I felt the cold hands of the undead creature close upon my arms as the thing thought to tear me into pieces as one might a piece of paper. I was growing quite tired of my most recent opponents attempting to rid me of my limbs. My arms had just shrugged off the coils of heavy iron, they had lifted monstrous cannibals into the blackness of the underworld, and they were routinely called upon to heft the incalculable weight of my father’s rage—they would certainly endure beyond this creature’s grip.
I threw off the monster’s hold, and as he staggered backward, surprised no doubt that I had overcome him, I delivered my fist hard and fast across the creature’s perpetually grinning face. The undead thing tumbled to the floor and the tides of fleeing killers reversed their course, realizing the elemental was clearly the lesser of the two presented threats. I was pleased, however the elemental and the murdering army were peripheral to my course—I sought the triplets.
I could feel the killing dream filling my body, thundering through the cracks in the mundane world, powering my efforts at negotiating the combat at hand. Renewed by the Red Dream flowing through me, I assumed the Prince of Smoke would be a fairly easy name to cross off my list—I was to learn otherwise.
Magic shares much in common with dreaming, in so much that magic is an effect without explanation—a staple feature of any dream. And contrary to the more common assumptions about magic, it isn’t merely the defiance of reality, but is more specifically the annihilation of causality. This realization ran to the forefront of my mind when I saw the Prince appear from the choking smokes of unchecked fires, moving towards me with a grace borne from practiced lethality—an attitude that had no place within the spoiled spaces of any one of the triplets. Here was magic, surely.
My amazement rapidly turned to pain. Junior had already risen from my blow and was quick to put me into the stone and mortar of the false castle. Its blow was more than sufficient to send me flying through the wall and into the next room. Unsurprisingly, the creature failed to follow through with its bid to kill me, as it was clearly more focused on the Prince. I found it humorous to think of such an undead monstrosity as this carrying around a list of names, periodically perusing it for direction.
The fires from the initial meeting between the army and elemental continued to flood through the structure, spilling across wooden fixtures and climbing into the rafters. I certainly enjoyed the developing venue of this particular contest, even taking a few moments from my renewal of battle to approve of the seething ambience.
I was surprised when I saw Junior draw up to the Prince—whited fist held high, exuding the howls of murdered children—and fail to land a decisive blow against his designated target. While the creature’s cold fist seemed to connect with the Prince, who seemed more than willing to receive the attack, the very moment of impact revealed the magician to be nothing but a wall of mirrored glass. Through the sound of it shattering and the roar of the fire, I could hear the high-pitched laughter of the Prince of Smoke mocking the goliath from the grave. At that moment, I may have discovered a bit of respect for the killer magician. Yet where were the other two brothers? Surely, they were part of the show as well.
As I began scanning the spaces around me for his cohorts, the magician appeared behind Junior, emerging again from the smoke as if he were truly a hierarch of flames. The Prince silently slapped an explosive device to the back of the elemental and shrank into smoke.
Junior disappeared into a storm of fire and fury.
I was stunned by the cleverness and efficiency of my opponent. I never guessed the killer to be anything but a financier of murder—certainly not the demon of smoke and mirrors that he now revealed himself to be. Where I had only discovered a bit of respect for the Prince of Smoke, I now found admiration.
The shockwave from the explosion rippled through the bones of the copycat castle, and the Prince’s apparent victory over Junior sent a renewed gust of courage surging into the sails of the army. They cheered their employer as they trained their attention and their weapons back on me.
The Red Dream was doing its job well enough, but the stark reality of thousands of bullets washing over me began to buckle my powers. My hands instinctively went to the space where once dwelt my father, finding only air. Having no apparent route to victory, I sought out the silence beneath the fire and guns and smoke, and I felt the soft cold of the hidden quiet splash over my broken body, refreshing me, if only slightly.
I breeched the darkness within a large cluster of soldiers. Disappointingly, the circumstances allowed little opportunity for art, so I dispatched the armed assemblage with little gusto, replacing flourish with brutal minimalism It was a quick piece, but it had the desired effect upon my intended audience—a renewed fear.
Before I could exploit the fruits of my labor, the Prince was upon me. Where he came from I cannot say, but I knew his blade was turning crimson cartwheels in my guts. Had it not been for the timely intervention of a brick I’d pulled from the wall, I might have been emptied there on the spot. The magician reeled from the blast of my crude weapon, but did not fall—he seemed to melt into the piles of bodies that lay all around me, as if solid matter was no more restrictive to him than smoke.
I speculated that the brothers were dressed alike, attacking at different times from different angles. After all, they had bragged to me about how they all shared a single identity. Publicly, they played at being the illusionist—David Shadow. Privately, they assumed the mantle of the deadly Prince of Smoke. And while I could not speak to the persona of David Shadow, the Prince of Smoke seemed more like a complete entity, replete with a cultivated skill for killing, and not simply a single trick played by three brothers. I had paid careful attention to the brothers over the course of my stay in their castle, and never did I detect anything that might have passed for even the slightest sign of a killing grace.
Something wicked and truly wonderful was afoot with these triplets.
I was about to submerge myself back into the darkness when I heard the sound of tiny gliding feet. It was an altogether different sound than the relentless clunking of the mercenaries, and it came from the spot where Junior had been blown from the world. Within moments, I was treated to a wonderful sight.
Out of the still-lingering smoke of Junior’s demise there spilled a multitude of pale children, all of whom moved swiftly despite appearing quite dead. At least fifty of the little things darted into the shadows as quickly as hummingbirds. When they had all been thoroughly absorbed into the smoke and fire and darkness, I could hear the screams of the troops rip through the smoky air. I was delighted to see the Prince of Smoke wasn’t the only creature capable of magic tricks—it seemed that Junior was a master mystifier, on par with the best magic makers.
My amusement at the proceedings died quickly and horribly, when from behind me there came a chorus of familiar voices. I turned around to find a gang of dead children standing upon a pile of rubble, glaring at me. I knew each one of their names.
All save one fell silent. Her name was Lilly. “Look, it’s little Donald, all grown up! We all had such a good time playing that day in the park, didn’t we, Donald? That is, until you turned us over to that awful father of yours. He put us in cages for months. He used our blood to make his paints, Donald. Did you know what he’d do to us? Did it make you happy to see us slowly killed? Why didn’t you try to stop him? Why didn’t you let us out of our cages, Donald? Why did you let us die?”
Comments will be approved before showing up.