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The Void Mansion (IC)


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Thursday, July 18th, 2013

12:00 AM


The first thing of which Seth became aware was a pounding, a rush, like a drum driving the sea. A heartbeat, he realized blearily, as though from a great distance. Warm blood rushed through his tissues, or rather it created them, covering a naked, brittle skeleton in yielding flesh once more. Feeling rushed back, the void's bleak absence ripped away, a curtain moved aside to uncover the sun. He felt clammy, dirty, warm. There was uncomfortable pressure on his legs.


His heartbeat. The thought finally percolated through his stunned mind, and he inhaled a great gasp of stale, fetid air; and it was easily the best lungful he had ever taken. Coughing and choking, he opened a lone eye long empty. The deep orange glow of his mage sight showed him the truth: cracked, rotted wood inches above his face and collapsed along his lower body along with a tide of dirt. Panic seized his heart as he realized at last where he was.


He had never been a strong man, but one punch was all it took to shatter the remnants of his coffin, likely held together by magic so that he would not regain his life only to be smothered. Dirt cascaded down onto him, and he clawed at it fiercely, pushing up with all the force he could bring to bear. For a moment it seemed that there was no end, that he'd been buried too deep, that this second chance was only a cruel and morbid joke.


And then, with a lungful of air that proved his new sweetest, he was free.


Summer or not, the night air was cold on his naked form, caked with grave dirt. But the Twilight Angel, or one of its servants, had provided. A bucket of water, a towel, and fresh clothes lay neatly folded beside him as he hauled himself at last from the shallow burial plot, freeing his trapped legs with a final shove. Why whomever it had been couldn't have dug him out as well would remain an irritating mystery for the ages, but he availed himself of the supplies nonetheless.


After the grime was washed away and the thick, well-made clothes shielded him from the midnight breeze, Seth took in his surroundings. Every sight, every breath, every touch of the wind against his face and rush of it through the trees was a symphony of feeling. A choked sob of joy escaped his lips. Alive again! His time in the void was a half-remembered nightmare ended with a dire promise, but this, this felt real. Dropping back down, he lay in the grass, trying not to cry.

Edited by Elegy
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A few miles away, shaded by huge, old trees, lay what the local kids called "the Cursed Lot." It was the site of one of Lantern Hill's many ghost stories, a place where Middle Schoolers on dares would spend half the night before running home, and also a place of infinite frustration to DeCosta Construction - as well as the many people who had bought the land over the years. Every attempt to develop the lot, a piece of prime real estate in a good old neighborhood, had failed.


Trees could not be cut down, turning away chainsaws as if made of solid diamond. Rocks could not be budged, as if they weighed a hundred times what they really did. Machines to dig foundations found their gas gauges empty and their batteries dead the moment they entered the property, staying that way even if resupplied on site, then functioned perfectly the moment they were dragged out again. Shovels simply broke. A lot of time and money had been lost on the cursed old place.


The story, as the local kids told it, went something like this: at the end of the Seventeenth Century, when Reverend Elijah Prophet showed up to hunt witches in Freedom, he ran into someone who didn't even deny knowing magic. His name was Seth Syme, the oldest son of the rich Syme family, and he said he never hurt anybody, so nobody should hurt him. Prophet didn't think much of that, so he had him hanged anyway. But Seth, as he died, put a curse on the people who hadn't helped him.


"You took my life," Seth said, "but that's the last thing of mine you'll get!" And the minute he died, his house disappeared, along with a huge fortune (no one could agree if it was in gold or jewels). No one could get his house, or his fortune, and no one could get his land either. But sometimes, on moonless nights, a ghostly mansion would flicker on the site. And then the shade of Seth Syme would walk around it, practicing his magic and keeping everyone away from the fortune they wanted to steal.


