Friday, December 30, 2011

Chapter 101 - FAREWELLS

Finnian, Lloyd and Oskan as well as Carm and Haines escorted us to the one human house outside of the spaceport where the car and its driver waited. One glance at the car was enough to tell that Patricia’s trunk didn’t have a chance of fitting inside anywhere; it would have to ride on the roof. The sight of the deserted house reminded me of the missing Mr. Preston. I used my magic once again to glance around for the man one more time, but apparently he had managed to make it outside of my sweep, or even perhaps off-world.

I lifted the trunk onto the roof of the car then I turned to say my farewells. Both Finnian and Lloyd shook my hand until I was sure I had at least one broken finger. Hugs from Oskan and Carm left me gasping and bruised, then I turned to Haines, hanging back behind them all.

“Aren’t you coming with us?” I asked.

“No; I have to stay here. I figured I’d stay here at the house.”

His words made me remember the emperor’s ruling about him. He had been exiled here for the rest of his life. From experience, I knew he would have friends aplenty, but it would still be a lonely existence.

“I’ll send for you. I’d like to have you standing beside me.”

He rested a hand on my shoulder. “No, it’s not going to happen and asking will only injure your relationship with the emperor. Send me messages once in a while; I’d like to be kept up to date.”

“I will,” I said and watched him turn toward the house. To make the parting easier for my friends, I too turned my back in order to hand Patricia into the car and secure the trunk to the top.

With a final wave at my friends, I slid in beside my bride and tapped the driver on the shoulder. “It’s time to go.”

“Aren’t you going to tie that trunk down? It’ll fall off the first bump we hit.”

“It’s not going anywhere; just drive.” I had glued it to the roof of the car. No one was going to move it until I separated them again.



Friday, December 23, 2011

Chapter 100 - FESTIVAL

The next two days were a blur. There was music and dancing in wild abandon, and a constant parade of food in profusion. Jugs of liquor floated around so thickly you seldom saw anyone without one, and though I have always had a poor opinion of the drink in its many forms, this was different. Needless to say, it contributed greatly to those days being so blurry. I’m sure that if it weren’t for the white clad shadow I had acquired, I would have led Patricia off to somewhere secluded and had my way with her in a most ungentlemanly way.

Instead we danced until we couldn’t feel our feet anymore, then we ate until we couldn’t swallow another bite and drank from the jugs whenever they floated by.

My involvement with the festival came to an end when Oskan (he was very drunk) dared me to do one of my dances using all of the magics – earth, air, fire and water – together, and I was drunk enough to do it.

“Don’t set anything on fire,” said Patricia with a giggle.

“That’s a good idea.” I took a pull at the jug Oskan passed me and then I handed it to her. “I wouldn’t want to set anything on fire.”

I drew my sword and moved to the center of the square while everyone else moved out of my way. I turned slowly on one foot, drawing on the elements I needed. With a lazy sweep of my sword, I brought them into being around me. Balls of flame danced with balls of water, and balls of earth soon joined them. With Air Magic, I created a whirlwind to spin sections of it in complicated whirls. The end result was a simplified version of a galaxy with its many solar systems. The comparison wasn’t what I had intended, but the sight of it reminded me of one of the things Durmas had said on his deathbed. I could have shown him something like this. I could have helped him to understand what was beyond this world so much better.

My thoughts of Durmas caused me to form the elements into a likeness of him to look down over us all with his patient and caring smile, then I knelt to the ground and let the wind blow him away.

The village square was silent. A moment of silence for a great man they had all known and loved for many years.

Next thing I knew someone was rolling me over. “Liam, are you all right?” asked Patricia laughing.

She helped me to sit up and I looked around. Everyone I saw had their head bowed and a hand over their heart and then they slowly began to disburse.

Then I realized that sun was rising; festival was over for another year.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Chapter 99 - WEDDING DAY

Unknown to me, my wedding was planned to take place during the harvest festival, which was six weeks after Durmas’ death. I spent the time mostly in a funk. I couldn’t concentrate; I’d find myself staring off into space with my mind totally blank. Oskan did his best to help me with my teleporting. I could do it now with some confidence, but if I thought about it for more than two or three seconds, my stomach would do its best to show me my last meal.

Larak slept on. When I expressed my concern about Larak’s continued sleep and his lack of nourishment, Oskan explained, “That’s why he sleeps beneath the orb. His magic will sustain him until he reaches a balance, then he will wake.”

Oskan took Haines and me to the village for the festival leaving Larak behind. I was still struggling with the change. I used to have four teachers, four great men who sought to pour their knowledge into me, and now, suddenly, two of them were dead and another lie sleeping for who knows how long.

I was thinking those thoughts, and others like them, when Lloyd Hanley singled me out shortly after we arrived at the village. “You’ve proven yourself to be a good protector even though you haven’t made a place for her,” he said critically, and gave me a look up and down that said he still had his doubts. “I guess you’re worthy.” He took my arm and led me through the crowd to where his wife was standing with Patricia firmly under her control. She looked me over with a scathing expression. “I think he’s suitable enough,” said Lloyd.

Lorena scowled. “I don’t know. He’s made no home for her. He has no solid occupation. Are you sure her children will not starve or be without shelter?”

“You must consider that he is a Master. I don’t think such concerns will ever be a problem, not while he lives anyway,” replied Lloyd.

She harrumphed critically and then turned to Oskan. “Do you stand for Master Durmas?”

“I do,” he replied simply.

“Then it falls to you to decide if you think our ward is prepared enough for this joining.” She indicated a large trunk behind them standing beside a table covered with an assortment of other things I hadn’t identified yet.

It finally occurred to me what might be happening. I snagged Oscan’s arm before he went to look at what was displayed. “What’s going on here?”

“This may be your joining,” he said as if it were obvious to everyone.

I was speechless. I hadn’t expected this, not without some warning at least. When I hesitated, Oskan asked with some concern in his voice. “You do want me to go ahead, don’t you?”

“Oskan, if you find some fault with what she has there causing our wedding to be delayed, I promise you’ll regret it.”

He just smiled and went forward to examine the contents of the trunk and the table.

While Oskan was going through the things Patricia had prepared and questioning her about each item, someone touched my elbow.

I turned to see who sought my attention and found a man dressed in a smart white uniform. Several things struck me immediately. First, he was another human, and second, his uniform strongly resembled the uniform of the emperor’s guard if it weren’t the wrong color.

“Liam McTavish?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

“I’m here to inform you that I represent the emperor. His ship is at your disposal.”

“His ship?” Why was the emperor’s ship here? Why was it at my disposal?

“Yes sir, the emperor received a message that you might wish to leave after the festival and he sent his ship.”

That message had to have been sent months ago. Who would send it? Who would know? “Thank you,” I said. The man bowed and backed away. I watched him as he chose a spot on the edge of the square to watch. He obviously didn’t know anything about festival.

I was about to go and tell him he ought to make himself comfortable, but I was distracted by Carm. The farmer Finnian was leading him over to another display similar to Patricia’s. I smiled; I thought there might be something starting between the farmer’s pretty daughter and my friend. I glanced back at the man in white; I wished my friend a long and happy life with his new bride. After this, I didn’t expect to see him again.

I looked back, Oskan was going through the trunk now and Patricia was continuing to explain something about its contents. I watched him hold up a shirt and shake his head, then he turned around and held the shirt up to my shoulders.

“Well, I suppose it’s all right. It looked too small,” he said. I glowered at him and he grinned back at me with an ornery glint in his eye.

Finally, he turned to Lorena and announced, “I find your ward sufficiently prepared for this joining.” He stepped back beside me while Patricia carefully packed everything into the trunk. I was amazed that it all fit.

When she was finished, Lloyd picked up the thing and approached me.

“It’ll be heavy,” whispered Oskan in my ear.

I was glad for the warning because apparently Lloyd expected me to accept the thing as if it were some sort of Christmas present. For him it was just an over large suitcase, but I had trouble reaching from one corner to the other. I supported it on a cushion of air. Without magic, I’m not too sure I could have moved it across the ground let alone lift and carry it.

“My wife and I have found you a worthy mate for our ward and Master Oskan has found our Patricia worthy of you. May you have a long life together and have many healthy children.”

Oskan guided Patricia to my side and she hooked her small hand around my elbow. She was finally mine, but I still couldn’t touch her or even kiss her, my hands were full of this massive trunk and I was fairly certain giving it a toss was out of the question; what else could they think of?

She tugged at my arm and guided me toward the man in white. Along the way, I noticed other men with trunks. A few were young men with young women at their side and a few were fathers shooing their tearful daughters back to their house. I didn’t think there would be any festival for those young ladies, or the disappointed young suitors either, for that matter. Carm shot a grin at me. He had his prize clinging to his arm while he hefted her trunk. It looked like they were heading back to the farm where he had grown up. I remembered the little brother. I wondered what his arrangement would be when he was handed a girl’s trunk. Then again, Carm had his own property on the other side of the mountains where he and his family had been moved.

“Put it down,” Patricia whispered in my ear. We had reached the man in white. I set the massive trunk down at his feet.

“Watch this for us, will you,” I said.

Patricia giggled softly at the man’s confusion, but he nodded and we turned back to the rest of the festivities.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Chapter 98 - DEATH OF A MASTER

Durmas was lying in a comfortable bed in a room that was not unlike my own. There were a few basic comforts, but mostly the room was fairly plain.

He raised a feeble hand at my appearance and I stepped forward to take it. My first instinct was to search for the problem and then fix it, but he stopped me.

