Loading...
Menu
Ebooks   ➡  Fiction  ➡  Fantasy  ➡  Epic  ➡  Urban

The Archimage Wars: Wizard of Abal

The Archimage Wars:

Diabolical Book 1

Wizard of Abal

by

Philip Blood

Shakespir EDITION

Version 1.1

  • * * * *

PUBLISHED BY:

Philip Blood on Shakespir

The Archimage Wars: Wizard of Abal

Copyright © 2016 by Philip Blood

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any short quotes of other Authors, Movies, Writers or Composers works are within the bounds of the Fair Use Act.

 

Shakespir Edition License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return to Shakespir.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the author’s work.

 

  • * * * *

 

Dedication:

I’d like to dedicate this book to a special group who are my cousins and/or good friends. They have supported my writing habit, spent countless hours listening to me read parts of the books, or let me talk about my stories incessantly. I’m obsessed and they tolerate me. So this one is for Todd, Cathy, Luke, Melissa, Alicia, Lauren and Libby. I love you guys!

 

  • * * * *

 

 

Wizard of Abal

 

 

  • * * * *

 

Chapter One

 

All the old paintings on the tombs

They do the sand dance don’t you know

-The Bangles

 

If there’s one thing I hate it is being woken up early, particularly by a wrinkly skinned little bastard with a bad case of body odor. The rancid runt was rocking me back and forth by the upper arm for all he was worth. Now let me tell you, being shaken awake is not a good thing when your head is pounding so badly you already feel as if someone is driving a railroad spike into your forehead.

“Stop it,” I croaked. I am fairly sure I am not a frog, but my voice sure sounded like one at this point, all dry, deep and raspy. I attempted to pull my arm away from the persistent pygmy but he had a firm grip and used it to shake me again.

The growl which issued from my cracked lips was truly something out of legend, but the gamy gnome only increased his insistent tugging.

Much to my stomach’s dismay, he leaned his loathsome face in close and spoke. “Master, awake! One of the others has sensed your hiding place! We have little time to escape!”

Though his body odor was unbelievably foul, it was fine perfume compared to his breath. Where his shaking had not roused me fully, one whiff of that fetid odor caused me to roll away from the awful stench. Unfortunately, this maneuver took me off the four feet high, hard stone slab upon which I’d awoken, and onto the stone floor in an undignified tumble.

I scrambled to my feet and faced him across the rough stone slab. “You hold on right there!” I called, holding up a warding hand like a cross against an approaching vampire. The gears of my brain were beginning to turn so I finally looked around at my surroundings. I was in some sort of beige stone chamber, with no obvious exits or furnishings besides the wide stone table.

Now fully awake my eyes focused and I got a better look at the short sniveling sneak who had shaken me awake. He had a protruding nose which would have made Cyrano proud. His large proboscis stuck out like a pickle from smack dab in the middle of a face which had wrinkles crisscrossing wrinkles. He had somewhat yellowed and overly long teeth. He hunched over further reducing his height, but even standing upright I doubt he would top five feet, yet his arms and shoulders were thick with muscle.

I held up three fingers to make my next points. “I want to know three things: Who are you? Who are these ‘others’ who have discovered me? And where did you get that horrid breath?”

He simpered at me bowing his head a few times without taking his beady black eyes from mine, then spoke in a deep gravelly voice, “I am Pox, master. Don’t you remember your most esteemed servant, Pox? I’m not sure who has discovered you, a Hentan or a Bakemono perhaps, but I promise you I am not mistaken; they come for you even now.”

Being upright did nothing to halt the man with the hammer and spike who was still working on my forehead, if anything he was getting more persistent; it was the headache of all headaches. I had a hell of a time trying to think around the pounding waves of pain. “They come for me, to do what?”

“To end you, Master, don’t you remember?” Pox asked with an inquisitive tilt of his disgusting head.

This is when I realized the truth was I did not know the truth. Now that I thought about it, I knew very little. I rubbed at my temples with the pads of my thumbs, perhaps trying to physically push some memory back into place. It didn’t work. After taking a deep breath I answered him. “No, I don’t remember anything. For starters, do you know my name?”

He grinned a toothy smile which I suppose he meant to be friendly, but it looked a little too feral for my tastes. “Of course Master, and soon the Worlds will know your name again! However, we dare not utter it now… not with the others so close! We wouldn’t want them to feel your shadow; already they are closing swiftly enough, and you do not have your protections back yet.”

This newest puzzling statement coupled with my headache and confusion brought me to one conclusion; I really wanted to smack the little grinning bastard. Since the stone table was still between us I settled for yelling at him, “Listen, Pox, I had better start getting some answers quickly or…” I paused in my ranting since I really did not know what to threaten him with. “…or you’ll regret it!” I finished, rather lamely.

He nodded, bobbing his long nose up and down as if the threat counted for something. “As you will, Master, but can we leave this place first before they come? I promise the answers will be forthcoming when you have reached a safer hideaway.”

“Just tell me this, when you say they come to end me do you mean they are out to kill me?” Now you would think this was a fairly straightforward question answered with either yes, or no; it just goes to prove you should never think.

Pox shook his head vehemently, “Oh no, Master, they intend far worse than just your simple death, I’m sure.”

My headache pounded with renewed effort.

Pox pulled out a bundle of clothes and pushed them across the stone table to me; there was a set of dark sunglasses and a digital camera on top.

“Quickly Master, put on this disguise and we will try to slip out of here before they find you.”

I hesitated a moment, but then decided it wouldn’t hurt to assume he was telling the truth, at least until such time as I did not have some unknown assailants about to… well, assail me. I pulled off my tan hooded robe and began to put on the clothes before me while shaking my head slightly in bewilderment. No matter how hard I searched the musty corners of my brain I had no memory of how I had gotten here, or who I was, or who was out to… what is worse than killing you? Well, whatever it was I had a feeling I didn’t want it happening to me.

I buckled the thin black belt and realized I was dressed as the quintessential tourist. Anyone looking at me would see a six foot one white male in decent looking shape, about 200 lb., black hair, wearing a flowery button up short sleeve shirt, plaid Bermuda shorts, white socks, Reebok athletic shoes, a pair of black sunglasses and a camera hanging down from my neck. All I needed was a droopy little hat to look completely ridiculous.

“Here is your hat, Master,” the reeking runt added, pushing a hideous circular hat of the tourist persuasion my way. I couldn’t help but check for embedded fishing lures in the brim, surprisingly it was unadorned.

“Oh joy,” I answered dryly, but reluctantly put on the dumpy hat. One of Pox’s statements was still bothering me. OK, several actually, but one thing, in particular, had my attention, my continued health. I decided asking for clarification was important enough to risk another confusing answer from Pox.

“What is worse than death?” I asked, speaking to his back.

This is because he currently faced away from me. He had his big pointed ear pressed up against one of the beige stones which served as the walls of the chamber.

“They will end your line, and bring your soul back as a puppet to do their will,” he answered, then pushed a small stone in the wall which moved in a fraction of an inch. Almost instantly I felt a vibration in the stone floor and saw light stream into the chamber as a large stone cranked upwards making an opening in one of the walls. Just outside another stone passage ran to the left and right.

“End my line,” I muttered, and then added, “what line?”

“No time, Master, we can discuss your line when you are safe.”

Pox scampered over to the gas lantern which had been illuminating our chamber and shut it off. In the passage outside I could see glowing lights mounted along the walls.

“Quickly, Master, you must go before someone comes and senses you!”

I sighed, and thought, Didn’t he mean ‘see me’? But I went ahead and walked out of the chamber into the hall.

“Your bus ticket and room reservation are in your pocket. Summon me when you reach the Novotel Luxor Hotel. Your room is under the name written on the reservation. Take the north passage.”

I reached into my front pockets and found a piece of paper in the right one. I pulled it out and finally found my first name, Nick. It rang no bells in my head.

Right, then I heard the heavy grating sound of the stone lowering back into place. I looked up and found myself alone in the hallway, and Pox was gone. I ducked under the slowly lowering stone back into the original chamber, but it was now empty and there was no sign of Pox anywhere. I ducked back out under the half closed stone into the hallway.

I cannot say I was unhappy to be rid of the noxious midget, but then again now I was completely alone. Just my empty skull and me, and a fine pair we made. Well, there was only one thing to do… find out what should be up there and put it back! First order of business, where was I?

My sense of direction told me the hallway ran north and south. Do not ask me how I knew, but I did. So I chose north, then immediately went south just to be unpredictable. Besides, I didn’t want to do everything the dinky dork had told me, how do I really know I could trust him? I mean, would you trust anyone with a nose that long? For all I know he was a really ugly version of Pinocchio, and if so, he was telling me some pretty big lies by the size of his schnoz.

South seemed to be a good choice as I soon heard voices ahead. I eventually came to an outside courtyard, where there were many large pillars, and I found I was in some ruins. It was night time, though the area was well lit with lights to show off the various features. There were twenty or so people gathered around and listening to a thin brown-skinned man. He was gesturing around the large area here and there at various old markings on the pillars. I recognized the markings as Egyptian hieroglyphics.

I immediately noticed my clothing would act as excellent camouflage in these surroundings; I was hip deep in tourists.

The guide pointed to one row of markings and explained them to the surrounding tourists, speaking in heavily accented English. “And here, above the depictions of the Pharaohs and the god Amun-Ra, we see hieroglyphic writing which states, ‘To you I have given millions of Jubilees and years of eternity.’

I scanned the ancient writing and wondered what the hell the Tour Guide was feeding these folks. The symbols clearly said, “By my blood you are given immortality.”

More interesting than the guide’s misinterpretation of the hieroglyphics was my ability to read them easily! I scanned the surrounding pillars quickly and found I could read everything in the chamber. Now, what did this mean?

Let’s see; I am some 3,000-year-old Pharaoh risen from the dead? Fat chance, since I understand what the guide is saying to the group of tourists, it’s obvious I speak English fluently. OK, so I am some professor of ancient Egypt who was knocked on the head and lost his marbles while working in some newly discovered tomb? Of course, that does not explain Pox. Come to think of it Pox and I had not been speaking English together; we had been speaking in Yosin. Now where did that language come from? I have no clue.

Now this is interesting… one of the tourists, a tall heavy set man in a cloak which is obviously too warm for this hot evening, has a strange tattoo on his left cheek in the shape of a dagger through a heart. Now tattoos are not all that strange, though one on the face is rare, but this one was remarkable because it seemed more vibrant than a tattoo, and it was slightly etched into the skin rather than inked; it was very striking. So not a tattoo; then I had a name for it, a Glyph. I noticed the man with the Glyph watching me as well.

Visions of assassins out to get me came to mind. I could hear Pox’s raspy voice in my head, “They come for you.”

I considered making a break for it, but I knew the Glyph marked man was watching me. If I left now I would be entering one of the empty areas where he could do whatever it was he meant to do to me. I decided to stay with the main group of tourists and wait for a better opportunity to lose the Glyph marked gorilla.

The guide finished his misinformed spiel and moved the group off through an opening to the East; I followed, keeping my distance from my watcher. We passed down a hall as the guide pointed out things of interest to the camera snapping tourist pack. I tried to blend in, even taking my camera and snapping a few shots of various doodles on the walls.

Eventually, he turned us into one of the open archways and we entered an enclosed area. Just before we went in, we passed a stoic-faced statue of the Egyptian god, Amun-Ra, somewhat worse for wear.

My mind was off the cloaked man briefly as I entered the chamber, so I did not notice when he suddenly stepped behind the big statue and pushed.

It was not aimed at me, mind you; I was well past it and into the chamber already when he started his vandalism.

Now, given his size compared to the massive statue, it should never have moved, but he seemed to have little trouble pushing over the solid stone statue. I would have really been impressed with his strength if I had not been busy being shocked by the crash as the large statue smashed itself to pieces on the ground. One really big piece, the upper shoulders and head of old Amun-Ra, came tumbling in through the wide opening into the chamber, crushing one unlucky man, and knocking over three more. The rest of the fallen statue now effectively blocked easy exit from the chamber.

The man who had done the vandalism vaulted up onto the fallen statue and then dropped down into the chamber.

Women were screaming, and a few people were rushing to the scene of the crushed tourist. In utter shock, the little Egyptian guide was attempting to pop his eyes out of his face and nearly succeeding. Forgetting his English, he yelled in Egyptian, “You fool! What have you done! That was an irreplaceable artifact! I’ll …”

I will never know what the guide was about to do because the cloaked man acted first, his arm swept up holding a compact UZI machine gun.

I did what any hero would do; I dove for cover behind the four-foot-high section of stone statue and covered my head.

The gun went off in a burst of noise which shattered nerves and bullets which shattered bodies. People started screaming.

I risked a peek around the end of Amun’s big stone head, which was currently concealing me, and saw the cloaked man calmly mowing down the tourists.

A woman in a bright sundress ran for the blocked door and he stitched a line of red holes up her back. Her dying body fell forward onto the broken rubble of the fallen statue.

A brave man tried to dive at the killer, but the UZI wielding man grabbed him by the shirt front with his left hand, stopping the hero dead in his tracks. With a contemptuous sneer, he swiveled the gun around and shot the brave man in the head before dropping the now limp body.

It was over in seconds.

Two other people, a man and a woman, were hiding behind the big section of the statue with me. When the shooting stopped, I looked at the other survivors. The man was older; around sixty I would guess. His wife was sobbing and looking hysterical. He looked at me and signaled for me to go around one end while he took the other. I nodded, it was a plan and any plan is better than being shot down like trapped animals.

We waited until we heard the sound of the killer’s footsteps. Depending on which way he came, either the man with gray hair or I would have to face him while the other tried to come around from behind using the statue as cover. I lost the bet and the bastard came my way. I nodded to the other man and prepared to be the diversion. When the crying woman’s husband slipped around his end I made my move standing and charging the gunman who was approaching.

I tried to reach him in a dive which would take me under the lethal gun and tackle him around the knees. It would have been nice if it worked, but with a quick leap to the side, he managed to make me miss. I rolled to my feet in a crouch expecting to feel the pounding force of the bullets hitting my chest. Instead, the killer turned slightly and shot the older man before he could complete his attack from behind. The force of the bullets jerked his body, and he crumbled to the ground near the end of the statue and landed in a still heap.

The woman screamed as her husband’s body came to rest nearby. She crawled out toward him and the killer dispassionately shot her with a short burst from the Uzi. When his attention returned to me I saw the first sign of emotion from his face, he smiled and spoke with a satisfied grin, “Now we are alone at last.”

There I stood, not knowing where to run… exposed, defenseless. Maybe I should have tried to charge him again and gone down like a man, but truth be told I froze in my tracks. I stared at the dark opening of the gun barrel; it looked like some vicious snake ready to strike. Strewn around me were twisted bodies which had been living breathing people seconds before, but were now just slaughtered corpses, soaking the old stones with new blood.

Anger at the wasted lives gave me sudden courage, and I snarled, “Well, asshole?”

Surprisingly he just smiled again and tossed the UZI in the corner of the room next to the bodies of the elderly couple. “My name is Stewart Hentan, Second. Whom do I have the pleasure of ending today?”

I played for time. “Why should I tell you?” I asked.

He frowned at my question. “Fine, Sivaeral, if you wish to go to your end nameless, that is your affair, but it won’t stop me from severing your line. I do prefer my trophies to have a full name… so if you don’t mind? After all, I have been polite enough to tell you my name and lineage.”

So, was Sivaeral my last name? I had no time to ponder that, so I replied, “You call this murder polite!” I gestured to the poor dead tourists around us.

“Mundanes… they mean nothing and you know it. Now for the last time, do you wish to end with some honor and dignity or just be slaughtered like these sheep?”

“Screw you and the horse you rode in on, Jack,” I answered. I was eyeing the UZI with my peripheral vision; it was nearly as close to me as it was to this Stewart Hentan.

The killer scowled, but pulled out a knife with a nasty curved blade of about twelve inches, the gleaming blade polished to a bright gleam. “So be it, die nameless. I will mount your head on a placard at my estate to show until one of us recognizes you. Then I’ll make your House the laughing stock of the Ten Worlds.”

I feinted left then dove right… toward the UZI. I figured he would race me for it, but he just shifted his footing and swiveled to face me as I came up with the wicked machine gun leveled at his chest.

“Now who’s laughing, you ugly bastard,” I said with a wicked grin.

“You would dare insult ME?” he said, thunderclouds brewing as his eyebrows came down until they nearly met in the middle of his face.

“You think that was an insult, you sniveling excuse for chicken droppings? I’ve met road kill which looked better than your face, you rat nosed, murdering coward!”

“I shall erase your line from history!” he snarled.

I shrugged, “Whatever, Barf breath, now back away, or I’ll stitch you a new seam with this UZI.”

He shook his head sadly. “I don’t know who you are, but your education has been lax. Your brethren should have taught you better than to threaten a Second, especially after insulting them.”

He took a step toward me lifting his shining blade a little higher.

I had a brief moment of fear as I realized the UZI must be empty! He must have known this when he tossed it aside, what a fool I had been! I pulled the trigger anyway just to make sure.

The report of the automatic firing shocked the hell out of me. It climbed to the left with the natural pull of the gun firing on full automatic, but I compensated, sending the main stream of bullets into his chest. I realized somewhere in the past I had learned to use automatics.

I stopped firing, knowing short controlled bursts to be more accurate.

Damn it to hell, Stewart was still approaching without so much as a scratch on his big chest. A bullet proof vest? But no, his clothes were also untouched by the bullets. I must have missed.

I aimed more carefully and stepped back, then I fired another burst. This time, I knew I did not miss, yet he was unperturbed, maybe these were blanks? But this made no sense; I’d seen him mow down a lot of tourists with this gun.

He kept coming and his knife looked very wide and very lethal.

I considered panicking as my next option.

I looked past his shoulder for an avenue of escape and saw the blocked opening, the way was open above the fallen statue, but you would have to scramble over first.

Unfortunately, it was too far to jump. I considered launching off the head of Amun-Ra, but it looked like an impossible distance to leap. On the other hand, I reasoned, what did I have to lose?

I shifted my aim to his face and let fly with the UZI, aiming for his eyes. I figured if it worked, he would be dead, if somehow he still did not get hit by the bullets, maybe it would mess up his vision somehow. I fired and ran past him; at the last second, he seemed to see me and lunged with the knife. As I flew by I felt a ripping of cloth go in along my side and then slice down across my ribs.

I took a running bound to the top of the statue’s head, and a second step up onto his shoulder, and then leaped for the high top of the arched opening of the exit from the chamber. Incredibly, my leap took me all the way up to the opening and I managed to land, and then drop down on the other side.

I heard a bellow from the room behind me. “Coward, you run from a fight! I will hunt you down no matter where you hide.”

I dropped to the floor and ran for the outer courtyard full of pillars; I figured my assailant might try the same leap and come after me.

I heard the sounds of someone scrambling over the stones back in the chamber, so I tried for even more speed out of my legs.

There was blood soaking into the material of my flowery shirt from the long, but thankfully, shallow cut running across my ribs. I ran through hall after hall and finally found the exit. Outside I saw a tourist bus waiting nearby. Oblivious to my surroundings, I just wanted out of here, so I ran onto the bus and found the driver lounging in one of the seats.

“Quickly, there are terrorists killing everyone inside! We have to get to the police. They’re coming to take the bus next!” I yelled in Egyptian.

The man saw the blood soaking the side of my tourist clothes and after gaping for a moment he leaped to his feet. The driver looked out the window toward the ruins just in time to see Stewart Hentan come running out, still clutching the large wicked looking knife in his hand.

The bus driver cursed something about some deity’s hairy balls then leaped into the driver’s seat and dropped the bus into gear. We lurched away leaving a billowing cloud of dust trailing behind.

I looked back as Stewart stopped and watched us depart, and then I finally noticed the great Egyptian Temple of Karnak, lit up against the dark sky behind him.

 

 

 

Chapter Two

 

Little old lady got mutilated late last night.

Werewolves of London again.

-Warren Zevon

 

Now that I had time to contemplate the impossibilities and madness I had just witnessed I started seriously considering my sanity. To put it plainly, it is quite possible I am bonkers. After a few more minutes to think, which is not easy when your head is pounding like a pile driver, I decided I would withhold judgment of my sanity until later. Why? Easy, no one wants to think they are one sandwich short of a full picnic.

This left me with the decision of what to do next. I reached in my pocket for the piece of paper the puny pigmy had given me. Upon opening the paper, I discovered a hotel room key taped to the reservation slip. All right, since I did not have any other pressing dates, I decided to head for the hotel. I checked the other pockets of my ugly shorts and discovered a wad of cash, 350 pounds.

First things first, though, I would have to ditch this bus driver before I became mired up with the Egyptian police. They would ask me many questions which I did not have any answers to, and then probably lock me up for a few months to see if that helped me remember.

I waited until we had entered the busy portion of the city, then suddenly pointed into a thick group of people at a marketplace. “Stop the bus! There are the police!”

He laid on the brakes as if there were a mother and baby carriage in front of the bus and I nearly pitched out the front windshield. Luckily I managed to grab one of the seats and hold on, though it hurt my wounded side.

He popped open the door and started to get up, but I gestured for him to stay in his seat. “I’ll get them; you mind the bus.”

The panicky driver nodded with wide eyes and gripped his steering wheel tighter. I jumped out and moved back into the blind spot in his side mirrors, then quickly faded into the crowd. I wondered how long he would wait, but there was no telling.

I stopped in a shop and bought a new shirt and some soft cloth. They had a changing booth so I went in and took off my old shirt and used it to wipe off some of the blood from around the wound. It was in better shape than I expected; the initial pain had made it seem worse. I used the cloth I had bought as a kind of blotter against my side and put the new shirt on over it to hold the cloth in place. This left a bit of a bulge on my side, but on the other hand, at least I was not walking around like a bloody mess anymore. I stuffed the old shirt in their waste basket and went out to pay. I happily tossed the ugly tourist hat and camera into the garbage can.

Outside the shop, I navigated through a couple alleyways to another street and hailed a Taxi. As a diversionary tactic I asked him to drive me to the bus station; this way if the police checked with the cab drivers who had taken fares in the area they would think I went there instead of to a hotel. I paid the taxi driver from the dwindling cash in my pocket, then once he was out of sight I took another cab, and this time asked for the Novotel Luxor Hotel.

I found my room on the 4th floor and entered cautiously, but I was alone. There was no sign of Pox. I checked the closet and found clothes which seemed tailor-made for me. There were suits, casual ensembles, even a tuxedo. In the drawers were all the other amenities. Some cautious side of me located the suitcase at the bottom of the closet and I found myself packing everything. In the drawer next to the bed I found a leather satchel, with shoulder strap. Inside I found a passport, American, a wallet with credit cards and cash, this time quite a sum. All were in the name of Nick Sivaeral. Interestingly, there were pictures of me on the driver’s license and on the passport. Both showed me with a sly smile, dark eyes peering out with that look of someone who knows more than you do, and revels in it. I wish I was half as cocky looking as the guy in those photos. I must have known what the hell was going on in the world when those pictures were taken.

I went to the mirror and gasped. I had one of those colored Glyph tattoos on my left cheek, though mine was a kind of shelled creature. I thought about it, and came up with a word, it was like a nautilus shell. I looked back at my face in comparison to the photos, but there were no glyphs there. I figured I must have gotten the mark after these pictures were taken. The pictures were definitely of me, and I did not seem to have aged any since these were taken, I still looked around thirty or so. According to the passport, I was thirty-three.

I decided to take a quick shower and clean my wounded side. Before removing my shirt, I called the Bell Captain and had him send up a boy. I negotiated with him and he went off on his errand to buy some first aid supplies for me so I could bandage myself properly after my shower. I removed my shirt and under the dried blood I could see the long slice mark already healed to a puckered looking scar. I only had a scar two hours after being wounded? I knew of no one who healed this quickly. Then I noticed the ring on my left hand, ring finger. It was mainly gold, but there was also some copper and silver color. The shape was a simple circle, without a stone, but it had an intricately designed set of small rectangles going all the way around, each one silver, copper or gold colored, like a little wall of metal bricks. I didn’t remember putting it on when Pox gave me my clothes, so I had to assume it actually belonged to me. I left it on.

After my shower, I put on a pair of black slacks, a dark blue shirt and socks and shoes. Dressed, though perhaps not ready for anything, I looked toward the closed Hotel room door wondering if Pox had been something I imagined or if he would show up soon. Then I remembered he’d said something about ‘summoning’ him. I wondered if he meant by phone, but I didn’t have a clue of what number to call. Then I muttered, “Damn it, Pox, what am I supposed to do, wish you here?”

I leaped about a foot off the floor in surprise when I heard his voice speak from behind me.

“Greetings Master!” Pox said in a gravelly voice.

I spun around, looking a little foolish I am sure, and exclaimed, “Pox!”

“The same,” he answered with another patented toothy grin.

“How did you… never mind. I need some answers and I need them now! Some insane murderer killed over twenty people and then tried to kill me for some trophy! Then I shot the bastard and he didn’t die! His goddamned clothes weren’t even damaged! What in the hell is going on here!”

“You cannot attack one of sufficient Power from afar. Reality is theirs in direct proportion to proximity unless guided by stronger reality,” Pox explained as if his statement made perfect sense.

My headache, nearly down to a manageable throb, returned to pounding agony in seconds. “That makes about as much sense to me as this knife wound which has healed to a scar in two hours!”

“You have great Power, great Élan vital. You must remember how to use it! She will help you!” Pox promised.

I looked at my left hand and saw the ring.

“Is this mine?” I asked holding up my hand to show the ring to Pox.

“Oh, yes, Master, never take it off. The ring was given to you by your mother, long ago, Master.”

I had a sudden thought, and asked, “What’s in this for you? Who are you? And why do you call me ‘Master’?” I asked, suspicious of the helpful little Troll.

He wrung his meaty looking hands together and attempted another reassuring smile. “I have always been your servant, Master, further back than memory. And now you hold the strings to my soul.”

I scowled at his confusing statement.

“Master, if I might suggest something?” he asked plaintively, giving a quarter bow of his squat body.

Still aiming my scowling brows at him I answered in nearly a growl. “All right, as long as you don’t say anything to confuse me further.”

“You have many enemies, many who are jealous of your station. You need to reach a place of safety soon where you can regain your skills, then become the hunter instead of the hunted!”

I did like the sound of that. I needed time to figure out this whole mess and regain my lost memory without having to dodge UZI and knife-wielding killers.

“Where do you suggest I go?”

“England, there you have friends, who know much of the Power and can instruct you where I cannot. ‘She’ is there.”

“All right, friends, you say? How do I get to these friends?”

“Do you remember how to Five Point travel?” Pox asked with a beady-eyed hopeful look.

I shook my head; he might as well have asked me to do the Chinese polka.

He shrugged his thick shoulders. “Then it seems you must take mundane means of travel; perhaps an airplane would be best. Your credit cards are all good; has she not taken good care of you while you rested!”

“She, who is this ‘she’ you keep mentioning?” I demanded.

Then he grinned a smile which showed very pointy teeth, “Fiona, a Second of House Albus, a friend, and the one who has helped you while you healed. Had she not, you would likely have fallen to a Hunter on the Ascension Quest.”

By Thor’s silly hammer, I wish I could understand just ONE thing this little goblin spouted out with such gusto.

But this was just one more question in about a million, so I picked a different thing to ask, “How long have I been, ‘resting’?”

“Since the battle?” he asked while he pondered a moment, “Twenty-four Earth years.”

My mouth dropped open. “I’ve been ASLEEP for twenty-four years!”

He nodded a definite nod. “Go to Camington Castle, in the Wiltshire county of South West England. The castle is near Salisbury. Once you get close, just follow your feelings. Fiona Albus will be expecting you.”

My mouth was still hanging askew from the surprise of knowing I had been in a coma, or something, for 24 years, so I missed the part about ‘follow your feelings’. There was a knock on the door behind me.

Pox spun surprisingly fast for his squat shape, and then hissed at me in an urgent whisper, “Are you expecting someone?”

I suddenly remembered the bell boy, and said, “Don’t worry, it’s only room service. I ordered some first aid supplies to bind my cut.” I started toward the door.

“WAIT, Master!” he hissed again. “They are looking for you, and if they know you were wounded, perhaps…” he trailed off as I nodded catching his drift.

I looked around the hotel room like a trapped animal, as another knock came from the door.

“The balcony!” Pox suggested, pointing a long talon tipped finger.

I grabbed my packed suitcase and quickly went to the sliding glass door and opened it. Outside I found a small balcony with a substantial drop to the ground, which did not look healthy. I checked to my left and right and saw that the balconies from the rooms next to me were accessible if I was willing to leap about a six-foot gap, which I was.

I tossed the suitcase over first, then jumped up and balanced on the wall for a moment before leaping. I landed in a crouch just as I heard the crash of a door breaking open from the direction of my old room. Having only seconds before whoever was after me found the balcony, I quickly tossed my suitcase to the next balcony. I turned and kicked in the sliding glass door with the hard heel of my shoe. There was a woman’s scream from the room, but I did not stick around to admire her pitch. In one bound I hit the top of the wall and leaped across to the next balcony. I landed in a crouch and quickly pulled my suitcase to me, then scrambled backward until I felt the cool cement of the wall pressed against my back. I was now hidden from anyone looking from either of the two balconies I had recently occupied, I listened for my hunter.

I heard commotion in the room where I had just broken the glass, then the sound of a door opening and the woman’s terrified voice retreating down the hallway. Then I heard someone leap and land on the balcony; I could hear their feet crunching on the broken glass. My assailant must have bought my ruse because the footsteps went into the woman’s room.

I gave them enough time to get out of the room into the hall, where they hopefully would not hear me as I again tossed my bag and then jumped to the next balcony. I repeated this quickly until I was five balconies away, at which point I found a sliding glass door which was slightly ajar.

I opened the door quickly to the dark room and heard movement from the bed.

“I’m sorry! I’m Bernard, of Hotel security,” I said in Egyptian, “We are in pursuit of a prowler who jumped the balconies. Please close and lock your sliding glass door, we’ll alert you when the culprit has been found.” As I spoke I had quickly crossed the room to the hallway door and unlocked it.

“Are we in serious danger?” a man’s voice asked as his fumbling fingers finally turned on the light on the nightstand.

He was just too late to see me; I had already opened the door and was slipping out into the hall. “No, I’ll send a man to watch this hall immediately, now lock both your doors,” I finished, closing the door. A few feet further down the hall I slipped into the stairwell and made my way toward the lobby. It was only now that I wondered what happened to Pox. He had not followed me across the balconies.

I cracked the door open slightly so I could peer out into the lobby and get the lay of the land. A slightly balding guy in a bad suit, that had to be the hotel security man, dashed into an elevator. I waited until the doors closed and then started to open the stairway door. My heart leaped into my throat as I saw my buddy, Stewart Hentan, the tourist killer, exiting another elevator into the lobby.

He was not hard to pick out of a crowd. Not just because of his 6 foot, three-inch stocky frame or the long black coat which went from his burly neck nearly to the floor, he stood out due to his piercing eyes and the strange glyph on his cheek. Those dark eyes scanned the lobby for prey, seeming to see into every shadow and crevice. People instinctively stepped out of his way, mothers pulled children to their sides and men did not meet his glance.

My eyes narrowed as two men, who bore a striking facial resemblance to Stewart, suddenly faded out of the background and met him. I was not near enough to hear what they said, but the slight negative shake of their heads told the story. They had not seen me as they watched the lobby. Both of these men had the very same Glyph on their cheek as Stewart.

I closed the door and tried to think clearly. They knew I had escaped my room, and Stewart had lost me upstairs, they would leave one to watch the elevators, and send at least one to check the stairway! I looked at the closed door before me in horror, not daring to open it again to see if they were coming, and not knowing how close they were to opening it and discovering me.

I tiptoed swiftly to the stairs and started back up, running up two stairs at a time as quietly as I could. I reached the first floor and opened the door into the hallway, just as I heard the door below open. “Shit,” I subvocalized since this about summed it up. I tried to close the door both swiftly and silently, which is not easy. I managed it somehow.

Now alone in the hall I ran down toward the end, carrying my bag. I considered dumping it, but I had tossed the purse with all the credit cards and cash on top the clothes inside before sealing the suitcase. Besides, if I dumped it and one of them saw it they might put two and two together and know I had gone this way. I lugged it along.

I finally made it to the end and located a fire escape stairway. After opening the door slightly, I listened, but I did not hear any movement on the stairs. Quickly I made my way down two levels where I came to a door marked with an EXIT sign. In red letters, it proclaimed, “Only for emergencies, alarm will sound!” I figured this qualified. I kicked open the door and barreled out and up the short flight of stairs to street level, alarms ringing all over the place. I did not wait for the police, the fire department or the knife-wielding trio to arrive; I just got the hell out of Dodge.

 

At the airport, I booked and paid cash for a flight to London. During the wait, I picked an out of the way area where I could sit with my back to a wall and have a field of view which showed me anyone approaching for some distance. I watched people for thirty minutes, looking for Glyph tattoos before I finally relaxed slightly.

Eventually, I got up and went to one of the shops in the concourse, they sold various things, newspapers, books, magazines. I noticed one book with a boy on the cover, and he had some kind of mark on his forehead, kind of like the Glyphs I’d seen, but this was in a different place. It was marked as a best seller, so I picked it up and read the back. Turns out the boy in the story was some kind of wizard, hidden in the real world. I eventually put it down and I glanced at the front page of a newspaper. After a moment, the image on the front page registered on my recently abused gray matter, and with a rustle of paper, I snatched up the publication. On the front page, I saw a picture of the chamber in the Temple of Karnak where Stewart had gone on his murder spree. I read the article quickly. For the most part, I knew more than the writer, however, the article did mention a pentagram burned on the floor. The article went on to say the investigators were looking into the idea of a satanic cult being involved but were not ignoring terrorists or other possibilities for the bizarre killing spree. It also mentioned the bus driver being questioned in connection to a suspect. Next to the article, printed for all to see, I found myself staring at a poor likeness of my face as rendered by the police artist.

I looked around guiltily, but no one seemed to be noticing me.

Looking more carefully at the picture on the front page I could make out black lines drawn on the floor: two circles one inside the other and a pentagram inside the inner circle; interesting. Could Stewart be some wacko Devil worshiper? He sure seemed evil enough to me. I found it strange that he had taken the time to go back to the murder chamber and draw something as intricate as this pentagram after he had chased me clear outside. Perhaps he was some religious zealot.

I looked at the artist’s conception of me again, and then realized something odd; they had not drawn the nautilus Glyph mark on my cheek. You would think my glyph mark would have stood out to the bus driver. Still, I purchased a baseball style hat and a pair of reading glasses. I went to a bathroom and used the mirror, the hat and glasses helped to change my appearance, but I could still plainly see the nautilus Glyph on my left cheek.

Unfortunately, reading glasses aren’t meant for distance viewing, and the blurred vision worsened my ever present headache. When I finally got on the plane I took off the damned glasses and rewarded my patience by carefully breaking them in half. The destruction felt good.

The Stewardess came around with magazines, so I took whatever she had on top and started paging through. There were articles on various tourist sites in the United Kingdom. I stopped on one which mentioned Salisbury England, but it wasn’t the town that caught my interest, it was a picture of a place nearby called Stonehenge. It showed a group of large stones arranged in circles. This particular photograph had been taken during a full solar eclipse giving the whole thing an eerie look. I was intrigued by the formation, though something felt wrong about it. Still, I knew I’d been there. It was a bit of memory which belonged to me, something I had very little of and so I treasured it like the finest gem.

Then I knew where I was going.

 

Salisbury was brisk, but not freezing this time of year. I bundled the wool coat closer to my body and followed the tour guide along the path toward the lonely stone sentinels standing in the English field. The tour stopped well short of the actual site, at a place where we could see, but not touch or damage, the ancient Megaliths.

I listened to the Tour Guide with half an ear; she was droning on about all the different people that had used or changed the site since approximately 2800 BC. It had been used for various ceremonies and religious rites by many different cultures down through the ages. At various times different cultures made physical changes: the double circle of bluestone Menhirs in 2,100 BC and the five horseshoe shaped Sarsen Trilithons in 2,000 BC. All very interesting, but it did not get me what I wanted. Simply put, I had a strong urge, or call it a compulsion, if you will, to stand within the inner circle. It drew me like a puppy to his mother’s milk.

The tour moved on, and so did I, breaking away as soon as possible. As much as I wanted to go there now, I had to wait for dark to make my illegal foray into the center of the circle. I went back to the small hotel where I had checked in after arriving by bus from London and rested while waiting for dark.

 

I slipped over the fence handily and dropped to the ground on the other side, pausing to listen for sounds of discovery. The stillness of the night seemed undisturbed. By moonlight the Megaliths seemed silent sentries to time, guarding this place by their very strangeness. The length of time they survived the onslaught of human progress shows the measure of their success. Mountains leveled for housing tracks, the earth plundered for ore and minerals, rivers dammed, oceans and air polluted, yet here this circle stood, damaged, but surviving.

I reached what remained of the outer ring of Sarsen stones, with their uprights and top lintel stones, there I paused. I could feel a current of power emanating through my body; it was a heady sensation. I reached out a hand and touched the nearest of the massive stones, but felt no increase in the strange sensation. I took a step forward toward the center and the Sarsen Trilithons.

I then looked back at the outer ring; which used to extend all the way around. Nowadays, there was only a single grouping of three openings, with three other single arches.

I suddenly wondered what in the world I was doing out here in the cold night around some old boulders which some religious nut made his people drag across the countryside. I spoke aloud, “I should be going to see this Fiona Albus, not standing around freezing off my arse!”

At this point, I felt an unnaturally cold wind blow across me and the world seemed to wobble, though now that I think of it, perhaps it was my balance which wobbled.

Out of the dark night, a woman’s voice spoke, sounding soft and near. It did not sound as if it was coming from the outdoors it sounded as if we were within someone’s room. Her voice was right out of every adolescent’s dreams of the perfect woman.

“Nicholas, dear, where are you?” she asked.

My reply was both witty and succinct. “Wha…” I said, dumbfounded, spinning around to try and spot the girl with the sexy voice; she had to be close.

“Oh, I’m sorry to startle you; I know you’ve lost your memory. I grew worried when you didn’t arrive and wondered if something had happened. I thought it worth answering your summons.”

I still looked around the old stones for some sight of the woman who was speaking as if she was standing within five feet of me.

“Summons? Who are you?” I finally managed to say.

“Oh, I thought you knew. Pox called and left a message telling us you were coming to my place in England.”

I took a deep breath trying to regain my nerves. I must have sounded a little squeaky during my last attempt at questions.

“Then you are the friend he told me to visit?” I asked.

In a reassuring voice, she answered. “Indeed, where are you now?”

This is an interesting question for someone to ask when they sounded as if they were next to you.

“Don’t you know? Are you not here as well?”

“Of course not, I’m at my home,” she answered as if that was the most normal thing in the world.

I sighed mentally; I just hated not knowing what in Hades these people were talking about. “Then, if you aren’t here, and you don’t even know where I am, how in the hell are you talking to me?” The last part came out a bit stressed, all right, more than a bit.

She answered in a soothing tone, “I answered your summons and created the bridge between us; if we keep it short it is unlikely a Hunter will detect the connection. Don’t worry, just come to my home, the one Pox told you about, and we will see about getting you straightened out. When did you last see Pox?”

Her sudden shift of subject threw me off for a moment and I mentally scrambled to find an answer. “Back at my hotel in Luxor, where some guy was after me; he wants to mount my head on his wall as a trophy!”

Her next words gave me the distinct impression she was shaking her head in disapproval. “A Hentan; sometimes you just wish there had only been nine Firsts. Anyway, you say ‘back in Luxor? Where are you now?”

This is the second time she has asked about my whereabouts, I wonder if I should tell her, yet I didn’t really know who she was or for whom she worked. Some disembodied voice out of the night, melodic or not, wants to know how to find me; perhaps it is time I started being more cautious.

“I’m in England; my plane landed in London. Before I agree to come out to your place, what can you say to reassure me that you aren’t working for Stewart Hentan?”

“Stewart is the one after you? Be careful! He’s a Second you know; he has both power and skill. It is imperative for you to reach me soon, and don’t say your name! He can track you if your name is spoken aloud, given time. As far as reassurances, let me tell you this, you know where I live and can come at the time of your choosing. If I was after you I wouldn’t put so many cards in your hand. Nicholas, I am your friend and have been for a long time. Somewhere in you, there has to be some memory left of that friendship. Search for it, they can’t have taken all of your emotions as well as your memories. Now it is best if we stop talking this way, the use of a spirit bridge over this distance is too much of a signal. Stewart could zero in on you. Come to your friends, Nick, you will not regret it.”

I felt her presence depart. Somehow I knew it without having to call out to check, it was like a door had closed somewhere and the chill breeze had stopped.

I considered her words for a moment; perhaps there was some truth to what she said. There were emotions I had been feeling all along, but they were unattached to memories so I had not really connected them. I had been worried when I first saw Stewart in the group of tourists, and then I had felt disgusted when I heard his name. Now when I thought of Fiona, I felt… love? I’m not sure, infatuation might be closer. In fact, the thought of love caused something painful and ugly to twist in my gut. However, my negative emotion did not apply to Fiona. At the thought of her voice, I felt a warm sensation, a desire to see her; I guess you would call it a feeling of trust, and perhaps a little lust, if I was being honest.

I had just reached the conclusion to go and see her as planned originally when there was a flash of blue light from behind me. I spun around, nearly falling to the grass, and found myself looking at the three outer ring openings and the image of a human in the left-most opening. Not a person, just the outline of a body done in faint glowing blue which seemed almost mist like. Inside the outline was just the blackness of night.

His body suddenly replaced the blackness, and the blue glow outlining him quickly diminished and was soon gone completely.

The moon lit man took two steps forward, toward one of the Trilithons, but then he must have seen me. I saw, from the quick change in his posture as he went from standing to a crouch that he went on the defensive.

“Who are you?” a male voice asked warily.

Fiona’s voice came back in my memory. ‘Stewart could zero in on you.’

However, this man was not Stewart, he did not have the height, but he could be one of Stewart’s friends. Then he moved and the moonlight hit his face, and I noticed he had a glyph on his left cheek. It was not the same one as on Stewart, nor the nautilus I had on mine; his was the image of a circle, with four arrows pointing out, one each at the top, bottom, and sides, with small hash marks between. Then I knew it, a kind of a simple compass, without the North, south, east and west letters.

“I could ask the same of you,” was my witty reply.

“Hydan Friare, Third,” he answered immediately.

At his instant and seemingly open response, I felt obliged to answer with my name as well, but Fiona had told me not to say my name aloud, so I just remained silent.

“I see by your Glyph you are a Sivaeral, what Tier?” he asked, curiously.

I noted caution in Hydan’s tone, but also a measure of friendliness. Against my better judgment, I found myself relaxing somewhat. After all, so far he had not pulled out an UZI from under his coat.

“You aren’t planning on trying to murder me, are you?” I suddenly asked.

He actually laughed, “No, that wasn’t my first thought.”

His warm laugh was reassuring; it was obviously real and from the heart. I relaxed a little and considered what I should tell him. I needed someone to answer some questions dearly, and there was something, well, just trustworthy about his open emotions.

I decided to take a chance and said, “You know, I’m just tired of all this shit.”

He looked puzzled, “You seem angry.”

“Bub, you have never seen me angry. The thing is I don’t even know what you mean by ‘tier’; let alone which one I’m in. Hell, I don’t know what you mean by my ‘House’. I’m new to all this. I don’t know why certain people, like you, have this mark on their cheek, or why I have one. Most of all I don’t know why some asshole I had never met wants to kill me!” I left out the part about having no memory of ANY past.

He straightened up out of his crouch, and said, “Wow, you must be Undiscovered, or I should say, recently Discovered, since you have the Glyph. Were you a Hidden Soul, or are you,” and here he paused and then half whispered, “a Bastard?”

Before I could answer he held up both hands, palms out and tilted his chin back as he said, “Not that I’m here to judge you, I mean, it wouldn’t be your fault you were a Bastard.”

I didn’t know what to say in response.

Hydan took a step closer and added, “Maybe I could help you out by showing you the ropes. Hey, we can even do each other a favor. Since this is my first time here, maybe you could show me around while I help you discover what tier you are, among other things. It would be fun!”

Fun, he said? So far none of this had been anything but confusing, painful and dangerous. “I would like some help understanding all this; in fact, I was just about to head over to a friend’s house who said she could help me.”

In the dim light of the moon, I noticed Hydan’s eyebrows rise slightly. “What’s her name? She one of us?”

“I would say she is part of this,” I answered, thinking of her voice out of the night a few moments ago, but I remembered Pox had cautioned me about saying names, so I kept that to myself. “She told me something about Firsts and Seconds, does that make sense?”

His head nodded up and down slightly even before his words. “Indeed, so she was talking about tiers, definitely one of us. What did she tell you already?” Hydan asked.

I noticed a definite change in his tone; he was trying to sound mildly interested, however, his very nonchalance made me think he was far more interested in finding out more about Fiona than he was trying to let on.

“She warned me that Stewart Hentan was a Second, and …”

He interrupted me. “Stewart Hentan! Is HE the one after you?”

I nodded.

“No wonder you aren’t saying your name! This is bad news. Stewart is powerful. He’s been around a long time and he’s deadly. They say he has killed more of us in the Ascension Quest than anyone I’ve ever heard of; he’s even taken out several Seconds! I’ve never met him, thank my First, but he’s infamous! You say he tried to kill you and, and… you escaped?” There was definitely disbelief in his voice.

“Yes, he killed over twenty people and I was the only one to escape alive,” I said, getting a quick flashback of the people dying around me by machinegun fire.

“Mundanes? Bah, Stewart wouldn’t care a Dragon’s ass about them, but the fact that you escaped, well that is interesting news. How did you possibly get away from a Second who was bent on killing you? Not to mention, one who is a particularly good hunter.”

“I saw a way to go and went, and then I just ran.” While he contemplated my answer I began to take notice of the black shapes of the Stonehenge sentinel stones behind Hydan and remembered him walking out of one with a blue glow around him. “Would you mind if we got out of here? I don’t want to get caught here and have to grapple with a lot of questions I can’t answer if other people appear.”

I distinctly saw him cock his head to the side and got the impression he was amused! “Sure, if you want. But don’t worry about the lower tiers… they see what we want them to see. Don’t worry, I’ll teach you. Let’s find a town and see if we can’t sample some of the local paint thinner. I need a drink!”

From out of the dark a strange wailing howl cut through the normal nocturnal sounds on the moors.

“What in the dark pits of hell was that?” I asked.

Hydan nodded, “Indeed, I think they ARE from the dark pits.”

We heard a second howl, and this wail had the hint of a wolf in it, yet it was far more sinister sounding, more intelligent, more emotional. I had the distinct impression of an almost tangible hunger. Then there was the fact that there were no wolves in England.

Hydan’s smile disappeared. “Those could be gehdrin, though on Earth, if my research serves me, I believe they are called hairwolves. I’ll try to get us free, but they can track The Power, come on!”

“Hairwolves? Do you mean werewolves?”

“Oh, yeah,” he agreed.

“Those are Hollywood creations!” I complained, but followed the swiftly departing Hydan.

Hydan glanced back at me. “I don’t know who this Holly Wood person is, but legend has it the Dark One created them to hunt down his enemies. There are reasons none of The Power go to Sheol anymore! Anyone of 4th Tier or higher is hunted down by his creatures and slain. It’s rather embarrassing.”

“Sheol, where is that?” I demanded.

“It’s one of the ten Worlds, the only one banned from all mages. I don’t recommend it as a vacation spot.”

I let that go by without comment, now I figured that this Hydan had a few missing lug nuts in the old brain pan.

Another howl came from off to our left.

“Burn me! I think they flanked us. They must have already gotten a taste. I tried to mask us, but they are damn hard to fool,” Hydan complained, coming to a stop. “We’ll have to fight them off.”

I was getting scared. “How bad are these things?”

I think my question scared Hydan more than the werewolves.

He grabbed me by the shoulders and looked into my eyes. “We can kill them easily! Remember that! Every time you attack one you will kill it.”

“Sounds like wishful thinking,” I muttered, not at all sure about this.

Hydan nodded, “Exactly! Just make sure you believe in yourself. Remember, what you think will affect how you do. Now get a weapon ready.”

He reached behind his back and pulled out a long bladed knife.

“Christ on a stick! Where did you get a knife?” I exclaimed. There was no way I’d missed him carrying a knife that big.

“You just… never mind,” he exclaimed with a sigh, then tossed me his blade hilt first. “Catch! I’ve got another one.”

“Another one!” this was too much to swallow; it was obvious he didn’t feel like explaining the truth at the moment.

He reached back again and pulled out another knife, a duplicate of the one I now held.

He pointed at my knife with his free hand. “That’s a magic blade you’re holding.”

“What,” I scoffed, “like Sting?”

“It’s not a stinger, it’s a knife, and whenever you swing at one of the gehdrin it always hits and always kills. Trust me on this, I mean it.”

I looked at it dubiously, but considering he couldn’t possibly have had two of these big knives hidden on him, I had to conclude that it had already demonstrated the impossible anyway. The other leap of faith didn’t take much more to believe; so, OK, I had a magic knife.

He gestured with his blade toward a dark rise ahead of us. “Come on; let’s make a break for high ground.” Then he dashed off like the Devil was after him; I followed close on his heels.

Behind us, I heard the call of the creatures as they picked up our trail and came on in hot pursuit. We stopped on top of the mound and turned to face our hunters.

“This isn’t much of a hill,” I noted to my new found friend.

Hydan shrugged, “It’s the highest spot nearby; it will have to do.”

Whatever the hell was coming for us, I wished with all my heart for them to go away.

We crouched there in the dark, waiting for the attack, then we heard a howl again, but it was further off now.

“Wow, we are in luck! The gehdrin missed our trail, or they picked up on someone stronger than us. They tend to go after those with the most power.”

I looked at the long knife in my hand, “What do I do with this?” I asked.

He shrugged, “Give it here.”

I handed it over, and he made it disappear, like some magician’s trick and some fake flowers. It was just suddenly, gone, and so was his weapon.

“Now, weren’t we talking about drinking something that will do these bodies harm?” he asked, as if barely escaping werewolves was nothing to comment about.

 

 

 

Chapter Three

With just one look I was a bad mess

Cause that long cool woman had it all.

-The Hollies

 

We walked about three miles and entered the town of Amesbury. Hydan unerringly arrived at a small family owned establishment, called the Rose and Crown. Just before we got there a chicken ran across the road in front of us, and Hydan stopped, and then laughed. “That is the dumbest looking fowl I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. There is NO WAY that fat thing can fly!”

“It’s just a chicken,” I said.

“A chicken? Dumb name, for a dumb bird. I like it! Gaia must have had some real fun here.”

I had no idea what he was talking about, so I let it go.

As soon as we entered the Rose and Crown Hydan arranged a room for us in their Bed and Breakfast room for rent, which was located just above the bar. When we then sat down in the pub I learned something immediately, Hydan could drink.

Let me say it again, that boy could put down the booze like a sailor on a three-day pass. Within minutes, he had some of the locals singing and soon joined in, learning the words as he went, rather quickly. A young lady of about 23 years, with blonde hair, smiled at his antics, and he soon had her perched on his lap, while he downed yet another mug of the local brew.

“This is the life!” he called to me, lifting a freshly filled mug as a toast.

I shook my head. Unlike my boisterous friend, I had taken a quiet seat in the corner, where I could keep an eye on the door. I was sipping from my first mug sparingly, just enough so it looked like I was drinking. I was far from comfortable; there were too many unanswered questions, too much emptiness in my head for me to enjoy life. Eventually, Hydan, and his new female companion, slipped out and upstairs. Well, they would have, if Hydan had not turned at the door, with his arm around Saphron, and called out loudly, “I shall return once I have been vanquished by fair Saphron!”

There were some hoot and cat calls, and then Hydan took the blushing Saphron off to our room. I didn’t begrudge him his fun, but I was still deep in thought.

First off, I considered these werewolves Hydan had alluded to, I hadn’t actually seen them. Maybe it was just his overactive imagination or alcohol induced delusions. He certainly drank enough, and might have been drinking earlier. But, if those were just wolves, then where did they come from in England? Then, there was the fact that he had appeared out of thin air. When one strange thing happens, you have to assume other stranger things are possible. So, if I, for the moment, accept the idea of werewolves, the next question is why were these werewolves out searching the countryside? I’m not much of a believer in coincidence.

So, this means they were likely after me, or Hydan. Since this was Hydan’s first visit to this area, and he didn’t seem concerned that someone was after him, it followed that they were after me. I was the one with someone hunting them, that psychopath Stewart Hentan.

I sighed and took another sip of my drink.

There was a faint sound of creaking bedsprings in a steady rhythm from upstairs, so one of the locals picked up a violin and started playing to the rhythm of the creaking springs. Some of the others laughed, and soon a guitar and an accordion joined into the tune, effectively drowning out the noises from upstairs.

That’s when a mysterious woman entered the room, coming out of the cold night. I say ‘mysterious’ because you couldn’t help but look at her, and wish she would look your way.

She had a navy blue cape wrapped around her, and a large hood up over her head to protect her from the night dew. I could just make out her eyes inside the gloom of the hood as she took in the room silently.

Like me, all of the locals were staring at this woman, so I figured she couldn’t be part of the local crowd.

Talk and laughter petered out as everyone’s attention went to the new arrival.

Her eyes landed on me, and it was like time was stretching into slow motion. I felt heat rise in my face. Then, wonder of wonders, she headed my direction. I felt a joy like a child on Christmas morning, mixed with a teenager who has the prom queen on his arm entering the dance hall.

Slowly the mumble of voices came back up in a low kind of background noise.

There was something… powerful, about her. I can’t explain it; perhaps it was how she moved through the room like she owned this entire province. She was graceful in ways which were indefinable. She arrived at my table and spoke in a soft alto voice which sent shivers of pleasure up my spine. It just wasn’t fair; no girl should sound so pleasing to the ear.

“Is this chair taken?” her melodious voice breathed.

I didn’t trust my voice to reply; it might break like some school boy, so I tipped my mug toward the chair and nodded, letting her know she could take it. But she didn’t pull the chair away; she sat down at my table.

“D-d-do I know you?” I stuttered.

She smiled slightly, the corner of her perfect lips pulling up. I felt like I had been given a gift.

Then she said, “No, but I know you.”

Something like an actual thought managed to get through the buzz clouding my brain from her presence, and I remembered that strange beings were hunting me, and the allure of this woman was more than humanly possible. My eyes darted toward the door, gauging my escape routes.

She chuckled low in her throat, with such genuine amusement she froze me like a deer in the headlights. Then she spoke in her wondrous voice, “I am not here to harm you, far from it, Nicholas Sivaeral, I am here to help you.”

I knew her voice; though it was twice as powerful and beautiful in person, I had already heard it once before this evening, “Fiona?”

She smiled, and then lowered her hood, revealing a strikingly beautiful face which would have made Angelina Jolie viciously jealous. She had long silky blonde hair, with sweeping bangs going across her face from left to right, like the perfect feathers of a bird’s wing. Her nose was small, her lips full and nearly red, yet I could detect no makeup on her beautiful face. Her eyes were incredibly striking, a brown which was almost amber.

But her most eye-catching feature was the Glyph on her left cheek. It was made of crisscrossing, but unconnected, slashing marks and curves, with the center yellow and changing through orange to red on the way out to the left and right extremities. I didn’t see the shape instantly, but then it came to me, altogether the slash marks made a highly stylized spider. It did not detract from her beauty at all; it just made her look more exotic.

Like the Glyph on my face, or the other two I’d seen, Fiona’s was vibrant and etched right into the skin slightly.

“Well met, Nicholas,” she said in a warm voice which sent pleasant chills up my spine.

I nodded to her, trying to affect a much steadier appearance than what I actually felt. Inside my emotions were like a bird in gale force winds, while Fiona looked as steady as a stone column. She looked like someone who knew what the hell was going on, and I envied her that knowledge. I must have looked like a boy trying to ask a girl who is way out of his league on a date.

The music players were off onto another tune, and even though we were in a small room full of people I had the feeling that they could not even see or hear us. No one was looking our way, or staring at Fiona, and she was worth staring at, permanently.

“You may speak freely,” she noted to me when she noticed my eyes taking in the room.

I nodded, “OK, I don’t know where to start, but let’s begin simply with, what the hell is going on?”

She smiled, and a lesser mortal would have passed out from the pure pleasure of seeing her beauty; I’ll admit, I actually did feel a little light headed.

Then she said, “I know you are worried, and a little overwhelmed. Do you remember me, Nick?”

Damn it! I wanted to say, ‘Hell yes, who could ever forget you!’ But for the life of me, I couldn’t ever remember seeing her face, and you would swear you could never forget it. I couldn’t form the words, so I just gave her the slightest of shake of my head. I expected her to frown and stand up to leave; you didn’t insult Aphrodite with forgetfulness.

But Fiona only smiled sadly, and I felt like weeping at her expression.

Then she said, “All right, I had hoped some of your memories had returned, but before I start filling in some of the blanks, can you tell me if you already remember anything? Do you know the Houses or about the Archimages?”

“Houses, Archimages?” I said, furrowing my brow in puzzlement.

She nodded, “I see. I was afraid of this, my love.”

When she said ‘my love’, I nearly passed out, and almost didn’t hear the rest of what she said, but I sort of re-ran it in my head.

“The thing is Nick,” Fiona continued, “you were hit with a very powerful dark spell, one which locked away your memories, or erased them. This was done so you could not defend yourself against attack.”

“Right,” I said dubiously, “A spell.” Normally when someone says something that dumb I would have replied with biting sarcasm, but I just couldn’t do this to such a beauteous example of the female form.

“Yes, a magic spell, a very dark one,” she answered.

Some of my natural acidity seem to break through my infatuation, and I gave her a kind of stern look as I said, “The hell it was, I don’t even believe in magic.”

A half smile pulled at the left side of her mouth, “That is unfortunate, Nicholas Sivaeral because you are a powerful wizard, a mage.”

I let her statement sit around in the air for a minute while I contemplated her words and enjoyed just looking at her face, but I finally kind of snorted with mirth as I said, “A wizard, like Harry Potter?” I had remembered the character from the book in the airport, but I was being sarcastic, the whole idea of me being a wizard, of ANYONE being a wizard, was ridiculous.

She laughed gently, but even that small sound made the room feel like a party. “No, not like the wizard named Harry in those books, nor like the wizard named Harry Dresden in other books, you are part of something else, something different, something real.”

“Bull shit,” I replied simply. Even for such a desirable woman, I just could not fake my reaction to such a ridiculous notion.

She just smiled slightly and looked at me with those twinkling eyes of mystery.

Something about her expression made me start to doubt myself, and wonder if by some strange chance I should believe her; so I said, “A wizard,” like I was saying, ‘a pink elephant.’

She nodded her perfect head and that movement made her long blonde hair ripple gently in a wave of shining light. Then she added, “Nicholas, you are a wizard, and far up the Tiers. You were once powerful, and have the potential to be powerful once again.”

“And pigs can fly,” I noted with a snort. “Now what is the real story?”

Her eyes practically sparkled as she replied, “You could make a pig fly if this was how you saw a pig in this world.”

I considered her words, and then said, “Could I make a knife appear out of nothing?”

Fiona drew a small dagger from her waist and it elongated into a sword. It was silver, with an extraordinarily beautiful grip which seemed to naturally weave itself out of the cross piece, which was studded with diamonds large enough to buy the town of Amesbury, let alone this tavern.

“You mean like this?” she asked pleasantly, and then added, “You see, Nick, I am a sorceress, which is what we call a female mage. I am a Second Tier sorceress of House Albus.”

She said it like she was saying, ‘I am a Princess of the Universe.’

But this wasn’t the first time I had heard of ‘Seconds’ and ‘Thirds’. So I asked, “What does ‘Second Tier of your House’ mean?”

“The Tiers denote how far you are down the family tree from your First, your Archimage. A Second Tier mage is a direct descendant of an Archimage. A Third is a direct descendant of at least one Second Tier parent, and so on. There is much more to this, but that is the basics of the House Tiers. You are a Third, which is very high in the ranks. There are Fourths, Fifths, Sixths and Sevenths below you, plus all the mundanes. Not only that but the further down the Tiers you go, the more people there are in that Tier. Think of it like a pyramid shape, with the Archimage on top, and you are in the third row of bricks down the Pyramid.”

“What are mundanes?” I asked.

“They are the other people in this room. Everyone is descended from their Archimage, every single person on all ten worlds. It’s just that their power is slight because they are many tiers down from their Archimage. Once the person is below Seventh, we don’t even track their tier anymore because it doesn’t matter. Even so, they still have some mage blood in them, even if it isn’t enough to affect reality through magic.”

I looked around at the happy crowd in the pub, and then scowled at her, “You’re not going to kill these people, are you?”

That made her smile slip for a moment, and her brow furrowed as she spoke in a puzzled tone, “Why, on Earth, would I do that? These people have done me no harm, and are no threat.”

I relaxed a little, and answered, “Because Stewart Hentan killed a group of tourists just so he could have a private chat with me, which I think he meant to be a private fight.”

She shook her head, “He is a Hentan, so I’m not surprised. They are arrogant and think little of the lives of mundanes.”

“But you are different?” I asked bluntly.

“Do you doubt me, Nicholas? I promise you I am not like the Hentans; I don’t even come from their World.”

At her question, I felt like shit for not giving her the benefit of the doubt, but her last statement had been very odd, so I asked, “You mean, the Hentans are from a different social class, or perhaps a different region or country?”

“No, I mean I am not from the Hentan World of Tartarus, nor am I from Earth and neither is Stewart Hentan, or, for that matter, neither are you.”

That stunned me to silence yet again.

At my lack of response, she added, “You are a Sivaeral, so you come from a world named Abal while I am from House Albus, and I come from…”

Hydan’s loud voice interrupted Fiona, “Oh crap, I’m gone for ten… er, twenty minutes, and you are already being manipulated by an Albus.”

My new found friend was standing back about two tables, his hands on his hips and a look of disgust on his face. I was stunned that he would speak to Fiona in such a tone.

Fiona looked up in surprise, and then said to me, “I didn’t know you had a wizard companion, a Friare, I see.”

“And I suppose he is from another planet as well?” I said with heavy sarcasm.

“Of course, I’m from Nibiru,” Hydan said with a grin, pointing at his compass Glyph with the index finger of his left hand like that should mean something to me. Then he added, “This Glyph marks my House, and therefore, my planet, not to mention I am a mage.”

I scowled, and though I knew the Glyph on his cheek wasn’t a tattoo, I was feeling belligerent, so I said, “I’ve seen people put tattoos of just about anything on their body, so how do I know you didn’t just ink whatever you wanted on your cheek?” I asked.

Hydan shrugged, “Because Glyphs are imposed by your Archimage so everyone knows you are part of their House. All mages have them as soon as they, or their Archimage, become aware of their House affiliation; they have no choice. They must have one to use their full powers, and we can’t remove them, or change them,” Hydan explained.

“I think you are both nuts, and this is all some hoax! I must be a billionaire with amnesia, and you two are part of the con to get my money!”

Hydan turned to Fiona, “I didn’t know Sivaerals were so imaginative.”

“Oh, yes, they are very good at magic, and therefore very imaginative,” Fiona noted.

Hydan shrugged, “I was on Abal recently, but because of the Civil War I didn’t run into many Sivaeral mages. It’s an odd world now, I had to, ah… go, so I thought I would come take a look at the Battle World.”

“The Battle World?” I asked.

“Earth,” they both replied.

I thought about it, and then decided it was worth asking, “Why is Earth called the Battle World?”

Fiona answered, “We call it that because Earth has been without an Archimage for a few thousand years. There are ten worlds where mages originally dwelt, and each was ruled by their Archimage, but many years ago Earth’s Archimage was killed, and this ended the line of mages on Earth forever, leaving only mundanes.”

Something about this made me angry, I wasn’t even sure why, but a deep and terrible anger welled up in my soul, though the other two didn’t seem to notice.

