewelry. Some weapons. The most enticing of them all was the one with a man wheeling barrels of water in front of his shop.
            Jayex strode towards the water vendor, tongue screaming for a taste. “Not sure what you’re talking about.”
            “That you eat magic. Gain sustenance from absorbing a mage’s sin-against-God power.”
            Jayex scratched his nose. “Yeah? Sure. That’s … why their disappearance is so galling.”
            Ae cocked her head to the side, the expression odd as if she didn’t understand why people did it.
            Did she have any emotions at all?
            Not important. Jayex rummaged through his turtle-pack. He reached into his razor-fin gauntlets to pull out a wad of cash and placed a few bills on the counter, returning the rest and throwing his turtle-pack back over his shoulders. “Need a few pouches of water.” He should have let Ae roast that night instead of wasting their water. He had told her not to sleep so close to the fire, but—
            As the merchant reached under the counter, the taste of dirt filled Jayex’s mouth.
            He turned to the left.
            The grimy flavor lessened.
            Jayex gritted his teeth. “Purple!”
            “Watch your language,” Ae said, words droning. “I will not permit you to blaspheme. I—”
            Jayex spun on his heels and took off down the road, following his taste buds. The mage is close. His mouth watered. Refreshing.
            Magic’s foul taste emanated from the hovel on the corner of an intersection.
            Jayex unlocked his power, devouring the little bit of food left in his stomach. It growled. He kicked the door open. “Don’t—”
            Purple energy swelled in the unadorned room, swirling around a cot in the center. A twig of a man in brown slacks and a loose white t-shirt hovered over a woman. Blood spurted from a gash down the center of the woman’s face, and she spasmed on the cot as the vile energy flowed into her flesh.
            “Stop!” Jayex reached out towards the purple energy.
            The mage started, but his gray-eyed gaze didn’t leave the woman.
            Gray eyes? Not purple.
            Jayex froze.
            The mage’s dainty hands guided the energy into the woman. Making her a victim. She would turn into his pet. Become a mindless beast that— The woman coughed, and the massive gash closed.
            Jayex gaped, outstretched hand trembling. Just like Vea used to do. No, she was special. Able to resist the purple taint. “Impossible.”
            Magic didn’t heal. It corrupted the user. It destroyed. Animals. Families. Cities. It didn’t matter to the vile power. But if this mage hadn’t killed yet and was still innocent …
            New skin knitted the wound together, and the tension in the woman’s face fled. Her eyes opened as the rest of the purple energy flowed into her body, and the mage’s hands stopped moving. He looked up.
            Magic always transformed someone into a monster. Vea had to be the only exception. The church claimed— Yes, this mage had to have another motive for healing this woman.
            Jayex’s griping stomach forced him to focus. The woman didn’t matter. He would take the mage. Jayex had to. “Don’t fight. You know what I am.”
            “Mage eater,” the mage said, voice high-pitched.
            “Right.” Jayex stepped forward.
            The mage edged backwards. “I did nothing wrong.”
            Remember the training after the incident with Vea. “Your existence is wrong.”
            “And yours isn’t?” The mage pressed his back to the wall. “I know your kind’s secret.”
            What? Second time someone had made that claim today.
            The window was several feet to the left of the mage, but the woman on her cot was in Jayex’s way.
            The mage looked at his hands. “I didn’t seek this power.”
            “Few ask for what life gives them.” Jayex took another step forward.
            Tears rolled down the mage’s smooth cheeks. “I’ve struggled every day since Father abandoned me. I ignore the voice telling me to slaughter children. I ignore the cravings to bathe in blood. For what? To be preyed upon by a mage eater? I’ve been good. I’ve healed the sick. The debilitated. Why? Why me?”
            A pit formed in Jayex’s stomach. Innocent. “No other choice.”
            “So, Father’s plan to starve the world has begun.” Sniffling, the mage wiped at his eyes. “And I’m the one taxed.”
            Huh? Jayex tilted his head to the side. “Well, everyone has to pay at some point. But a donation of food and information about—”
            The woman on the cot shot to her feet. “I won’t let you hurt Ell!”
            Ell? Jayex blinked. Single-syllable names are only for women.
            She crashed into Jayex, the two of them stumbling towards the door. “Go!”
            The mage, Ell, squirmed out the window.
            Jayex planted his feet and picked the woman up.
            She screamed and flailed.
            Jayex backed up to the still open door and dropped the woman before stepping out and slamming the door shut. Which way?
            Cracking and clattering came from around the corner.
            Jayex stepped into the intersection and glanced at the hovel’s open window.
            Barrels and broken wood lay beside the window. Ahead, someone screamed from a small alley.
