“Oirion,” Theo smiled brightly, “you’re up! We were beginning to forget what you looked like. Wine?” he offered, half-rising to get him some.
“No, thank you.” The walk here had made him tired and his back hurt from the length of time on his feet. Nonetheless, he was glad to be there. He worried the wine would make it too hard to get up and get back to his room. Already stumbling, wine would not help his dignity any.
The energy that had been emotionally violating was all but gone now. It began to fade as soon as the healing sessions stopped. He was still angry at Shannon, but now that it was over, he was begrudgingly grateful it had been done and that he was back on his feet. Seeing his friends cheered him up even more.
As they happily welcomed him back, Oirion realized that he had never seen these people actually cleaned up.
He looked at them all, clean and fresh, and realized that these were all impressive people.
Theo was the most changed, he thought. He looked like a different person with his hair cleaned and tied back from his face. With Cindie no longer hanging on him, he seemed to look a lot bigger and stronger. Maybe the man had even gotten thicker and taller, but it was hard to say. Theo almost looked regal in a delicate sort of way, and oddly familiar, Oirion thought.
“Where’s Shannon?” he asked, as Travis crawled into his lap.
“Who knows?” Ivan said, leaning forward to take a slice of fruit. “We haven’t seen him since we came inside. Not a word about him from the Ulam-Ar, either.”
“The Ulam-Ar?” Oirion asked.
“That’s the name of the city, and calling them orcs is just wrong,” Theo said, filling his own glass again as well as topping off Riven’s.
“How do you feel?” Tavia asked.
“Just a little sore,” he said modestly. Travis snuggled up against his chest and sighed. He went limp in a state of relaxed comfort.
“Someone missed you,” Kelly said softly.
Oirion looked down at the boy in his lap. He had never really been around children that much, but this one seemed to get into his lap a lot. He had found himself getting jealous when the boy found someone else to sit with, a rather unlikely emotion, all things considered. They were all given turns, but usually it was Theo.
Travis had even found Riven’s lap once. Oirion smoothed the child’s hair and looked over at his mother, who sat watching. She looked radiant in white. He tried not to think about her at all… her, or any other woman.
Shannon’s words had been eating at him since they had been spoken and he hated that. Sure, he knew Saint Tyredelle was married, but he hadn’t really thought about it; he hadn’t looked at it in that way. Why did it have to be Shannon to point it out to him? He hated Shannon right now for being right all the damned time, for having to be the one to force him through things that he feared to do, and for just being so damned perfect.
“Are there any plans as to what to do now?” Oirion asked.
“Not too much,” Riven said. “The choice is to go on, or stay here. We haven’t really talked about it much. What with both you and Shannon not being around, we couldn’t really decide anything.”
“Was he hurt?” Oirion asked, wondering what they knew.
“Not really,” Dave said. “The whole thing just sort of wore him out. There were a lot of wards on that damn wall, plus the Seal. He was thrown pretty far, but he looked alright, I guess,” he added.
“The Seal?” Oirion asked.
“The Church Seal,” Riven said softly. “The cardinals sealed them in here to die.”
“Surely not,” Oirion said in disbelief.
Riven looked at the other priest, displaying the truth in his eyes. Oirion saw it in the dwarf’s haunted look, and was grateful when the man dropped his eyes and said no more about it.
“How did he break it?” Oirion asked. “I thought it was unbreakable.”
“He burned it and then froze it,” Theo said. “It was impressive. You should’ve seen it, Oirion. He just stood there holding an arm up and all the wards started to spark.” Theo excitedly jumped to his feet as he continued. “They kept sparking until they were almost gone, and then he went like this…” Theo put his arms down, and then thrust his arms forward, “…and poof! He caught on fire and shot fire out his palm… so strong that it drove the fight back with its heat. Then he reached up and took ice and hit it again. It was so cold, our breath actually froze. It was awesome! The whole thing, wall and all, just– BOOM! It was gone, and we were all thrown back and covered in the stone dust. It was so awesome!” he explained, excited and more animated than they had ever seen him. The others felt the same enthusiasm, even if they didn’t show it. No one mentioned that Theo had thrown around his own power. It wasn’t forgotten, but no one was about to speak of it to Oirion.
“Theo was very impressed,” Kelly said almost fondly. Theo looked over at her, his eyes dancing.
“I was! I am! My God, who has power like that?” Theo said, returning to his seat.
