Chapter 6: Rox
AI 9171:161 Umbral
Magister Renzo’s chambers were replete with different stones and gems that were found inside Mt. Shannifort. There were probably stones from all around the continent in this room, Rox figured. There were peridots, amethysts, rubies, emeralds, even a finely cut gem of vorilium the Archons had permitted the Magister to keep for studying purposes. There was also one other gem that had caught Rox’s eye as soon as he entered the room. It was a gem of white veilstone, the rarest form, cut into a large square shape that caught even the scantest amount of light and transformed it into dozens of smaller points of faint light all around the room. It was an impressive stone, Rox conceded, but it didn’t compare to the one he carried with him.
“You’re not planning on trying to tell this Magister about us again, are you? We told you what would happen if you did…” Rox had come to know the voice almost as well as he knew his own. It was his constant companion. One day it was his friend, another day his foe. He could feel himself losing the internal struggle for dominance over his body. It became harder every day to keep control of his thoughts. One minute he was fine, happily peering through a microscope at one ore or another, and then an unknown madness would take its hold. He would abandon his work station and run full speed towards the exit, desperate in his attempt to make his escape from this volcanic prison and locate the host. He was always thwarted by his captors at the door, two large robed men who had no problem preventing Rox from getting away. Then they would drag him away to face Magister Renzo, the prison warden. “They’ve caught us, Rox. We must not allow this to stand!” The voice would say. “You need to get out of here. Now!”
Magister Renzo came through the door and looked at Rox. He had become frail as of late, his body a shade of what it once was. He could not eat very much anymore, and when he did he brought it back up half the time. His robes hung loosely around his body and its huge hood covered the top half of his gaunt face. A look of genuine concern crossed over the warden’s face.
“How many times will I have to come and see you in my chambers, Rox? What number is this now? Ten? A dozen?” The Magister leaned against his desk in front of Rox, studying his subject. He was a nice enough man, Rox would think one moment, but then the voice would remind him that they were captives and the man was not to be trusted.
“We will never stop trying to escape, old man.” Rox, speaking the words of the rapidly echoing voice in his head, looked up from underneath his hood. “And when we do you better believe we will come for you before we leave this city.”
The Magister took a deep breath and stood up straight. “Rox, this is not a prison, it is a place of learning. I have told you that countless times. And why do you say we? Are there others that mean to leave with you?”
“You don’t fool us old man, we know what this place is. We cannot allow you to prevent us from finding our host.”
“Rox, what is the reason for this folly? You were a promising apprentice when you arrived here, but over the last year I have watched you decline physically and mentally. Is there something you’re not telling me? What can I do to help you, Rox?”
“Let us out of here. Free us so we can find our host. This is our only desire. Do it not and, like Rox, you will know the consequences of your preclusion.”
The warden shook his head. “Rox, what would your sister think if she could hear this conversation?”
Sister? Do I have a sister? Yes…yes I do…..Thole. Thole is my sister. Memories came flooding back to Rox. He remembered the two of them playing in the darkness of Inquilaris. His little sister would always find the best hiding places and Rox could never find her. He remembered their parents, Magisters of Inquilaris for thirty years. After they died it was he who was responsible for Thole. Their mother and father had been the Elder Magisters one year after the other, given to the Archons as willing sacrifices. There was a void he could feel deep in his chest where they used to be. The void had been carved by an honorable death in service to the Archons, but it was a void nonetheless. Thole had been a light, the only light that Rox could see for a time, and Magister Renzo speaking her name made it shine once again.
“Thole…? Thole isn’t here right now.” Rox’s own voice broke through at the mention of his sister, the only person who still held a place in his heart. “Don’t listen to him,” The voice retorted. “He’s trying to trick us. Your sister doesn’t care about you. She’s made a name for herself out in the desert. She doesn’t need you anymore. We need you now. Without you, we will never find our host and we both shall die.” The voice once again began to overwhelm Rox’s thoughts. He tried to fight it, and with every ounce of strength he had left he managed to suppress the voice.
