As a rule, Urilus Marus was never frightened. He was often concerned, sometimes worried, and when the time called for it he was startled, but he was never afraid. As one of the most powerful men in his country he did not have the luxury of being on the wrong side of fear.
The soup had an earthy aroma, the meat slightly overcooked, the salt scarcely used. It was tolerable. The girl serving the broth proved to be the most appealing thing of the meal.
This morning's breakfast was a bland affair. Urilus Marus’s 2nd wife was traveling to her mother's estate. His mistress was in bed and was nursing a summer cold, his daughters were with their husbands, and his son... The senator spared a moment to glare at his meal.
Taking his mind off his troubles, the senator viewed his small kingdom and his mood brightened. He knew that he was neither the most powerful being in Thebes but in Urilus Marus’s opinion, his influence could be felt across what he had been told was the known world.
While they had never met him, each farmer knew of his name and feared earning his attention. The scholars, the ones who mattered in any case, grovelled for his approval. The priests, the whores, the beggars, the scum, and the hermits. They understood where he sat.
From the corner of his vision, Urilus Marus saw his most trusted servant appear.
It was not rare for the whispers of the street to reach the ears of the powerful, though, it was rare for those in power to grasp the idea that there was anything worth hearing.
Trade was as important to Thebes as blood was to a man. The exchange of goods such as olives, silks, and food kept the majority of its populace in comfort. Slaves were plentiful as were strong sons and strong minds.
So when Urilus Marus heard that a giant was selling golden cubs at a low class brothel he sent Barnus to investigate. Theft was common in the gutters. If the man proofed to be a thief than the authorities would be called for.
If it was possible, it appeared his servant was more unbalanced than he had when he last reported. Barnus's eyes were wide and sweat covered his body. If Urilus Marus didn't know better he was sure that his trusted aid was on his last nerve.
“Have you brought me this priest of Istate?” Urilus Marus asked, his tone as absolute as fate itself.
“Y.yes.” Barnus's voice cracked and his servant coughed. The transformation was as subtle as it was amazing. A change in posture, a shift in confidence, and the senator almost didn't recognize him. “Yes, Master. He as his servants are waiting outside the servant's quarters. But there is a slight complication.”
The senator so despise when things became complicated, “Which is?”
“The item that you requested was confiscated this morning before it arrived at the estate. The escort were killed.”
Well, this was troubling. “The sorcerer?”
Barnus let out a breath, “No, my lord. The sorcerer was... entertaining the priestesses of Hermonia. It is possible that he is unaware.”
“And the responsible parties?”
“That is the curious thing, my lord. We found them not too far away. They were ambushed by a third group who took the item. It seems as if there is a great demand for the object.”
Urilus Marus sucked in a tight breath. “Do you believe that he can provide the services I require?”
His servant opened his mouth and then thought better of it, “I am afraid that Master is the only one who can evaluate such things.”
It pleased Urilus Marus that people learned quickly. “Is this sorcerer well presented? I do not want another smelly physician. It took forever to get that stench out.”
“Ieeeee,” Barnus trailed off, “told him to dress as if he were addressing Jupiter himself. I fear he may have taken this the wrong way and will attempt to intimidate you.”
Urilus Marus shook his head. Oh, he needed to hear that. A sorcerer with airs. “Well, I suppose I will need to cure his misconceptions. Bring the man in. I need a good laugh.”
Visions of a robed man who smelled of burnt incense and frankincense. A man of smoke and superstition, as mad as... Urilus Marus stopped as another image came to him of a boy, a boy who had done nothing to earn the Gods' spite.
He stirred a thick piece of lamb in the pool of brown soup. Having played with it enough, he brought it to his mouth.
A collective gasp ran through the dinning room.
“Few beings in this world and others have the nerve to make me wait outside.”
The voice was like the chilling call of the underworld. It was not a hiss, not cold, and not burning or tearing. It was as certain as sweet as the grave.
His hand itching to tremble, Urilus Marus ever so slightly turned his head and wished that the Gods were merciful this day.