“Shannon,” Salma said indifferently, with a shrug. “Speaking of the devil,” she added sweetly. She nodded her chin toward Shannon as he came in through the door. He was wearing the white robe that Oirion had seen earlier, but the high collar that was buttoned up was no longer blue; it was white as well. In the robe and the sunlight, he looked like a different man.
The way his new clothing fit showed that he had a strong chest and that the thickness of his arms wasn’t due to his clothes as they all had previously thought. Also, his hair was undone from the braid. It ran straight down his back, nearly to his knees. His hands were, not surprisingly, in his own gloves.
Oirion heard Tavia breathe in at the sight of him. She was clearly impressed. So was he, but not in the way she was. He had once studied Saint Tyredelle. Shannon in that robe and with his hair in that style looked so like the painting that Oirion had in his chambers, that it made him feel almost like he was falling and that he had just hit the floor.
It is just the Purtan in Shannon, he reasoned. They are both Purtans in white, that’s all; but it was damned unsettling.
“You look almost saintly in that,” Riven said, trying to shake off the same feeling. Shannon didn’t really smile at that. He sat in the chair that was left and smoothed out the robe’s length.
“It’s very flattering,” Salma said.
He looked up at her. “Just different,” he said.
“Where have you been?” Kelly asked. “We missed you.”
“Resting,” he said. “How do you feel?” he asked Oirion, taking the topic off of himself.
“Sore… but better.”
Shannon nodded and then glanced around at the group. That was it from Shannon. There was no mention of anything about Oirion’s healing; no ‘I told you so’; not even a look to press it. Sometimes, Oirion was not at all sure of what to make of Shannon. Any other man would have made some issue over the fact that he was right about forcing Oirion to be healed.
“We have been invited to stay here as long as we want,” Shannon said.
“Do we?” Theo asked. “It’s nice here… and warm.”
“This is where that ‘split-up later’ comes into play,” Dave said, leaning back and putting his left ankle up on his right knee. “What are you doing, Shannon?”
“I am going.”
“Why?” Tavia asked. “We could all spend the winter and move on in the spring.”
“These people are already in a war with the Church. They do not need my presence to make it worse.”
“But you could help them,” Theo objected.
“You apparently have a lot of power; you could set their enemies back more than a step or two,” Tavia said.
“I could,” he agreed.
“So, why don’t you?” Riven asked.
“Because, it would turn into the sort of war that created the bog and that warped this land, and continues to do so. I am not so arrogant as to start running into every war I cross. It is better for you and for everything within a thousand miles that I do not stay and help them. It would be best to put the orcs between me and anything that would challenge me. What I am doing is not the question at hand. The question is: who is staying and who is going. It is a personal choice and has to be made on your own. I am going, but what are you doing?”
They all sat there quietly, considering their next move.
“I’m going,” Dave said, “for whatever reasons.”
“Me too,” Salma said. “There’s no way I’d stay here.”
“I’ll go,” Kelly said, and then looked questioningly at Theo.
Ivan licked his lips and thought about it a moment. “Yah, yah, I guess I’m in, too,” he decided.
“Oirion,” Riven asked, “you going?”
Oirion looked at Shannon, the man who gave him that eerie feeling… the feeling that everything he believed, everything he valued, everything he knew to be true, was a lie; that he was on the verge of a cliff and was about fall off…. if it weren’t for that man’s patience.
“I think we should all stay together,” Tavia said. “We have begun to be able to work together, to rely on each other’s strengths and to compensate for each others’ weaknesses. I’m not an orc and I don’t feel comfortable sitting inside a mountain that was very close to becoming a tomb. I don’t think we can do it alone or in little groups. I think we should just look at each other as family now and do what we must to survive.”
“I agree,” Theo said, nodding.
“Then is it decided?” Riven asked. “We all go. When do we go, Shannon?”
“When the weather breaks.”
“How long do you think that will be?” Theo asked.
“I do not know.”
“What do we do until then?” Ivan asked.
“Make use of the time,” Salma said, “Rest… and maybe someone might teach Travis how to use that dagger. Of course, we could make use of our beds in other ways than just rest.” She shot Shannon a look. “What do you think?”
Shannon just gave her a steady look. Obviously he was not interested.
“He’s a child,” Tavia said, glancing toward Travis.
