J. R. Wagner


— 1 -

The Hearing

September 1898, South America

Two men walked along a flagstone path. The drawn face of the taller one was partly concealed by his midnightblack, shoulder-length hair. The deep-blue robes he wore did little to conceal his lean build. With every word he spoke, striations in his jaw muscles contracted and relaxed. Despite being in his midteens, his concerned expression and the weariness in his eyes gave him the look of a much older man. To his left strode a man who looked as if he lacked the strength to stand let alone keep the pace at which he currently moved. He was bent over a rickety-looking wooden cane that threatened to break every time the man’s weight shifted, bowing the shaft slightly. His white hair was marbled with streaks of black-the last vestiges of his more youthful days. He wore purple robes beneath which wide shoulders and a well-fed midsection pulled at the clasps. His face was calm.

The path appeared endless. Dark moss grew in the joints between stones, softening the men’s steps. It was lined with tall rectangular columns that reached just above the tallest man’s head. To the right of the path, a crimson sun cast long shadows from each column and spilled blood-red light through each opening.

They continued walking and conversing as the sun fell behind the horizon. Just as the last ray of light fell behind the trees, tureens mounted on the columns ignited into orange flames. The pair stopped as they reached a massive staircase. Torches flickered in the breeze, flanking the steps that appeared to stretch to infinity. The boy turned to his elder.

“So it is to be in the upper chambers?”

“No need for concern, James. Mind games are standard practice among the politically well connected when attempting to make a point. They want you to be afraid. They want you to be intimidated,” said the older man.

He paused a moment, took a deep breath, and turned to look up at his companion. “Are you afraid, James?”


“Remember, it is they who are afraid. You intimidate them. That is why we are here. The rest is just political smoke and mirrors on both sides to grasp what little power they can. They are desperate. Speak cautiously. Desperation will push reasonable men to say and do unreasonable things.”

Without interrupting his train of thought the elder man began his ascent. James followed quietly.

“Understand the question and reply. Never speak from emotion. Speak only from fact. Truth will reveal you for who you are. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Master Ammoncourt.”

“James, I cannot overemphasize the importance of remaining calm and emotionless. You have a tendency to react without analysis. But do not lament. Many men who’ve seen more turns than even Akil haven’t mastered this technique. Everyone’s in such a bloody hurry to say what they want to say that they don’t take the time to consider if they should actually say it. The years of putting some thought into a conversation have long passed,” said Ammoncourt.

He looked over at James as they climbed the stairs. James’s brow was furrowed, forcing a vein in his forehead to pulse beneath his skin. His hands were clenched into fists. Ammoncourt stopped suddenly. James, consumed by his current thoughts, continued up the stairs.

“James,” Ammoncourt said calmly.

James stopped and looked back at Ammoncourt, his hands immediately relaxed.

“I do not intend to take another step until you’ve eliminated this turmoil from your mind. You must control your anger. While you may find it amusing that you’ve developed a reputation for your fits of rage, I assure you it is only a weakness. One that will be exploited by your enemies as often as possible. Now, calm yourself.”

James closed his eyes and took several deep breaths, exhaling the tension from his body. Ammoncourt raised a concerned eyebrow as James looked down at him with a reassuring expression.

“No matter how absurd or unjust the questions become- and you can assure yourself they will digress into absurdity- you must remain calm.”

James took another breath. He imagined his emotions expelling from his lungs with his last breath as Ammoncourt had taught him. His mind felt sharp and clear.

“The boy masters what took the rest of us thrice the time yet he cannot control his own emotions,” Ammoncourt muttered to himself.

James gave a single nod as a breath escaped his lungs. The pair continued up the stairs in silence. After climbing hundreds of steps, the men finally reached the apex.

Two sentries cloaked in white stood on either side of an archway. Both wore helms of silver that masked their identities. Neither moved as James and Ammoncourt passed into the darkened archway. James had to duck slightly to clear the curve of the arch. The pair walked through a darkened tunnel toward the light beyond.

Near the end of the tunnel, Ammoncourt muttered tersely, “Listen, analyze, respond. And remember the primer incantation!”

James took several more calming breaths then followed Ammoncourt into the upper chambers. The room was massive. The floor was one large piece of polished emerald granite. It stretched in an oval to an identical archway at the opposite end of the chambers. In the center of the chamber stood a stone lectern. On it sat a large old book.

James kept his gaze forward as they walked toward the lectern, but he couldn’t help noticing that the perimeter was lined with more guards in white cloaks. The men stopped within arm’s length of the lectern. James concentrated on the archway at the opposite end of the room. He repeated the primer incantation as they waited, fighting the emotions that pressed upon his mind to free themselves. Hustasunetik.

After a moment of standing in silence a sound resonated in the chamber. Despite Ammoncourt’s instruction not to react, James turned his head toward the origin of the sound. He thought he heard a consternating grunt from Ammoncourt. He had violated his master’s instructions before the hearing had even begun.

The sound echoed through the chamber again. The second time, James did not react. He knew what it was. The guards surrounding the chamber were each armed with long-handled steel axes. The blades were tall and slender, unlike standard fighting axes. They were rumored to slice through oak as easily as a man’s throat. The never-dulling blades were one of many weapons carried by the guards.

Again the handles fell to the floor. James could feel the impact in his chest. The tempo increased. Boom, boom, boom. Flames erupted around the archway. The pounding stopped abruptly. Three men walked briskly beneath the flames toward the lectern. The first, smaller than the others, wore white robes like those of the guards. Crimson embroidery distinguished him from the other two men, who wore blood-red robes, their faces shadowed by hoods.

As the man in white reached the lectern, the guards surrounding the chamber gave one final concussion that echoed for minutes. Boom. The man in white raised his right hand as if quieting an applauding crowd.

“We hear the testimony of James Lochlan Stuart IV in defense against charges brought forth by the council. Are all present whom we require?”

Glowing orbs illuminated, revealing a previously blackened area of seating surrounding the chamber above the guards. They dimmed as the man in white nodded his head.

Again James calmed himself. Exhaling slowly. Focusing on fact. Knowing the council had nothing to convict him.

“Let us begin,” said the man in white. He peered over his spectacles at James, searching for signs of weakness, attempting to intimidate James with his cold gray eyes. James remained stone-faced. The man turned his gaze to Ammoncourt, who smiled back. His smile feigned friendliness, but his eyes sent another message. The man was unable to hold eye contact for more than an instant. He looked down at the lectern, clearly vexed. He turned his body slightly toward James as if to block the sight of Ammoncourt entirely.

“The charges: Acting against a council mandate, spearheading a conspiracy, and murder.”

“Murder?” James shouted. Taken aback, his heart immediately began pounding in his ears. Ammoncourt’s eyes glanced quickly at James, but he made no other movement.

“Calm yourself,” Master Elder said with enjoyment in knowing he had broken James’s emotional shield with a single word. The red-robed figures each took a step toward James. Master Elder raised his hand, stopping the guards. James silently cursed himself for reacting.

“The council mandate…”

“In order to afford a proper defense, the accused has a right to the victim’s name, Master Elder,” Ammoncourt interrupted.

Master Elder looked up with a grin. Ammoncourt’s interruption provided him the opportunity for retribution from his previous embarrassment.

“Of course, Master Ammoncourt. The victim is Akil Karanis.”

Several gasps could be heard from the seating area above. Ammoncourt’s face turned dour as he took a step forward.

“Preposterous. Simply because the council is too incompetent to locate the man they deem an enemy does not imply he’s been murdered. No proof has ever surfaced of this so-called murder; no evidence of a body has ever been found. It is clear that the council is grasping at anything in order to besmirch Mr. Stuart. If this, the most serious of charges, is so riddled with holes, how is any among the council supposed to give merit to the remaining arguments? I call for a vote on the immediate dismissal of all charges. Let us stop wasting the council’s time by allowing Alvaro’s influence to win over absurdity.”

“Blasphemous! How dare you speak of Grand Master Elder Alvaro in such a manner. Such admonishment will not be tolerated,” said Master Elder.

“I speak the truth. Nothing more,” replied Ammoncourt calmly.

“This is not an open forum in which to further your political agenda, Master Ammoncourt. We are here today because crimes have been committed. Laws have been broken. A man has been killed. Now be silent and allow this hearing to proceed, or I will have you removed.”

“Your puppets do not frighten me. Nor do your threats. I stand on the side of truth. Which, above all else, will prevail.”

“Master Elder,” a voice said from the seating area above the chamber. “I suggest you move quickly to show us your evidence. I imagine it is irrefutable, proving this boy is the murderer of Akil Karanis, or you wouldn’t have summoned us here.

“Of course, High Elder Grimm,” Master Elder replied hastily. “With respect to the murder of Akil Karanis I present the following damning evidence-a witness to the crime.”

Gasps fell from the seats above. Master Elder outstretched his arms, palms facing each other. An orb of blue light no larger than a pinpoint grew in the space between his hands.

“As always, witness accounts are classified incontrovertible. He turned toward James, grinning.

Without another word, Master Elder gently tossed the orb into the air. As it reached its apex, it expanded, enveloping the entire chamber in a new scene.

In a forest of giant trees, James sat on a large stone by a fire. He looked younger, less burdened. He leaned toward the flames to warm his hands. A flash of light drew his attention. He stood quickly and turned toward the source. Akil Karanis appeared. James relaxed. He walked toward Akil then stopped several feet away, encircling his right fist in his left hand, he bowed deeply. Akil returned the greeting.

“I didn’t think you’d return,” James said.

“Nor I, until I was summoned.”

“By whom?”

“By you, of course,” Akil replied, slightly perplexed by James’s response.

“I did not summon you, Master,” James replied, a concerned look quickly replaced the relief.

“We must leave quickly. Gather your things,” said Akil.

James stepped toward the fire and lifted a leather bag lying next to the stone upon which he had been seated. Another flash of light drew both men’s attention. A third person, veiled by the shadow of the tree, appeared.

“What are you doing here?” James called out.

“You know this person, James?” Akil asked.

James looked into Akil’s eyes for a brief moment then quickly muttered a word. A large rock lifted from the ground, and as if James controlled it with invisible strings, he heaved it at Akil. The stone hit an invisible barrier and fell harmlessly to the ground.

“James. Why?” asked Akil.

A purple flame grew between James’s outstretched hands. Without a word, he pushed it toward Akil. Looking neither afraid nor even concerned, the flame struck Akil. He stiffened and began to shake where he stood. Beams of red light bore outward from beneath his skin. He let out a wail of pain as the light exploded from his body, leaving only a small purple orb floating in the air where he stood. Akil Karanis was dead. James’s hands were still outstretched, his face still wrought with concentration after casting such a massive incantation. The scene dissolved like mist, revealing the chamber once again.

Ammoncourt looked at James in disbelief. Pandemonium gripped James’s emotions.

“This cannot be,” Ammoncourt muttered.

“Incontrovertible,” Master Elder said with a wry smile, “as are our laws. I move to immediate sentencing if it pleases the council.”

“This is clearly a fabrication. The third law would have had to been broken as the alleged spell caster still stands before us,” said Ammoncourt.

“Never in the history of our kind has someone tampered with a memory as you now allege,” replied Master Elder.

“What is more reasonable? That this boy has managed to circumvent one of the unbreakable laws, or that someone, a person with real power, has finally found a way to tamper with a memory, which is not among the unbreakable eight?”

Ammoncourt stepped toward the center of the chamber, his arms outstretched in a pleading posture.

“Ladies and gentlemen. I implore you to listen to reason. The council fears this boy because of what he is. Have no doubt, he is the Anointed One. Do not be swayed by political motivation. Use common sense. Is it truly reasonable to assume that not only did this boy find a way to break an unbreakable law but that he was also able to overpower the greatest sorcerer of our time? Or perhaps there is another explanation?”

“Touching, however irrelevant at this point, I’m afraid,” Master Elder said with the slightest of smirks. “It’s over Ammoncourt,” he whispered. “You should have never returned.”

“The only thing left to discuss is the sentence,” Master Elder said, raising his voice.

“No!” James shouted, finally coming out of his shock-induced stupor.

“I didn’t murder Akil. None of that happened. He’s like a father to me. Someone tampered with the memory!”

James’s body began to shake. The vein on his forehead pulsed as the ground started to tremor. Gasps and cries could be heard from the witnesses hidden in the shadowed seating above.

Master Elder nodded at the red-robed guards, and their body language quickly changed from aggressive to apprehensive. Neither moved as James continued to shake. A faint red glow surrounded him as he clenched his fists in an attempt to control himself.

“Now, you fools!” Master Elder screamed, jolting the guards into action. They stepped forward and took James by his arms. Both guards immediately fell to the ground motionless. As if expecting it, Master Elder waved his arms, signaling the axe wielding guards to converge. James’s vision began to spin as he listened to the sentence read by Master Elder. He could hear Ammoncourt arguing, but his voice was distant, muted. “Rarely among our own people is such a heinous crime committed. The victim must be taken into consideration, being a servant to our council and community for a time greater than even Grand Master Elder Alvero. It is because of the severity of this crime and the loss our world has incurred as a result, that I recommend to the council that James Lochlan Stuart IV be immediately exiled to The Never.”

“You cannot do this,” cried Ammoncourt, no longer stooped over his cane. “He is the Anointed One!”

Shouts, screams, and cries erupted from the witnesses. The last thing James heard was “Banish him!” All sound fell into a void as he was engulfed in a spiral of purple smoke and pulled from the only world he had ever known.

— 2 -

The Never

James could feel the blood pulsing through his head. He could hear it whooshing past his ears. He focused on the pain that came with every contraction of his heart. For brief moments between the contractions, the pain lessened, minute reprieves from the pain he was sure would end his life. He had no sight, no feeling. All he was aware of was the pain that followed and the reprieve that ended the cycle. It could have been hours, days, or weeks. All sense of time was lost. His mind would allow him nothing except the cycle.

Finally came a change. He became aware of his body, that he was prone, lying on a soft surface. He tried to move, but his body didn’t respond. He tried to open his eyes, but he could not. The pain, which had previously been localized to his head, spread throughout his entire body. Each pulse of his heart caused him excruciating pain. It burned. He wanted to cry out, but he could not. He felt a light pressure on his back, as is something small were touching him. He felt the pressure again, in a spot next to the first. Then he felt it on his leg. In an instant it felt as if he were being touched all over his body. At first it was an odd, unfamiliar sensation. He imagined someone poking him with their smallest finger. A thousand fingers alternately touching him everywhere. He realized after a moment that the new sensation had taken the place of the pain. As soon as he searched for it, he knew the pain was there. This other sensation allowed him to distract his thoughts from the pain. He focused intently on it, determined to discover its source despite his immobilization and blindness.

In his state of intense concentration, James realized his hearing had returned. He had been so singularly bent upon the finger-like sensation that he’d ignored everything else. It had a familiarity, this new sound, but James could not place it. The fingers abruptly stopped along with the noise he was so desperate to identify. A new sound, different from anything he’d heard previously, filled his ears. He realized along with this sound, his body was moving. He could feel his body writhe in synchronization with the sound. He could feel his hands beneath his body. He tried to move them, but they would not respond. His feet, splayed out to his side, were likewise unresponsive to his commands.

He tried to open his eyes once again. He wasn’t sure if he’d accomplished his goal because the world around him remained dark. His body stilled. James grew anxious as his continued attempts to gain control over his body failed. Is this what the Never is? To live in darkness without feeling? he wondered. The horror of it consumed him. A sound pierced the darkness. It took a moment for James to realize he was crying out, wailing in the darkness. He forced himself to cease. He slowed his breathing, concentrating on the air passing over his tongue and mouth. It made a raspy bubbling sound as it escaped his body, and he realized that he must be lying in a shallow pool of water. He exhaled hard and his suspicions were confirmed as he heard the water blow away from his mouth. He could feel the dampness and began to shiver.

Light, beautiful, immediate, and warming, filled his eyes, and he could see. He took in his surroundings. Everything was green. He could feel the warmth of the light filling his body. He tried again to move his hands, and they responded. He could feel his fingers twitching beneath his body. He tried his toes. They likewise responded. In an instant, he could move his entire body.

James rolled over and sat up. He realized that he was surrounded by plants with leaves wider across than his outstretched arms. Above him towered trees larger than any he had ever seen. The trunks of these giants were shrouded in green moss. The lowest branches hung stories above. The canopy was so far away he couldn’t make out any details. He shivered again and realized that he was completely naked. He looked down at the place where he had been lying. A bed of leaves still held the imprint of his body. Several inches of water filled the depression.

James scanned his surroundings. All he could see were tree trunks and the giant-leaf, ground-dwelling plants. He tried to determine which direction the light was coming from, but, curiously, there were no shadows. He took a deep breath and struggled to remember an incantation that would have come easily to him previously. Finally, he plucked it from the recesses of his mind. He held out his hand and expelled the ancient language from the depths of his lungs. “ Errelebatu,” he said. Nothing happened. He stood perplexed for a moment. He wondered if he had mispronounced it, so he tried it again. Each attempt was met with the same result: nothing. He tried other incantations, dozens of them. Each yielded nothing.

Frustrated and cold, he realized he needed to move. He picked a direction and headed out. As he brushed past one of the giant-leaf plants, he jumped back in pain and alarm. He looked down at his thigh. Blood seeped from an incision that stretched from hip to knee. He instinctively raised his hand and attempted a healing incantation, but he was again unsuccessful. He cursed, frustrated. James lifted the giant leaf and inspected its underside. Thousands of needle-sharp protrusions stood ready to ward off any animal foolish enough to be lured by the succulent-looking foliage. He looked up again hoping to find a direction less choked with the giant-leaf plants. They littered the forest floor in every direction. He let out a breath and continued more cautiously on his way.

— 3 -

The Accident

December 1894, England

Margaret felt a hand on her forehead. She opened her eyes, hoping against hope that it was all a dream. The moment her vision focused she knew her nightmare was a reality. Her husband was dead.

Tabitha Ogilvy stood over her with a concerned look on her face. “You must rise. We cannot delay any longer,” she said.

All Margaret wanted to do was grieve for her slain husband. He had fallen just hours ago and already she was being told it was time to move on. Those past few hours had torn at her insides. She’d questioned everything that had directed her life for the past eight years. She questioned whether the fight was worth such loss. Alvaro had risen to power and the followers of Akil had been forced into hiding. She, her husband, and their son had spent the better part of the past eight years moving from place to place in order to protect James from Alvaro’s people. Men and women had died to protect them. In the end, even her husband’s life was lost in protection of her son.

She had no doubt in James’s superior abilities. Within a year her husband had to search for a more suitable instructor because James’s talents had surpassed his own. Over the past eight years, James had been instructed by nearly fifty teachers. Each had been certain James was gifted. Some even suspected he may be the Anointed One, the one spoken of by the Seer. Still, Margaret would not tip her hand.

Margaret had insisted that none of his instructors tell James of their suspicions. She believed he should discover his gifts on his own. In the end, it was his father who had shared the information about the Seer’s declaration with James. Stuart found it impossible to refuse the boy-the love of his life.

James took the news of his father’s death with shock, quickly followed by indifference. Margaret was amazed at his resilience. The only constants in his life were his parents, and now at the age of ten, he had lost his father. Not wanting to show him any weakness, Margaret rose at the beckoning of Tabitha, and mustered the strength to finish what her husband had begun.

James sat alone in the cavernous hall. His shoulders slumped in grief. At ten years of age he was already taller than his mother. His long, dark hair hung in his face. Margaret approached, allowing her footfalls to be heard so as not to surprise him as she so often did. Long ago they each had perfected their silent travel abilities. James lifted his head slowly. Margaret whispered an incantation that brought natural-looking light into the hall, reducing its gloominess.

“Son, I know your distress-”

“I killed him.”

“What?” she asked, shocked.

“It’s my fault. I’m the reason he’s dead.”

“James, you had nothing to do with your father’s death. Why do you speak so?”

“You weren’t there. I killed him. I killed all of them.”

“What do you mean?”

“We were trapped. There were nearly two dozen of Alvaro’s men in the forest. They had cast some kind of spell that prevented us from transporting. Father said he would create a diversion and I was to run to our safe point and wait for him. I ran and waited, but they captured him. I heard him arguing with them… then they were gone. I went looking for him.”

Tears began to stream down his face. Margaret’s sympathy for her son as well as her own grief kept her from pressing him for details, from asking him why he went looking for his father when he was explicitly instructed never to do so in the event his father was captured.

“It was easy to find Alvaro’s men. So easy that I thought that they were laying a trap for me, but I didn’t care. I dispatched three guards outside with enchanted arrows. I snuck inside and saw father. They were hurting him. Then it happened.”

“What happened?” Margaret asked, more than a little frightened at the detached manner in which her son was describing taking human lives.

“I saw that he was hurt and needed my help. I tried to run to him. They attacked me. I felt this power in my chest. It burned. I screamed and everything went black for a moment. When I could see again, everyone was lying on the ground dead, including father. I killed him. I killed all of them.”

Margaret was shaking. She hadn’t been there when James returned with his father’s body, but Tabitha had. James sent messengers to Tabitha to deliver the news. Before Tabitha had found Margaret in the city library, where Margaret had been looking for a book her husband had requested, she felt it. The bond had been broken and torn from her chest as if someone had reached inside her and pulled at her heart until it ripped free from her body.

James had sat alone with his dead father for several hours. The thought made Margaret’s body quiver. Now he was telling her he was responsible for his father’s death. She couldn’t believe it. She wouldn’t believe it.

“Son, you don’t know what happened. You cannot blame yourself for something over which you had no control,” she replied.

“I felt it. I felt the power in me. It exploded out of me like… like water from a geyser. I know what happened.”

“We will figure this out. Know this, my son. Your father would have died without a moment’s hesitation or regret a thousand times over to save you. You’ve brought so much joy and pride into our lives, and I will do everything in my power to continue his work. We must honor your father by continuing along the path he’s laid for us. Now, rise, my son.”

The boy paused for a moment, then stood with the stiffness of a much older man. He met his mother’s eyes through locks of charcoal-black hair.

“We must go. We are no longer safe here. We’ve stayed too long already, and I bear the burden of that blame. We must not be consumed by guilt. Let us be motivated by our quest to honor those who have fallen. Gather your things, we haven’t much time.”

— 4 -

The Black Castle

Blood wept from wounds covering most of his body. With each step, James left a puddle of blood in his wake. Despite his best efforts to protect his skin from the ferocity of the giant-leaf plants’ underbellies, he had failed. There were too many. He only hoped he could find the edge of the forest before he bled to death. If the needles of the plants were poisonous, he surely would have felt it by now. He knew he must keep moving, so onward he trod, to his death or to salvation from this godforsaken forest. The forest began to spin, and his breath came in short gasps. He focused on something in the distance and realized he was looking at a body of water. He began to run. The feel of air passing over his injuries brought tears to his eyes. He plunged through the last line of plants and onto the sandy shore. He ran for the water, which rippled in the breeze.

The instant he submerged his ankle he let out a cry he believed himself incapable of. The seething, burning pain of his wounds dwarfed anything he had ever felt. His legs weakened, and he fell into the water. For an instant, the pain reached its apex. He tried to cry out again, but water rushed into his lungs. He quickly got to his knees and coughed up the salty water. Blood surrounded him like a halo on the water’s surface. Small fish began nibbling at the shorn flesh of his legs. He tried to focus his eyes, but he could only make out blobs of white. He closed them tight. All he could feel was the gentle pressure of the water encasing his body. James opened his eyes. This time he could make out the beach and the forest behind. To his right, the sandy shore wrapped around and out of sight until it was consumed entirely by the water. To his left, the sand tapered into small rocks, which grew into boulders until cliffs rose up in geometric pieces as if a beast fell dead and all that remained of its carcass was its spine.

Could this be a lake? he thought. He couldn’t imagine a lake being so vast that the opposite shore wouldn’t be visible on a perfectly clear day. He decided he was lying in an ocean.

He trudged slowly out of the water onto the beach, not noticing that the wounds covering his body only seconds ago had healed. James hadn’t seen anything living-save the oversize plant life-since he’d regained consciousness hours, perhaps days earlier. Suddenly he began to feel his body move. Before he could resist, he was lured down the coast by an invisible band toward cliffs far in the distance.

His body acted yet his mind lay dormant. It was neither present nor aware of the actions of his body as he crawled over the rocks that gave way to boulders, and then to the base of a cliff. When he’d reached the cliff face, whatever had a hold on his mind withdrew.

James looked around quizzically. He remembered being in the water, but he couldn’t recall how he came to be standing atop a large rock at the base of one of the lower sections of the cliff. He looked out over the water and considered his situation.

He had been exiled to The Never. He had only learned fractions about The Never during his studies. One of his instructors had surmised it was created by the greatest sorcerer history had known. The instructor had also said while people could go there, only one had the ability to return: the creator himself. It was for this reason those convicted of the worst crimes were exiled there. Akil had said even less about The Never, most of which was shrouded in underlying meaning James had been unable to comprehend.

He thought about everything that had been taken from him. Without given a chance to explain, a chance to defend himself, he was cast out never to see anyone he cared about again. That which he and all of Akil’s followers had been fighting for would fall to ruin. Alvaro would have his war and anyone who refused to join him would be killed or exiled. James wasn’t sure which one of those choices was worse.

Anger swelled inside him. Barefoot and naked, he climbed. Despite his uncertainty about his motivation for climbing to the top and what he expected to accomplish once he got there, he continued. Nearly falling to his death on two occasions- once when he grasped a loose stone and the second when his legs started to cramp-didn’t deter him from reaching the top of the first stone formation, the lower end of the spine.

Not waiting to catch his breath, he moved along the vertebral protrusion that extended toward the water until he reached the end of the first stone formation. The space between it and the next was well beyond any distance he could jump, and the fall to the rocks below would surely be fatal. He turned, hoping to gain a clear view beyond the high-growing trees. James was taken aback at what he saw sitting less than a half league offshore at the end of the stone spinal formation. A magnificent castle hewn into the granite on which it rested sat at the end of the spine like the skull of the ancient beast. He nearly stumbled down onto the rocks below trying to get a closer look. Its walls, battlements, and towers were carved from the darkest black granite he’d ever seen. It stood alone in the water. Waves pounded the base of the island, which James found odd because no waves fell onto the shore or against the cliffs below. Protruding from the stone at the base of the castle were thornlike juts of rock that curved slightly upward, daring anyone to attempt entry.

