The Tale of Cross and Scarecrow
This world is a vast and majestic place. It is filled with marvelous wonders and many peoples. It’s also filled with many evils, and corruption that touches every corner of the planet. On Descension Day, when magic was introduced, those evils multiplied tenfold. For many years, demons reigned supreme as wielders of the darkest of dark magic—as well as technology far superior to anything humans could have ever imagined.
Just when all hope had faded for mankind, a group of warriors stood to oppose the Demon King. They called themselves The Sorcerer’s Brotherhood, and they too had mastered the arts of magic.
The Brotherhood fought the Demon Army using magical spells and incantations that even the king himself had never seen before. After many years of fighting, the Demon King was finally defeated, and it seemed that the demons had retreated back into the dark realm from which they came. Unfortunately, this was not the case.
With no way back to their own world, the demons decided to take the Earth for themselves, and nothing would stop them. But the extent of the damage done against the population forced them to live in smaller groups. The Demon Army was no more, but the demons themselves still proved to be a constant threat to the common people.
In the following decades, the sorcerers who had defeated the Demon King died one after another, leaving behind their legends and the students who studied under them. As the years passed, the secret teachings of magic and sorcery passed with them, down through the generations. After a time of relative peace, sorcerers found that they did not have to be warriors. They could be merchants, doctors, even law enforcers. Some stayed tied to certain towns or countries, while others roamed the world, taking on odd jobs and doing almost anything if the price was right.
Behind every sorcerer, there is a tale to tell. One tale in particular, became revered as the origin of two of the most important sorcerers in history.
My name is Cross. I was born in a small, insignificant village in the Toracci Kingdom. From the very day of my birth, my parents knew that I would have a hard life. When I was young, I didn’t know why people didn’t like me. Until my parents told me that I was born with a rare ocular mutation that caused a discoloration of my irises. In short, I was born with purple eyes.
The other children told me I had demon eyes, and threw rocks at me. Once, a man tried to blind me by throwing hot coals at my face. All just because I looked at his daughter.
In time, I began to return their hatred. By the time I was eight years old they'd written me off as nothing but a pest, so I became a notorious pickpocket among the town’s folk. If they were going to go out of their way to pretend I didn't exist, then I'd use it to my advantage.
Then came the day that would forever change my life. It was the day a traveling sorcerer happened upon our little town. He came from the west, and wore clothing like none I'd ever seen before. He was a very odd man. It was impossible to tell where in the world he’d originated. No one could see his facial features because of the mask. He wore a hood to cover his hair. His suit of armor and the clothes underneath kept us from seeing his skin color, and his speech was so monotonous that it pushed down any hint of an accent.
As he entered the village, he was greeted by a few, and cursed by the rest. I followed him as he walked down the streets. Sorcerers had come and gone before, but none like this one. He was different in a way I couldn't possibly have known. As I followed him further down the road, he turned and went into the inn. Lucky for him that Chris, the innkeeper and good friend of mine, was one of the more tolerant adults of the town.
At that age curiosity constantly got the better of me, prompting my attempt at a conversation. I approached him as he stood at the innkeeper’s desk and pulled on his sleeve to get his attention. “Hey, are you really a sorcerer?”
As he turned his head to answer me, I remember feeling a certain chill run up and down my spine. When I had finally gotten a good look at his mask it was as if, only for a moment, I was staring into the face of Death himself.
“Yes, I am a sorcerer.”
I would have looked up at him, but I didn’t want him to see my eyes. I didn’t want to risk him turning me away like everyone else did. So, I simply looked up at where I thought his face was, with my eyes shut tight.
“Why are your eyes shut? I won’t hurt you.”
I squeezed them tighter, “Sorry, but every time someone sees my eyes they end up hating me.”
His voice gave off a tone of curiosity, “I’ve never heard of that power. With eyes like that, you must be a very powerful sorcerer.”
When I heard that, I quickly opened my eyes, amazed at such an assumption.
He tilted his head, analyzing every detail of my eyes. “You are destined to do great things, my boy.”