“I was seven when I killed my first man,” Kelly said. “He’s nearly that age. This isn’t the fields of Purt; it isn’t the ports of Dacan, either, but worse. The boy needs to know how to defend himself. It may save us all grief later. I’d like to teach him myself.”
Travis sat up and smiled. He scrambled up and ran to her. He jumped into her lap, threw his arms around her neck and kissed her nose, then snuggled into her big tattooed arms.
Dave looked with a startled expression at the boy who had seemed to hear. He opened his mouth to say something of it, but caught a look from Shannon. His uncle gave him a small shake of his head to say to let it go and keep it to himself. Dave had to wonder what sort of magic Shannon might have laid down that the others all seemed oblivious to the boy’s change in manner.
“That settles it, I guess,” Dave laughed, changing the topic. “I’ll train with Ivan some more. I should be able to take him out soon – in play, anyway.”
“Ha!” Ivan laughed. “Bring it on, boy.” Dave grinned, looking forward to testing himself against the big gladiator.
“What about Theo; you up to play a bit?” Dave asked.
Theo looked at them, a skeptical look on his face.
“No bows,” Ivan said quickly to Theo, who smiled a tiny bit. It was obvious that tension remained between the two, but all things considered, Theo was very tolerant of the man who had slept with his wife. Especially now that they knew he need not have been so tolerant.
Now that they all had a chance to get to know each other in relative ease and comfort, they were getting along – even Ivan and Theo.
“I think it’s a good idea,” Theo said out loud.
“What’s that?” Oirion asked, as he sat trying to unlock the power of the staff that Riven had brought to him.
“What?” Theo asked, looking over at the man. “Oh, I was just thinking about the way that Shannon spells his clothes. It might seem vain really, but then, in a situation like this one, it really pays off. Here we are all sore and worn out, and part of that is due to the condition of our clothes.”
“Shannon spells his clothes?” Ivan asked. “Really?”
“You haven’t noticed that his clothes are always clean and they never seem to rip or wear?” Theo asked. “It’s magic and a lot of it. I can see that… can’t you two?” he asked the priests.
“All I see is a shield,” Riven said, “a wall of clear crystal.”
“I don’t even see that,” Oirion said. “It’s like he has no power beyond the very basics of life.”
“Now that is interesting,” Theo mused.
“How do you see magic?” Oirion asked.
“Oh,” Theo gestured off-handedly, “it’s in the family blood-line and I’ve studied it… a lot, but it’s not very practical. It’s nothing like Dave’s magic,” he shrugged.
“Which is dangerously close to illegal,” Oirion reminded Dave.
“I know.” Dave looked up from his book a little. “You notice how slow I was to use it. Keep in mind, Oirion, that I’m a sailor. I don’t belong to any set national laws, and so far, the pontiff hasn’t tried to enforce his views on the Waters. When he does, he will have a war. The pirates will unite against him, no question about it… and if he tells me that I need to be cleansed to save my soul, I’ll lead the pirates myself. If it goes to war, I imagine that Norwood will join with the pirates as well.”
“If he did order it, it would be for the best of all.”
“Why? So no one could challenge him or his hunting games?” Dave asked. Everyone was silent. Oirion looked at Dave a long time. They all expected Oirion to blow up as he would for Shannon, but Dave was not Shannon and didn’t provoke him in the same way. The truth was spoken, though, and Oirion didn’t bother to deny it. That alone said a great deal to several of them.
“Even in the laws that might seem wrong, there is a purpose,” Oirion said. “Even if the pontiff was corrupt, he belongs to God. Even if he thinks he is serving himself, or some other entity or purpose, he isn’t; he still serves God. In the end, the laws are the laws of God. Perhaps not dealt out in a fashion that is purely God’s, but the law holds.
“Yes, the laws that are rising up against magic seem unfair and extreme, and a lot of people are upset at what is being lost, but in another few generations, there will be no chance, ever, of another Mage War.”
“God gave us the powers and deals the powers out to us before we are born.” Dave said. “If He meant us to not use them, He would simply take them away – like a parent who takes away a toy that a child abuses and hurts himself with. He’s a good parent, Oirion, and no good parent lets his children play with things that could hurt them.”
“God gave us gifts and promised He would let us keep them. He did not promise He’d always let us play with them. He’s hanging that sword up on the wall over our bedroom doors,” Oirion argued.