Most legends, however greatly embellished, have a grain of truth at their core, but this one was particularly inaccurate. The Syme family never had gold or jewels; their wealth was in tobacco. And the shade of Seth Syme never walked the Earth; his soul was otherwise occupied. And he never cast any curse; he died with his head held high, without a hateful word. And when Havenglen House returned to the Cursed Lot, it did so under a waxing gibbous. And it did much more than flicker.

Edited by Elegy
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After a moment, Seth became conscious of the fact that he was lying on something that was jutting uncomfortably into his back. He let out a long, slow breath; he could have lain there forever, with the wet grass and the chilly wind, a far better eternity than the empty void. Then he rolled to his knees and reached out, feeling around in the grass for the curiously regularly shaped thing he'd been lying on. It took only a moment of groping in the dark to find it, and he raised it to the moonlight.


His shield bracelet; there was no mistaking it. Gleaming brass, polished to a reflective sheen and covered in the sort of runes that had been long lost to the world even in his day. It was Dwarven work, Emmaline told him, probably one of a matched set, a minor craft of a vanished people that still held in it great magics. He wondered if she... it, he corrected himself, had lied about that, too. But it had always worked as promised, and he would need its protection.


Sliding it back into its familiar spot on his forearm, Seth marveled that it could still function after so much time.


He looked around again, abandoning simple wonder in favor of detailed observation. He had been buried in a shallow, unmarked grave down the hill from the cemetery proper, probably to avoid contaminating the righteous dead with witchcraft (though if Cabot or Prophet was buried there, righteous was a stretch as far as he was concerned). He wondered if the others who'd hung alongside him lay in similar unmarked plots around him, utterly forgotten.


He looked up the hill, took a step toward it, then paused, staring down at his hands. A giddy grin spread across his face as a familiar orange glow leaped to his command, dancing reflected in his one good eye. It was with a laugh of elated triumph that he gestured upward, conjuring a portal that enveloped him and carried him up among the aged headstones. His first spell as a newly-living man, and it felt... even better than he remembered.


Then he turned to gaze out at Freedom, and the giddiness left him along with his breath.

Edited by Elegy
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At one time Havenglen House had stood in a literal glen, well removed from the town that would become the district of Lantern Hill. But relentless development had hacked away at the forest before state law had gotten around to protecting it, and the Cursed Lot now lay at the end of a cul-de-sac rather than a treed carriage path. It still lay toward the district's northwestern edge, one of the last few streets before the wilds began, but there was no denying that it was part of the city now.


This far out from Lantern Hill's center, the mansions of the old money gave way to the much newer homes of retired upper middle-class professionals looking to get away from the bustle without leaving the city. Jake and Annie Barnes, a pair of dentists, lived in the tudor house to the right of the Cursed Lot with their three kids, while old Mr. Cunningham, a banker, lived alone in the Frank Lloyd Wright-style house to the left. All were soundly asleep when their new neighbor appeared.


Young mages tend to go for the flashy magic, bright lights and pyrotechnics, their abilities accompanied by puffs of smoke and brimstone designed to say "you should take me seriously." But experienced practitioners know that it is far more impressive to be silent, unobtrusive. The power to level a city block with shrieking, flaming meteorites is insignificant next to the power to alter reality to suit one's whims without so much as a sound.


And the Twilight Angel was nothing if not powerful... and subtle.


A dim orange shimmer passed over the Cursed Lot, probing the yawning gap where cellars and foundations had once lain before winking silently out. And then, molecule by molecule, a dark form took shape. It rose slowly but smoothly, as though video of the place's disintegration were being played in reverse, fading in from some unknowable otherwhere. The cellars came first, their masonry walls rising up the sides of the gap they'd left centuries ago like creeping ivy.


It spread upward and outward, dark stones touching down to crush grass grown long and thick in their absence, piling on one another a spec at a time as they surged toward the dark sky. A grand stairway with wrought iron railings rose to join the inorganic regrowth, shunting aside beer bottles and cigarette butts. The carved mahogany double doors, ten feet tall at the top of their ached frame, grew alongside the tall, thick windows of the first floor, shrouded in heavy curtains.


