Before the Island: Atricio

Welcome to Treomynd’s first song post! The music with this post inspired the personality and looks of Atricio (pronounced “uh-tree-see-oh), and what he ultimately does to Barnama, as you’ll soon find out. You can find the music for this post here (the title is Tempus Vernum by Enya if you’d rather find the music somewhere other than YouTube). Also, I want to announce that there will be no post next Friday (NOOOO!). Next week’s post has a lot of action; kind of like a “mid-season finale” if you will. Because of that, I want to make sure that I have plenty of time to get everything sorted out and looking good. We’re starting to get into my favorite part of Treomynd that I have been picturing for years, and I want everything to look perfect. So in the meantime, I hope you enjoy reading about the true antagonist of Treomynd!

***

Barnama tore his way through a thick patch of bushes before hunkering down on the forest floor to catch his breath. How many days had it been? Three, maybe four? The idea of leaving this forest in one piece seemed like a far-off dream now. The trees were so thick that the widower had no idea whether it was day or night. There was only a dark gloom that gave about 20 feet of visibility, and the sheer silence alone could make anyone go mad. Barnama had initially taken Aldwen’s advice, and headed to what seemed like the darkest, gloomiest parts of the forest. But that can play tricks on one’s mind, and his journey was turning fruitless.

“Look into the darkness of this forest,” he murmured to himself as his breathing began to quicken. “That crone would rather have me dead before helping me. Well, I’ve been looking for days and haven’t found anything, so your prediction is coming true!” His voice escalated into a loud yell into the void, making small black birds fly away from him through the branches. Their beating wings were the first sounds he had heard in days. He knew that it was well past time to head back, but finding food was the first priority. Other than the birds he occasionally saw, there hadn’t been any sign of animal life for at least a day. Barnama sighed and got back up to track any signs of footprints in the ground. He walked through the bleakness for about an hour or so before giving up again. Sleep started to come upon him, and he collapsed against a large tree trunk to close his eyes.

The sound of a snapping twig made him jolt upright, but there was nothing around. He looked at the ground on his right to find, of all things, a human footprint that wasn’t there when he sat down. The print was pointed directly behind him, and looked to be from a man wearing thick boots. Barnama looked behind the tree trunk to find a trail of more boot prints leading away from him. He looked back at the first footprint, and noticed that there were no other prints nearby. It was clearly the start of someone’s trail, but how? It was as if someone had just alighted from the sky and strolled past him on a fine sunny day.

“This has to be a sign!” he thought. The man was a Magician, after all. And what else did he have to go on? He leapt up and followed the footprints for about half an hour, until they stopped at a particularly thick patch of brush. The man took in a deep breath and tore through the foliage.

Barnama emerged from the other side of the bushes to discover a large clearing in the trees about an acre large. The sunlight still could not penetrate through the leaves, rather, the clearing seemed to be outlined with large oaks that formed a kind of dome over the clearing. In the center of the clearing stood a large cottage made of grey stones and an ebony roof. A chimney made out of the same grey stone poked out of the roof, and had light grey smoke billowing out. The door of the cottage was also ebony with a circular window to look out. Just in front of the cottage stood a man that looked to be a little older than Barnama. He smiled and gestured for him to come closer. Barnama collected himself and strode up to the stranger.

“Welcome to my humble abode,” said the man in a deep voice. He was very tall with a slightly muscular build. His skin was a pale nude-white, which complemented his facial features nicely. He had a firm jawline with jet black hair that he partially combed over his head, but he let the rest of it fall free in curly ringlets that touched just above his shoulders. As for his eyes, Barnama thought they were almost completely black, but he realized that there were little traces of light blue in the corneas that seemed to outline his pupils. He was wearing loose black trousers tucked into black knee-high boots that were polished to a reflective sheen. A dark grey peasant shirt was tucked into his trousers, and had shiny black buttons down the front that appeared to be made of onyx. He wore a black scarf with little tassels at the ends made of fine silk to finish off the look, and was tied in a loose knot at the base of his throat. He was in a neutral stance with his hands loosely held together in front of him, and Barnama noticed that his fingers were covered in rings made of silver, with at least three on each one. The only hint of color on the man were the gemstones littering his fingers, and they ranged from yellow to pink to green.

“Are you the Magician Atricio?” asked Barnama.

“I think you want to say Dark Magician,” said Atricio with a smile. His teeth were incandescently white. “I won’t deny what I am. Please, come inside, I can’t remember the last time I gave a guest hospitality.” He gestured for Barnama to follow him, and they walked inside the gloomy cottage. The floor was made of small cobble-stones that were polished to a glossy light grey, and matched the larger stones that made up the walls. In the center of the room was a circular black rug with a large kettle that bubbled loudly, although there seemed to be no fire beneath it. The walls to Barnama’s left and right were covered from floor to ceiling with books that looked to be well taken care of, while the wall directly in front of him had a large fireplace that took up most of the space. To the right of the fireplace lay what looked like a black puma that was lying halfway on her side. She looked content, as if she were enjoying the sunlight on a hot summer’s day. Barnama almost jumped at the sight of her, but he relaxed after she didn’t move for a moment or two, and realized that she was a taxidermic puma. A tall ebony arm chair sat in front of the fireplace that was lined with grey satin cushions, and a small end table stood just to its right.

