Princes of Purt: 22-23-24

Princes of Purt:

chapter 22: Visions

Chapter 23: Healings

Chapter 24: Mortality

 

 

 

Visions: It was something that helped her mind settle. Gardens had always been Tavia’s safety and refuge. She didn’t think the owner would mind if she tended to his kitchen garden. She took her time to pull the little weeds, shifting their energy, making a rapidly decomposing bed over the soil to put the life energy back into the soil.

She was startled out of her quiet when Onwar knelt down beside her. He reached out and touched her hand lightly. She had let the energy already drain back into the earth before he actually touched her, but it was close, too close. He took her hand and turned it over to look at the soil-stained fingers and the dirt under her nails. She looked up at him, not sure what his intent was and none too easy with being touched after the attack on her at the stream bank.

“I don’t know if it is wise that you be alone,” he said softly. His thumb smoothed across her palm, almost as if searching for spells cut into her palm, perhaps. It was an ancient method rarely used now, but if he was looking for it… He lifted his eyes to her. “Whatever that was at Keeb, it has moved north, but if it is linked to us at all, we will be attacked by the locals. You should not sit alone outside.” He smiled faintly, but rather sadly. “A woman as gracious as you tempts the dark side of men from areas with few women to pick from.”

She knew what he was saying and if Dave had said it, she would have thought he had overheard talk of ambush against her or other such garbage so many men spat at each other. “Kelly is not far,” Tavia said.

“She is far enough,” Onwar said seriously. “If I had wanted to hurt you, I could have. She is not here, Tavia,” he said looking around, trying to make certain his words were not taken as a threat, but a warning against others.

She wanted to object that she could defend herself and that if she truly needed help, Shannon would come to her, but she didn’t say anything. She wanted to pull her hand away, but she didn’t want to seem rude.  She wanted to cry, but she forced a small smile. It seemed that she never got what she wanted in her life. “Your concern is very generous, Onwar,” she said. “I have lived through very ugly events and I fear I will again, but when I find a moment to be at peace and tend the simple joys, such as gardens, then I will do so. It is how I build the strength to endure the wild things and the hurtful things. You should try to as well.”

He lifted her hand and kissed her knuckle with warm soft lips. He rose, letting her hand slip from his. “I know your men do not like me, but with all my soul, I am here to help you. I will do everything I possibly can to protect you… and them.”

She forced herself to put on a simple smile. “I know, thank you.”

He bowed to her, a gracious and very Purtan bow, before he walked from the garden, catching up the hem of his robe with practiced ease and unconscious motion.  She felt sick and upset. Covering her mouth with the back of her hand, she wanted to cry, she wanted to allowed to be ill, she wanted Travis to help her, to assure her this was right, she wanted to understand all of this but as always what she wanted was not likely to happen. She gripped her hand to force the shaking to go away and looked back to the little plants, trying to stay sane and strong enough to see this through. Why her? Why must she be the one to do this and be so alone in it.

“All I want is help,” she whispered to the earth. “A little assurance…” tears spilled from her eyes and she dug her hands deeper into the soil, finding it warm and calming.

She used her shoulder to wipe her cheeks of tears as she sniffed, drew a breath and set back to weeding the struggling garden. She poured the energy of her fear and tension into her work, shifting it into useful energy for the plants to live and grow on. She felt as if she had slowly begun to master herself.

When she felt for certain that she was settled, she got to her feet and walked to the small water-spigot at the back of the inn wall. Turning it on, she let the trickle run a moment before she set to scrubbing her hands. She got the mud off and carefully cleaned every fingernail.

She was still washing when a woman joined her. She was a beautiful Purtan woman. She wore a pair of well-fitting black pants, a blouse of blue that matched her eyes, and a vest that was laced up the front. It was all terribly casual and her stance backed it up. She leaned back against the wall and watched Tavia a moment.

Tavia glanced at her, knew who she was at once and ignored her. She had nothing to say to the woman. Alisha had been haunting her dreams for years. She seemed now to be haunting Shannon as well. Tavia did not approve.

“I would almost think by your reaction that you had spoken too long with Elleshara,” Alisha said. Tavia shook her hands of water and flicked her fingers a little as she looked at the woman. Alisha was as beautiful as TyraAra and yet as unlike her as possible. She was all relaxed ease and on some level reminded Tavia of Dave.

“Elleshara and I do not speak of the past.”

“Don’t get me wrong – she is a powerful woman and I respect her, but she did not care for me much.”

“You choose to spend your energy talking to me about the relationship you had with someone five thousand years ago?  Why don’t you turn my son back into a boy.”

“I didn’t do that,” Alisha said.

“You just happened to be there?”

She nodded. “I was there, yes, but I did not turn the boys. I do not have that sort of power. It was clever and saved them from a horrific end, but…” she shrugged. “And yes, I do spend my energy to talk to you. It takes less to talk to you than anyone else. Most of them are so shielded and cold I cannot even be seen.”

Tavia looked at this woman whom Shannon still grieved for. “What then? Why are you here?”

“Several reasons,” she said. “One is to assure you that things are working out as they need to.” She stood off the wall and moved with the same grace and power that Shannon did. They must have been a stunning pair once. Tavia couldn’t help but feel small and plain next to such a woman. “The other is to tell you that you must have Onwar with you in the end or all will fail, but you knew this already.” She glanced to the back door where a couple children ran out, but didn’t see the two women and went out to the garden to play. “Third, that I have no choice but to advise you of that.” She clearly did not want to say any more, but had no choice.  She cleared her throat, “I am not dead in the way men think. The right power could restore me as I was.” She drew in a deep breath. “You and I cannot both be Queen of the Wood.  Do you understand?”

Tavia looked at her a bit shocked. “No. I don’t think I do.”

“In the end, he will have to choose.”

Tavia offered her hands up openly. “Oh, then by all means… I am here only because Armond willed it, not by my will. I wanted a small garden by the river and to be left alone.  I want nothing to do with thrones and gods and… whatever else.”

Alisha smiled faintly. “As much as I would like to think that it’s that simple, I seriously doubt it. I do not know why it has to be me to even let you know, but by the Deal imposed, you must know. Don’t mistake me, I want to come back, but even I know I am not… as forgiving as you. Given the power, I will destroy the souls of those who allowed my children to die, and that includes Armond.” Her anger and cold hatred ghosted across her eyes a moment. “If it means that he be Shannon for the entire age to come, so be it. I will have vengeance. As a mother who watched a man destroy her babies, you must understand.”

Tavia didn’t know what to think. Maybe whoever sent Alisha to talk to her knew the woman would reveal her cold dark side and that alone would move Tavia, but then again, she did know what it was like to have a child murdered before her.

“I do not mean to, nor want to be at odds with you, but…” Alisha shrugged.  “You are a simple woman, with simple desires, while I was born in a court that did not like me from the day I was named… a court that I should have been empress of.  It made men dislike me very much. I did not get a crown easily and I had to fight for my power every step.”

“So, now that you have said this, you going to continue to haunt him? To distract him and wear him down so he can hardly focus?  You risk a great deal in the game.”

Alisha brushed at her sleeves in an odd vanity. She looked back to Tavia. “I do not mean to haunt; I come to sooth the nerves of those you deal with so that you all seem less of a threat, less remarkable. Like it or not, I am on your side. I am doing what I can for the company. It is a shame that we must compete for the rank of Queen. We won’t both get it.”

“Then I fear I have already lost. I will not play such games. I am not a teenage child to vie for power. I have been through far too much for that. I will do my part to bring the Barrier down, then whatever fate is laid before me, so be it. Just keep in mind that Armond died for him.”

“No,” Alisha said firmly. “Travis died for him. A mere avatar. Armond himself sat back in his hold and did nothing but wait for a suitable womb and energies to give himself the power his vanity demanded before he bothered to sliver off a bit of himself.  The only one to even truly try was Ulam,” she said with such cold anger it made her face flush with rage, “and he almost did it.” Tears spilled out of her eyes.  “You want to know the true God of Purt, the one who truly tried to make the age turn over in peace, not war? Look first at the tombs of those Armond and his horde gang raped and left for dead. It wasn’t Armond!

“I will bring the church of Armond down! I will rip open the wells and purge the world of the horde and burn away their laws.” She sobbed a moment and covered her mouth with the back of her trembling hand, almost exactly as Tavia had not so long ago. She wiped the tears off her cheeks and looked to Tavia with restored dignity. She lowered her hand and calmed her breathing.  “First step is to bring the Barrier down.”

Tavia nodded, unable to say anything after the woman’s reaction. Alisha turned and vanished in a shimmer of sunbeams and dust motes. Tavia stood there – shaken by the woman’s words and plans. She was still there when Kelly came out to her. The big woman had cups of tea for them and offered one to her.

“I was wondering where you had gone.”

Tavia smiled a little. “In all your teachings and all you have seen, is it ever said that Armond was vain and cruel to the powers here before him?”

“Vain, yes,” Kelly said as they moved to sit in the sunshine on a low wall that lined the garden. It held water in a man-made pool that was home to a few bright fish and watercress. “He was a powerful warlord and demanded much of his ranks, but I don’t think the word cruel ever came up. Why?”

Tavia drew a slow breath and told Kelly everything. If she could trust anyone to understand, it would be the big woman. Kelly listened without saying anything. Before Tavia was done, she was on the verge of crying again and had to work to draw it back in.  Kelly put her hand on Tavia’s back, warm and solid.

“Just as Shannon is not the man he was when he woke that morning, neither is Alisha the woman she was. Her role might be a good one for the moment, but she would make a very angry and cruel goddess. She would well make Raz look kind and forgiving. I don’t think you need to worry about it, though, at least not for now. Armond will have his own reaction to her and Shannon is still his son. Just be you, Tavia.” Kelly put her arm around her friend and pulled her close. “In the end, that is all any of can truly do. I love you for you and likely for the same things that Alisha might see as weakness. I see them as strength.” She kissed Tavia on the top of the head. “Something else to consider,” she said after a long silence, “he dropped everything and ran into the lions’ den to save you. I don’t think he would be so willing to just forget you now.”

Tavia smiled. “You’re a beautiful woman, Kelly,” she said.

Kelly chuckled. They stayed a bit longer, then went inside to get more tea.

 

 

 

 

Healings: There weren’t that many people beyond the walls of the fortress inn, but Jamie seemed to find them. Ivan was impressed with how the man could just sort of wander out, find trails, and end up at little walled farms. This little farm seemed even worse off  than most others, even if it was a bit more sprawling. The walls were made of un-mortared stone and dense brambles with wicked thorns in it all. A few of the building were barns of various types, and a silo stood with another wall around it. The house was long and low and build back against the hill that was crowned with trees inside the wall.

Chickens of various sorts ran about, a few wild looking goats were loose in the yard, at least a dozen or so weakling sabets were nestled around as well. They didn’t even get up when Jamie and Ivan entered. Several children ran for the house as the two men walked up the yard. A pregnant woman came out of the house, wiping her hands on an apron. She looked worn and weary, half eleven perhaps, but wore her hair up under a hat with long front cords to tie it on if the wind blew. Her face was lean and showed evidence of hard work, abuse, and a burn on her cheek.

She watched them come to the house with fear in her eyes, but without backing away.

“Can I help you?” she asked.

“I am a healer,” Jamie said.

“We come to offer service to as many as can be found in need,” Ivan said.

“We don’t have much to trade,” she said.

“As proof of skill, I always aid a child from each place,” Jamie said.  “Is there not one child who could be aided?”

She considered, then motioned them inside the house. It was dark after the sunshine outside. They passed through a large front room into the back side kitchen. Here the door was open to the side of the house, letting in light and fresh air. There was food cooking on the large black wood stove, which made the kitchen so hot it was hard to be in.

In a basket beside the stove was a toddler who sat holding a small doll in its hands with a blank face and a bit of drool running from a slack mouth.

The woman looked to the child. “I don’t know what happened. One day he was fine, the next…” she looked to them.  “If he doesn’t recover, his father will drown him. If a child can’t work, it can’t be fed.”

Jamie picked the child up and sat in a chair near the door and ran a hand over the little boy’s head. The child had been badly abused. He could feel it. Fractured bones, damaged joints, and a brain that had been rattled by being shaken too hard. He wanted to cry for it.

“Who was watching the baby when it happened?” Ivan asked.

“His young mother, but she said she had stepped outside to hang up clothes.”

Jamie looked at the woman with a very sad expression. The injury to the baby, the fact his mother would be considered young by this woman, and the clear abuse to the woman herself, made Jamie ill. He dared to lower his shields a little and felt it at once.  It was crude, but it was there.

“Whoever is inflicting abuse is using it in black magic,” Jamie said to her softly.  “Pain is enjoyable to people, mostly men, like this and they do it for pleasure.”

The woman looked away; clearly she knew that and yet, like so many abused women, blamed herself for it. Jamie ran his hand over the baby’s little limbs, healing the bones and joints from the damage done.

“You don’t understand,” Ivan said in barely a whisper. “It’s not just a pleasure, it’s blood magic. It’s very bad.”

She shook her head, not saying anything.

Jamie ran his hand over the child’s head a few times, healing what he could, getting the energy to flow right to heal it further. The shift of such energy made the child drop off to sleep at once and Jamie laid it back in the bed. Jamie stood turned to the woman. He turned her face to look at him over at him to see he had only gentle compassion.

“I know it’s not easy,” Jamie told her. “I was very abused as a child myself and I understand. This child will be fine in time, but not if he is shaken like that again. Who is doing this to you?”

“He’s in the barn,” she whispered, “but we need him. You do not understand. It’s just me and the children. He brings home the fondlings and…” she almost started to cry. “I cannot do it alone. Women cannot own anything. I will be cast out. They will cast us all out to be homeless.”

Ivan put a great hand on her shoulder. “We will not leave you homeless,” he promised and went out the open door. Jamie caught her hand before she could go after him.

Jamie smiled at her. “The baby is well.  He can feel your love for him, even if you are afraid for him. Tell him it is alright.  It is safe now. There is no fear.”

She started to cry.

“Tell him every night,” Jamie said to her. “He is a powerful child; he will not come out if he feels your fear for him. Greet him and assure him and he will born smoothly with no trouble. One day he will be a healer as well. Teach him kindness and mercy and he will simply learn to heal the injured with the goodness of his heart.  Now… for you…” He turned his focus to the depth of her abuse, abuse that was deep and went far into her mind and soul. It would take time, but she would be set free. He would heal her later pray with her so that she might heal and aid others.

Ivan left the little house to find the barn. There were several, but he found one that was larger than the others. He heard something crash and ducked in. It was a sheep barn; several stalls held weak and sick looking animals with droopy heads and snotty noses.

A child cried out in pain. Ivan followed the sound around a corner to where the hay was kept. A man was wrestling a young girl, twelve or so by Ivan’s guess. His shirt had been pulled out of trousers that were held up by suspenders. He grabbed her neck, choking down her cries of pain. Her little hands tried to pull his hand off her throat as she choked and tried to suck air.

Ivan jerked the man by the hair and ripped him away. The girl sobbed and gasped for air as Ivan grabbed the man by the throat and lifted him off the ground. He snarled at the man, not the snarl of a man but that of a bear. The man fought to pull the great hand off his throat, kicking and struggling against Ivan’s grip. Ivan was strong enough to hold the man up without choking him in the process; just cutting off air and blood as he willed it.

Fear filled the man’s eyes at the growl. He tried with utter lack of skill to attack Ivan with his stolen power. The power burned the front of Ivan’s vest, but did nothing to him. Such might have caused injury or pain to local men, but the King of Ezeer was not impressed. Ivan grabbed a pitchfork and with deliberate strength and calm power, he sank it into the man’s gut, stabbing it hard enough into the wall of the barn to hold the man up.

The man screamed, let go of Ivan’s writs and grabbed the handle of the pitchfork that held him up off the floor. Ivan scooped a fist-full of manure off the barn floor and stuffed it in the man’s mouth.

“Shh,” he said to the man, patting his cheek. He wiped his hands clean on the man’s shirt tail as blood began to run to the floor. “This is the best way to give back what you stole.  You should be glad I found you… this sin won’t carry so heavily into the next life.”

He turned his back on the man and went to the girl, who was curled up and shaking, sobbing, but trying not to. She shrank back from Ivan, but he gathered up with careful gentle strength.

“Come my dear child, the healer will fix it. You will be safe now.” He carried her back to the house. By the time he got there, she was curled up against his chest, crying softly. He carefully sat in the chair by the toddler and held the girl while she cried.

Jamie had much work to do with the woman and it would take time. The two stood unmoving for hours.

When the girl was still, Ivan smoothed her hair. “Maybe we should see to some food,” he said. She nodded and got up to tend to the meal. “While you see to that, I need to go clean up the barn.  I will be back soon.”

She nodded mutely and let the giant go. Ivan went back to the barn and found the man dead. He had bled to death and made a pool that not even starving cats would touch. Ivan found an old shovel, and gathered up the blood-soaked dirty straw from the barn floor into a wagon. He pulled the man down, tossed in him the wagon and drug it out to the yard. He heaped up wood on the body and set it on fire just as the children began to return from their daily tasks outside the walls.

Most of them came in with either a few animals, baskets of crystals, or herbs to sell. All of them seemed to have a smaller child in tow.  They watched as the giant set fire to the wagon. Slowly they began to gather around to watch. Ivan ignored them and began to use his own magic to gather up the stain of the energy and put it into the fire. He wandered about and found each place dark magic had happened and brought it to the fire to burn it away, to make the energy new and allow this place to be healed.

He went to each child then and laid his hands on their heads, one by one, to share with them the blessing of the fire and the energy’s strength. He could feel each of them as gifted in power. The man had chosen his victims for their inborn power as much as for being orphans. He almost suspected the man was behind them being orphans to begin with.

They saw to their chores after they received this odd blessing. Ivan went back inside as night fell. The kitchen smelled of food, the toddler was making noises and playing with the doll, the girl was taking with the little boy softly. She had a horrid black eye now, but had seen to the meal for her family. All of it was a good sign.

Jamie lowered his hand to smile at the woman. She smiled back timidly. She was healed right down to the old burn mark on her cheek. “You are made new,” Jamie said.  “You have been given new life, new hope, and a new place. You have been charged with the children, to teach them to be kind and good.”

She had tears in her eyes and nodded.  Jamie looked to Ivan.

“I think we should stay a few days,” Ivan said softly. He put his hand on the girl’s shoulder. “This strong young woman could use your help as well and I think most of the others outside need a moment of your time, also.”

Jamie nodded. “We can stay a few days. I need to rest, though.”

The woman nodded. “Anna, take him to the bedroom.”

The girl nodded, a little fearfully, but led Jamie from the kitchen to the back room where there was a large worn-out bed. Jamie paused in the door. He could feel the pain, the blood magic, the horror of this room.

She looked at him, confused and uncertain as to why he stopped in the door “You wanted to rest,” she said.

“Oh, this is bad room,” he said, starting to cry. He could feel the energy of children being destroyed here and knew it all too well. He had endured such a childhood and felt it all well up within himself. He felt six years old again and did not want to go into that room. He knew what would wait for him there.

“He is dead,” she said taking Jamie’s hand in a motion of utter sympathy. “The Giant killed him.”

Jamie nodded, trying to swallow the sickness. “His stain remains. He was a very bad man. I cannot sleep here. I will sleep in the yard on the ground first. This room needs to be cleared and blessed before it is safe here. It will harm any who stay too long.”

“You can sleep with us.” She took him by the hand from the room to a long narrow hall that was filled with straw for the children to sleep in. It was terribly sad and filled with grief and lingering pain, but it was also the safe place for many children. Jamie took a place she offered in the straw along the wall and lay down to sleep.

Ivan stayed up and helped with the children as they saw to the needs of the houseful of the young. The oldest one was a boy about fourteen and Ivan took him aside as the rest began to go to bed. His abuse was deep and had been happening all his life.

Ivan had him help stir the fire and add more garbage, the man’s clothes, and everything else that belonged to him. They burned away all evidence of it. Then Ivan sat with him and told stories of the Holy Father of the church in Purt. How he was abused by his father, but grew up to be a great warrior and healer. He told stories of men who overcame such horrific wrongs and protected others against them. As he did, he let the gods of Ezeer breathe though him and aid the young man. He told stories of the warriors of Ezeer and the hardships of the high moors and how the gods aid those who aid others.

He stayed up long after the young man went to bed. He scrubbed the blood from the barn and checked on the animals, feeding and watering them. Only then did he find a place in the barn to sleep. He slept in late and woke to the sounds of children voices.  Getting up, he set to helping them see to the animals.

Jamie took to cleansing the house and teaching the older children and their “mother” simple prayers for healing and energy clearing.

It was just before dark when Riven and Salma showed up.

Salma happily set to work in the kitchen and sang to the little children while the men worked to clear the energy and to heal the damage done.

“Why?” Riven asked them as the three men stood on the hilltop under the apple trees.  “Why have we dropped everything to heal this place. I felt the shift; I came to see what it was.” He looked to Jamie. “We risk a lot to do this.”

Jamie nodded. “I’m not certain, Riven, but I know that it matters. That we are needed here, I have no question. I cannot say Armond has given me a commandment, but he may as well have.”

“If we forget for what we fight, then why fight at all?” Ivan asked. “All of these children have powers, all of them are a new generation for a new age, and if it is not them we aid, then who cares if the age turns or not.”

Riven nodded. “I will stay and finish up here if you two need to move on to other places.”

“No,” Jamie said. “If heaven guided our feet, then we were guided here and we have work to do here.”

 

 

 

 

 

Mortality: “Can I ask what we are waiting for?”  Kelly asked Shannon.

Shannon looked up from the book he was reading. It was a little book of poems that he had bought off a man who had passed through the night before. Kelly had joined him before dinner and still sat with him.

“Word from Theo,” Shannon said softly.

Kelly took a sip of her beer and watched Dave play cards with the locals, laughing and teasing with them as if he had been born here.

“Do you see her often?” Kelly asked.

“Who?”

“Your wife,” Kelly said, looking back to him.

“I’m not sure what you mean,” he said with a glance over to where Tavia was playing with the puppies.

“Shannon,” she breathed, “you know exactly what I mean.”

“No. Not often,” Shannon said, picking up his book again.  Kelly wasn’t about to drop it.

“Great events change the soul. You of all men know that. The woman she was once is no more than the man you once were. You’d be wise to recall that.”

Shannon didn’t say anything for a moment. “What provoked that?” he asked as she took a sip of beer.

She wiped foam from her top lip. “From what I understand, she was a reckless woman. She had little respect for anyone or any rules of her culture or her race.”

Shannon looked over at Kelly with a slight scowl. “Maybe that’s why I loved her,” he said.

“Hmm, I expect it was. You were so bound by laws and rules, you could not even think for yourself. Fought over like a prize stud, trapped in obligations you simply could never fill, she had to be a breath of air like nothing else.”

“Your point?” Shannon asked.

“She must have been a great deal like Salma, I would think.”

“Your point, Kelly?” he pressed, closing the book, a bit annoyed.

“I don’t see why your heart is still locked up on her. She not only would belittle your need for control, she would seek to undo it and tell you to do whatever the whim would wish. She would act on her own desires and if she had the power now, she would rip the world apart out of anger and vengeance for her children. I imagine she would be very much like Raz. Yet you choose her even now.”

“Out of respect for you, Kelly, I am trying to understand what you are getting at, but all you’re doing is starting to piss me off.”

Kelly leaned an elbow on the table and looked at him directly. “Not even Dave is so insulting to me as you are to Tavia. And for the sake of Purt, he must be.”

“What are you talking about?”

“He might ignore me for the sake of our souls and for those around us, but at least he does not watch Salma with a lustful eye. He might joke a time or two, but it’s just a friendly jest. You, on the other hand, ignore Tavia as if she disgusted you and at the same time pine after a woman who was unworthy of you even when she was alive.”

Shannon looked at her a bit shocked. He was speechless for a moment and not at all sure how to take Kelly’s seriousness or her words. “Have we been turned into sixteen-year-olds? Are we seriously at our first ball?”

Kelly didn’t smile at all. “You have bound up so much of yourself with your grief that you cannot even shift a sliver of your power to anything beyond it. So long as you hold onto her and pine for her, you can never be whole, you can never know peace, you can never be mortal. You hold onto the grief as much as once you held onto your rings. She will burn you, scar you, and in the end make you into nothing more than grief and rage. You can never have back that girl you once adored. It’s a hard lesson.  I say it carefully, I say it as a friend, as an ally, as someone who has been betrayed by love and by my god. If anyone is going to relate to you right now, it’s me.”

“And if your lover had not betrayed you? What if  instead he had been beaten and destroyed beside you, screaming your name for you to be strong?” Shannon asked her back, barely above a whisper so no one could hope to hear them.

Kelly shook her head. “You’re not hearing me,” she said, appealing to him, frustrated.

“You’re very upset right now, Kelly, and I don’t know why. I can feel it through your shields and you’re starting to give me a headache, but I do not know why.”

Kelly drew a deep breath and shifted her shields, blocking the emotions better. “Please,” Kelly said softly. “Please, let her go. For you to have her back, you have to give up all that you have now. Only if you surrender to being a dark lord can you have her. Before you do that, look at what you have here.”

Kelly stood up and left Shannon at the table alone. She went to the bar to get more beer, then walked over to join the table of card players. Shannon watched her go, not sure he quite understood her. Ever since Oirion had done whatever it was he did in Purt, Shannon had not been the same. His mind just didn’t seem to work. Emotions intruded and confused his thoughts. He felt clouded and out of focus. The age-old complaint of men that women were impossible to understand suddenly gave him pause. If Tavia confused him, so did Kelly… and he had once thought he understood them both.

He looked back to his book and had to reread the pages several times to even begin to understand what he was reading. Frustrated, he snapped it closed just as Dave brought him a bottle of beer.

“Try this,” Dave said as he held out a bottle opener for Shannon to use. Shannon took it and popped the cap off. Dave took a seat with a smile. “I just won a bit. I didn’t even cheat,” he laughed. “I bought a keg for later and a few rounds now. I’ll lose what I don’t spend tonight. You look altogether in a bad mood.”

Shannon almost spoke, but there she was. She was at the fireplace in the crowd. He tore his eyes off her and looked at Dave. “Just thrown off balance and trying like hell to get my feet under me and then there she is pulling at me in one direction and Oirion’s pulling me in another. I have this very bad feeling Gerome is about to slam me with something and that I’m going to lose control.”

Dave took a drink and leaned back. He tipped the chair to teeter on the back two legs. He put his feet on the edge of the table in a comfortable ease.

“Sucks to be mortal,” Dave said. He laughed a little. “How do you feel other than a little foggy in the head?”

Shannon considered it a moment. He wanted to give as truthful an answer to Dave as he would want Dave to give him. “Physically I am still adjusting to not being in pain all the time. I feel removed from everything right until something happens.”

“Removed?” Dave asked. “Like it isn’t important or that you don’t relate?”

Shannon considered it as Tavia started a song in the corner accompanied by some fellow with a guitar. She sang a song so light and true it brought the tavern to a near silence.

“It’s like stories that I read once – all of it – right until I see something. Rasha is a story until she is walking in the crowd. The ship is just a story until I see Riven. My life is just a story until it I am caught in it. It does not feel like it is me, like it is real.”

Dave dropped his chair to its feet and leaned on the table to consider it. “Isn’t that sort of a blessing?”

“You might think so, but it is also very distracting. The oddest things shatter my focus and change what I was thinking a moment before. I cannot know if my actions are that of an experienced lord or of a moment’s emotions. I no longer feel connected to the past nor to the future.”

“You think maybe what you’re feeling as lack of focus and lack of connection is Oirion? That his cord, that solid connection he had was his priesthood and now that it is gone, he is fumbling along, doing his best and feeling like everyone is talking in riddles that he can’t understand.”

Shannon scowled. “We are very shielded against each other.”

Dave shrugged. “Just an idea.”

They both turned to watch Tavia sing.

“You know, if Kelly would just say that she cared but was afraid to cause later grief, I would understand a lot more. Tavia assures me, but… it still feels to me that Kelly regrets everything and hates me. Just a single gesture would give me strength that I don’t think she begins to understand.”

Shannon took a drink of the beer.  Dave was saying more than he was just saying.

“Maybe she is waiting for the same from you.”

“Maybe,” Dave looked to Shannon, “but then maybe that wasn’t what I was talking about. Maybe I was trying to suggest that maybe Tavia offers counsel because she understands how it feels to be nothing but a suitable servant, a well-trained dog, an unwanted spouse.”

“You aren’t an unwanted spouse…” Shannon started to say.

“No,” Dave said with a sad smile, “but she understands how I feel about it… because that is how she feels. Maybe you should either give her permission to find someone to be with or you should let her know you care for her.”

Shannon scowled. “She knows that I care.”

Dave almost laughed. “I don’t know… you might want to make sure,” he said with a swig.  “Speaking of Kelly,” he said, changing the topic, “I don’t understand why Zou is dark. I mean, I thought she was changed fully.”

Shannon nodded. “There is a theory that it has to do with Raz’s desire for children of her own.”

Dave scowled. “Children of her own?  Why can’t she have children?”

Shannon shrugged and took a drink. “There are holes in our history, I think. Not even she understands it.”

“You know, I grew up being trained every day. I studied languages, history, magic, every single day of my life. It was understandable that I was able to be what I was when I was sixteen. On the other hand, Zou has not. He ran around with a homeless man.  Yet, he keeps up.  It worries me.”