James knew instantly that he must get inside. The moment his eyes took in the black, polished stone he felt a longing for it. It pulled at his every emotion, quickly supplanting his desire to find a way home. He could feel his yearning as if it were a living thing pulsing through his veins. It coaxed him forward again, nearly pitching him off the side and into the rocks below. As he looked down to make sure his footing was stable, he realized he was still without clothes. He also knew he needed shelter and food before beginning his journey to the black castle.

Considerably further past the castle in the water was a large land formation. From his present vantage point, he could see that it connected with the main land upon which he now stood. It was a vast distance away and offered no geographical advantage to gaining access to the castle. Of the mainland, James could only see the massive trees in the forest and an outcropping further down the beach that blocked any view of what lay beyond.

Looking into the sky to determine the time of day, he realized he couldn’t see the sun. The entire sky was bright white. He couldn’t hold it in his gaze for long without his eyes beginning to hurt. No shadows fell on the ground beneath him, or anywhere for that matter.

Perplexed, he climbed down the opposite side of the cliff to the shore, always keeping the castle in sight. He wanted to be inside it more than he’d wanted anything in his entire life.

The muscles in his legs began to cramp, reminding him that he must find fresh water. He reluctantly decided to walk along the shoreline until he found a reentrant that may lead him to fresh water. He rubbed his chin as he walked and realized that the facial hair that had eluded him up to this point in his life had grown thick since his exile.

The beach curved away from the spine. Grudgingly, James turned his back to the black castle. But every minute or so, he looked over his shoulder to make sure it was still there. Looking ahead, he realized that he would have to enter the forest once more in order to find water. He glanced back at the castle, resisting the temptation to run into the water and swim to its base. He bid it farewell, promised a swift return, and then stepped into the forest, leaving the black castle behind.

— 5 -

The Seer

April 1886, India

A young woman walked hesitantly into the room. The dark and confining entrance opened into a large, vaulted chamber. Sconces lined the walls. Their dancing light gave life to the shadows. In the center of the room was a circular stone fire pit. Embers cast an orange glow onto the face of the man who sat on the far side of the pit.

He was so old she couldn’t guess his age. The closer she stepped, the older he looked. By the time she reached the pit, he looked as if his flesh would blow away with the slightest breeze before he could mutter a word. She’d heard of him, her husband had seen to that.

He had summoned her, and she’d been told that he hadn’t summoned anyone in over a generation. Rumors spread like wildfire around the small village where she had been staying. Onlookers peered out of darkened doorways as she passed. Whispers in far corners resonated like cicadas on a summer night.

As was tradition, according to her husband, she bowed ever so slightly as her bare toes touched the edge of the pit. The man let out a slow breath, and Margaret sat on the stone floor. The moment her legs touched the ground a shadow danced across the old man’s face, wiping away the fragility and leaving behind that of a much younger man. She smelled an unfamiliar fragrance emanating from the fire, and her head began to spin. Shadows and light blurred together. She reached for her head, but before she made contact, the feeling subsided.

“Why are you here?” the old man asked with a hoarse whisper in a tongue she knew she could not understand-yet she did.

“You have summoned me here, Sir,” she replied.

“Please let us agree to continue with the understanding that no question asked should be hastily answered. Think, understand, speak.”

Margaret nodded.

“Why are you here?” he asked again.

There was an extended pause before Margaret replied, “Doubt.”

“And what is it you doubt?”

“I was raised in a world of certain truths,” Margaret said after a lengthy pause. “Those truths have been tested. Absolutes left with my childhood. Now all that exists are beliefs and convictions.”

“So, after years of ignorance you’re finally coming around?” he asked and grinned slightly.

“I confess nothing. I’ve seen or heard nothing that has convinced me this is the correct path.”

“It is not a path of right or wrong, my dear. Many right people trod this path, and, unfortunately, there were some who were not meant to follow it at all. Something has tested what you believed to be true, otherwise you never would have come.”

“I seek answers.”

“Unfortunately it is not answers I give. I am but a seer. What beholds you is more than any one person should bear. It is not my place to decide if those with whom I speak are strong enough to grasp what I tell them. It is only my place to tell them.”

Margaret nodded. She’d gone from feeling confident to insignificant to terrified in less than a minute. The man took another breath. He looked up at her for the first time. His eyes appeared to glow brighter than the embers reflecting in them.

“Your son will not be ordinary. Much tragedy will befall him. Those he holds dearest will be lost. He must be given the strength to endure the pain this will bring. I see greatness. I also see malice… anger. How he rises from the horrors that will plague him will determine the path he follows. No skill shouldn’t he acquire. No knowledge should be withheld. He will be tested. Whether he passes will fall on your shoulders as well as his father’s.”

“His father,” Margaret murmured instinctively.

“While you may believe otherwise, his father has much to teach him. Lessons that can only be passed from father to son. Your son is weak. Strengthen him. There is little time.”

The man exhaled and lowered his head. He did not speak again. After several minutes, Margaret stood, turned, and padded across the floor toward the exit. She slipped on her sandals and made her way back up the narrow earthen steps that wrapped tightly along the side of the boulder just beyond the entrance. The only signs of her escorts were several massive paw tracks in the damp ground.

Margaret reflected upon her brief meeting as she walked down the leaf-covered hill to the main path. She thought of her husband, James Lochlan Stuart III, who had directed her here. Roughly a year ago something changed in him. Prior to that, he would have been considered a staunch traditionalist. Never had he politically deviated from the doctrines of his family. That is, never before he met the man, Ogilvy.

England. It’s so far away. How did I end up on the other side of the world? she thought. Was it true, this prophecy? Her life had been turned upside down. Her beliefs shattered like glass with each piece of evidence that suggested this world did indeed exist. Instinct told her to follow her husband to the remote reaches of northern India. She clung to doubt because the alternative thrust her into a world she did not understand and Margaret must maintain control. Now a new path lay before her. A path which neither she nor her husband controlled. For the first time in her life, Margaret felt powerless.

— 6 -

The Falls

Water runs downhill. James repeated the sentence to himself over and over as he pushed his way through the thick underbrush that once again tore at his skin. The elevation continued to rise. Several times during his ascent the steepness required James to use his hands. After nearly an hour of skin-tearing, cramp-inducing climbing, the ground leveled. The dense undergrowth, which had thankfully transitioned from the spiny flesh-tearing plants to more forgiving vegetation, still prevented James from gaining a good perspective of his surroundings. He decided to follow a subtle depression as it trended downward and inland. All the while thoughts of the black castle plagued his subconscious.

As he continued, the depression widened and steepened. The steeper it grew, the more choked with underbrush it became.

The time he calculated that it would take him to reach the bottom had come and gone. It was at this point that he began to doubt his presumption. As the underbrush was at its thickest, the leaf litter he’d been walking on for over an hour slowly gave way to stone. He could make out a clearing ahead. He pushed through the final row of plants and into the clearing.

Large, flat, oval rocks surrounded a teal-blue pool of water. On the far side of the pond, nestled in the face of a cliff, stood a small, crudely built structure. Overwhelmed by thirst, James ran toward the pool. As he reached the edge he dropped to his knees and cupped his hands in the water. He brought his hands to his mouth.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” a voice said from behind.

He turned quickly, spilling the water. A woman stood over him holding a spear at the ready. She was taller than James by half a head. Her hair was dark and unkempt. Her clothes, if you could call them clothes, hung by threads over her shoulders.

“Let me drink or run me through.”

“You cannot drink the standing water. You will die before your throat moistens. And death, when it comes will be most horrible,” she said casually, lowering her spear. “Come with me, boy, and I will take you to water.”

She set the spear on the ground and extended her hand. It was only then that James realized he wasn’t wearing any clothes. She studied him as if she’d never seen a naked man before. When their eyes met, she grabbed him by the arm and pulled him upright with more strength than he thought possible from a woman who seemed so frail. He studied her face and realized that she must be at least ten years older than he. She held his gaze for a moment, then turned and headed toward the structure on the far side of the pool. She was careful to keep her distance from the edge of the water as she deftly stepped upon the smooth stones. James followed, finding it nearly impossible to keep pace with the strange woman.

Once they reached the structure she motioned for him to wait outside. She ducked through the opening. James inspected the carefully stacked stones, some of them larger around than any tree that made up the walls of the structure. As he tried to imagine how she could have possibly stacked the stones by herself, she returned. She gently handed him a pair of dirty looking pants. He nodded in thanks, and she turned her back as he pulled them on. The pants were stained with something that looked like blood, and the lower legs of the pants were torn away. Nevertheless, James was happy to have some protection from the flesh-tearing plants.

“Thank you,” he said.

She turned, smiled, and stepped past him without a word.

“What’s your name?” asked James.


James noticed a coil of rope hanging from her shoulder. They silently followed a well-worn trail along the cliff face. The rocky ground gave way to soft leaf litter as they moved further from the pool.

The woman stopped suddenly. She removed the rope from her shoulder and turned toward him.

“Now we may drink,” she said.

James couldn’t see any water as she made a large loop in one of the pieces of rope. She threw the unlooped end over a thicker piece of rope James hadn’t noticed that was tied to a large tree along the trail just above his head. She tied a second knot, gave the rope a tug, and repeated the process with a second coil of rope. The woman lifted one of the loops over her head and sat in the center as a child would in a swing. Without warning she pushed off the ground with her feet and glided away. James could now see why she had stopped so abruptly. The trail ended in what appeared to be a bottomless chasm. Nothing but blackness lay below. James’s head began to spin as he watched the woman pull herself out into the middle along the cliff face. The large rope that held her sling was strung from the far end of the chasm to the tree beside him. She was moving toward a waterfall that spilled out from the center of the stone face. James looked again down into the black abyss and was unsettled more by the realization that he could not hear the water splashing into a pool. Strangely enough, James had a feeling of familiarity as he looked into the abyss. Even now, the black castle urged his quick return.

Having never been fond of heights, the idea of following her was not something he would have considered even if his powers were working. The woman waved him on. He shook his head.

“There must be somewhere else we can find water,” he yelled.

“No need to yell, sound travels far here,” came her reply. It was as if she were still standing beside him.

“You will die before we reach the other watering site. Come! Drink,” she said as if inviting him in for an afternoon cup of tea.

He stepped forward, grasped the loop in front of him, and gave it a pull. He screamed in pain as the muscles in his shoulder seized. There was no denying it and no more delaying it. He needed water. After a moment of rubbing, the cramping subsided enough for him to lift himself into the sling.

James lowered himself until all his weight rested on the rope. The supporting line held firm. Slowly he moved toward the edge. He turned, his back toward the edge, and grasped the supporting line that held his sling and his life.

“Trust and move forward,” she whispered.

The words relaxed James. He took a breath and pushed away from the edge. The sling slid along the supporting line with no discernable friction. He focused his mind on breathing and his eyes on his white-knuckled hands as the place where he stood a moment ago rapidly grew distant.

He came to a stop with a jerk. He looked over his shoulder and saw the woman beside him. She gave a sympathetic smile.

“You must relax or you will seize again. You will require all of your strength,” she said.

James looked past her at the waterfall. Several ropes hung down the cliff face and into the water of the falls.

“We’re running out of time,” she said, pulling herself directly in front of the falls, which were eerily silent. “Do as I do.”

She lifted herself in the sling and slid it under her knees while holding on to the upper section. With one hand extended toward the falls, she began to swing. Expecting the supporting line to sway James clenched his sling. The line did not sway. Finally, her hand penetrated the water, and she grasped a rope. To James’s horror she released the sling so its only means of attachment to her body was tucked behind her knees. She grasped the rope that hung over the cliff with both hands. Kilani pulled herself into the streaming water headfirst and drank. James tried to fight off the panic gripping his body. He could feel his muscles tense. He closed his eyes and began to recite the primer incantation his father had taught him when he was just a child. He called it the primer incantation because it readied the mind for more complex magic. A hand grasped his shoulder.

James opened his eyes. Kilani’s dark hair was wet, and she looked rejuvenated. She nodded and slid down the support line, allowing him to position himself directly in front of the falls. He stared at the rope he needed to reach.

Before he could change his mind, he pulled himself up in the sling and slid the rope beneath his knees. He could feel his arms ready to cramp under the strain of his weight. Slowly, he lowered himself back down, allowing his legs to absorb some of the tension. He looked over at Kilani, who nodded reassuringly. After a deep breath, he shifted his weight. The sling moved away from the cliff face and rocked back toward it as he extended his legs just a fraction and leaned slightly back. As he drew closer to the dangling rope, he knew he had only one chance at grasping it. With a final swing he released the sling with his left hand and reached for the rope. He plunged his hand into the streaming water and groped for the rope, but he only felt water. He’d missed. As his momentum began to carry him away from the rope, James realized he was going to fall. In a moment of desperation, he released his other hand from the sling and tried again to grasp the rope. The woman looked on in horror as his legs slid through the loop and he disappeared under the falls.

— 7 -

The Epoch Terminus

February 1886, England

Snowfall had left most of the streets impassable. Margaret huddled with James in front of the wall-sized fireplace, reading him a fairy tale in an attempt to lull him to sleep. James fit perfectly into the space between her crossed legs. Beneath them was a Persian rug. Margaret had a bearskin blanket draped over her shoulders to keep out the cold. She hated this house in the winter. The high ceilings and stone floors made it bitterly cold despite a fireplace in virtually every room.

As she turned the page of her Kleine Ausgabe version of the Grimm brothers’ fairy tales, the door whipped open letting in the ferocious winter wind. The baby, who was no baby at all being nearly three, quickly shifted from the precipice of sleep to the land of the awake and alert. Margaret let out a sigh as he jumped from her lap and ran toward the door.

A tall man, so thickly bundled one couldn’t tell if he was fat or thin, stepped into the room and closed the door. The man’s mittened hands slid back the hood to reveal black hair parted down the middle with numerous strands standing on end. It was obvious he hadn’t shaved in several days. His drawn, blackened eyes had the look of little sleep.

He smiled as the boy ran toward him. He managed to free his hands from the mittens just in time to catch the boy as he jumped into his arms. They both laughed and embraced. James Lochlan Stuart III had returned. His smile waned as he watched Margaret moving toward them. Her eyes bored into him yet her demeanor was cordial. James would have preferred an outburst to feigned kindness she was so good at emulating.

“So the traveler has returned,” she said curtly.

“Alas,” he replied, and smiled as he returned his attention to the child in his arms.

“You shaved your moustache,” she said.

Stuart reached up to his face, having forgotten that the moustache, common among noblemen, which had been there since before they had married was now gone.

“You look awful,” she said examining him.

Stuart stared back at his wife. The boy squeezed him tightly around his neck and showered him with kisses.

“And what news have you brought?” Margaret asked.

“Much. There is much to tell. Many things have changed. I promise I will reveal everything the moment James goes to bed.

It appeared as though Stuart intended to outlast his wife this evening because he and his son played well beyond the normal bedtime for the boy. Having not seen his father for several months, Margaret let her son break her normally militant schedule for the first time she could remember.

“A boy needs his father,” she remembered being told, “no matter what kind of man he is.”

She nodded agreeably at the time but now wondered if he was doing the boy more harm than good. Over the past year he’d been home so little. More than once the boy asked if his father was ever coming back. She always said, “Of course, your father is just a very important and busy man.” In reality she wasn’t always sure.

Finally when she couldn’t stand waiting another moment, she walked into the drawing room to break up the reunion. The two were wrestling on the floor when she stepped into the entry holding a lantern. Both stopped dead and looked up at her.

“Not a word about it, I’ve allowed you to stay up well beyond your regular bed time. Off to bed with you. Shirley will tuck you in.”

Knowing there were times to hold one’s peace-and this was assuredly one of those times-neither protested. Father and son embraced once more, and the boy tottered off. His mother kissed him on his head as he passed. Stuart stood slowly, straightening his evening jacket.

Margaret took him in again. She couldn’t help but find this disheveled and slightly wild-looking version of her husband attractive. Quickly, she pushed the thought away and prepared herself for the task at hand.

“I’ve asked Nigel to bring tea,” Margaret said, settling into a large leather chair by the fireplace.

“Very good,” Stuart replied, rounding his desk and taking a seat. They sat in silence, listening to the clock tick away the seconds. After several minutes, Nigel entered the room with the tea tray. He set it on the desk, added the appropriate amount of sugar and cream to each cup, and headed for the door.

“Good to see you back, Sir,” he said.

“Thank you, Nigel.”

“Nigel?” Stuart called just as Nigel was stepping out of sight.


“You’ll bring him in as soon as he arrives?”

“Of course, sir.”

“Bring who in?” Margaret asked, “have you not seen the hour?”

“All shall be explained if you give me the opportunity,” Stuart said calmly.

Again the room was silent. Margaret held her cup with both hands, letting the warmth circulate through her fingers.

After another moment of awkward silence, Stuart took a deep breath and said, “I suppose you’d like to hear about my travels of late?”

“An explanation of your sudden and unannounced hiatus would be appreciated, yes.”

“If it wasn’t important I wouldn’t have gone, Margaret. Everything is clear to me now. I’m sure everything will be clear to you as well when I have finished.”

“Please enlighten me then.”

“Lately, I’ve been traveling more than my job requires, as you may have noticed.” Stuart paused, expecting Margaret to interject. When she did not, he continued.

“I met a man named David Ogilvy at a parliament meeting last autumn. He took me to his house in Northallerton, where I met his family. We discussed matters of great interest. There was one subject that was particularly enthralling.” Again he paused and studied his wife. If she had any interest in what he was telling her, she didn’t show it. Her expression remained like stone.

“Magic,” he said. At precisely that moment a gust of wind blew down the chimney, scattering ash from the dying fire onto the stone hearth.

“Oh, James. Please tell me you haven’t been drawn into that cods wallop. Of all the things to be wasting your time on. Magic indeed,” she said, standing and making her way to the door.

“Believe me, I’d have said the same thing if I were sitting in your place. Please just listen before you pass judgment.”

She stopped, eyeing him suspiciously.

“Please,” he said, extending his hand to the chair.

Slowly, she moved back to her chair and perched on the very edge of the seat. She leaned in and set her teacup on the desk, knowing full well that an unprotected cup on his beloved desk would drive him mad. To her dismay, he never took his eyes off her.

Stuart could tell from his wife’s posture that she would mentally dissect and tear apart anything he said. “After dinner on the second day of my visit, Mr. Ogilvy and I were sitting in his library discussing one of the topics from the last meeting. The parliament is planning on banning discussing anything related to magic in any government forum henceforth. I said it was perfectly logical considering it hardly comes up anymore, and when it does come up it is usually related to some inexplicable event. Ogilvy took the opposite stance. He believed the government’s origins were founded in magic. To deny its existence, which is what the government is trying to do, he said, would be denying our heritage.”

“Rubbish,” Margaret said.

Stuart lifted an impatient hand and continued. “Mr. Ogilvy removed an old book from his library shelf. It was covered in reptile skin and was large and cumbersome. He said the book predated the Magna Carta Libertatum by over a thousand years. Inside it spoke of powers, lands, and sorcery found nowhere in any book I’ve ever read or heard about.”

“Found nowhere because it’s fiction.”

Stuart continued as if she hadn’t interrupted. “It also spoke of a date in the near future that would mark the beginning of the end of their kind. The Epoch Terminus he called it. It spoke of a terrible war in which sorcerers would all but destroy themselves. I asked him where he’d acquired this book. After swearing an oath that I wouldn’t share this with anyone but you, Ogilvy told me. He said he was part of a magical council very much like the parliament. His family has sat on this council for over a hundred generations. Ogilvy said that the book passes from father to son.”

“I asked him why none of this was common knowledge. He told me the unfaithful-the nonbelievers-pushed their magical kin and their beliefs away generations ago. They didn’t want any part of what they couldn’t understand. They were frightened of magic. They called it witchcraft, devilry, evil. The faithful, as they call themselves, were and continue to be chastised, outcast, and even murdered. History was and is being rewritten denying their very existence. A genocide of our own countrymen is happening as you and I converse. So now Mr. Ogilvy sits on both the parliament and his magical council in hopes of gaining a better understanding of the unfaithful, who now far outnumber those who believe.”

“And let me guess, he’s recruited you for his cause. Save the freaks. How can you believe in that nonsense? The government scientists have all but explained it away. All explainable scientific phenomena.”

“That’s exactly what I said. I wanted proof. If there truly was this magical world among our own, I wanted some evidence. Of course he knew I would ask, and he was well prepared. Behind a bookshelf was a hidden staircase, which spiraled deep into the bowels of the manor house. By torchlight we walked down the stone passage until we came to a massive room. He whispered an unfamiliar word and candles surrounding the room burst with flame. ‘Don’t worry!’ Ogilvy said. ‘That’s just the beginning.’ And indeed it was. Stuart sipped his tea.

“Waist-high stone troughs weaved this way and that through the room. Glowing liquids of every color flowed through the troughs. He encouraged me to step close to one that was flowing a particularly vibrant shade of purple. He raised his hands over the trough and again whispered an unfamiliar word. The liquid stopped flowing from left to right and began to flow toward the center of the trough where Ogilvy’s hands hovered. The liquid pooled there until it looked as if it would spill over the edges.

“Then it rose up out of the pool like icicles from the ground. He appeared to be siphoning it with his hands until each strand of liquid had delivered its contents into his palms. With another word and a wave of his hands, we were encased in the purple liquid. It was as if a shroud covered us. I reached my hand into the shroud, expecting it to be wet. No moisture did I feel. The energy, Margaret. I felt such energy. And then it happened.” “What happened?” Margaret asked, finding herself captivated to her own chagrin.

“We were gone.”

“Gone? What do you mean?” she asked.

“We no longer stood in the musty dungeon.”

“Then where were you?”

“Precisely my question. ‘Where are we?’ I asked. It was bright, warm, and pleasant. Only after the purple haze cleared could I begin to fathom our location. Behind us stood mountains higher than I’d ever set eyes upon. In front of us were grasslands as far as the eye could see. Grazing animals peppered the flatlands like leaves in autumn. I’d only read of places like that in books.

“Mr. Ogilvy said we were in Africa. I had to take him at his word, having never been there. Regardless of where we actually were, the fact was we’d gone somewhere. We’d traveled out of the dungeon by means I could not comprehend. We stayed for but a moment before he reached into his cloak, retrieved a small bag, and tossed its contents above us. Once again we were enshrouded in the purple mist. A moment later, we were back in his laboratory, as he calls it.”

“Impossible,” Margaret said with a hint of curiosity in her voice-or perhaps it was a hint of doubt.

“I wouldn’t have believed it had it not happened to me,” Stuart replied.

“Perhaps the purple liquid contained some type of drug. He drugged you, and you thought you’d left the dungeon, but in reality, you didn’t travel at all.”

“One of the many reasons why I married you my dear Margaret is that your mind is as sharp as a blade. Once I gained my footing in the dungeon-err, laboratory-and my head stopped spinning, I suggested the same thing. Ogilvy then asked me if I believed in God, and when I said I did, he asked if I had ever seen God. As you know, I have not, and when I shared this information with Ogilvy, he asked, ‘Then what makes you believe?’”

“I told him that a nonbeliever could be shown undeniable evidence that God exists and still deny his existence. Eventually, I said that faith is required. A smile crossed Ogilvy’s face, and he said, ‘So what you’re saying is that you could show me unquestionable proof of God’s existence, and if I still want to deny him, I could. However, if I were to allow for a small measure of faith then everything would fall into place. Allow yourself, Mr. Stuart, to consider the possibility that magic does indeed exist and magic will become apparent every day of your life.’

“I couldn’t help but marvel at the parallels. We left the laboratory, and I spent another day with Mr. Ogilvy. We discussed nothing but faith, as they call it, and how the faithful were being shunned from normal society. They were being looked at as outcasts, as diseased. Magic folk are peaceful. Never in the history of the written word have the faithful ever engaged the unfaithful in open combat. It is against their laws to kill another.

“I left with a promise from Mr. Ogilvy that he would come calling so A knock at the front door interrupted Stuart’s recounting. Nigel hurried by the open doorway toward the hall. Both Margaret and Stuart listened as the large front door groaned open then closed with a bang. A quiet conversation was followed by footsteps until Nigel was standing at the doorway.

“He is here,” said Nigel with a nervous expression. Stuart moved toward the entryway.

“May I introduce… Akil Karanis.”

Nigel stepped aside as a tall, lean man moved in from the hallway. What hair remained on his head was cropped close to his bronze skin. He wore a long goatee, which was all white but for a few strands of grey. His pleasant expression was accentuated by the bright blue of the three-piece suit he was wearing. Margaret had never seen something so bright-or so ridiculous.

Stuart exchanged greetings in some bowing manner that Margaret could only see from behind and thought only added to the absurdity of the situation. Stuart welcomed the tall man into the room and offered him his seat behind the desk. Akil declined and stepped over to greet Margaret.

“My sincere apologies. How rude!” Stuart said realizing his omission. “Margaret, this is Akil Karanis,” he said, sweat now beading on his forehead.

Akil extended his hand. Margaret, being ever stubborn remained seated and only looked at the man as he attempted to greet her. Stuart stepped forward to reprimand his wife for her impropriety and Akil raised a silencing hand.

“I imagine the conversation that preceded my entry has left you in a state of enthrallment only to be out-done by what is to follow and therefore excuse your absence of social grace,” Akil said with a smile.

Margaret couldn’t tell if she was being insulted or compliment so she simply remained seated and said nothing. She was glad to have someone to interrupt her husband’s nonsensical storytelling. Stuart rounded the desk and sat while Akil leaned slightly against the bookshelf and looked at Stuart.

“Where was I?” Stuart asked. “Yes, of course. Sure enough after another meeting of parliament the following winter, Mr. Ogilvy approached me again. He said there would be a gathering that very night of the magical council and he would like me to attend. I agreed. Ogilvy took me into the basement of the parliament building away from unfaithful eyes. Once again he removed the marble-size bag from his cloak and encased us in what he called transporting powder.”