“Please, take a seat in my chair,” said Atricio. Barnama looked at him in surprise. “I insist, I want only the best for my guests! Excuse me for a moment while I get you some refreshment. You must be famished!” Atricio disappeared behind a silk curtain to the left of the fireplace. Barnama sank uneasily in the chair, avoiding eye contact with the stuffed puma. He could hear the soft clinking of plates in the next room. Articio emerged a few minutes later carrying a silver tray full of food and drink. He placed it on the end table and picked up the whole thing to place it in front of Barnama. The tray consisted of a plate full of steaming hot chicken, with potatoes and carrots on the side. A little plate of rhubarb cake was on the left of the main course, while a little bottle of red wine was placed on the right. Barnama’s eyes widened, and his stomach roared to life.

“Eat to your heart’s content,” said the Magician. Barnama did not hesitate, and he dove into the plate of chicken. He didn’t look up until the main course was nearly done. Atricio was sitting on a stool a little ways to his right facing the fireplace, staring at him thoughtfully.

“You’re not going to eat?” asked Barnama through a bite of carrot.

“Oh, I don’t eat much these days. I only keep food on hand in case I have a visitor.” He flashed his teeth in a charming smile. He didn’t speak again until Barnama’s wine was nearly finished and he started to eat the rhubarb cake.

“I trust that I was able to help you find my abode?”

“Yes,” Barnama put the last bite of cake in his mouth and licked his fingers. “Thank you for your guidance. I wouldn’t have found you otherwise.”

“I’m glad.” The Dark Magician leaned forward with his elbow on one knee and his hand under his chin. “Shall we discuss your business?” Barnama nodded and took one last sip of wine. “Then follow me to my kettle.” The two men got up and walked over to the bubbling kettle in the middle of the room. It was about as tall as Barnama’s hip, and was filled just under the brim with white smoke so thick he couldn’t see the actual bubbling liquid.

“This kettle is my window to the world. I can see everything and anything I wish. Tell me what you seek, and I will be able to see everything through your eyes.” Barnama didn’t know what to think, but he began nonetheless.

“I seek a way to kill a Guardian in this forest. My daughter plans to run off and marry a man that is not her betrothed, and live in the forest with this man’s family. She has disobeyed my orders, and has kept the Guardian all to herself, and that scum of a man! She has found nature’s richest treasure, and she is not using it properly. I want to take the Guardian’s horn for its true purpose!”

Barnama looked down at the kettle, and he stopped his rant before it became a complete outburst. There were little wisps of white smoke rising from the kettle. They started to form the outline of a man and a woman standing next to each other, and they turned and joined in an outstretched embrace before they were swallowed up by the rest of the smoke. Then the form of a tree popped up, and the man and woman could be seen sitting against it while the form of a Guardian trotted up to them and lay down on his side to face them. Meanwhile, Atricio stood in his neutral stance again, this time with his eyes closed.

“You wish to kill a Guardian for his horn? What an honorable endeavor!” Atricio’s lips formed a toothless smile, while his eyes remained closed. “I can show you the best way to kill a Guardian, but they are fierce creatures. It will take a band of men to successfully hunt even one down. Once I give you my secret, you will be able to give it to others who want the same as you.” New wisps of smoke rose up near the the Guardian and the lovers, and they looked to be at least ten men with knives and spears that descended on the Guardian while the lovers ran away. “But my secret has a price. It is not simply knowledge; it is abilities. My secret will alter your very being. But you will have what you wish. You will have what your daughter does not deserve, and you will become invincible with power! Are you willing to pay that price?”

“My being will be altered? What do you mean?” asked Barnama. Atricio opened his eyes and walked up to him so their faces were inches apart. The blue in his eyes burned so bright that Barnama had to look away.

“You poor man, I am giving you an astounding gift! Why would you ask questions at a time like this?” His voice was cool and collected. “Either you are willing to accept my generous offer, or you must leave.” He put his hand on the widower’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry. I’m willing to accept your generous gift.” Atricio gave a teeth-clenching smile of satisfaction and began to pace around the room.

“Then we will start the process now!” he hissed. The white smoke began to rise from the kettle and sank to the floor of the cottage. It grew and filled the room like water filling a glass. Barnama soon lost sight of the Magician and shifted around uneasily.

“Did you know that I am the one who told the first hunters about the Guardian’s weakness to maidens?” Atricio’s voice circled around him. “You must already know that tactic, otherwise you wouldn’t have sought me out. But oh, Guardians are as wise as they are fierce. With the exception of your daughter’s Guardian, they know better than to go near maidens nowadays. This gift I am giving you will be a new weapon against those vile creatures. It will create a new era in this forest, one I have patiently waited for since my brother swore to protect those things!” A knife floated through the smoke up to Barnama. It hovered there motionless, ready to be taken. It was carved completely out of crude black stone with a small pointed curve at the tip, and measured about a foot in length.

