Prompt Short Story: Love & Mystery in the New ‘Wild’ West (Interviews with a Sorcerer #6)

Alright then, so you want to know more about magical oaths. And a story, of course, always a story.

You asked why the oath causes pain before death, why it doesn’t just kill. I have an answer, but you’re not going to like it.

On someone with their defences down, the broken oath would simply stop their heart and brain. A massive double-haemorrhage that will drop anything dead in an instant.

Only, sorcerers spend their lives building up defences and resistances to every kind of magical attack that they can. Anything they can make permanent, they do. Anything they can keep with a regular refresh, they keep. Anything they can counter with a spell, they do. Only a mage directing more power at them can get through, and it’s pretty annoying, which is why I like to start with that binding spell. It’s technically physical; the bindings are made of magic but they manifest corporeally so it works just the same as if I bound them with rope. Only much faster, and at a distance.

OK, so a sorcerer has all of those protections against magic. It’s hard to get through these, even the most powerful sorcerer can put themselves out trying to break through well made defenses.

Breaking a magical oath, then, means certain death. But until all of those defences are down, we don’t die. I don’t think it was intended that way initially, by whoever created the oath spell, but that’s neither here nor there – once a spell leaves its owner, it can change, be affected, and manifest in all sorts of ways. So it doesn’t matter how many defence spells we have up, or how many resurrection spells we know – or if we have someone else to add their magic to protecting or resurrecting us. We’re torn apart. The oath spell batters and rattles and worms and forces its way through every single defence we have, tearing us apart, thread by thread, to fulfil its sole purpose: our death.

Physically, we confuse the hell outta normie coroners. It looks like we’ve been battered to death from the inside out – brain and all.

Psychically – our Self, the innate being that is Us, is shredded. Our own protection from everything else ensures that breaking an oath prevents even our remaining Spirit from joining the great mana pool of the Beyond.

That’s why the pain before death. It’s the oath ripping through our defences. Death eventually becomes a welcome end.

Now you know all that, a story! I have a pretty good tale about a broken oath.

A few decades ago, when the US West was being remade, I was over there. Just touring around, not really looking for anything. Exploring the rebuilt townships, long-term encampments, just taking things in. It wasn’t settled again yet, not really, but attempts were being made. Townships voted in Sheriffs, US Marshals and the FBI had started making their way over again to interfere. But outlaws and thieves abounded, and every so often one, or a small group, would become legendary. Basically, after the disaster over there, they retreated back into their legends of the Old West.

I stopped for the night in a reasonably large township. They had an inn, more than one shop, a proper Sheriff’s station, houses, a car park, coach stop, train station, some ranches and farms settled around it. It was probably the biggest place I’d seen in the revived ‘Wild’ West (sorry, I still can’t say it with a straight face. The arrogance of Americans, by gods!).

I stopped for the night, parked my car, and walked around a little to stretch my legs, thinking I might take a few days here. Pick up an odd job or two to supplement my coin. Maybe take some of the willing ladies and gentlemen into my bed. There were usually warrants and jobs posted in the Sheriff’s station, so I went there first. The current Sheriff was a serious fellow. Tall and trim, good looking in a sort of…weather-beaten way. He wore his uniform well, though his shoulders seemed to slump with a weight. Exhaustion, perhaps. I found myself admiring him rather than looking at the noticeboard. I struck up a conversation – unusual in itself – just so I had a reason to keep looking.

He had dark eyes, almost as dark as his skin – which was darker even than mine. When he smiled, he showed a missing tooth, and that was when I noticed the scar that ran down the lower side of his face, through both lips and down his chin. I felt a strong urge to run my fingers, then my tongue, down it.

I can’t remember most of what we discussed, but I found myself sitting with him, drinking hot coffee as I told him about my travels – the normie stuff, anyway – and he told me about his life growing up here.

It’s funny, in a way. He experienced racism, of course, but he was still some rungs higher on the ladder than outlaws and rustlers and the few natives that dared come here (seriously, what is with white Americans and their hatred of natives? Even the supposedly ‘good’ ones through their history, scratch them and you’ll find all kinds of it!). He got himself elected Sheriff in part due to proving himself good at bringing bad guys in, and in part by being the adopted orphan of the owner of the clothes shop in the town. He was considered an honorary white guy, he said, but only as long as he did his job.

Which led us back to the reason I’d stepped inside to begin with. Warrants.

I looked through the extant ones, but he – Jed – had something specific in mind for me.

He handed me his tablet, showing a poster with a silhouette drawn on it, and a large reward at the bottom.

“I’m meant to find someone when I don’t know what they look like?” I asked him.

Jed smiled, “This person? They’re known as The Shade, and feared as the most lethal assassin in the known world… They strike all over, and nobody has ever seen them and lived. They leave a calling card with this silhouette, that’s the only way anyone knows it was them. But here’s the thing. This one? Nevermind them. We know about them. I’m more worried about the other one…”

“The other one? Well who’s that?” I was getting a bit impatient with this game.