“No, she’s not. But she could be here in a few days if she was sent for. Would you like that, Rox?” The warden stepped forward and kneeled in front of Rox. “I want to help you, truly I do. But I can’t do that unless you tell me what’s wrong.”
“I…I need to find the host. Wait…no, that’s not it. Those are their thoughts. What are my thoughts? My thoughts are…becoming less frequent. Their thoughts are taking over.” Rox stood, stepping around the warden. No, not the warden, the Magister. Magister Renzo…
“Magister Renzo?” Rox remembered. He was his judge in Alevenia, grading him on the knowledge he learned here. Yes, my Walk of Wisdom. This is my final Pursuit. I only have one year left…”What happened? Did I try to run again?”
The Magister stood and straightened his robes. “Yes, you did. You hurt Magister Eswald pretty badly this time. This needs to stop, Rox. Let me help you.”
Reality came flooding back. He felt terrible about hurting Magister Eswald. He needed to be done with this gem. He needed to show it to Magister Renzo now and be done with it.
“Don’t you Dare! You’ll doom us all if you do. Remember what I told you would happen…” Rox was more than sick of the voice. Just shut up! I’m giving him the gem and that’s it. I can’t deal with this anymore.
“Magister Renzo, there’s something I want to show you.” Rox started to reach for his pocket to bring out the stone. He got his hand inside his robes and right above the small pocket inside before something stopped him. Something was pulling his arm back. He fought with the sensation, trying to overcome it. His arm was back out of his robes now, his own strength struggling against itself.
“Rox, what’s going on?” Confusion washed over the Magister’s face as he stepped forward. Just then a piercing tone manifested in Rox’s head. He wrenched his arm back and reached for his temples. Rox fell forward onto his knees, his head falling to the floor. The sonic nightmare inside was unrelenting. He started to ram his head into the floor repeatedly, trying to knock himself unconscious to be free of the agony.
Magister Renzo dropped beside Rox, putting his arm around him and trying to shield Rox’s head from the floor. A mage that was walking past outside heard the commotion and came in the room. “You! Go get a sedative from the medical stores. Quickly!” The mage left the room as quickly as he had entered. Magister Renzo sat on the ground cradling Rox’s head, blood trickling down onto his robes.
“Make it stop! Please, make it stop!” Rox screamed. “I can make it stop. I just need a promise.”
“I’ll do whatever you ask, please! Just make it stop!” “Promise me you won’t show him the stone.”
“Yes, I promise! Now, please!” The diabolical tone started to fade. The pain inside Rox’s head eased, replaced by a different pain on the outside. His vision was getting glossy and his head was throbbing.
“Rox? You promise what? Who are you talking to?” The Magister squinted down at Rox and watched consciousness slip away.
* * *
Rox started to come to hours later. He was on a bed somehow. He looked around and saw that he was in his room. He tried to sit up but when he did his head throbbed and he felt dizzy. He lay back down and closed his eyes. How did I get here? What happened? He couldn’t remember anything after his talk with Magister Renzo. He reached for his inside pocket to grab his stone. His fingers groped around inside but found nothing. Rox started to panic. Somebody must have stolen it from him while he was unconscious. He sat up, ignoring the scream in his head, and started searching the room. As he stood up his door opened and there stood Magister Renzo.
“What do you want?” Rox demanded. “I’m busy.”
The Magister closed the door. “Busy looking for this?” He held out Rox’s gem in the palm of his hand. The glimmer returned to his room, light dancing on the walls around him with every tiny movement. “It fell out of your robes when you were bashing your head off the floor of my chambers. I found it after some of the mage’s carried you back here.”
The Magister studied the stone in his hand. “Where did you come upon this gem, Rox? I’ve never seen its like.”
Rox stopped and stared at the stone. “Give it back. Its mine.” He took a step forward. Magister Renzo recoiled away as Rox attempted to take it. “I will give it back as soon as you tell me where it came from. I saw you grabbing for it just before you collapsed. What is this gem, Rox? People have come to me concerned about you. They’ve seen you sit by yourself for hours staring at this gem. What is it to you?”