“You can’t fix it, boy. I was old when your father was born if I understand your life span well enough. It’s my time and I’m glad that I had one such as you to teach. Feeling your magic, your big magic, almost makes me understand some of the things I’ve heard about out in the…the word is ‘universe’, isn’t it? I’ve heard that suns are born, live and die – just like people do. Feeling you do your magic makes me think that I’m watching a sun being born. I can almost understand how your people can do the things they do with those big…ships…and…” He grimaced and took another breath. “What you did for Larak was truly a miracle. And Carm, is he well?”

“Yes, I was able to remake all his bones. He’s still sleeping it off.”

“He was able to rekindle Larak’s magic even after so long,” said Oskan.

“I felt it. His hunger would have quenched both of us I think, if we had been able to reach him at all, yet you let it tap your resources with ease and then you tuck all that power away in that small body of yours.” He shuddered again and then smiled. “I’ve held on long enough. I wanted to tell you that your journey is not over yet; you will come back here some day, and when you do, it is my hope that you will take my place here and teach what you know to those who come here.”

I didn’t want to waste his time with my protests. I would never be the man he was. I could never teach another how to wield this power, and I had no plans of returning here once I left. All I could do was watch him close his eyes. He had such a peaceful look on his face. He was content with his life…and then he was gone.

He just stopped breathing, and the force of his life went out, leaving behind the deflated husk of a very old man.

I don’t know how long I stayed there, trying to believe what my eyes and my magic were telling me. Somewhere along the way, Oskan took me back to my room where he and Haines helped me change my clothes. I don’t know how long I slept. I know I dreamed, because I woke up sobbing; I can’t remember a time when I was so sad, and I can’t even remember the dream.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Chapter 97 - MAGIC BURNOUT

It only took me a moment to make out the figure lying on the altar beneath the orb, and only a second longer to see the figure sitting on a stool with his head resting on the slab.

I gently shook his shoulder. “Haines, wake up.”

He jumped and looked up at me with bleary eyes that couldn’t penetrate the darkness. His hand found mine and he sighed. “Liam, it’s you. I’m so glad you’ve finally come. Master Oskan brought us here, laid Larak here, told me to watch over him and then left. That was ages ago. I’ve looked for him, but I can’t find him; I don’t know where his quarters are. I swear I’ve looked everywhere. I’m worried about him. I’m worried about both of them.”

I made and lit a small lamp for him and then bent over Larak to examine him. His breathing seemed to be regular, but his skin was clammy. “He’s been like this ever since he’s been here?”

Oskan touched my shoulder. When I looked up at him, he cocked his chin at the globe. I looked at it. It looked the same to me. Then it occurred to me, it was dark. “What does it mean?”

“Burnout.”

I’d never heard of burnout. “What does that mean?”

“It means he has no more magic,” he said in a voice that echoed his regret.

“Is there nothing that can be done?”

“I’m thinking that Master Durmas tried, and it’s likely that he failed. I’ll go find him and see. Take care of Haines.”

Haines had been here for two days unattended and this place was the home of men of magic; no supplies were stored here, none were necessary. Thinking of him reminded me of when we first returned. He had brought me here to heal after the bomb had come close to killing me. The train of thought reminded me of something my teachers had done. They had cycled magic through my body in hopes of waking the magic that lay cowering within me. It had worked for me. Was this the same thing? Could I do the same thing for Larak? It couldn’t hurt to try. I made Haines a sandwich that would have made my mother proud and explained my intentions while he ate.

“How are you going to do that? You’re only one person.” he asked through mouthfuls. “Why don’t you wait for the others to get back?”

I looked at Larak’s pale face. “I don’t think time is on our side.”

I held my hands up and looked at them. This would be tricky. I couldn’t draw from him; he didn’t have anything to draw from. He couldn’t draw from me, though that would be the best thing. That meant I had to draw from myself through him; that would indeed be tricky.

Larak was a big man, and that slab of rock he was laying on was a big hunk of rock. I was forced to climb up onto it and straddle him in order to reach both hands. I closed my eyes and whispered, “Come on, Larak, help me.”

At first, it was difficult, not unlike learning how to juggle, I suppose, but then I made it something like a rain dance. Instead of making a spinning ball of water, I made the magic spin. It was halting and rough at first, but it felt right. In time, the spin gained momentum, and I fed power into it, and then there was another force melding in with my efforts. I thought I felt a fresh breath of air on my face. It made me aware of the fact that I had become drenched with sweat.

“Come on, Larak. I know you want this. Reach out.”

Almost on command, there was another presence. It was infantile, a down feather caught in a high wind, but it fought to stand in the whirlwind, and then it fed. It was ravenous. Vaguely, I felt pain in my hands, but I ignored it and fed him all he could take until he finally pushed us away.

I almost fell from my perch, but Oskan had ahold of me and he helped me down to the floor.

I felt like I had danced the mother of all rain dances. I was exhausted to the point of passing out and I was giddy and euphoric to the point of hysterics. Between the two emotions, I managed to sit down on the stool Haines had been using when we arrived and just grin like an idiot while trying to keep from going cross-eyed. The globe overhead glowed with a healthy green glow, and by its light, we could see that Larak’s sleep was much more normal.

Oskan knelt in front of me. “Liam, you must heal your hands before this wears off.”

I looked down. My hands were bruised, bloody and crooked, and there was blood on the one hand of Larak’s that I could see. I chuckled a bit. He had crushed my hands.

With some coaching and encouragement from Oskan, I managed to put my hands back together before they started to hurt. The effort helped me come back to normal and I realized that Durmas wasn’t here. “Where’s Master Durmas? You found him, didn’t you?”

His expression was grim. “I found him. He’s dying. He wants to see you.”

“Dying.” It didn’t seem possible. He had always been so strong, so powerful, so confident. How could he be dying? “Take me to him.” I never knew where his room was.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Chapter 96 - PICKING UP THE PIECES

Back at the farmhouse, before entering the door, Oskan touched my shoulder. “Mind your hosts,” he said softly.

I had mostly stopped dripping, but I was still soaked. I swept the remainder of the water away, using it to water a few of the flowers planted by the front door, remembering that Carm’s mother had planted those flowers.

Inside, Carm still slept peacefully; he looked so much better now. I wasn’t finished with him yet, but it looked like he had benefited from my efforts and the time.

Encouraging us to leave him in peace for a little while longer, the farmer ushered us into the kitchen where his wife was laying out a feast for us. My stomach came alive at the sight and informed me, in no uncertain terms, that I was way behind in that regard.

I dug in. Oskan did too. Both of us had had a hard time, and from the looks of it, Oskan hadn’t had a proper meal for days. During the meal, I learned the names of my hosts. The farmer’s name was Finnian and his wife’s name was Moira.

I was midway through my third plate and I could have sworn that we were talking about rain when I fell asleep at the table. I don’t remember anything about it; I don’t even remember being put to bed.

I woke to find myself in a familiar yet strange room. After I climbed up out of the fog of sleep, I realized that the room used to be Carm’s room, but of course, the new owners had made several changes.

I dressed and headed back downstairs. I passed a young woman I hadn’t seen before, going up with a tray laden with food. She smiled shyly at me and ducked on past. I headed on into the living room where I had left Carm, intending to finish with him before allowing myself to rest, but apparently, things had taken a different course.

Carm’s absence from the middle of the living room floor was conspicuous, but before I could so much as turn around to seek an answer, Finnian came in. “Your friend is resting comfortably upstairs in the spare room. Master Oskan is with him. He told us you were showing signs of waking so my wife has a meal prepared for you in the kitchen.”

What could I do? I went into the kitchen and found a breakfast of eggs, ham and potatoes with toast, jam and orange juice on the side. At first, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It’d been a long time since I’d had an earth-style breakfast and breakfast takes on a whole new dimension when prepared by someone who is twice your size. That meant that there were six eggs, four large slices of ham, at least two whole potatoes, about a quart of orange juice, half a loaf of toasted bread and a massive jar of jam. It was a good thing the plate wasn’t human-sized. It was a really good thing I was still very hungry.

“Where did you get all this?” was the first thing out of my mouth, rather than ‘thank you for going to so much trouble for me.’ I felt like an idiot for saying it, but the words were out, and Moira had an answer before I could apologize.

“I got it all from Mr. Preston’s house. He hasn’t been seen since the battle. Most of us think he’s left and I thought you might like some of your native food for a change. Much better than watching it all go to waste.”

I was helpless to resist; I dug in. “Gone, you say.” I thought it more than likely that he had suffered the same fate as the inn.

“Yes,” chatted Moira, “everyone knew he was socializing with that evil man, and when the inn came apart, he was seen running from the yard. He hasn’t been seen since. Healer Danow went out there yesterday morning to see if maybe he might be hurting or something, but he hasn’t been back there either.”

I flexed my magic and tried to look for his fire, but if he was out there, either I was looking in the wrong place or his flame was hopelessly drowned out and unidentifiable. Then Moira was talking again.

“It’s a beautiful thing to watch you do that.”

“What?” I asked; I wasn’t sure I had heard her right.

“You and the other Masters, when you use your magic, it’s just beautiful.”

I had forgotten that it was some of the village people who had spoken for my magic potential. “Just what is it that you see?”

“Oh, you know; you probably see it all the time. You do live with them. I used to have such a crush on Master Durmas when I was a girl.”

“What do you see?” I asked again. I didn’t really want to know about her crush.

She looked at me with an odd expression, but I never found out what she would have said next.

“Liam, what’s taking you so long?” called Carm from upstairs.

It was good to hear some of the old gusto in his voice. The last time I had heard his voice, he had resigned himself to die a painful death. I jumped up from the table and ran up the stairs sparing only a quick “thanks Mrs.” before rounding the corner.