Shannon nodded. “Zou is a powerful young man. I don’t know what magics the Druid used, but Zou whispers with power like I have never seen before. I have seen him do things not even he is aware of. I would say that he was trained; he just didn’t realize it.”

“I find it hard to think he has been through what he has and he is the son of who he is. It is very difficult for me to think that he will not be taken by the powers that are involved here. You have told me enough times that any man can be broken. I cannot see him and not fear for it.”

Shannon looked to the blond pirate at his table, no, not a pirate – king, heir to the throne of Purt. This man should have been emperor… will yet be emperor, Shannon told himself.

“He is your son, David,” Shannon said. “He has chosen Purt in his heart and he belongs to me.  No one will break him as long as I am here.”

“Yet they tried and you couldn’t do much to aid him.”

Shannon leaned on the table and smiled a little. “I didn’t have to,” he said softly. “Zou didn’t need anything more than the assurance he wasn’t forgotten and that someone cared. He fought his own battle and took what lessons I could offer and made them his. He pretends it never happened to our faces, but it happened and his soul was changed… but not necessarily in a bad way. As I said, David, he is a powerful soul and one the world will know before the end.”

“He is also a teenager barely old enough to know what to do with a woman if he had one. I remember being where he is. Trying to live up to your shadow is a hard thing to do.”

“You know, in my life I have known a lot of people and few have provoked a sense of paternal guardianship.” He looked to Dave. “Some few have. You, for one. Oirion, when he was a child, Theo in his own way.” He turned the bottle in his fingertips. “It makes me wonder why. Maybe it is just that you are lit up with some sort of energy unlike others or maybe your soul is the key. All of us have lived before. I like to think that the souls of my children escaped, that they have been reborn and are living full lives. My point is…” Shannon brought his conversation back to what he was aiming at, “Zou is not a young spirit. He knew full well who his parents were and chose to be born. He chose you, David.  The highest part of his soul chose to be who he is. We all choose.”

Shannon curled his hair behind his ear and took a sip of his drink. By his own words he had to admit that Rajak then, as well, had chosen to be born as the son of Shannon. He took another drink and watched the princes of Purt play on the dirt floor.

 

 

 

 

 

Zou cracked his knuckles against the ache and pain in the bones. It hurt, but offered relief for the moment. The weather was changing again and he could feel it.  He was glad that he was here with Gabren and DaHane. They had escaped the tavern and its noise to the quiet of the house here. The family was much nicer than the drunks and gamblers there. He needed simple sounds right now. He was sick with tension and ached just about everywhere.

DaHane, of course, had tried to help him relax, but had left him to go flirt with the daughters of the man who lived here with his family. Zou wished he felt up to the game, but the teenage girls were not going to satisfy his need. Raz had ruined him. His body wanted only something as powerful. A simple roll in the barn hay was not going to even be fun for him.

It felt as if Raz was haunting him, whispering in his ear, begging him to come back and meet her in the desert. He wanted Shannon to be there, to help him center and protect him from the desert goddess, but Zou wasn’t even sure how to ask Shannon for help, how to let him know he needed help, that what Shannon had already done wasn’t enough.

“You seem troubled,” the woman of the house said as she offered Zou a cup of tea.  “You do not join your friend?”

Zou smiled at her a little as he took the cup. “Thank you,” he muttered in Etan.  “No,” he said to her.

“You do not enjoy talking with the young women?” she asked with a warm tease as she sat beside him at the table. “They do not often get to meet such handsome young men as you two.”

Zou looked back to the young women. They were pretty enough for what they were, but they just didn’t excite him. “Maybe that’s the trouble,” he said.  “I won’t be here long and girls like that might think someone might stop and stay, or take them along, and they do not want to go where I am going.” He shrugged.

“You don’t sound convinced,” she said.

Zou shrugged a shoulder and took a sip of the tea. “Once you have gone where I have gone and done what I have done, simple pleasures no longer are able to capture you.” He took a sip. “DaHane is Sphinx and he requires affection to stay mentally healthy.  Such games are as important to him as food.”

“You do not hunger for affection?” she asked.  He looked over at her, wondering why a grown woman would ask him such questions.

“Not from a village girl.”

“Is it that you don’t like girls or that you don’t like the young?”

He scowled a little more. “I don’t really think this conversation is appropriate to have about your daughters.”

She looked back to the girls who all but hung on DaHane. She sighed a little. “I must go to the kitchen to finish up the day’s tasks,” she said.  “You’re welcome to join me if you do not wish to watch your friend flirt.”

He watched her get up and leave the main room for the back room. He looked to DaHane for a moment, then for lack of interest followed the woman to the kitchen. She was at the sink scrubbing at the pots used for the night meal. He watched her from a door a bit before he entered the room. He had a hard time not noticing the front of her dress had gotten wet above the apron top and revealed the color of skin through the wet fabric.

She glanced over and smiled a little. “The men have gone to worship for the night,” she said.

“You do not go with them?”

“No. For now the only ones who go to temple are the priests and I am not of the ranks.  Are you?”

Zou smiled a little as he leaned back against the wall at the end of the sink counter. “Not officially, but I suppose by most standards one might say I could be. I would say more of a disciple, if anything.  Not really a priest.”

“It’s true he’s not a god. Not yet.” She plunged the pot into the deep sink and drew it out to get the soap off as best she could before rinsing it in the next sink. She set it aside to dry and took another. “They seek to build the foundations for his new church… for the day that it happens. The earth will feel it from the highest mountains to the lowest ocean trench.”

“Oh, that I believe,” Zou said.  “How long have you been part of it?”

“I was born to it. My parents were both Shannonites. They paid the price for it.  Gerome’s men killed them when I was a teenager.  I ended up here,” she said.

“Lucky you had a chance to escape.”

She nodded. “I suppose so. I have been given a decent life, but if Shannon heard prayers, I would not be here. I am a servant for the priests of the temple here and that is about all I am. I have little joy in my life; I suppose few do, but for a life of service I have gotten very little. It makes being devoted to a “living god” feel a bit redundant and false.”

“You have a home, you’re safe, your children are healthy and alive, your husband cares for you.”

She smiled a little. “My husband has devoted his life to Shannon and forgotten his wife and his daughters. I was a young girl, younger than my girls are now when I was all but handed to him. I became a wife in trade for a home and food. When he was younger and had not tasted power, he lusted for his woman… but now…” she shrugged.  “I am not certain this is a conversation best had with a man the age of my daughters.”

Zou finished his tea and set it on the counter. “Sometimes, the things we seek the most are right before us if we look past the surface,” he said, thinking of Shannon sitting at the tavern sipping wine by himself while his priests were off at some hidden temple on their knees. “The idea of being a priest appeals to some because it gives life a purpose and to be a priest to a man like Shannon gives it an edge of energy and danger that a farmer or a tradesmen is not likely to taste. Oh, there are benefits to being in such a company, but then again it numbs you to the simple pleasures.”

“I have no reason to believe it. As far as I have seen in my life, only men have power. And the sort of power they play with is dark. As I see it, Shannon is a vampire and a demon, and if that is the sort of God they want, then fine… but I’d rather have a loving God with a gentle hand. I do not see such a man God (?) in Shannon.”

Zou moved.  He took her arm and turned her from the sink and took her hands in his to talk to her seriously. “Good men have power. Good men move to put their power in place and begin the new age with grace and as gentle a hand as they can. Good men just do not walk around blowing horns and pounding drums to their own glory. Shannon could be here right now and he’d not go to temple. He’d not come knock on the door and ask for a bed; he’d go to the inn, sip wine and eat his meal, pay his bill, and then move on.”

“I would like very much to think so. I would like to think the good men will win and to even know for certain good men do have power, but I have never seen it and the men who preach to me are my brother, my aged husband, and the cobbler. I see no power in them. They claim to be priests of a church that their own God does not acknowledge.  What’s the point?”

Zou shocked himself a little when he suddenly kissed her. As he did, he opened his sanctuary to the outer halls. In an almost transparent image, they were both in the kitchen and yet standing on the white sand shores of his made-over image of the Pusan sea. Now it was a sea of tears, full of the souls of those lost to the dark lords, and they each shimmered as little silver fishes that darted about in the water.

The sky was in a lavender twilight with stars just coming out despite both moons being full in the sky. To the south was a great temple rising in a vast pyramid from the sands and to the north the mountains.

The hot wind gusted about them and Zou knew she could see him not as a young man, but as Zou, disciple of Shannon. He was the man with the burning heart, the scars of torture he had endured, the blood of Von Armond.

He moved her, pushing her back from the center of the kitchen to the pantry.

“Do you see it now?” he asked her. He kissed her again, just as he kissed Raz.  Her reaction was very similar. “Do you taste such now?” he asked her. “Not all gods are what you expect, and not all of them walk around preaching their own power. Now and then, though, they reach out.” He kissed her again and pinned her to the wall. He wanted her.

She didn’t resist, but she didn’t tear at him. He had to take every step in his own hands… and he did. He couldn’t get to her fast enough, but once he did there was a sudden peace. His mind seemed to clear, tension begin to shift and it seemed weight lifted off.  He was able to think and feel for himself without the pressure he had been enduring. He knew then that Raz had been pushing on him, trying to capture him.

Likely she watched even now. If anything, it made him want to seem to enjoy himself and do even more. He wanted to make it clear to her that he was free and she was nothing to him. When he was finished, he held the woman in place, not allowing her to slip away from him.

He held her pinned to the wall as his blood slowed and cooled.  He whispered in her ear when she tried to slip away. “To touch and taste such power always comes at a cost.”

“You have to let me go,” she whispered back. “I would be disowned if I was to have a child of this.” She tried to push him away, honestly afraid now that it was over. He held her in place, forcing her to keep him a little longer. He used the last moments of union to flood her with energy, with power. She gasped with the sudden rush and forgot for a moment everything else. He let her go with that power flushing her body. He fixed his clothes as she stood trembling and out of breath against the kitchen wall. Oddly, he could feel her still. He could feel his own energy in her, on her, swirling about her. He wondered if that was how it felt for a demon, to be able to still feel it and manipulate it even after he had backed away.

He left her alone, but even as he sat at the table wrapping his hands around his mug, his mind went back to her and with nothing but his energy he manipulated her. It might have been rape except that she had invited it and was now caught in it. He closed his eyes and savored it, enjoying this far more than the actual act. He was sitting calmly with his tea when the men came back from the temple.

He seemed to be just sitting there watching the fire as the men took their places about the chamber. Reluctantly, Zou slowly let go of her as her husband came in. Zou drained the last of his tea and made sure the energy on the woman was as pure and good as he could make it.  He did not want them to think she had been raped by a demon.

She had wanted to taste power and was not happy with a good simple life?  Well, she’d not have to worry about a simple life again. She would never be the same. It would take a god to seduce her now. He rose from the chair with a yawn. The old husband went to go find his wife to make tea for the men.

“Dozing off where I sit,” Zou said as an apology. “I’m to bed.” He left them just as the husband returned. He look a bit flushed and whispered to Gabren, who went with him at once.  Zou went to bed to dream of nothing for the first time since he had been touched by Raz.

 

End part 21 edits

Advertisements

Princes of Purt: Teppe’ in the field Riven’s Cabin

Princes of Purt:

Teppe’ in the field

Riven’s Cabin

 

 

Oirion wished he was anywhere but where he was. The worst part of it was the bugs, he decided. He could handle waiting, but he wasn’t looking forward to this. He didn’t even really mind sitting on the ground… it was the damned bugs that kept buzzing about his ears and biting him whenever they could. He slapped at the back of his neck and growled to himself.

It was hot, un-godly hot for this time of year, and sweat was running down his back. The valley here was where once a great glacier had pressed the ground down as it headed to the ocean. It made for a smooth sweep of field strewn with massive random boulders. This was a summer pasture, so right now it was knee-deep in spring grasses and even deeper vegitaion along the stream at the bottom. It was said once there had been an orchard here, but Gerome had chopped it down for a new round of furnishings for his chambers.

That had been well over a thousand year ago and now there was not even a stump to the entire valley. He watched from where he sat as the first ranks of the great elven army came forward. Oirion closed his eyes and bowed his head. He was going to end this. He prayed to any and all gods that if he died it would not end Shannon, or that if it did, that Shannon would simply die as a mortal man. Whatever it would take, he needed to win this war. Purt had to stand. If Purt was brought down, then there could be no Purtan emperor. The Barrier would shatter, the world would end, and it wouldn’t matter what cost he paid here or what he didn’t pay.

He let them begin to pour into the valley before he got up. He stood where he was a moment, then began to walk toward them. A group of several came forward on their horses with bows. They circled him, a bit awed that he didn’t seem at all afraid.

“Who are you?  What are you doing here?”

“Hmm. I am TyShane Von Valreen, Regent of Purt, also called Oirion, and I would talk to your Lord.”

They laughed a bit, but one closed his eyes to relay the message. “What would you say to him?” the man asked.

“I would say that I do not think he is as great as word says. If he is, then Purt is foolish to not welcome him as a god. I, however, need proof. Let him come out, let him prove to me he is truly the demi-god he thinks himself. Or is he afraid of me?”

The message was relayed to the humor, then worry, of the elves who circled Oirion.

“He needs not prove anything to anyone,” one of them said and moved to kill Oirion with his sword.  Oirion didn’t even flinch. The five men and their horses were hit with a power that turned them to ash faster than they could swing.  Their weapons fell to the ground.

“Then let that be my proof!” Oirion roared. He didn’t know who had killed the men about him, but he suspected it was Victor. “Not only are you a coward who must beat on women to feel powerful, you fear your adversary! Your grandfather must be rolling in his salty grave in shame for your weakness!”

The elven army kept marching into the valley, but Oirion knew they, as well as the self-proclaimed emperor with them, had heard it all. The army continued to march as a section of it opened to allow a man on a white horse to ride forward. His robes were golden and white, shimmering with magic as well as wealth. It was clearly an attempt to appear to have capture the power of Armond’s. It was not chance at how similar it was to the robes of the pontiffs of Purt.

Oirion couldn’t help but laugh a little at the vanity. He wore black leather like Shannon might have. He had to admit, with the magic in the leather, it was a great uniform for the work he was about to take on. The two of them could not appear more opposite. It would make a grand image for some hero’s hall painting. Oirion almost laughed about that. As if his face was posted about Purt enough as it was.

The man rode forward with grace as his army moved to avoid the wet of the valley floor and to flank the Regent in the center of the field. Oirion waited, oddly wishing he had a horse, too. He at least would be drier. He was soaked to his knees and his boots were sunk in the mud a bit.

The elf took his time to get into position. It allowed his army to also find their new places as they rushed to get there. Oirion had to mildly admire the army and how neatly the elves could move into place. The ranks were not broken even at a run. It was truly impressive. A pity he was going to kill them all.

The elf stopped about a half mile from Oirion and cast his voice so it filled the valley like a song against Oirion’s roar.

“Child, I have no anger with you. Kneel down and I shall take you as a son unto me. You are fair and gifted, a shame to end such a blessed form as yours.”

Oirion almost laughed at the lure that the man spun into his voice as he sent it at Oirion. It might work against an elf, but not against a Hunter and certainly not against one who had Shannon in his soul. “My dear man,” Oirion laughed. “You clearly do not know who I am,” he cast his own voice out. “I am Adept-Master Oirion!  I am older than you; I have walked the lands and currents of Purt since before the birth of Gerome by a thousand and more years. I stood on the banks of the Pusan as your grandfather thrashed in agony caused by his own foolishness. I have walked the hell fires and bear the scars to prove it. I have danced with dragons and I have made demons nestle in my hands. I am Regent of Purt, bonded partner of Tyredelle Von Armond Von Shannon.  I opened the gate of the Lost and drew them through five thousand years to be here to meet you, to greet our dear brothers, our long allies and fellow Elder race,” he motioned around to them all in mockery and insult. He was making things up and trying to sound as grand as Theo did when telling stories. He began to walk toward the king of the elves. “You come to Purt and you do not even know who you face? Child,” he spat the word.  “Get down from your horse and earn your right to be so bold as to even speak to me.”

The elf was stunned a moment, then laughed. “You are not Master Oirion. You are Oirion Hennen von Valreen. Father Oirion,” he spat the title like a joke. “I know you. You claim great things and yet you crawl on the floor to Shannon. How does it feel to be the concubine of a vampire? You spin nice lies of what he is, but I know the truth. I know what he hides behind the wall of Norwood, and all the nations know you are nothing but his bed toy.”

That almost made Oirion angry. Instead he held up his hands almost as in admittance. “I don’t know what source you get your information from, but clearly they have set you up to fail. Even now Prince Elliott, true cousin of Tyredelle Von Armond, has invaded your lands. You will have nothing to go home to. The elven race shall be as Razzan’s.” He pointed at the elf. “No one invades Purt!” he roared with power.

The land about him shuddered and rolled away like the surface of water when struck with a great vibration. The birds who remained in the valley launched upward.  “You best call on your ‘allies’ now,” he said coldly. “You won’t have much longer to do so.”

Above, the storm suddenly rolled black and lighting flashed out over the sky. Teppe’ Ep Shek, king of the golden elves threw back his cloak and lifted his arm. “Fool!” he yelled and brought down lightning at Oirion. Oirion didn’t even have to deflect it. Someone else did.

Teppe’ threw up his arm, the horse reared, and while the elf fought to hold his saddle, Oirion hit the ground under the horse’s hooves with power. The bolt of power turned solid ground to instant mud. The poor animal sank just enough to tip over onto his rider.

There was a single shout and the elves all began to move toward Oirion. A gate ripped open before the king. Several dozen elven guards poured out to block Oirion. Oirion flung out a ring of fire that rushed outward, not only at the guards in his path but at the army that was running down the valley slopes toward him.  He felt the ground shift under his feet and knew the Purtan army hidden beyond the valley had just been ordered to attack the elves.

With a shout Oirion reached up and grabbed the power of the storm as he had once seen Shannon do. It was searing and horrifically painful, but he held it. He sent it slamming down at Teppe’ and his guards. He brought down blow after blow. Shields shattered as fast as they were risen against him. Oirion got in one more fast than they could recover and the men who guarded the elven king exploded into fire and ash.

He was almost down to the king himself as the elven army’s wizards all aimed at Oirion at once. He was forced to put up a shield of his own. In the sky, fire began to burn as if oil had been spilled in the clouds. Oirion knew the fire would soon begin to fall in terrible drops of heat that would burn all it touched. He had seen it before.

“Don’t send them into this!” he yelled. He pleaded to all good powers that Dave would somehow get that order out and know what to do about it. He drew his sword and holding his shield, he moved to attack the elf himself. His sword lit with black fire as he ran at the king to try to get to him before he was cut off again.

There were just too many attacks. Elven wizards hammered on his shields and flung anything they could think of at him even as archers aimed the first round of arrows at him. He was forced to focus on his shields and to spin power off himself to keep the elves back and arrows out of him. Funnels of fire began to touch down like tornadoes and light up areas of the battle that were out of sight in the darkness.

Somehow he felt the gate starting to be built and with a roar grabbed at it. The shields he wore between himself and Shannon began to flake away even as he grabbed the king’s gate and exploded it. The concussion was enough the men about him were knocked back. Oirion staggered from the force of the explosion. For a moment he felt everything shatter, his ears went deaf, and his body went numb. He knew his amulets and illusions were gone and he was just old Oirion again.

Then the power that was Shannon poured in. Oirion cried out in pain as he had when they had melded on the tower top. Then he had spun away into shadow realms to emerge 5000 years back in time. This time it was different. His ring flared and power as golden as Shannon was dark poured into him as well. It was going to kill him and he knew it. There was nothing to do but hold it and flare it all out, both golden and dark as one. There was no way he could separate them or cut Shannon off. He heard Shannon yell somewhere far back in his mind, but it was nothing he could react to.

He held it as long as he could, then surrendered to it. He felt his arms being flung out as his body lifted off the ground, and then silence. He was, for a moment, back in the sky as the Great Albatross. He was dead; he had died and he was free of this pain. He could fly free and slip into the energy streams and be part of the living Purt. It lasted for a thousand years and for a split moment only.

Then it was dark and quiet.

 

 

 

 

 

Without pain Oirion pushed himself up from the ground. It was dark, lightning flashed and cracked randomly about him in a cloud of darkness and green toxic fumes. The ground bubbled with pits of grey mud that spit up vents of steam and boiling earth. He picked up his sword. His skin was burned beyond feeling. It was held together by power alone. He crossed the mud, past what might have once been elves, their bodies little more than stone bones or lumps under the mud. He walked toward where the king had been.

Oirion found the Teppe’ within a shield of power, his fine robes burned and tattered. He was working on building a gate to escape. He looked up, startled to see Oirion.

The elf had been hurt; his face was burned and blood ran from his eyes and nose. His shields were only to protect him from the fumes and heat. Oirion looked at him a moment. This was the man who had hurt Tavia, who had invaded Purt, who had forced him to use magic that would be felt for ten thousand years at least.

He lifted his sword and drove it into the elf’s chest, dropping all his weight onto the man who didn’t even have the physical strength to fight back.

“You can’t kill me…” the elf gasped, almost laughing. “You still don’t know who I am.”

“You still don’t know who I am,” Oirion said, his face not even an inch from the elf’s. He took every last pit of power he could pull through his ragged cords. He felt wings tear out of the back of robe as his eyes turned to golden fire. He slammed all his power into the elf, as Teppe’ gasped in fear for the first time. Oirion’s organs were set on fire, powers fought, but Oirion did not let go. The elf screamed, his power failed and as his organs died, all the magics bound to them exploded out as well.

The power caught on the storm and boomed outward. Oirion felt crushed and lifted at the same time. He collapsed. Maybe this time, he thought, maybe he’d just stay dead this time.

 

 

 

 

*************

 

 

 

The power of it was unlike anything Theo had ever felt; he wasn’t even sure where it was coming from. He had gone to Shannon to try to ask him what he thought it was. The last thing he expected was for it to be from Shannon. The man had been transformed.

He was on his knees on the floor of his cabin. His eyes were closed, tears of shimmering power escaped the corners of his eyes. Sweat soaked his body. His left hand was glowing deep within the golden scar, so hot it had burned away his glove. His robe had been ripped or burned away, leaving him shreds held on only by his belt. His body shimmer in places, the power flushed in and out, from one area to another. Whatever it was, there was no doubt that it was both painful and erotic.

Theo considered that maybe Raz had gotten hold of Shannon and was doing to him what she had meant to do to Zou, but no… this was different.  He could see Shannon’s chest heaving with his breath, his blood pounding though the veins in his neck, his muscles quivering.

Shannon opened his eyes to show they had gone utterly black except for the irises, which were vampire red, dark as the sash of the Von Armonds. Theo held the door closed from anyone else seeing Shannon this way.  He didn’t know what to do.

“Shannon…” he whispered, not sure if he should help the man or let him experience what seemed to be a serious healing. It had been awhile since Theo had no idea what to do about something… and he did not like the feeling at all.

It ended suddenly. Shannon dropped forward to his hands. Gasping for air, he couldn’t move beyond that. Theo stayed at the door and watched as blood dripped from Shannon’s eyes to the floor. Tears had turned to red and the man had a bloody nose as well. Theo moved to grab something for him to wipe with. He dropped to a knee beside Shannon and offered the silk shirt he had grabbed. Shannon took it and held it to his face, wiping the corner of his eyes with it.

“You alright?” Theo asked very concerned. Shannon opened his eyes and looked at Theo.  They were blue again, but so bloodshot they were almost vampire red.

“That hurt,” Shannon breathed in Crousen, his Port Hall accent clear and thick.

“I didn’t know what to do. What happened?”

Shannon closed his eyes. Theo could see he was already getting black eyes from the event and likely much of his body would bruise as well.

“I don’t know exactly… Oirion doing whatever he had to in order to hold Ulam Bac, I suppose. The world is going to feel what he did. We need to get off the ship before the earthquakes start the tsunamis.”

Theo nodded. “We’ll be cutting into the Barrier soon. Then we can land within hours.”

Shannon nodded. Tell them to make for it now.”

Theo got up. “You want me to do anything else?”

“Lock my door.  I need to bathe and…  rest.”

 

The Barrier passing was a rough bit of weather, a gut-wrenching drop and then they were through it. Magics had indeed changed. They all looked to each other at the ease of the crossing but said nothing about it. Of all the magics they had to worry about that did not seem to be one of them. Just inside the Barrier line Dragons Teeth Mountains formed the chain of islands that they were headed for. Immediately Theo recast his search and narrowed the search for Riven down to a single island. Sails were unfurled. They aimed for their lost comrade with all speed.

The crew took the ship as close to the small harbor as it could. It was already crowded and it would take hours to get into the safety of its walls. The captain lowered a row boats for them.  They grabbed their gear to be lowered down.

Shannon emerged from the cabin with his hood up and a limp. With s growing sense of urgency they hurried down the rope ladder. Ivan grabbed the oars at once. The moment Shannon had taken a seat he dug in hard and set to work cutting for the lights they could see on the water’s edge. The great warship headed away to try and survive the coming wave and to make itself known by the elven nations.

They were just pulling into the docks of the harbor when the storm cracked and rumbled overhead. Ivan caught the dock side and pulled the boat in. Theo jumped out to grab the ropes and tie it off. He helped the others to the dock, aiding Shannon last as the others moved to pull up hoods and gather packs.

Shannon gripped Theo’s hand to get up out of the boat and nearly fell as the tide jostled the boat. Theo pulled the man up and helped him get his feet back.

“Carry that,” Theo said, handing Ivan Shannon’s pack. He took the lead up the dock, looking for an inn as high up as possible.

The island wasn’t that big and the village on the docks was all that it was likely to support. The small fishing village was here at all because the safe harbor with grey stone cliffs that offered protection from the common storms.

Rain started to fall as they reached the street. Theo spotted an inn and cut for it. It was old, stone, and build up high enough that the waves would never hit it. The lower buildings, however, had stains from the salt winds and spray from the harbor. Theo had no idea how far the tsunami would reach across the world, but better safe than sorry.

They entered the front door to find it had far more people than expected. They sat about talking or eating. It was an easy crowd with a good mix to it. Several children were playing with a ball at one end of the room and the three puppies were desperate to go and join them.

The group pushed two table together while Theo went to the back counter.

“Can we get meals, beers, and beds if you have them?”

“That we do,” the man behind the counter said. “I’ll have the rooms readied and meals brought.” He nodded as he went to grab down pitchers of old clay to bring to them.

“You know,” Ivan sighed as he took a seat. “I forgot how nice it is to have things fit. A few years in Ezeer and god damn are the rest of you small.” He shifted in the chair that threatened to break under him.  He stopped when he saw Shannon under the hood.

“You alright?” Kelly asked Shannon.  Shannon lifted his blood-shot eyes to her.

“Fine,” he said.

“The Regent playing with magics,” Theo said with a light shrug. “I’m betting he showed the elves a bit of his temper.”

“Hopefully he didn’t sink all of Crouse,” Shannon muttered in Crousen, rubbing his eyes.

“Is that what that magic was earlier?” Kelly asked.

Shannon nodded.

“You think he’s alright?” Salma asked concerned. Shannon looked at her while the man set beer pitchers on the table.

“No,” he said honestly. “He’s not dead, but I bet he wishes he was. If I feel this bad…” he shook his head.  “He never learns.”

“You told him to hold Ulam Bac,” Kelly said. “I bet no elf gets hold of it.”

“I didn’t tell him to sink it.”

“Then you think the invasion is over?” Tavia asked. “Purt is safe now?  That the elves are… kingless?”

“Elves are like orcs,” Shannon said. “Kill one king… they bicker a bit, then get a new just as bad as the last.”  He took the mug of beer. “I hate elves.”

Tavia lifted an eye brow to him. His tone and the use of no whisper and the thick dialect of Port Hall seemed very odd. He didn’t seem to notice.

“I think they are so bad-mannered because they have so few women,” Ivan offered cheerfully. “They need more girls. What a sour race to be in if its only one out of ten. They have to invade other races just to get a little soft curves in their hands.”

Theo chuckled softly. “Ivan you’re one-minded, you know.”

Ivan grinned and lifted his mug. “It’s good to be home,” he laughed and drained the mug before pouring more.

Shannon watched him a moment, smiled, then shook his head.

 

 

 

 

 

*************

 

 

The goal was to find Riven. Theo was trying to use magic, Ivan was asking around, and Tavia just left the inn. She needed to walk, anyway. The three puppies followed her, tumbling in games with each other and happily chasing along behind her.

The island here was a sleeping giant. She could feel its roots deep under the dark cold water. Fire boiled up at its foot, giving life and energy to the depths here. The soil was hammered with the Barrier magics, the salt of the ocean, and the abuse of the men who lived here. It was so badly over-grazed that what plants survived here did so with great effort.

It looked horribly barren, but there was something about it that she liked. It was quiet here. She drew up her hood against the rain. She let the village fall away behind her as she walked out over the hills behind it and let her feet go where they would. After awhile the three puppies just walked with her, soaked by the drizzle of rain.

She came down a steep gully to a little hidden level of land before it dropped off a cliff down to beach and tide far below. She made her way up the finger of narrow land tucked between cliff faces. There was a small stone house build against the cliff. It was well hidden with thorny brush grown up over it. She had to admire how the garden was grown here, tucked in safely, carefully tended, and hard to spot. Every little plant had its place in the cliff wall. In an age past this had been beach but was now a hundred feet above the new beach and all but invisible from below or from above.

