Story by Dan Joslyn
Written by Dan Joslyn, CN Winters and Zahir al Daoud (Additional writing by Robert Kidman)
Directed by CN Winters
Produced by CN Winters and Susan Carr
Editing by Angie Wilson
Sound by CSR
Art Direction by Robert Kidman
Artists - Robert Kidman, Zahir al Daoud, Isis, Mattxxx, Humaira and CN Winters
Cover Art by CN Winters
Former Asylum – Night (A.D. 1909)
The rusted metal door creaked open. Three figures stepped inside what had been an operating theater – silent beings in the most plain of dark smocks. With pale skin that resembled hide, their bulbous heads contained no hair and tiny pointed ears. In their gloved hands each one carried a glowing sphere connected to a thin cord that ran down from their tendrils.
All three of the pale creatures with red tentacles for mouths lined up. They spoke with sing-song voices in unison.
"The wanderer return from his journey/Craving an audience with his brother and lord."
At the far side of the room was a large chair – a tall figure in a royal uniform stood up. The face would have been handsome, save for the red eyes and the scales that surrounded them. His ears were pointed too but his golden hair had been perfectly groomed, as was his moustache and beard.
"Let him enter," he intoned. Tiny fangs flashed as he spoke.
Upon the command, all three stepped aside.
The figure that entered was the same race as the creature in the uniform, but older. His hair was chestnut brown, his red eyes sad. Unblinking, he looked at the figure in uniform before him.
"I have returned, my lord Zhaar."
Lord Zhaar grinned. "Varthrim." He said the name like a benediction. "Returned at long last." He looked at the creatures around him. "Let my brother's name be praised!"
"Questor after mysteries and ancient power," they whispered/sang in obedience, "Comes after weary miles, unlooked for yet never doubted. Brave is Varthrim the Wise. Untiring is Varthrim the Wise. And at along last, home is Varthrim the Wise."
Zhaar almost chuckled. "The Chorus of the Night, they are such wonderful servants, don't you agree?"
Looking away, Varthrim nodded. "It is here, my lord." He sounded much older than he appeared.
"Excellent! The weapon of our vengeance in my hand at last! Show it to me." Varthrim hesitated. Zhaar lifted an eyebrow. His tone lowered. "What? You want it for yourself?"
"No," was the whispered answer.
"Of course not. Else you'd've not come alone. Not that I'd ever believe you would betray me – my best and dearest friend." He strode towards Varthrim. "Were the stories true?"
Varthrim nodded. "I alone of all our party survived to its hiding place. The traps the Old Ones used were many and subtle."
"Yes, of course – they feared anyone wielding such a weapon against them!"
Lord Zhaar's eyes narrowed. "Eh?"
"I have come to understand much, my Lord. Too much. The Old Ones did not fear anyone using the Loathestone. Oh, they feared, and rightly. But not that." He seemed on the verge of crying. "I am so…sorry." His voice could barely be heard.
Zhaar stepped closer to his brother. "Explain. Why sorry?"
"Better I had never found it. Better I had never heard the legend. Better I had never been born."
The three creatures beside the door suddenly looked up, their eyes now glowing red. They spoke again in unison, but with a different voice – a cold one – a voice from a billion epochs in the past, reaching out to a present where it did not belong.
"You achieve the start of wisdom, old fool."
Lord Zhaar did a take. "I command you to be silent."
"I am Lord Zhaar the Heart-crusher! I command you!"
"You no longer command anything – Zhaar the younger fool."
"Zhaar…" Varthrim was weeping. "…I'm sorry…I'm so sorry…"
Now Zhaar bared his teeth as well as his claws. "You betrayed me? You?"
"Not by choice! I swear it!"
"You continue to earn your true title, Lord Zhaar – the blind, the forlorn, the impotent and the doomed."
More of the minion creatures filed into the room. Like the first three, their eyes now glowed red and they spoke as one.
Varthrim's hands reached to his shirt and pulled it open. There, on a chain around his neck, hung a black crystal, except it did not really reflect light at all. It pulsed, not with any kind of glow, but with darkness. And Varthrim gasped in unison with the pulse.
The Chorus of the Night surrounded Zhaar. They pinned his arms. Individually, the minions were no match for him, but their sheer numbers overpowered his greater strength.
"Unhand me, or taste my vengeance for a thousand years!" he snarled.
"Almost," said the creatures in unison, "I am tempted to keep you as a jester. Your whimpering nearly makes me laugh. But there are others whose suffering will amuse me better." As one, the creatures looked at Varthrim.
"Please, no…" he said.
Varthrim took a fumbling step towards his brother, who struggled vainly in the grip of the creatures. "I don't want to do this…" he whispered.
"That is why you shall."
"What?" said Zhaar, his eyes wide. "Varthrim! What are you doing?"
"It wants me," Varthrim said to Zhaar, looking over him. A conflict seemed to play across his face – a mix of joy, fear and anger.
Realization arrived with horror as Zhaar watched the ever-shifting expressions on the face of Varthrim.
"I am your brother!" Zhaar shouted. "You swore your heart to me!"
"Just so," said the voice from the creatures, "and that fact is almost soothing to me. Varthrim – Obey."
