The Curse: Part Six
It was on the way home that Lockwood began to notice the shadows in full force. If he had seen them before, he had been too firmly under his curse’s grip to notice their oddness; he saw it now.
They never misbehaved when he placed his eye upon them directly. It was rather when he was not really paying attention to them that they began to shift about. The shadow of a tree would attach itself to a house, or the shadow of a Poogle to a heap of garbage; and sometimes in his peripheral vision Lockwood was able to catch one moving. The whole thing was unexpectedly and disproportionately disconcerting. He wondered whether he should take it as a sign that the defenses Darigan had placed around him were failing; but on the whole, given that he was still able to consider it rationally, he did not think that he was in any immediate danger.
His first act upon returning to his room was to throw up another set of wards around himself, reinforcing the ones that Darigan had already placed. In a gesture of true altruism he even created a sort of general protection from harm over Ashford, though cast from such a distance he could not vouch for its strength. His magic made him astoundingly cold, and any attempt at a warming spell required so much sustained energy that it was not worth the trouble. He did notice, however, that the shifting shadows seemed to have retreated.
The next thing he did was procure the parchments on breaking curses that Darigan had sent him. He began to read one entitled A Guide to Darigan Curses, written by Lord Garforth a hundred years ago, and found it vastly interesting and far more relevant than might have been expected. One passage seemed particularly helpful, if somewhat ominous.
Curses that distort the perception are arguably the most dangerous sort of all, as they may go so far as to prevent the cursed from taking any steps to overpower the curse. There have been a great many such curses in history, most of which have been supplemented by an external Power of the Spirit World such as The Three (an especially dangerous trio of creatures about whom remarkably little is known; they seem to specialize in perception-distorting magic). It is less common but still possible for the spell of a lone sorcerer to create such a delusory curse.
A key point of both illusion and mental distortion is that they tend to play off of the predispositions of their victim. That is why the art of perceptual curses is so extremely imprecise, and why reputable magic-users would be ill-advised to use them. What one person sees may have no relation at all to the experiences of another person, although in most cases their visions and unnatural behaviors appear to have similar roots.
In the Darigan realms we have encountered a good number of perceptually distorting curses. It is a common misconception that we have not, as few have been highly publicized and most are now forgotten; however, a careful perusal of historical readings reveals several prominent cases. Garlath the Great, for example, was famously overtaken by a curse that induced madness in him and several of his closest servants. Below is a short summary of effective strategies I have discovered in my studies for unraveling and destroying this type of spell.
Lockwood blinked at the senseless magical shorthand before his eyes. Despite the fact that his conscious, logical mind did not understand them at all, the symbols seemed to leap off the page and straight into the part of his mind that understood magic.
“Intriguing,” he murmured. He had never really considered it, but it was only reasonable that there should be some way to record magic in writing. He wondered whether the art was lost, and whether it was something that Darigan knew how to do. If at all possible Lockwood resolved to learn it himself someday.
He took several moments to examine the counterspells detailed by Lord Garforth and discovered that, while useful in their way, most of them had the highly unattractive side effect of destroying the curse’s maker. Lockwood was not even certain that he really understood the magic they entailed, or that he could perform it himself even if he chose to.
The second parchment concerned the creation and destruction of magical artifacts. The author appeared extraordinarily cautious to give a complete and foolproof definition of the term in tiresomely esoteric wording; having assuaged his fears in that department, however, he became quite helpful.
A magical artifact is so named and set apart because it is not an ordinary spell. Indeed, it is far more than a spell. A magical artifact is created not with the temporary power of a sorcerer’s magic, but with a portion of the sorcerer’s total and permanent power, often known as “life-force”. While many experiments have been carried in an effort to discover whether or not the creation of a magical artifact actually saps away an irreversible portion of the creator’s life or spirit, results have been inconclusive and, from an academic standpoint, unsatisfying, largely due to the difficulty of locating enough of the original creators.
The Grimoire of Thade is perhaps the only widely-known magical artifact whose creator is still in some form of existence. Unfortunately Eliv Thade has proved extremely uncooperative and difficult to approach; and indeed, it is believed by many magicians that his madness was partially induced by the mental sacrifice necessary to create the grimoire. In a similar vein, the man who created the Sword of Skardsen – though his name has since been lost to time – is reputed to have given his life in the making, explaining the near-indestructibility of the sword.
Of course, some degree of magical ability must be necessary for the creation, as only exceptionally powerful sorcerers have ever been known to create these artifacts.
This was all very helpful, Lockwood concluded, but singularly useless given the nature of his own artifact-cum-curse as he certainly had not been killed or gone mad in the making – in fact, he had not intended to create anything of the sort and had scarcely noticed it when he did. He could see now why Darigan had found the case so peculiar.
The next paragraph dealt with the destruction of magical artifacts and was startlingly uncomforting.
Anyone with a wish to conquer or eradicate a magical artifact should be warned that the process can be nigh impossible and will almost certainly be extremely dangerous. Battling a magical artifact is equivalent to battling an extraordinarily powerful sorcerer (as a general rule, a sorcerer as powerful as the creator), and depending on their natures some magical artifacts may be particularly sentient and malevolent. The destruction of the artifact will generally result in the death of its creator, should he still be living, and so for those wishing to vanquish both it may be more efficient to tackle the artifact first.
And that, thought Lockwood, did not seem promising.
The parchment went on to describe various cases in which magical artifacts had been created and then challenged or destroyed, including the toothpick of an elderly Grarrl that had been transformed into a powerful vessel of bodily possession.
Observing that there were many more documents yet to be read, Lockwood resolved to find a particularly useful one before going to sleep. The one entitled Effective Wardes Against Curses Of All Formes, while somewhat ancient, seemed likely to be of help. There was little readable text as it consisted mainly of instructions. He could almost feel the way the magic of the parchment had corroded over time: it rather slid sluggishly off the page than leaped, and bits of it were inexplicably difficult to understand.
By the end of it all, however, he felt considerably better prepared in the rudiments of curse-breaking magic. He yawned, and, having done a great deal that day, fell immediately to sleep without bothering to get undressed.
It is generally an odd and unsettling feeling to awake with the conviction of having dreamt vivid, horrifying things but have no remembrance of them; at least Lockwood found it so. He found himself uncharacteristically jumpy as he prepared for breakfast and periodically throughout the morning he experienced a sensation of déjà-vu at nothing in particular. Altogether he did not feel in the least like himself, and it was quite a relief to re-immerse himself in Lord Darigan’s parchments.
Some hours into Lockwood’s day (or what would have been a significant number into the day of an earlier riser) it came to his attention that he had promised to write to Lisha and had not yet done so. Warily, remembering his previous letter-writing experience, he got out a piece of writing paper and began, encountering no small difficulty in the way of how much to disclose. After twirling his quill absently for some minutes, he commenced.
I do not know precisely what you expect or would like me to say, but I assure you that I am perfectly well and, I flatter myself, doing a reasonably good job of discovering more about my excellent curse. Lord Darigan left me rather uncertain as to whether you might attempt to travel here – if you have been considering it but have not yet left Meridell Castle, please allow me to advise you to stay where you are. I will be sure to let you know should anything terrible occur. Give my regards to Jeran.
And that, he thought irritably, would simply have to do. Perhaps it was that Lockwood had never quite been able to realize the existence of those not in his immediate vicinity; or perhaps it was that he was genuinely unwilling to put Lisha in any inconvenience or danger, despite his true value for her company; but whatever the reason, he found himself quite neutral upon the subject. As far as he was concerned, she might stay or come as she pleased.
To be continued...