And still it grew, a titan of weathered grey stone reaching up to the cold and distant stars. The second floor took shape, elegant and symmetrical, then the slate roof, the tiles scraping into place piece by piece until the structure blocked out the moonlight behind it. A rusted weather vane in the shape of a dragon creaked and groaned as it turned in the midnight breeze. And then, on the pale stone scroll that had appeared above the doorway, letters slowly burned themselves into being: Havenglen.


There it stood, somehow awake and brooding, awaiting its master's return...

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From where Seth stood, Freedom stretched on forever.


The Twilight Angel had filled him with knowledge of the modern world, enough that he would be able to complete the task for which he had been sent back, but knowing and seeing were two different things. When he had last stood on this hill by night he could have only barely made out the streets, lit by flickering, dancing lamplight and perhaps the glow of the forge if the blacksmith was working late. The stars, the moon, they far outshone these feeble mortal creations.


But in his absence the city had grown blinding. Bright, harsh white light gleamed from every window and every street corner, shining like a second sun so that the sky itself was lighter than he remembered, an effect that surrounded Freedom like a haze. The stars, once a numberless host, were diminished in this age, few in number and dim compared to what lay below. He wondered if this were the end time, the last age, and soon even their feeble light would end.


Then he remembered what light pollution was, and chuckled nervously to himself.


The city's towers rose impossibly high, each a Tower of Babel threatening to pierce Heaven itself, and Seth knew that even these incredible monuments to human ingenuity were far from the tallest in the world. Gleaming metal and glass above, smooth dark cobbles... no, asphalt, below, stretching all the way to the darkened sea. Turning slowly around, his breath catching in his throat, he found that the cemetery that had once stood near town's edge was well within its borders now.


His eyes fell upon the shadowed forest, driven far back in the centuries since his death, and thought immediately of home.

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As those around it slept, their dreams troubled by visions of an endless void, Havenglen House expanded.


A wrought iron fence patterned with twisting ivy rose up at the property line, ornate gates taking shape just in front of the dip in the sidewalk that would have become the driveway - the only part of the property that DeCosta had been able to do anything with, as it lay outside the bounds of the old house. Behind the gates rose trees and hedges, ordered into neat rows and shapes and yet somehow still wild, menacing the darkened sky with darker, claw-like branches.


The wind grew colder as it swept across the Cursed Lot, no longer empty, shaking the thick coat of summer leaves and softly bending bark. It was a rattle, a sigh, of something very old, and yet it was full of anticipation. For whatever it may have seemed to Seth, the void was not empty, and nothing that lingered there so long could come away unchanged. An energy had crept into the place, both wicked and benign. Soon it would be determined which would reign here.

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As another dusky portal fell away behind him, Seth took in the scene.


It could not have been further from what he remembered. Havenglen House had stood alone, the trees and woodland creatures its only companions; now it lay at the end of a street, surrounded on all sides by other large homes. It had been light, one could even say nimble, for a house of its size, built of maple and white marble imported at great expense; now it was dark and heavy, mahogany and deep grey granite, a shadowy tint to its curtained windows. Trees brooded over it rather than standing sentry around it.


There had been no gate, no fence, for there had been no need for such things in the isolated glade in which the place had stood. But that dark gate now swung open before him, creaking quietly on its hinges, and the wind whistled through the metalwork vines. Numbly he stepped forward, drawn by horrified fascination, making his way down the shaded path lit only by the weak moonlight that struggled through the branches above as the gate swung closed behind him with a loud and final clang.


To see the city changed was one thing, but this place... here he had been born, taken his first steps, played and been tutored, poured endlessly over the tomes his father had bought him. This place had been his life, the one he had lost to a noose, and to see it so changed... It finally and fully dawned on him that his age was ended, that he was a fish not merely out of water but cast into a desert. But he could not turn away. Still his feet carried him, up the grand stairs that had not been there, to the door.


