Friday, April 20, 2012


My father woke me up early one morning and dropped a pack on the foot of my bed. “Come on, son. It’s time I took you to meet the Masters.”

I dressed hurriedly and scooped up the meat pie mother had laid out for me. Father was already putting on his coat. I looked at my two sisters. They watched me with their big blue eyes. I was only twelve, but they were younger. Harvest was over, so I wouldn’t be missed too much during the winter, but what if I ended up being gone much longer? “Father, you need me.”

“We’ll get by,” he said. He had made up his mind and I didn’t push it.

It took us three days to reach the cave of the Masters. Father collected an armload of dry sticks before entering the dark mouth of the cave.

We built a small fire in a ring of stones we found just inside, but we weren’t to have much rest. They appeared at the edge of our firelight almost before it was going good.

Two of them were pretty much what I expected, older men with generous amounts of gray in their hair, but the third one was quite surprising. He was only a few inches taller than I was and really quite delicate by comparison. I’m sure if we were to compare hands, mine would be twice as thick as his. He had to be an off-worlder. Father had told me and my sisters many stories about the family that had lived in the village where he had grown up.

I was just wondering where he could have gotten that surprising shock of red hair when my father stepped up behind me and wrapped his arms around my shoulders.

The red-haired little man stepped through the fire as if it didn’t exist. He had his hand out as if he were going to pull my father’s arms away. I didn’t expect what happened next and I tried to back away, but my father was a solid wall at my back.

A heavy stone knife materialized in the little man’s hand and he slid it into my chest, into my heart. The horrendous burning stab of fire robbed me of breath to cry out and I clung to my father’s arms for support.

The little man stepped aside and looked behind him at an orb that had just lit up as if someone had touched it with a torch. In its fire, I saw that the stone hilt protruding from my chest glowed with the same fire, and then I didn’t know anything else.

I felt myself sag and I felt my father take my weight. Other hands picked me up and I felt them lay me out on cold stone.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Chapter 116 - BELOVED SHIELD

I woke again and gazed up at the glowing blue orb suspended over my resting place. I was beginning to hate that orb. Why wouldn’t they just let me die? I heard a stirring at my side and closed my eyes again.

“Come and have something to eat, Steven. He’ll wake up soon enough.”

I listened to the retreating footsteps until they were out of hearing and then I left. Once again, I didn’t have a destination; I just flung myself out across the surface of the planet. From there I began my search. It was early fall. The basilisks would be aggressive as they search for enough food to sustain their bulk through the winter when hunting was hardest.

I wanted a big one and I wouldn’t be satisfied until I found the biggest one on the planet.

It took me four and a half days to find one I considered big enough. I didn’t sleep or eat. I hadn’t drawn energy either. I did nothing to sustain myself. Only my determination kept me on my feet. Then, there it was. It would have put a semi-truck to shame with its size, and it was only a single rise away from a herd of baston.

I put myself on that rise. Behind me, the baston ran off at my appearance. The basilisk was hungry; they are always hungry. I just stood there and watched the monster come.

Suddenly there was a lithe figure standing in front of me, between me and my goal.

She turned around and faced me. “I won’t let you do this.”

It was Patricia standing there. The basilisk was going to be on her in seconds. I teleported forward and scooped her out of danger. “I have to do this. Stay back,” I told her as I set her down out of harm’s way.

I turned back to the basilisk, but she snagged my arm. “I won’t let you.”

I teleported away from her grip and back to the fangs I was seeking to impale myself upon. She was there in front of me again. This time she was only inches away from that gaping, fang-filled mouth.

Once again, I pulled her out of harm’s way. She clung to me. Her gentle voice directed my magic the way she used to so long ago and I couldn’t help but obey her. She took us away from the basilisk, and when we had left it far behind, she shook my shoulders before holding my face in her soft hands. “You can’t kill yourself. Your magic won’t let you and neither will I. Come on, dance with me. Dance a water dance.”

She began to sway and turn a hypnotic rhythm around me. I could only follow her. She spread her arms as I did and a few drops of rain hit my face. She spun faster and I had to do likewise.