Then he just walked away, leaving me standing in the lobby. He was one of the only people I’d ever met that didn’t immediately hate me. But that wasn’t what changed me; it was what happened later that night.
It happened around midnight. The moon was full, and I was making my usual rounds through the village streets. That’s when I saw the front door to the inn open, and the sorcerer walked out. I hid around the corner, and listened to him talk to the innkeeper. “I’ll be back in one hour. Please leave the door unlocked for me.” Then he just walked on down the street.
Although his unlocked room would have been an easy score, I followed him instead. I couldn't help but wonder what he was up to so late at night. Darting in and out of alleyways to avoid being seen, I followed him all the way out of town. He kept going until he came to the river that the town’s people used for drinking and bathing. For a moment, he paused at the river’s edge. I heard him whisper some strange words in another language, and then he removed his mask. The light of the moon reflected on the water, casting a bright glow that illuminated anything near the river.
I was close enough to see every detail of his face. He was an older man with fairly pale skin, and he had pitch black hair with a few gray spots. But the most distinguishing feature was the mark on his left cheek. At first, I thought it was a scar; but when I got a better look, it resembled a tattoo. Three small slash marks ran down his cheek, diagonally from left to right. They made it look like he'd been attacked by some kind of animal. Except for the fact that they were a deep shade of purple.
The sorcerer walked into the river until he was about waist deep. He started the chanting again, accompanied by a combination of hand signs. A magical circle lit the water around him, and his body began to glow. The chanting grew louder and louder. Then a blinding light emanated from the entire river. It was so bright I had to shield my eyes from the pain.
And, just as suddenly as it appeared, the light was gone. When I looked over to the sorcerer again, he'd already donned his mask. But something was different; his clothes and mask had changed. He no longer needed to where a hood, because his mask covered his entire head. And now he wore a long, black coat that revealed a thin layer of armor underneath.
When the sorcerer left the river, he walked over to the tree I was hiding in. I soon realized that he must have known I was there, so I jumped down to speak with him. An eight year old really doesn't consider the consequences of his actions. I was no exception. “What was all that?”
Even the sorcerer's voice had changed. He now spoke very clearly, and in the local accent no less. “I need you to keep what you saw here a secret. Normally, I’d kill someone who saw my face, but I think I can trust you. I can trust you, can’t I?”
I nodded my head. More out of fear than actual agreement.
“Good. Now, let’s head back.”
We parted ways when we got back to town. The next morning I ran as fast as I could to the inn. When I asked the innkeeper what room the sorcerer had been staying in, he told me that he’d already left. From that day on, I decided I wanted to study magic.
For four years, I studied hard and learned from every book my small town had to offer on the subject of Sorcery. Our village was poor, so my resources were limited. But I learned what I could with what I had. When I was twelve, my family and I were invited to witness the birth of the Bautwin baby. As a student of nature, I gladly observed the ordeal. Of course, as I twelve year old, I wasn't able to stomach it for very long.
After a few hours of labor, a baby girl was born. Her name was Julia, and she struck me as very odd from the moment of birth. You see, she never cried. I was absolutely fascinated by this. Even as she grew older, she never made a sound above a whisper. When she was one year old, the doctor told her parents that she would most likely be unable to speak for the remainder of her life. Every free moment I had was spent with her. I don't know why, but in time I felt like an older brother.
When I was fourteen years old, I had my second experience with a traveling sorcerer. Finally, the chance I'd been preparing for.
This one wasn't as nice as the first, but I showed him my respect nonetheless. “Excuse me, sir. You're a sorcerer, correct?”
His answer was swift and harsh. “The name's Yung-Xio. What do you want?”
I flinched, but continued all the same, “I was wondering if you'd be willing to take on an apprentice.”
The sorcerer looked me over. “Do you have any money?”
“All I have is my life savings.”
“Seven-hundred and fifty gold.”
“Go get it. That will buy you two years of training. Do you think you've got what it takes to become a sorcerer?”