Fiona continued, “After that, Earth became no-man’s-land, the natural world to do battle in the Ascension Quest, since no Archimage was here to hold reality to their original set of rules.”

I pushed down my anger to a smoldering ember and managed to ask, “What Ascension Quest? Why does every question I ask only bring up more questions?” Some of my annoyance peeked through in my voice.

Fiona reached out and put a calming hand on my wrist, and then said, “Let’s talk about that later, after you understand a few more things.”

I wanted to growl at her, but it was really hard to be annoyed with such an amazing woman.

Hydan grinned, “House Albus likes to keep people in the dark.”

“That’s not fair,” Fiona exclaimed, turning to Hydan.

“Isn’t it?” Hydan replied.

“Well, I suppose you would see it that way, but then again, House Friare doesn’t care much about nearly anything, so they blurt things out that can do others harm.”

“We do nothing of the sort! Now you are just using Albus logic to twist things!” Hydan exclaimed.

I broke in at this point, “Look, you can fight this out another time, what I need to know is how to stop Stewart Hentan from hunting and killing me. Can’t I just explain to this Hentan idiot what actually happened, that is, as soon as I figure out what DID happen? Or maybe I can make restitution for whatever it was I did to insult the rat bastard?”

Fiona smiled, and Hydan just chuckled, and then he said, “Not much chance of that, Nick.”

“Why not?” I demanded.

“Because he isn’t mad at you, or at least wasn’t when he first started hunting you. He’s just playing the Ascension Quest the Hentan way, by trying to kill their way to the top. Not all houses work this way, but there is no changing the way any House pursues the Quest.”

I was getting another headache.

Hydan turned to Fiona and said, “So, do you know why he was left on Earth as a Hidden Soul?”

But Fiona turned her striking amber, eyes on me and said in an accusing tone, “Nicholas, you told him?”

I shrugged, at her kind of hurt look I felt suddenly sheepish.

Hydan smiled, “He didn’t tell me much, just his name, and that he knew nothing if our Worlds.”

She gave me a stern look, “It is very dangerous to tell other mages you are weak, in any way. They might try to end your line, right there and then.”

Hydan snorted, “I would do nothing of the kind!”

“Maybe not you, but other Houses…” Fiona said, trailing off.

Hydan shrugged but didn’t deny it. Then he said, “Regardless, I know, so who is he? I mean, you’re a Second, typically your kind doesn’t get involved in trivial pursuits. Why aren’t YOU ending his line?”

“Hey,” I said, not liking the direction of this or the sound of what ‘ending his line’ might mean. So I demanded, “What does that mean?”

“End your line? It means when you die, every mage above an Eighth, the first level above mundanes, who are descended from you… die with you,” Fiona said in a low and serious tone.

I let that one sink in, and understood something Pox had said back in the Egyptian tomb about ‘Worse than death’.

But Fiona continued answering Hydan’s original question, “I’m not after Nick, or his line, because I have been his friend for a long time, and because House Albus does not believe in taking sides. You know we are neutral in the Ascension Quest. Besides, I discovered him, and I feel responsible for revealing him to the Houses.”

At this revelation, Hydan raised one eyebrow. “So he really is a Hidden Soul?”

Fiona nodded, “Well, he was when I found him. As you can see by his Glyph, his House has claimed him now. After some work, I believe I have discovered his true parents, and now know he is a Third.”

“Did you know he wasn’t from your House when you first helped him as a Hidden Soul?” Hydan asked.

Fiona shrugged, “I found him on Earth, so at that time I did not know what House he was from, but we became friends…”

The way she said ‘friends’ made me think there was more to it.

But she kept speaking, “…even before I learned he was from House Sivaeral, and a Third. Now I feel responsible, even though he is from another House.”

Hydan whistled, “A Hidden Soul Third, that’s pretty rare, which means the vultures will be circling!”

I made a sudden decision, and said, “What I didn’t tell you, Hydan, is I’ve lost my memory.”

“Nicholas!” Fiona exclaimed.

I shrugged, “He was going to figure it out eventually anyway, at least now we can discuss things openly.”

Fiona didn’t look happy, which made Hydan chuckle as he said, “The Albus mages hate giving out any information for free.”

Fiona gave him a dark look.

Hydan continued, “Well, with amnesia Nick is even more vulnerable. So, how did he lose his memory?”

“A higher Tier mage nailed him with a dark spell, something which affected his memories,” Fiona explained, reluctantly.

“Huh,” Hydan grunted, thinking about what she’d said as he took a long pull from his mug. After swallowing, he said, “That pretty much sucks.”

I had to agree seeing how I was the one missing the memories.

“How did they get to him with a Second as his… guardian?” Hydan asked.

I’m not sure what Hydan had been about to call our relationship before he settled on ‘guardian’.

Fiona looked away and then said, “I’m sorry, Nick, he’s right, it is my fault. Eventually, you left my protection even though you weren’t ready, but I should have stopped you. However, you were very adamant.”

“Why did I want to leave so badly?” I asked.

She bit at her lower lip for a moment, as if contemplating whether she should answer, but finally said, “You had Earth parents, foster parents, who raised you; they were mundanes.”

“And?” I asked.

“When you went to visit them, you discovered that they had been tortured and murdered by someone seeking you, and it had been done by a mage.”

I considered what she said, I knew I should be emotionally affected by their deaths, but frustratingly, I couldn’t remember them. It saddened me to know my lost memories had robbed me of some of the emotional attachments I must have had to my foster parents and others. I WANTED to feel anger and hurt for those who killed my foster parents, but I felt only annoyance and frustration.

“And what did I do then?” I asked.

Fiona hesitated again, and then said, “You went seeking those who murdered your foster parents. I tried to stop you, to tell you that we should do this together after we had more information, and a plan, but you slipped out one night without telling me. You were very angry.”

“Then what happened?” I prompted.

“Eventually, I managed to contact you, but by then things had transpired, things which changed, well, everything.”

I stared into her intense amber eyes, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

She continued after I didn’t say anything, “You never told me if you found the mage or mages who murdered your parents, but you did tell me you… discovered something, some terrible secret. A secret so dark you didn’t dare tell me about it across our spirit bridge.”

“What secret, and from whom did I learn it?” I demanded.

“The truth is I don’t know what you learned. I had hoped you would remember, but back then you told me it was imperative I know about this secret before they got to you.”

“Who are ‘they’?”

She grimaced slightly, and then said solemnly, “You mentioned The Dragon.”

Hydan gave a low whistle of surprise and shock.

“What is this about a dragon? You’re not telling me those are real too?” I asked.

“No, not on Earth,” she answered, “but I wasn’t talking about a creature, I said, THE Dragon.”

“THE Dragon?” I said in puzzlement.

She nodded, “I assume you stole this secret from him. How you found The Dragon, I have no idea; he has been hiding from all the Houses now for a few thousand years.”

I was puzzled by this, but she continued.

“You couldn’t tell me more at the time because a group of hunters found you right then. I couldn’t see who, though I heard things through the bridge. I believe you fought an arcane battle against these mages. I’d taught you how to use some of your powers, and you were getting pretty good, but you weren’t ready for an Arcane battle against superior numbers, not if some of them were Thirds… or higher.”

“What happened then?” I asked.

“You managed to escape, and then found a place and the time to open a Traveling Star. They caught up with you at that point and hit you with sigil, which contained the memory eater spell. I found the place later, and the remnant of the Star you used to escape, but it was too old to track your destination. They hit you with the spell just as you stepped into the circle, which is how you escaped. Unfortunately, you were already under the effect of the memory spell. You arrived at your destination, but your mind was damaged. Fortunately, one of your servants was with you, and he rescued your body, moving it to a hidden location so you could heal.”

“How do you know all this?” I asked softly.

“Pox, your servant, or at least the phantom of Pox, eventually told me you were alive. In the years which followed your memory loss, Pox kept your body hidden and protected, though he eventually died defending it. Even then he stayed near you as a ghost, which is what he was when he finally sought me out. He wouldn’t leave your body, or even tell me where you were hidden; he is insanely loyal to your line. After he was slain his ghost came to me, begging for help. He convinced me, and I reached out to a mage I knew, and they made him into a phantom. It was the only way I knew to give him some kind of physical form so he could continue to help protect you. The process of becoming a Phantom is not pretty, so now he is a malformed thing. Eventually, many years later, he came to me again and told me what had happened, though he didn’t know who it was who attacked you. He did tell me there were three mages, each from a different House. I only learned that part recently, when Pox contacted me and told me you had finally awoken from your coma.”

“You’re saying I was in a coma for twenty-four years?” I asked.

Fiona nodded, “Mages don’t age, Nicholas, not like mundanes. Once we reach adulthood we can alter reality around us, and that includes using Self Image to keep your body at any age you desire. When you were hit with the spell your Self Image kept your body young, holding you at the age you chose earlier. Meanwhile, it took your subconscious a long time to unravel the spell enough to break free. I had no idea where you were, and neither did anyone, other than Pox. As long as you were in a coma, he wouldn’t even tell me where to find you. For the first twenty-one years of the twenty-four you were in a coma, I thought you were dead, so I wasn’t even looking for you.”

“So, can you remove the rest of the spell blocking my memory?” I asked.

She replied, “I’ll try, give me a moment. Her beautiful features hardened into a look of concentration. Then she said, “Do you remember anything?”

I shook my head negatively.

Fiona looked apologetic, “I tried, Nick, but it didn’t work. I don’t think the sigil is still active, so the spell has worn off, but it may already have eaten at your memories. I’m sorry, Nick, but they could be permanently gone. However, the mind is a tricky thing; so those memories may also come back to you at some point. I just don’t know.”

Hydan was about to say something, but right then the door burst open with such force it tore off the hinges and the whole door flew into a nearby table, knocking three people to the ground.

Fiona stood and turned to face the disturbance calmly.

What shouldered itself inside was a very large man, like a linebacker on mega-steroids, but this guy looked, well, dead. His clothes were half rotted and there was dirt caked on him like he had crawled out of a grave recently. His lips were half twisted and frozen in a bazaar position, revealing his teeth and rotting gums. One of his dried eyeballs was hanging down onto his cheek, like a shriveled grape. The other orb was milky white, but it was scanning the room.

Patrons of the pub were backing away, and a couple of women screamed.

“What, in the fiery pits of hell, is that!” I exclaimed.

“Necrosoul… probably controlled by a Dokkalfar,” Hydan noted dispassionately, and then added, “big one, too.”

That’s when the windows around the pub burst inwards in a shower of glass, and more necrosouls could be seen crowding in to try and clamor over the sill, their dead hands grasping at the frame as they struggled to get past the others and be the first into the pub. I noted they were moving quite fast.

“Doka-what?” I burst out.

A woman screamed, “Oh god, are those zombies!”

Hydan shrugged, “That must be the Earth name for necrosouls.”

“They don’t move like zombies!” I said as I backed away from the necrosouls leaping through the broken windows. They were fast, if kind of jerky, and looked like they knew exactly what they were doing, not slow and stupid looking like movie zombies.

Hydan looked at me, “Have you fought necrosouls before?”

“Ah, not that I can recall,” I said hesitantly.

“Then how do you know how they move?” he asked me, logically.

Three of them tumbled into the room through a window frame and scrambled to their feet. These were not as big as the one in the door, but still formidable. Their flesh was quite dead looking, but these weren’t the slow zombies of movie fame.

“What should we do!” I yelled.

Hydan gestured to Fiona, “Now you get to see what a pissed off sorceress of the Second Tier does for fun.” He scooped up someone’s mug of beer and said, “Personally, I’m going to take a seat and watch!” And he did just that, plopping down into a chair which had a good field of view of Fiona.

She glanced at him and said, “Aren’t you going to help?”

Hydan grinned and replied, “Nope, not a lick.”

She didn’t have time to reply, since the first creature had made it through the window, and had leaped forward to slash its clawed hand across a young couple standing in its way. The blow instantly decapitated the woman and cut through most of the man’s neck.

“Shit, those things are STRONG!” I exclaimed, backing away further.

Hydan nodded, “They are magically enhanced by their necromancer.”

“What necromancer?” I bellowed.

He shrugged, “He must be near.”

Then it leaped fifteen feet, coming at Fiona through the air with outstretched claws.

I was too slow to go to her aid, and its leap had been too fast. I realized, in horror, that nothing could stop this horrid undead monster from reaching the beautiful Fiona; his claws were going to rip her pretty face to shreds. It would be like destroying the Mona Lisa with a chainsaw.

Just when the outstretched claws were about two feet from her calm face, a wall of flame suddenly appeared in its path. The monster howled, but could not change its trajectory in mid-flight. It hit the burning wall and its body was completely incinerated. Now, I don’t mean burned, I mean instantly gone! A bit of dust residue landed at Fiona’s feet.

Two more necrosouls ran at her from the window area, but she pointed down and a hole opened up in the floor. The two creatures fell into the pit, which sealed itself with them inside; their howls were cut off by a quick crunching sound.

Hydan was grinning, like a spectator seeing a seal show at Sea World. He took a big swig of beer, leaving a foam mustache on his upper lip.

The big one at the door turned and howled, and then headed for Fiona, casually smashing furniture and people out of its way to reach the sorceress.

She made a slashing gesture, but nothing happened, and the big monster kept coming. She gestured again and an unnatural wind howled in the small room, the force of it going right at the monster. It was slowed but kept coming.

“Uh oh,” Hydan exclaimed, and got to his feet.

“Are you going to help now?” I asked.

But it was Fiona who answered in a worried voice, “No, Nick, get out of here, quickly! This… it feels like an Archimage!”

Hydan had taken a step toward Fiona, but now he stopped and called out, “Which Archimage?”

Fiona took a step TOWARD the oncoming monster as she drew her knife from her waist.

“Well, this Archimage is a necromancer, which narrows things down considerably,” Fiona exclaimed, and then swung her long dagger in a horizontal arc which would have taken the head off the charging beast, but the large necrosoul leaped back nimbly, knocking over a table and several chairs.

Hydan took a step backward, his eyes widening, “We’re screwed, but it can’t be…”

Fiona interrupted, “Think about it, Nick stole something from The Dragon, and now an Archimage necromancer is coming! I can feel his power getting closer!”

“SHIT!” Hydan exclaimed, and I could finally hear real worry in his tone.

Fiona circled, so she was covering us from the charge of the large necrosoul, which was sizing up all our positions.

“Run!” Fiona called to us, “The Dragon is coming for Nick. I think I can hold him off for now, at least until he gets closer, but hurry! Get out of here!”

I started to ask, “Who is The Dragon…”

But Hydan grabbed my arm and pulled. I desperately wanted to get an answer, but I felt Hydan’s urgency, so I turned, and then better sense prevailed, and I ran with Hydan out the back door into the kitchen area.

Ahead of us, as we entered the Kitchen, I heard a door smashing open. It was the exit to the outside. It burst open, and we heard the snarls of more of these living dead necrosoul things.

“By Baal’s nasty balls,” Hydan yelled, then spoke in a more normal tone, “That’s damned inconvenient.”

“Inconvenient!” I exclaimed.

He nodded, “We’ll have to escape another way.”

“And, how are we going to do that? There aren’t any more exits!” I pointed out.

He stepped to a clear spot on the floor and replied, “We’ll have to make one. Unless The Dragon has a StarWard blocking this area, which I doubt since he is currently dealing with Fiona, we should be able to Five Point travel.”

He pointed with a finger at the ground and started making patterns in the air. On the ground, fiery lines were burning into the cement floor, following the pattern his hand was creating. First, he drew a Five Pointed star, and then he made a circle around it.

But three of the necrosouls spotted us, and rushed toward our position, and they were closing fast.

Hydan looked up, and pointed at the three undead monsters hurtling at us, and they all turned into white chickens.

Hydan barked a short triumphant laugh.

I did a double take when I noticed that the beady-eyed chickens looked kind of dead, with cloudy eyes and motley feathers, but they were still moving like they were alive; they were zombie chickens! Those undead fowl kept coming at us, but when the first one arrived Hydan booted it in the breast, sending the big rooster flying back in a cloud of mottled feathers.

I took his cue and practiced an extra point kick on the second necrosoul, which was an undead hen. My kick connected solidly and sent it flying up into some hanging frying pans, which made a horrendous racket, not to mention more falling feathers. One of the frying pans fell onto the table near me.

“You handle the chickens,” Hydan exclaimed, and turned back to his circled pentagram and started drawing a second slightly larger circle around the first one. Down on the floor the whole pentagram and circles were burning in six-inch-tall red flames. He started adding a few symbols between the two burning rings.

This left me to deal with the third necrosoul chicken. It was coming fast across the floor, so I snatched up the black cast iron frying pan, and when the undead rooster launched itself at me off the ground, I Sam Gamgee’d the thing, like a cricket player taking a pitch. It made a very satisfying crunch, and a dull metal ringing sound, as it sent the undead chicken flying back the way it had come.

Hydan looked up at the sound of the exploding chicken and grinned, saying, “Don’t you just love chickens!” Then he pointed at the pentagram on the floor and added, “Alright, it’s ready, go ahead and hop in!”

I shook my head, “Are you nuts? That thing is on fire!”

I was referring to the flaming red pentagram, circles, and symbols on the ground.

Four more necrosouls started coming through the door from outside.

“You want to stick around and meet The Dragon?” he demanded, but didn’t wait for an answer; Hydan gave me a hefty shove in the upper arm and shoulder, causing me to lose my balance and step right into the burning circle.

Just as I stepped in I saw two of the necrosoul human undead jump at Hydan, coming over the table in a dive, with outstretched claws.

But that is the last thing I saw of the Rose and Crown because I felt my body spin around like I was caught in a very narrow tornado funnel. Everything went into a blur of spinning motion as I rapidly spun around. The blurred cylinder around me suddenly got darker looking, and my rotation started to slow. I arrived on a stone surface and took a staggering step, then I fell down onto the grass. I then looked around. I was certainly not in the Rose and Crown kitchen anymore, but a moment later I recognized the place, I was back near the center of Stonehenge, and it was the dark of night. I got up and moved over toward one of the Trilithons.

Hydan appeared a moment later, standing right on top of the same fallen stone. He took a staggering step as well as he halted his spin, yet somehow managed to keep from falling off the stone or from spilling the mug of beer in his right hand.

“You brought a mug of beer?” I asked him incredulously.

“Hey, it was right on the counter, ready to be served, so I didn’t want to waste it!” he explained.

I shook my head as he took a big swig. Then I asked, “Those really were living dead?”

“Well, close enough. They were trapped souls, shoehorned into some dead body by a necromancer, and converted to undead chickens by me.”

“A necromancer?” I exclaimed, once again getting angry at the whole ridiculous affair.

“Well, yes, at least one, and from what Fiona said, The Dragon,” he said with a shake of his head, as if not even believing his own words.

His mention of Fiona suddenly had me worried about her, “What about…”

“The Albus Second? I’m not too worried about her, that girl has some pizzazz! She can take care of herself, and certainly better than a couple Thirds, even if you were working with a brain that had all its coins in your purse.”

“But you said this ‘Dragon’ is an Archimage, doesn’t that mean he is more powerful?”

“Yes, but a Second is not much less powerful than a First, what we call an Archimage. The difference in power between mages of close Tiers is not that great, often the intelligence and experience are the main difference. Though I doubt she could defeat The Dragon, she probably had enough to get free once she didn’t need to stay and protect us.”

“Should we wait for her here?”

Hydan shrugged, “Probably not, she has no idea where we went. She would have to track our names, and I don’t really want to go bandying them about right now to let her get an easy fix; that Archimage might track us as well. I am assuming he was after you.”

“Me… why?”

He shrugged, “You seem to be a hot commodity; did you piss off some mage?”

“Well, I may have insulted that Stewart dude.”

His smile crept up onto his face, “You insulted Stewart Hentan, to his face?”

“More than once, really.”

Hydan laughed. “Good! I never liked him anyway, but insulting a senior Hentan Second would do the trick, but he wasn’t behind these necrosouls or those werewolves. So, what did you do to attract the attention of the evillest being this side of the Big Bang? Why on Earth, or any world, is The Dragon after you?”

“I haven’t got a clue,” I said honestly. “Maybe it has to do with the secret I learned from The Dragon, the one Fiona thinks I swiped.”

He just looked at me, and I had no idea what he was thinking.

I looked around at the large stones arrayed in a rough circle, “Why did we come back to Stonehenge, and how did you get us here?”

“A mage of sufficient power may Five Point travel to any place they can easily picture in their mind. Of course, it has to have stone to arrive on, and you must have the time and available power to make a Star on stone to begin with. I picked this place because I remembered it, and I haven’t seen many other places on Earth yet. The only other places I had been to recently would have taken us back into the pub main room, and that didn’t seem like much of an escape; Stonehenge just came to mind, so I went with it.”

“So, where should I go now?”

“I hear Paris is a hoot,” he exclaimed.

“You are coming with me?” I asked, “Even after you know this Dragon person is after me?”

He grinned, “Well sure, that makes it all the more entertaining! Besides, I want to see that big metal coat hanger thing.”

“The Eiffel Tower?”

He nodded enthusiastically, “Yeah, that’s the place. Some Fourth did himself proud there! What a complete waste of magic and time; I definitely approve!”

“Gustave Eiffel was a wizard?”

“Gustave Eiffel Sivaeral, one of your House. We often drop the House name and use one of our middle names as a last name while on Earth. What is the saying here, when you roam…”

“No, it’s when ‘in Rome’,” I said absently.

Hydan shrugged.

I shook my head, “I meant, where should we go to find Fiona again?”

“Oh, no idea,” he said, but then added, “If you want I can try to track her name, if she, or someone near her, says it in the near future I could get a fix. Wait, she is a Second, so that might make it hard,” he added, in almost an afterthought.

Then I said, “Maybe we can just go to Camington Castle, that’s supposed to be her home.”

“OK, but it’s probably glamoured.”

“Glamoured?”

“Hidden, so you can’t find it unless you’ve been there.”

I thought back and found I could recall what Pox had said, even though I’d ignored it at the time. So I said, “Pox told me to follow my feelings.”

Hydan’s face brightened, “That means you were there before! OK, which way?”

I shrugged, “I have no idea.”

“Trust your feelings, just go toward where you THINK you should go,” he replied.

I thought about that, and then headed down the road away from Amesbury, but I stopped a moment later. “This is ridiculous, I’m just guessing.”

“That’s good enough for me, come on, and keep guessing at every turn.”

I set out, grumbling about stupid ideas and odd folk with blind faith as we walked down the road. Hydan was busy finishing his beer, as cheerful as a school boy in the girl’s locker room.

 

A few miles later, I decided to turn up a simple country road. Hydan didn’t say a word, he just followed me.

We came out of some trees, and could see for some distance. The sun was just starting to come up in the east. I came to an abrupt stop.

“Why are you stopping?” Hydan wanted to know. “Let’s keep moving; I’m out of beer!”

I gestured ahead of us, angry for even listening to this whole ‘trust your feelings, Luke’ nonsense. “Listen, Jedi Plastered, I’m stopping because we can see for miles ahead of us, and there is no castle in sight! I’ve led us on a wild goose chase!”

“What are gooses?” he inquired.

“In a group they are called Geese; they are a big kind of bird.”

“Like a chicken?” he asked brightly.

“Sort of, but bigger.”

“How grand!”

I scowled at his exuberance. “I’d give you a grand if you could get us to that castle.”

“Well, if you could remember the look of the place, we could Five Point travel there!”

“I don’t remember anything about it,” I answered.

He shrugged, and said, “Then we should keep walking.”

“For untold miles?” I said in exasperation.

“For as far as it takes to find it,” he answered, without a worry.

I snarled something ugly, which he ignored, and then started forward, only to run into a gate that wasn’t there. Well, it hadn’t been there a moment before. Now a tall wrought iron double gate, with a curved top, adorned with golden spikes, was barring our way. Not only that, but there was a big stone wall going off to the left and right. Ahead, over a manicured lawn and garden, was a towering castle which CERTAINLY had not been there a moment before. Truthfully, it was more of a manor house, or palace, than an old style fortified castle.

“Ah, Camington Castle,” Hydan said as if nothing odd had just taken place.

“How do you know?” I asked belligerently while rubbing at my bruised nose.

He pointed at an engraved sign on the gate, “Because that’s what it says, right there.”

I started muttering about invisible god damned castle gates.

Hydan reached up and pulled a chain which went to a series of hanging bells above, mounted in the wrought iron. A musical tone played.

Then the iron gates swung open on their own accord, and with a grin, Hydan marched on in, exclaiming, “I wonder if she has some of that brandy I read about, and geese?”

A man, dressed in finery from another age, was waiting at the main entrance, at the top of the curved stairs which led up to the double doors.

“Nicholas, it is so good to see you again. The lady of the House is out, but she has extended a permanent welcome to you, and any companions. I am Bartholomew, Fifth,” he said, and I noticed the same Spider Glyph on his cheek, like the one on Fiona.

“And I am Hydan, Third,” my companion noted.

“Welcome, Hydan of House Friare,” Bartholomew stated.

I frowned at the man, “And we have met?”

“Many times, but I am familiar with your current memory, ah, issues.”

I scowled at that.

Hydan said, “Hey, you wouldn’t happen to have a concoction called brandy, would you?”

Bartholomew gestured toward the doors, “It would be my pleasure to serve you a snifter, in the sitting room, as soon as you have freshened up from your travels.”

Hydan’s grin blossomed, “OK, but what’s a snifter? It’s not some kind of odd creature with a big nose, is it? Or is it like a goose?”

“It is a type of stemware, which will hold brandy,” Bartholomew replied.

“Now we’re talking!” Hydan exclaimed; his smile now ear-to-ear.

 

 

 

Chapter Four

 

I got a black magic woman

Got me so blind I can’t see

That she’s a black magic woman

She’s tryin’ to make a devil out of me.

-Santana

 

In my room, which was half antique store half palace, there was a very nice bathroom, with a stately shower, so I made use of it. When I came out of the bathroom I saw the large four poster mahogany bed, and it looked very inviting, so I lay down. I was very tired, and in seconds I was asleep. Some indeterminate time later, I must have been dreaming, but I suddenly awoke with a start. I’d been in some other palace, this one made of marble, and I’d been looking out a window over a forested countryside. I’d heard my voice saying, “All right, if those are your orders, then I will see if I can find out what you want to know. I’ll bring the information to you as soon as I have it.”

Then I had awoken.

That was interesting, I don’t know who I was talking to, but they had given me orders. Who could give a mage orders? Well, most likely their Archimage, but which Archimage? The obvious answer was the Archimage of my House. Could this be why I’d stolen information from The Dragon?”

I found clothing in a big mahogany closet after opening the doors. There was a set of dark slacks and a silver button up collar shirt, as well as a black leather jacket and black shoes with socks. I put them all on, and they fit perfectly, even the shoes. I wasn’t happy about it. People knew more about me than I knew about myself, which pissed me off to no end. Dressed in my new casual clothing I went downstairs and located the sitting room by the sound of conversation.

Hydan was in there, swirling a dark liquid around in a short, rounded, clear glass, the brandy snifter he had been promised.

He smelled the aroma of the booze, and then took a sip.

He smiled and then downed the entire glass in a single gulp.

“I’ll have to remember that one!” he exclaimed brightly.

Bartholomew refilled his glass without comment from a crystal decanter.

Hydan said, “Hey, try some of this, it’s really exquisite!”

But I was right to business, and asked Bartholomew, “Has Fiona returned?”

He shrugged, “No, I’m sorry, and I’m a bit worried.”

“Don’t be,” Hydan said, having once again downed his snifter in a gulp, and was gesturing for a refill. “She’s a Second, not a lot of things are going to mess up her day for long.”

Bartholomew nodded, “Which is why I am concerned, it is not like her to be gone this long when she is expecting guests. What could keep a Second away?”

“Good point,” Hydan said, accepting another serving of brandy. Then added, “Let’s see if we can’t lubricate our brains a little and figure this out!”

“Lubricate? Don’t you mean pickle?” I noted.

He shrugged, “You say Potato, I say Misgruel.”

I had no idea what he meant by that.

Then he took a sip and used his snifter to gesture in the air, “Let’s say something has detained the Albus Second. If this is the case, then it follows that they would be coming here next, if they are after you.” He pointed at me with a small gesture of his snifter, causing the liquid inside to slosh around slightly.

Bartholomew suddenly looked concerned and started to put down the decanter.

“Here, give me that,” Hydan exclaimed, reaching for the crystal decanter, which was still half filled with brandy.

Bartholomew gave it to him, and then headed out of the room, I guess to check something, who knows?

“So, the question is, do we stay here and fight them off, which I’m up for, as long as the brandy holds out, or do we skip town? If we are going to leave, where would you like to go?”

“You still want to come with me? I thought you were here to see the sights?” I asked.

He shrugged, “I was, but you are far more entertaining. I’m having a grand time! I’ve met chickens and had brandy, as well as Saphron. Both were exquisite!”

I nodded, “All right. But I really don’t have any idea where I should go; I was hoping Fiona could fill in a lot of the blanks in my mind.”

He nodded, “Indeed, there is this ‘thing’ she mentioned you purloined. Maybe you wrote it down somewhere; any idea where to go look for that?”

“Nope.”

He answered kindly, “Yes, I understand, your memories are on vacation. But, since you are a Hidden Soul, I assume you have never met your real parents?”

“No, or at least, I don’t remember if I have.”

He smiled, “Well, there is your quest, find your parents!”

“What good would it do to find them anyway? They didn’t even raise me; from what I understand, they dumped me on Earth.”

Hydan shrugged, “I was thinking if you found your parents, perhaps they could help you with your lost memories. At least one of them has to be a Second, for you to be a Third. Even though Fiona was unsuccessful, there is nothing like the bond of your family line. Would it hurt to go see them and find out?”

“Just like that, go see them? I wouldn’t know where to start looking for my real parents.”

“Sure you do, just look in the mirror!”

I frowned, and glanced over the bar to the mirror behind the bottles, and saw the nautilus Glyph on my cheek.

“You mean this Glyph?” I asked.

“Of course, it shows your House, and therefore your World.”

“House Sivaeral, and what world are we talking about?”

He smiled, “That would be Abal, in fact, I just spent a little time there recently, so I kind of know the ropes, or at least, the best drinking holes!”

I considered it, seeking my birth parents might help jog my memories, besides, if I’d been sent on a mission to steal something from The Dragon by my Archimage, perhaps I should go seek him out. He might also be able to help, and would be interested in me remembering so he could get to the information I stole from The Dragon.

Bartholomew came back into the room in a hurry, and said, “There are some necrosouls searching the countryside near here, though they haven’t yet penetrated the glamour.”

“No doubt they are searching for you, Nicholas, and if The Dragon really is their master, he will eventually break through Fiona’s glamour and find us,” Hydan said.

Bartholomew spoke, “You are under the protection of the Albus House, so I can’t ask you to leave our family grounds, but without our Second here, I cannot guarantee your safety.”

I stood and said, “All right, then I think it’s best if I leave, that way they have no reason to attack you.”

Bartholomew shrugged, “Do not fear for me.”

I nodded, and then turned to Hydan and said, “All right, Hydan, where to?”

He smiled, tucked the decanter under his arm, and got ready to burn a pentagram into the floor, but Bartholomew said, “Here, here, not in the Study! We have a room for that!”

He led us to a room with a cement floor; on it were several previous pentagram marks, though they were just black stains, and did not currently have the active red flames.

Hydan started making a new pentagram, and a few minutes later he had his new burning pentagram ready. This time, I went ahead and jumped in when he told me the Star was ready to go.

The world spun and blurred again, and things became lighter. I was standing on a stone floor, and I could see a setting sun, just off behind a large pyramid. For a moment, I thought I was back in Egypt, but then I noticed the stairs going up the center of each pyramid slope, to a raised square top. I realized this was a Mayan pyramid. Then I recognized Chichen Itza; I was looking at El Castillo.

Hydan spun into reality a moment later and staggered out. He took one look around and muttered, “Tarvos worshipers, ug.” Then he took a big swig from the decanter of brandy, which he had brought along.

“Tarvos, what are those, some kind of demon?

Hydan shrugged, “No, but some of their practices are borderline. These people learned to sacrifice their own kind to the Tarvos.”

“Why would they do that?” I asked.

“They mimic their gods, the Tarvos sacrifice mages of their own kind to their Archimage if they don’t perform satisfactorily.”

I blinked, “Wow, that’s pretty barbaric, and likely very motivating to do your best.”

He nodded, “Negative reinforcement, it does work, but fear is not the best motivator, though it is a motivator. They are generally an unhappy lot. It’s sad really, going through life that serious all the time.” He punctuated this by taking a big swig from the decanter.

I looked around at the ruins and said, “So why are we here?”

“We needed a world portal, and they aren’t easy to construct. It takes a lot of stone to hold all that power. In fact, now that many stones have been removed from the Stonehenge site in England, it really only has enough power to reach a few of the Worlds. However, this place has plenty of juice left!”

“So, I take it you can travel between worlds from Stonehenge?” I asked.

“Yeah, well, to Abal and a couple others.”

I nodded, “But here, at Chichen Itza, there…”

“Wait, this place is named ‘chicken eats ya’?” he said, his face pulling into a big grin.

“No, it’s pronounced ‘chee-chen eet-sah’”.

“Oh,” he said, sounding disappointed, but then said, “For a moment there I thought the Tarvos were developing a sense of humor. I should have known better.”

I was still turning around, looking at the various ruin structures. “So, if Stonehenge could take us to Abal, why didn’t you take us there?”

“Well, I knew of this place from a mind image given to me, just like your Stonehenge, so we could Five Point travel here. I picked this location because they might be watching Stonehenge, in case you tried to escape that way. If they got there soon enough after we portaled out, they could track where we went. They would probably check there because it was the nearest World Portal system.”

“Ah,” I said. “And why would we go to the nearest one if you can teleport anywhere through one of your Stars?”

“Well, the further you go, the more power it draws out of you to form the Star. Most mages would want to travel to the closest point possible.”

“Most mages?”

“I’m extravagant and kind of attached to my hide. Besides, if we had gotten into an arcane battle, I might have spilled my brandy!” he said with mock horror.

He held up the decanter and used it to point at a structure which was much shorter than El Castillo, “And speaking of them finding us, perhaps we should wiggle an arm, in case The Dragon tracks us here.”

“Wiggle an arm?” I asked.

He replied, “I like to talk in the local idiom as much as possible. I did some research before I came to Earth. You know, get moving fast.”

“Oh… shake a leg,” I replied.

“Yeah, that,” he said with a grin, and then headed for the structure known as Akab Dzib.

“The portals aren’t in El Castillo?”

“No, that’s where they did their big sacrifices; this structure over here has the portal. Unlike Stonehenge, the Tarvos made just one portal, but they use a series of glyphs to allow a mage to choose the destination World.”

I thought about the name Akab Dzib, and I knew what it actually meant, ‘Dark Writing.’ That sounded ominous.

Hydan led me around to the southern end, where there was just one door opening. He led the way inside to a small chamber. On the opposite wall was another doorway, but this one had intricately carved glyphs up on the lintel, the very ‘dark writings’ which gave this building its modern name of Akab Dzib. Under the lintel, in the wide stone doorjamb, was another carved panel, this one showing a seated figure, surrounded by more glyphs.

After looking over the glyphs for a moment, I spoke to Hydan, “So, how do we use it?”

“The magic only works after midnight, for what the Terrans would call about one hour. You’ll know because the glyphs will glow blue at that time if a mage of sufficient power is near.”

“There is a legend about that, I recall,” I said, remembering it as I thought about Acab Dzib. This is the strange thing about my memory, I could read ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, and speak various languages, as well as know local legends and history, but not remember a damn thing about my own memory. I was beginning to hate magic, and I still didn’t really believe in it.

“Oh, what is this legend?” Hydan asked to while away the time until midnight.

So I told him what I remembered about the Mayans, and then about this room and these glyphs. “The legend says they glow at midnight.”

Hydan nodded, “Well, they do, but only if a mage is present. Of course, everyone is related to mages. Perhaps someone of sufficient power, say what might be an Eighth, if there was such a designation, was here at midnight. Maybe they had just enough power to cause the glyphs to glow. Most legends, on any planet, come from a basis of reality. Sure, they are often blown out of proportion, or exaggerated, or changed with repeated telling, but still, if you go back far enough, and dig deep enough, something real started them.”

“How come there aren’t Eighths?” I asked.

“Well, there are, we just don’t call them that. Beyond a Seventh there just isn’t enough magic to shape reality and make them immortal. They are also not tied to their Archimages by magic, which is the main reason we cut off the mage line at the Tier.”

“What do you mean, ‘tied to their Archimage’?”

Hydan replied, “Remember when the Albus Second told you about ending a mage’s line?”

“Yes, she said all their descendants will also die.”

He added, “But only down to a Seventh. This is the primary reason we cut off the title of mage at Sevenths, beyond there they are not tied to their line by sufficient magic, though they are certainly related by blood.”

I nodded; the concept was easy enough to understand, however believing it… that would take a bit more evidence. Then I thought of something, “Wait a minute, I’m a Third, right?”

“Yep,” he answered.

“And you say I’m immortal?”

He nodded.

“But, I’m not. You’re just really saying I don’t age, but I could just drop dead at any moment if any of my elders die, which means my Second or my Archimage?”

He shrugged, “That’s true.”

“That is a shitty form of immortality.”

Hydan shrugged, “It is what it is. You can also die by just getting killed.”

“Oh, thanks for the cheery addition,” I noted sourly.

He took a swig from the brandy decanter and then held it out to me, “I suggest you start drinking heavily, you’ll soon forget you could drop dead at any moment. Just as a side note, this is one very good reason why family members revere and protect the elders of their line. Self-preservation is an excellent motivator and keeps most of them pretty damned loyal.”

“Most of them?”

Hydan shrugged, “There are the crazy ones.”

I pondered that bit of information, crazy mages… great. I took a swig from the decanter.

Hydan took back the brandy, and then said, “I better go outside to ‘sense’ the perimeter.”

He then left, without really explaining what that meant. I figured he was making sure no one was sneaking up on us. It was getting close to midnight now.

I noticed it was slightly brighter in the chamber and then noticed a blue glow around the glyphs.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” I noted, as some of the evidence of magic I wanted showed up right in my face.

That’s when the blue outline of a person appeared in the doorway, under the glyph marked lintel.

I was just about to call out to Hydan when she seemed to expand outwards from two-dimensional blackness into three-dimensional color. The blue glow immediately started to fade.

“Who is ambuscading from the dark!” a girl’s voice demanded suspiciously, and a purple light flared up in the room. It came from a bright swirling mass which was about four inches across and hovering above her left hand. Her right hand was pointed at me, palm forward, like some kind of rocket launcher.

“Who said I’m ambuscading? I was lurking, at best,” I replied.

The girl was of African descent, with dark chocolate brown skin, and big brown eyes, with full lips and a slightly wide nose. She was pretty, though in an exotic kind of way. Her hair was long and straight, instead of the tight curls of the average girl of African heritage. What was most striking was the round Glyph on her left cheek, just below her eye. It was made in shades of dark purple. In the center of the Glyph were two crossing lines, forming a plus symbol, but each of these lines had two small hash marks toward each end. Where the plus symbol lines neared the outer circle, they ended into a curved half ring attached to the outer circle. It was almost like a kind of scope reticle. If I understood things correctly, this Glyph made her a sorceress, one from yet another world.

That’s when she decided to kill me.

She flung the light up, and it hit the ceiling, brightening the entire room. Then she yanked out a long and very sharp poniard and muttered some words I didn’t catch. I had no idea what she’d said, but the result was obvious, some kind of blue energy ran down from her hand to the blade, which now glowed with power.

She crouched and then approached cautiously, blade extended in a knife fighter’s grip, which meant the glowing blade came out at the base of her hand, not by the thumb.

I looked toward the exit, and she made a gesture with her free hand, and the open archway was suddenly a solid stone wall as if the open archway had never been there.

“There is no escape, Sivaeral, meet your end with dignity. Bare your chest and I will grace you with a quick death,” she hissed in a low pitched voice.

I backed away, trying to stay out of range of her glowing knife, but the room wasn’t very large. I played for time, hoping to think of something, “Listen, Princess, don’t get your panties all in a wad, we don’t really need to fight.”

“No, but you need to die.”

I remembered that Stewart had been interested in exchanging names before entering combat, so I said, “Look, maybe we got off on the wrong foot, I’m Nick, House Sivaeral, and a Third. And I believe I’m allergic to knife stabbings.”

“A Third!” she said and her voice hardened, I noticed she became even more wary and cautious in her approach, but now she said, “And what is a Sivaeral Third doing skulking in our portal chamber? Are you waylaying arriving members of my race?”

“Lurking, not skulking, I was just about to use this portal to go to Abal.”

That statement made her straighten up a little, though she was still watching me suspiciously, and her knife was still ready. “You are not here to end my line?”

“No, not a chance,” I said. “And I’d appreciate the same courtesy, honey.”

“What is honey?” she asked.

“That sweet sticky stuff we put on toast, you know, bee spit, I believe,” I said absently.

Do not call me ‘sweet’ or ‘sticky’,” she retorted.

“Sure, no problem, but in exchange can you put down the butter knife?”

“And why should I spare you?” she demanded.

I shrugged, “Because,” and then I paused, what was a good reason to spare me? “Ah, because I was about to go meet my parents, and they would really appreciate a visit, I’m sure, assuming I’m, well, intact. Who, may I ask, are you?”

She lifted her head, and then spoke proudly, “I am Myrka Tarvos, Fourth.”

“And, since I told you where I was going, can you tell me what you are doing here?” I asked.

“That is not your concern, Sivaeral!” she answered haughtily, and went back into her crouch, and started closing on me again.

“Now, just hold on,” I replied and raised my right hand in a warding gesture.

That caused her to leap to her left, roll over her shoulder and come up to a crouch. Her hand did a half circle gesture in the air, and I crazily thought of some old movie quote, ‘Wax on, wax off’. Then a kind of blue translucent egg-shaped field flared up around her body.

“Your attack will not get through my shield!” she exclaimed.

“Keep your knickers on, Tarvos,” I said, starting to get annoyed, and the angrier I got, the less fearful I became. Why the hell was everyone trying to kill me? God DAMN it!

She replied oddly to my remark, “If you are referring to my undergarment, I do not need to keep them up, they are quite functional as they are.” She was serious.

“That was a joke,” I noted.

“A joke?” she replied in disgust as if saying, ‘A rotted fish’.

“Forget it,” I replied, and then added, “Look, I’m not trying to harm you, I swear.”

“You swear by your Archimage?” she demanded.

“I’ll swear by my Archimage, or my dog Spot, if you will stop attacking me!”

She scowled, “Swear then!”

I sighed, “OK, I swear by my Archimage, and my dog, Spot, I am not here to harm you, or anyone.”

Her shield thingy faded out and she straightened. “In that case, I may let you live, we shall see.”

I raised both eyebrows, now that I was annoyed, I lost what little sense I had, and said, sarcastically, “Well, that’s very big of you.”

She nodded her head, as it I’d been truly thankful.

I let it go, and said, “So, back to what I asked earlier, it was a simple question. I just wanted to know why you came to Earth: tourism, hunting, what?”

She looked at me with those big dark eyes and said, “And I suppose you are willing to tell me what you are up to in Abal?”

I considered her question, of course, I wouldn’t tell her about seeking the Archimage to recall information I’d stolen from The Dragon, but I could tell her my other reason, so I shrugged, and said, “Sure, as I mentioned, I am going to find my parents.”

“So why did you not use one of your race’s portals?” she demanded.

“Well, there were some werewolves cavorting around the moors near Stonehenge,” I replied flippantly, to make her think I knew what was going on. I wasn’t about to tell her about my missing memory.

“Werewolves!” she said, and her eyes grew wide. “Tell me about them, and why they were there!”

“Why should I? You don’t seem to be very forthcoming about YOUR business,” I noted.

She bit her lower lip for a moment in thought, and then said, “I will tell you some of my task if you will answer my question about the werewolves.”

“All right, you first, Peaches,” I said.

She looked at me for a moment, I guess trying to gauge if I was lying to her, and if ‘Peaches’ was an insult, and then she replied, “I am here to hunt down the Dark One.”

“Who, Darth Vader?” I said in jest.

“No, I do not know this wizard, I am talking about The Dragon!” she answered seriously.

I recalled this was the person Fiona had been worried about, one of the Archimages, and some kind of Necromancer. He’d sent the gehdrin, and then those zombie necrosoul things. “So, you are going to hunt down The Dragon and kill him, just like that?”

“No, I do not have the skills to take one with his fell powers. My task is to locate the beast and bring that information to my Archimage. I will find The Dark One, or die trying.”

That sobered me for a moment.

She continued, “I have been tracking The Dark One for several years. I followed his trail to Irkalla, and then to Sheol; I believe he briefly returned there.”

“Isn’t that some kind of banned World?”

She ignored me and said, “If I had only been a little closer, I could have sent word and finished my quest, but he departed Sheol some time ago, and since then the trail has gone cold. I came to Earth following another rumor, one of a secret abode in a place called, Volubilis.”

I recalled the place, it was some kind of Roman ruins, but I said, “Well, good luck with that, I don’t think anyone has lived in those ruins for a couple thousand years.”

She scowled at me, and said, “I have very good information.” And then she said, “But, you said there were werewolves near this Stonehenge? Where is this place?”

“Amesbury, England.”

“Did you see any other signs?” she demanded.

“Do you consider zombies as a sign? Hydan called them necrosouls. I was at a pub when some broke in and a Second from House Albus mixed it up with those ugly beasties while Hydan and I got the hell out of Dodge.”

“I thought you were in Amesbury, England?” she accused.

“‘Dodge’ is just an expression,” I answered.

She ignored me and said, “So, you witnessed gehdrin and necrosouls in this Amesbury? How do I get to this place, can you give me an Image?”

“You know, I barely got away, and only because I had help from two other mages, a Second and a Third. I suggest you stay as far away from there as you can.”

Myrka shook her head and spoke resolutely, “For thousands of years many mages have sought to bring down the Dark One; and all have failed. I will not be put to the inquisitor’s sacrificial knife, like so many of my brethren, for failing in my task!”

I shook my head sadly, “Look, I saw some strange and quite deadly creatures in that area, so if you go there it’s your funeral.”

Then she cocked her head to the side and said, “I WILL find The Dragon, he was there, seeking you.”

“Maybe, the truth is I didn’t see any boogie man! I don’t believe in Bigfoot, Leprechauns, the Loch Ness monster, or certainly not any kind of dragon. All I said was that we heard some howls, which sounded somewhat like wolves, and then Hydan said they were werewolves. Later on that night, some rotted looking people broke into a pub, and they weren’t hairy at all, more deadish looking, but very spry. I believe in those since a saw them trying to do us harm, and they were still kind of ‘undead’ even after being converted to chickens right before my eyes. However, in all of that craziness, I didn’t see any nasty wizard like foozles, calling themselves The Dragon.”

Before Myrka could respond the stone wall, which had been an archway opening, turned back into the archway and Hydan strolled into the chamber.

Myrka spun to face Hydan, her hand coming back up with her glowing knife held ready, and then her other hand came up, palm toward Hydan. From her palm, a lance of power struck at him, but it seemed to warp upwards at the last moment and hit the ceiling. Molten rock poured down, but Hydan just stepped around it. Myrka kept her empty hand up in a warding gesture, but her eyes narrowed at Hydan’s escape from her blast of power.

“There is no need for sorcery, I’m not here to kill you,” Hydan exclaimed. “That would not be fun at all!”

“So you only kill for fun?” Myrka asked.

“I think you are confusing me with a Hentan,” Hydan said. “I am Hydan Friare, Third; we try not to kill at all, if possible.”

“A Friare weakling,” she sneered, as she took a step back so she could keep us both in view, pointing her palm at Hydan and the blue power coated knife toward me, and then she said, “and yet another Third!”

I decided to ask Hydan about that later, but I didn’t want to look like I didn’t know what was going on, so I held my question.

I spoke to Hydan, “Why is she so trigger happy?”

He shrugged, “She’s a Tarvos; they kill first and ask your corpse questions later if there is anything left to ask.”

Myrka scowled at him for that answer, so Hydan turned back to her and said, “Yes, I’m a Third, I can’t help it.”

Myrka frowned at him but lowered her knife hand. Then she demanded, “Why do you believe The Dragon was after this Sivaeral Third?”

She meant me.

Hydan shrugged, “I’m not sure he was; ask the gehdrin or their Dark Lord.”

Now she turned her hard gaze on me, “And is this the first time gehdrin have pursued you?”

I opened my mouth and then snapped it shut, not wanting to play all my cards, but Hydan laughed, “Wow, you need to work on your gambler’s face. Now you’ll have to tell her at least some of it.”

“Tell me all of it,” she demanded, swiveling her warding hand to kind of cover me like it was a machine gun.

But his statement had been a warning to me, to withhold some of the details. I thought for a moment, and then said, “I will tell you if you stop threatening us.”

She stared into my eyes for a moment, and then lowered her hand. The blue glow around the blade vanished, and she sheathed the knife at her belt.

I nodded, and then said, “There isn’t much to tell. I met Hydan at Stonehenge just as he arrived. We heard werewolves, but if they were after us, they lost our trail. We went into Amesbury and had a drink at a pub, where we met Fiona Albus, a Second. That’s when a passel of these necrosoul things burst in, hell bent on destruction. The Second battled with the creatures and told us the necromancer controlling them was getting near. We fled, but the necrosouls, or their master, tracked us to another location. It was at this point that we portaled to this place; we had decided to move worlds. Now, if there really is a person called The Dragon, who is some kind of Sauron character, and he truly is after me, I don’t have the faintest idea why!”

There, I’d used a few words I hadn’t heard until today to make it sound like I knew what I was talking about.

Myrka pondered for a moment, and I caught Hydan giving me a little wink.

Then Myrka said, “Is this Fiona Albus working with the Dark One?”

Hydan snorted, “I doubt that! His necrosouls attempted to kill her, and us.”

So at this point I said to the Tarvos girl, “All right, now it’s your turn, are you seriously tracking this Dark One? What is his real name anyway, this ‘Dark One’ this ‘The Dragon’ crap is cumbersome.”

She straightened her shoulders, and said, “I told you, I will track down the Dark One. The Tarvos never call him by his given name, lest he feels us coming, and I suggest you do this as well. However, I will succeed in tracking down The Dragon where others have failed! I have been close on his trail several times in the past year, and now he has come to Earth! If The Dark One came here to hunt you, I know where I need to be.”

“What are you talking about?” I demanded.

Hydan laughed, “You have a girlfriend, Nick. Myrka is going to stick to you like glue, at least until The Dragon shows his horns.”

Myrka scowled at Hydan but turned to face me. “Do not listen to the Friare, I am not your girl or your friend!” she exclaimed indignantly.

I nodded, “That’s right, Tarvos, nor do I need some trigger happy killer tagging along who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about me, and just wants to find the boogie man, for heaven’s sake!”

Myrka reminded me, “He is not this ‘boogie man’ you speak of, he is The Dragon, the onetime Archimage of Sheol, though his title has been stripped from him by the Ring of Ten. I will find him and stop his evil.”

“That’s all I need, some Christian do-gooder tagging along.”

Hydan snickered, “That may be the first time a Tarvos has ever been called either a Christian or a do-gooder!”

At my refusal to let her come with me, Myrka looked concerned and then said, “I must accompany you!”

“No,” I said, crossing my arms angrily.

She was hesitant, as if afraid to show weakness, but then she said, “I will be sacrificed if I do not complete my task.”

“Which is not our problem, Honey” I answered, purposely using this sarcastic endearment which she’d forbade me to call her earlier.

She looked at my defiant posture, and then said, “If you let me join your group, I swear by my Archimage I will follow your orders.”

Hydan raised an eyebrow, “Wow, if she swears by her Archimage it’s an oath she cannot break, Nick. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Tarvos swear such an oath to the member of another House.”

Myrka turned her dark gaze on Hydan, “I am very serious about completing my task, and if The Dragon is pursuing this Third, I must be there when the Dark One reveals himself.”

“I understand what you want, Sweety,” I replied.

“I am not sweet, so please do not attempt to consume me,” Myrka replied, deadly serious.

Hydan laughed, “You may not be sweet, but you are definitely and deliciously a Tarvos.”

Myrka gave him such a dark look I thought she was going to erupt into violence again.

I turned to him and said, “Do you really think I should let her join us?”

He lifted both hands, palms up, and said, “Oh, why not? She is going to follow you if you don’t, and she is going to be so much fun!”

“She doesn’t seem fun at all, she’s very serious.”

He grinned, “My point exactly.”

Then Myrka said, “One more thing; if I join you, may I have your permission to kill this useless one?” And she cocked a thumb toward Hydan.

Hydan looked stunned for a brief moment, and then he burst into outright guffaws. He was pounding his hand into his thigh and laughing so hard he was nearly out of breath. Tears were even streaming down his cheeks.

I turned to him and said, “This is no laughing matter, I’m pretty sure that was a serious request to kill you.”

“Oh, she was ‘deadly’ serious,” he said and started almost giggling.

“You are a very strange person,” I said to Hydan, who half bowed to me while wiping tears of laughter from his face using the back of his sleeve.

I looked at Myrka, who was sneering at Hydan and patiently waiting for my response. When he had calmed, she repeated her question, “So, may I kill this pathetic Friare Third? You can see how annoying he will be.”

I replied jokingly, “Yeah, he is annoying, but for now I need him.”

She shrugged, and then nodded, “I will eagerly await your permission in the future.”

That made Hydan snicker again.

I gave her one more penetrating look, and then said, “Fine, I’ll let you tag along if you swear an oath which will keep you in line.”

“I hereby swear to support your decisions, protect you from danger, and fight at your side against all foes, excepting members of my House, until such time as I tell you that I am departing from your group to pursue my own quest, and get your permission to leave. I swear this oath by my Archimage, Arawn Tarvos.”

I looked at Hydan, who nodded, “That’s about the best you are going to get out of her.”

“All right,” I answered.

“Now, shall we proceed to this Stonehenge so I can track these gehdrin to the Dark One’s lair?” Myrka stated, as if in charge, and headed for the door out.

“No, we shall not,” I replied, freezing her in her tracks. “We are headed for Abal, to find my parents.”

“But…” she began.

“Did you not just swear to support my decisions?” I interrupted.

She shut her mouth.

“Good,” I replied, “Hydan, are you ready?”

“Lay on, Ronald McDonald, and damned be him who first cries ‘Hold! enough!’”

“MacDuff, not McDonald,” I corrected, and then said to Myrka, “Since this is a Tarvos portal, why don’t you lead the way through to Abal?”

I wanted her to lead because I didn’t have the faintest idea of what to do next, and unless Hydan was doing his illusion thing, I didn’t want to have to ask him in her presence.

I watched as she stepped into the portal, glanced at the glyph markings in the doorjamb, and then touched the seated figure with her hand. She just winked out, leaving a brief afterimage of a black space which was the shape of her body, but that soon faded.

Then I said to Hydan, “How the hell do I use this thing? I didn’t want to ask with Myrka here.”

“I see. Well, in the future if you want a private chat with me, just use the word ‘geese’ and I’ll try to arrange for a private talk with you. As for the portal, just look at this glyph,” he said, pointing to one of the markings in the doorjamb, “And touch the figure of Arawn.”

So I did that, and gritted my teeth, ready for anything, but nothing happened.

Hydan laughed, and then said, “You have to concentrate so you can power the glyph!”

“Concentrate, on what?”

“On transporting to Abal!”

I felt ridiculous, and a little like Dorothy chanting, ‘There is no place like home.’ But I thought about going to Abal, thought hard, and touched the glyph.

 

 

 

Chapter Five

 

At last the sun is shining,

The clouds of blue roll by

With flames from the dragon of darkness,

the sunlight blinds his eyes.

Led Zeppelin

 

Arriving in Abal was not like arriving from Five Point travel; there was no spinning or blurred vision, nor any disorientation, it was more like fading out, and fading in on a new scene after some unknown time had passed. My vision went dark, almost like I was passing out, but I was still conscious. I could hear whispers in the dark, but couldn’t make out what they were saying. When my vision finally faded in again I found myself looking at a vast underground cavern, though I was standing on top of a pyramid shaped structure, with a square flat top. In the center was a single stone arch, with glyph markings and another relief carving of Arawn, the Archimage of House Tarvos. From one side of the square area, there was a bridge which crossed to a cave mouth on the far side. High above I could dimly see the top of the cavern.

“Abal, I presume?” I said, turning to Myrka on my right, and then I did a double take. It wasn’t Myrka, but yet, it was. What I mean is, the girl standing to my right looked a little like Myrka, and was wearing her previous clothes, but she wasn’t human. Her body was slightly shorter, slimmer, still bipedal, sure, with two arms, two legs, a torso and a head, but here many similarities stopped. First of all, her skin was shiny. I had to look closer and discovered she was covered in small, overlapping, almost translucent scales, over blue skin. Looking at her forearm, I noticed a ridge, which looked just like the dorsal fin of a fish when it was laid down flat. There were more fin-like places, like against the side of her hairless head, sweeping back from the temple. Her eyes were very large black orbs, with blue and white irises and vertical slit pupils. Her nose was almost nonexistent, and the mouth small, though the hard looking lips were large. Even with all these changes, there was something about her which was still Myrka.

I was about to say something stupid when I looked down and noticed my body had also changed to the same species, though my scales and color were somewhat lighter. I was dumbfounded, my mouth, appropriately, started to work like a fish out of water, though I could actually breathe just fine.

Myrka was looking away from me, toward the cave across the bridge, so she didn’t notice my stunned look. She replied to my first question, “Yes, this is Abal, though I have never been here, but this must be your world or the portal would not have brought us here.”

Hydan had just arrived, though he had also transformed into one of these bodies. He must have heard Myrka’s last statement, and seen my stunned expression, because he said, “Well, luckily I have been to Abal recently and so I am quite used to their saeran bodies. I always find it refreshing to try out another species form as I arrive on a new World! Nick, of course, is House Sivaeral, so he’s used to this kind of body.”

No doubt he said all that for my benefit. I quickly closed my mouth before Myrka noticed my slack-jawed expression.

Hydan saw me recover and then said, “Although I have been to Abal, I have not been through this gloomy portal! It is so typical of the Tarvos to build in a dark cave, or out in the middle of some nasty jungle!”

“Darkness, or secret locations, help to hide you from your enemies,” she countered.

Hydan ignored her and headed out across the bridge toward the cave passage. I was looking at his scaled body; I could still see Hydan’s familiar human features, though these were depicted in his saeran face.

“Should we not scout first before venturing forth?” Myrka asked imperiously.

“Scout away, I’m going outside,” Hydan exclaimed, “I need some liquid!”

Myrka tilted her head to the side in a kind of puzzled gesture and then said, “Though this race developed underwater, they have long ago adapted to surface life. Tell him, Nicholas.”

Hydan called back over his shoulder, “I meant a drink, not a swim!”

I followed Hydan, and Myrka followed me. It felt a bit odd walking on the bigger, more pliable feet of the saeran race, but I tried to hide my uncoordinated experimentation with the motive power of these legs and feet.

I figured Myrka had never been to Abal either, so she would be busy figuring out her own gait. As we walked, the Tarvos girl asked me, “So, why do you think The Dragon is hunting you?”

“Actually, a better question would be: why is everyone after me?” I replied. “The truth is I’m not sure. A Hentan hunter, named Stewart, wanted to kill me in a knife fight, god only knows why, but I managed to escape. I was then tracked by werewolves, for no apparent reason. Later the same night we were attacked by a whole caboodle of necrosouls, again, for unknown reasons. Finally, I ran into you, and you tried to poke me with a glowing knife.”

“What is a caboodle?” she demanded.

“It means a bunch,” I answered. “Anyway, now I want to find my parents so I can try to get some answers as to why things are chasing me; so at this stage your guess is as good as mine, Sister.”

“I am not your sister; we are of different Houses unless you are a crossbreed,” she replied like I was some kind of idiot.

I said, “It was just an expression.”

She frowned, and then asked, “What can your parents tell you about these attacks?”

I replied, “I don’t know; I’ve never met my birth parents. Hydan says I’m a Hidden Soul.”

Hydan heard me reveal my secret, and looked back at me while raising a small fin above his eye ridge in question, but then he kept on walking. I figured with her oath to support me, knowing part of my secrets couldn’t hurt, and might help.

Myrka stopped in her tracks and looked at me with those big round dark saeran eyes. She blinked and I noticed she had two eyelids. The transparent inner eyelid came up from the bottom and retracted slightly slower to her blink. “You are a Hidden Soul?”

“Well, I was. I know my House now. I grew up on Earth, and I’ve never been to Abal, the world of my heritage.”

There, I figured this statement would take care of the inevitable mistakes I was about to make about my own planet.

She nodded. “I noticed your unfamiliarity with this type of body, you were walking somewhat like I was. I was studying you trying to see how to do it and noticed your own issues. Only Hydan seems familiar with these bodies.”

“Yeah, it’s my first time too,” I said.

Myrka nodded, and we continued following Hydan across the bridge, slowly getting accustomed to the gait of the new bodies, though true control would take some time.

She glanced over at me again, and then said, “I have never met a Hidden Soul.”

“From what I hear, they get hunted quite often, so there aren’t likely many surviving ones left to meet.”

She nodded.

I asked her, “What do you know of Hidden Souls? Maybe I can fill in the blanks once I learn what you already know?” I was on a fishing expedition, all jokes aside, considering these scaly bodies.

She considered for a moment and then said, “Well, for reasons of their own two mages have a child in secret, and keep this child’s heritage from them, which means the child doesn’t know they are a mage, or they belong to a House. Without this knowledge and training, or the Archimage knowing about them, they do not have a Glyph mark.”

“All true,” I answered.

“Why do you think your parents denied you your heritage?” she demanded.

I considered her rude question. “Well, perhaps they didn’t want me to go through life having to dodge people like Stewart Hentan, or you.”

“But, by denying you the knowledge of your birthright you would not learn how to use your powers, and therefore you would age and die, or if you were ever Discovered you would become a target for every mage around, even those lower than your Tier.”

“So why do you think mages hunt Hidden Ones?”

She looked at me for a moment, but finally answered, “Because without training a Hidden Soul is defenseless, a Hunter could easily end the line of a newly discovered mage.”

“You’re talking about the Ascension Quest?”

She nodded, “Of course.”

I dearly wanted to know more about this Ascension Quest; Fiona had put me off when I’d asked about it, and I recalled comments from Hydan about this as well. Thinking back, I easily recalled his voice, word for word, he’d said: ‘He’s just playing the Ascension Quest the Hentan way, trying to kill their way to the top. Not all houses work that way, but there is no changing the way any house pursues the Quest.’

So I asked Myrka, “I know the Hentans are trying to kill their way to the top, but I don’t know all the methods of the other Houses. What can you tell me of the Tarvos’ approach to the Ascension Quest?”

“I will tell you what is considered common knowledge; the Hentans rely on physical skills, they hold reality to their liking, and then try to stick a blade or something in you. My House studies Derkaz sorcery which makes us the most powerful of any House. With Derkaz magic at our call, we believe we can vanquish our enemies, and it will be our First who Ascends.”

Ascends to what? I thought, but held my question. She knows I was a Hidden Soul, which might mean some gaps in my knowledge, but I didn’t want her to know just how little I really knew. If she doesn’t know what I know, then she won’t dare feed me lies.

“OK, what do you know of the Friare and their plan for the Ascension Quest?”

“Nothing,” she answered instantly.

“You mean they keep it a secret?”

She shook her head, “No, they are an open book, too open. They simply have no ambition, they don’t care who Ascends, and are not even trying to take part in the Ascension Quest. They will fight, sure, if attacked, but they would rather do frivolous things than work hard at anything. I do not really understand them at all.”

We had entered the cave, and I noticed the walls were smoothly cut through what looked like solid granite. We made a few turns and then there was bright light ahead, sunlight. A few minutes later we exited the cave out onto the side of a mountain. A road cut into the side to our left, winding down through a series of switchbacks, but what caught my breath was the view out over the world.