And if he believed that nothing else could surprise him that day, he was sorely mistaken.

Edited by Elegy
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Havenglen House was imposing on the outside, all grand facades and weighty girth, several times the size of most of Lantern Hill's homes. Inside... inside, it was much bigger than that. The front door swung open of its own accord, ushering Seth into the mansion of madness. Past the short entry hall of polished, reflective marble, pregnant with half-heard whispers, the atrium opened up into a space as big as the whole width and depth of the house, stretching up four floors.


Two of those floors quite simply could not exist, nor could the numerous rooms leading off of the vast atrium.


The place was frigid, lit with flickering blue torches that cast little light and no warmth. The room's corners, the ceiling, even large parts of its far sides were lost entirely to shadow. And each spot of darkness seemed to move, to shake as though with laughter or advance menacingly, out of the corners of the interloper's eyes, ceasing when he looked directly at them; but that only let other pools of shadow do the same. And as for those behind him...


The house was divided: master or intruder? Serve or slay? And it grew colder and darker...

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There is nothing like fear to bring a mind back to the present, a quivering blade that rips through awed and gloomy thoughts, and Seth could not deny that he was afraid. A sensible person who discovered his home in this condition would probably flee screaming out the door and burn the place down for good measure. But even fear could not entirely cut through the longing, the desperate need to find something that, amidst all the changes of the world, was his.


Taking a deep, steadying breath of the frigid air, Seth reached out and yanked one of the cold blue torches from the wall. He advanced, holding his light before him, awake and alert as icy fingers danced up and down his spine. Something was watching him, that much was clear, but the whole of this place glowed under his Second Sight. What had become of the family home while he was dead? What had become of his family?


Step by echoing step he crossed the atrium, trying to place the rooms of the house now that it had been so changed. But as he reached the middle of the vast room, staring up at the balconies of the three floors above him, the torches guttered out. Utter darkness descended, broken only by the dim orange glow of his Second Sight. The whispers intensified, rose, louder and louder until they were indistinguishable shouts of madness and hate. They were closing in.


He could see their magic moving in the dark...

Edited by Elegy
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The spirits were angry.


They had seeped into the house while it waited in the void, and for more than three hundred years it had been their haven. Now some among their number whispered of grander purposes, the return of a destined master, but they would not bow. They fed on the loss they felt here, grew bloated on sorrow, and their food would not be snatched by a wizardling. Their assault was silent, as if it could have been heard above the cacophony of their enraged voices anyway.


Spears of anguish leapt from the hands and talons of the long-dead and the never-living, streaking toward the interloper who foundered about in the absolute darkness. Though they had taken him by surprise, he was still far from defenseless. Two of the three mystic bolts went wide, dissolving harmlessly into the reflective floor. But the third bit into him, gnawing its way toward his heart, turning every nerve to ice as he tried desperately to fight.


Then the brazen bracelet on his wrist grew hot, breaking the sluggish chill and driving it back from his body. Panting, the sorcerer managed to regain his balance; the harm had been only temporary. The three spirits hissed in rage before resuming their mad mutterings; around them the many other entities of the house watched, silent and impassive, as the wizard prepared to return fire. Now it was a battle. Now the worthy one would be decided.

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For all his wizardry, Seth Syme had never been in a fight before. In his first life his magics had all been benign; he had spoken the truth when he'd told Reverend Prophet that he'd never hurt anyone. There were shellshocked veterans the world over who would wish with all their hearts they could say the same, but Seth couldn't help but wish he'd had some idea of how to do mystic battle. Perhaps he could have escaped his hanging and avoided a cold, dark death in his corrupted house.