Carm was sitting up in bed and Oskan was sitting on a chair next to him, the girl from the stairs was sitting on the bed beside him, and on the other side of the bed sat the old healer woman in another chair.

Healer Danow was old when I was a kid and somehow it looked like that might have been only yesterday. She didn’t look a day older than she did when she set Brom’s finger that first day when the four of us became an inseparable team.

“I have been listening to the most amazing stories,” said Danow. “I’ve been setting bones since I was a teenager, but I’ve never heard of bones being removed or remade or whatever it is you think you did. Now don’t get me wrong, young Master, I’ve seen some pretty amazing magics in my day, but making or unmaking bones just isn’t possible.”

I smiled. “With magic, anything is possible. All that’s necessary is an understanding of how to do it.” She just harrumphed as I turned to Carm. “Are you ready to finish this?”

“I don’t know what you did, but yes, I’ve been stuck in this bed entirely too long.”

“You never did make a very good sick person.” I sank into the magic and refined what I had already accomplished. Satisfied, I opened my eyes. Carm was sleeping again and the girl was tucking the blanket around his shoulders and fluffing the pillow under his head.

Moira was leaning against the doorjamb with a look on her face that reminded me of someone who had just come in out of a blizzard and was relishing the heat of a fire.

I just shook my head and stepped aside to let the women fuss over Carm. “What about Larak? How is he?” I asked Oskan.

“Master Durmas said not to worry about him, he’ll be fine.”

His words said not to worry, but something about the way he said them told me that things weren’t so peachy.

“Come on, let’s go see. I think Carm is in good hands now.”

Oskan got to his feet and rested a hand on my shoulder. I had a moment to notice the grim expression on his face and then we were back at the cave in the chamber of the globe.



Friday, November 18, 2011

Chapter 95 - DANCE OF LIFE

I wedged my eyes open and saw Larak lying on the grass in a heap. Durmas and Oskan were pulling him into a prone position.

“Is he alive?” Those were the hardest words I think I have ever uttered. My stomach wasn’t the only thing hurting. I’m not even sure I hurt this much after I took the full blast of that bomb.

A voice spoke urgently in my ear, but the effort it took to figure out who was talking confused the meaning of the words. “Shake it off. Shake it off; don’t let yourself linger like this. Talk to him. Pull him out of this.”

Then I heard Patricia’s voice, her patient voice, the voice that had pulled me through so many dark days. I took a deep breath, and then I took another. I struggled to pull myself upright. My whole body shuddered and swayed, but her strong arms were around me. I looked into her cherished face. She was saying something; what was she saying?

“Look at me, Liam. Take deep breaths.”

Numbly I did as she said. I felt so thirsty. I brought my hand up into my range of view and filled it with a ball of water.

“Yes,” she whispered and I felt her draw away.

I felt so alone without her arms around me, but I needed to dance. I needed a water dance so badly just now; at least a small one. I could handle a small one.

My dance scarcely equaled the word. It was little more than me turning slowly in the middle of a magical fountain that I soaked up hungrily. I’m sure everyone around me got drenched, but I just couldn’t spare the energy to do anything but turn. Other things were happening too, but I didn’t really care, it felt too good to care just now.

When I finished, all too soon, believe me. I opened my eyes and found Patricia. She was standing a few feet away with Lloyd Hanley and Oskan; all of them were dripping but they were smiling too.

Larak and Durmas were nowhere in sight. I brushed water from my face and hair, allowing the rest of me to drip. “Where’s Larak and Durmas? Is Larak alive?”

Oskan smiled and hit me on the shoulder almost sending me from my not-to-steady feet. “Yes, he lives. Master Durmas has taken him and Haines back to the cave. I’m sure he will sleep for some time. Come on; let’s go back to Carm. You should sleep too.”

Sleep sounded so good. I reached for Patricia’s hand but Lloyd’s hand came to rest on her shoulder. “It’s not time for that yet.”

I know I was tired, and I know that I can be a bit grouchy when I’m tired. There must have been something in my face because Oskan stepped between us. “It’s our way, Liam,” he said with a look that told me he was trying to maintain peace. “You must have patience.”

I’m sure I growled, but I turned on my heels and headed back to Carm. I just wish Patricia was at my side instead of Oskan. Hotly, I promised myself that if I ever got her away from that family, I would leave this place and never come back. These old-fashioned ways didn’t affect me much when I was a kid, but this was ridiculous.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Chapter 94 - LARAK

Haines stood there. He had been telling Durmas something, and from the look on their faces, it was something very serious. They both looked at me when I rose from beside the sleeping Carm.

When they said nothing, I asked, “What’s wrong? Where’s Patricia? She’s all right, isn’t she? You were supposed to get her out of town immediately; not wait for the last minute. If something has happened to her…”

“Calm down, Liam,” said Haines. “She’s fine. She’s with Larak. We found him shortly after we left the house the first time so we went back to tell Durmas, but what’s-his-name showed up, so we had to leave again; we didn’t get the chance to tell anyone. After the battle, I came back to find you, but you weren’t there any more. I had a heck of a time finding you.”

My mind was still operating a little slow. “You found Larak? Where is he? Is he all right?”

“No Liam, he’s far from all right. He’s been imbedded into a tree not far from the edge of town. He’s barely alive. It’s the most frightening thing I’ve ever seen,” said Haines.

My mind reeled. Who could have magic powerful enough to override the most basic instinct of physical isolationism? The few times the subject came up, Larak had always said I was stronger than he was, but I’m not sure I was strong enough to do such a thing to another magical creature. Then again, it would take something like this to give me the idea. I shuddered and goose bumps ran up my spine and made the hair on my neck stand up. “Where is he? Show me?”

“Liam, you’re exhausted; there’s nothing you can do,” said Haines.

I waved a hand at Carm. “I know more about anatomy than any other person on this planet. Don’t tell me there’s nothing I can do. I have to try.”

“What about him?” asked Durmas, speaking softly of Carm. Indicating without saying it that I might have to choose.

I looked at him. He looked much more tired than I felt, then I looked at the sleeping form of Carm. He looked infinitely better than when I first found him at the inn. “He’ll be fine for a while. I’m not done with him, but I’m done enough for now. Let’s go.” I refused to choose.

The farmer’s wife came up to me with a large package wrapped in waxed paper. “Eat this. You must be hungry.”

She faded shyly back behind her husband as I opened the package. It was a meat pie. My stomach wouldn’t let me refuse the offer. It barely allowed me to utter my heart-felt thanks before I dug in.

My mouth being inadequate to the demands of my stomach, I headed out the door nodding for Haines to follow me. Durmas and Oskan followed a few seconds later; they also each had a meat pie or maybe it was their second.

On the other side of town, a few trees into the edge of a forest, I saw Patricia and Lloyd Hanley. Mrs. Hanley was not in sight, but when I saw Larak, I could imagine Lloyd sending her away to spare her the sight.

Before I saw the man, I saw his hand protruding from the tree we were approaching. It was strangely lit by the dawn sunlight and I could see that it was all black and blue, but it still loosely gripped the bent bow whose tips were also imbedded in the same tree.

Rounding the tree, I saw Larak’s head where it sagged against the other side of the tree. I had to look again before I could identify exactly what I was seeing. Apparently, he had been aiming his bow at some target in or near the town and someone had simply moved him over into this tree.

I reached up to touch his face. It looked for all the world like he was dead; he just hung there. His left arm and shoulder, half of his left ribcage, his left hip and all of his left leg were out of sight in the tree.

He slowly raised his head and looked at me. His face was covered with sweat and his eyes were bloodshot. I could tell he was having a lot of trouble breathing and his circulation had to be all screwed up.

“I knew you would be able to beat him,” he whispered. “I’m glad I lived long enough to see it. I wish I could have seen it.”

“Don’t waste your breath,” I said. “Let me see what I can do.”

“You can’t do anything. I’m a dead man.”

“Shut up,” I said. I reached up and wrapped my fingers around his neck. “Help me.”

“I can’t.” He laid his cheek against the tree and closed his eyes. A drop of blood fell from the corner of his mouth.

“Yes you can. Just think about it,” I insisted. I don’t know if he did, but that’s what I did; I let all the memories I had of him flip through my mind like a slide show, sparring with him, hunting with him, a kaleidoscope of our training exercises, anything I could think of where he was involved. Then, with a gut-wrenching jerk that threatened my newly eaten meal and dropped me to my knees, I made it happen. Something heavy dropped nearby.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Chapter 93 - BONES

The sight of my shaking hands brought memories of Carm and his swollen limbs to my numb mind. I had promised to fix things as soon as this was all over. I cleaned and sheathed my blades and then pushed myself to my feet to stagger in that direction. I intended to keep that promise.

Oskan caught my arm. “Liam, slow down. You should rest. It’s over.”

I pulled away from him and kept going. I had yet to spend as much magic as when I had fought the fire, but it was far more than I had done for a while. I couldn’t allow myself to let Carm down when he needed me. I had been too late for Tsan and I had yet to see Larak, but I knew where Carm was and that’s were I was headed.

With Oskan and Durmas flanking me, I wove my way to the farmhouse where I had (hopefully) sent Carm. It seemed to be farther away than I remembered, but I made it there eventually.



The people at the house had made Carm as comfortable as they could without moving him more than they had to. They had pulled the rug he had appeared on closer to the fireplace and built up the fire on the hearth. They also cushioned him with many pillows and blankets.

“He just appeared here,” said a middle-aged woman from behind her husband’s shoulder. “I didn’t know what else to do for him.”

I dropped to my knees beside him. “You did good.” I touched Carm’s forehead. He was still fevered. He sighed and shifted slightly, but didn’t wake.