I nodded, and ran home to get all the money I'd collected from the more than generous villagers. When I returned to where I'd met the sorcerer, he was gone. My stomach sank like someone dropped a rock down my throat, just like when the mask wearing sorcerer issued a death threat in casual conversation. With my head hanging low, eyes glaring at the ground, I turned around and started walking away. That was when I heard a voice come from the end of the road.
“Hey kid! You comin' or what?” I looked up to see my new teacher standing with an outstretched hand. “I'll be taking that fee.”
And that was how I became a sorcerer's apprentice.
I spent the next two years at Master Yung-Xio's side, honing my magical skills. We traveled to the far eastern territories of the Ephirian Empire, where I learned all kinds of unorthodox spells and incantations. He taught me how to fight with two swords, which was quite different from any sword play I'd seen back in the west. At the age of sixteen, the money I'd paid for my apprenticeship had finally run out. That was the day my master gave me an ultimatum.
“You're at a crossroads my young friend. Over these past two years, you have accumulated a large sum of money. Now you have a choice to make. Will you pay for more time, or will you give up on becoming a sorcerer?”
I pulled out a large pouch of gold, and stared at it. Silently, I asked myself what I really wanted to do. Did I want to part with my life savings...again? Or maybe I just wanted to give up, and go home. No, I didn't want either of those.
“I choose neither.” I looked up at him, “I'll become a sorcerer on my own, and everyone will know my name.”
“Ha! You think you can become a sorcerer by yourself? You know you can't perform the Demon Sealing Ritual without a Master Sorcerer to keep watch.”
“I'll find a way.” With the farewells said, I left my former master behind and headed north.
I traveled from village to village and city to city for another two years. Now that I was on my own, I wanted see every corner of the planet. One night, I found myself in a dark, misty forest, lit by the light of the full moon. I'd heard of a lone demon that lived in those woods, and decided that I would make my first attempt at the Demon Sealing Ritual. True, I had already killed a good number of demons, but none of them felt right. I was hoping this time would be different, and as soon as I laid eyes on the forest, I knew it would be.
As I walked cautiously between the trees, it was as if I could feel something piercing my very soul. I thought to myself, Is this really the stare of a demon? How in the world can something so evil exist?
Then the voice came from behind me. “You stink, boy.”
I quickly turned around, coming face to face with a one eyed demon. I can't say I wasn't afraid, but it was a fear that I was very familiar with. I had been afraid for my life many times throughout my childhood. Still, it's not something anyone should get used to. The first thing I noticed after his missing eye, was the large cross shaped scar over it.
Every time I killed a demon before, I did it without hesitation. It was something I excelled at, and I took pride in that fact. But this demon was different from the rest. Something inside me wouldn't let me raise my sword. And suddenly, my curiosity got the better of me, “How'd you get the scar?”
He snorted at me, sending a bit of mucus flying into my face. “You really don't understand the whole “demon” thing, do you?”
I wiped my face, “No, I do. But I was just wondering.”
He tilted his head, as if an idea had just occurred to him. “If I answer you, will you tell me something about yourself?”
It really was an odd request, especially coming from a random demon that could've said no, and torn me to pieces instead. “Like what?”
He placed a claw to his missing eye, “The story of this scar is the story of my past. In return for sharing mine, you must share yours.”
I shrugged, “Sounds fair to me.”
And so the demon began the long and tragic tale of his life. He was once a great warrior in the Demon Army, but was cast out by his fellow demons when it was discovered that he sold out his comrades to a band of sorcerers. The cross over his left eye was the mark of an exile. It was the mark of a truly cursed creature. “There, now you know. Now it's your turn.”
After hearing his story, I wasn't sure how to feel. I'd never encountered a demon that was so, human. Bowing my head, I kept my word. “Of course.” And, as I had promised, I shared my past with the demon.
The two of us sat together around a fire, surrounded by a dense mist and dying trees. We'd told our stories for many hours. “You know, I was taught that demons are the scum of the earth, but you're not as bad as the others I've come across.”