I was just finishing when the others found me. I opened my eyes and reached for my wife only to see that my beautiful Patricia was no longer dancing with me. I sank to the ground sobbing; my arms were so empty. Steven knelt beside me and pulled me into a hug. When I had cried myself out, he helped me to my feet. “Let’s go back now.”

I nodded and Oskan took us back to the cave. I paused briefly by the orb and drew my fill, then I went to my room, closing off my chambers behind me. I woke early in the morning of the second day and went out to the table where I fixed myself a meal. I put a big chair in the corner and curled up in it to think, remembering that my Patricia had sat in another one just like it – once upon a time.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Chapter 115 - DEATH WISH

It was almost a month before I woke again. I reached up and felt the scar across my eye. I could tell that the bruising had healed and the stitches had been removed long ago.

“Well, so the sleeper finally wakes. How do you feel?”

I looked at the woman who stood over me now and searched for an answer to her question while she took my pulse. “All right, I guess. How long have I been sleeping? What happened to my face?”

“You’ve been sleeping for twenty-three days now, and you took forty-two stitches in your face when you fell. Don’t worry; there won’t be much of a scar. You just lie still now and I’ll go tell the doctor you’re awake.”

I lay there and stared at the ceiling. I thought about the thing I had done. It had been mindless and uncalled for. I wondered how many of them had died simply because they had shot at the most dangerous thing in the room.

The doctor came in then and saw my serious expression. He rested a comforting hand on my arm. “The emperor and his family are fine. Captain Wilson is fine too, all because of you. You did a very brave thing.”

I harrumphed. “I laid waste to an entire company of Imperial High Guard. There was nothing brave about it.”

“But if it weren’t for you, our beloved emperor could well be dead now,” said the doctor.

I threw the covers aside and sat up on the edge of the bed. “The emperor was protected. I didn’t have to do what I did. I’ve become too dangerous.” I dressed myself and left the room slinging my sword belt around my waist. I had no destination in mind, but my feet kept leading me upward.

Eventually, I stepped out onto the roof where the emperor kept his private lighter. Rain pounded down and I turned my face up to it.

Brian caught up to me before I reached the door to the control room. “Where are you going?”

“Nowhere, this place will do.” I opened the door. “Move the lighter to another landing field and take everyone with you,” I said to the crew inside.

To their credit, they looked to their captain for confirmation. Brian took one look at my face and waved them ahead.

I moved to the middle of the rooftop while the men scrambled into the lighter and took off. There were only enough seats for two men. The other three had to crowd in between the seats and the engine. Brian had followed me. “Go back down stairs, Brian. You can’t afford to be here right now.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Just go, Brian.”

I didn’t move until I saw him close the door behind him, then I drew my sword and began to dance. This dance was different from any other I had ever done. Never before had I been filled with such fatalism. This wasn’t a water dance. It was something much deadlier.

I didn’t know that Brian still watched and he didn’t realize the danger until it was far too late. I was not drawing on my Water Magic, I was drawing on the lightning above the storm and I was drawing with all of my might.

Connor took my charred body back to my mother. They all thought I was dead; I certainly should have been, but my father couldn’t resist opening the coffin. I was still charred, but he saw a slow but distinct pulse in my throat.

They took me to the house infirmary where I was hooked up to multiple IVs and my burns were dressed. My father called Haines to ask what to do; he had been there for my last hard recovery and this one could be so much worse. Of course, his advice was to bring me back the fastest way they could.

The first time I woke up, we were still underway, but I was in so much pain that I could barely identify my surroundings. All I knew was that I had failed. Pain tells you of life and I had sought death. I tried again, but obviously, I didn’t succeed that time either.

I’m told it took the crew four days to make the necessary repairs and then the rest of the trip went without a problem since I wasn’t aware enough to do any more damage.

Saturday, March 31, 2012


The emperor’s private quarters were still keyed to my name, but it had been so long that I had nearly forgotten about it, so I was startled awake late one night to hear Connor’s voice raised in desperation. “Liam would never let such a thing happen. Send for the doctor right now.”

“Yes my lord, immediately,” said another voice.

“What happened, Connor?” I asked.

“Who’s that? Liam is that you? Where are you?” asked Connor.