I closed my eyes and sought the memories of my lessons with the doctor over Colin. The situation and the person were very different but the information would still be useful.

“Do you have a baston here?” I asked.

“Yes I do, out in the barn, but why,” said the man.

“Kill it, bleed it and hang it. Do it now,” I said. “And have another ready. One should be enough but just in case…”

“I don’t understand.” the man began to protest, but Durmas gave him a nod and he went to do as he was asked.

By the time he came back into the house and handed his wife the bloody knife, I had regained some of my energy.

I let the magic flow. I used the farmer as an example and began to recreate Carm’s bones. At first Carm tried to struggle. He moaned in pain and his struggles caused even more pain.

I had to squelch his movements, so I essentially paralyzed him, then I dampened the pain; unfortunately, there was no way to take all of the pain away. Fortunately, just like before, he soon fell into a deep sleep.

Some time later – it could have been hours – there was a quiet commotion behind me. Someone had entered the house without the customary formalities and the ensuing excitement was quickly hushed so as not to disturb my concentration.

Much of Carm’s bones had been reconstructed though there was still a good deal of refining left to do. I pulled away for a brief break to see what all the excitement was.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Chapter 92 - SHOWDOWN

I heard a commotion, punctuated by some indistinct cries, coming from the direction of the town square. Perhaps Durmas had arrived, hopefully with the others in tow.

I headed in that direction. I hadn’t gone more than three or four paces before I heard an explosion. I broke into a run, and seconds later I heard another explosion.

By the time I reached the village well, I could pick out the source of the commotion by the light of the moons. Marell had run up against Durmas and Oskan. From my point of view, it looked to be progressing much the same as at the inn. Two houses had been leveled and a third was coming apart.

It looked as though Marell was having trouble with this house and I couldn’t imagine why until I caught sight of Haines ushering people out the back.

My heart turned cold when I caught a glimpse of black hair on the other side of Haines’ shoulder as he disappeared beyond other houses further away. At the same time, I recognized the house in contention.

How dare he attack her? With a roar, I put on new speed and crashed into the fray. I say ‘crashed’ because as I ran I gathered up a good deal of the debris scattered around me and imbedded it in a large ball of ice that I then hurdled at Marell’s back.

The fact that Durmas and Oskan scattered to the side alerted Marell to the danger from behind, but he wasn’t quite quick enough to escape all my wrath. My wood-spiked ball of ice laid several cuts across his chest and knocked him sprawling to the ground where Durmas attempted to bury him, but he was up too quick for that.

Oskan launched several projectiles, not all of them arrows, at him, but missed as he teleported to the side several feet and hurdled huge clods of dirt back at him, forcing him to do much the same thing, then Marell turned on me.

By now, I had stopped running and was striding boldly forward. Memories of Carm and Tsan unboned, combined with the knowledge that he had gotten very close to someone I loved very much, unwittingly or not, was enough to cut the last restraints I might have had on the use of my magic.

With my sword pointed directly at him, I began to gather water at its tip in a bizarre ball that spun and writhed. At first, this puzzled him, but it didn’t stop him from trying another attack.

He tried to use the ground between us as a shield, likely thinking that I planned to hurdle my gathering ball at him.

The earth between us didn’t interfere with what I was doing, nor did it protect him from attack from the flank, but I wiped it away with a swipe of my free hand.

Oskan shot more splinters of wood at him and scored several hits this time, though there was little blood-loss, and Durmas started to suck the air from the vicinity, but couldn’t seem to keep it away and new air rushed in to replace what was taken away, creating something of a vortex littered with debris.

I came to a halt about six feet away from the man. By now, he was having more than a little trouble and couldn’t seem to use his magic any more. Veins were standing out on his neck and temple. His face was beginning to contort with pain and the ball on the tip of my sword grew larger as I held it in front of his nose.

“There is more than bones in a body,” I said. “I understand that a body like mine is over half water. I wonder how much water is in your body.”

Marell blanched. It finally occurred to him where my ball of water was coming from.

Oskan realized it moments later. “Liam, Liam, don’t do this.”

I refused to hear him. With a vicious determination, I continued to draw water from the man in front of me. I watched him sink to his knees; he couldn’t even muster sound through his vocal cords and he was visibly shriveling.

Durmas stepped forward and rested his hand on my sword hand. “That’s enough,” he said softly.

I pulled my eyes away from the animated mummy in front of me and let the magic go to look at Durmas. The water I had been accumulating splashed to the ground in front of Marell, barely completing its splash before the desiccated body of its previous owner splashed into it.

As the resounding silence sank into my soul, I sank to my knees. My sword and knife dropped from my numb hands and I brought them up before me with exaggerated slowness and watched them begin to shake uncontrollably. Now I knew without a doubt – I could kill.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Chapter 91 - FIGHTING BACK

I backed into the corner and held myself there on a platform of air. I changed my homespun clothes for my customary leathers making sure they were black (I wouldn’t forget my blue basilisk across my shoulder) so I could take some measure of shelter in the dark.

Since I didn’t fall, portions of the inn began to explode around me. As the destruction grew, a few other people were revealed to me. Without knowing who these people were, I couldn’t afford to send them to the only safe place I knew, so I sent them to the town square. With Marell concentrating his attention on me, victims stood a good chance of getting away and potential combatants would be delayed if only for a few minutes.

As soon as I saw Marell, I took the splinters of wood he was creating all around me and sent them at him in a deadly cloud, but he wasn’t so easily defeated.

He blew them away with ease, and now that I had given away my location, he sucked the air out from under me.

My fall wasn’t completely graceless. I managed to land like I’ve heard a cat can do, on all fours. At the same time, I pulled the earth out from under Marell’s feet. I had to flatten myself to the ground completely in order to avoid something big that was hurdled at me, then he was gone.

I looked around. The inn had been leveled better than any wrecking ball could ever do, and in the sudden vacuum of sound, I heard far away cries of fear. I hoped they were running away.

I picked myself up off the ground and sought out the big tree that grew in the front yard, or what was left of it. I leaned against its solid trunk and closed my eyes looking for the lights that would tell me where people were. A quick glance showed me that a lot of people had found a way to leave. That left about a dozen people still in the near vicinity. Three of them were only a few yards away. A ragged scream from there propelled me in that direction first.

I was mad now. All I had done was defend myself and respond to their attacks. I hadn’t even drawn my sword yet. I did that now, then I sheathed it in ice. As I walked across the yard, I allowed ice to drip from its tip.

I came upon two men standing over a third. At least I think the thing on the ground at their feet was a man. From this angle and distance, he was unrecognizable and his light was so dim that it had no identity.

One of the other men saw me and pointed, saying something to his companion. A few paces closer and I knew that they were Marell and Cat Eyes, the man I had thrown out of the inn through the wall.

As soon as they saw me, I swung my sword at them. It was nowhere near long enough on its own, but I reached out with the ice and extended its reach until they were forced to jump back or feel its icy cut.

They teleported out of sight or at least they tried to. I managed to hang on to one of them. Apparently, the conflict of magics was painful because his cry was somewhat more than just surprise. By the time I was done with him, he was quiet…very quiet.

I bent over the pile of flesh on the ground. His breath was coming in faint gasps and his bloodshot eyes rolled up at me. His mouth was strangely flaccid, but then I realized that they had left him with no jawbones. After a quick magical examination, I found that at least half of his ribs were missing too.

Recognition was not immediate, but I eventually I realized that it was Tsan who lay before me. His mush of a lower face stretched into a bizarre grin and then gaped into a gasp of pain. With that, he shuddered and the light faded from his eyes.

They had left him with just enough bone structure to breathe for a little while longer and enough of his skull for his eyes and brain to work. They had wanted him to live long enough to see something. Did they want him to see my defeat or did they have some other reason? Who could say?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Chapter 90 - CARM

I ran forward through the blood-splattered hallway and into the room they had been guarding. Inside, I found Carm lying on a bed. This room had once been a rather nice room, but it had seen some abuse since the last time anyone had done any cleaning.

It was obvious that Carm had been lying here exclusively since he had been captured. He reached a swollen and bruised, almost unrecognizable hand out to me. “Liam, Liam, I knew it was you.” The hand sank back to the bed. “Liam, they did something to me. I can’t walk. I can’t even sit up enough to figure out what they did.”

I knew what they did. I could tell by the shapeless ballooning in his limbs (I touched his knee just to be sure); “They removed your bones, Carm. How bad is it?”

“I don’t know. Everything hurts too much. I can’t tell any more.”

“Where’s Tsan?”

“He was here until just a few minutes ago. When you called out, that man came in and sent him somewhere else. I have no idea where.”

I hoped he had been sent somewhere else. I touched Carm’s forehead. He was running a high fever. “I’m going to try and help you, but I don’t have the time to fix things. More than likely it’ll put you to sleep. I hope it does. Then I’m going to send you to your old home. It’s the safest place I can think of. I’ll fix everything later when this is all over.”

He closed his eyes with a ragged sigh.

I voiced my worries. “I’ve never done this before. I don’t know if I can,”

“You just do whatever you can. Anything you do will be better than this.”

I suppose he was right. It didn’t matter whether he survived the move; even death would be an improvement to this agony. And if I couldn’t fix him, he’d die anyway eventually. I gritted my teeth and used what I had learned back on Earth. I didn’t have time to recreate his missing bone structure, but I could clear up some of his problems. I cleared up most of the bruising and reduced a lot of the swelling. Soon he was sleeping just as I had hoped, but my time was up. I heard shouting from below and stepped to the window to see what there might be to see.