Dave considered taking the argument farther and pushing as he would in a sailor’s tavern, but he didn’t have the eloquence of Shannon, and this was Oirion; he wasn’t about to convert the man or even get him to see the other side of things.
“So, seeing that you feel that way,” Theo said. “It’s not the power you so dislike, it’s the fact that a man would use it. But Oirion, if all the good men ceased to use their power, then only those who did not follow God’s way would have power. That seems backwards to me.”
“That’s why you don’t like Shannon,” Ivan said. “He has power, a lot of it, and it’s old. He, of all people, should know what magic can do. If what you say is true, then he should be opposing its use.”
“I suppose so.” Oirion lied, but thought to himself, that was only part of it. But, there was so much more to his dislike of Shannon than that.
“Is that not, then, also a point for it,” Dave asked, not able to let go just yet, now that Theo was on his side. “Those who have seen the powers do not let go. They are angry and frustrated with the Church, and say it’s not what it once was. It’s not the same religion anymore. It’s so humanized that most Purtans don’t even acknowledge it. They hold to their old ways and their old prayers; they grieve that a false prophet is in their holy places. And Shannon… he wears the cleric’s robes, only in black – the Purtan color of grief. That should say something to you.”
“So you think that Shannon was a priest once?” Ivan asked, almost excited at the idea.
They all looked at him. None of them had ever thought that, except Dave, and then only because his father had said it, but he never really believed it.
“Well, if he’s wearing the same uniform he wore back then, only in black, wouldn’t that say that he was once a cleric? And that the whole thing is so tainted and corrupt that he is in black to make a point? Purtans are slow to recover from grief and slow to adapt. That’s why they’re falling; they just can’t adjust to a world without the Von Armonds to rule them,” Dave reasoned.
“He does rub his hand like he’s playing with a ring,” Theo muttered.
“I can’t believe that,” Oirion said, but his heart was pounding. He had heard those prayers, and he was not the one saying them. He reasoned that he had been allowed to hear the angels that watched over his prayers…. that somehow they had carried on his prayers, but that idea was faltering.
“If he was, he isn’t now,” Oirion said. “I do not think well of any priest who would take off his ring just because of a political change.”
“No one said he took it off,” Ivan responded with an odd intensity. “You know they say that most vampires are priests who became too powerful, and the other vampires couldn’t resist their blood and the desire to hunt them down. Do you think that Shannon might have escaped a vampire attack? If he was a vampire, he would never be able to be out in the light; he wouldn’t be able to deal with Oirion at all, and that’s for damn sure!
“ priest goading him like Oirion does? No way could a vampire take that. He’d rip Oirion’s soul out and bathe in the pleasure of that touch of power. But what if he was sort of injured before he escaped? What if, instead of helping him, the pontiff ordered him to be cleansed?” He gestured to Dave, “And he sort of joined the other side, like Dave said? That would explain his anger at the Church and why the Church is hunting him. He’s half priest, half something else.”
“You can’t be half vampire,” Riven said. “You are, or you’re not. You are either killed by the vampiric magic, or you change into one. They have no halfway.”
“Just a thought,” Ivan shrugged.
“What do you think?” Theo asked Dave, who was quiet on this topic.
“Yes, you. He and your father were friends, weren’t they?”
“Well, yes, but…”
“What’s he like then… when he’s not under stress and being attacked by a Hunter every time he turns around?” Ivan asked.
“He’s quiet and he doesn’t talk to crew or to passengers; he gets on and he gets off. Now and then he has dinner with the captain, and that’s it.”
The conversation ended when Shannon entered the room. He didn’t notice, or maybe he didn’t care. He was probably used to it, Riven thought. Riven looked at Ivan. The man was apparently not the idiot that he seemed to be. Maybe Shannon was right to call him on his feigned stupidity.
Ivan had shaved and was happily wearing the jewelry he had, plus the few trinkets Riven had given him from the witch’s bag. The big man shifted and looked at Shannon.
“Good morning, Shannon,” Ivan said in his ever-cheerful manner.
Shannon looked at him as he took a chair in the common room they all shared.
“Good morning, Ivan,” he said back, rather well-mannered.
“Shannon, we were just talking,” Ivan grinned, “and I have a question. Where did you study as a youth?”
“Ulam Bac,” he said, opening the book he had brought in.
“Not the same city now, is it?”
“No, it is not the same city at all.”
