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Christian Urban Fantasy Adventure

      Katarina walked through the cool halls of her home, listening to her slippered feet fall softly against the stone. She glanced at a tapestry on the wall, depicting some ancient, terrible battle, and felt her throat catch. Her father never called for her at this time of day unless something was very wrong. Had someone died? She couldn’t think what else might merit this unexpected summons.

           She hurried through the enormous manor, passing through a courtyard with a bubbling fountain, then back into the cool stone house. Jerusalem was hot this time of year, and she felt beads of sweat forming on her forehead. Finally, she stood before her father’s door and took a deep breath, composing herself before she knocked and entered.

           Octavius lifted his head and gazed at her with weary eyes, and she suddenly stopped, feeling fear wash over her. Her father beckoned her with a limp hand, and she took a few tentative steps forward. With a start, she realized that her father’s advisors were with him, as well as a pair of guards.

           “I came as fast as I could, Father,” Katarina said. “What is it? Is something wrong?”

           Her father sighed and nodded slowly. “I have just heard of your secret engagement. Tell me, is it true? Are you betrothed to that boy David? I have many sources, they said you have been spending much more time around him and his ilk, but I dismissed them. I did not want to believe it. Please, tell me my men are wrong. You – you cannot marry that Jew!”

           Katarina straightened her shoulders, staring at her father. “Yes, we are betrothed. David is a wonderful man, and I do not know why you are so opposed to our engagement. I’d hoped to bring him here so we could announce our betrothal together, but – ”

           “Come here?” Octavius screamed. “Bring him here! You will be the death of us all, daughter! I – I am sorry, but you must go! You can no longer live under my roof. Go, be with David or whatever man you choose, but leave me!”

           “But, father…” she took a step back, trembling. “You cannot – ”

           “GO!” He was on his feet now, face reddening as he pointed at her. “Guards, take her! She is never allowed to return to these grounds! Go!”

           Katarina was too shocked to protest when the two guards grabbed her arms and led her out of the office and down the hallway. Behind her, she faintly heard the sound of her father crying.

***

           David lay motionless on the rooftop, watching the alley below. Construction on Herod’s Temple had ceased for the evening; even half a mile away, the night seemed silent in comparison. People talked and moved about in the streets, but David was waiting for a particular person - a particular presence. He absently munched some bread, mentally blessing Katarina and her cooking. What a woman. These five years with her had been blissful, even though they’d been on the run for most of them. How strange it was to be back home in Jerusalem, and he grimaced at what had finally brought him back. He hated seeing any form of evil, but it was especially sickening when it took root where he had grown up. It was unfortunate Katarina could not join him, but things seemed more dangerous than usual this time. She was staying in the little village of Bethlehem a few miles away from the city; that was as close as he dared bring her.

           Shaking his head, David turned his full attention back to his patient observations. It wasn’t long before he felt something. He was never sure if it was a change in the air, or something he felt internally, but all the hairs on his body wanted to stand on end as the evil presence approached.

           “Magic,” he growled, peering over the roof’s edge. “Recent magic. Who did you kill, Rabbi?”

           After another minute, slow, plodding footsteps came up the street, then turned and began walking down the alleyway beneath David. He felt the presence grow stronger, until it was nearly overwhelming, and he wanted either to scream or to vomit. He settled for a rage-filled snarl as he pushed off the roof, rolling to land on his feet in front of the man who had been hurrying down the alleyway.

           “Hello, Teacher. Stop a minute, let us speak.”

           Rabbi Zonias stopped in shock as the young man dropped in front of him, but he smiled, crinkling the wrinkled skin under his eyes.

           “Ahh, David! I haven’t seen you in years! How are you? How is your wife?”

           “You leave her out of this,” David growled, and unsheathed the sword from his belt. “You know what I’m here for, or you’re a bigger fool than I thought. Who did you kill tonight, Rabbi? I can sense the death surrounding you.” He clenched the handle of his sword tighter. “To think that I trusted you as a boy. Someone trusted you now, and you took advantage of it. Who did you kill?”

           Zonias’ eyes got larger, reflecting the light of a distant lamp, but he smiled and shook his head.

           “You are perceptive David, someone did die, but I tried to save them. A young boy, Nicholas, was very sick. I tried to comfort him, but he passed away in my arms.”

           David pointed the tip of his sword at the man’s throat. “Liar. You used magic to sap his life away, like a leech. You wear the mantle of the holy ones, but prey on the innocent like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Who is selling the amulets, Zonias? The trail led to Jerusalem and I found you, but you’re weak. You’re no mastermind. Tell me who is in charge, pig, and I’ll kill you quickly.”

           The rabbi’s face had grown paler and more drawn as David spoke, and he drew his teeth back in a ferocious snarl.