I didn’t get the chance to notice much more than the fact that night was falling before my attention was brought back inside by the sound of a small table falling over behind me. I turned to see that the floor where I had been standing had begun to dissolve. The hole got bigger and was about to reach the bed where Carm slept. Time was up; I braced myself and sent him away. I hope he made it.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Chapter 89 - COMBAT MAGIC

I headed for the stairs to the next floor at a run. I was mid-leap, reaching for the second step up, when the stairs morphed into some bizarre imitation of what might have been a giant tiger’s head on another planet.

I froze it back into inanimate wood before I crashed into it, but it was now unusable as an access to the upper floor and I didn’t have time to create another staircase.

I whirled in time to find the floor coming alive behind me like an over-long tongue, so I took control of my end of it and used it to smack Marell back into the room I had just left, and then jammed the splintered wood into the door. It would only stop him for a moment, but perhaps it would be long enough for me to regroup and think.

Thanks to the wooden teeth behind me, I now had a long gash down my arm. I hastily pulled my flesh together so I would stop dripping blood everywhere.

I looked up; I had never been inside the inn. I could only assume that the floor above was just like the one here. I hated this. I teleported myself to the floor above, hoping I wouldn’t end up as part of some piece of furniture.

The move doubled me over. I really must learn how to do this with my stomach’s cooperation, but I wasn’t to be allowed much of a chance to recuperate.

Obviously surprised, two people were standing about half way down the hall in front of one of the doors. The woman was tall for a woman, even here, and it looked like she was having some sort of argument with the man who was with her; however, their argument was quickly forgotten as they squared off to face me.

“Who are you? What are you doing here?” asked the man who looked like a teenager next to the woman, though he was still a lot bigger than me.

I knew I couldn’t afford to take my eyes off these two, so I did what was hopefully the next best thing. “TSAN! WHERE ARE YOU?”

There must have been some sort of commotion inside the room by where they were standing, because the man darted inside and I distinctly heard a muffled cry.

I wasn’t allowed any further chance to think. The woman hurled a ball of fire at me rapidly followed by a whole chain of others.

I collected them all and sent them back at her in a fine stream. I was tired of being attacked and tried very hard to spear her with her own flames.

She deflected my first attempt, but couldn’t avoid the rope of flame I sent after her like a lariat. It wasn’t long before she was screaming, and that didn’t last very long either. She fell to the floor engulfed in flames.

I didn’t want the place to burn down so I forced the flames to ignore the carpet and wood beneath the body while I faced the man again.

He came charging out of the room at his companion’s first scream and began to hurl spears of ice at me. Water Magic – I could do this too. I collected his ice and turned it into a spiked ball before hurling it back at him.

He successfully dodged it but tripped over the burning body of his companion.

I sucked the air from their piece of the hall, which put the fire out. It also starved him of air to breathe, but he didn’t suffer long. I knew the damage a vacuum could do, and it took no time at all to turn their small piece of hallway into a vacuum for a few seconds.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Chapter 88 - TEMPER, TEMPER

The door between those voices and me exploded away from me with satisfying force, but the sight of the man who had replaced my parents after we had so hastily left here forestalled further action. It was amazing what the last ten years had done to him. When I first saw him, he looked to be somewhere between the age of thirty and forty. Now, he looked like he was somewhere closer to sixty.

Mr. McTavish,” he said as he waved his half-gone cigar vaguely in my direction. You would have thought I had just been shown into his parlor by his butler; the effect wasn’t all he was going for since he looked like a child sitting in the over-large chair. The shards of the door I had just blown up were nowhere to be seen.

I wasn’t sure if he was greeting me or introducing me to the mountain of a man sitting behind the desk. “Mr. Preston,” I returned. “I’m surprised to see you here.”

He just smiled and made a little shrug.

“So, you’re the twerp who came here and stole our magic,” said the man behind the desk. His voice rumbled like a volcano, deep in his chest. I don’t think I have ever heard a voice that deep. “John told me about you. Looks like you were forced to return.

“I didn’t think it was something that could be stolen.”

He laughed, sounding like a thunderstorm. “Apparently it is. It just took a while for outsiders to discover it, thanks to you, which brings us to the issue John and I were just discussing.”

“Yes,” said Mr. Preston. “The opportunities available for someone of Mr. Marell’s abilities are enormous, but the quarantine the emperor has imposed has caused us some…problems.”

The thought of this man making it off world and doing the things I knew he could do, chilled me to the bone. “The quarantine was for the good of everyone.”

“But it’s not good for me,” said Marell. “John thought we might be able to get the emperor’s attention and change his mind.”

I looked at the man with the cat eyes and noticed he was sweating slightly. It wasn’t that hot; he was working very hard on something, and then I felt it. He was trying to set me on fire. I thrust him out through the wall and let him fall to the ground. We were only on the second floor so I didn’t think the fall would kill him, but I could get lucky.

No sooner had the man crashed through the wall than I felt a tearing pain in my chest that doubled me over. I might have screamed if I wasn’t having so much trouble breathing.

With tears streaming from my eyes, I looked up and saw that Marell was holding his hand out toward me as if he was asking for something from me. He was trying to take something from inside me. I struck back. I made that hand, and about half his forearm, vanish.

With a roar, he jumped to his feet cradling his bleeding arm to his chest while I learned how to breathe again and tried to calm my racing heart.

“I’ll make you regret this,” Marell roared as I hastily backed out of the room.

I had just been attacked twice and all I could do was react. I needed to do some attacking. If I continued to do nothing more than react, all it would take would be a delay or a distraction and I would be dead.

When I first got my magic, I was told that the people in the village could feel it lurking within me, yet I couldn’t tell the difference between Carm, who had no magic and Durmas who did. Nor could I feel any difference between Marell and Mr. Preston. Without that, I would have a hard time figuring out who my enemies were. Unless I personally knew the people here to be villagers, anyone could be my enemy. I needed Tsan.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Chapter 87 - EARTH TO EARTH

I hadn’t made it half way across the room before a tall man dressed all in black appeared in front of me at the bottom of the steps. “Who are you?” he asked with his hands on his hips.

The first thing I noticed about him, aside from his choice of color, was his eyes. I don’t know what it was about them, but they reminded me of cat’s eyes. “I’m Liam,” I said frankly. It’s not as if I could hope to pass for a local. “I’m here to look for my friends.” I wanted to say I was here to look for my girlfriend, but I didn’t want to tip him off to the fact that I had one.

He smiled. “There are a lot of ‘friends’ here, which ones do you think to try for?”

He seemed amiable, but I knew better than to trust him. “Oh, I don’t know; I thought I’d start at the top. I might find one I like along the way.”

“You’re a cocky little shit, aren’t you? Speaking of little shits, why are you so little? Was there something wrong with your mother?”

I think that question was pure curiosity rather than malice, so I decided to answer it just as honestly. “No, my parents and I come from Earth.” The word was out of my mouth before I thought about it. I had said the same thing so many times that it was rote, and I wasn’t used to the idea that my parents had both been born on Cambay.

He laughed uproariously. “Earth. What an unusual name for a home, but then perhaps that’s why you are so small and pale. Why don’t you go home? Perhaps you’ll find something to mate with among the worms.”

I felt myself flung backward and knew that the floor of the inn and the ground underneath it was melting away as fast as I was falling. Equally as fast, I saw the light of day in front of me vanish as he closed the hole after me.

I kept the ground from crushing me, but he apparently didn’t suspect. After I picked myself up from where I had sprawled at the bottom of his grave, I created steps in the earth around me and began to climb out moving the dirt from my path as I went. When I reemerged into the inn, I recreated the floor making it as solid as before. I’d fill in the hole later.

As I began to climb to the second floor, I heard voices above me. Someone was getting a serious dressing down. I’m thinking my adversary didn’t realize who I was, and his boss thought he’d made a big mistake letting me live more than five seconds. He was right. I was pissed; I never liked being knocked down.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Chapter 86 - THROUGH TOWN

As I strode through the town square, I noticed the conspicuous absence of traffic. Women chatting and laughing as they went about their errands, children running, playing and shrieking, darting among the crowd and carelessly knocking over someone’s basket or shelf, and old men sitting in the shade of the well cover, discussing the weather or the crops; all of it was absent from the square as I passed through. The well looked oddly alone.

Also conspicuous was the minor damage to most of the buildings I passed as I walked through the deserted town square. The most obvious were the boarded up windows or broken down yard fences. Assorted pieces of litter wafted across the square on gusts of lonely breezes, making the place look all too much like a ghost town.

A chill ran up my spine as the inn came into view. It looked just as deserted and abused as the rest of the town, but my friends were somewhere inside. Was I ready for this? I had never pitted my magic against another’s magic.

By the time I opened the door, I think I was jived up to face almost anything; what I wasn’t prepared for was ‘nothing’. There was no one in the front hall, not even behind the desk or in the kitchen. With my skin positively crawling, I started for the stairs.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Chapter 85 - STALKING

Inside the kitchen, I found a young teenage boy sitting at the familiar table. A man who could only be his father was standing by the sink. Both of them looked upset, and though they looked surprised, they both seemed relieved to see Durmas at least.

“Master Durmas, Master Liam, welcome to our humble home,” said the man, as he quickly stepped in and pulled chairs out for us to sit in, shooing his son out of his chair to stand by the sink and listen.

The address is used so seldom that it still took me by surprise, but I had other things on my mind. “Tell me what’s going on in the town,” I said, without preamble.

The man set tall glasses of water, fresh from the well, in front of us and then sat down to explain the situation the best he could.

“A man who calls himself Master Marell came to town almost a week ago and started pressuring the people to pay him tribute. If they didn’t pay, their shops were robbed or their homes were vandalized. There was a big mix-up a couple days ago and two of your men were taken to the inn where Marell and his men are staying. I don’t know what condition they’re in, but I assume that they are still alive; otherwise, their bodies would have been left as an example to the rest of us. Perhaps they want something else from them.”

