Sucked away from her, he materialized in a chasm. There was no light to be found but what emanated from his body. He felt the power within growing. It expanded into something else. It was a different kind of fortitude – a thrill that went beyond cheap darkness. It was the growth of a soul.
"No one wants to be the great evil of their time," a voice called to him. "As you know, Faolan, there will always be the naysayers, but it's really a matter of perspective."
The voice put Faolan on guard. For some reason, even with his new power, he couldn't see through it on his own. The chasm widened and lightened, and he was face-to-face with the speaker in a court of stone. The speaker sat on a throne of slate, a full black mask covering his features. There was evident shaking in his shriveled hands. Now he could read the man.
"What has the mighty Magistrate been relegated to? Last I saw of you, your son ruled in your place and you stood on another world's Everest," Faolan gloated, bringing his old torment back to the surface. He presented a mocking bow, the grit of his teeth unwavering. "To what do I owe the honor?"
"Welcome to my realm," the Magistrate said, his bony fingers stroking the cold stone of his chair. "That mountaintop? Escaped it eons ago. The Master will not give me power, but there are other kinds of magic. It's better this way, with the face you gave me. I rule the world from here, through my idiot son. He doesn't even know he's my mouthpiece."
"An apprentice thrown aside, just as I am," Faolan mused. "You've taken your lessons on embodiment from a great teacher. What do you do when the infant goes against your will? Spank him?"
"Better to be the master of your own power in others than something mastering you," the Magistrate glared from behind his mask. "I don't even need to possess him. The simpleton does what I want by mere suggestion. Send a few 'signs' and you have him building an altar. I speak through it, and suddenly I'm a god."
"Not unlike the ways of the Darkness."
"Superior to them, I'd say. We are much alike, you know. We've ruled as we see fit for our own benefit, unremorseful. Unguilted. Unapologetic. To the benefits of our families, just as those do who presume to stand for light. And for what?" He pulled a chess piece from his cloak and crushed it to dust. "A pawn."
"Remember who I am, human," Faolan threatened, for the first time uncertain of his wit.
"And remember who I am," the Magistrate coolly responded. "I see you've returned to some of your power. And of course, you realize, the Curse has left you – as I, too, have been robbed of it. Yet, you still maintain your abilities. Do you remember what you did to me?"
"Indeed, I do," Faolan responded, emotionless. "And the power was always mine."
The Magistrate removed the cloak from his head and stripped his mask with claw-like fingers. Beneath it was the face of a dead man, so advanced in age that his skin was deteriorating. It was stretched tightly across a bare skull, his eyes hollow and creased to the state of skin more than two centuries old. The Darkness gave him youth and vigor, and its removal caused an immediate withering of his body. He tossed the mask across the room, shattering it to pieces before it even touched the ground.
"And yet you still lost your kingdom. I still have mine. And just as you still retain your power, I also retain a deal of magic..."
"My 'magic' is far superior," Faolan told him in disgust. "Mine was bred. It was prophesied," each word caused his rage to grow. "You call it 'magic.' We simply call it power. Yours is from books of spells and enchantments that turn to ash and dust when you're finished with them. You believe that they're one in the same – but mine is greater. If you're here to unleash your revenge, remember that your magic has little effect on me."
"Oh, I'm aware," the Magistrate mused, a kind of sick satisfaction in his tone. "While I cannot maim you, I will always be the thorn in your side. I can slow you with my ways, I can make you weaker. I am breath that makes your candle flicker. Your penance will be a life lived and loved into despair."
"I love nothing!" Faolan spat, nearly shouting.
"So you believe," he jeered. "and perhaps you don't. But if-and-when you do discover that your heart is not so dark and your soul not so damned; I will be waiting to destroy you with it. Because this is my world, and I can do whatever I please to it." The Magistrate continued his threats, Faolan moving closer and with more rage in each step. "Wherever you walk on my lands, I will know it. Whoever you speak to, whoever you watch, I will know. And if you owe a debt to anyone, you owe it also to me."
Faolan approached the throne, eyes filled with hatred. He placed his hands around the old man's neck and tensed them to the point of near breaking. The Magistrate's ghastly form never wavered.
"If what I say is nonsense, why so sensitive?" The King taunted. "It must be true, then. You are in the realm of souls. Welcome to humanity."
Faolan tightened his grip, lashing the Magistrate with invisible chains. When he heard bone breaking, he eased, and the Magistrate fell limp into his chair. The head hung from his neck, bent so severely it was nearly upside-down. Faolan almost felt relief at putting the creature out of its misery.
"Do you think you can kill a dead man?" The Magistrate suddenly reanimated, head hinging to the side. "I've been dead many times before. The spirit that lives in me is greater than the Darkness. It belonged to my father's father, and his before. "Do you think your people inherited a curse merely split in half? No. When it became one in you, it was stronger. But when it lived in me, it was a perfect symbiosis. It was flawless evil – not quite as flashy as yours, but lasting. While you live a long while and die, my spirit is reincarnated in men, again and again. My soul lives forever."
"Monstrosity," Faolan murmured.
"Even you're disgusted, Wolf King! Indeed, your seed will sit on a throne. You might even have a kingdom under your thumb. But, it won't matter. You won't want it. No. You'll want something from this world much more. And because it is from this world, you shall never fully have it."
In a second, Faolan was back in the forest. The moon was out, and he could see men with torches walking on the dirt road that led to Briar's. In his mind's eye, he could see Cal running into the cottage and grabbing the sleeve of her tattered dress. He hid her under the bed as the band of men came back, pushing through the door.
"Wherever you walk on my lands, I will know it. Whoever you speak to, whoever you watch, I will know. And if you owe a debt to anyone, you owe it also to me." He heard the words once more, this time in the wind.
The debt of life he owned to Briar could never be repaid. He would never be able to equalize it. Not even if he saved her from death twenty times over. There was another feeling at work here, and it led him to believe that even though she'd not done him any more favors, his debt to her was growing daily. Was it care? Perhaps. He seldom cared for anyone or anything but himself. Somehow, Briar was the only thing that mattered beyond that.
"Wherever you walk on my lands," he remembered again.
"And if I don't walk?"