           “So, the little pup thinks himself mighty and wishes to nip the heels of the wolf. Well, pup, I serve a true power! Tell me, can your puny god do this?” He suddenly thrust his hands forward, and flames erupted from his palms. David shouted and closed his eyes, slamming his hand to the side as he thrust mentally against the evil, the wrongness that exuded from this monster in priest’s clothes. The fire passed beside him, tongues of flame licking the stone for a moment before they were suddenly extinguished.

           Zonias stood there panting, staring at David. “You – you’re a – a white mage! I thought they were a myth! Wait! Please, wait! A man at the merchant’s district! He runs a shop of rugs, fine textiles, he is selling the amulets! Please, don’t – ” The old man thrust his hands forward again, but he was too slow. David’s sword took him through the throat, and he collapsed with a gurgle. David stabbed him in the heart, just to be certain, before wiping the blade on a clean patch of the man’s robes.

           Grimacing, he sheathed his sword and took off running. Surely someone had seen the flames or heard the shouts by now. He did not want to be anywhere near the scene; there was too much to do tonight.

***

           The rabbi had lied of course. As far as David could tell, there was nothing in the textile shop, or the entire shopping district for that matter. But after making a final circuit of the quiet, dark buildings, he felt a faint stirring. It was so faint, it could have been nervousness or his own discomfort, but it didn’t feel quite natural. It took him several minutes to pinpoint the direction the feeling came from, but finally he noticed the sense grow a little stronger, like an uneasiness in his gut.

           He followed his senses for a short distance, until he found himself outside a large mansion. A sense of familiarity gnawed in the back of David’s mind, but it was hard to discern much in the darkness. He’d never spent much time in this part of the city, and five years’ absence had dulled some of his memories. Pushing it to the back of his mind, David inspected the grounds.

           A thick stone wall surrounded the manor and the grounds, with a large set of gates facing the road. The magnificent bronze gates were locked, and the clasp was sealed with magic. With a disgusted grimace, David closed his eyes and touched the lock, feeling for the wrongness. What poor creature had been slaughtered to put this power here? After a moment, he tensed, pushing his own sense of rightness from his hand into the lock, chasing away the evil.

           “Be made right,” he whispered as he grabbed a more mundane lockpick from his pocket and began fiddling with the heavy clasp. “May you no longer be tainted with evil.”

           After a few moments, the lock slid open, and he pulled on the heavy gates. They groaned open on weathered hinges, but he strode forward calmly. Now that he knew where to go, he did not need to hide. David felt almost sick at how strong the evil was here. I probably didn’t even need that old magician to guide me here, I could’ve sensed it on my own if I moved around the city enough. This place reeks of magic.

           A shout brought him up short, and he heard several pairs of boots pounding towards him in the darkness. Calmly, David unsheathed his sword and stood on the path, waiting.

           Three armored men with swords drawn charged him from three directions, hoping to pin him between them. David felt weak magic coming from their dark forms, probably minor amulets or charms of some type. The magic helped rather than hindered him, letting him feel their presences even in the dark. He smiled. Did they really think a simple warding charm would work against him?

           David dropped and kicked out viciously, catching one man in the kneecap. The guard screamed as he fell backwards, but David had already pivoted on one hand and swept his sword up under a breastplate into a second man’s gut, spinning around the body to block the remaining guard’s slash. Yelling a prayer, David leaped out of the way, spinning to bring his sword up, barely managing to parry the thrust of a fourth man who had approached unawares. David’s blade sang with every blow, and in the space of several heartbeats he barely kept his new opponent’s weapon from touching his body half a dozen times.

           He felt one of the guards move behind him, and thrust his left hand backwards, yelling another prayer as he tried to channel his power. The amulet on his rearward enemy suddenly burst into flames, lighting up the courtyard around them. The man screamed, and David saw the suddenly illuminated face of his other opponent fall slack with shock. But only for a moment; the man was back on him in a flash, trying doubly hard to press the attack.

           David desperately tried to block one, two, three sword thrusts, but on the third he felt a painful slice on his arm. Stifling a cry, he lashed out with a vicious kick, spinning in a circle to slash the air around him. The man stepped back, but not quickly enough, and the tip of the blade sliced across his face, sending blood spurting onto the stones. The man screamed past the bubbling froth as he stumbled backwards.

           Ignoring his arm, David pressed the attack. He needed to finish this quickly. He swapped to a one-handed grip, then suddenly snaked his left hand forward to grasp the man’s tunic. Before the guard had a chance to react, he yanked downwards, exposing the neck for a quick downward slash. The man collapsed in a dark spray of blood.