Before us, spread out like a map, was a lush land, with thick forests the likes of which England had not seen in many years. We stood on the outer slopes of a mighty mountain range, like the Rockies back on Earth, and were looking down over a lush landscape. There were wide rivers, twisting in snake-like patterns, lakes and a carpet of massive trees. In the distance, I could make out another massive mountain range rising into the sky and the glint of an ocean to the east. That sky was impossibly blue, far darker and a more vibrant color than any sky I’d ever seen on Earth. And I could see three moons of various sizes above us at different points in the sky, though none of them were as large as Earth’s moon.

While looking up at the three moons, I saw some kind of large winged bird flying past us, but it was a kind of bird I had never seen before. Its body was a good five feet in length, and it had a fifteen-foot wingspan. That beak was sharp and pointed, curving down; definitely a bird of prey.

Hydan saw me gawking at it, and said, “That’s a Gowaar, not quite the same as a chicken.”

“No, more like an eagle on mega-steroids,” I replied.

Hydan nodded, “They can be nasty, but seldom attack something our size.” Hydan had his habitual grin on his face as he looked around the view of Abal.

“Seldom?” I said.

He shrugged, “They would have to be particularly hungry, kind of like those dolphin things on Earth.”

“Dolphins? They don’t eat people; did you mean sharks?”

“Yeah, those,” he agreed cheerily as he headed for the road, “Come on, we should get out of sight before something spots us.”

“You mean the Gowaar?” I asked.

“No, something far worse,” he answered, “something dark and evil, like Myrka here,” he noted with a smirk, cocking a thumb at the dark skinned girl.

She disdained to answer, but we both followed him toward the road. We were soon headed down the stone covered pathway, which was mostly shaded by dark green trees and bushes which grew along the sides. Once in the foliage, we were out of sight while working our way down toward the lowlands. We were soon in the shade of the trees, and I spoke to Hydan, “Tell me about Abal and these evil ‘things’ who might see us.”

I noticed Myrka was listening intently.

Hydan shrugged, “Sure. Abal was once a pretty nice place, I mean, there are always dangers on any world, it’s a savage universe, as the Silent Mother intended.”

I figured the reference had to do with some deity he believed in, so I said, “Explain that.”

“The Silent Mother wanted the best to survive, so she created a system where everything had to fight to live, ensuring the best would win.”

“Survival of the fittest,” I noted.

He nodded, “That’s a catchy phrase for it.”

“I’ll tell Darwin you like it when I see him next,” I said with a smile.

“Do that! Well, like I said, with Survival of the Fittest, there are always some nasty things out there, but of course, each of our races is the supreme predator on our planet, otherwise, how would we BE the top of the food chain?”

“How indeed,” I agreed.

He nodded, “But that doesn’t mean there weren’t some other contenders out there, like those shark things on Earth.”

“Right,” I agreed, and then added, “If they only had a thumb.”

He shrugged, “They might have if Earth’s First had desired it and thought them a better prospect than those Rat-Possum things which eventually became humans. I mean, once she decided the dinosaurs were a dead end, and reset things, well, then she had to choose from other options which came up, like that Rat-Possum. After a few nudges, tada, an intelligent bipedal creature, just like the Silent Mother intended.”

I let this go, his ramblings made no sense.

“Now, here on Abal there are plenty of dangerous creatures which their First might have made into the dominate biped, like the Gowaar bird, but that’s not what concerns me.”

I nodded, “OK, I’ll bite, what does concern you?”

“The Derkaz has made strong inroads here.”

That’s when Myrka spoke up, “There is nothing to fear from the Derkaz Ether, it is just another power which a mage can bend to their will. My people use it, and control it.”

“So you say,” Hydan said dubiously. “But, let’s talk about Abal; we can leave your world, Annwn, for another discussion. On Abal, before people started dabbling in the Derkaz, there was very little evil in this world. The Archimage and mages of his House kept life here very organized, and very pleasant. It was one of the best worlds to come to and have a good time!”

Myrka shook her dark head, “What possible worth is there in such frivolous wastes of energy?”

Hydan smiled, “We Friares enjoy life; can you Tarvos honestly say you do?”

“We most certainly do NOT!” Myrka exclaimed, and then added, “Life is not meant to be enjoyed, it is meant to be meaningful!”

“To my view, it is meaningful to get drunk, and have a good tumble with someone you like.”

Myrka scowled, “Now you are breeding for pleasure?”

“Damn straight, though breeding isn’t my first objective,” Hydan answered. “You’re pretty cute; I could show you what I mean if you want! You see, these saeran bodies aren’t like humans, or your glorzen bodies, for that matter, this race procreates by…”

“Touch me with any part of you and I will sever that appendage!” Myrka growled.

Hydan grinned, “Ouch! Now that’s just not nice, but it is very Tarvos!”

I wanted to know more about this Derkaz, “You were saying, about the Derkaz?”

Hydan turned back to me and replied, “Oh, yes. Well, some mages here, as seems to be inevitable on all the worlds, eventually messed around with Derkaz Ether. I mean, once something is discovered, you can’t put the Greld back into the box, as they say.”

Myrka started to speak, but Hydan held up a hand. “You can tell us your opinions later, he asked me to tell this.”

She closed her mouth, but her dark eyes were squinted down into a scowl.

I then asked, “OK, so what is so bad about the Derkaz, and what is it?”

“It is power,” Myrka burst out.

“Remember, it’s my turn, Sweetheart,” Hydan stated.

Myrka scowled again, “I am not…”

“I know, it was a joke, dearest, and calling you ‘dearest’ is another joke.”

“I do not like jokes,” she answered.

Hydan put a hand on his chest and with a shocked face exclaimed, “No, tell me it’s not true!”

“It is!” she exclaimed, missing his theatrical sarcasm completely.

Hydan turned back to me with a grin and spoke conversationally, “She’s right, the Derkaz is a power, an insidious power.”

Myrka started to speak again, but Hydan held up a finger, and she stopped, but she said, “I am going to kill you someday.”

“Yes,” he answered, “I’m sure you’ll try, but not right now.” Then he continued speaking to me, “Derkaz is insidious because once you let it in, it is like a bad houseguest who won’t leave. It seemed like fun when they first got there, but now… Anyway, the Derkaz will attach itself and become a part of you, like some parasite. Getting rid of it is damn near impossible.”

“All right, I get that, but if it is just some kind of power, what’s the problem?”

Myrka exclaimed, “Exactly, there is no problem!”

I continued, “Is the Derkaz sentient, does it have some secret plan?”

Hydan shook his head, “No, not that we can discern. It is just out there, sitting between the stars, a dark force, a power.”

“I don’t understand; if it’s not sentient, then why can’t you use it?” I asked. “People think nuclear power is evil, but it is just power.”

Hydan thought for a moment and then said, “Well, a demonstration then… Myrka, do you see the Velcat, the little furry one, there, on the side of the road ahead?”

“I see it,” Myrka answered dubiously.

“It might get in our way going down the road, though it is harmless enough.”

Myrka immediately raised her hand and muttered some kind of chant, and then a lance of bright light exited her palm, striking the little Velcat, which exploded in fur, blood and other bits of creature.

I jumped back, “What the hell!”

“It was in our way, he said so,” Myrka noted, and started walking again.

Hydan gestured to the remains of the small creature, “The problem is once you start using the Derkaz you get more and more casual about destruction. It’s not that it is evil, but it tends to lead a person down the path to evil. It’s hard to explain.”

“Why do you think removing a threat is evil?” Myrka demanded.

Hydan countered with, “Why do you think the Velcat was a threat?”

“Because you said the creature might get in our way.”

“Yes, like a stone in the road, something we would have to go around,” Hydan answered, “I did not say it was a threat.”

“It should know better than to get in the way of a Tarvos sorceress,” Myrka stated.

Hydan turned to me and said, “And that is what using the Derkaz does to you, it makes you arrogant, destructive, careless, and cold.”

“Which are all things we prize on Annwn,” Myrka stated, “We strive to be sure of ourselves, strong of power, without emotional attachments, and logical, which is another way of saying what he claimed.”

Hydan spoke softly, “Your race wasn’t always this way, back before you all embraced the Derkaz Ether.”

“No, once we were weak, but our race is strong now, and our Archimage will be the one who Ascends to the Silent Mother’s throne!”

“I certainly hope not,” Hydan said with a sigh.

“I should kill you for that,” Myrka said coldly.

I broke in at this point, “Hey, didn’t we discuss that you are not to kill Hydan?”

“You said, “’For now’, is it time yet?” she asked hopefully.

“No, and that part about ‘for now’ was a joke.”

She shrugged, “I don’t…”

“Joke,” I added for her, “We got it.”

I wanted to know more about Abal, so I turned back to Hydan, “OK, so some Sivaeral mages started playing with this power, this Derkaz.”

“Yes, and once in, the Derkaz took up residence in their minds; they started doing and making things… dangerous things. Suddenly the peace which had existed on this planet for thousands of years was disrupted as strange new monsters appeared, created by the mages using the Derkaz power.”

Myrka spoke up with conviction, “Just as the Silent Mother wanted. The Sivaeral line was growing weak, but now their mages battled each other, and the strong prevail!”

Hydan shrugged, “True enough, though we do not believe the Derkaz was intended by the Silent Mother.”

“Well, we do. And now you have admitted embracing the Derkaz is the way to strength!” she exclaimed.

“No, it is a power, but not one worth the price,” Hydan answered.

Myrka was confused, “But it is the logical conclusion to your statement.”

“But not the right one,” he replied.

I broke in, “Hey, back on subject.”

Hydan nodded, “One wizard grew particularly strong using Derkaz, a Second of the Sivaeral line, Medrod. There was a massive Civil War across most of this planet. On the one side was Medrod, son of the Archimage, and he took up the Derkaz Ether. He convinced others to do so as well, and eventually Sivaeral mage fought Sivaeral mage in a bloody Civil War. In the end, the Archimage of Abal had to end his son’s line.”

“He killed his child?” I asked.

“It is the mage way, the strong survive, even of their own House,” Myrka noted.

I let that go.

Hydan nodded sadly, “Yes, it happens.”

I pondered this and then said, “So, with his rebellious descendant out of the way, why haven’t things gone back to normal?

Hydan shrugged, “Medrod was not the only mage to embrace the Derkaz, though he was the strongest. What really made Medrod dangerous was his mate, a Dokkalfar sorceress named Morgain. I believe she is the one who introduced Medrod to the Derkaz Ether. Together they created much which is evil, and a lot of what they created is still out there, including many strange and evil creatures. When I was here last I had a run in with that Dokkalfar sorceresses, and she was strong in the Derkaz. She was the reason I decided to leave Abal.”

“She was pretty nasty, I take it?”

“The worst, she was very adamant about roasting me on a spit, I believe. It was as good a reason as any to visit Earth.”

I looked at Hydan, “Yet you came back to Abal with me anyway?”

“I couldn’t bear to miss the fun!” he said with a grin.

Myrka was thinking, and then said, “Why hasn’t the Archimage of this world hunted down these remaining rivals if they don’t bow to his will? Is he weak?”

Hydan laughed, “No, I would not call the First Wizard of Abal weak. The problem is there aren’t a lot of Sivaeral mages left. Many used the Derkaz, and eventually joined Medrod. During those battles, some of the Sivaeral mages, still loyal to the Archimage, embraced Derkaz in a misguided attempt to win battles, which, in the end, brought some of them over to Medrod’s side.”

“The Derkaz made them change allegiance?” I asked.

He nodded, and then continued, “This is a Civil War, a mage Civil War, and many have died on both sides, taking out entire lines of Sivaeral mages. Truthfully, there are few Sivaeral mages left. The Sivaeral Archimage is going to be quite pleased to find a Hidden Soul Third of the Sivaeral line if we can find him.”

This caught my attention, I knew I needed to find my Archimage so I could offer to deliver my information if he could help me retrieve my memories. I asked Hydan a question, “What did you mean, ‘If we can find him’?”

“No one has seen the Sivaeral Archimage in some time, he is in hiding. His House is weakened by the loss of so many Sivaeral mages, and therefore, he could be vulnerable to an attack by another House. I tried to locate him, but he was well glamoured. I felt no sense of him anywhere.”

That was going to make finding my Archimage problematical, but I asked, “So do all the other Houses know about this civil war on Abal?”

“I’m sure they do, it has been going on for hundreds of years. As for the disappearance of the Archimage here, I already reported that to my House, and everyone will know, soon enough, but like I said, some of this is very recent. Abal has become a very dangerous place for any mage of any House. I assume the Archimage here is taking extreme measures to stop Abal becoming a place like Earth, where mages from all Houses come to do battle.”

I thought about that, and then asked, “What do you mean by ‘extreme measures’?”

Myrka answered instead, “I would guess he is killing any foreign mages on Abal who were not invited.”

“Aren’t you two foreign mages?”

Hydan laughed.

I scowled at him and said, “Then why did you come here with me?”

Myrka answered, “I came because of my oath.”

And Hydan said, “And I came because it sounded like fun. Besides, you need my help; I couldn’t leave you to the tender mercies of a Derkaz crazed girl, on a world bent on killing mages, when you have not yet relearned your wizard skills.”

Myrka snarled at Hydan, but let it go.

Hydan gave her a raised brow fin, but then continued speaking, “Besides, this is the only place where you can learn about your parents, so here we are.”

“Do not fear, it was the logical choice,” Myrka said, and then looked at Hydan, “Which is rather odd when you consider who it was that made a decision based on logic.”

We walked for another mile, going down three switchbacks, and then I said, “Hey, why aren’t we Five Point traveling instead of walking?”

“We can’t, or shouldn’t, not here on Abal,” Hydan explained. “The mage war here has made certain uses of magic a problem; they attract unwanted attention, and we could even be hijacked, possibly.”

“Hijacked?”

“If there aren’t too many Stars being used, they could possibly zero in on an active one and divert our destination. We could end up somewhere other than where we expected to go. No, we’ll have to walk, or ride, if we want to get somewhere without an arcane battle. At this stage, I’m not sure that both sides won’t attack us.”

“Why is that?” I asked.

“First off, as you mentioned, either side might want to kill us just because we are foreign mages, assuming they discover we are here. He cocked a thumb at Myrka, “Then there is the fact she is pretty heavy into Derkaz power, so the Archimage’s side might take affront while the other side might not like you or me since we haven’t delved into the Derkaz.”

“So what should we do?” I asked.

“We don’t tell anyone we are mages, and this includes hiding our powers,” he gave Myrka a hard look for a moment, to which she returned a blank stare.”

“And then what?” I prompted.

“Then, we go for a drink!” he said exuberantly.

Myrka started to complain, but Hydan added, “With a friend of mine, who can help us with what we need, for a price.”

“And where is this friend?” I asked.

He pointed out in a general direction, “In the capital city of Poseidon, out that way, a couple hundred mectors or so.”

“Mectors?” I asked.

“Uh, about a mile and a half, approximately, per mector,” he said, doing some quick math.

“Wouldn’t the Archimage of Abal reside at the capital?” I asked, I mean, I was interested in finding my parents, sure, but I really needed to get my memories back. And if I had been working for him, well, it was time we had a chat.

Hydan pondered, “Normally, yes, though I don’t know if he is there.”

“Good enough, though I hope we aren’t walking three hundred miles just for a drink!”

“I would, for the right drink, but in this case, I shouldn’t have to. There should be quite a few good watering holes along the way, so have no fear!” Hydan exclaimed.

“When he becomes severely inebriated, it will be easier to kill him,” Myrka noted gleefully.

Hydan chortled at that.

 

 

 

Chapter Six

 

Saved in the nick in time.

-AC/DC

 

We reached the lowlands and picked up a road going through a forest which covered the gently rolling hills. Hydan took a good look at me, and I turned to say, “What? Do I have some strange bug on my head?”

“No, but it’s time you learned to fit into Abal.”

I laughed, “I don’t fit in anywhere. Or a better way of saying it is: I don’t know where I should fit in!”

“Well, this is your World, so you better start by figuring out how to blend in here properly,” he said.

“And how do I do that? Are you going to buy me some new clothes?”

He smiled, “No, though I could. I’m going to teach you how to start using your wizard powers.”

“Oh really, magic?” I scoffed.

“Yes, magic,” he replied.

I spoke sarcastically, “Do I get a wand? Shall I cast a clothing spell, ‘Silliouspantus!’” I called out, waving my hand in a circle above my head.

Hydan smiled, “We don’t need to create a spell to change local reality. What do you think your hand waving was going to do, besides scare some birds?”

“I don’t know, dress me in pantaloons or something,” I replied.

He nodded, “You could have those if you wish, or something more like this,” and suddenly his simple shirt and pants changed instantly to some kind of scale armor, it was gorgeous. The scales were highly polished silver, with black leather joints.

I did a double take, “You… you really can just whip up clothing!”

“Or armor,” he noted.

“How did you do that?” I asked incredulously.

He grinned, “I changed what I had into a different reality. You can’t make something from nothing, but you can change what exists into something else.”

“How?” I exclaimed.

Hydan explained, “By knowing what it is you are wearing and making this the reality around you.”

“Hell, that’s easy!”

He looked surprised, “Well, it is, if you are a mage, I’m just surprised you figured it out so swiftly.”

I turned to Myrka, who was silently watching this exchange, and said, “That was sarcasm, a joke. You would think he would get that.”

“What is sarcasm?” she asked blankly.

In answer, I said, “I see you are wise and all knowing.”

“That is true,” she replied. “but what has this to do with sarcasm?”

“Everything.”

Hydan smiled, but said, “Joke or not, it is actually easy, as long as a few things are true. First, you have to really believe you know what you are wearing, doubt will screw you like a two-bit…”

“Thanks, got it,” I interrupted, “What else?”

“Well, you have to be a mage, and the distance you can affect things is directly proportional to your belief and heritage.”

“Bite me, Hydan,” I said, vehemently.

“Bite you… where?” he asked.

“It’s an Earth expression, it simply means, piss off.”

“Piss off? Onto what?” he also asked.

“Never mind. The point is this makes no sense to me.”

Hydan nodded, “Ah.”

Myrka broke in, “You shape the reality around you by what you believe is real. The further away reality is, the less you can affect it.”

“So, just because Hydan believes he is wearing that armor, it exists?”

“Not exactly,” Hydan answered, “It’s more like because I know my shirt is made of metal scale and leather, it is. Here, look,” he said, stepping right up next to me. Suddenly my cotton shirt was scale mail, just like his.

He stepped away, “Do you believe you were wearing scale mail? Or do you really think you were wearing that cotton shirt?”

“I’m wearing a cotton shirt; this is some kind of…”

Right, then my shirt changed to white cotton.

“…trick,” I said, faltering.

“I believed your shirt was armor, but you changed it back because you believe it is a shirt,” Hydan explained.

“Bull shit,” I exclaimed.

“Don’t you trust your own eyes?” Hydan asked.

“No, not these days,” I replied belligerently.

He just watched me.

“OK,” I said, “suppose, for just a moment, I don’t think you are a nut case, or what you are telling me is a joke.”

“All right,” Hydan replied.

“Are you saying I can keep changing my clothes into whatever I want, as long as I believe that is what I’m wearing?”

“Absolutely, up to a point.”

“A point?”

He nodded, “That point being one of two things, the first being you have sufficient power available. It isn’t endless, and the higher your tier, the more you have available. As a Third, you can do a lot, but the supply isn’t endless.”

“What if I run out?”

“It is difficult to do that; you have to really push beyond a natural limit which will make you feel tired. This is your body’s way of warning you to stop, but if you don’t, if you use up all of your magic, you could die. However, as I said, you will feel when you are getting low, and then you can just stop. Your power will then slowly replenish.”

I considered for a moment, and then said, “And the other thing?”

Hydan smiled, “The other thing which will keep you from changing reality is if there is an opposing mage who is seeing reality differently than you. If that mage has more power they will win, and reality will shape itself to their desire.”

“I see, is this why Fiona couldn’t stop that big necrosoul back in the pub?”

He nodded, “Yes, there was a necromancer who was controlling those necrosouls, and he was countering Fiona’s vision of reality, and doing it without being in the room! That would take a lot of power, the kind of power The Dragon can wield. Very few mages could do that to a Second sorceress from that kind of distance.”

“So, why bother with physical armor, can’t a mage just believe he has a gun and plug you full of holes, right through that fancy looking armor you are wearing?” I asked.

Hydan reached into his pocket and then pulled out a pistol. I recognized it; the gun was a type from earth, a Ruger 357, single action. He dropped the gate down, extracted one of the six bullets, showed it to me, and then put it back into the cylinder and closed the gate to show me it was loaded. He then reversed the gun, and handed it to me, grip first.

“Shoot me,” he said.

I frowned, “What?”

“Shoot me with the gun, I assure you it is loaded with real bullets, just like you get on Earth, and I also assure you it will not harm me in the slightest.”

I remembered shooting Stewart Hentan, back in the Temple of Karnak, the bullets hadn’t even bothered his clothing. “Oh, I bet you don’t believe in the bullets, so when they get close they change to something else, something harmless.”

Hydan shrugged, “Yes, they would do that when they got close to me. We call it subconscious reality. My subconscious won’t let anything get near me which will do me harm, even if I am asleep, or can’t see my attacker, like a sniper from distance. You can’t surprise me, so you can’t hit me with a bullet, from any distance or at any time. But, that’s not why the gun isn’t going to harm me today.”

“It isn’t?” I asked.

“Nope, go ahead, shoot.”

I aimed at his chest, then thought better of it, and aimed at his upper arm.

He noted my change of aim and smiled, “It doesn’t matter where you aim.”

I nodded, but kept the aim at his arm and then I fired the gun.

It was very anticlimactic, the hammer fell, it went click, and nothing happened.

“It’s a dud,” I exclaimed.

Hydan laughed, “They are all duds, and every bullet you ever make on Abal will be a dud. The Archimage of this planet set the rules of physics here in such a way that gunpowder, or anything which burns fast like that compound, won’t work. Nobody can change it, either, not on this Archimage’s world. In fact, this is true of all worlds, with the exception of Earth, which has no Archimage anymore; she was killed a long time ago.”

“Really, so no guns on the other Worlds?” I said.

“Actually, you can have all the guns you want, but all you can do with them is throw them at someone, or use the gun like a club, but there are far better ranged or melee weapons than a gun to make and use of it is your desire to harm someone with a club.”

Myrka nodded, “This is why I use my dagger, which works on all the Worlds. And when I coat the blade in Derkaz power it will cut through just about anything.”

“How come her knife doesn’t change when she changes other things?” I asked.

Hydan replied, “Well, first off because she doesn’t think the knife is something else, but also because it is a relic.”

“Relic? Like an old thing?”

“No, a relic is something which has been kept on a mage’s body for a long time, and they have invested a lot of power into the reality of this item. Relics tend to keep their original shape, even if a mage attempts to change them.”

“Tend to?”

He shrugged, “It depends on the amount of power invested and the amount of power the mage who is trying to change them has at their disposal.”

I looked at the ring on my left hand, “What about this ring?”

Hydan looked at it, and said, “Yes, I sense a lot of power invested, this is indeed a relic.”

I thought about all this for a few minutes and then I figured it couldn’t hurt to accept what Hydan was saying and try to change my clothing. I pictured myself in the armor which Hydan was wearing, but nothing changed.

“It isn’t working,” I said.

“That’s because you doubt. You have to know what is what, and then it will become true because it IS true.”

“Just believe that’s the way it is, and Bob’s your uncle?” I asked.

He pondered that, “You can’t make Bob your uncle using magic; it doesn’t work on changing people’s heritage.”

I snorted, and then I looked at Myrka, “What about her?”

“She will change when she knows what she is wearing,” Hydan answered.

I shook my head as if trying to clear cobwebs.

He tried to explain, “She has never been to this world, so she has no concept of what she should be wearing. Once she does, she will change. Here, I’ll give her an image, if she’s willing.”

Myrka scowled but then nodded.

Hydan concentrated and suddenly Myrka’s clothing changed to another style of light armor, though hers was molded from some hard pieces instead of scale, and she had a cloak that draped over her shoulders, with a hood, which was currently down. The cloak could cover her completely if she pulled it closed in front.

“You put that on her?” I exclaimed.

Hydan shook his head, “No, I sent an image to her mind of this type of armor, but she created it in her reality. I would have to get much closer to her to change her clothing to my reality, and even then her Power would be fighting my realities intrusion.”

“I’m getting a headache,” I said.

“If you believe that is true, you most certainly will,” he answered.

“Screw you, it’s a headache,” I answered.

“I never get headaches, because I don’t believe in them,” he replied.

I snarled, “How nice for you!” And my head started to hurt. “Wait, if you can stop from getting headaches, why can’t you keep from getting drunk! Isn’t that just another perception of your personal reality?”

Hydan looked puzzled, “Why would I want to do that? Getting drunk is the whole point of drinking!”

“You like getting hangovers?” I asked.

He held up a finger to make his point, “I get drunk, but I never get hangovers, I don’t believe in them.” Then he smiled.

“You are incorrigible!”

“That I believe,” he said with a short laugh.

“Now you know why I would like to kill him,” Myrka noted with a disdainful sniff.

I sighed, “No, but I’m warming up to the idea.”

Hydan laughed.

 

It was about an hour later when we came upon the carrion-strewn battleground. It was a marshy field, along the banks of a small river. The bodies were strewn on both sides and floated in the water. There were several hundred dead saerans.

Many of them were dead from traditional types of battle wounds from mundane weapons, but there were also many who were sliced in half, and burnt from what looked like intense heat like someone had used a laser on them, even though there was no such technology on Abal.

Myrka explained, “That is Derkaz power, it was used on these mundanes. They had no chance.”

There were two types of uniforms, colored purple, and blue, but they were all just dead saerans in the end. It was a sad sight to see.

Myrka was unaffected by the signs of slaughter and just clinically studied how they were killed.

Hydan was disgusted, muttering about the waste of it all.

I was just sad. I hadn’t known I was saeran until only recently, and here were my people, slaughtered. Sure, they had killed each other, but in the end, it didn’t matter, what mattered was a lot of good lives were ended, for nothing. We quickly left; the bodies would soon start to smell.

 

A few miles down the road Hydan suddenly stopped.

Myrka scowled, “What is it, Friare?”

“Sense it,” he said to her.

Now it was my turn to scowl, “Sense it? You mean listen, or look?”

He shook his head, “No, sense it, with your power.”

Myrka tilted her head in a mannerism I was starting to associate with her being surprised, or maybe, ‘noticing’ something.

“A battle arcane,” she stated.

Hydan nodded, “And not far ahead.”

I continued to scowl at them, and tried, well, concentrating. I got exactly nothing if you didn’t count mounting annoyance. “Is that very surprising? I thought you said there was a mage’s Civil War on this planet.”

“Yes, but there aren’t very many mages left, in all the time I was here before, I only ran into one mage battle,” Hydan explained.

“So, what, we’re lucky?” I said.

Myrka frowned, “I would not call this being lucky, perhaps you meant cursed.”

“OK, so what is the plan?” I asked.

Myrka and Hydan answered simultaneously, with Myrka saying, “Kill them.” And Hydan saying, “Go around them.”

“We’ll do neither, let’s go see what’s happening,” I said.

Hydan answered, “That might be hazardous,” and then he added, “There could be geese.”

I did a double take, not remembering that ‘geese’ was now his cue word to tell me we needed a private chat, where Myrka couldn’t hear us talk. Then I remembered.

Myrka asked suspiciously, “What are geese?”

I turned to Myrka and replied, “I think I heard some over by that bush over there!”

Myrka went into a crouch and then headed for the bush. As soon as she was out of earshot I asked, “OK, so what?”

“Nicholas,” Hydan answered, “this is a poor idea; I have not had time to even begin teaching you to use your magic. If a Derkaz blast is sent your way, or an arrow, or knife, what will you do?”

“Dodge?” I said hopefully.

He shrugged, “Or die. You sure you want to test these waters right now?”

“How about if we sneak up and just take a look?” I asked.

“Dangerous, but less so, all right,” he agreed.

Myrka came walking back looking perplexed, “I found none of these geese you spoke of, what are they?”

“Fowl creatures, you never want to meet them,” Hydan said with a shudder for Myrka’s benefit, and a wink for mine.

“I am not afraid of any foul creature!” Myrka exclaimed.

Hydan nodded, “All right, what are your orders, Nick?”

I raised an eyefin but replied, “Let’s sneak up on them, and NO unauthorized attacks, Princess,” I said to Myrka.

“I am not a princess, I am a Fourth,” she replied.

“Even so,” I answered.

“I will put a glamour around us, it will keep most mages, or other magical creatures, from sensing us, unless they get close,” Hydan explained.

I couldn’t see him do anything, or see any results of this magical concealing glamour, for that matter, but he nodded to me, so I headed down the road the way we had been going. I only got three steps before Hydan tapped me on the shoulder, and with his body concealing his hand and finger from Myrka, he pointed to my left, off the road. Then he whispered, “That way, oh brave and clueless leader!”

“Right, they are this way,” I said louder and headed off in the indicated direction.

We moved off into the woods, and there was a smaller trail through the underbrush. We followed it for about five minutes, and then Hydan held up a hand and said, “OK, my glamour won’t work if we get much closer, try taking a peek through those bushes over there,” he said, pointing.

Myrka and I moved over and crouched down behind the bush before parting some of the leaves to survey the area. What we found was a battle, three against one.

A saeran male, holding two Tanto style Japanese knives, one in each hand, was facing three creatures made from earth and stone. Their major limbs were a series of stones, seemingly held together by earthen joints. Their heads were a single stone, and their torso a pile of smaller stones. Each stone had some kind of petroglyph carved in a rectangle.

They moved with uncanny speed for something which was heavy enough to dent the ground each time they took a step.

“I don’t think knives are going to do much to those things!” I hissed quietly.

“No, but Derkaz magic might,” Myrka whispered. “Shall I kill them?”

I looked at the Tarvos sorceress frankly, and whispered back, “Can you?”

“Of course,” she replied.

I turned my gaze back to the battle. The saeran male feinted left, and then moved right, diving forward under the arm swing of one of the creatures. As he passed by, the saeran struck at the elbow, between two of the stones. The knife passed through and the pieces which made up the arm of the creature fell, losing all cohesion, becoming just rocks and dirt, but the creature seemed unaffected in overall health.

As the saeran came back to his feet, the one-armed creature dropped to a knee near the stones which had been its arm, and those stones reattached. When it stood it was whole again.

The other two kept the saeran busy dodging attacks.

I liked the saeran; he wasn’t backing down even in the face of these magical creatures he could not seem to kill.

“OK, take them,” I said to Myrka.

The first hint of a smile I’d ever seen her display appeared and then was gone just as quickly. She didn’t leap out and challenge the monsters, instead, she moved stealthily to a thick tree trunk, and then slipped to the next one when the monsters were facing away. She quickly got behind them, and then she stepped out boldly, raised both hands and chanted three quick words of a language I didn’t understand. That was odd; I’d understood all other languages we’d heard or seen. Then I remembered she had said something else in this language back in Chichen Itza when she had called down the blue energy to her knife.

This time, streaks of blue energy lanced out and struck the two nearest stone creatures. They instantly exploded, with bits and pieces of stone and earth going everywhere. I hit the ground, hoping the shrapnel didn’t take me out. I glanced sideways to see Hydan standing there, unconcerned, watching the whole thing with interest.

The blast didn’t seem to affect the third monster, or the saeran, but all the debris obscured his vision. I saw the third monster raise his two arms and move forward, ready to smash the semi-blinded saeran to mush. I ran out of hiding, yelling at the top of my lungs to try and distract the creature.

The stone monster heard me and swiveled to face my charge. I dove at it, coming in under the downward plunge of those stone arms, and tried to tackle it to the ground.

Oops.

It was like tackling a tree trunk. I hit, and it didn’t move. Try running at full speed, and dive forward into a telephone pole, you’ll get the idea. Actually, don’t, not unless you want to go to the hospital. I kind of spun off of the creature and landed in an undignified heap to the side.

But my little distraction, and several bruises and contusions, was all the saeran needed. He didn’t waste a moment and leaped forward toward the third creature as it moved over to finish me. His blades flashed and his first swing severed its stone head, then he lopped off the arms, and started on the legs. He swiftly cut through every earthen joint like a butcher taking apart a carcass for market.

Once all of the limbs were separated, it all collapsed to just stone and earth.

I lay there on my back, wondering how many bones I’d broken; from the pain, I decided it must be all of them.

Somewhere I heard Hydan laughing.

That’s when Myrka attacked the saeran.

She let loose one of those blasts of blue energy, but it seemed to bounce off of him when he raised a hand.

So she muttered something, and drew her knife, and blue energy flowed down onto the blade.

The saeran narrowed his eyes at this, and went to a crouch, ready to do battle.

I spit out some blood, trying to speak; and just as Myrka tried to behead the saeran I croaked out, “Stop fighting!”

She straightened up, “What?”

“Stop…” and I spit more blood, “fighting!” I wheezed.

“You said I could kill them!” she countered.

“The monsters, not the guy we were rescuing!” I croaked, just about passing out from the pain.

She looked surprised, “Oh… if you say so.”

She then sheathed her blade. The saeran kept a wary eye on her, and kept his distance, but he also put away his two tantos. Then he approached me and knelt down at my side.

I looked up into the face of the saeran, who I think was trying to discern if I was still alive.

“Running full speed into a stone golem was very foolish,” was his opening comment.

I grimaced. “It seemed like the thing to do at the time, he was going to smash you while you were blinded.”

“And you saved my life,” he replied, nodding his head as if confirming something.

“Maybe,” I said.

He was very solemn, “At nearly the cost of your own.”

Hydan walked up, knelt down and started running his hands over my limbs and torso.

“Am I supposed to tell you where it hurts?” I asked Hydan, “Because I can save you a lot of time, I think my left foot is passable, the rest is toast.”

That rat bastard actually snickered!

But, I noticed my pain went away wherever he ran his hand past. In fact, in a few moments, I was out of pain completely.

“You can get up now,” he said, getting to his own feet. “You will live to tackle a rock another day if you should so foolishly choose to do so again.”

I sat up, and wonder of wonders, I COULD sit up!

“Hey, what did you do, give me a health potion?” I asked.

He laughed, “Hardly.”

The saeran got to his feet, and then bowed to me from the waist, keeping his eyes locked on mine. At this moment I finally looked at the Glyph on his left cheek, it was not a Sivaeral nautilus, like mine, instead, it was some kind of kanji symbol, like in Japanese writing, or a Chinese character.

“You’re not a Sivaeral wizard!” I exclaimed.

He nodded, “I am Toji, Fourth of House Bakemono. I have journeyed to Abal on my honor quest.”

Hydan snickered.

Toji’s hand went to one of his sheathed tantos and a hard look gleamed in his eye, “Do not abuse the honor of my House, Friare, or I will challenge you and end your line!”

Myrka answered, “No, if anyone gets to kill the Friare, it will be me!”

Hydan held up both hands, and spoke to Toji, “I did not mean to dishonor your House!”

Toji relaxed a little, releasing the hilt of the Tanto.

Hydan continued, “I just know what a Bakemono honor quest is, and what is about to happen amuses me.”

I frowned, “And what is about to happen?”

Hydan grinned, “Well, you saved his life, and put yours in jeopardy to do so.”

“So?” I asked.

But it was Toji who answered, “By the honor of my House, I swear fealty to you for one Yaochi year.”

I spoke eloquently, well, maybe dumbfoundedly would be more accurate, “What?”

Hydan grinned as he replied, “He is bound to help the first mage he meets who assists him in a life and death matter, no matter who they are, or what they require. Bakemonos are obsessed with honor.”

“And what is a Yaochi year?” I asked.

Toji answered, “Yaochi is my home world.”

“If it helps, that’s about two Earth years,” Hydan noted, “or one and a third Abal years.”

I turned back to Toji and said, “Listen, thanks, really, but don’t worry about it. I would have done it for anyone against those monsters. Besides, you saved me from the beasty right afterward, so we’re even.”

Toji shook his head, “It doesn’t work like that; you were only in danger because you protected me. I am honor bound to serve you, and I will, on my family’s honor.”

I opened my mouth, but Hydan said, “You might as well give up, he already swore an oath, and Bakemonos never break their word, not ever.”

“Master?” Toji said I think speaking to me.

“What?” I said, confused.

He gestured toward Myrka, “Why is it you travel with one of the enemy?”

“Myrka?” I asked.

He nodded, “That was Derkaz power she used, was it not?”

I shrugged, I wouldn’t know Derkaz power from silly putty.

Hydan answered for me, “She swore an oath, by her Archimage, to follow Nick’s orders, until he gives her leave to depart.”

Toji nodded. He instantly accepted her commitment, since it was an oath. “And what is your quest?” Toji asked.

I glanced at Hydan and said, “Have you seen any geese around?”

Hydan blinked and replied, “Perhaps, could you give us a moment? We need to check something before we continue talking.”

Toji gave a head bow.

We moved over to the woods for a moment and Hydan said, “What do you need, Nicholas?”

“Should I tell him anything?”

“He is honor bound to you, he’s certainly safer than a Tarvos, and you told her some things, I would assume it is safe to tell him the same information, but not more.”

“OK,” I said, and we walked back over to the others.

I then explained about my quest to find my parents, and how I was a Hidden Soul, and how I’d never been to Abal. I even explained about the werewolves and necrosouls back on Earth, pretty much exactly what I’d told Myrka so far.

Toji nodded, “Then it is my sworn duty to help you reach your parents, come what may.”

“Peachy,” I noted, kind of sourly. At this rate, I was going to have a whole passel of mouths to feed. I swear it’s like feeding stray dogs.

Toji then said, “Master, shall we then continue on your quest?”

“Hold up a minute, what is this ‘Master’ thing?”

“I have sworn fealty to you, therefore, until my onus is complete, you are my Master,” he replied.

“My name is Nick.”

“Yes, I understand this, Master.”

“Nick.”

“Master Nick,” he then replied.

I scowled, “Just call me Nick.”

“That would not be proper,” he replied.

Hydan was snickering again, and then said, “You see? This is even better than chickens. I knew I should hang out with you, life is getting so entertaining!”

I ignored Hydan and spoke to Toji, “Look, have you sworn fealty to me?”

“Yes, Master.’

“And does this mean you must follow my orders?”

“Yes, Master.”

“Then I order you to call me ‘Nick’,” I said triumphantly.

“Yes, Master Nick.”

“Just NICK!”

“Yes, Master Justnick,” he replied dutifully.

“No, just ‘Nick’!”

“Yes, I’ve got it now, Master Justnick,” he noted.

I turned and threw up my hands, walked away and in total frustration exclaimed, “Ga!”

Hydan spoke to Myrka and Toji, “In Earth dialect, I think ‘ga’ means, ‘this way’.”

They both nodded and followed.

“Ga!” I exclaimed again in exasperation, and continued walking, and my three companions faithfully followed.

 

 

 

Chapter Seven

 

I don’t need one more war

Whaz so civil ‘bout war anyway

-Guns and Roses

 

As we walked down the road, I finally got my temper under control and said, “OK, Toji, what is the story behind those stone creatures and you back there?”

“I am here on my honor quest,” he started.

“Got that,” I noted dryly.

He ignored me and continued, “So I was seeking the leader of the enemy in her stronghold so I could challenge her to a duel to the death so I could bring an end the Civil War of this planet.”

“Just like that?” I asked.

He shrugged, “It was my honor quest.”

He said it like that made it sane. I mean, imagine you were back in the second World War era, talking to some sergeant from the Allies who was walking down a road by himself and said, “Well, I lost a bet, and to pay up I have to walk to Berlin and kill Hitler, so that’s what I’m going to do.”

Right, good luck with that, Jack.

But I played along with the nut case who was now sworn to follow me, “And, who is the leader of the enemy?”

He looked at me strangely for a moment, “The scourge of Abal, the Island Witch, she who has embraced the Derkaz and become a necromancer, the villain who has created an army of the undead and has captured or slain more mages than any in recent history, you know, Morgain Dokkalfar, Derkaz sorceress of the Second tier, Master Justnick.”

He said it like he was the one talking to a nut case, no doubt reconsidering whom he had sworn an oath to protect.

“Oh, her,” I said as if I knew what he was talking about.

He seemed to relax after I said that.

Hydan then said, “How did you plan to kill a Second? I mean, yes, it is possible for a Fourth to harm a Second, but it is extremely difficult. Not to mention she is guarded by an army of undead reborn.”

Toji nodded. “I did not actually think I could kill her, but I was going to attempt to fight my way to her side and challenge her to a duel. To accomplish my goal, I was seeking one of the fabled Actuality weapons, made by the Sivaeral mages before Morgain slaughtered the ones with the knowledge of how to make such weapons.”

Hydan nodded, “Ah, yes that might have helped, though to harm Morgain it would have to be one of the best, and those are extremely hard to come by. In fact, there may only be one which might work on a Second.”

“Caliburn,” Toji noted.

Hydan nodded, and then asked, “And, you think you know where it is hidden?”

Toji answered hesitantly, “Not exactly. I went to Earth and researched everything I could find. That was the last place it was known to be used before it was lost.”

Hydan prompted him, “And, what did you learn?”

Toji looked reluctant to answer, and said, “I’m sorry, but that information is for me alone.”

“Or me,” I noted. “Sworn fealty?” I reminded him.

“Yes, Master Justnick,” he said, nodding his head, and half bowing, “The last known holder of the sword is a sorceress named Nimue, said to dwell in a lake. And since the Sivaeral were originally a water race, I thought perhaps Nimue was a Sivaeral sorceress. Besides, House Sivaeral made Caliburn originally, as they made all of the Actuality weapons. It makes sense that she brought it back to use in their civil war.”

“OK, what is an Actuality weapon?” I asked.

Toji explained, “It is a weapon which can hold reality around it to what it is currently to the wielder, or actually at that moment, therefore, an Actuality weapon. The mage holding the weapon holds complete control of the area around them. No other mage can make a weapon which can harm them since only the wielder’s image of the world will remain true.”

“And, how many of these things are there?” I asked.

Hydan answered that. “No one knows, fifty, a hundred, but only a few are powerful enough to hold off a Third, and perhaps only one which can hold reality against a Second. None of them can hold a First, though.”

Myrka spoke, “So, you were headed to find this Nimue?”

Toji shrugged, “No, I don’t know where she is, but I was on my way to the Hall of Records in the capital, hoping to find a clue to her whereabouts or identity.”

“And, why were those stone things attacking you?” I asked.

Toji shrugged, “Those were creations of Morgain, or her minions, which are out to kill or capture any mage who they can find.”

“But, if those weren’t mages, how come you couldn’t just change them to something else?” I inquired.

Hydan answered, “Those were golems, which are not living beings. Magic was used to create them; you could see the sigils carved as petroglyphs. To change them you have to supply more magic than was imbued into those petroglyphs by the original creator. If the original creator was powerful or spent a lot of time creating the petroglyphs, this can be difficult. Not only that, but if the mage made one each day, and used all their available power, then, assuming you were of equal power, it would take all your energy over an entire day to undo the magic of just one of those creatures, and then you would be out of power until the next day.”

“OK, I think I understand,” I noted, frowning. I looked at Toji, “How did you come to be fighting them?”

Toji answered, “They must have tracked me. The Island Witch and her necromages are very good at sensing living mages.”

Hydan looked interested as he asked, “Necromages? I’ve heard rumor of those.”

Toji nodded, “Morgain has discovered a way to raise a mage’s soul after death, and bring them back into a dead body. They are like the necrosouls, but with mage powers. Worse, they can function on their own, like a living mage, but they are bound to the will of Morgain, no matter who they were in life.”

Hydan digested this, and I asked, “If these necromages are good at sensing living mages, won’t they track us since there are now four of us together?”

Toji nodded, “Yes, but now we can fight as a team and defeat them!”

“Well, mostly,” I said.

Toji nodded, “I understand, you lack training in your powers, which is why you tried to tackle the golem. I will teach you.”

“It would be faster to have him embrace the Derkaz,” Myrka replied.

“No, I will not allow that!” Toji declared, and the two turned on the road and faced each other, hands on hilts of their knives.

“Calm down, children,” I exclaimed. “No fighting each other, that’s an order. Myrka, I’m not about to embrace some power I do not yet understand.”

“You are very wise, Master Justnick,” Toji noted.

I scowled at him, but I continued speaking, “However, that’s not to say I won’t do so in the future, if it is necessary, and I’m satisfied I will remain in control.”

Toji replied, “That will never happen, for once you take the Derkaz it will forever grip your soul.”

“So you say, Toji Wan Kenobi,” I replied and then I turned to Hydan and asked, “Is the Derkaz really like The Force, some evil power?”

Hydan considered, “If I recall that Earth mythology properly, the concept for The Force was based on Derkaz, but like all myths, not exactly correct. That Annwn Slytalker would never have murdered a bunch of kids five minutes after embracing Derkaz, it’s not like that, it’s insidious but subtle. That was pure fantasy, and frankly, the worst part of that myth, in my opinion.”

“So Derkaz isn’t pure evil?” I prodded, ignoring his botched character name.

“It isn’t evil at all,” Myrka noted with a sniff.

Hydan shrugged, “There is very little in the universe which is truly black and white, good and evil, everything is generally some shade of gray. The Derkaz will affect your personality, in time, but to what extent is up to the user, and even that influence is affected by how much Derkaz you embrace. But, it has an influence, a slight tilt in a direction, not an overwhelming force which makes you suddenly wear shiny black helmets like that Earth mythological bad guy, Derkaz Invader. Still, I believe some of that myth was created as a message to other mages on Earth.”

I shook my head at his miss naming of the villain from the film, sometimes I think he did it on purpose. Then I said, “Are you saying Lucas was a wizard?”

Hydan shrugged, “Possibly.”

Toji got us back onto the original subject, “When we stop for the night, I will begin teaching you to use your natural magic.”

Myrka sniffed but let it go.

 

After a few mectors, Hydan suddenly picked up the pace as he headed up a slight rise in the road.

“What’s up?” I asked.

He turned to me and said, “I think I recognize this place, there is an inn just ahead, with a brew called craalm! It’s not as good as brandy, but better than beer!”

But when he reached the top of the rise, his face grew crestfallen. I got there a moment later and saw why, what had been an Inn sometime in the recent past, was now a ruin. Just the tall brick chimney still stood like a grave marker, the rest was burned to ash.

Hydan was crestfallen.

“Why the glum look? We can get a craalm at the next Inn or town,” I said.

He shrugged, “This Inn was more than just a place to get a drink, there was a saeran girl named Nelash, with very pretty fins. We rubbed scales a few times, she was nice.”

I sighed, but then we moved on. War is never civil, not even a Civil War.

 

A few hours, and several mectors later, Hydan suggested we stop for the night. I could see he was kind of put out that we hadn’t reached another, and more functional, Inn, and would have to sleep on the ground.

I wondered what we were going to do, the temperature was dropping swiftly, and we didn’t have any kind of camping gear with us. But Hydan just lay down, and as he did so the blue grass beneath him shimmered into a kind of sleeping bag, it even had a pillow.

Myrka went to an area in the middle of our group and crouched down. Stones seemed to rearrange themselves into a circle, and then wood sprouted out of the grass and caught fire. A moment later there was a nice warm camp fire burning.

It seemed camping with a group of mages had its advantages, not that I had a bedroll or sleeping bag! But at this moment, Toji came over and said, “I think now would be a good time for you to learn a few things about using your power.”

“Yeah, like how to make a sleeping bag,” I noted.

He nodded, “The most important thing to remember is you are not making a sleeping bag.”

“There is no spoon, hey?” I said.

He looked puzzled, but let my odd reference go.

“You don’t make things, they are. The more you understand the way it is, the more this is the way it will be. Now, being a Third, you will have a good amount of power, and can probably affect reality several yards away from you, with practice. However, that will cost you more power, so you are better off realizing things closer to you unless there is a good reason to extend your reality.”

“OOOKKKK” I said, drawing it out because though the words made some kind of sense, it was just a crazy idea.

He smiled, “Did you watch Hydan lay down on his bedroll?”

“Ah, yeah, it just appeared as he lay down.”

“No, it just became real as he lay down. In his reality, the grass beneath him had a sleeping bag on it. Prior to his effect on that reality, there was only grass. He changed the grass to what he knew was beneath him as he lay down. You’ll notice the change in reality did not take place until he was near the ground, which conserved his power.”

“I understand what you are saying, mostly, but I still have no idea how to make a sleeping bag.”

“Again, that’s because you aren’t making anything, you know what is real, and therefore it is real. The better you are at believing yourself, the more your power can affect things near you, and bring them to your version of reality,” he explained humbly.

“I need to fool myself into believing something is there, which isn’t?”

“No, not at all; in fact, that would be counterproductive,” Toji patiently corrected me. “You need to know what is real, and not try to fool yourself. If you are fooling yourself, then you aren’t making it real.”

“Argh,” I noted.

He smiled. “OK, what is this made out of?” he asked, picking up a small piece of wood.

“Wood,” I said like he was joking.

“No, it isn’t,” he again patiently corrected. “What you call wood is actually a very large number of very small things, atoms you call them on Earth arranged into a shape. Between those atoms is nothing. Most of what you see here as a hard object is actually empty space, do you agree?”

I looked at the wood, but I understood atoms and molecules, so I said, “Sure, I get that.”

“But you see it as solid wood?” he asked.

I nodded again.

“Which is it?” he inquired patiently.

“Both?” I answered.

He nodded. “You agree this is made of very small things, with lots of space between them, so why can’t they be rearranged into something else?”

“Well, they can.”

“And, can that be done in more than one way?” Toji asked.

I shrugged, and said, “Sure, you could burn it, or cut it, or carve it, or break it, for starters.”

“So there are many ways to rearrange the reality of this object?” he asked.

I nodded slowly.

“And why do these atoms hold this shape, if you don’t try to change them?”

“Well, there are bonds.”

“Right, so if another energy acted upon these atoms, changing those bonds, they could rearrange into new things, new shapes?”

“Absolutely,” I agreed.

“When a mage knows something is true they supply the energy to rearrange those atoms, form new molecules, create different bonds,” he said. “The energy to do this comes from the mage.”

“OK, that makes sense, of sorts,” I agreed. “But then you are changing something into something else.”

“Yes, sort of, but what we’re talking about is the mechanism which allows you to do so, and that mechanism is your belief in a different reality. You know things can be another way, matter can be other matter, so, if you believe this can happen, why not believe you, as a mage, can KNOW something is a certain way, and find this is the way it is? Belief supplies the energy for things to be a specific way.”

I considered what he’d said, and when thought about that way, it wasn’t exactly magic, and for some reason, this made it all more believable to me.

“Close your eyes,” he instructed, which I did. Then he said, “Put out your hand, and I will place a small pebble on it.”

I felt him place the rock on my palm.

“Close your hand slowly, and as you do, before you actually feel the stone, imagine what it must look like, you’ve seen the rocks around here, so you know what it must be.”

So, I imagined the stone and closed my fist, when it finally touched the stone I felt the rounded cold shape, just as I knew I would.

“Open your eyes, and your hand,” Toji humbly instructed.

I did so, and the stone was in my palm, just as I’d pictured it.

“So what, it’s a rock,” I noted sourly.

“When I placed it on your hand, it was a clump of dirt which I broke off of this clod,” and here he lifted his own hand, and showed me the original clump, and where he had broken off some dirt.

“You’re shitting me,” I exclaimed.

“It is a rock, not dung,” he answered, “but it will be excrement if you believe it is”

I looked at the rock and it was as hard and real as any rock I’d ever seen.

Toji took the small rock from me, and then said, “Close your eyes again.”

When I had done so, Toji said, “I’m going to place another clump of dirt on your hand, I want you to imagine it is a stone.”

“OK,” I said.

I felt him place the dirt clod on my palm, and after a moment, he said, “Open your eyes.”

I did and found a dirt clod on my palm.

“It didn’t work,” I said with a wry smile.

“On the contrary, you made it what you wished. I didn’t place a dirt clod on your hand, this time, see?” he said showing the clump of dirt he had in his other hand, which was unchanged. “I put back the stone you had earlier, and then told you to think of this ‘dirt clod’ as a stone. But, you now knew you held a dirt clod, so you changed the stone to dirt because that is what you truly believed it was.”

“Crap, that can’t be true!” I exclaimed.

“I watched it turn from a stone back to dirt,” Hydan said, from his reclined position. “You’re a wizard all right, just one who doesn’t believe in what he can do.”

I looked at the dirt clod in my hand.

“That isn’t dirt,” Toji said softly. “It’s a bunch of atoms which are arranged to make dirt. If you believe in a different arrangement, it could be a stone.”

I stared at the dirt for five minutes trying to make it into a stone, but it remained dirt.

Toji was patient, “You can’t make dirt into a stone; you just have to know it is a stone.”

I looked up at him, and said, “Well, I do know it was a stone.”

“Really, it was?” he asked with a small smile.

“Yes, I remember what it looked like exactly,” I noted.

“Look down, Master Justnick,” he said softly.

I did, and the stone was back on my palm.

“Believe what you wish about what is around you, and it will be what you know is there.”

I nodded and started practicing.

The other two lay down on the grass, which became bed rolls, and left me to contemplate my pet rock. I was quite cold and getting a little frustrated, but two hours later I finally got it, and as I lay down a bedroll was under me, just like I knew it would be. I instantly fell asleep.

 

 

In the morning, I rolled over and yawned. Toji was cooking something savory smelling over the camp fire. “Hey, why do mages sleep, or eat, for that matter?” I asked.

Toji humbly explained, “Because this is a physical universe we live in, with rules and laws, and one of those laws is everything comes from something else. You cannot change something to nothing, or nothing to something.”

“Conservation of energy,” I said, “The first law of thermodynamics.”

Toji shrugged, “Whatever name or description you put on the rule doesn’t change the universal truth of the rule. You may call it what you wish, but it is always true.”

I nodded.

He continued, “For example, the power we use to bend reality to our belief requires a use of energy and the expended power must be recovered if you would use it again. We recover, or convert the energy, from somewhere else, and sometimes this is by consuming food. Resting can also help.”

“What are you converting when you rest?” I asked.

“Nothing, but rest can help you speed up the return of your lost energy. You don’t have to rest, but while you do so your body is using less energy, which lets your reserves replenish faster from converting other energy sources, like, food, sunlight, etc. One thing to note, different races use different means of replenishing energy, in fact, these saerans can gain a lot back by entering water. There are nutrients they absorb through their skin,” Toji patiently explained.

Most of what he had said made an odd kind of sense, so I accepted him at his word.

Then I said, “But, if you convert grass or whatever, into meat, doesn’t it break the conservation of energy idea? It cost you energy to change it, so aren’t you just now replenishing what you used, not gaining anything when you eat the food?”

He shrugged, “That would be true if the amount of energy it cost me to convert the grass was equal to what I gain from consuming this food, which it isn’t. The energy in this food far exceeds what it cost me to see it as something else.”

“Ah, OK,” I said. “So why not just eat the grass?”

“Because it tastes like gowaar droppings,” Hydan noted with a laugh.

I glanced over at the four bedrolls on the grass. “Should we change reality back so these bedrolls become grass again?”

Toji answered patiently, “You could, but this would cost you some energy. It is simpler to leave them in their current reality, besides, someone else could come along and use them later.”

“Or, we could take them with us,” I noted, “So we don’t have to believe in new ones tonight.”

“That would make sense if we knew we would need them,” he agreed, “though we will likely reach a settlement sometime today.”

Hydan suddenly spoke with low caution, “Quickly, get rid of everything! Something comes!”

At his tone the other two mages didn’t ask questions, in moments, the bedrolls, the fire, the food, everything, was back to a simple grass meadow in the forest.

“Into the trees!” Hydan said, leading the way.

We followed and were just into concealment when I heard the sound of animal snorts and a heavy pounding which could be felt through the ground.

Then, from around the bend, sixteen three-legged beasts came into view, each about the size of a water buffalo. They had hide which was almost plated armor, like a shiny rhino skin. Their single foreleg was thicker than their two rear legs, and they would plant it, and then lift their two rear legs together, pulling them forward and past their thicker front leg. Then they would bring them down hard, striking the ground. The large muscles of the hind legs would then propel the creature forward, while the single front leg bent back at a joint, before reaching out forward again to start the cycle of the three-legged gait over again.

There were saddles on the creatures, and perched upon them were darkly cowled humanoid creatures. They had the scaled skin of the saeran race, though, where I could see it on their exposed hands, it was mottled and missing scales in patches. It was as if the flesh underneath had dried and rotted away, giving them an emaciated dead fish look. I could only see their hands, the dark cowls kept their features obscured from the sun.

They slowed as they came near our recent camp, and it was almost as if they were sniffing the air, though there were no sounds from within their hoods.

“What are those?” I whispered to Toji, who was crouched to my left.

“Be very quiet,” he barely breathed to me, “Those are necromages, the ones I told you about. They are Morgain’s deadliest creations. I have never seen more than three together before, but if that many find us at once…”

He didn’t have to finish his statement; the rest was obvious from his worried expression.

The three-legged mounts milled around, guided by their skeletal handed masters, then one called out in a high-pitched screech and the whole herd of them picked up to a gallop again and were off down the road.

I turned, and saw Hydan concentrating heavily, but a moment later he relaxed and said, “Those things were STRONG!” he exclaimed, “I could feel their sense sniffing around the edge of the glamour I had created to conceal our power from them.” Then he looked at me and added, “You can sense a mage’s power if they are that close.”

Toji looked concerned as he said, “It only took one of those necromages to control those three golems which were after me yesterday. What is Morgain doing sending sixteen of her most valuable assets down this road, on this day? That cannot be a coincidence.”

“They are after us,” I said, without knowing how I knew.

Toji looked at me, and then at Myrka, “I have not yet been a big enough thorn to make Morgain come after me with that much effort, what of you, Tarvos?”

Myrka shrugged, “This is my first trip to Abal; nor have I had past dealings with this Morgain.”

I nodded, and added to her statement, “Nor have I.”

Hydan looked a little apologetic. “Well, I have, and I may have pissed off the evil bitch, a little, the last time I was here. But who would have thought she would hold such a grudge?”

“Is this the same sorceress who has been taking revenge on all the mages on this world for the past thousand years?” Toji asked him.

“Point taken, maybe Morgain would hold a grudge,” Hydan said with a wan smile.

I frowned, “What is the difference, if any, between a necromancer, and a necromage?”

Toji answered, “Everything! A Necromancer is a living mage who uses the Derkaz to summon souls and bind them to a corpse so they will do their bidding.”

“OK,” I said, “and these necromages?”

Toji continued, “Well, as far as we can discern, they are like necrosouls, but they are the souls of a mage put into a dead body, with their own powers as a mage intact. Though they are bound to the will of the necromancer, they can function without the direct control of their necromancer.”

Hydan spoke, “What we need to find out is how they are being made!”

Toji answered, “Morgain, or her husband, Medrod, figured out how to create them, and Morgain is using them to win the Civil War here on Abal. My House is very interested in finding out how they are created. Anything which breaks the status quo is of great concern to us.”

Hydan agreed, “And to all Houses.”

Toji nodded resolutely, “That was part of my quest, to discover this secret.”

I considered this, “If she is that much of a threat, why haven’t the other Houses sent more powerful mages to take her out; no offense, Toji.”

He bowed, “None taken. I was not sent by my House; I chose this as my honor quest. I believe my Archimage is waiting to see if Morgain will show the will, or desire, to strike beyond her revenge on House Sivaeral.”

I smiled grimly, “Ah, and so, he…”

Toji interrupted, “She, my Archimage is Nüwa.”

“…OK, ‘she’,” I amended, “is letting Morgain weaken the Sivaeral mages, and leaving her alone as long as she doesn’t threaten her interests off this world,” I surmised.

Toji bowed slightly to acknowledge his agreement with my thoughts, but added, “However, I believe my Archimage would not be unhappy, at this stage, to see Morgain come to an end. All of the Archimages are likely growing concerned at the fall of Abal to a Second.”

I puzzled over this for a moment, “Then why not put a stop to her? As you said, she is only a Second.”

Hydan laughed, “Only a Second? Second does not mean second-rate. A Second is the penultimate mage, and though it would be difficult, they are capable, in the right circumstances, of ending an Archimage and their entire line. When this is done, there will never be another mage of that House, so trust me when I tell you a Second is powerful indeed. Let me give you an example, I studied a game played on Earth, called Chess.”

“I’m familiar with it,” I replied.

He nodded, “The most important piece is the King, for if that falls you lose the game, but the second most important piece is the Queen. Think of the King as a First, and the Queen as a Second. The problem with being an Archimage is, like that King piece, your movements are restricted, for if you fall into enemy hands, or are killed, your entire line dies, and your world is without your protection and influence. On the other hand, a Second, though nearly as powerful, can move freely, leaving the Archimage to protect their world.”

I shrugged, “But from what you tell me, Seconds are not as powerful as a First, and aren’t there like ten Archimages?”

Hydan nodded, “Eight currently left in the Ring of Ten, and one who was cast out. But this isn’t as simple as a duel between a Second and a First; Morgain has gathered an army, and she has backed that with powers and new magic she has discovered through the Derkaz. You’ll notice the Archimage of Sivaeral has not been able to stop her here on Abal, at least not yet.”

“Why do you think the Archimage hasn’t dealt with this upstart necromancer, Second or not? She can’t kill him, or she would be killing herself, right? She’s a descendant of this Archimage, in his line,” I noted.

Hydan was very solemn, which was odd for him, as he answered, “Actually, no, she is a Dokkalfar sorceress,” he corrected. “If she can kill the Sivaeral Archimage she will end all Sivaeral mages, forever.”

“Dokkalfar, but then why is she here, on Abal?”

“Now that her Sivaeral husband is dead, she is, no doubt, here to end the Sivaeral line and destroy Abal. However, originally she came here for another reason,” Hydan explained, “As I have mentioned, Morgain Dokkalfar was the mate of Medrod, the Sivaeral Archimage’s son. When his father found out about this union he forbade his son from being with the Dokkalfar sorceress. He couldn’t risk a crossbreed bastard being born, and an alliance with the Dokkalfar is insane on any grounds.”

I was puzzled by his statement, “Why is that?”

“Let’s just say they want to end all mage lines, and leave it at that.”

“Oh,” I said, “Except their own?”

“Even their own, though they plan to go last.”

“Crap, some kind of suicidal race?” I noted.

He shrugged, “Something like that.”

I laughed, “I bet that was one of those, ‘Look who I brought home for dinner, dad’ moments.”

Hydan nodded, and then continued, “But Medrod refused to end things with Morgain, and this started a battle. In the end, it is said the Archimage had to take a direct hand, for Morgain and Medrod, as two Seconds, were a formidable power. With no other alternative, the Archimage had to slay his son.”

I whistled, “So that’s what has Morgain’s wig in a snarl, the Archimage killed her true love.”

Hydan nodded, but added, “If a Dokkalfar mage can love anyone.”

“Doesn’t it seem extreme for a father to kill his son because he is dating a girl from the other side of the tracks?” I asked.

“I assume your colloquialism means a sorceress from another House. Medrod and Morgain were both Seconds but from different Houses. The Sivaeral Archimage had to stop his son and the Dokkalfar sorceress from breeding and creating a bastard crossbreed Second. Unions between mages of separate Houses is allowed, simply because any child born of such a union is considered a member of the House of the higher Tier parent. However, unions between two mages of the same Tier and from the same House is forbidden. A child born from such a union is called a Bastard. They are hunted by members of other Houses.”

This was all so strange, and I asked, “Why are they hunted?”

“Because they are considered outcasts, their parents broke the Archimage accords. A child born from such a union is absolutely taboo. This stems from the fact that if two Archimages should breed, it would create a new Archimage Crossbreed Bastard, which is deemed to be against the Silent Mother’s plan.”

I pondered this, “And so the Sivaeral Archimage killed his son rather than have them create one of these Crossbreed Bastards, and that happened about a thousand years ago?”

“Yes, this Civil War has been going on for a long time now,” he agreed.

“But, is it really a Civil War now, since the leader of the enemy is a Dokkalfar sorceress?” I asked.

“Good point but Medrod started it, and he recruited a lot of Sivaeral mages by showing them the ways of the Derkaz. Nowadays, most of her army are Sivaeral mages and they have added these newly discovered necromages. Both are using the Derkaz against what is left of the Sivaeral mages using their natural magic,” Hydan explained.