            Taking off, Jayex pushed his muscles as hard as he could. His stomach screamed. Reaching into his pouch, he popped his last two pieces of jerky into his mouth and skidded into an alley where an old woman stood, panting. As he passed her, she kicked him in the foot, and he stumbled out onto the next street.
            A loose white t-shirt flapped in the wind to the right, just past a pie vendor.
            Got to be him. Without absorbing magic to enhance his body, running at a full sprint made Jayex’s legs feel as heavy as an elephant-cart.
            Around the pie vendor. Down another street. Into an empty warehouse.
            Jayex grabbed Ell’s legs as he tried to climb out the window and jerked him back to the ground.
            Ell landed flat with a squeal. He reached out with his hand, and purple energy lashed out towards Jayex.
            Jayex’s power sucked in the energy as soon as it touched his skin. Fatigue vanished. Strength flooded his muscles. He blurred forward and drew Ell up to his feet.
            Thrashing, Ell’s sweaty wrists slipped free.
            “Don’t think so!” Jayex grabbed Ell in a bear hug and pulled his soft, spongy chest against Jayex’s. Jayex’s brow furrowed. “Soft?”
            Ell pushed away from Jayex and slapped him. “Bastard.”
            Jayex poked Ell in the chest. Men shouldn’t have— “A woman!” Vea … He yanked his hand away from her, and he swallowed. Shouldn’t have touched her like that. He staggered backwards.
            Face red, Ell wrapped her hands around her chest, knees trembling. “You’re such a purple bastard.”
            “Sorry.” Jayex shook his head. “Sorry. I.”
            Ell’s dimpled cheeks and hooked nose looked just like Vea’s. How had he not noticed it before? Even the short hair reminded him of his time with Vea. A time before she had killed in self-defense and lost her innocence.
            Jayex wouldn’t even ask Ell for substance. He would find a way on his own. With how much she reminded him of Vea, he couldn’t ask Ell to sacrifice anything. She was too much like the woman he’d loved.
            “Find somewhere else to hide,” Jayex said.
            “No.” Ell shook her head. “I don’t want to be alone again. I’ll die. I …”
            Bile climbed up his throat, but he swallowed it. This was a sacrifice she had to make, and there was nothing he could do about it. Purple! “Sorry, but a woman from the church came here with me.”
            “What?” Ell’s eyes bulged, and she glanced towards the door of the warehouse. “Is she a Fist of God?”
            “That’s the sect.”
            “No, no, no.” Ell bolted towards the door. “How did they discover the town was sheltering me?”
            Huh? Jayex followed her outside.
            Gray smoke rose in the distance. The town square?
            Ell dropped to her knees.
            Jayex helped her stand. “I’ll deal with the fire. Get out of here.” He started off.
            “No.” Sniffling, Ell followed him down the road.
            In the market square, mangled bodies of men, women and children littered the ground. Splintered wood and trade goods soaked up blood. Its stink polluted the air, leaving the taste of rust and rotten grapes on Jayex’s tongue.
            “Why?” a boy asked as he backed out of a hovel across the square. “Mom. Dad.”
            From deeper inside the hovel, a snake-like chain shot towards the boy’s head.
            Still amped up on Ell’s magic, Jayex bolted forward and wrapped both hands around the chain. He planted his feet and with enhanced strength, yanked. The joints connecting his arms to his shoulders screamed.
            The chain didn’t budge.
            “Run, kid.” Jayex gritted his teeth. His feet ground the dirt as he was pulled forward.
            “You should not interfere with God’s justice.” Ae’s cold voice turned Jayex’s blood to ice.
            How could someone commit such atrocities and still be so calm? Come to think of it, he had never heard Ae’s voice change in tone or pitch. And having a special power like controlling the chains could only mean one thing.
            “Rule-bound.” Jayex shook his head and released the chain, stumbling back into the square. Gore squished underfoot.
            “I am gifted from God.” Ae stepped into the light, church robes gone. Chains wrapped around her body, a skintight black suit barely visible underneath. On her hands, her eight ruby rings glowed. “Rule-bound who do not serve God are abominations.” She glanced over to Ell. “Ah. The target.” The chains unwrapped themselves, slinking to the ground, slithering away from Ae’s body as if alive. She planted her feet and swung both chains. Just the ends at first, but the chains extend farther and farther. “Sin confirmed. Delivering justice.”
           Jayex regained his footing and sprinted for Ell, who stood there, gaping at the carnage with glazed-over eyes. Taking her hand, he pulled her towards the running boy and scooped him up.