“An instant later we stood upon a grassy plateau in yet another land with which I was unfamiliar. Ruins of an ancient civilization stood nearby. Below us were mountains and valleys surrounded by clouds. Imagine being above the clouds, looking down on them. It was almost as if we were hovering above the earth.”

“Perhaps it would be best if I took it from here,” interrupted Akil.

“Of course,” replied Stuart.

“Margaret, my dear,” said Akil, looking deep into her eyes. “I’m about to do something which may come as quite a shock. It may be best if you sit back in your chair.”

Margaret nodded and slid slowly back until she was up against the rest. Akil nodded, took a step back, and extended his right hand. He muttered something neither of the others could hear, and a blue orb of light rose from the palm of her hand. Rather than scream, which is what Stuart thought Margaret would do, she sat transfixed as the orb rose and expanded. Soon the room was enveloped in the light and a new scene formed in front of them.

Shadowed figures converged on an amphitheater of sorts in the center of the plateau. It was nothing more than rows of halfmoon-shaped stone benches with grass between them. In the center was a lectern. Ogilvy led Stuart silently to a hill overlooking the amphitheater. Nobody spoke a word until all had been seated and the sound of shuffling bodies subsided.

Once the quiet had settled, a rather large man pried himself from his seat and hobbled to the lectern. He paused, surveying the crowd before he spoke. “As we are all aware,” the large man said, “the precariousness of our current situation continues to worsen. With each setting of the sun the Epoch Terminus draws nigh. Despite the generations of searching, we are no closer to finding the anointed one.”

He glanced over at a man sitting on the bench across from where he stood.

“Coupled with the approach of the Epoch Terminus,” he continued, “and our lack of preparation, the unfaithful continue to push us away. They’ve managed to convince each new generation that our ways are nothing but fairy tales… smoke and mirrors. So blind are they to reality that they’re willing to ignore history itself. Humanity was set back nearly 1500 years when the early Anglo-Saxons invaded Britain so long ago and we were powerless to do anything as the uncultured pagan barbarians destroyed the advanced civilization we’d created. Why? Because our laws forbade open war against the unfaithful.”

“We gather,” the man said, “to ensure our survival. The threat is real. The Epoch Terminus will arrive while our generation is in power. If we have not deciphered the clues left by The Seer and located the anointed one we all shall perish. I believe at the hands of the unfaithful. I believe that is the end The Seer did not detail.

“We run, we hide, yet every one of us has the power to turn and fight. We are superior. The unfaithful are no match for our powers. Every one of us can influence, control, and some of us can even kill with mere words. Yet we continue to cower. The time for diplomacy has passed. We must act or we will fall. Not one among us wants his children growing up in exile.”

More fervent applause followed this statement. He shuffled back to his seat as another man stood. Tall, thin, and agile, he looked the opposite of his predecessor. It was Akil Karanis. He did not hesitate to begin speaking.

“Not one among us wants our children growing up at war. In that, we are no different than the so-called unfaithful. Our knowledge and tolerance obligates us to act for the good of all humanity. Not solely for the good of our own kind. We are all humans. We are all brothers. Wielding a power simply because one posses it would be the epitome of ignorance,” Akil said.

“Because we have an understanding of magic we are bound by our laws to protect those who are ignorant. Not destroy them. There are ways to co-exist without violence. For centuries the unfaithful have been at war between themselves because of differences in their own beliefs. We have not intervened. Yes, much was lost with the Celts. In the end they were given a choice and chose to fend for themselves just as we chose to leave. Today, they are frightened of us. They do not remember when we lived in peace side-by-side. Men fear what they do not understand regardless of their beliefs. Rather than keep to ourselves let us allow them understanding and abate their fears.”

A small bald man in the front row stood. “Lest you forget, Akil, that too is against our laws.” The man squeaked, sitting as quickly as he stood.

“A law this counsel created centuries ago. Perhaps it is time to amend our laws.”

The fat man who originally spoke quickly stood.

“If we change any of our laws it should be to allow us to retaliate against those who persecute us, not educate them. Remember they want us dead,” he shouted.

“You assume much, Alvero, with your statements. Nowhere in The Seer’s recounting of the events leading to the Epoch Terminus is there mention of a war between faithful and unfaithful. Inaccurate generalities won’t solve our problems. This is no time to take action in haste. There are ways to live in peace, and we are bound to seek them, not ignore them by taking an easier road. We have been outcasts since the beginning of history. Because those who don’t believe are taking formal actions against us now is no reason to destroy them. Let them write us out of their history. We have our own historians, our own history. The higher road is ours to take.”

“Now, the reason we gather is not to express our dissatisfaction of our relationship with our fellow man. We need not waste another minute discussing it. As I said, The Seer declared nothing of the sort. The Epoch Terminus approaches as Alvaro has mentioned. My search continues. I believe I am close to deciphering the last of the criteria. I request of the counsel that all resources available to it be at my disposal in order to once and for all find he who The Seer spoke of. Time runs swiftly.”

The man removed an ornate pocket watch from his robes, opened the lid and shook his head with a concerned expression as he returned to his seat. Three others stood and moved to the lectern. The tallest of the three, a woman with straight black hair reaching past her waist, was the first to speak.

“We have heard from our party leaders. It is apparent a rift exists.

The man next to her picked up where she left off. “I fear indecision may cost lives.”

The third, a woman spoke. “This is no time for impulse. We must find the anointed one or we all shall perish.

“Akil, we grant you the authority to command the resources of the counsel. You have one rotation. May all speed and grace be with you,” the tall woman said.

Akil stood and bowed. The fat man jumped to his feet. “It was this fool who unleashed that monster upon us and you’ll give him the authority to continue his nonsensical efforts?” he screamed, jowls shaking.

“The fact that we have yet to find the anointed one tells us only that we’ve failed to recognize the severity of the circumstances, Alvaro. Akil may have taken missteps, but he alone has been active in this pursuit for such a time. Our focus is the Epoch Terminus and nothing else as so it should be for all of us. With respect to the unfaithful, every one of us is to blame for our inability to coexist. Remember that when you return to your homes,” the smaller woman said, looking out over the crowd. “ We all have failed. In one rotation, we shall meet at Skara Brae.”

Not another word was spoken. David Ogilvy led Stuart to the edge of the plateau, and a moment later they were back in the parliament basement. The scene faded to white then reformed. It was the very same room the three of them sat watching Akil’s memory orb.

Stuart was sitting at his desk when a flash of light by the door caused him to shield his eyes. When he lowered his hands, Matthew Ogilvy was standing by the door.

“I apologize for barging in like this,” said Ogilvy, “but the time has come for us to discuss something of great importance.

“Of course,” said Stuart, standing.

“Brandy?” he asked, filling his own glass.

“Please,” replied Ogilvy.

Stuart poured a second glass and handed it to Ogilvy.

“There is someone else who will be joining us, “ Ogilvy said after sipping his drink.

Just then there was a flash of light and the Akil Karanis stood in the doorway. He immediately smiled when he saw Stuart.

“James Stuart, meet Akil Karanis,” Ogilvy said.

“The older man balled his right fist, pressed it into his left palm and bowed slightly. Stuart returned his greeting with a nod.

Akil pointed to the brandy and asked if he could help himself. Stuart hastily handed him his own glass, reassuring him that he had just poured it, and fixed himself another.

“Shall we sit?” Akil asked, assuming the role of host.

“I have asked David to introduce you and I, Mr. Stuart. I’ve been looking forward to this for quite some time.”

“You’ve been looking forward to meeting me?” Stuart asked.

“‘Indeed,” he replied as if I was silly to doubt the authenticity of his statement.

Stuart looked questioningly at Ogilvy.

“I haven’t been completely forthcoming with you James,” Ogilvy said. “I’m privy to information that you weren’t ready to hear.”

“While the general concept of the information is common knowledge among our kind,” Ogilvy continued, “realizing that you were the subject was quite difficult. The faithful had been searching for this information over many generations, trying to piece together clues of a prophecy made several thousand years ago by the greatest of seers. Just recently, Akil was able to discern the meaning of the final unsolved clue.”

“And this prophecy has led you to me?” Stuart asked.

“Most certainly, Akil replied.”

“What is it the prophecy said?” Stuart asked.

“It translated to ‘the son of a noble lord, born among unfaithful would rise and lead mankind through the Epoch Terminus. Without whom all shall perish,” said Ogilvy.

“Surely that I cannot be the only son of a noble lord born among unfaithful.

“This is where the clues are of particular relevance,” said Akil

“The first specifies the geographical area where he would be born. The second details the bloodline. The third unveils the surname. The final clue, which has until most recently remained un- or misdeciphered, details the abilities of the one whom The Seer spoke of.”

The three men sat in silence for a moment.

“And you believe I am the one to which the prophecy refers?” asked Stuart, his hands shaking.

“The prophet specified the fourth line of his father’s name,” said Akil.

“But I am only the third,” Stuart began then stopped abruptly.

“James. My son,” he said in almost a whisper.

“Yes, it is not you we seek but your son. Before the pyramids were hewn from the stones of the desert, it was written by our kind. He will lead us through the dark hours that draw closer with every breath I take,” Akil said.

Akil reached into his pocket, removed his ornate pocket watch, flipped it open, and again shook his head with a concerned expression before snapping it shut.

“James is barley three. What could he possibly do?”

“Much must be done to prepare, and I’m afraid we have precious little time,” said Akil, ignoring Stuart’s question.

“How are you certain that James is the one spoken of by the seer?”

“Understand, Mr. Stuart, Akil wouldn’t be here if he wasn’t.”

“What is he supposed to do? How is he supposed to lead? He is barely three years old.”

Stuart looked at Akil. The friendly expression remained on his face. He exuded confidence in a calm, reassuring manor. His humble posture appeared to relax Stuart.

“We merely have to show the council that he is in fact the one to which The Seer refers. That shall be left to me. You, Mr. Stuart, must prepare,” Akil said.

“Why must I prepare?” Stuart asked.

”You must begin you training.”

“But I am not the one…”

“You are correct,” Ogilvy interrupted, “However, you are his father. No man has greater influence over a child than his father. You must therefore be trained in the teachings most important for your son.”

“Magic?” asked Stuart.

“Faith, survival, negotiations, and combat. All are essential to James’s success.”

“I thought your kind was peaceful,” said Stuart.“

“Each facet of my training will be preceded by a lengthy explanation of its relevance.”

“To begin when?” Stuart asked.

“This very moment,” replied Akil.

Again the scene faded to white then reformed. The three men were standing on the grassy plateau where the council meeting took place. They were the only people in sight. Akil wandered off quietly, leaving Ogilvy and Stuart in each other’s company.”

“What do you know about magic, Mr. Stuart?” asked Ogilvy.

“Nothing really, only hearsay.”

“Why do you think I can perform magic and you cannot?”

Stuart appeared to ponder the question for a moment before replying.

“Perhaps you were born with the ability?” Stuart finally replied.

“What if I told you every human is capable of magic?” asked Ogilvy

“I’d ask you to prove it.”

“Magic is the combination of three things: knowledge, experience, and faith. This is why we refer to ourselves as the faithful and the nonmagical as the unfaithful. The only thing that separates our abilities from theirs is faith, or lack thereof. Knowledge can be learned. Every man has the capacity to learn. Experience obviously comes with practice and study. Faith is where someone who is born to an unfaithful family struggles. You have seen me perform magic. I’ve done things you’d consider inexplicable. If I asked you to perform that same type of magic this moment you couldn’t. Not because you are unable but because doubt exists. As long as there is doubt, there cannot be magic”

Some people say,” Oglivy continued, “faith is belief based on the abstract, but those who lack faith are only blind to the proof that surrounds them. One must believe they can perform magic. They must know the skill, but they must also know that they are able to perform the skill. They must have faith in both their abilities and in the incantation itself. I don’t think I can move this rock.” caressing a large boulder beside them. “I know I can.”

“Ogilvy whispered, ‘ Jasoketa,’ lifted his hand from the surface of the rock, and waited. A moment later the boulder freed itself from its earthen bed and hovered several inches above the ground. With a smile and a lowering of his hand, Ogilvy returned it to the earth.

“There are some who say faith cannot be taught,’ Ogilvy said. “I believe confidence in the knowledge translates into confidence in one’s abilities. You must know you can move that rock. Once you understand the incantation you will see the power was with you all along. The knowledge I have of the language combined with the experience of moving objects and the confidence that I am able to move the object allows me to move the object.”

“Just as I know dried heather, sap from the Baobab tree, mixed, crushed and stored for twenty rotations along with the correct incantation will allow me to transport anywhere on earth. Some say beyond.”

“You’re telling me all I have to do is believe that I can do something to be magical?” asked Stuart.

“Knowledge, experience, and faith,” Ogilvy replied.

Ogilvy went on to teach Stuart the incantation required to lift an object from the ground without touching it. He told him the history of the word, its origins, and the pronunciation.

“The way a word is spoken is as important as the word itself. It must come from deep in the lungs at barley a whisper,” Ogilvy said. “As the word is spoken and the air vacates your lungs, energy from your core will flow outward through your hands. Your hands are the gateway between the magic inside you and the world around you.”

Stuart tried repeatedly to lift a stone no larger than his palm and was unsuccessful.

As the sun set behind the distant western mountains the pair returned to the drawing room leaving Akil, who had not moved from his seated position in the center of a ruined building since shortly after their arrival. Ogilvy reached into his cloak for another pinch of transporting powder.

“Perhaps Akil was wrong,” said Stuart

“Do not be disheartened,” he replied, “we are several hours into a lesson some receive before they can walk. All things come in time.”

The scene faded leaving Margaret staring off into the distance-her expression one of complete shock. Stuart stood, stepped to the fireplace and added several logs while Akil refreshed his drink.

“The next day I expected Ogilvy to continue my training,” Stuart said, “but he did not come. A week went by with sign of neither him nor Akil. When a month had passed, I started to believe I had made the entire thing up. I planned to confront Mr. Ogilvy at the next parliament meeting but his seat was empty. Unable to cope with the uncertainty, I traveled to Northallerton to confront him.” Stuart said, nodding to Akil.

Again, Akil rose his hand and again a blue memory orb rose and enveloped the room.

Patches of snow dotted the countryside. Deep muddy ruts ran along a hillside where Stuart was trotting his horse. An abandoned carriage in the distance told the story of difficult travel conditions. Stuart arrived at the Ogilvy manor house. The iron gates were open, the gatehouse unoccupied. No signs of life were apparent as he approached. As the front entry came into view, one of the large oak doors could be seen laying on its side.

“Stuart quickly dismounted his gelding and called out from the threshold, but there was no reply. After several moments of silence, he stepped into the house. Everything appeared in order. Again he called out and again there was no reply. He made my way to the library. Every book rested neatly on its shelf, and not an inkwell stood out of place on the desk. Stuart scanned the bookshelves with a nervous expression.

He stood and began pulling on several of the shelves. When none yielded, he sat on the floor and slowed his breathing. He stood slowly, and moved toward the bookcase. He extended his hand, closed his eyes, and let the incantation flow in a hoarse whisper. Something gently brushed my hand. Astonished, he opened his eyes. A small book tumbled to the floor.

“You’ll never get it open with that incantation,” said a voice out of the scene. Stuart turned, startled. Tabitha Ogilvy stood behind him. She wore a dark cloak and hood, which covered her black hair.

“You’re commanding it to rise. You need to command it to open,” she said.

“My Basque needs some work,” Stuart replied.

“He’s dead. They killed him and took the children,” she said. Tears streamed down her face as she moved toward Stuart for a comforting embrace.

After a moment, Stuart stepped back. “How do you know he is dead?”

“I felt it,” she replied, placing her hand over her heart. “The bond is broken.”

“Who killed him?” asked Stuart

“They were Alvaro’s men disguised as unfaithful.”

“Where is Akil?” Stuart asked.

“I don’t know. No one can find him. The seer is right, the war is beginning,” she said.

“We must go to the council. They will protect you.”

“The council has turned against us. There is no one left to turn to.”

“She looked at Stuart with a pleading expression. His face went ashen, and he looked as if he may throw up. Quickly, he sat on one of the large wooden chairs and buried his face in his hands. Tabitha strode quietly across the dark wood floor and onto the rug in front of the fireplace.

“Only you can right what has been wronged,’ she said.

Stuart lifted his head from his hands and looked at her

“I can’t help anyone. I can barley lift that book from the ground and that was the first time I’d ever gotten anything to move. It is my son who is the supposed Anointed One, not I. My son who just learned to use the wash basin for the first time.”

“I will pick up where David left off,” said Tabitha. I made David a promise the day he first brought you here. I told him I would continue your training studies if something were to happen to him.”

“What good will it do? The council has turned against us. Even if I were as good a sorcerer as your husband we still would have no chance.”

— 8 -

Mt. Misery

Water poured over his body as James clung to the rope. He could feel the muscles in his hands and arms preparing to seize, forcing him to release the rope and fall into the abyss. He tried to breathe, hoping the oxygen would alleviate the cramping that was about to ensue. Water poured into his mouth forcing him to drink rather than breathe. Immediately his arms regained their strength. He drank again, not needing to breathe anymore. His strength returned. The water felt like liquid energy coursing through his body. He felt alive. He drank again and again, his strength increasing to a level he had never known. His mind was clear for the first time since he’d arrived.

With his thirst satiated, his only desire was to use the power the water had given him. Knowing he had more than enough strength to make the distance, James clung tightly to the rope and planted his feet against the cliff face so he could launch himself toward the sling. Without warning, the water stopped flowing. It was as if someone had stopped pumping at the well.

Kilani stood on the support line like a bird on a branch, watching him. She had a knowing smile on her face.

“Be cautious, boy or you’ll overshoot and end up at the bottom-if there is a bottom,” she said, walking toward him until she stood directly across. “Jump as if it were just out of reach.”

He looked at her uncertain.

“Trust me, it will be more than enough.”

He sprung from the wall with such power that he was sure he would overshoot the sling. Something caught him across the shoulder. It took him a moment to realize that Kilani had lassoed him around the head and shoulders as he shot over the support cable. His waist slammed into the cable.

Dangling by the rope, James did not panic. He was sure his strength could hold for hours if necessary. Kilani, now standing above him, began walking back toward the trailhead. He lifted himself up onto the rope careful not to pull too hard and slowly stood. Balance came naturally once he found his center of gravity. Quickly, he moved to the edge. So many questions ran through his mind as he jumped down from the support line onto the leaf-covered trail. Kilani was nowhere to be seen. James ran down the path determined to speak with her. He covered the distance back to the shack in less than a minute. She was standing outside the entrance when he came to a halt.

“Please,” he said. “I have so many questions.”

“They can wait. Right now, you must follow me,” she replied.

James yelled out as she darted into the forest. It was instantly obvious she had no intention of waiting for him, so he began his pursuit. They ran through the forest at amazing speed. James couldn’t believe the ease at which he was hurtling fallen trees and dodging branches. His breathing was as relaxed as if were standing still. Instead of loud, cumbersome footfalls, their steps were light and silent.

The ground pitched downward as they passed into a clearing, and for the first time since his arrival trees didn’t block his view. Far in the distance stood a mountain topped with sheer rock and surrounded by dense jungle.

“We journey to the top of Mt. Misery,” the woman said.

“That will take days,” James replied.

“We must reach it by nightfall.”

She ran off again before James could argue. They continued toward the mountain. Never slowing, never tiring. They crossed a river and skirted the perimeter of a large lake before reaching the base of the mountain.

As they ascended, the trees became smaller, the undergrowth more and more sparse until James could see through the vegetation. The trees gave way to stone. At the base of the stone was a large, steep yet still passable scree field. Beyond that, the rock jutted directly upward and the smooth face looked unclimbable.

Nevertheless, Kilani never slowed as she hopped from boulder to bolder across the field of waylaid stones. When they reached the point where the stone face turned vertical, James could see a giant fissure in the cliff. Kilani stopped as they reached the fissure and James took in his surroundings.

The mountain sat in the northwest portion of an island. Deep-blue ocean surrounded the oddly shaped island as far as the eye could see. The green of the jungle stretched to all sides. James noticed several smaller satellite islands surrounding the main island. He looked back at Kilani, but before he could ask a single question, she disappeared into the darkness of the fissure. Quickly he followed, his eyes immediately adapting to the difference in brightness.

James could see light at the other end of the fissure, which must have extended across the entire mountaintop. Kilani jumped up and grabbed hold of one of several ropes that hung just above their heads and began pulling herself up. James followed, using only his arms. He was again amazed at his new strength. By the time they reached the stone shelf around which the ropes had been secured, James felt energized rather than tired.

Directly across from the shelf hung a rope ladder. Kilani jumped, effortlessly caught the rungs, and began her climb. James followed, hoping the rickety-looking rope ladder had the strength to hold them both.

At the top of the ladder was a tunnel. Several bundles of fabric and ropes were stashed neatly on either side of the area against the cave walls. Kilani stepped forward and disappeared around a turn. James followed. She paused, standing in an opening. James could tell from the orange glow that the sun was setting. He stood next to Kilani.

“Give me your hand,” she said.

James took her hand, which was warm and surprisingly smooth. Their eyes met for just a moment. She took a deep breath and looked almost scared as together they stepped out onto the shelf. The instant the orange rays of the setting sun struck them, James felt as if he’d caught fire. They both immediately dropped to the ground, writhing in pain. Terrible screams could be heard across the island as the sun fell below the horizon.

— 9 -

The Meeting of Akil Karanis

November 1892, Wales

Nine-year-old James sat bolt upright in bed as a scream escaped his lungs, “Manukto!”

A tall, thin, and quite old man stood at the foot of his bed looking down at him. His pleasant expression turned to one of curiosity at the sound of the boy’s scream. James pressed himself against the headboard at the sight of the stranger. The man smiled and stepped toward him.

“Hello, James. I’m terribly sorry to startle you,” the man said with a smile.

The man had an aura about him that immediately put James at ease. The room was dark except for the glow of the fire. James found it strange that he had no fear of this man.

“What was it you were dreaming?” the man asked pleasantly.

“A tunnel,” said James. “I was being chased by… something terrible.”

The stranger appeared introspective for a moment then looked deep into James’s eyes.

“Do you know who I am?” the man asked.

“No, sir. I don’t believe we’ve ever met.”

“Oh, but we have, on several occasions. Although I would hardly expect you to remember them as you were so young. There was one time, as I recall, in the not too distant past when I called upon your parents. You were supposed to be sleeping however you decided to play in the gardens behind the house. I believe we met somewhere between the primrose and the catmint.”

James thought for a moment and vaguely recalled that moonlit night in the garden. Ever since he and his parents arrived earlier that day James had been drawn to the gardens, which contained numerous stone paths, fountains and even a hedge maze. That next evening, while his parents thought he was in bed asleep, James lowered himself from the window using an incantation his father taught him just one-week prior and made his way to the gardens. He had just finished completing the hedge maze for the seventh time when the man appeared. Like this night, the man’s appearance did not instill fear. Rather than hide in the shadows, which he could have easily done, James stepped out to greet the man. The man responded pleasantly and told James to run along back to his room before he was found out. His parents never knew he was out.

The man smiled along with James as if he, too, were enjoying the fond memory.

“So you do recall our previous meeting,” he said.

“Yes,” James said.

“Excellent. Then you know I pose you no harm.”

“Yes,” James replied again.

“Allow me to formally introduce myself. My name is Akil Karanis. I’ve been a friend of your father’s since you were but a toddler.”

James smiled but made no attempt to shake his hand. He simply nodded and drew the sheets higher under his chin. He was mesmerized by the appearance of the old man: short, pure white hair; a neatly trimmed goatee; and a long, brown duster over what looked to be a maroon suit.

Akil made his way around the foot of the bed and to the chair beside James. “May I sit?” he asked.

James nodded. Akil pulled the chair from under the table, turned it so it was facing James, and sat quietly. He leaned forward, rubbing his hands together.

“Now, boy, tell me. What do you know about magic?”

“I know everything I’ve been taught,” James replied. “And some things I’ve taught myself.”

“I hear you’re quite a prodigy. Will you show me something you’ve taught yourself?”

Completely forgetting his modesty for his want to impress this man his parents so often talked about, James quickly stood on the opposite side of the bed. He looked around and picked up his pillow. He looked at Akil, who nodded. James tossed the pillow into the air and said “ Ego-apur-menderatu.” The pillow silently exploded in midair. James held up his hands and the feathers and scraps of fabric hung suspended. He then began moving his hands as if rolling a large ball of dough. The remnants of the pillow began to swirl until they themselves had taken a round shape. James directed the mass over the bed toward Akil, who watched with impressed fascination. Once it was above Akil’s head, James said “Berrizegoratu,” and the pillow immediately reformed, and dropped on Akil’s head, who couldn’t help but laugh as it slid down his back and onto the floor. James smiled, slightly embarrassed.

“Very good, James. Most impressive,” Akil said, reaching behind him for the pillow. “And you say you taught yourself that?”

“Yes,” James said proudly.

“Tell me, how did you come up with that particular combination of words?”

“I hear people put together two words all the time. I thought, why not three?”

“And what made you decide upon those three words?”

“‘Break’: apurtu, ‘Stay’: egon, and menderatu. I just guessed which part of the word to use.

“Do you know what the third word in your incantation means?”


“How did you come across it then?” Akil asked.

“I heard it used once and always liked the way it sounded. What does it mean, Master Karanis?”

“Akil. Please, my friends call me Akil, and I’d like to count you among them.” James nodded and smiled. “The word, menderatu, means to dominate,” said Akil. “Do you know what dominate means, James?”

“I think it means to beat someone,” he replied.

“Domination means supremacy or superiority over another. Tell me, James, do you recall who spoke this word that so captured your imagination?”