Myrka snorted, “This Sivaeral Archimage and his forces are going to lose against the Derkaz sorceress and her army of Derkaz mages; it is inevitable. Morgain will end the Sivaeral line!”

I looked at her and said, “I can’t allow that.”

She looked at my Glyph, and then nodded; she understood she was predicting my death if my Archimage was killed.

Hydan shrugged and said, “They are certainly losing right now. The remaining Sivaeral mages still loyal to their Archimage are all holed up in a few strongholds, while Morgain’s forces roam the countryside, and lay siege to many of those strongholds. It is pretty grim here on Abal, which is why most Houses have pulled back any of their mages and left Abal to its fate.”

Then I said, “But aren’t the other Houses worried about Morgain gaining too much power? What about the Dokkalfar Archimage, is he supporting her, or against her?”

Hydan said, “Well, first off, the Dokkalfar Archimage is a ‘she’, her name is Kali, and I’m sure she supports her daughter in this matter, for it brought chaos and destruction, the Dokkalfar choice in wine.”

“So the other Houses do nothing?” I asked.

Toji answered, “It is my humble opinion that most Houses feel whichever House overtly attacks Morgain first will draw her ire, and she might turn her army on them when she is through with the Sivaeral line. They would rather have her wrath fall on another House, and let that House take the brunt of her charge. That could destroy the other House, and even if they survive, they would be easy pickings in their weakened state; so the other Houses wait.”

“While Morgain’s army grows stronger,” I noted, “But if they acted together…”

Toji laughed, “The Houses rarely act together. The last time was to expel The Dragon from the Archimage Ring of Ten, some four thousand years ago.”

“So,” I said, “if she is so powerful, how in the hell were you going to stop her by yourself, Toji? What, were you going to try to sneak up and stab her in the back?”

He frowned, “That would not be honorable, or likely even possible. No, I was going to attempt to reach her in person, and once I was in her presence I would challenge her to a Duel Arcane!”

“A Duel Arcane?” I repeated, dumbly.

Hydan replied, “It’s a formal challenge, and if someone has been wronged, it is a challenge which must be accepted by the Accords. To break the Accords would call down the combined wrath of the Ring of Ten. That’s what happened to The Dragon.”

I turned back to Toji, “And you think she would have accepted, and you could defeat her?”

“No, though I would have tried my best,” he noted. “But, what I expected her to do was to murder me instead of accepting my challenge. That act of dishonor would force my Archimage to do something about this Dokkalfar upstart!”

“But, in that case, you would be dead,” I noted.

“Yes, but I would have died honorably, completing perhaps the greatest honor quest of any Fourth in our history! I would be remembered, and revered!”

“Great, that, and four bucks can get you a fancy cup of coffee on Earth,” I noted.

He shrugged, “We all must die; it is part of the Silent Mother’s plan. It is better to die with honor, in a way in which you will be remembered, than to expire with a whimper and be forgotten. I will have a death which changes the Worlds for the better, and my name shall be remembered!”

I had nothing to say to that, who would?

 

We got underway again soon and eventually came to a large river which crossed our path. It was a good three hundred feet across, and moving swiftly for such a big body of water, about four knots of flow.

That’s when we heard the dull pounding of those three-legged beasts again.

“Quickly, into the Celadon!” Toji exclaimed, and then took three quick steps, launched off a big boulder in a perfect dive, and knifed into the surface of the river. I noticed his clothing seemed to disappear just before he went into the water.

Hydan was next, though he just jumped in feet first, and then ducked his head under and was gone.

Myrka and I were left alone, but she said, “Should we follow them, or fight?”

“If they are as bad as Toji explained, I think we better get wet.”

“I can kill them,” she noted, staring off toward the oncoming sounds of the riders headed our way. From the volume, they were nearing the rise, and once they crested over we would be exposed.

I shook my head, “Remember, Myrka, these things use Derkaz magic, just like you do, and there are many more of them.”

Her dark eyes narrowed, but then she nodded and took three steps into the water, before turning it into a shallow dive. She didn’t come back up, and neither did the other two.

That left me, without a clue as to how I was supposed to stay underwater without drowning. What, was I supposed to believe I could hold my breath forever? Well, I didn’t, not for a second. That water just looked dark and ominous.

But then I heard the riders, they were nearly upon me, and would see me standing there at any second. I dove into the water, taking a big deep breath, and hoped for the best. I tried to believe I didn’t have to breathe; maybe it would work.

The water closed over my head, and I opened my eyes, expecting to see the normal blurry view you got when you went into a pool, but instead everything was sharp and clear like I was wearing a scuba mask. Then I recalled those transparent second eyelids I’d seen on Myrka and the other saeran bodies. I figured they must be there to let you see underwater. Come to think of it, like humans, which still shared a little of the features of a monkey or ape, these saerans still had remnants of their heritage to an aquatic mammal. Their eyes were one such feature, as were the translucent scales over the skin. I wondered if there were other things still fishy about saerans?

I felt my clothing dragging me down, so I started struggling out of it. Shut up! I know I should have just believed they weren’t there or something, but I was having a hard enough time just holding my breath.

I dropped my shoes and other clothing as soon as they were off, and eventually I was buck naked. That’s when I noticed my feet elongating, like a fan opening, and there was tough skin between the elongating ridges which were in the place of human toes. Holding my breath was starting to burn my lungs, I had to breathe!

I thought of going to the surface for a breath when I noticed the indistinct shapes of creatures at the shoreline. If I surfaced now, they would see me.

My lungs were really starting to burn.

Hydan swam up, and did a loop right in front of me, I swear like he was some kind of harbor seal, and his body was all bendy. Then I think he noticed my face turning red.

He opened his mouth and blew out a few bubbles, miming for me to do so as well.

Like hell, that was the last of my air!

I felt massive pain in my lungs now; I figured the carbon dioxide buildup must be severe. In fact, with this much pain, and after nearly five minutes holding my breath, I should be blacking out, but I wasn’t.

Hydan did a loop around me swiftly, and when he was back in front he squeaked something at me suddenly.

It was reminiscent of a dolphin whistle but lower and throatier.

And I understood it! He said, “Exhale, idiot, you are breathing through your gills, but the air in your lungs needs to be cleared!”

It was getting too painful anyway, so I finally did exhale. The pain subsided, and I didn’t pass out.

Hydan swam around some more, and then came back and pointed to the small, inch-long, flap under his nose, which was flexing rhythmically.

Then he squeaked again, “You are breathing naturally through your gills now, you’ll be fine, but it helps if you keep moving.” He did a back flip, coming around to face me again.

I tried to speak, opening my mouth, but nothing came out; I was out of air.

“You have to inhale water first, and then you can talk,” he replied.

Once again, I thought he was insane, water in my lungs?

Hydan then punched me in the gut.

I involuntarily sucked in water.

“You rat bastard!” I squeaked.

He laughed and swam away.

I tried to follow and found by kicking my legs my now longer feet acted like swimming fins, and propelled me swiftly. A fin along my spine lifted and the collapsed fins along my arms and legs gave me steering. It took me awhile, and the whole time Hydan was looping around me, laughing, but I started to get the hang of it.

I only had to take in water when I wanted to talk, the rest of the time my gills seemed to handle extracting air from the water. He was right, though, I had to move to keep enough water flowing, or I would get kind of light headed. Holding still wouldn’t make me pass out, but it was just enough air to stay conscious if you didn’t do any physical activity.

I noticed Myrka and Toji swimming alongside. I don’t know if Myrka had the same issues as I did when she started, I had been too busy with my own underwater acclimation to notice. She seemed fairly sure of herself at this stage, though not as fluid or graceful as Toji and Hydan.

I pulled up and said, “Are the necromages gone yet?”

Hydan shrugged, “It doesn’t matter, we’re better off in the Celadon river anyway. If those necromages are like the necrosouls, they can’t handle the water. Think about it, they look a little dried out, like dehydrated flesh quiver, which humans consume on Earth.”

“Flesh quiver?” I repeated, and then did the translation, “oh, beef jerky.”

He nodded and continued, “I say we head down river, we’re bound to reach a large settlement that way; saerans almost always build along waterways.”

“Won’t we get cold?” I asked.

He laughed, which was an odd set of squeaks, and then said, “Saerans? They are at home under water as much as on land, and these scales are made for the water. You’ll be fine for many hours.”

I noticed Myrka had very small swellings like breasts, but without nipples showing. Below, between the legs, where human genitalia were normally located, all of us were fairly smooth, just a kind of opening which was currently sealed shut. I figured our genitalia, at least the males, must naturally retract until needed.

We moved out into the swift current and started swimming in earnest, which really put the miles behind us when you added the four or five-knot speed of the water. We were easily covering ten miles an hour, or seven mectors. At this rate, we would cover about 56 mectors in the next eight hours!

As we moved through this water world, I swam over toward Hydan and asked, “So, why didn’t those necromages come into the water? Yeah, I know, those bodies were kind of dried husks, and water might have dissolved them or something, but they are mages, right? So why not just change the reality of their bodies to something living?”

“Well, first off, as powerful as our magic might be, we cannot make life; at best we can mold what already exists. Now, as to why they couldn’t repair their dead bodies, or change them to something more suitable for water, I can’t tell you. I don’t know enough about them, though I could speculate.”

“Why not, speculate away,” I replied.

So he said, “All right, maybe they can’t alter things to their desire, like a living mage, and can only keep things like they are, sort of like an Actuality weapon, but maybe weaker. Or, maybe if their dead vessel gets in water it breaks the magic which holds their soul to that husk. Or maybe they just didn’t see us, and would have come in if they had. Hard to say, but those are some quick possibilities.”

It gave me something to think about while we swam.

 

As the sun set the waters around us started to get dark. Hydan kept us near the shore, and sure enough, we came upon a low wall built on the bottom, the ends marked by two stone statues, and a stone sign which stated, “The Slimy Serpent”.

Hydan gave me a quick flash of a grin, showing pointy teeth in his saeran mouth, and then swam between the statues. The walls marked a channel, which became a canal, with several smaller canals breaking off to either side. Soon we arrived at a second underwater sign, which had an arrow pointing up a side canal and the words: The Slimy Serpent. When we followed Hydan into this canal it suddenly got dark as something covered the canal surface. The waterway had entered a stone building. When we surfaced we were in a chamber which had no windows or doors, just a stone stairway going up in the far corner. We were swimming in some kind of small pool, which had short walls to keep water from splashing on the floor of the room. There were some towels hanging on a rack and some gray robes of some kind of smooth fabric.

Hydan climbed out and started drying off, so we followed his example.

“Where are we?” I asked.

“The Slimy Serpent, didn’t you read the sign?” he countered.

I sighed, “I meant, what is The Slimy Serpent?”

He looked surprised, “Oh, it’s an Inn, that’s why they marked it out in the Celadon; they were trying to attract passing saeran travelers, though, in this day and age, this is probably rare.”

I nodded, “Like a ‘Food and lodging, next exit’ freeway sign.”

“What is a free way?” Hydan asked.

“It’s a road which is free to travel,” I replied.

“And are not all roads free to travel on Earth?”

“No, there are Toll Roads,” I explained.

Hydan frowned, “That seems rather rude, to require a toll to walk, or swim, down a road!”

I shrugged.

Hydan considered, “On Earth I would stick to these free ways.”

Myrka sniffed at his answer and said, “I’d kill the bastard who thought they were going to collect a toll, and then proceed down the road, as is my right.”

I smiled, “What about you, Toji?”

“Oh, I would pay the toll,” he replied.

“Really, that is very normal of you,” I noted.

But he continued, “Then, I’d go to the lord of the road, and politely ask him why he was charging for travel on his road, and if I didn’t find his answer honorable, I’d challenge him to a duel, and kill him.”

I sighed, “Well, that’s not going to earn you any Brownie points on Earth.”

“Brownie points, how do you spend those?” he asked.

“Well, you don’t spend Brownie points,” I answered.

“Then I have no need of these dull-colored points,” Toji decided.

I shook my saeran head, and said, “Never mind.”

Once we were all in the supplied robes, which Hydan suggested we use so we would blend in with the local mundanes, we headed up the stairs.

About halfway up, Hydan reminded us, “Don’t do any magic, as long as we seem like simple folk, we might get under the sense of Morgain, or her minions. I will keep a glamour running to deflect simple sense probes.”

We entered a larger chamber, which I found very odd. I had kind of pictured a common room of an old tavern, something like the pub in Amesbury, or a more rustic version of the same thing, but this room was more like a bathhouse. There were several alcoves around the walls, and in each one was, well, a hot tub, or cold tub, I suppose. These were round wooden slat objects; about ten feet in diameter and several of them had saerans soaking in them while drinking from very large mugs. There was a semicircular half bench attached to the back of each, so saerans could sit there soaking their feet if they didn’t want to be completely submerged.

A saeran Innkeeper came over and blinked at us, and then said, “Ah, travelers from afar! Welcome to The Slimy Serpent, the best Inn here in Pelen, and, in fact, the best Inn for thirty mectors!”

“The only Inn, now that the Inn at Berare is gone,” Hydan noted.

The saeran looked sad, “Yes, I knew the proprietor; it is a sad time in Abal. The Derkaz sorceress is winning, and who knows what will happen in the future. It’s better to drink and absorb now, for there may be nothing left tomorrow.”

“Hear hear,” Hydan agreed and tossed a shell to the proprietor of the Inn.

“Sir!” the Innkeeper exclaimed, looking at the fine workmanship of carvings in the shell.

Hydan grinned, “I expect your best craalm, and a tub, by a window! Oh, and bring us your finest chum!”

“You shall have it! Come, your tub awaits, as does your fine brew and chum!” he exclaimed, leading us off to an alcove with a window, made of small squares, which faced the main road through town.

As we got into the tub, I asked, “What in the hell is chum?”

Hydan grinned his pointy saeran teeth and answered, “You’ll see!”

I scowled at him, and then asked, “OK, then tell me why you think this Inn has been spared in the war?”

The Innkeeper came back at this point, carrying a large wooden pitcher. He must have heard my question, because he blinked his translucent eyelids a couple times, and then answered, “The Slimy Serpent has nothing the Island Witch wants or needs. There are no wizards or sorcerers here, nor are there any left outside of the cities, unless they are staying hidden.”

Hydan then asked, “Why was the Berare Inn destroyed?”

The Innkeeper replied, “Rumor has it some foreign wizard was staying at the Berare Inn, which is why it was razed to the ground. Morgain seeks anyone with the power, and brooks no harboring of fugitives.” Here he leaned in closer and said, “She has spies everywhere, for she pays well for even a hint of a mage still hiding in these lands.”

“Well, they won’t make a clam off of us! We haven’t got a magic scale on our bodies!” Hydan exclaimed.

Then I asked, “But, didn’t you have any mages living here before the war?”

The Innkeeper nodded, “There were a few, and life was much better back then. The mages were helpful, healing the sick, helping in making things the town needed, it has been hard without them.”

Hydan spoke sadly, “Yes, where we come from it is very much the same.”

The Innkeeper nodded, and then he lifted the very large wooden pitcher he had set on the ground while we chatted, then said, “Your chum, it is a fine blend of veckle heads, striped morker livers, and our own secret blend of some rare seagrass herbs. It is quite refreshing!” Then he poured the cloudy mixture right into our tub!

It smelled like week old fish.

I started to get up and out of the now murky tub water, but Hydan held onto my arm, and then I felt it, kind of a tingling on my scales, and a warm sensation, somewhat pleasurable.

He nodded his head and said softly near my ear, “You feel it now? That is your skin-absorbing nutrients from the chum mix.”

The Innkeeper headed to fetch our drinks.

When he was out of earshot Hydan spoke quietly, “She has no use for killing mundanes, there is no point to it since they cannot rise up and challenge her without mages on their side. All she has to do is keep them from getting magical aid. Better yet, by rewarding the mundanes for turning in visiting mages, she has a spy system throughout the lands. She need only make an example out of someone now and then to keep these mundanes in line, which is the real reason she probably burned that other Inn. I doubt there was really a mage there anyway.”

A male saeran kind of staggered past, one of those large mugs clutched in his long-fingered hand. “More craalm!” he bellowed. Then he turned and saw Myrka looking at him stoically from our tub. His large black saeran eyes squinted a moment and then a grin spread across his lips, exposing some of those pointed teeth. “Wow, nice swimmerets!” he slurred.

Myrka scowled, “Move along, citizen, I have no interest in a liaison with one of your kind!”

I moved over in the tub near Myrka and whispered, “Careful, they can’t know we aren’t natives.”

The saeran, a pretty big one, I noted, immediately changed direction and headed for Myrka, “Liaison! What in Morgain’s barnacles are you talking about? I want to lay some eggs with you, Sweety!”

Then he reached out a hand toward Myrka’s upper arm, which she had draped over the side of the tub.

Myrka moved back, and her left hand came up out of the water, her palm pointed at the saeran.

“Hold on there, Myrka!” I barked.

But she sneered and said, “This… fish, dares…”

I interrupted, “To think you are a desirable saeran, nothing more,” I said, trying to remind her she shouldn’t reveal herself as a sorceress, let alone a Derkaz sorceress like Morgain.

I turned to the saeran and said, “This is my wife, good sir, so I would take it kindly if you would move on to a more fertile hunting ground.”

He blinked rapidly, which was a very saeran mannerism, I’d come to discover, and then said, “Would you sell her to me?”

Myrka tried to move around me, but I stayed between them and replied, “No, she is not for sale.”

He scowled at my statement, and considered his next move, at which point Myrka said, “May I kill him?”

I turned and noticed the blue energy which had flowed down from her hand and onto her knife blade. She was currently gripping the hilt tightly with her right hand, but it was mostly hidden inside the sheath. I kept my body between the saeran and Myrka and whispered, “No, and stop using your power!”

The blue glow stopped, and then I turned back to the saeran.

He had heard Myrka’s earlier threat and his grin was wide, “She’s a feisty one!”

“No doubt, she cut off the hand of the last male who tried to touch her; I have a few scars myself.”

He laughed, lifted his mug in salute and said, “You’re a braver male than I! Good night and good luck!” And then he staggered off.

“You should have let me kill him,” Myrka snarled, but turned away and moved back toward the edge of the tub.

That’s when I saw the little saeran girl, she was the equivalent of about a twelve-year-old human girl in size. She was crouched down and peeking out from behind a counter where the workers of the Inn prepared the drinks. Her eyes were wide, with a look of astonishment.

I frowned; I hoped she hadn’t seen Myrka’s use of Derkaz.

She ducked her head back when she saw me looking at her.

You would think sitting in a tub of cold water after having been in the river for hours would be the last place you would want to be, but with the chum in the water, it was strangely soothing to the saeran bodies to relax and absorb.

The Innkeeper showed up with our mugs of craalm, which turned out to be a strange oily beverage with a fishy, but oddly pleasant flavor. I guess saeran taste buds liked different things than humans.

We inquired about rooms and arranged for two for the evening. As we headed upstairs I felt something odd, call it a hunch, or maybe it was one of these ‘senses’ things mages can do. I looked with my peripheral vision and noticed the same little saeran girl kind of dogging our heels, darting from cover to cover, like we were circus animals she wanted to see.

As the rest of them went around the bend into a new hallway, I ducked behind a post and waited. A moment later the little saeran girl came up the stairs. Just as she got there, I stepped out and said, “Boo!”

She leaped back, hitting the wall, and I reached out and steadied her so she wouldn’t fall down the stairs.

“Hang on there, little guppie,” I said and gave her a friendly smile. That’s when I noticed the nautilus Glyph on her cheek. In the dim light, the blue of the Glyph blended into the blue color of her skin and scales, so I had missed it.

Some of the quick fear which had shown on her face subsided, and then she smiled ruefully at me, “I didn’t think you saw me following you.”

“Well, I did, and now I think I know why you think we are so interesting, you can see our Glyphs, can’t you? And you know what these mean.”

She nodded, “I haven’t seen any other free mages since my parents were killed.”

“Free mages?” I asked.

She nodded, “Not controlled by the Island Witch.”

Interesting, I thought.

She continued, “We don’t see a lot of strangers anymore, not since the war. Most people stay home, or in their own villages. And certainly no one with a Glyph, they don’t want to run into the Island Witch or her Living Husks, and get taken.”

“Living Husks?” I asked.

“Yeah, her servants, saerans she has captured and turned into living dead. They’re like the dead husk of a fish which has been lying in the sun too long, rotted, dried, and stinking, but they move like they are alive.”

I nodded, “I’ve dealt with some creatures like that before.”

She sighed, “But there are worse things, there are mages who have been turned. Eventually, they are going to find me and then make me into one of those things. I don’t want to be one of them, I’d rather die first,” the girl stated sadly.

I looked at her for a moment, and then said, “What’s your name?”

“Ziny,” she answered pertly and awarded me with a kind of crooked smile.

“Well, Ziny, you’ll be fine, they aren’t looking for a little girl like you.”

Her smile faded. “They took my parents, but my mom hid me from them under the floor,” she stated sadly. “The Innkeeper was a friend of my mother, so he took me in after the Living Husks left.”

I had an instant hatred for Morgain, and her foul husks. To Ziny, I said, “Don’t you worry, just keep your head down and everything will be fine. I’ll see you later on, OK?”

The little waif nodded, her big dark eyes watching me.

As I turned away and left her, I felt terrible, for no apparent reason.

I caught up with the others, who were together in the first room we had hired; they wanted a chance to talk in private. I noticed the beds were not like a human bed, they were a soft gel-like substance, which formed around your body, kind of like lying in dense jelly, but it didn’t stick to you at all.

Hydan explained we were about forty mectors from the capitol city of Poseidon, and would be able to reach there by tomorrow. The Celadon River went right into the city and then emptied into the ocean. The capital city was right on the coast, using the fresh water from the river and the sea for trade routes.

Myrka and Toji were going to stay in the second room, and once we’d decided on a departure time, they headed for the door. I was just going to tell them about Ziny when I saw Myrka suddenly freeze like she heard something sinister from the hallway.

She moved to the door quickly and yanked it open. Ziny was leaning against the door, and half fell into the room as the Tarvos sorceress pulled it open, landing on her hands and knees beneath Myrka. It was obvious she had been eavesdropping.

Myrka snarled, and then grabbed the girl by the thick strands at the back of her head. It wasn’t hair, but more of a kind of noodle consistency, but thicker and stronger. Myrka threw Ziny to the center of our room, and then turned in a crouch, lifting her hand in the gesture she used when she was going to use one of those Derkaz blasts of energy.

I leaped between them, starting to say, “Now hold on, she’s a…”

That is when the dark beam of energy lanced out from Myrka’s palm and struck me in the gut, burning a massive hole in my saeran body.

It felt like someone had shoved a hot poker into my guts the size of a frying pan, and then turned on electricity, powering it like a continuous cattle prod.

I flew back and hit the wall, and then slid to the ground, unable to even move.

Myrka snarled in frustration and sent another blast at Ziny, but the little girl dodged and the blast went through the floor, opening a two-foot hole to the common room downstairs.

There were screams from below and yells of ‘Magic!’ and ‘Wizardry’, I even heard someone yell, ‘Summon the witch’s hunters, those strangers are mages!”

Toji yelled at Myrka, who was angling for another shot at the crawling Ziny, “What are you doing, you fool! You have revealed us to these people, and likely killed Nicholas! I was sworn to protect him if he dies, YOU DIE!”

He placed himself between Myrka and my fallen form, weapons ready.

For me, the world was going in and out of focus, and starting to darken around the edges of my vision. I could barely see Hydan as he got between our insane Derkaz sorceress and my fallen form.

Then I dimly saw little Ziny, and even with Myrka trying to kill her, the little girl was crawling toward me swiftly.

“She knows we are mages, she must die!” Myrka snarled in a deadly voice, and tried to get an angle on the crawling form of the little saeran girl, but Hydan stepped between them.

“Everyone in this Inn knows we are mages now, thanks to you!” he noted, and I heard some of the first anger in his voice which I’d ever discerned.

Myrka stopped and finally listened to the voices of the patrons coming up through the hole in the floor.

Right then the door burst open and three saerans bearing weapons appeared in the doorway. Myrka spun around and incinerated them with a gesture.

Toji spoke in a deadly voice, “Attack anyone here again, and I will end you.” His tantos were in his hands, ready for action.

Meanwhile, Ziny had reached my side, and she put her hands over my stomach. It hurt so badly I didn’t dare look; I knew I would see my saeran organs falling out, or worse, burnt to a crisp. I certainly felt like I was dying; I was holding onto life by the thinnest thread.

Suddenly I felt the pain lessen, and a strange sensation of things pulling together.

Hydan arrived, but he just frowned and then smiled slightly, but didn’t do anything.

“A little help here?” I croaked when the pain had receded enough for me to even speak.

He shrugged, “Your little sorceress friend is doing a fine job, she is quite talented.”

Myrka glanced around Hydan, and saw what was happening, “She is a mage?”

“Yes,” Hydan said, “And skilled for her age.”

In a few moments, I felt back to normal and sat up. Then I turned to Ziny and said, “Thank you, I think you just saved my life.”

She just looked at me and blinked those big eyes.

I looked up at Myrka, and spoke angrily, “Would you stop killing people, especially ME!”

She didn’t even apologize, “I did not know she was a mage, and you should know better than to get between me and my target.”

My eyes narrowed, “She is a little girl, not a target. Do not attempt to kill any more children or you will be breaking your oath to me.”

“If that is your wish,” Myrka replied coldly.

I decided the sooner I could get rid of Myrka the better; she had no, for lack of a better term, humanity. She was a cold-blooded killer.

Ziny looked up at me, and I realized I had somehow gotten to my feet and I was standing over the smaller Myrka and scowling down at her. I turned away from the Tarvos sorceress and looked at Ziny, and my face softened as I said, “Thank you for healing me, how did you get so good at that? I swear I was nearly dead.”

“You were near death, but my mother taught me how to heal, she was very good at it,” Ziny said softly, remembering her mother, and feeling the pain of her loss. I could read it in her small face.

We could all hear the commotion from below, and Hydan sighed, “Looks like no sleep for us, we’re going to have to depart before they try something foolish, and Myrka slaughters them all, or they summon some of Morgain’s necromages and we get in a real battle. Come on, back to the canal, then out to the river!”

I nodded toward the little saeran girl and said to the others, “Ziny comes with us.”

Hydan looked at me strangely, and then said, “She would probably be safer here.”

“No, someone may have heard us, and know she is a mage, so she is coming with us to the capitol,” I ordered.

No one else had anything to say, so I took Ziny’s hand and led her down the stairs.

At the sight of us emerging several of the saerans brandished weapons, but when Myrka pulled her knife, and blue energy ran down to coat it, they all backed away. The Innkeeper saw Ziny’s hand in mine, and gave me a little nod, he understood; Ziny was going with her kind.

Once we made it into the basement, shed our cloaks and got into the canal, we started swimming for the river and were soon out into the swift current.

 

 

 

Chapter Eight

 

When the true kings murderers

Are allowed to roam free,

A thousand magicians arise in the land

-The Doors

 

It was dark in the wide Celadon River, and much harder to navigate, but I found my saeran eyes saw much better than human eyes in the dark. Things were in black and white, with lots of shades of gray, yet it was brighter than what I was used to seeing at night.

Ziny was swimming circles around us, literally. The girl was a speed demon and showed what a lifetime, or even twelve or so years, could do for you as a saeran. Hydan was having fun with her, trying to swim as fast and gracefully as the native girl. She took him to the bottom of the Celadon, where they disturbed a large bottom dwelling fish which was down in the mud. It had a head too large for its body, and long whiskers. It was pulling itself along the bottom by those stout whiskers, and the body only had a vestigial tail and fins.

Hydan laughed at the odd fish, and called to Ziny, “Is that really a fish?”

“Yes, we call it a snogfish,” Ziny replied.

Hydan then exclaimed, “You mean it’s a fish, but it can’t swim?”

“It pulls itself along the bottom by those whiskers,” Ziny clarified.

Hydan guffawed, “Snog, like those fat, mud snorting animals I’ve seen on land?”

“Yes,” Ziny said with a smile, “Their heads are similar, and they both have long whiskers.”

“Snogfish, that’s just lovely!” Hydan exclaimed.

After we swam for two hours the Celadon widened out into a vast lake. We were all tired and needing sleep, so I popped to the surface and looked around; we were in some tall hills, not mountains really, maybe 2000 feet higher than the lake. The hills were covered in patches of thick trees or meadows of tall grass.

Off in the distance, further up the lake, was a lone sentinel poking up out of the flat lake surface, like a massive tombstone. It was a rocky island, with some kind of tall dark tower sticking up into the night. There were no lights, and I thought I could make out one crumbled wall. It seemed uninhabited.

I ducked back down and said, “Follow me.” Then I headed for the island.

After ten minutes we came to the island and saw the rocky underwater hill rising out of the depths of the dark lake.

We all went to the surface, and I said, “It looks disserted; perhaps we can find a place to rest inside until morning.”

The others started moving toward the shore, but Ziny was treading water next to me, and said, “That is Dal Kavem.”

“Oh, what do you know about it?” I inquired.

She blinked at me and then said, “They say it is haunted, and anyone who goes there never returns.”

“Haunted, by what?”

“Ghosts, Shades, I guess. I’ve never been here, nobody comes here, anymore. Not since it was destroyed by the Island Witch a long time ago. They say in olden times it was once an outpost of the capital, a place where mages dwelled.”

I started kicking toward the shore, “Come on, I don’t believe in ghosts, it’s just an old ruin.”

Ziny reluctantly followed.

 

We clamored up onto the rocky shore, and then found a path which led toward the short wall that went around the tall tower. There was an arched opening, which once had massive gates, but these were ripped off and piled to the sides. I had no idea what forces it would take to do that without gunpowder or other explosives. We walked under the dark arch, and could see the doors to the tower, also standing open and broken, ahead of us.

“There was a lot of magic power used here,” Myrka noted clinically.

As we approached the opening Hydan reached down and picked up a short piece of wood, but by the time he raised it over his head it had transformed into a torch, already lit. This provided us with some light and chased back the dark shadows. It also revealed an entry hall, strewn with saeran bones, broken armor, and weapons, all long rusted and decaying.

There were several doors leading off of the entry hall to the left and right, and a passage which continued on along the left wall, but on the right was a stairway hugging the wall, and then turning left after about twenty steps up.

We all headed toward the stairs by some unvoiced decision. This was a tower, so you naturally wanted to go up.

I noticed Ziny was clinging to my side, one hand touching my hip. I could feel her little hand shaking.

“It’s all right,” I said with a reassuring smile down toward her terrified little face, “it’s just an old tower, there aren’t any ghosts.”

Right then the ghosts attacked.

There were many sudden howls which sounded like something coming from a long tunnel, something bestial, primordial and definitely insane. A massive wind-swept into the chamber below us, coming from the doors and hallway. Then small tornadoes of wind started up around the corpses, and these small vortexes lifted the old bones and remaining armor and weapons up, swirling around furiously, before slowing and then assembling into skeletal warriors, with blue glowing translucent bodies of some kind of ectoplasmic display.

“Run for the top of the tower!” Hydan exclaimed right as Myrka yelled, “Kill them all!”

“Up,” I seconded Hydan, and Myrka took one step down toward the assembling monsters, but then turned and followed my order. We all scrambled up the stairs.

The skeletal shades followed, coming up the stairs after us, and several of them seemed to run right up the walls.

We crested the stairs onto a balcony rimmed platform, which had doors and halls branching off into the second floor of the tower and the stairway kept climbing to the left. I could see we weren’t going to outrun the skeletal shades, so I barked, “Toji, Myrka, turn and hold the stairs, Hydan, lead the way further up, Ziny, stay with me in the middle.”

Myrka turned and said, “It is about time we stood to do battle!”

“Fine, fight, but keep backing up the stairs, I want to get to a better place to defend, higher up,” I noted.

She had no time to argue, the first of the skeletal shades had arrived.

Then Myrka let loose.

Up until this moment, I wanted to get rid of the cold sorceress, but I had to say, she saved our bacon. If there was one thing which Myrka could do, it was pure destruction.

She lit up the first three skeletal shades coming at them with quick beams of that blue light. Upon hitting the creatures, they exploded into bones and bits of armor and weapons.

Then two closed on her from the walls, swinging their old weapons.

But nothing reached Myrka, as the weapons got close to her body they dissolved in a cloud of rusted particles as if aging a million years in one split second.

Then her hands touched two of them who got too close and they changed into stone statues, falling backward, and tumbling down until they hit the first floor and shattered into a thousand shards.

Toji was a whirling tornado of death. He spun and dodged while backing up the stairs, and each time one of his slashing tantos connected with a skeleton, it cut it in pieces like a cleaver cutting a paper doll.

Both of them kept retreating up the stairs, cutting down adversaries left and right.

But what they didn’t see were the small tornadoes which were the shades reassembling their bodies each time they were struck down. Toji and Myrka were mowing them down, but they were only damaging the bodies, not the Shades which made the bodies.

Four of them bypassed Toji and Myrka, coming up the wall like spiders.

Hydan saw them, and when they got near he gestured and they turned into large saeran style fish, like ones we had seen at the bottom of the river, though these ones were only skeletons of those fish. They fell back, wiggling, well, like fish out of water. They had no hands to grab with or hold onto things, or legs to stand on, so they fell, going all the way to the bottom floor, where they shattered on the stones far below.

“Don’t you just love snogfish!” Hydan bellowed with a huge grin.

“Shades of snogfish, you mean,” I replied.

He just laughed.

In a few more flights of stairs, we reached a door at the summit of the stairway. Hydan opened the latch and swung it wide. Then he, Ziny and I ran inside.

Hydan turned at the door, so he could help cover Myrka and Toji.

Myrka yelled to Toji, “Go!”

Toji turned and ran through the door opening, which left Myrka out on the stairs, alone.

Right then the skeletal ghosts made a concerted attack, with many of them coming from Myrka’s sides, having run up the walls and stairs. They all converged on the Tarvos sorceress in an attempt to overwhelm her defense.

Hydan saw them attack and made a quick gesture with his right hand. Four of them fell, turned into snogfish, but the rest were coming from Myrka’s other side.

Myrka let loose a barrage of beams, spinning and gesturing swiftly in many directions with both hands, striking almost faster than you could watch. She took out eight of the approaching skeleton shades in less than three seconds. The remaining six leaped at her and she had to fire unthinkably fast to get them all, but she did it somehow, and only bone dust settled around her.

But then she staggered, and Hydan reached out and grabbed her arm, yanking her in through the door, which he immediately slammed shut.

He looked at the door and it turned into a stone wall.

Myrka fell and then lay still on the ground.

Ziny came over and held her hands over Myrka’s body.

“She used all her power,” the young sorceress said softly.

Hydan spun in shock, and exclaimed, “All of it?”

“What does that mean?” I demanded.

Hydan shook his head, “Using the Derkaz takes a toll of your true magic in order to focus that dark power. Your true magic comes from your soul, so if she really used all of her true magic then she drained her soul, and she will die.”

But Ziny had a look of concentration on her face.

Myrka’s eyes fluttered open, and she saw the young girl working on her, and managed to say softly, “I’m sorry I tried to kill you.” Then her eyes slowly closed and her breathing stopped.

But Ziny was still concentrating, and she muttered, “There is a tiny thread left, I found it.”

Hydan watched, not wanting to disturb the small girl lest she lose the connection.

Suddenly Ziny toppled, falling to her side like a sack of potatoes, but right then Myrka sucked in a breath.

I dropped to Ziny’s side, and lifted her small limp body in my arms, looking for signs of life.

That’s when Myrka opened her eyes again. She looked toward me and saw me holding the limp little girl. Then Myrka whispered, “She saved me, but it took everything she had.”

“Is she…”

Hydan put a hand on my shoulder, “No, she’s alive but just barely. She is only a Sixth, and she poured what she had into Myrka to replenish her power and bring her back from the brink of death.”

“Why would she do that?” Myrka said while staring at the small girl draped across my arms.

“I guess she saw something in you which the rest of us, or even you, don’t see,” I noted. I got to my feet and carried Ziny over to an old bed before gently putting the little saeran girl down.

I sat there for a while, looking at her slack face, this little alien girl, with her fish scales, dark eyes, and little fins over her eyes. A girl who had given everything she had to save a foreign person who had tried to kill her earlier this same night. It gave me hope that in all this insanity, there was something worth saving. There was at least one little girl worth the struggle.

Outside the wall, which had been a door, we could hear the shades howling.

I looked up and spoke to Hydan, “What is keeping them out? Is it that stone wall?”

He shrugged, “Partly, at least those bodies they constructed, but I don’t know what is keeping those shades from coming through the cracks and then trying to manifest in here.”

“What are Shades?” I asked.

“Dead mages who deemed it worth staying near the place of their death for some great purpose, and denying themselves the return to their origin. Not many souls have the will to manage this and those who do become a ghost. But it gets worse, the longer they stay, the greater the chance they will eventually go insane and become the shades you saw out on the stairway. Once that happens they become insanely angry, and attack the living.”

“Can they travel away from the place where they died?”

Hydan shook his head, “No, their power stems from the end of their existence in that place, and they are bound to that location, their soul can still move on if they choose… or until they become too insane to even remember how to depart this existence.”

I looked at the wall and said, “There were a lot of them, why would so many mages die here, and choose to linger?”

“That is a very good question,” Hydan replied.

And then we heard a new and ghostly voice from the far corner of the room, near the window opening which looked out over the lake and countryside, it said, “I can answer that.”

I spun around, and Toji went into a crouch with his tantos ready. Even Myrka attempted to raise her hand, though she was still too weak to actually manage it. Hydan just raised the small fin over his right eye in curiosity.

When I looked I didn’t see anyone standing or sitting from where the voice had issued, but as soon as I thought that, I changed my mind, there was something there, a very dim shape… the shape of a saeran male, wearing a long blue robe. He was completely translucent and seemed more like moonlight than reality.

“Who are you?” Hydan asked pleasantly.

“The ghost of a wizard, the very wizard who these sorry fools died to end. They chose to stay here and keep my soul from escaping. Together they have enough power to hold me here.”

Toji frowned, “So you killed them, and their souls choose to stay and hold you here?”

He shrugged, “I killed some of them, yes, but the rest committed suicide so there would be enough of them to hold me.”

Hydan spoke, “But that means you had to be much more powerful than any of them!”

“I am a Third of my House, and they were mostly fifths and lower before they became shades.”

Toji tilted his head, and then asked, “Why would a bunch of Fifths, Sixths, and Sevenths throw themselves at a Third, knowing they would likely die in the attempt?”

The ghost moved slightly, going to the window. When the moonlight passed through his ethereal body it became brighter and more visible. He turned to face us and I got the first clear look at his Glyph; it was a winged dragon, hovering in air.

“A DRAGON!” Myrka hissed, and tried to get to her feet, but collapsed weakly on the ground, though she kept trying to get up.

“Rest, Tarvos, for I am a ghost, and I am not going anywhere. I am Abraxas, Third of House Dragon! I have been here now for many hundreds of saeran years, bound here by the shades who slew me.”

“I would have been one of them, had I been here!” Myrka stated angrily.

I noted Toji facing the ghost with his tantos held in both hands. Even Hydan had taken a step backward. I was the only one who hadn’t reacted to the declaration of his House.

“OK,” I said, “what is the big deal? You know, I should have asked this earlier, but things just kept getting in the way, but I’m going to ask now, what the hell is a Dragon? From his Glyph, I assume it is one of the Houses. In fact, Toji, earlier you said the Dragon Archimage was thrown out of the Ring of Ten. And Fiona Albus said that The Dragon was coming for me, who IS The Dragon?”

It was the ghost who answered, “The Dragon is the Archimage of House Dragon, ruler of the world Sheol!”

Myrka scowled at his proud proclamation and said, “Let me enlighten you further, The Dragon is the only one of the Ten to break the Archimage Accords, and he did so twice. The second time was an attempt to murder another Archimage while he was on neutral territory. That alone was grounds for his expulsion from the Ring of Ten. From that moment on he and his kind were hunted, and his line was marked for extinction!

“That’s when he went on a reign of terror, doing unspeakable things across all the Worlds. He betrayed every ally, murdered innocents, tortured mages for their secrets and made them betray their families. His power grew as he stole secrets from every house. He is now the most hunted of all beings in the ten worlds, but he is cunning, ruthless, powerful and purely evil. He is the Dark One, the master of lies, and his names are many, but he is most often called The Dragon.”

I swallowed and then said, “And… really, this person is after me?”

Hydan raised his shoulders slightly and said, “I’m not sure ‘a person’ is sufficient to describe one of the primordial ten Archimages. But it does seem like The Dragon is hunting you, Nick.”

The ghost spoke, “If my Archimage is seeking you then he will find you!”

Great, that’s all I need.

The Ghost was looking at me imperiously, and then I wondered why he was really here, so I asked, “Tell me, Abraxas, why did these Sivaeral ghosts hold you in this tower? What did you do, help Morgain against her Archimage?”

“I did nothing of the sort! My House Glyph was seen by one of these mages, who then foolishly gathered others of his House and hunted me across their world. I took refuge in this tower, and they threw themselves at me, dying when I had no desire to do them harm! Then, when I fell, the remainder of these misguided zealots tragically ended their own lives to trap my soul in this tower.”

“And it seems to have worked,” I said.

Myrka nodded, anger brewing on her face. “I am sorry I slew some of these guardians; I did not know what evil they held at bay. If I but had the power I would…” but she was too weak to even speak, and trailed off.

I’m not sure what she would have attempted, or what you could even do to a ghost.

Suddenly Abraxas smiled, and said, “At last! My time of imprisonment is coming to an end!”

Hydan suddenly looked attentive, “What was that?”

“My Archimage draws near, I feel his power, my master is coming!” the ghost exclaimed with rapture in his voice.

Hydan swiftly moved to the arched opening and looked out, and then said, “May the Silent Mother help us, he’s right, I think The Dragon is coming.”

Toji and I joined him and looked out. Far in the distance, we could see some kind of flaming flying creature streaking our direction, a bright glow of yellow and red fire in the night a few miles off.

The ghost laughed aloud, and cried out, “I am FREE! There are not enough of these shades to hold me now, not when my Archimage draws near!”

Then his ghostly form flew out the window and streaked away into the night, headed toward the approaching glow of flames.

“You know, this just can’t be good,” I decide.

Myrka struggled to gain her feet but failed. Then she said, “I must Five Point travel to a portal, and tell my Archimage of the coming of The Dark One!”

Hydan shook his head, “A Traveling Star takes power, which is something you don’t have right now, it would kill you.”

“You could make one for me!” she exclaimed.

Hydan stared at her for a moment, and then started gesturing at the floor, but the familiar red fire did not appear.

Hydan stopped gesturing and said, “The Dragon has put a StarWard around this area, he must be getting near! We cannot use a Star for travel now.”

Myrka snarled, and struggled to get up, as she said, “Then I will fight! I will not go down cowering on the floor of…”

Hydan suddenly gestured and Myrka slumped back to the ground, unconscious.

“What did you do?” I asked.

Hydan shrugged, “I just gave her a nudge, she was about to pass out anyway, and this way she is healing rather than passing out from taking herself over the brink into possible death.”

I looked around the room, “And, what do we do now?”

“We get out of this tower, or did you want to wait around for The Dragon?” Hydan asked.

I didn’t even bother to answer, but I said, “What about the shades?”

Toji went to the wall and put his ear there to listen, and then he said, “I can’t hear them howling anymore, I think they have departed, they have no reason to stay now that the ghost of the Dragon Third has fled. It was to keep his soul trapped in this tower which made them stay. Perhaps now they can move on out of this dark existence.”

I pondered that and asked, “Why worry about a soul? I mean, he was dead.”

Toji replied, “There are ways of speaking with the dead, perhaps Abraxas knows something they wanted to keep from The Dragon? Besides, The Dragon has stolen secrets from all the Houses, and now Morgain is bringing back dead mages and necromages. Who knows, perhaps The Dragon is the one who gave her that secret!”

“Ah, good point,” I answered. I then wondered which of his secrets I knew, I wish I remembered.

“I will carry Myrka if you will carry Ziny, Nick,” Hydan said and picked up the unconscious Tarvos sorceress.

“All right,” I answered, but added, “But if I were you, I wouldn’t want to be very close to Myrka when she wakes up, she’s going to be very pissed with you!”

“I’ll deal with her at the time,” Hydan noted. Then he added, “Toji, if you would be so kind as to make an opening, let’s get out of this foul tower.”

Toji went to the wall where the arch had been, raised a hand when he was about a foot away, and then the stones vanished and became an arched opening again.

We made it down to the bottom of the tower without incident. This time, we followed the path to a quay, though there were no boats moored there. We got rid of our armor and then slipped under the water. It turned out to be even easier to tend to Ziny and Myrka in the water, where their unconscious bodies were weightless.

We swam tiredly for two hours and finally reached the far shoreline. When we surfaced I could see a glow coming from the Tower. It seems The Dragon, and his firey mount were causing quite a fire. I just hoped he had no way of sensing us.

We rested in the shallows, staying in some river reeds for concealment in case any of those flying things came near. It gave me a chance to ponder what I had just learned. If Fiona was correct, then I had stolen something valuable from a necromancer Archimage so evil they wouldn’t even speak his name. Now this ‘Dark One’ was hunting me, across the worlds. The biggest problem I had was I didn’t know what it was I had stolen. I mean, come on, if you are going to be hunted by the Ghost of Christmas Future, at least you should know what the hell he wanted! What, did I take forget to send him a birthday card or something?

 

 

 

Chapter Nine

 

Caught in a trap.

Sometimes you got to know where to run for cover.

-Electric Light Orchestra

 

When morning light appeared, Myrka and Ziny woke up. Ziny was in better shape than Myrka and was soon swimming around looking for fish for breakfast.

Myrka was still weak, too weak to form a Traveling Star, though she nearly tried it until Hydan convinced her that she would just pass out again, and we would have to leave her here while we went to the capitol. She was determined, more than ever, to stay with me now, she had confirmation that The Dragon really was after my hide.

I sat down in the shallows next to her and said, “So, what, exactly, is your mission again?”

“To find The Dragon and report his location to my Archimage.”

I nodded, “And when we first met you had tracked him to Earth?”

She nodded.

“And now you know he is on Abal. Tell me, just before we met, why didn’t you fly off and tell your Archimage The Dragon was on Earth?”

“Because I need a more precise location than a planet to fulfill my mission,” she replied.

“And now The Dragon has left the tower, do you know precisely where he is on Abal?”

She scowled at me, “No.”

“Then why go back to your superiors yet?”

She was quiet and stared at me darkly. Then she said, “I see your point, and I will stay with you until The Dragon arrives to kill you.”

“Right, that’s a jolly thought.” I gazed at her for a minute and then said, “At the Inn, I was ready to cut you loose at the first opportunity. You had shown no care for anyone but yourself, and that’s not a very good teammate in a crisis.”

She just glowered at me.

“But then, in the Tower, you nearly died to defend us from those shades, why? You could have run into the room after Toji.”

She tilted her head at me in a puzzle fashion, “It was my task to defend you, not bring them upon you.”

“Your task?”

“Yes, why is this confusing?” she demanded, blinking at me.

I shrugged, “I don’t know, why did the chicken cross the road?” I retorted, as an example of a question you just can’t answer.

Hydan perked up at the chicken reference, and exclaimed with a grin, “Because such a ridiculously designed bird couldn’t fly over! What a gloriously dumb fowl! I wonder what I would get if I crossed a chicken with a snogfish, A snoken? That would be a creature which can’t walk, swim or fly!” He thought about it, perhaps picturing the crossbreed, and then laughed.

Ziny swam up at this point with a fish stuck in her mouth, and one in each of her hands. She spat out the one in her mouth, so it landed on the shore, and then gave us a big crooked smile as she declared, “Breakfast!”

Even Myrka smiled.

 

When Myrka had recovered enough to travel we took to the water. It wasn’t long before the Celadon River departed the lake, and we were once again headed downstream with a strong current. In another day, we should reach the capital, and then I could try to find out whom my saeran parents really were, and if they were still alive. I needed some answers, badly. I really hoped they could help fill in the gaps in my brain. There had to be a reason why they had hidden me on Earth, and why I had the balls to steal something important from The Dragon, of all dudes. Perhaps I had been on some secret mission?

 

As we continued down the river we passed three burned out villages. These were old battles, with only skeletons of the dead to decorate the ruins. Ziny and I surfaced to take a look, but she turned her head away when we saw the rotting bodies, and I thought I saw a tear in her eye, but then the river water washed it away.

Soon the river entered a dense forest and started winding through the tall trees. The water was slowing and had started to spread outwards into the surrounding forested area. I noticed many tree trunks in the water, which was odd. Normally they are near the water, but not in it. Which meant there had been some kind of flood recently.

I called to the others and said I was going to surface and do a quick visual scout ahead. When my head lifted from the surface of the Celadon two things happened, I saw a temporary log dam built just ahead of our position, and I heard someone call out from the shore.

That’s when the log dam just disappeared.

Instantly the water picked up speed, and we were sucked along with the flow.

I tried to swim toward shore, but the pull was too great, and moments later I found myself rolling and tumbling down a short cascade which led to a lower pool of water. It wasn’t a far drop, but it was enough to expose us as we fell.

I slammed into some thick netting a moment later, and the water was pounding on me from above since I was held in the net. Someone had strung nets out in the cascading water, and this one closed around me immediately. Then I felt acceleration upwards as I was lifted by the net out of the water. Looking up I could see a rope attached to my net on one end, with the other end tied to a young tree which had been bent down, and had now been released. The tree straightening was plenty of power to yank the net, and me in it, up and out of the river like a grizzly bear snaring a salmon. To my left, I spotted another net flying up, and I think I saw Ziny cocooned within the bundle of ropes.

The nets around us swung over to the right bank, there were people waiting. They immediately started clubbing me, pounding at my head right through the net. In moments, I was struck and blackness took me down the dark hole to unconsciousness.

 

Some indeterminable time later my eyes snapped open. I didn’t drift back into consciousness; I just woke up like someone had dashed a bucket of water in my face. I think Hydan must have ‘magiced’ me awake.

Hydan was yelling at me, “Get UP, and run!”

Strangely, all around me, there were several snogfish flopping on the forest floor. I could see the rope which had bound the net together, but the net was gone. I got to my feet.

That’s when I saw Toji fighting with three Living Husks. Toji had his tantos flashing, and his adversaries had long poniards. Those dried and dead looking saeran emaciated bodies were spry, and not very zombie-like at all. It was all Toji could do to keep them at bay.

Then, to my left I saw Myrka, she had six of them around her, and she had her blue glowing knife ready. One tried to thrust a poniard at her, and she cut through his forearm with a flick of her knife. The others were trying to maneuver around to get behind her.

I knew Myrka was not fully recovered yet, and so she couldn’t do a lot with her Derkaz magic.

Farther off I could see a group of three of the Husks carrying a net with a body inside, hurrying away. The one toward the back limped from a leg that ended in a stump. His fibula and tibia bones projected out of the dead flesh, working kind of like a peg leg. He turned his nasty head back and gave me a sick rotten-toothed grin.

“Nicholas!” I heard her tiny voice call out in a pleading tone, and it was like someone had stabbed me in the heart.

“They have Ziny!” I yelled and took a step in that direction, but Hydan grabbed my arm.

“I can help Toji and Myrka with the necrosouls, or go after Ziny, but not both!”

I hesitated, and that’s when things got worse.

A massive flying beast of some kind, with flaming wings, and a snake head, landed in the trees about two hundred yards away. Fire instantly started around it in the forest. It wasn’t a classic dragon, but some other kind of flying snake monster. A dark shape leaped from its back to the forest floor, and then it gestured for the three necrosouls to get Ziny up on the beast.

While they did that, the dark shape strode toward us purposefully. Four necromages arrayed themselves behind the powerful looking dark shape.

“By Baal’s colossal ego,” Hydan said, backing up a step.

I was trying to move forward, but he still had me by the shoulder.

“Let me LOOSE!” I yelled.

He shook his head, “He’ll just kill you, Nick, instantly. That is Medrod approaching, or I’m a snogfish. And those are necromages, we are outnumbered, and Myrka is weak.”

“Medrod?” I said stupidly.

“Yes, Morgain’s dead husband, the Sivaeral Second, whom his father, the Archimage of Abal, slew.”

“He seems kind of lively for being dead,” I exclaimed.

“Yes, and he does not look like these Husks! We must retreat!” Hydan exclaimed.

I tried to shrug off Hydan, but his grip was strong.

“Nick, you don’t have protections yet, and I can’t hold a Second off of you! He will turn you to dust with just a thought if you get near him, do you want that?”

I snarled something unintelligible, but right then the fire beast beat its flaming wings, setting four more trees alight, and then it lifted off with Ziny on its scaled back.

I cursed, but without any chance to save Ziny, my decision was made. I turned and ran toward Toji, with Hydan running right beside me, which was fortunately away from the approaching resurrected wizard and his four necromages.

As we got near, Hydan gestured and the nearest Husk turned into an undead snogfish, flopping on the soil for air, which explained the ones I’d seen earlier.

Toji leaped in and beheaded one which was still standing to his left, spun low and under the thrust of the next one and cut its leg off at the left knee. He continued his move around and stabbed it through the eye. The monster went down, finished.

“Now I finally have you!” a deep voice declared.

Hydan, Toji and I turned, and found the approaching Medrod was only fifty yards away, and running toward us swiftly.

Hydan called to us, “I will slow him down; you help Myrka!”

So Toji and I ran to Myrka’s aid, and I hoped Hydan could deal with a Second Derkaz wizard, somehow returned to life.

“YOU!” Medrod bellowed, and then added, “I will take your soul and bind it to my will forever!”

Hydan smiled and said, “Good luck with that, Medrod. I have some other plans, and you should have stayed dead.”

Medrod was clad in red glowing plate armor, and now he reached back and up by his shoulder and drew a thick, but short blade. The short sword had purple flames running up and down the blade.

Hydan actually smirked and said, “Pretty… useless.” Then Hydan gestured, but nothing happened.

“Damn,” Hydan exclaimed, taking a step backward, and calling to us, “I suggest haste.”

I only heard his last statement because I had already turned my head to deal with the six Husks attacking Myrka. She had downed one already, and right then Toji leaped in, taking out two more swiftly. That left one more for each of us.

Toji squared off with his, and Myrka leaped at the second one, but the third headed for me; uh oh.

I grabbed a rock off the ground, and tried to believe I’d picked up a knife, but it was still a rock, great. Doubting Thomas has nothing on me.

Now I was face to face with this Husk, and I could see its eyes were dried up milky white shriveled grapes in the sockets where its saeran eyes should have been, but it seemed to see me just fine. The lips were also dried, as was the skin of its face, pulling back against the bones like plastic wrap. This caused the dry lips to pull back from the brown rotten looking teeth.

It thrust its knife at me, and I realized it was one of those rubber movie blades.

Now, you have to understand, it wasn’t, not when it started toward my belly, but I really thought it was, and I guess I believed myself, because just as it was about to get thrust deep into my guts, the rubber blade bent.

I clouted the thing in the side of its dried brain pan and felt a satisfying crunch as the dried skull gave way to my rock.

It fell to the ground.

Toji and Myrka had finished theirs and were just turning to see if I needed any aid.

That’s when the fog came up out of the ground. This was the thick pea soup kind of fog, and in about three seconds it was impossible to see.

I found Toji and Myrka because they were right nearby, and I just moved that direction, calling out to them so they didn’t try to stab me.

We found each other, and that’s when Hydan ran into us as well. He stopped, almost surprised, and then said, “Link hands, and run for the river!”

“Which way?” I asked.

“Listen!”

So we all shut up and then heard the sound of the river to my left. I dropped my rock and we grabbed hands, turned and started running.

Behind us, I heard Medrod, “Clever, but this fog won’t last!”

Already I could see the fog lifting, and then our feet hit the water. Dimly, I could see the place where the nets had been in the cascade, but we were below that now. The Celadon had nearly filled in the cascade now, as the water from above brought the river below back to full level.

We let loose of each other’s hands and dove under the surface, and then started kicking.

An hour later, we surfaced and took a quick look. We could hear sounds of pursuit from up river so we went under again and started kicking. Soon the water picked up speed and then we were all falling. We had gone over a massive waterfall and were plummeting toward the pool below.

I believed, with all my heart, there was water, not rocks below. Then I hit the water and went under. Everything was white bubbles, and zero visibility because of it. I just kicked for deeper water and was buffeted by currents. I finally managed to reach calmer water, and finally swam to the surface. I found Toji and Myrka swimming nearby, but I didn’t see Hydan until I looked up at the waterfall, he was floating down gently out in front of the falls. He slipped into the water near us a moment later.

“You know, you don’t have to fall like that,” he noted. “Not if your body is almost as light as air.”

“Great, now you tell me,” I said sourly.

He smiled, “I did see some rocks disappear right before you hit the water, was that your doing?”

I nodded.

“Well done! That might have hurt a bit otherwise. Keep practicing, you are starting to develop your power!”

“What about that Medrod thing?” I asked.

Hydan shrugged, “I don’t know, those Husks don’t like the water, but Medrod didn’t look like them, he didn’t have that drawn and dry look. Fortunately, depending on how you look at it, he doesn’t have his flying beast, he sent Ziny away on it. So our pursuers are a bit behind us, but I suggest we keep swimming downstream swiftly to keep our lead.”

“You could not defeat Medrod?” Toji asked.

Hydan shook his head, “Regardless of his living or undead status, he is a Second, and he has great magic near him, as well as unknown Derkaz powers. I tried to reach him but he stymied my attempts to change reality. I was down on power from our other encounters, so I was afraid he might outlast me. I ran back a few yards, to get out of his influence, and then started believing in a nice forest fog.”

I was quiet at this stage, I was picturing Ziny in that net being carted off by the peg-legged necromage and his two buddies, and then being tossed onto the back of a flying flaming monster, like a sack of flour. “Where did they take Ziny?” I demanded.

Hydan shrugged, “Unknown, though I can guess.”

“Guess then!” I exclaimed angrily.

Hydan just looked at me, and then said, “To Morgain’s fortress, on Mystical Island.”

“Then, that’s where we are going,” I stated.

The Friare Third looked at me for a moment, as if weighing his answer, and then said, “I will take you there, but not until you are capable of surviving. Right now Morgain and Medrod would destroy you with a hardly a thought. You cannot rescue Ziny in this state, you can only die, and leave her to them.”

“Fine, what do I need to do then?” I demanded.

“Learn your powers, and part of that is finding your parents so you can learn your past. Only by truly knowing who and what you are can you fully believe in yourself, and therefore your powers. Remember, even the Archimage of Abal, in the full use of his powers, had difficulty going to Mystical Island, and some say he paid a great cost. You are not an Archimage, nor do you have full use of your powers. At this time you can barely survive falling off a waterfall, you aren’t anywhere near ready to take on a Dokkalfar Second and her resurrected Sivaeral Second husband.”

I was angry, and I wanted to save Ziny right then, but he was right, I was a weakling, barely able to take care of myself in the simplest of dangers.

“Fine, but as soon as I am ready, I’m going to save Ziny! She was under my care, and I will not abandon her to those two monsters!”

Toji nodded, “Say the word, and I will go with you!”

“And if this is where you will travel, then I must go there as well,” Myrka noted.

Hydan smiled, “I’ve lived a long time already, so sure, I’ll show you the way to Mystical Island, but only once you are ready,” he noted. Then his face brightened, “Besides, I have some things to say to Morgain; she has become a real nuisance in her old age!”

 

An hour later we left the forest and entered rolling grass-covered hills, with occasional bush and scrub. The Celadon wound through several canyons, cut over time by the flow of the water. Eventually, we came out onto a plain, and ahead, in the distance, we could see a massive city.

We floated along the surface for a while, watching the approach of Poseidon, capital city of Abal; it was worth a good look. Light gray towers stood tall against the dark blue sky, beyond which was a vast ocean. The wide Celadon River led to the massive gray walls and seemed to go right under them into the big city.

We soon came to a medium sized lake, caused by a dam on the far side. There was a massive sluice to the left, which took any excess rise of the Celadon fed lake off into the original canyon where the river had once tumbled down to the sea. This saeran made dam and sluice diverted the majority of the Celadon river right into the city of Poseidon. That fair looking city was perched on the white shoreline cliffs. On the far side of the city, the river water fell in several waterfalls, plunging down to join the ocean several hundred feet below the city.

Due to the dam ahead, we had to exit the river from the lake, where there was a massive dock structure to handle river boats bringing trade items, food or raw materials downriver to supply the city. There were lots of saerans about, working the docks. I had wondered if we would find the capital under siege, but I guess there were enough mages within the walls to deter that kind of long-term attack, at least so far.

 

 

 

Chapter Ten

 

Now would I say something that wasn’t true?

I’m asking you sugar

Would I lie to you?

-Eurythmics

 

The dam also worked as a kind of immigration check, since no one could go through underwater, they had to exit here, and could, therefore, be processed. We were escorted to an official looking structure and eventually, brought into some minor official’s office.

We lied, claiming to be from a village upriver. I let Hydan do the talking; he knew all the lingo and location names. He claimed we had come to the city to report on troop movements by Morgain’s forces, and the loss of several villages. He used the destroyed Inn as one such piece of news.

The official checked a record book and then said, “Yes, we already have a record of that.”

“Oh,” Hydan said, looking crestfallen, but then said, “There was also an assault on the village of Pelen which only took place a few days ago.”

The official scanned his book and then said, “No, I have no record of that attack.”

“And, we found a place where the enemy was building a dam in the Celadon!”

He looked extremely skeptical at Hydan’s statement.

Hydan shrugged, “I will need to speak to a commander in the military to go over the details.”

“You can tell me,” the saeran proclaimed.

Hydan shook his head, “Though I’m sure you are very good at your job, I must speak to a military official, I cannot even tell you why only that I was tasked with this mission. However, I will tell them what a thorough and well-run office you have here, it is truly impressive!”

The official pondered for a moment, and then took out a piece of glossy looking paper and scrawled on it with what looked like a dorsal spine barb of some fish. He then handed the paper to Hydan and said, “Fine, I will send you to the military compound in the city, here is your entry writ, but you will be under escort to the compound.”

Two bored looking saerans were assigned to escort us to the city.

 

We had to hike down a switchback path to rejoin the Celadon River where it exited the dam. There was a dock, and our escorts had us enter the river at this stage. It wasn’t too far to the city from there, so we stayed on the surface. I could see where the wide river went right under the outer wall, passing through a tight mesh of bars at the surface.

“Aren’t you afraid attackers might come under the wall in the river?” I asked one of our guides, whose name turned out to be Benker.

He smirked at me. “First off, those Husks of the enemy can’t stay in water, so there is no danger there, and if they sent any of those purple saeran traitors, they would be in for a surprise on the other side.”

I got to see what he meant a moment later. After ducking underwater to get under the surface grates, we had to surface a moment later in a pool on the other side. The River continued on through another massive grate, but this one went all the way down to the bottom. We were in a kind of half bowl. The outer wall surface behind us was flat, but the inner walls were in a half circle, with arrow slits, going all the way around. This was a kill zone, anyone surfacing here had no way out other than up onto land, in a zone which had no protection at all. There was not even a gate to break down. Our guides had us wait while they put our writ, which had turned out to be made of some waterproof cured fish skin, into a basket which was lowered from the top of the wall. Then they had a brief conversation with the guards above and eventually a platform was lowered down which could take about twenty people.

“How do they get the trade goods and other things shipped down the river into the city?” I asked Benker.

“There are other lifts outside the walls which can hoist up supplies,” he answered.

Then we reached the top of the wall, where there were several armored guards waiting. They had not drawn any weapons and were actually looking quite bored.

That was until someone in a nearby guard tower suddenly squeaked in a loud voice which was almost undecipherable, “Mages!”

All of the saeran guards around us yanked out their weapons and aimed them at our group, and Benker and his partner backed away from us, with terrified looks.

“Which one is the mage?” the Benker demanded loudly.

The same squeaky voice called down, “They’re all mages!”

“ALL OF THEM!” Benker bellowed, and gripped his weapon tighter.