“You think that, maybe, the pontiff saw to that on purpose… to make it clear to the Purtans that their empire has been taken away?”
“No. I think he is an idiot and has no idea how to maintain a city like that. He never was a very good wizard. He was an over-pious zealot with an attitude about being a human in a Purtan empire.
“Hmm, that must be just as annoying as a heretic with an attitude problem about being a Purtan in a Human Empire,” Oirion said cheerfully. Shannon lifted his gaze to look at him, not impressed.
“You must be feeling better,” Shannon said.
Oirion smiled sweetly, but Shannon had already gone back to his book.
“It’s more than that,” Theo said. “The magics of the older cities are keyed to the lines of kings, and the King of Crouse isn’t home.”
“King of Crouse?” Ivan asked, interested. “The Emperor?”
“The last true King of Crouse was the Emperor, Tyrell. He inherited Crouse through his mother’s line. He was of the line of Von Armond through his father,” Theo said. “The Imperial Power of his father’s line was more powerful than any other line because they were not only of the line of Armond, but also because they married into the line of Von Asar…… Asar being an angel from Purt whose line was later lost, but whose bloodline survived within the Von Armond line.”
“Wait,” Ivan interrupted. “I thought Ulam Bac was in Crouse and that made the emperor also the king of Crouse by default.”
“No,” Theo said. “Ulam Bac is a city state ruled by the Emperor alone. Each kingdom has a king from a line of angels. You must have the blood of an angel in you to be keyed into the Wells of Purt and thus into the underlying power of every kingdom in Purt.
“The Emperor is keyed into all the wells of Purt, while each king is keyed into only one. Ulam Bac is where the angels were called from and where they left us from; the very stone of the earth there is sacred…or was once,” he added as an afterthought.
“Maybe I am stupid, but I still don’t follow…” Ivan scratched at the stubble on his head and scowled. “I am confused. Tyrell was king of Crouse through his mother, and his son, Tyredelle, was king of Norwood through his mother. Does that mean that Tyredelle would have been king of both Crouse and Norwood, as well as heir to the throne of the emperor?”
“Rank does not always follow the paternal line,” Theo explained. “Purtans rarely marry in the way we think of it now. The higher rank gets to name the child and the purer bloodline gets the heir. Tyredelle was king of Norwood because his mother’s bloodline flowed more powerfully than his father’s, but the Von Armond outranked his mother’s line of Norwood. It would have been that each of Tyredelle’s children would have gotten one of the kingdoms in time and he would have ruled as emperor without the daily burden of a kingship at all.
“In his arrogance, Tyrell could not let go of Crouse and so held it as his own until he vanished. Now, Gerome has put false kings on the thrones, almost all of them pure human with no real tie to Purt or the angels at all.”
“So how did they choose the right line for the throne if the line of heirs was broken? In Ezeer it is known, as the prince and heir can shape-shift. There is no doubt or debate ever.”
“When the first line of Von Armond died, the descendants of the other daughters of Armond came to the palace and one by one they went to the yard of the Sun and stood on the Seal of the Angels and knelt before the angels. Many passed with no reaction at all, but eventually a young woman knelt and the seal lit up and the city flared with life. She was crowned Empress; Tyrell is her great-great grandson. Every Emperor must kneel and be chosen is such a way. It is not always the eldest nor is it always the son. Angels look at the soul, not the flesh.”
“Oh,” Ivan said with a scowl still on his brow.
“Not all of the lines are dead,” Oirion said, “so if the Imperial Magic were true, then the magics themselves would follow the line of kingship.”
“The heir to the throne of each of the kingdoms within Purt is chosen by the Emperor,” Theo said. “The power of the bloodline is only activated when the Emperor names the king. The magic of the angels chooses the Emperor; the kings do not. The fact that Ulam Bac is dark is proof that the angels don’t accept Gerome as Lord of Purt, and therefore the power of the bloodlines cannot be activated by him.”
“The line of Armond is dead,” Oirion said. “The magic is void. No Emperor will ever name a king.”
“The Von Armonds are not the first dynasty,” Dave explained. “They’re the third. They were preceeded by the children of Arell, the first daughter of Von Armond, the Von Arells. Arell was the first dynasty, but her dynasty was ended when each of her sons died in battle heir-less. It was a very hard time for all races. The second dynasty was a far descendant of hers, through her son TyVennenar. He had only one son and the line held for only three generations before war and fate wiped them out.