James knew exactly where he heard the word. Roughly a year ago his father had taken him across the sea to Italy on a large ship. One day during their voyage, James was making his way back to their cabin when he heard a man speaking with a distinctly deep and frog-like voice. He followed the voice to an open cabin door and slowly crept up and peeked inside. He saw a man with his back to the door running his hands across what looked like a large mirror, though James could see no reflection. The man repeated “menderatu” over and over as his fingers ran across the glass. The rest of the trip, James repeated that word until his father overheard him.

“What is that you just said?” Stuart asked, concerned.

“Menderatu,” James said, sheepishly.

“We do not speak such words in the magic tongue. It is a dark word. Where did you hear it?”

When James told him, his father quickly rushed him to the nearest empty cabin, and they transported off the boat.

“I was on a voyage with my father. I heard a man saying it,” James told Akil.

“Interesting,” Akil said, taking out his pipe and lighting it. “And does your father know this?”

“Yes, he told me never to say it. He told me it is a dark word. Is that true?”

“Words are words. Nothing more, nothing less. It is the user’s intent of the word that is good or evil. If you do not intend to use it for a dark purpose, I do not believe you should be restricted from using a word. Why limit our potential for fear of a word? As you have so aptly demonstrated, their use can yield powerful results.”

James nodded.

“Tell me, James. Are your parents aware that you can perform magic beyond that which they or your instructors have taught you?” Akil asked.

“No,” James said.

“Why not?”

James knew the answer, but for a nine-year-old it is never easy to express apprehensions. The pressure of being what his parents believed he would be often led James into bouts of deep insecurity and doubt. At times it would become so bad that he would refuse to do magic completely. There were other times, more often than not, when he would excel at a task so quickly that he would shock his instructors and parents alike. Rather than express happiness at his success, his parents would always exchange concerned glances. This happened with such frequency over the past several years that James actually began pretending he was struggling with his new lessons to avoid upsetting his parents. He believed they would be nothing but disappointed with the skills he had taught himself.

Akil had come because he wanted to find out firsthand why James was struggling with his lessons. It was clear that he was a gifted sorcerer, perhaps the most talented student Akil had ever seen. What he wouldn’t give to instruct him, but the time was not right. Akil smiled at James as he struggled for an answer.

“I want them to be happy with me,” James said.

“And you don’t believe they are happy with you when you are doing well?”

It was immediately clear to Akil that Stuart and Margaret were so concerned with keeping James from becoming overly confident that their reactions to his progress were having a detrimental effect. Had James shown a bit of arrogance as he demonstrated the exploding pillow incantation, or had it been confidence? Arrogance in a sorcerer is a dangerous thing. A poor sorcerer is far less dangerous than an arrogant one. Akil would have a word with James’s parents about how they were addressing this issue and the affect it was having.

“Sometimes I think they’re happier when I’m struggling,” James said.

“I see,” replied Akil. “Your swift understanding of your lessons is very important, James. It will most likely save your life.”

— 10 -

Falling from the Sky

Sound and vision synchronously returned as James opened his eyes. He was alive. In his waning moments of consciousness, he’d thought, not for the first time since his arrival, that he was dying. He’d felt as if he was burning from the inside out. There was a blurred face above him. Kilani reached behind his neck and sat him up. He breathed deeply and energy flowed back into his body and the strength he’d felt as they climbed the mountain returned. Everything came into focus, and he stood. Kilani turned, expecting him to follow.

“Wait,” he said.

She looked over her shoulder at him.

“I have so many questions.”

“Soon,” she replied.

She smiled faintly, turned, and headed back toward the top of the rope ladder behind them.

It was light enough to see yet the sun had long since set, and there appeared to be no other source of light. The sky was dark blue rather than the black of night, and James could see the shadow of the mountain on the land below.

Kilani returned with the bundle of cloth and rope that had been lying by the top of the rope ladder. She unraveled the bundle and handed James two rope ends.

“What is your name, boy?”


Kilani hesitated a moment, giving James the impression she knew something.

“Very well, James. Trust in your newfound strength for I’ve never seen its equal in one so new to this place. Follow me.”

Holding two ends of rope in her hand, she stepped to the edge. He moved beside her dragging the canvas in a U-shape between them.

“We go together.”

He nodded. James crouched, mimicking Kilani. She let out a yell and jumped from the edge. Before his brain could react to the madness his legs flung his body forward off the edge of the mountain. For several seconds, James was certain they would fall to their deaths. Then his rope, which he had a white-knuckled grip on, grew taut. He looked up and saw that the fabric had billowed over their heads. Their descent slowed, but only for several seconds as he and Kilani drifted together.

She looked him calmly in the eyes and whispered into his ear, “Do you trust me?”

“Yes,” he replied.

“Let go.”

James let go without hesitation. He had put his life in her hands more times in the past day than he cared to remember. The ropes shot from his grip and together they fell in an embrace. Her long body pulled him in tightly as they approached the ground. Beneath them James could see the lake. He tried to ready himself for what could only be a violent impact. He felt neither water nor land nor even a jolt as they came to a stop. Kilani relaxed her grip and James stood on the soggy ground. They were surrounded by darkness.

“Swim as fast as you can to the surface and make your way to the shore. Don’t wait for me. Once you reach the shore make for the large boulders.”

Before he could question her instructions, a deluge of water collapsed on his head, knocking him to the ground and tumbling him head over heels. Disoriented and blind, he fought to right himself. Oddly, James felt no desire to breathe. When the swell of the water subsided and the water calmed, he began to swim. The swimming came as easily to him as running through the forest.

A giant pale moon illuminated the land in white light as he broke the surface. He quickly scanned his surroundings to see where the closest shore lay. James noticed several waves rolling toward him. A foreboding feeling overtook him as he watched the waves draw near. Immediately he knew that something was approaching beneath the water. They drew closer at an alarming rate. He turned and swam with all his strength to the opposite shore, fighting his desire to look back. James felt his legs touch the ground, and after several more strokes he was able to stand. Only then did he look back over his shoulder. Out of the three waves broke the heads of three reptilian creatures. Together they lunged. James felt their hot breath as he jumped clear of their snapping jaws.

James landed softly on the shore and desperately searched for the boulders Kilani had spoken of, but he could only see jungle lining the pebbled lakeside. Again the beasts attacked with three powerful, coordinated lunges. They resembled crocodiles except their snouts were shorter and their legs were longer, making them much more maneuverable. James leapt high, clearing one of the creatures entirely. As he sailed over the attacker, he also noticed odd-shaped folds of layered skin along its back.

Not hesitating, he ran along the shore away from the monsters. Expecting to have left them far behind, when James turned moments later he was terrified to see they were gaining ground on him. They moved like cats in full stride, and James knew it would only be a matter of seconds before they were on him. He darted into the jungle and scrambled up the first large tree he came upon. Once he reached the canopy, James found a branch and sat waiting for his pursuers. He could see one still on the beach. It was pacing at the spot where he had entered the jungle.

The other two slowly moved into view beneath him. Their long tongues licked the ground. As they reached the foot of the tree, the larger of the two let out a guttural cough. The second began to climb. Its massive claws easily penetrated the tree bark. Without thinking, he ran across the branch and leapt, reaching for a branch on a neighboring tree. He caught it easily and pulled himself up onto it.

The creature jumped to the tree beside it, which swayed slightly under its weight as it continued to ascend. When close enough, it lunged, biting at the branch beneath James’s feet. Its crushing jaws snapped through the branch as James jumped to another tree. The creature followed, this time hurtling its entire body at James. It crashed through the smaller branches and hit the trunk headfirst. James let himself fall to a lower branch to avoid the collision. The creature fell, yet was able to orient itself and dig its claws into the trunk of another tree before hitting the ground.

James leapt again and quickly made his way to the opposite side of the tree before the creature could track him. He looked down and saw the second creature looking up at him. Again it let out a guttural cough. Almost instantly he felt the other creature’s weight hit his tree. He ran again, jumping from tree to tree searching for anything he could use to escape or gain the upper hand.

James worked his way up higher into the canopy of the larger trees. He climbed up the trunk of a massive tree that stretched double the height of the surrounding jungle. He could see the lake in the distance. The pale moonlight penetrated even the dense canopy and lit the landscape as far as James could see. A large clearing littered with boulders sat off to his left. Looking down, James saw the beast making its way toward him. James moved to the opposite side of the trunk and relaxed his grip, allowing himself to fall. As he reached the lower canopy he grasped for a branch. It broke under his weight sending him spinning toward the ground. Unable to get oriented, he flailed, grasping for anything within arm’s length. After breaking through several more branches, he was able to seize a handhold.

James looked to the ground for the second creature. For the first time since the pursuit began he couldn’t see it. James jumped quickly to a neighboring tree and made his way toward the clearing he’d spotted, moving from tree to tree. Behind him he heard the crashing of his less agile pursuer. As he continued, he realized where the second monster had gone. It was waiting for him at the base of the tree by the clearing. It coughed. James heard a reply cough and then a second. The third creature from the beach had come inland.

James saw the creature as it paused in the tree across from his. It knew he was trapped and wasn’t rushing its final attack. James spotted movement in his periphery. Slowly turning his head, he noticed the third creature in a neighboring tree. From the ground came a howl, as if the giant beast were in pain. James saw Kilani standing in the clearing facing the creature. It snarled angrily. She walked closer. The other two creatures scurried down their trees and took up position beside the third. All of them roared and howled in frustration but they did not move to attack. Kilani didn’t flinch or slow as she stepped within arm’s length. When they quieted, she spoke. “Jump into the clearing,” she said.

“Awfully long drop, don’t you agree?” James replied nervously. “Do not hesitate. Do not doubt. Know your strength, and you will live.”

For an instant her words reminded him of Akil. He jumped and sailed through the air over Kilani’s head and landed lightly in the grassy field. The three beasts howled and bayed but not one set foot into the clearing.

James laughed with relief. “What is this place?” he asked.

“It is enchanted. Only men can pass into the clearing,” she replied.

She turned and began walking toward the boulders in the center of the clearing. James followed.

“Will they wait for us?”


“How long?”

“Forever if they must.”

“What will we do?”

“There is another way.”

As they reached the first large boulder, James noticed a worn path wrapping around it. Kilani followed the path, which twisted and turned between and around boulders until it deadended at a shoulder-width crack. The pair passed through. The passageway opened onto a circular clearing encompassed by narrow, vertical stones. Several simple structures stood around the perimeter. A fire pit and what looked like a well stood in the center.

“Is this your home?” James asked.

“No, it is only a refuge. This is the only safe area within a day’s run of the lake so travelers stay here when moving about.”

“So we aren’t alone in this place… on this island?”

“No. Far from it.”

“How many others?”

“You are the sixty-first person I’ve met.”

“Where are the others? Where does everyone live?”

“There are several villages spread around the island. Many live in the villages. Others choose to live in solitude.”

“Where is your home?”

“My village is called Harbor Town. It sits in North Cove.” Kilani stepped inside one of the small huts and retrieved the carcass of an animal that resembled a small deer. In her other hand was a bundle of dry wood. She carried them both to the fire pit.

“We must eat.”

“I don’t feel hungry,” James replied.

“If you don’t eat regularly your strength will wane rapidly.”

“Do you always keep food here? How did you know you were coming back so soon? The thing looks fresh.”

“It is fresh.”

“You mean you just killed it?” he asked incredulously. “I did.”

“While I was out there with those… what are those things?”

“We call them demon crocs, and, yes, after I got out of the lake I gathered firewood and hunted.”

“How did you-we-survive that fall?”

“I have felt the sun’s strengthening rays atop Mt. Misery more times than I can remember. With each visit, I become stronger.”


“There are more mysteries in The Never than even its eldest inhabitants could begin to understand. Do yourself a favor and allow them to remain what they are-mysteries. I have seen men drive themselves mad trying to decipher the wonders of this place.”

“So it’s true. I am in The Never.”

“We are.”

“We are,” he repeated.

— 11 -

Meeting Tabbi

February 1886, England

The scene faded away and Akil quickly took his leave while Stuart sat in silence waiting for his wife to respond. She had long since finished her tea and was neurotically twisting the cup in her hands while staring into its depths. Stuart noticed her hands were shaking as she turned the cup. Finally, after an extensive, awkward silence, she spoke.

“So you’ve been running off with this Ogilvy lady for the past six months and telling me you were meeting with parliament?”

“I’ve not been neglecting my post if that’s what you’re asking. When I’m needed, we transport to the city.”


“Tabbi and I,” replied Stuart.

“So now it’s Tabbi?” asked Margaret.

“Will you put aside your insecurities and listen to what I’m saying before you pass judgment,” Stuart admonished.

Margaret took a deep breath and nodded, not lifting her eyes from the inside of her cup.

“As I was saying, Tabitha and I have been training for the past several-”

“Training? Have you lost your mind?”

Stuart stood, rounded the desk, and raised his hand above the chair in which Margaret sat.

“Don’t scream,” he said.

Before she could reply he muttered a word that sounded vaguely familiar to Margaret. Without warning, the chair lifted from the ground until she was eye level with him. Her mouth dropped open. She grasped the arms of the chair and the teacup dropped to the rug. Margaret leaned over the side expecting to see someone lifting the chair from beneath, but she could only see the shadow the chair cast on the floor.

Finally, she regained her voice and whispered, “Enough.”

Sensing her fear, Stuart slowly lowered the chair to the ground. Margaret was breathing rapidly, her hand clutched her chest. Stuart bent to reassure her, and she recoiled fearfully.

“Everything I’ve told you is true. Every word, “Stuart said. “Tomorrow you and I must take leave. There is much to be done and very little time in which to do it.”

Stuart pulled her close and held her until the tension ran out of her body. Eventually she fell asleep in his arms, and he carried her to bed.

Margaret’s eyes opened. Above her were the crimson drapes that cascaded over her four-post bed. A dream, she thought. Relieved that she hadn’t lost her mind completely, she sat up and walked to the window. James must have rekindled a fire in the bedroom, she thought as she passed the roaring flames and pulled back the drapes.

Outside the ground was covered in a blanket of snow. The sky was overcast and threatened more precipitation in the near future. She could hear voices approaching in the hallway behind her. She turned as she heard a diffident knock at the door. James poked his little head into the room before she could acknowledge her visitor. He smiled at her and ran into the room.

“Is it true, is it true?” he asked fervently, dancing with excitement in front of her.

“Is what true, darling?”

“Am I going to stay with Auntie Dez?”

“Auntie Dez? What are you talking about?”

“Father said I am going to stay with Auntie Dez for a while.”

Her head began to pound. She didn’t recall discussing any of this with her husband. Margaret despised Stuart’s sister, which made the situation all the more worse. She turned as James ran off excitedly down the hall. As she looked out onto the courtyard bathed in early morning light, Margaret suddenly had a flashback to the events of the previous night. Her hands began to shake. She thought about the chair and surmised it must have all been a dream.

By the time she arrived in the breakfast room both James and his father were seated over a table piled with food.

Accustom to a simple cup of tea and slice of toast for breakfast, Margaret asked, “Why the feast?”

“We will need our strength,” Stuart replied.

Somewhere in the back of her mind Margaret made the connection between what she had been told last night and her husband’s statement. The forefront of her mind, however, decided to take control and push this thought away. She sat at the table.

“What’s this about your sister?”

“It’s all been arranged. She left a day early because of the weather, so she should be arriving sometime this morning. She and James will head back to her cottage after the weather breaks.”

“And you weren’t going to tell me she was coming to visit?” she asked.

James crumbled pieces of bacon over his eggs, taking little notice of the conversation going on around him.

“Someone must watch James,” he replied. “Someone we trust.”

She found it odd that he called their son James. Usually he was known as The Boy when his father talked about him.

“We’re perfectly capable of watching our own son,” she replied, burying the thoughts deeper still.

“Have you forgotten everything I told you last night?” Stuart asked.

“And what is there of that nonsense that I need remember?”

Frustrated and in no mood to argue in front of their son, Stuart stood, wiped his mouth with his napkin, and climbed the stairs without a word. Margaret decided that if everything she remembered had actually happened, she would not only ignore it, she would also refuse to take any action involving it. She was raised in a very intolerant family. Their beliefs were strict and unquestionable. If her mother had heard the nonsense spewing from her son-in-law she’d go mad. Magic indeed.

James soon followed his father up the stairs, leaving Margaret to finish her breakfast alone. An hour later Stuart came thumping down the stairs with two overstuffed saddlebags. Margaret, who had been reading by the fire, gave him a piqued look as the bags crashed to the floor.

“I packed your clothing as well,” he said. He waited for her to reply but she silently went back to her book. “I saw my sister’s sleigh turning down our lane. She should be here momentarily.”

Again she made no effort to act.

“Margaret, we will be leaving shortly,” he said sternly.

She let out an exasperated sigh, closed her book, and stood to confront him.

“We will be doing no such thing,” she said.

“If I haven’t been clear, allow me to clarify now. This is not an option. We are going.”

He turned and walked across the hall toward the front door. Margaret didn’t know what to do. She’d never heard her husband speak to her in such a demanding tone. Immediately she attributed it to this other woman. Whoever she was, Margaret considered her a threat that needed to be dealt with immediately. This reason alone moved her to act. She took a resolute breath, bid her son farewell, and then made her way to the stables.

When she arrived, Stuart was strapping the bags to his two best horses, Archos and Noch. He mounted Archos, the larger of the two, and looked at his wife, who watched in disbelief.

“What about the carriage?” she asked.

“The carriage will not travel where we are going, my dear,” he said enthusiastically.

“But I am not dressed for a long ride.”

“We will stop before long, and you may change. I must insist that we get moving. Mrs. Ogilvy will be expecting us shortly.”

She cringed at the sound of her name. This Tabitha Ogilvy had filled her husband’s head with nonsense. She mounted Noch and followed her husband’s lead, ignoring the stable master’s greeting as they continued down the lane. Her mind was set on proving this woman a fool so she could return to her normal life as quickly as possible.

Stuart turned Archos off the lane down a small trail, its edges barley visible beneath the blanket of snow. After miles of gradual decline, the snow receded and the trail became steep and rocky as it wound into the forest then down toward the sea. As they entered the forest, the biting cold of winter lifted and Margaret began removing the blankets she had layered over her shoulders shortly after their departure. The trail flattened and widened as it rounded a bend, revealing a small cottage overlooking the sea. Smoke drizzled from the chimney. The heavy mist from the ocean kept the air wet and cool. They dismounted, and Stuart led the horses to a small stall at the far end of the path while Margaret looked around. The small shanty, as she would have called it, was positively quaint, although she would have never admitted it. Each window contained beautifully arranged flower boxes. The small lawn was perfectly manicured even though goats or sheep were nowhere to be seen. A large pile of firewood lay in the breezeway that connected the stable to the house. Perfectly flat stones spaced a step apart drew Margaret to the front door. A beautiful wreath of fresh flowers hung on the door. There was no doubt that the flowers had been picked today.

Margaret stared at the wreath and allowed her preconceived notions of the woman inside to run away with her. The door swung open. Startled, she jumped back. In the threshold, stood a woman who could have been her sister. She was tall and lean, although not without muscle. Her hair was nearly identical to Margaret’s in color and length. The most obvious difference between them was their eyes. Margaret had jade-green eyes like the necklace given to her by her husband on their first anniversary; Tabitha’s eyes were black, like two bottomless wells. Margaret stared into them, mesmerized. Expecting to see her reflection, she was startled to see nothing, as if the darkness absorbed all light surrounding it. She was drawn from her gaze when Tabitha spoke.

“My goodness,” she said, clutching her chest. “I thought you were those kids up the hill again.”

Margaret blushed, embarrassed at having stared for so long. She smiled, attempting to hide her embarrassment.

“You must be Margaret. Mr. Stuart has told me so much about you. It’s an honor to finally meet you.”

Margaret stood in shock. An honor? What had James told this woman? Still unsure how to respond, she nodded gently in response to Tabitha’s curtsy.

“Please come in,” she said, opening the door completely and extending an arm into the cottage.

Margaret looked over her shoulder for any sign of her husband, but she couldn’t see the stable from where she stood. Not wanting to be rude, she stepped inside. To her dismay, the inside was just as quaint as the outside. A large inviting fireplace stood on the opposite wall. An untended fire expelled smoke in intermittent breaths as it ate away at the last log it had been fed. A white, bearskin rug lie in front of the fire. How did a woman such as this acquire a skin from the bears of the north? Margaret wondered. Two rocking chairs sat on either side of the rug. Dried flowers hung from the exposed rafters that arched above their heads.

The floor was a stone with which Margaret was completely unfamiliar. It was smooth and polished. She could feel warmth emanating from it through her riding boots. Try as she may, she couldn’t locate a seam anywhere in the room. Not even in her grand manor had they been able to find a single stone as large as this.

The windows to her left overlooked the stable. Margaret could see Stuart spreading hay for the horses to eat. Just inside the windows were more flower boxes with what looked like spices growing inside. Imagine, window boxes inside the house. Margaret was both perplexed and enthralled. The light in the room seemed brighter than the light outside, but Margaret knew this to be impossible as the only sources of light in the room were the windows.

“May I take your cloak?” Tabitha asked.

Margaret unbuttoned her traveling cloak and slid it from her shoulders. Tabitha hung it on the wall behind the door. Margaret was sure she hadn’t noticed hooks on that wall, but she discounted the thought when she heard a knock at the door. Tabitha quickly opened the door and Stuart entered without waiting for an invitation.

Margaret noticed that rain had begun to fall. Despite the darkened clouds, the inside of the house remained bright and cheerful to Martha’s continued consternation.

“Mrs. Ogilvy, good to see you, good to see you,” Stuart said, removing his cloak and hanging it on a hook next to Margaret’s cloak. “I trust you’ve already met my lovely wife.” Stuart smiled, kissing Margaret on the cheek as if they’ve been apart for several days. Margaret was startled and flinched at his unusual show of affection.

“Indeed I have. I was just going to ask her if she’d like a cup of tea.”

“Tea!” Stuart said a little too enthusiastically. “A great idea, wouldn’t you say, sweetie?”

Sweetie? Something strange indeed is going on here, Margaret thought. She hadn’t heard that pet name since their first anniversary, the year he was appointed to the House of Lords. Tabitha swung the lug pole from which the kettle was suspended over the fire and lifted it with her bare hand. She filled three cups and turned to her guests.

“Sugar, cream?”

“Both,” Stuart said.

“Neither,” Margaret said, looking curiously again at her husband who never took anything in his tea.

As she prepared the tea, Margaret noticed Tabitha took hers exactly as her husband had requested. She ushered them into the rocking chairs while remaining standing, smiling over her guests. They were seated for just a moment before Stuart jumped to his feet.

“Well then, now that the introductions are complete and everyone is comfortable, I think it time to address the task at hand.”

Margaret looked up at her husband, cradled her tea in her hands, and thought she’d never seen him this nervous. It was obvious he was smitten with this woman and why shouldn’t she be? She appeared so outwardly kind it was hard for even Margaret not to like her despite knowing what she thought she knew. Part of her believed she could actually grow to like this woman, she knew she could also grow to hate her. Tabitha is what Margaret could be. What, deep down, Margaret wanted to be. Tabitha and Stuart exchanged glances and Stuart let out an exhalation of resignation.

“Margaret, my dear,” Stuart began. “There is no easy way to tell you this-”

I knew it, Margaret thought.

“You, of course, remember what I showed you last night,” he said, more as a statement than a question.

“I do not,” Margaret said stoically.

“You do not?” Stuart asked, obviously not expecting this response. “You must remember the conversation we had.”

Margaret was intent on not playing his game. If he wanted someone to repeat that nonsense from last night he’d have to do it himself.

“Conversation? We spoke about your time away, nothing out of the ordinary.”

“Nothing out of the ordinary?” Stuart said, clearly upset. “Then you don’t remember anything I told you last night?”

“I’m not sure what you’re getting at.”

Abruptly Tabitha walked behind Margaret’s chair and gently laid her fingers on Margaret’s head. Before she could object, Tabitha removed her hands and stepped back to the center of the room. She extended her arm, palm up. A small blue light floated just above her palm. It grew until it spanned the width of her hand. Tabitha gently tossed the orb into the air and it continued its expansion. The instant it reached its apex, the blue light filled the room.

Suddenly Margaret was watching herself sitting in a chair speaking with her husband in their library. She saw him somehow lift the chair in which she sat without using his hands. Her heart raced as she realized again what he was trying to tell her. The scene disappeared, and they were back in the cottage. Margaret’s hands were shaking.

“I remember,” she whispered.

“We are not trying to frighten you, but time is of the essence, darling.”

There it is, she thought, We. They were together even though they refused to admit it. And darling? She’d never heard that one before. Tears worked their way out of her eyes and slid down her cheeks. She stood and turned her back on them, gazing into the fire.

“Margaret, dear. I know you are afraid. Lord knows I was when I found out. But we must think of others. We must think of our son,” Stuart pleaded.

She turned suddenly stone faced and looked at the pair. “Others? Think of others? You dare to tell me to show some consideration while you’ve been running off with this woman for the last six months and… What has any of this got to do with our son?”

“For God’s sake, Margaret. I understand why you would make such a presumption, but it’s neither accurate nor true. We haven’t the time to bicker over trivialities. This has everything to do with our son. All of it. Not myself. Not Tabitha. There is somewhere we must go. Right now. Only then will you understand what is so important. So urgent.”

Margaret saw the same look Stuart had given her back at the manor house and knew she had no choice but to give him the benefit of the doubt. She would go.

— 12 -

Harbor Town

James couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Kilani offered little information about the place she was taking him to and even less about anything else. They had run the entire way from the clearing, through the tunnel, and into the jungle behind Harbor Town. The pair stepped out of the jungle into an old, generic coastal town. Two large buildings on pilings stood sentry over the long wharf that stretched between the shore and the end of the pier. Smaller buildings stood over the water abreast the larger pair on either side of the woodplanked jetty. More buildings stood where the jungle ended and the sandy shore began. Several dozen people walked about. One man pushed a cart full of fruit James had never seen. A woman stood beside a wooden cask yelling at anyone within shouting distance to come try a chalky-looking beverage called homeroot juice.

Kilani led James between the two buildings. A loud bell rang and they turned to watch men and woman crowd the dock and begin walking toward them.

“What’s going on?” James asked.