The first of the spirits' blasts struck him almost before he knew they were there, biting deep into his defenses and threatening to bear him down with a wave of deathly cold that seeped into his mind. He felt frigid fire in every nerve, gritting his teeth against crying out as he fought desperately to maintain control of his body. He could not see the ground, but he could feel himself falling toward it. Mustering his strength of will, he shattered the charm with a grunt, marveling at how close he'd come to the end.


The Twilight Angel had instructed him on the use of his new abilities, but to wield them was another matter. It was like reading about playing clarinet and then trying to pick one up and play Mozart, a task that would be simply impossible for most. But Seth's sheer longing for magic, for something beyond the ordinary, had made him sensitive to arcane energies long before he had given an eye as a shortcut to control. He would do his utmost to wield these powers.


A dusky orange ray shot out from his hand, casting shadows across the polished granite pillars of the atrium as it passed, and struck one of the spirits, ripping away a piece of its ectoplasm. Its shouts of hatred swelled, unintelligible hisses and curses, and for a moment the young sorcerer thought that the battle was well in hand. But he was unprepared for the return volley. Two of the blasts struck him this time, and his reserves of willpower were depleted. Shock and fear overwhelmed him as the darkness took him fully.

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The shouts subsided into whispers once more as the young mage crumpled to the stone floor, subdued with relative ease. The spirits descended slowly, whirling around him as they fixed him with their empty eyes. And then each took telekinetic hold of his unconscious form, dragging him up, up past the balconies of the second, the third, the fourth floor, to the place where the master bedchamber now lay. The mahogany doors creaked open before them, revealing that the room was not unoccupied.


A woman slouched on the antique bed, examining the group with fire agate eyes. Her flawless skin was blood red, and the legs propped up on the bed's edge ended in hooves. A spear-pointed tail lashed the air beside her, expressing a sort of languid, graceful boredom. Then her gaze settled on Seth; she smiled, revealing needle-sharp teeth. Swinging herself to a standing position, she approached with slow, confident, catlike steps, running a forked tongue over her dark lips.


"The young Master Syme," she cooed condescendingly, bending down and raising his slumped head so that they eyes lay at the same level. "I expected more from you." Around her the spirits held position impassively, no longer even whispering; they knew their queen, and dared not interrupt even to act on their centuries of hate. Seth remained impassive for another reason entirely, but the stinging slap of a taloned hand brought him back to the living, trickles of blood running from three lines down his left cheek.


"Wake, little wizard," the Succubus said, and her needle-grin widened.

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Seth stared straight into the face of the demoness, resolute and unflinching. It was not that he wasn't afraid - only fools and madmen could claim such when faced with horrors like this and the imminent possibility of death. It was that he refused to let his fear control him, keeping calm just as he had when Prophet and Cabot had sentenced him to death, just as he had when the noose settled around his neck. Ironic that his accusers had believed he trafficked with the sort of creature that would probably end him in a few moments.


"If ye plan to slay me, recreant demon, do it now. I will not cower or beg."


Around and behind her he took in his parents' bedroom, the canopied bed of wood carved with trailing vines and the elegant oaken dresser imported at great expense from France. He had been here only a handful of times in his life; Havenglen House had been big enough for each person to have a private space, and he would not have dreamed of intruding on his parents. He felt a pang now, thinking of them, undoubtedly long dead. What had they done after his execution? Had his missteps in life broken the best people he'd ever known?


He would never know; death now would only bring him back to the void, his second chance wasted...

Edited by Elegy
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The Succubus chuckled, a sound at once nauseating and alluring. "'Recreant demon'? Oh, Seth, you have such a long ways to go if you wish to get along in this changed world. No one speaks like that any more, not even to my kind. And if I wished you dead, little wizard, you would be dead already, though that can still be arranged." Reaching down, she ran her fingertips along the cuts she had made on his face, then eased them into her mouth, sucking the blood from them one at a time.


