The Lord of Willowbrook
by Daniel L. Link
The young man pulled the arrow from the animal, using his left hand to stabilize the corpse and his right to pull the shaft free. Flipping the carcass onto its back, he made an incision in the belly, like his father had shown him, exposing the stomach and intestines, steam escaping from the opened gut and dissipating into the cold morning air.
He reached his hands into the open cavity, grabbing first the large intestine, then the small, then the stomach, running his fingers excitedly over each squishy inch, pressing and probing at the tissue. He felt a tingle as he did so, a sign that he was close, close to unlocking the magic that lay inside.
He cut into the membranous sac that surrounded the heart, finding it dead, containing no more magic. Perhaps if he had been a little faster... but that had never been his intended prize. Once he had the liver free, he held it: deep reddish-brown, blood-streaked and slimy. He hesitated just long enough to take a deep breath and hold it. Then, he bit down, and instantly felt a surge as the dog's power rushed into him.
It had been eleven days since the full moon, and Morgan Lefevre was at the height of his power. He had practiced spells of divination and prophecy during the full moon, and found the answers he had long sought. He had cleansed himself with spells of banishing during the waning of the moon, and waited the remaining eight days until the dark moon.
Morgan usually used small creatures for his spells, but the blood of rats and squirrels seemed insignificant fuel for a mage like himself. He was too powerful, too full of the magic he had collected. In all, over thirty creatures had given their lives for his power, and Morgan felt it was time to put that power to good use.
There were only three days left of the dark moon phase, so he had to move fast. He had saved the blood of a few of his kills, and that seemed enough to fuel the spell. He had eaten the dog's liver, straight from the body, and that had made him pure, a worthy vessel of the blessing to come.
The last few months, Morgan had learned much about the workings of true magic, most of it through trial and error. No one had ever told him the eyes and tongue of his victim were the perfect ingredients for his divining spells, but they were. Those ingredients, from half a dozen rats had led to the MacDougal's dog, the next piece of the puzzle.
Having taken the dog, he had hoped to divine his next steps, but the intestines and stomach told him nothing. Neither had the eyes or tongue. That didn't surprise him, though. The moon was too far into its cycle for divination; he would have to puzzle out the rest on his own.
He packed two lengths of hempen rope and his vials, all full of blood and mana powder, into a small knapsack slung over his shoulder. He tucked the ceremonial dagger into the waistband of his pants and fetched up his staff. Its smooth surface felt good in his hand, and the way the runes carved into the head seemed to glow under the sun's light was a reassurance to Morgan of his power and of the righteousness of his mission. He waited for nightfall.
His long cloak trailed behind him as he walked. He moved quickly, but was careful not to run. He didn't want to draw any undue attention to himself, but had to keep his prey in sight.
The road was sparsely occupied at this time of night, the small town center quiet after the day's commerce had ended. The only source of illumination was a lantern on each corner of the square, casting a flickering orange glow on the cobbled walkways. Morgan tried to stay in the shadows, even though the girl he followed seemed oblivious to his presence.
She had come to the market at closing, talking to no one and purchasing nothing. He found her quite lovely, and maybe a little sad. She seemed lonely, walking aimlessly through the square, twirling her chestnut hair around her index finger as she went along.
The more he watched her, the more perfect she seemed for his spell. She appeared young, no more than sixteen. She must be naive, alone as she was and unprotected in the dark of night. Hopefully she was innocent as well; it would help if she were a virgin, but it wasn't crucial.
He advanced on her with painstaking care, sticking to the shadows and watching from around corners. She never once looked over her shoulder, but he kept his hands under his cloak, ready to drop under its dark folds and out of sight.
She left the town's Market Square heading east, which would take her out of the commercial district and into a neighborhood of upscale homes. The homes themselves would be well-lit, but there was a stretch of road that went by a field, which would be dark, most likely unpopulated, and perfect for his purposes.
Reaching into his knapsack, careful not to make a sound, Morgan removed the small pouch that contained his mana powder. He could probably handle the girl without it, charged and full of magic as he was, but he wanted to be sure. This was the biggest test of his abilities so far and there were only two more nights to complete the ritual. He opened the pouch and took a large pinch of the powder, inhaling deeply. The surge inside him, the tingling in his fingers, the pulse of his own blood in his ears, all told him he was ready.
He started closing the distance between himself and the unknowing girl. He stepped softly but quickly, his moccasins silent as they touched down in the dirt alongside the road. As she made it to the darkest, emptiest stretch, Morgan scanned for movement in the field. Perfect. They were alone.
Fifteen more feet, the magic so strong; ten feet now, practically flying, feet barely touching down; eight feet, pulling his staff from under the cloak, ready to strike; five feet, about to explode with the power, ready to take her, when something underfoot crackled loudly. She spun, her eyes meeting his in horror.
Surprised, Morgan froze. She was only an arm's length away, and he was so full of power, but he hesitated. She gazed at his face a moment.
"Morgan?" She said.
His thoughts whirled, staggering him. Names held power, any practitioner knew that. To name a thing was to understand it and to have some degree of control over it. Names were keys to people and things, and she had his. How was this possible?
"You know me?" He was unable to keep the surprise from his voice.
"Well, yeah," she said. "I'm in your AP Physics class. I'm April. I sit right in the front row." She reached out her hand to shake.
Morgan was thrown off guard. He moved his staff to his other hand and shook. There was a crackle of intense power between the two when they touched. He could tell from the slight widening of her eyes that she could feel it too.
She stepped back and took him in. "Why are you dressed like that?"
Morgan blushed. "My friends and I play this game..."
"Like D&D?" She actually seemed interested. "That's cool. You must really get into it?"
"Yeah," Morgan said.
"You want to walk together?" She asked. "You know, since we're going the same way?"
"Sure," Morgan said, adjusting his cloak and using his staff as a walking stick. "What are you doing out here tonight?"
It was her turn to blush. "I like to go out to the market and watch people. I pretend I'm invisible, and I listen to their conversations and stuff."
"Why do you do that?"
"I don't know. It's just that sometimes it's fun to think I'm part of their family, and they're telling me their problems. It sounds silly, I know."
Morgan shook his head. "It doesn't sound silly to me. I think I understand perfectly." He stared at April. She was beautiful, kind, and yet like himself, she felt out of place in her own life. She was perfect.
They stopped walking and just talked on the roadside for a while. Morgan wanted desperately to kiss her. He felt so powerful, but supposed this girl might be the perfect counter to his magic.
"You know," Morgan told her, holding up his staff. "This isn't just for show. I can really do magic."
"Really?" She said playfully. "Show me."
"You've got to close your eyes," he said.
She did, and stood there, arms out on the side of the dark road, trusting in him completely.
So he showed her.