Before Kilani could respond, a voice from a balcony above quieted the crowd.

“Brothers and sisters of Harbor Town, we have a new arrival,” he shouted, walking down the rickety wooden steps to join the crowd that surrounded James and Kilani.

“What brings you to our fair land, my friend? Murder? Blasphemy? Treason?”

James thought the man looked oddly familiar, but he couldn’t place from where. James guessed he was close to his father’s age-had his father still been living. He had a long, well-kept beard. A hint of gray streaked the light brown hair on his face and head, which was likewise long. His eyes shifted in their sockets in a way James found rather unsettling; it seemed almost as if the man had an illness of the head. James stood silent as the crowd waited for a reply.

“What say you, young man? A spy, perhaps?”

James looked at Kilani. She nodded reassuringly.

“I didn’t do anything. I was framed and banished.”

“Ahh, yes. A conspiracy. Why didn’t I think of that?” the man said facetiously. “We’re all innocent here on the Isle of Never. Tell us, what news from our world?”

All James could do was stare at the crowd. He moved his eyes from face to face. Each looked, well, normal (with the exception of the man with whom he was speaking). He couldn’t believe a place that appeared so common could exist in such a wild and remote environment. Yet here it was.

“Jungle raptor got your tongue, boy? Get him some homeroot juice. Always loosens the tongue,” the man shouted. The woman who’d been peddling it ran in an ungainly trot resembling a wounded animal down the dock to fetch the juice.

“This is Master Luno,” said Kilani.

“My, my. Such dreadful manners have I. My apologies. Yes, as the beautiful Kilani so duly noted, I am Luno. I speak for my brothers and sisters here at Harbor Town. Please tell us your name, traveler.”

“James Stuart,” said James.

The crowd started. He heard gasps and then silence. Luno smiled nervously.

“Have you a middle name, Master James?”

“I have. I’ve been given the name of my father. James Lochlan Stuart.”

The man gasped, and everyone in the crowd took a step back.

“Can it be? After all these years?” Luno said in almost a whisper.

“What is it?” James asked, looking from Kilani to Luno.

“Let us speak in private,” Luno said, extending his hand and ushering James up the rickety wooden stairs to the balcony he had descended moments ago.

When they reached the balcony, James looked back down at Kilani with a longing expression for the only person he’d known since his arrival. Luno, noticing the direction of his stare, yelled down.

“Oh, very well. Kilani, Join us. Up you come.”

She ascended the stairs and Luno led them into a large open room. The vaulted ceilings added to the spaciousness. In the center of the room was a low square table that was surrounded by cushions. Across from the entrance was a large window overlooking the sea. James passed a wall covered entirely by a meticulously detailed map. He felt the lure of the water as he gazed at the horizon.

“Ironic, isn’t it?” said Luno

“What?” James asked.

“All that ocean and yet you can sail for a hundred days and never lose sight of this land.”

“It’s an illusion?”

“Oh it’s real. As real as anything else in this place. Many men have met their ends in that sea. Nothing is as it seems here, James. Beneath the surface are things more wonderful and terrible than you can possibly imagine. Reality, as it is in The Never, is much like reality in the world from whence you came… and much different.”

“What is this place?” asked James

“Some say it is another world. They believe there is a magical link between our world and it, which enables one to travel between the two. Others think it is a place on our world simply hidden by magical enchantments of such extraordinary power that only the greatest of our kind could possibly find it.”

“And what do you believe?”

“A fine question, my boy. Fine question. Again Luno’s eyes darted with such rapidity that James was sure the man would fall over into spasms. I promise you this. Before you depart, I will tell you what I believe. For now, you must be satisfied with that.”

“Very well,” James replied.

“Please sit,” Luno said, extending his hand to the cushions beside the table. Kilani and James sat.

“Where are my manners? Tea, anyone?”

Without waiting for a reply, Luno picked up a kettle from the side table and poured the clear liquid into three cups. Luno sat quickly opposite James with Kilani to his left. Luno opened a small wooden box on the tray. Inside were dried leaves.

“Anon leaves. Named after the gentleman who discovered them, poor bloke. Anyway, best damn tea I’ve ever tasted comes from these little beauties.”

He gave the box a tap and three equal portions made their way into the cups. The liquid inside the cups changed to a deep amber color. An intoxicatingly fragrant smell slowly rose from the cups.

“Cheers,” he said with a smile, raising his cup. He set it down without taking a sip.

As James raised the cup to his lips, Kilani shook her head. He lowered the cup despite his desire to taste its fine-smelling contents.

“Now, I suppose you have some questions for me.”

Kilani quickly stood and cleared the table, removing the dangerous liquids.

“Thank you, Kilani,” said Luno, never taking his eyes off James. “Damn good stuff, Roger leaves, wouldn’t you agree?”

James simply nodded his head.

“Now, your questions, my boy.”

“So much has happened so quickly, I’m not sure where to begin,” James said.

“Perhaps I can help as I’ve had this conversation numerous times. Although-” he paused for a moment, thinking to himself. “Well, we’ll get to that. The first question I usually get is where am I? To which I reply, you’re in The Never, in the quaint costal villa of Harbor Town to be exact. Then they ask what is The Never? To which I reply, it is where you go when you’ve been really, really naughty.”

“How do I get back?” James asked.

“Back? Why on earth would you want to go back? This place can be whatever you want it to be. For me, it is a home. For others, it is a prison or nothing more than a final resting place. Of all those things, going back is not one of the options. There is no going back. Never, hence the name.”

“But there must be a way. If we got here, there must be a way to get back.”

“Son, I’ve been here two lifetimes. I’ve watched men lose their minds simply thinking about getting off this rock.”

His eyes shifted again and James wondered if Luno had actually lost his mind.

“Everyone who has tried, has died. The sooner you eliminate leaving as an option the better.”

“How can that be?”

“There are more mysteries than answers on this island. I have some answers yet this is not one of them.”

“I meant, how can you have been here that long? You look-”

“Time in The Never is not like time where we come from, James. It affects us all differently here. I learned to embrace it once I managed to stop allowing it to consume me.”

James stood, and he could smell the scent from the teacups that now rested safely on a shelf beside the nearly wall-size map. His mind immediately cleared. He inhaled again, and his senses grew more refined. He closed his eyes and listened to his own heartbeat. He could feel his blood flowing inside him. And then, in his mind’s eye, he saw the black castle. It called to him and beckoned him, and he yearned to heed its call.

“Slow down, son. Control yourself, or you will be controlled by this place,” said Luno as if he could sense what was happening inside James’s mind.

James pushed the image of the castle out of his mind. “Why did everyone react like that back there? When I said my name?”

Luno exhaled. The chipper upbeat man of moments ago washed away as he slowly stood. He walked to the window overlooking the ocean and stared at the sea.

“The first man to come here. Rather, the first man to be exiled to this place, because nobody comes here voluntarily, spent years scouring the island. One day, after months of being lost in the jungle, he wandered onto the beach. There was an outcropping of rocks that spilled out into the ocean.”

Luno stepped quickly to the wall with the giant map painted on it and pointed to an outcropping on the southeastern part of the island. “We call it the spine,” he said.

“I’ve been there,” replied James.

Luno and Kilani exchanged glances.

“What of it?” James asked, his heart beating faster.

“This man climbed to the top in hopes of gaining a better vantage point. When he reached the top he saw it… the black castle. It called to him, as it calls to all who set eyes upon it.”

“Yes, I’ve seen the castle,” James said, stepping in front of Luno excitedly and placing his finger at the end of the spine. “Here.”

Again Kilani and Luno exchanged looks.

“What do you imply with your knowing glances that I am not meant to know?” James asked, growing frustrated.

“The Black Castle presents itself only to those it chooses. Very few have ever set eyes upon it,” said Luno, stepping in front of James and marking the area where James’s finger had come to rest with a piece of charcoal.

“This man,” Luno continued, “became obsessed with the notion of gaining entry. One day not long after claiming to see the thing-at that time I believed he’d simply gone mad having never seen it myself-he disappeared never to be seen again.”

Luno finished writing notes on a piece of paper and turned back to James.

“The man left several messages. The first, carved into a stone on the southernmost point of the island,” Luno said, pointing to the long tail at the bottom of the map labeled ‘Southern Cape,’ “are three letters: JLS.”

“That could mean anything,” James said.

“True,” Luno replied turning to the window. “But then I found another clue.”

He turned back with a smile and excitedly moved toward a large trunk beneath the map.

“The second message left behind was a scroll of paper that contained a single sentence written in this man’s distinctive hand.”

He lifted the lid and began sorting through the trunk’s contents.

“Upon the scroll was written-” Luno removed a tatteredlooking scroll, carefully unfurled it and read: “To my successors, the way to salvation is through he who I’ve previously referenced.”

“From those two pieces of inane information many of the folk here have concluded that this man is a seer, or was anyway. And he foretold of a man, JLS, who would get us off this rock.”

“And what do you believe?” James asked.

“As I’ve said, we are all damned to an eternity of suffering or death on this place. The only way out is by taking Death’s clammy hand-except in my case where Death has refused me, and I’m simply left to suffer until the end of time.”

James looked at Luno, confused. Luno shook his head as if to make the thought disappear.

“May I see that?” James asked, pointing to the scroll.

Luno’s eyes shifted as he reluctantly handed the scroll to James. Carefully, James stretched the scroll across the table. As he read the message, James thought the writing had a familiar quality to it… and then he knew why. Beneath the message in his distinct tightly scrolled writing, was the signature of Akil Karanis.

— 13 -

Mister Ammoncourt

August 1889, France

Six-year-old James turned the corner at full speed and barreled into his father’s legs, nearly knocking him over. Stuart and Margaret stood in the finely manicured gardens behind the large house. Stuart crouched to James’s level with a smile.

“What is it son? Shouldn’t you be with your instructor?” “I want to show you something,” he replied, excitedly. “James, you need to return to your lessons,” Margaret said.

James turned his gaze to his father, knowing he was the most lenient of the pair.

“Quickly,” Stuart said, looking reassuringly at Margaret. She let out a sigh but said nothing. The pair turned and watched as their son took several steps back.

James stopped at the end of the flagstone path and faced his parents with an excited smile. “Goratu,” James said, holding his arms out. The last several stones in the path lifted from their long-undisturbed positions and rose several inches into the air. Stuart laughed and clapped.

“Well done, boy,” Stuart said.

“I’m not done yet,” James replied.

“Well, then,” Stuart said, looking at his wife with a proud smile.

James moved his arms and the stones began to align themselves into a row. Once aligned, each stone rose slightly higher than the next until they formed a set of steps. James stepped up onto the first stone slowly. He moved to the second. As soon as his foot left the first, that stone moved up the line creating another step. James continued to climb. With every step, each successive stone moved to the front of the row. When he reached roughly fifteen vertical feet, James paused and looked down at his parents.

“Now watch this,” he said excitedly.

Without waiting for a response, James took off at full speed. The stones matched his rate of ascension as he ran up the floating staircase. In a matter of seconds, James had climbed higher than the roof of the house.

“My, God!” Stuart said, marveling at his son’s accomplishment.

James stopped and looked down upon at his parents. Even from more than sixty feet above them he could make out their proud smiles.

“James, come down now,” Margaret yelled.

Each stone except the one upon which James stood rotated then lowered creating a descending staircase. Slowly, James made his way back down to the garden.

“What do you think?” he asked, as the last stone settled into its place along the path.

“Very impressive,” Stuart said. “When did you learn that?”

“Just now.”

Stuart and Margaret exchanged glances.

“Run along,” Margaret said. “You don’t want to keep Mr. Ammoncourt waiting.”

James took off at the same breakneck speed at which he had arrived, making his way excitedly around the house. Stuart and Margaret looked at each other and laughed. Stuart took her hands and pulled her close. There was an energy between them neither had felt since shortly after James was born. Margaret ran her hand over the stubble on Stuart’s cheek. He leaned in and kissed her, pulling her close, his body touching hers.

“Ahem,” a voice said from behind them.

The pair turned, giggling like school children, to see a very old man. Hunched over an ornate wooden cane, he looked at them through spectacles thicker than windowpanes. What hair the old man had left turned white long ago. The sweat on his brow and his labored breathing indicated he hadn’t stumbled upon them during a leisurely stroll.

“Mr. Ammoncourt,” Margaret said, “what can we do for you?”

“Your son is quite gifted. I wonder why you won’t send him off to school.”

“We prefer to teach him ourselves,” Margaret immediately replied.

“A sorcerer of his potential should learn from the best.”

“As is our opinion, which is why we called upon you, Mr. Ammoncourt,” Stuart said.

Mr. Ammoncourt smiled and appeared to lose his train of thought. After a moment, he shook his head as if clearing it and refocused his attention on the couple. “I should like to take the boy to see council headquarters. Every child goes at his age to see the heart of our culture.”

“I’m afraid that isn’t possible at the moment. We are not at liberty to divulge the details, but were told by Tabitha Ogilvy your discretion regarding these teachings would be paramount.”

“Yes, of course. I apologize. I just thought… well, it isn’t important.”

Mr. Ammoncourt waited for Stuart or Margaret to take the bait, but neither obliged. When he realized the conversation wasn’t progressing as he’d liked, he gave the couple a smile, gripped his cane in his hands, and turned back toward the house. When he finally disappeared around a corner of the house, Stuart looked at Margaret.

“Strange old fool, isn’t he?”

“Tabitha said Akil highly recommended him. He said they have quite a history together.”

Margaret and Stuart spent the remainder of the afternoon discussing where they would go next. Margaret again brought up the impact constant relocating may have on James. Though she realized moving was necessary to ensure James’s safety, she always tried to take into consideration the long-term ramifications of living such a lifestyle. Such is the life of the one who will change the course of history, Akil reminded Margaret during one of their monthly meetings. He had agreed with Margaret that as James grew older, he may begin to resent his parents for never growing roots anywhere. The consistency of living in the same home, being surrounded by the same friends, and going to the same school were all things James had never known.

Stuart enjoyed selecting new destinations. He made an effort to choose places with historical significance. Once they’d decided upon a destination, Stuart would tell James the history as they were packing. Akil had given him the book The History of Sorcery in Eastern Europe not long after they had met for the first time. Stuart was thrilled to learn a new history of the lands he’d thought he knew so well. Many of the magical historical events coincided with the events of contemporary European history that he had studied in school.

Stuart and Margaret were bent over a map in the drawing room of the massive estate house. They were once again startled by a raspy old “Ahem” and Stuart wondered how a man who’d seen so many winters had been able to sneak up on them not once, but twice.

“We have concluded our lesson for today,” Mr. Ammoncourt said, looking up at the pair through his thick glasses. “Same time tomorrow?”

“Please,” Stuart replied.

“Very well,” Mr. Ammoncourt gave them a nod and turned toward the door. He paused for a moment, and Stuart wondered if he was planning on standing there the rest of the afternoon. Slowly, he turned back toward the couple. His face and expression gave him the look of a different man. Even his voice sounded different when he spoke.

“You aught to consider getting married,” he said.

“Sir, we’ve been married for nearly seven years,” Stuart replied.

“What unfaithful consider marriage differs from ours. In a sorcerer’s marriage ceremony, a magical bond is created between the pair. It can only happen between true loves, and you will feel each other here,” he said, his hand over his heart, “forever. Well, that is, until one of you dies. I’m surprised Akil has not mentioned this before.”

“No, he has not,” Margaret said tersely. “Thank you for your suggestion.”

“Very well, I’ll be going now.”

With that, Mr. Ammoncourt removed his hand from his cloak and gently tossed a pinch of purple transporting powder over his head. In a swirl of purple smoke and a flash of white light he was gone. Stuart and Margaret looked at each other, both in a state of panic. Akil had cast a spell (one of his own creation, of which he was very proud) that prevented the transporting powder from working for anyone other than Stuart and Margaret if they were within a quarter mile of James. The spell was meant to ensure that James would avoid being ambushed if their location was discovered. Until that very moment, it had worked flawlessly.

They both ran from the drawing room into the main hall where they saw James seated at the large stone-topped table busily writing. He didn’t look up as his parents hurried to his side. Stuart couldn’t help but imagine Alvaro’s men readying to transport into the house this very moment. His eyes darted from door to window, imagining enemies suddenly appearing and trying to take his son.

Once they had confirmed James was safe, Margaret took a calmer, more rational approach. She could see the panic swelling in her husband. She knew nothing good ever came of reacting from panic. She gently put her hand on his shoulder.

“Let us test before we react,” she said calmly.

Stuart exhaled. Margaret could almost see the panic escaping from his lungs as he did so. He nodded. Reaching into his cloak he pinched a bit of transporting powder from the pouch he always carried, tossed it over his head and said, “ Bidaia egin,” and disappeared in a swirl of purple smoke. Several moments later, he reappeared, immediately looking around the room.

“It still works,” he said with a sigh. “I transported to Tabbi’s, and we both attempted to transport back together.”

Margaret repeated the process. The pair looked at each other and then at James.

“I like this place,” James said. “We should stay here a while.”

“When is our next meeting with Akil?” Stuart asked, looking at Margaret.

“Ten days,” she replied.

“Tomorrow we will question Mr. Ammoncourt. Based on his answer, we may move up our relocation date.”

“I agree,” Margaret replied.

James, meanwhile, turned back to the long sheet of parchment in front of him. He had learned to write when he was four and mastered the skill shortly thereafter. His penmanship was neater than that of his father’s, and his ability to form sentences was far beyond the level of the average five-year-old. “Boy, what are you writing?” Stuart asked.

“Mr. Ammoncourt gave me homework. I want to get it done so I can practice my skills.”

“Homework?” Margaret asked. No other instructors had ever given James homework.

“He’s having me write the three forms of magic, what they mean, and how to perform each of them.”

“Is he?” Stuart said, more to himself. He wasn’t sure he liked Mr. Ammoncourt. His style was drastically different than that of every other instructor they’d used previously.

The following morning, Stuart was perched on a secondfloor balcony that overlooked the rear gardens and the hillside beyond. On the narrow dirt lane that wound over the distant hills, he could make out a traveler approaching on horseback. The trail of dust left behind as the horse progressed down the road reminded Stuart of how dry the season had been.

Akil, being the plant lover that he was, had enchanted the gardens to draw moisture from the surrounding area, which kept it lush and green despite the dry weather. He and Margaret had come up with the plan to intercept Mr. Ammoncourt as he made his way from the stable to the house and question him. If they didn’t like his answer, he would be dismissed immediately, and they would relocate to their next destination. Margaret had asked Tabitha Ogilvy to come stay with James during the questioning in the event they didn’t like what he had to say.

Stuart hadn’t admitted it to Margaret, but something about this Mr. Ammoncourt struck a chord of fear inside him. It wasn’t fear of what he’d do to James or Margaret; it was something more subtle. It was as if the little old man held a vast amount of power and knowledge that he only revealed in bits at a time. With Akil, everyone knew he was a powerful sorcerer, and he made no efforts to hide it. Ammoncourt was different. The quiet man had a way about him that made Stuart nervous. He followed the horse with his eyes until it dipped out of sight where the lane descended and crossed the creek. Stuart turned and made his way downstairs. He had approximately ten minutes to make the walk to the stable.

As he descended the wide marble stairs, Stuart nodded at Margaret, who was standing in the foyer quietly speaking with Tabitha. James was finishing his breakfast at the table. The couple strode out of the house and up the drive toward the barn. As they approached the stable, Stuart and Margaret began to grow concerned. Ten minutes had come and gone and still they saw no sign of the old man. They turned the corner and could finally see inside the stable. Mr. Ammoncourt’s grey mare stood tethered in the first stall greedily eating straw out of the manger in front of it. As for Mr. Ammoncourt, there was no sign of him.

Without a second thought, both Stuart and Margaret transported directly into the main hall.

Stuart slowed his breathing and fought desperately to keep his calm as he approached Mr. Ammoncourt, who was speaking quietly with James at the far end of the room beside a pile of books. It appeared as though neither of them had even noticed Stuart and Margaret’s hasty arrival. He put his hand on the old man’s shoulder and spoke quite loudly.

“Mr. Ammoncourt, a word please.”

The old man slowly turned with a confused smile on his face. “Ah, Mr. Stuart. Glad to finally see you,” he said, examining Stuart’s disheveled appearance.

“May we speak with you in private for a moment?” Margaret asked, now beside her husband.

“Of course,” he said. “James, practice what I’ve told you. Perhaps Mrs. Ogilvy can be your partner.”

James looked pleadingly at Tabitha, who did her best to conceal her nervousness behind a smile. She nodded and walked across the room to him. Stuart, Margaret, and Mr. Ammoncourt made their way into the kitchen.

“What can I do for you?” Mr. Ammoncourt asked.

“We’d like to know how it is that you are able to transport so close to our son.”

“What do you mean?

“Akil cast an incantation that prevents anyone from transporting within a quarter mile of James, with the exception of myself and my wife. Until yesterday, we believed it was still working.”

“Did he?” he chuckled. “Silly old fool should have known better. He was never very good with those types of incantations.”

Stuart and Margaret exchanged looks of disbelief. Could this little old man be saying that the great Akil Karanis wasn’t the greatest sorcerer alive? Mr. Ammoncourt saw their faces and quickly began to backpedal.

“Don’t get me wrong, the man is a great sorcerer. One of the greatest. Only an experienced sorcerer who was familiar with his spells would be able to work around this incantation. Your son remains quite safe. I am an old man, so when I’m able, I take certain liberties. Do you understand?”

“Not at all,” Stuart replied.

“This old body can’t travel as well as it used to. I need every shortcut I can take to get from here to there. I came on foot for our first several meetings. First because it is rude to do otherwise and second as you both know you can’t transport anywhere you’ve never been physically-law number one. I did notice a barrier of sorts when I tried to transport the other day, but I simply used an alternate transporting incantation. An incantation I’ve come up with on my own, actually. It seems to work without issue. Now, if it would make the pair of you feel better if I didn’t transport so close to your son, I’ll shall oblige your request.”

“Akil never mentioned that his antitransporting incantation could so easily be avoided. In fact, he’s never mentioned alternate transporting incantations at all.”

“Don’t be alarmed, my good man. This is highly, highly advanced magic best left for those of us who’ve been around a bit longer. Neither Alvaro, nor anyone in his employ have the ability to do what I’ve just done, and I assure you, your son “remains quite safe,” he said, looking from Margaret to Stuart, willing them to believe him with his eyes. “Now, if it makes you feel better, I will strengthen Akil’s incantation and make it completely impossible for anyone to transport near your son, save the pair of you, but I must ask a favor of you if I do this.”

“Name it,” Stuart said.

“Please send someone to fetch my horse at the end of our lesson, my knees are bloody killing me.”

“Consider it done,” Margaret said. “And in the future, you are welcome to ride your horse to the front door, and I will see that he gets stabled for you.”

“Thank you. That is most kind,” he said turning to Stuart. “Marry the woman, before I beat you to it,” he said with a smile and then turned and hobbled through the door back into the great room, his cane clacking on the floor as he went.

Stuart and Margaret looked at each other, both trying to read the other’s expression. After a moment, Stuart began to chuckle and soon, Margaret couldn’t help but join in. Stuart stopped abruptly, reached out, and pulled his wife close. Their eyes met, and he paused, drinking in the deep hazel color. Slowly, he touched his lips to hers. Without a word, he turned and made his way through the kitchen door to watch the old man work. Margaret stood in place for a moment, transfixed by all that she had learned in the last few minutes. Her mind also wondered back to what Mr. Ammoncourt had mentioned the day before. She would ask Tabitha about a sorcerer’s marriage.

— 14 -

The Legend of Akil Karanis

That isn’t possible. I know Akil Karanis. I’ve seen him within the year. How long ago was this?” James asked. Luno turned quickly. “Seventy years almost to the day. You must be mistaken. Perhaps someone shared his name… or took it after they knew he’d been exiled.”

“None of this makes any sense,” James said, standing. He began to pace about the room. “If the council exiled Akil over seventy years ago they wouldn’t exactly embrace his return, yet he was high in rank until just recently.

“He wasn’t banished by the council. Have you not heard the legend of Karanis and the Siren?”

“I have not. My parents were unfaithful until they were converted.”

Luno stopped and stared at James for a moment. He shook his head and regained his train of thought.

“One thing at a time,” he said more to himself than to James. “Where was I?”

“Karanis and the Siren,” Kilani said impatiently.

“Yes, Karanis and the Siren. Akil went seeking information that would help him determine the identity of the anointed one determined by the greatest of all seers. In his travels he encountered a Siren. She was the craftiest of all Sirens, the mother of all Sirens, so it is said. He was the first and only lone sorcerer to ever challenge a Siren. It was the battle to end all battles. Magic never before seen or henceforth used rained from the sky like shooting stars destroying the landscape for miles. The battle raged for days until neither had the strength to stand let alone cast a spell. Desperate, exhausted, and delirious the pair cast a combination of spells that when thrust together opened a rift in our world. What happened next depends on who is telling the story. Some believe Akil killed the Siren. He would be the first and only sorcerer to do so, and as he cast his lethal spell, he slipped into the rift and ended up here. Others say the Siren outfoxed him and thrust him into this place.

I looked for this Siren from the time I was twelve, and I came up empty-handed until I was sent here myself. By the time I arrived, Akil’s mind was already gone.”

“Is there a chance this Akil Karanis could be the same man I have come to know as a mentor?” James asked.

“I don’t know.”

“What if he found a way? What if inside that castle is a way out and he found it? What if he found it and managed to reintegrate himself with society,” James asked.

“Are you suggesting that he returned after twenty years and made up a story to explain his absence?” asked Kilani.

“We are missing the explanation of the obvious. Do you remember the year you were sent here?” James asked.

“Eighteen thirty-three,” Luno said without hesitation.

“This year is eighteen hundred and ninety eight. How old was Akil before he disappeared? How old was he the last time you saw him before he battled the Siren?”

“No one knows his true age. If I had to guess, I’d say in his thirties.”

“If you were banished here twenty years after Akil and you yourself have been here sixty-five years years that would make him…”

“One hundred fifteen years old,” Kilani finished.