She stopped and knelt to a small tree that had been carefully planted here with much care given to provide it soil for its roots, and yet it struggled. She let her fingers brush it, offering it life and strength.

“What are you doing?” a rough voice demanded with anger and shortness. She looked over as the dwarf came rushing down from the cliffs and boulders behind his house. “Don’t touch that!”

He was in hides and furs, and carried a wicker pack on his shoulder. His hair was bound back from his face with a shocking white streak from his left temple. His left eye was as white as the band of hair as was his beard.  It took her a moment to recognize him.

“Riven?” she asked, almost in shock. The golden priest was gone. This man was angry, in pain, and nothing like the man she had known. He slowed as he looked at her again.

“Tavia?” he asked, almost as if he was seeing a ghost. His anger drained away into pain and sadness. “What are you doing here?”

“I came to find you.”

He looked to where his little tree was hidden behind her long skirt. “I found it on the peak. The rats uproot them and eat them. I had to try and save it.”

“I would not hurt your tree, Riven. I meant only to offer her a bit of energy.”

He grunted and waved it off as if it didn’t matter. Tavia knew better. She could feel the care and attention Riven had been pouring into his little tree. He motioned her to follow and led the way to his small house.

Ducking inside, she found it plain. The largest thing was the bed on the side wall. There was a small cooking hearth on the other, a bookshelf loaded with bits of shells, bones, and stones. A small table had a collection of finer things. There were gems, crystals, and bits of gold, silver, and copper. He had two stools at the table, but one had a large black stone on it. She took the other chair and watched him bustle about to make tea and find a place for the big stone.

The puppies laid down by the hearth to dry off and rest.

“Why are you here?”

“The Barrier is starting to collapse,” she said. “You are needed to help bring it down.”

“Shannon is emperor then?” he asked, not looking back.

“Yes.”

“And he is ready to kill Dave to open the gate?”

“No.  Dave is not with us.  I do not know what he plans.”

Riven grunted. He took out two little stone cups and the already hot water. He used a screen to filter the water though the tea mix he had ready. With a great deal of care he made the tea and offered the cup to her, as if seeking her approval. She took it and smiled at him. It was huge compliment to her.

She had thought none of them noticed how much work she put into her tea. She had poured part of her soul into every cup to keep them all healthy and moving. She sipped the tea that Riven had prepared. The taste was new to her, not sweet, but not bitter at all. She held it in her mouth, feeling the hint of power and energy to it. It was a wonderful calming tea. She savored it. The tea was it was rather remarkable to have been made by a man who clearly was in great pain both physically and spiritually.

“Wonderful,” she told Riven. “You will show me how to make it one day?”

He nodded with a curt nod and sat on his stool. “Dave is not with you?”

“No. He was left in Purt to hold Ulam Bac against the elven kings who are invading.”

“Oirion?”

“He is with Dave.”

Riven took a drink and held it in his mouth a very long time, helping himself to calm before he swallowed it. “Who is with you then?”

“Ivan, Theo, Kelly, Salma. Dave’s son, Zou, and those three,” she nodded to the puppies. “They have been changed into wolf puppies, but they are each a prince of Purt in their own right. One of them is my son Rajak, another is Oirion’s son Valen, the third is Shannon’s brother Keeden.”

Riven looked at the three a long moment, then back to Tavia. “We cannot hope to do this without Oirion.”

“I did not say who was to come or not. Theo has hinted that Oirion will join us later.”

Riven grunted. “I do not wish to…” he looked away, shielding his scarred face.  “I am not who I was.”

“Nor am I,” she said. “We have all changed… grown, gained scars.”

“And Travis?” Riven asked, looking up to her. “He must be a man by now.  Where is he?”

“Travis died,” she said sadly. “It was his choice; he did it to save Purt. He knew his actions and he did them as a man of great power.”

Riven almost started to cry at once. He covered his eyes, his hand trembling. Tavia reached out and touched the arm of her old friend.

“He was Armond, Riven.”

Riven drew in a gasping breath and nodded. “I suspected something as such.”  He wiped his eyes and looked at her. “You had another son, though?” He looked to the puppies. “Might I ask who the father is?  Not Oirion, I assume, as you name his son separately.”

She laughed softly. “No, not Oirion. I wasn’t aware that was even an option.”

Riven smiled so small a smile his beard nearly hid it. “He struggled very hard with his vows,” he said. “Perhaps it was more struggling with being alive than being in your company. I was certain he had let go of that vow before the end.”

“He did.  He and Salma had a son, DaHane.  He is with Dave in Purt.”

Riven lifted an eye brow at her, a bit impressed. For a moment he seemed almost his old self. “How very unexpected.” He took another sip of tea. “And the father of yours?”

Tavia took her own sip of tea and sat a long time listening to the fire crackling and thinking how nice it would be to live in such a place as this. She looked up slowly. “I have studied many thing and one of them was to find the Deal Gerome made. We cannot save him until we know what the conditions are. It demanded I get into some rather unpleasant places and I was taken captive by him. He had no idea who I was; I think he thought I was just another rebel spy… if that. Shannon didn’t approve of my being in his hands. He rather rashly and foolishly moved to rescue me and that was not part of the plans of heaven. It nearly destroyed him… and caused him, while caught in the madness of a vampire, to sire a son that he cannot even look at without pain.  It also forced Travis to act out of time.”

Riven sat quiet a long time, his eyes looking away at nothing. “You do not hold anger?”

“No,” she said. “Not anger; if anything I gain only more respect for his self-mastery and how much he has done with such a curse binding his hands and denying him so much. And you, Riven?  How do you end up back inside?”

“Gerome hunted me. The stories failed and I was forced to flee. My people are nothing but merchants and traders now with little dwarf left to them. My brothers bicker over the throne and would sooner have traded me for gold than risk a war with Gerome.  I was forced to flee them as well and fate cast me back within the Barrier. It was years of being hunted before I was taken down.

“And then I understood why I was so hunted, why I could not seem to hide nor shake them. I understood then just how powerful Shannon was, what he was, who he was, far beyond the revelations of the day on the ship’s deck.”

“What happened, Riven?”

“Great demons and great gods often split themselves into different pieces. They set each part of themselves to a task and so even if the Core is destroyed, the master mind simply goes to another part of himself to become the master.”  He got up and went to his bookshelf as he spoke. “In the bog I would have died. He saved my life and likely my soul. For whatever poison was there, it went deeper than the flesh… and deeper than the flesh he had to go to save me. I cannot imagine the pain he endured then to pull away, but on the deck of the ship it was a thousand times more. So desperate and broken was he that he could not pull free. He cut off part of himself so as to not destroy me.”  He set a flat stone on the table. “That part remained, slowly building power and strength, and when I was attacked… brought to my knees before Gerome… he attacked.” Riven smoothed his hand over the stone and showed it was truly a stone box with a lid of power.  Within it was a collection of black diamonds.

“Gerome shattered him, but I escaped. I spent years collecting every shard.” He lifted the largest single shard. He had made it into a pendant. “When I go out, I wear it. It keeps me safe, it hides me. There is great power in it.”  He laid it back down in the box.  “I had been enraged, burned, and could not forgive him for what he had done on the ship. It ate at me and haunted me until that day. When he stood before Gerome, there was my old friend prepared to be destroyed simply so I might escape… I didn’t know for certain if it was truly him, or just a Summons, but I have heard whispers of an emperor in Purt and that Shannon himself had not been destroyed, only a part of him.”

“Shannon is not what you remember. He has changed. Even in the last year he has changed. Armond removed Gerome’s bond and bound him to Oirion. That alone forced him into new patterns and energy.”

“Oirion is Shannon’s partner?  And he is sane?” he looked up shocked.

Tavia shrugged. “I think he pretends to be. Much has changed for Oirion as well.  The man you knew died… several times.”

Riven sipped his tea and considered it all. “Tell me of the boys…” he said with a glance back at the three sleeping puppies.

Tavia told him everything she knew of all he asked about. He listened long and carefully, asking many things from her private life to the politics of the world. He made them a meal and they ate as they spoke slowly, without any rush to it. It was pleasant to slow down and simply talk with an old friend.

It was late when he lit a candle. “Tavia,” he said softly, “I have known you are a queen since the mountains of the Ulam Ar. The powers there showed me no less. Your crown does not, however, come from Shannon. You were born a queen. He might not know the details, but he feels it. I think we all did, even then. I think Armond gave you the crown to hide your truth. Not even the word of Armond will bind Shannon. He is beyond such things. He might honor Armond, for he loved him, but he will no more feel you are his wife than he did then. Worse, he may feel that Travis did it to keep shame and the life of being hunted from his unborn brother.”

“Shannon may well be changed from his bond with Oirion, but he is still Shannon. He still reads the emotions of men like you might read the lines of a stone or I the leaves of a flower. He is still a vampire and still… Shannon. He keeps us about him in order to save the world, not for his own heart. His heart is dead. That thing that beats in his chest is the heart Travis once wore, the thing that was once a core is now a pit into the abyss.  He is not a man, Riven.”

Riven touched her hand this time, mirroring the very gesture she had given to him.

“You’re wrong,” he said softly and got up. He opened the door and waited. He turned to make more tea. It wasn’t long before Theo ducked in through the door.

Outside thunder rolled and the storm energies shivered through the air. “Tavia…” Theo said, surprised she was there.

“Theo,” Riven grunted and set the third cup on the table.

“Very well, then. Drink the tea while I pack,” Riven said as he turned to pull out an old battered satchel and began to put all his things into it.

“How did you get here?” Theo asked.

“I walked, Theo,” she said with a little smile. Theo smiled faintly, then sipped the tea.  He savored it a long moment and sighed.

“Masterfully made, Riven.”

Riven grunted and dropped his stone box into the satchel.

 

 

Find the books on Createspace and Amazon

Look for art, maps, and more on Facebook: Novels of Shannon

https://www.amazon.com/Through-Barrier-Princes-Priests-Trilogy/dp/1481943936/ref=sr_1_10?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1485904512&sr=

Princes of Purt: Prince Von Valreen

Princes of Purt: chapter 13

-Prince Von Valreen

 

 

The Regent wasn’t well and it was far deeper than the arm he wore bound up. He lifted his eyes as the door opened. He was dressed grandly in black leather and red, his face looked flawless, but something was very wrong. He looked at DaHane without moving as they entered. DaHane began to fear the man’s reaction.

“I am sorry we didn’t bath…” DaHane bowed. “We came from the fields.”

The Regent straightened from where he had been leaning on the table. He looked to the other two men. He stepped around the table as both men went to their knees with their hands on the floor before him. He almost paused, almost looked like he wanted to cry.

He took hold of the king’s shoulder and pulled him up to his feet.

“Please don’t do that,” he said softly in Valreen.

“You are Regent…”

Oirion shook his head. “You are also my grandfather.” He turned to get a glass of wine off the table. “I didn’t know you were anywhere near.”

“I wasn’t. Shannon sent word some weeks ago for any fighters we had and so I thought I would come. I didn’t know why, but I found elves burning fields…. so I set to burning elves. I had hoped to take DaHane back with me, to appeal to Shannon again, but I find he has no need of me. You should have seen him!  My God, I don’t think I have ever seen such magic and power!”

“Not to be short, Grandfather, but you stink of blood and death.” Oirion motioned to an Elite in the doorway. “Can you take them to be bathed, fed, and given fresh clothes. It is bad etiquette here not to do so.”

“Wait, this is TyDaidren. He was invaluable. He has much to tell you.”

“I know. Please, give yourself a moment to bathe. We can eat and talk once you have changed. Shannon would ask that you not come into the inner court carrying so much… stray energy. It makes it hard for the current magics to focus right.”

“Oh. Oh!” he said, suddenly understanding. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t even think…”

“Just go bathe and change.”

The two men were led away. The Regent let them go and looked at DaHane again. “Are you hurt?”

“Not anything serious. Tired mostly, still a bit in shock, but…” he shrugged. “Are you alright?”

“I’ll be fine, just tired.” He took a step and shocked DaHane by catching him in a sudden hug. It was one strong arm that pulled him in. DaHane returned the hug as he realized how unlikely it might have been for him to live through the day. He had been sent out the north gate to be safe and had, instead, just fought a powerful king. The reality began to sink in.

“I’m really not very well, DaHane,” Oirion admitted. “I just want you to know I’m very proud of you… that I… care what happens and where you go.” He let DaHane go and pushed him a step back, “but now you need to go to my chambers and bathe. Grab something out of my wardrobe. Yours won’t fit you any more. You know the way?”

DaHane nodded. He turned to go, but stopped in the door and looked back to the man who watched him. “Thank you,” he said. He suddenly grinned. “I figured it out by the way… what it takes to inherit my father’s power.  Glad I did it in time to use it.”

The Regent smiled and chuckled a little. “Go bathe, DaHane. You reek of blood and sweaty fur.”

DaHane smiled and left to go to the Regent’s chamber to bath and change.

 

 

 

 

 

DaHane stared at himself in the mirror. He did not know the man who looked back at him. A man was what he was. He had a beard that grew smooth and soft off his jaw line as silky as his hair. He had grown so much he fit his father’s clothes, and for the first time he saw that he had the same sharp fangs as his mother.

He still looked young about his eyes, but he was no child and no one would think so, not even for a moment.  He turned as the door opened behind him.

Trya’Ara took a step in and stopped, looking at him with clear shock. He smiled at her shock, allowing her to see his new teeth. He couldn’t help but chuckle at her, but it was a deep almost-purr that came out instead.

“DaHane?” she asked uncertain.  “Are you wearing the Regent’s clothes?”

“Why yes, actually.” He admired the tunic he had chosen. “I think I am.” He smoothed the brocade silk and looked up to her. “Do you study him so closely you know his wardrobe?”

She lifted an icy brow and moved to the window. It was a moment later that the King of Valreen entered with TyDaidren, followed by the Regent, who took them at once through to the next chamber and a private meal.

Another man sat there. He was a horrid-looking man with a face that was half burned off. He was hunched-backed, his white hair nearly all missing. His limbs on his working side were thin as bone and the other side swollen and hulking. He lifted his good eye up to them as they entered. Then he dropped his eyes and stared at his plate.

DaHane chose to sit next to him. He liked him at once for some reason.

“This is Borrdick,” the Regent said. “He is one of Purt’s greatest minds. Please take a seat,” he said, sitting at the head of the table with Borrdick at his right.

An Elite came in to serve them food, then vanished again leaving them alone.

“Despite our victories of late, we are very far from done. Less than a quarter of the force has even landed and more are arriving,” Borrdick said. “However, many are moving north along the coast. I think they are going to forsake Ulam Bac to hit the empire itself. In the open we do not have the manpower to stop them and they know it.”

“All throughout Purt there are pockets of Purtan warriors,” Tydaidren said. “We will rise and come. Hidden away and waiting, they will wake and return to Purt.”

“What do you mean?” Tyra Ara asked. “There are no hidden colonies of Purtans. Gerome has hunted us to a few scattered fortresses.”

“Throughout Purt there are the sleepers,” he said. “I command the Guards of the House. Instead of fighting a war we could not win, we chose to wait for the right time. We gathered into hidden places and sealed ourselves in.  For some of us, the magic held better than others. Some have ended up  working as guards while other play the roles of beggars and stable hands. Many feared the return of Tyredelle a trick of demons to lure us out, but now the majority has decided to emerge to his aid.”

“You are bound to the living line of Von Armond?” Borrdick asked as Dave entered the room, taking the last seat.

“Sorry, I had to… uh… deal with something,” he said as reached to fill his plate.

“As you were saying…” Trya Ara said to the man at the table.

“Using magic, we sealed our gates to wait for the time things would be restored.  We expected that to be Tyrell’s return, but clearly that was not it.”

“So what changed?”

“It began about two weeks ago.”

“Two weeks ago?” Tyra Ara asked.  “That’s when the boys were taken.”

“That’s when Shannon made Dave heir and left the empire,” Oirion said. “He placed the living bloodline of Armond in full power over Purt.”

“You’re in power,” Tyra Ara said to him.

“No. He gave Dave command. Dave and I are old enough friends we know what each other is good at and don’t need to have a pissing match over things.”

“He is not emperor, not fully in power as long as Shannon lives,” she objected.

“She doesn’t like me,” Dave told the men who watched the unfolding. “She thinks I’m uncivilized, and I think she needs to pull the ice pick out of her ass.”

She turned cold eyes on him.  DaHane didn’t hide his snicker too well. “She thinks I’m a little beast and a bad influence on the children.”

“You are a little beast,” Dave grinned.

“And you’re a pirate, you scoundrel!” he gasped in mockery of her. Dave chuckled.

“You’re the line of Armond?” TyDaidren asked Dave.

“As I understand it, Tyrell’s sister’s son had a son and he in turn sired my father,” Dave shrugged. “The rest of the line was hunted out by Stalkers centuries ago. I can’t pass the name, I don’t think.  I’m just me and then it’s all done. Armond hinted as much and so here I am.”

“Do you have any children?” TyDaidren asked curious. “Have you had it tested?”

“Oh, trust me, my son won’t be emperor!”

DaHane grinned at Dave’s reaction.

“You’re young yet, though.  You can have many children; one of them might gain the power of your blood line.”

“You’re talking as if Shannon is not coming back,” Tyra Ara said shocked.

“In the laws of Purt,” Beldan  said softly, leaning forward, “in the case that the emperor goes to war and he does not expect to return, he will name his heir and pass the key on so that we do not end up with no emperor. If Purt agrees with the choice, then the power will shift to the heir until such time as the emperor does return.  Normally that man is titled with being the regent, but as we already have a regent, the key goes to the King of Crouse. That would be you, Dave.”

“Why would he do that?” Dave asked. “Even if he wanted out and thought he might not come back, what’s he plan on?  Oirion getting killed?”

“Oh, you know me; I do that every few years anyway, keeps me angry and short-tempered,” Oirion said with an easy shrug.

“That’s not funny!” Dave scolded him.

“No,” Borrdick said. “He expects Oirion to join him. As long as he is out, I think he plans to go after the Barrier and that’s why he took Jamie with him.  He needs the High Priest in him and the healer as well. He won’t be coming back.”

“He’s immortal,” Dave objected.  “He has a son and wife!”

“Rajak might yet be made emperor,” Borrdick said, “if he comes home. Until then, Dave… clearly you’re it.”

“That is not going to work!” Dave objected. “I cannot have more children and Zou will not be accepted by Purt… and you know it, Borrdick!”

“So you rule until Rajak comes of age. One thing at a time, Dave. First, let’s keep hold of Purt, and then worry about who says the price of tax.”

Dave dropped back in his chair, clearly upset. “He has to come back.”

“That’s great,” TyDaidren said. “We will honor it, but I don’t think it was that. Something else woke us. What else happened?”

“Zou was taken,” Dave said folding his arms over his chest. “He likely tried to pull on magics to help him protect the prince.”

“Are you certain Zou is your son?” Tyra’Ara asked Dave with a sick troubled look.

Dave shot her a dark look. “Don’t even start with me, woman. I really am not in the mood for you.”

“He’s Dacan at best!”

Dave narrowed his eyes at her. “You keep in mind that he is the only thing protecting your son right now. Maybe you should consider being grateful he is a good heart and would risk his life to do so.”

“Enough,” Oirion laid his hand on her arm. “Ara, focus,” he said softly. “We have armed men, more than we had before. We need to get them uniforms, healers, anything they need.”

The talk fell to Borrdick speaking with the general about the magic used to seal and hide the places of the lords of Purt. They rest were quickly lost and had their own thoughts to worry about. Dinner was not over soon enough. DaHane just wanted to go to bed before he went back out to the field. He was exhausted, and terrified that sooner or later someone would figure out why.

“DaHane,” Borrdick caught him in the hallway. “Will you walk with me?”

DaHane could not say no and walked with the horrid-looking man back to his chambers and found the Regent waiting for them.

“We are going to meet the elves at the coast,” Oirion said.  “We will use whatever we have to in order to stop them.”

Borrdick closed and locked the door. “I expect storms and for it you might need to know what your father looks like,” Borrdick said.  DaHane watched the Regent take off an amulet he wore. He was no longer the Red Purtan at all, but almost human looking… almost, but clearly Purtan.  His white hair was long and soft, his face white and strained with pain.

“If I am targeted and the magics break, this is what you might find,” he said in a tired and soft voice. “It can be explained away as soul of Father Oirion coming to the aid of Purt or something… I don’t care. They will get past me only over my dead body.”  He put the amulet back on and became the Regent again. “You have to keep Dave here. Even if I am lost, death is not an option for me right now, so don’t be too worried about it… just carry on.”

“How is death not an option?”

“I’m soul-bonded to a demon. I don’t think I could die even if I wanted to. I missed that chance a few years ago.”

“That’s my job then? Stay here and keep Dave safe.”

“I need to know Dave won’t get killed. If he dies, the line of emperor is lost. We need him to have the power to fight this war. I don’t care if you have to chain him to his chair and have the Elites hold him down, he is not to leave the city so long as the elves are attacking us. I have already spoken to Umren and he will back you up on that.  Shannon gave him very similar orders.”

DaHane nodded. “You know you might want to think about yourself in the same way. I am not so sure Shannon can live without you. The loss of you might drive him insane and over the edge.”

“It is true,” Borrdick said to Oirion. “I am glad you see that,” he nodded to DaHane.

“I don’t plan to die. I am going to risk a lot to stop them, but it’s more about risk to the land and the magics than myself. I stopped them once in the south and dropped half a kingdom into the tides. It might happen again.”

DaHane nodded. “Does my great-grandfather know who you are?”

“Yes, but this needs to never be spoken of outside the room and ideally never again, either. There is a reason it’s not mentioned, not even among friends.”

“Can I ask you one thing then before I drop it forever?”

“Sure,” he said sinking into the chair as Borrdick handed them all tea. DaHane took it and sat as well.

“Did you love my mother?”

Oirion laughed a little. “The woman you know is nothing like the wild cat I knew. I wish you could see her as she was then. I think you’d be delighted at how wild and outspoken she was.” He took a sip of tea. “I cannot even begin to tell you how sad and lonely a man I was, and there she was daring me to either die and be done with it, or get over it.”  He began to, for once, tell stories about Salma and the company as he knew them and recalled them. Safe in Borrdick’s sanctuary, he told the stories DaHane would have never heard and would likely never have a chance to hear again.

He finished late, with the sun rising outside, and sighed. He looked at his son, who had become a man by the magics and powers of Purt and by his own race.

“God willing I will one day be able to tell her how much she meant to me and have her know it is me who says it,” he shrugged. “I don’t think I’ll have to wear this long and then…” he shrugged as he turned the amulet in his hand. “So yes, to answer your question, I guess I did love her and I suppose I still do.”

DaHane nodded and smiled. “Good luck with the day,” he said as he stood. “My tea is gone and my questions all answered. Thank you,” he bowed to his father and left the room.

Borrdick sighed. “You know you likely won’t live though what you plan to do.”

“I know. It’s a good thing I know a necromancer then, isn’t it.” Oirion pushed himself up, looked at the man seriously a moment, then headed of the door.

“I’ll do my part, Oirion, but I do not know what this will do with you being bonded to Shannon. He is not a mortal man, but he is in a mortal body.”

“If this is not what they wanted, then the gods can step in at any time,” he said, “but I hurt too damned much to play games with elves.”

Borrdick sighed heavily. “I know. Go on, I’ll watch and aid as I can.”

 

 

 

***********

 

 

DaHane had to get up because he hurt too much to lie in bed any longer. While he slept, someone had brought him new clothes and a robe laid out for him. He sat on the bedside looking at his hands. His finger tips were all bruised and the skin ripped and scabbed up around the claws that had retracted into his fingers. HHHe flexed his hands, watching the claws come out. They were pretty impressive, he had to admit, but it hurt to flex.

With a sigh he got up, picked up the heavy embroidered silk robe and pulled it on. His fingertips hurt far too much to button the hundred buttons that ran from his chin to the floor. He looked down at the new body he wore. No amount of training with Jamie would have given what he gained in one moment of breathing in his father’s power.

He had soft smooth hair down the center of his chest and over his pecks, as smooth as a well-groomed cat and long enough to run finger through. He pulled the robe closed over his new body, thinking how funny it was that his father, as well, was something of shape-shifter.

Umren entered with a breakfast tray. DaHane almost cheered, but the Elite didn’t come alone. Umren set the tray down on the side-table. DaHane walked over, having to admit he was starving. Three servants set to emptying out the wardrobe, putting in new clothes and stripping the bed.

“I wasn’t sure you would be up,” Umren said.

“How is the city holding up?”

“You have been off the field ten hours and you already worry?” Umren smiled a little. “It is in good hands at the moment and there have been no new attacks. Borrdick and Tyra’Ara are working to shore-up the magics, while the Regent and King Valreen are trying to get the people to moving, and working to get provisions and shelters ready, preparing for the next wave.” With a glance toward the woman who was hanging new clothes in DaHane’s wardrobe, he asked softly, “How do you feel?”

“My hands hurt,” DaHane showed his hands, his robe falling open as he did. He caught it closed, clearing his throat a little.

“Good Lord!” Umren took one of hands to look at it. “Do you want me to call a healer?”

“No,” DaHane said, his heart racing at being touched. He pulled his hand back a little. “I’d rather not make an issue about it.”

“Alright,” Umren said. “Why don’t you sit and eat, and I can fill you in on the details of the battle. There are some who might find great comfort if you went and saw them or even in you knowing their names.” He pulled out a folder and opened it. “Here is the list of masons who worked on the wall.” He turned the paper over as DaHane took a slice of apple.

“So few?” he asked.

“Most of them worked until they collapsed and are still sleeping to recover.”

“There has to be a way to reward them.”

“How would you like me to?”

The woman with the old clothes left with the woman who had seen to DaHane’s bed. The other woman was still at her task with the wardrobe. DaHane wished she would go away. On the other hand, he wasn’t sure he wanted to be alone with Umren. Umren was far from the nearly Mad vampire on his knees. He was third in command in Purt right now. DaHane was a boy who lucked out with having a very powerful father and a mother whose race allowed him to become a wizard and a warrior overnight with no effort of his own.

“What do you mean?” DaHane asked.

“It was your command… how shall I reward them? You want them given money? Rank? Land? How shall they be rewarded?”

“I can do that?” the young man asked, uncertain and bit shocked.

“Shannon left command that you were to be treated and seen as Prince Von Valreen, heir to Valreen, so… yes. And as he assigned me to be your personal bodyguard and I know what and where all Purt’s resources are… just tell me what you want and it’s yours.”

DaHane looked at the list of names. “How much do they normally make a year? How do they live?”

“They all live day to day in tenement housing belonging to the guild under the rule of a guild boss, who, by the way, has made it clear to them that any payment they receive for their efforts belongs to the guild and they will get only their own weekly allotment.”

“Oh, that’s not right.”

“I didn’t think you would think so,” Umren said with a hint of a smile. He rubbed his lips as if he had an unconscious itch.

“Can we make each man his own boss?”

“Yes, we can. They can be a boss if they are given a crown approval, a shop, and pay the fee to the guild house.”

“Can we do that?”

“Yes. Maybe not all in Ulam Bac, but we can set them up all over Crouse, all over Purt, send a few to Norwood, Valreen, wherever, but yes.”

“Let’s do that, and that guild boss, task him personally with the clearing of the rubble,” DaHane said. “I want his hands dirty.

Umren glanced up as he made notes, with a little chuckle.

“I can see to that as well.” He slid the paper to the bottom of the stack. “These are the children under twenty who fought. The names with the stars are those who did so against paternal orders, those with an x are those who are orphan, and those with the slash are those who fought with permission.”

DaHane slowly looked over the list of names. There were so many of them. A list of children…. DaHane felt sick. He should be on that list. According to his age, he was considered a child. He sighed heavily and set the list down on the table, all five pages of it.

“Can we give the orphans a house and schooling?”

“Yes.”

“The against orders – give them an offer for military entry in any of the emperor’s kingdoms they choose, a pension for the next five years, and a horse?”

“Yes,” Umren made notes.

“Those with the blessing of family; give them five years tax exemption, a purse, and…” he didn’t know what. “Maybe a house if the family has none, or something for those who do. I don’t know. It’s hard to defy family to do what’s right, but to bless a child to go fight is difficult.” He felt sick for Zou and missed him terribly all of a sudden.

“Zou is well-trained, Shannon is in contact with him, he is not alone. Focus here, DaHane,” Umren said, whispering in the language of Brackin.

DaHane swallowed hard. “You read me so well?” DaHane asked.

Umren looked up. “I’m a vampire, My Prince. I read everyone who does not shield against me, well. I will teach you how to shield better, but not at the moment. I need you to be a Prince of Purt right now.”

DaHane nodded and tried to focus. “Alright, give them extra food for the family.”

Umren finished his notes and slid them away, then handed him the list of men and women who had fought. DaHane looked them over, page after page of them.

“Did so many truly come? Did so many truly come and follow my madness?”

“Yes.”

DaHane nodded and looked them over. “How many of them are on the list of the children with families who either blessed or ordered against?”

“That is this,” Umren pointed to a small slash mark in the line of symbols on the side of the page.

DaHane leaned back trying to think like a prince as to how he could make it well worth it to fight for the emperor and for him. He wasn’t sure how to make it something that mattered and yet would be hard to squander or lose. He took several bites of the sausage on the plate. “For the families who had both children and adults fight, could we make the house a little better? Or give them land enough that the children can have their own when they come of age, or something like that? The adults who forbid their children; let’s help them with whatever skill they have. If they are smiths or artisans, can we help them with that?”