           Panting, David stood still for a moment, staring at the four motionless men around him. They weren’t all dead, but they wouldn’t bother him, and that was all he needed right now. Clenching his teeth, he took off his tunic and wrapped it around his arm, staunching the flow of blood. With a snarl, he set off into the manor, looking for the source of the evil he felt.

           It didn’t take him long to maneuver through the meandering hallways. The wrongness led him, the sense of nature twisted and warped. His rage grew as he felt the horror build, and he knew what he would find when he got there.

           David reached the final door, and paused for a moment. Lord, guide me. He kicked forward, channeling all the force and power he could muster. The magic sealing the door had been tied too strongly to it, and the wood splintered into a thousand pieces, shooting like tiny spears into the room.

           Four men in robes ceased their chanting, and turned to look at him. A body was strapped to a table between them, but David couldn’t see more than a vague shape. One of them shouted in a strange tongue, pointing a wooden staff, but David simply slapped away the tendril of force that tried to skewer him.

           “You’re dead men,” he snarled. “Give up now and I’ll make your deaths quick.”

           Three of the men charged him, but they had no weapons, and their magic was pitiful; they weren’t even trained Mages, just some sniveling magicians. David cut them down like rags, leaving their bodies to bleed on the stone. He advanced slowly, crimson staining every inch of his arms and torso, a specter of death. The final man cowered, collapsing against the far wall in fear. David momentarily ignored the victim on the table as he strode towards the magician.

           “No, no please – please don’t kill me. Please David, have mercy!”

           David stopped, shocked that someone here knew his name. The man before him lifted trembling hands to his hood, revealing the face of Octavius, Katarina’s father.

           “Please – please take him, if it’s so important to you. He’s a beggar, nothing more. Nobody cared what we did to him. He’s still alive, we only drugged his wine to knock him unconscious. Please, David…” Octavius’ pitiful whines trailed off, and he looked at David. After a moment, he licked his lips and spoke again.

           “I didn’t kill Katarina. I didn’t kill my daughter, even when I knew she was pledged to you. I hadn’t wanted to draw attention to us; you were so young and inexperienced, I knew you couldn’t suspect me. I let you have her, I let you both have a life apart from me! What did I ever do to hurt you?”

           David looked at the blind beggar strapped to the table, his head lolling to the side in his drugged stupor. Instruments of torture and murder were scattered around him, their grim sheen reflecting the flickering lamplight. A pile of carved amulets sat nearby, awaiting their chance to be filled with unholy power. With a sigh, he turned back to Octavius.

           “You spared my wife, and so I shall spare you. We stand in God’s city. Unlike your gods, he is a God of mercy. Perhaps you deserve to die, but tonight I shall not be the one to make that judgement. Repent of your sins, and perhaps he shall spare you.”

           David turned and untied the straps holding the beggar, then half-dragged the man out of the room. Pausing in the doorway, David looked back over his shoulder at Octavius, who was still sitting against the wall.

           “Know this: If I hear of any more magic, any more wickedness here, I will return. I care not what riches, or soldiers, or power you think you have. I will come back, and I will avenge those you kill.”

           “Please,” Octavius whispered, “don’t tell my daughter.” David stared at him for a moment, then left wordlessly.

           He helped the beggar out of the manor and down the street. The beggar’s feet barely moved, and he groaned as they made their slow way through the city. Exhausted, David finally set the man down near the Temple, propping him up against the wall. It was a warm night, and he would be fine until morning. Grimacing, David paused and looked at the man, but there was nothing more he could do. Someone else would have to help that man now. David turned and ran off into the darkness.

           The journey to Bethlehem took hours, and his wound began bleeding again after the first mile. Exhausted, panting with thirst and trembling with exhaustion, David finally made it to the little town just as the sky was glowing with the first light of dawn. He slipped up to a shack and knocked quietly on the door. Katarina opened it after only a moment.

           “Oh! David, you’re hurt! Come in, quickly!” She drew him in, and quickly bandaged his wounds and washed the blood off his body. He sipped from a waterskin and ate a little bread, feeling his body finally begin to relax. When she finished tending him, she sat down opposite and stared at him with large eyes.

           “What happened? Did you find the men doing the magic?”

           “Yes,” David hesitated, and nodded after a moment. “Yes, I did. There were several of them, but I think there is hope now that Jerusalem will not have magicians like that again for quite some time.”

           “I’m glad.” She pulled him into an embrace and smiled, tears glistening on her cheeks. “I was so worried for you. But you did God’s work, ridding the city of those evil men. It’s so amazing! Jerusalem should be proud. I feel it will be centuries before anything so fantastic as this happens here.”

           David smiled and softly kissed Katarina’s forehead. “God only knows.”

February 05, 2021 17:24

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