“That’s the problem, Avay. No one has a clue. And that’s how we’re dealing with someone truly dangerous.”

I frowned, trying to figure out if I was the subject of some sort of prank.

“Believe me, I know how it sounds,” Jed sighed and got up to pace the room. “I know there’s someone, or multiple someones, travelling up and down this part of the world. They steal, they kill, they rustle, they burn, and then they leave. Never a trace. It’s that last which stumps me, and which makes this hard to believe – I know. But I’ve had word out, collecting reports from everywhere I can, of incidents where clearly someone acted, but absolutely no clues remained. I’m probably missing some, even so, but here’s what I have.”

Jed pulled up a folder on his tablet. It was quite impressive, filled with investigation notes and photos and sketches, and Jed’s own theories and attempts to track or trap this person. He actually had some decent brains, I wouldn’t bet on any normie being able to slip through his net. But my instinct, and these reports, screamed sorcerer to me.

He transferred copies to me, and I promised to take a proper look and see what I could do.

Then, he invited me for a drink at the inn.

Well, it wouldn’t do to refuse my gracious host, now would it? And lucky me, turns out I didn’t need to brave the old, creaky, stained, sprung mattress the inn’s rooms no doubt had to offer. Instead I got a lovely, soft, memory foam mattress, with Jed to keep me warm. And keep me warm he did.

I know, you’re not here for my sexcapades. But he was beautiful. I haven’t thought about my dear Jed in a long time…hm.

Sorry. I spent the next day in bed, reading through the files while Jed went to work.

In the evening, I cooked, and we sat down and went through everything.

I considered it deeply, but in the end I decided to tell him about magic. It was one of the very few times I’ve done that, but I needed his help to find and catch this sorcerer, and saving people came above secrecy.

He took it pretty well, actually, better than most. Some part of his mind was already leaning towards the truth as the only explanation for these crimes, and it came to the fore once I showed him a small spell. I gave him a little time, answered some questions, then drew him back to this criminal. Asked if maybe this new information shed new light on everything.

He said exactly what I was thinking – it’s the only explanation. Well, one of two. A sorcerer was doing this, or it was all just nonsense and the cases weren’t connected at all.

I didn’t believe the latter, though, and my saying so bolstered Jed. Suddenly, he looked like a man with energy. That slump I’d seen the night before – and had tried my hardest to…work out of him – was suddenly gone. Without it, he was suddenly broad-shouldered and confident, all of those hidden lights shining through.

Yes, by the way. I was already falling in love. I know that’s not the story I’m telling today, but I beg your indulgence. Jed was one of a very few, in my life, who filled me only with goodness. Yes, even me, filled with good. For as long as it lasted.

No, no, he didn’t die, this isn’t a tragic tale of love defeated. Actually, I spent the next year at his side. I loved him as completely and utterly as I have anyone, and I never did so as purely before or since. The man was, quite simply, too good for me. In a true test, I would only have measured up short, and we both knew it. We parted friends, when I could risk it no longer. So settle your mind on his score – all is well.

Back to the story. With Jed now energised, we had to try and figure out where the next strike would be. Or, bait this sorcerer somehow into coming to us.

Well. This second thought was something I was glad to say I could accomplish. Sorcerer egos being what they are, most of us would walk directly into the maws of a megalodon, if they were somehow convinced it would show someone how great they are.

Which is to say, I went to our…ethereal social media and threw some shade. “Whoever it is doing this, you’ve been rumbled. Betcha can’t beat out me and a normie. Tell ya what, here’s an abandoned farm outside of this town. Bet you don’t dare try to burn those farm buildings to the ground when you know we’ve got your number.”

That sort of thing. I said it, and sorcerers all over were immediately, eagerly, interested. Me and a normie vs whoever it was doing these things.

With a challenge laid down, and other sorcerers watching, I knew it wouldn’t be long before they arrived.

So, we set up camp, and we waited.

Or I should say, Jed set up camp, made sure we got fed and watered, and I spent all of my energy putting up wards and defenses and traps at every possible position. By the time I was done, you’d have been safer to run through a minefield in extra-large snowshoes, taunting the gods to just dare try and get you.

Of course, a sorcerer is hardly going to walk into an obvious trap. But I’d done something they weren’t likely to expect.

One of the ways I was pushing myself to exhaustion was by linking myself to the wards and traps. Rather than instilling them with their own magic, and topping it up as needed, I had them on a constant charge directly from my system.

This meant two things. One: I would be able to sense the moment anyone tried to tamper with them in any way. Two: I could then redirect all of that energy down the wards and traps in that area, triggering them all at once with all of the imbued power in both me and everything I was linked to.

