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GARGOYLE QUEST- PREVIEW OF CHAPTER 1
July 7, 2016
Tonight THE WARLOCK would burn.
A dark joy welled up in the Witchfinder General’s chest as he stood among the villagers in the desolate clearing. Fading sunlight bled across the primordial New England forest, the crimson-tainted twilight approaching fast. Somerset McBride pursed his lips and balled his fists in fearsome anticipation. The need for vengeance smoldered inside the witch hunter with an intensity that matched the flickering torches in the villagers’ hands. Within the coming hour, the terrible fiend that had terrorized the good people of Salem for twelve long months would be meeting his master in hell.
Somerset had devoted his life to hunting down practitioners of the dark arts. Throughout the Colonies, he’d faced horrors most men could not imagine in their wildest dreams, had seen evils not of this world. But they had been nothing compared to the terror he’d encountered within the decaying walls of the warlock’s secluded cabin. The sights and sounds of that fateful night would haunt him for his remaining days, that much was certain.
Reports of a series of mysterious kidnappings had brought him to the small town of Salem. All of the missing women were young, beautiful virgins, snatched from their beds in the dark of night. When he arrived, Somerset was greeted with further chilling accounts of the recently deceased rising from their graves and lumbering through the surrounding forest, ravenous for human flesh.
Most might’ve written off these tales as local superstition, but Somerset knew better. He fought back the horrific images of the skeletal remains he’d stumbled upon in the warlock’s keep. Only years of training, his blessed weapons, and the element of surprise had allowed him to prevail over the devil in human disguise.
The clinking of heavy steel chains pulled Somerset out of his somber musings. The colonial militia brusquely dragged the condemned warlock toward the waiting pyre at the center of the clearing. Even though each man was heavily armed, rapiers and flintlock pistols gleaming in the pale moonlight, their fear was unmistakable. Despite the thick chains, the prisoner in their midst radiated a palpable aura of danger and evil.
Most villagers had imagined the killer to be some grotesque, deformed man-beast, but the reality was quite different. The warlock was tall and well-muscled; he carried himself with the pride and discipline bearing of a seasoned soldier. His features were sharply drawn, with a strong jaw and aquiline nose - he hadn’t needed spell-craft to lure his young victims into his deadly web. By the time they’d realized that the handsome man was a beast borne from their worst nightmares, it was too late.
Even now, in the face of impending death, the villain showed no signs of fear. His face remained composed and relaxed, almost as if he welcomed the tagging fire that was about to consume him. Then again, Somerset questioned if Necron, as the man called himself, was really human any longer. After all, why would a demon be afraid of the flames of hell?
The warlock’s grey eyes fixed on Somerset, and a sardonic smile played across his face. There was no sense of defeat in Necron’s magnetic gaze, only anticipation. That wasn’t the look of a man who expected to die.
The bastard is looking forward to his punishment.
The insight filled Somerset with a renewed wave of terror.
If Necron wasn’t fazed by the prospect of his own immolation, it could signify only one thing: he had something planned.
The warlock’s voice was strong, even pleasant, as he addressed the Witchfinder General—so different from the guttural hisses that had exploded from those same lips as he desperately tried to weave a spell during their last encounter.
“So the famous Somerset McBride comes to see me burn,” the warlock said matter-of-factly, leaning as close as his heavy chains allowed. Eyeball to eyeball, less than a foot separated the witch hunter and warlock now. A chill rippled up Somerset’s spine, but he choked back his fear to the best of his abilities. This was ridiculous. The prisoner was at his mercy, feet and hands weighed down by heavy shackles. Yet it was Necron who set the tone of this encounter, his confident defiance sapping Somerset’s courage.
It is wise to fear a man who practices the black arts, Somerset told himself. He’d secured the three grimoires in Necron’s possession. Without those accursed tomes—the source of the warlock’s terrible power—Necron was just another prisoner. Rationally, there was no need to be worried. But Somerset knew all too well that logic and magic made uneasy bedfellows.
“You seem awfully calm for a man about to face his judgment,” Somerset remarked in as measured a tone as he could muster.
“Does that worry you, my dear adversary?”
The warlock leaned even closer, but a sharp tug on the chains pulled him up short. The magician let out a sharp curse, grimacing as the soldiers yanked him back, and Somerset smirked.
So you can experience pain after all.
But his satisfaction was to be short-lived. The preternatural calm and haughty, almost mocking air returned to Necron’s features as he regarded Somerset and the villagers who’d ventured into the clearing to witness this execution. The crowd shrank away under the warlock’s impenetrable glare.