"Don't brother!" Zhaar was screaming louder now. "By the banners of shadow – you must not!"
"I…I wish I had a choice…" whispered Varthrim. "But… Nothing is really real except… suffering." The creatures pulled back Zhaar's robes, revealing his bare chest and shoulders.
Varthrim wept openly as he bared his fangs and drove them into his brother's shoulder. He tore off a chunk of flesh. Chewed. Swallowed. Then, did it again.
Zhaar screamed for a long time. At one point, the voice speaking through the creatures made a sound that was almost a chuckle, but Varthrim never stopped weeping.
Lenore's Chamber Occult Shop – Day
"And now, at this crossroads in history, America chooses hope!" The woman's voice rang out loud. "We will not cower in fear any longer. We will not wait in our homes for the next horrible thing to happen. We will shine out as a beacon of freedom in a troubled world. It is time for a new era of hope on this Earth, and that starts right here in the United States of America."
On the flickering screen of a television set that had seen better days, the crowd roared. A middle-aged red-haired woman in an impeccable pantsuit stood behind a podium, waiting for the applause to die down.
The television sat on a shelf in the corner of a cluttered magic shop, surrounded by strange things in jars. Jocelyn O'Hara gave it only a cursory glance as she browsed through a section marked "Amulets, Talismans, and Miscellaneous". A sign in the window read, "Under New Management." A boy about Jocelyn's age stood watching the TV screen, arms crossed over his chest.
"Is she the one you're working for, Trevor?" Jocelyn asked.
"Yeah," Trevor nodded, looking over at Jocelyn. "Autumn O'Mara. First Independent elected to Congress from this district in, well, forever. Everybody thinks she's gonna run for President in a few years."
Jocelyn looked up at the screen, examining the woman more closely. "She just looks like a politician to me."
Trevor shrugged. "Well, yeah. I mean, she never met a photo op she didn't like, and she works us like dogs, but I feel like we're really doing some good things, going in the right direction. I mean, it's kind of like what you do. We're both trying to save the world, just in…"
He didn't notice that Jocelyn was distracted. Trevor's voice faded into the background, along with the rest of the world, as Jocelyn stared at a small, ornate wooden box, inlaid with some sort of ancient runes in silver. Her eyes couldn't tear themselves away. Very, very slowly, she reached out one hand and brushed the tips of her well-manicured nails against the side of the box. Her breath caught.
Jocelyn's fingers moved to the top of the box and slowly slid off its lid. Inside, without the usual cushioning one would find in a jewelry box, was a small, rough black stone, attached to a simple chain.
She looked at the stone for a long moment in silence. Then she whispered, "I understand."
"What was that?" Trevor asked, turning to look at her, and the world came rushing back to her.
"Um, nothing," Jocelyn told him, shaking her head. She picked up the stone from the box and held it up to her chest, smiling. "What do you think?"
Trevor walked towards her. "A black rock? Not your usual look."
Jocelyn's smile instantly faded. "I'm getting it." She sounded very serious.
"Okay," Trevor said with a grin. "You know I think you look beautiful in anything."
He stepped forward and the two teenage lovers shared a brief but lingering kiss.
"If you really want it, I'll pay for it," Trevor said after Jocelyn pulled away. "Anything for my magic girl."
Jocelyn nodded and embraced her boyfriend. Trevor didn't notice that her eyes drifted back to the necklace in the box.
Willow and Rowena's Apartment – Same Time
"Rise and shine, sleepyhead," Rowena said. Willow jerked her head up from her desk, red hair everywhere.
"The tadpoles are eating me!" Willow exclaimed, before she realized she was no longer dreaming. "Oh. Oh! What time is it? Did I miss the meeting?"
Rowena, whose stomach displayed a very prominent baby bump, was still smiling from Willow's frog fear moment.
"No, which means you probably won't miss a moment of the shouting matches inspired by the council/B-9 merger transition."
"Lucky me," Willow said with a yawn.
"Oh, absolutely," Rowena replied. "I think Faith is finally over her laryngitis from all the yelling at the last few meetings, so today should be fun to say the least."
"You bring the ear plugs and I'll bring the aspirin," Willow remarked.
Rowena grinned for a moment and then ran her fingers through Willow's hair, pushing it behind her ear. "You feeling okay, Sweetie? Desks don't make a good place to sleep."
"Sorry about the droopiness," Willow apologized. "We've got a new coven member coming in today, and I just haven't been sleeping much at night – nerves and all."
Rowena leaned in and kissed Willow on the top of the head. "Try not to worry about it," she said. "I'm sure it will go just fine. You'll see."
Willow managed a nervous smile. "Yeah, it's just…I feel like I'm caught between two people I care about and respect, ya know? It's like I don't know who I should listen to a-and I don't want to disappoint either one of them. Does that make sense?"
Rowena grinned. "I've been there…when I had to decide on an owner for the Opus. But, on the bright side, I doubt that either one of them would have your ex tie you to a chair and use you as an ashtray so, you know, big gold star in the plus column there."
Willow mustered a grin and rubbed Rowena's belly. "You and the twins can go find those earplugs," she told her. "I'm taking my aspirin now."
End of Teaser
To Act One