“DaHane, please stop asking me.  Just tell me what you want.”

DaHane scowled. “I’m not used to giving orders,” he objected.

“You had no trouble on the field.”

“That was different.”

“No, it’s not. You fought for their lives and this is the same fight. You fought to save the empire and this is the same thing. How do we help them stay alive and fight for their own lives?”

DaHane took the tea and sipped at it. He ran his tongue over his new teeth and swore when he cut his tongue. He touched the spot tenderly with a finger. “Those without children who fought, give them military option, for criminals of minor crimes, forgive them of it, of those in debt, help them get free of it, and make sure they have a purse and a place to stay. They can have a small place in another kingdom or an apartment here in Ulam Bac.”

“Would you like them to have anything as one? For comradery between them? In Norwood, Shannon gave each man from each battle or zone, route or training, a small badge that all others who had been there or endured the same might recognize and know who had fought with them.”

“Yes. Is there a way to make a sort of pin for their collars. Maybe something that makes me seem less scary when this is over.”

“A silver talon?”

“Maybe not something so… animal,” he tried not to make a face.

“I’ll talk to the jeweler myself, but yes.”

“Alright,” DaHane nodded. “What’s the rest?”

“These,” Umren handed over the last pages, “are those who died. The mark there means their bodies have been found and identified. The marks without names are of unarmed civilians who have been found, but are neither fighters nor claimed.”

DaHane went through the pages slowly. “So many,” he said softly.

“Our death toll was far less than the death toll in Port Hall or the Harbor. You did well.”

DaHane wasn’t so sure he had. “Has the Regent seen these?”

“Yes; as Regent he will deal with the dead and their families. As the general, you deal with the living.”

The wardrobe woman left as DaHane looked over the lists of the hundreds of names of dead and almost as many of unknowns. He did not feel ready for this. It was one thing to charge into a fight with the power of his father pounding though him, making him feel utterly invincible; it was another to sit here and presume to think himself able to do this.

“You really need to work on your shields,” Umren said.

DaHane looked up from the list. “My shields are as tight as they were before.”

“Maybe, but you have a thousand times more power than you did a few days ago. You need to apply that much to your shields.”

DaHane focused on the shields Jamie had taught him to wear. It took a bit of work, but he felt them shift with the deeper energy that was now a depth to his chest he had never realized could be possible.

“It needs a little finesse, but that’s much better.”

“You can’t hear my every thought then?”

“It’s not like that exactly… it’s more like I feel what you feel. When I know that is not something I normally feel, I deduce it’s you.”

“How?” DaHane asked with a little laugh. “I know your rank; I know the sort of shields you wear.”

“Because of what you did, DaHane. I’m living off of your energy right now.” He put his hand on DaHane’s knee leaning forward a little. “It doesn’t go away for us. Not when it goes that deep. Until every breath of it is used up, it stays.”

DaHane wasn’t sure what that meant exactly. “So you’re a little more connected to me than you like?” he asked, trying to understand.

“Oh, I don’t know I’d say that exactly.” Umren got up with a troubled sigh.

“I was right to do it and you know it,” DaHane defended his demanding that Umren use him.

“I know,” Umren said walking to the door. He put his hand on it. “Not only for stability of things, but because Shannon needs to know he has a traitor among the Elites. If anything happens to me, you can at least make sure he knows.”

“I will, but I am not certain Purt can stand if you aren’t able deal with it. Knowing is not enough.”

“I hope I can figure out who and end them before Shannon gets back, but I don’t know. Whoever he is, he is very high-ranking and very powerful. Honestly, I trust none of them right now.”

“Not a good time for Shannon to be inside the Barrier then.”

“No. I covered for him last time, but I am not Shannon.” He looked at DaHane. “I am not necessarily a good man to have close, DaHane. You know what I am.”

“I’m a Sphinx,” DaHane said. “My mother is Salma; my education has been quite in depth about what you are. You think just anyone could surrender so completely and easily as I did? My mother’s race is considered vampiric.”

“What you did was… terrifying. Even those who are trained can’t do that.”

“I guess I am gifted,” DaHane said, trying to lighten the mood and conversation a little. He leaned back in the chair.

Umren almost seemed more troubled by how much DaHane wasn’t bothered by it. “I could have consumed your soul,” he said.

“You didn’t. In fact, I suspect without what you did, I wouldn’t have been able to do what I did. I was a mess. You cleared my head.”

“How can you not be scared of me?”

“Why do you care?”

“Shannon commanded me to…”

“To what? To care what I felt or thought?”

“No.”

“Then what?”

“To take care of you. To watch your back and do what I can to help you find your place.”

“Why does Shannon care? I mean, the man is five thousand years old and more demon than man. I’m just a…” he waved his hand vaguely, “I am just a half-breed freak.”

“You are the son of two of the people he loves most in this world. You are family to his heart,” Umren said shocked that DaHane might think so little of himself. “If he had any idea what you did, what I did, he might cast me to hell. I’m not even joking, DaHane. Don’t you dare laugh it off!”

“You were under orders… my orders,” DaHane said seriously, standing up. “Look, Umren, either you let me be a prince who gives orders or not, but you can’t expect me to command men and then have you mother-hen me.”

Umren drew a deep breath and let his shoulders sink slowly as he took a more proper and controlled stance. “You’re right,” he walked over. “You are my Prince and I am here to serve you and help you get where you need to be, and where Shannon needs you to be. I just hope he never finds out.” He reached out and drew DaHane’s collar closed and began to do the buttons.

“So,” DaHane said carefully, “are we all done talking about the energy thing?”

“Yes. I won’t bring it up again if you don’t.”

“Good.” DaHane watched him work his way down the buttons, building up the courage to bring up what was on his mind. Then he had to figure out how to bring it up. “I wanted to thank you for the other thing, too. I don’t know how much you know about Sphinx, but we need… uhm… we have our own needs as much as you have yours. We sort of get lost in our own heads without it and can even go crazy. There is nothing more painful than to be left alone.”

Umren didn’t say anything. He just kept working his way down the length of the robe front.

“Umren,” DaHane said trying to sound as grownup as he could. “If you don’t say something, I am going to think you are insulted by it.”

“Insulted?” Umren almost laughed, but there was a bit of something in his tone that DaHane didn’t understand. He sank to a knee to finish the buttons. “I’m pretty sure I started that,” he muttered in Norwood.

“You know I speak over a dozen languages, right?” DaHane said. “Including Norwood.”

Umren finished and rose. He stood before DaHane, a good two heads taller than the young man. “I’m not sure what to say… that’s the problem. I am not accustomed to that. Part of the reason I hold the rank I do is because I can deal with people more easily than most. On the other hand, for the last few thousand years I have been in the high court of Norwood where it is command and rule and ritual. I’m not sure what you want me to do. I have taught a thousand young men to be generals, lords, commanders of every rank and level you can imagine, but none of them are you.”

“You realize that Sphinx are considered adults at twelve?”

“How long do they live?”

“We don’t know. None of us have died of old age yet. Tends to be violent death. My point is that it’s one thing to be mad at me; it’s another to be upset because I’m half your height and by Purtan standards, I’m a child.”

“I’m…” Umren was at a loss for words. He honestly looked confused. If DaHane hadn’t been so involved in the topic himself and struggling through it as well, he might have laughed. There was a knock on the door and before either could even react, Tyra’Ara stepped in.

“Good, you’re up,” she said with no apology. “The Lord Regent says I am to tell you that you are expected at the formal meals for now. Lord Umren can let you know when you should be ready and where to go.”

DaHane strode over and held the door for her. “Thank you so much,” he said as he pushed the door shut in her face. “I thought you locked that.”

“I did,” Umren scowled.

“What? She picked your lock?”

“No! She most certainly did not. I outrank her on her best day. No, an Elite did and left it open for her,” he almost snarled. “I’m being set up, DaHane. Someone who knows me very well wants me gone.”

“Or what? They expect to find you raving mad in my bedroom?”

“Not exactly.”

“Then what?” DaHane demanded, slapping a lock spell on the door with such power and ease it actually startled him.

“Someone knows very well what happened in that rubble.”

“Obviously. They tried to kill you and I came back soaked in your blood. So what? They going to run and tell Shannon? Wouldn’t that be sort of a confession?”

“I wasn’t referring to that part of it.”

DaHane was about to growl at him and actually felt it in his chest. “What… they think you’re going to take advantage of the poor Hennen bastard? That I can face and kill an elven king but I can’t handle the Elite commanded to my side by Shannon himself?”

“Something like that, yes.”

“Maybe they should consider that Shannon knows damn well what I am, knows you inside and out, and put you right here for a damned reason!”

“Since I had not considered that, I doubt very much they would have.”

“Well, consider it!” DaHane snapped at him. “Did he not tell you take care of me?”

“Well, yes, but…”

“Maybe having the half-breed son of Oirion Hennen paying for whores isn’t a good thing for the empire, so figure out what his orders mean before I am left no other option.” He jerked open the door, shattering his own spell, and went to go find Zou, realized he was gone, and turned instead for the cathedral. Zou and Jamie were both gone, but the walls still stood. Maybe he might find some peace there.

 

End part 12 edits

Brakin Bound-Awakenings: Princes of Purt

Princes of Purt:

-Brakin Bound

-Awakening

The ship was one of the great ships of the Norwood fleet that now was attempting to patrol nearly all of Purt’s waters.  It was by far the grandest ship that Tavia had ever seen, let alone been on. Her cabin was nearly as large and fine as her chambers in the palace.  It had widows that looked out of the starboard wall of the ship, far above the water.  She had it alone, while Salma and Kelly shared another across the hallway of the lower-deck. Theo had one at the bow that was no less grand, but the one Shannon had…

Tavia swallowed a little harder. She had not spoken to Shannon more than a word or two since all of this had begun. He neatly avoided her, down to the point of having the Empress’s court and his own, the empress’s dinners and a separate dinner for those who would deem themselves worthy of him. It played well for many who felt that they disliked each other for the same reason racial conflict was sending the empire into civil war… again.

The other rumor was simply that he didn’t care for the touch of women, but was in love with the stunning and powerful regent. They whispered that the partnership was not real as those of the priesthood, but only played to be. Poor Oirion, if he knew of that rumor he would be a bit upset and unable to do anything about it.

Shannon stood at the window of his chamber looking out over the night. The moons had risen, but the clouds hid most of the light. They were the only lighting in the chamber and Shannon was just a dark outline against the windows. She knew that he knew she was there, but she wasn’t sure how to deal with him. Here, in this role, he was not who he had been in the wilds of the forbidden lands.

“The elves have attacked Purt?” she asked finally.

“Yes,” he said with a soft voice, but not the Purtan Whisper he used nearly always. The show of intimacy and openness made her even more uneasy.

“They hold?”

“For now,” he said.

“All I wanted was to have a quiet place on a river bank and plant a little garden. That’s all I wanted,” she tried to apologize.

Shannon didn’t move at all. She didn’t know how to react to him here. She missed the way she had been with her friends in those days. Not even Salma was herself, nor Dave, nor Kelly. They were all strangers pretending to be friends. Kelly, of all of them, seemed most honest. She at least offered a warm strong arm to hold her with.

“Tell me, at least, that we will get him back,” she breathed.

Shannon turned from the window. He was just an outline to her, but she was certain he could see her just fine, maybe even better in the dark than in the light.

“If we were not over so much salt water, Theo could just step over and grab them up and bring them back. If I was certain it wasn’t a trap, I could do it now.”

“Are we following them?”

“Not exactly. We are expecting them to land in Northern Dacan. We will land and Theo will go for them. If we are close enough, he and I might time it to go together. We do not need to overtake them on the water.”

“Why am I here then?  Why are Kelly and Salma?  You do not need us.”

“We are not going back to Purt. I do not think I will ever go back to Purt.” He turned back to the window. “Once we have the boys, we head for Ulam Ar.”

She stood shocked and still, and yet part of her thrilled. Maybe, just maybe, he would become the Shannon she had known and trusted with her life. In this one conversation he had said more to her than since they had had been on the fields of the nomads.

She shifted on her feet, then walked toward him. She stopped when he almost turned to look at her, but he stayed where he was and made himself look back to the window.

“I fled my past. I had to. I did not mean to not tell you… it just didn’t matter.”

“You do not need to explain yourself. I likely know more about it now than you do. My family has been at odds with the Ep’Shek’s for three generations. After what his Teppe’s grandfather did to Malkoot, the elven lords swore they would end the line. They failed. When I was still the second son, I was supposed to marry an elven princess to mend that rift between races. When my brother died and I was made heir, that was revoked.”

“I didn’t know you had a brother.”

“His death pushed my father over the edge. TyRen was his favorite.  I was born to be his playmate and for no other reason.  He never forgave me that I lived; that Ren did not.”

“You can’t know that.”

“Yes, I can.” He almost laughed. “I was an adept empath by the time I was twelve. I had to wear shields as tight as I do now so that I did not go insane with the conflicts of the city or make the entire city feel the way I did. Playing with the emotional energies of others has always been a talent I guess.”  He said it almost with mock pride, but bitterness crept into it.

“You must find it a relief when others shield their emotions away then.”

“Quite.”

She stood, not sure what to say, but wanting to say something, anything to him. She wanted him to know she had forgiven him and understood it was not his will and not his actions that had made him do what he had done to her.

“My earliest memories were of being a slave. I had dreams then, but few. I can’t even tell you where I was born or to what race. I know he altered me. I know he used magics and I know why. For all his magic, he could not force the gender. The girls were killed right away. I planned, I studied, I hid my mind and my emotions and when I was ready… Travis was born in a wood someplace in Ramdell. When the storm hit the ship I thought it was him trying to get Travis back.”

Shannon didn’t move for a long time, but she stayed. Sooner or later he would have to turn, or talk… or something.

“Victa and her people are the descendants of the Druids from Malkoot, the few who fled north,” he finally said. “The fact you know their language, it stands to reason that so are you. Many were taken as slaves in the invasion.  The druids were hunted out.  Purt moved too slowly to save them.”

“So, either I was born a slave or am very old.”

“Either or,” he agreed.

“It does not matter to you?”

“No.”

She took several more steps to stand at his side so she could look at the moonlight on his face.  He didn’t move, just stood with perfect stillness.

The door opened with Theo coming in. “I got a hold of Ivan. Ezeer is taking to ship to aid Purt and Ivan will meet us in Amen Ren. He’ll sail south until he meets up with us. I think I found Riven, as well, but it’s hard to say. Shannon, I can’t step through the Barrier. I have tried you know.  Once we go in, I will be as foot-bound as anyone.”

Shannon nodded. “I suspected as much.”

“Riven is in Feno, as best I can tell.”

Shannon nodded. “Good. Why don’t you go tell Kelly and Salma to start sparring and get back in shape; they have both gotten softer than they were. They have become guards and politicians more than warriors.”

“And me?” Theo asked.  “Should I spar with Kelly?”

“Not unless you want to get hurt,” Shannon said glancing back with a hint of a smile.

Theo grinned. “You sure that’s all we need?”

“Once we have the boys, then we will have enough.”

Theo nodded. “Alright. I’ll go warn them that we aren’t headed back. Anything else?”

“Tell Kelly the temple fires have been lit and false priests are appearing like maggots all over the desert.  She might want to consider Raz’s reaction to false priesthood and act on it.”

“I don’t think we need Raz awake right now.”

“That was not my fault.  Dave was behind that one.”

Theo made a little face. “I’ll go talk to them. You want me to look in on Oirion or anything else before I get some rest?”

“No. He is safer if we don’t. Sooner or later someone will learn your trick and lay-in-wait for you. Limit it if you can.”

Theo nodded. “Alright then, good night, Shannon.” He slipped out, closing the door.

“It’s funny, you know,” Tavia said. “To think of Theo as that pathetic little man that he was. To see him now you would never think it and of all the men of the company for him to be your friend…”

Shannon actually looked at her. “The warp was very good for him. Being allowed to be accepted for who he was, not hated for the powers he held, was even more important.”

She had to admit it was oddly intimate to have him both talk openly and to look at her as he did. “Maybe he wasn’t the only one who needed that,” she said.

He looked back to the window and the setting moons. “Theo isn’t my only friend,” he said softly, almost sadly.

“Who?” she teased. “Oirion?”

He actually groaned. “I was actually referring to Owenmen.”

“Who?”

“He is an Ezeeren holy man. He found me drinking in a tavern in Norwood on the verge of losing control.  He drug me to Ezeer to pull myself together.”

“He is five thousand years old?”

“He was old when he found me; I have no idea how old he is. I don’t think he does either. He was born high on the moors and was a grown man with children when he was called to the priesthood. He left grown children to live as a hermit on a northern island until he felt he was ready.  He wandered Ezeer a time; then knew he was needed in Norwood.  He’s been with me since, I suppose.  He wanders off for decades at a time, but he comes back.”

“That’s how you knew Ivan was more than he seemed?”

Shannon shrugged. “If I could escape myself and my pain the way Ivan did, I would have.  Block it out, drink it away, and try to get killed seems a good method to me.  Do that a few hundred years and a man might even forget who he was.”

“Ivan’s that old?”

“He’s about eight hundred years old. He was crown prince when Gerome invaded Ezeer about that long ago. He led a rebel force for a long time before the end came. He imposed exile on himself when his father knelt down to Gerome after betraying him.”

“He has his throne back now though, right?”

“Thanks to Theo, and the right timing. Gallus commanded all Church out of the kingdom of Ezeer about a week before the massacre would have hit the major cities. Ivan would have won, but at a high cost. The priests who stayed died and were hung from the walls of the churches, just as Gerome had hung the Ezeeren priests when he invaded. They burned the churches to the ground and have been taking the stones to build harbors.

“I imagine an army of Ivan’s can move a lot of stone.”

Shannon nodded a little. “I imagine so.”

She stood and looked out as Omegan set below the horizon of water far to the west.  The night became dark.

“Do you realize you have said more to me tonight than since we were in the mountains of Ulam Ar?” she asked, almost to herself.

“When we crossed the lands before, the body I had was immortal, build of magic and energies. This one is not. I was far stronger then and it still nearly destroyed me. If I take the wrong injury, I will lose every last bit of Tyredelle.”

“This time Gerome is not hunting us and we do not go unaware. This time you go with allies, not burdens. Your choices then may well save the world today.”

He looked over at her. She wished she could see his face, but it was just too dark.

“Too much has been asked of you already, Tavia. If I didn’t need you to hold one of the points in the ring I would have sent you to Norwood to find that river bank and plant that garden you desire.”

“You plan to get to Ulam Ar and beyond, and just who did you think would be making tea and fires? Kelly? You?”

To the east, pink light flushed up into the sky and lit the tattered clouds into gold and oranges. “You don’t have to make peace with me Tavia. I know your value. I am still what I was then, only weaker.  Don’t try to pick my shields apart.”

She watched the light show his face and debated what to say and what to do. She knew whatever she did would affect the entire trip.

“This time you can’t refuse to eat. This time you need to.”

He actually smiled before he caught himself. He looked out to the sunrise, squinting his eyes against the light. She almost cheered for it.  The smile played at the corner of his mouth as he watched the sun lift over the water.

“Purtans have very good memory. It is why things affect us the way they do. It is the way our energy cords connect to the brain. Sometimes this is a great benefit… it makes learning complex things easier to retain, but on the other hand, you remember other things as well. I remember every word, every motion, everything you ever did in those camps.”

She let him watch the sun for a bit before she was able to put her words together.

“You don’t have to make peace with me, Shannon,” she said.  “I know you loved Travis. I don’t blame you for what happened; I just miss him.” She turned and left him to be alone and think. She didn’t know what else to say and the silence was starting to be uncomfortable. She returned to her cabin, but it was still, empty, and her baby was not there. She turned to the door on the other side and knocked softly.

Kelly opened the door almost at once and let her in. Tavia entered the chamber to take a seat where Salma was at a small table picking at the breakfast of fruits and cheese that had been brought.

The sphinxen woman wore a dress very like Tavia’s, but it seemed to steal away the woman’s brightness. Tavia hated the way Salam’s fire seemed to be so crushed. She sank down.

“How was it?” Salma asked.

“How was what?” Tavia asked her softly.

“Talking to Shannon! Is he mad? Was he nice to you?”

“Shannon is always nice to me,” she said looking to the stunning green eyes of the woman across from her.

“Always?” Salma asked picking a fruit.  “I don’t believe you, Tavia.”

“Rajak was not born of kindness,” Kelly said, allowing Tavia to know they knew. The big woman set down tea she had made and took a seat as well.

Tavia sighed and folded her hands in her lap. They had never mentioned it and had never spoken of it, but it made sense. Neither of them looked at Shannon the same way as they had once. They had to know the truth. Tavia didn’t want to remember it, but for the friends and for the fact they would soon be traveling as a company again, they had to know.

“The palace was stripping energy from him faster than he could recover.  He was pushed over into revelation of his… darker side.” She smoothed her hands. “Somehow he pulled himself out of that. He recognized me and fought for control. He had already choked it down and fallen away before anyone else got there.” She looked to her friends.  “He just fell on the floor, sobbing, saying he was sorry over and over. You ever see Shannon cry?”

“No,” Salma admitted softly.

“Well, he did. Next time you see him, you think about that. And trust me, I have been hurt far worse. Compared to Travis, Rajak was born of kindness and gentleness.”

Salma looked away with a troubled sadness. “It is his father then? The elf who attacks Purt?” Kelly asked.

“Yes. He is a terrible man. He savors his darkness as much as Shannon hates his. He enjoys inflicting pain for the sake of pain itself, not just for the magic he could drink off of it.  It is better to die than to be captured by him.” She looked at Salma all of a sudden. “So how did DaHane come about again? You took off before you even showed at all.”

Salma sliced at her chosen fruit. “It just happened. I only meant to help him sleep. A back massage you know, but…”

“Was he clumsy?” Kelly asked, surprising the other two.  Salma laughed a little.

“Oh yes, but he was honest and with a bit of practice…” she sighed. “No one has ever compared.  I bet Dave was no clumsy-handed priest, though.”

Kelly smiled and actually blushed. “Certainly not.”

Tavia laughed a little at the honesty they had just shared. It was not about court, about who might be there to overhear, or anything else. It was just them being together.

“I miss him,” Salma whispered, “and the way it was. I miss how he made Shannon both stronger and more mortal at the same time.”

“We all do,” Kelly said.

“He’s not dead, you know,” Tavia said.  She took a bite of the fruit.

“Yes, he is. I saw the tomb, Tavia.”

“He’s not dead. He’s no more dead than Tyredelle Von Armond is,” Salma said.

Kelly shifted uncomfortably in her chair.  Both women looked to her.

“Whisper to yourself the stories and you’ll know,” Salma said. “I can’t say anything; you have to see it for yourself and then still say nothing. I don’t understand the magic, but not even Shannon can talk of it at all.”

Kelly leaned forward dropping an arm on the table and glared at Tavia. “If you tell me that that pompous regent has anything to do with it, I am going to break his jaw!”

Tavia shrugged. “He did save Salma and DaHane from a mob. And he does certainly look after that boy like he is family.”

Kelly hit the table making the bowl jump. She growled in some form of Dacan, while Salma stared at her in horror. “You couldn’t even hint?”  Kelly asked hurt.

“I tried,” Salma admitted.  “I told you not to grieve.”

Kelly looked at her with a hurt expression. “I’m going to make him pay for that deception.” Kelly dropped back in her chair with a grumble. “Well, why isn’t he here then?  If we are headed inside the Barrier, why isn’t he with us?”

“Shannon expects him to make his way to us somehow if he is supposed to be there. Shannon is testing a theory, I think, and poor Oirion is going to pay the price for it.  That poor man just can’t win. I do miss him as he was, though.”

“Poor Oirion…” Kelly scoffed.  “God! Poor Shannon, to be bonded to him? God must truly hate him.”

Salma chuckled.  “…or love him more than most,” she said.

 

 

——————————————————————————————

 

 

Oirion looked at himself in the mirror and saw himself. Oddly, it felt more him than the face of the handsome Purtan. His once grey hair was all white now. Soft as a child’s, yet still as thick as ever. It fell in loops and un-kempt freeness. His eyes looked almost shockingly blue against the white hair. His body hurt a great deal, but he was able to get up and move around.

Borrdick was working on the illusion of the regent, working it into a stone that Oirion would have to wear. Right now he wore another great amulet that reminded him of the one that now held a grim. He also had on a long great cloak that Borrdick assured him hid all his powers and his truth.

The days spent with the man had been interesting. He talked about magics of many sorts and put a few Oirion knew into working order, explaining how different things worked together.

“God, I look old,” Oirion said softly to himself.

Borrdick laughed a little. “No, I look old. You look your age.”

Oirion looked over to the man who was barely in his fifties and yet looked older than Oirion by far.

“I feel really bad about not being out there.”

“Dave and DaHane have it under control. They know you were injured. Tyra’Ara is working with the magic of the city and we are better off than I thought we might be. There is nothing you can do right now. You’re too injured to fight, so you are stuck here with me no matter what you look like… so just relax.”

Oirion turned from the mirror to walk over to where Borrdick was working on the amulet. His arm hurt, his head hurt, and his back hurt. He could only imagine what he would feel like without the magic that Borrdick had given him.

He watched the man work with fine tools, whispering words for a bit until Dave entered with a soft knock. Oirion turned as his old friend entered. Dave shut the door and came to a stop seeing Oirion.

“Ah,” Borrdick said gesturing.  “Come in; there is tea if you like.”

Dave moved to get the tea kettle. He couldn’t help but keep looking at Oirion. “I heard you were injured…” was all he could say before he lost his voice.

“I nearly had my arm ripped off and a building fell on my head,” Oirion offered.

Dave reached out and touched Oirion’s face as if to make sure he wasn’t an illusion.

“Now that is interesting…” Borrdick breathed.

“What the hell happened?” Dave asked Oirion, then Borrdick. “I was led to believe that this face was nothing but illusion, that scars left were energy flaws, not true scars.”

“Yes, well… it was.” Borrdick said. “I have been trying to get my head around it as well. All we know for certain is that the soul is the same and that the storms make the body flash back and forth. In this form, he is hunted by something far older than Gerome or even the war with Raz. I know that much. It is old and it is hunting Oirion. For whatever reason, it can only see him this way.”

“So it is making him go back?”

“My theory is that it is using the storm power to reveal to him the man he seeks and that means making him be ‘revealed’ to make him findable. It’s like what happens with Sanctuary Law. Inner truth is always revealed.”

“So you’re telling me some forgotten god is hunting Oirion?” Dave demanded. “Only a god could do that here.”

Borrdick shrugged. “That’s one way to put it.”

“Why?” Dave asked shocked and mortified. “Other than the obvious… I mean… I thought all that was settled.”

“I have no idea,” Borrdick said, “but it is older than Shannon. I don’t think that his…” Borrdick looked for the words carefully, not to say openly what they were talking about, “… his ‘favor’ with Malkazadon is the reason, just a complication.”

“Great!” Dave threw his hands up.  “Oh, by the way the harbor wall came down.” He dropped into a chair. He had to look back at Oirion. “The water is on fire with ruins of ships, and by morning the elves will be hammering Port Hall to the ground.”

“I’ll be ready to be there by morning,” Oirion said.

“Why?  One more body won’t help.”

“One more body helped the nomads. This is no worse than that. Maybe even less than that.”

Dave looked at his friend. “We don’t have Shannon to help us; they did.”

“No, we don’t have him at the moment. You aren’t a boy anymore, though, and we have other things. We have Borrdick, we have Tyra’Ara, we have Victor, we have the Elites, and we have Gallus.”

Dave shook his head. “Gallus is lost in meditation, as he has been for months.”

“You know, you are rather pessimistic,” Oirion said. “Aren’t you the great Captain Sailor? Aren’t you the man who went to the fortress of the Forest of the Damned for a friend, aren’t you the man who seduces warrior women? Aren’t you the man who led us through the bog? Really, Dave, you need to get a grip. This is far better than that…  just more visible bugs swarm.”

Dave scowled. “We are out-numbered a thousand to one. The city is a warren of terrified rats who would rather rip their own families out of the way to hide deeper in the sewers.”

“You’re pouting because he burned up your ships,” Oirion said easing himself down into a chair. “You have them building a wall along the wharf?”

“Yes.  We started days ago.”

“Good.  Then go to bed and I will meet you there in the morning.”

Dave glared at him, tucked his arms in and stayed where he was.  Borrdick grinned and went back to work. “I hope Kelly is alright…” Dave muttered.  “I hope Zou is alright….”

“Kelly is fine. I am sure Zou is, as well.”

Dave grunted and tucked himself in deeper to sleep where he was. “I messed up, Oirion; I should have reached out to him.  I bet he hates me.”

“Go to sleep, Dave,” Oirion said, pouring himself and Borrdick more tea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The harbor fires died down as dawn neared. Clearly timed for mass effect, the elven ships began to push into the harbor seeming to form out of fire, mist, and smoke. Dave stood in his flame-red coat with his hair free, his pirate flare making him grand and exotic enough the army that stood behind him had a bit of hope from him alone.

Dave had no hope for them. They would hold for awhile, but it wouldn’t last. Shannon had turned an entire army to their aid when they fought with the nomads; there was no army coming to their aid now. They were alone. He almost laughed, alone in Ulam Bac, the largest city in the world, it sounded ridiculous.