The fiend smiled coolly as the villagers took a few steps back. “You’ve all gathered here tonight to see me succumb to the fire, but it is you who will die tonight. Leave now, and perhaps I’ll let you live out your miserable existence. Remain, and I promise you won’t see the next sunrise.”
A nervous rumbling passed through the gathered townspeople, and Somerset’s neck muscles bunched up with growing tension. Necron was stirring up the crowd. Chained, awaiting death, the warlock still managed to exert control over the situation. A master manipulator. Some of the villagers made signs of the cross and began a hasty retreat, unwilling to risk magical retribution for their presence.
Necron’s lips turned upward in a confident smile. “A new dark age will fall upon this world. The dead will rise and outnumber the living, paving the way for my lord’s return.”
There is only one true Lord, you fiend, Somerset thought, his own sense of defiance surging within him. He nodded at the men to proceed.
The guards roughly shoved the warlock toward the pyre and bound Necron to the thick wooden stake at its center. Burning witches was an Old World tradition, a practice from a bygone age, which had mostly been abandoned in the Colonies. Nowadays British rule dictated that witches and warlocks should be hanged, but for Necron, the Witchfinder General had decided to make an exception. The more primitive form of execution suited his crimes. Something more dramatic than the noose was needed to restore the community’s faith and heal the wounds inflicted by the murderous warlock.
There was another reason to choose fire. Somerset feared Necron’s followers might try to revive the warlock’s lifeless corpse or use parts of him in their own terrible rituals. An example had to be made of this dark mage, so as to discourage others from following his twisted path. The flames would erase Necron from existence. The New World had to be cleansed of black magic. It should be a place where humanity could start anew, free from the fears and evils of the old continent. A new world indeed, where innovation and the light of science would finally defeat the old superstitions and allow mankind to reach its full potential.
As the soldiers secured the chains around the stake, Necron followed their efforts with an almost bored expression. Taking a step toward the pyre, Somerset suddenly noticed a flash of torchlight playing across a strange object near his feet, gleaming like a knife’s edge in the dark. He knelt down and scooped up the mysterious item in question.
Closer inspection revealed it to be a glass vial. Had the warlock dropped it there? What did it signify? Perhaps there was a simple explanation for the warlock’s lack of fear in the face of death. Had one of the villagers slipped the fiend a drug? Doubtless the warlock counted followers among some of the colonists, men and women drawn to the promise of his supernatural power. A narcotic might account for Necron’s detached behavior. It would dull the senses, replace a state of abject terror with a euphoric high. Somerset hoped with all his heart this wasn’t the case. After what he’d seen in the man’s cabin of horrors, he wanted the warlock to suffer.
Somerset nervously scanned the clearing, taking in the crowd of villagers more closely. He recognized some of the worn, wary faces, the families of the murdered girls who’d gathered to see the killer meet his just fate. Somerset prayed it would provide some small measure of comfort and closure for them. No execution would ever be able to fill the emptiness in their gutted souls, but at least they would sleep soundly at night knowing Necron would never, ever again claim an innocent life.
His sense of unease deepening, the witch hunter decided it was time. An irrational feeling of urgency had taken hold of him, his senses on full alert. The empty vial in his hand seemed like a omen of greater horrors to come, giving rise to a stream of dark thoughts.
Maybe this isn’t a drug. Maybe Necron’s followers passed him a magical potion of some kind. And if that’s the case….
Biting down on his lips, he silenced the frantic voice in his head and ordered the guards to set the pyre alight. There was no hesitation as the men lowered their torches. Within seconds, the kindling caught fire. Reassured by the growing flames, Somerset’s thudding heartbeat calmed slightly.
A wind stirred the circle of trees, gusts of air reaching for Somerset like icy fingers.
The witch hunter fought back a shiver despite the fire. He took a step closer, intent on looking into the warlock’s eyes as the blaze engulfed him. Dancing flames licked at the man’s feet. Somerset expected Necron’s screams to shatter the clearing’s eerie silence, but those cries of agony never came. Instead, as the conflagration grew, the warlock broke out into unnerving laughter. The sound echoed eerily in the clearing.
Keep laughing, Somerset thought.
The warlock’s grating laughter gave way to a guttural roar as the inferno finally engulfed him, a sound no human throat could possibly produce. This was the bellow of a beast, a creature not of this Earth.
