The Forbidden Spark - Prologue

May 3 2020

Gorathen opened his eyes as he felt the portal activate. The white circle of light on the ground began to shimmer, a pulsing glow accumulating in the air above it with growing intensity. He felt the void recede in his mind, his senses sharpening as he drew the Lattice into his body.

The light above the portal began to concentrate around two focal points, each slowly elongating vertically into the shape of a humanoid. The aura grew brighter as the travelers took form, and in a blinding flash the light exploded to fill the entire space before abruptly dying out. Two humans now stood in the circle, a faint white mist steaming from their bodies.

Gorathen's lips twisted into a smile. The humans looked around, disoriented. Their vision would take a few moments to adjust to the darkness, but he could see them perfectly, his Lifeless eyes registering their heat signature as red and orange concentrations against a blueish background. He could even discern knotted blobs in their chest frantically pulsing as their hearts raced.

"Is it just me," asked Gorathen, "or is it dark in here?" His voice resonated in multiple frequencies, as if several people were speaking the same words in unison. He waved one arm and a ring of dancing flames flared around them, suspended against the rocky perimeter of the underground cave. The look of intense fear on the travelers' faces was deeply satisfying.

Both humans wore flowing robes inscribed with intricate glyphs, more numerous on the older man's than on the young woman's. This confirmed something Gorathen already knew: they were mages. Their ability to use the portal had already made this perfectly clear - but by the bewildered looks on their faces, this was not where they expected to be taken to.

"Master Milo This… this is not right. We need to go back," whispered the woman.

"Stay back, Axiel," urged Milo as he positioned himself between her and their Lifeless host, extending one arm as if to shield her from the incoming harm.

Gorathen felt amusement, for the first time in a very long time. Two prey delivered right to his doorstep, confused and depleted. A veritable feast. He walked to the edge of the platform where he stood. "It seems you've been tinkering with artifacts that you do not understand, Magi. Did the fall of Neredae teach you nothing?"

Milo stretched his other arm toward his enemy, opening the palm of his hand where a ball of fire began to coalesce in the air. Gorathen noticed his opponent's color signature turning redder with the flow of heat, the ball progressively growing in size and intensity. Milo drew the hand holding the fireball back behind his chest, elbow parallel to the ground, and then in a swift motion struck the air forward. The ball itself remained stationary, hovering inches before Milo's outstretched hand, and a powerful surge of fire began streaming out of it, barreling down on his opponent.

Gorathen was ready for it. He felt the spark at the base of his neck opening the Lattice's floodgates, and he channeled it into a rectangle in front of him, slightly taller and wider than his own body. A slab of ice materialized in that location, a glacial blue aura steaming from its translucent walls. Milo's stream of fire crashed into it with a deafening roar.

The assault lasted several seconds, and though Gorathen could feel the wall strain, he kept channeling ice into it, reinforcing it continually. He wondered how much longer Milo would be able to keep this up as the wall began to crack, each rupture snapping loudly into smaller fractures. But the stream of fire weakened faster than the wall's strength, and soon the ball in Milo's hand burned itself out.

Gorathen channeled more of the Lattice into the wall. He started reinforcing its fractures rather than trying to mend them, and in a crystalline cacophony shattered the ice sheet into a thousand shards that remained suspended in the air. After taking a second to appreciate the look of utter powerlessness on his victims' faces, he waved his arm forward. The cloud of suspended ice spikes flung itself towards them at prodigious speed, perforating Milo's body from head to toe. As the old man collapsed to the ground, his heat signature turned dark blue in Gorathen's vision.

Axiel had been mostly spared by the shield of her master's body, though one spike was lodged in her right thigh and a smaller one in her left shoulder. She fell to one knee and whimpered.

"Now," said Gorathen's many voices in unison, "let's take care of you."