The man was as white as a ghost, his black hair a shock. He wore midnight on his back, and his eyes, oh those frightening eyes were the most beautiful and horrible thing that he had ever seen.
What had Barnus brought to him? What had the fool done? This was no sorcerer, this was a god come down from his mountain to walk among mortal men.
The ghost seemed amused at the senator's shock, “Your breakfast is getting cold,” it stated.
Urilus Marus looked down at his spoon and knew that his mouth was hanging open.
The man it turns out is a man of masks. A soldier, a demon, a guardian, a god, a prisoner, a fool, a coward. His occupation is everything, and yet he claim to know nothing.
This life time he is a man who mixes alcohol better than a politician mixes his lies and vices. Gold is not his desire, he seeks other, stranger things which older and weirder things covet. He calls himself Frank and that name would do as any.
Once again, Urilus Marus wonders what he has brought into his home.
Wanting his guest gone and way away from his presence, the man who minutes ago thought he understood the world gets down to the meat of his problem. Urilus Marus asked a question. “Are you indeed a man of magic, a follower of Istate?”
“While I have dabbled in the unlaws or many realities, what I have done so far is but a pale imitation. Nothing more than showing a savage fire, or showing the blind sunlight for the first time. And while I have done business for beings of the higher realms before, my allegiance is to myself.”
Urilus Marus was taken aback by the man's words as much as his tone. “But I am told that you performed magic and grew a statue of the goddess of spirits.”
Frank shrugged, “It was such a sad little garden. What I did was nothing more than a man pushing an out of place stone from the road, or dusting some grime off a child's doll.” The sorcerer cocked his head to the side as he evaluated his host, “Is there something wrong with the way that I look?”
Thinking that he might have insulted the giant ghost, Urilus Marus held up his hand, “No, no. Forgive me, it's just that you are... taller than I expected.”
Frank looked back at a buff looking woman in bronze armour and a Northerner woman who both stood straight and at attention. Both of the women stood next to the witch Het'scia and her business associate, Petit, both individuals that had failed Urilus Marus earlier and he had not fully forgiven.
“May I ask to change into something less formal?” Frank asked the senator.
“Y.yes.” Urilus Marus said, “If you want, my servants can get you a clean robe.” He looked to a young woman who was still looking at the sorcerer in a mixture of awe and fear. “You, girl. Find out guest suitable clothes.”
“No need,” Frank said and faster than the senator's mouth could swing open was back in his original form and clothes, his voice belonging to a human and voice jovial. He shows the senator a face of a Northerner, a giant with old eyes and a mischievous smile.
“That's better. Sorry about the difference in height. I took a shrinking potion once, never again. It takes forever to get back to normal.” Frank looked at the gathering of guards, servants, and politician who was staring at him shock. “Do I have something stuck in my teeth?”
This was turning out to be one of the senator's more eccentric guests. “Tell me Frank. What do you know of demonic possession?”
Frank shrugged, “Depends on the universe. Some beings of the Infernal or Abyssinian planes form a psychic link to a unprepared or untrained sensitive and use them like a puppet. The term selling the soul for money or power is just the creature making its job easier. Hosts that fight back disturb the process.”
“There are also parasitic possession. Think invisible bloat flies or stomach worms using you as an incubator, their presence slowly causing madness. Really, demonic possession isn't my specialty. I'm more about mixing drinks and rare alcohol.”
Urilus Marus was crestfallen, “Is there nothing you can do?”
The sorcerer shrugged, “I won't know until I have a look, but I don't think that it's demon possession.”
“How can you be sure?”
“You're still alive.” Frank said casually.
I walk the halls of the estate dear reader. Yes, I feel all of your eyes following my words and actions. The author thinks that I am his creation, but it is the author way around. People do not make ideas, ideas make people.
So read on and I will pretend that you are not here with me in this barbaric world where life is as cheap as pain and death.
