Tearing the Darkveil

A scream bounced around the pitch-black cave and then fell silent. An elderly man in a small cavern pulled a black robe over his red tunic, unaffected by the sound. He dropped the hood over his wispy white hair and tugged the cord so tight that it hurt.   The man stood in front of an empty coat rack. To his left was a broad table littered with parchment, and on top of the pile lay a curved obsidian blade with the firelight playing along its razor edge. He picked up the dagger and scanned a document with his crooked finger, murmuring something in a guttural language. Then he slashed the air in a black blur, rending a shimmering tear in reality with shadows bleeding from it. The action made his back ache, and he lamented that his body wasn’t what it used to be, but these limitations of a mortal body would soon be a thing of the past.   The old man mopped the sweat out of his eyes and took a deep breath to refocus on his task; he probed the three-finger wide tear. The knuckles of his other hand turned white with strain as he gripped the dagger’s hilt as if it were a secure hold on this reality while he dared to reach beyond the Darkveil. He could feel something scaly, slippery and wet curl under his fingers, scraping against his nails. It was unsettling when it spiralled quickly up his index finger to his black ring, with the sensation vanishing into the mouth of the ring’s white skull. He forced himself to hold his hand steady while he waited for it to finish so he could withdraw, and the tear in the Darkveil snapped shut a moment later.   The man touched the sharp tip of the dagger to his ring, and the firelight guttered as if someone had passed in front of it. That slithering sensation briefly returned, and when it stopped, the room brightened except for the blade, which now appeared to be devouring the light.   He sighed with relief as the strain on his body eased, and his conscience again took on the immense weight of what he was about to do. It was a dark act and would cause great suffering, but that was nothing compared to the blight that would come if he did nothing. His duty was to protect Rendin, even if it cost him everything, even if it cost his soul, because what was one soul when so many were at stake? He knew that some fire could only be fought with more fire, but this didn’t make it any easier.   The man slipped the dagger into his robe’s left inner pocket and limped forward. Pushing onwards, he turned to the passage leading to the next cavern, reverberating with the faint melodic hum of voices. In the larger room, he saw orange firelight dance on the black-robed figures that circled it. A wide round slab of stone engraved with a pentagram crossed by a triangle loomed in the centre, and at seven of its points, a rune was carved into the surface. Eight runnels reached from the symbols to the altar’s edge, where eight obsidian goblets rested on the ground below.   It looked like everything was ready. Good, he thought. I’m not in the mood to make examples of anyone. It would give them an excuse to stab me in the back, and I need all my focus on the task. Immortality awaits.   A vacant spot at the head of the pentagram symbolising the all-mother designated his position, and he took it. On the other side of the slab, the knot of Hazmothane hungrily awaited the ritual, and the figure standing over it was an athletic woman with fiery red hair poking out of her hood. She was the other central piece of this complex puzzle.   It was time. Two more figures in cloaks emerged from the dark room behind the red-haired woman, leading a young blond girl with glassy blue eyes, wearing a thin white dress that hugged tightly to her lean body. A trickle of dark red fluid beaded on the corners of her mouth and stained her lips. The elixir they had fed her was a potent sedative, but it would do nothing to soothe pain, and she would feel everything.   There is no other way, he reminded himself, stopping his thoughts before they could wander to the memory of his granddaughter, who would’ve been of a similar age. I can’t turn back from this now.   The girl lay down at the centre of the circular stone with the help of her ushers, and they took their places. Each stood at a holy symbol connected to a point on the pentagram engraving; one was the octagonal web of Mag, and the other the spiralled tear of Lot. All eight order members were in position, and the ritual was ready to begin. The crooked old man reached into the right side of his cloak and found nothing. Age, it was a strange thing to see your mind forsake you. Another bother that would be no more after tonight. He switched to his left, where he found the dagger and withdrew it. When he cleared his throat, the assembly ended their song and fell silent.   The victim didn’t stir at all, and her eyes kept staring blankly at the small hole in the ceiling. The crooked old man followed her gaze and waited until the moonlight poured in. It wasn’t bright and silvery as you might expect; instead, it was a foreboding red. For a moment, he wondered if what he was doing was worth it, the price was so steep, and then he reminded himself of the cost of inaction once more. Rampant death across the continent, the once great kingdom of Rendin subjugated, and his descendants cut off from their birthright forever. No, the price was indeed worth it. He swallowed hard, composed himself, and allowed his last thread of humanity to weather as he raised the dagger into the air.   “My brothers and sisters,” he announced in a grave voice. He shuddered at calling this pit of vipers his close relations, but the ritual commanded it, and he wouldn’t risk failure to spare himself discomfort. “Tonight, we set in motion the age-old struggle. We release those barred from our world and unleash the power that would bring about our salvation.” “Forged in darkness, bound in magic and freed to the light,” the assembly responded in unison. The blade of the black dagger gleamed red, and tentacles of pure darkness curved from the hilt, wrapping around the crooked man’s hand. Painful arthritis in his knuckles eased, and the knot in his back loosened as the dark power filled him with strength and energy he hadn’t felt in years surged in his belly. The crooked man looked down at the girl, and with one smooth stroke of the blade, he sliced her chest open from neck to sternum, exposing her heart. At first, for a few seconds, the organ continued to pulse slowly, as if it hadn’t yet realised what was happening, but soon the adrenalin kicked in, and it looked like a galleon drum leading its rowers to ramming speed.   Blood so black it sucked the light from the room, flowed along every runnel and poured into the waiting cups. Each congregation member drank their fill, and the man heard someone nearby smack their lips. He stepped forward and snapped up the goblet before him to sip the heady fluid, and the tang of copper filled his mouth.   “It has begun,” reverberated a demonic voice.

Tearing the Darkveil by Jaques Smit

Cover image: Tearing the Darkveil by MidJourney AI and Jaques Smit