“Impossible. Maybe here but not in the world we came from.”

“Have you ever tried to get into the black castle?”

“Son, I’ve never seen the thing with my own eyes.”

“You’ve never seen it? Why do you believe it exists?”

“During my extended stay in this lovely place I have encountered three men and one woman who’ve sworn they’ve set eyes upon it. Each could describe it with exacting detail.”

“Are they here? I must speak with them,” said James.

“Two drowned, one was eaten alive, and the fourth stands beside you,” said Luno.

“You’ve seen it?” James asked excitedly, looking at Kilani.

“I have. It is a place of evil. The mere thought of it sends fear through my very soul.”

James, feeling deflated, took a seat in one of the cushioned chairs.

“I’ll tell you this, my boy,” Luno said, his eyes darting about again. “I don’t know if the black castle is real or just another trick of the island, but I’ve seen enough in this place to know that either way, I believe it is a clue to finding a way home.

“Then getting into the castle is the answer. We must get inside,” James said, rising to his feet.

“You will die trying,” Kilani said, looking out over the water.

“I’ve been waiting for someone with the initials JLS to show up for seventy years. If there ever was a time to try again, this is it. You are the one to get us inside. You can free us from this terrible place.”

“Do you see? Do you see what it does?” Kilani said, pointing to Luno. “It will slowly eat away at your mind.”

Luno waved a dismissive hand at her and turned back to James. “How is your strength?” he asked.

“Incredible. Stronger than I’ve ever felt. What do we do now?” James asked.

“I suggest you get settled. Then we will see if she is amenable to your presence,” said Luno.


“This land-The Never,” said Luno.

— 15 -

A Mother’s Determination

May 1886, India

Margaret stood in an area of the forest where the underbrush had lost its fight for sunlight with the canopy above. The wounds on her arms and legs had stopped bleeding, but the throbbing persisted. Her husband had left her over an hour ago, and the tears still trickled down her cheeks. More than anything, she wanted to be home in her safe, comfortable garden. Fate, it turns out, had other plans. She continued in the direction her husband instructed, letting the bewitched twig hovering above her palm guide her. She stepped through the forest, over the body of her slain enemy, while making sure to avoid looking at its grotesque face. The ground pitched downward toward a small stream. Once she reached the stream the tip of the twig turned, pointing uphill. Every hour or so she would stop, drink from the stream, and rest. As time passed her injuries became less painful. As the last vestiges of daylight fell below the trees, the twig settled into her palm, a sign that it was time to stop for the day. She removed the bundle from her back and began to make camp.

In the morning Margaret awoke with a start and sat bolt upright. Not two horse-lengths away lay two massive tigresses. Neither of them flinched. The larger of the two yawned lazily, slowly got to her feet, and sauntered out of sight. The second followed a moment later. Margaret’s hands trembled as she packed up her bedroll. The small twig, which lay motionless on a nearby stone overnight, was now hovering again, pointing toward a new heading away from the stream.

Margaret followed this, heading through the forest until about midday. She crossed several streams along the way. Her feet throbbed from the numerous blisters she’d acquired since the horses were left behind. The twig directed her into the center of a clearing. When she reached the middle, it began to spin quite vigorously. Stuart had told her that when the twig spun that meant a food source was nearby. She was grateful for she hadn’t eaten since they separated.

The clearing was covered in tall, amber grass. A perfect place for a hungry tiger to be waiting for its prey, she thought. She hoped the twig wasn’t telling her she was the food source. She scanned the edges of the clearing for any sign of something edible. When nothing obvious presented itself, she decided to continue in the direction the twig had been pointing when she entered the clearing. As she moved, it continued to spin. In fact, she was so captivated by the spinning twig that she didn’t notice the small man who was now standing directly in front of her. A moment before she would have collided with him she lifted her head and let out a yelp of surprise.

He was a head shorter than she and dark skinned-a native. Dressed in only a dirty cream-colored tunic and carrying a rocktipped spear he beckoned her to follow and then stepped into the forest. After a moment’s hesitation she opened her palm to reveal the twig she had clenched in fright. It pointed in the same direction the man had walked. She followed.

Despite his size, the man traveled quickly. Margaret had to run in brief spurts to keep pace. They quickly reached a massive “boulder that looked so out of place that Margaret thought it could have fallen from the sky. They circumnavigated the boulder, climbing up the steep steps built into the hillside and down a narrow path until they came to a small village of thatchedroofed huts. Other similarly small natives were moving busily around the village. The huts surrounded a fire pit over which lay a skewered animal of some sort. The smell immediately stimulated Margaret’s salivary glands, prompting her to wipe her chin.

Without warning the man let out a cry and raised his spear into the air. All the villagers turned and echoed the cry. Several women hurried over and escorted Margaret to the log benches that circled the fire and relieved her of her bedroll. They quickly pulled the boots from her feet and draped them with damp cloths soaked in a putrid-smelling liquid.

A feast ensued. After Margaret ate more than she thought possible, the men of the village performed a hunting-party dance. One of the men wore a tiger pelt while the others chased him around the fire in a ceremonial tribute. Margaret felt her eyelids growing heavy as the celebration continued past sunset. A woman wearing an elaborate costume stood up and made an announcement. Villagers slowly began to retreat to their respective shelters. Margaret was led into a hut where a nest of leaves draped in cloth had been prepared for her. The young woman who escorted her inside carried a small stick that smoked from one end. She instructed Margaret to lay on the cloth with a simple hand gesture while she set the smoking stick on a smooth stone and wafted its odiferous emanation in her direction. As the smoke reached her nostrils, Margaret fell off to sleep.

Just before sunrise she again awoke with a start. The early morning light was enough for her to make out the hindquarters of a massive tiger exiting her hut. She stood, slid on the sandals she found beside her bedroll, and followed the beast outside. Not far away the larger tigress lay beside the smoldering fire pit. Once again the tigress yawned lazily, stood, and walked into the forest. After a moment, the other followed.

A sense of urgency overtook Margaret, and she quickly moved to follow them, leaving her belongings behind. Neither tigress, whom were now walking side-by-side, made any move to evade her. They continued at their same lazy pace, allowing Margaret to keep up with ease. After several moments they stopped. Margaret realized she was once again on the far side of the large boulder. The larger of the two tigresses stood and stretched her paws above her head on the boulder then scraped her claws down the stone with a skin-crawling screech. The tigress turned its back to the stone and sat on its haunches. The second moved beside her and also sat. Both looked toward Margaret. A low rumble reported from within the boulder. The leaves on the ground vibrated as the noise grew. Neither of the massive cats appeared to be disturbed as they continued to stare at Margaret. As suddenly as it began, the rumbling ceased.

Margaret rubbed her eyes in disbelief. In the seamless stone face of the boulder stood an open entry between the two cats. She knew she must go inside.

— 16 -

The Mysterious Bookcase of Abigail Ammoncourt

Master, I was looking through the book collection left here by the previous occupant, and I realized, after staring at the bloody thing for the past year, that it was indeed a book collection. Here, in this place… books,” said James, pacing in front of Luno’s wall-size map.

“Ah, yes. Mrs. Ammoncourt’s famous and mysterious book collection. Just like her famous and mysterious arms collection, she never would reveal where she had gotten them, and nobody seemed interested enough to press her for an honest answer. We were just happy to have them, especially the blades,” Luno said, nodding to the dagger James carried in his belt.

“Once, after quite a bit of mirkroot juice, she told old Joseph Archer she’d found them in the hull of a marooned ship on the eastern side of the peninsula. Joe decided to go looking for this ship and he was never seen again. Some people think he found the ship at low tide and somehow trapped himself inside and drowned.”

“And what do you think, Master?”

“I believe every mystery on this island, including Mrs. Ammoncourt’s famous book collection and the disappearance of Joseph Archer, are all interconnected.”

“How old was Mrs. Ammoncourt?” asked James.

“No more than thirty, I’d say. Pretty little thing. Arrived no more than ten years ago.”

James was sure there was a connection between this Mrs. Ammoncourt and the Mr. Ammoncourt who had been his teacher and mentor back home, however he decided now was not the right time to share this information with Luno.

“Have you ever gone looking for this ship?”

“Of course. I’ve scoured the eastern side of the peninsula for days and found nothing. But I’ve long since learned that just because The Never doesn’t reveal something to you doesn’t mean it isn’t there. “

“Do you know what happened to Mrs. Ammoncourt?”

“I wish I could say. It is as frustratingly mysterious as her book collection and the disappearance of Joseph Archer. One day she simply vanished. She was reclusive by nature, so it was several days before anyone in town took notice and decided to search her premises.”

“Have you ever looked at her books?”

“Of course. Over the years she has lent me every book in her collection. Some more than once.”

“And did you happen to notice anything… strange?”

“You’ve discovered the dates?”

“Let me guess, mystery of the island?”

“I’ve found it increasingly easy to attribute all the unexplained goings-on here to yet another quandary of this illogical reality, but I do believe I have an explanation of reasonable substantiation for this one. The printing press simply set the wrong number so instead of 1802 it reads 1902. If you look at the series, all the books were stamped by the publisher on the second page. It appears as though they were stamped on the same set because all of the I s in Mythic Press have elongated dots on them. These aren’t found anywhere else inside any of the manuscripts, which leads me to believe it was an error of the human sort. Although, I have been known to be wrong in my assumptions.”

“What about the map?” James asked.

“Map?” Luno’s eyes perked up at the word.

“What map?”

Now standing in the study of the flat where Mrs. Ammoncourt formerly resided, James opened the hatch in the floor. A set of extremely narrow stairs wound downward into the dark. James moved toward the stairs but before he could take a second step, Luno held out his hand in objection.

“Allow me,” he said, stepping in front of James, a strange and excited look in his eyes. Luno picked up the lantern sitting beside the hatch and moved down the stairs.

“A wise man once told me that man’s greatest weakness and greatest strength lie within his emotions. Losing control and gaining control can yield both great and terrible results. In the end it is he who is truly powerful who knows the consequences of each and holds onto or lets go in order to yield what he desires.”

“Does this wise man have a name?”

“Akil Karanis.”

The pair had reached the bottom of the stairs. The room in which they stood was small, and the floors, ceiling, and walls were adorned by wooden planks. One wall had a small glass porthole, which Luno was gazing out.

“To this day the magic required to create this room beneath the water eludes me.”

“It appears that Mrs. Ammoncourt was no average resident,” James said, running his hand along the wall. “Not a drop of moisture.”

“Where she came from is as mysterious as where she has gone, I’m afraid. Now, show me this map.”

James wanted to mention that a man named Mr. Ammoncourt had mentored him, but something held him back. On the opposite wall of the porthole stood three bookcases. Each shelf was filled from end to end with books of varying size, thickness, and color. James reached up to the top of the center case, ran his hands along the ornate inscriptions carved into the face of the top shelf, and looked at Luno.

“You may want to step back.”

James pulled the top of the bookcase away from the wall, and it crashed to the floor, sending up a plume of dust. Quickly, James lifted the case, returning it to its proper location leaving a pile of books on the floor.

“What the bloody hell are you doing, boy?” Luno shouted.

“Look quickly or you’ll miss it,” James said pointing to the now exposed back of the case. Luno stepped closer and brightened his lantern with a twist of the knob. Dark lines began to appear between the center shelves. After a moment it became clear they were looking at a map.

“Do you recognize it?” James asked.

“Not off hand. I’ll need more time to study it. Can we bring the bookcase upst-”

The books lifted themselves off the ground and returned to their former locations, hiding the map. James grinned at Luno’s exasperated expression.

“Quite clever,” James said.


“Damn thing is too big to get upstairs. Not that moving it is even an option. I’ve tried every possible way to budge it and only have been able to knock it forward.”

“How did you even discover the map?”

“Strange, really. I had just finished one of the volumes and set it on my night table. The next morning it was gone. At first I thought someone had stolen it until I found it back on the bookshelf in the exact spot from which I had taken it. Thinking perhaps I had sleepwalked or been in a partial daze when I returned it, I thought nothing more of it. I picked another volume from the shelf and read it over the course of several days. Again I set it on my night table after completing it, and again the next morning I found it returned to its former location. Perplexed, I decided to take two books from the shelf and read them simultaneously just to see what would happen. As I made for the stairs one of the books flew from my hands and onto the shelf. I pulled it off the shelf again and stepped toward the stairs once more and once more the book returned itself to the shelf. Perplexed, I took three books. This time two of the three leapt from my grasp and back on the shelf. While experimenting with the number and duration the books were off the shelf, I noticed writing appeared in a space where I had removed the books. By the time I was able to make out anything, the books had always returned to their former locations. Out of frustration I dumped the bookcase.”

“So it was exactly your inability to manage your emotions that led to this discovery. Ironic,” Luno said with a chuckle.

— 17 -

A Formal Invitation

October 1895, Ireland

Twelve-year-old James and his mother stood along the water beneath stone cliffs that wrapped the coastline in either direction. Just in front of them stood a cluster of hexagonal stones that stretched out into the calm sea. Margaret stepped out onto the rocks, nearly every stone was perfectly hewn. James couldn’t help but marvel at the site. Margaret stood over one of the few poorly hewn stones, extended her hands and said, “Harlandu.” The sides of the stone beneath her hands began to fall away in tiny grains. James surveyed the area as she continued her work. Off in the distance James saw a large set of hexagonal stone cut right into the cliff side. They stretched dozens of feet up the cliff.

“Who did those?” asked James.

Margaret stopped what she was doing and looked toward where James was pointing.

“While he’ll never admit to it, it is said that Akil himself made that set when he was but a child. He even gave it a name, the organ.

James could see why he had called it that. The hexagonal sections of stone were grouped so tightly, they resembled massive organ pipes he’d seen in churches.

“I want you to try now, James.”

“I don’t want to try.”

“Remember your lessons. Less than a month ago you were more than proficient at this exercise.”

James exhaled in defiance yet began to move over a stone that had not been cut. Slowly, he extended his hands, lamenting the fact that carving these stones had become a rite of passage for young sorcerers.

“ Harlandu,” he said. A few flecks of stone fell from the side of the stone but nothing more. Exasperated, James lowered his hands without looking up at his mother, whose face he was sure was full of disappointment.

All at once he felt threatened. He turned, but it was too late as he was struck by an invisible incantation that sent him onto the uneven stone surface. Immediately, Margaret was at his side.

“James,” she said, lifting his head from the ground and inspecting where it had caught the corner of a stone. James had a faraway look in his eyes.

“James,” Margaret said again more sternly.

She could hear him whispering. She leaned her ear closer to his mouth.

“Speak up, child,” she said.

She listened again. She knew words were coming, but she could not make them out.

Margaret held out her hand and said, “ Sendatu.” A blue mist fell from her palm and gathered around James’s head wound. In less than a minute, James took a deep breath and refocused his eyes on his mother. Tears began rolling down his face.

“I can’t do it,” he said. “I can’t even defend myself.”

“It will come back. We must be patient,” said Margaret.

She sat him up, and after a moment, helped him to his feet. Together they walked to a set of steps carved into the rock. A raven flew overhead cawing in the humid salty air and causing both of them to freeze. Margaret pushed James against the cliff face and signaled him to stay put. She readied her bow and nocked an arrow. Cautiously, she ascended the stairs.

Just as she reached the top a cloaked figure stepped in front of her.

“Show yourself or you will die at the tip of my enchanted arrow,” she said, bow drawn.

The figure immediately displayed his empty hands then slowly pulled the hood away. It was Tabitha Ogilvy. Margaret immediately lowered her arrow.

“He wants to meet with you,” she said urgently.

“Who?” Margaret asked.


“Is it a trap?”

“Most likely.”

“What’s going on?” James asked, lowering his short-sword as he mounted the last of the steps.

Downtown London, Kensington Gardens

The crowds meandered by, enjoying the unusually pleasant weather. Margaret moved with the crowd toward her destination at the opposite end of the park. Once she’d reached the fountain, she paused, looking around for any sign of Alvaro. She had wanted to meet him among a crowd, hoping it would give him pause should he be tempted to try something. He had agreed to all of her stipulations, which made her nervous, yet somehow intrigued her even though he was most likely responsible for her husband’s death. She felt that he was desperate to tell her something. For the first time since she learned of her son’s prophetic rise, she felt in control.

“Madame Stuart,” Alvaro said.

She turned quickly, surprised by his sudden appearance. Nobody would dare use magic so publicly. It made her very uncomfortable that he was able to sneak up on her despite her training. She looked into his eyes for some sign of guilt or information she could use to implicate him in the death of the man she had grown to love not once, but twice. To Margret’s dismay, his expression was sad. He looked truly anguished. Margaret knew better.

“Let us walk, shall we?” he asked, pointing along the main path.

They began walking.

“I would first like to offer my condolences. I’ve heard a great many things about your husband. He was converted was he not?”

“Yes,” Margaret replied.

“Fascinating. Few believed any convert could harness such power.”

“What do you know of my husband’s death?” Margaret asked.

“You are quite direct, are you not? Very well. There is a powerful sorcerer who believes your son is the Anointed One, written of in the ancient texts by the first seer. They believe he will bring a stop to the Epoch Terminus. He came to your husband not long after your son was born. He and another man named Ogilvy were the first to introduce your husband to our world. To train him in our ways.”


“Yes, Akil. Some say he is the most powerful sorcerer alive. I don’t doubt he would disagree. But that man is the epitome of arrogance. Above all else, Akil desires power. At the height of his power, Akil began searching for the Anointed One. When he found James, he knew immediately that the boy was special. Not only did he meet all the criteria spoken of by the seer, from what I understand, his talents were also unparalleled.”

“Akil knew his days of being the most powerful were numbered. What could he do? Kill James? No. Even for a sorcerer of his stature and power that was not an option. If James were indeed the Anointed One, Akil must be part of his life. He would manipulate him to do his will, to further his agenda, and he would ensure that not only was he proven right but that he would also be in control of the Anointed One. He would help train James and slowly become the most influential person in his upbringing.

But things changed as time progressed. Akil’s access to the boy was limited as was his influence. He had to adapt his plan. He needed to separate the boy from his parents. He needed James to need him. Akil sent some of his men to eliminate Stuart, which would allow him to fill the void. Now that he has succeeded in removing Stuart, Akil will make you an offer to pick up where Stuart left off. You have neither the recourses to hide nor the ability to resist a sorcerer of such power. Akil will use James as a tool, a weapon against all who stand in his way. This is why I have asked to speak with you.”

“Master Alvaro, you can not seriously think I would so readily believe your well-concocted story.”

“Of course not, my dear. Akil has had years to impregnate his lies into your head about who I am and what I stand for. He probably has you believing I’m the enemy. He is gifted in the ways of deceit. His fanatical following was part of the reason it took so long for the council to accept him despite his superior abilities. They were afraid he would take over. If he gets hold of your son, I assure you that is exactly what will happen. He is a master manipulator. He will tell you he only wants to teach the boy, but in the end he will take him from you and use him against you-against us all. I come here to warn you because I don’t want to see James end up being another puppet of Akil’s, who has a very ill-conceived notion of what society should be.”

Of all the things she thought Alvaro would say, she had not even considered this. Determined not to show any sign that he’d caught her off guard, she kept a stone-cold expression on her face. What he’d said meant one of two things. He was telling the truth or there was an informant among the small group she’d entrusted with vital information-with her son’s life. Either way it was very unsettling.

“Very well, Master Alvaro. I will take everything you’ve said into consideration. Thank you for your time. Good day.”

She turned and began walking away.

“There is one other thing,” Alvaro called out before Margaret could disappear into the crowds of people. She turned.

“I wish to honor your husband. He was, after all, the father of the Anointed One and went to great lengths to see that the boy was raised properly. Not to mention that he was also the most powerful sorcerer born to an unfaithful family this or any council has ever seen. Many things became clear because of him, and many lives were saved. A man such as he deserves to be honored, not fall into darkness without so much as a word scrolled into the history of our kind.”

“My husband is dead. My son and I have moved on. What you choose to do as part of the council is up to you.” With this, she turned and walked away.

— 18 -

The Guardian

Luno and James looked at the map wall in Luno’s study. Luno ran his fingers over the painting.

“Six temptresses that I’ve been forced to look at since my arrival yet have never been able to reach. No man who has come to this place has set foot on one of the six islands that sit just offshore. We are surrounded by water, yet we are so cursed that we cannot cross even the narrowest channel. One in particular has always drawn my attention.”

He ran his hand over the island drawn on the far southeast corner of the map. The far sides of the satellite islands were incomplete, left blank until Luno could map them properly. He hoped today things would change.

“And what of the Ammoncourt map?” James asked.

For a moment Luno grinned, then his grin changed to a look of frustration. He turned away from the map wall and walked to the table behind him. He carefully moved the nest of scrolls from the tabletop, save one. He unfurled the lone scroll, revealing the map of a small town. There was a main street with structures lining both sides. Each of the buildings had names. The names were not typical of a town and lent no description as to their function. James saw the names “Marcus,” “John,” and “Thomas” beside the three southernmost buildings. He’d guessed the names were the occupants. Luno sighed.

“I fail to understand its relevance. It appears to be a small town like any other. The names assigned to the buildings are a bit odd, but apart from that, I see no significance. It must have been important, or I don’t believe Ammoncourt would have created it and kept it hidden. And then there is this,” Luno said pointing at the drawing in the far corner of the scroll. The intricate maze was smudged from the numerous times Luno had run his finger over it.

“It’s some sort of labyrinth, There’s a way in, but no way out.” Luno stepped back from the table and looked up at James, who was staring intently at the labyrinth. He felt the call of the black castle. It became stronger the longer he studied the circular maze.

“Now that we have it from that bloody bookcase, I’m not sure what to do with it. I hope in time, its use will present itself.” Luno put his hands on James’s shoulders. “Let us not lose focus, my boy. Today is a big day.”

James snapped out of his trance. “Help me again understand why you believe I have the ability to cross the water when all others cannot.”

Luno’s eyes darted back and forth for a moment then settled themselves once more.

“I’ll have you know, I am not a strong swimmer,” James said.

“You are not swimming across, my boy. You are sailing.”

James did not look the least bit reassured.

“The island has not let anyone cross its waters and reach any of the six satellites. Many have died trying, and those who did not die were thrust back onto the island like a fish on a dock. You told me upon your arrival that you entered the ocean feeling its healing powers. You have entered and not been cast out. And that is once more than any man or woman who has ever been banished. You, my boy, are meant to travel over the water. We’ve gone over the rudimentary seamanship skills you’ll need, and I believe you are ready,” said Luno.

Luno’s experiment made James nervous. Despite his growing fondness of the man, James found it quickly apparent that he was quite mad. The pair made their way down the pier where the men had been laboring on the boat since his arrival. It hovered over the water, held by large ropes strung through davits that allowed it to sway gently in the breeze. The dark purple shore birds, which at first made James more than a bit uncomfortable because of their size and lack of feathers, hovered overhead in hopes of procuring an afternoon meal.

The ship itself was no longer than twenty-five feet. It was beautifully crafted by William and Roger, both shipbuilders in their former lives. The pair stood with proud expressions on their faces as James and Luno approached.

“Absolutely magnificent,” Luno said, running his hand across the smooth wooden hull.

“Zee’s perfect in every way,” William said in his thick French accent. “Best wood I ever verked vit.”

“And the sail?” Luno asked.

“That were a bit more tricky, yet we managed just t‘ same. We didn’t want any seams in ’er so we skin’d a croc monster. Big feller, too,” Roger replied.

“Your sure zis vill verk, no?” William said, looking nervously at Luno. He and Roger had spent the better part of the last year constructing the little ship, and based on past experiences, it was about to be destroyed.

“Only one way to find out, isn’t there, my boy?” Luno said, slapping him on the shoulder. “Lets lower her into the water, shall we?”

Each man doubled up on one of the two ropes strung through the wooden davits that rose above their heads. The ship soundlessly entered the water jostling side to side until it found its equilibrium. William and Roger looked nervously at the ship like parents seeing their child off to school for the first time.

James knew if he didn’t act quickly that fear and doubt would prevent him from acting at all. He descended the small wooden ladder and stepped into the ship. He noticed it did not give even an inch under his weight as he boarded. He glanced up at Luno, who nodded reassuringly. James quickly untied the ropes they’d used to lower the ship into the water. He grasped a third line and tossed it up to William. James took his position behind the wheel as the three men began to pull the rope along the pier. Slowly, it began to move. It took but a moment before the bow passed the last pylon. James noticed a crowd had gathered to witness this epic event. Once the stern cleared the pier, James began pulling the lines and raising the sail.

The water was calm and the wind negligible. By the time the sail was up and secured, he’d come to a dead stop. He could hear the voices from the crowd behind him on the pier before he quieted his mind. Luno had gone over the wind incantation with James until he had finally gotten it. The language of the land was a mystery to all the residents except for three words, which had been found written on a piece of dry hide along the northern coast. Even after the hide was discovered, it took years of experimentation to discern the correct pronunciation and function of each word.

After much patience, two of the three words could be used in an incantation. The third simply swirled water as if it were being mixed with a spoon. Even now, after all his practice, he found himself ready to use the words he would have back home. He thought of the island, The Never. Alive and aware.

He extended his hand and said, “ Poikelo.” Immediately the sail filled with air. He grasped the wheel, turning the ship to the east. The plan was to head east inside the harbor until reaching the leg of the eastern horseshoe. He would then come about and return to the pier. As the ship picked up speed, his apprehension began to dissipate.

James was amazed at how quietly the ship moved across the water. He could hear faint cheering from the pier, but he didn’t take his eyes off his destination, the distant cliffs on the eastern shore. The water beneath him was more green than blue and visibility, as always, was limited to only a few inches below the surface. He extended his hand and repeated the word “ poikelo,” and was nearly thrown from the boat as it lurched forward at amazing speed. He righted himself and grasped the wheel, relieved that the ship hadn’t gone off course. He was so close to the shore that running aground was a very real concern.

Just as he was about to slow his progress he began to feel a sense of euphoria. The wind in his hair and the smell of the sea reminded him of his childhood. His father had taken him on several sea voyages when he was younger. They were among his fondest memories. James only discovered later that they were actually fleeing their pursuers. This made the adventures all the more special because his father had gone to such great lengths to make James believe they were going on holiday.