The demon stretched out his long limbs, taking a more comfortable pose. “I'm happy to shatter preconceived notions. It's not very often I get visitors here and, one way or another, none of them stay for long. In the end, I'm always alone.”
A thought popped into my head, and I couldn't just let it fester, so I asked, “Do you believe in destiny, demon?”
His head cocked, as if the question caught him off guard. “I suppose. Why do you ask?”
“Think about it. What are the chances that our stories are so similar, and we happened to have run into each other?”
“You have a point, child.”
“By the way, I never learned your name.”
He took a few moments to think, almost like he'd forgotten. “Many years ago, I was called Xanthus. In the old language, it means The Seer of Truths.” He pointed to the scar over his eye, “Ironic, wouldn't you say? So, what is your name?”
I cringed at the idea of saying my name, “I'm John, but the truth is, I really hate that name. I wanted to change it, but I never thought of what I want to be called.”
Xanthus laughed at me. “Great power can be synonymous with something as simple as a name, John. But the greatest of warriors often rename themselves, casting off the one thing they had no power over, thus making them truly worthy of being called great. So, why did you come to my forest?”
My smile melted into a frown. I'd almost forgotten my whole reason for making such a dangerous journey. I could tell he sensed my hesitation. Of course I was hesitating. How was I supposed to tell him I was there to kill him?
“I came here to find the lone demon that inhabits these woods... and take his soul for my own, so that I can become a powerful sorcerer.”
Xanthus raised an eyebrow, “Did you really think you could kill me?”
I shrugged, “It didn't seem like a bad idea at the time.”
The demon stood up. “Let me tell you something, boy. You humans think that the only way to gain power is to steal it from us demons, but you're wrong. You see, power earned is much stronger than power stolen.”
It was official; he really was crazy. “I don't understand. What does that have to do with me?”
He rolled his eye at my question. “Hold out your hand.”
I did as commanded. And he grabbed my outstretched hand.
“Good. Now, will you answer my questions one last time?”
“What will you do when you become a sorcerer?”
“I will use my power in the manner I see fit. And I will make sure that everyone knows my name.”
“What name will the world know you by?”
I took a moment to think. In truth, this was the first time I'd ever given the question some serious consideration. I'd always wanted to change my name, and now that I had the chance, there was no way I was going to pass it up. “You and I have been betrayed. We are outcasts, and we are exiled. My name, the name the world will remember forever, is Lord Cross.”
He gave a nod of approval, “Do you, Lord Cross, accept the gift of a demon's soul?”
“Very well then. Let the ritual begin.”
A magic sealing circle surrounded us. His grip on my hand grew stronger, and he smiled as he stared at me with his single red eye.
I swallowed the knot in my throat, “Will it hurt?”
“It will be the most painful thirty seconds of your entire life.”
After he said that, a needle-like sensation shot up my arm. Then it quickly spread to the rest of my body. As I fell to my knees, I realized that he'd spoken the truth. It was the most excruciating, agonizing pain I'd ever felt. And it had only just begun.
When I forced my eyes open, and looked over to the demon whose hand I still held tight, I noticed that his skin was turning pale, and his body was deteriorating. “What's going on?”
These were his final words to me. “From this day on, we are one. We are one and the same.”
When the thirty seconds was up, I was by myself. Xanthus was gone, without leaving a single trace. I dragged myself to the nearest of many streams that ran through the forest, and when I looked down at my reflection in the water, I was shocked to see the face staring back at me.
My face had strange markings that resembled tattoos. Through my travels, I had learned to identify a Sorcerer's Mark, just like the one that was now on my face. Every sorcerer, upon receiving his or her powers, is given a mark that is significant to the combined natures of the human and demon souls. My Sorcerer's Mark, was three crosses. One cross on each cheek, and a third that ran from the center of my forehead to the bridge of my nose.
In the darkness of night, I stared into the water at the new creature that I had wanted to be for so long. And, after a long silence, I couldn't help but laugh.