It was a risky strategy. If my energies failed before the sorcerer got here, everything would go down. And, if there was more than one of them, we risked only capturing the first.

But I’d laid out the options, and my thoughts on them, and Jed had chosen to trust my experience. Sorcerers rarely worked together, especially on something that lasted more than a week – we’ve gone and killed each other for nothing more than being grating company. So something this big? Even if there was a larger group involved, they were working alone.

There was something else, too. I had info Jed didn’t. As far as I’d been able to tell – all of the places attacked were used by other sorcerers. Might be storage, or regular use as a place to stay, whatever. All of the places were frequented by us – even me, some of them, I’d clearly become a creature of dangerous habit.

I suspected that whoever was behind all of this, wanted the new ‘Wild’ West for themselves, and figured this would remove what they saw as the competition. Quite the power grab, actually, I was impressed. Egotistical we may be, but possessing the brass hide to try and claim an entire western seaboard? That was…gutsy.

On the third night, that’s when they came. Jed and I switched off on watches, ensuring one of us was always awake. I was fast asleep – I’d been sinking deeper and deeper into sleep, as my magic ate at my energy – but I felt the pull, and I was out of my sleeping bag before I realised I was awake.

Jed startled a little, but quietly.

The fire was banked, barely embers, and the pre-dawn light hadn’t yet shown itself, so I cast a night vision spell. Gods, that was hard to do, but I managed to place one on me and on Jed that would last a few hours.

I started to creep towards the location of the tug, and waited. Someone was definitely trying to get in, testing the waters.

I waited until they were just about to try and undo the first ward, before sending power to everything in that area.

It was a few moments before both the ground and the strings settled, during which Jed and I ran to where the sorcerer would hopefully be.

And there she was. Flat on the floor, almost completely covered by vines from binding traps, stunned and temporarily paralysed by sonic traps, and drowsy from the sleeping spell I’d put on the ward.

I got down next to her and flicked her nose, “I’m Avay. You?”

Sluggish but aware, she glared at me and said nothing.

“You can be quiet if you like,” I nodded. “But I’m not going to try too hard to get anything from you. I’ll just lock you in your own head, put you in a magical holding cell, try again in a few years.

She shook her head, glare fading, “Can’t tell. Oath.”

“Ah,” I briefly explained this to Jed, who scowled at her.

“Ma’am, after the things you’ve done, I don’t care about your oath or your life. If someone else is behind this, you need to tell us who and where to find them. Because believe me, the two of us can come up with something far worse than your broken magic.”

Jed only half understood, really. But I was in no mood to disagree. Besides, he was the law around here. And I was in love. Well, I was in that pre state, that teetering on the edge, knowing you’re about to fall but wanting to savour that moment of sweet agony for just a tiny bit longer, before you allow yourself to let go.

Whatever. It was enough. I’d told him about the oath. If he didn’t care, neither did I.

It didn’t take much longer before she broke. The moment she began speaking, the oath activated and her eyes grew wide as the string around her began to be pulled and cut.

There was a period of about an hour, before the pain became too intense for her to continue, where she told us everything she could.

She’d been raised and taught by a sorcerer, outside of the standard schooling system. This happened sometimes, and was usually not an issue, but once in a while some vile asshole would use this to brainwash and corrupt a child new to their magic. That’d happened to her – Jaena. She was an orphan, and had been taken from her orphanage after her magic revealed itself.

She followed orders, as she’d been taught. Punishment soon arrived if she ever disobeyed, wasn’t fast enough, failed or didn’t complete as expected. She and a handful of others made up this…this cult. The sorcerer at the top – Polli – was a nasty piece of work, and our guess was right. She was trying to strangle other sorcerers out of the whole seaboard in order to plant her own and claim it for herself.

I’m not going to describe Jaena’s death. When the pain got too much for her to tell us more, and with a stiff nod of permission from Jed, I ended things. A quick flick of my fingers, that’s all it took, and she was gone.

That’s the end of this story. You wanted to hear about the oath, and so you have. I’m pretty sure I asked you for a lighter question this week…wanna try that again for next time?

But you brought back memories of Jed for me too, so I suppose I can’t be too annoyed. Thank you for that.

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed my latest story. If you’d like these right to your inbox, please subscribe to the mailing list on the top right. If you’d like to support me, please share my stories around! You can also select one of the links to the right, and find commissions, writing blogs on via Ko-Fi. If you enjoy my work, please consider a donation or subscription, to help me out with daily living and more storytelling. Either way, thanks for your time, and come back soon!

Prompt used:

"He's kniwn as The Shade, and fearedas the most lethal assassin in the world... But honestly, nervermind him. You should be worrying about the other one."

"The other one? And who's that?"

"Well, the thing is, no one has a clue. And that's how we know we're dealing with someone really dangerous..."

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