His gut churning, nails digging deep into the palms of his hands, Somerset witnessed a terrifying transformation. Necron’s features collapsed, his humanity melting away. Bones cracked and skin shifted as though some invisible sculptor had decided to use the man’s flesh and blood as his clay. The warlock’s body shook and hunched forward, the spine contorting grotesquely. Muscles expanded and bulged, tearing the black tunic to shreds. The fiend’s skin grew gray and mottled, his mouth twisting into a bestial snout lined with razor-sharp teeth. Fingers retracted into talons that glinted in the moonlight.
Somerset’s fascinated horror turned to panic as a pair of demonic wings exploded from the warlock’s back. A beat later, his chains snapped. A sliver of metal shrapnel grazed the witch-finder’s cheek. Through the rising circle of fire, Somerset watched as the terrible transformation ran its course. Necron had become a creature of the night, his outward form finally mirroring his dark, twisted soul.
Somerset eyed the vial in his hand, the horrific realization sinking in. The warlock had found a way to cheat death after all. He backed away, dropping the empty vial as the winged shadow rose from the flames.
A monster from hell.
The gargoyle emerged from the blazing pyre like a devil bursting through the fiery gates of hell. Shredded clothing clung in long, burning strips from the creature’s physique; the once-handsome features now distorted into something monstrous. Villagers and soldiers alike retreated in terror as the gargoyle’s wings cast a jagged shadow over the clearing. It hung suspended for a moment, a nightmarish silhouette against the bloody sunset. Below, the bonfire raged, furious for having been denied its rightful prize.
For a moment, dark wonder kept Somerset’s terror at bay. Then another terrible roar pierced the night as the humanoid gargoyle swooped down on the paralyzed crowd. Screams accompanied the mad rush of movement as the gargoyle tore into the mob. Outstretched talons opened throats. Fangs rent vulnerable flesh. Blood sprayed as villagers fell left and right, the cries of the dying unable to drown out the monster’s inhuman shrieks.
The sound of their suffering jolted Somerset out of his paralysis. His gloved hand closed around the hilt of a whip which was fashioned from a rope used for hanging many a witch and warlock. Its magic had proven effective in the past against demons. He could only pray it would serve him well now.
Before the gargoyle could fall upon him, Somerset lashed out with the whip. It whistled through the air and met the incoming beast with an audible snap. The gargoyle’s gray skin sizzled as if doused with burning oil, but it wasn’t enough to stop its terrible advance. It roared with agony but kept coming, an unstoppable force of evil.
Somerset backed away. He brought up his flintlock pistol…but what good was a silver bullet when the magic of his whip had failed? Death was closing in, and all that was left to him was to face the inevitable like a man.
He ignored the talons and teeth, which dripped crimson as they glinted in the hellish light of the pyre, and instead focused on the monster’s slitted gaze. The dull grey eyes regarded him with a cruel intelligence, the same expression that had mockingly taunted him only minutes earlier. This was no mere beast, Somerset realized, but a monster gifted with the steel trap mind of a man.
The gargoyle triumphantly raised a blood-caked claw, its winged shadow becoming Somerset’s world. Razor-sharp talons whistled toward his face—
—And came to a complete stop mere inches before they would’ve opened up his throat.
The monster had frozen in mid-attack. Surprise flickered across the gargoyle’s gaze. Whatever had happened was as much of a shock to Necron as it was to Somerset
Life seeped from the creature’s eyes as the reptilian skin turned to stone. The rearing creature now turned into a statue. What could account for this fortunate turn of events? Perhaps it was divine intervention. Or perhaps Necron had miscalculated and his own infernal magic was backfiring in a spectacular fashion.
Somerset took a deep breath and holstered his magical weapons. He took a cautious step toward the stone gargoyle. The monster’s jaw remained open in a howl of rage and shock. This second transformation had not been part of the wizard’s plan.
Somerset recalled reading ancient texts about these winged monsters. A complex history surrounded gargoyles, a history that reached all the way back into the barbarian Celts of old, but too many years had passed since he’d read those ancient parchments. Undoubtedly the coming days would give birth to new legends as the surviving villagers struggled to explain what had happened. Right now, all that mattered was that he was alive and the evil was contained. At least on this night, Salem would be safe from the warlock’s magic.
But as he assisted the survivors and tended to the wounded, Somerset found no relief in his victory. A question tormented him. How long would the warlock’s stone prison endure?
And if the spell should ever be broken, who would be brave enough to protect the world from Necron’s inhuman fury?
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!