There was a sudden cheer from behind him. He turned and watched Oirion dismount from his black horse to jog light footed up stairs to the wall top to join him. He wore the black leather that he had adopted from Shannon, added a red sash and lined his cloak in red as well. His left arm was in a sling but he was there.

Oirion caught Dave’s wrist in a firm grip.

“How’s Borrdick’s work?”  he asked.

“Flawless.”

Oirion smiled. “I told you I’d be here.  Now,” he turned to look at the elven ships.  “Have I ever told you I hate elves?”

“I think you have.”

Oirion turned his back on the ships. He looked up and down the wall to the men who stood together watching the two of them on the top of the wall.  He cast his voice out so all of them could hear him.

“The last time anyone was fool enough to attack Purt, it was the Razzan and the entire world knows what happened. Not only did a handful of Purtans and Awens drive them back, we took the war to their own lands… and still they cower in the desert! No one attacks Purt and gets away with it!” He walked down the wall so more men could see him. Dave smiled and stood with an easy pose, admiring his friend’s efforts.

Oirion might hate politics, but he had the right looks and magics for the game. “We are Purt, mixed blood, pure blood, a thousand years old or twenty – the power of Purt flows in our veins and makes us brothers. How dare they think they can intrude on us? One of us is a worth a hundred of them and the very Wells of the Angels have lit fires to fuel us all with power and strength that only a Purtan can have!” He pointed behind them. “From the forests of Norwood to the wilds of Et, our armies are summoned against them! Even now armies pour into their lands and set fire to their unguarded fields! Even now armies move to gather and join us! Across the globe allies come to aid us! North from Ezeer, south from Pusa, dwarves, men, pirates, and even Dacans rise up to join us now in our need as we have aided them in theirs!

“Gerome may have staggered us a moment,” he dropped his voice, going on as he began to walk again, “but for it he made us stronger; he made us warriors ready to prove to heaven and to hell that we are Purt and we will not fall to any force on earth. We were here first!” He declared. “By the blood of angels, the names of gods, and the earth itself, no power shall take us down!” He roared. As if to drive it home, bells all throughout the city began to toll. A storm flashed with power outward over Oirion and cracked with deafening power. He turned to the harbor and threw out his arm with a shout. Power hit the harbor with such a blast, the backlash nearly knocked Dave off the wall.

Ships, smoke, mist, all of it was blasted outward on a massive wave. The wave that slammed out from Oirion hit the outer wings of the harbor and slammed upward and over them. Oirion had created an instant tsunami. Dave had counted over a hundred ships in the harbor and instantly there was nothing left. They were simply obliterated.

The Purtan army roared. Oirion stood on the wall, holding a staff in his hand. The staff glowed softly of golden light as clouds boiled up, filling the sky over them.  Dave walked down to his friend as the storm exploded above.

A sudden chorus of “Oirion” was taken up. The men chanted it and stomped with each roar. Oirion stayed on the wall, looking out to the harbor.

“That was dramatic!” Dave yelled at Oirion over the storm. The harbor waves slammed up against the wall they stood on.  Oirion looked over.

“If I take a step, I’m going to collapse,” he said softly, but Dave somehow heard him. He nodded to Oirion. He waved the men up on the wall. They surged forward. Standing on top, they shouted at the elven army beyond the harbor, now hidden from sight in driving rain and darkness. Dave helped Oirion off the wall, using the crush of men to hide the fact Oirion needed help. They ducked inside out of the rain. Oirion sagged against the back wall, out of breath and shaking.

“I’m impressed, but was that necessary?”

“I didn’t do that,” Oirion whispered.  He slid down the wall to the floor.

“No?”

“No. Shannon did it. The same way he fought the demon.” He looked up at Dave. “He channeled all their fear into that blast. He knew it would cause a storm, but it buys us time and the elves can’t attack through this.”

“Are you alright?”

“No,” he started to cry. He pulled his knees up and drew his cloak around himself as men began to pour in to escape the hailstones outside. Dave stepped over to hide Oirion. No one noticed him at all. They cheered and shouted his name, cheered for Purt, and cheered the emperor.

Dave clasped their hands and laughed with them to ease their fears and make it seem like this was how it would always go. It was late when the men left them to make their way to taverns, to homes, and to beds. For once the storm was seen as a blessing. So long as it raged, no elven army could attack. Dave helped Oirion to his feet and down the street to a nearby inn and up to a bedroom. He aided his friend to the bed. ”Get some rest, Oirion. I’ll see you in the morning.”

 

 

 

 

 

The eleven army hit the wall as the storm slacked off. DaHane had expected no less and was ready for them. They waited for the elves to get close. Everyone who had come but didn’t know how to use sword or bow had been ordered to bring oil of any sort. They were the first assault. They waited, wide-eyed and terrified for DaHane’s order.

DaHane waited for the first elves to actually begin to climb the wall. Then with a shout he rose and hurled down his own jar of oil. The people on the wall who were not frozen in fear rose and aimed at the elves, but DaHane had assured them anywhere would work. Children as young as ten were there throwing part one of the first round of attacks.

The elves didn’t seem impressed with the little missiles. From covered fires, the archers lit their arrows and stood as one over the wall and with a shout from DaHane released them all. A few arrows ignited sections of oil at once, others took a moment longer, but the flames spread as different oils caught fire up and down the wall.

Bundles of straw and strips of oil-soaked fabric were hurled over the wall to add to the fire. The elves tried magic to stop the flames, but the storm energy made their magic fail in places, suffocate men as well as fire in some places, and in other areas it made the fire flare out with horrific heat.

The attack was driven back. The rain slacked off, allowing the fires to burn and for the people to cheer for it. It was a tiny victory, but it had to be a blow to the elven pride.

Once the elves had retreated, the common people began to hurl glass, hooks, splinted wood, nails, anything with shards to it. The idea was to make running over the streets very painful on the feet. It would slow the elves down and that was all that mattered. DaHane needed more trained men, but even if he had them, what more could he hope to do?

He had already sent many of the wall builders back into the city to begin building barriers behind them. He wanted all the dangerous or new buildings torn down and made into walls or at least rubble piles to block streets. “Make a maze” had been an order and to “be creative.” The masons had looked at him in shock, then grinned, nodded, and took off. It was unlikely they had ever been given such free rein or such trust.

DaHane ordered the common men to flee back behind the next wall and help build them up while the trained men braced for hand-to-hand fighting. He stood looking at the slowly scattering storm and dying fires. He wished he knew how many more elven ships were coming and how many of them were planning to head inland.  There was no way to do anything about it or to even know the numbers.  All he could do was hold the wall he had here and hope he looked courageous, inspiring the men.

“Have you heard?” a man ran up to DaHane. “My lord, have you heard?”

“Heard what?” he asked, wiping rain off his face.

“The Regent! The elven fleet attacked the harbor; a thousand ships rushed in and with a wave of his arm, he turned them to ash! That’s what started this storm. He blew them away to nothing!”

DaHane was thrilled to hear it… his heart pounded. “He is the regent for a reason.” He tried to sound unsurprised and as calm as any general might be.

The man rushed on to tell others. DaHane caught his breath and stood trying to calm his heartbeat.  He looked up as Umren dropped a hand on his shoulder.

“You have every right to be proud,” he said with a hint of a smile. “You’re part of that legacy, Prince Valreen.”

DaHane grinned. “I just hope when he hears how we still hold this wall, he feels a little proud as well, but mostly sends us some trained men.”

Umren smiled. “Oh, trust me, my Prince, he wishes a great deal to be able to tell you how proud he is. Some magics must be kept in the heart and that is one of them. Now about the attack we are about to face.  I have an idea…”

 

 

 

 

 

The shards and glass the elves had to cross over were little more than a nuisance. It slowed them only slightly, but that was all DaHane needed it to do. It had the added effect of making the elves angry and bit reckless. Once at the makeshift walls, they slammed up ladders and surged forward. Their pride told that them no one had attacked out of fear, but when they reached the wall tops they found it utterly deserted.

Silently DaHane rose from a rooftop behind the elves. All along the wall length his archers did the same. They took a breath, aimed, and DaHane roared, “Volley!”

Arrows shot out over the street, down on the walls and into the backs and heads of the momentarily confused elves. Up and down the wall elves toppled even as they spun to face the archers. From the beyond the rubble wall, from the highest rooftop Umren rose.

“Volley!” he roared as his archers fired. His were carefully chosen to be lesser skilled archers, but faster runners. Not nearly as many elves were hit or nearly as many fell due to the arrows, but the effect split the enemy.

DaHane roared for another volley, but this time several men up and down the wall set heaps of straw and other trash on fire. The elves would be driven inside out of the smoke or be standing targets for the archers on both sides. As soon as the smoke grew thick enough, three-quarters of DaHane’s archers raced to places where they could take cellars or carefully hidden passes to join the men on the inside. They rest remained firing at the elves.

Umren had carefully explained to the people what the plan was and how to make it work. The younger they were, the fewer arrows they were to fire before they fled either to hiding places to help with the next segment of walls or to the slums. He took his time. With eyes closed, he focused on each elf near the commander and put an arrow in his face or neck. To the commander, it would seem that the arrows flying were all deadly and that cover would be needed. Trying not to smile, he let one skim across the elf’s face so close it cut his cheek. At this point, the real fighting had not even started. He was just playing and trying to keep DaHane and as many trained men alive as he could.

We are ready,” Solmack let him know telepathically.

An order was given among the elves to move off the wall and to attack the archers inside. Umren stepped off the rooftop and dropped lightly on the ground three stories below. He struck an elf across the face with his bow with such force it cracked the wood. “Oh bugger…” he muttered and snapped it in half to drive both ends into the elf’s stunned chest. He turned and jogged towards the slums, picking up a shoddy peasant bow from a middle aged man who had taken an arrow in the back.

He stopped to pull the arrow from the man’s back and fire it back at the elves who were running up the street at them. The peasants fled into buildings, daring the elves to get as close as possible, but out the back they went. Inside it was Elites who waited, not with butcher knives and axes, but dragon bone swords and hundreds, if not thousands, of years of training to be here.

What buildings didn’t have Elites inside, men had been set to bring down with carefully placed glyphs and massive explosions.

Umren turned inside the door and drew his sword. He waited just inside. Three elves rushed in, expecting untrained human peasants. One lost his head before the other two even realized they weren’t alone. The second elf he simply cut so deeply across the chest his own weight broke his spine as he fell backwards in two pieces, connected only by his back skin. The third he grabbed by the neck. He let his eyes flush red.

He let the man’s fear grip him before Umren breathed it in, replacing the energy from the strain of the battle, from the storm, from being around so much blood. At this point all the Elites would be using the elves to replenish their needs, hidden in the wreckage of rotting buildings where no mortal would see.

His shields replenished, he began to withdraw when pain lanced into his back. A sword sliced through the leather he wore, through his back, and out his chest. Staggered by the force, he looked down to the see the tip of an Elites blade.

A sick magic slid over him like oil, making him unable to communicate with any other Elite. The blade jerked free. Holding his chest where blood poured out, he twisted to look back to see an Elite slip out a window. He was alone. He coughed up blood.

Fighting whatever magics had been laid on him, he managed a lock spell to seal the injury, but he had lost every ounce he had gained from the elf and more. He might even die from this, but if not he would be pushed to the brink and into Madness. Madness would be worse than death. At his rank, there was no forgiveness and to have Shannon think he had lost control would be a grief to his soul he might never recover from. He fought desperately to reach his master, his teacher, his king… but his mind felt weighted down.

“Malkazadon… I need help…” he whispered, desperately praying somehow his need reached the Regent of Purt and somehow, by some means, help would come.

 

 

 

Removing the buildings certainly made it easier to see the elves coming. It made it clear as well that the Purtans still had the city and the elven army camped outside the city had to turn its attention to the ancient Purtan fortifications more fully. The smoke and fire had been put out by elves and the air had cleared. The rain had let up and allowed the people of Ulam Bac to look out of the rubble of the outer city to the vast elven camp beyond. At least now the elves would have to look to the city and not march inland to the unprepared and already struggling farmlands beyond.

“Where is Umren?” DaHane asked the first Elite he saw.

“I do not know, My Lord,” the man replied.

“Find out. I know you can all talk to each other. Where is he?” DaHane was annoyed at the blow-off. Umren treated him like a prince; the others certainly did not and he didn’t like it. He understood it, but he didn’t like it.

“We don’t know,” the Elite said after a moment. “No one can reach him. He must have gone into a trance, but at his rank if he is busy with something important, he can block us out. My Lord Valreen, he is our commander; we do not question him if he blocks us.”

DaHane looked back out to where the elves had begun to clear away the vast rubble enough to make their way to the wall he now stood on. He looked around and spotted an older Purtan man he had seen with both the bow and the sword in the last two days.

“You,” he said.

“Yes, My Lord?”

“What is your name?”

“TySaemenn,” the man said with a bow.

“You stay here; keep the men calm. I want them to rest while the elves work. Eat, sleep if they can, get wounds bound, and try to get them dry.”

“You’re leaving, My Lord?”

“My Elite has opted to wander off. I am going to go find out why.” He put a hand on the much taller man’s shoulder, “I will not be far and I will be back. You know who my father is?”

“Yes, My Lord. Father Oirion Hennen.”

“And like him, I will never abandon my post, but nor do I tolerate insubordination. I hear he had a bad temper.” He grinned, “I’m told it runs in the family.”

The man nodded and smiled. “Aye sir, I hear the same.”

“Hold this wall for me; I won’t be long.”

“My Lord Valreen…” the Elite began to object.

DaHane looked at him sharply. “Do you know who my father is?” he demanded with a harder truer knowledge. “I hear he has a bad temper. Stay and help my new commander with whatever he needs.” He jumped, scrambled down the wall, and dashed off to the last place he knew Umren had been.

 

 

 

The rubble made it difficult to move. He could, however, sense the energy long before he got to it. He was half Sphinx and such a pool of power was something he simply could smell like a sweet flower in a field of dead fish.

He heaved away a heavy plank from a building that had been brought down. Squeezing in through what had been a door, he squinted to let his eyes adjust to the dark. Slumped against the wall, his hands in his lap was Umren. He looked dead for a moment but DaHane knew he wasn’t, not yet.

“Umren,” he crawled over the rubble to get to the Elite. Umren slowly lifted his head.

“You shouldn’t be here, DaHane,” he said.

DaHane shoved a chunk of broken wall out of the way and knelt before him. He could see the injury now and the amount of blood soaked on the man.

“What the bloody hell happened?”

Umren looked up, his eyes actually glowed red.

“You need to get away from me,” he pleaded.

“What happened?” DaHane demanded.

“I was stabbed in the back and I am slipping. You need to get away before I lose control. It’s not easy as it is…”

DaHane grabbed his hand. “Don’t even think it is going to be that easy. Purt needs you and Shannon needs you. Once this is over, we will need you to keep order. No going Mad, no dying on me.”

“I’m trying, DaHane, but I can’t… it’s so hard…” he almost started to cry. “He blocked me, I can’t reach anyone, I can’t reach Shannon… I need help.”

“I’m here. Let me help.”

“I can’t do that.”

“I’m not leaving you, so either you do it now while you have some control or you kill me in Maddness. Then my father kills you and Purt comes crumbling down. Shannon will be furious at us all. Chances are he’ll have Tharadon drag you from the beyond to make sure you know it, so just do it. Try not to kill me is all I ask.”

Umren caught his breath in a sob, then slowly took DaHane’s face in his hands, leaned forward, pulling DaHane’s forehead to his.

“I’m so sorry, DaHane,” he whispered.

DaHane gripped his wrists. “It’s alright, Umren; in fact, I’m sort of ordering you to.”

The touch burned. Memories were drug up, the worst and most painful; the pain and exhaustion in his body seemed to be felt twice over, then melt away until he was simply suspended in space and time. He felt his breath calm, his heart slowing, his cores dimming. He kept whispering, “It’s alright, Umren, it’s alright…” He had no fear at that point, no pain, all of it turned utterly over to trust.

He came back as if waking from a dream to find himself right where he had been, but so damn tired he wanted to go back to sleep. His hands had dropped like heavy weights to his lap. If he had considered it fully there were many things he might have thought about, but at the moment, other than sleep, all his sphinxen mind could think was how nice it was to be have physical contact with someone. It was so nice, he actually started to cry.

“I’m so sorry, DaHane…” Umren whispered, fighting his own tears. DaHane wanted to tell him that the reason he was crying was actually relief. He was so damned lonely it caused him mental and physical pain to not be touched. He was startled and woken up all at once when Umren kissed him.

It wasn’t the innocent little kiss one gives a child, but something far more and something DaHane had never been given. It was something he starved for as much as for food or air, he realized. He was just so tired.

Umren looked down to stop himself, but did not pull away. “Oh, I did not mean to do that,” he said as he caught his breath.

“That’s a shame,” DaHane managed to say.

Umren almost laughed. “Do you have any idea how so very young you are?”

“Compared to you, everyone is young.” He caught his breath, knowing there was a battle about to happen and he had to get back. He and Umren had to be there. “How are you feeling?”

“Not great but I’ll be alright as soon as I can get my hands on a few elves. You?”

“Tired but…” he couldn’t help himself… he shifted to steal another kiss, desperate to feel it again. For one moment Umren gave in then pulled back. Umren swore under his breath.

DaHane turned to crawl for the door. “We should get back to the wall. They need us.” Umren followed him out. Once out of the rubble door DaHane stood, feeling very tired, but somehow elated and energized in a way he could not even begin to put to words.

Umren got to his feet and looked at his ruined leathers.

“I didn’t think you would be in a building set to be dropped,” DaHane said, trying to bring himself back to the world. He scowled at the collapsed building.

“I wasn’t. Nor was I stabbed by an elf. It was an assassination attempt, DaHane.”

“That won’t make Shannon happy.”

“No, it won’t. It doesn’t make me happy, either. I have no idea who did it, though, so until I do… let’s not say anything. No one can know there is any division or trouble.”

“I didn’t think there could be. Don’t you all belong to Shannon?”

Umren looked at him seriously, than smiled a little. He caught the hem of DaHane cloak and wiped his face. “No,” he said, trying to be serious about it. “I didn’t think there could be, but the fact of the matter is that it was the Elite who stabbed me, blocked my ability to reach out, and brought the building down on me.”

“I’m glad I spoiled his plans then.”

“We should get back. I need new leathers and you aren’t much better off.”

They headed back, picking their way around to the wall. They stopped at a water barrel wagon to wash the blood off as best they could.

“I need a sword and a bow,” Umren told the first Elite he saw, “and new leathers.”

“You want mine, my lord?”

“Weapons, yes, leathers, no. Get me a set however you can, but these are ruined.”

The Elite handed over his weapons and took off at a run. Umren looked to DaHane. “Whatever magic he used on my head, it’s still there. That could be a problem.”

“I’ll give orders; you just make damn sure you don’t get stabbed again. I have plans for you.” DaHane strode ahead so Umren couldn’t see his mischievous grin.

 

 

 

“Where are they?” DaHane demanded of the one Elite on the wall.

“We had orders to retreat to the ancient walls,” he said confused, looking at Umren. “Your orders.”

“Like bloody hell! Get them back here now!” Umren snarled low and under his breath. “The next Elite to not look to Prince DaHane for command, I will rip his blood heart out and eat it. Do I make myself clear?” he whispered in Norwood.

“Yes, Master…” the Elite took a terrified step back.

“Tell them!” Umren roared at him. “Now!”

“Yes, Lord!” he dropped to knees. His bowed his head.

Umren turned to DaHane. “They will be here.”

“I hope so, Umren,”

Umren stood watching the elves halt just outside the range of bows, and waited for the full force to gather. The men on the wall began to whisper and worry.

“Hold!” DaHane called to them. He needed them to see he was there, that he had not left them, that they had a commander. They had a Von on the wall with them. The men who had begun to fidget took deep breaths and watched him for orders.

DaHane re-gripped his sword and waited, trying to be as calm and relaxed as he could. Behind him he heard a whisper. He looked back to see many Purtans moving up along the backside of the wall. These were not just men of Ulam Bac, but men and women of pure Purtan blood, most with white in their hair and weapons in their hands. Some wore various types of uniforms; others wore everything from stable-hand clothes to nobleman clothes.

“Keep your eyes ahead and show no fear!” DaHane roared to his men. “We are Purt and it is time the world remembers what that means! We are born priests and healers, but anger us and we are all warriors!”

“Warriors!”  someone yelled, trying to encourage himself.

“Warriors!”  DaHane roared back at him with power in his voice so the man could hear how a warrior shouts.

“Warriors!” several roared in reply.

“Warriors!”  DaHane tried to make them feel it, to know they fought as one. They stood on the wall as one people, one force, as brother, as warriors!

The elves moved in a rush, but the Purtans remained on the wall with their chant of Warriors. Arrows were drawn, and as the elves hit the wall, the newly arrived Purtans below rushed up the back side on the wall with their bows ready and fired a thousand more arrows than was expected. The Purtan warriors didn’t stop at the wall, but leapt off the front right down among the elves. DaHane went with them. Those who could, followed.

The attacked on the elves carried beyond the makeshift wall. DaHane fought with a skill he didn’t even know he had. He held his ground with the Purtans and felt as if their style of fighting was what he was born doing. He laughed as he realized he was accessing his father’s skills. He shouted with triumph and power. He leapt at his enemy. He blasted away magic attacks, thrilled and awed at the skills and ability his father held so hidden and yet had given him as reward for knowing him. He was DaHane Von Valreen, Lord of Purt! He roared at the elves before him. His voice and power tore through his chest and burst out him as a roar of power far more than any normal lion, but bordered on the roar of a dragon.

Elves staggered back, shocked and uncertain. DaHane used it to surge forward. With stunning speed and force, the army of newly arrived Purtans led by DaHane forced the elves back over the rubble beyond the outer walls.

There the elves were being forced to regroup. The shock of the utter skill of those they faced was beginning to sink in and their tactics were shifting. DaHane was not about to let them do that. His path was blocked by an elf who attacked him with a sword that burned blue and red. He took the elf on, but the fight had him outmatched. The elf’s sword had cut through his own like it was nothing and left him suddenly weaponless.

Power slammed DaHane’s shield so hard he was staggered back. He tripped, forcing him to roll to get his feet even as another magic attack came down at him. He slammed up a shield with a power that would have stunned most, but the elf hammered on it. His shield took three blows before it shattered on him. His ears rang and he was knocked off his feet crashing back onto his elbows.

The elf stepped over him and grabbed him up. “The son of Father Oirion,” he spat in DaHane’s face. “You’re as weak as your father!” DaHane felt something inside him boil with rage, and deep inside a power that had been hidden clicked. A lock, so deep that even his awakening to his father as Von Valreen had not exposed it, opened. He surged up and grabbed the man’s side, ripping into him.  The elf gasped at the sudden pain.

DaHane didn’t even think about it as he ripped away armor and fabric, cutting through muscle and ribs with his claws. He tore the man’s side out in one hand and grabbed his throat with the other.

As he roared at the elf, DaHane felt it tear out of him with such power it shivered through his muscles and body. The very air about him shimmered and seemed to glow in his rage and anger. He crushed the man’s throat in his grip, shredding it to nothing with his claws. He flung the elf aside as if he weighed nothing. DaHane surged forward, attacking the elves with claws and rage. After that he needed no weapon.

 

 

 

 

 

“DaHane!”

DaHane looked up from where he was trying to clean his claws in a bucket of water that had been left in the elven camp for a horse not too many hours ago. Several men were walking toward him with Umren. One of them seemed rather familiar. He was a tall Purtan with white hair and a golden tunic under his shimmering silver chain-mail.

DaHane looked back to cleaning his claws… claws, real claws like a cat’s. His fingernails had been ripped away and his hands hurt from it. His face hurt, his bones ached, his entire body hurt. He was blood-soaked, his clothes shredded, and he just wanted to make his hands clean so people would not fear him.

“Umren,” he said as they reached him. “What can I do for you?”

“I would like you to meet two very important men. This is TyDiaden,” he said of one of them. “He joined you behind the wall.”

DaHane stood up and shook his hands dry as best he could. He had nothing to dry them on, so he just shook them.

“I am TyDaiden,” the man said with a bow to DaHane. DaHane noticed that he looked half starved and not at all healthy. “I was once a guard in the house of Armond.”

“This is TyBelden, King of Valreen,” Umren said of the other. DaHane looked at his great-grandfather. He had not seen the man since he was a child and had not recognized him.  He bowed his head to hide his shock.

“He managed to get to the western flank in time to stop any inland progression.” Umren said.

The man grinned openly, looking DaHane over. “Damn, boy!” he laughed suddenly. “I’d love to see your father’s expression if he could see what you look like right now.”

“I have the field, DaHane. Why don’t you take them to see the Regent,” Umren said. He motioned the men toward the city. As they turned to go, Umren caught DaHane’s arm. “Ignore the claws. Walk as a general of Purt and nothing less. Your efforts today left even me impressed and awed,” he said very seriously. “You saved this battle and brought down a king. Not even I could keep up with you and Norwood will sing of you as a hero.”

DaHane smiled a little. “Thank you Umren.  I’ll try to keep that in mind when the women hide their children from me so I don’t eat them.”

Umren grinned. “Then we shall drink together and be glad we are not asked to baby-sit.”

DaHane smiled back. He wanted to say something, to somehow let Umren know the brief contact and energy they had shared in the rubble meant something more than battle-demanded actions. He could think of nothing, but felt rather silly; like a foolish sixteen-year-old fool thinking he could win over the High Commander of the Elites. He turned to join the other two men who were headed for the city.

“DaHane,” Umren said seriously.

DaHane turned to look back at the most powerful Elite in Purt. He was backed by a number of other Elites and surrounded by battle-bloodied warriors.

“Once we get the field cleared, I will come give you reports. I think we will have plans to make.”

DaHane nodded. “I will expect you then,” he said, swallowing how distant the Elite seemed. He turned to jog after his grandfather.

 

 

Chapter 8, Stories

Princes of Purt:

Chapter 9

Stories

It was a game, a demonstration of power that Shannon had no choice but to play. It had worked this way when he had taken back Norwood and again when he had returned from the barrier lands. He simply could not be awake and working long enough to rule on his own.  Most of his time was spent in traces, woken up only when he had to be.

Umren had proven himself capable and trustworthy to handle things and he continued to do so. Not even Oirion knew how much Shannon had to lock himself away, but the emperor certainly felt it when he wasn’t locked away inside his own mind. It was where he should have been right now, certainly with Oirion in the city, but he kept slipping from his sanctuary to dreams and those were filled with nightmares that he had to force himself to wake from.

He slipped from the palace down to the tavern. There he could recover without being bothered by the politics of the court. More than once Tyra’Ara had pushed his temper dangerously close to the breaking point. She was lucky to be alive, and yet she did not understand that. She challenged him at every turn; he was getting very tired of her. Her manner would not be tolerated much longer.  If she was not exactly who she was, he would have sent her away at very least.

Having felt her coming near, he had simply slipped away. He changed into the clothes of Rellen and tried to calm his nerves as he made his way to the tavern. There was a storm brewing; it would come soon.

Oirion’s attack on the Guardians meant Shannon was not under threat of an attack from them, but it had not removed the shields built on the wells or repaired the lines of Kingship magics. As long as the lines were not broken, light and heat flowed for the people of the city, but where they were broken they were like bleeding holes.

Under Tavia’s direction, the lines of magic had been steadily repaired, which helped, but it seemed too little too slowly. Power had been restored to many courtyards, helping to maintain gardening temperatures. Many estates and inns had made gardening yards with this new option.  It had taken a hint of burden of the food needs off of the trade lines, but Ulam Bac had over a million civilians living full-time in the city, plus visiting nobles, the army, and whoever was in the harbor.

More people came in every day, desperate for safety and homes. The calming of the storms had slowed the exodus from the outlying villages, but still people flowed in and there was no more trade than there had been. Food was scarce and going to get worse. Shannon had to bring the Barrier down and that thought, that drive, haunted him wherever he went.

A gust of charged wind rushed through the yard and up the street he followed.  Pulling his hood up, he tried not to respond to the storm or to the crisis that the empire was slipping into.  He could not hope to hold onto the entire empire.  Even as kingdoms, one by one, began to turn to him, civil wars still went on. He didn’t have the great army of emperor past. Even with the lost army returned, he was short. Those of that generation still able to function were not really able to be in the military. He had made most of those former soldiers into teachers or trade route guards.  His own parents were among those not able to be used by the empire. He had put them both in a small estate outside the city. There they could hide away and recover or not, but to do it in peace. There, at very least, his small brother was safe to be a child and not be under the watch of the court at all times.

He entered the tavern and made his way through the evening crowd to the bar.  Mia nodded to him through her work. He waited quietly while she served the last few drinks and set to making his.  He took it, slipping the coins into her hand.  She smiled and moved away from him, back to work.

He tried not to notice the hint of emotion from her or the strength of her energy.  Like many, she had been born to be a wizard, but due to Gerome’s laws, she had to work to hide it. Now, as an adult she was learning to master her ability, going to classes every other day. It was the best he could offer… there were so many, with so few teacher and fewer he dared trust.