The ship drew closer and closer to the eastern cliffs, and James began to make the turn back toward the pier. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a figure standing on the cliffs waving its arms. Despite not being able to make out her face, he knew it was Kilani. He smiled, and his heart warmed. Once he had lined the bow up with the distant side of the western harbor, he looked back over his shoulder. She was gone. Slightly disheartened, James focused on keeping the ship on the proper heading and marveled at how infatuation could have such an immediate impact over his moods.

Off to his left, he saw movement. At first he thought it was one of the purple seabirds. As the object began to move past, actually overtaking the speeding ship, James realized it was Kilani soaring by on her glider. She moved parallel to the ship’s path just over the beach. James smiled. She let out a yell as she passed and continued down the beach toward the pier.

“ Poikelo,” James said, asking the wind to push harder against the sails, and the wind acquiesced, helping him quickly bridge the gap and then finally pull ahead of Kilani. James let out a yell as he passed. Because nobody knew the antithesis to the wind command, the only way to slow the speeding boat was to drop sail. James released the halyard, allowing the sail to fall over the boom as the gust of wind blew past and out to sea. The ship’s speed decreased as he approached the pier. It looked as if every resident of Harbor Town crowded the dock. Some cheered, and all smiled.

James realized that his brief journey across the harbor had given these people something they hadn’t felt in years: hope. He knew what Luno had expected of him. The pressure of living up to someone else’s expectations wasn’t foreign to James. His entire life people had expected him to be special. As he grew older and understood what exactly that meant, it began to eat away at him. Some days, his overwhelming desire to be normal consumed his every thought. Eventually, he realized all the sacrifices people had made. More than a few had given their lives, and he was determined not to turn his back on their memories. He pushed away his anxieties and insecurities and continued.

James eased the ship to the pier. William and Roger were there to toss him the mooring lines. Both were smiling. He could hear Luno barking at everyone to back away from the ladder. When James stepped onto the pier, the crowd erupted into cheers. Smiling, he tried to find Kilani’s face among the crowd, but he didn’t see her. Luno put his arm around James and quickly escorted him down the pier to his house.

The pair stood, once again, in front of the map wall. Luno paced in front of it excitedly. James watched and waited.

“Well, my boy, it looks as though a new adventure begins today. Finally, I will complete my map and hopefully we will unlock some of the island’s secrets in the process. I think our first destination is obvious,” Luno said, pointing to the three small islands off the northeastern part of the main island. “The three widows.”

“We?” James asked.

“Well of course, we. You didn’t expect me to let you do this all on your own, did you?”

James looked at Luno as a parent might after his child had proposed something utterly ridiculous.

“My boy, we cannot spend our lives in a state of inaction simply because there is risk involved in action. Where would we be then? Besides, I have a plan, a theory, as it were. We shall test it before we embark on our voyage. Now stop interrupting me and let us continue plotting our journey.”

“Once we’ve visited the Three Widows, I think our next stop should be the Severed Heart.” Luno now pointed to a large landmass off the northwest coast of island. “After that, we will move south along the coast and around the cape to Prey Island.” He pointed to the island that lay inside South Harbor. “Then to the Resting Man,” he said, pointing to the smaller island just to the east of Prey Island. “Then… then, we have a go at the black castle,” he said, with a smile on his face.

“Kilani has procured everything we need. Now it is simply a matter of testing my theory and setting your ever-cautious mind at ease.

James sat in a small rowboat barely wider than his shoulders. He looked up nervously as Luno descended the ladder. Cautiously, Luno stepped inside the boat as James hugged the closest pylon for stabilization. Luno quickly sat, giving James a “told you so” smile as the tiny boat found its equilibrium. Luno tossed off the mooring line and gave James a nod. Both men were glad they had decided to wait until the crowds had dissipated before setting out.

James pushed off and began to row. With each stroke, he became more and more nervous. Luno sat facing him with a relaxed expression. James thought he could hear him humming a quiet tune.

The boat lurched violently in the water. James quickly lifted the oars and looked behind him to see what they had hit. He saw only a few bubbles just off the bow. He looked back at Luno who nodded at him. Slowly, James dipped the oars into the water and pulled. Less than a minute later the small boat lurched again. This time James saw something breech the water just off the starboard side. Its skin was grey and sparkled in the sun like nothing James had ever seen. He only caught a glimpse before it disappeared beneath the surface.

“Something is beneath us,” James said.

“Continue,” Luno said sternly. “If it hits us again, do not stop rowing.”

“Do you know what it is?” James asked.

“I have my suspicions.”

“Care to share?”

“Be silent, boy, and row the bloody boat! Our destination is not far, and if I am correct, we have nothing to fear.”

James, once again, nervously dipped the oars into the water and began to pull. After a moment, he looked over his shoulder to make sure they were on course. He could see the large boulder Luno had spoken of, which marked the entrance to the cave beneath the cliffs on the western side of the harbor. He increased his pace.

Off the stern of the boat, behind Luno’s left shoulder, James saw a rapidly expanding circle of bubbles on the surface. Luno could tell by the expression on James’s face that something was happening behind. He turned slowly. Instinctively, James raised the oars from the water as the green bubbles off the stern came to a boil. The area covered by this boiling disturbance on the surface rapidly grew until it was three times the size of the small boat.

James started to speak, but Luno quickly raised a silencing hand. Without warning, the bubbles ceased. Luno slowly turned his head and looked at James. Luno’s dumfounded expression concerned James. Both men sat for several moments in silence. Finally, Luno nodded and James dipped the oars into the water and gave them a pull. The boat did not respond. He repeated the motion with the same result.

“Have we run aground?” James asked.

“No,” Luno said, inspecting the water on each side of the boat.

The boat trembled. Something broke the surface of the water on the port side. Initially it appeared to be the tentacle of a giant sea creature, however it slowly began to separate from itself, unwinding like a piece of rope. First there were a dozen small tendrils pulling away from the main body of the tentacle. Then hundreds. Then in seconds the body had been replaced with thousands of grey tendrils. They rose above the boat then arched down above James. He quickly reached for the knife in his belt.

“No,” Luno commanded. “Do nothing.”

James lowered his hands as the tendrils approached. He could feel an energy from them, almost as if they carried an electric current. They stopped just above his head. James looked up and saw that they had begun to swirl around him. They continued to circle his body, a whirlpool of sensory extensions, until James found himself completely encapsulated by them. Not one of the tendrils actually made contact with James. The center mass, just above his head began to glow red. Bolts of what appeared to be lightning reached out from the source of the red glow. James felt no fear. He raised his arms and the tendrils immediately changed their swirling course to avoid contacting him. James then greeted the creature silently. To his surprise, the creature replied, “As it was foretold, so it has come to pass. Thou art granted that which has been denied all others.”

As quickly as they came, the tendrils retracted and disappeared into the water without so much as a splash. Luno stared wide-eyed at James.

“Do you know what that was?” James asked, lowering his arms.

“It is a guardian of The Never,” Luno replied.

“Have you seen one before?”

“No, I have only heard of them. Tell me boy, what happened to you?”

“I’m not sure. I felt energy. Then it began to glow blood red. Then… it spoke to me.”

“Spoke? I heard nothing. What did it say?”

“I could hear it inside my head.”

“For the love of Okon, what did it say?”

James told him, and Luno stared off into the distance, deep in thought. A smile crept across his face. “I was right. You are the one who will get us off this rock.”

“I thought you already knew this.”

“I was quite certain, but nothing is ever for sure.”

“Quite certain? You risked my life on a hunch?” James said, indignantly.

“My boy, I am a clever man, far cleverer than most folks you’ll ever meet. My ‘hunch’ as you so aptly put it, is as good as the certainty of a normal man. In the end, I was right and that is all you need dwell upon. Now, let us make our way to the cave without fear.”

Without another word, James once again began rowing the little boat toward the large boulder that marked the entrance to the cave. As they approached, the waves increased in power and ferocity. It took all of James’s strength to make it through the entrance of the cave without being thrust against the rocks.

Once inside, the water immediately calmed. The entrance, which was barely wide enough to fit the small boat, opened into a large cavern. Light spilled in from several holes in the ceiling of the cave. Vines hung from the holes like green curtains. The blue water lapped gently against the sandy shore. The water was so clear that James could see that the large, smooth stones grew smaller as they neared the shore, until they themselves were “nothing but grains of sand.

The boat ran aground in the sand, and Luno quickly hopped out. James was hesitant to follow.

“Rule number one, my boy. No rules, especially the rules that govern this bloody place, are finite. Now get out of the boat and help me drag it ashore.”

Cautiously, James stepped into the water. He and Luno grasped the bowline and pulled the boat onto the sand. Once the boat cleared the water, Luno released the rope and began walking further into the cave.

“Aren’t you worried about the tide?” James asked.

“No tide in here, my boy,” Luno replied without looking back.

James shrugged, released the rope and hurried after Luno. The sandy beach stretched deep into the cave. The walls of the cave were dry and looked to be made of rough granite. The white grains of sand beneath their feet were flawless and uninterrupted by shells or debris. James could not see any tracks other than those Luno left in his wake.

“I suppose you are wondering why I have risked both our lives to bring you here before our journey and why I insisted on not telling you until now,” Luno said, continuing to walk deeper into the cave.

“If you’ve taught me anything, Master, it is that no amount of prying will convince you to share information with me until you are ready. The answer to your question is yes, I have been wondering why we are here, but I am willing to wait until you are ready to tell me. I am confident that you will when the time is right.”

Luno stopped and turned toward James, having reached the back wall of the cave.

“If that guardian knew what we were doing here, it would have killed both of us instantly. Now, step up to the wall.”

James did as he was commanded and remained silent.

“Open your hands,” Luno said.

James turned over his hands and raised them as if accepting a gift. Luno moved his hands over James’s. After a moment, James’s hands began to glow an amber color. James held steadfast despite the rapidly chilling sensation.

Luno fished out a small silver medallion from the pocket of his satchel and placed it in the space between James’s hands. The medallion hovered in the air. As the amber glow slowly turned pink, the chill was replaced with warmth.

“Close your hands around the medallion,” Luno said.

“Master, are you sure-”

“Close your hands around the medallion,” Luno repeated beginning to lose patience.

James turned his palms toward each other and slowly moved them over the medallion. As they drew closer, he could feel an energy radiating from the medallion. He tried to enclose it in his hands, but an invisible barrier blocked him. James ran his hands around this barrier searching for a weakness in the energy field. It appeared to be completely encapsulated.

“Now, cast it at the wall,” Luno said.

James tossed it as he would a ball to a child. The medallion arched upward before contacting the wall. It stuck flat against the wall. Immediately pink veins extended out from the medallion in all directions until they formed what looked like a doorway.

“Only you can open this door, James. Command it to open in native tongue,” Luno said, obviously pleased with how things were going.

“ Voriko,” James said. Nothing happened.

“No, you must command it. Not ask it.”

“But you said-”

“Damn it, boy, a command requires no greeting spoken or unspoken. Tell her to open that door,” Luno said impatiently.

“ Voriko!” James said more emphatically, certain it would not work. The ground trembled beneath them as he barked the command, and James thought for sure The Never would bury them in this cave for such disrespect. The veins drawing the arched doorway turned a brilliant purple, forcing the pair to shield their eyes. When James dared look back the glowing veins were gone. There was now an opening in what had once been a solid-rock wall. James saw the medallion on the ground at the threshold of the door. He stooped to pick it up.

“No! Leave it. That cannot come inside,” Luno said, offering no other explanation.

Luno reached into his satchel and removed a thick piece of wood that was wrapped on one end with a cloth. The cloth smelled of petrol. He set the wood on the ground and stooped over it after removing two bright orange leaves, one from his satchel, the other tucked neatly under his belt. He brought the leaves together just over the wood. Immediately the leaves burst into flames, igniting Luno’s torch. He lifted the torch and stood by the entryway giving James a wry smile. Without a word, Luno stepped through the doorway, and James followed.

The corridor they traveled was not the roughly cut rock of a natural cave but smooth, meticulously hewn granite, perfect in every detail. James could see images carved into the walls, but Luno was moving too quickly for him to inspect them. The corridor was wide enough for four men to walk shoulder to shoulder. They did not travel far before Luno stopped and turned to James. “While I have never been inside, I know what awaits us. Clear your mind, James. Look sharp, and prepare yourself.”

“What am I preparing myself for, Master?”

“Prepare for battle.”

— 19 -

The Memorial

October 1895, Ireland

I want to go,” said twelve-year-old James.

Margaret looked at him, shocked.

“I know we shouldn’t. I know it’s dangerous, but I want to go.”

“Son, do you understand the very man who ordered your father’s capture is the officiant? This is a farce and most likely a trap,” Margaret said, immediately regretting her decision to share the reason Alvaro had called their meeting with her son.

“I killed my father, not Alvaro. Me.”

“James, you don’t know that. You mustn’t keep blaming yourself. You didn’t-”

“I want to go,” he interrupted with the same sternness Margaret recalled her husband used all those years ago to bring her to meet Tabitha.

“Very well,” she said, after a moment’s silence. James looked surprised at his mother’s reply not knowing that she secretly hoped the trip might bring the closure James needed to enable him to pick up where he’d left off before the accident. All progress had come to a halt since that night, and with each passing day, Margaret detected anger building inside James. If this was what it took, so be it. He was no use to anyone without his abilities.

The purple haze of the transporting powder cleared, revealing an enormous stone structure. It stood taller than any building James had ever seen. He studied it, his mouth agape. The silver and white flags lining the steps up to the entry blew in the breeze. Guards stood at attention. Two stone walkways extended from the temple into the forest, like arms, embracing a meadow of flowers between them. The grounds were green and lush despite the dry summer. James could see people heading toward the main entrance.

“Stay by my side. Say nothing. Look at no one,” Margaret commanded.

They began walking across the root-choked clearing toward a set of steps that led into the covered walkway. A man wearing deep-purple robes and flanked by half a dozen guards walked briskly toward them. As he drew nearer Margaret recognized him. Alvaro looked flushed, nervous even.

“I must say, I was surprised to hear of your agreement to attend. Surprised and delighted, of course,” Alvaro said, turning to face the boy. “James, finally we meet.” Alvaro extended his hand and smiled at James.

Margaret was certain James would not take Alvaro’s hand, but after a brief pause, he extended his hand and met Alvaro’s gaze.

“Finally,” James said with terseness that was surprising for his age. The look in James’s eyes frightened his mother. Alvaro’s attempted warm smile became an uncomfortable grin that was followed by a noticeable sense of relief when their hands separated.

“Well then. Right this way, please.”

Alvaro ushered the pair along the walkway. The silent guards fell in behind the trio as they made their way toward the temple.

“So, James. This must be your first time visiting the temple.”

“It is,” his mother replied.

“Well, well. Perhaps a tour can be arranged after the ceremony,” Alvaro replied.

“I don’t think-”

“I would like that,” James interrupted.

Margaret looked displeased. Alvaro expressed surprise, but he quickly recovered. “Excellent. I shall send my assistant to fetch you after the ceremony.”

They walked in silence until they reached the spot where the walkway opened onto the lower terrace of the temple. The terrace stretched as far as James could see in either direction, wrapping around the base of the temple itself.

“Here is where I must leave you. My guards will escort you to your seats. Madam Stuart. James.”

Alvaro quickly walked off, looking over his shoulder several times until he stepped through a doorway followed by two of his guards. The remaining four escorted James and his mother up a set of steps and down a wide corridor. Other, formally dressed sorcerers, moved up and down the hallway as well. They passed numerous doorways, each carefully labeled: “ZAHARREN UGAZABE ASMAGINTZA,” “ZAHARREN UGAZABE ASTERKETA,” “ZAHARREN UGAZABE BABESPEN.” People moved hurriedly in and out. At the end of the hall was a large archway. Etched in marble over the arch was the word “OREKA.”

Inside scores of people gathered, talking and milling about. The instant the guards stepped through the arch the room became silent. All eyes turned on James and his mother. Rather than looks of condolence or pity, Margaret thought the crowd looked indignant. The crowd cleared away as she and James were ushered to the center of the room. Chairs arranged in semicircles surrounded a low stage upon which sat what looked like a birdbath.

James looked around in awe. Light shone through the ceiling windows, brightening what would have otherwise been a dark and dreary room. James was certain the windows were enchantments because the temple extended far above ceiling of this room. The guards led them to their seats. Each of the four guards took position at the ends of the semicircles and waited. The room remained silent. The brilliant light that came through the windows dimmed as if the sun fell from high noon to twilight in a matter of seconds. Torches mounted to the walls by cast iron brackets ignited. A stringed instrument began to play a mournful song.

James looked around. The attendees had organized themselves in perfectly formed rows behind the half-moon chair arrangements in the center. They spread out in a fan of people. Their faces were blank as they stared at the center of the stage. A procession filed through doorways opposite where James and Margaret had entered. Each person was dressed in the same dark-purple robes Alvaro wore. Two by two they marched toward the stage. When they reached the chairs, they split, each following the arc around the stage. They moved in perfect time with the music, as if they’d rehearsed. Once everyone was positioned in front of their seats, the music stopped.

One final person walked through the doorway. She was dressed in black and silver robes that shimmered in the firelight. Her hair was dark red, her face lined with age and wisdom. She stepped up onto the stage, stood over the stone bowl, and raised her hands. James felt compelled to stand. His mother followed suit.

The woman spoke. “For the first time in the history of these great halls, we come to honor one not born among us. Many believe we as faithful are entitled to treatment that the unfaithful are not. It is the belief of this council that respect be earned, not given.”

James scanned the crowd noting every incredulous expression.

“The man we honor here today,” the woman continued, “earned our respect. He earned it by his actions. He earned it by his acceptance and he earned it by his faith.”

James finally located Alvaro among the other purple-robed attendees standing on the opposite side of the stage. When their eyes met, Alvaro quickly looked away. Behind him someone moved, drawing James’s attention. A slight sway in his shoulders among his statuesque counterparts shifted James’s focus. It was Akil. He was staring at another man on the opposite side of the hall. Initially, James thought it was simply another face in the crowd. Then he remembered that his father had let him view a memory orb of their first meeting not long before he died. The man he was looking at was David Ogilvy, who had been presumed dead many years ago. Ogilvy nodded slightly. James felt his mother’s body go instantly tense, and he knew she must have seen him as well. James looked back to where Akil had stood but he was gone.

Margaret couldn’t believe it. Tabitha had told her that David had been killed during the battle at their house all those years ago yet he was here. Had Tabitha been deceiving them all this time? Perhaps she truly believed him to be dead in which case David would be the deceiver. If that were the case, then why after all this time had he decided to show himself? Her mind raced with questions she was determined to have answered.

The lights darkened and a blue orb rose from the center of the basin. It expanded, filling the empty space overhead. James recognized the home he was born in. His father walked down the cobbled lane. He was smiling as he walked through the cast iron garden gate. A small boy darted from behind a large stone fountain and jumped into his arms. They both laughed with joy. James’s heart grew heavy with pain and guilt as the memory pushed all other thought away. It was his fault his father was no longer alive.

The picture faded and the lights brightened. The council members in purple stood and fell in procession behind the officiant. James and his mother trailed at the end of the procession. Both looked back repeatedly at David Ogilvy, who followed them with his eyes. Two guards stepped behind them and ushered them through the doorway.

A small man in black robes stood in the otherwise empty anteroom. His expression made James think he was in constant pain. The man nodded at the guards, and they quickly turned and passed through the doorway.

“Master Alvaro has instructed me to escort you to his offices. I am his assistant, Jonathan. This way please.”

Jonathan extended his arm and ushered them through the smallest of three doorways on the opposite wall.

“Not a word,” Margret whispered to her son.

“Mind your step, please. Mind your step,” he shouted from behind. “They tend to be a bit slippery. Don’t know why Master Alvaro chose offices on the lower level. All the enchantments in the world can’t get that damn musty smell out of here. The bloody floors always have a layer of grime on them. Bloody treacherous for us less stable folk.”

They continued down a twisting staircase. The walls were adorned with paintings of various sorcerers, each wearing the traditional council robes. A plaque bore their name and position. Basil Hallward: Undersecretary to high Master Elder. Edwin Lutyens: Research. Emmerson Tennent: Healing. The stairway opened into a wider, darker corridor. The traffic in this hall was sparse compared to the upper hall. Wooden doors stood inside the stone walls at random intervals. Office of criminal proceedings. Office of advanced healing. Office of transporting regulation.

“Next door on our left, son,” Jonathan shouted. James and his mother exchanged curious glances, both wondering why Jonathan felt the need to shout. They reached the door. James and his mother paused.

“Go on in. He’s expecting you,” Jonathan said, taking up position beside the doorway.

It was only when James reached for the knob that he realized that none of the doors he’d seen in this corridor had knobs. He looked back at Jonathan.

“What’s a matter, son? Never opened a door before?”

“ Ireki,” his mother commanded, and the door opened. James knew the command. Knew it well, actually, but he doubted his ability to use it successfully.

Despite the gloomy corridor, inside was quite pleasing. Heavily curtained windows muted what appeared to be natural light. Numerous plants hung on the walls and grew from stone pots on the floor. A large black cat stood from its resting place on a rug by the fireplace and sauntered toward the guests. James could hear two sets of voices speaking but they abruptly stopped as the cat passed a curtained doorway. A moment later Alvaro stepped through the curtains with an uncomfortable smile on his face.

“I see you’ve met Jonathan. Very good. And this is my pet, Murk. He’s just a kitten now, but when he grows full size, he’ll be nothing to trifle with, I assure you.”

James smiled awkwardly, reaching to pet the cat, who bared his sharp teeth before turning away.

“So, let us get on with the tour, shall we?”

Alvaro led the way back into the corridor.

“I’m sure Jonathan complained about my decision to keep the offices down here, but I quite enjoy being away from everyone running hither and yon on the main floor. I find I’m more productive down here.”

They continued down the hall. Alvaro pointed out offices as they passed. In short turn, the group reached a set of marble steps heading up. Beside them was a narrower, more dingy set of stone steps that led down to yet another basement. There were also two corridors that ran perpendicular to the hall behind them.

“Down there,” Alvaro said, pointing to the left corridor, “are the maintenance offices. This other wing on the right houses the recruitment offices. Let us go up to the first floor, shall we?”

Before Alvaro had gotten his foot on the first step James asked, “What’s down there?” pointing to other stairwell.

“That, I’m afraid, is a restricted area.”

James thought of dragons and super-weapons and dungeons.

“Let’s keep moving please,” Alvaro said, bringing James back to reality. “There’s much to see.”

The first floor was far brighter and free of the smell Jonathan had been kind enough to point out. People rushed in and out of two arched doorways directly across from the stairwell. The ones coming out looked dirtied and disheveled compared to the ones going in. A loud boom followed by several short snaps echoed out of the doorway.

“This is our incantation experimentation office. It is where new incantations are tested. As you can see, sometimes it can be a messy business. Lets continue,” Alvaro said, moving down the corridor.

A nervous-looking guard quickly stepped from an adjoining corridor and whispered into Alvaro’s ear. Alvaro’s face went pale.

“Please excuse me. I must cut our tour short. Urgent business to attend.”

He turned and practically ran down the stairs they had just ascended. James and his mother exchanged confused glances but said nothing. The guard who had delivered the urgent news stepped forward.

“Master Alvaro has asked me to escort you to the exit.”

Margaret nodded, and she and James followed silently.

After more twists and turns than either of them could count, James and his mother finally reached the steps that would lead them to the covered walkway that stretched into the forest. The guard nodded, and they moved toward the walkway. Neither James nor Margaret spoke as they made their way along the walkway. They descended the steps at the far end and walked toward the edge of the forest where they had arrived just a few hours previously.

Once they stepped into the forest, James stopped. “That man we saw. The one who was looking at us. I’ve seen him before.”

Margaret stared into his eyes. “That man is dead. Whoever we saw today is an imposter. Remember, James, magic is a deceiver’s best friend. We must be hesitant in our trust of anyone.”

“Especially the dead,” a voice from behind them said. They both turned toward the sound.

David Ogilvy stood alone, looking at them. He looked thinner. His face had hardened, his eyes unsure.

“Who are you?” Margaret asked.

“It is I, Margaret. David.”

Without hesitating, Margaret removed a pinch of transporting powder and let the granules encase them in a purple mist. David Ogilvy was left standing alone in the forest.

— 20 -

The Cave of Truth

James stepped through the entry just behind Luno. To his surprise, it was as if the light from an overcast day spilled through an unseen window. The room was nothing but a square, no larger than the main hall at his parent’s home. The walls and floors of this room were roughly cut grey stone. James looked up at the ceiling. Far above him were what looked like clouds. They churned in a clockwise direction. Based on their darkened color, James thought it might rain at any moment. He turned to comment to Luno, but Luno was gone.

James quickly moved back toward the door. He extended his hand behind him, not wanting to turn his back on the open room but felt only the cold stone wall as he searched for the handle. His heart began to beat faster. The far wall had been engulfed in what looked like fog. James drew his sword and attempted to clear his mind.

A dark shape appeared in the mist. James’s hands began to shake as he was consumed by an overwhelming fear. The shape moved silently toward him-or was it only the fog? Fearing his knees would buckle beneath him if he didn’t move, James began to walk along the wall, never taking his eyes off the dark shape.

The mist began to recede, revealing a man. The fog lifted up from the floor exposing the man’s boots and the hem of his traveling cloak. It continued upward until the man’s entire body could be seen. His hood cast an unnatural shadow across his face, making it unidentifiable.

“Who are you?” James asked, surprised by the fear in his own voice.

“It is I. Your father,” Stuart said, pulling back his hood and revealing his face.

James immediately fell to his knees, his entire body trembling. He knew what he was seeing was impossible, yet in his heart, he wanted it to be true above all else. The man walked to James and put a gentle hand on his head.

“Son,” Stuart said, lifting James’s chin so he could make eye contact. Tears began streaming down James’s face. “Rise, my son. We have much to discuss,” Stuart said, grasping him beneath the arm.