Hydan raised his hands slowly, palms showing. “No need for violence here, we come in peace, as enemies of the Island Witch! I am Hydan, a Friare, this is Toji, a Bakemono, Myrka a Tarvos and Nicholas, one of your own Sivaeral wizards.”

The odd voice from the tower exclaimed, “A Tarvos! They are aligned with the Derkaz!”

“This Tarvos is not with the enemy! She is oath bound to this Sivaeral wizard!” Hydan said, pointing at me.

Toji spoke loudly, “I can confirm this, on the honor of my House.”

That made the hidden person with the squeaky voice pause, Bakemono honor was legendary. “Then, if you are no threat, you will not be opposed to being disarmed and bound!”

“If it makes you happy, sure,” Hydan exclaimed, and then said to me, “Tell your sorceress to stand down and let them bind her and take her weapon.”

I nodded to Myrka, “You heard him.”

She glowered at me briefly but said nothing.

Two guards approached warily, and I could see the terror in their eyes as they drew near. They all understood a mage’s power got stronger the closer you got to their body. But nothing happened to them as they took away Toji’s tantos, but when Benker reached for Myrka’s knife, she stated, “Be aware…”

That made Benker jump back, but since Myrka didn’t move, he swallowed and paused.

Myrka continued, “…I will get that back, and I will PERSONALLY hold you responsible should it not be returned.”

He swallowed, and then nodded. He then approached again and gingerly removed her knife.

They bound our hands behind our backs with steel manacles and then had us follow the officer. The entire way they kept us surrounded and never put down their weapons.

Benker and several other guards escorted us to what could only be called a cell, which was deep in a massive stone structure.

There we were left, though we were under constant surveillance.

“This is nice,” I said sarcastically.

Hydan shrugged, “They don’t trust mages, not these days. Most mages outside the cities are working for the enemy, all free mages were pulled back to defend these last strongholds. Some saeran mages are loyal, but more are on the Island Witch’s side. You can’t blame them for being suspicious.”

“Who spotted us?” I asked.

“No doubt one of their mages was in the tower, put there specifically to scan all new arrivals for Glyphs,” Hydan replied. “They can’t be hidden, not from another mage. Nor can they be changed.”

Eventually, Benker spoke through the door grate. “Everyone except the Sivaeral wizard, move back to the far wall.”

“Why?” Toji demanded.

The guard replied, “The Sivaeral wizard is being brought before the commander, where his loyalty will be tested.”

“We stay together,” Toji informed the guard.

Benker replied, “Those are not my orders.”

“Then go get new orders,” Toji stated.

I held up a hand to Toji and said to the guard, “What is this test?”

“We will see if you have embraced the Derkaz.”

I nodded, “And if I haven’t?”

“Then you will be cleared and released, but if you fail the test you will be put to death!”

“And my companions?” I asked.

“They suffer your fate, good, or bad.”

I nodded, “All right then, I’ll go take your test.”

Hydan put a hand on my shoulder and said, “You don’t have to do this, we can leave here at any time.” Then he gestured to the stone floor and drew a quick star shape in the air, though he didn’t actually start creating one of those fiery symbols yet. “For whatever reason, I sense no StarWards.”

“We came all the way here to get to their Hall of Records, and I haven’t embraced Derkaz, so what’s the problem?”

He shrugged, “True, but you will be without our protection once you are any distance away.”

I nodded, but called out, “All right, I have nothing to hide, so I will submit to your test.”

Benker called out, “Good, then step to the door, and the rest of you, fall back.”

My companions moved to the back wall and I stepped forward. The door opened and they quickly got me outside and closed the door.

My hands were still bound in the manacles as they led me up stairs and then down a wide hall and eventually into a large room; it was some kind of audience chamber.

A military officer, with a Nautilus Glyph, was standing to the side of an ornate chair, and he was holding a knife with intricately carved runes on the broad blade. Once I was placed before the chair, and the guards had backed away, he came toward me, and then took up position just behind my back where I could not see him without turning.

Another saeran male, wearing some kind of long blue ceremonial cloak which had embroidered nautilus symbols, entered and strode to the chair, and then took a seat. He had the nautilus Glyph on his left cheek, just like mine. Could this be the Archimage of Abal at last?

He looked at me suspiciously for a moment and then spoke in what could only be called a squeaky voice, all high and nasal, “I am Timarod, the Sivaeral wizard in charge of this city. Captain Nela, a wizard of the city guard, is standing behind you with a powerful Actuality Blade in his hand, you have heard of them?”

“Yes,” I answered.

He nodded, “Good, so you know you will not be able to do magic with such a blade so close. With just one false word, I will signal the Captain to sheath the blade in your back, and you will not be able to do anything to stop it. Do you understand?”

“Clearly,” I noted.

“Tell me your business in this city,” Timarod demanded in his squeaky voice, which hit a really unpleasant high note in his excitement.

You know, I just didn’t like Sir Squeaky’s tone, it just pissed me off, so I said, “I’d rather speak to someone in charge, not a flunky with an authority complex. Please take me to the Archimage of Abal!”

His saeran face turned a darker blue; I assumed this meant he was upset. Good; that made me feel slightly better.

He scowled at me and stated, “The Archimage is out of the capitol on important business.”

I was severely disappointed, but I hid that and stated, “Fine, then bring someone else of higher authority.”

He sputtered for a moment, and then gathered himself, and finally said, “Oberon is at the front, battling the Island Witch’s forces at Ouroboros, and our other mages are busy attending to the defense of this city! I am the highest Tier mage, so I am in charge here, so you WILL answer my questions or face dire consequences!”

I suppressed my annoyance, but there was no way I was telling this pompous fool about my missing memories, or mentioning any mission I might have been on for the Archimage, so I replied, “Fine, I have come seeking my parents, I lost track of where they live while I was off world. I came here in peace, as a loyal saeran,” I pointed out, stressing the word ‘loyal’.

“I see, and you have had no dealings with the Island Witch?”

I almost snarled at him, “That depends on what you consider ‘dealings’.”

I sensed the Captain behind me tensing, so I pulled back on my anger and said, “Her minions have attacked me, and my companions and they did manage to abduct one of our party, a Sivaeral sorceress of a young age.”

“Why was the Island Witch after you?” he demanded in his squeaky voice.

“I have no idea,” and then I added with a bit of sarcasm, “Maybe because we are mages, it’s just a thought.”

Timarod ignored my sarcasm and sat back into his ornate chair. I hoped a chair leg snapped and he fell on his bureaucratic ass.

Then I added, “Look, this is all very impressive, but the simple fact is the Island Witch took a girl I was sworn to protect, which has made her my enemy. Have you never heard the term ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’?”

“No, but you will answer my questions,” the mage proclaimed, and then he sat forward again and asked very intensely, “Have you embraced the Derkaz?”

I raised my chin slightly and said, “Not likely, Bub, though one of my companions uses that power as a Tarvos sorceress. However, she is bound to my service by an oath sworn on her Archimage, and has no dealings with the Island Witch, nor has she ever been on that bitch’s side or worked against the saerans loyal to the Archimage of House Sivaeral. In fact, this is her first trip to Abal.”

He pondered my words, and then said, “So you say, yet her presence leads to doubts about you, as does your attempt to enter our city without telling us you were mages. I will now perform a test to see if you are lying about the Derkaz; if you block me it will be seen as a sign of your guilt.”

“Whatever,” I answered.

A look of concentration came over Timarod’s face, but then after a few moments, he relaxed and said, “I sense no sign of recent Derkaz use in your soul.”

That was interesting; I guess the test could only discern recent usage. Not that it mattered in my case, I had never, to my knowledge, used the Derkaz, but I filed this away for future reference.

He continued, “Why did you attempt to come into our city by stealth?”

I shrugged again, “Look, Jack, we have not had good luck when we tell people we are mages, especially on Abal. Every time someone discovers that fact, they either attack us or send for the minions of the damned Island Bitch. All we wanted was a quick look at some records and we would have been gone, no fuss no muss, but you had to make this all complicated.”

He looked at me darkly, and then squeaked, “You will address me as Wizard, or Master Timarod! So your mission in our city was to spy?”

“No, not spy. As a member of the saeran race, I simply wished access to the public Hall of Records so I could search for my parents. What is the big deal, Wizard?”

“That is what I am attempting to ascertain. What is your Sivaeral Tier ranking?” he suddenly asked, like a cat pouncing on a string.

I saw no reason to lie, “I am a Third.”

There was a bit of a gasp from the surrounding guards, which I found odd.

I distinctly felt the presence of the Captain move away from me, which was interesting, since I couldn’t see him, but I just sensed it.

Squeaky said, “A Third! How is it I do not know of you?”

“Ya got me, maybe you should study the family tree,” I noted.

He continued, “Since you are a Third, and not tainted by the Derkaz, if I decided to let you use the Hall of Records what then would you seek?”

“I would find the location of my parents, and attempt to go see them, afterward I would then go find the bitch, Morgain, on her precious Mystical Island and wring her goddamned neck,” I replied pleasantly.

That last bit surprised him if I read the widening of his dark eyes and rapid blinking of his twin eyelids. Then he exclaimed, “You seem very angry with the Island Witch.”

I shrugged, “Actually, you have never seen me angry, but I am rather peeved at the witch bitch; she should never have taken Ziny. I plan to get that little girl back, and I don’t care if I have to kill a Dokkalfar Second, and her nasty reborn husband, to do it.”

He looked puzzled and said, “What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about killing the Island Bitch, and her resurrected Hubby.”

“What are you referring to with this term, ‘hubby’?” Timarod demanded.

“Medrod, her husband, he’s back, and he was part of the assholes who grabbed Ziny, so I owe him,” I replied.

“You lie! Medrod is dead, killed by our Archimage!”

“Why would I lie about this? He may have been dead, but he’s walking and talking now, like a good puppet of his wife. Obviously, she has brought him back somehow.”

“How do you know this?” he demanded, and I think he was a little scared.

“Well, I saw him face to face.”

“If you did, and he is a now a necromage, how did you survive?”

I scowled and muttered, “Why do people always think I should have died?” But then I spoke louder and replied, “First off, we’re not sure he is a necromage, he didn’t look like one. He seemed to be a living breathing asshole.”

That made Timarod frown, and then he said, “Even as a Third, how can you possibly kill a Sivaeral Second and his wife, a Dokkalfar necromancer, who is also a Second, and both are wielding the Derkaz?” the little wizard demanded.

“I don’t know, but if they don’t give up Ziny, I’ll find a way,” I noted, and then added, “and I have another Third, and two Fourths who have sworn to help me in this quest.”

“You would need far more mages, and an army, to assault Mystical Island, but I see from your demeanor I cannot dissuade you from this task. Then in light of your quest to slay our enemies, I will grant your request to view the Hall of Records. However, the Tarvos sorceress will remain in custody until you leave these walls.”

“All right, though she is to be treated well, and given food and other comforts, as well as the return of her weapon when we leave.”

“You would make demands!” he squeaked.

“No, I would caution you about pissing off a Tarvos sorceress; do so at your own risk,” I noted matter-of-factly.

He contemplated that, and then said, “All right, it will be as you request. Guards, take him to his companions and remove the manacles. Release his companions, except the Tarvos sorceress, but feed her and bring her a chair and other amenities.”

I raised my hands and my manacles fell apart to the ground, “No need for the key, thanks.”

I had been working on believing the lock on them was toast for some time, it was just my way of being a little belligerent. I didn’t like this officious little rat bastard and his big chair and threats.

The mage scowled, I guess he figured I shouldn’t have been able to do that with the Actuality weapon nearby, but the Captain had taken a step back, so I must have been out of the weapon’s sphere of influence, at least partially. Besides, I didn’t give a hoot what the squeaky little shit thought.

 

Myrka wasn’t happy, but she bowed to my orders and scowled at the guards who gingerly brought in a chair for her to use. She sneered at them when they lifted a key to remove her manacles, which just turned to dust. Then she ignored the guards and spoke to me, “I will wait until morning, if you have not returned by then, I will kill all of these foolish saerans and come find you.”

The guards were all looking nervous as hell and gripping their weapons tightly as they backed away from the Tarvos sorceress.

“I’d be very nice to her, boys,” I said and walked out the cell door.

I noticed the saeran captain, with his Actuality knife, was stationed outside Myrka’s cell door. I wished him luck with that if Myrka got really pissed; I was thinking of those skeletal ghosts she had fried, and the influence of the weapon hadn’t seemed all that strong.

Hydan, Toji and I were escorted by a saeran guard out onto the streets of Poseidon. The place was a little like Amsterdam, with even more canals and fewer streets. It seemed that they had split the Celadon River into many canals through the city, and then let the water exit out massive drains which went over the cliffs along the beach. This acted as a constant sewer system, as fresh water was continually being fed through the canal system.

There were a lot of saerans here, some selling things along the streets, or out on boats. Many saerans swam in the canals rather than walk the roads; saerans were actually faster in the water. There were poor looking saerans huddled in various alleys; it was obvious the city had taken in a lot of refugees from the war.

Hydan purchased a bottle of some nasty brew from a street vendor as we walked by, and then started swigging from it with gusto.

“Ah, it has been too long since I had a civilized brew!” he exclaimed, smacking his lips.

Eventually, we arrived at an ornate hall which was erected in front of a wide and prominent canal. White marble steps came up out of the water, then a road bisected them, and the stairs continued up on the other side, leading to an entrance at the top. There were six large pillars holding up the peaked roof at the entrance to the Hall of Records.

We took the stairs and entered. Inside we found a massive oval chamber, with an oval counter area in the center where several saerans were working.

Our escort stepped to the side of the entry doors, he was obviously going to wait for us to finish, and then escort us back.

Until this moment, I hadn’t really told my companions about my ‘test’, but I did so now.

Hydan pursed his lips, and then said, “And they were amazed you were a Third?”

I nodded, and added, “I could swear the wizard who tested me was shocked and worried.”

Hydan nodded, “Meaning he was likely a lower Tier mage, and therefore, quite worried you would exercise your right.”

“My right?”

“Yes, your right to have lower Tier mages follow your orders.”

“Oh. I can do that?” I asked.

He nodded. “It varies from world to world, on some, it is considered divine right, and punishable by death to refuse the orders of a higher Tier. Of course, if the higher Tier orders something which his superiors do not approve of, it could then be his life which would be forfeit.”

“Wow, and that would take out all his descendants?”

“Yes, so you can imagine giving such orders is only done in situations of clear need and approved by law. However, on some worlds, it is less formal, and obedience is just expected of lower Tiers, but not enforced by law. There are even a few worlds where lower Tiers don’t have to follow orders of higher Tier superiors; of course, those superiors might attempt to kill anyone who doesn’t follow their orders. On most worlds, lower Tier mages are like lower ranks in a military organization.”

“So, if I was a higher Tier than that pompous ass, I could have ordered him out of his chair and taken charge?”

Hydan nodded, “This is assuming a higher Tier mage didn’t show up and fix the situation. Now, did another mage show up after you declared your Tier?”

“No, I only saw Sir Squeaky, and I’m pretty sure he was the same idiot who exposed us back on the top of the wall.”

Hydan looked surprised, “That is odd. Normally, if a lower Tier mage had to deal with a higher Tier prisoner, the simple solution is to call a higher Tier superior to the hearing, thereby negating that issue. If one did not come…”

“Yes?” I prodded.

He shrugged, “Then it is likely that there was no higher Tier available, but I would have thought they would have summoned one eventually.”

“Nope, just Sir Squeaky.”

“Why are you calling him ‘Sir Squeaky’, surely that wasn’t his name?”

I smiled, “You heard him up on the wall, not a voice you forget soon.”

Hydan shifted his weight to his other foot and brought a webbed hand to his chin in thought, “That makes no sense, why was a lower Tier mage, which would make sense for wall guard duty, also brought in to interrogate mages? Also, when he found himself outranked, why didn’t he call in a superior?”

“When you put it that way, it does sound odd,” I agreed.

Hydan nodded, “It is likely because he had no superior to call! That might be it, mages are becoming scarce, and perhaps this lowly Fifth or Sixth is the highest Tier available, or maybe the only mage in Poseidon!”

Toji looked perplexed, “But, if that were true, this city would be nearly undefended from attack by Morgain’s forces!”

I spoke quietly, “Keep your voices down.”

Toji moved in closer, and Hydan said, “Yes, and the Poseidon leadership would want to keep that a secret, at any cost!”

Toji nodded, and then added, “If that is true, why would they let a Sivaeral Third go out on a dangerous quest, wouldn’t they need him to stay here and protect the capital?”

I broke in, “But Sir Squeaky said we could go…”

Hydan interrupted, “Toji is right, I now believe this Sivaeral wizard was lying to you.”

“To what purpose?” I asked.

Hydan thought about it, and took a drink from his bottle, before saying, “He could be separating us; he kept Myrka alone in the cell and let us all go free. That gives him a shot at Myrka without us there to help!”

“Crap!” I almost yelled, but managed to lower my voice in time. I glanced toward where our guard was standing.

“Can you Five Point travel to that cell?” I asked Hydan.

Hydan nodded, “I believe so, I checked earlier and there was no StarWard put up, which is very odd for a cell containing mages! If there is only a Fifth here, he couldn’t block me anyway.”

“OK, here is what we are going to do, let’s find a place where you can make a Traveling Star, and then you and Toji are going to get Myrka and bring her here. Try NOT to kill any saerans, and keep Myrka from starting any mayhem as well! Meanwhile, I’m going to get the research on my parents. As soon as we are all back together, we use another Traveling Star to get clear of this city!”

“All right, but are you going to be alright, alone?” Toji asked.

“Yes, as long as they think we are here just doing research, they won’t hit us until later; they probably mean to use another ruse to separate one of us from the group, so they can take us one by one.”

“True,” Toji said, but added, “Still, I would be happier if I stayed with you.”

I shook my head, “No time to argue, the battle is going to be in the cell, and it might already be taking place. Now, quickly, let’s move, both of you are going back there!”

We went to the oval counter and asked for directions to the genealogy section. Then we headed that direction. On the way, we passed a closed door, and when no one was looking, opened it and found a storage room. Toji and Hydan slipped in and I closed the door with them inside.

Then I was off to the genealogy section alone.

When I entered the chamber containing all documented genealogy for the saeran race, I stopped. There were cubby holes which went up to the high ceiling on each wall, and almost all of them were stuffed full of rolled up scrolls. It would take me a lifetime in here to find the scroll I needed!

“Haven’t these idiots heard of a damned computer!” I muttered, “Hell, how about old-fashioned index card drawers! What heathen race doesn’t have a Dewey Decimal system! A pox on all of you morons!”

That’s when Pox’s sniveling voice said, “You called, master?”

I whirled around and found my favorite disgusting dwarf, Pox, sniveling by a table in the center of the room. He was wringing his gnarled fingers, and bobbing his big proboscis while showing his yellowed teeth in what he thought was a smile.

“Where have you been!” I demanded. “You sent me off to England, and then pulled a disappearing act!”

Pox sniveled, “I can manifest where you are when you call me if you are alone. Sometimes I can find you if you remain in a place long enough for me to locate, Master.”

“What are you talking about? What ARE you?”

“I am a ghost of my former self, a phantom. I stayed when I died, and then asked to be bound as a phantom so I could continue to serve you, as I did in life before I was killed.”

“So you’re a ghost?”

“No, I am a phantom, this body is reconstituted from the Ether when I manifest.”

Typically, of Pox, his answers often confused me more, not less, but I had little time, so I asked, “Why can you only come when I am alone?”

Pox bobbed his whole squat body up and down as he said, “I meant only when you are not with other mages, for their power over reality keeps me from manifesting.”

“I see; can you help me?”

He nodded, “I can try, Master, tell me what you need.”

“Tell me who my parents are!” I demanded, realizing I didn’t even need to look at these dusty old scrolls; here was someone who knew my past!

“I don’t know,” Pox answered contritely. “You never told me, Master. When you brought me back my memory was damaged; I can recall little of my previous life.”

Great, another brain damaged idiot, we were a matched set, if you ignored his deformed body.

“OK, fine then, but I will still need to find the scroll which tells me about my lineage, but there are so many.”

Pox exhaled, which stunk up the chamber to high heaven, and said, “What you need may be called by your choice.”

Damn, I wanted to punch that little runt! Every time I asked him something he made it all so confusing, why couldn’t the putrid pigmy just say, “Oh, it’s THAT one!” And then point to a scroll with one of his disgusting digits?

“Explain that, simply!” I almost yelled, my saeran eyes kind of bugging out of my scaled face.

So he tried again, “The scroll you need is where you know it can be found.”

Ah hell, I wondered if it was against the law to kill a phantom? Or maybe that was considered a boon to society? I vowed to find out. But as I considered crushing the conniving cretin his words kind of made some sense, once I remembered I was a wizard, and what wizards did for kicks.

I turned to the room and thought about how they would have put the important scrolls at the bottom, and how a mage Third would be on a scroll in the third cubby. Then, my family, who were no doubt important, would be placed on top. So I walked to the third cubby and picked up the scroll I needed, from right on top.

I spread it out on the table. What I saw was family tree diagram. Hot damn, it had actually worked! All I had to do was know where the scroll was, and that’s where it was, which, in essence, was what Pox had said.

In bold letters at the top of the scroll was a title, House Sivaeral. Below that was a rectangular box which had just two words, “The Archimage”. From the title, there were several lines drawn to the next row of boxes below. On these connecting lines, between rows of boxes, were names like Esabeth Sivaeral: M, or Karice Albus: 3.

It wasn’t too hard to figure out that these were the mates of the name in the box above, their house and their Tier. ‘M’ must be for mundane, and numbers for a Tier. There were twelve boxes in the second row, each containing a name. There was a mix of female and male names. All of the names on this row had a red line drawn through them, except for three: Oberon, Gunder, and Braun. I noted Medrod was just to Oberon’s left, though there was a red line through Medrod’s name. Again, it was obvious; the line meant they were ended. In every case where a line was drawn through a name, all names down the rows connected to that name were red lined.

This made the three remaining lines stand out, as they were the only Seconds not crossed out, and therefore, every surviving Sivaeral mage was down one of their lines. If I was a Third, and obviously I was still alive, then one of these three had to be my father! I quickly scoured the names on the third line of boxes which connected to each of the three remaining names above, looking for Nicholas, but my name wasn’t there.

“I’m not here,” I said, stunned, I had been so sure I was about to learn who my real parents were.

Pox wiped a large glop of snot from his nose, and flicked it to the ground, and then he snorted heavily, sucking the remainder back into his pickle size nose, and then said, “Perhaps your name is hidden.”

“Hidden? Why would they do that?”

Pox answered, “When an illegitimate child is born, often times parents try to protect them from the Hunters.”

“Illegitimate? What do you mean, like their parents weren’t married?”

He shook his ugly head, and I stepped back lest any of his snot fly off. Then Pox said, “No, Master, illegitimate, as in ‘against propriety’, or worse, against the Accords.”

Once again my thought about murdering the little larcenous leech leaped through my mind, but I held on and said, “What would constitute ‘against propriety’?”

“Well, a Bastard child,” he said like I should have known that.

I recalled Hydan had explained Bastards, they were the child of two mages of the same Tier and were often hunted by other mages.

“OK, but even if I am a Bastard, how would I know?”

He looked at my left hand and said, “Use the ring, Master, you told me your mother gave it to you!”

“Use the ring?” I said and looked down at the gold band on my right hand, ring finger. “What the hell does that mean, what, am I supposed to imagine something else?”

“No, I mean, look through the ring!”

Was this some kind of damned metaphor? Did he mean the Ring of Ten mages or some other ring?

“What do you mean, look through the ring?” I demanded, expecting one of his really confusing answers, which the gnarled gremlin generally gave me, but Pox just held up his thumb and forefinger, making a circle, and then brought it up to his bloodshot eye.

It couldn’t be that easy, could it?

I pulled the ring off my finger, which took some tugging; the thing didn’t like to come off. Then, feeling a little ridiculous, I held it up to my eye and looked at the scroll through the center of the gold ring.

There was more writing! The additional writing showed as glowing thin silver lines on the parchment. I quickly rescanned the three living Seconds and saw a new line coming off of Oberon! I followed it, and where there should have been the name of my mother on the line there was nothing written. However, the line did go to a box, and there it said, ‘Nicholas Sivaeral: 3’

Oberon Sivaeral was my father!

I put my ring back on, and then rolled up the scroll and put it back in the cubby; there was no sense letting someone else know what I’d been perusing.

“OK, let’s get back to the storage room,” I said to Pox, but the little runt had disappeared again, great.

I hurried toward the storage room, and then slowed when I could see the door ahead. I waited until all other saerans were out of sight, and then I just slipped in and closed the door swiftly. On the floor was a blackened double circle, with a pentagram inside, so I figured Hydan and Toji had made the jump to Myrka’s cell.

I waited a couple more minutes and was just about to go out and tell my guard to take me back to Myrka’s cell when Toji spun into being and staggered a few steps. Myrka followed and then Hydan appeared.

“What happened?” I demanded.

Hydan shrugged, and then answered, “I arrived behind the saeran Captain; he had his Actuality knife close to Myrka to keep her from using her powers. There were several other guards, all trying to bind Myrka, so the first thing I did was disabled the Captain.”

“I thought you said you couldn’t use your powers close to one of those Actuality weapons?”

“I didn’t, I just picked up the chair which Myrka had been using, and hit him over the head with it. Then I tossed the Actuality knife into the corner, which freed us to use our powers.”

“You didn’t kill the guards, did you?” I asked.

“No,” Myrka said sourly.

Hydan explained, “I yelled out that you wanted them alive, so Myrka electrocuted them, I think, but only enough to render them unconscious.”

Myrka sniffed, “Those mundanes laid their hands on me; they deserved to die.”

I ignored her, and said, “OK, now we need a plan to get out of the city.”

But Toji said, “Before we go, remember I was coming to the Hall of Records to find out if there is a Nimue Sivaeral listed in the records, and where she dwells. If we can find her perhaps we can obtain Caliburn! That would give you some protection when we face Medrod, Morgain, and her necromages!”

I nodded, that was probably a good idea, so we went back to the genealogy room, and searched for a sorceress named Nimue. She was listed as a Third, daughter of Gunder Sivaeral and a mundane Sivaeral named Emalain. Then I asked Toji, “Well, you were right, so we know she is a Sivaeral Third, but is she still alive? What should we do next?”

“We could check family history,” he replied, and then Toji led us out of the genealogy section and back to the oval entry room to inquire about history books. I noticed our guard still there looking bored, so I figured no one had yet discovered the unconscious guards back in Myrka’s cell, or at least word had not reached here yet.

We followed Toji and he went to a shelf with a bunch of large tomes on it, and he selected one without pause. In moments, he opened the book, right to the page where the Nimue Sivaeral was mentioned.

“That ‘knowing you will find it where you think it is’ thing is really useful,” I noted.

Hydan looked at me strangely, “How did you learn to do that?”

“An ugly bird told me,” I noted.

Hydan raised a small eye fin and said, “A chicken told you? How extraordinary!”

Toji read for a moment, and then reached out to the page and touched it.

I leaned in closer to see what he touched and spotted a red pentagram symbol on the page. “What does that do?” I asked.

Toji stepped aside and said, “Close your eyes and then touch it,”

So I did, and it was like someone had opened a curtain on a stage in my mind, I was looking at a placid lake, in some tree covered hills of green. It was just like I was standing there; I could even feel a breeze and smell the evergreens. Then I opened my eyes and the image closed down again and I was back in the Hall of Records.

“Wow,” I stated.

Toji smiled, “This is an Image Mark, which only a mage can see if they touch the symbol another mage created.”

Hydan and Myrka also touched the symbol so we all had it for the future.

Toji closed and replaced the book on the shelf and then said, “OK, we know where to find Nimue, and we can Five Point travel there. Shall we go back to the storage room, and get out of this city?”

“What about Mystical Island?” I asked.

Hydan answered, “I have already been there, and I can get us close to the island on the coast, but no one can Five Point travel onto Mystical Island, Morgain has a massive StarWard running.”

I nodded, so off we went to the storage room, and Toji started forming a Traveling Star on the stone floor.

Just as he finished it, I heard the sound of guards calling out, and boots running. “They are onto us!” I said, and then Toji motioned for us to jump into the flaming star.

 

 

 

Chapter Eleven

 

I’m your Sword of Light tonight,

Going to scorch you deep inside,

Make you glad to be alive

Because I’m your Sword of Light

-Horslips

 

I stepped out of the spinning blur into the reality of the image I’d seen when I touched the pentagram in the book. We were standing on a large stone, near the sandy shore of a lake, which was glass smooth on the surface. The surrounding tree covered hills were perfectly mirrored on the glossy lake water. As soon as all of us were there, I said, “Where to?”

Toji answered, “The book only said Nimue Sivaeral dwells within the waters of this lake.”

I nodded and walked down to the edge of the lake and then called out, “Yo, Lake Lady!”

Hydan stepped up next to me and said, “Perhaps a more cordial greeting would be advisable.”

“I don’t do cordial very well,” I noted with a sniff.

“I hadn’t noticed,” he replied with a wink. Then Hydan called out, “Most esteemed Lady Nimue, we come in great need. The land is wounded with the scars of Civil War, and the rightful rulers of Abal are in dire need of assistance. A fell being from another world, whom we call the Island Witch, is corrupting the mages of this House, destroying the beauty of this world, and will not stop until Abal is no more. We come with a wizard of House Sivaeral in quest of Caliburn!”

A white shape glided up under the surface, and the water was so clear we could see that it was a saeran woman, wearing a white gown seemingly made of silver scales. When she stopped she was on her back, facing upwards, looking at us from underneath the shallow water.

Her lips did not move, but I could clearly hear her voice in my head. “I am Nimue. Whom so comes, and what is thine desire?”

I wanted to say something sarcastic, but Hydan anticipated me and nudged me with his elbow, so I rethought my response and said, “I come seeking to, ah, borrow your sword, Caliburn.”

“And why dost thou need the Sword of Kings?” her voice said in my head.

Some sarcastic part of me wanted to reply, ‘strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government’, in Michael Palin’s voice, but I restrained myself. What I did say is, “As Hydan said, I have an Island Bitch to slay.”

“Thou would oppose Morgain and Medrod?”

“You’re damned tootin,” I replied, thinking of the captured Ziny.

Then her voice said, “Let me gaze upon thee.”

I shrugged; I figured she was already looking at me, not to mention getting in my head, so what the hell?

Her face suddenly changed expression to one of puzzlement. “One of thine line has already wielded Caliburn in the past, dost thou not know thine heritage?”

“I only learned my father is Oberon today,” I replied. “I am going to stop by and surprise my pop right after this gig.”

“Thou dost speaketh strangely, yet thine words only cloak the great anger I feel inside of thee.”

“Honey, you have never seen me angry,” I retorted. “Besides, ‘thou’ saying I speak strangely is kind of calling the kettle black.”

She looked at me sternly, “And if I were to grant thee access to the sword, which is mine duty to guard, dost thou swear to return it to my care when thine task has been completed?”

“Of course, I just need to borrow your pig sticker long enough to poke an evil sorceress where the sun don’t shine,” I answered.

Toji spoke softly from behind me, “Master Justnick, perhaps a politer approach would benefit us? It is imperative that we obtain this sword.”

Hydan snickered, “Nicholas rubs most people the wrong way.”

I lifted my shoulders and turned my palms up as I replied, “It’s a gift.”

But my words didn’t seem to cause Nimue any angst, and suddenly she had a sword against her chest, hilt by her chin. Her hands grasped it by the top of the blade, just below the hilt. She lifted the blade and the hilt came out of the water. I had to wade out a bit to take it from her saeran hands.

As soon as I had the sword I gave it a quick once over, and just like the Actuality knife the Captain had used, this sword also had strange ruins cut slightly into the metal, running down both flat sides of the long sword. The blade was bright silver, and the grip black, with a hexagonal silver pommel.

“Bitchin,” I said with a grin.

Nimue started to glide away under the water, but her voice came into my head one more time, “Remember thine oath.”

“Right, gotcha, kill the bitch and return the blade before my rental period is over,” I replied. “Is there a late fee?”

But she didn’t answer, and she was out of sight.

“With your rude behavior, I’m surprised she gifted you with such a precious relic,” Hydan noted.

I gave him a grin, “I think she was sweet on me. Girls always love the bad boys.”

Hydan sniffed and then chuckled. “That must be true. It is interesting how Oberon wielded Caliburn in the past, I wonder why your father gave the sword back to this Third?”

“You’ve got me; let’s go ask my dad,” I said, and then asked, “Do you have an image of Ouroboros?”

Hydan shook his head, “I’ve never been to Ouroboros.”

Toji hadn’t either, and this was Myrka’s first time on Abal.

Then Toji asked if he could see Caliburn, so I handed him the sword. He looked it over and took hold of the grip. I was a little uneasy when he held it ready for battle, but then he turned and held the blade, presenting the hilt to me so I could take back the sword.

Then I realized Nimue might have an image of Ouroboros, so I tried calling back Nimue, but she did not respond; the lake just seemed empty. The others went to make camp, and I stood at the side of the lake.

“Hey, sorceress in the pond! Yo, keeper of wet swords! Hello!” I called out for the fiftieth time. Then I muttered to myself, “Crap, I should have asked her when she was here! What was I thinking? I mean, who else am I going to ask?”

Then I had a thought, and immediately spoke out, “Hey, Pox, little ugly dude!”

Pox spoke from behind me, “You called, Master?”

I spun around, “There you are, you sneaky little snot. Can you give me one of those images of a place here called Ouroboros?”

He shook his head, his long nose moving back and forth swiftly. “I have no knowledge of that place.”

“You Prat! What good are you then?” I demanded.

Pox sniveled, “Perhaps I can bring someone to aid you, Master!”

I looked at him suspiciously, and then demanded, “Who?”

“Fiona Albus, she has been looking everywhere for you.”

I thought about that, “Fiona is on Earth.”

He shook his head, “Not so, Master, she has come seeking you here, on Abal. I saw her at the Hall of Records, soon after I left you. I was bringing her to find you, but you Five Point traveled away to an unknown location and have not contacted me until now. I believe she may still be in Poseidon.”

The thought of seeing Fiona again was very pleasurable, but I wasn’t sure what Fiona would make of Myrka, or Toji, for that matter. Back on Earth she had seemed somewhat vexed with me when I had confided my missing memory to Hydan, so who knows what she would think of me taking up with a Bakemono, or worse, a bloodthirsty Tarvos. But on the other hand, I was almost aching to see Fiona again. In the end, I decided I better have a conversation with her first, before bringing her to meet my new companions.

“I just want to talk to her, like I did when I was at Stonehenge and she was at her home at Camington castle. Can you arrange that?”

“It would be safer for her to come to you,” he noted. “If you Summon her the bridge might be discovered!”

I ignored him and demanded, “Just tell me how I can talk to her, without bringing her here!”

He shrugged, “If she is not distracted, she might hear you if you speak her name aloud, assuming she is listening and wishes to heed the summoning.”

“All right,” I said, and then I looked off into nothing and said, “Fiona Albus, are you there?” I immediately felt ridiculous, and a little like Scotty speaking into the old Mac computer mouse in The Wrath of Kahn.

A cold wind seemed to suddenly blow in off the lake; it tousled my hair. Then I heard her silky warm voice, which sounded as if she was right next to me, “Nicholas, at last.”

Damn that girl had a sultry voice; it literally sent shivers up my spine. “Yes, I’m here, Fiona.”

“Where are you? I’ve been seeking you everywhere!” she asked.

“I’m in the countryside, by some lake, here on Abal.”

“There are many lakes in the countryside, where, exactly, are you located?”

“I don’t know the name of the lake,” I answered, which was true, though I didn’t mention it was the one where Nimue Sivaeral resided. “I’ve had some trouble with a few necromages controlled by Medrod and Morgain.”

“Medrod is alive?” Fiona said in surprise.

“In some fashion, yes.”

She paused a moment, absorbing what I’d said, and then replied, “Are you all right?”

I nodded, but then remembered she couldn’t see me. “Yes, I’m fine. But, Medrod kidnapped a little saeran sorceress I was protecting, and I’m working on getting her back!”

Fiona’s voice was very cautionary, “You are not ready to take on one such as Medrod or his necromancer wife.”

“They took Ziny!” I said as if that was reason enough.

“I’m sorry, Nick, but if you are going to have any chance you will need my aid. Have you located your parents yet? My research showed your father may be Oberon,” she answered.

“Yeah, I found that out as well. I’m headed to see him now, but I don’t know how to find the town he is at Ouroboros. Can you give me one of those Images of the place?”

Suddenly my view of the world changed, and I was seeing a fortified town, where a river wrapped all the way around the walls.

Then Fiona’s voice said, “That is Ouroboros, I don’t have an Image from inside the town.” Then the vision faded and I was back viewing the lake.

“Thanks, that will at least get us close,” I said.

“Us?” she asked, “Are you still with Hydan Friare?”

I answered, “Yes, and a couple others we picked up along the way.”

“Mages?” she asked.

“Yes, both Fourths,” I answered, though I didn’t mention their Houses.

Fiona then said, “Let me help you, Nick, you are a Third, without current training and mage skills, and both Medrod and Morgain are powerful and knowledgeable Seconds, both wielding the Derkaz. Two-Fourths and a Friare Third are no match for them! Even with my help, I don’t like our chances! Remember, Medrod and Morgain have taken down an entire world of mages! They have grown powerful!”

“I have a secret plan, I’m going to use a weapon which will help me against those Seconds,” I explained.

“A weapon? Is this the secret you stole from The Dragon? If it is, you need to tell me! What if you are killed and the secret of how to stop Morgain and Medrod dies with you? This whole planet and the entire Sivaeral House might be enslaved if you die without…”

“No, you don’t understand; you see I’m not…”

But that’s when I saw Myrka approaching, so I broke off my conversation, “Look, someone is coming, we will have to talk about this later. Just trust me!”

“Nick, I do trust you, but trust has to go both ways,” she replied.

“Don’t worry; I’ll contact you soon. Now how do I cut this ‘Summons’ off?”

But I was talking to myself now, the coldness of the connection was abruptly gone, as was Pox.

I felt a stab of loss, talking to Fiona, even remotely, made my heart grow warm.

Myrka arrived and said, “I heard talking, who was that?”

I thought about it, and couldn’t see a reason not to be truthful, so I said, “I Summoned a friend who might be able to help us on getting to Ouroboros.”

Myrka looked at me strangely, and then said, “When did you learn how to Summon, and who was this friend?”

“I’ve spoken to her with what she called a Spirit Bridge once before, back on Earth.”

“Her, you mean Fiona, the Albus Second?” she asked with some interest.

“Yes.”

Myrka glanced at me and then looked away as if trying to hide her interest, though I noticed. Then she asked, “Is she coming here?”

“Not yet, but she gave me an image of Ouroboros. She may come to meet us there, though.”

Myrka accepted my explanation and then led me to where they had made camp.

In the morning, Hydan showed me how to share the Image, though he did most of the magic. Once he had it, we found a large stone, where he made a Traveling Star, and we all jumped into the burning red circle.

 

 

 

Chapter Twelve

 

You may be right

I may be crazy.

But it just may be a lunatic you’re looking for.

-Billy Joel

 

Ouroboros turned out to be a town in the center of an almost perfectly round turn in the river Trent. It was a place in the river where the water naturally curved around until it almost met itself on the other side. The town was built in the center circle of the river, and they had cut a canal across the short gap in the circle so the town was entirely circled with water. It differed from Terran construction because the outer wall was placed in mid-river, so half the river went around, and the other half was inside. There were bridges, like the spokes of a wheel, connecting the water bound wall to the town on shore. On the canal portion of the round wall, there was one larger bridge which went from the town, across a drawbridge, through the wall, and across another drawbridge to the far shore, across the canal. That outer drawbridge was currently raised to protect the town from assault.

I was currently lying prone on a grassy knoll, overlooking the battleground a couple of mectors away, and I could see Morgain’s army surrounding the city. She had massive siege weapons arranged out in clearings in the surrounding woods. Her ground troops were camped out beyond ballista or arrow range of the walls, though they currently seemed to be forming up the troops for some kind of assault.

I could see several large winged creatures, more bat-like than bird, flying around the air, staying up out of arrow range. They were large enough to support a saeran rider.

“Do you think Medrod is here?” I asked Hydan, who was prone on my left, on the other side of Toji.

He was watching the flying creatures curiously, “I’m not sure, but I wonder if those flying beasts are one of his creations?”

“If he is here do you think he would have brought Ziny as well?”

He shook his head, “I don’t know, though I doubt it; I think he would have taken, or sent, any mage prisoners to Mystical Island, so his wife could start turning them to their side.”

I nodded, and then said, “That outer wall in the river seems fairly intact, has the siege only recently started?” I asked Toji, who was to my left.

He was also prone, and shading his eyes with one web-fingered hand. Toji answered, “No, I think this has been going on for some time.”

“But then why aren’t the walls damaged?”

He pointed at a big trebuchet which was just whirling around and sending its heavy load high into the air, across the meadow, over the canal, and then down into the city wall. The big boulder struck the wall about five feet from the top, and the wall stones blasted inwards in a shower of debris.

“That’s more like it!” I said, and then added, “Not that I want the walls damaged.”

Toji nodded, but said, “Keep your eye on that broken wall.”

It was about a half hour later when I saw the wall suddenly repair itself. Now, I don’t mean the original bricks piled back up in reverse, what I mean is the broken hole was just suddenly gone, and bricks were back the way they had been originally.

“Holy crap, wizardry, I presume?”

Toji nodded, “Your father is probably there, only a Third or higher would have the power to reach that much area.”

“So he can just keep fixing the walls forever?” I asked.

Myrka was to my right and said, “Not forever. Remember my collapse during the battle in the tower? If a mage uses all their power, they cannot continue to function, and may perish.”

Toji added on, “So if the enemy can keep damaging the walls swiftly enough, eventually the mage in there will tire, and be unable to keep up. They just need enough siege weapons to overwhelm his recovery speed.”

“I see,” I said.

We could make out teams of the enemy chopping down trees while others worked to build new siege weapons. There was a kind of industry built up, something they must have been working on for some weeks.

I pointed to the river, “Can we just swim in and get to the city that way?”

Hydan replied, “It may be true that their necromages cannot get in the water, but they have many living troops as well, and I’m sure they have posted many sentries underwater to block such an ingress.”

I nodded, “OK, other ideas?”

Myrka replied, “We fight our way in. We go in well after dark when they are tired and then we kill the sentries. Then we fight our way to the wall. We slaughter any of the enemies who dare oppose us.”

“OK, that’s an idea, but with Medrod and his necromages around, not necessarily a good one,” then I added, “Any ideas which don’t get some or all of us killed or captured?”

Hydan grinned, “We can fly in.”

“Fly? What? Turn ourselves into flying creatures and just wing our way in?” I said sarcastically.

He shook his saeran head, “There are several problems with your plan.”

“I wasn’t serious,” I replied.

“I am,” Hydan noted, and added, “However, mages can’t really turn themselves into other things.”

I was puzzled, “Wait, I’ve seen you turn three or four creatures at once into chickens or snogfish! And technically, we all changed into saerans when we came here!”

“That’s true, but let me explain. You see, a mage has what we call a Self Image; it’s why we look like ourselves, even when we go to another world and change bodies. Now, the reason we change bodies is because we have entered a world which has its own imposed reality. This was done millennia ago before the Archimage took physical form. The reality they imposed back then was not bound by their current physical limitations; it was back when their power was almost god-like. Lower Tier mages have nowhere near enough power to overcome the rules the Archimages imposed. So when we arrived here, we didn’t change ourselves into saerans; we were changed by entering this sphere of reality created by the Abal Archimage. We had no choice.”

“I see, sort of,” I answered, “Though you will have to tell me more about this Archimage physical body thing.”

“Let’s talk about this later. For the moment just accept that this is why we changed to saeran bodies. Now, the reason we can’t change away from a saeran body is due to that Self Image I mentioned. Mages have a zone of reality around them, which both protects them, and limits them in form. It protects them from things like explosions, or missiles of any kind, like bullets or arrows. These things enter the sway of the mage’s reality and are automatically changed to that reality. This reality is set by the mage and then handled by this sphere of influence. But to change our form on an Archimage’s World, we would have to override the Archimage’s Reality. It would just require too much power for any mage below an Archimage, and even they can’t change another mage because of their Self-Image plus the Archimage reality of this World.”

“But you did it to those necro things!”

“Those weren’t living mages. The necrosouls I changed on Earth were just mundane corpses, reanimated by a necromancer pulling a soul from the Ether. Then, the shades I changed in the tower were not using their own bodies; they were creating bodies by assembling objects, bones, armor, etc. I didn’t change their bodies; I changed the objects they were using as bodies. There is a big difference!”

“What about necromages?”

Hydan shrugged, “I’m not sure, they are re-animated corpses again, but they are also the souls of mages, so perhaps they can’t be altered, or perhaps it is just hard. They could be like the shades, or they could be much more difficult. I’d have to try to change one to find out if it is possible. Remember, these necromages are a relatively new creation. I didn’t even know about them! From what Toji says, Morgain came up with how to create them recently, and not much is yet known about the process.”

“OK,” I said, drawing out the two letters, “So, you can’t change a living mage into something else.”

“Nope,” he agreed, “Nor can you change yourself, it just requires too much magic, it’s that simple.”

“So no flying creatures,” I lamented.

“No, and no invisibility either, same problem,” he added.

I hadn’t thought of that anyway. Then I asked, “Right, so why did you bring up flying in if we can’t change to flying creatures? Were you talking about riding a flying beast?”

“We could do that, but we’d likely be shot down by the defenders, or attacked by the enemies own squads of saerans on flying creatures.”

“So, what did you mean then?”

“I said ‘fly in’, but I did not mean as, or on, a winged creature. Perhaps I should have said, ‘arc in’.”

We all looked at him blankly for a moment.

Hydan pointed at the larger siege engines. “Those trebuchets are quite powerful. They are lobbing large boulders nearly to the top of the wall. I, therefore, assume they could fling lighter things further, like us, for example.”

I lifted up slightly to see over Toji to make sure Hydan could see me staring incredulously at him, and said, “Hold on, you want us to become ballistic missiles and land somewhere in the town, likely smashing into a wall while we do our best impression of a squashed house fly?”

Hydan laughed, “Minus the squashed house fly part, yes. The speed we would be flying would far exceed any winged creature, so our enemies can’t stop us, and anyone shooting at us from the walls would have a hard time hitting us, besides, we have no mount to shoot down, and their missiles can’t hit a mage.”

I couldn’t believe he was serious, and exclaimed, “Are you insane?”

Hydan smirked, “That is yet to be determined, though I think the current consensus is ‘definitely’.”

Toji was sizing up Hydan’s plan, like it made some kind of sense, “I’m assuming you want us to fix our landing, and come in light, just like when you fell from that waterfall?”

“Exactly,” Hydan exclaimed.

I sighed, “I’m not so sure I want to try this as I may not be able to make myself light if I am worried about it, and even if I was willing, how would we get a trebuchet to launch us?”

“Well, we’re going to have to appropriate one,” Hydan noted.

I looked at him dubiously. “I think we need a better plan.”

Myrka looked at me and blinked, and then said in absolute seriousness, “We can start killing our way in right now.”

I sighed.

 

I was still muttering under my breath about insane Friares as we snuck our way through the woods toward one of the clearings where they had built a trebuchet. When we reached the edge of the trees we could see a field of stumps, where the attackers had cut down trees to use in the making of the siege weapon, and then out in the middle was the very large trebuchet. It had two tall triangular A-frames which went up to the pivot point at the top, as well as two lower A-frames for support. There was a long tree trunk attached to the top of the tall A-frames near the base of the long trunk, and then a large basket attached to that, filled with rocks.

I’d heard of trebuchets before, of course, but I’d never really watched one work. The principal was actually pretty simple, they use some ropes in a block and tackles setup to winch down the long arm, lifting the counterbalance of stones in the big wood basket. Hanging from the end of that was a sling, which is where they loaded the missile. Firing a trebuchet was as simple as releasing the arm. The heavy weight of the rocks in the basket made that fall, which pivoted the arm on the A-Frame, and that whipped the sling around on the end of its rope, which described a parabolic curve, and released the missile with amazing velocity.

Hydan wanted us to be that missile.

I watched the enemy launch a missile which must have weighed as much as a car, and it flew several hundred yards to reach Ouroboros.

There were about three hundred or so saerans around, but distant trumpets sounded the attack, and most of the enemy marched off toward Ouroboros. Only about fifty saerans remained; these were the ones involved in working the trebuchet. I looked around and finally spotted one who looked kind of drawn and dry at the face, obviously the necromage in command. Fortunately, there seemed to be only one of them.

I whispered to Hydan, “One necromage, there.”

He nodded, and then spoke softly. “Myrka, you and Nick clear the way to the sling, Toji and I will deal with the necromage.”

Myrka looked at me and said, “Do not get between me and my targets.”

“Oh trust me, Sweetheart, I learned that lesson,” I agreed.

“My heart is no sweeter than…”

“Just an expression,” I muttered and she quit speaking, though she did give me a very nice scowl.

I turned back to Hydan, “What about my issue with making myself light, meaning, if I don’t?”

“Just believe you are light, and you will be,” he retorted.

I nodded, “Right, easy for you to say.”

“You have been doing well on changes to your clothing,” he reminded me.

I almost laughed, but I kept my voice quiet, “That takes a lot of thought on my part, and I’m not trying to save my life while hurtling through the air like some water balloon headed for a brick wall!”

“There is no difference, you just have to believe in what you know is real.”

I shook my head, and thought, I believe that if I survive this I’m going to kick that smiling bastard in the head. Then I said softly, “Look, what if I screw up?”

“Stay close to me, I will try to make you light if you fail,” Hydan suggested.

‘Stay close’, he says. I’m going to attach myself to him like a leech, I thought.

But, it was accepted, crazily, this was the plan.

We were waiting for the moment when the crew cranked down the trebuchet arm into the loading position, but before they started to load the missile. Toji was gauging their work, and lifted a hand, and when he brought it down we all leaped up and ran out of the trees. Toji and Hydan immediately angled off to our left, trying to flank the necromage, while Myrka and I headed straight for the trebuchet sling.

They were busy, so they didn’t spot us for a few moments, which let us get through most of the stumps and onto the grass meadow before one of the saerans pointed and started to call out.

Not that anyone heard him, Myrka disintegrated him to dust with a blast of power, but her blue flash of light was like a beacon and did a much better job of getting everyone’s attention than some fool yelling.

At the sight of the charging sorceress and her flash of blue energy, not strangely, and much to Myrka’s disgust, most of the saerans turned tail and ran.

But the necromage turned toward her with a scowl and raised his hand.

That’s when Hydan and Toji came at him from the side.

Hydan gestured, and nothing happened. I guess you can’t change a necromage into a snogfish.

But Hydan wasn’t done yet, just as the necromage started to run toward Myrka and me, a whirlwind of dust kicked up around him in a small tornado, effectively blinding the necromage.

He tried to stagger through, and started to cause the dust to blow away, but in that moment of blindness, he didn’t see the pool of water which seemed to flow up out of the ground in front of him.

He fell into the pool of water with a splash, and then he started to howl and scamper backward to get out of the water.

He wasn’t dying, not like the Wicked Witch from Oz, but his skin was starting to get saggy and was sliding off the bones in places.

Just as he managed to get out of the pool, Toji stepped up behind him and slashed with his right tanto, severing the head of the necromage.

It bounced to the ground, and then into the pool of water.

The body collapsed a moment later.

“To the sling!” Hydan boomed out to us.

We all met at the loading spot for the trebuchet sling and got inside.

Toji brought the release rope with him, and once we were in he said, “Is everyone ready?”

I had been in a constant battle with myself over whether I was crazy or just stupid, and decided suddenly it didn’t matter. “Hell no!” I replied, “And I’m never going to BE ready! This is insane; I’m getting out of this slingshot!”

That’s when Toji pulled the rope.

I madly grabbed for Hydan, like he was the life ring and I was a drowning man who didn’t know how to swim.

The centrifugal force was stunning, and I nearly passed out from lack of blood to the brain. I was thrown against the canvas of the sling and lost all hope of grabbing Hydan. I added Toji to my shit list, which I would be using should I survive this insane ride.

I heard Hydan whoop with pure glee and added him to the same shit list.

It was only a moment later that the sling released and I found myself tumbling through the air. I had a flashback to some dream where I’d been flying and died on impact with the ground. But this wasn’t a dream. I was flying at high speed toward the hard walls of Ouroboros. I immediately started praying to the gods of flight that we would clear the wall. I had this flash of an image of Wile E. Coyote smacking into a desert cliff, and then sliding down, except I wasn’t a toon.

Below us, as they spun into my crazy view, I could see the Island Witch’s army, several thousand warriors, charging the river, though some of them had stopped to look up at the nut cases flying ass-over-teakettle above their heads.

We reached the top of our trajectory path, and started to fall; the wall coming up swiftly looked mighty hard, but then I could see we would clear the top of the wall, which left the landing. I looked, but Hydan was a good ten feet away, and in that instant of vision before I spun around again, I saw that the bastard had righted himself, and was now flying with his arms out to his sides, like damned wings, and he was grinning like a freshman on his first date! I hated him.

As I continued to tumble like a sock in a dryer, I started thinking, hard, about just how light I was, but I guess I didn’t really believe myself, because as soon as we cleared the walls, I seemed to accelerate past the other three, which really meant they slowed and I continued at ballistic speed.

I heard Hydan call out, “You are very light, Nick!”

“Screw you, Hydan,” I called back.

I concentrated, and kept concentrating on being light right to the point where I hit, hard.

OK, so a few survivors of danger are smart and the rest are lucky, well, I must be an idiot because I’m damned lucky. Somehow, through no plan of mine, I landed in a large canal; not that my landing didn’t hurt. I hit the surface of the water at an oblique angle, which, combined with my excessive velocity, made me skip across the surface like a stone across a still pond. I hit the water a second time, which slowed me a little, and then skipped again. A wall was approaching fast, so the next time I came down to hit the water I tried to enter the surface in a head first dive, hands out in front of my head. This briefly seemed to work, my arms penetrated, but then I tumbled and now I was rotating in a flurry of spinning arms and legs, throwing up splashes of white water. I guess this slowed me enough to keep me alive, because when I hit the canal wall, which brought me to a sudden, abrupt and painful stop; it only broke two bones in my left arm and one in my leg. I was now clinging to the side of the canal with my good arm. I was in shock, with half my mind amazed I was still alive and the other half planning my revenge on Hydan and Toji; hell I threw Myrka into my plans for revenge just on general principal.

Hydan and the others found me a few minutes later, likely following my sad mewing sounds. They hauled me up out of the water, and while Hydan healed me, I’m pretty sure I was saying some really nasty things about what I was going to do to each of them.

Hydan was just grinning at me like this was a picnic outing, and he had just won the three-legged race.

My ranting continued, “…and if I live through this, I’m going to cook your ass in…”

Hydan interrupted, “You may get up now.”

I quit shaking my right fist at him, and tried moving my left, and recently broken, arm. It moved without pain.

I got up indignantly, and the others ignored my dark blue embarrassed saeran face.

“I told you it would work,” Hydan exclaimed, grinning like someone who had just won the big stuffed animal at a carnival.

I nearly hit him, but I was afraid my newly fixed arm might break again.

That’s when the saeran guards surrounded us with lowered spears. They were all dressed in steel scale armor, blue uniforms and silver helms.

“We come in pieces, er, in peace,” I exclaimed, raising my arms.

One of the guards, obviously the one in charge, exclaimed, “You are spies, and you will all be executed!”

I was angry, mostly at my companions, but this didn’t stop me from taking it out on the guard, “We are NOT spies, moron, but if you are going to execute anyone, start with him!” I said, pointing at Toji. Then I added, “Or, just take me to my father, I’m sure he’ll still let you torture Toji!”

“Your father?” the guard Lieutenant repeated in a confused tone.

“Yes, I believe he is in this town, which is why we killed some of the Island Bitch’s soldiers, and stupidly launched ourselves over your wall!” And here I glowered at Hydan, who returned me an innocent look.

“And who may your father be? And why should we believe you?” the Lieutenant demanded.

“Because my father is Oberon,” I stated, and it was like I’d dropped a ton of bricks on the conversation.

All the guards gaped at me for a moment.

“So, unless you want your commander to hand you your ass, I suggest you take us to him,” I finished smugly.

“You are a wizard?” the Lieutenant exclaimed.

“Yes, now unless you want to become snogfish, I suggest you quit pissing off a wizard who has been having a really bad day. I am in no mood for idiots,” I said, again glancing at Hydan.

The Lieutenant considered both my threat and my possible relation to his commander. He couldn’t find a reason not to at least take us to Oberon, this way, if I was lying, the Sivaeral wizard would kill us, and if I was telling the truth, the Lieutenant might not get busted to private, or worse.

We weren’t bound, but we were kept under constant guard. I was getting used to having pointy things aimed my way; hell, it was better than being launched from a trebuchet.

 

Like the other village and the capital, Ouroboros had many canals running through the city. I guess it is a saeran thing, which isn’t all that surprising since they love the water so much.

Oberon was a very busy wizard. The constant bombardment of the walls kept him going from place to place, trying to rework the reality of the walls. He looked a little haggard, and well, kind of pissed. That made him seem even more like my father.

His opening words were, “Why are these spies not dead?”

I chose to answer ahead of the Lieutenant, “Well, because we aren’t spies, dad.”

“Dad?” he almost bellowed.

I shrugged, “Check the family tree, I did. I’m your long lost son, Nicholas. You dumped me on Earth and then abandoned me, and I have a bone to pick about that!”

Oberon was a big saeran, with muscles bunched up around his scaly shoulders. He was wearing black plate armor trimmed in iridescent blue. His saeran hard lips snarled slightly, and I had the distinct impression he was looking at us like a shark looks at a seal.

“I have no Hidden children, nor have I left any child on Earth!”

I thought about this and then said, “Look, I checked the Hall of Records in Poseidon; I am listed in there as your son. I have a Sivaeral Glyph on my cheek, and I have it on good authority that I am a Third of your House. There are only three Sivaeral seconds alive, which makes me the son of one of them. Since I am listed under YOUR name, I’m thinking, Pop, you are my father!”

He glowered at me, and I glowered back. Then he kind of grinned, “You are belligerent enough to be my son, but I have only taken one mate, and she has been with me all along. She would and could not have borne me a son without my knowledge.”

“And who is this?” I asked.

“Heronite, my one and only wife, slain two years ago by that bitch, Morgain. I have had no other mate, and taken no mate since her passing.”

I pondered his words, “Were you ever away from her long enough for her to have a child which you did not know? It would have been a long time ago.”

He shook his head, “Never, not for long enough for a child to be born.”

Damn, this made no sense at all.

“And were you ever captured? Maybe you were…”

“No,” he stated, cutting off my line of thought.

I considered, and while I did so he stood and said, “Seeing you are not my heir and have entered this city uninvited…”

“Before you go on and say something which can’t be unsaid,” I interrupted, “We can help against the Island Bitch’s forces.”

He scowled at me, “How?”

“We can fix the wall, and give you a chance to recharge, as it were.” I figured he was probably getting drained from the look of his tired body.

“That would take a mage of decent power,” he noted.

“Hydan and I are Thirds,” I replied.

He considered my offer, and finally said, “I can’t trust you.”

“Then come with us! Just let us fix the wall while you watch, this way you aren’t using any of your own power.”

He considered that idea and then nodded.

So we all trooped out to the wall. It had only been a few minutes, but there were already three damaged areas.

Hydan started working on them. I just watched. I mean, I could have tried but I didn’t want to fail in front of Oberon and cause him to doubt us. He couldn’t tell who was doing the work anyway.

After Hydan fixed all three spots, and then two more over the next hour, Oberon finally quit scowling. He was starting to regain his own power now.

I had Hydan keep at it for another four hours, which is when Oberon announced he was back to full capacity.

“So, now that you know someone falsely documented your relationship, what are your plans,” Oberon asked.

I considered, and then said, “Well, this was a long shot anyway. I had hoped my parents could help me, I grew up a Hidden Soul on Earth, and don’t know much of my heritage.”

“Well, you have to be the son of Gunder or Braun Sivaeral, they are the only surviving Seconds,” he noted, “that is, besides me. Are you going to try to visit them next?”

I shook my head, “No, I have a little saeran girl to rescue, she was taken by Medrod.”

“Medrod!” Oberon bellowed, “He’s dead!”

“Yes, but still kicking, it seems Morgain brought him back somehow,” I noted.

Oberon looked out toward the walls, though he really couldn’t see anything from where we were. “That bitch, she needs ending.”

Hydan spoke at this moment, “What of your Archimage? He was not at the capitol, I wondered if he was here at the front with you?”

That caught my attention, perhaps my Archimage was here, and he could finally help restore my memories, including what I’d stolen from The Dragon!

Oberon shook his head, “No, I have heard nothing of our Archimage, not for some time. But Gunder and Braun, are protecting some of the remaining strongholds, I assume the Archimage is as well. And, seeing I am alive, so must he be, somewhere. I had thought he was in the capitol.”

My first thought was ‘crap’, I’d really hoped he was here, and now it seemed no one knew where he was located.

Oberon continued, “Perhaps he has hidden away to create a new Actuality weapon with which to battle the Island Witch.”

I made no mention of Caliburn, which was strapped to my hip, the rune covered blade hidden in a sheath I had created. For all I knew Oberon would demand it to use Caliburn in this battle, and I needed it for my assault on Morgain.

“You really think you can sneak onto Mystical Island, and rescue a little girl?” Oberon said with doubt obvious in his voice.

“No, but I’m going to do it anyway,” I stated.

He looked at me for a moment, and then grinned, “I wish you were my son! I have decided to help you as much as I can. I can’t let you Five Point travel from within the town, that would open Ouroboros to incursion by the Island Witch’s cursed necromages, but we have a secret tunnel you can use to get away from the town. Let us supply you with some food, and then we’ll get you going.”

“And drink?” Hydan said hopefully.

Oberon smiled, “I have met a few Friares in my travels, so I won’t forget the spirits.”

“Oh, I hope you mean alcohol and not more ghosts and shades!” Hydan exclaimed, but he just winked at me.

“I’ll bring some of our finest brews,” Oberon promised.

Hydan beamed at him.

“Thank you, for all your help,” I said to Oberon.

He clapped me on the back and led the way.

I followed the big saeran, but I was depressed, I mean, I had finally thought I was going to meet at least one of my real parents and get some answers, but someone out there was messing with my past, and I wanted to know who, and why.

 

 

 

Chapter Thirteen

 

Well you must be a prisoner in disguise

-Linda Ronstadt

 

I was expecting their secret tunnel to lead us to some hidden exit out beyond the tree line, but this wasn’t the case. We were taken to the basement of a building, and down there was a door which opened into a natural cavern that went below the river. Some distance in, we came to a guard post, right before we had to get down and crawl under a really low ceiling, where it came down to within one or two feet of the floor.

The guards there told us to follow the caves, which would lead us to our destination. That’s where they left us on our own.

The caverns were damp and dripping, with lots of stalagmites and stalactite formations. It went for some distance, though how far was hard to judge in the twisting, winding cavern. And then we came to a larger chamber, which seemed to be a dead end.

“What the hell?” I noted.

Myrka was creating light by holding up a ball of Derkaz energy over her hand, much like she’d done when I first met her back in Chichen Itza. Now she expanded the size of the strange blue fire and lit the entire cavern. That’s when I saw the blackened circles on the floor of the cave.

“It looks like a lot of Traveling Stars have been made here,” Toji noted.

Hydan nodded, “Ah yes, I see. This cavern is beyond the StarWard Oberon has created in the Town, yet since there is no exit, no one can find their way in from the surface. The only way they could be found is if a mage shares an image of this place.”

“And that’s why they keep a guard further back, right where any attackers would have to crawl through and into their blades,” I noted.

Toji nodded, “Still, that was pretty trusting of Oberon to let you see this location.”

I agreed, “True, but there were several branches back there, I bet they will just seal off this one if attacks start coming through.”

Toji nodded.