He could still feel the energy of the girl whom he had touched with his bare fingers.  He moved to a seat that had become empty at the bar. He kept his hood up.  It was crowded tonight and he didn’t want anyone to come over and mention how like the emperor he looked. He might cast up a bit of magic to make himself seem to vanish or to appear as someone else, but he was already running low.  He didn’t know the full extent or the limits of what Travis had done besides healing his flesh into true skin and organs again… and he didn’t want to know fully.

The assumption so many made was that he was a mortal man again… and that was wrong.  He knew very well he was still a vampire, among other things, but at least his skin was flexible and no longer a mass of scar and pain. Physical pain was all but gone, but it just left him able to be aware of the emotional and mental pains he endured.

He sipped the drink that would help quiet some of the main worries in his head.  The liqueur would help numb the discomfort of the storms and silence the energies about him. Unable to stop thinking about the touch to his bare fingertips, he had to wipe his hand on the bar to be rid of the temptation.

He needed a Von Armond, the blood of a von to open the doorway into the chamber with the barrier stone, and there just weren’t any. With his father being denounced, his brother didn’t hold the Von Armond blood and his own son was a Von Shannon.  Dave might work, but there was just no way Shannon could do that; he simply could not risk the chance that Dave might work and find out that he didn’t. He took another drink, held it in his mouth a moment, then swallowed.

Elliott had given up the bloodline and all its powers to save his son and hide him from the elves who had come for his wife. There just was no Von Armond. Armond himself had likely lost his divinity. If he returned ever again, it would most likely be as a man like all others. How many of the angels had slipped away into history in the same way? How many were left? Shannon took another drink as thoughts spun about in his head, straining and wearing him down, but sleep and dreaming was even worse. He stood from his seat, leaving the cup on the counter. He turned to go and slipped past several people before he was stopped by Mai.

“Can I talk to you?”  she asked.

He wanted out, but she seemed troubled and like she truly needed to talk to someone. He let her lead him from the thickest part of the crowd to the foot of the staircase that led up to where the workers lived.  It was quieter there and cooler.  She drew a deep breath and let it out. “I know that you know a lot about magic. I can’t see your shields, but I can’t see your aura, either, so…” she took a deep breath again,  “I asked my teacher and she just sort of played it off and ignored me.”

“What?” he asked her.

“When it is quiet here, mostly in the early afternoon, a woman comes in. She is very pretty in an almost human sort of way, but I think she is fully Purtan. She is wearing an old style uniform of a naval officer – I looked it up – and she orders a drink. She seems to be in a good mood and almost as if she is expecting someone. The first time I thought she had slipped out to use the privy or something. But the next time she left her drink again, and every time after that. She just vanishes and leaves the drink. There is no formal navy right now. All we have is the enlisted navy under King Tydavrelle. I began to think that she was playing a trick on me, that someone had put her up to it. A few times she even talked to me of things a little. It was always when I was alone, though, until recently. I have seen her in the crowd, talking to others, but they don’t seem to see her and she is still wearing her uniform.  I feel like I’m going crazy.”

“I can think of three things that might be happening,” he said to her honestly.  “One is that one of the Lost Army is projecting themselves into old habits and things familiar and you are seeing that projection. Another is that you are seeing a ghost or phantom. Third is that you are being messed with. I seriously doubt it would be by anything really dangerous.”

“Should I worry about it?”

“No,” he said. “I think that you should just play along and treat her as anyone else. Find out who she is; maybe it will aid her in whatever condition she is in. There is a branch of magic within what is grouped as telepathy that allows some to see the emotional projections of souls as the souls were. Often that is to see the death or torture of another replayed, or moments of great passion, but I am not sure this is what you are seeing.  If it was, she would be replaying a moment of great emotion.”

“What if she was waiting for a lover and that was what she kept thinking about while in stone?”

“Possibly. Don’t be afraid.  If it is something dark, your lack of fear will make you less interesting.”

“I have another question,” she said after a moment. “I have heard a rumor that the Elites are not forbidden the normal activity of people. They are allowed to have partners and can do all the things every one does… eat, drink, all that.  Is that true?”

“There are four levels; if you reach the top two, your freedoms increase. Yes, they can, at that point, choose to do certain things within very strict rules.”

“But the Elites here are of that level… right?”

The fact the Elites were all vampires was not a widely known truth, but it was true.  Having a dark power in his control was not something he needed the people to know about.  The less they questioned him, the better.

“Most any Elite in Ulam Bac would be of extremely high a level.  Few would choose to cross those lines. Lines are in place for a reason. Why?”

“I’m just trying to understand things. I need to understand what is real, what is just my mind, and what is magic, and where it falls in the lines of holy or not.” She drew in a deep breath and let it out. “Ever since she showed up, as close as I can recall, I have had dreams… of a vampire,” she said with implications of what sort of dreams. “Is that part of her or just chance?  Is it magic or is it just stray thoughts?”

He moved her to the closest table so they could sit down. He could feel her true and deep concern. She was a little excited about it all, but more scared than not. She needed help and didn’t know who else to talk to about it. He could taste her frustration and that was never good. They sat at a small table in the back corner.

“How many of these dreams do you have?”

“Almost nightly now,” she admitted. “They scare me; it’s not at all scary during the dream, but…”

“Ever about anyone else?”

“Oh, sure,” she tried to laugh, “but not so often now.  Everyone has dreams, but these are different.”

“Does he change or is he the same one every time?”

“The same.”

He leaned back thinking about it. “Could you describe him?”

“Why?”

“If what you are seeing is a replay, she might have met him here and died at such a meeting.  If that is true, it needs to be dealt with.”

“I doubt that is the case,” she said.

“Why?” he asked her.

“It’s you,” she said.

He leaned back in the chair, not expecting that. She had no reason to think he was a vampire, let alone know it. That was very odd. Why would she dream such a thing; he might understand stray dreams, but not the sort that would leave her so upset.  He didn’t know what to think about it at all.

“That’s odd,” was all he could think to say. He wiped at the stubble he had grown, trying to think. “I hate to ask, but can you tell me any other details?  Anything stand out?”

She scowled a little, trying to think.

“Same place?  Same time?  Is it an exact dream?” he asked her.

“It’s always different,” she said. “Different places, different times… why would I dream you were a vampire?”

“I’m not sure,” he said.  “Have you told anyone else about it?”

“Not about the dreams. After being ignored about the woman, I thought it would be pointless. Maybe there is an Elite who has a leaky shield? Could that be it? Might his actions be so strong that I am just sort of empathically picking them up?”

“Maybe,” Shannon lied. There was no way. Such things were about a vampire drawing in energy; nothing was left to leak out. “For now try to think of them as separate things.  Don’t be scared of either. If you dream again, try to see things, anything that can help you have clues to it all. I will have someone come and look to see if you have a hidden branch of magic – someone who can help you if that is the case.”

She nodded. “Thank you,” she said with a hint of relief.  “It’s early though; you don’t have to go.”

He smiled at her hint. “I don’t think my wife would be so happy if I stayed,” he said standing. “I’ll do what I can to help you figure out what is going on,” he promised and turned to go.  He was brought up short.

“There she is…” Mai said even as he saw her. His heart stopped as he saw her standing in the crowd. She saw him, smiled and moved to make her way over, but from behind one person to the next, she was gone.

Mai grabbed his arm. “Did you see her?” she asked. “She was right there.”

“I saw her,” he said softly.

“What do you think?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “She certainly didn’t die here. If you get a chance, talk to her. I’ll be back later.” He left at once, feeling ill. He needed to get away, away from all the people, all the noise, and all the thoughts. He rushed out the door and right into a storm.

Lightning cracked down with so much power it made his hand feel as if it was set on fire. He swore and slammed up more shielding against the magic storms. He jerked his hood up more and moved. He knew his hand was bleeding and if his blood escaped his gloves it might react with the storm. Holding it inside his coat pocket in a fist, he moved up the street as fast as he could.

Another bolt struck so close it, made his eyes burn and skin prickle with the heat. He had no choice but to run for the nearest sacred place. He cut up an alley and down a street, raced across a park to a small church.  He ducked inside the door and closed it behind him.

At least here his blood would burn away and not add to any warping. He moved though the inner doors to the sanctuary. He took a seat in a pew at the back of the church.  It was a small poor church with painted windows that showed clerics and Hunters.

At the back of the inner sanctum was a statue. Lit by candles, he saw himself  portrayed as Saint Tyredelle. It made his stomach twist a little. He bowed his head and wished his hand would stop bleeding, that the pain would go away.  He remained with his head bowed until a monk came and sat beside him.  He looked over at the man.

He was a cleric clearly. His hands were callused with weapon work, his body thick and strong from long training.  He drew a slow deep breath. Slowly he looked over to show that his eyes were scarred white from a magic attack.  The man was blind.

“When I was a young man I served God in Northern Dacan. I skirted the Wilder Lands and fought monsters that were of nightmares and protected those along the borders. Then people began to come to me for aid. They were being arrested, taken, attacked. I moved to aid them and found it was the church who was doing it. I tried to pull my ring off.  I was mortified to be any part of what was happening, but it didn’t come off,” he sighed heavily.

“I turned against the church. I fought for the innocent and helpless and against all forms of darkness, often killing those who claimed to priests. They called me rogue, sent demons to hunt me. I fled south to the jungles and found even there the church had a grip… a dark grip…” He was quiet a moment.  “They caught me. They sought to break me and make me into something dark.  Of all to aid me, it was a Ta’Zan caravan. They attacked and they took me from there. They healed me and allowed me to recover. I slowly learned to use magic to see. I made a life as a beggar by day and a hunter by night. Then Gerome was dethroned and I came home. The abbot put me here. I was to hear confessions and such.”  He folded his hands in his lap. “I have tried to get to the palace. I have tried to get to the pontiff to tell him what I have heard. My friends from Dacan have kept in touch with me and for it I have given them gifts that can only be gained in Purt by a priest.” He smiled a little. “Seems God is not upset at what I have done.” He lifted his face to a strike of lighting that struck so close it made several windows rattle in the walls. “I prayed for a way to relay the information. It seems that whatever angels we have left helped to guide you here.”

“And who I am to be guided?” Shannon asked.

The priest looked over. “I see you clearly, in the way that I now see everyone,” he looked at Shannon. “Only one soul is going to appear that way to me. I know who you are. I know what you are,” he added.

“Raz has awaken,” he went on. “The temple fires have been lit. The tribes of priests have begun to try to honor her, but without understanding and many false cults have begun to appear.  The holy places are being overrun by serpents. Sand storms pour out of the dessert, covering the cities and killing jungle lands. A prophet has begun to cry out for peaceful prayer unto Raz. To call her by the name of ‘Mother.’ He says she is angry and hurt, but still loves, that they must just remind her of that.”

“Lovely,” Shannon said softly.  Things were going bad to worse.

“The prophet sends you word.”

“Me?”

“Yes, you,” the cleric smiled. “I was told you would come here. I have been waiting and praying. He says it is not Raz who shows him, but a goddess of the ocean that he does not know. He says to tell you that you must go before the elven attack on Ulam Bac. If you are here when they arrive, you will fail to bring the Barrier down.  He says that you know this in your heart, but fear you have lost the needed element.”

“The line of Von Armond is dead. I cannot open the gate.”

“He says something will be taken from you. You must leave Ulam Bac and follow it.  Resolution will come. Go where you need to go; many gods work to bring to you that which is needed. You must find faith again and surrender to trust.”

Shannon actually laughed. “Find faith? I never lost faith; I am well aware of the powers that be.”

“You lost the faith that the Powers That Be love you and that it has all happened for a reason. Oh… and he said something about the… face of the lost will be revealed and the namesake shall be the name… what ever that means,” he shrugged.

They sat together in silence as the storm pounded and rain lashed down on the church. The little candles burned and they waited. It was nearing dawn when the storm slacked off and Shannon rose. The priest stood as well and stepped out of his way.

The blind man looked at Shannon a long moment. “Many magics and many powers work toward the end of the age and toward the next. The last age ended, not by the mortal deaths of the angels, but by the death of Malkazadon.  He was killed in the desert by Kufrah. His death was what shattered the glass fields and created the white sand. The power was so terrible it turned Kufrah into the gatekeeper of the dead.  Malkzadon was denied heaven, his heart put on the altar of Raz. She took it up and put it in the chest of a monkey and sent him out. Immortal, he was trapped in the flesh of a beast. That is what they say in Ta’Zan. That is also why the priesthood of Ta’Zan will eat monkey meat raw, but dry the hearts and put them in potions.  It is also why elves will not kill monkeys.

“The priesthood of Raz have the monkey tattoo on their left wrist. It is the left hand she used to put the heart into the monkey.  If the priest is true the tat will be red, if not it will be but ink.”

Shannon looked at the blind priest and nodded. “I don’t know how much that will matter to me, but it’s interesting.”

“All magic has good and bad. You of all souls know that. I honor that…,” he pointed to the statue at the front, “not for the books and efforts of a man five thousand years ago, but for the efforts and actions of the man today.”

“Well, maybe we shall pray that what is needed is provided. I must go home now.”

“Follow what is stolen,” the cleric pleaded.  “You will know.”

Shannon left the man to walk home in the cold drizzle, wondering how Raz was going to react when she came fully awake and knew he was the emperor of Purt. It promised to be ugly.  Maybe he should talk to Kelly.

 

 

 

 

“Who is Kufra?” Shannon asked Kelly.  Kelly looked up from the very odd lunch they were having. Shannon had never joined her for meal. He was having a meal of several shrimp and clams with a bit of green something. She had chosen to eat as the farmers would, a thick cabbage stew, full of roots and bits of dried meats.

Today the young guards known as Derek and Hunter were there, serving the meal in some sort of training effort Jamie had set for them. Tavia was there with Valen, her focus on the child alone. She didn’t say a word at all or even look at Shannon. Salma was there as well, just picking at her food.

“Kufra is said to be an Aveh Ren orc god. He started the war, or it is hinted at.  That when Raz turned him down, he got angry and found the man that Raz was taken with and killed him. Cut his heart out and gave it to Raz. To save him, she stuck the heart in the closest body, that of a monkey. When she looked away, though, she lost track of what monkey he was and when the priesthood was tricked into slaughtering monkeys for her, she thought him dead and flew into a rage and launched the war against Avah Ren.”

“You say that like you don’t believe it,” Shannon said.

“I don’t,” she said. “I think it is neither that simple nor that innocent. I think he may well have killed some one and she likely made him a monkey, but out of grief and love? I don’t think so. I know that wasn’t why the war started.”

“Why did it?”

“Malkazadon told her to stop teaching things or he would be forced to stop her if she didn’t.  She killed him, or had him killed.  She would not be told ‘no’ and wanted to make all the world hers. She hated the angels and what she deemed arrogance, and she wanted the whole world to know the ‘truth’ of their lacking powers.  No great love involved.”

“Could it be Malkazadon she killed and turned into a monkey?” he asked.

“It could be,” she said.

“Who would know if not you?” Salma asked.

“The Old Ways hold truths that were not taught. Some things were just not spoken of and as for the relationship between her and the other powers of old, it was not a thing of the moment. It was the magic of day and the needed magics for current wars that was important.”

“The monkey tat on the left wrist,” Shannon said softly.  “When do you gain it?”

Kelly shifted uneasily. “Why?  Does it matter?”

“I would not ask if it did not matter.”

Kelly took a bite, clearly uncomfortable. “When a sacrifice made by your hand is accepted by Her, the ink turns red and shimmers in firelight.”

“What does it stand for?”

Kelly looked at him and setting her fork down she studied him, trying to put it all together as to why it would matter.

“The priesthood of old was turned into several sorts of monkeys and banished from her temples when they failed her. It means you are a priest, but also warns you that she has little mercy for the weak and no compassion for those who fail her.”

They ate a bit more with the young men serving them. Both mothers tried not to look at their sons or see how much older they looked.  In the few months they had served Jamie, they had been changed from young teens to men. They both seemed strangers to their mothers.

“The temples are awake,” Shannon said softly. “The holy places are filling with serpents. Cults are buildings out of fear and desperation. Self-proclaimed priests are making sacrifices in her name.”

Kelly looked up at him. “That is a very bad idea.”

“Any suggestions?”

Kelly wiped her bowl with a bit of bread and ate it slowly.  She took a deep drink of wine.

“I can go back, appeal to them, something… I don’t know, Shannon. It is not a blood cult; she will be furious if they are murdering in her name.”

“You can’t go back.  I need you for the Barrier,” he said.  “You know that.”

“If they anger her further….”

“She will take it out on you the moment you are not within my protection and you know it.  You can’t go.”

She took another drink of wine. “She will attack Purt. She will crush the false and throw them at us. She will use the storms and any enemies we may have to crush Purt.”

Shannon nodded. “What if a truly devout man appealed for the priesthood?”

Kelly shook her head. “No man.  She will take no man as a high priest.”

“Hmm. I think she is petty and has changed her stories, seeing how pathetic a goddess she is.” Shannon pushed the plate away. “She is a greedy little princess. She needs to have her own heart ripped out. She needs to fall in love and be betrayed by her own rules.” He stood.

“I really am not impressed with her at all. It is just not a good time for me to take on another war. I am losing my tolerance for politics and that is not a good thing for anyone.” He turned and left the room, a bit annoyed.

“He is upset,” Salma said.

“Very,” Tavia said softly, gathering her son into her arms.

“That’s not a good sign, Tavia. The last time he was this upset, he was about to warp an entire chunk of a map.  He is going to get real violent real soon.”

“He knows,” Tavia said, not looking at her friend.

“Can’t you do something to help him?”

“Like what?” she asked.

“I don’t know… make him a cup of tea.” Salma said, frustrated herself.

“What’s wrong with you?” Kelly asked the little woman.

“I’m… I haven’t had enough affection,” Salma almost pouted.

“Well, go get some,” Tavia said.  “Your moodiness is not going to help Shannon, either.”

Salma huffed. “I can’t. It’s against the rules here. I can’t just change clothes and become someone else.  I can’t just go play around.”

“Go ask the regent,” Tavia said.  “He’ll give into you with enough effort. It’d be good for you both.”

She huffed and stood up. “Maybe I’ll go ask Gallus.”

“Maybe,” Kelly chuckled.

“Dave is in the harbor; he’ll help you out if you explain.” Tavia said.

Salma turned and stormed out.

Kelly sighed heavily and leaned back in the chair, tossing her napkin to the table. “I don’t understand why it matters?  He pulled in a lot of very small things.”

“The full honor of priesthood is not a small thing,” Tavia said.

“If she did kill Malkazadon, why wouldn’t she claim it and be proud of it?  Why also would other races have prophesies about him?” Kelly tried to understand.

“Why would she allow her high priestess to be betrayed, brutalized, and crushed?  Why would she punish her chosen and thus her own religion? I imagine the motives are the same, or very similar.”

“Hmm,” Kelly grunted. “I’ll have to think about it. It’s been a long time since I kept up on such stories.  Maybe I am just forgetting something.”

“Or maybe she made you forget things you once knew.”

“Maybe.” Kelly stood up, looked at her son a moment, bowed her head to him and left the room.

Tavia stood with her son. “You two did very well,” she said to them.

They stayed to clean up and then reported back to Jamie. They barely got back when Jamie took them to another cellar in need of purifying.

 

 

 

 

Zou couldn’t sleep. He just needed to walk. He went back to the imperial side of the palace grounds, wanting to look closer at some of the ancient lines carved into every walls. There was a place on a section of lower wall where endless knots were carved in far deeper than other places. They were not where the light flowed, but were just art.  He wanted to look at them again.

He walked along the section of the  hall wall until he found them, then knelt down to look closer and trace the lines with his fingers. It was oddly comforting and reminded him of the time he had spent with his mother in the deserts of Dacan. As he was looking, he saw something he had not seen before. All of a sudden, in the knots and lines, he saw what looked like an artistic style monkey trapped in the cords of a rope. His heart was clearly cut out in the center of each set of three knots.

He was thinking just how odd that was when he felt something out of place.  He turned to see three men walking up the hallway. One of them had two small boys and another carried a third child. Each boy was slumped in far too deep a state to be right. Zou rose to his feet, every bit of him going on alert at once. This was wrong, very wrong. It took only a moment to register that they had the three boys: Keeden, Valen, and Rajak.  Valen tried to lift his head, but failed.

Zou had little choice but to step in the way and put his hands on the hilt of his sword.

“I seriously doubt those belong to you,” he said.

The third man moved at once to attack him. Zou threw an elemental at him and ducked past to drive his sword into the gut of the man who held Keeden.  He grabbed the boy, jerking him away as he forced the sword sideways to spill guts over the floor.  The man screameddoubling over in pain.

Zou slipped on the guts he had spilled, kept the prince out of it, but hit hard. He swung his sword at the ankles of the man who held Valen and Rajak. The man shouted, stumbled, but kept going. Shouting for guards, Zou gained his feet and ran after the man. He knew there was no way these men had planned to take the boys out the gates, so they had to have a Gate or some such thing on the palace grounds and close.

He slammed his shoulder into the man as they reached a garden door. The man stumbled and fell, both boys under him. Zou let go of Keeden to grab the man by the hair, jerking him back and slitting his throat, without putting the two boys in danger.  All three of them started to cry. Zou pushed the man aside to gather up the three boys, trying to comfort them. He was just standing up when three more men rushed out of the palace halls. They didn’t even slow at the sight of the dead men.  Zou scrambled back, unable to redraw his sword with the boys in his arms.

Behind him he felt a power begin to grow. He shouted as he saw a wolf streaking across the yard. He expected her to spin and aid him, but she didn’t. She leapt right into him. The magic that hit him was staggering and left him blind and breathless. He was grabbed and then he was staggering back onto uneven ground. He was slammed to a wooden floor. Still blind, he struggled to focus, but everything was black.  He felt a sharp prick to his arm and then silence swallowed him.

 

 

End part 8 edits

Chapter 6&7, Princes of Purt

Princes of Purt:

Chapter 6

Chapter 7      

 

      Chapter 6, In Court

Victa could hardly believe it. They had given him clothes fit for a prince. He looked very handsome. His long slender braids had been redone and fell nearly to his waist with each one tipped in a gold bead. Zou looked very handsome. Flawless dark skin, perfect features, and eyes of a Purtan; yet he was not the man he had been.

She walked over to him. He stared off at nothing, as always, but he was expected to be here, after all it was the Ulam Bac celebration of the crowning of Tyeldwar, the Holy Father James’s own father. The crowning had been weeks ago and shown with image captures. A network of crystals that relayed the events, only if there were no storms between, played the event out as if it was happening right there. There had been a few flaws in it, but they had all seen it.  A grand feast had followed and now the court ball.

Zou sat in a small side chamber that normally would have held a long table with banquet foods, but with the food limits imposed by the emperor, the meal was over and there were no side tables.

He sat where they had left him.  Many looked for him, but didn’t see him tucked away in the side chamber, half hidden by a drape. Victa walked over to him and stood right before him, but he didn’t see her.  She touched his hand.

“Zou,” she said. He blinked and slowly looked up to her.  She smiled, “You want to join us?” she asked, offering her hand.  He looked at her as if not understanding for a long time. They had said he had battled the evil sorceress of Awens and had won the fight, forcing her back, but he had sustained terrible brain injury.

Magic was not always a great or fun thing. Just as Victa was about to turn away and leave him he got up. He seemed to be half asleep. He was there, just not all the way.  She took his hand in the grip of a friend who knows the other. She smiled at him.  He was very handsome and even with her new-found rank and place in the courts of Ulam Bac, she had never thought she would walk as a friend with someone so amazing. She hoped that she was that to him and not just a nameless face.

They left the small side chamber and moved out to the hall. She kept him along the outer wall until they found a nice place to stand and watch the dancers. He held her hand, standing there seeming not to watch at all, but then for a moment he would seem to be seeing everything… then it was gone again.

“Did you know they call you hero of Gauleraunt. That you not only led the fight against brutality, you wrote the letters for them that when they reached the emperor, he sent a true king?”  She watched him, hoping to read a reaction from him, something, anything. She had the patience to have done no less with a woman she didn’t know at all and woke her… why not Zou, as well?

“I used to be just a food servant here; that’s what they call you when you work for nothing but meals. But then the empress made me a gardener and since I have done well with it, I have been made a master gardener. I work on the city’s parks to make them function better, to clean them up and try to use them to either feed people or feed animals we can eat.  It’s a hard job, as there are a lot of people in Ulam Bac and more are moving in as the lands get too hard to tame and trade is broken by storms.” She watched the empress enter the room, quietly from a side door.  She came with her son in her arms.

She was dressed so simply, a smooth gown that fit her with elegance. She had only a thin silver chain with a single emerald on it as jewelry and not even painted fingernails. Even with her influence in the court, the lavish and layered look of the court held on. Many of the men had adopted the low stiff collar of the emperor’s wardrobe, making that small detail almost a standard.

The empress was lost to the crowd as she moved into the hall. Victa talked about various people who were out dancing.  She sighed. “Someday I will learn to dance like that,” she said a dreamy sigh.  “Maybe you have to fall in love first,” she sighed again, watching a couple dancing nearby, seeming to float over the floor.

Zou snorted a little. “Dumb book…” he muttered.  She almost cheered.  He might not have heard a word she had said, but he remembered her.

“That was not a dumb book,” she defended. “It was a very good book for what it was written about.” She almost laughed when he slowly looked over at her. He didn’t seem to be able to focus on her, but he had at least turned his head.

“Ah, Victa!” a young baroness said, walking up with a troop of other stunningly beautiful women.  “Who is your friend?”

“This is Zou,” she said. “Zou, these are several women of the court.

“I am Baroness TyraGalla,” the beautiful woman said, offering her hand.

“You forget he is still recovering from injury, Baroness. His response’s are rare and far between.”

“All the better,” she replied. “There is only one real response from a man that matters and I plan to find out if it works.” She moved to take hold of Zou, pulling him with her.  Zou stepped back from her and struggled to focus on the woman before him, trying to make his eyes work.

He spoke in Dacan at her, sounding fluent, if nothing else. The woman looked a bit shocked.

“What did he say?” she demanded of Victa.

“He said something along the lines of you being a breeding cow,” a tall Elite Purtan said walking up to them. He was one of the few Elites who moved freely about the court and city. Most had rules so defined they did not talk to anyone but the emperor and showed no emotion or reaction of any sort. This man was different. He was stunning in a sharp sort of way, moved about as if he was a lord, and yet wore the uniform of an Elite.  “A bit more involved than that, but I would remind you that he has trouble relating, not that he is unaware of the world. If you had any sort of magic in your bloodline, you would know that. I think he thinks very low of you.”

She huffed and turned away with disgust and a hint of fear at the tall Purtan with his deep Norwood accent. The man actually smiled after her.

“What did he truly say?” Victa asked him.

“I don’t speak Dacan,” he said with a clear hint of humor. “I am able to read emotion, though, and he does not like that woman at all.”

“He is aware then?  I wasn’t sure,” she said.

The Elite nodded with a pleasant little smile. “Yes. He is very frustrated. His mind is working just fine; it’s just that when he tries to pull it into his body in order to relate, it goes still. So he watches as if he is in a dream. He is here, though, and fully aware.”

“Has there been any word on whether or not he will heal?”

“The emperor has asked Father James to return to Ulam Bac to look into it himself.  He has sent orders that I am to be… Prince Zou’s body guard for now.”

“Prince Zou?” she asked.  “I did know that rank could just be given.”

“It’s not. Zou is the son of King David.  He is heir to the throne of Crouse. That’s a secret, though,” he winked at her with an easy warm manner that seemed very odd coming from an Elite.

“Are you certain you’re an Elite?” she asked, not sure what to think about him or the way he looked at her. He had very powerful eyes that made her feel he was looking right through her.

He laughed softly. “That is the nicest compliment I have gotten is several thousand years, I should think.  Yes,  I am.  I am called Umren.  It’s an Ezeeran name, but the man who gave it to me was Ezeeran and as I could not recall the name I wore before then… it works.”

“I’m Victa,” she offered, not certain how their ranks worked or if he even wanted to know her name.

“I know,” he smiled at her and moved to stand beside Zou as he looked out over the crowd of dancers. “We all know you.”

“We?”

“Elites,” he said, “the masters out of Norwood.”

“Why?” she laughed, trying to think why they would know her at all.

“Look at the crowd,” he gestured out over the people.  “You see them, moving and stepping… like a herd of sheep. They are bland copies, one like the other, all trying to be something more. Sometimes in that flock you find a mountain goat, or a wolf, or a unicorn… each trying to be just another part of the flock.  You are no flock sheep.”

She laughed a little at the idea; she could almost see it. “What am I?  A muddy little gopher?”

He laughed softly. “No… well, maybe,” he laughed a truer laugh, “but that was not what I was thinking, though. My point is that some people stand out in ways that most cannot even begin to see and you are one of those. That alone has won you fame in the right circles.”

“Hmm.  Well, I am not certain how I feel about being known by every vampire in Ulam Bac.  I think it makes me a bit nervous.”

He looked over at her with a great sparkle to his eyes. “You should feel protected,” he said. “Nothing ever happens without your permission and there are those who are so protective of you that any slip at all would be met with very firm reactions.”

She sighed sadly. “And yet, here I stand – alone again – at a court function.”

“Alone?  What are Zou and I?  Phantoms?”

“That’s not what I meant and you know it,” she said with a little laugh.

He stepped over, offering his hand. “Care to dance, lady?” he asked.

She laughed. “You’re teasing me now.”

“No.  I would love to.”

She took his hand with caution. “No biting,” she warned him with humor.

“I promise,” he said with a smile that was very dangerous for any woman’s heart.

