Emery struggled in the arms of the men who’d kidnapped him, desperately trying to win free. He had no idea what they wanted with him but he was sure it wasn’t good. They dragged him through a back kitchen door into an enormous house.

Once inside, the men set him on his feet. “What do you want with me?” he asked. He continued as they ushered him up a flight of stairs and down a corridor. “I’m with the wardens, they’ll come looking for me. Kidnapping is bad enough, but kidnapping a warden is even worse. They’ll lock you away so long, you’ll have gray hair by the time you get out.”

Finally the small party reached a door and Emery was pushed through. It was a bedroom, that much was obvious. Little else could be seen in the faint light. With his off-magic, Emery could feel trauma emanating from the bed. He realized that he was shaking with the effort of walking deeper into the room; closer to the source of the trauma.

“Bring him closer,” a hoarse voice whispered from the darkened bed.

“No,” Emery said, even as they dragged him over to the bed. Once he was close enough, he could see a withered figure laying among the sheets. Emery’s breath came in short pants. This man was both the source and focus of the trauma he sensed.

“A fine young man,” the withered figure said. “As handsome as I was in my youth, before disease and age formed me into what I am now. Have him kneel.”

Emery shook his head but the men were stronger than he was and forced him to kneel beside the old man’s bed. “What are you going – going to do to me?” he asked, his voice shaking.

The man reached out a shaking hand and set it on Emery’s cheek. Suddenly it was if Emery was outside of his body, watching what was happening. “Don’t be afraid, boy,” the old man said. “Your death will be blessedly quick and painless. Your soul will merely flee away and mine will take its place.”

Then they were… somewhere else. The old man sat in a wheelchair, a twisted wand held aloft. Candlelight glinted off a crystal at its point. Within the crystal, spider web-like fissures bent the light this way and that. The old man was chanting. It was the Spell-Tongue, but not an incantation Emery recognized.

“Young vessel, set free the soul that you have bound within and allow entrance to this one,” he chanted.

The spell, contrary to the man’s words was excruciating. Emery screamed as his soul was torn free of his body. It fled into the light that all souls must eventually go to but the vision did not end there. His body dropped to the ground and the old man looked up in anger.

“Why did it not work!” he screamed. “Find another. Younger this time; fairer; more like I was in my youth. You have the picture. Go!” He was shaking even more now, as if he was having some kind of seizure, even as he screamed at the men who’d kidnapped Emery.

Then the vision faded and Emery looked up at the withered old man that lay on the bed before him. “It won’t work. Your soul won’t enter my body any more than it did the others. You did this to yourself – in your search for immortality.”

“Prepare him for the working,” the old man snapped, once more beginning to tremble as if with a seizure.

“No,” Emery said. Then he screamed as the men lifted him from the ground. “No. Let me go, please. It won’t work. It’ll only kill me. Please, please don’t do this,” he begged the men as they dragged him out of the room and down to what could only be a spell chamber.

They dragged him, screaming protests, over to a spell circle. The symbols inscribed would certainly tear his soul free of his body but he could see no symbols that would put the man’s soul in its place. “It’s wrong,” he said finally. “The – the circle’s wrong. It won’t work because the circle isn’t right. Please, let me go. I don’t want to die. Please, don’t let him kill me.”

The men silently bound him in place on the circle. Then they retreated to a far wall. Emery shook his head and looked down at the circle. He knew he would die soon. The old man was on his way and when he performed the spell, Emery would die.

There were only two choices left to him. He could somehow inscribe the correct symbols and take the chance that he would be sent into the old man’s body when the spell worked or he could destroy one of the symbols that would tear his soul free and take the chance that the misworked spell wouldn’t kill him in some worse way.

The floor was clean and free of dust and packed too hard for him to properly inscribe symbols into. Emery swallowed and dug his fingernails into one symbol. He could only hope he’d chosen the key one and the spell would simply sputter out. He cried out softly as a few fingernails broke off in the hard packed earth. One finger was bleeding. Sniffling quietly, Emery smeared the blood over the symbol he’d chosen, and then lay down on top of it. His ploy wouldn’t work at all if the old man realized what he’d done.

He hardly moved when the old man entered and began to chant. He’d changed the spellwords slightly. Energies swirled around them both and Emery cried out when he felt them tug on his soul. Something else pulled back however and his soul remained in place. Then the old man screamed. He screamed in pain and agony.

The trauma of it sent ripples back to Emery and the younger mage curled up into a tight ball, trying to block out the sensations. Suddenly, the room was still. Emery sat up and looked around. The old man and three other men, his servants, lay sprawled on the floor. Their faces were contorted in agony and their limbs were at strange angles.

The trauma all around him, both from the spell and its backlash, shook Emery to his core. Loud voices erupted from above and the crashing of broken doors told him someone had entered the house forcefully. Emery thought he called out but he couldn’t be sure.

The door to the spell chamber opened with a solid crash and men entered. As they entered their trauma added to what was already threatening to overwhelm Emery. He curled into a tight ball once more until a gentle hand touched his shoulder.

“There now, Emery. You’re safe,” a soft voice said in his ear.

He looked up to see that Serenity was kneeling beside him. “I… how… how did you find me?” he whispered. “Please take me out of here. I can’t think… the trauma…”

“Of course,” she said softly. “Armand, could you?”

“Of course,” the broadly built blond mage said. He was already loosing Emery from the bonds that had held him. In moments, he carried the young mage out of the room. Medics were waiting in the foyer. “He has Auric Decay Syndrome and strong enough magic to sense trauma. We thought it best not to leave him in that room.”

“Of course,” one medic said. “How are you feeling? Any dizziness, tingling or pain?”

Emery started to shake his head but moaned, as the room seemed to tilt and begin spinning slowly to the left. “Dizzy,” he murmured as the medics helped him to lay on a stretcher. He wondered if the old man would have had the same illness if he’d managed to steal his body. He chuckled at the irony and then closed his eyes and tried to sleep.

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