“Take the knife!” yelled Atricio. “It will give you all the power you deserve!” Barnama looked straight at the knife, took a deep breath, and thrust out his right hand to grab the handle. The second his skin made contact, a deep burning pain shot through his hand and spread throughout his body. He instantly regretted his decision, but it was too late. It felt like his hand was permanently glued to the knife, and the pain made him lose all motor skills. He crumpled to the floor as his muscles seized up in an unbreakable hold. His jaw muscles clenched so tight that he felt his teeth break to pieces inside his mouth. All he could do was let out a yell through his broken mouth for Atricio’s help.

“Ask, and you shall receive!” yelled the Magician as he laughed with delight. It was a high-pitched, deranged laugh that echoed in Barnama’s ears. The room began to spin, and the pain felt like something was being ripped out of his body. Something that was so embedded into him that it was nearly impossible for it to be taken away. And the pain went on for what seemed like ages.

Then, as quickly as it came onto him, the pain stopped. He breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed his muscles. He shifted his jaw around, and realized that all of his teeth were back in place. It was finally over, like it never happened. What happened, exactly? He opened his eyes, and found he was lying in fetal position on the floor of Atricio’s cottage. The Dark Magician was standing over him with a toothy smile on his face. Barnama quickly stood up and looked around. He thought it must have been a dream until he realized he was still clutching the knife. Everything was just the same, but something felt wrong; like he had been violated in the worst way possible.

“It is finished,” said Atricio. “You now have the power to kill as many Guardians as you wish.” He took the knife and began pacing around the room again. “Guardians are such fierce creatures; their hooves are like iron, and their horns are like swords! Ever since my little brother swore to protect them from the hunters and my schemes, I have been waiting for an opportunity, for someone to share my desire to kill the purest creature alive! And you, my poor, poor friend,” he walked up to Barnama and stroked his face with the back of his palm, “you came to me. Seeing you gave me such a wonderful idea! Guardians can protect against flesh and bone, but what if it wasn’t truly there? What if their weapons suddenly became useless? Like some invisible disease without a cure? So I decided to transform you into what you always wanted to become,” he stood still, facing away from him while caressing the knife, “nothing!”

He turned and hurled the knife across the room into Barnama’s chest. He cried out in shock, but he felt no pain when the knife glided into him. Instead, he saw little wisps of black smoke rise up in his peripheral vision. He looked down to see that his entire chest had turned into an explosion of black smoke. It lingered for a few seconds before coming back together to form his physical body again. He turned around to see the knife stuck in the wall behind him.

“Take the knife, it is yours now,” said the Dark Magician. Barnama’s hands were shaking as he plucked the knife from the wall. He held it on his palms facing upwards. What was he now? Was he even human? He crumpled to his knees, completely at a loss.

“What, what have you done to me?”

“Whenever you become injured, you will turn into what you truly are; nothingness. Now you will never hunger or thirst; you can run forever and not tire; no harm will ever come to you! But most important of all, you are immortal. You will remain like this forever, because your soul now dwells inside the knife you hold. As long as the knife is intact, you will be invincible! Others can join you on your quest for the Guardian. All they must do is willingly cut a part of their body with the knife’s blade, and they will become the same as you. Now go, and gather your band of hunters! I’ll be waiting.”

Barnama turned to say something to Atricio, but the Dark Magician was gone. A wave of fear washed over the poor man, but he knew better than to linger. He placed the knife carefully on his belt and walked out of the cottage. He walked slowly through the dark clearing. His new form felt foreign to him, like he was floating rather than walking. He touched his cheek for reassurance. It was still there, solid as before. Maybe there was no change after all. How could he really be nothingness?

He was nearly at the edge of the clearing when a large black puma jumped out from the bushes and pounced on the widower. The giant cat knocked him flat on his back, with his giant paws on either side of his head. “Could it be the puma from inside?” thought Barnama. He was in too much shock to fight back. The puma hissed and bared his canines, and drove them deep into his throat. He again cried out in anticipation of the pain that never came, and the same wisps of smoke rose up from his neck. The puma backed off, and Barnama resumed his old form once again. He sat up and looked at the puma, who was sitting on his haunches a few feet away. “Did that thing just smile?” The puma gave him a look that seemed all too human, and it bounded up to the cottage. It jumped gracefully onto the ebony roof and turned to give Barnama one last look before it jumped over the roof and disappeared. A surge of adrenaline pumped through Barnama’s lifeless veins. He really could survive anything now. He slowly rose to his feet with a growing smile on his face.

“I am Barnama, the most powerful man alive!” he yelled. He took off running at breakneck speed into the trees, and his whole body turned into the smoky form of a man broken beyond repair.

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