After that night in the forest, I spent another six years traveling the world. I even joined the Sorcerer Knight's Guild, a guild whose members devoted their lives to following a code of honor. After some time, I became the Lieutenant to Guild Master Ragnarok, the ruler of the Ephirian Empire himself. He was more of a father to me than my birth father ever was. My many accomplishments over the years, as well as my status as Lieutenant proved that I had become one of the strongest sorcerers in the entire world, but I still felt that something was missing.
On my twenty-fourth birthday, I felt the sudden desire to return to the village where I was born. It took me a few months to get there, and when I did, I wasn't given the warmest of welcomes. But I expected as much; they'd never been welcoming to sorcerers, and they never liked me to begin with.
I walked through the streets, and found my way to my childhood home. I knocked on the door, but heard nothing. When I knocked again, the sound of light footsteps approached the entrance. I had expected my mother to open the door and welcome me home, but instead a young girl answered. She had a very small, frail looking frame; short, dirty blonde hair; and an unusually calming aura about her. All of this was wrapped in old clothes that would be complemented if I called them rags.
After the initial confusion, I asked, “Is this the Collin home?”
The girl began making strange symbols with her hands. At first I thought she was making the signs of a spell, but when she stopped, nothing happened. When I didn't say anything, she began again.
“I'm sorry, but I don't know what you're doing. Are the people who live here at home?”
She shook her head.
“Do you know where they are?”
She nodded, and pointed down the road—to the Bautwin farm.
After a somewhat short walk down the road to the next house over, I knocked on the door. A woman answered. “Mrs. Bautwin, right? Do you know where the Collins are?”
She wore a look of both confusion, and fear, “Do I know you?”
“It's me, John. I know I've been gone a long time, but I'm back in town, and I wanted to see my parents.” I hated having to say my birth name. No one ever called me John anymore, not unless they wanted a broken face.
She stepped aside, “Please, come in.”
I went inside and sat down at the table. “Please, just tell me where they are.”
She hesitated, holding back what looked like a flood of tears. “I'm sorry John, your parents were killed about eight years ago by a band of demons in the hills.”
The news shocked me, but I didn't let her see it. I simply continued the conversation. “So, who was that staying in their home?”
She made a disgusted face. “That is my daughter.”
Old memories of a young infant flooded my brain. “Julia?”
“Yes, she lives there now.”
“Why? She should be twelve years old. Shouldn't she be close to finding a future husband by now?”
“Unfortunately, that will most likely never happen. You see, when she turned twelve a few months ago, the doctor performed a fertility inspection to see if she could bare a child. As fate would have it, she cannot.”
I narrowed my eyes at her, “So you kicked her out on the streets?” I stood up, and raised my voice. “You think you can justify that? What gives you the right?”
A voice came from behind me. “She's our daughter. We have the right to do what we want with her. If you have a problem with that, you can leave.” I turned around to see Julia's father standing in the doorway. He approached the table. “Get out of my home, sorcerer. Now.”
We traded glares, mine being the more intimidating of the two. I even briefly considered snapping his neck like a twig, but the notion passed quickly. So I simply smiled at him, “Good day, Mr. Bautwin.”
I walked back to my old home and knocked on the door again. Julia stood at the door as she did before.
“Hello again, Julia. May I come in?”
She nodded, a bit surprised that I knew her name this time.
When I walked in, I saw a set up that resembled the lab of a medicinal sorcerer. “You don't happen to practice medicinal magic do you?”
She blushed, and nodded again.
“I know you probably don't remember me, but I knew you when you were just a baby. We used to play together all the time.”
She looked slightly uncomfortable as I made my way through my old house. Something was definitely bothering her, but I had other things on my mind at the time. “Do you mind if I stay here for a while? I don't really have the money to stay at the inn.”
Her entire face turned bright red, and she slowly nodded.
The sight made me smile. For some reason I found her embarrassment and shyness incredibly cute. “Thanks, I won't be a hindrance. Promise.”