Hydan created a burning red pentagram and when it was ready, he said, “All right, you sure you are ready to head for Mystical Island?”

“As ready as I can be,” I noted, “They have had Ziny for over a day now, I’m getting worried.”

Hydan nodded, “As am I, you have to be prepared for the worst, Nick.”

I knew what he meant, the little saeran girl could already be dead.

“So, the four of us against the Island Witch, her resurrected husband and their army of necromages, all to rescue one little saeran girl,” Toji noted.

“Are you worried,” I asked him.

He half bowed to me, “You shame me, Master Justnick. It will be my honor to die during such an honorable quest.”

I smiled at him, “Let’s try to live through it instead, just for kicks.”

“As you say,” he said, giving me a salute with one of his tantos.

I turned to Myrka, “What about you, Myrka? You didn’t sign up to die on a mission to rescue a little girl who you don’t care about.”

“I will rescue her if it is in my power,” Myrka replied.

That made me pause, “Why? You tried to kill her.”

Myrka scowled at me, “That was when I thought she was a threat to my mission, and before I owed her a life debt.”

“A life debt?” I asked.

Myrka only blinked at me.

So I turned to Hydan, “And what about you, Hydan. This isn’t an outing to a new pub, or anything all that fun, amusing or interesting. Why are you coming?”

He smiled, “But Nicholas, you ARE fun, amusing and interesting; at least I have found life around you to be so. I do not fear death; it is just the next great entertainment.”

“So you are willing to die?”

He mused, “Willing, no, expecting, possibly, but I will not bow down to death; I will do my best to avoid it! However, I just refuse to fear it, what fun would that be?”

“What fun indeed,” I agreed.

Hydan looked at me strangely, “And what about you, Nick? Are you trying to save Ziny because she saved your life? Do you feel you owe her a life debt?”

I thought about it and replied, “No, not really. I appreciate her saving me, but that is not why I am going to her rescue.”

“Why then?”

I shrugged, “Because she doesn’t disserve to die. I guess it is as simple as this, there are a lot of bad things in this world, and not enough good ones, and she is one of those rare things, a good person. Moreover, she was under my care, so I will not abandon her to the Island Bitch.”

Hydan nodded and then gestured to the burning pentagram.

 

Once again, I expected to arrive on the coast and be looking out at an island, but instead, I was in a forest.

After I regained my balance from my spinning arrival, I spoke to Hydan who had also arrived. “Where the hell are we?”

“As near Mystical Island as I dared to take us. This is one of the places I remember,” he replied.

I looked around and saw there was some kind of a stone cliff to our left, which fell into a pool of dark water. “What was so memorable about this spot?” I asked.

Hydan walked over toward the pool of water, as he replied, “Well, right over here was where I made my escape from Morgain’s necromages,” he said, pointing to an old blackened pentagram on the stone near the water.

“And what were you doing on Morgain’s island?” Toji asked.

Hydan shrugged, “I went to see what all the excitement was about. There are all these necromages and other dark powers, it is quite the mystery. I was just kind of curious as to what she was up to and why.”

“You were curious?” I asked.

He nodded, “My curiosity gets me into the most interesting situations sometimes.”

Myrka snorted, “I’m surprised you Friares even survive. They will stick their nose into a burning fire to see why flames are hot.”

“Well, why are they hot?” Hydan asked with a grin.

Myrka scowled at him, “Because there is a fire!”

Hydan lifted his hands, “So you say, but how do you know unless you experience it yourself?”

Myrka just took a breath in as if she was going to answer, and then exhaled. “There is no use in talking to a Friare. May I kill him yet?”

“No,” I said absently, I was thinking about Ziny, and I was worried.

 

It was only about two mectors to the coast, but as we traveled through the woods, Hydan explained the situation.

“Morgain keeps an encampment along the shore on this side, that way it is difficult for any attacking army to launch ships to cross the channel. Sure, the saerans can swim across, but they can’t bring large siege weapons with them. We’re going to have to try to sneak past the encampment, and get into the ocean so we can swim across to Mystical Island.”

Myrka snorted, “Mystical Island; that sounds pretentious, even for a Dokkalfar sorceress.”

I looked at the girl and said, “I thought House Dokkalfar embraced the Derkaz, just like your House. Aren’t your Houses allies?”

I had to take a step back from the ferocious expression suddenly on Myrka’s face. “We are nothing like the Dokkalfar demons. Those fools wish to end the universe!”

I did not know what to make of her statement.

Soon we came to the end of the trees. Ahead was a dark wall, about twenty feet high, and it ran along the bluff overlooking the beach below. It kind of reminded me a little of the Great Wall of China, it had a wide top, where lots of soldiers could easily move and fight. At periodic points, there were lookout towers, and these, no doubt, held garrisons of soldiers, mages, and possibly some of those necromages.

The wall wasn’t designed to keep ships from landing people on the beach; it was designed to keep people on shore from reaching the water.

We were all hiding behind tree trunks, looking over the situation. There were many guards positioned along the wall, keeping a sharp eye out on the forest.

“OK,” I asked, “What’s the plan? Are we going to build a ballista and shoot ourselves over the wall?”

“Good plan,” Hydan replied, “But I’m not sure it is feasible.”

Myrka was frowning, “How would we make ourselves act like large bolts?”

“I was kidding,” I noted.

Myrka shook her head, “This, or any other time, is no time to make jokes. I suggest we charge the wall, and then two of us will clasp hands at the base while one of us makes themselves light. Then they fling this light person up onto the wall. That person kills all the guards and then lowers a rope.”

I looked at the Tarvos sorceress and said, “Other than just one of us having to take on all the guards, it’s not a terrible plan, but I have to ask, why do all of your plans involve someone killing everyone?”

“Killing them removes them from your list of problems,” she answered.

I nodded slowly, and drawled “Right.” But my sarcasm was lost on the sorceress. Then I turned to Toji because I was still pissed at Hydan for the Trebuchet plan. “What is your idea?”

Toji considered, and then said, “We wait until dark, and then slip to the wall and throw a rope up, using magic to make it lasso a merlon. Then we simply climb up the wall, slip over the other side and into the ocean.”

I nodded, “That might work, but I don’t want to wait until dark, they have had Ziny too long already. We need a plan which will get us there right now.” I turned reluctantly to Hydan and said, “What about you, I ask with real regret.”

Hydan looked innocently at me for a moment and then replied, “I suggest we just go through the wall. First, we set up a diversion to get the attention of the guards, and then we run to the wall and walk through.”

I scowled at him, “How do you walk through a wall?”

“Well, technically, we won’t, not through solid stone, what we will do is walk through the passage which is there.”

“What passage?” I asked.

He looked at me and blinked those shiny black saeran eyes, “The passage which is there because we know it is there.”

Shit, that again, I thought.

“Won’t they have thought of that?” I asked him.

He shrugged, “Why would any mage try to get to the place where they are trying to capture mages in the first place? Sure, if they bring an army they might try, but then they would just assault the entire wall, but a lone mage in their right mind is going to go away from Mystical Island, not towards it!”

“And we are certainly not in our right minds!” I noted with a smile.

“I am,” Myrka noted seriously, “What other mind would I be in?”

I ignored her and said to Hydan, “What kind of diversion?”

“Leave that to me,” he answered.

I gave him a hard look and then said, “You make me very nervous when you say things like that!”

He replied, “Wait here until I return, but be ready to run for the wall.”

We waited about a half hour, and then Hydan ran up to us and said, “Get ready!”

I looked toward the wall, and the guards, waiting, but nothing happened yet.

“What did you do?” I whispered to Hydan.

Then I heard the sound of tree trunks snapping, and trees falling.

“Here they come!” Hydan said with a kind of glee.

Down about a hundred yards to our left, I saw three tall trees suddenly fall toward the wall as if knocked down by some massive force. Something large and white was in among the trees. That’s when I saw it emerge; it was a chicken, a chicken the size of a three story house!

It was running toward the wall and one of the guard towers.

The guards on the wall were all pointing or yelling, and many were running toward the place where the giant chicken was attacking while a few near that point were actually running away down the wall.

Hydan said, “OK, let’s move!”

But right then trees started falling down toward us from deeper in the forest.

Hydan’s eyes grew round and he said, “Oh, I didn’t count on that!”

“On what?” I demanded.

“One of my chickens has chosen to head in our direction,” he replied.

That’s when I saw another of the giant white hens bearing down on us, knocking down trees as she came.

“Run!” Hydan yelled, but the rest of us were already in flight.

We ran for the wall since it was away from the rampaging chicken giant.

I’m not sure if guards saw us or not, it’s hard to say, what with the giant chickens coming at them and all, but we reached the wall without mishap and Toji gestured. A row of bricks disappeared leaving a shallow arch. He moved inside and another row disappeared. After four of these, he turned and closed one row at the entrance behind us. Now we were in a small room with no exits.

“Here,” Hydan said pleasantly, “let me.”

He stepped forward and six rows of bricks all disappeared at once, making a much deeper passage in toward the center of the wall.

Unfortunately, this created a T-intersection with a passage which ran lengthwise through the wall. There was a squad of six necromages headed for a set of stairs which led to the top of the wall, but when our new passage suddenly appeared, they all turned and saw the four of us standing in our little cul-de-sac.

They immediately attacked.

Toji tried to seal the passage, but he was too late, and the necromage’s vision of reality kept things from changing.

The necromages drew knives, as did Toji and Myrka, and they leaped to battle.

Unfortunately, my grasp of magic was sketchy at this point, so I drew Caliburn.

That changed things in this tight chamber significantly. This was the most powerful Actuality weapon the Sivaeral House had ever created, and what it did was keep ANY mage of the Second Tier or below from altering reality in a decent area around the unsheathed blade.

Hydan took one look at my exposed sword and yelled, “Nick, get away from us or we can’t use magic!”

I hadn’t really thought about the fact that it would do the same thing to my companions as to my enemies.

I took a round house swing at two of the necromages, who leaped back out of the blade’s reach. Their daggers were useless when confronted with the reach of my sword unless one of them came in from behind and back stabbed me.

Worrying about that very thing, I ran forward and past our enemies and got into the larger hallway, away from my companions so they would be out of Caliburn’s area of effect.

Two of the necromages came after me, their daggers held ready to attack.

I could hear the sounds of battle back in the cul-de-sac.

One gestured at the ceiling, I think he was trying to collapse it on me, but nothing happened!

“Hell yes!” I cried out, knowing Caliburn was working! He couldn’t change things around me! What I believed stayed the way I saw it all.

The failure of his attack surprised the necromage, because he paused, which is when I brought Caliburn down and loped off the thing’s arm at the shoulder. This sword was SHARP!

The necromage snarled and pulled back. I was surprised he wasn’t dead, but then I realized these necromages were using dead bodies, they could probably take a lot more physical damage than a living body could handle.

The one with the missing arm hissed to his companion, “That is an Actuality blade! We cannot affect things here!”

They both backed up, keeping an eye on me warily.

But I charged them, I didn’t want them getting out of the blade’s effect.

They tried to run, but I swung and took One Arm in the neck, catapulting his head from his shoulders.

That’s when reinforcements arrived from down the hall behind me. I heard them coming and looked back to find four more necromages and six regular saerans. As they got near the regular saerans held back and let the necromages take me on.

I was about to call out to my companions when I noticed one of the necromages limping, it was Peg Leg, one of the necromages who took Ziny back at the river!

Sudden anger boiled in my gut, and I charged them, going for the necromages.

I was like a berserker, and the necromage’s knives were inadequate against my sword, and their protections no longer worked. Caliburn was like a ribbon of death, cleaving through their undead bodies. I only stopped when it was just Peg Leg and me.

At the sight of me slaughtering the necromages, the six saerans watching suddenly bolted back down the passage.

“That’s right, run for your lives!” I bellowed after them.

Then I lifted my sword and spoke in a voice quivering with anger, “Take me to the saeran sorceress you took at the river or die here and now!”

Peg Leg looked at the gleaming blade, and then at his own little knife. He nodded, and said, “She is this way.”

He limped ahead of me, and I stayed hard on his heels, er, heel, the other was a couple of splintered bone ends.

After a few passages we came to a bank of cells and he pointed at one.

“She is there,” he noted.

I glanced in the grate and saw her small huddled form.

Peg Leg ran away, or at least, kind of hop-skipped away.

I guess I should have been more concerned, but I was happy to see Ziny alive.

That’s when Peg Leg stopped about fifty yards away.

I was concentrating on trying to believe the door was unlocked and was barely keeping track of the one legged necromage. And then Medrod spun into existence next to him.

Right at this moment I must have believed the lock was open, because the door opened to my pull, and I called, “Ziny, it’s me, Nick, run!”

She looked up with tear stained eyes and blinked those big round saeran orbs at me, and then she ran to my arms.

It felt so good to hug her when she arrived, she was so small and thin, just a little waif caught up in a war she had never wanted.

But now I had to turn, Medrod was approaching, and he was a mage of a whole new color or Tier.

The first thing he did was raise a hand and blue light lanced out, Derkaz power!

But when it reached the sphere of Caliburn’s influence, it just evaporated! Obviously, his blasts could not affect my reality around Caliburn!

Medrod scowled, and kept coming, pulling a dark black short sword from a sheath belted to his waist.

I pushed Ziny behind me and snarled at Medrod, “Come on you bastard, let’s dance.”

He slashed in a cross body blow, but I parried. We exchanged two more blows, but then I started thinking that Medrod’s blade was getting kind of translucent. I must have believed it, and Caliburn was on my side, so Medrod couldn’t change reality to his own liking. Our next clash was less jarring, more like hitting something soft.

Medrod was scowling, but he swung again and I parried. When our swords met, he reached out with his free hand and grabbed me by the throat. My sword was bound against his and I was staring into those dark bloodshot eyes.

“Now you will die,” he hissed.

That’s when Ziny leaped onto Medrod’s back and bit him on the shoulder.

He howled and turned, which let me disengage Caliburn.

Medrod let loose of my throat to avoid my sword slash.

Ziny was still clinging to his back, and I was afraid he would just stab her with his sword, so I pressed the attack.

I swung, and this time, when our swords met, his stopped the blow, but then crumbled to dust, I’d thought it looked kind of ancient and what I thought was working around Caliburn!

Medrod gaped at his empty hand for a split second, and I pulled back Caliburn with a snarl, ready to run him through the gut.

But Medrod leaped backward, and reached up to grab Ziny by the arm, and he yanked her down in front of him, right into the path of my thrust with Caliburn.

I had to abort the attack lest I skewer the little saeran girl.

She was looking terrified, and Medrod grabbed her by the neck.

“One move toward me and I will snap this little girl’s neck,” he said.

I stopped but I was pacing back and forth only four feet from him with a snarl of hatred on my face.

With his other hand, Medrod drew a pentagram in flaming red.

I was desperately trying to figure out how to get to Medrod and save Ziny, so much I forgot about Peg Leg completely. Suddenly he leaped on me from behind, locking one of his arms around my throat.

I gagged, and tried to reach with Caliburn to stab him, and I might have got him a few times too, though he didn’t seem to be affected by the thrusts. In moments, the lack of blood to my brain caused me to start to black out. I dropped Caliburn so I could try and pry his bony arm from my neck, which was another mistake. Medrod stepped forward and hit me, hard.

The world went black.

 

I woke up with a very sore neck and face, and a headache. I was wondering if I had been out on a bender the night before. I figured this must be the hangover of all hangovers. Then my vision cleared and I noticed I was in some kind of stone room, which had two window openings. In one, I could see an ocean with an island some distance offshore. Out the other I could see a forest. I also noticed I was bound to a post with ropes.

Then my memory returned and I remembered little Ziny’s body held against Medrod as a little girl shield. I really hated the bastard. After a moment to digest what had happened, I looked up and around the chamber and noticed Caliburn, now sheathed, laying on a wood table. There were three necromage guards watching me, all with those drawn and dry skinned faces and milky white shriveled eyes. One of them was Peg Leg. It seems he was now elevated in status. To my left was Ziny, also bound to a pole, and about six feet away, staring at me with those dark saeran eyes was Medrod.

The Derkaz wizard smiled with a pleased look on his saeran face, which did not share any of the shriveled or dry looks of the necromages. “Ah, you are awake, wizard.”

“I’m going to kill you,” I said with a cold fire in my heart.

He smiled, “I see you are angry, show some respect, you lost, I won.”

“You have never seen me really angry,” I said. “Now, let the girl go or I will kill you slowly.”

He scratched at his chin thoughtfully. “Which little girl are we talking about?”

“Ziny, you bastard, she’s right there!”

He nodded a few times, “Ah, yes, the little sorceress. Well, the truth is I thought little of such a young and low Tier sorceress. I hadn’t even sent her to my wife for conversion yet.”

“I will kill you,” I noted again. I looked over at Ziny, who was trying to keep up a brave front. I spoke softly to her, “It will be all right, I’ll get us out of this.”

Medrod laughed at me, “No, you will never escape, and soon you won’t want to, once you serve me as a necrosoul. I had thought we knew every Sivaeral Third still supporting the antiquated system of the Ring of Ten, but you are a welcome surprise!”

I raised an eyebrow at him and then said, “You are very impressed with yourself, aren’t you?”

He smiled, “I have reason to be. I will be the first Second to replace their father as ruler of a World, and who knows? Perhaps I will be the ruler of all ten Worlds, eventually.”

I sneered at him, “Personally, I think you’re whipped, your wife wears the pants now, buddy. I hear your father kicked your ass, and now you are just some kind of husk or ghost. You wouldn’t even be talking to me if your wife hadn’t pulled some séance or something. Face the facts, Jack, she is the one leading the charge of the dark brigade.”

He laughed, and gestured at the three other beings watching me, “I am not a necromage, like these three, nor a ghost, shade or phantom, this is a LIVING body! You, however, will be killed and brought back as a necromage to serve us!”

“How about I just bury you in some dark hole, forever,” was my reply.

He smiled at me and ignored my sally, and then said, “When my spies reported a Sivaeral wizard at that Inn, I had no idea you were a Third! But four mages, of any Tier, was too good a prize to ignore. I had my forces searching downstream, so it was easy to sense the arcane battle going on at that tower. And though we seem to have missed you there, we were able to set our trap downstream, which ‘netted’ us your precious ‘Ziny’.”

I just glowered at the jerk.

“Her capture has made you angry, I see,” he said with an evil smile.

I tilted my head at him and said, “Listen, Dead Rod, as I mentioned, you haven’t seen me angry, but if you hurt that little girl, you will.”

“You are a Third, and my prisoner. I do not fear you, or your wrath. The truth is I was quite vexed with you when you escaped. That fog idea was brilliant. I’m sure you will make an excellent necromage for our cause. After you escaped from the river trap, I was thinking of attacking the capital to take you and any remaining mages, but then you just came to me! If I knew you would surrender to us I could have saved myself a lot of trouble!”

I glowered at him, “I only came for Ziny, let us go and we will depart, hurt her and I will end you, no matter what part of hell you crawled out of!”

“Sorry, I am a saeran; we prefer water Worlds.”

“Whatever,” I replied.

“My wife has become quite adept at turning mages, so you will serve us as a necromage. After I’m finished interrogating you, I will send you to my wife to be killed and resurrected in your new form. However, I have no need of this sorceress, she knows nothing of interest.”

“Don’t you dare touch her!” I said, straining at my bonds.

But one of the necromages went and unbound her from the post, though her little hands were still bound behind her back.

“Nicholas?” she said in a tiny voice.

“I will come for you,” I replied. Then to Medrod, I snarled, “What are you doing with her!”

“She will be made one of ours.”

The necromage took Ziny out of the room, and I watched her until the door closed.

Medrod walked over to stand a few paces in front of me, and said, “Before I send you to my wife, I think we should be properly introduced, as you seem to already know, I am Medrod, Second of House Sivaeral, soon to be ruler of Abal, and you are?”

“Nicholas Sivaeral, Third, and future dispatcher of the pretender to the throne, one Med, soon-to-be-dead, Rod.”

Medrod chuckled. “That will be quite impossible, I think. I have taken Caliburn from you, and you will soon be turned to a necromage; then you will serve my needs.”

“Not in this or any other lifetime!”

He just smiled and then said, “I have been thinking about the mystery of your lineage, and I believe I know who you are. There was a rumor about one of my sisters having a child a long time ago, whom she named, Nicholas. The child was stolen, and presumed dead, but he would have been a Sivaeral Third. She never admitted who the father was, but it was obvious enough why he was one of our brothers. She was wise to try to hide you on Earth, for your kind is always hunted by the Houses.”

“My kind?” I asked.

“Yes, you are a bastard son of two Sivaeral Seconds. I don’t know which of my brothers is, or was, your father. However, your mother, The White Enchantress, has been a thorn in our side. Perhaps you will be instrumental in her downfall once you have joined us.”

I turned my head, “Never heard of her.”

He smiled, and it was a wicked grin, “Years ago your mother masked her identity, going only by her title and barricading herself in her Ivory Castle. I think I finally know why she goes by the title, The White Enchantress; she has been attempting to keep your existence hidden from us. She has to be one of three of my supposedly dead sisters: Tenadeen, Mithrin or Belea. All the others are either accounted for, or under my control. I will find out which one she is soon enough when we take The White Enchantress. Our forces have been stymied by her defenses at the Ivory Castle; however, once we use you as bait perhaps we can lure The White Enchantress out and finally add her to our army.”

“Bastard or not, I will put you in your grave, again, permanently!”

He just smiled; my threats did seem kind of empty while I was tied to a post. Then he said, “You should know I am not prejudiced, I feel a Bastard will make an equally fine necromage. As one of our minions, you will be treated just like all the rest. You will finally taste true equality as one of my wife’s undead mages!”

“Just like you, hey?” I said. “She seems to have made you one of her lackeys now.”

“My soul was indeed brought back from the Ether by my wife, but instead of a dead body, my wife returned my soul to a living body, one from another mage! Of course, they must be of a lesser Tier, and their mind is destroyed, but sacrifices are necessary! They should be honored to be the vessel of a ruler!”

“Wow, would you like a little wine to go with your serving of megalomaniac?” I noted.

He frowned at me, “You are very rude for a person tied to a post.”

“Oh, I’m just warming up, Frankenfurter. Tell me, since a Second can’t alter their body, or change the body of another mage, how have you come to look like your old and terribly ugly self?”

My insults seemed to be slowly getting to him, and Medrod lost some of his smug demeanor. His answer was both defensive and angry, “Once in this vessel, my Self Image took control, and since I am the more powerful mage present, my Self Image shaped the reality of the form.”

“Ah, I see, you’ve added body theft and mind rape to child abuse; you’re quite the humanitarian, dick weed. I can’t wait to stick a sharp instrument up your ass.”

He smiled wickedly, “Even if you killed this body you would only slay the original mage. My soul would return to the Ether, and my wife would just bring my soul back. She will then place it in another mage’s body. In fact, I could have her bring me back and put into your body since you are still alive.”

“Try it, I’ll rip your soul a new one,” I promised. “So, if I kill you then your wife will bring you back, so I guess I’ll just have to kill your wife too.”

That made him glower at me. “You will be our slave forever, I will have you kill many children, in fact, I will make you kill your precious Ziny, and you will do it with glee because I command it!”

His reminder of Ziny pushed me over the edge, and I vowed if I got out of this situation I was going to have Toji and the others teach me how to use these mage powers. I’ve had enough of these pompous jerks. But, first things first, I needed to escape from Medrod so I decided to play for time, and said, “What are you going to do when daddy comes a knocking? Your Archimage seems to have snuffed you last time, I’m sure he’ll do the same this time.”

Medrod sneered, “My father, the Wizard of Abal. Everyone is so impressed with the ten Firsts like they are untouchable! They call them Archimages, but they are nothing special. I, Medrod Sivaeral, have wrested this world from the rule of my father!”

I snorted, “Sure you have.”

He scowled at me and said, “I bound my father in a special prison, where he will rot, forever, on Mystical Island.”

Well, that was news. Now I had another reason to go to Mystical Island, the man who might restore my memory was there, and I had to report what I’d stolen from The Dragon.

Then I considered Medrod: as an evil mage, Medrod was no doubt powerful, but as an inquisitor of prisoners, he was an idiot. So far he’d learned my name while I had learned I was a bastard, which meant my mother and father were Sivaeral Seconds. I’d also learned the Sivaeral Archimage was also a captive, held on Mystical Island. He had also told me how Morgain had resurrected Medrod into another mage’s body. Most interestingly, at least to me, I’d learned my mother was a person called The White Enchantress, and she was still out there, opposing return-from-the-dead Med and his Dokkalfar bitch. This goon was a veritable fountain of information, and I’d gotten it all while tied to a post! Now all I had to do was escape from said post, and kill the bastard.

“Who are your companions, and what Houses and Tiers are they?” he demanded, actually attempting to interrogate me at last.

“Manny, Moe, and Jack,” I replied pertly.

Medrod crossed his arms and said softly, “May I ask you, have you ever been tortured by a more powerful mage? I don’t think you understand what that means. If you tell me the truth now you can save yourself a lot of pain.”

I lowered my head as if giving in, and then said, “Fine then, there are three of them, the Archimage of House Friare, a Second of House Bakemono, and a Second of House Tarvos. They are going to kick your stolen ass, Bub.”

He chuckled, and then picked up a spoon from the table.

“What, are you going to spoon me to death now?” I asked sarcastically. “I told you what you wanted to know.”

But then the spoon changed shape into a long silver spike, which looked decidedly more lethal.

“You told me what you wanted me to believe, but you are lying, of course,” he said, and then the tip of the spike glowed red with heat.

I snorted, “No, I’m telling the complete truth, which should teach you not to mess with Santa Claus! Now let me loose or I will put you on the naughty list this year!” My words were flippant, but I was eyeing his hot spike with some concern as he got closer.

Then he slowly jabbed the spike into the left side of my chest and burned his way through my flesh and into my lung.

I screamed something unintelligible; hey, it was damned painful!

He pulled it out, but little blood flowed, the hot metal had cauterized the sides of the wound. It still burned even after it was removed, and I was having trouble breathing.

He smirked, and said, “Not so funny now, are you, Third? As a Third you cannot stop me from harming you directly. Your power is weak compared to mine.”

“Yeah, but at least my dad doesn’t want to kill me; it takes a pretty nasty kid to get a parent to do that,” I gasped.

He shoved the hot spike slowly into the top of my right thigh.

I screamed again, though this scream included some coughed up blood from my punctured lung.

“You know, I’ve decided to kill you very slowly,” I noted, but then I started to sag in my ropes, blacking out from the pain.

“We can’t have you passing out, that would stop all the fun,” he said smugly, and suddenly my body was healed.

He lifted the glowing hot spike and said brightly, “Now, shall we start again? Tell me about the mages with whom you are traveling.”

He drove the spike back into my lung again, and it hurt just as badly the second time.

After a few more punctures, I gasped, “All right, all right, I’ll tell you!”

He healed me again, and I took in a deep breath, “One of them is Nakama, a Bakemono Fifth, the other is Loretta Tarvos, a Sixth, and the last one is a Friare Sixth named, Hakly.”

He nodded, “This makes much more sense, but tell me why were mages, from three different Houses, working together with a Sivaeral Third?”

“I told them we were going to steal the secret to creating necromages from Morgain, and each of them wanted the information for their House. I believe they each planned to kill the others once we had the information, with the winner taking the secret home to their House.”

Medrod nodded, “Now I believe you! I will leave you now, to be sent to Mystical Island where you will meet my wife, whom you shall soon learn is not as fair or cordial as you have found me to be.

“These three necromages shall accompany you. They should be sufficient to keep your power in check if they remain close by. I have also shackled your hands in a powerful manacle relic, sufficient to keep any Third bound.

“While my wife deals with your conversion, I will track down your three mage companions so we may add them to our army! Once we have them, and all of you are necromages, you will willingly help me take down your mother.”

Medrod went to the table and picked up Caliburn. “Thank you for bringing me this, it saved me the trouble of hunting down Nimue, though she will be brought into the fold soon.” He picked up the sword and belted it to his waist, and then turned back to me and smiled; “Now I, Medrod, wield the most powerful Actuality blade ever made!” Then he strode out of the room, which left me with my three necromage guards.

They soon unbound me from the post, though they kept my hands in the relic manacles. They marched me down toward the boats. I tried to make the manacles fall apart, but the relic must have been too strong for me, or perhaps I just screwed the pooch. I mean, I was pretty angry at this point, I’d gone to all the trouble of getting the sword and a fat lot of good it had done me. Worse than that, Medrod now had Caliburn.

They took me to a ship, a mighty three-masted galleon, and lashed me to the smaller fore-mast, facing forward like some ship’s figurehead.

After a few minutes, the sailors untied the ship from the dock and headed out to sea. I could see the large island ahead, Mystical Island, lair of the Island Witch, Morgain, and right where I wanted to go, though not right at this moment.

Soon we were beyond the breakwater and out into the swells, riding the four-foot seas with ease. There were several sailors around working the rigging, and of course, my three necromage babysitters, who were standing around me and keeping a sharp, if shriveled and milky white, gaze on me and the surroundings.

That’s when I saw it, a chicken. It was up near the bow, walking in the odd strutting way that chickens do, moving through the ropes and other objects stored in the fo’c’sle.

What the hell was a chicken doing in there? In fact, what was a chicken doing on Abal? Wait, this meant Hydan was here, and this was his message to get ready!

I glanced at my three captors and said, “Hey, what does it take to get a drink around here!”

I figured they would turn toward me at my outburst, just goes to show you should never think. These three bastards were as cold as, well, dead fish.

This is when I really started believing my manacles were unlocked.

When I felt one slip down my hand, I knew it was true, I was loose! And as I believed it, the manacles fell off completely.

“Hey, dry dudes, I’m escaping! I called out, and then dashed around behind the mast, while snatching out one of the belaying pins which were inserted into a rail around the base of the mast, and brandished it like a weapon.

The point wasn’t to beat three necromages senseless, though that would have been fun and very satisfying. No, the point was to get their attention on me and their backs to the bow. My histrionics did just that.

Behind them, I saw Myrka, Toji and Hydan clamor over the bow, and then they were suddenly all dressed in saeran armor. Each of them picked a necromage and made their approach.

I kept dancing around, waving my belaying pin like a baton at a pep rally, and hooting at them, in fact, in the spirit of my cheerleader diversion I used an old Looney Tunes line which popped into my head, “Rick’em Rack’em, Rick’em Rack’em sis boom bah, Bugs Bunny, Bugs Bunny, rah, rah, rah!”

This puzzled the necromages so much they didn’t even see the knives coming, and two of them were dispatched by Toji and Myrka. Hydan just grabbed his by the collar and seat of his pants, then pitched him over the railing and into the ocean.

I smiled grimly at Hydan, Myrka, and Toji, and then I snarled, “Let’s take this ship!”

This turned out to be fairly easy, we just charged up the deck toward the stern where short stairs led up to the poop deck. Two sailors tried to get in our way, but Hydan turned them into snogfish, and they were soon flopping around on the deck.

In three bounds I was up onto the raised poop deck and said, “Captain, if you would like to avoid the fate of your unhappy sailors below, and remain standing on feet, you will surrender this vessel to us!”

He gaped at me for a moment, but when Hydan turned another seaman into a flopping snogfish, the captain capitulated. The ship was ours. Hydan turned the flopping fish back into sailors.

“What course,” the Captain asked with a dark scowl.

Hydan had picked up a bottle of booze from somewhere; it had one of those net bottoms on it. He raised it and said, “Like your pirates from Earth, I say, yo, ho, ho, and a bottle of scum!”

I let it go, for all I knew it was a bottle of scum.

 

 

 

Chapter Fourteen

 

There walks a lady we all know.

-Led Zeppelin

 

Mystical Island was off in the distance. I could see it had a rocky shoreline, though there were a few inlets to small sandy beaches. There was also a breakwater off to the north side, and according to our captain, this was where we were originally headed.

Hydan and the others had just explained how they had managed to fight their way through the necromages and then try to find me. They had come upon signs of my battle, but after that, they had to retreat. Then they created a passage back to the forest and left it open, before making a new passage through to the coast side of the wall, and then resealing it after they had gone through. They hoped their pursuers would think they fled back into the forest.

From their hidden position they eventually saw me being led down to the docks, so they slipped into the water, attached themselves to the ship and just waited until we were out at sea to make their move.

My anger was still smoldering; I really wanted to kill Medrod and his evil wife. They had taken Ziny, and they would pay. The image of her pleading face as she was taken away from me haunted my thoughts.

I suddenly asked Toji, “Can you teach me how to protect myself, and how to use my powers?”

Toji answered, “Certainly, but it is going to take time.”

I nodded and looked back toward the shore. The problem was that Ziny didn’t have time. She wasn’t on this ship, but she was already, or would soon be, with Morgain, where that bitch would start turning her to a necromage. But we couldn’t just fight our way in, not yet. I needed some practice with my powers.

Then I had an idea, “You,” I said, pointing to a sailor, “You will take a message to Morgain for me. I want you to tell her I will be coming soon to rescue Ziny. If the girl is hurt, in any way, I will have no reason to come. But if they keep Ziny alive and undamaged, in a short time I will come with my mage friends, which will give them a chance to recapture us.”

When the sailor could repeat what I’d said, I had him hit the water and start swimming for Mystical Island. I figured we would be well away before he arrived.

Then I had the captain set sail away from Mystical Island.

I went back over to Toji and said, “OK, let’s get started on my powers.”

He nodded and said, “The first thing you need is a way to stop another mage, which begins with creating a clear Self Image. This gives your subconscious reality something to work with.”

“What do you mean; is this ‘Self Image’ about how I look?”

Toji tilted his head back and forth as he replied, “Partly, yes, but I’m not referring to your looks, in this case, subconscious reality is much more. It also means your magical protections, your view of reality around your body. You have to set up your Self Image so your subconscious reality will work to keep it that way, and stop severe harm.”

“Oh, and what does that do for me?”

“Well, your subconscious reality will keep things, like arrows and bullets, from reaching you and changing what you think of as your Self Image. Those harmful things attempt to change your Self Image, so when they get close your subconscious reality uses your magic to thwart any harmful things from reaching you.”

“Is that like Caliburn?” I asked.

“The result is similar, but subconscious reality requires a mage, not an artifact. When an attacker strikes you with their weapon, your subconscious reality can change it into something else automatically. With Caliburn drawn, an opposing mage’s magically created items could not remain real, but with subconscious reality your mind can change anything harmful which comes near you if you have the power. You are limited by your own level of power. So, for example, if Medrod was your opponent, as a Third, your subconscious reality might not be able to maintain your Self Image, where the very powerful artifact, called Caliburn, is capable of dealing with a Second’s power.”

“Damn it, and now Medrod has Caliburn!”

Toji nodded.

“Great. So I can’t fight Medrod?”

Toji shrugged, “There are ways for a Third to kill a Second, a powerful relic can help, though it will break down eventually in the presence of a Second’s power, or if he uses Caliburn. From what you told me, that’s what happened to his relic, Caliburn eventually overcame its power.”

I digested his words and said, “You’ll have to tell me more about relics in a moment, perhaps one of those can help me deal with Medrod, but before you explain relics further, can you start by teaching me to have these subconscious reality protections?”

He nodded, “Of course, you just have to believe in the way you are, and that nothing can change your Self Image. Once you believe that, your subconscious reality will take care of you automatically.”

“Then nothing can harm me?”

Hydan chose to answer, “No mage is completely safe. If the mage you are battling believes in the weapon they are thrusting at you, it becomes a war between their belief and subconscious reality. Now, they can’t do this easily with a missile, since it is going away from them, and toward you, and therefore their power is waning and yours is waxing as it draws near. However, if they thrust a weapon still in their hand toward you, well, that’s a chicken of a different color.”

“Horse,” I noted absentmindedly, I was still considering what he’d said. “Toji, is that why you use those tantos?”

He nodded, and added, “And why Myrka has her poniard, they are both relics.”

I thought about what he’d said, and then had a question, “So what’s the difference between a relic and an artifact?”

Hydan replied, “They are similar, yet they have one fundamental difference. Relics are normal objects which a mage imbues with their own reality over time, thus attempting to keep outside forces from affecting the reality of that object. Artifacts are kind of the opposite; they affect other things around them, changing them to the reality of the mage holding the Artifact.”

“So if your opponent disarms you in combat, can you just make a new weapon?”

Toji answered, “Well, I would make a new weapon if I was disarmed, but by having a relic which has been in my possession a long time, I can imbue it with layers of reality, making the relic even harder for another mage, even one more powerful than myself, to undo the reality of the relic. This is how a lower Tier mage can fight a higher Tier opponent. If they both started with regular weapons the higher Tier would probably win.”

“Ah, OK,” I noted. “So, I should get myself a weapon and start working on this layered reality thing so I can turn it into a relic.”

“Of course,” Myrka agreed.

Toji nodded, but added, “But that takes a lot of time and effort.”

But Hydan added, “It’s not a bad idea if you plan to get in a lot of knife fights.”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” I answered.

He shrugged, “If you get in enough knife fights you are bound to get stuck, no matter how good you are. I prefer to keep things at a distance.”

“Coward,” Myrka muttered.

Both of us ignored her and I said to Hydan, “But, you said we can’t use a ranged missile of any kind against a mage?”

“True, but I’m not really out to kill mages, and if I have to fight one, I try to be creative and make my escape. We Friares are not really out to take part in the Ascension Quest.”

“What happens when you get challenged to a duel?” Toji inquired.

“We try not to get in situations where we can be challenged; the odds of surviving in a duel are lousy; one out of two is going to die.”

Toji just glowered at him, and Myrka sniffed disdainfully.

I decided having a relic was probably a good idea, I could always attempt to stay out of situations where it was needed, but it was a nice insurance policy.

Then I asked, “OK, so do I need to get a knife from somewhere else, or is making my own good enough if I want to start working on a relic?”

“There is no difference between what you make real, and what you obtain that is real, both are real at the time,” Hydan noted.

I nodded and then said, “OK, so just create a knife, then keep it on me?”

Toji answered, “I’ll show you how to spend some of your magic each day reinforcing the reality of your relic, but to start with, yes, just make what you feel comfortable with as a weapon. It’s best to keep it to something which is close to you, though, a sword can get too far from our influence.”

I thought about it and then worked on creating something I remembered from Earth. It took me a while to get my concentration right, but then I finally had it and I was holding a Bowie knife.

I looked at it with a grin, and then said in a fake Australian accent, “Now that’s a knife!”

Toji looked at it curiously, “I see you favor weight behind your blade.”

What he saw was a twelve-inch-long steel blade which was relatively broad at just over two inches wide and over a quarter inch thick. The upper guard bent forward at an angle, and the lower part back, like an ‘S’ shape. It had a clip point at the top of the blade, which brought the tip of the blade lower than the spine for better control. This created a sharp, stabbing point, about half of the way back. This ‘false edge’ was sharpened, taking metal away from the point, streamlining the tip and thus improving it when used for stabbing an opponent. With the weight of the blade it was a good slashing weapon, practically a stubby short sword, and with the sharp clip point, it could also stab your enemy. All-in-all this made the Bowie knife one of the more versatile and deadly knives in a fight.

It just felt good in my hand.

 

 

Toji and Myrka searched the ship, but found no mages of any kind, we gathered at the stern and I told them what I’d learned from Medrod. Hydan perked up when I mentioned that the Archimage of Abal was a captive of Morgain.

He sounded very excited as he said, “We are going to have to find out more about that! I want to know what can hold an Archimage!”

I nodded; I needed to find my Archimage more than Hydan realized, he’d sent me on my mission to Earth. Then I said, “Sure, but killing the M&M twins comes first. They took Ziny, and for that, I will see an end to them.”

“So are you headed to this Mystical Island to kill Morgain, or headed back to shore to dispatch Medrod?”

I considered and then said, “Neither, as the old Earth proverb states, “Revenge is a dish best served cold, and though I need to hurry, I have to be prepared enough to win this battle.”

“Aren’t you worried they will harm Ziny?” Hydan asked.

I took a deep breath, “Very much so, and though I would like to charge in there right now and rescue her, my battle with Medrod showed me I must be better prepared, or I might fail. I cannot fail Ziny! I made her a promise I would come, and I will. But first, I need an advantage. I have to hope they want me, as a Third, even more than little Ziny, so they will keep her as bait.”

“That is rather wise of you, are you feeling all right?” Hydan asked curiously.

I ignored his quip and continued, “I lost Caliburn, so I need a different advantage. Medrod is using the sword I brought against us, so let’s use the information he gave me against him! He told me my mother is The White Enchantress; let’s go pay her a visit at the Ivory Castle and see what aid she can give us.”

Hydan nodded, and said, “I have heard rumor of The White Enchantress, but little is known. I have never been to the Ivory Castle, but it is located in the Giant Teeth Mountains, which is north of here by some distance. If what I’ve heard is true, she does not take visitors, so no doubt the area has a StarWard blocking Five Point travel. That means we will have to get there the hard way.”

Neither Toji nor Myrka knew anything more. So I went to the captain of the ship and asked him to take us north, to the nearest place he could reach which was out of Medrod’s guarded coast. He had heard of Ivory Castle and explained it was inland, some distance away, high in the mountains, though he had never seen it. I had the captain assemble his crew on the main deck.

When all the sailors were standing on the deck, I had the captain and his navigator and helmsman join them.

Myrka leaned in and said, “Do you want me to kill them now?”

I gave her a small frown and whispered, “Heavens no.”

I then addressed the sailors. “Fellow saerans, first let me tell you my name is Nicholas, and I am a wizard Third of House Sivaeral. We intend you no harm. We are loyal to the Archimage of Abal, and we oppose the foreign sorceress known as the Island Witch. Why is it you have abandoned your race and followed this foreigner? Has she bribed you with riches or promised you land or title?”

A sailor somewhere in the back spoke, “No, she will kill our families!”

I couldn’t make out who had spoken; no doubt he wanted it that way.

“For those of you who are working for the Island Witch purely out of fear, you have my sympathy! Remember you are still saerans, not slaves of some Dokkalfar sorceress!”

“What can simple folk do against a sorceress,” another anonymous voice exclaimed.

I lifted my chin, “Stand for what is right, and if you dare not do that now, then when the time comes when House Sivaeral leads the way, and loyal saerans rise up to throw down this evil invader, be ready to join our cause! Now, as to your fate, we only require you sail us north, up the coast, where we will leave you and your ship unharmed.”

We sailed north for a week and didn’t run into any other ships. I guess the captain took us out of normal trade routes to avoid such confrontations. We anchored in a cove at night, and he showed us the route on a map up toward the Giant Teeth mountain range. After that, we just slipped into the sea and swam ashore. By the time we were on the beach, I could see by moonlight the ship had already started to sail away to the south.

It was a chill night, so we all created warmer clothes and bedrolls, and got a little rest before morning light.

 

The next morning, we started walking on a thin forest trail, winding through the green mossy trunks in the misty morning. There was a fog bank which kept us from seeing far ahead.

As we walked I talked to Toji. “OK, let’s work on this Self Image thing.”

He nodded. “Just remember your body, and things close to you, are the way you want them, and then believe nothing can change what you believe.”

“Just like that?” I said.

He nodded. “It is all about confidence in what you know to be true about yourself.”

I laughed, “And here I know so little about myself.”

He glanced over at me with a half-smile, “That is a problem. Part of being a mage is knowing exactly who and what you are, it is the basis of our power. This is one of the reasons we are all so tied to our Houses and our lineage. It’s all part of knowing the truth, understanding what you know is real and believing in yourself without question. This is how you build Self-Image and is what protects you from outside realities.”

“So, this isn’t going to work as long as I don’t know my true heritage?”

He shook his head, “No, you can still do it; though knowing your heritage might make it easier. What is important right now is believing you are the way you are, without question.”

“That’s silly; of course, I am the way I am!” I exclaimed.

“Are you?” he asked and hit me on the side of the head with a small, wet, dirt clod he had picked up as we walked.

It hit my cheek with a small ‘splat’ sound.

“You little bastard!” I said, half angry, half amused, it hadn’t hurt, other than my pride. I wiped most of the wet mud away with my fingers.

“Pick up some mud,” he requested.

So I leaned down and said with a grin, “You want me to hit you in the face now?”

“Yes,” he answered, surprising me.

So I slung the mud his way, and it just turned to dry dust.

That made me scowl, “Hey! That’s not fair!”

“All I did was know I was not covered in mud. More accurately, I was thinking about how my face looked, as well as my body and clothes, so nothing could change them. Now, had that been something which would harm me, I would not even have to consciously think about my body or clothing.”

“You mean bullets wouldn’t hit you?” I asked.

He nodded, “Arrows, bullets, or an explosion, anything which could harm me will be handled by my subconscious reality.”

I frowned at him, “But I knew what I looked like before you threw the mud!”

He nodded, “But you were not consciously thinking it was unchangeable.”

I contemplated this for a moment. Then I said, “So that’s why the UZI’s bullets didn’t hurt Stewart Hentan.”

Hydan nodded.

Toji picked up some mud and I thought he was going to throw it at me, but instead he smeared some on his cheek, which immediately disappeared.

“Kiss my ass, Toji,” I exclaimed.

He tilted his head, “That would not be honorable, and I would request you do not say such things to me, even in jest.”

“Right,” I acknowledged.

He looked at me, I guess to gauge my sincerity, but since I didn’t say anything else insulting to his dignity, he continued, “You have learned how to know what you are wearing, this is not much different. You only need to believe you are as you are.”

I nodded and said, “Are you going to throw more mud at me?”

He smiled, and answered, “There is no need, when the mud on your cheek disappears, then I will know you have it.”

I stopped for a moment, and thought about how I looked, not how I wanted myself to look, but how I LOOKED. It really was a lot like the clothes trick, and in a moment, the mud vanished.

Toji was facing me and saw the mud disappear. That’s when the little Bakemono bastard threw one of his VERY sharp tantos at me.

I saw him start to throw the weapon, but couldn’t even say something before he launched it at me. It hit me square in the chest, hilt first, and rebounded to the ground.

“Ouch! Why you rat bas…”

“Propriety, please?” he noted calmly.

I swallowed my insult and just glared at him, massaging my chest.

“To stop things which would damage your body you have to believe in yourself and how you exist, without even having to think about it. The reason you made the mud disappear is because you thought it through, but stopping damage requires a subconscious permanent reality.”

He picked up his tanto and said, “Work on it, and when you think you are ready, let me know.”

I didn’t stop glaring at him for a minute, but then we all started down the path again.

Toji was behind me, and a minute later I heard something hit the ground. I turned around and one of his tantos was behind me on the ground. “Hey, did you just throw that…”

He then threw his other tanto.

I tried to dodge this time, but it hit me, again, hilt first, in the shoulder.

“You BASTARD!” I exclaimed, now rubbing my sore shoulder.

“I’m sorry, but my parents were from different Tiers,” he replied seriously.

“Hey, how come the first knife didn’t hit me, did you miss?” I asked.

He laughed, “I don’t miss, at least not at this range. No, your subconscious reality is starting to work, it stopped my blade. I threw the second one to confirm you really had it now.”

“Then why did the second one hit me!” I demanded.

He shrugged, “Because you knew it was coming, and then you decided it was going to hit you, so it did. The first tanto was blocked by your subconscious reality, which was not overridden by your conscious mind.”

I was angry and sore in two spots now, “Oh, so I have to know something won’t hit me when I see it coming!”

“Exactly,” he replied.

I just growled at him, and then said, “Quit throwing knives at me, for any reason!”

“As you wish,” he said with a half bow and his damned smirk.

 

Eventually, we came to a road, and Hydan decided we should turn right, which was fairly obvious since that seemed to be more uphill, and therefore, likely toward mountains. As night fell, we chose a campsite off the side of the road, well back into the trees.

Hydan sent Myrka out to keep watch so he could prepare us a hot dinner without worrying about being surprised. We ate in shifts, with one of us out guarding near the road at all times.

After dinner, we sat and talked.

I realized due to the constant running and craziness, I had never had a good chance to ask a lot of questions which were bothering me. Now seemed like a good time, so I said, “Let’s talk about the ten Worlds and the Ascension Quest.”

Toji chose to answer, “What would you like to know?”

Hydan was watching while sipping from a bottle he had produced somehow.

“Everything? I really don’t know what the hell is going on! All I know is I am some kind of fish person, but I grew up on Earth. My parents seemed to have abandoned me there, perhaps to protect me because I’m a Bastard, or maybe because they just didn’t want to raise a Bastard.”

Toji took a big breath and said, “Well, depending on which person, from which House, you talk to, you will get different versions of this, some similar, some radically different. We don’t know all the answers, though some believe they do.”

I nodded, “Sounds like religions on Earth, they all go around telling everyone they know the absolute truth when every one of them is just making it all up. They ignore the fact that there are thousands of other religions and views, who believe their ‘facts’ just as vehemently, and have had just as many ‘miracles’ to prove them right.”

Hydan chuckled, “But, they will each just tell you the others don’t matter because THEY are the ones who have it right!”

I nodded.

“Well,” Toji continued, “The Houses are much the same. Each has their belief in what is going on in the universe and goes about their business based on those facts. The only real difference between them and Earth religions is we all believe something similar, we only differ in the details.”

Hydan added, “That, and some members of our Houses have been around since the beginning of time, so we don’t really have to guess about everything.”

“Whoa, what was that last part?” I demanded.

Toji answered, “He refers to the Archimages.”

“What about them?”

Hydan spoke, “Remember when Fiona told you we do not age?”

I nodded, and his mentioning of Fiona brought back the image of the stunningly beautiful woman.

He continued, “Well, the Archimages were here when the universe began, and they have been affecting things since that time.”

I held up a warding finger, “Now, don’t go telling me the heads of your Houses are gods!”

“Well, no, they aren’t,” Hydan agreed.

“Good, for a minute there I thought you were going to go all religious on me.”

Myrka spoke up, “It depends on what you define as gods. They are the most powerful beings in the universe, they helped to create the races to which their house belongs and they do not age.”

I sighed, “Here we go. Look, if this is true, it is pretty impressive, but they aren’t omnipotent, are they?” I asked.

“No,” Hydan noted.

“And, are they immortal?” I prodded.

Toji answered, “They do not age, but at least one has been killed.”

I sat back, I hadn’t even realized I was up and kind of rigid with indignation, “Well, then they aren’t gods.”

“We are in agreement,” Hydan agreed. “But the surviving Archimages have been around since the beginning of time.”

“That’s poppycock,” I exclaimed, “more religious nonsense.”

He shrugged, “They were created when the universe came into being, though they were just entities back then, with a lot more power… still not the power of the Silent Mother, however.”

I held up a hand, “Enough of alien religion, I didn’t buy religions on Earth, and I’m not making any purchases today either, not with ten thousand different versions to choose from. Let’s talk about this Ascension Quest.”

Hydan shrugged, “All right, but it is all tied together.”

“Tell it to me without religious trappings,” I requested.

He frowned, and said, “This will be incomplete if I can’t talk about some of these things.”

“So be it,” I noted.

“Fine, the Ascension Quest is a battle between the Houses to become supreme, letting their Archimage ascend to supremacy over all others.”

I smiled, “There, that wasn’t so damned tough now, was it? It’s a freaking Archimage War!” I stated.

“Sort of, I suppose,” Hydan noted, “Though it is not an outright conflict, well, not all the time. But there is much more you would need to know!”

I yawned, “I’m sure there is a lot of ‘and god said this’ and ‘he had bob sacrifice a goat’, poor goat, or “and he bade Tobby to build a raft and put all the animals in a bottle’ crap, though he conveniently left out all the insects; who wants ants at the picnic anyway? It all really comes down to everybody is trying to kill everyone else and get to be chief honcho.”

“No, that is not true, the Friares…” Hydan started.

“Wait, Hydan, let me ask a simple question.”

“OK,” he replied.

“But not of you.” I turned to Myrka, “Is what the Friares believe true?”

“No, the Tarvos…”

“Shut up, Myrka,” I said, pleasantly, “And the same to you, Hydan. When you all agree on your facts, then you come talk to me. Until then, keep your various religious views out of my head, I’ve got enough in there already to make anyone sick to their stomach.”

I rolled over and went to sleep, muttering about Archimages and their damned Ascension Quest. I didn’t give a hoot about any of it, all I knew is their war had swept up an innocent little girl, named Ziny, and I was going to save her or die trying. No doubt there were many more who had been equally abused by all this nonsense, but Ziny’s innocent face is the one I saw in my dreams.

 

During my watch that night, I moved away from the others and then said, “Pox, are you listening?”

It took a few moments, and then Pox materialized. I saw it happen, this time, things seem to swirl together out of the air like blue particles assembling, and in a couple seconds they took on a general shape, and then solidified into the ugly details called Pox.

“I am here, Master!” he said with a wide grin which showed unspeakable bits of I-don’t-want-to-know-what between the teeth.

“Keep it down, the others are asleep.”

He nodded his noxious noggin.

“OK, so I’m headed to see my mother.”

He cocked his head to the side, “Your mother?”

“Yes, The White Enchantress.”

“And, how do you know she is your mother?” he asked.

“Do you know she’s not?” I demanded.

He tilted his head back and forth, as if considering options, and then said, “No, nor do I know she is your mother.”

“And, do you know who The White Enchantress is?” I asked.

“No.”

“So she could be my mother?” I pointed out.

He just shrugged, and then said, “I have heard she is a powerful sorceress, who does not brook outsiders within her demesnes.”

I thought about his statement and muttered, “Maybe Fiona knows who she really is.”

“That is a good possibility, she is an Albus, and they tend to have their fingers in a lot of pots,” he noted.

I decided to see if I could summon the sorceress and called out, “Fiona Albus? Can you hear me?”

I noticed Pox suddenly dissolve, and figured he didn’t need to be around for this and had left.

I called out again, “Fiona Albus?”

“Nicholas,” her melodic voice suddenly answered, and I could swear she was just behind me.

I wasn’t going to look, really, but I did anyway, spinning around hoping to see that gorgeous woman, but no one was there.

“Hey, Fiona, how goes?” I said conversationally.

“Where are you, Nick? I thought you were going to contact me at Ouroboros so I could join you there? How on Abal did you manage to get past Medrod’s army and into the town?”

I sighed, “Well, there was this trebuchet… and well, we weren’t there all that long.”

Her voice was puzzled, and she asked hesitantly, “So you met with your father?”

“Kind of, I met with Oberon, but he claimed he is not my father.”

“Really?” she replied, “Could he have been lying to you?”

I shook my head, but said, “No, I don’t think so.”

“My research showed you were a Third of your House, and there aren’t many Seconds left. Who do you think your father is then?”

I answered, “That’s the thing, I don’t really know, but I learned The White Enchantress is my mother, but no one knows who she really is, you wouldn’t happen to know, would you?”

“Not really, she could be one of several Sivaeral Seconds, though, so the rumors say.”

“I’ve heard that as well,” I agreed.

Fiona then asked, “And who told you The White Enchantress is your real mother?”

“Medrod,” I answered.

“MEDROD! You met with the resurrected wizard?”

“Sort of, yes, it was more of an interrogation, mine specifically, than a conversation, but I got him to tell me some things inadvertently while he thought he was grilling me for answers.”

Fiona was stunned to silence. Finally, she said, “But you escaped?”

“Only after he took Caliburn away from me, but yes.”

She paused, and then with even more surprise said, “You obtained Caliburn?”

“Sure, I got it from a Sivaeral Third, named Nimue, but she is going to be pissed when I don’t return it.”

But Fiona wasn’t interested in that, she said, “Is that the weapon you were talking about when we last talked?”

“Yes, but you sound surprised?”

“I thought you were making your own, with some knowledge you stole from The Dragon.”

“Oh, well, no, I don’t really remember what secret I stole from The Dragon yet, or much of anything from my past.”

She thought about my statement and then said, “I see. Well, if your memory starts to come back, you must tell me about what you stole immediately, so I can help you. I have been very busy since we last talked; The Dragon has followed you to Abal.”

“I know; I ran into the ghost of a Dragon wizard and barely escaped the arrival of The Dragon at that same tower. But how do you know about the Dark One coming here?”

Her voice was very calm as she replied, “He attempted to kill me here in Poseidon.”

“No kidding, that wasn’t very neighborly of him,” I replied.

“Nick, you must not let The Dragon find you, no matter what. You stole something vitally important from him, something so important he has risked coming out of hiding to seek you on Abal. The Houses are starting to move, and things are beginning to simmer, on their way to a boil. Hunters from the other Houses may soon arrive on Abal. The Dragon would never have risked coming here with this much fanfare, if what you stole wasn’t incredibly important. Are you SURE you don’t remember anything?”

“No, not yet. Did you want to join us now?” I asked hesitantly. I found I really did want to see the sorceress in person again.

She hesitated, and then replied, “Yes, I miss you, Nick.”

My heart did flip-flops in my chest at her statement.

But she didn’t know about my heart gymnastics, so she continued talking, “…but it would be a bad idea. I think The Dragon’s eye is on me right now, and it is better if I keep him from finding you. I’ll lead him off on a false trail if I can. You should contact me later, after you have left the Ivory Castle, and I will try to join you if I feel I have eluded The Dragon’s spies. Until then, do not contact me like this again unless you are in great need, The Dragon might already have tracked you from this communication, let alone more. Be wary! If things become too difficult, you may want to abandon your attempts to reach The White Enchantress. There is an army besieging her castle; and if The Dragon comes…”

“Got it, the risk might not be worth the gain,” I agreed. “If I have to turn back, where can I find you?”

“Contact Pox, he can be our intermediary,” Fiona suggested. “Fare thee well, Nicholas.”

Then the cold wind stopped and I knew Fiona was gone.

There was a warm sensation in my body from talking to her, and I couldn’t help but picture her beautiful face, those shapely legs, the swell of her rounded… but my thoughts were interrupted when I thought I saw movement in the brush. I tried to move over casually to see what or who was out there watching, but they backed off. I soon returned to our campsite, all three of my companions were on their bedrolls.

I kept a sharp eye out, but nothing else seemed to move, so when it was Toji’s turn, I told him I might have seen movement, but couldn’t be sure, and to be on guard.

 

The following day we had to hide in the brush off the road three times as troops of soldiers passed us on the road. They were all double timing it toward the battle front ahead. Most of these were normal saerans, wearing the purple uniforms of the Island Witch’s army. There were a few necromages, but seldom more than one per troop. We could probably have taken any one of them, with three and a half mages against one necromage and mundanes, but someone might escape and alert people to our approach. It was better to remain undetected.

I was saddened to see the regular saeran folk fighting on the side of the Island Witch, but history has shown people can easily be swayed to an ideology if they think things will be better for them and their families. Some probably fought for other reasons, like money, while others were probably coerced by threats to their family or village or just physical harm.

But regardless of why, saerans were killing saerans all across this world, and had been for a long time now. From what I understood, the Archimage of Abal would have stopped this civil conflict, but I knew he was trapped by Morgain, locked away somewhere so his line didn’t end, but where he could do nothing to stop the Civil War on his planet.

But we were unlikely to find pitched battles or battlefields of the dead like we had seen before. This was a siege, and there wouldn’t be much more to see until we got close to the Ivory Castle.

We were in the foothills now, climbing constantly toward distant mountains. These weren’t the pyramid shaped mountains of typical Earth ranges; these were all made of some kind of stone. The bases had sloped shale, but then they reached mostly vertical slopes of smooth white stone which jutted up many thousands of feet to reach jagged tops.

“Now you know where these mountains get their name,” Toji noted.

“The Giant Teeth,” I said for him.

And when you really looked at the shape and white color of the mountains, it was no wonder they had that title.

Then I saw it, Ivory Castle.

“Holy mother of pearl,” I exclaimed, “It’s no WONDER this castle hasn’t fallen to the siege yet!”

Perched on one of the highest white teeth of the mountains, far from any other peak, was a very tall and intricately towered castle. It was made out of marble cut from the same white rock as the mountain peaks, but stood taller, with thin rounded spires upon spires, all reaching up high into the sky.

I could barely make out flying creatures swooping around the castle, but none of them got too close for some reason, so they could not drop anything on the castle, or attack any defenders who might be guarding the walls.

Hydan grinned like a tourist in Bermuda shorts looking at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris for the first time. He exclaimed, “That must be Ivory Castle.”

No one said anything, what else could it be?

That’s when I saw the army below; there were thousands of troops working like an army of ants. They were busy cutting a road up the slope, widening the smaller path which already led up toward the castle. They wanted to get it wide enough to allow more troops, and perhaps a battering ram, to reach the massive white gates of the castle high above.

I wished them luck and wondered how they were going to deal with the sheer cliff which led up to the gates. I could just make out a thin staircase, going up the white cliff in switchbacks toward the castle entrance. I guess they must have had a plan, but I couldn’t imagine them completing it for many years to come.

Our problem was simple, like Ouroboros, we needed to get past the troops, and into Ivory Castle, but this time there were no trebuchets capable of lobbing us over the wall. Ivory Castle was several thousand feet above the plain.

“Holy cat humping a mountain goat!” I said, looking at the impenetrable castle. “We are NEVER getting in there!”

Myrka pointed to the stairway climbing the white rock face, “If we can fight our way to the staircase, they cannot come at us in numbers. We can then hold them at bay as we ascend.”

I shook my head, “You want to attack the army, and then walk BACKWARDS up two thousand feet of switchback stairs while fighting an army two at a time?”

She just looked at me like I was the crazy one for not wanting to attempt such a plan.

“You know she has something there,” Hydan said.

Even Myrka was surprised by Hydan agreeing with her.

“Exsqueeze me?” I exclaimed.

Hydan was shading his eyes and looking at the stairs, “They are the only easy way up that face. I mean, we could cut our own way up another side, but we would be bound to be spotted by the army, and then attacked. However, if we were to go up the stairs with all the other soldiers…”

“What do you mean, with all the others soldiers?” I interrupted.

He answered patiently, “Well, take a look, there are soldiers using those stairs, they are just staying some distance from the top, where I would guess the defenders are, well, defending. But, up until that point, you can just walk up the stairs.”

“If you are part of their army,” I noted.

“Welcome to the Island Witch’s army,” Hydan said, and his clothing suddenly changed to their type of purple military uniform.

Myrka scoffed, “You wish to sneak in as spies?”

“Not spies, since we aren’t trying to learn anything, but sneak, yes,” he agreed. “Just remember, we are going to have to reveal ourselves near the top, or The White Enchantress is not going to let us in, which means we will have to do some fighting at that point.”

Myrka looked back at the stairs for a moment, and then said, “As long as I get to kill some of the enemy, fine.”

“Like a little blood with your thirsty, Myrka?” I noted.

“They have taken Ziny,” she replied.

My eyes hardened, that hit me hard as well.

I turned to Hydan, “So what is the plan, slip in and join the other soldiers?”

He shrugged, “We could try that, but the first time we were challenged, and could not name our commander, then what? I have a much better idea.”

I scowled at him, “I’m not going to like this, am I?”

Hydan smiled, “If it helps, Toji is going to like it a whole lot less.”

Now it was Toji’s turn to frown.

I trudged up the road toward the base of the road construction ahead, moving through the workers and troops. I kept my head down, as a prisoner should. Shackled in front of me was a very disgruntled Toji, and behind me was Myrka. Walking alongside us with a whip in hand was Hydan. We were all in the Island Witch’s uniforms, though Myrka’s, Toji’s and mine were well soiled and torn while Hydan’s was crisp and neat, and he showed the insignia of a Captain.

“Who goes there!” a guard finally stated, lowering a spear into Hydan’s path as we tried to start working our way up the widened road leading up toward the stairs far above.

“Don’t point that spear at me, Sergeant!” Hydan exclaimed, “Or I will see it stuck so far up your ass you’ll see the point come out your head.”

“My orders are to keep all unessential personnel off the road, which includes any rank short of General. Who are these… soldiers?” he asked disdainfully, noting the poor state of our uniforms.

“Deserters!” Hydan exclaimed, “Sent by Medrod himself to man the top of the stairs as punishment.”

“What?” the guard exclaimed.

“You heard me! I was sent here via Traveling Star by Medrod’s personal necromage guard, with the express orders to bring these three to the top of the stairs; here, read this!”

