The moon shined behind him, illuminating the path he had taken up to this point. But where Roman had to go, no natural light would reach. The trees looked black, the moonlight not daring to touch within ten feet of the forest.
Roman swallowed hard, adjusting his grip on the torch he had just lit so he could make his way to where he wanted- needed to go. And then he stepped out of the light and into the eclipsing darkness, chills shooting down his spine at the choice he had just made.
He was no coward, he needed to make this journey, overwhelming evil aura or not.
With a deep breath Roman adjusted the strap of his shoulder bag, the weight of the importance it carried making his chest feel like stone. He could do this, just one step in front of the other and he’d be back home with the things he needed to save-
“You can do this ,” he whispered to himself, continuing to walk through the trees, the mushrooms practically glowing against the light of his torch.
The forest was filled with magic, and even someone with about as much magic as a cog like Roman could feel it. He couldn’t tell if it was as dark as mages made it out to be though, he had no magic to speak of, no way to tell the difference between light and dark magic.
There was no way to tell if the decision he was making was the right one, but he had no money for a trustworthy healing mage, nothing of note that a lord may want to help him save his best friend from the magical illness.
And he knew it was magical in nature. There was no mundane illness that he could find that caused the inky black veins running under Virgil’s skin. No matter how many times he bothered the village clinician, Doctor Logan Ackroyd, there just wasn’t an answer caused by non magical means.
So into the forest Roman was going, in search of the supposed dark mage that lived there. Hoping beyond hope he might be able to convince a man rumored to be as dark as they came to help him where money greedy mages of the kingdom wouldn’t.
Roman whipped around, extending his torch so the flames would light any potential danger. He had to protect his handbag, it carried the only bargaining chip he had.
He had to protect himself as well, seeing as he was Virgil’s only hope of survival right now.
Nothing stepped into the light of fire, but Roman’s heart didn’t settle from his throat. He felt eyes on him, and the feeling made his skin crawl as if there roaches making their home underneath it.
“Keep going, Roman, you need to get to the center of the forest,” he mumbled to himself, his eyes constantly flicking about the trees, every movement and sound catching his attention.
Roman walked for twenty more minutes before he realized with an abrupt chilling terror that the sounds had stopped and the forest had somehow grown darker while he wasn’t paying attention.
He stopped, his grip on the strap of his shoulder bag tightening as he tilted his head this way and that, listening for signs of life.
Total silence and fear spilling down his spine, spreading to his ribs, constricting his chest until his breaths were quick and uneven.
No , he couldn’t panic right now, not when Virgil needed him.
But he didn’t have a weapon. Not even the sword he’d forged himself under his apprenticeship with the blacksmith. All he had was his fists and the knowledge of fighting he’d gained from his days on the streets when he was young, roughhousing with a brother he barely remembered.
Suddenly there was sound again, but only one. It slid in the grass and leaves, sending a sound not unlike a hiss to Roman’s ears. He tensed, looking around frantically as he struggled to pinpoint where it was coming from.
The feeling of eyes on his back intensified, and Roman whirled around.
Paralyzing fear locked up his limbs as snake eyes filled his vision, poison yellow and bright with power.
And yet it wasn’t a colossal snake in front of him but a man. A man with scales decorating half his face and powerful magic seeming to emanate off of his skin, almost as if he was feeding the forest around him. Which should be impossible, it was the magic in nature itself that gave mages their power, their connection and respect of the earth and sea and sky giving them abilities the mundane could never hope to have.
“You’re in my forest,” the mage said, stating a fact as if he was trying to figure out a puzzle and Roman was a piece.
Roman nodded, struggling to keep his breathing even in the face of the fear squeezing his lungs. Was this the mage of the forest he’d heard whispers of? The man no one seemed to have any information on beyond he was powerful and he preferred to be left alone?
The mage narrowed his eyes at Roman, suspicious of his intentions if he had a guess. Roman didn’t blame him, he’d be suspicious too if people spoke of him this way and suddenly a stranger appeared in his home.