            Her chains whoomphed through the air behind him. Stone shattered. People screamed from inside their hovels. The sound of death grew closer and closer as Ae’s chains decimated everything.
            The magic in Jayex’s system evaporated. His steps slowed. Stomach growling, he locked his power. Fatigue returned. The boy could have passed for an elephant-cart filled with a ton of bricks. Dragging Ell tore at his shoulder.
            The edge of the village was less than five steps away.
            Her chains have to have a limit. Jayex gritted his teeth.
            The whoomph licked the back of his neck like a humid breeze.
            Ell squealed.
            With his last remaining strength, he slung Ell and the boy forward.
            The chain clipped him on the back of the head.
            He stumbled into the sand outside of town then flopped onto his back. The light of the blood moon dimmed.
            A vile taste drudged into his mouth, but he couldn’t make it out. Something oozed into his body. It left his skin grimy, but the world stopped spinning.
            Jayex blinked the spots from his eyes.
            “Mage eater?” Ell hovered over him, a grimace contorting her demure features. Her trembling lips made him want to kiss her. Her tear-glistened cheeks made him want to hold her. To be there for her and make up for failing Vea when she had needed him the most.
            But no. All he could do now was buy some time.
            With Ell’s help, Jayex got to his feet and removed his turtle-pack. He pulled out his razor-fin gauntlets and dumped the wad of cash back into his turtle-pack. The rule-forged black steel was cool to the touch. He slipped them on. Unhooking the pin by each wrist, six blades slid from their sheaths inside each gauntlet. He replaced the pins to lock the blades in place. The first blade, by his wrist, was two inches long, and each blade after was two inches longer than the previous one, the last being a foot long and jutting past his elbow. “The name’s Jayex.”
            “Jayex,” Ell said, his name never sounding so sweet.
            Fire and piles of rubble had replaced the hovels of the backdune town. Only the back half of a street shop seemed to avoid complete destruction. Black smoke billowed into the air, tainting the crimson sky. In the distance, the blue light of the peace moon peeked over the horizon and reflected off the silver chains wrapped around Ae’s body. The smirk on Ae’s face dampened the desert heat as she marched through the wake of her destruction.
            “Take the boy and run as far as you can.” Jayex handed the boy his turtle-pack. “Should be enough money. Avoid the church.”
            Ell shook her head. “I can’t leave. She’ll slay you.”
            Probably. “Survived worse.”
            “I’ll … be alone again.”
            “You have the boy.”
            Ae stepped on the remains of a head, crushing it on her way through the rubble.
            The boy whimpered.
            “Be safe.” Jayex sprinted forward, hurtling over chunks of stone.
            Ae’s chains loosened around her arms, once again slinking to the ground.
            Jayex landed in front of her and planted his feet. Gravel turned underfoot. He jabbed.
            The end of Ae’s chain shot into the air on its own and met his fist. The echoing clang reverberated through his bones, and his fist was knocked aside. She stared past him.
            He twisted and slashed for her throat.
            The second chain batted his fin-like blades away, rattling his teeth. Ae strode forward, around him.
            No, no, no! Jayex backpedaled to put himself between Ae and Ell. His muscles were spent, but if he grabbed her—
            “Stop!” Ell shouted.
            Told her to get out of here. Jayex spun.
            The boy ran by Jayex, a knife in hand. “You killed my parents!”
            “Purple!” Jayex dashed after the boy.
            “God thanks you for accepting punishment.” Ae’s chains shot towards the boy.
            Jayex knocked the boy aside and grabbed one of Ae’s chains. Jayex’s flesh parted as the other chain dug into his thigh. Fire screamed down his leg as the chain snapped his bone in half and exited the back of his leg. His back arched. White flashed across his vision as he crumpled.
            Ae lifted her hands. The chains started to retract.
            Jayex gripped both tightly. “Get him out of here, Ell!”
            “But,” Ell said, voice cracking, “Jayex. I—”
            Ell scooped the boy into her arms and took off running.
            Ae jerked the chains, and the one in his leg ground through his muscles.
            His grip faltered.
            “You know,” Ae said as the chain in his leg lifted him into the air while the other snaked past him, “I never understood why the church bothered with your kind.”
            Ell screamed.
            “I missed the mage.” Ae slammed Jayex into the ground; black flecks filled his vision. She yanked the chain from his leg, and blood gushed onto the shattered stones around him.
            His vision cleared.
            Ae twirled both chains over her head, facing away from him.
            Beyond Ae, Ell clutched the headless body of the boy to her chest. Purple energy swirled around her, saturating the air with its tainted flavor. She was going to use her power to kill.
            “Ell, no!” Jayex gritted his teeth and pushed himself up to his knees. “Don’t do this!”