I looked at Durmas; his expression was grim, but I had at least most of the information I was looking for. I paced toward the front of the house. The fact that there was no woman visible here was conspicuous.

There was no view of the village from the front of the house. I knew that, but I couldn’t resist the urge to look. When I got back to the kitchen, I asked, “Where is your wife?”

“My wife stays in the cellar where she is safely out of sight. My daughter has not been home for five days now. She was at the market the day Marell arrived and has not returned.”

Just as I thought. That was enough for me. Using the example standing before me, I changed my leathers for homespun shirt and trousers and scuffed boots. I retained my sword, though I allowed the shirt to obscure the belt without covering the hilt. There was no hiding what I was, but I might be able to hide who I was for while at least.

Durmas followed my example and did the same for Haines, then the three of us headed out the front door as if we were on the way to market.

We were half way there before it occurred to me that neither one of my companions had any weapons with them. I stopped them. “We need some kind of a plan.”

“Now you begin to think,” said Haines. “I was beginning to wonder what we were supposed to be doing.”

I thought for a moment. Earlier words echoed in my head. ‘You need to focus on the enemy and trust the rest of us to take care of ourselves.’ “Haines, I’m going to trust you with Patricia. Get her out of here and go as far away from the village as possible. Tell everyone you run across to do the same. I have an ugly feeling about this. Master Durmas, I want you to find Oskan and Larak.” I cast around, looking for their fire in my head but they were not within the confines of the village. Inside the inn, I found Carm and Tsan, but neither of their flames was strong. Others were there too, but they didn’t have a name. I figured it was a safe assumption that several of them were victims in this; the fun part would be sorting that out.

I did have an ugly feeling about this and it chilled me to the bone. All I had to do was think about how my magic worked; if I could figure out a way to make it work, I could do most anything I wanted to do. Though I didn’t think along those lines, if I wanted to hurt someone, it would be so easy to do.

“I don’t know where the others are, but Tsan and Carm are in the inn and they’re not well. I will go there first. Master Durmas, I have yet to figure out how to make a blade that doesn’t need sharpening; would you please arm Haines, and I think you should arm yourself as well.” I took a deep breath. “Wish me luck.” I left them to sort out the details of their own plans.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Chapter 84 - TELEPORTING

Leaving was the hardest thing I had to do, and yet I couldn’t wait to get away. Being that close to her, and yet being restricted to pleasant and polite conversation at best, was driving me up a wall.

I was a lot more stable, both mentally and physically, since shortly before Patricia had left, but that didn’t mean I was very good company on the way back to the cave. To emphasize this, I refused to run with Carm, which didn’t hurt Haines’ feelings much, but when rocks started exploding out of our path, even he caught on.

By the time we straggled into the cave, I had worked my frustrations out on several thousand rocks.

Oskan saw us coming in and said, “I thought this visit to town was supposed to revitalize you, and here you come in wiped out and tired. I hope you’re rested up by tomorrow because it’s going to be a long day.”

“I’ll be ready,” I said and disappeared into my room. I wasn’t angry with Carm or Haines, so I left them a steaming pot of stew etc., but at the same time, I didn’t want any company, so I didn’t join them.

The next day was indeed grueling. Master Durmas started my lessons on teleporting. I’ve wanted to know how to do that ever since I first figured out they were doing it, but I quickly learned that it wasn’t nearly as easy as they made it look.

My first try was only a few feet and Durmas was there to make sure nothing went wrong, but let me tell you, I felt like I was ripping myself apart. I ended up on my knees on the floor trying to figure out which direction was up and hoping my stomach would figure it out soon.

Durmas waited patiently for me to recover and then we tried again. I felt like I was learning to make my first cup of water. After my third trip across the room, I was certain I was well on the way to becoming something similar to pudding.

That night I was plagued with nightmares, but they were so vague and disjointed that I don’t remember much about them. I was sure that they must be related to what I had been working on that day, so I didn’t give it much thought.

Because of my lousy night, I was a bit ragged in the morning. If I had been more rested or less self-centered and feeling sorry for myself, I might have noticed that Durmas seemed less than top dollar as well. Instead, I was more than a little grouchy, and to top it off, I didn’t feel like I was making any progress.

“Come on, Liam. This is nothing different then what you’ve been doing all along. The only difference is, instead of bringing what you want to you, you are moving yourself,” said Durmas.

“Maybe that’s the problem, I’m not all that comfortable with considering myself just another element. What if I screw up and get something wrong?”

“Your magic won’t let that happen. Your magic hasn’t let you down yet, has it?”

I grit my teeth and prepared to try again – and yet again. It felt like I was ripping my guts out.

Two more days of this, punctuated by nights filled with nightmares, and things only got worse. I was just about to open my mouth and say something vicious, but fortunately, my brain was working faster than my mouth. For the first time, I noticed that Durmas looked just as ragged as I felt. That, like nothing else, told me something was wrong, and I was sure it had little or nothing to do with my lessons.

Any questions I might have asked were interrupted by the hasty arrival of Haines, which reminded me that I hadn’t seen any of the others for three days now. He looked like he’d just been in a car crash and that really surprised me. I think there was only one car on the planet that was allowed off the spaceport and it was too far away, or at least I didn’t think it was anywhere close.

His words came out all in a rush; I’d never heard him talk like that. “Master Durmas, I’m sorry to interrupt you, but the problem has gotten worse, much worse. Tsan has been killed, or at least I think so. Carm was taken prisoner. I don’t know where Larak is. Oskan sent me back here as soon as he saw Tsan go down.”

“Slow down, Steven.” said Durmas.

“Tsan is dead? At the village? What about Patricia?” I interrupted.

“I don’t think they’ve noticed Patricia yet. Many of the villagers have their wives and daughters hidden away in their homes. Some weren’t quick enough,” said Haines.

I looked at Durmas and noticed again how ragged he looked. “You knew about this, didn’t you? Why didn’t you tell me?”

He sighed hugely. “There were things I had hoped to teach you before you encountered someone like this. Unfortunately there are all sorts of people, and also unfortunately, the magic doesn’t discriminate.”

“You, Tsan, Larak and Oskan have been the best teachers I have ever had. Surely there isn’t much more for me to learn.”

“There are several small things you should know, but the most important one is the one that seems to be giving you the most trouble,” said Durmas.

“We don’t have time for all that. We need to go help Oskan.” I was jumping with impatience. All my fatigue and my nightmares were forgotten.

“Are you sure you’re not thinking about Miss Patricia more?” said Haines.

“Of course I’m thinking about Patricia. What’s with all this talking? Let’s go.”

Durmas looked at me closely, but it was Haines who spoke again. “Liam, I’ve seen some of the things you can do and I’ve experienced some of your training here, but if you go into a battle thinking you’re going to save or rescue one person, you’ll get at least a hundred other people killed, possibly yourself as well. You need to focus on the enemy only and trust the rest of us to take care of ourselves.”

“He’s very right about that, Liam,” said Durmas. “You must focus on the enemy. This one will be ruthless.”

“Okay, okay, let’s just get going. Time is wasting away.” I was so impatient; I was hardly listening to either of them.

“Very well,” said Durmas. I’m sure he could tell how my impatience was impairing my judgment. “Come here then and we’ll go.” He held his hands out to both of us.

“Master Durmas, you don’t look to be any better rested than I am; please allow me to get us there.” He would have to guide my efforts just as he had been so far, but the energy drain would be mine and frankly, I was younger.

He looked at me, likely thinking much the same thing. “You really are impatient, aren’t you?” he commented. Then he took our hands, and like it was just another lesson, he said, “Picture where you wish to go. I’m sure there are several places you are familiar with in and around the village, but I wouldn’t recommend a home. Nor would I recommend the area around where your parents used to live; I don’t think its close enough.”

I cast around in my memory. I didn’t want to appear anywhere near where I had been last; that might draw too much attention to Patricia. Then I thought of when we had had to sneak Carm out of his parents’ house and had hidden out back. When I met Durmas’ eyes, there was the wrenching of my guts and we were there.

After I finished baptizing the bushes with the sketchy contents of my stomach, I looked around. It was mid-afternoon and we were about a quarter mile from the edge of town. The spot where we stood was quite a bit more overgrown since the last time I had stood here, but the familiar back door was only a few steps away and that was my destination.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Chapter 83 - PATRICIA

I did indeed come down by the time we reached the town, but I still had enough energy to keep my feet.

Much to my delight, Patricia was there, along with the rest of the town’s people, to greet us and praise our success. I didn’t hear much of what was said and did no explaining. I left all that to Carm and Haines. All I wanted to do was hold Patricia forever.

This wasn’t to be, however. One of the many giants stepped between us and guided Patricia toward a woman who accompanied him. “There’ll be none of that now. There’s a time and a place for that kind of nonsense and it ain’t here or now, so you keep your hands to yourself.”

“What?” I asked. I recognized this couple, but I couldn’t remember their names.

“Miss Patricia’s working hard getting ready for her formal joining. Didn’t Master Durmas tell you anything about this?” said the man.

“No, he just said she’d come here to stay.”

He pulled me aside while the woman led Patricia away. She looked over her shoulder with an apologetic smile and waved. I waved back. “Can’t I even talk to her?”

“Yes, you can see her. You’ll be staying with us while you’re here, but you need to know what’s expected of you.”

“But… What?” I was still so very confused.

“Before you take a wife…” he started.

Wife? I was rendered speechless and it was all I could do to make the rest of the words he spoke mean something in my head.