"Actually, I'd like to make you an offer. You see, I'm willing to forgive the fact that you barged into my house. And yes, it is mine," she said, cutting off his sharp retort before it reached his tongue. "It's been in my possession much longer than that of your family now. But I'm willing to turn it over to you. Having it yanked out of the void into this miserable little plane has, shall we say, decreased its property value, so I'll even give it to you at a bargain price."


She turned her back on him, her razor-sharp tail flicking casually past his face, and gestured around her. "You can hear them in the walls, can't you? Even the ones who haven't shown themselves. They're not true ghosts, just echoes, the remnants of strong emotions. Your love for a woman who betrayed you. Your fear when Prophet came for you. Your family's grief the day you died. I've snacked on them for centuries now, but they're only an appetizer." Turning around again, she fixed him with her glittering gaze. "Now I want the main course."


"Your memories of that first life, they'll cause you nothing but pain. You'll spend your second chance agonizing about what could have been, waking in a cold sweat as you remember the road to death. You don't need them; you're better off without them. I'd be doing you a favor by taking them away, and I'll even throw in the house. Or, of course, I can have your own echoes tear you apart. I know you don't want to go back to the Void; you should be glad I'm giving you a bargain at all."


The Succubus smiled again, leaning in toward Seth's face. "A deal, then? We'll seal it with a kiss."

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He could feel it now that the demoness had told him. Seth's left arm was held by love, his left by fear, his feet by grief. He was imprisoned by the life he'd left behind, literally and figuratively, and he had no reason to hold onto either. Why waste his second chance? Casting away that painful first pair of decades would only make his task easier. He would forget what he had lost, let go and begin anew, and in so doing save his life twice over. This new world was an opportunity he could only seize by casting aside the shackles of the past.


The face of the Succubus came closer, terrible and beautiful, rot and roses on her breath. He thought of the first time he'd kissed Emmaline, sitting beside the sea, the wind in her hair and a wry smile on her face. The knowledge that it, and all that had come before and after, had been a lie was a wound in his heart that time alone would never heal. Just calling up that memory filled him with anger, hurt, bewilderment. What had the inhuman thing behind her face been thinking at that moment? Had it been bored, or laughing?


He thought of his father balancing him on one knee, a thick, dusty book spread out on the table before the two of them, encouraging him to sound out the words. Of his mother sitting beside him at the piano, her alto voice raised fearlessly to accompany a duet far beyond her ability but not her spirit. Of tussles with his brothers and hide and seek with his sisters. Of Fergus the bloodhound lying dutifully across the foot of his bed. An ache settled within him that intensified with each remembrance till it was too much to bear.


And he could not go back to the void. Above all, he feared eternity.


Seth leaned forward, eyes closed in resignation. He felt the heat radiating from her lips when there was still a foot between them, as though a brimstone furnace burned behind her mask. But other memories rose to the surface, memories of regret, things he'd said and done that haunted him yet. He had been selfish with his magic, self-righteous in his attitude, a know-it-all with a need to be the smartest guy in the room who had alienated so many friends. His face still burned with shame when he thought of his own immaturity, his unreadiness to act as an adult.


And when the Succubus's face descended, he leaned past her to whisper in her ear. "No. My memories are not a curse. They are what makes me who I am, regrets and triumphs, loves and losses. Without them I have never grown. And though I'm uncertain of the intricacies of the law in this new age, I'm reasonably sure that a home invasion, however long-term, does not constitute ownership." And Seth drew on his deepest core of strength, that roiling mass of emotion that had been rising since the moment his life returned, and set it free.


It was his power, not his binding; let it shackle someone else.

Edited by Elegy
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The energy burst from Seth in a wild, roiling mass, huge strands of autumn-colored energy that wrapped around his captors and pulled tight against their limbs. The Succubus danced away, her lithe form more agile than incorporeal spirits were accustomed to needing to be, but her servants were held fast. And then, with another flick of his hand, the young wizard opened a portal and leapt through, leaving his bound and seething enemies behind.