Hydan presented a page with some official looking text on it and as the guard looked at it, Hydan made sure it said, and showed the right seal, to be just what the man thought he should be seeing.

The guard looked at what had been ‘Ten potatoes’ earlier like it was the ruler of the planet’s official seal, which is what it was at this point.

“I see; this is highly irregular!”

Hydan sniffed, “Fine, call a necromage out here and we will verify this swiftly. I’m waiting.”

The guard nodded and started to turn to call to another soldier, but that’s when Hydan muttered, “It will be very amusing when he turns you into a rock and rolls you down this hill, but I can wait.”

The man had his hand up, and mouth open, but suddenly he snapped his mouth shut and handed the paper back to Hydan, “Proceed.”

“Really, you don’t want to call someone? I can wait,” Hydan said, crossing his arms.

“No, you may go,” the man said sheepishly.

Hydan sniffed one more time, folded his grocery list, and then said to us, “March up the road and double-time it!”

Toji gave him a really dirty look, but we started shuffling faster up the road.

I muttered to Hydan, “Don’t overplay the role.”

“Oh, I’m barely getting started!” he exclaimed exuberantly.

Myrka spoke softly when no one was near, “And what are you going to say if a necromage actually shows up and sees your Glyph?”

“I will show him my right profile, and if you keep your heads bowed down he won’t see yours!” Hydan noted, without a care in the world.

We just kept going, the further we got up the road the fewer we would have to fight to get to the stairs is the way Myrka figured it.

The military loves their checkpoints, so we were accosted three more times before reaching the bottom of the stairs, with the same basic results. However, now we were faced with a higher ranking officer, a major, and ‘Captain’ Hydan was going to have a harder time bullying him into acquiescence.

“What do you have here, Captain?” he demanded, already holding out a hand for Hydan’s orders. Hydan handed him the grocery list.

The Major gave it a perfunctory look and then said, “I will need to get corroborating orders. Whom is it who gave you these soldiers?”

“Whom indeed? That is a question which is difficult to answer,” Hydan noted.

The saeran Major started getting blue in the face, and I knew this wasn’t going to go well.

“Well, you WILL answer it, Captain!” he exclaimed.

Hydan continued, thoughtfully, “I mean, who are we all, in the grand scheme of things?”

The Major looked perplexed, “What are you babbling about?”

“Well,” Hydan said as if relishing his answer thoroughly, “Who assumes there is someone beyond me, which is a perception very hard to prove!”

“You will answer…”

“All right, I’ll do my best. For there to be a ‘whom’, who gave me these orders, one could assume, from our senses, there are other minds, I mean, the truth of this belief is so manifestly obvious and self-evident as to need no justification on the part of the person who believes it.”

Now the Major was a dark shade of blue, “What, you fool!”

“Well, even a fool, if you would consider one, could claim you have hands, feet, and a body, not to mention a head, which likely has a brain inside, and that there are others, similarly equipped, who enjoy the same experiences as they do. Therefore, the fool would believe there are others of whom could give out orders.”

“I order you to tell me who sent you…”

“Well, you are entitled to believe there is a ‘who’, certainly, without any other explanations. But does this really prove the existence of other minds which can give such orders? Perhaps we should delve into this deeper, mind you.”

Suddenly the guard clutched at his chest and slowly collapsed.

“A little help here!” Hydan called out, “This man, if he exists, may indeed be having a seizure, or not, I can’t really prove either one.”

When help arrived and the Major was carted off, Hydan gestured to the stairway and said, “I believe this is our cue to start our march up these stairs!”

As I passed Hydan I said, “What did you do, give that guy a heart attack?”

“Well, he does not have a human heart, Nicholas, he has two separate dual pumping organs called groms lower down, in his midsection, not to mention a manual pumping system in his thighs for more flow during exercise, but he did have a problem in his cortex which was causing a short of some kind, I really do believe.”

“You are much scarier than I first believed,” I noted.

“Nonsense, I’m just here to see the world!”

We started climbing and climbing. The stairs were very well formed, beautiful in many ways where soldier’s boots hadn’t worn them down, but they were endless.

We climbed for what seemed like an age, passing several other soldiers, who were generally sitting on the stairs, not going up or down at this point.

When we got near the last thousand or so steps we were accosted yet again.

“And where do you think you are going?” a guard captain spoke.

“To the top!” Hydan exclaimed.

Just as the other saeran officer started to scowl, a saeran, a flight of steps higher, turned, and I saw the drawn skin of a necrosoul, and then the dry shape of a nautilus on his cheek, it was a necromage.

I immediately lowered my head, and muttered to Hydan, “Mage, above us.”

Hydan kept right on talking to the Captain but turned naturally so his left cheek would be hidden from anyone above us.

The necromage called down, “What is going on there, Captain?”

The Captain already had Hydan’s false paper, and replied, “Three deserters, sent to die up at the top of the stairs.”

The mage snarled, “Throw them off the stairs.”

Hydan immediately protested, “Wait, I have orders to take them to the top, where they are to lead an attack, alone.”

The necromage snarled at him, “Shut up, Captain, or you will be thrown off the stairs with them. They have been punished with the climb to their inevitable death, why does it matter how they die? I don’t want more debris thrown down to clog these stairs, and cause possible other deaths, nor do I want their slippery blood. Toss them from the stairs, NOW!”

“I bet you just want to see someone falling to their death, don’t you?” Hydan asked.

The necromage’s milky eyes narrowed at this insolence, “Yes, Private, and I don’t mind if that person is…”

“Yourself?” Hydan asked innocently, at which point the stairway under the necromage broke. It cracked along what seemed like a natural fault, and suddenly let loose.

He had been standing on stairs more to the right of us, and above, so he and the debris fell past us without mishap.

The necromage snarled and started to slow his fall, likely making himself lighter like Hydan had done before, but I saw Hydan concentrating, and one of the larger pieces of stone, which was falling from above, clipped the necromage in the head. He was suddenly falling like a tumbling leaf toward the ground far below.

“By the Silent Mother, that was unlucky!” Hydan noted happily.

The soldiers were gaping at the whole falling body thing, and a few of them were trying to avoid the smaller pieces still crumbling when Hydan started us moving again.

It was the other Captain who recovered first, just as Myrka was passing him on the stair.

“Hey!” the Captain said, but that’s when Myrka’s hip seemed to sway a bit and knock the Captain back. He grabbed for another man, who had his step break under his foot as well. Both fell screaming toward the bottom.

We kept climbing stairs, and all the other soldiers were looking at the suddenly faulty and treacherous stairs under their feet carefully, and ignoring us almost completely.

Soon we were above all of them, and that’s when stones started to fall from the castle above.

“Incoming!” Hydan exclaimed, and stepped in front of us all.

The stones which would have hit us seemed to bounce unnaturally and cleared our heads.

Then Hydan called out to the castle.

“We are mages of Abal, who oppose the Island Witch! We come in peace, and seek refuge from the soldiers below.”

All of our uniforms changed to the royal blue of the loyal saeran army.

A few soldiers below saw this, and some of them started getting out bows.

Myrka turned to do battle, with Toji right behind her.

I stepped up next to Hydan and exclaimed, “Mother! It is Nicholas! I have come home; please don’t drop any more rocks on your son!”

Some of the soldiers reached Myrka, and she started killing them swiftly. She was a terror to behold, and many of the soldiers on the stairs below looked at their falling comrades with fear, hoping they wouldn’t have to face the girl dealing death from above.

Arrows started to arrive, but they just dissolved as they got to us. Hydan was standing below me, so none of them reached me anyway.

It took a few minutes, but then the door above creaked open slightly, and we worked our way forward, killing soldiers below as we worked our way up. It took over an hour, but eventually we were inside and the doors closed again. Then we heard rocks starting to fall and the screams of the remaining enemy soldiers outside as they fell, were crushed or beat a hasty retreat.

Myrka sheathed her poniard with a flourish, and said, “You see, I could have taken them all!”

“Your confidence is impressive, but eventually, they would send enough necromages to wear you down,” a woman’s voice said in an echoing sound.

We were in a large entry hall, and there were rounded, curving staircases going up to either side, with a passage on this level going straight between them. Above on the balcony between where the two stairways met, was a woman in a white gown, with a tiara on her head.

“The White Enchantress, I presume?” I asked.

She nodded, and then said, “And you are?”

“This is Hydan, Friare Third, Myrka, Tarvos Fourth, Toji, Bakemono Fourth and I am Nicholas, Sivaeral Third! They tell me I am your son,” I said boldly.

She stepped forward and what I beheld on her left cheek changed everything, it was the stylized slashes of the Albus House spider Glyph, not the nautilus Glyph of the Sivaeral House.

I swallowed and she said, “And I am Finnabair Albus, Second of House Albus, The White Enchantress. As to being my son, well, we shall see.”

 

 

 

Chapter Fifteen

 

Some lie about who they love

Some lie about the truth

Some lie to save their lives

Some lie about their youth

 

I’ve lied about most everything

-Elton John

 

Servants came and showed us to apartments set aside for each of us. We were told to dress for dinner in one hour. After we rested and cleaned up, servants showed us to the dining room.

This turned out to be a vast chamber, with a long table which could have seated forty guests but was only set for five. The White Enchantress sat at the head, and as we approached the lady stood, and gestured to our seats, naming each of us and pointing to where we should sit. My seat was to her right, with Hydan on my other side. Toji would be seated across from me, with Myrka next to him.

When she sat so did we.

Finnabair clapped her hands, and servants brought in the first course. We spoke as we ate, and our hostess started the conversation.

“I suppose you have many questions, particularly you, Nicholas.”

I swallowed a very trite reply, and went with simply, “You have no idea, lady.”

Finnabair is beautiful as far as saerans went, her features just seemed to flow in pleasing lines and colors, so I said, “You are the second Albus Second I have met in my travels, are all Albus woman so beautiful?”

She smiled and nodded her head to me at my compliment, “Our race is generally pleasing to the eyes, but we vary as any race does.”

“Excuse me for being surprised,” I continued, “But I was led to believe my mother was a Sivaeral sorceress, though still a Second, and yet, if you are my mother, then you are an Albus, and this confuses me greatly,” I said touching the nautilus Glyph on my cheek.

She only smiled, while taking a drink from a goblet; I think to give herself time to think about her reply.

Then she said, “First of all, I am responsible for the false rumors as to my House. Of course, to maintain these rumors, I have had to become a recluse for several centuries.”

“And why did you maintain this ruse?” I asked.

She smiled cryptically, “Why indeed?”

She hadn’t answered my question yet, instead, she said, “And, why do you believe I am your mother?”

Here I had to swallow; my source was Medrod, the evil leader of the very soldiers besieging her castle, which didn’t make him a very credible witness to this information.

So I replied, “I grew up on Earth, without my real parents, and when I discovered I was a mage, I came seeking my parents on my birth-world. These three mages have been helping me achieve my goal. Along the way research at Poseidon showed I might be the son of Oberon Sivaeral, but he convinced me he is not my father.”

She watched me intently with her dark saeran eyes and then said, “And, back on Earth, how did you discern you are a Sivaeral Third?”

I answered, “Actually, if I understand how this works, one of your sisters told me.”

“Oh, which one?” she asked.

“Fiona Albus,” I replied.

She raised an eyebrow fin. “Fiona? Really. She has been away from our world for a very long time, no doubt embroiled in many plots, as is typical of my family.”

Hydan smiled; which Finnabair noticed and said, “I will get to you, Friare.”

He just nodded, seeming unconcerned; of course, Hydan almost always seemed unconcerned.

She turned back to me, and said, “And so, Oberon told you he is not your father, but how did this lead you to believe you are the son of The White Enchantress?”

I shrugged, “Well, again, from what I understand from my nautilus Glyph, I have to be the son of a Sivaeral Second, in order to be Third of this House, and you were rumored to be one of three Sivaeral Second sorceresses.”

She nodded.

“But now you see I am of House Albus,” she stated.

I nodded and took a deep breath, “Which means you are not my mother.”

She smiled warmly, “On the contrary, Nicholas Sivaeral, I believe I AM your mother.”

That stunned me.

But then Toji spoke, “How is this possible? No mage can fake a Glyph from another House!”

“No,” Finnabair agreed, “they cannot fake it, though if their Archimage has not confirmed their House, and they believe with all their heart they are of another House, then that Glyph might manifest. However, in this case, that is not true, for Nicholas is of House Sivaeral, just not of the Third Tier.”

Toji tilted his head, “But this makes even less sense. If you mated with a lower Tier, then Nicholas would bear your Glyph from House Albus… unless he thought his parents were of House Sivaeral!” he suddenly noted with excitement.

“Correct, but incorrect;” Finnabair noted with a smile, “I did not say my mate is of a lower Tier, he is of a higher Tier!”

Hydan frowned, “But that would mean Nick’s father was…”

“The Archimage of House Sivaeral!” Finnabair stated.

Toji’s eyes widened, “That would explain his Sivaeral Glyph, for then you would be the lower Tier, and Nicholas would have gotten his House from his father… but that would make him.”

“A Second, not a Third, of House Sivaeral,” Finnabair announced.

I was stunned, but I finally said, “So you really are my mother?”

“Yes, Nicholas,” she said warmly.

“And my father is a prisoner of Medrod and Morgain.”

Finnabair nodded, “How did you know that? Your father’s imprisonment by that Dokkalfar sorceress isn’t common knowledge. I have kept it from the people so they would have hope, and of course, I have hoped to free him some day.”

I shrugged, “Medrod told me while I was his prisoner, which is how I also found out you were my mother.”

She just raised an eyebrow fin at this revelation.

“Congratulations, Nicholas, you are the most powerful mage of our group now,” Hydan noted.

“Which brings me to you,” Finnabair stated, looking at Hydan. “What brings a Friare on such a dangerous mission?”

“Entertainment, I just love a good show, and this is the best I’ve ever found! There have been chickens, snogfish, and maidens in distress! I’ve tasted brandy and beer. Nick has been captured and escaped. We have run into evil ghosts and guardian shades, necrosouls and necromages. We’ve fought battles with evil, and fooled the enemy. We’ve flung ourselves over, swam under and now climbed up walls. I haven’t had this much fun since my brother got me drunk, kidnapped me as a child and left me alone on Elysium with a bunch of Angels as a joke.”

“He got you drunk when you were a child?” I asked.

Toji answered me, “On Nibiru they serve what Earth humans would call 200 proof alcohol in their baby bottles.”

Hydan just smiled and took a deep drink from his goblet of the red wine like brew being served.

Finnabair hadn’t taken her eyes off of Hydan, but she said, “I believe no more than one word in ten out of your mouth.”

Hydan laughed, “That, from an Albus? I believe one word in a hundred from you.”

She ignored that and then got Myrka’s and Toji’s stories out of them, one at a time.

Finnabair turned back to me, “So, my son, why, after all these years, have you returned to find your real mother?”

I looked at her and replied, “Well, first off, I’d like to know why you left me on Earth with foster parents?”

Finnabair looked away for a moment and then said, “Nicholas, I didn’t abandon you on Earth, until a few moments ago I had no idea where you had grown up. You were stolen from me when you were but a baby, and I have looked for you ever since. I have lived much of my life on Abal simply because you are of House Sivaeral, so this was the most likely place you would be, or to which you might eventually return, and I was right.”

That stunned me for a moment, and then I said, “Who took me?”

Finnabair looked sad, but replied, “I don’t know who, or why, Nicholas. It has been the mystery which has colored my life for many years. Though I do not condone, I can understand a House ending a mage’s line as part of their Ascension Quest, but why kidnap a child? Were they planning on using you as leverage later? I didn’t know and still don’t. I’m just happy to finally get you back and to know you are safe and free. I look forward to getting to know you, son.”

So, I have some unknown enemies, or my mother does, which is the same thing as far as I’m concerned.

We ate in silence for a few minutes, each of us in thought, and then Finnabair said, “Nicholas, why did you come here, now. From what you said, you are trying to save this saeran child you befriended.”

I nodded, “We came seeking aid so we can rescue her, and for that I need information. By learning more about my past, I hoped to understand my place in these crazy worlds so I can better believe in my powers, and hopefully use them better with that understanding. I also hoped you might be able to help in some way.”

The White Enchantress nodded. Then she said, “Let me think about it, perhaps we can have some time to talk, just the two of us, as mother and son.”

I gave her nod and a small smile.

Toward the end of the meal, I said, “So, why do you call yourself the White Enchantress?”

She laughed, and the sound was musical. “I needed a title so I could hide my real name and House. People around here think it derives from the white stone at the tops of these mountains, the same stone which makes up my castle. But truthfully that’s not where the name came from. I spent a lot of time on Earth, with your father, some time ago. We were hiding from prying eyes. I have had many versions of my name translated into different languages over time. On Earth, I had English, Irish, and Welsh versions. My current name really comes from what people call us on my home World, White Fay. On Earth, the Irish translation was Findabair, or Finnabair, which also translates to The White Enchantress. It seemed to fit in many ways, so that is what I adopted here on Abal.”

 

When dinner was over the others retired, but I went to a library with my mother, and there we talked alone.

She was seated with a crystal glass sipping a drink, and I was looking at the books when she said, “You are not telling me everything, are you, Nicholas?”

“Not everything,” I agreed. “There are things I have even kept from Toji and Myrka.”

She smiled, “But not Hydan?”

“I told him pretty much all of it early on, but he cautioned me to be more circumspect.”

“He is probably right; information can kill you as easily, or more so, than a dagger.”

I nodded, and then said, “There is, however, one thing I have held back, even from Hydan.”

She pondered for a moment, and then said, “I know you have your reasons for holding things back, but I have to ask, are you planning to tell me the rest, or do you feel you can’t trust me that far yet?”

That was a good question, and I didn’t answer as I thought about my possible replies.

She waited patiently, taking a sip from her glass, before saying, “I want you to know I am willing to wait, and will not take it poorly if you choose to hold things back. However, I must caution you, taking on Medrod and Morgain will be extremely dangerous. I couldn’t handle them both, and with the army they have built, well, you can see I am barely holding onto my castle. The more you tell me, the more likely I can give you aid, but it is your decision.”

Ah hell, Hydan knows anyway, and so does Fiona, what’s one more joker in the deck? So I turned to her and said, “I have lost my memory.” Then I explained about the spell which Fiona told me about, the memory eater.

Finnabair sat silent for a time after that, considering. Then she said, “You were likely hit with a sigil, one with a very rare spell, most mages would rather just kill you than take your memories away. There has to be a reason they would do that instead of just killing you. If they could get you with that spell, then they should have been able to end your line.”

I furrowed my brow in thought, which didn’t really do me all that much good since nothing came to mind, so I asked, “Why would anyone do that then?”

“Well, let’s walk it through, if they didn’t kill you when they could, it means they wanted you alive. But, they didn’t want you alive with whatever knowledge you had. Since silencing you would be much easier with your death, the only reason I can think for taking your memories is so they could use you in some way. Something you knew would have stopped them from doing that, so they got rid of that issue. Otherwise, they would have just killed you.”

I guess that made a strange kind of sense. “What possible use can I be without my memory?”

She pondered, “Well, as a hostage, for one. Another would be to keep your line alive, yet have you forget something you learned.”

That made me think of The Dragon, I’d stolen some secret from him, maybe a third party didn’t want that secret out, but needed me alive.

Then I said, “I told you there was something I haven’t told anyone, but I will tell you.”

She smiled slightly, and waited silently, just watching me with her dark saeran eyes.

“I remembered something, in a dream.”

She nodded, “Missing memories might come back to you that way.”

“Well, in this case, I didn’t see who I was talking to, but they gave me an order to steal some information, and I believe it was from The Dragon. Since this was some kind of order, I assumed it was my Archimage, and I came to Abal, not only to find my parents but to seek out my Archimage to see if he could restore my memories. I had no idea my Archimage and my father were one and the same.”

My mother replied, “Rescuing your father will be extremely difficult, Nicholas. I can help you by teaching you how to use your power. You are strong, and if you believe in your powers they can save you. However, no matter how much I teach you, there is still Medrod, and from what you told me, he is now wielding Caliburn. Then there is his wife; she is a powerful Dokkalfar sorceress, make no mistake. She will have many strong necromages at her call, and her own powers of darkness.”

I laughed, “Wow, you don’t make a good cheerleader, from the sounds of it, you’re telling me even if you teach me what you can, they are going to clean my clock.”

She smiled, “A strange euphemism for death or destruction, but I guess life is a kind of clock, since we’re are all counting time to our end, and in cleaning a clock you must take it apart, and therefore stop that clock. I am telling you the truth so you do not go in with false bravado and unrealistic expectations. You aren’t going to fight your way in, end Medrod and then ‘clean’ Morgain’s ‘clock’, which in my opinion has run far too long.”

I started to speak, but she held up a finger, “What you MIGHT be able to do if you are stealthy, smart and very lucky, is reach the place where they have your father imprisoned and set him free. Once you have an Archimage on your side, the balance of power may shift quite a bit, you might have some hope of winning.”

“So, rescue dad, and then take on the dark duo.”

She smiled, “It will not be easy, trust me. If you do release your father, the best thing to do is retreat, make a new plan, and start a coordinated offensive.”

“Really, I would rather just cut off Medrod’s head, grab Ziny and go.”

She shook her head, “That’s your father’s blood speaking. If you took after me, you would do a lot more planning before taking any action.”

“So that’s an Albus thing?”

“Very much so,” she said. Then she added, “You know, rescuing your father isn’t going to be easy, he was rescued once before, and because of that, I’m sure Morgain put a lot of protections around him this time.”

“What do you mean, ‘he was rescued’?”

She shrugged, “I don’t have all the details, but a spy reported about another Archimage who came and released your father. That’s when he battled Medrod and eventually ended his son’s line. However, while he was weakened from battle, Morgain managed to recapture him and put the Archimage of Sivaeral back in his prison. As to what can hold an Archimage, I have no idea.”

I thought about that, and then said, “Which Archimage helped to free him the first time, maybe we can get them to help us again, or at least tell us how he freed my father the first time?”

“I don’t know; my spy did not get that information to me before he was killed. It would be very foolish to ask all of the Archimages, which would inform them of your father’s imprisonment. If they learn the Archimage of Abal is helpless, some of the others might come to conquer this House and this World.”

“Like Earth,” I said.

She nodded, “Earth has been a House battleground for thousands of its years, though no one has managed to wrest control permanently. There were a few close calls, the empire of Rome was a bid by the Hentans, and they gathered in a large part of the world. Then there were the two attempts by the Dokkalfar, called the First and Second World War.”

“Hitler caused the Second World War,” I noted.

She shrugged, “I never liked that Dokkalfar wizard.”

“Hitler was a wizard?”

She nodded, “You don’t think he swayed all those poor German minds with just his oratory prowess? And why would anyone follow such an ugly little human, unless he was governing their minds?”

I shook my head and then said, “Well, I’m glad Hitler is dead then.”

“Oh, I don’t think his line has ended, his mother, Kali, the Archimage of House Dokkalfar, stepped in and pulled him out before the allied Houses of Argoth and Tarvos could end him.”

“And you’re going to tell me the Japanese…”

“House Bakemono,” she finished for me. “One of their Seconds, Jiro, saw a chance to rise above House Argoth and Tarvos, so he temporarily allied with House Dokkalfar. In the end, they would have had to fight another battle against the Dokkalfar if they had won the war. I always wondered about his decision to do that, it seemed rather rash, and in some ways dishonorable, which is not very much like the Bakemono House.”

“So, you are afraid Abal will end up a contested battleground, like Earth?”

Finnabair nodded, “It is one of the reasons I have kept your father’s imprisonment a secret, as did Morgain. However, at this point, Morgain must feel she is powerful enough now to hold off the other Houses if she is allowing Medrod to talk about your father’s imprisonment.”

“Or, he’s an idiot,” I noted. “Maybe he only told me because he didn’t believe I could escape.”

She smiled, “There is that. Medrod is not the most intelligent of your father’s offspring; perhaps my genes have helped you there.”

“Medrod is my brother, isn’t he?” I suddenly realized.

Finnabair answered, “Half-brother, yes. However, regardless of Medrod’s mental acuity, remember that Morgain is smart enough. Do not underestimate the Dokkalfar sorceress. She is Adolf’s sister, and some argue he came closest to conquering Earth, though Alexander Hentan might argue with that. He made a very good push right after the Terran Archimage was ended. Personally, I think House Argoth has made the greatest inroads to conquering Earth to this date, though they aren’t really winning.”

“Really, and who are they, the Kennedys?” I joked.

“No, the Kennedy clan is of my House, the Albus. I’m talking about Jesus Argoth.”

I tilted my head down and said, “Jesus, THE Jesus?”

“Yes. House Argoth started their program early, when Gaia was barely gone, back during the time of Rome, and their influence is still spreading to this day.”

“Jesus,” I said again. It was both a statement of disbelief and a curse.

“Religion is a powerful tool; it can conquer a people more completely than a war. If you conquer by force, the people may fight a guerilla war against their foreign invaders, but if they give themselves over willingly, by belief, well, then they are putty in the hands of those in charge of that religion.”

I had to agree, a whole lot of people have died in the name of religion.

“Of course, religious takeover is a slow method, but it does work. In this case, the Argoths are doing exceedingly well, though some of the other Houses have countered their gambit in an attempt to stop their play. The Friare House countered with Buddhism; they always did go for the concept of Nirvana. My House saw what the Argoth House was attempting early on and tried to keep the status quo by creating a competing religion, Islam. The Argoths introduced the Bible, so we made the Quran.”

I snorted, “The Argoths wrote the bible?”

“Some of it, they also just collected a lot of stuff written by true believers once they seeded the concepts into the population. You have noticed that the bible isn’t all that… consistent?”

“I guess,” I said slowly.

“The thing is, much of what is attributed to ‘God’ is not really godlike. He gets angry, decides to murder people…”

“I thought one of the Ten Commandments is, ‘Thou shalt not kill’?”

Finnabair smiled, “Proving God of the bible is a hypocrite. For example, in Exodus 4:24-26, it states, ‘At a lodging place on the way, the Lord met Moses and was about to kill him. But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it. Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,” she said. So the Lord let him alone.’

I laughed, “It says God went to a bar to kill Moses? That sounds like the beginning of a bad joke.”

“Yes,” she agreed, “The thing is, there are many MANY such inconsistencies in the bible, but this collection of writings wasn’t written by some divine guidance, it was put together by House Argoth, and they didn’t even do a good job. However, those people who embrace a religion can always find some way to explain away something, even if it is written in black and white in their own holy book. The Quran isn’t any better, even though my House put it together. For example, in the Quran, in the fourth chapter, it states: ‘Allah instructs you concerning your children: for the male, what is equal to the share of two females.’ I always found that passage annoying, and I had some words with the Albus third who put that part in there!”

“I bet he was a male,” I said with a laugh.

“He is still ruing the day he wrote that! I should note, not all Earth religions were purposely created by one of the Houses, though almost all of them are influenced in some way. For example, Hinduism comes from the Dokkalfar presence in a region of Earth, though their House did not make up the religion. However, due to Dokkalfar influence, what they created and believe is flavored by that House. Their Archimage, Kali, is even mentioned directly.”

“But if the Argoths made up the Christian religion, you are telling me the Pope is a wizard?” I exclaimed.

“No, I don’t think so, at least not the current one. Most of those in charge of the various religions are true believers; it works out better that way. Nowadays these religions have a life of their own, and the mundanes mostly keep them going without the need of our magic. The Houses no longer have to do anything obvious to reinforce their beliefs at this stage; what the Terrans call ‘miracles’. Not that the Houses aren’t involved, why do you think there are so many conflicting denominations even within the same basic faith? Mormons, Catholics, Baptists, Lutherans, Anglicans, Calvinists, Presbyterians, it goes on and on.”

I shook my head sadly, “So that’s why there were so many documented ‘miracles’ back in olden times, but not so many, or obvious ones, in the modern era. From what you say, those miracles were all mage created magic.”

She nodded.

“Why don’t you think the Argoths are winning on Earth with Christianity?”

She shrugged, “I think House Argoth believes they can win on Earth with their religion, but I’m not so sure. At my last look at the census of Earth’s religions, Christianity, including all its myriad forms, holds 33%, and though that is the largest religion, it is not a majority. Muslim have 23% of the world, so my House, though not winning, has kept the Argoth House from taking over completely.

“ Surprisingly, Hindu takes up 14%, which is amazing since it was not a religion engineered specifically by one of the Houses, though I believe the Archimage Kali helped it along once it came into being. Buddhists, Jews, and many other small religions total to about 18%. Just to show you how successful these religions are, Atheists only have 2% of the population, though those who don’t claim to believe anyone, Atheist or Religions folk, I’m talking about the Agnostics, have 10%. There is clearly no winner. Look at it another way, even though Christianity holds 33%, it also means 67% of the world does not believe in House Argoth’s Christian religions.”

I thought about that and then said, “And what do YOU believe?”

She smiled, “I believe in God; I just don’t know whom it is yet.”

“So you are Agnostic?” I inquired.

“Sort of, I know there was once something greater than all of us, and they created this universe, and I believe someone will assume that power in the future, so I’m not completely Agnostic, for they claim to have no idea if God exists at all, though they don’t deny the possibility.”

“Aren’t the Houses the same thing as a religion? You all believe in your Archimage, and fight the other Houses in this Ascension Quest.”

She smiled, “Very good, but there are a few holes in your comparison. First off, not all Houses are out to destroy the rest, the Sivaeral, Friare and Albus Houses are three good examples. The Friares just don’t give a damn about the Ascension Quest, the Albus House is neutral, and, up until Morgain’s and Medrod’s interference, the Sivaerals attempted to keep the status quo.”

“But what of the other seven houses?”

“Five, really; the Terran House is wiped out, and House Dragon is outlawed and nearly destroyed. Once The Dragon is brought to justice, his House will be ended, like House Terran. Four of the remaining five Houses are driven by other forces rather than religion. That leaves only one House which indoctrinates their people with a religion, the Argoth.”

“I see, I guess, yet each House keeps control of their people through peer pressure, even if it isn’t through religion.”

“Most definitely, peer pressure may be more powerful than magic,” she noted.

I pondered her statement, and then said, “So Earth, or should I say, House Terran, is not in the Ascension Quest?”

She nodded, “On Earth things are a complete mess. It all got started when Gaia’s line ended. She was the first Archimage to go, and she is still the only First to fall in The Ascension Quest. When she died, Earth was open to the other Houses, without the anchor of their Archimage to stop their influence. It became a maelstrom of war, religion, ethnic differences, prejudice, rampant change and just plain chaos. People of Earth don’t know what to believe, and have no House Archimage to bring any kind of order, so madness ensued. Earth became the Battle World for the Houses.”

Something about her statement angered me, I’m not even sure why, but I worked on self-control, which doesn’t come easy for me, trust me.

She may have noticed something in my expression, because she said, “I see you are tired; I think you should get some rest. Tomorrow I will begin teaching you how to use your powers.”

 

Breakfast was served in a smaller room with a tall window, made of small square panes of glass. The view was out over the countryside, and if you went to the window and looked down, you could see the Island Witch’s army amassed below, working on a road up the mountain, like morons building the tower of Babel, though if they kept it up, eventually they would reach the gates of this castle.

I looked at Finnabair, who was sipping from a cup of tea, and said, “Aren’t you worried about them?”

She smiled. “No, it will be some time before they can reach the gates, and time is on my side. It is hard for any force to remain united in purpose for long.”

Myrka then asked, “What do you do about mages? Surely the necromages have attempted to breach the castle by various means?”

“I have been here a long time, and I have had the leisure time, and power, to imbue many aspects of this castle against such an attack. The gargoyles you see adorning the battlements are not just decorations, they are golems, capable of flight and the defense of the walls. They also sound the alarm should any attackers reach the walls, and then I can come and see what needs to be done.”

“And for underground attacks?” Myrka demanded.

“I have other defenses below ground,” she assured the Tarvos sorceress.

Myrka continued, “And what of Derkaz attacks, have they not attempted to blast the foundations of this castle apart and let it tumble to the ground below?”

“Yes, there have been attempts, but much of the foundation is shielded, and I tend to make examples of any necromage foolish enough to try. They must come close to make such an attempt, and then, well, things go poorly for them.”

But Myrka kept prodding, saying, “But even then, eventually, if enough of them assault you, this castle will fall, even if you are an Albus Second.”

Finnabair nodded, “At which time I will just move on, and they will have a pile of rubble for all their trouble.”

“You will not fight them?” Myrka demanded.

Finnabair raised an eye ridge fin, “I am fighting them, every day. I will just not fall to their attack in the end.”

“So they will win, in the end,” Myrka noted.

Finnabair sat back in her chair calmly, and said, “Who is the victor, those who lose half an army, or those who lose none, and live to fight another day? The Albus believe in the long view. This ‘victory’ will cost them more than my ‘defeat’ will cost me, so who comes out ahead?”

“That’s not the point, in the end, they will win!” Myrka declared.

“Only by your scale of measurement, not mine.”

Myrka then said, “And if they block you from Five Point travel, and then take you?”

“I do not need to Five Point travel, I have built a portal here, and they cannot destroy the portal if they have not breached the castle. I will depart prior to that taking place.”

“You have built a portal here!” Myrka exclaimed.

“Why the big surprise, Myrka?” I asked.

Hydan chose to answer, “Portals take a lot of invested power, Nick. It can take a host of mages a hundred years to make one.”

“Or an Albus Second a few hundred years, if she spends the time,” Finnabair noted, and added, “which I have done. Losing the portal would be annoying, but not irreplaceable. The Portal is in the tallest central tower, in fact, it IS the tower.”

I then asked, “Can a portal be blocked?”

“No, though it can be destroyed, but that could take a lot of work and time, just like it takes to make one,” my mother replied.

 

After breakfast was over, my mother invited us to come to a practice chamber, deeper in the castle. We all went, and it turned out to be a large chamber with a rounded ceiling, all made of white marble.

Finnabair walked out onto the floor, which was made of intricately patterned marble pieces which formed a massive image depicting a great battle in what looked like some grand palace of the gods.

“Asgard?” Hydan asked, looking at the floor with interest.

“Yes, it is an artist’s depiction of the great betrayal,” The White Enchantress replied.

“What is that?” I asked.

Toji answered, “Where The Dragon tried to end the Archimage Baal, and eventually murder all the Archimages in the Ring of Ten. But he was unmasked as a traitor who broke the Archimage Accords. This shows the battle which ensued as The Dragon escaped the wrath of the other Archimages and fled Asgard.”

Finnabair spoke to Myrka, “Tarvos, may I ask your assistance in a demonstration for Nicholas?”

Myrka didn’t answer, but she walked out onto the glossy floor to face Finnabair.

Suddenly a glimmering oblong cocoon encompassed the Albus sorceress, it was slightly blue tinged, and nearly transparent.

“Attempt to strike me with a Derkaz blast,” Finnabair instructed.

Almost before she finished her request, Myrka pulled her arm up and a blast of blue energy lanced out at Finnabair. The power hit the shield around her and was deflected into the ceiling above, which caused some of the marble to come falling down. Pieces which would have hit Finnabair or Myrka seemed to turn to dust before they struck either sorceress.

“Thank you,” Finnabair said calmly.

A moment later the dust disappeared and the ceiling changed back to the way it was before the blast.

Then my mother turned to me and said, “That is an example of a shield, which can protect you against such uses of the Derkaz, or other harm. To make one, all you need to do is know it is there, and that it will stop Derkaz.”

“That, and be more powerful than the blast which was sent,” Myrka noted.

“And that. However, it is important to understand that not many mages could send enough Derkaz power to get through a Second’s shield, especially if they are rested.”

Myrka shrugged.

“OK, when using Derkaz, why does it matter what Tier the mage is? Isn’t Derkaz an outside force?” I asked.

My mother nodded, but replied, “And yet, it must be controlled by the person using it, and is therefore bound by their level of power.”

I then said, “But you were ready, what if you weren’t?”

Finnabair smiled, and turned her back on Myrka, and then her shield dropped. She spoke calmly, “I only showed you the shield ahead of time so you could look at it. Myrka, whenever you want.”

Myrka waited a few seconds and then fired another bolt. The results were the same, though this time I only saw a flash of the shield, just as the bolt arrived.

Myrka snarled, I guess she wanted to kill someone this morning, or she just hated anything which she didn’t win.

Finnabair fixed the wall where the blast had hit. I decided if any more of these demonstrations were in order, I was going to stand behind Hydan.

“My subconscious reality maintains order around me, even when I am not conscious of what is happening,” Finnabair explained.

I nodded, Hydan had taught me about that already.

Then she asked me to come out onto the floor.

“All right,” I said, but then I spoke to Myrka, “Don’t test me with any of those bolts! You nearly killed me with one of your blasts, and once is enough.”

Myrka nodded and walked back to stand with Hydan and Toji.

When I joined my mother, she explained what she wanted. “The first thing you need to do is learn defense. Offense is all well and good, but when facing a mage, most of what you need is defense. Your offense is unlikely to get through to them anyway, so you will have to get up close and personal to do them harm. That’s why we are starting with shields; Morgain uses the Derkaz so you need to be prepared. We will move on to other forms of defense after you have mastered this shield.”

 

We worked for several hours, and at times, Finnabair had the others assist us. Eventually, she even had Myrka use a very weak bolt, and then stronger. We worked up until I really did believe she couldn’t nail me, even if I wasn’t looking. That was the important part, me believing it was true. That took a lot of work and practice, but once you got beyond a certain point, and you believed, it suddenly got easier.

I spent a week learning things from my mother and working with her warmed my heart. There was pleasure in learning something from her which was more than just the lesson, and because of my trust in her, things went well.

She didn’t crush me until the last day.

I was feeling pretty cocky by then, and wasn’t worried about arrows, thrown knives, bullets or Derkaz blasts; my subconscious reality was growing strong.

That’s when she started hand to hand work, and I found myself, not overmatched, but devastated in my ineptitude. They were ALL better than me, and not by a little. Only Hydan refused to spar, but the others, including my mother, had me for lunch every time we had a mock battle.

One of the times I landed on my back, with her blade at my throat, my mother said, “The thing is, Nick, it isn’t enough to believe in your knife anymore, that is a given, or you are already dead. Once you and your opponent have your weapons on equal ground, each keeping their blade real, now it comes down to other factors. One important one is your prowess with the blade.”

She and I were out at the center of the practice chamber, so when she lowered her voice at this point they could not hear, “I find you have some skill already, Nick, your body remembers past training your conscious mind has lost; I can see it in the brilliance of your moves, except when you let your conscious mind foul things up.”

Then she raised her voice back up to normal volume as she said, “But there is far more to combat than martial skill! Though you cannot affect your opponent, you may be able to affect things around you, and try to distract your mage opponent, assuming this isn’t an officiated duel. And, you must expect your opponent to be doing the same thing.”

She helped me back to my feet, and then said, “On guard.”

I raised my knife and tried not to think about what I was doing, I didn’t want my conscious mind screwing me up again. Suddenly my mother lunged forward, and I easily took a step back, only to find myself falling over a piece of the floor which hadn’t been there a moment before. Somehow one of the marble carvings had lifted up a foot, right behind me.

I went down hard, and Finnabair stepped up above me, though she didn’t do anything. The advantage was already obvious.

“I raised the floor behind you,” she noted.

“Wow, I didn’t know you could reach that far!” I exclaimed.

Suddenly all the blue pieces of marble in the intricate floor rose up in a circle about fifty feet around my mother.

“Toji, could you come here?” she said, and the blue pieces all retracted.

He came over and she said, “Do the same thing I just did, as far out as you can.”

Toji’s brow furrowed in concentration, and then the floor pieces lifted about twelve feet around him.

“I am a Second, so I can reach farther than a Fourth as you can see,” she noted, and then added, “But, if you are within the range of the Fourth, it is not much of an advantage.”

Toji fixed the floor back to flat and smooth.

Finnabair continued, “But notice we were lifting marble, we weren’t affecting another mage directly. That is completely different; the floor was not trying to stay the way it was.”

“I see the difference,” I answered.

“Try to lift the same pieces again, Toji,” Finnabair requested.

Toji concentrated again, but nothing happened.

“I am fighting his version of reality now, which is not something my subconscious reality can handle very far from my body, it has to be through conscious control,” she explained. “The trick here is to outwit your opponent; try things they are not consciously working to hold consistent.”

I took a deep breath and then nodded. We worked on it a LOT more.

After another week, I started to feel the pressure of holding still too long. Ziny was still a captive of those freaks, and each night I saw her in my dreams. I announced it was time to get going.

My mother was in her favorite chair in her library, and I was there with my companions. She closed a book she was reading, and said, “If you think you are ready, then you need a good plan.”

“I thought we had a plan,” I replied, “We sneak onto Mystical Island, release my dad, find Ziny, kick their ass and Five Point travel out, bada bing bada boom.”

“That is not a plan, son; it is a goal.”

Hydan laughed, “Here we go, any Albus plan involves the plan they tell you about, the part of their plan you discover during the operation, followed by the revelation of the plan they boxed you into doing, and later the plan of which you never even knew you were a part.”

Her eyes twinkled at Hydan, but she didn’t deny anything. Instead, she said, “Well, let’s just start with the plan I’m telling you about. I assure you it is real.”

“Told you,” Hydan said fatally.

I sighed, “OK, what is the plan?”

Finnabair replied, “Your first goal was to sneak onto Mystical Island, but how did you plan to accomplish this with Morgain watching for you? I hear you even told her you were coming for Ziny?”

“Yeah, so she would keep her alive as bait,” I answered.

My mother nodded. “She will be planning a reception for you now.”

“OK, so she knows we are coming, and will be looking for us.”

My mother nodded, “So the only chance you have is if she becomes distracted long enough for you to slip by. I will be the distraction, well, part of it.”

I didn’t know if I liked the sound of my mother in danger, I’d just found her.

My mother continued, “I have been playing a passive role, letting Morgain’s forces come to me, and throwing them back down if they get too close, but otherwise letting her bottle me up in my castle. I will now finally go on the offensive, and she is going to learn what a mother is capable of doing to protect her son!”

“Be careful, though,” I said.

She laughed. “Really, Nicholas? You are planning to try and sneak onto Mystical Island with just two Fourths and a Third, when Morgain, the Dokkalfar necromancer, knows you are coming, and you tell ME to be careful!”

I shrugged. What could I say?

But she finished with a sly smile, and said, “Don’t you worry about me, son, I have a lot of tricks for this upstart sorceress. She has gotten my ire. But I will not be attacking alone. Oberon, the Sivaeral Second, is going to fight back as well, especially when I send him reinforcements. I will convince him to go on the offensive and take down the Island Witch’s army which has him currently bottled up on Ouroboros.”

“How are you going to do that?” I asked.

She stood, “I’ll show you.”

We followed her down into the roots of the mountain, into the dungeons below her castle, where we eventually came to a vast natural underground cavern. What we found were rows and rows of stone warriors. They looked like a more recent version of the army of 8000 Terracotta warrior statues archeologists had uncovered in China, from back at the time of the first Emperor of China. Here, in this vast chamber under Ivory castle, were, even more, stone warriors. These were made of the same white marble as the rest of the castle.

As we walked in the chamber, nearly 10,000 marble warriors all came to attention at one moment, the sound was nearly deafening. Once they were at attention, they were again as still as marble.

“I have been busy,” Finnabair stated. “On Earth, I once built an army for a Bakemono Third, who asked for my help. At the time, I felt the balance of power shifting, so I gave him his army. Unfortunately, things changed so the army was never used, and was later buried where they stood, but that is a story for another time.”

“The power to build this many marble golems would take a lot of sigils!” Hydan muttered, and then whistled. “You couldn’t do it, not alone!”

“No, I had help, but they shall remain nameless for now, it is up to them to tell you their part, if they choose.”

“I don’t see any sigils carved on them,” I noted, remembering the rock golems which Toji had faced when we had first met.

Finnabair smiled, “They are there, just hidden in places. Unlike the army I made on Earth, this golem army is under my command, and I will use my Portal to take them briefly to Earth and from there back to Abal, where we will come out at some underwater ruins, where an old Saeran Portal is located deep in Lake Graen. That portal is very near Ouroboros; I doubt Morgain even knows it is there.

“My golem army will then approach the town underwater, coming up on the bottom of the river Trent toward Ouroboros, and then emerge to surprise Morgain’s generals when they are attacked by my golem army. I will coordinate this so it takes place at the same time you try to enter Mystical Island, as will my counteroffensive here at Ivory Castle. I believe Medrod may even go to one of these two locations, and Morgain might possibly go to the other lest they lose a large portion of their mobile army to our offensive.”

“And that’s when we sneak onto Mystical Island!” I said with satisfaction.

She nodded. “But let’s talk about the next goal of your mission and the plan for that!”

 

When all plans had been made, and we were on the eve of departure, my mother took me to her sitting room alone.

“Nick,” she began, as if not quite knowing how to broach a subject.

I just waited her out.

After a slight pause, she continued, “I have to tell you something important.”

“All right, shoot.”

She took a breath, and then said, “Your father… doesn’t know you are his son.”

My brow furrowed at this revelation.

“Now you tell me?” I noted.

She sighed, “I’ve been trying to figure out the best way of telling you, and well, you are going on your mission tomorrow and I just ran out of time, so now I’m just blurting it out.”

I thought about the implications.

She just watched me, seeing my mind working.

Finally, I said, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but this happened a long time ago, so there has been plenty of time for you to tell my father, which means you purposely didn’t tell him, why?”

She closed her eyes, not really in pain, more like she was trying to tie a bunch of things together in her head. Then she said, “There isn’t just one reason, you see, at first it was because, well, he was dealing with a very tense situation. The Dragon had fled to Earth, and I didn’t want to distract him from the search. I went to Earth after your father, which is where you were born, but I just couldn’t find the right moment. He was embroiled in the whole Dragon affair at the time, with much on his mind. So I waited, and I waited too long because you were taken.”

“How did that happen?” I asked.

She shook her head, “It is every mother’s nightmare, but there are just moments when you must be away from your child, even if those are short. All I did was put you down while I tried to find the words to tell your father he had a son, but then I heard something from the nursery. I ran there and you were gone, but there was a Star on the floor. It was still fresh enough, so I repowered it and jumped through, trying to find you. I arrived in Rome, and there I lost the trail. I searched for you for many, many years, never giving up hope, and always wondering why you were taken; I still don’t know.”

“And you never told this to my father?”

She looked stricken, “How could I? I had kept you hidden from him, when if he had known perhaps he could have protected you. Then I lost his son. I swore to find you before I ever told your father the truth.”

I nodded. “OK, so when I meet him I will have to explain things.”

She tilted her head slightly and winced as she said, “I wish you would hold off on that. If you would indulge me, just a little. You see, I would like to be the one who finally tells him the truth, I’ve held onto this secret for so many years I feel I must be the one to tell him. It will lift a shadow from my soul.”

“All right, so what DO I tell him?”

“Only the truth… just not all of it. You can tell him you are a loyal Sivaeral wizard, sent by The White Enchantress to rescue the Archimage, which is all true. Just leave out the fact that you know he’s your father, and my name.”

That last part puzzled me, “Why hide your name?”

“No one, including your father, knows who The White Enchantress really is, except for you and your companions. If he doesn’t know you were sent by Finnabair, he is less likely to ask you hard questions about who you really are, he will be more concerned about who I am.”

“And if he asks me who you are?”

“Tell him I am a sorceress on his side, who wishes to remain anonymous, which is true.”

I nodded, “And what if he asks me who I am?”

She spoke very softly, “Tell him you lost your memory and came to Sivaeral seeking to find your father or mother. That is only a white lie, for it is true, it just doesn’t tell him what you learned later. I will explain to him that I asked you to keep your relationship from him so I could tell him the truth.”

I thought about it and nodded. “I will give you your chance to tell him the truth if I can.”

She smiled, “That is the best I can ask for, Nick. You must also talk to your companions, and entreat them to keep this secret as well. It is very important! In fact, you should have them keep the fact about my being your mother a secret, for now, just trust me on this! I will explain more about this after you return from Mystical Island, you have my promise.”

I nodded.

“Now,” she continued, “I have one last piece of advice for you, should you end up facing Medrod and Caliburn in combat. Of course, if all goes to plan, that won’t happen, but plans…”

“Have a way of going to the devil,” I said with a smile.

She answered, “Let’s hope THAT doesn’t happen, but even an Albus plan can go awry. So, if you do find yourself facing Medrod, and you cannot flee, then remember that Caliburn holds reality to Medrod’s choice, and neither he nor you can change that. This is the power and advantage of Caliburn and it is also its disadvantage.”

“What do you mean?”

She shrugged, “I do not know the circumstance where this might help you, every situation is fluid, but remember what I said if you find yourself in that situation. You have Albus blood in you, Nicholas, and we can turn any disadvantage to an advantage. Figure out how to use Caliburn against Medrod, even if he is the one wielding the sword.”

 

 

 

Chapter Sixteen

 

I’ve built walls,

A fortress deep and mighty,

That none may penetrate.

I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.

It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain.

I am a rock,

I am an island.

-Simon & Garfunkel

 

Two weeks later we were in position for ‘the plan’. We had all gone through the Portal in the center tower of Ivory Castle and arrived on Earth at the Parthenon, in Greece, which turned out to be a Sivaeral portal. We didn’t stay long enough for the police to arrive. We’d caused quite a commotion when we had suddenly appeared in front of a group of French tourists. Three of the old women fainted, and the rest started shouting something about ghosts of Greek warriors.

I didn’t have the time or patience to calm them down, so I just yelled, “Run for the hills, the British are coming!” and then headed for another place between the pillars which was the portal back to Abal. This one would take us somewhat near Mystical Island. Two American teenagers followed us, and were watching as we entered the Portal, so just before I activated it and disappeared, I turned and gave them a smile, and then said, “Beam me up, Scotty!”

From where we arrived back on Abal, we had to hike thirty some miles to the coast, but we were now at the shoreline, though we were well south of the position where we had previously had our adventure with the giant chickens.

Our plan to get past the wall was the same as last time, with the added caveat of my remaining free, and of us avoiding the necromage battle. This was accomplished by going at night, and then being careful this time not to open the passage into their hallway until we made sure it was empty.

Then it was easy enough to slip into the water and start swimming for the Island. The next hurdle would come upon reaching land, where Morgain’s forces and other watchdogs would be waiting.

It was about this time when Finnabair started her two offensives. She had contacted Oberon already, so he knew she was coming, and he was ready to support her with an attack from within the town, once the marble golems made their assault.

Back at Ivory Castle, Finnabair’s Gargoyles were taking wing, and starting their attack on the army below.

We hoped Medrod’s and Morgain’s attention would now be on those locations, and perhaps they would even go to the battlefronts, but we couldn’t be sure.

I’d considered trying to bring some of my mother’s marble golems with us but finally decided against it. They would have been difficult to keep secret on the trek to the coast, and hard to sneak past the wall to the water’s edge. Besides, we couldn’t bring enough of them to make it a stand-up fight, so all they would really do is increase the odds of us being discovered early. No, this had to be a sneak attack, and four mages were better at sneaking than a few two-ton marble monsters.

My only other consideration before this venture had been Fiona. I’d dithered on whether to contact Pox and through him, add Fiona to our assault team. On the one hand, another Second would vastly increase our chances in a skirmish with the M&M duo, but in the end, I told myself I’d decided against adding her in case making contact via a Summons should alert Morgain, Medrod, or in the worst case of all, The Dragon. I mean, all I needed was the evillest of all Archimages to join the party to make this a complete Charlie Foxtrot. Besides, I rationalized, this was not an assault, where I had to have enough firepower to take on the enemy; this was a covert infiltration. If it worked, we would have plenty of firepower on the way out, when we added the First Wizard of Abal.

But deep down I knew all of this reasoning was an excuse, the real truth was, I didn’t want Fiona hurt, and she would be a big distraction to me if I was worrying about her on this crazy mission. I figured if I survived, there was time to sort out my feelings about Fiona, and sooth any ruffled feathers she might have about being left out of the fun.

None of this mattered anymore, we were closing in on the shore of Mystical Island, and we had what we had in the way of mages: Hydan, Toji, Myrka, and me, against all of Morgain’s defenses. No problem. I just wish we knew what they were going to be.

 

We were swimming about thirty feet beneath the surface, which allowed plenty of light from the Abal sun to penetrate down. Beneath us, the rays of light faded down into the dark blue of the ocean depths in rays of twisting light. Dimly, I saw the ocean floor coming up, and then ahead a darker area. It was a kelp forest, but as we got near I realized this was a different kind of plant from the kelp of Earth. For one thing, each stalk was larger around, with much bigger leaves. The stalks went from the bottom all the way to the surface, where they laid over in great matted carpets, effectively blocking out much of the light. These kelp stalks were also more widely spaced than the thinner kelp of Earth.

Hydan piped a burst of Abal underwater speak to me, and said, “I don’t like the looks of this forest.”

I spoke back, “Well, we have to get through to reach the shore.”

He nodded, and we angled over to pass through between two of the towering amber plants. These were plenty wide apart to let us pass without touching them.

As soon as we passed between them, it got significantly darker. Ahead we could see a way through wide enough to swim. After passing a few more stalks, I noticed the way through was getting narrower, and soon we were passing within a foot of the long leaves. Toji was swimming just ahead of me, which is why I saw it when one of the kelp leaves reached out and wrapped itself around Toji’s foot. I don’t mean he got tangled in it, I mean, it grabbed him.

Toji’s knives came out, and he started to cut the grasping leaf when I saw more kelp fronds wrapping around him.

“Stay away from the kelp, it’s grabbing Toji!” I called to the others.

Everyone stopped and looked at Toji, who was now wrapped up by three fronds, and they were pulling him toward the kelp tree center mass.

I pulled out my own knife and swam to Toji’s aid.

“Be careful, or it will pull you in as well,” Hydan exclaimed.

I stopped and hovered in the water, and then said, “OK, then do something!”

Myrka let out a bolt of blue Derkaz energy, it vaporized the water in its path, which went up as a line of bubbles now, headed for the surface. Where her beam struck the kelp it cut right through and severed all three of the fronds which were holding Toji. As soon as they were cut, the parts gripping Toji relaxed and he was able to swim free.

“OK, back out of here, carefully!” I said to the others, but when we turned around we found the way back had closed up. The other kelp trees had moved, narrowing all the ways out behind us.

“This is Dokkalfar Derkaz magic!” Myrka hissed.

I frowned, and then said, “Can you burn us a path?”

Myrka nodded, but said, “However, that will take a lot of my power, and I will be useless for hours afterward.”

I spun in the water and looked at Hydan, “Can you change them to something else?”

Hydan shrugged, “Some of them, maybe, but this is a large forest, which will take a lot of power.”

We could now see the kelp trees slowly moving, closing in on the small pocket of open water where the four of us were hovering.

“Suggestions?” I said.

Toji asked, “Why aren’t they attacking those fish?” He was pointing at a fish which was colored very similar to the kelp fronds, and swimming right through them without the plants reacting.

“They must be like kelpfish on Earth or clownfish in an anemone,” I said.

Hydan lifted both eye fins in surprise, “There is a fish which is a clown on Earth?”

“Sure,” I answered, “It can live in the arms of a creature which is deadly to other fish, something called an anemone.”

“Clownfish! Do you also have comedianfish?”

“Do you think this is the best time to discuss species of fish?” I said, pointing to the closing kelp forest.

Hydan smirked at me and said, “Well, we can discuss funny fish later, I suppose, but for now, gather around me, these kelpfish have the right idea!”

“I thought you couldn’t turn us into something else?” I said but moved toward Hydan with the others.

Hydan laughed, “We cannot change into kelpfish, but they can certainly change the way we look!”

Suddenly all the fish, and other things around us in the water, and from the bottom, were changing into kelpfish, and they all swam over to us, creating a giant fish ball of kelpfish, with us in the center. Then the school started to slowly swim toward one of the few remaining gaps in the kelp trees, and we gently swam with them. As we passed through the trees did not grab at us, we were hidden in the school of fish they ignored.

Hydan’s school stayed with us all the way to the far edge of the Kelp forest, where they then turned and the school broke up as the individual kelpfish headed back into the forest which was their home. We were back in the sunlight, with only water and rocky reefs with low growing sea grass and other plants below us. We could see the sand being disturbed by the flow of waves building up as they reached the shallows, and the back and forth movement of the surge as the small plants were pulled toward the shore, and then back in the direction of the deeper water.

Our heads broke the surface in a few more yards, and we looked toward the beach to see what else Morgain had in store for anyone foolish enough to approach her seat of power.

The forest beyond the short sandy beach looked dark and foreboding.

While still watching the dark forest, I spoke to Myrka, “You said the strange kelp was Dokkalfar magic, what did you mean?”

“We, of the Tarvos House, use Derkaz energy directly, as a power. The Dokkalfar mages go about things in a completely different way; they use the Derkaz to corrupt life and turn it to their will. Much of the evil others attribute to the Derkaz comes from what the Dokkalfar do with the power. It is the Dokkalfar who are evil, not the power they use.”

Hydan was quiet, but I could tell from his expression he had more to add to that subject, this just wasn’t the time and place. I thought of the bloodthirsty way Myrka went about life and had to agree with him, the Derkaz seemed to have corrupted Myrka in other ways.

“So,” I continued, “We can expect more things like that kelp, but perhaps in the dark forest ahead?”

Myrka nodded.

“And we can’t hide in a fish ball in those trees,” Hydan noted.

That’s when the pile of rocks walked out onto the beach.

Trees were bent apart by some massive strength and mass, and then we saw it, a massive creature made of stone. His head kind of reminded me of those Moai statues on Easter Island back in the South Pacific, all angularly carved, but the body was not the slim form of those statues, it was shaped more like a big silverback gorilla, though the features were angularly carved, like the head. There were large sigils carved all over the thing.

But the biggest difference between these and the Moai statues was that this thing was moving!

“Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle!” I exclaimed.

Myrka frowned, “I do not believe that is a monkey, it is more akin to a stone ape, and it is extremely unlikely you are related.”

I answered, “I meant… never mind. How in the Sam Hill are we going to get past that thing?”

“Who is this Sam Hill, and is he a wizard?” Myrka demanded.

I ignored her and watched the giant stone golem stalk up the beach, and then head back into the forest, making its own trail through the trees. I noted that the top of the thing’s head was nearly as tall as the trees it had knocked aside.

Now that I looked, I could see other parts of the forest moving off in the distance, which likely meant there were more of these behemoths.

“Now there is something you don’t see every day,” I muttered. “Any suggestions?”

Myrka nodded, “We can render it to rubble.”

“Which would take a lot of juice,” I noted, though it was half a question.

Toji nodded, and said, “Yes, to animate something that large would take a lot of magic, and therefore, a lot of magic to undo.”

Hydan was watching the movement of the trees in the distance, and said, “And, there seem to be quite a few of them.”

“OK,” I said, “If we don’t want to fight them, then what is another alternative?”

Toji frowned but didn’t speak.

I looked at Hydan and saw him starting to smile slightly. “Oh crap, you’re coming up with some insane scheme, aren’t you?” I asked him. “We can’t have a bunch of monkeys surround us and hide us from the golems!”

“No, but we can have something else hide us!” Hydan exclaimed.

I sighed, “OK, I say, knowing I will regret this, what can we put around us?”

“A stone golem!” he replied pertly.

“You can make enough of them to hide us in the middle?” I asked, perplexed.

He shook his wet scaled head and said, “No, Nick, creating even one in a short period would be taxing, but we can travel in the belly of one of these existing beasts!”

“You want them to eat us!” I bellowed, and then looked sheepish as I lowered my voice, and added, “Don’t you think being chewed up by those stone teeth might dampen our spirits?”

“No, we will not let one eat us, I do not believe they have a digestive system, Nick. What we can do is create a cavity inside their body, get inside and let them take us where we want to go!”

I thought about that, “Kind of like the Trojan Horse.”

“You have been inside a stone horse?” he asked.

“No, a long time ago on Earth the Greek people built a wooden horse, and then hid some warriors inside so they could sneak into the city of Troy.”

“Ah, yes, I remember the story now; I believe it was done by some of House Dragon, assaulting one of the Argoth strongholds on Earth. Yes, it will be something like that, though we won’t have to wait for them to take our Trojan golem into the walls, it can just walk in on its own!”

“Don’t you think it will be noticed? Isn’t it supposed to patrol the forest, not go to the fortress?” I asked.

“It must return at times so those sigils can be replenished. Something like this, which is on the move, must use power over time. It makes sense that it would return to the fortress to reach a mage,” Toji explained.

“OK, then how do we get in one without first being crushed?” I posed.

Hydan nodded, “Good question.”

Toji said, “I think a diversion is in order, at which point Hydan can get behind it. I think the sigil controlling its moves is on the back of its head, where it is protected. You’ll have to figure out how to smash it, Hydan.”

Hydan started frowning but nodded.

Toji continued talking, “Once it stops, you can make your ‘cavity’, and then get inside and create a new sigil to control the golem.”

I smiled, and added, “At which point the rest of us get in, seal up the hole, and Bob’s your uncle!”

“I have no uncle named Bob,” Myrka clarified.

Hydan ignored her and replied with a wide grin, “That works for me,”

Toji then said, “I suggest you stay in the surf line while I will bring it to the water, this will keep you concealed until you attack.”

We waited an hour until the behemoth returned, or perhaps a different one arrived, I wasn’t sure. Then Toji simply came out of the surf and let the monster see him. It immediately lumbered toward Toji. Now, I say lumbered, which was what it looked like, but with legs that big, lumbering was faster than we could sprint.

Toji immediately turned and dove into the water, but he didn’t submerge, he started swimming out through the surf so the monster wouldn’t lose track of him and stop following. This was nearly Toji’s undoing. That monster kept coming, and the shallow water didn’t slow him down like it did Toji. He was on Toji in seconds. I saw my companion’s head turn and spot the large fist coming down toward him, meant to squash him into a jellyfish-like consistency.

Toji’s eyes widened and he dove under the water.

I didn’t know if he was hit or not, the beast’s fist hit the water, and made a massive splash. Then I saw Toji’s airborne body, twisting away in the large splash, but he didn’t look squashed, and he quickly went underwater when he hit the surface.

Toji immediately headed for the bottom on landing.

The golem turned, looking for its prey, and I noticed Hydan had attached himself to its back like some kind of remora fish. He was currently just clinging to the monster. Once the thing stopped spinning around, having lost sight of Toji, it eventually turned and lumbered toward shore.

That gave Hydan a chance to let loose of one hand hold. He reached back with one arm and a large hammer appeared, and then he smashed it forward, and above his head, into the sigil carved at the neck area of the Golem.

The moment it struck the beast paused, and then tried to reach back to grab Hydan.

Hydan slammed his hammer into the sigil again, harder.

The stone golem started moving in a jerky way, still trying to reach back and get to Hydan, which made the monster look kind of like a crab trying to reach back with its claws.

Hydan slammed the hammer home in the petroglyph sigil one more time, and enough of the stone carving chipped off this time, and the golem froze in position.

A hole appeared in its back, and Hydan slipped inside. We all started heading for it. Once we got there Hydan called out, “Give me a moment, I’m making a new petroglyph, and then I have to power the sigil.”

After a few minutes, Hydan stuck his grinning head out the hole in the back of the golem, “Care for a ride?”

We all climbed in. It was a tight squeeze, but we manage to fit and then Toji sealed the opening. Hydan was standing toward the front, with his head up in an opening he had made in the beast’s neck, below its chin. There was a new rectangular petroglyph carved into the stone in front of him. Hydan was using this hole to watch where we were going and guide the creature.

Soon we were underway, rocking back and forth in our little stone cocoon as the golem smashed his way through the forest, and whatever nasty traps Morgain had created.

As we waited to arrive at Morgain’s fortress, I went over the next part of the plan, as laid out by my mother. We were to work our way to the center of the fortress, that’s where she believed Morgain would have placed the StarWard.

These were a magical construct which prevented the creation of a Traveling Star, in essence blocking a mage from using one to travel to or from an area. The area of effect would be in a globe around the StarWard, so it made sense that it would be located near the center of the fortress so that it gave equal protection in all directions.

The radius it could block had to do with the amount of power initially used in the creation. The larger it was, the more area it protected. However, there was a side effect, the larger it was, the faster it used up the power the mage put in to create it. This meant a larger area StarWard would have to have the power replenished regularly, and that also meant it had to be accessible.

