Prologue

 

Wherefore springs the source of magick? Neither the written word nor the talk of men can interpret this mysterie. The answer cometh from within thy selfe!

 

    Translated from Storia Di Incanto; circa 1456

 

The Watcher In The Shadows

 

THE LIGHT OF A RISING MOON cast ghostly shadows along the branches of an ancient oak.  For centuries, the majestic tree had thrived in a small clearing, a symbol of prosperity and good fortune. The tree had overcome weather, pestilence, and the ravages of time, but now it faced a more sinister challenge. Death lurked below its branches, brought there by an evil force. The trees leaves shivered in the breeze, whispering of the wickedness that had come to harm it.

Brandishing lit torches, eighteen hooded men moved beneath the tree. Their bodies swayed with a growing fervor as the torchlight flickered across their black hoods. They formed a circle around a securely tied man, a blindfold covering his eyes. In morbid fascination, they taunted him with long sticks and shouts of derision.

Moments earlier, the men had piled branches around the trunk of the tree and poured gasoline over the wood. The fumes lingered in the air, foretelling of their dark plan.  Hang the witch; burn the tree! they cried, their words slurring with the false bravado that came from drinking whiskey.

A figure emerged from their ranks and raised his torch in rhythm to their chants.  Leaning his head back, he emitted a beastly howl. He was their leader, a huge hulk of a man with a heart as black as night. His hooded minions called him the Minotaur, a special name within their secret brotherhood. He relished the image of fear the name invoked, but he was not a mystical creature just a man with an evil soul. 

The Minotaur pointed at two of his followers and motioned them forward. Take him to the tree, he commanded, indicating the bound man. 

The two men dragged their hapless victim towards the massive oak. One carried a long rope with a noose on its end; he threw the rope over a high branch, letting the noose hang freely. The other placed the noose over their victims head. Then they awaited their leaders signal to pull him up. The rest of the hooded men roared their approval.  Hang the witch, they screamed, their voices rising as one.

A watcher stood among the trees at the edge of the clearing, viewing the scene with tearful eyes. No one could see him in the dark shadows or knew he was there. He held a bow and quiver of arrows, fighting the impulse to shoot at the hooded men. If only I could help him, he thought, wanting to do something, anything, to stop them from harming his friend, Tsusga Gineli. Regretting his promise not to interfere, he muttered bitterly to himself. Tsusga Gineli doesnt deserve this.

The Minotaur raised his hand for silence as he pulled the blindfold from the bound mans head. Witch, behold those who have judged you, he bellowed, gesturing grandly towards the hooded men.

Tsusga Gineli stood tall and straight, seemingly unaffected by the Minotaurs words or the shouts of his minions. No trace of fear showed in his eyes, despite the rope around his neck. His long black hair waved in the night air as he stared at his tormentors. Then an expression of sadness crossed his face.

 The Minotaur glared triumphantly at the bound man. For seven long years, this man, the so-called Tsusga Gineli, had thwarted his efforts to destroy the ancient oak. The Minotaur had waited, cleverly fabricating a string of lies that convinced his followers the man was a witch. They were a slow-moving and cowardly bunch, yet the Minotaur had prevailed, almost believing the deceit himself. Now, on this very night, he would eliminate both the man and the tree. Only one small victory was missing; he wanted to hear the man beg for his life.

The Minotaur circled his enemy, jabbing at him with his torch. Your hour of judgment has come. You have bewitched this tree and turned it against us; the prosperity we once enjoyed has left our valley. Tonight, the tree will accompany you into the depths of hell. Admit your foul deeds and plead for our mercy!

 Tsusga Gineli managed a step forward, unhindered by the ropes binding him. He glanced briefly at the sky and a sudden shadow fell over the clearing. The hooded men failed to notice the clouds forming overhead or the waning of the moonlight. Their eyes stayed upon their victim, anticipating his supplication.

Tsusga Gineli spoke in melodious and forceful tones, denying the accusations against him.  No pleas for mercy came from his mouth. Instead, he delivered a poetic message a rhyming prophecy full of dire warnings and predictions. When he finished speaking, he studied the men confronting him. He saw confusion and a trace of fear on their faces. Perhaps they will heed my words and leave while they can, he thought with a flicker of hope.