“The third dynasty was from the line of Landrahh, a daughter of Armond, like Theo just said. To make it clear to all Purt that the line was of Armond, they took up his name. All her children and their descendents are called Von Armond. All of the older lines of Purt who use Von before their names are descendants of angels; that’s what Von means. Once, most all of them were lines descended from Armond, but all the twelve angels who stayed with Purt had children who became the kings and queens of the kingdoms of Purt. In the last few thousand years the lines have all met with violent ends.
“The right person…anyone with the blood of angels needs only to stand on the Angels’ Ring in the Yard of the Angel’s. We just need to find the right soul and stand them in place and … poof! new Emperor. Why do you think that yard is sealed off? Gerome has made certain no one accidentally stands in that spot. It is just said that as long as a Von Armond sits the throne Purt will never fall. Purt is partial to the Von Armonds, but that is not to say the angels will simply turn their backs on Purt if other lines are found worthy.”
Shannon lifted his eyes to look at Dave, watching the young man without drawing any attention to himself.
“Most of the bloodlines of the old kings are dead as well. Civil war will do that,” Oirion said. “There is no Line of Kings; no great event that will happen. Purt will never be restored to that sort of glory.”
“There are many lines still. Few are in power, but the lines still live,” Theo said. “The King of Awens is the true line of Awens. He is a Von, even if they never put it on their name.”
“He’s also insane,” Dave added, “but Theo’s right, Oirion. You, of all men, should know that. Isn’t your grandfather Grand Duke Hennen, as in, Von Valreen?”
Oirion didn’t say anything; he just looked at Dave as if the man had betrayed him somehow.
“What are you all talking about?” Salma asked, with a curious and slightly worried look on her face.
“They are talking about the line of rule in Purt,” Ivan said. “Do you know much about it?”
“No. I know about the rule of my people and pretty much that’s it. I’ve never been to Purt, you see,” she added sweetly. “There seems to be a big wall in the way.”
“Purt was ruled by the god Armond in the last great war and he had several children. Purt says three, but…” Dave shrugged to say he wasn’t so sure. “The three daughters were the famous ones and they ruled after Armond and his siblings went back to heaven. Each brother and sister of Armond, including himself, started what they call the Line of Kings. They have the blood of gods in them and so extra power. The line called Von Armond has two of those lines in them and so are a little more than any other, but a von is a von. The line of Armond was hunted out. They were all killed down to the last stray bastard and so there is no chance at a new emperor there. You have to be an heir of Armond to open the star glyph in the palace of Purt. It’s really very sad. The day the emperor vanished, the whole world should have risen up in objection, but no one did and now… well, now we are all stuck with that mistake,” he explained in a simple manner that made it all seem very simple.
“Wait! You’re a prince?” Ivan asked Oirion, suddenly shocked. “I’d never have guessed.”
“I am not a prince,” Oirion said. “I am a priest.” Turning to Dave, he continued, “and how, do tell, does a sailor know anything about Valreen?”
Dave leaned forward a little, insulted that Oirion assumed he was uneducated.
“What does that mean?”
“I find it more and more unlikely that you are anything you claim,” Oirion said. “You pretend to be a simple sailor, and yet not only do you know magics that are not taught lightly, you seem to know a great deal of politics that do not concern you.”
“And you, Father Oirion, seem very blind and out of the loop. But yes.” He leaned back spreading his arms. “I’m not a simple sailor.” He stood up grandly. “I am the true Emperor of Purt! Chosen by the Line of Angels and set apart from you all,” he mocked. “Kiss me, little priest.” He held out his hand to be kissed.
“David,” Shannon said seriously. “Sit down and do not say such things.”
Dave dropped back into his chair.
“Oirion was being an ass. I thought it was only right that he see how it looks when others behave as stupidly as he does.”
“To even think such things could bring a great deal of grief upon you. Do not make mention of such again and do not mock the throne.”
Dave was about to say something but dropped it due to the quiet seriousness of Shannon’s tone.
“Sorry,” he apologized.
“Did you get that book open yet, Riven?” Shannon asked, changing the topic.
“You have the time; you might want to work on it.”
Ivan chuckled at Riven.
Riven grabbed the book from the floor and tossed it at Ivan.
“Well? What do you think of that?”
