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Volume 5 Issue 2 ISSN# 1708-3265
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The Bookshop
Chapter Six

by Jennifer Kusz

Just joined in? Haven't read the entire story? Well, if you missed it, here's a link to:
Chapter One - Chapter Two
Chapter Three - Chapter Four - Chapter Five

The river of mist snaked through the trees, guiding the small band of men and horses. Their leader needed no path or trail, for his heart pulled him forward, toward the sound of his lover's voice whimpering somewhere in the forests' core, broken occasionally by the soft, yet sinister laugh of the necromancer.

"Elsie, where are you," John whispered.

Jack's hand firmly grasped his brother's shoulder. "We'll find her, man."

John nodded and grunted in response and kept walking. His pace was brisk. One hand clutched the bridle so tightly his knuckles turned white. The other was clenched into a fist, and had his nails not been bitten to the quick, they would have drawn blood from his palm. Jenny had been nearly banished by John's anger, worry and grief, and was merely a passenger now in his mind, observing with limited view this procession of desperate men.

Deeper and deeper into the forest they walked. The path began to widen. The trees, enlivened by some supernatural means, parted, roots slithering along the ground and pulling each ancient trunk aside. Branches joined to form an archway, and there the men clustered together, the mist pooling at their feet. The arch opened into a chasm where no sunlight shone. The blackness within seemed alive and shadows could be seen moving in its depths.

"Welcome," came the necromancer's greeting. "Please, come in. Leave your horses outside. They will not be harmed."

The mist slithered through the archway and vanished. A glow of yellow light appeared in the heart of the chasm and spilled outward, revealing a perfectly rounded cavern constructed with gnarled bark, as though the trunks of a thousand trees had merged together to form one great circular wall. The roof was composed of branches and leaves, the floor of forest litter and dirt. Several chairs lined the wall, fashioned out of thick roots braided and twined together. The trees and earth had been carefully manipulated to create this room, and fascination mingled with fear as the men stepped hesitantly through the doorway and into the necromancer's quarters.

The necromancer stood in the centre of the cavern. A lantern of gold filigree, the metal glimmering and gleaming so that it seemed molten, dangled from his thin fingers. He swept his free hand outward and commanded to the men, in the guise of a request: "Please, sit."

John felt a sensation in the centre of his gut, pulling him toward a chair. The force was too great to resist, and John surrendered, knowing he must not fight, not just yet. An unseen hand pressed down on his shoulder, forcing him to sit. Singular roots slithered from the legs of the chair and wound about each of his ankles, and similar roots bound his wrists to the armrests. John looked about and saw the other men were equally constrained. Unlike John, however, the men were also gagged, unable to speak. Their eyes were wide with fear and they looked to John, silently pleading with him. One by one, he fixed a steady gaze on each of the men, nodding to in reassurance. The chairs which held the men hostage were placed at equal intervals along the wall, and as John surveyed the room, he noticed one chair was kept in shadow, the occupant invisible.

"What is this game you play with us, old man?" John asked, reluctantly moving his gaze from the unknown prisoner and fixing it onto the necromancer.

The wizard smiled at John, the gold flecks of his eyes flashing in the yellow light. With a swift motion he turned his palm upward and the liquid lantern transformed into an orb of light floating just above the surface of his skin. Without looking away from John, he lifted the orb upward, above his head, and threw it toward the shaded chair. The globe hit the wall just above the head of the prisoner, whose outline could now be seen, and shattered into countless fragments of golden light, each rising to dance in the foliage above. One single fragment of light remained over the figure of the prisoner. The outline was of a woman and as John surveyed it, searching desperately for any recognizable feature in the silhouette, his pulse quickened.

A whimper sounded, then a moan. The woman's head was bowed and her figure trembled. Still shaded, her features were not clear.

"Elsie," John whispered. No response. "Elsie!" louder, this time. Again, nearly shouting: "Elsie!"

Her head lifted, and the shadowy veil slid away, revealing the prisoner. "John? Is that you?"

"Elsie!" John shouted, struggling now in his bonds. "Release me, old man!"

The bonds tightened, cutting into his skin. "What do you want from me?" John asked.

"What do you want from me?" the necromancer asked.

"You know what I want."

"I want you to say it. I want to hear you beg, to plead."

John was silent.

A new voice, clear and resonant and high-pitched, entered the room and filled John's ears. It was a voice fit for song, a bard's dream. Familiar. Familiar and hated. "He can make you beg, John. All I have to do is ask," it said. John searched for its source and found it, standing in the doorway. Twilight hair, cropped short, framed a pale face. Rose-coloured lips formed a thin line above a pointed chin. Eyes so dark that the pupil and iris melted into one and a curved, hawk-like nose protruding from the centre of the face gave an impression of wickedness.

"Thomas," John said, grinding his teeth together in anger.

