In a Place of Shadow

*Wordcount: 1270 words.

The dreary overcast clouds cast the world into shadow, threatening a storm but not quite following through. The lake of dark water below stretches a few kilometres in all directions, each ending on a shore filled with legions of tall, tightly grown trees.
The water is dead-still, reflecting the dark world back on itself.
In the middle of the lake a raised stone platform sits barely above the waterline, a few metres across.
On this square hunk of dark rock, which is rendered almost invisible by the similarly dark waters around it, sits a robed figure.
The small boat that carried him floats on the peaceful water, and did not send out a single ripple during the voyage here. Various artefacts, tinctures and potions, arcane texts, and bizarre tools were strewn about the boat.
Beside them lies a suspiciously human-shaped lump hidden beneath a thick black cloth.
The figure knows full-well what the boat carries, as he had painstakingly prepared all of it himself.
Kneeling on the rock, gazing out at this most holy of places, the figure cannot help but feel some elation. All of his hard work, his ceaseless research, would pay off here.
He pulled a leathery book from his boat, and flipped to the right place.

His reading filled the still air in this place of unnatural quiet, the steady droning sounding out in a language long lost or purposefully forgotten.
The lake seemed devoid of life, as well as the surrounding forest, leaving the figure as the only living thing capable of breaking the silence.
He paused a moment, reaching back into his boat and withdrawing a vial of pale, viscous liquid. He uttered a few more sacred sentences, and poured the liquid into the lake.
The lake quietly accepted it, without a single ripple or any audible sounds. It simply poured in, and was gone.
The figure started droning again, reading carefully from the book in front of him.

In truth, he knew the words almost by heart. He had read them time and time again, and felt more familiar with them than he did with his own name (which he had abandoned some time before). He loved the way the words felt at first, strange and foreboding. They had sent chills down his back the first time he tried saying them out loud.
By now he knew each one, relishing the sounds they made as they rolled from his tongue.
The reading was just a precaution.
He could not afford to make a mistake, and he would see everything done with the precision his craft required.
He had prepared for this day for thirty years of his life, and he would not squander this holy opportunity.

A slight breeze picked up, tugging lightly at the heavy robes that sat over his gaunt frame. Still the water was still, and almost seemed to hold his boat in place.
This place knows, he thought. It knows I have come to free it.
Feeling his spirit bolstered, he finished the lines he needed from this book and set it aside. He reached back and pulled out another, alongside more vials and some pouches of ground material.
He flipped to the right place, and read from this new book.

As he read he poured contents of vials and scattered the contents of pouches into the hungry water. The wind picked up further, but seemed to wrap around him more than push at him. He could now hear the trees on the distant shores rustling quietly, like ghostly echoes whispering only to him.
His words lost some of the nervousness that he hadn’t even noticed, and instead flowed with the practiced ease of one reading to themselves in a quiet room. His movements were measured and precise, gaining speed as his fanaticism grew.
He felt anticipation in the air, though he could not say if it was his own.

He finished the last necessary passage from this book, and paused to fetch the next one.
He also grunted and groaned as he pulled across the corpse he had brought with him.

There was barely enough room for both of them, and the figure had to skirt the edges as he worked. He read through the holy passages in the holy grimoires with measured speed, and the pile of arcane books on the corner of the jutting rock grew.
The body lay in front of him, and he stopped every now and then to draw symbols on its cold skin with various powders. He poured the contents of one of his vials down its throat, and read a particularly guttural passage.
It coughed and sputtered to life, but frozen in place.

It looked at him with pleading eyes, but he paid it no heed. He retrieved the necessary tools, and began to systematically remove and mutilate whatever was needed from his sacrifice.
He imagined it was in a good deal of pain, but it should be grateful. To give up its life for something so noble was truly selfless.

This went on for some time, though time seemed to flow differently here. It could have been hours, or days, or minutes. But he never slowed; reading and carving and cutting as he had practiced.
His quondam friend begged at him with its moist eyes, until they too were removed.
A pang of guilt shot through the figure, before being overshadowed by the grandeur of what he was doing. The sacrifice of his dearest friend, and of so many others, not to mention the years of his life, was necessary.
His work would be completed, and his holy duty fulfilled.

He dropped the last bit of the sacrifice into the water, which silently swallowed it.
The wind was savage now, but still did little more than lightly tug on his robes or gently sway his boat.
The trees roared in the frenzy in the distance, the creaking and cracking of their branches carrying out over the still water.
The stack of arcane books had grown, and there were only two left.
He could taste it; he was so close.

As he began on the second-last book, he started seeing bulges in the water. Almost like bubbles that never actually popped, simply rose up and then sank down again.
Thick anticipation hang on the air, which itself seemed to spark with an unknowable energy.
He set the book down, and reached for the final one.

As the last uttered word left his lips a bolt of black lightning struck deep into the water of the lake with a deafening clap of thunder. The incipient consciousness he had felt brimming beneath the surface all this time awoke, and almost split his mind in two.
Ripples cast throughout the water, and his boat drifted away. He did not notice, as tears streamed down his cheeks.
He had finally done it, all this time and all this work and it was finally coming to fruition.
The Faustian deals and arcane grimoires, the bloody sacrifices (his own and others), the guilt that lay upon his heart in his dark moments of doubt…
They were all worth it.

He felt the ground rumble, and the ripples in the water turned to waves. They washed over the rock and around him, leaving him standing and watching.
A bulge formed in the water and grew, and grew, and grew…
The size of the thing took him entirely off-guard, but pleased him immeasurably.
Its ancient, unyielding form broke the surface.

The figure collapsed on the ground, dead, his mind burnt from his body and his cheeks stained with tears.


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