 A stunned silence fell over the clearing as the hooded men considered Tsusga Ginelis words. All of them were thinking the same thing: What kind of man said such things while facing death? As they pondered this question, their concerns grew. They wondered if the bound man spoke truthfully and looked towards their leader for reassurance.

  The Minotaur did not disappoint them. He emitted a laugh so horrible it sent shivers along their spines. Anger bubbled up from the dark pit of his soul, filling his voice with scorn. Sothe witch threatens us instead of showing remorse. Can he not feel the rope around his neck? Will we cower at his lies while he stands helpless before us? No, we will not!

 The Minotaurs fierce determination convinced his minions. Their doubts disappeared as the strength of his malice took control of their minds. Hang the witch; burn the tree, they chanted in response.

 The Minotaur nodded his approval. We shall wait no longer. Beneath his black hood, a contemptuous smile spread across his face. He signaled to the men holding the rope and threw his torch towards the wood stacked around the tree. The hooded men followed his example, filling the air with their own torches.

 Suddenly, the torches halted in mid-air as if frozen in time. One by one, the fires went out and the smoldering stubs dropped to the earth. The men holding the rope gave it a forceful jerk, intending to haul Tsusga Gineli upward. To their surprise, the rope fell away from his neck and wriggled in their hands like a vicious serpent. With cries of alarm, they dropped the rope and fled towards their comrades. Then an amber glow began to spread along the branches of the tree. Awestruck, the hooded men tried to back away, but their feet seemed glued to the ground. They gave each other baffled looks, a sense of dismay forming in their minds. 

Thankful the ropes binding his victims arms and legs were still in place, the Minotaur reached for the revolver in his waistband. Ill put a stop to this with a bullet, he thought. At that moment, the ropes around Tsusga Gineli separated from his body and flew towards the Minotaur. The pieces turned into snake-like creatures that knocked the revolver askew and swarmed over his huge bulk. The Minotaur screamed in terror as the ropes bore him to the ground.

Freed at last, Tsusga Gineli stared grimly at the dark clouds overhead. A vision of this night had come to him several months ago. Despite his efforts, he could not change what fate had decreed. With resolve, he focused his mind and summoned his magic power. Then he raised a hand towards the sky and the clouds swooped lower.   

The hooded men watched with disbelief as Tsusga Gineli moved freely while their leader screamed under the onslaught of the ropes. Realizing their folly, they began to tremble. When they saw Tsusga Ginelis eyes turn into white-hot coals of fire, they sank to their knees and begged for his forgiveness.

Ignoring their pleas, Tsusga Gineli pointed at the gasoline-soaked wood at the base of the tree. It rose into the air, rotated as a solid mass, and broke apart. The pieces flew at the hooded men, knocking many senseless. Then Tsusga Gineli pointed at the Minotaur. A mysterious force lifted his rope-covered body and tossed it towards his minions. They all cried like lost children when he fell among them.

Once more, Tsusga Gineli reached towards the clouds. As he did, a white globe of energy enveloped his body. The hooded men tried to look away from the brilliant force, but they could not. Their eyes watched as he spoke to them one last time. Let ye who survive this night, remember well my wrathful might! 

Then the sky erupted with tremendous fury. Lightning streamed from the clouds, striking the hooded men. Claps of thunder, so loud eardrums shattered and minds went numb, followed immediately. The lightning came repeatedly, one merciless bolt after another; the earth trembled with each terrible strike. At last, the dark clouds dissipated and a deadly quiet fell over the clearing. The hooded men lay on the ground, severely injured or dead.

Slowly, the watcher emerged from the shadows, shocked by what he had seen. He had watched as the globe of energy surrounded Tsusga Ginelis body. When the globe finally faded away, his friend vanished with it. In sudden anger, he yelled out at the hapless bodies on the ground. He warned you why didnt you listen? His question went unanswered, a lonely cry in the night. 

After a few minutes, the watcher left the clearing. Fresh tears spilled from his eyes as he walked to his village. It was the year 1937; he was barely more than a boy, yet his heart carried a heavy burden. Tsusga Gineli had told him the reason for this terrible night, but asked him not to speak of it until the prophecy came true.

The watcher knew many years might pass before the time would come. He would wait patiently the moment would eventually arrive. Tsusga Gineli never spoke falsely; his friend might be gone, but his words would hold their truth.

 

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