"John," the man replied, striding into the cavern, hands folded at his centre. He crossed the room to stand by the woman prisoner's side, resting a hand on her shoulder. For the first time since she had been revealed, John allowed himself to look fully upon her, and when he did, he involuntarily gasped, and for a reason he could not decipher, he nearly cried out a name, a name that did not belong to this woman he loved. He could hear a panicked voice inside his head, a female voice repeating the name over and over again: "Lila." He shook his head, confused, and blocked his mind, focusing on his lover, her creamy skin and fiery hair, her slender wrists bound to the arms of the chair, her ankles just visible beneath the hem of her torn skirt, her blue eyes fixed upon his own. A smudge of dirt sullied her cheek and he longed to wipe it away with his thumb.

"Elsie, my sweet Elsie," John whispered, a tear escaping his eye and carving a path through the filth on his own cheek.

"No, John. My sweet Elsie," Thomas crooned, smiling and stroking Elsie's hair. He then nodded at the necromancer and said, "Make him beg."

"No!" John shouted, as the dark wizard raised a formidable hand, pointing it at the woman and focusing all of his power and might onto her. Elsie's body tensed and convulsed. She twisted in the chair. Hands became fists, toes curled inward. Jaw clenched, eyes opened wide, her head was thrown back as the mage tortured her.

"Stop, let her go! I'll do whatever you wish, just let her go!"

Thomas approached John as the necromancer continued his nefarious work. Softly, with a mocking tone, he replied, "I don't know if that is convincing enough for me." "I will do anything, I promise! Just stop, please stop!" More tears coursed down his cheeks.

"Magus," Thomas said, holding up a hand and looking toward the necromancer, indicating him to pause. The woman went slack, chin resting against chest and red hair covering most of her face.

"Anything?" he said, threading his fingers back together.

"Anything, please. Let her go, please. I beg of you, have mercy, man."

"Give me your horse."

An image flashed behind John's eyes, an image of the treasured beast tied, beaten and broken at the hand of this cruel man and a grief of unspeakable proportions filled him as he answered with a nod.

"You agree, then?"

John's voice was hoarse and his heart heavy when he answered, "Yes, you can have my horse."

Knowing instinctively that Thomas toyed with him, John mentally braced himself for more. Thomas unlaced his fingers and tapped the tips of them together as he circled the room, stopping when he reached Elsie.

"Do you really love her?" he asked, moving the hair away from her face and gripping her chin with one hand, forcing her head to lift.

"Yes, for God's sake, I love her. I love her! What more do you want from me?"

"Hmm. I don't believe you. Magus?"

Once again Elsie's body was wracked with convulsions. Thomas released her chin and crossed the room to stand once more before John. "I want you," he said.

"Please, stop, let her go."

"I want you."

"I'll do anything, please!"

"I want you, John. I want your life."

"Take it, take it all. Take my horse, take my things, just give me Elsie, please."

"No, John." Thomas lowered his face, so he was at eye level with the pleading lover, their noses nearly touching. John could feel the man's breath hot against his own mouth. Several moments passed. A gutteral sound was emitted from the place where Elsie was being tortured.

"Elsie!" John cried, straining to look past Thomas.

Cupping John's face with pale hands, Thomas intimately pressed a cheek to his, and whispered in the distraught man's ear, "I want your life, John. I want you dead." Thomas rose before him, folded his hands and calmly awaited a reply. It came without hesitation. "I agree. If you release her, if you grant her complete freedom, I agree."

Across the room, the convulsions ceased and Elsie once again fell limp in her chair. The roots binding her withdrew, and though she was too weak to realize it, she was free.

Please join us for Chapter Seven in our March 2008 issue.

Jennifer is happily married to a wonderful woman, Lisa. Theirs is a union of true, deep, respectful love… the kind we all dream about. Of course we mustn't forget… their beautiful little fur-family! Her two cats - Max and Hazel, dogs - Daisy (and Queenie, who is frolicking in puppy-heaven), rats Gloria, Fifi, Charlie, Tobey, Abby and Allie. Her hamster - Poohbear and aquatic-turtles Maximus and S.A.M.

Jennifer is embarking on a new career as a Behavioral Analyst and also works part time at a group home providing care to persons with physical and developmental disabilities.

She is also a writer and poet with a passion for the written word since childhood. Jennifer's poetry has been featured in The Prologue, an annual publication of the University of WI, River Falls, Body Mind Spirit Magazine and here at TSM.

Copyright (c) 2007 by Timeless Spirit Magazine. All articles are the copyright of the particular writers and cannot be reprinted without their expressed permission. All rights reserved. International copyright laws prohibit reproduction of or distribution of this page by any means whatsoever, electronic or otherwise, without first obtaining the written permission of the copyright holder. We retain legal counsel to protect our copyrights.

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