“Don’t go anywhere,” she told Zou.  “I’ll be right back.”

Zou didn’t even seem to notice, but Umren nodded to him with a little bow. Victa went with the tall handsome man out to the floor. She was suddenly scared she would fumble the steps and look all the more foolish to the Baroness and so many others.

“Relax,” he said softly. “I’ll lead you through it. I’m very good at this.”

She took a deep slow breath. He stepped her into motion and the more she let herself just look at him, the smoother the dance was. It was amazing; her heart raced and she felt as if she was flying. She barely noticed the room at all and the music just seemed to fill the space about them. The world seemed to shift to warm spots, flowing light, and a softness to all things.

When the dance spun to an end and she found herself with her arms crossed and held back against Umren, she saw the world remaining that way. It was still that way with the crowd coming back in as he led her off the floor toward Zou. It began to fade only slowly, and as the light faded, she saw him as if in a double vision. He stood behind himself, one of him dressed as a prince, the other in his old travel clothes. She looked to Umren startled and saw him watching her with a very serious expression.

“What did you just do?” he asked her softly as they reached Zou.

“Me?” she asked.  “What did you just do?”

He shook his head ever so slowly. “I didn’t do anything. You did that,” he said very seriously.

She swallowed, afraid for him for a moment. She was very concerned that she might have done something that would compromise his self-control.

“Are you alright?” she asked.

“A little flushed, but I’m fine,” he told her, slowly letting her go.

“I didn’t mean to do anything.  I don’t know what that was…I…”

He smiled reassuringly at her. “You did nothing wrong. Like I said, you are something other than the rest.  Don’t be afraid of that.”

“Umren,” the empress herself walked up to them with her little boy toddling at her side.

“Empress,” he said with a bow to her.

She picked up her son and looked to Zou, who stood looking blank-eyed into space.

“How is he?” she asked.

“Trying to reweave his soul back into his body and having a little trouble with it.  He is fully aware, though. The damage was pretty bad to his brain. He had to use a very powerful magic. It would be like having a horrid fever for way too long. The fact that he lives at all is a bit shocking. He is doing wonderfully for what he has been through. He is a strong man.”

She nodded. “You adopt him, Victa?” she asked.

“Not really, Empress. He traveled with me on the train out of Amdor. They helped me escape. It was I she was after and he who paid for it. He managed to let me know he knew me.  He read one of my books and said it was very stupid, to say the least, and today he said dumb book, so…” she shrugged.  “I hope it’s a good sign.”

The empress nodded. “It is a good sign.” She reached out and touched his face and switched to Dacan. “I have sent for Kelly. I need her here and maybe she can help you fix this.”

Zou managed for a moment to focus on her, but he didn’t say anything. She lowered her hand. “Dave is hunting after the sorceress with Theo. They have her trail. They said that it has something to do with the burns making her easier to find. Theo is very eager to take her down while she is still injured. Dave feels very bad for not catching what happened and won’t come back until he kills her for you.” she said.

“Father…” he whispered. The empress almost looked ready to cry.

She nodded. “Shannon told him. Yes, he is. It didn’t make it any better for him. It made him sick. He almost killed you for being Ta’Zan.”

Zou nodded a little, then his focus slipped away and his face went blank again.  Tavia sighed. “You’ll get back to us. I know how it feels; hold on. It will come back together.” She looked to Umren.  “Take care of him.”

Umren bowed to her. “I will,” he promised.

“Try to spend time with him,” she told Victa.  “If he knows you, it might help him pull a few things together.”

She nodded. “I will. I owe him that and much more. Did they say he was alone? Did the king hear anything about the man he was with?”

“With?” Tavia asked.  “No. He was alone.”

Victa shook her head. “He was traveling with a man I thought was his father. He called him Druid. He was amazing, Empress. There was such… quiet calm. I don’t even know how to explain him, but he was a great man and not likely that he would leave Zou, but less likely he would have gotten killed.”

“I’ll ask Dave about it when I get a chance. He came alone.”

She shook her head. “Druid was special,” she said. “He had a grace to him that was hidden under unkempt hair and rugged clothes. Only the emperor himself seems to hold such power. He was powerful in a way I cannot explain, but I know it as surely as I see the power in Shannon.”

“Maybe Zou will be able to tell us where he is soon.” She nodded to them and moved on with her son laying his head on her shoulder. Victa watched her go with a heavy sadness for the woman.

“She isn’t very happy,” Victa said, shocked she had said it out loud.

Umren nodded. “She is very far from happy. She is a powerful woman, but has lost more than most souls ever hold. She feels painfully alone here.”

“She is. All she has is a baby and her duty.”

Umren looked over at her from the empress, who was now talking to the master of the mason’s guild. “Would you like to walk in the garden? Some of the lost army are there and they might like to see others as well.  Maybe it will do Zou good to see he is not alone in this court.”

She nodded. “I would love to walk in the garden,” she said honestly.

 

Chapter 7, Derek and Hunter

DaHane eased himself out on the roof edge and slid carefully down to the gutter.  His bare feet caught the deep lip and he carefully stood up. The wind hit him along with the sunshine. He spread his arm and wanted to shout, but held it in. If he shouted, he would be seen. Up here on the rooftop he was free.

He had the best view up here. Below, the entire city could be seen, but the yard was right below him. Outside was a parade as the emperor returned along with the regent from Amdor and the Holy Father James. DaHane couldn’t see them yet, but he could see the inner yard where the real homecoming would take place.

The empress and all the others who mattered waited on the steps, while servants stood to the side ready to take horses, to whisk away luggage, and get the yard cleared as fast as possible. There was Umren, the master of Elites here in Ulam Bac, Victa, several senators, Tyra`Ara, her son Valen, and the emperor’s little brother, Keeden. Keeden was playing with a flower he had picked someplace, while Valen was gripped firmly by his mother to keep him in place. He looked like a caged and chained animal ready to bite his keeper and flee. DaHane felt sorry for the boy. He himself was supposed to be in “official clothes” and standing there, but he wasn’t. His mother was out on the steps; she had just gotten in today as well and went there directly. DaHane had fled up here and now breathed in the air and enjoyed the day.

There was no storm, no storm in weeks actually, and spring was wonderful. The sun was golden, the wind was warm and felt only up this high. It blew through his red hair that he let fly free, thick, and softer than any Purtan might wish for. He had stripped off his shirt and his shoes and left them back at his window escape. Now just in his pants, not even a belt, he felt almost right. Purtan court dress was modest, skin was rarely shown, and his desire to wear less than expected had driven his nanny and his tutors all crazy.

The door of the tunnel from the great yard opened and the cheering poured in through the gate. Everyone was mounted and moved in through the doorway. First came the Elite who went with the emperor everywhere. Then came the wizards who were history-keepers and shield-workers. After them came the emperor in his leather – a red tunic this time with dark blue under it all. He was followed by the Holy Father James in his pure white and right behind him came the regent.

DaHane had not seen the regent since they had come here. The man had seemed to vanish. His heart beat a little faster at the sight of the man. The Regent of Purt was a powerful man, the only known Red Purtan alive, and either feared or revered. He had a short temper that was famous and yet had a mercy that was almost saintly. His task had been to find a king for Amdor and he had failed. He had found many worthy lords and warriors, but he had not found the true line of Amdor. It was sad to see him return without that accomplished.  The fact he was there at all seemed odd.

As if his thoughts made the regent look up, the man looked right at DaHane. He saw him, he had to. DaHane dropped down to be partly hidden by the sheer height of the building he was on. The regent turned his attention back to the yard he had entered.

The lords dismounted while the Elites took the horses and vanished through another side door. The hooves clattered on the stone yard, a sharp sound carried up to where DaHane hid. Despite the noise, voices carried up as well.

“Report,” the emperor said to Umren in Norwood.

“Confirmation has been made.”

“And Zou?”

“Aware, but not functioning in his body.”

“Salma’s task?”

“Accomplished; I have not spoken to her yet or seen the reports.”

“And DaHane?” he asked as he handed his reins over to an Elite.

“Manifesting both his father’s attributes as well as his mother’s tendencies.”

“All of them?”

“He is young yet for the most obvious, but it won’t be long.”

The emperor looked to the two small boys in the grip of Tyra’Ara. DaHane hated that woman; she was a cold firm-handed woman who had little if any love for anyone or anything.

“How are they?” he asked the woman who held the children with a cold hand.

“As to be expected.”

“How are you, Keeden?” the emperor asked the boy. He looked from his flower to his brother. He smiled and went to him, reaching up to be picked up. The emperor did just that, picking up his little brother. Valen squirmed to be let go to go be picked up as well, but his mother tightened her grip.

“He’s a child, Tyra,” the regent said, “not a prisoner of war. Let him go.”

She turned cold eyes on the regent, about to say something, but Valen tore free and ran to the regent. The Red Purtan picked the boy up in exactly the same manner that the emperor had picked up Keeden.

“He is not a farm boy; he must learn to master himself and stand in his place!”

“He is a child. He won’t stay that way for long; let him have just a little of his life be free and innocent. He will have plenty of time to master things other men won’t and to stand in his rank and place.”

“He will one day rule Krent, and hold power in his hand that must be mastered.”

“One day, maybe. Not today.”

“There will be a meeting called soon. Be ready to be there, and be nice to that child, Ara; he is only a toddler,” the emperor said firmly.

The two men went inside, each with a child on one arm. DaHane sighed. It was odd to have the emperor ask of him. No one asked of him. He had no father to pick him up or be kind to him. He sighed and folded his arms around his knees. His father was dead and gone and no one wanted a half Sphinxen boy in their inner circle.

He closed his eyes and let the sun soak into his skin, trying to forget how lonely and sad he was. He just wanted someone to want him close and near. Purtans were an affectionate race, often holding hands with friends and giving hugs to any they liked, but sphinx were closer yet, sleeping in beds that held whole families all curled up together.  His mother had explained that other races are not that way so much and had gotten him several pets to curl up with. A pet cat just didn’t amuse him so much anymore. He wanted something more than just that.

 

 

 

 

The shoes hurt; DaHane wanted to dig his feet into the grass of the yard and feel the dirt, but he had to wear the shoes and he had to sit at the table and do his studies. At least he was outside; it was just too nice to be locked inside, even his tutor said as much.

He tugged at the collar of his shirt and wished he could just run away.  He didn’t look like his mother; he looked Purtan and except for a slight difference in his bone structure, he may well have been.  He wanted out of this life and he wanted a friend and he wanted to take his shoes off.

“You look miserable.”

He looked up, startled to stare at the last man he thought to see in the small garden.  The regent stood in black silk in the cut and form of the Elites, but with stunning embroidery over it all in a dark shade of maroon.  He wore a sash of dark green and a belt of gold links that wound about his waste twice, but that was all he wore in way of showing any rank. His hair had been bound back in a tight braid so it wasn’t that noticeable.

DaHane started to get up, but the regent motioned him to stay sitting. He took a seat on the on the far side of the outdoor table.

“I… the clothes don’t fit me right.”

“Is that why you like to stand on roof tops with as little on as possible?”

DaHane blushed and dropped his head. The regent didn’t seem to notice as he leaned back, stretching a little. DaHane dared to look after a moment and found the man looking off at a bird on a tree branch.

“I was told I could study here, but if you want the garden I can leave,” DaHane offered, knowing he should.

“Leave?” The regent asked. “Why would you leave? I actually came out here to talk to you.” He leaned forward on the table.  “I am told you are having a very hard time dealing with things right now. You don’t want to study, you skip out on things that are asked of you, and you all but refuse to be normal part of court.” He folded his hands.  “Your mother isn’t sure what to do about it. In the Sphinxen culture, the men and the women are raised very differently and don’t interact that much beyond certain things. She has no idea what to give you or what you need. I think you need to just be given the option.”

DaHane looked at him, not sure what he meant. “The option?”

The regent nodded. “You have begun to show a little bit more of your father in your makeup. Your wizard cores are staring to wake up and stir up the Sphinxen magics, like pouring water into a jug that has settled. All the sediment on the bottom is swirling.  You must begin to learn how to master that. Male Sphinx do not often have any magic. If they have any it is limited and takes a great deal of work to wake up.

“So you now have an option.”  The regent rubbed his knuckles.  “You can stay here, learn magic, and study the way it is done here, or you may go and find a private tutor and learn it as anyone else would. The question is do you want to be a merc wizard, some house wizard for hire, or do you want to be trained as a Von Valreen?”

“Being a Von Valreen gets me nothing. I hate it here. I am alone and unwanted and…” he had to stop for the amount of emotion that was rushing up. The regent looked at him a bit shocked.

“Unwanted?” The regent almost sounded hurt. “DaHane, do you not know your great-grandfather fought to take you with him? He wanted you with him, at his side. He was told that when you prove that you are going to have the self-mastery of a Von, then you would be free to go with him.  With your link to the bloodlines and the sheer power of your blood, it was too great a risk to allow you to be out there until you mastered your magic enough to defend yourself. You would be far too tempting to any Blood within reach of you. Shannon refused out of concern for you, not as an afterthought.

“I also impressed upon your great-grandfather that he could not bribe you with a throne to make you do it. I hate politics; I detest my job. I would never want to be a king, and I would never allow anyone to force you to take on that burden. You might want it… I don’t know. Shannon and I have fought about it more than once. You need to stop and think, ask yourself, what sort of man do you want to be? You can take the lessons you gain here and go anywhere, but if you take off and learn at the hand of a lesser teacher, you can’t come back.  Do you understand?”

“You want me to stay and learn here.”

“Of course I do. I sympathize because I was also forced to be something I really didn’t want to be, but because of what I learned as a child, I am able to do what I do. I am free to go places others can’t and to understand thing others overlook.”

“Why do you care?  You’re maybe Von Valreen, but you didn’t even grow up with my father. What am I to you?”

The regent watched the young man a moment. “Salma told me that when a male reaches a certain age, he becomes his father’s son. Up until then he is his mother’s child.  When he becomes a son, he inherits all the magics his father had mastered at the time of his conception. The older, the wiser, the more experienced the father, the greater the son can be. It is a genetic benefit you have and one the elves have but manipulate to keep certain people in power and others out of it. She is very afraid that when you hit that age, you will find all the magics of your father pounding through your heart, driving you crazy.”

“So?  I might learn to say a prayer,” DaHane replied, trying not to let his disgust and contempt for it all show too strongly.

“Your father was a very powerful wizard, even if he didn’t admit it. He knew and did magics that went far beyond the priesthood.”

DaHane played with his pen awhile, not wanting to talk about his father… it made him sad and lonely. He just wanted friends. He didn’t want to think about magic and about fate or rank or anything. He wanted to ride a horse at full speed, he wanted to jump off a cliff into the surf, he wanted to fly away from here.

“I don’t fit in here,” he said softly.

“I want you to meet someone. He is the same age as you are. In fact you two were conceived the same night, as far as I can guess.” He stood up and offered a hand.  DaHane stood and took the hand, not certain the man meant him to, but the regent folded his hand around DaHane’s and led him from the yard. DaHane tried not to admit how good it felt to have someone touch him, even as small a thing as the touch of a hand. His tutor was just inside the door and opened his mouth to object. The regent gave him a look that made the man back up a step. DaHane had to fight not to giggle.

“You know your father didn’t fit in well, either. He was a chubby red-headed boy with glasses who tripped over his own feet at your age. Having a friend made all the difference in the world.”

“Father James!” DaHane had heard all the stories about how close they had been.

“Do people tell you that when they were younger, though, Jamie used to be horribly cruel to him?”

“No,” he looked up at the man who towered over him. DaHane sighed; he’d never be tall as a Purtan, never.

“Jamie was very mean. He was everything your father wasn’t and your father was everything he wasn’t. Being a Hennen was a curse to your father. He was famous and wealthy and put in a monastery with the poorest of boys. It was a tactic to make him want to go home, but all it did was make him very depressed and lonely.”

“Is that when you got to know him?”

“Sort of,” the regent said. “The point is that you are not the first boy to be asked to fit a space he does not easily squeeze into. I sympathize, I empathize, and I am sorry.”

“I cannot imagine you never fitting in. Every woman and half the men in this court would die happy for you to pay attention to them for just a day.”

The regent laughed. “Do you know how I met Shannon?” he asked.

“They say you were out hunting and ran into him.”

“No. I was running away from an abusive teacher. I was ready to become vampire food, or fall off a cliff, or freeze to death at that point. Anything to get away from him. I was so blinded by my desperation that I ran right into Shannon. Can you imagine? Running into him?”

“I cannot imagine him allowing it.”

“He was distracted. He had not realized there was a Von Valreen in Norwood’s forests. He wasn’t really paying attention in this realm.”

“What happened?”

“He killed the man and then marched me home and more or less told me to not be such am impulsive idiot; that lords of Purt needed to behave like lords of Purt. He still tells me that.” The regent scowled, a little annoyed, then looked over and smiled. “You and I are more alike than you think.”

DaHane wanted to think so; he wanted his uncle to think so, but he doubted it.

They went through the halls and down a long hall to another section of the palace all together. In a long narrow garden that grew between two low wings with pillared walk ways, standing alone before a windowed wall, was a man. He was amazingly different.  He had dark skin and long black hair done in many tiny braids. He stood in the sun, not moving at all.

He had to be Zou, the dark-skinned man who had led the revolt in Kill-Abben.

They walked over to where Zou stood looking blankly at the garden beyond. Victa was out in the garden working with several other young women, not a bad view in DaHane’s mind.

“Zou, this is DaHane,” the regent said.  “DaHane is the son of Salma and Oirion.  Zou is the son of David Sailor and a woman who was very close to them all. I can’t say her name for her sake and his,” he added after a pause. “If the escape had not happened as it had, you two might well have been born together and raised almost as brothers.”

DaHane looked at the man. If they were the same age, why is it always that he was treated as a child and this man was praised as a hero and given a place as an adult.

“Is it because I am short?” he asked out-loud.

“You mistake things,” the regent said, understanding at once. “You seem to think that you are seen as a child and misread love and concern for the reactions reserved for children. There is a great deal of fighting going on about you right now. Only as you fail to apply yourself does the fact your mother is neither human nor sphinx in the normal sense, nor any race recognized in the list by the angels, become a problem.

“Some want you to be a Von Valreen; others say you’re not even a full race, but only because you seem to be unable to keep up with your Purtan peers.” He sighed looking at Zou. “I think you are lonely and bored out of your mind. That’s how I spent my entire childhood. I think I can see the same thing in you both, but I think it is getting worse and ugly for you as you are sphinx and you are not getting what you need.”

DaHane looked up at the regent. “What does my mother do? Why is she gone all the time?” he asked.

“She is working with others to try and create a grid of lode stones that are absorbing the energy of the storms. She has a sensitivity toward where the energy is going to flow and pool that others simply do not have. She is able to allow us to set up the stones before the pools start, not having to wait until they do, then hunting them down and repairing the damage. Her work is why we have better weather this year. It’s not a healing; it’s a fix until we can fix the bigger issue.”

“The Barrier.”

“Yes. And when it comes down, the Sphinx will be a nation, a race worthy of trade and diplomacy. I really had hoped you would have a very strong position here by then.  Your grandmother is less than happy about you and I want it very clear her attitude is not really a good idea for her to hold onto.”

DaHane looked back to Zou and sighed. At least he wasn’t brain-dead.

“I hate the books, the clothes, the rules. I want to move, I need to move. I hate it…”

“If I could DaHane I would take you myself and have you be my apprentice, give you hands-on instead of books to learn by, but I can’t. My life is just too dangerous right now. I barely feel prepared for it myself. I can help you find a better place and more suitable tutors than those Tyra Ara assigned to the palace, though. But, you have to decide what sort of man you want to be.  Sphinxen mothers lose track of their sons after so long; you have to know that. Salma is different, but she just doesn’t know what to do with you. No one does. So I’m asking you, what do I do with you?”

DaHane looked at him with an odd awe. No one had ever talked to him so openly and plainly. No one had ever just asked him what he wanted and here he was, the regent himself, asking.

“I don’t understand why I have to keep reading,” he said. “I read three forms of Purtan and I know the history as well as most in court. I have passed every fighting test and yet I get no better teachers and no outlet. I can think, I can move, I want to do something!”

“There are several option. One of them that has been hinted at is that you could become a White Guard. The only trouble is that if you do, it’s for life and you cannot take the throne of Valreen. Your grandfather has loudly objected.”

“He has?”

“Yes. He wants you. All you have to do is prove you’re ready to go. All you have to do is understand that you are a man – a young man, but not a child. I am certain that until he was put in a position to make a choice and act, Zou felt himself a child under a teacher’s wing, and then he was dropped into that moment. You see how it ended?

“That is what is feared.  Zou escaped with his soul and may well recover fully, but at a price that will haunt him his entire life. I really do not want you to have to go through that. If you would just stop and really think about things, you might find some answers.”

DaHane shifted on his feet and considered. He felt better for the simple touch of holding some one’s hand, his heart felt better, his gut was unwinding and his deep anger was settling. He did not want the regent to let go; he did not want to stand there alone. Anything but that.

“What other options do I have?”

“You could work as a secretary, but I think that is a horrid idea. Another is that you could work with the guilds. They are hiring guards while they work on repairing the city. A lot of what the jewelers guild is doing is stripping the gold out of all the churches in Ulam Bac. You could work as a guard for that. Your job would be to defend it from robbery, watch their backs, and watch the priests. You’d need to record, in your own ledger, how much was taken and how it was packed. It’d be your job to protect them, but also to protect the empire’s gold. The emperor needs that to repair the empire. Every sliver counts. You could go in, change your name, drop the ‘I’m a bored prince’ feeling and be a man looking for a job.”

“I might like that,” DaHane said.

“Now,” the regent looked at DaHane, “while you let that sink in a little, I’d like to address you both. Both of you are the sons of people I care about a great deal and who want very much to be a part of your lives, but for many reasons are denied that. Zou needs a friend, someone to just hold a hand.  His race demands no less or they will spin off into insanity.

“Zou, you need someone to lead your body around. I think it will work well enough. Now, DaHane, while Zou isn’t really able to say much, he is very aware of things and from what I am told, he has a very stubborn streak with a great sense of humor. I think that you two should try and think of each other as family and watch each other’s backs. If either of you need anything, let me know. Come to me as long as I am here.”  He took DaHane’s hand and folded it around Zou’s. He dug in his pocket and pulled out several silver coins. “If you two young men go out through that door and across the yard, there is a wooden gate on the far side that leads into the Keepers Yard.

“It is a small town inside the palace, kept for servants and guards. There is a tavern there that many bored young nobles find their way to. One rule; you don’t use your real names and you don’t get into any fights. No fights, I mean it. As long as you hold to that, I will make sure that it will be overlooked if you two go there.”

The regent left them with a fistful of money and walked away.  DaHane looked at Zou.

“Well?” he asked, not expecting any response.

Zou looked over and smiled a tiny bit. “Dark Malt,” he said.

DaHane smiled.  This could be a great thing. He grinned. He had never been to a tavern before. He put the coins in his pocket.

“Alright fake names then.  Well…” he considered.  “How about I name you and you name me?” he asked suddenly. He wanted to see if Zou would talk again. “I’ll call you… Derek.”

Zou seemed to consider for a moment, then nodded. “Hunter,” Zou said.  “I like it.  Hunter and Derek. What are we?” he asked as they headed for the tavern the regent had told them to go to.  Zou didn’t answer, but he walked along with DaHane, now called Hunter.

 

 

 

 

 

The tavern was a lot larger than they had thought it would be. It had two fire places, one at either end of the main room. The place was set up in a great cross with the bar in the center of it all, facing all directions. Tables stood around the central bar with booths along the walls. Only one of the fireplace arms had tables just for sitting; the other had a table with some sort of ball game going on. The back length had tables for gambling and what looked like a target on the back wall.

They took stools at the bar. A very pretty Purtan woman came up to them with an easy smile. “What can I get you two?”

“Deke would love a dark malt and I’ll take… oh, why not.  We’ll just take a pitcher of that.”

“Any preference?”

“Fossan,” Zou said.

She smiled and nodded, leaving them to get the pitcher.

“That’s nice to look at,” DaHane sighed, watching her walk away. Zou smiled and put his hands on the bar.

“Regent knows…” he said, trying to say more, but let it go with his eyes going blank for a moment before he managed to make them slowly focus again.

“I think he knows a great deal. I like him,” DaHane said. “Certainly because I am not making my eyes burn staring at a book so boring it would kill a lesser man.”

The woman returned with the pitcher. “Is that all I can do for you?”

“Talk to us…” Zou managed to say.

“Maybe later,” she laughed as she walked away, but with a fun glance back at them.

“Oh yes, come talk to us…” DaHane sighed. They both sipped the beer. DaHane wasn’t so sure he liked it. Zou actually laughed at him for his expression. DaHane laughed back and sipped it carefully. He loved the change of environment and the fact that he was sitting with someone who was there with him and actually seemed happy about it.

Watching the women who worked there certainly helped as well. He couldn’t remember the last time he was so simply happy. He was quite content to be there watching when he saw the last man he thought would be there. He had to look again to be certain, but he had spied on the man more than anyone else. There he was – not dressed as himself, of course.

He had plain dark clothes, worn and faded. The leather was obviously taken care of, old, good quality, but nothing fancy. He wore it over thick dark cotton. Typical fingerless gloves favored by many guards, covered his hands. He had his hair bound back in a tight smooth tail that was braided and looked oddly short. He had added a set of ear rings that caught a hint of the light and held it.

He had on a leather belt that wound about him three times and held a battered but solid looking leather purse, a short sword, and a long dagger. The emperor looking like any of a thousand Purtans who came to Ulam Bac to try to find work as a guard or as any such thing. Most turned into petty thieves and hungry jobless beggars.  Only those who were hired to work in the palace were welcome in this little town within the palace  grounds. He took a seat at the other side of the bar, off to their right. He ordered a drink and sat there with his head bowed, turning the mug in his fingers between drinks.  DaHane could not make himself stop looking and yet he was certain he was going to get into trouble for being there.

“Ah, that’s Rellen,” the woman said coming back and leaning on the bar before them.  “He’s a guard for Princess Salma.  He doesn’t say much, keeps to himself.”

“For Princess Salma?” DaHane asked.

“Oh, yeah. She has to have body guards at all times. Many dark wizards want her blood. The emperor himself picked out her guards and she is never alone. They say she is so beautiful that men fall in love with her on sight and that she has the blood of a priest in her. It makes her very desirable to the dark powers, I understand. It’s funny though. He seems too unremarkable. To think he was hand-picked…” she shrugged.  “So what do you two do?”

“Oh, we’re just guards. We have been working for Lady Victa. People don’t like her for her heritage, you know. It’s not a glamorous job, but we get to wear swords to work,” he grinned. “Poor Derek got hit in the head with a rock that someone threw at her and is still a little ringy. Knocked him out right cold, but the healer says it will heal in a few months and he’ll be fine. It got me out of duty for awhile to make sure he doesn’t do something stupid.” He smiled even more. “He’s got a hard time talking and keeping his eyes focused, but he’s fine. Just playing it up a little,” DaHane confided.

She laughed softly. “So how old are you two?”

“Twenty,” he lied, “born about three days apart, honestly. It’s why we became friends – same tavern, same drunken weekend, for the same reason.” He laughed. “That was a painful weekend.”

She laughed a little. “I bet,” she said. “You two got girls at all?”

“Nah, we haven’t been in Ulam Bac that long and we been working a lot. Derek has better luck than me on that level. I think it’s the dark skin; makes him exotic,” he teased.

Zou smiled and took a sip of his beer.

DaHane still noticed the emperor sitting alone at the bar. He sat there a very long time while the girls came over and talked to them in turns.

“Can I buy Rellen a drink?” DaHane asked the current girl who was talking to them.

“Sure,” she said.  “He drinks a pretty expensive drink, though.  It’s a Dacan coffee with a dwarven fruit whisky in it.”

“I’ll pay for it,” he said.  “He looks like he could use it.”

She left to go make the drink.  DaHane looked at Zou. “How are you doing?”

“Not too bad,” Zou said, as if there was nothing wrong with him. He laughed a little and took another drink.

“Maybe drinking that nasty stuff is good for you.”

“I like it. Try something lighter. Like a wheat beer or a white wine; all the girls like white wine.”

DaHane laughed at him and his tease. The regent was right they were going to be friends and he could tell that already. Zou had a great spark of humor in his eyes and    DaHane laughed at Zou as he decided what to do with being called a girl for his dislike of the dark beer.  DaHane laugh again at hearing the laughter of his new friend.

“Wow,” the first woman came back at the laughter and looked at them both.  “You do have a voice,” she said to Zou.  He shook his head and took another drink as if to deny it and hide that he had just laughed outloud. “I’m Mai by the way.”

“I’m Hunter and this is Derek,” DaHane said.

The more they drank, the more Zou seemed to emerge from his inner prison and the more fun they had. They had finished another pitcher when the emperor, posing as Rellen, walked over.

He put his hand on DaHane’s shoulder. “Remember that there are those who would love to sip your blood if they knew who your fathers were. Watch your comments and watch your back,” he gave Zou a very serious look. “I’ll get you a flask of something better than that swill. Maybe it will help.” He left them both stunned: the emperor had seen them, knew them, and let them stay.

“Swill?” Zou asked, a little hurt.

DaHane laughed. “I told you it was nasty.”