The Succubus hissed in frustration. "He can't have left the house. Find him, all of you, and tear him apart!" Ignoring the three servants that had failed her, she abandoned the bedroom for the tall railing outside it, spreading leathery wings from her back as she prepared to launch herself to whatever floor the wizard had chosen. "All of you!" she screamed, and slowly, reluctantly, the spirits took notice, seething through the walls as they combed Havenglen House for its would-be master...

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Seth hit the floor of the library with a gasp, his impact with the cold stone driving the wind from his lungs. But the angry buzz-hiss of spirits not far away drove him back to his feet; he knew he didn't have long. He'd been lucky to end up here, he reflected, given how much the layout of the house had been changed. But this was the place he needed to be, for his one chance at cleansing all of these unwelcome guests lay somewhere within. But the library, once a small room toward the back of the house with a few shelves, was now a vast and cavernous space!


In his day books had been a precious and expensive commodity, and his voracious hunger for knowledge had been sated only one volume at a time. But now the huge arched room contained dozens of long mahogany shelves, each loaded to bursting with heavy tomes. Gilded spines with crimson lettering stared out at him in the dim light of the cold blue candelabras that lit the space, glittering mockingly as he tried to search through them. It took him only a moment to realize that the search was entirely hopeless; he could spend hours just reading all the titles.


From memory, then; the angry buzz was getting louder, telling him that time was running out. Casting around, he withdrew a candle from one of the candelabras and mushed the wax into the floor in the rough shape of a pentagram (he'd never been much of an artist). Then he reached up to the cuts on his cheek, smearing his fingers with blood, and added circular daubs of it to a few of the cells within the wax. That was the easy part. He cast back to the arcane texts he'd been shown three hundred years earlier, trying to remember what to say and how to move.


All the while, the angry voices of the spirits grew louder...

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The heavy doors of the library, which had swelled in size along with it since Seth had seen them last, flew open in a burst of howling wind, smashing into the stone walls and rebounding on creaking hinges. The Succubus walked through slowly, languidly, a needle-toothed grin once again splitting her face. "You can't get out, Seth. I've made sure of that." Finding the young mage so quickly had taken the edge from her temper, and she was once again confident and composed. "My deal is your only chance."


She peered around the shelves to see him crouched on the floor, swaying and murmuring over a pentagram, and clucked her tongue. "Please. You don't have the juice to go toe to toe with someone like me; it's not like some fancy dark sacrament ritual is going to help you." She stepped closer, her bat-like wings stretched high over her perfect flesh, at once taunting and inviting. Her spirit legion swarmed behind her, half reluctant sorrows and half frothing hatreds, all held in check by her will. The threat was perfectly clear.

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"It's Sumerian, actually," Seth calmly replied, finishing his chant and turning to face the demon. Seeing the confused expression on her face, he continued. "The Dark Sacrament, the Black Man of the Wood, they are but recent inheritors of the pentagram. It originated in ancient Mesopotamia, where it was a symbol of protection and warding. It has since been used both by Satanists, when inverted to represent overturning the natural order, and Christians, for its reflection of the five wounds of Christ, as well as Greek mathematicians and Chinese philosophers. Are you not a particularly old demon, or did you expect ignorance of me?"


His bravado was a sham; he had no idea whatsoever whether this would work. But if he could show no fear in the face of being hanged, with no chance of fighting back, he could certainly do the same with a fighting chance. "Anywhere else in the world this would be quite impossible for me," he told the demon. "To banish one creature is difficult; to banish a host of them, nigh impossible. But the Pentagram first marked the temples of Babylon. They were defenses for sacred ground, the most important places to the priests that scribed them."


He looked her full in the face, answering her faltering grin with a molten glare. "You are standing on my sacred ground. And now I have a ward."