            Ell didn’t even bat an eye. She dropped the child. Her hands moved in a circular pattern.
            Ae launched both chains at Ell, and the chains crossed the distance between them in a heartbeat.
            Ell whipped her hand to the left, and the purple energy devoured most of Ae’s chains.
            Ae gasped as the shattered remains of her chains sprang back to her hands, coiling around her body. She scrambled backwards, freezing beside Jayex.
            What am I going to do? If she kills— Jayex shook his head, stomach grumbling. The church was there when Vea had killed!
            Ell gathered the purple energy into a whirlpool and flung it towards Ae.
            Jayex unlocked his power and pushed himself to his feet, leaping in front of Ae. The wave of corrupt energy slammed into him, and he howled, taking in every last drop. Ecstasy. So much energy it seeped from his skin. Pain vanished. Fatigue vanished. Only one leg worked? That was all he needed.
            Ell shook her head, pupils dilating as she shambled forward. “What are you doing, Jayex?”
            “Saving you.” He spun and punched the fake grin off Ae’s face before her chains could move; the smack of metal against flesh and bone had a refreshing quality. Launching himself forward, he shot past her flying body, planted his foot against the remains of the street shop and caught her by the head.
            Her skull was mud in his grip, but this wasn’t over. Not yet.
            He smashed her face into the ground.
            Her chains had created a helmet and absorbed the impact.
            Jayex grabbed the chain around Ae’s face and shattered the links. He tossed the rent metal aside and ripped another section from her body. And another.
            Ae held her hand up, and a section of chain shot through his middle. A shock ran up his spine and contorted his neck, but it felt as if it had happened to someone else.
            He tore the chain away from her and pulled it from his body, tossing it aside. “Is the church responsible for taking away every mage’s innocence?”
            “No.” Ae closed her eyes.
            “Liar!” Jayex punched her in the nose, bones crunching under the blow. Gratifying to feel. To hear. He placed his gauntlet’s blades against her arm, thrusting forward. The first of his blades tore through flesh. Then muscle. Then the bone. Eventually ripping the arm free.
            She screamed.
            “Tell me!” Jayex cut her other arm off. “How many mages has the church corrupted? Was Vea one of them?”
            Ae spat in his face. “Mages are cursed by God. Born corrupted. Die corrupted. The church only helps those who do not understand that.”
            “Don’t understand?” Jayex drove the elbow blade into her chest, ripping through her ribs and piercing her heart. A spurting sound came from her mouth, and he twisted the blade to feel her bones snap before wrenching the blade out. “Destroying their lives? Making them succumb to their urges? Purple!” He stabbed her through the gut. And again in the lungs. And again. And again. Jayex screamed before placing his blades against Ae’s neck. “I’ll—”
            Ell wrapped her arms around his waist. “Stop.” Her voice cracked. “She’s dead. Please. Just stop.”
            Ell was right. But … No. She was right.
            Jayex’s stomach roared as he straightened. His power locked on its own; the absorbed energy fled his body in an instant, and the pain returned. “Live a happy life.” He slumped in Ell’s arms. “Find a peaceful place.”
            “I can save you.” Ell released purple energy and bound his wounds as she laid him out flat.
            Darkness crept up on him, but he relaxed. “Not dying from my wounds.”
            Ell’s eyes bulged. “That— How long has it been since you’ve taken nourishment?”
            Jayex smiled as Vea’s image flashed through his thoughts. “Would have loved you, without question this time.” He slipped out of his gauntlet then caressed her cheek. “Never ask you to go to the city with me.” His arm flopped back to the ground.
            Ell’s tears pelted his face.
            “Rain in the desert.” He took a deep breath. “Miracle.”
            “No, you don’t.” Ell picked up his gauntlet and placed the elbow blade against the bottom side of her forearm. She slid it across her smooth skin, removing a chunk of flesh. Raw and bloody, she shoved the meat into his mouth and forced him to chew.
            He swallowed the stringy meat with the aftertaste of garbage— No. Not this time. Couldn’t think like that. This time, it tasted like honeyed roses. A gift from Vea. No! A gift from Ell. He inhaled sharply as life coursed through his body. His heart beat faster. His breathing steadied. The darkness retreated.
            She placed the blade to the back of her other forearm, blood dripping onto his chest.
            He grabbed her wrist and sat up. “No. Enough for now.”
            “I have no one left.” She swallowed, staring into his eyes. “Don’t abandon me.”

The End

I hope y'all enjoyed reading. I'd love to hear your comments about this story and if y'all like to hear more in this world, leave a comment or send me a message.