 

 

End part 6 edits

Interesting Summon, chapter 4

Chapter 4

Interesting Summons

Princes of Purt

 

 

It wasn’t going to be alright. Druid felt as if he was about to walk into a spider den. His skin prickled and his heart rate was up. He did not know the grasslands well enough to understand what he was being warned of, but it was coming close.

“Zou,” he said softly. “You remember what I told you yesterday about if anything happens?”

“Yes,” Zou said.

“I meant it. As matter of fact, I want you to run – right now,” he glanced back over his shoulder.

“Now?”

“To the sun, run east, due east as best as you can. The grass whispers warning at me; you need to go. You need to run. Now, Zou!” he said softly, but urgently.

Zou looked ill, doubtful, then stepped into a run heading due east. Druid kept up a steady pace, falling behind Zou. The lion was as tense as Druid was. He walked swinging his head side to side as if trying to catch the scent of whatever in the air.

Druid watched Zou disappear over the low hill to the east. He felt a little better about things with Zou out of sight and he slowed his pace. The farther Zou got, the better. Reaching into his vault, he grabbed his staff and began to breathe up power. The attack came out of nowhere. Never had he been attacked in such a way. It came from across realms.

The blow hit his chest so hard he was knocked back off his feet. The air was crushed from his lungs and his heart felt as if it had been bruised and no longer beat right. The lion leapt over him, becoming a shield. With a roar, the lion fought to stay on his feet as the attack seemed to crush him downward. Druid rolled aside, sucking in air painfully. He knew the attack was demonic, but at a level he had never had to face.

Gasping hard, he swung his staff up as he struggled to his feet and cast out a realm wave that crashed against anything close at hand on another realm, allowing him to see just where his attacker was. He saw his attacker, a massive creature that looked to be a cross between an orc and a bull. The demon wasn’t alone though.

He held dozens of men and women. They were bound by chains about their necks that attached to his belt. They lingered about him, clearly beaten down and broken. Beyond that were the ghost images of trees, an entire forest, as well as Purtan guards. They watched as if not fully awake and yet they were not bound. Somehow their souls were caught between realms and they lingered here.

Crying out and pulling on all the energy his soul had to offer, Druid cast it at the demon. The black lion was crushed down to the ground, light flickering through him and on him. Whatever the magic was that the demon used, the Familiar had no way to fight it. He could only endure and buy Druid time.

The blast of light that poured out of Druid hit the bull demon. The demon was moved back a step, but it seemed to have little affect other than that. Druid did not relent. Whoever this demon was, Druid had no choice but to win or be chained to his belt with the others; of that Druid was fairly certain.

“Help me!” Druid cried out to the wandering souls of the Purtans and the ghost trees. “Help me!” he yelled at them. The lion burst into flame with one last gasp. The bull’s attention turned on Druid. He snarled, showing cat-like teeth. The beam of light still poured from Druid’s staff, but he was drawing near the end of the fight.

It was the ghost trees that reacted, coming to his aid. One of them that the demon walked right though responded by stabbing a limb though his back. The demon swatted at it as if it was an annoying insect. Druid held his ground.

A second tree shot up a root at the demon’s feet. The trees flickered and moved, seeming to draw closer, almost as if trying to hedge in the demon. Druid called out to the plains, to the grass, to Purt herself to aid him. There was no way he could fight this thing alone.

Irritated by the trees in his way and their pricking at him with their ghost limbs, the demon lifted his hand and drew down power. Druid felt it coming, but had no defense against it. He was for a moment like a mouse under a lion’s paw. He grit his teeth and still held his ground.  His only hope was that the power of the banishment reached a point to cast the demon back to the abyss.

Druid took a step back, ready for the pain that he fully expected.

“Help me!” he cried out to any power in Purt who was against ancient evils. Rumor was the angels were taking an active role; maybe, just maybe, they would help him, or perhaps these lost souls of Purt would shake off their daze and come to his aid.

The last thing he expected was for another demon to answer. He materialized just as the attack came. He was stunning in every way. His robes were night sky swirling with stars, his black wings were graceful, yet bat-like; his hair was the deepest red and his skin so white it seemed he had never seen the sun.

He lifted his hand and shattered the attack. The bull demon snarled, but took a step back.

“Shannon…” he growled. “This is none of your business!” The demon’s voice hit Druid with such unexpected force he was dropped to his knees grabbing his ears in pain.

“Everything in Purt is my business.”

“The Druid is mine. I laid claim before you were born.”

“The Druid is mine!” Shannon snarled. “I am Norwood; all Druids are mine. One day I will take them all back. Be content that I allow you to simply leave.”

“No,” the bull demon shot back, “you might have the power of Purt when you walk the world, but here you are one of us.” He lifted his hand to attack. Shannon was faster. Black power shot out of his hands into the demon’s chest. Ice cracked out over the grassland. The ghost trees wavered and vanished at its touch, but the Purtan souls seemed to wake as if doused in cold water.

The pain Druid felt was like nothing he had ever endured. It was as if all the moisture on his skin had frozen, that his lungs were both crushed and about to explode. His lips split and breathing seemed utterly impossible.

The bull staggered back with a roar of rage, his own spell failing. Shannon was relentless. He did not falter or slow, but hit the demon again with another spell that left Druid weeping and gasping for air. Peeling open his eyes, he watched as the bull demon was driven back until with a staggering step he swirled into nothing and was gone.

Druid struggled to suck in air. There was one moment where he met the stunning demon’s eyes, then Shannon was hit hard with a banishment. For a moment a look of angry irritation crossed his face, followed by concern – but not for himself it seemed.  Then he was gone as fast as he had appeared.

“Now that was interesting,” a woman said. Druid struggled to make tears to save his burning eyes. “How in the hells did you managed to summon Shannon? As far as I know, only my son can manage that.”

The woman that Druid had fought before had caught up to him. She circled around Druid, who still held his chest, simply trying to breathe. He bowed his head. He was utterly drained of energy; he was burned inside and out and was pretty sure the metallic taste in his mouth was more than a split lip. His nose had to be bleeding.

“You know you’re not even that bad-looking. I might keep you around for a while. I have not had a baby in decades now. Finding a father worthy of siring such energy as I demand has become truly a challenge.” She grabbed his hair and jerked his head up. “They really did a number on you,” she said amused. “Your pain is exhilarating. Now tell me where the boy is. One does not allow the son of David Sailor to simply wander off.”

Druid still could not breathe, but he was not unarmed. She was already so close and so unprotected. He took hold of her shoulder for support, still so badly hurt he could not stay steady. She actually laughed at him. Druid fell toward into her, pulling her to him and drove his dagger into her, up under her rib cage, toward her heart.

She shoved him back, grabbing her side with a shriek of rage. He fell on his side coughing for lack of air. She grabbed his own staff off the ground. Blood pouring down her side, she slammed it down into his gut. The feeling was like getting punched, but was so less than the burning of his skin and lungs that he actually laughed at her a little.

Wheeling, she vanished again though her gate. Druid laid his head back. Stabbed to the ground by his own staff, the irony was fairly sad. Saved by a demon to die at the hands of a necromancer. Hopefully she was about to join him in death, wherever she was.

 

 

 

Zou jerked awake. The moon offered light in ever-shifting patterns as clouds raced across the night sky. He was alone. The eagle was gone, Druid was gone, and now even the fire had gone out. His body ached from the long run and the subsequent fall down a ravine. He was bruised, battered, and lost.

He moved to try to breathe life back to the fire. It had been years since they had used the elementals to make fire, but tonight he was about to when he saw a form shambling down the far slope. His mouth went dry with fear. He did not move, but froze in place. He watched in the shifting moonlight to see what it was. The staff was what gave it away. The cord of gems and beads hanging from the top caught the light just right. Zou got up, forgetting his own bruises, to run to Druid. As he drew closer, he slowed. Druid held his stomach as he shuffled, a low limping motion.

“Druid,” Zou said softly. His voice seemed to echo in the still of the night. Druid stopped. With trembling effort he lifted his head.

“Zou…” Druid collapsed to his knees. Zou raced to him and helped him up, and all but carried him to the camp. Without thought, he made the fire roar up and only then saw the condition Druid was in. He cried out, seeing how blood-soaked Druid was, the bit of intestine that was being held onto by a bloody hand. He could see the burned skin,  eyes red as if every blood vessel had exploded, lips cracked and chapped.

“No, no, no…” Zou didn’t know what to do.

Druid let go of his gut to find Zou’s hand.

“Zou,” he used what strength he had to hold the young man’s hand. “If I don’t do this thing, I will die. I had to find you, I had to let you know, but I understand now.” Pain made him shudder.

“What thing?” Zou cried. “Druid…”

“I know I promised never to leave and I will find you just as soon as I can, but if I do not do this now, I will die. Do you understand?”

“No, Druid…”

Druid rolled to his side and pressed his staff into Zou’s hand. “I will seek you out as soon as I can, but you must not wait.  You must go to the emperor, you must seek his aid. I do not know if she is dead, but I hurt her for sure. You must run and not stop.”

“Druid, I don’t understand…” Zou watched as Druid forced himself up with a small cry of pain.

“I’m sorry, Zou. I love you like a son, remember that.” He lifted his hand upward. Zou cried out as power swirled out of Druid, spinning about him; he began to grow; to alter, so shift into something else, something massive.  Zou had to scramble back as Druid shifted. As the light of the power was traded for the first light of dawn, Druid was gone. In his place stood a massive tree, its trunk ancient, gnarled, and twisting upward. Great boughs spread out in a vast canopy. There were no leaves, no sign of life at all, but it was still early spring.

Zou got to his feet, stumbling to the tree. He ran his hands over the ancient bark. It was rough and layered, but warm. He had always known Druid was old, but to see it this way put an entirely new concept of how old into Zou’s mind. He collapsed to knees, hands and forehead against the tree and wept. He was going to have to go on alone and whatever had done this to Druid was possibly still out there.

 

 

 

Zou jerked awake. Nightmares of a demon dressed as a wolf had plagued him. He rolled up to catch his breath; sweat-covered and heart pounding, he looked to Druid for advice, but he was alone. The earth had been churned up by the vast network of roots that raced out from the great tree he had slept under. Choking on his breath, he remembered.

Looking down at himself, he saw Druid’s dried blood on his hands and clothes. He knew Druid would have died, but not since Druid had saved him from the ship had he been without him for more than a few hours. How could he hope to survive alone in this world, being hunted by something that had nearly killed Druid.

Making himself breathe, trying to prove himself a good and strong student, he looked up at the branches so high above him he could not even guess at the height. He struggled to calm himself and to find the courage to leave the shadow of the tree. He leaned a hand on the trunk.

“I don’t know how,” he said bowing his head. The words nearly made him start crying again. Squeezing his eyes shut to force the tears away, he saw Druid sitting at the fire with him laughing. He shook his head.

“No matter what, Zou, I will always follow you, even if you are a moody teenager. Just remember, if we get separated, you head east to Ulam Bac. It might take me awhile, but I will find you. And don’t forget to take my things if you can. They will help you, and it will help me help you if you do.”

Zou opened his eyes. The “memory” seemed real, but he knew that it wasn’t a memory. It was a mix of various conversations all rolled into one. There before him, though, where he was sure he would not have missed it before, was Druid’s sword, leaned up against the tree trunk. His belt was wound about it with the wallet still on it. Swallowing hard, Zou took hold of it.

“Alright.” His hands trembled as he wrapped the belt around his waist. The buckle slid past the worn notch to three past. He had not realized he was so much thinner than Druid. “Not thinner…” he muttered, “just less. I could hide here. I could hide here with you,” he looked to the tree, desperate for an answer.

He got an answer, but not the one he had wanted. The eagle screamed at him as he flew out from the tree, the splint causing him to land awkwardly on the ground.  Waiting for Zou to come, the eagle ruffled his feathered with annoyance. Zou swallowed hard; he wasn’t totally alone then. He drew in a breath and turned from Druid to his eagle. The bird hopped several awkward steps eastward.

“Oh, stop it; just get on my pack and let’s go,” he said kneeling down. The eagle fluttered up, catching carefully at Zou’s arm to get up to the top of the pack where he hunched down to be stable to allow Zou to run as they had learned to do. Zou got up, drew a breath, and headed east toward the rising sun.

 

 

 

 

Zou had not realized a tree could be so big. Three days out and looking back from the rise of the hill, Zou could still see the top of Druid’s boughs. Whatever enemy had attacked him, Zou was certain Druid would have influence on the magics all about the area. Druid would hide his trail, at least for a while.

He chewed on the dry root he had found. It was better boiled and strained, but it was edible and healthy simply washed. It was, however, very bitter and tough. Spring seemed to have arrived overnight. The sweeping hills were green with a sudden burst of fragrance. The sun seemed a warm welcome and the wind was warm on his face and hands.

The eagle stretched his wings and picked at his splints. Zou had never seen him do that. “You want it off?” he asked. The eagle looked at him intently, blinked once, then held out his wing to him. Zou sat to carefully unbind the wing. With relief, the eagle flapped his wings full force and took off with three great hops before becoming airborne.

Zou watched him beat his wings several times, then catch an updraft and become a rapidly shrinking spiraling dot in the sky until Zou could not see him at all. Zou tossed the last little bit of the root and drank down the last of his water before he stepped into a run.

Druid was always able to find water, even in the salt waste, and he had worked to teach Zou the same way of “smelling” the water and going to it.  Zou had serious doubts he would be able to do it as well as Druid. However, he let his feet lead him and ran at that steady pace Druid had so regularly set for them. It was what Druid called Trance Motion, when you moved in time with the rhythm of your heart and how it connected to Gai. It could be a run, it could be a weapons drill, it could be as slow and deep as simply breathing. You just had to find the matching pace and fall into it.

His day was nothing but green hills and endless running until he topped at a small rise to find a damp little trickle at the bottom of hidden little gulley. He slowed, and catching his breath, he stumbled down to it. Only then did he realize how thirsty he was. He dropped down to suck up water. Filling his canteens, he laughed a little. He had done it; he had found water without Druid. Maybe he had hope of making it.

He looked up as the eagle came down to land on a snag of an old tree that had once lived by this little spring. The eagle settled his feathered.

“Camp here?” Zou asked.

The eagle answered by starting to preen for the night.

“Alright,” Zou nodded. “You know I need to know what to call you.” The eagle looked at him. “Why can’t you talk to me anymore? Is it because Druid is gone?”

The eagle made a sad little chirp. Then he looked at him very intently.

“TyRandan?” Zou asked with a doubtful tone. The name just came to him, but he doubted an eagle would wear the name of a Purtan. The eagle puffed up and chirped the sweetest little chirps that Zou actually laughed at him. “Really? You’re Purtan?”

TyRandan chirped at him and clicked his beak as if insulted by his reaction.

“Sorry. I just thought you would have some crazy exotic name, but you know if I walk around calling you TyRandan, it’s a bit breathy. What about just Randan? I mean we are sort of in this together I think, so…”

The eagle tilted his head sideways and seemed doubtful, but then gave in with a little chirp and launched off. Zou watched him circle a moment, then set to making a fire and a place to sleep that he could easily hide in the morning. He was just about to pull out rations when Randan returned with a rabbit in his talons. He tore off one leg, then hopped away to shred and eat it, leaving the rest to Zou.

“Thank you, Randan,” Zou said and bowed his head. He sat up. If Randan was a soul worthy of being a Familiar of such power and insight as to come to Druid’s call, he must be a wise and old soul. It was time Zou treated him as such and work on the skills of Purtan nobility. He shifted his breathing, his manner of sitting, the angle of his spine, and how he moved.

Randan looked at him and with a gentle click of his beak, he let Zou know he saw and approved.

 

 

 

The plains of Spizen turned into the hills of Amel, with the mountains that separated Amel from Couse rising slowly on the horizon. Open endless grassland turned into swaths of fields, divided by roads, long bands of trees, small rivers lined with willows, oaks and various nut trees that Zou didn’t know. His endless running became a discrete jog with, after so long on the go, the option of an inn.

Arriving at a small travel inn alongside the road, he dared to risk it. He left the late spring heat for the cool dark of the inn. Various travelers sat about in their groups eating and talking softly. Zou made his way to the keeper’s desk. A human man came over and cleared his throat.

“What can I do for you?” he asked in Amel.

Zou knew he didn’t speak Amel well, so went with common. “A room, a meal, and a bath if you have one.”

“Three half silver.”

Zou knew it was expensive, but his dark skin had made for trouble more than once. He didn’t argue, but dug in his wallet. With reluctance, he handed over the equivalent in copper. The man counted them and nodded. He handed over a key.

“Up the stairs, last room door.  Bath is out back. You can get a meal when you show the key.”

“Thank you,” Zou said. He went to find his room. It was on the back side of the inn with a small window overlooking the yard where there was a privy and a bathhouse. It was crude, not exceptionally clean nor well taken care of, but it was better than a ditch or hiding in a barn.

He took off his pack, pulled out his cleanest clothes and what soap root he had. He stashed everything under the bed and carefully laid a glyph over them to hide them from sight. It was an easy enough magic that would never hold up to even the lowest level sight, but to a common thief it would simply not be seen.

He headed down to the bathhouse. It had three stalls with tubs that could be filled from a single great heated tank. He filled a tub, scrubbed the clothes he had been wearing, drained the water, and refilled it for himself. He took his time to wash his hair thoroughly before pulling on the clothes he had taken from the pack. Clean, he headed back up with his wet clothes and dripping hair.

In his room he found everything askew. Clearly the room had been searched. He peeked under the bed to find his things still safely hidden against the wall. With a chuckle he hung his clothes about the room. From his pack he took a comb and began the long process of redoing his braids. It had been too long. It took hours.

When he made it down the stairs, the main room had filled with several dozen civilian locals.  An elven bard was in the corner playing a small lute. The rattle of dice, the mix of talk and laughter filled the room. Zou took a seat at a small table. He showed his key and waited. The young woman who brought the bowl of stew smiled a little.

“You travel from far?” she asked.

“Et,” he said.

“From Et?” she asked awed. “I thought Et was at war.”

“It is. I refused to be a part of it. If I am to be a soldier, then I will do so for the emperor alone.”

“You know he will be passing through Amel.” She pulled out a chair and sat with him. “There is a new king of Gauleraunt. Tyeldwar. I guess he is a powerful healer. He even moved the capital to Rathdrum. The emperor is on his way home. He will pass through Eracrow in three days. I wish I could manage to go.”

“Eracrow in three days?” Zou said. “How far is that?”

“About three days,” she said sadly. “Faster by horse, of course, but the train is under repair so it’s not running right now.”

“I would love to see him, but I think I shall keep on my path to Ulam Bac. Do you know the fastest way?”

“Of course, to Eracrow and then on a boat across. Or if the train was running, that would be faster still, but you would have to cut north quite a ways to get the train. It might end up being about the same, so I guess it’s if you like the water or not.”

“Tanna!” a man yelled. “You’re needed, girl!”

“Have to go,” she groaned as she got up. Zou watched her go. Girls never approached him when Druid was around. Maybe this traveling alone might not be so bad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The road to Eracrow was suddenly packed as people rushed to get to the city to see their emperor. It gave Zou the chance to run openly again. He wasn’t the only one. Randan stayed high and showed up only at night to drop off a dinner before settling in the near trees.

Each night Zou was again haunted by the dreams of a demon hidden in a wolf who seemed to have everyone around him convinced of goodness. Nights were far from easy and he left predawn just to outrun the nightmares.

It did take three days to reach the capital city. The crowds were crushing and reminded him of the packed train station in Kill-Abben. The noise was deafening, the smells almost painful, but he wanted to see the emperor as long as he was here and then likely get a ship to Ulam Bac. Maybe the emperor would be going the same way and he could find a way to present himself.

He followed Randan through the packed streets to get near the center of the city. He was completely lost by the time he heard the drums. Pushing forward despite the crush, he wanted to get close enough to see. He was taller than many about him and that helped him, but he still felt too far back.

The Elite warriors of Norwood’s Black Force came first. They walked in perfect rank and file. They all wore black chin to toe, with their hair bound in a perfect pleated single braid down their backs. They wore no visible swords, but they were said to have magic weapons that appeared when needed.

Guarded on either side by the Elites came several ranks of mounted men. They were certainly lords of some sort. By the words of those around him, he knew the next major face to appear was the Steward of the Throne, followed by the emperor. Zou felt his heart stop. The crowd bowed, breathless and awed. Zou felt his heart almost stop. Every motion was perfect. Every lesson Druid had taught him about how a true Purtan moved seemed to be personified in the man.

Most of his life had been spent seeking to get to that man and now that he was so close, Zou could not even breathe; he could not imagine him a real man at all. There was utterly no way he was going to be seen as worthy to ever be presented to Von Shannon.

On the verge of tears and utter despair and purposelessness, he saw the last person he expected to ever see again.  She rode a great horse, her face stone-still.  She wore a uniform very like that of the Elites, but different in very subtle ways. He saw nothing other than that. His heart exploded in his chest.

“Kelly!” he called the name of his mother, trying to be heard over the drums and the cheering crowd. “Kelly!” He pushed forward to get to her, to be seen.  If she could just see him, she would know him and he would be back with her. He shoved a man out of the way and fought to get close with no other thought. He called her name again just as three guards moved in and brought him down so suddenly he wasn’t even sure what had happened.  He was numb, saw stars, and was being taken away with his hands cuffed and his ears ringing.

He tried to talk, but he could make no sound and he couldn’t focus beyond the flashes of stars in his eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

The cell was clean enough, but a cell. He was on a cot that was likely less than clean. Zou sat up with a pounding headache and a sick stomach. The cell door clanged open so loud he winced down and covered his eyes.

“Yes, that’s him,” a man said.

“You certain?” another man asked.  “The governor thinks he’s a black elf and possibly a spy or an assassin.”

“I’m tell you I know this man.  He is the one who led the revolt in Kill-Abben!  I’m tell you he is no spy. He serves the emperor.”

“And I’m not elven, either,” Zou winced up into the light, looking toward the guard. “I’m as much Purtan as you,” he added to the half Purtan man in the door.

“I tell you he is the Purtan hero of Kill-Abben!” The man moved to help him up.  Zou accepted the assistance and allowed the man to get him on his feet. “I will pay the bounty and vouch for him.”

“I don’t think the governor will let him go.”

“Let who go?” A big man walked to the cell and looked at Zou with a scowl.  “So this is the one who was trying to attack the emperor?”

“What?’ Zou asked shocked.

“I tell you he wasn’t!”

“He was shouting in elven and trying to break the line!” a guard said in a contempt-filled tone.  “I tell you, sir, this man is the one.”

“I was shouting at…” he stopped himself and grabbed his head in pain.  “I was shouting the name of the big woman in the parade.”  He winced and looked back at the man.  “Is her name not Tyrakelleshen? Kelly for short? She is a friend of my father’s. I wanted to get her attention.  I was not shouting in elven; I don’t even speak elven!”

“You have an accent!” the guard shot back.

“An Etan accent you, jackass!” Zou snapped back. “Really? You think I’m elven? You sure you’re not a court fool?  Nothing about me is elven.”

“If you’re not elven, then you have to be Razzan and that is worse,” the governor said.  “You sure you’re not elven?”

“You sure you’re not a blood wizard to play such corruption?” Zou said back at him. “If I am such a threat, I dare you to put me before the emperor as such.”

“Fine, we will,” the governor stepped forward and stabbed him with a needle.  Zou watched it go into his arm and the world went black.

 

 

 

 

Zou woke to Randan clicking his beak. Zou struggled to get his head back. He was on the hard cold ground in dampness and reeking smell.

“Not good,” he muttered and looked at the bindings on his wrist. They were spelled ropes, but nothing that he couldn’t be rid of.  Whispering to his elementals, he set them on the ropes. They consumed them in a flash of red light. Free of the wrist bindings, he untied his ankles before he moved.

The door had a barred window where Randan had squeezed between the bars. Zou crawled to the door, his head blurred with whatever drug they had given him. Randan jumped away as Zou pushed. The door groaned open, too loud in the night. He crawled out and pushed the door shut behind him.

He got up unsteady and dangerous dizzy. An executioner’s wagon was parked close by and dawn was far too close. Stumbling a step, he followed Randan, who moved from one house to another. He hunched down once to let Zou know to hide. A night patrol passed by talking easily together. Zou tried to shake the drugs from his mind, but was not having much luck. He needed to purge his system, water, lots of water would be good.

He lost track of how many turns and how many times he had to duck and hide, but Randan led him to a clothes line where he perched, waiting for Zou to figure out to put on a long cloak and pull the hood up.

They only had a few more turns to go before they saw the city’s eastern gate and through it the first light of sunrise. Hood up, he boldly walked from the wall and shadows for the gate. The man on duty glanced up and nodded to him.

“Bit late to duty, aye?”

“Aye, but my girl’s happy,” he said back, trying to sound like Druid might in such a game of deception. The man chuckled back and let him walk right out under the lights of the gate.

He didn’t stop, but kept walking. Any moment they would realize he was gone and the call would go up. He ached for the loss of Druid’s sword and wallet, but he had to get away. Once out of sight of the gate, he took off at a run. Maybe if nothing else, running would help clear his head.

 

 

 

Zou pushed how far he could run. The last thing he needed was for his previous hunters to know where he was because some stupid guard had thought he was yelling in elven. He knew better than to shout out, but it was his mother, and he couldn’t seem to help himself. His heart pounded just at knowing for certain she was alive. She was alive and with the emperor.

Zou ran until sunset, when Randan led him to a small barn off the main road. It was dry and clean, offering a place for him to lie down in the straw and he dropped to sleep almost at once. His body was sore from the long runs, he had not eaten enough, and he knew he needed more water – but if he was murdered, it wouldn’t matter if he took time to eat and drink enough.

He jerked from a dream of the emperor and his mother to Druid yelling at him to get up. Randan was picking at his sleeve. Zou got up at once, shaking off weariness and sleep to crawl to the door.

Across the yard, mounted men were talking to the farmer at his house. Zou could not imagine that the city guards had been so fast to follow him. A man drug the farmer’s wife out of the house by her hair. It took a moment for Zou to recognize him as the man who had once tracked him and Druid and had put his hand on the very tree they had been hidden in.

It was not just city guards; it was the evil woman, the one who had nearly killed Druid. Zou moved as fast and carefully as he could, crawling from the barn toward the nearby trees. He wished he could aid the farmer and his wife, but he had to get away.

He rolled under the wooden rail fence into the tree line. He got to his feet and at once sprinted as hard and fast as he could. He did not have Druid to make him vanish into the trees now and those men were on horses.

He jumped a stream, cleared several fences, and cut across an open field as fast as he could. Randan was ahead of him, showing him the best path, but even so it was difficult in the forested area.

Every time he wanted to stop and hide in place, he heard Druid telling him to run, as if the man was right there with him. His lungs were burning and he caught the next fence as he jumped it.

Staggering, he barely managed to keep his feet, but he kept running. He hit a road and turned up it. His body could not run any more over the unknown and uneven ground of the forest. His only hope was to get among people who might help him somehow.

He heard the horses behind him, their hooves pounding on the road. He didn’t need to look back to know who they were. He cut sideways off the road and into the trees for one last hope to escape. Tripping, he tumbled into a ditch. Scrambling up, he struggled into an open field. He wanted to cry out to the trees for help, he wanted the animals to aid him, he needed help. He needed Druid to help him.

As the men behind him jumped the ditch, he heard the horses’ hooves clear it. There was nowhere for him to go. He crested a hill just as mounted men charged up from the other direction. He fell back, trying to miss the men. The leader’s horse reared and came down with his hooves barely missing Zou’s head. He stayed still, gasping and panting. Randan dove in, causing the horse swerve around Zou as they charged at the men who had been after him.

He could hear the shouts, the clash of weapons, and yet his heart pounded in his head so hard he could hear little. All he could do was lay there and suck in air. His long run, his lack of food and water had caught up to him, and now he was left gasping on the ground. Druid could have pulled him up and walked him to a tree; there they could have simply hidden, letting the battle pass and their trail be lost.

As he lay there, a man on horseback came to stand over him as the fight moved on. He was an incredible man.  He wore the uniform of Crouse, but with golden belts, earrings with gems, sashes of bold colors, and swords more like a pirate than any soldier.  His eyes were powerful and a deep blue like nothing Zou had seen.  His hair was streaked red, black, and gold, bound back into a free-flowing tail.

“They are down,” one soldier announced as they returned. “What of this one?” he asked, motioning toward Zou.

“He’s not one of them, take him to camp.  I’ll question him later.”

Three men pulled Zou to his feet and cuffed him. Zou looked to Randan, who was perched in a nearby tree. The eagle didn’t seem the least bit upset, so Zou relented and went with the men.

His cuffs were tied to the saddle of one of the three men. He did, however, let his horse walk at Zou’s pace and not push him. The other captives were not treated so well. They passed Zou and his guard at a run, injured or not. They all had beaten faces, magic bonds, and several were draped over their own horse’s backs.

Zou was so tired his mind spun and wandered; he should not be so tired at all, but he was. He staggered along and recalled being bound this way before.  No, it was not him – it was his mother. She had been so bound. They had come over the desert sand to the ridge of a mountain where they looked out at and over a city.

The sun had just been rising and the chants of the morning drifted to them. He could see the ancient golden city with its yellow stone plaster walls, its tall tower, and the temple ruins on the far hill. For a moment his heart ached for that place exactly as once his mother had ached for her home.he was an exile and he knew it, exiled not only from her goddess, but from her own body.

[T1]