“Yeah, it’s me. What happened?” I asked again.

“Someone managed to get a letter-bomb in here past the guards. Dad’s hurt real bad.”

I extended my magic across the light years and found the emperor lying, shaking in his son’s arms. It only took a little more energy and he was resting quietly. “Let the doctor clean him up. He’ll be all right now.”

“Thank you, Liam. You have no idea how much this means to me.”

“I can hear it in your voice.” I expanded my awareness and tried to figure out how this had happened and discovered that no alarm had been sounded. I sealed the emperor’s apartment and went to my mother.

“Mother, I have to go to the capital. I’ll be in touch.”

“All right dear, I’ll ready a ship.”

I was gone before she finished the sentence. It was foolish, but if I could do it once, I could do it again. I was never so glad for a carpet as my knees met it hard. I was shaking from cold, but I struggled to throw it off as I heard Connor’s voice again. “Liam, how did you get here?”

“Where’s your mother? Are your sisters still here in the apartment?” I asked.

“Yes, father insisted. He says that it’s easier for the guards to protect us if we’re not all scattered out.”

“Good, I need something to eat.” I crawled over to the emperor. He was beginning to come around. I wiped the blood away and helped him sit up. “Get your family together in an inner chamber of this apartment. Your security has been compromised.”

I leaned against the wall as Connor helped his father further into the apartment, then I closed my eyes and extended my magic through the familiar hallways. I found Brian’s flame in his quarters. It was very still, so someone had gotten to him too. “Brian, wake up.”

Connor came over to me and shook my shoulder. “Liam, are you all right?”

“Go back to your father. I’m fine. You’re my last line of defense. Go on.” I was very hungry just now and I really didn’t want him anywhere close to me.

I called out to Brian again and was relieved to feel him stir.

Someone tried to enter the apartment and found the door locked. After a few confused seconds, they started pounding on the door. I looked to see who it was. I didn’t recognize any of them, but that didn’t mean much. Since they never called out, I felt fairly certain they were up to no good, and my suspicions were mostly confirmed when one of them produced a hand-torch and began trying to cut the lock on the door. Still no one moved to sound an alarm.

“Brian, I need to know who these people are, wake up.”

I heard some coughing. “I’m awake, I’m awake,” he said in a muffled voice. He had something over his mouth. I watched him move slowly out into the hallway and lean against the wall.

“Brian, come on. The emperor’s under attack.”

That galvanized him. He pelted down the hall.

“Don’t even try to come here alone,” I warned.

“Obviously I’m not alone. When did you get here?”

“About ten minutes ago and I’m wiped.” I turned my attention back to the man with a torch. He wasn’t having any luck cutting through the door, but I put the torch out just the same.

“Come on. Get that door cut open. The shift will be changing soon and someone will sound the alarm,” said a man who stood looking over his shoulder. The man with the torch relit it and continued to try cutting through the lock.

That was all I needed. These men were out to get the emperor. I wrapped the leader in a rope that also gagged him and hung him from the ceiling, then I blocked their retreat. The man with the torch found himself hanging from his hands, which I imbedded in the ceiling not far from his boss.

That left three more men rattling around the room in a panic. I picked up one of them and pinned him against the door. “Start talking,” I said.

I allowed him to struggle without letting him slip. The others were crowded as far away from him as they could get. All I got out of him was meaningless blubber, which climbed to an equally meaningless squeal when I moved him higher up the door. I suppose I could sympathize with their terror, after all, I wasn’t in the same room with them.

I held him there while I raided the kitchen. I didn’t bother with formal fare; I simply consumed what I came across until I was full.

Brian showed up about fifteen minutes later with thirty some men from the barracks and started pounding on the outer door. “Liam, Liam, are you in there? Open the door.”

“Brian,” I spoke in his ear. “There are five men in there. Two of them are loose. I have the other three secured. As yet, none of them are talking, but I haven’t been asking too many questions.”

“All right, thanks Liam. Thanks for everything. Open the door.”

I did and watched as the two who could, willingly gave themselves into his hands. The one I held against the door had to be carried out of the room. The one hanging from his hands had fainted and had to be carried out too. Someone cut the leader loose and I allowed his bound body to hit the floor.