“…must make sure that you can put a roof over her head. Of course, you could probably just make her whatever she wants, but that’s not the point. You must be sure you have work that brings in enough money in order to provide for her and the children she’ll give you. They must have a secure life and that is your responsibility.”

“What are you talking about? Of course, I would provide for her if I marry her, and now that you bring it up, I think I will marry her, but I haven’t asked her yet. I hadn’t even thought about it until now.”

“That may be so, but those around you have seen that you two are meant to be joined, so it is being arranged. It is the way things are done here. Master Durmas, with the consent of your father and mother, is sponsoring you in this union. Lorena, my wife, and I are sponsoring Miss Patricia since she had informed us that she has no other family.”

Eventually I learned that this man and his wife were Lloyd and Lorena Hanley. They ran about twenty milk cows and sold the milk, cream and butter at market every day. Mom used to buy some once in a while. They weren’t really cows; they looked more like moose without antlers but they produced a fair amount of milk. To me it tasted kind of green, but it was all right.

I had heard about some of the old-fashioned customs, but I never thought I’d find myself experiencing any of them. Patricia and I sat on opposite sides of the table during meals. In the living room, we were never allowed to sit next to each other, nor were we allowed to be anywhere alone. At night, she slept in a room that joined theirs. There was no such thing as privacy. I so wanted to touch her, to hold her, but I couldn’t even hold her hand.

Three days of this and I couldn’t take it any more. Haines, who was staying at the house with us, couldn’t stop grinning at my discomfiture. He never knew how close he came to having his toes braided.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Chapter 82 - DANCING RAIN

The next morning, I got a better look at the damage this farmer had sustained. At least three quarters of his crops had been wiped out. I thought about recreating the fields. It could be done, but the job would probably compare with bringing water from the other side of the planet.

“Don’t worry about them,” said Carm. “They have plenty of friends. They won’t go hungry because of this.”

It started to rain and Carm cast a wary eye up to the clouds. “What’s wrong?” I asked, “Rain would be a good thing, wouldn’t it?”

“Its nearly harvest time,” he tried to explain. “A little rain would be fine right here but too much could ruin everyone’s crops.”

Of course, I came to the logical conclusion. “Tell me when enough is enough.” I strode out into the center of the blackened field.

“What are you going to do now?” Carm called after me.

“Watch this,” said Haines. “I think we’re going to be in for a real treat.”

“He’s going to try to gather all the rain, isn’t he?” said Carm in amazement.

“I think so,” replied Haines.

“Can he do that?”

“I’ve seen him do some amazing things with water, and all in play too. This may be tough on him so soon after the fire, but I think he can handle it all right.”

I let Haines brag for me. The praise felt good. By the time I reached the top of a small hill, my boots were covered with black mud; I’d poured a lot of water on this fire.

I stopped and looked back to where the others were gathered. Carm touched the ground at his feet and then gazed off across what remained of the field nearest them. I could see him put his head together with the farmer and nod and then he raised his hand and waved at me.

I began to dance. This was a far-reaching one. I reached out for all the rain in the sky; I searched for miles around me, and I whirled it around at the direction of my sword tip. Soon all the raindrops were orbiting me each in their own path until they splashed into each other creating new balls of water. Then I drew in the water-laden clouds and immersed myself in the fog.

With the water drops spinning through the wet fog, the cloud soon surrendered to the water, then I channeled it down between my feet and into the water table below me. For the next several hours, I was the center of another kind of hurricane. One, I’m pleased to say, was completely at my command.

When it was all gone, I lowered my sword. The task had left me tired and yet energized at the same time. The giddy feeling I had always felt after handling water with my magic left me feeling like I could fly. I knew I’d come down eventually, but I fully enjoyed it now.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Chapter 81 - FIRE

We reached the young man’s home first. His family was drawing water from the well and trying to get everything wet enough so at least some of it might survive the fire. From here, we could see the flames as they sparkled at the bottom of the cloud of smoke drifting over our heads, dropping hot ash on everything and everyone.

“Help with the buckets,” I yelled as I strode closer to the flames.

“What are you going to do?” asked Haines as he snagged my elbow.

“You…” I turned to him and saw the bucket brigade of giants behind him. I was going to send him back to help the others, but there was no way he would be able to keep up with them. “You, watch and keep me out of trouble. I’m going to put this fire out.”

“You’re going to WHAT?”

I wasn’t listening any more. I closed my eyes and called on the magic. I had done something this big only once before and I had done it without much thought. Working a disabled space ship was not the same thing as this, but I knew that I could do it; I just didn’t know if I had recovered enough. I had my doubts.

I didn’t have time for doubts. The land was dry for miles around. If I drew on the water table below my feet, I could drain the well behind me. If I failed here, the people behind me would have nothing to fight with. They would lose everything and very likely even their lives.

I reached far away and pulled the water from a mountain lake. I brought it here in a long stream that I used like a fire hose with many heads. With my hydra of water, I began to attack the flames and the ground in front of it with giant waterspout fingers.

When the water from that source ran out, I found another and began anew. I let Haines guide my feet as he pulled me back from the approaching flames. Someone must have handed him a wet cloth because he tied it over my face to keep out at least most of the smoke.

The next thing I knew, large hands were resting on my shoulders and a serge of new power rushed through me. Without question, I made liberal use of the power to begin making a brake. Ground out in front of the fire and around its flank began to explode and I used the airborne dirt and mud to help smother the flames.

I began to advance along the fire line just to make sure none of the flames had managed to get past my barrage of water and dirt. Hours later, there was no more open flame. I used the last of my energy to feel through the burned out acreage and douse any hot spots I could find.

I remember turning to look for more embers, but hands restrained me. I turned to see that they belonged to Carm. He and the others around him were blackened with soot to the point of being unrecognizable, but his voice and his words told me who he was.

“No, Liam, we’ll take care of the rest. You let go and stay here. You’ve done enough.”

Let go? Enough? I turned to face the fire again and…I don’t remember what happened after that.

The odor of smoke woke me, but my befuddled brain couldn’t figure out why I would be smelling smoke and still be lying in bed. There was no commotion, no alarm around me, I was comfortable, and yet smoke seemed to be everywhere. I came to the conclusion that I ought to do something, so I shoved the blankets aside and rolled to sit up.

A woman came in with a large platter of meats and cheeses. She was smiling and saying something. I tried to tune into her words while concentrating on what was in her hands. I was so hungry.

It took me a moment (and several mouthfuls) before I noticed who was standing behind her. Tsan was standing in the doorway gnawing on a leg of thopper; it looked like a turkey leg in his massive hand.

“That was an awesome thing you did, kid, taking on a fire that size by yourself. I never felt such a rush as that. Well, I did once, but it was only a tickle compared to today. Are you doing all right?”

“That was you?” I managed between mouthfuls of cold meat.

“Yeah, me and Larak. You pulled him right down to the ground. He’s still sleeping in the other room.”

I was stunned and my mouth stopped working.

Tsan saw the expression on my face. “Don’t worry kid. He’s just sleeping. You’re the only one that fainted.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. “When do I get as strong as you?” I asked.

He just laughed. “You’re already stronger than any of us. You just need to learn a few more things. You’ll probably have everything we can teach you safely tucked under your belt by the time the spring thaws come around again.”

I finished my plate and started to get up.

“Nah, go back to sleep. Carm and Steven are still out looking for embers. Take the time to rest.”

“I could help…”

“You’ve done enough, now rest.”

I did. I felt better, but I definitely had no problem going back to sleep. A full belly helped – a lot.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Chapter 80 - INTO TOWN

I dressed in my best, which meant that I made myself a new set of leathers. I cut my hair and trimmed my beard. I even polished my sword. Then the three of us set off for town.

Our journey was only a little more dignified than the last time me and my three best friends had made this same trip so very long ago. Haines was hard pressed to keep up; even I was having more trouble than I anticipated. Carm’s legs had grown far longer than mine since I was last here.

As we traveled, I noticed some storm clouds building in the south. Carm kept a wary eye on them, but I didn’t think much more on it; it was cool today for a change and I had other things on my mind.

Before we entered the village, we jostled ourselves into some semblance of dignity, but our entrance was not what we had planned. About the same time I noticed the new well in the center of the market square, I also noticed a commotion near the inn.

When we reached the gathering, a much-disheveled young man saw us and ran up to me. Much to my surprise, he bowed to me and addressed me quite formally. “Master, it is fortunate that you have come. My father’s fields have been struck by lightning and they are burning. Please, Master, will you come and help?”

The storm clouds and lightning, and I don’t remember the last time it had rained. With everything so dry, a fire could wipe out miles of farmland and killed people and livestock. “Where? How far?” I asked. All thoughts of love were wiped from my mind.

He pointed and answered my question, but I didn’t hear his words. I could see the growing pall of thick smoke that was feeding the black thunderheads overhead.

I was running. I had no plan. I had never seen a wild fire before, though I had heard of them. I had learned to control fire to a certain extent, but could I do anything with a fire this big? I had no idea. Thoughts of this sort raced through my mind as I raced across the land toward the wall of smoke.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Chapter 79 - TO BEGIN AGAIN

Two days later, Brom and Lagge reluctantly returned to their families. Carm remained, and he, Haines, and I took up my lessons again. I found out that, though I retained the knowledge, I needed to recover the strength and confidence. I had been ‘knocked down’ to the point of death, and as with all major injuries, there is a time of convalescence and therapy before recovery can be complete. My convalescence was winding to a close; this was my therapy. I was starting almost from the beginning though I was much better with a sword and a staff.

It wasn’t long, however, before I noticed Patricia’s prolonged absence and questioned where she had gone.

