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.