As soon as order had been restored, Brian knocked on the inner door. “Open up, Liam.”

I saw the emperor leaning on his son standing in the hallway leading to the inner apartment and moved to stand between them and the door I was opening. It was a good thing I did because someone behind Brian opened fire. Brian went down immediately and I took several bullets before my magic shielded me from the rain of led.

I pushed the emperor back out of sight and walked out through the door. I’ve heard the expression about ‘seeing red’ but I had always thought it was just a metaphor, until now. I did see red and as my magic expelled the rounds I had already taken, I walked out into the rain of bullets.

Friend or foe, I didn’t care; if they fired at me, they died, and believe me, there wasn’t much left after I was done with them. I regret to say that it was likely that more than half of them were friendly forces. I can’t say that I blame them. I’m sure they felt much like thoppers being attacked by a basilisk; the only difference was that they were brave enough to stand and fight rather than scatter.

Seven men were left standing by the time bullets stopped flying. The emperor stepped up behind me and rested a hand on my shoulder. “Stand down, Liam.”

The red film cleared from my vision and I swayed. I took a big breath and looked around at the carnage I had wrought, then I turned back to Brian. He had taken three bullets in the back and both of his lungs were compromised. He had his eyes open, but I’m not sure that he saw me. I rested my hand on his chest and wiped the damage away. He closed his eyes with a sigh and slept.

The med-techs arrived minutes later and swarmed over everyone in the room while I stood numbly in the center and watched.

I’m not sure when I shut down. I remember bodies being carried away and I know that the emperor and Brian were also taken away to the infirmary. Guards, emboldened by my stillness, moved around trying to make sense of the chaos. I think I remember Connor calling my name, but I don’t remember falling. Apparently, I hit the corner of the desk with my face and came close to putting my eye out; my face was laid open from my forehead to my cheekbone.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Chapter 113 - CAMBAY

When I felt recovered enough, I went with my mother back to Cambay. With the exception of the gold streak across the floor, all traces of my first visit had been wiped away, and to finish the job, I replaced that streak, and the rest of the floor, with a shiny black marble that my mother oohed and aahed over. I returned the gold to the treasury, which had been depleted what with the hunt for corruption, especially since such corruption didn’t feed it any more.

Of course, I got involved with the security here even more than I ever did while working for the emperor. There, all that had been asked of me was to protect the emperor from assassination no matter the form. Here, I poked around and made sure the men were doing all they could to ensure my family’s safety. They were good and they were loyal. According to the logs, very few assassination attempts had made it inside the palace doors and that record had improved over the years.

Mother tried to involve me in the government. After all, I was expected to be the next baron. I tried very hard, but it was like putting on a shirt of thorns; I was very uncomfortable with it. It was my duty though, and I hadn’t stood at the emperor’s shoulder and learned nothing.

I constructed a private office along much the same lines and began to lay in the infrastructure that made it all possible. It took a couple years, but eventually, I had spies and eyes in almost every place that concerned us, which included every bureaucratic office here on Cambay and other planets in our district, as well as every other great house in the empire. My magic was very handy in that. They wouldn’t be finding any mechanical bugs or cameras of mine.

I bought a small shuttle, and when my thorny shirt dug too deeply, I would go out into orbit and spend some magic where no one would notice. Most all that I did was turn off the life support and meditate. Cambay didn’t have a moon so I couldn’t construct a small chamber in its core to use, but this worked well enough. A rain dance can be very interesting in space at several hundred degrees below freezing.

Victoria didn’t have a shirt of thorns. Quite the contrary, she developed a crafty mind and a strong personality. All things considered, I wasn’t too surprised when the emperor offered a betrothal between her and his youngest son. I think it was his way of keeping his friends close, especially since he couldn’t convince me to come back to his side. I didn’t tell him that I still watched over him; but with everything else I was doing, it wasn’t a very close watch.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Chapter 112 - CATCHING UP

I was awakened by the sound of a gentle argument outside my room.

“Let him sleep, Victoria. He’s not well,” said my mom.

“But grandma, he said I was supposed to wake him this morning. He told me to; you heard him.”