Our goal was to reach the StarWard and take it down, and then we could proceed to release my father, the Archimage of Abal, and with his help, find and free Ziny. Morgain wouldn’t want my father to be rescued, so it made sense that the Archimage would be somewhere well protected. Finnabair had guessed his prison would be somewhere near Morgain’s personal apartments, in some kind of protected location.

Of course, the plan was for the counter attacks at Ivory Castle and Ouroboros to draw Morgain and Medrod away, so we shouldn’t have to deal with either of them at this stage, just their automated defenses, or any necromages they had left here as guards. In fact, the two leaders should already be gone by now, since the attacks would have started a few hours ago.

“Hey, Hydan,” I called up to our golem driver.

Hydan didn’t look down, but he said, “Yes, Nick?”

“Are we getting close to Morgain’s crib?”

Myrka scowled at me, “I am positive the Island Witch is an adult.”

I ignored her and waited for Hydan.

“If you mean her fortress, it is about a half mile ahead now… uh oh.”

“I don’t want to hear any ‘uh ohs’! What is the issue?” I demanded.

“Well, there is some kind of platform to the side of the main gates, and I’m thinking this is where they recharge the golems.”

“What, they don’t go inside?”

Hydan answered, “No, they must stop outside.”

“Go in any way!” I stated.

Hydan replied apologetically, “I’m afraid that’s not really possible, you see, the gate isn’t big enough for us to fit through.”

“Crap on a stick, we’ll be sitting ducks if we eject right beneath that wall!”

To which Hydan said, “What are ducks?”

“They are a kind of flying waterfowl, which quacks.”

“Waterfowl which quacks! How delightful! However, I do not wish to sit like a duck beneath those walls, no doubt there are several mages or necromages, there to recharge these golems.”

“Right,” I noted, thinking hard.

After a moment Hydan spoke conversationally, “Not to hurry you, but what would you like to do? We are nearly there.”

“And we absolutely cannot fit through the gate?” I demanded.

“No, but if you don’t mind a ruckus, I might be able to get past the walls and into the inner courtyard, but no promises. However, we have arrived, so a decision is needed.”

“Do it,” I said, since I had no other plan in mind, and time was up.

That’s when I felt the golem picking up speed. This was extremely jarring inside the small stone hole, and we started bouncing around and into each other. Hydan was holding onto two stone handles he must have imagined, so he could stay in place, damn him.

Then we were thrown to the floor as the golem took a mighty leap, which was followed very quickly by us slamming into something solid. This threw all of us against the front curve of our small round hole.

“We’re getting pretty bruised down here!” I called to Hydan.

To that Hydan replied, “Here, these should be soft.” Almost instantly we were waist deep in plucked white chicken feathers.

Outside we heard, and could feel, massive impacts of stone against stone.

We were jostled around, which threw up chicken feathers into the air. I sneezed and then yelled, “Sweet mother of god, what ARE you doing!”

“Climbing the wall; which requires a lot of hand and foot hold making by gouging our way up!” Hydan called back in a beaming voice of amusement.

I spit out a feather, ready to yell something back when I heard Hydan exclaimed.

“Oh no!”

“What!” I bellowed, getting a mouthful of feathers for my trouble.

That’s when the tar hit us, poured from the top of the wall. It was there to pour on ladder bearers or attackers with a battering ram, but in this case, they used it to try to stop the stone golem which was climbing up the massive wall.

Fortunately, they had not been expecting an attack, since there was no army, so the tar was only heated enough to stay pliable. It hit our golem and managed to splash in through the hole which Hydan had created to watch out the golem’s head.

Now we all had tar stuck to our bodies, and white feathers glued to us by the tar.

Then we crested over the top of the wall. I knew this because I was tossed like cement in one of those barrel mixers, except instead of stone, water, cement, and sand, I was being tumbled with, Toji, Myrka, tar, and feathers. Then I felt the golem leap, and we must have been falling down the other side of the wall.

The golem’s feet hit the ground with jarring force, and even Hydan fell back into the pile of tar and feathers with the rest of us.

The impact broke our golem, and cracked open our cocoon, and all four of us tumbled out onto the courtyard of Morgain’s fortress, covered head to toe in tar and feathers.

“We’re in!” Hydan exclaimed jubilantly.

I took a swing in his direction, but missed, there were too many feathers in my eyes for me to get an accurate punch at that grinning bastard.

 

 

 

Chapter Seventeen

 

We’re off to the witch

We may never never never come home

But the magic that we’ll feel is worth a lifetime.

-Dio

 

Toji yelled, “Run for the doors, we’re too exposed out here!”

So, without time to do anything about our current state of tar and feathers, me and my other three white and black crusaders for justice ran toward the doors ahead of us, streaming little white feathers in a cloud behind us. I think that must have saved us because no one on the walls thought to use any kind of magic to stop us at that point, I think they were all dumbfounded by the hatching of four human shaped chickens from the belly of a stone golem.

We ran through the open doors into the entry hall. Two guards stationed here tried to use their weapons on the strange apparitions suddenly sullying the clean area, but Hydan waved a hand and two chickens were suddenly adding more feathers to the mix.

“Which way?” Hydan called to me.

I pointed ahead, down the main wide hallway, and we all dashed on, leaving the two chicken guards running around on their spindly legs.

As we ran Hydan suddenly shed his feathers and tar, and was now dressed in a uniform just like the two guards we had just seen, prior to their chicken transformation.

Toji and Myrka followed his lead a moment later, but I was still outfitted in my tar and feather ensemble.

It took me a few more seconds, and then I had it as well.

Hydan grinned at me, and said, “Good show, now where?”

“Just keep taking passages which seem to lead toward the center.”

He nodded, and we all slowed to a walk. It wouldn’t do to be running if we were trying to blend in as some of Morgain’s guards.

Soon we passed several squads of men, marching toward the front, no doubt to go see what the commotion was about in the courtyard. One was an officer, and as soon as he was out of sight, Hydan’s uniform changed to match his markings.

Hydan finally stopped two men and barked, “You there, where is the commander?”

The man gaped at him for a moment but then noticed his officer’s uniform, and said, “I think she left the fortress earlier!”

“Where did she leave from?” Hydan demanded.

He looked at Hydan in a dumbfounded way, and then said, “She flew out on a Delcron!”

I had no idea what that was, but Hydan seemed to know, or pretended to know, so he said, “We were ordered to guard the StarWard if she is away, but I haven’t been there before. You will take us there immediately! Is it far?”

“No, it’s not far, but…”

“No ‘butts’, this is about feet, so get yours moving! This is top priority! Lead on, soldier, and hurry or your next duty will be polishing the gonads of a stone golem!”

The guard swallowed, and then headed off in a hurry, and we trotted along after him like good soldiers.

 

He took us down a few hallways, and when we made another turn I could see a large iron bound door ahead, which was currently closed. There were two guards stationed outside. As we got a little closer I noticed the cloudy eyes and whispered to Hydan, “Necromages!”

Hydan immediately stopped and spoke to our guide, “That will be all, don’t you have some duty which we took you away from? Well, get going before you are reprimanded by your commander!”

The guard dashed off, double timing it away, and quite happy to be rid of the strange officer.

Hydan spoke softly to us, “Walk normally, I will distract them. Myrka, take the one on the right, Toji, can you deal with the necromage on the left?”

Toji nodded. No one even asked Myrka if she was ready.

Hydan turned his back to block the necromage’s view, and then produced a short spear suddenly, and handed it to me.

At which point Hydan bellowed, “Ouch, confound it, soldier, watch where you poke your spear!” He then grasped at his left eye, his wrist blocking his Glyph and hurried toward the guards, we followed at a slower pace. Blue saeran blood ran down his cheek, produced, no doubt, by Hydan.

“Hey, are you mages? That idiot just stabbed me with his spear; can you do anything to help?”

He was nearly upon them now, and one of the necromages stepped forward, “You cannot be here, move along, soldier!”

“But my eye!” Hydan bellowed, stepping past the necromage so he had to turn, putting his back to our approach. The other necromage was also watching Hydan closely.

“We are not healers, now move away from this door!” the necromage snarled, and lifted a hand to do, well, I don’t know what, because that’s when Toji and Myrka accelerated the last ten feet and attacked.

Their surprise was complete, and the necromages didn’t even pull weapons, they tried to do some kind of magic against their attackers, but the attack went off of Toji’s and Myrka’s subconscious protections. Then their daggers took both of the necromages out of the picture.

Hydan stepped up to the doors and tried to pull them open, “Locked,” he said, unnecessarily.

Then he stepped back and studied the door for a moment before saying, “This door is warded against mage entry.”

“Can you break it?” Toji asked.

Hydan nodded and concentrated, and suddenly the doors blasted inwards, flying off their hinges and tumbling into the round chamber beyond.

Toji raised a fin eyebrow and said, “Was that entirely necessary?”

“Not at all, but it felt very good!” Hydan exclaimed, striding into the round chamber, which had a dome roof above, like Richard the Lionheart come home from the crusades.

Rotating in the center of the room was a three-dimensional, five-pointed star. It was about ten feet tall and translucent. It glowed with golden power, and there was almost a hum in the room, more felt by my senses than by my ears. It was spinning very slowly around, hovering about a foot off the stone floor.

“I take it that is a StarWard?” I asked any of the other mages present.

Hydan grinned, “A very BIG StarWard. I would have to say this one probably covers all of Mystical Island.”

I nodded. “OK, how do we take it down?”

Toji was looking at it dubiously. “When Finnabair suggested we take this down, I had no idea how much power she was talking about!”

“That matters?” I asked.

“Oh yes,” he said, “It takes the same amount of power it took to create the StarWard to take it down, and this is very powerful!”

“I’ll do it,” Hydan said.

“Maybe I should, I’m a Second,” I noted, “So I have more power available.”

Hydan nodded, “But, you don’t know what you are doing with a StarWard, and if you release all that energy incorrectly, well, this will be a very large crater afterward.”

“Ah, OK,” I said, “maybe you should do this then.”

Hydan gathered himself for a moment and then walked right into the rotating StarWard. His body glowed brightly for a moment, and then the StarWard just winked out of existence.

“Wow, that was a lot of power; I feel quite fatigued!” Hydan exclaimed after taking a big breath.

“So it’s down?” I asked.

But right then Finnabair spun into existence, wearing white plate armor over white leather. She looked quite stunning.

“Mother!” I exclaimed. “What are you doing here, has something gone wrong?”

“Not at all,” Finnabair said with a white flash of teeth, “I just have something else I need to accomplish as well as your mission here!”

Hydan sighed and shook his head, “I warned you, Nick, this is the part of the Albus plan which you only learn about while you are in the middle of doing it.”

Finnabair just shrugged, “Just trust me, this is important for Abal! Now, you need to get on with what you were doing, go release the Archimage of Abal! You must hurry, Morgain is coming!”

“Morgain!” I exclaimed, “Didn’t she go to Ouroboros or Ivory Castle?”

Finnabair shrugged, “No, though I really thought that was a long shot anyway.”

Hydan snorted, “Which is an opinion you didn’t share with us, of course.”

Finnabair smiled, “Why worry you about something you couldn’t predict? You must go, now! Find your father, Nick, and set him free, or you won’t be able to withstand Morgain or Medrod.”

“Medrod! Is he still here as well?”

Finnabair was headed out of the chamber, but said, “I don’t know, but assume so! I have no time to explain in detail, but once you get the Archimage free he can stop Medrod while you find Ziny. I will deal with Morgain! Once you have Ziny, don’t wait for your father, Five Point travel off of Mystical Island! The Archimage can get himself free if he isn’t trying to protect you.”

Then she was gone.

“Super-duper,” I muttered, “Why in the hell didn’t she tell us this before?”

Hydan shrugged, “Because she’s an Albus, Nick. Remember, you still don’t know what she really boxed you into here, or about her real plan. That won’t come until later on.”

“I’m going to have a word with my dear mother about this if I live!” I promised, but then said, “OK, so how do we find The Wizard of Abal?”

Hydan considered. “He won’t be far from here, I would guess; he is likely hidden so that even if someone came to rescue him, he would be hard to find.”

“So, that doesn’t sound good!”

“But, now that the Starward is down we should be able to sense the power being used to hold the Archimage!”

Hydan, Toji, and Myrka all searched, and I even tried to ‘feel’ something, but all I got was an itch between my shoulder blades. Then both Hydan and Toji pointed the same direction, which was good enough for me.

We headed out of the now empty StarWard chamber and got back into the hallways. Soon we were headed toward the source of power they were sensing. As we got closer, I thought I started to feel something too, a kind of subtle tingle on my skin from one direction.

We came to a set of massive double doors, and the feeling was coming from inside.

“This doesn’t seem right,” Hydan noted, wrinkling his brow.

I paused at the doors and said, “Why?”

“It’s too prominent, he would be hidden.”

I shrugged, “Maybe this is only on the way there, and he is hidden further ahead.”

Hydan nodded and then said, “Toji, perhaps you could?”

Toji stepped to the doors and they opened.

What was revealed was a massive audience chamber. This had to be where the Island Witch held court. There were massive, ten-foot-tall statues of saeran warriors along each wall, set back in alcoves. There were two sets of large pillars, over twenty feet in diameter, going from the highly polished red marble floor up to the tall ceiling above. Ahead was a raised pyramid, with two throne chairs on the top, both currently empty.

“This isn’t good, this is Morgain’s and Medrod’s audience chamber or I’m an Earth duck,” Hydan noted.

The voice which spoke boomed out with authority, and replied, “And you will have your audience!”

Then Medrod strode out from behind the ten-foot-tall pyramid, and behind him were six necromages.

“Damnation!” I muttered; we didn’t have the Archimage free yet! This was NOT going to plan, either plan.

Myrka didn’t wait for any invitations; she slammed her fist straight down into the hard marble floor and blue energy flashed. Simultaneously, blue lightning seemed to fork out in all directions, fracturing the floor with dark jagged cracks. Out of those new cracks, black mist flowed up swiftly. This was more than fog, it blinded you completely. It was like all the lights went out in a windowless room.

“Shit, Myrka, now we’re all blind!” I exclaimed.

“Quiet!” she hissed.

I got the idea, if I spoke, they could orient on me.

Just in case, I softly stepped ten paces to my left.

I could hear the soft sound of feet moving across stone; both sides were attempting to gain an advantage. A voice I couldn’t place, so probably one of the enemies cried out.

Suddenly a massive wind blew through the chamber, and the black mist was taken out of the room with it.

This almost acted like a fade in on an old movie; Myrka had just cut a necromage’s throat. It seemed she had immediately dashed straight at the enemy after she made the blackness, and managed to get one before they had thought to start moving as well. But the others had now moved toward us, and in the darkness, we had all moved in different directions and were spread out across the chamber.

Immediately, mages and necromages paired off. There were six opponents to the four on my team, though, so two of us ended up with two opponents. I was lucky if you could call it that, I had only drawn one opponent, but it was Medrod.

Hydan had been unlucky since two necromages were near him, but Myrka had also drawn two, likely because their companions had called out as Myrka attacked.

I felt a moment of worry for both of them, but I had a bigger fish to fry, specifically, one Saeran Second, returned from the dead.

He took one look at who was near, and grinned. “How fortunate!” he exclaimed, “That saves me the trouble of finding you!” Then he strode forward raising his hands.

Duel blasts of Derkaz power lanced out at me, but thanks to my mother’s teachings, my protections were up to the task and the beams were deflected.

At the thwarting of his Derkaz attacks, Medrod frowned.

“Turns out, I’m a Second,” I noted casually, and then added, “You sour faced snogfish.”

Medrod snarled and answered, “That will not save you!”

Then he drew Caliburn.

Hells bells and a bucket of blood!

Now I wished I had never gone to that chick in the pond, according to myth, this sword was good against even a Second.

Medrod smiled at my expression and advanced.

“It seems you brought a knife to a sword fight, let’s see how long it remains real,” he noted with mirth, and then added, “Once I close on you, your shield will no longer function.”

I retorted, “How did you get in here anyway? Did your wife leave your cage open?” But I was backing away swiftly, trying to think of something brilliant; so far I had bupkis.

My latest insult made him snarl and he leaped forward twenty feet while swinging Caliburn in a backhanded slash.

Crap on a stick! How did he jump so far! I leaped backward, much less spectacularly. I needed to keep my distance from Caliburn if I was going to manage any magic.

“Afraid, little Bastard?” he snarled.

I replied, “Sorry to disappoint you, but it turns out I’m not a bastard after all!”

He just lunged forward and I jumped back again to avoid the thrust, hoping I didn’t run into one of those pillars in the room. This wasn’t going well at all, I was fighting a completely defensive battle, and in the end, this wasn’t going to work out well for me. One of these times I wasn’t going to dodge properly, or he was going to blast me with Derkaz while I was too close to Caliburn.

That’s when things went from firecracker bad to stick of dynamite terrible.

Medrod was about to take another slash at me, when he suddenly smiled and stepped back a pace and said, “Well, I think the party just got a little more interesting!”

To which I retorted, “Stop trying to be a smart-ass, when you’re really just an ass, Medrod.”

That made the grin on his face dissolve into a grimace of hatred, and he raised his off hand, palm toward me.

I’d seen this gesture from Myrka while looking down the barrel, and I leaped as far back as I could, hoping to get out of Caliburn’s range in time.

The blast which issued from his palm hit my shield and tore a large crater in the ground in front of me. I landed on my ass, sliding backward.

But that’s when a powerful voice spoke from behind me. I didn’t dare turn to look at who had arrived, but that took every bit of concentration on my part; this new voice was mesmerizing!

“Stop this battle!” the voice boomed.

Medrod hesitated, and then finally stepped back, lowering his hand with a scowl.

I shifted around on my butt so I could keep Medrod in sight, but still get a look at the newcomer.

It turned out to be two people. One was a large saeran, and when I say large, I mean the biggest dude I had yet seen in blue scales. He was wearing a suit of black armor, and he was damned imposing.

Next to him was a tall saeran woman. She was also in battle garb, though hers was gray and silver, with lots of scale mail which mimicked fish scales.

“Morgain Dokkalfar,” Hydan hissed.

The Island Witch turned with a wicked smile and said, “Hydan Friare, so good of you to return for a reckoning.”

But Hydan turned to gaze at the large saeran, and then said curiously, “The Dragon, I presume?”

The big saeran smiled, and it was not a chummy kind of expression.

Myrka and Toji turned and raised their weapons, both of them ignoring their opponents as they took in The Dragon.

Hydan called out, “So, it is you who has been supplying Morgain with her new powers of magic!”

The Dragon just bowed slightly, and then said, “This World was ripe for the taking, one less House on my list of enemies. All I had to do was show Morgain how to create necromages, and her husband how to bind his father. This world is ours; the battle for control of Abal is all but over now, so there is no need for any of you to end here. Run away and live for a time before I end your Houses!”

“We can all go?” Hydan asked curiously, though from the sound of his question I don’t think he believed this was true.

The Dragon laughed, and it was a deep kind of chuckle, “All but Nicholas here, we have some business first. This wizard has stolen something of mine. I will get it back, and then I will dispatch this nuisance.”

“No, Nicholas Sivaeral is MINE!” Medrod exclaimed to The Dragon.

The Dragon turned his dark saeran eyes onto Medrod and ordered, “Step back, Medrod, I need this mage. You have many others under your control!”

“No, I want him! He has insulted me, and I have sworn to make him my slave!”

The Dragon shook his head and answered, “That is unfortunate, for I cannot allow you to take him.”

“You would deny ME! I am Medrod, the reborn, ruler of Abal! You have lost your World! This is Abal, and it is MY World! Do not stand between me and my prey, or I will do unto you as I did to my father!”

The Dragon actually laughed at that. “I taught you how to trap your father, but do not think you can do the same to me, Medrod!”

Medrod suddenly gestured at The Dragon, and some kind of crystal started forming around the feet of the Dark One.

The Dragon looked at Medrod darkly and then gestured down. A blackness seemed to flow outwards from his feet, coloring the floor in an expanding circle. As it touched the crystal the green substance seemed to explode. The black expanding circle continued to move outwards, and everyone, including Medrod, took a step back from the pitch black flowing void.

But that’s when Morgain’s reinforcements arrived, over thirty necromages poured in through the double doors and into the chamber.

Medrod grinned and said, “Even a First can fall!” Then he gestured to the statues at the sides of the hall, and they all came to life.

“Destroy The Dragon!” Medrod screamed insanely, pointing at the Dark One.

Thirty golem statues headed for The Dragon.

Hydan spoke, “And that’s what you get for getting in bed with a crazy mage, they will turn on you every time!”

But The Dragon just scowled and a look of concentration came over his face, and he spoke to Medrod, “Don’t be a fool, Medrod; together we have the upper hand here!”

Morgain spoke to me, “Nicholas Sivaeral, tell your companions to stand down or die!”

Medrod was almost foaming at the mouth and he spoke to The Dragon, “I am the ruler of Abal! You will depart Abal immediately, or die!”

The Dragon snarled, “Oh, it’s not that easy, Medrod, you invited me in, and now I am calling my payment due. I will take Nicholas, though you may have these others.”

“Ah, we might have something to say about that,” Hydan noted dryly.

Myrka had been silent, but now she started drawing a Star on the floor of the chamber.

But The Dragon’s blackness flowed out and when it touched the red flames of the Star, the fire winked out.

“We will have no interference here!” he noted. Then a new StarWard appeared next to him, blocking any kind of Five Point travel.

Morgain’s thirty necrosouls were slowly approaching us now, and cutting off any chance of escape while the golems were closing on The Dragon. Medrod started toward me with death in his insane eyes.

The Dragon spoke to Medrod, “You will back away from Nicholas, or I will become quite vexed.”

“He is MINE!” Medrod thundered.

The Dragon’s voice grew louder, “Medrod Sivaeral, if you attack Nicholas, I will consider that the end of our ‘relationship’, and deal with you directly. Do not test me!” His last line boomed out so loudly some of the pillars cracked.

Medrod snarled at The Dragon, but he stopped his advance. I think he wanted to see how The Dragon dealt with the golems before he started anything.

The first three golems to reach the black circle around The Dragon sank into the blackness, and then black hands reached up and pulled the rest of them down. But the black circle retreated. As each golem was dispatched, The Dragon’s dark circle got smaller. But then The Dragon roared, and lifted a hand to point at three of the approaching golems. Derkaz power lanced out, and they exploded.

In a few moments he had dispatched them all, and then he turned on Medrod, “I am growing impatient with your lack of respect, Second! Do NOT attack Nicholas, or my next attack will fall on you!”

I was surprised he hadn’t destroyed Medrod already, but then I realized he had invested a lot of time and energy in this Sivaeral Second, and he probably didn’t want to destroy his tool if he could help it.

But then a sly smile appeared at the corner of Medrod’ s face, and I liked that even less than his snarl.

He turned to face me again, though he did not raise Caliburn. “I will give you to The Dragon, to do with as he wishes, but I will keep your little sorceress as my personal pet! Do you know what I did to your little Ziny?”

My eyes narrowed, which made his smile grow even wider.

Medrod added, “No? Well, I see even the thought has made you angry!”

“You have never seen me angry,” I answered. I’d figured out Medrod’s game, he wanted me to attack him, and then he could kill me without going against The Dragon’s orders.

“No?” he said, and then smiled, “Well, here is your little friend now.”

Right then, a very small form entered the chamber through the double doors, flanked by two necrosouls. Their small prisoner had a hooded cloak up, so I couldn’t yet see if this was really Ziny.

When she drew near to me she suddenly reached up and pulled down her hood with both hands, and then smiled. It really was Ziny. But that’s when I saw her milky white eyes and drawn skin.

I whirled to face Medrod, “You sick murderer!” I screamed, realizing the truth, Medrod had already killed the little girl and then had his wife bring her back. Ziny was now one of their undead necromages.

Ziny leaped at me, and at the last moment, she drew a knife and slashed at my throat with a snarl on her little saeran face, now so dry and hard in death.

“STOP THIS!” The Dragon bellowed.

But Ziny continued to attack.

I parried with my Bowie knife, but she turned and leaped in again, trying for a disemboweling thrust.

“This is not Ziny, not anymore,” Toji yelled to me. “Fight!”

But I couldn’t bring myself to harm the little saeran girl I’d known and loved. I remembered her little-crooked smile and happy laugh, and her compassion for Myrka when another would have let the Tarvos sorceress die. Something deep inside me started to boil.

Then Ziny slashed with her knife, catching me across the upper thigh and drawing blue saeran blood. In my moment of sharp pain, she had me distracted and leaped for my throat, her knife extended to stab.

Without conscious thought, my blade swept sideways in a move which was part of my past skills, a very deadly move. The thick and weighty Bowie knife’s sharp edge raced for Ziny’s throat. At the last instant, I knew what was happening, and tried to stop my natural reaction, but I was too late. The blade hit her in the neck, and Ziny’s little head leaped from her body. To my mind it all happened in slow motion, her head tumbling down, and then her body standing for a moment more before slowly falling to the side in an uncoordinated fall.

I’d killed Ziny. The thought rang through my mind.

Everything seemed to be frozen in time. The thirty-some necromages were waiting for a command to attack, The Dragon was frowning angrily, Medrod was grinning wolfishly, my companions were ready, but held in check by the numbers they faced. Morgain was snarling in triumph.

And that’s when I finally and truly got really mad. I felt the churning power deep in my gut surface through all the pain, and white hot anger flooded into my mind.

I turned to Medrod and spoke softly, holding on for only one more moment as I hissed, “You wanted to see me angry?”

Then I ran toward Medrod.

I heard The Dragon bellow something, but I did not know or care what the Archimage of Sheol had said, I only wanted one thing, to see Medrod dead for murdering Ziny, and forcing me to end her undead life forever.

Dimly I heard The Dragon bellow, “You will NOT slay him, not yet!”

I guess he was talking to Medrod.

But Medrod came at me with Caliburn ready for the kill.

“Desist, or I will end you all!” The Dragon commanded in an earth shaking deep voice.

But Morgain screamed, “Kill them all!”

And her necromages attacked.

Almost instantly, The Dragon’s black void flowed out again, encompassing many of Morgain’s necromages. Dark hands reached out of the stone and pulled them down, screaming, into the floor where they were never seen again.

Morgain howled at The Dragon, “You would fight AGAINST us!”

“I warned you!” The Dragon answered in a cold voice.

That’s when I saw Myrka send the largest lance of Derkaz energy I had yet seen her attempt, and it went straight at The Dragon.

He swatted it aside like a mosquito, and her blast struck the ceiling, causing many stones to fall, along with molten lava from the Derkaz heated rocks.

But I had to ignore the rest of the fireworks, Medrod was coming at me with Caliburn, and I was headed at him in a dead run. I dimly heard Morgain ordering her remaining necromages to attack The Dragon. That actually helped, now the Archimage of Sheol was busy, and so were a lot of Morgain’s necromages.

In the periphery of my vision, I saw a white armor clad warrior run into the room from behind Morgain. It was my mother, The White Enchantress. But Morgain sensed her and spun to face her attack.

The sorceress and the necromancer exchanged several magical attacks, but these were easily defeated by these two House Seconds, so they drew knives and met in hand to hand combat.

At another time, I’m sure I might have tried to do something, but right now I had only one goal, to kill Medrod for what he’d done to Ziny; my mother was on her own. I reached Medrod, which meant he was also near enough to try and separate my head from my shoulders with Caliburn, but I ducked under his swing and tackled Medrod, driving him backward, my strength fueled by my anger. I drove him to the ground like a lineman sacking the quarterback.

In grabbing him, somewhere I dropped my knife.

But he clouted me in the head with the pommel of Caliburn which dazed me, and I fell to the side.

Medrod regained his feet, and I staggered up. The blow had cleared a little of the anger from my mind, pain can do that. I leaped back away from Caliburn’s range.

“You cannot run forever!” he bellowed.

I saw my mother drive Morgain to her knees with a blow to the head with the pommel of her knife and Morgain was dazed and defenseless. But my mother did not strike the finishing blow; instead, I saw her start to put some kind of magical binding around Morgain.

All this was distracting me, so when I turned my attention back to Medrod, I was too late, his next downward hack with Caliburn got through. I tried to dodge again, but the blade cut down into my left shoulder about three inches. The pain drove me to my knees. Blue saeran blood spewed up and out of my wound, though it wasn’t immediately mortal. It was, however, severe trauma, and I was dazed from the pain. If I didn’t do something, I would bleed out in minutes.

Finnabair saw all the blue blood and cursed, and then she was running toward me, abandoning her attempts to bind Morgain.

Medrod tried to finish me off, but just before Caliburn could slice across my neck, and sever my head from my shoulders, I managed to believe there was a hole forming under me. The floor beneath me opened and I tumbled down a slope. Caliburn cut through empty air where my neck had been a moment before. Medrod was then forced to face the oncoming wrath of The White Enchantress, a mother who had just seen her son severally wounded.

But fatal wound or not, I was still pissed, and again I saw red. I snarled, shrugging off the pain, and then clawed my way up the slope and back out of the pit I had made to save myself from Medrod. I left a thick trail of blue blood behind me, but there was a burning need to get to Medrod in my mind, which overrode all other trivial issues, like terrible bleeding wounds.

Just as my head came up out of the hole, I saw Morgain coming at Finnabair from behind.

Hydan was busy with three necromages and Toji with two. The Dragon had a flock of them, but they were being pulled down by the black hands, and not one had managed to get close enough to The Dragon to do him any harm.

I stumbled to my feet and staggered toward Morgain, where I would get to her before she reached my mother. Morgain did not see me coming.

My mother had abandoned all her weapons, which did no good in the presence of Caliburn, and she was attacking him with blows from her fists and feet. She was very good and very coordinated. She did a spin kick which made Medrod stagger back and then fall. That’s when my mother saw me, and yelled, “No, Nick!” She turned away from the fallen Medrod and ran to deal with Morgain.

Warned by my mother’s call, Morgain turned to face me, and a wall of stone shot up from the floor right in my path, cutting off my attack. I wasn’t good enough with magic to react and remove the wall, so I hit it with medium force, causing pain to shoot through my wounded shoulder.

I turned in time to see Medrod coming toward me swiftly with a big sick grin spread over his face as he came at me with Caliburn held ready.

I moved back, which let me see my mother and Morgain fighting. My mother was a terror, and knocked Morgain down again, and then started binding her with some kind of magic. I also saw The Dragon finish the last of the necromages which were attacking him, and head our direction.

“The Dragon is coming!” I yelled, but that was all the aid I could give my mother, I was nearly falling down from the pain and Medrod was coming.

“Heal your body, Nick!” Hydan bellowed from somewhere behind me, obviously too busy to get to me.

I thought about his suggestion and managed to actually believe my shoulder was all right. I think the anger which was still hammering in my skull made me capable of believing just about anything I needed to in order to kill Medrod. I had a one-track mind at the moment, so doubts had little chance to sneak in.

I got my shoulder fixed just before Medrod arrived.

I believed a large boulder from the ceiling was loose, and it fell toward Medrod, only to turn to dust as it came into the range of Caliburn.

Medrod smiled grimly, and said, “Time to die, wizard.”

I managed to leap back when he tried a cross-body swing which swept the sharp tip of Caliburn past my throat, missing by just two inches.

“Remember what I told you!” my mother yelled from where she was battling Morgain.

What had she told me? I thought back through my mind clouding anger and recalled she had suggested I use Caliburn against Medrod, even if he was wielding it. How in the Sam Hill was I supposed to do that? Everything I made would render to dust when it got close to Caliburn!

Everything I made.

That’s when I saw the dagger sheathed at Medrod’s waist.

I immediately feinted left, and he swung his sword that way, but I changed direction and came in behind it, tackling Medrod. I saw him concentrate for a moment, and then a look of surprise came over his face. He lost his footing and we both went down hard onto the stone floor.

“I will kill you!” Medrod bellowed, attempting to bring the large sword around for a thrust, but we were nearly chest to chest, and the sword was too unwieldy at this range to be an easy weapon to employ. But I had no such restriction, as I’d tackled Medrod I’d yanked his dagger from his waist.

I snarled in fury, and with adrenaline fueled strength I thrust his blade home, coming up under his ribs, and into his beating heart. This was no necromage; Medrod was a living, breathing person.

This was Medrod’s own knife, so it was kept real by Caliburn since it was part of his reality. The knife transfixed Medrod’s heart and his eyes bulged in surprise just as he started to say something. Then he gasped in a breath, and the life went out of his eyes. Medrod’s body tensed and then relaxed and Caliburn fell from his limp fingers.

Medrod was dead… again.

“About damned time,” I muttered, snarling into his dead face. I was still seething in anger, so I twisted the knife, making damn sure he was good and dead, and then some.

I scooped up Caliburn and then turned to find The Dragon still approaching. As he passed my mother the circle of blackness around him on the floor had flowed around her, but she held an island of normal stones below her feet, fighting back the First’s power for a moment. Those black hands were reaching up out of the floor, but could not reach her body, not yet.

That’s when Myrka arrived behind The Dragon. She leaped over the black circle, and seemed to glide in the air further than was possible; no doubt she had done something to make her body defy gravity. But as she came closer to The Dragon, that reality failed, and she suddenly plummeted down.

She let loose another blast of Derkaz, but The Dragon’s protections once again deflected the energy away.

Myrka landed on the black floor, as the dark hands grabbed her legs and took her down.

I saw my mother do a very brave thing, she ran toward Myrka, and the clear area of floor followed her. When she reached Myrka, the hands retracted into the floor, but Myrka wasn’t moving.

The Dragon looked back and smiled as he spoke to my mother, “You are strong, Albus, but not strong enough to take on a First, not indefinitely!”

I realized he was right, and I wasn’t going to tip the scales either; there was only one thing which could help my mother now.

I turned and ran from the battle. In my mind I could hear what Myrka would have said, ‘coward’, but I knew what I was doing. If The Dragon followed me, his circle of blackness would as well, and that would free my mother and Myrka.

But I wasn’t just running; I had a destination in mind. I felt for the sensation we had been following earlier and felt it ahead, and to my left. It took me to a wall, but I had the fury focusing my mind, and I realized there was no wall there, and there wasn’t. My passage opened into a secret room, and there, in the middle, was a dark smoky green crystal, with an indistinct shape within. It was the same material the now Deadrod had used to try and bind The Dragon.

I remembered Toji telling me how equal energy had to be used to undo some magic, and how Hydan had warned me of doing things the wrong way and releasing all the energy in an explosion, but I didn’t care, I was just too damned angry to worry about it.

Behind me, I sensed The Dragon coming.

I just imagined that crystal exploding, with everything I had in my anger focused mind. That’s when it did just that, exploding into ten thousand little shards, many of which would have hit me had my subconscious reality not been protecting me from that kind of fast moving harm.

When the debris was gone, a saeran stood there in a blue robe. He lowered the hood and opened his eyes.

“Are you the Archimage of Abal!” I cried out.

He looked at me and replied, “Yes, I am the First Wizard of Abal.”

“I have freed you from your Crystal Tomb, now DO SOMETHING! The Dragon and Morgain are out there killing my companions, and taking your World!”

Suddenly a massive amount of water welled up right out of the stone floor, and then it formed into a tidal wave. It picked both of us up on the crest and washed us out of the hidden room and into the larger audience chamber where the battle was taking place.

The Dragon was approaching, but at the sight of the approaching wave of water, and the First Wizard of Abal, The Dragon’s dark eyes looked up, and he gestured to the ceiling. Blackness flowed up in a column and hit the ceiling, which crumbled, falling from high above. The entire ceiling of the room started to fall, the damage emanating outwards in a circle from above The Dragon.

Morgain took one look at the crumbling marble and then turned and ran out a side door, and I saw my mother dash off after the fleeing Dokkalfar necromancer.

The stones were now about to come crashing down on all of us, or they would have, except my father gestured and a wide geyser of water shot up from the floor, and then spread out in a dome around us, forcing the stones to the sides away from all of us. When the stones stopped falling the Archimage of Abal cut off the water, but The Dragon had escaped.

I went to Myrka and knelt down. There was a weak pulse in her neck, and I started believing in her full health, picturing her as she was, standing ready to deal death at any moment.

Myrka’s eyes opened, and she sucked in a breath. Then she looked up at me in wonder.

“You healed me!”

I shrugged, “I knew you were healthy. It was something Ziny taught me,” I replied, tears coming to my dark saeran eyes, tears for the little girl I had slain.

Ziny’s little headless body was only a few yards away, but there was nothing I could do for her now. I could not take the body of another mage, just to bring her back. She wouldn’t want that. Even if I wanted to bring her back from the dead, and there was a part of me that did, I really had no idea how Morgain had accomplished that trick with Medrod.

The Archimage of Abal came over and said, “Your enemies have fled; I felt them use Morgain’s Portal. Now that I am free, I don’t believe they wanted to stick around, not when the rightful ruler of this World is there to oppose them.”

I looked at the saeran who was my father, and I have to say, he was damned impressive. There was a power coming from him which was hard to describe, it came from confidence born over long life, and a well of power deep within. This was an Archimage, and his power held this World together. If Hydan could be believed, he had created the saeran race and made the rules this reality adhered to; all done long ago.

“Who was the woman in the white armor who pursued Morgain?” the Archimage asked.

“The White Enchantress, no, don’t ask, she wants to explain it to you in person,” I said.

He nodded, and then asked, “And who do I have to thank for my rescue?”

I grimaced but kept my promise to my mother, “A loyal Saeran wizard. I was here to rescue that little sorceress,” I said, gesturing toward Ziny’s little body, “but she had already been killed by Medrod, and turned by Morgain.”

“I see, I’m sorry,” my father said softly.

I nodded and then said, “There is more, in the battle I had to slay your son, Medrod. Morgain had resurrected him from death, somehow, and he was attempting to stop us, and well, end us before we could reach you.”

The Archimage sighed, lowering his head. “It was with a heavy heart that I slew my son in the first place, but I did so for the good of Abal. How can I blame you for doing the same, again? My son was seduced by a dark power, to the point of insanity. I thought it was all because of the Dokkalfar necromancer, Morgain, but now I see she was only part of the plot against Abal.”

I explained, “It looks like The Dragon was behind the powers they were using to defeat you.”

He nodded, and said, “It would appear that way.”

“Now what… Archimage?” I said, stumbling over using a title instead of my father’s name, which I realized I’d never actually heard. Finnabair had always called him, ‘your father’ or ‘the Archimage of Abal’.

At my stumbling over his name he asked, “You don’t know me?”

I shrugged, “I know you are the Archimage of Abal, but I grew up on Earth, and I have little knowledge of things here on Abal beyond what I have learned in the few weeks since my arrival.”

“A Hidden Soul?” he asked.

I just shrugged, for all I knew I was a Hidden Soul; I had no memory of my past. Then I said, “My friends call me, Nick.” As I said it I realized these three mages watching this exchange were more than my companions, they were my friends, even Myrka.

The Archimage held out his hand and said, “Well, then since you are my rescuer, Nick, I guess it behooves me to introduce myself properly, I am the First Wizard of Abal, and my name is Merlin.”

 

 

 

Chapter Eighteen

 

The magician and the other so-called Gods of our legends’

Though Gods they were

And as the elders of our time choose to remain blind

Let us rejoice and let us sing

And dance and ring in the new,

Hail Atlantis!

-Donovan

 

My father… is Merlin? That thought kept going through my head, but I couldn’t wrap my brain around it.

It turned out Morgain had called all her remaining necromages to the battle, and so there were none left here on Mystical Island. We went to the place where Morgain had created her own portal to the other Worlds. Merlin did some sensing and told us this is where our opponents had escaped, all leaving Abal.

Merlin started to walk out, headed to search other parts of the fortress, but I noticed Toji lingering behind. I stopped and said, “What is it, Toji?”

Merlin and the others paused at the exit.

Toji came toward me, looking apologetic, and when he drew near he said, “Please forgive me for what I must do, Master Justnick, and understand I have no choice.”

I was puzzled, “Forgive you, for what?”

He suddenly snatched the hilt of Caliburn from where I was wearing it belted at my waist, and then stepped back with the naked blade in his hand.

“Toji!” I said, frowning and taking a step back. I was shocked, why would Toji, my friend, want to kill me?

“That is Excalibur!” Merlin said, “I would know that sword anywhere!”

But Toji didn’t attack me, or anyone else, he just smiled, rather sadly, and then stepped into the Portal and disappeared, taking Caliburn, or as Merlin called it, Excalibur, with him to another World.

“Toji!” I yelled, but I was speaking to his brief afterimage.

Merlin came back to the portal and said, “I can sense where he went; it was Earth, though to which portal there I cannot say.”

“Can you tell where the others went as well?”

Merlin shook his head, “The older the use, the harder that is, I can only sense where Toji went because he departed so recently.”

I was still looking at the Portal and said, “How could Toji do that? He has sworn an oath to serve me, and yet he took the sword I had promised to return to Nimue.”

Merlin answered, “I do not know, Bakemono Honor is a strange thing, it can have many more twists and turns than you might imagine. For now, I would guess he was honor bound in some other way, he seemed quite apologetic for this act, so maybe it is something he could not avoid.”

I nodded, but I felt a sense of betrayal; after all we had gone through, my ‘friend’ had chosen to leave, without a word or explanation. It made no sense. I sighed, and then said, “Well, Nimue is going to be pissed when she learns I let her sword get stolen.”

Merlin laughed, “The Lady of the Lake will get over it, she has in the past,” he said with a chuckle.

“You have had trouble with Caliburn before?” I asked.

Merlin replied, “I prefer some of the more recent terms, ever since we used it on Earth, the sword has been known as Excalibur.”

“From the old King Arthur legends,” I noted, and then asked, “Are you really the Merlin from those tales?”

He chuckled softly, “No, and yes. I am likely the person they are referring to, but the details of the legend are no doubt mostly myth by now, with very little of the real facts involved. That often happens as time passes and events are passed down through the mundane records.”

“And Medrod? Who is he in those legends?”

“Perhaps you heard of Mordred, and Morgana?”

“Medrod and Morgain?”

Merlin nodded, and then added, “And at this point, I can guess who The White Enchantress is, even though you seem bound not to tell me, or confirm my guess.”

“Oh?” I asked.

“The White Enchantress is the translation of Finnabair, an Irish name. Of course, Finnabair is Gwenhwyfar, in Welsh, which translates to the more modern name of Guinevere. I’m not surprised Guinevere was involved in this Civil War, she was also deeply involved in the whole Dragon affair on Earth.”

My head was spinning as I tried to reconcile the old legends with the actual people I had come to know and that my father was the wizard Merlin, and my mother Guinevere.

 

Now that Five Point travel was available on Mystical Island, Merlin opened a portal to Poseidon. Once there he dismissed the wizard Timarod from control of the city, assigning the suddenly blue faced saeran to more clerical duties. I remembered the little officious bastard, Timarod, quite well, he was the wizard who had tried to kill Myrka and hold me in Poseidon a few weeks ago. Merlin took control of the capital and set things swiftly in order.

When he finished, I had a chance to be alone with my father for the first time. I really wanted to tell him I was his son, but I’d promised my mother, so I waited. However, there was something else I’d come to Abal to ask the Archimage.

“Merlin?”

He was at a large stone desk, looking over reports, and glanced up at me. He put his pen aside, and sat back, and then said, “So, are you ready to tell me the rest of what you have been holding back?”

I grimaced, “You notice that?”

“A wizard, of my House, comes to my rescue on Mystical Island, yes, I knew there was a lot more to your story, and I just figured you weren’t ready to tell it yet.”

I nodded, and then explained about my missing memory, the dream about my orders to obtain information, and the fact that The Dragon was after me, and how I’d taken something I could not recall from the Dark One. I then explained my reasoning that Merlin was the one who had ordered me to steal from The Dragon since Merlin was my Archimage, and how I’d come to Abal in hopes he could help restore my memories, and retrieve the information I’d obtained.

After explaining the whole thing, Merlin just sat there for a time, staring at me, and then finally said, “Well, the first thing I have to tell you is I did not send you to steal information from The Dragon, or from anyone, for that matter. I don’t know you.”

Of course! He would have recognized me immediately had I been one of his agents, and a known mage. I should have thought of that, but things had been moving so swiftly I hadn’t had a chance to stop and think it through.

He continued, “Now, as to restoring your memories, I will take a look and see if there is anything that can be done.”

He concentrated and then asked me, “Do you remember anything now?”

I shook my head, “Nothing new, not about who ordered me to steal the information, or what information, or anything past waking up in the Temple of Karnak.”

He nodded, “I was afraid of that. The spell they used likely wiped those memories completely, so I cannot create them again without knowing them myself. However, it is possible that the person who hit you with the spell could restore them if they were kept. Now, it is equally possible you will still remember them on your own, especially since you have gotten a couple of things back. That makes me believe there is more you may recover. Perhaps some will come back when you get to more familiar things. For example, if you could find the actual person who gave you those orders, it might help you remember, it’s hard to say, but don’t lose hope!”

 

A few hours later we Five Point traveled to Ouroboros, where we found that, with the help of my mother’s golem army, Oberon’s forces had mostly destroyed and then routed the remainder of Morgain’s army.

There were several mages at Ouroboros, so Merlin ordered a Fourth to take over control of this city and another Fourth, and two Fifths to Five Point travel to Poseidon. With those two cities covered, he ordered Oberon to go to Mystical Island, where he was to capture Morgain should she decide to return via the Portal. With Oberon being a Second, he could hopefully handle Morgain should she return. He then ordered the bulk of the remaining army to go to the aid of Gunder, at the city of Kromwall, with orders to liberate the city, and then head for the fortress of Nithar to aid Braun against any remaining forces of Morgain’s armies.

Merlin then opened a Star to Castle Ivory. I was anxious to have my mother talk to Merlin so that I could finally tell him I was his long lost son, and speak to him as my father. On arriving at my mother’s castle, we found Morgain’s besieging army gone, they had been defeated and then had disbanded due to desertions. As soon as word had spread that Mystical Island had fallen, and Morgain was on the run from the First Wizard of Abal, those who were conscripted, due to fear, deserted, and the rest fled.

But we soon discovered that my mother was not at Ivory Castle. I tried calling her name aloud, but no spirit bridge was formed. This meant it was likely she was off World by now.

Once that was evident, Merlin decided to depart, and said, “I’m sorry, I wished to thank the architect of the plan that freed me from my imprisonment at Morgain’s hand, and helped to liberate Abal. If she should return, please have her come to the capital so that I can personally give her my thanks. Or, if she is still pursuing Morgain, I offer my aid in apprehending the Island Witch so that we can give her the reward she so richly deserves, an end to her entire line.”

I nodded. I really wanted to tell him the truth about our relationship, but I had to keep my promise to my mother, so I let him go. Merlin made a Star and Five Point traveled out, heading back to the capitol. I decided to stay in case my mother returned through her portal.

The others were grabbing some food when I wandered into the library. It was the place I most associated with my mother. In the time we’d spent here, I’d most often found The White Enchantress in her library, sitting in her favorite chair while reading. On the small table next to that big comfortable chair is where I found the envelope. Not just anyone could have found it, the envelope only appeared when I drew near, and it hadn’t been here earlier when others were present. She must have set it to only appear for me, and when I was alone.

I opened the letter and read:

“Dear son.

“If you are reading this, then things did not go as planned at Mystical Island, yet I am pleased you have survived. It also means I am either dead or have gone seeking Morgain. You will survive me because you are part of your father’s line. If I am not here, yet still alive, just know I have my reasons for hunting Morgain, and must pursue this quest. I will contact you soon!

“However, now I must reveal part of the plan you were not yet meant to know while still on Mystical Island. This will be hard, but you must understand that I always have good reasons for the things I tell you, true or false. First off, I really am your mother, but forgive me for telling you Merlin is your father, he is not. In fact, Merlin is the person who stole you from me when you were a child. I sensed him but was unable to find where he had taken you. I followed him to Earth, and there went through various things in my quest to find you, my son.

“I was on Earth with your father, The White Knight, during that time. He now resides on my home world. I cannot tell you about him, not now. I have very good reasons why I must keep his real identity a secret from you. Just know you are a Sivaeral Second. But, your father’s true identity MUST be kept hidden from everyone, for that makes you what the Houses term a ‘Crossbreed Bastard’. You are the son of an Albus Second and a Sivaeral Second. This is forbidden, by the Accords, and if it were common knowledge, you would be hunted by all the Houses. Therefore, for your safety, and other reasons, this MUST remain our secret! Tell no one!

“Now, here is why I lied to you about Merlin being your father when he is really your abductor. I never learned why Merlin took you from me when you were a small child, but I did discover that Merlin was either in league or had some compact with The Dragon. I do not know if they are still working together, or if that was only a temporary truce between Archimages. What I do know is this, we must find out the truth. I arranged this whole plan so you would rescue Merlin because you thought he was your father, and I hope this plan has come to fruition! If so, then he trusts you now, and you may continue to be known to him as a Hidden Third of House Sivaeral. Even if Merlin figures out who I am, he will not suspect you are spying for me; he does not know I learned of his involvement with The Dragon on Earth.

“Stay the course, play your part, and learn what you can from Merlin, but never trust him! Stay with Merlin as a loyal Sivaeral wizard until we find the truth about him and The Dragon. Then we can decide, together, what we should do. When you have learned something valuable, come to me on my home World.

 

Love,

Your Mother.”

 

I placed the letter back in the envelope and then onto the table. I walked to the books and looked at them absently; I was considering my mother’s words.

That is when Morgain said, “Interesting. They say an Albus plan has so many layers you never know when you have reached the center.”

I turned and found the Dokkalfar necromancer standing by my mother’s chair, reading the letter Guinevere had left for me. She did not seem concerned, or even threatening, but I knew better.

“What are you doing here, Witch,” I answered.

She put down the letter and then smiled, as she replied, “Hiding from your mother, and this is the last place I figured she would look. Obviously, now I’m going to have to find somewhere else to go. I’m quite angry with her, she has ruined centuries of work! I had all but completed the destruction of House Sivaeral, but you have ruined all that, and I will have my revenge on you!”

“Good luck, Bitch without an Island,” I retorted.

She glowered at me for a moment and then shrugged, and spoke without showing anger, “You have killed my husband…”

“You don’t seem very put out about that,” I noted.

She ignored me and continued calmly, “and released the Archimage of Sivaeral. In hindsight, the second time we bound him I should have just killed the Archimage, but there was my ‘husband’; if I killed his father, well, that would have also meant Medrod’s death. Still, now I see that it would have served me better. No matter, the Dokkalfar WILL destroy all of the Houses; all you have done is delay the inevitable.”

“Glad to be of service,” I noted flippantly.

She was walking slowly around the room but staying some distance from me. She smiled, and said, “You know you are being played, right?”

I shook my head, “Are you really going to try to put doubts in my head about my mother? You, who are an evil bitch who murders children?”

She smirked at me, “No, not about your mother, though you should take care, she is an Albus, and there is more to her plan than you understand. Why do you think she stopped you from killing me? But right now I’m talking about your father, the White Knight.”

“What about my father?”

She laughed, “He is not a Sivaeral Wizard, Nicholas. The White Knight is from another House, though your mother did not bother to inform you of the truth. However, this is not the first time she has lied to you, is it?”

“You’re just attempting to sow mistrust in my mind.”

She smiled, “And it’s working, too. But, I don’t have to make things up to trouble your mind, the truth works even better. However, I trust you won’t take MY word for it, will you?”

“Never, but I will kill you!”

She laughed, “You will try, but first you will seek confirmation of what I have told you, and when you find it, remember that I spoke the truth when your mother gave you nothing but lies.”

“Screw you, bitch! If I messed up your precious plans, why don’t you just try to kill me now?”

“I have much better ways to hurt you than just killing your body, and I have great plans for you, Nicholas. However, now that I have had a chance to meet you I am intrigued, you have so much anger! I could use a mate with your ability to hate! What is it that drives you to hate me with such delicious force?”

“You murdered Ziny.”

“Does the death of one small saeran sorceress matter to you so much? Why was she so important? I have killed whole lines of mages and with them every child in that line. What does it matter? In the end, all of you will die.”

I shook my head sadly at her and said, “The fact that you do not understand why one small sorceress matters is the difference between us.”

The left corner of her lips lifted slightly in an amused smirk, then she changed the subject, “Have you ever wondered who really took your memory… and why, Nicholas? I will tell you something which your Albus friends have hidden from you; your memory can be restored. It was hidden from you, not destroyed.”

I snarled at her, “Before I kill you, would you like to tell me what you know of who took my memory, and why?”

She smiled very slyly and replied; “Now why would I want to help you? The only reason I am even talking to you, instead of ending your line, is that you have a part to play, and, as a side benefit, I wish to cause you pain and anguish. You will become a thorn in your mother’s side, which is to my advantage!”

I snorted, “And you tell me this, expecting that with my knowing your plan, I will still take part in it?”

Now she actually laughed outright, “Of course! I am not an Albus; I do not hide my plans beneath so many layers even I may not know my final end game. I am a simple sorceress, I follow the orders of my Archimage, and we will be the last House left alive before the end!”

“So all of this, the entire Civil War on Abal, the death of so many mages and other innocent folk, is all because you have orders from your Archimage?”

“Of course,” she replied.

“And Medrod, your ‘husband’?”

“He was just a tool, one who has now served his purpose. I am leaving Abal, so I have no need for a Sivaeral husband anymore. Your meddling has managed to thwart our plans, and for that, you will soon become the focus of my Archimage. I would tell you to go crawl under a rock, but that won’t save you, Nicholas. Now, I’m sorry, but I have to keep to my schedule, after all, I have a new World to destroy and your mother and father to kill.”

Then she stepped out of the doorway.

I ran toward where she had departed, pulling my Bowie knife, but when I rounded the corner I found the black outline of a Pentagram off in one of the alcoves near the library entrance. She had obviously prepared her means of departure ahead of time.

I called out and Hydan ran up, asking, “What is the matter, Nick?”

I explained and he quickly repowered the Star, then we both jumped in.

The Star didn’t take us far; we arrived at my mother’s portal, in the tallest tower of Ivory Castle. Hydan did a quick sensing of the portal and stated: “I tracked where she went.”

Once he told me, I whistled, “Really, that place is real?”

“Of course, it is one of the Ten Worlds,” Hydan replied.

I thought about it and then said, “Well, I think I need to do a little research before we head there, so we’re going back to Earth first.”

“Is that the only reason you are going to Earth?”

I sighed, “No, there is the matter of Toji and Excalibur. I have to return that Actuality blade to the Lady of the Lake; I gave her my word, and I also want to know why Toji would take it from me!”

Hydan nodded, and then said, “Good, there are a lot of Earth things I still need to experience! Is it true there is a powerful drink with a snake at the bottom which you consume?”

I thought about it for a moment, and then said, “Oh, you mean Ta-kill-ya! But it’s not a snake, it’s a worm.”

“A worm? And, if you drink this brew, and the worm with it, does it really attempt to kill you?”

I chuckled, “No, that’s just a nickname for Tequila, though sometimes the hangover makes you wish the booze had actually killed you.”

Hydan laughed, “I will drink until I reach this worm and see how it feels afterward!”

“Go for it,” I said with a smile, Hydan was irrepressible.

But I wasn’t sharing in his exuberance, and he noticed my glum look.

Hydan tilted his head and said, “What has you so troubled, my friend?”

At him calling me ‘my friend’, I gave him a wan smile, Hydan was my first and best friend, I realized. Then I answered, “This whole adventure on Abal, we didn’t solve much. In the end, Morgain escaped.”

He tilted his head in surprise, and then just laughed, “You have great expectations of yourself, don’t you? You realize this planet was in a Civil War which had lasted centuries, and largely through your aid, the war is all but won! You have released the First Wizard of Abal from a magical prison, exposed, and ended a plot by the Dokkalfar to take over one of the Ten Worlds! You have found your mother, and at least know of your father now, neither of which you knew when you arrived.”

I shrugged, “When you put it like that, well, it seems like we accomplished a lot of things, but I only see little Ziny’s head as my knife took it from her shoulders.”

“You slew a necromage, not Ziny. It was Morgain who killed the little saeran girl.”

I nodded slowly, but then spoke sadly, “I was supposed to protect her!”

“You cannot protect everyone, Nick.”

“No, not even one little girl it seems,” I said softly, and then my voice hardened, “I’m going to hunt down that bitch, Morgain.”

Hydan looked uncharacteristically worried, and said, “Be careful, Nick, though I understand the reason for your desire to exact revenge, it isn’t a healthy thing to live for, nor would Ziny want you to live for revenge. There are other little girls out there, and little boys and all of them can use your help. How many innocents will perish if you are focused on this path of revenge while other evil takes place? Will you live for revenge, or will you follow the example of the compassion for others which made Ziny the person you loved?”

I thought about that, and I remembered how Ziny had nearly killed herself to save a Tarvos sorceress who had tried to kill her earlier. I could keep Ziny alive by following her example; perhaps that was one way of protecting her memory, even when she was gone. Then I nodded, “All right, Hydan, I will try to have the compassion which Ziny showed us, and go save the other children if I can. But know this; if I do run into Morgain, I’m going to shorten her about one head’s worth! For now, let’s go see what Toji is up to with Excalibur, and then try to locate my mother and father.”

I had Hydan go get Myrka, so we could depart, but while he was gone I spoke aloud.

“Merlin Sivaeral, can you hear me?”

A moment later the bridge was made, and I heard Merlin’s voice. “Nicholas, it is good to hear your voice! I only have a few minutes; the offensive to wipe the rest of Morgain’s forces from Abal needs my almost constant attention.”

“How difficult do you think it will be to free the rest of Abal?” I asked.

He answered, “Militarily? Simple enough, without Morgain or Medrod, the remaining necromages are a nuisance, but the outcome is not in question. What will be much harder is to restore peace and replace fear with belief in the mages of our world. The mundanes have been terrorized by Morgain’s necromages, and it will take a lot to regain their trust for those who practice magic.”

“If anyone can do it, I’m sure it’s you,” I said, and queried, “Merlin?”

“Yes?”

“I have a question for you, who is The White Knight?”

There was silence for a moment, and then he answered, “I don’t know who you are talking about specifically; are you referring to someone from Earth?”

“Possibly, I don’t know,” I replied.

“Well, on Earth there are two references I know of that could be who you are talking about, one from a story, which was based on a myth, though that myth was derived from some actual truth. The author called the written version of it, Through the Looking Glass. In his account, one of the characters was called the White Knight, but later on, he also referred to himself as The White Knight.”

“So you are saying that Lewis Carroll is, or was a wizard?”

“Most definitely, though his real name is Charles L. D. Friare. However, there is another possibility for the identity of your White Knight, one in which I had a lot more personal involvement. You know the legends of the time I spent on Earth while dealing with The Dragon?”

“Yes, there are many versions, but no clear account of what really happened, but you said you are Merlin from the legend of King Arthur.”

“Yes, that is true. There was a man I knew back then called The White Knight, but he went more commonly by the name, Lancelot.”

“Lancelot du Lac? And this man was a Sivaeral Second?”

Merlin laughed, “Lancelot, a Sivaeral? Most definitely not, though I understand where the myth of this could arise from his middle name, du Lac, meaning something to do with a ‘Lake’, but I think that had more to do with… never mind, I digress.”

His answer floored me, it meant, assuming Merlin was telling me the truth, and that Lancelot was the man my mother told me was my father, then Morgain had been telling me the truth! My mother had lied to me about my father, again!

I had not told Merlin why I wanted to know about the White Knight, and he hadn’t asked, so he really had no reason to lie to me. I then realized my father was not a Sivaeral Second!”

“Lancelot is a Second?” I asked.

Merlin answered, “Most definitely, I knew him quite well; in fact he spent a lot of time on Earth with Guinevere.”

Merlin suspected The White Enchantress was Guinevere, but he didn’t know she had said the White Knight was my father. Then again, my mother had told me not to trust Merlin, so I had to take all this with a grain of salt.

“I see, all right,” I said absently, still thinking about my mother lying to me, again.

At my wandering tone Merlin asked, “I must be going, Nicholas, is there anything else?”

I almost cut the Spirit Bridge, but then I said, “Yes, just one more thing.”

“All right, what is your question?” the First Wizard of Abal asked.

“What House is Lancelot?”

Merlin’s voice answered immediately, “House Albus. You do know that, on Earth, in olden times, the word ‘Albus’ means ‘white’?”

I said, “The White Knight. Thank you,” and then closed the bridge.

Hydan and Myrka walked into the room at that point and saw the strange expression on my face.

“What has happened,” Myrka demanded, half raising her hands like she was about to blast something.

“I just learned that my father, The White Knight, is a Second of House Albus.”

Hydan frowned, “But, that cannot be, your mother is also a Second of that House, so that would make you a Bastard Second of House Albus! Your Glyph clearly shows you are…

In my head I now knew the truth; I was not of House Sivaeral, but of House Albus. Right at that moment of clarity I felt a burning on my cheek, and Hydan said, “Oh my.”

I walked to a mirror and looked at my face. Where I’d always seen a Glyph shaped like a nautilus, now I saw a new Glyph, the stylized spider of House Albus, just like the one on Fiona’s face, or my mother’s, for that matter. If I was truly a Second of House Albus, then, from what I understood, I was forbidden from mating with Fiona since she was also a Second. Even worse, I was an illegal Bastard child which every House would be hunting. I suddenly wondered if that was the reason Merlin had taken me from my parents as a child and hidden me on Earth! But Merlin doesn’t know who I really am yet. He has not seen my real Albus Glyph.

This also meant something else, Merlin wasn’t my Archimage! That meant the person who had given me my orders to steal from The Dragon was still likely my real Archimage, the Archimage of House Albus! Perhaps that Archimage could help me regain my memories.

I spoke softly, “When we have found Toji and researched a few things on Earth, we’re going to find a portal and go to my parent’s World. I want some damn answers, and I’m going to get them.”

Myrka nodded, assuming I meant from my parents, and said, “And what World would that be?”

I answered with one word…

“Atlantis.”

 

  • * * * *

 

 

 

 

This concludes Diabolical Book One, of The Archimage Wars series. The story will continue in Book Two: Sorceress of Atlantis.

 

 

Author’s Note to Fans:

 

Thank you SO MUCH for reading this novel. I hope you enjoyed it! I am starting up a monthly Newsletter for my fans. There will be blog posts, news, previews of coming attractions, and FREE giveaways! I will also answer questions submitted by fans, so you might have your question posted and answered!

 

All you have to do to sign up for the newsletter is go here:

http://www.philipblood.com/Contact.php

Then fill out the very short form, and that’s it! For signing up I’ll send you a free ebook of mine! (Make sure you tell me which books you have already read, so I send you a new one to read! Also, make sure to tell me what ebook format you would like.)

 

Without Wax,

Philip Blood


The Archimage Wars: Wizard of Abal

The story of The Archimage Wars is an urban fantasy series. The story begins in current time, on Earth, but don't let the time or place fool you! Truth is stranger than fiction and the truth about Earth and what it really going on will confound and amuse you! Join the lead character, Nick, as he tells his crazy story, and takes you on a diabolical journey where you will travel across the Ten Worlds. Nick must not only survive, but he must relearn to use the magic he has forgotten if he is to survive the Ascension Quest, and unravel plots so twisted and deep you would need an Albus Sorceress to help you find your way through! Fortunately, you will have one to help you figure it all out. On this journey you will discover things that are hidden in all of Earth's history, wars, religions, famous people, movies, books, legends and myths, and while doing so, uncover the truth about our universe! It is not what you think. This novel series will take you on a quest across many strange fantasy worlds, not the least odd of which is Earth. The worlds range from almost Tolkien fantasy settings, to modern day technology, and everything in between! If you liked Zelazny's Amber series, Butcher's Harry Dresden series, and Farmer's Riverworld series, you should like my The Archimage Wars series. Nick will begin telling this tale in Diabolical Book 1, Wizard of Abal, in May of 2016, do you dare find out the truth?

  • ISBN: 9781311329455
  • Author: Philip Blood
  • Published: 2016-05-01 20:20:41
  • Words: 113641
The Archimage Wars: Wizard of Abal The Archimage Wars: Wizard of Abal