“She is staying with a family in the village,” said Tsan when I asked him one morning.

He spoke so matter-of-factly, but I was at a loss. “Why?” What was wrong with her staying here?

“Master Durmas determined that you would pay more attention to your lessons if she wasn’t here. He will determine when the two of you can be rejoined, and Liam, before you think to change this, you should know that the Master has something special planned for the two of you. You would be very disappointed if you screwed it up.”

Something special? What is he planning for us? “Can I send her a message?”

“Write her every evening if you like. I’ll see to it that she gets it.”

That’s what I did. I redoubled my efforts with my lessons and wrote Patricia every night. I found myself pouring my soul out onto the paper. I wanted her to understand everything about me and I wanted to understand things about her as well, so I sprinkled many questions into my letters. Her answers were waiting for me every evening. It wasn’t as good as feeling the warmth of her body, but I was determined to make it do.

There were occasional letters from my parents too. These came by special messenger through Mr. Preston’s office and Tsan saw to it that my answers to those letters got sent too.

Carm and Haines didn’t hit it off very well at all. Carm felt that Haines was too high and mighty, and Haines thought Carm was the worst example of a back-country hick. My teachers saw this dissension as well and designed their lessons accordingly, much to my dismay. The tasks were brutal and required meticulous cooperation from all of us to accomplish. We suffered many failures because of small disagreements between Carm and Haines.

Finally, after one four-day campaign that ended with the three of us trussed up like hogs to be taken to the butcher, I turned on my two friends. “You know why we failed again don’t you?”

“We failed because he…” started Carm.

“We failed because you both are more interested in out doing or defeating each other. Haines, my god, you were the captain of the emperor’s guard and my senior by at least fifteen years, you should know better. This will stop or I will send you home, Carm; and Haines, I will send you to live with Mr. Preston. I’m giving you one more chance to sort this out between you. If you stumble over each other again, I wash my hands of you both.”

They left us tied up like that for two more days, but as soon as we were allowed to go back home, I went into my room and left them to their own devices, which meant that I left them hungry unless they begged a meal from someone else.

I don’t know what they did or said. They never said anything to me about it, but apparently, they came to an accord of some sort because it never happened again.

After a full six months of hard work, I began to feel much more normal. Durmas felt it too and gave me permission to visit Patricia.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Chapter 78 - MY RECOVERY

I don't know how long I slept. I vaguely remember someone pulling me out of the chair and propelling me to a bed. I might even have eaten something, but I don't really recall. When I woke, I was alone in the bed. It took me a moment to figure out why I had come awake so fast.

Then I heard a voice. "I found the others and came as soon as I received your message. How is he?

"He's just fine," I said, as I pulled myself out of bed. I felt stiff and sore, but otherwise rested enough I guess.

I changed the sleeping gown I wore (someone keeps changing me into that thing) for a pair of jeans and a T-shirt and went to see who had come.

At first, I didn't recognize the three men who stood facing me. Haines had just handed the last of them a glass of something when I entered the room.

"You're still a shrimp. Do you still make what you call apples?" said one of them.

Then, almost as if a veil had been lifted, I realized who these men must be. "Carm, is that you?"

"Yup, it's us. How come every time you come back here, you're all messed up?"

I didn't answer his question; I just went and gave them a big hug. At least it was as big a hug as I could, considering I could scarcely get my arms around them. It was good to see them again. I had missed them. They had grown so big.

Durmas appeared then. "Good, the team is back together again." He too greeted the three newcomers, but in a more formal manner. "Are you all ready to take up where we left off?"

Brom was the first to speak up. "My wife is expecting our third child. I'm afraid I cannot stay long, But I couldn't think of staying away when I heard the news."

"Your wife has you tied too close to her apron strings. Mine insisted I come. I think she wanted me out of the way for a while. She says I don't get out enough," said Lagge.

"That only means you're a pest," said Carm. "She runs that store much better than your father ever did."

"Store? Your father didn't run a store," I said.

Lagge turned to me. "After you left, the guards gave our families a lot of trouble, so Master Durmas moved us out of the village to another town over the mountains. He also arranged the sale of our families' properties. My father used the money to buy into a store. Eventually he bought out the original owners completely. Now my wife and I run it. Brom married the blacksmith's daughter and has been working in the smithy ever since. Carm here is still unattached because no woman will have him. He works the vegetable farm his parents started."

"Your mother would send us news of you from time to time," said Carm. "I'm impressed that you were working so close to your emperor. You must be the best."

"If I were the best, I wouldn't be in the condition I am now. I have a lot to learn."

"Yes you do," said Durmas as he invited everyone to sit at the table that was conveniently large enough for all of us. As soon as everyone was seated, (Patricia was nowhere to be seen) Durmas touched my hand. "Are you up to a meal?"

"Oh, of course." My friends had traveled a long way, it was only right that I should greet them with a full table. I reached for the elements I needed to fulfill my desire; I found my hands shaking. I could feel Durmas watching me closely, but he made no comment about the tremble he surely saw.

When I was finished, I was glad to be sitting. The meal was one I had learned while living in the 'empty' palace that had belonged to the emperor's mother. I wanted to treat my friends to some of the outside, even if it was only unusual food.

The meal was a success. Everyone said they liked it and I actually felt like they meant it and weren't just being polite. I thought it tasted good too, but it didn't seem to satisfy me like I was used to food doing if I got enough.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Chapter 77 - BECOMING WHOLE

They withdrew to the limits of the room and waited for me to calm down. I did calm down, eventually. I was very full, and since further hunting was out of the question, I wanted to sleep, but I couldn't sleep while I was being watched, so I just sat there and watched them in return.

Then, as if someone had turned a light on in a dark room down the hall, it occurred to me that I knew these men. I knew their names, and with the names came memories.

"M...Master Durmas?"

"Good. We can begin now. Come to the center of the room and sit down. Make yourself as comfortable as possible; this might take a while.

I found myself shaking as I did as he asked. "I feel like I'm going crazy."

Durmas knelt down in front of me and looked me directly in the eyes. "You're not; hold onto that thought. You're not going crazy. Now, what we're going to do is manipulate the energies that flow through your body. To you, this might seem like you are hallucinating. Are you ready?"

"Hallucinating? What will I be hallucinating?"

"Most anything and very likely a sampling of about everything, just try and deal with what comes as if it were real. You will essentially be relearning how to use your magic - relearning your union, your trust. Once this starts, don't dwell on the fact that this is a hallucination. Immerse yourself in what is occurring. There will come a time when your thoughts will bring you back here. That's when this will stop. That is when you will be fully whole again."

My four teachers sat down in a circle around me. Durmas and Tsan were in front of me and Larak and Oskan were behind me. I felt my skin crawl between my shoulders at the fact that someone was behind me, but I refused to give in to the feeling. Sitting knee to knee, they joined hands with each other and engulfed my hands in theirs at the sides of their circle.

The magic of earth, wind, air and fire, stabbed through my soul and washed my present away.

I woke up early trying to breathe; I was safe. The knife was not protruding from my chest.

I made an apple and took full advantage of Brom and Carm as they held me on my feet while I ate it.

The cold was so intense; I had to be warm.

I needed food; anything would do.

I touched a table and felt it turn into an elegant vase of wood. I felt sorrow at parting with my parents.

I drew a blade blank out of the rock at my feet. I could do anything. I turned it into a real sword.

I hunted a basilisk and made it submit to my control, then I made it ride on my shoulder wherever I went.

Men broke into my home and shot me. My sword burned a fiery path through metal and the flesh behind it.

I went looking for my mother and found her cowering behind a mound of gold. The baron was throwing handfuls of it at her and telling her to make her son make more so he could throw that at her too. I turned the entire palace into gold, him included.

I went to the center of the space station and began to dismantle the substructure there. Then I remade it stronger than before.

I took the meat hanging in the freezer and turned it into a friend. I got it all wrong and he had no hands, no eyes. His face looked like it went through a meat grinder before it was smeared on the front of his head. Master Durmas took me through a thorough anatomy lesson and I made everything the way it was supposed to be. I see Colin standing in the emperor's livery; he's so happy.

I do a sword dance with a water sword in a large arena where everyone can watch. The sword is so large that it splashes through the stadium and gets everyone wet.

The emperor makes me his bodyguard and I put him in a glass bubble so no one and nothing can touch him without my approval.

The emperor's son throws a bomb at his father and the glass shatters. I... I...no... My magic surges and I put the glass back together. The emperor puts a hand on my shoulder and says, 'well done'.

I walk into my apartment. Someone...I...shredded it. I put it all back together the way I remembered it. Why was that so hard?

A girl with silky black hair and a silky gown was in my arms. "Patricia, I need you," I called out. "I need you so much," I whispered. "Please don't leave me."

I felt myself stand. I felt my hands come away from others. My magic bucked and I opened my eyes in surprise. I had never felt that before, but that didn't matter anymore. Patricia was in front of me. Or rather, I was standing in front of her. She was curled up in a big chair reading a book. I sank down to my knees in front of her. "Please don't leave me. I need you so much."

She was on the floor in front of me. Her hand was on my cheek. I felt the roughness of it under her hand. "I'm not going anywhere, Liam," she said. Her voice was gentle fingers through my raw nerves. I wilted and she caught me. Somehow, we ended up curled up in the big chair together.

I roused enough to hear "Good. I was hoping he had made it here." Durmas chuckled softly. "Love is the best healing magic there is." Then I felt a huge hand on my head. "Sleep, Liam."

Just before I drifted off again, I heard Patricia whisper from where her head rested on my shoulder. "I do love you, Liam. I have for a long time."

I was content. I was whole - so very whole, I could feel it. I was so tired.