Ivan caught the book in one hand. He looked at it and tossed it back.
“Oh, dear God, it’s a book!” he said, mocking shock and horror. “You best burn that before any priest sees you with it.” He laughed a great hearty laugh. “How are you feeling, Shannon?” he asked, changing the subject. “I imagine the fire burned you pretty good. You healed up?”
Shannon didn’t even look up.
“Can I ask you something?” Salma asked, hopping up into her chair and sitting cross- legged in it. “Why would you endure fire like that for a race and people that you do not know and care nothing for? Every magic within a thousand miles will have felt the shockwaves of that explosion, and your hunters now know exactly where you are. Why would a man of your power play hero?”
Shannon looked up at her a moment, his hand resting on the page of the book he had been trying to read.
“The same reason I would tolerate you, little kitten.” he said in a rather honest tone.
“Even if you hadn’t, your friends would have; or maybe not friends… comrades.” She chose a better word.
“Then let it be the same reason that they are even that to me.”
“What is it?” Oirion asked. “Compassion, Shannon? Mercy?” he challenged. “Is it guilt for getting us into this in the first place, or a desire to seek some sort of redemption?”
“Maybe a portable food source,” Ivan laughed. “Every blood wizard needs a priest or two on hand, right, Oirion? Come on, Dave; let’s go play and let Oirion be an ass all on his own.”
“Ignore him,” Salma said of Oirion. “Why, Shannon? You confuse me, and I do not understand why a power such as you would bother. You risk your soul. If he catches you, the end will not be pretty.”
“If every ally against darkness would stop a moment,” Tavia spoke softly and sadly, “and help each other, it would make all of them stronger. Yet, each covers his eyes and denies the truth, or… they fight alone, refusing the aid of others because of their pride and the distrust created by the very thing they fight. If people would just understand that if you are an enemy of my enemy, then you are my friend.” Tavia smoothed Travis’ hair. She rested her cheek on his head, her eyes quiet and expression sad. “Not even in one person is everything in exact order. Why would a world, or a divinity, be any different? We are parts of the whole and reflect it back, creating as we go. To join like purposes together, even if from very different points, makes all stronger as they unite. Would this group be together anywhere else in the world, let alone united in a purpose? No, I think not. Yet here we are.” She lifted her eyes to Salma.
“That might answer why you are here, Mother,” Salma said, with softness to her voice that they had never heard, “but why is Shannon here? His truth will be no less than yours.” She looked back to Shannon.
Travis got out of his mother’s arms and then crawled into Shannon’s lap. Shannon barely seemed to notice, simply adjusting for the boy. Travis, however, put his hands on Shannon’s face and made him look at his eyes.
“You should tell her,” Travis said.
“She will help us.”
“I do not know why I am still here, Travis. I ask myself that very thing often. How do I tell her what I do not know myself?”
“You know.” He smiled at the man and then snuggled into his chest, getting comfortable.
Shannon looked back to the sphinx. After a moment, he asked her, “Do you know what a Holy Vow is?”
“I can imagine… but not exactly. I have not heard the term.”
“It is a vow made on, in, and with the very fibers of the world and all of the touching realms beyond. It is spun into the stones, the air, and the water. All magic will work to its end, and it will affect the very cores of your flesh and mind. It is made in the presence of at least three Archangels. It is rare and very powerful. At least three in this company are bound with such to the House of Armond. I cannot make myself think it mere chance. If I would honor that, I would be obligated to protect them and do all in my power to keep them safe and well. Holy Vows made on the foundation stones of Ulam Bac is why I am here.”
She leaned back in her chair, thinking about it. “Ok,” she said, smiled, hopped up, and happily left.
Travis looked up and smiled. Shannon turned his focus back to his book, his arms around the boy in his lap.
“You know it’s not chance,” the boy said.
“I would not think so.”
“I love you,” Travis said with a peaceful content. Shannon sat, almost stunned for a moment. He had felt the truth of the boy’s simple honest love. No one had loved him in a very long time. The thought someone might was so removed from him, it was very shocking. Travis patted Shannon’s arm and giggled. “Didn’t you know that?” He laughed inside Shannon’s mind.
“It has just been a very long time since anyone felt that about me.”
“I have always loved you,” Travis said with a strange seriousness. “Read to me.”
Shannon looked back to the book and read through his mind to the boy. Travis listened until he drifted off to sleep.