“He needs to get up and start moving around,” said another voice further away, I think it was Oskan.

Mom must have resigned herself to being out voted because my daughter came bounding into the room. “Daddy, its morning; wake up, daddy.”

I pretended to remain sleeping and I watched her come closer with my magic.

She started to pull my blanket back in order to see my face better. “Daddy?”

I could hear the tremulous disappointment in her voice. I quickly snaked my arm out from under the blanket and scooped her giggling, wiggling form in beside me where I began to tickle her, which wrung helpless shrieks of laughter from her.

“What is this bug I’ve found in my bed? I think I’ll have to throw it out the door.” I got up and slung her under my arm heading for the door.

“Daddy, I’m not a bug.”

I walked past the smiling faces of the others in my living room toward the hallway that led outside.

“Daddy, it’s me,” she protested with giggles while she pulled at my arm.

I took a few more steps.

She began to wriggle a little harder. “Daddy, it’s me, Victoria.”

I stopped. “What?” I said as if I was surprised. “Well, what do you know? It’s not a bug after all. I could have sworn I had a bed bug. What did you do with the bug?” I turned her upside down and pretended to shake the bug out of her pockets.

She was shrieking and giggling again. “Daddy.” She was all breathless.

I turned her right side up again and held her out in front of me. “Are you sure you’re not a bug?”

“No, I’m not a bug.” She pushed her hair out of her face.

I swung her to my hip. “Well okay, if you say so.” I headed back into my living room.

“You look better,” said Connor.

Haines was standing there too and I stepped forward to shake his hand warmly. “I feel better. I guess you went and filed your report,” I said to Connor.

“Larak took me last night after you went to bed,” said Connor.

“And I had to come and see for myself,” said Haines. “It’s good to see you up and around again.”

After a breakfast that was made by Oskan at the direction of my mother, I dressed and went outside. “You’ll have to excuse me for a while. I feel the rain calling me.”

Only Connor seemed to take exception to it. “Hey, wait a minute. That’s no fair. I can’t compete against that.”

I just laughed and waved him to join me and the others followed to watch.

It was raining outside; the storm had rolled in during the early hours of the morning. Connor and I stood out in the gentle rain and crossed our swords like we used to do so long ago back on earth; it was only yesterday for me. The pause was only momentary. Connor was grinning like an idiot.

“Don’t let your excitement hinder your judgment,” I said, as I sized him up.

“No chance of that, old man,” he retorted.

“Old man, is it?” I stepped in and battered at his sword. I relished the exercise and was pleased to see that he was holding his own, though the smile was quickly replaced with a look of concentration.

As the rain dripped down through my hair, we sparred. He had learned a lot, but he had yet to develop his own style and act on his own instincts. The teachings of his instructors, myself included, were still strongly in his mind.

I didn’t press any advantages, nor did I let him have any, and I could tell that he was skilled enough to know this, but that didn’t stop him from trying.

Soaking wet, I couldn’t resist the urge any longer. When I said the rain was calling me, it was the truth. I needed a rain dance.

When Connor felt the first assault from the water, he cried out, “No fair,” but didn’t falter or back out of the fight. He shook the water out of his eyes and stepped up his attack.

Water soon began to pool around our feet and Connor slipped, but I didn’t let him fall. Finally, he relented and stepped out of my rain dance. I saluted him and continued on my own until I was pleasantly drained.

Larak was handing out towels when I stepped up to the group again. “You better do that up on the dark moon next time. When you reach your full strength, that’ll be the only way you’ll be able to tax yourself. We don’t need a tidal wave coming down out of these mountains.”

I laughed and patted him on his shoulder (which was over my head). “You’re probably right. Do you want to watch?” I made everyone dry.

“You couldn’t make me miss it,” he replied as he gathered up the towels.

I turned to Connor. “Sorry, Connor. I couldn’t resist it anymore.”

“That’s all right,” he said. “You had me beat anyway.”

We all went back inside where I made a large bowl of fruit. “Now, tell me. What all have I missed?”

I learned that Carm had two sons and another on the way. Larak and Oskan had gone out and fought two wild fires. Fall dry weather was prone to that, though most of the time the fires are out in the wilderness somewhere. Connor told me proudly of how he had helped to keep them out of trouble.