That night, I went to the hills to find the demons who slaughtered my parents. When I came upon a cave that had been dug into the hillside, a few dozen demons walked out to greet me.
I cracked my neck and knuckles before addressing them, “I hear you boys like to kill innocent villagers.”
The rage that was growing inside me since I'd found out about my parents had finally reached its boiling point. With an animalistic roar, I unleashed the full force of my sorcerer power on the demons, but they greatly outnumbered me. Once they'd all piled on top of me, trying to claw and tear me apart, I unsheathed my swords. One by one, I felled each who dared to stand against me. By the time I'd killed half of them, I came to the realization that I was in over my head. But still I persevered. My rage could not be quelled, my lust for blood could not be satiated, and my thirst for vengeance would not be quenched until I made sure no one would die by their hands again. After a long and grueling night, their bodies littered the grassy field, and what was once a large plain of green had been stained black with demon blood. However, I didn't leave the battle unscathed either.
As I limped back home, I left a long, dense trail of blood behind me. I decided it would be best to go straight to the doctor, as I knew nothing about medicine.
The doctor, who I had known since I was a child, took one look at me and said that he wished all practitioners of magic would suffer the same fate. Then he slammed the door in my face. I didn't know where I should go, so I decided that if I was going to die, it might as well be in the same house I was born in. I remembered Julia's medicines, but by then I'd decided to just accept my fate.
I somehow found enough strength to open the door, but after taking a few steps I collapsed on the ground. Julia rushed to my side and began treating me with some herbs and potions that she'd made. She even managed to cast a few basic spells that slowed the bleeding, but at the rate I was fading, only a full-powered sorcerer would've been able to save me.
I looked up at her, “You... can stop... now. I don't think... it'll do anything.”
As my vision blurred, I heard the sobbing of the young girl that had only just met me. Had I the energy, I would have laughed at the thought of someone crying over me. Then, somehow, I resolved myself to survive for just a bit longer. I moved closer to the wall and sat up. Once I'd finally mustered the strength to speak, the door burst open, and one of the hill demons limped in. “You... bastard. You killed... all of them. I'll kill you!”
He was badly injured, and even closer to the brink of death than I was. “Julia...I have an idea. You've devoted yourself to the study of medicinal magic...right?”
“Have you ever considered becoming a sorcerer?”
She nodded again.
I could feel the energy draining from my body. Time for talk had run out. “Well... it's now or never, kid.”
I lifted my hand and, using the last of my strength, summoned a sword to pierce through the heart of the demon. Then I manipulated its soul, so that the Demon Sealing Ritual could be performed. “Do you... accept the gift... of a demon's soul?”
She nodded her head a third time.
I didn't actually witness the ritual, and I wasn't sure if I was going to survive the night. That is until I woke up the next day. When I opened my eyes, I noticed my wounds had been completely healed, and Julia was next to me. I looked down at her sleeping face, and noticed dark black circles around her eyes. Then I saw marks that resembled stitches running from one cheek to the other, even going over her lips.
I mumbled to myself, “She looks kind of like a scarecrow.”
Later that day, I was ready to leave town. Julia walked with me to the edge of the village to say goodbye.
Before leaving, I stopped and turned to her. “You know, I've been doing a lot of thinking since you saved me last night. And I was wondering, would you like to come with me?”
Her eyes opened wide, and her face turned red, as it had the day before. She looked down at her hands and began twiddling her thumbs. After a few moments of indecision, she lifted her head up high, and gave me a big nod.
In that one moment, I felt like my heart could have jumped out of my chest and shouted in joy. “Great! Just go and get what you think you'll need to travel, and we'll go.”
She smirked and snapped her fingers, summoning a large, full satchel. It was clear she'd already given the idea of leaving town a lot of thought.
For the first time in a long time, I was actually happy. Really, really happy. “Glad to have you with me, Scarecrow.”
She walked up next to me, and slowly laced her fingers with mine. Then, hand in hand we left that town of hating and spiteful people behind, forever.