Rox paused. He came to the realization that the voice had not spoken since he had awoken. Perhaps with the gem in another’s possession he was free from its grasp. Maybe this was an opportunity to break free and return to his old self. Perhaps he should tell Magister Renzo to get rid of the gem immediately so it will not be a burden on anyone any longer.
“Get that gem back, Rox.” The voice crept back in. Rox, startled, inhaled sharply at the sudden invasion. “What? You thought you’d be free without the gem? We are a part of you now, Rox. There is no escape. Only in finding the host and relinquishing to it the gem will you find your freedom and be rid of us for good. Should you not get that gem, Rox, mark my words, we will remain with you for the rest of your life. A life that you shall live in solitary agony as we slowly eat away your will until Rox is nothing more than a shell. We will be in complete control and we will find our host, our true host, with or without your help. Then, once we are done with you, your shell will be left to decay and the world will have no recollection of the man named Rox. Make your choice, vessel, and make it quickly.”
Alright…you win. I can’t continue this fight any longer. What is your command?
“My command is simple. This Magister Renzo holds the gem and you will not wrench it from him easily, so we’ll do this our way. We shall reclaim the gem, and once this end is achieved, we will allow you to finish your studies here and attend your Ascension Ceremony. However, we will assume control of your body without any resistance from you, vessel, once the stone is safely returned and the Magister is no longer interfering. Is this understood?”
Rox was ready. He was tired of fighting the futile battle against the will of the gem. He was tired of the struggle. He was tired of the pain. He was tired, tired, tired…
Do as you will…
“You’ve made the right decision, vessel. Now we will retrieve the stone. There will be some pain for you, vessel, but it will be tenfold for this Magister. All you must do is apologize to the Magister. Tell him that you are desperate for help and offer him your hand as a show of remorse.”
Rox obeyed. “Magister, I’m so sorry for everything. I haven’t been feeling myself lately and I don’t know why.” He began to tear up at the behest of the voice. “I need help Magister. Please help me.” Rox thrusted his hand towards Magister Renzo and waited.
“Rox, everything is alright. I’m here to help you, I just need you to tell me how. I’ll do whatever is within my power to help you, Rox, but you have to tell me what’s wrong.” The Magister stepped forward and took Rox’s hand in his, still holding the gem in the other. “How can I help you, Rox…? Ugh!?”
The shrieking trill took hold inside both of their heads as their hands met. Both men dropped to their knees, screaming in agony from the resonant pain filling their skulls.
“Take the gem, vessel. Now.”
Rox painstakingly raised his head and opened his eyes. He could see through clouded vision that the gem remained in Magister Renzo’s violently shaking hand. He began to reach out, sharp stabs of piercing anguish accompanying every movement. Somehow Rox was able to pry the gem from the Magister’s clenched fist. As he secured the gem, he could feel the trill start to dissipate slightly. The same was not true for Magister Renzo. His misery seemed to become even more intolerable. Rox, his vision becoming clearer, could now see the Magister’s veins starkly in contrast with his skin. Rox watched as the veins became even more prominent, changing from blue-green to a glowing orange. It looked to Rox as if the Magister had molten iron running through his veins. Rox could feel the temperature of the Magister rising rapidly through his hand.
“Let go of his hand, vessel. Ignition has taken hold.”
Rox did as he was bid. Just then the door to Rox’s room swung open, a passing mage entering at the commotion inside. “Magister!? What’s happening?” The mage yelled. Rox looked up at the mage and, with all the energy he could muster, whispered “Get help…”
The mage nodded dutifully, turned on a heel, and ran out of the room. Rox’s gaze returned to the suffering Magister. He could now see wisps of smoke curling up from every orifice on the Magister’s body. The reddened skin around his veins had developed horrific blisters, some of which were already bursting with new blisters forming underneath. In his death throes, Magister Renzo managed to look up towards Rox in desperation before finally succumbing to his grisly injuries.
Rox’s attention returned to his own head, the incessant trill having diminished but still incapacitating. For the first time he noticed his skin, too, had developed a number of blisters.
“We will now assume control of the vessel. This will be overwhelming for you, and you will fall unconscious for a time. It begins now.”
A moment later the trill returned with such intensity that Rox was unconscious within a matter of seconds.