The village had been rebuilt and the inn was bigger than ever. Tsan was buried where he had died and now a small garden marked the place. Larak confessed that his left side still felt wooden. His arm and leg were flexible enough, but he had no feeling in them. When he did anything with his hand, he did it more by sight than by touch.

I offered to try and fix it for him, but he waved me off. “Maybe some other time, I’m used to it,” he said.

This was the first time I had really sat down and talked with my mother. My last visit was more of a bump in my honeymoon and she hadn’t wanted to bother me with her troubles. They weren’t the kind of thing to put into a letter either. Apparently, the transition from her father’s rule hadn’t been at all smooth. It had taken years to weed out the corrupt bureaucrats (most of whom had been family) so she wasn’t too popular with the aristocracy. She was still uncovering trouble spots, but she figured she’d be finding things like that until the end of time.

She told me that Colin had reached Master Sergeant in the emperor’s space militia and was in charge of seeing to it that the men could handle themselves under weightless conditions. He had kept in touch with my mother over the years and so knew of my latest trouble.

Jonathan Preston had never been found though there were still wanted posters in every port in the empire. Mom figured that he must have had a face job and changed his name. Even so, he had to be keeping a very low profile. I figured he never really made it off the planet regardless of the fact that he had been seen running away. Maybe Marell had exacted a final revenge on him. Maybe he had run into one of the local predators.

Connor told me that he had a younger brother now who was five years old. They had wanted to name him after me, but they thought I might think it was too freaky so they named him Daniel after his grandfather on his mother’s side. He hadn’t been back to see him yet. I was glad to hear that the emperor and his wife had been able to patch things up and I thought Daniel was a fine name for a prince.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Chapter 111 - DREAMS

It was late afternoon when my daughter’s voice penetrated my fog and roused me from my long sleep. There was friendly banter over the feast after that, but despite the energy I drew from the orb and the food, I tired quickly and they let me go to my room to sleep after only being awake a few hours.

“You aren’t going back to sleep again, are you?” asked Victoria, who had scarcely been far enough away from me to be beyond touch.

“Yes, I am. I’m very tired. But if I don’t wake up in the morning when you think I should, then you just come in and wake me up.”

She climbed up into my lap and wrapped her small arms around my neck. “All right, daddy,” she said in my ear. She drew back and rubbed her cheek. “You need a shave.”

I had to laugh, and then I laughed again at her expression of awed surprise when I made six years of beard vanish right there in front of her. I stood, setting her down. “You want to tuck me in?”

She lit up with enthusiasm and led me off to my room and with all the drama of a nurse, she made sure the blankets were just so before she left.

I was tired enough to sleep like the dead, but that wasn’t to be. I dreamed of my Patricia. I felt her tender touch. I heard her soft voice. We made long and tender love, and then we made wild and furious love. She danced for me, and then she danced with my magic and I laughed and danced with her. Then she stopped me. Her hands framed my face and she was suddenly very serious. “I love you. I will always love you. I won’t miss you though. I will never have to miss you.”

The memory of my foolhardy trip here played itself out in macabre slow motion. I held her so tightly. I had to save her. I had to get her to safety – to help. Somewhere along my long journey, she came alive in my arms and opened up my chest as if she were opening a set of double doors and then she simply stepped inside closing the ‘doors’ behind her.

I sat up clutching my chest, reliving the ache there that was only in my mind. I hadn’t lost her, nor had I consumed her, and yet she was part of me and would be forever. I got up and went outside where I looked up at the sparkling stars. “I will miss you. I’ll miss holding you. I feel so lost without you.”

A warm rush ran up my spine, but the spell was broken when I heard Larak’s voice. “You’ll do all right. Everyone misses loved ones when they die, but life must go on and you have a daughter to think of now. You’ll be fine.”

I turned back to the cave entrance where he stood. “I’m all right. I’ll be fine.” I looked back up at the stars gauging the time of night. “I better get back to bed. My daughter will be coming to wake me up in a couple hours.”

In the solitude of my room, I let my tears soak into my pillow as I drifted off to sleep again.