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.