I walk these halls and I feel as though I am a key ingredient in history. I have done so many things to alter the path of this world already. The Red Spears, the five hundred men that I butchered, the golden cups, the statue, and a few other things, all of them I did for my own amusement. But this feels different somehow.
The mansion is built like a rectangular horseshoe, two stories with a basement reserved for fruit. Hygiene and craftsman is a relative concepts in this place.
These people use their left hand as toilet paper and the reason behind the over spiced meats is because it preserves the meat. But the inevitable plague does not concern me, it is my own influence.
I am slowly returning to old habits and a being of constant change this worries me. I have staked my claim over this world like a prospector might a gold vein but now the game has changed in some fundamental way.
The rift has not become null. Some intelligence is throwing a sun of power through the connection like a battering ram, trying to force its way through. We should migrated to other places by now, but I am marooned in this dirt pit until the force quits, or the more likely outcome is that I make it understand its mistake.
Senator Urilus Marus is an accommodating host. He as prideful as any emperor or king, I have humbled him in front of his staff with my mere presence. It must have hurt him, but it was the quicker route. He knows now that I am a new power in this city and will seek to either control or grasp my weakness. He will not be the first or the last.
I smell it before he points the door out. His son it turns out is sick, sicker than he knows. His little heir is brought down by a familiar illness that has the potential to kill not just the host but his family, his servants, maybe this country.
My host opens the door showing a room that is smothered in darkness. The windows have curtains blocking both light and air. Valuables have been removed, as have any reflective surfaces and possible weapons.
The stink of this particular illness is everywhere. Its career has held onto it so long that it has become a part if it. His illness defines him as much as a cancer or tumour would. You can cut such things out but you might do the same to your unborn child. It is living, it is thriving, and it is determined to take you with it.
There is the bed, naked except for a loincloth. He no boy but a young man, hair as brown as tree bark, skin covered in sweat, hands bound to his bed. His illness has a name, experts will give all kinds of complicated nonsense, but I like to keep things simple.
The smell of incense fills the room, sedatives to keep him docile. But there is another smell in the air. I sniff and I follow its trail to one of the servant girls.
Hmmm. Now isn't that interesting?
Let me elaborate dear readers. Despite his son suffering from a possible violent neurological disorder, old Urilus Marus has paid or forced his staff to bear him a grandson. Completely out of his mind and this kid has had more sexual encounters then any of you probably have.
Doesn't that make you want to laugh? I merely grin.
They have taken care of him as best they could, the senator's son most likely developed this strain in the last few years. His body shows loss of weight, he is unshaven, even as he sleeps he struggles with himself.
“Demons or ghosts or gods?” I ask anyone with a clue. When no one answers I repeat myself. “Does he think that he is taking to gods, or is he taking to ghosts, or is he talking to demons?”
“Demons.” Urilus Marus says. He waits by the door frame. “He says that they whisper things to him. That they want him to do terrible things.”
Of course they do. Best to make this quick and get out of here. Dealing with mad people, will most definitely make me feel homesick.
I go into my bag and pull out an old favourite.
There it not a spot of alcohol in this number, it is a medicine which is derived in a world where the people concentrated less on healing the body and more on healing the mind. While you people are pondering the secrets of cancer they are trying to find the cure of a contagious that causes you to question if they are real of not.
Now, you are probably thinking “Frank, mental illness isn't contagious.” I'm afraid that you are wrong. Mass hysteria, genetic disorders, parasites that change brain chemistry. There is a reason that we avoid mental hospitals and people who talk to themselves on the streets. There is a reason that you follow the insane into desperate fights.
I look at the bottle and I ponder my next move.
Madness and mental illness is my life, my friend. I tell you now, the bubonic plague may have killed a shit ton of people but that was nothing compared to the hysteria that came with and after it.
Conversation between two doctors.
Born in Australia I am a late bloomer when it came to books. I started writing when my grandfather died and it just sort of turned into a hobby.
I like science fiction, but not space opera. I like fantasy but I am picky when it comes to epic and urban types. I try to stay away from vampires, zombies and romance novels when I can.