Edited by Elegy
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The Succubus had time to take a single, frantic step forward before all hell broke loose. With a sound like shattering glass, energy rippled out from the pentagram in an amber wall, spreading in all directions. It passed through walls, furniture, and Seth as though they weren't there, which was true enough on the plane on which it operated. The demon and her spirits were another matter. There was not time for the creatures to so much as let out a cry before the energy scattered them, turning their bodies to radiance and then to nothing.


Havenglen House did not quake or howl; its transformation was subtle, silent, nothing anyone standing outside would have noticed. The cold blue candle flames rose into higher orange ones, lengthening shadows but driving away the thick pools of darkness. But beyond that, something lifted. A heaviness that Seth had mistaken for forlorn memory, a menace that dragged at his spirit, lifted from his shoulders. Havenglen settled around him like a warm blanket on a cold night; it was as though the threat had never been.


He did not hear the Succubus shrieking as she hurtled back to her distant master, frothing with rage...

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Seth finally released the breath he'd been holding.


Somewhere in the house, a grandfather clock boomed: one o'clock. He'd been alive an hour, and in that time he'd very nearly been sent back to the void in little bloody scraps, or else sacrificed something nearly as precious as life itself. Slumping down on the hard stone floor next to his hastily-drawn pentacle, Seth chucked, then barked, then roared with helpless laughter. At the absurdity of it all; at how close everything had come to unraveling again; at the fact that the half-remembered mumbo-jumbo his father had hated had saved his life.


He laughed so hard he cried, and then he wasn't laughing any more. He listened to the echoes, stared at the vaulted ceiling, and remembered that he was alone now, in this vast house. It had been built for seven children, considered bloated in its day, a monument to excess. Now it was twice the size it'd been when the preacher had warned of indulgence, and Seth was the only one in it. He threw up his hands, chuckling again through the tears. Alone, till death came for him again. The multiverse, he mused, had a truly nasty sense of humor.


He had power, knowledge, space to himself, control of his destiny. Everything he'd wished for, and he'd paid for it with what he took for granted.


One often feels better slumped on the ground, letting emotions roll out. But the problem with crying is that, sooner or later, you have to stop. That time came, and Seth wiped his eyes on his sleeve and levered himself to his feet. If he didn't get himself moving, focus himself on something, he was going to feel helpless forever. The imminent threat of suffering the same guilty, miserable feelings while trapped between life and true death in the hellish void, he reflected, ought to be enough to keep him focused. He managed a grin at that.


Passing through the heavy doors the departed Succubus had thrown open, he took a deep, steadying breath. His family would have been so disappointed to see him mope and curse fate. Wherever he was, wherever they were, they wouldn't want to see him waste another opportunity. He was a man now, not a mewling child, and he needed to act it. Regaining his home was a blessing, one he would not squander. He would live here, and he would come to deserve it. He would find the mask. He would put things as right as he could make them.


Squaring his shoulders, he set out to explore a much-changed Havenglen.

Edited by Elegy
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To Seth Syme, the Void had been an empty hell. But Seth had only a paltry six senses; how could he understand?


The Twilight Angel had forty-seven, and saw the place for what it had created it to be: a sanctuary. It had molded its realm out a discarded sliver of the concept of concealment and a million unanswered prayers for safety. There were few mortals alive who could imagine the place, let alone perceive it. Even the entity's agents knew only glimpses, parts of the whole. Such a place was necessary; the Twilight Angel's power was great, but it was hardly on the level of the gods whose clash had created it, gods that would have considered it an abomination if they knew it existed.


The entity listened calmly as the Succubus gave her report of the past hour's events. Syme had handled himself well, for one fresh out of the grave. Concerns lingered, of course; mortals, with their short lifetimes and shorter attention spans, became easily distracted with each day's happenings, and Syme's newfound sense of responsibility would make that much worse. Time was of the essence, and if the Angel's new tool slowed too much he would have to be... reminded of the reason for his continued life.


For now, however, all was proceeding according to plan.

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