“I-” he stopped, the fear in his lungs constricting tighter, halting his words.
With an irritated hiss, the mage glanced to the side. His eyes never locked on anything, almost as if he was looking at the forest itself.
The fear eased, and Roman could finally breathe.
What the hell? Did this mage just look to the forest itself and make it ease on the paranoia it was causing him?
Just how powerful was he?
“I need help,” Roman said, his voice hoarse and weak as it left him.
The mage looked at him again, tilting his head to the side as he searched Roman’s face like he was looking for something.
“I had assumed you wanted something, tell me what it is. I’ll decide if it was a fruitless endeavor on your part.”
Roman swallowed, glancing at the trees around him as the darkness seemed to grow even darker, the shadows reaching for his form, held at bay by the glow of his torch and the command of the mage.
“My best friend is sick, something is draining his life and I have found no non magic illness to cause the blackness filling his veins.”
The mage sneered, his fingers twitching at his side and the shadows lurching just a few feet closer. Roman’s fear returned, this time all his own.
“You couldn’t go to the light mages for help? I’m sure this type of heroism is exactly what they get off on.”
Roman grit his jaw, anger flaring at the memory of his meeting with the cheapest mage he could find.
“I’m poor, barely above a street rat as a blacksmith’s apprentice. They wouldn’t help me unless I gave them my life, and even then they wouldn’t do everything in their power to save the life of my friend.”
The mage paused at the rage in Roman’s voice, his face smoothing back into curiosity as he looked at him.
“And what makes you think I’ll do what you need for free?”
Roman took a deep breath. This was the one question he had been prepared for. He opened his shoulder bag, pulling out the only thing he had to offer a mage who had been cut off from society, and as far as Roman knew, contact.
A blanket. An afghan to be more specific. It was the only thing he had managed to keep from his mother before she passed and he was left on the streets. The only thing he and his brother had shared without a fight before he had been taken by guards for showing signs of magic.
The mage inhaled sharply, his eyes widening as they locked on the wool in Roman’s hands.
“I… hope it’s not insulting. I’ve heard sentimental magic can be powerful, and I know the weight of this blanket has gotten me through some very lonely years. It’s yours, if you will help me.”
Snake eyes snapped up to look at Roman’s face, making him flinch away, scared he may have insulted the most powerful man he had ever met.
“...Alright. Bring him here, and I will see what I can do. You leave the blanket with me, though.”
Roman’s grip on the afghan tightened, closing his eyes as he struggled to come to terms with the fact he’d have to part with it sooner than he anticipated.
“Do you have a way that would make it easier to bring him? He’s been bedridden for weeks, and my village is a week’s travel by foot,” he said, finally opening his eyes to be met with a surprised look from the mage.
It was almost as if he hadn’t expected Roman to agree so easily.
Roman was too desperate to save his friend to argue. If this mage could help, if Roman could get him to help Virgil, he would do anything short of taking his own life or the lives of innocents.
“I may have a way to help, if you promise me one more thing,” the mage said, confusing Roman.
“What may that be?”
The mage hesitated, eyes going from Roman’s face to the shadows around them that had slinked back during their conversation, to the blanket in his hands, and finally back to his face.
“Your name, and… continued companionship, once your friend is healthy.”
Roman blinked, staring at the mage in surprise. Of all the things he had been expecting to have to give up, his time had not been one of them. At least, not in the way the mage was asking.
Then he grinned, charming smile naturally slipping into place and confident squaring of his shoulders making the remaining fear he felt melt from his muscles.
“You may call me Roman. And I’d be happy to return for more leisurely activities once my friend is saved.”
The mage seemed taken off guard once again, though his own inviting smile graced his features. He took a few steps forward, gently tugging the afghan from Roman’s arms and into his own.
“And I am known as Deceit, but I suppose I’ll allow you to call me Dee.”