James attempted to rise only to fall to the floor again. He wept uncontrollably. He attempted to gain control, attempted to stand, but every time he looked at his father, his guilt and emptiness shook his very core and sent him back to his knees. After a moment, Stuart spoke again.

“Son, look at me.”

James slowly raised his head and looked at his tear-blurred father.

“It’s okay. I’m here.”

The tears stopped and his body ceased shaking. When James was able to get to his feet, he realized he stood over a head taller than his father. The pair embraced.

“I’m sorry,” James whispered into his father’s ear as they held each other.

“Sorry? For what?” Stuart asked.

“It’s my fault.”

“What is your fault, Son?”

“That day you were captured in the forest of Arenberg. I came to rescue you and everyone died. It was an acci-”

“Boy, do I look dead to you? After I woke from whatever magic had rendered me unconscious, I was taken to one of Alvaro’s secret prisons. It didn’t take them long to figure out I was better off as far from you as possible, so they sent me here.”

James was overwhelmed with emotion. He had believed he was the cause of his father’s death for so long. Every day he had lived with that guilt. The guilt of taking his father from his mother, whom he saw crying every night for months after the “accident.” Along with the guilt came the extreme sense of loss. That day had cleaved a hole in his heart, and now, standing before him, his father was alive.

“I see it. I see it in your eyes and your face and the way you carry yourself,” Stuart said.

“What do you see?” James asked.

“You have unnecessarily burdened yourself with guilt.”

“Father, I cannot lie. It has plagued me every day since your loss.”

“Even if I had been killed, it would have been foolish to blame yourself. You were but a child. What happened that day was beyond your understanding or ability to control. Do you agree?”

“Yes but-”

“But you still lived with the guilt despite knowing you couldn’t have stopped what happened that night even if you had wanted to.”

“Every night for a year, I would wake up screaming your name. Every night I would run to mother for consolation and find her crying herself to sleep,” James said.

“Every man has a choice, James. He can allow his emotions to control him or he can control his emotions. Time and time again I’ve told you the importance of this control. It affects our ability to perform magic. You, no doubt, have struggled with your training since that night.”

“Why is this relevant now, Father? I passed my trials faster than any sorcerer before me, and have become so powerful the council fears my very existence.”

“It does matter, Son. You carry a heavy burden. You carry the expectations of the people of our world. You are the Anointed One. And now you are here, banished and powerless.

“Are you saying it is my fault I’ve been banished?”

“Yes,” Stuart replied coldly.

James hung his head and turned away from his father. He could feel the anger and frustration churning beneath the surface and did not want it to show. After all this time, after all he’d done, he was being reprimanded like a child.

“What must I do?” James asked.

“Let go of your guilt. Let go of your anger. You have enough to deal with without this additional burden.”

“My anger gives me power.”

“Power you are unable to control is not power. If you release yourself, you will become the most powerful sorcerer our generation has ever known. You must let go, James. If you ever wish to leave this place and fulfill you destiny… save our people, save humanity… save your mother. You must let go. Goodbye, Son.”

Before the last words spoken by his father registered in his mind and he could react, his father was gone. The fog had lifted and Luno was beside him, hunched over trying to catch his breath.

Not again, James thought looking around franticly. The four stone walls of the room had returned. “No,” James screamed. “Father!” His cries were ear splitting in the small room. Luno was finally able to catch enough breath to stand upright. James fell silent, taking in Luno’s disheveled appearance. His clothes were torn. Half his face was covered in what looked like soot, the other half was dripping blood from an injury above his left eye. His hair appeared to be smoking. He gave James and incredulous look as he attempted to put out his hair.

“What just happened to us?” James asked.

“This room has the most cunning enchantment. I believed, from the account of the only other person to set foot inside, that we would be faced with the same enemy. It appears, however, as though every person who enters is faced with a different enemy. Something tailor-made for them. Whatever you encountered appears to be slightly more benign than the beast I met. Although, by the expression on your face, I daresay not.”

“And what was the purpose?” James asked.

“I once believed the purpose was to send folks screaming for their lives out of the cave never to return. However, I’m not sure of that any more,” he said looking at James curiously. “What did you see?”

James let out a deep breath. “I saw my father… at least I thought it was my father.”

“What did he say?”

James looked at Luno with a reluctant expression.

“My boy, we are far past concealing our emotions from one another. Now tell me, please.”

“He said I have to let go.”

Luno was silent for a moment. He turned and paced around the room revealing a large slash across the back of his jacket. James was still trying to process all that had happened in those short minutes.

“Well then. Let us continue, shall we?” Luno said. James nodded and began moving toward the door they had entered.

“Boy, have you hit your head?” Luno asked, now standing on the opposite side of the room.

“We are moving on, are we not?” James asked.

“Indeed. Through this door,” Luno said, pointing to the solid wall in front of him.

Luno could tell by James’s confused look that something wasn’t right. He walked slowly toward James, never taking his eyes from the boy’s face.

“You can’t see it can you?”

“See what?” James asked.

“There is a doorway on the opposite wall. Framed in gold is the most magnificent mahogany door I’ve ever seen.”

James looked again where Luno was pointing but saw only the solid grey wall.

“I see nothing,” James replied.

“Fascinating,” Luno said to himself. He paced the room in deep thought. After several moments of silence he turned to James. “I must go on alone. Go back to the beach and wait for me. I shall not be long.”

“What is so important in there?” James asked.

“You will see, my boy. Patience.”

With that, Luno turned and disappeared into the wall. James walked over and pressed his hand at the spot where Luno had vanished and felt only cold, hard stone. Disenchanted, he made his way back to the beach alone.

James paced along the back wall of the cave where sand met black granite. He couldn’t get the thought of his father out of his mind. While he was in that room, he truly believed his father had come back to him. For a short moment, all the anger and resentment he had held melted away, and for the first time since his death, he had felt unburdened. The instant his father disappeared and he realized it was a trick of the island, everything came rushing back.

James passed the strange glyphs carved into the wall, thinking they had an odd familiarity about them. Thoughts about what he had just witnessed quickly pushed the glyphs from his mind. It hadn’t been his real father telling him to let go; it was a creation of the island. Part of James needed the guilt he’d held onto for so long. It made him feel… human. It helped keep him grounded. He could also reach deep inside himself and uncover that guilt if he needed. Some of the magic he had mastered in the past several years required that he delve deep into the ancient emotions of hurt and pain.

The incantations that required such an emotional foundation were usually a combination of dark and contemporary spells, which he mastered quite easily. He had mastered everything he had been taught. And yet, here in The Never, he only knew three magic words.

And then it struck him like a bolt of lightning. Could it be that simple? The island was trying to tell him what he needed. He needed to let go. He needed to accept the past for what it was and move on. James needed to relieve himself of emotions that burdened his spirit in order to understand the language of this land. He believed it, but was uncertain how to do it-or even if he could.

A noise brought him back from his contemplative state. He turned and saw Luno lying prone in the sand just in front of the doorway. James rushed to his side and rolled him over. Luno was staring off into space. James called his name, but he did not respond. James put his ear to Luno’s mouth and could feel his warm breath against it. James shook him and shouted his name once more. Luno did not respond.

James lifted Luno’s head and slid his arm behind his neck. As he reached for his legs, James realized Luno was clutching a wooden box in his hands. The box was the width of James’s extended hands. It had a black metal latch in the center that was secured by an ornate sliver lock. James laid Luno’s head gently back on the sand and pulled, but Luno’s hands did not release the box. He pulled harder to no avail.

Not wanting to waste any more time, James scooped up Luno’s body and hurried down the sandy rise to the boat. He set Luno in the bottom of the small boat. James quickly removed his cloak and tucked it behind Luno’s head. He looked again into Luno’s eyes. They continued to stare unblinking into space. He shouted his name once more. Nothing. James pushed the boat into the water and carefully boarded, trying not to step on his friend.

Relieved that the waters were lake-calm, James steadily rowed through the cave entrance and toward the pier behind him.

As he came within shouting distance of the pier, James yelled for Kilani. Several people who were watching the small boat draw near began to shout over their shoulders. James knew he couldn’t lift Luno up the ladder onto the pier and so decided to row to the shore. The onlookers moved down the pier as the boat passed. By the time James reached the beach, a crowd had gathered. Many hands pulled the bow of the small boat up onto the beach. James looked back for Kilani, and he was relieved when he saw her running through the crowd toward the boat.

James again scooped Luno up in his arms. He handed him to Kilani and two other men. James recognized Roger and William. Both men wore concerned expressions. He hopped out of the boat and took Luno back from the helpers.

“His house,” Kilani said, knowing what James was going to ask before he asked it.

William and Roger cleared the crowd in front of them as James and Kilani quickly moved up the beach and onto the pier. James heard the crowd shout as he passed: “What happened to Luno?” “What is he holding?” “Is he dead?” “Is he going to be okay?” William had the door to the house open before they got there. James stepped inside with Luno. Kilani was just behind. She looked at William and Roger, who stood at the doorway.

“Nobody gets in,” Kilani said to the men. Both nodded. Kilani turned as Roger closed the door, and the men took up positions on either side.

James laid Luno on the cot and took a step back. Kilani quickly stepped forward and kneeled beside him. James could see the emotions she’d been holding back begin to come through her typically unreadable face. Her eyes welled up with tears and a few made their way down her smooth, tanned skin toward her full red lips. She sniffled as she whispered into his ear.

She turned to James. Luno was very good at getting himself into trouble. Kilani knew this and held no blame in her expression as she asked what happened. James briefly told her about the cave. She looked at the wooden box still stuck in Luno’s grasp. She pulled at the box, but it held fast. She stood quickly, closed her eyes, and said, “ Voriko.”

The box shook slightly as if trying to come free then was motionless once more. James then stood over Luno, extended his hand and repeated the word, “ Voriko.” The sliver lock moved upward where it paused for a moment before falling limp. As it fell, a loud click sounded from inside the lock.

James and Kilani glanced at each other, and he stooped and pulled at the lock. It slid off effortlessly.

“Should I open it?” James asked.

Without a word, Kilani reached down and lifted the wooden lid. A small black key lay on a bed of purple satin. Kilani lifted the key before James could give warning. Luno’s hands immediately went limp, spilling the wooden box onto the floor. Luno sat bolt upright with a scream. He looked around for a moment then fell back to the cot unconscious.

Kilani quickly set the key on the table and bent over Luno. As she tended to him, James’s attention was drawn to the key. It was such a small insignificant thing, yet he couldn’t help but move closer to it. He felt a connection to it. His need for it increased with every step until he reached for it. The moment the cool black steel touched his skin, an image of the black castle flashed through his mind. The desire to reach the castle came flooding back as he held the key tightly in his hand.

Beside him on the cot, Luno began rubbing his eyes. With Kilani’s help, he slowly sat up. The moment Luno regained focus, he began looking around franticly.

“Where is it?” he demanded. Before James could respond, Luno’s eyes found the box lying on the floor, its lid open. The purple satin fanned out like sand from a broken hourglass.

“The key! Where is the key?” Luno asked.

James didn’t want to share the key with anyone. He squeezed it tighter in his hand, hoping Kilani would forget he’d ever picked it up.

“James,” said Kilani, “where is the key?”

Reluctantly, James opened his hand, revealing the black key.

“Thank goodness,” said Luno relaxing his shoulders. He stood and stretched as if waking from a long sleep. James had to fight the urge to snap his hand shut as Luno moved closer to inspect the key.

“Of course,” he said, excitedly. “How could I have been so foolish?”

After a moment of introspection, Luno looked up.

“It is believed that the box contained the key to the black castle. The key to our escape.”

“How did you learn of it and why haven’t you mentioned this to me before?” Kilani asked.

“Akil discovered it. He told me where I would find it. He said if I went looking for it before it was ready to be found, it would not be found at all.”

“How did you know the time was right?” James asked. “I didn’t until the guardian.”

“You saw a guardian?” Kilani asked excitedly.

“We did,” Luno said.

“I knew it,” Kilani whispered.

“I don’t understand. How did the guardian tell you it was time to seek this box?” James asked.

“Sometimes I can’t help but marvel at how dim-witted you can be, my boy. What did the guardian tell you?”

“It said I have been granted what has been denied all others.”

“Exactly. You can travel over water safely. This means you have the power to return to our world. The moment the guardian confirmed what we already suspected, I knew it was time to search for the key.”

Now that we have the key, our voyage may begin. We will need it before the end.”

— 21 -

A Prophetic Journey

March 1886, India

Stuart and Margaret, mounted on their respective geldings, appeared in a flash of light. Margaret’s expression was one of absolute terror. She clung to Noch’s neck, her eyes tightly shut. Stuart, on the other hand, looked completely at ease and pleased with himself. He lowered his arm, which had been wrapped tightly around his wife’s waist, as he surveyed his surroundings.

They had arrived in a clearing surrounded by dense forest. A tiger, previously enjoying its fresh kill, looked up in surprise at the sudden and inexplicable arrival of the uninvited guests. It quickly lifted the carcass and ran off into the vegetation.

“Right, then,” Stuart said, expecting his wife to release the white knuckled grip she had on her horse and open her eyes. When it became apparent she was not intending on releasing Noch anytime in the near future, he spoke.

“Margaret, my dear. All is well. We are here.”

Slowly, reluctantly, she lifted her head and opened her eyes. She let out a breath, which she had apparently been holding since their departure.

“Where?” she asked.

“India. Northern India to be precise.”

Margaret looked around, searching for clues to their location. To her dismay, she could have been in any clearing in any jungle in the world. She didn’t want to believe they had traveled by magic. She had no choice but to accept that they had, a moment ago, been just outside the cottage of Tabitha Ogilvy.

“How do you know we’ve gone where we were supposed to?” she asked.

“I’ve been here before,” Stuart replied.

“You’ve spoken with the seer? Why didn’t you mention this?”

“No. I’ve traveled here previously. One cannot transport to a place they haven’t physically been — unless of course they’re traveling with someone else as you are. It’s one of the eight unbreakable laws of sorcery,” replied Stuart pensively.

Margaret nodded, remembering everything her husband had told her before they left. In the brief conversation, he had told her that the seer, who’s name nobody knew, had summoned her. Someone summoned me? she thought. Margaret asked what happened if someone ignores this so-called seer’s summons. Both Stuart and Tabitha looked aghast. “That is not an option,” Stuart said sternly.

“Shall we? Stuart asked, turning Archos toward the edge of the clearing.

Margaret nodded, hesitantly turned Noch, and followed. They continued through the jungle for several hours. Margaret couldn’t discern any trail and wondered how her husband knew where they were going.

Finally, the dense jungle thinned and a heavily trodden trail appeared beneath them. As the miles passed, the trail became wider and eventually was wide enough to fit a carriage. After a few more miles, the vegetation lining the road receded. They crossed over a rickety wooden bridge. Beneath twisted a muddy stream, its banks so overgrown with plant life not a spec of dirt could be seen. Margaret watched as a jonquil leaf floated under the bridge with the current. When she lifted her head, she spotted the first sign of human habitation since their arrival. Two small shacks stood sentinel on either side of the road ahead. The mud walls and exposed wooden supports reminded her of houses she’d seen on her last trip to France. These buildings were much smaller and had contrasting colors with their dark mud and light wood.

As they passed the buildings, Margaret couldn’t see any windows, chimneys, or doors. Beyond the buildings the road split. In the crotch stood a row of small houses. Each branch of the road was also lined with houses. All made of mud and wood. The roofs were flat. The doorways were covered with fabric.

“Where is everyone?” whispered Margaret.

“At the river, I imagine,” Stuart replied.

“All of them?”

“I suppose so. Although it does seem a bit odd,” Stuart replied.

They continued past the houses, taking the left fork to the opposite end of the village. There were still no signs of life. Not even an animal stirred in the afternoon sun. The road banked away from the habitations and began to descend toward the jungle. Margaret looked back over her shoulder at the abandoned village before her view was obstructed by the hill. She shuddered and couldn’t avoid the thought that something wasn’t right.

They continued along the road, which abruptly changed back into a trail as they passed through the tree line into the jungle. Margaret noticed her husband’s pace quicken. She tapped Noch with her heels so as not to fall behind.

Before she could see it, she heard the musical sound of water rolling over small rocks on a riverbed. The trees became less dense and Margaret was able to see the river. It was very wide, but shallow. Not a person was visible and again she shuddered. Stuart stopped when he reached the side of the river. Margaret pulled Noch alongside him.

“What is it?” she asked.

“Do you hear any birds?” he asked.

She fell silent. The only sound came from the river. Neither bird nor other animal made a sound. She’d cursed the noises that had filled her ears for the past several hours and now she longed for anything but silence.

“Nothing,” she whispered.

Stuart scanned the area for signs of life, a nervous expression on his face.

“James, what’s happening here?”

“I wish I knew,” he said.

After a moment he took a deep breath, tightened his grip on the reins, and gently tapped Archos with his heels. The horse slowly stepped into the water and moved across the shallow river. Margaret reluctantly followed. When they reached the midpoint, Stuart paused, his gaze fixed upstream.

“What is that?” he asked.

Margaret squinted trying to make out the object that was floating toward them. At first she thought it was a branch, but as it drew nearer she realized it was a body-the body of a child.

Margaret let out a gasp. Stuart simply stared, mouth agape as the current carried it closer. Both of them fixed on the small body as it floated past. It was face down in the water, minimally clothed, and white, as if it had been in the water for some time. Margaret looked up at Stuart, who continued to stare at the body. In her periphery, she caught sight of something else coming downstream. Slowly, she turned her head.

Her voice was stolen by fear. Dozens of bodies were floating toward them. After several muted shrieks Margaret found her voice. Stuart turned quickly away from the child’s body still ambling lazily downstream. A scream, rarely heard from a man’s throat, echoed that of his wife’s. Without hesitation Stuart brought Archos to a full gallop until he was out of the water. Margaret and Noch were just behind. They both stopped, catching their breath. Margaret lifted her head, which had been buried in Noch’s mane, and looked toward the river. The bodies were gone.

She looked downstream thinking perhaps they had already passed but saw nothing save the clear water rolling over shallow stones. She looked upstream. Nothing.

“What’s happening?” she asked.

“I have the feeling we are unwelcome here,” replied Stuart, having regained his composure.

“I thought you’ve been here before.”

“I have. Someone doesn’t want me to take you to see him.” “I thought you said he’s just an old man?”

“He is a seer, the greatest living seer, and he has asked for you,” Stuart replied with incredulity at her disrespect.

“In all his known existence he has asked to see two people. The first is by many people’s standards the greatest sorcerer to ever live.”

Margaret let out a mocking laugh at the word “sorcerer.”

“Despite all that you’ve seen, the fact that we’ve traveled across the world in an instant, things you couldn’t possibly explain, you continue to treat this with the pomposity of someone who thinks they know better than to believe their own eyes. You must be humble before him.”

“James, I’m sorry. Truly. I believe I’m compensating for my fear, for my uncertainty. I don’t know how to act in response to all that you’ve told me so I act the way I’ve been conditioned to act. With contempt. I apologize and promise to make more of an effort to show my respect.”

Content with her response, Stuart heeled Archos and began up the trail that wound around the side of a rather steep hillside.

“Stay close, my love,” Stuart said. “I am sure other obstacles will lie in our path before we reach our destination.”

My love. How long had it been since he’s said that? Margaret wondered.

— 22 -

The Three Widows

Rain was falling. Since Luno’s arrival, he could recall this weather anomaly on two other occasions. Both lasted less than a minute. Such was not the case today. The deluge began just before dawn and showed no signs of letting up. Everyone in Harbor Town was drawn out into the storm. So it was James, Kilani and Luno found themselves, along with all the residents of Harbor Town, standing on the pier letting the rain soak them through and through. Some people simply stood with their mouths open, enjoying the ability to drink fresh water falling from the sky. Others danced like children. Some stood completely naked, letting the rain soak their skin, showing no modesty whatsoever. Luno simply shook his head. “Of all the bloody days,” he said.

“It is a sign from the island,” Kilani said, wringing the water out of her hair.

“Perhaps we should wait until the rain stops before we depart,” James suggested as he looked around, convinced some of the residents had lost their minds.

“We will delay no longer. Besides, I am quite certain it would rain on whichever day we decided to go,” Luno said.

“I don’t understand. The island has given us the power to travel across the water, why would she try to prevent us from leaving?” James asked.

“Like any woman, some things we just won’t understand,” Luno said, smiling at Kilani. Her expression made it clear she was not amused.

“The ship is already packed. There is nothing left for us to do but depart. I shall see you on deck.”

Having been outside already, the residents of Harbor Town gathered at the end of the pier when they noticed activity on the ship. James and Kilani now stood on deck, along with their two recruited crewmembers, Roger and William, waiting for Luno. The crowd grew silent. James knew Luno had arrived. He made his way on top of the scaffold used during the ship’s assembly and looked down at the crowd.

“Today marks a momentous occasion. We journey, for the first time to lands yet explored in hopes of bringing back news of a means to our escape.” This was received with cheers and applause. “It appears as if our lady has arranged a special sendoff,” Luno said, extending his arms and lifting his face to the falling rain. The applause was less enthusiastic.

“Your journey is cursed,” a voice in the crowd shouted. “You wont make it out of the harbor alive.”

“Naysayers and believers alike long for a means of departure. Today, we intend to begin the quest that will bring us all absolution. In my absence I am appointing Charlotte interim governor.”

Charlotte was one of the dozen people traipsing bare-bottomed across the pier. By the looks of her, James wasn’t sure she was the greatest choice to lead in Luno’s absence. She had an expression of surprise when Luno shouted her name, and James believed Luno had not mentioned this appointment to the appointee before this very moment. The entire crowd turned to look at Charlotte, whose bare, dripping wet body began to shiver the moment all eyes turned upon her.

“Follow the rules we all have agreed upon and you shall thrive in my absence. Now, without further delay, we must be off. I bid all of you a fond farewell.”

Luno climbed down the ladder and boarded the ship.

“Now then,” he smiled. Let us be off.”

The crew went to work quickly. Kilani and James hoisted the sail as Luno took up position behind the wheel. Roger and William untied the bow and stern line. The sail flapped uselessly in the rain.

“ Poikelo,” James said, extending his open hands. Immediately, the sail billowed and the ship lurched forward. Luno tightened his grip on the wheel while Kilani kept watch on the port side to make sure the ship didn’t scrape the pylons as they passed the end of the pier. Waves blowing in from the north battered the front of the ship. The crew could not hear the cheers from the spectators on top of the pier nor see their arms waving. Luno turned the ship to its heading, which was barely visible in the storm. He kept the bow oriented with the eastern tip of North Harbor. Once he spotted the jagged outcropping of rocks over Kilani’s shoulder, he held that course and gave James a nod. James repeated the incantation, extending his hands toward the sail. The ship responded by gaining speed. As the speed increased it began skipping over the waves. Each time the bow dug into another wave the ship would shudder. William and Roger exchanged concerned looks and moved aft to have a discussion with Luno.

“I don’t reckon zee vill stand zis for very long, Capitan,” William, said.

“Don’t worry, boys. She’ll fare just fine,” Luno said, yelling over the roar of wind and rain. He nodded to James again, and again James asked for more power in the sails. The ship sped up. The impacts of the waves increased until they sounded like a rapidly beating heart, jolting the ship with each beat. As the speed increased further the ride smoothed and the ship felt as if it were traveling over much calmer waters.

Luno relaxed his grip on the wheel and let a satisfied smile cross his face. He checked his bearing, making sure they were still heading in the proper direction. Suddenly, a stiflingly hot gust of air struck the ship, pushing the rain away and leaving them in the sticky humidity one would normally find in the jungle. Breathing became a forced effort. James and Kilani exchanged concerned glances.

It didn’t take long to sail clear of the hot air and all were grateful to be able to breathe normally once more. Luno smiled knowingly and asked William to take the wheel. He made his way to the bow where James and Kilani were securing the rigging.

“We are on our way,” he said excitedly.

“It appears as though the island isn’t fond of our little voyage,” James said.

“My friend, if the island didn’t want us to leave Harbor Town, this ship would be at the bottom of the sea. Always remember that she is in control here and we miscreants have nothing to say about it.”

“What do you presume all that weather was about?” James asked.

“I do not pretend to know her mind and speculation usually leads down the wrong path. Let us look onward. Now, my dear,” Luno said, looking at Kilani. “How long do you estimate our arrival at the first of the three widows?”

“At our current speed, I’d say less than twenty minutes.”

“Excellent, we will drop anchor on the western side of the island and row to shore. All three widows are approachable from the west, which will make our trip briefer than if we had to circumnavigate each bloody island looking for a place to land.”

Luno had done his homework. During his tenure on the island he’d explored most every crack and crevasse The Never had to offer-that is, with the exception of the six perimeter islands. It had taken him decades to map everything. He had lost several people who’d volunteered to accompany him and been injured more times than he cared to remember. From the cliffs on the northern cape, Luno could see that each of the three widow’s western sides had white sandy shores. A perpetual mist hung over their centers, preventing anyone from seeing far past the coasts.

“What is the plan if we cannot find running water on the island?” James asked, recalling that one could not drink standing water in The Never without dying a terrible death.

“You worry too much, my friend. We drank just before we left and have more than enough time to find water,” Luno replied.

“And if we don’t?” James asked.

“Depending on how long the exploration takes, we can either move on to the second widow or make our way back to Harbor Town.”

“I have a suggestion,” Kilani said.

“By all means,” Luno said.

“Finding running water should be paramount. We move swiftly to that end. If, by midday, we do not find any, James and I make our way to the second widow to search there. We meet back at our landing point before sundown and either return to Harbor Town or to the water source. If we do discover running water, we set up our camp there.”

“A brilliant idea,” Luno said, smiling as he walked back toward the wheel.

James looked at Kilani, who gave him a wry smile and continued securing the supplies that had been strewn about in the storm. Once complete, he made his way toward the stern to make sure the dinghy was still tethered to the rear of the boat. Despite everything they had set out to do on this voyage, his mind couldn’t help but return to that which had infested it as long as he could remember. The prophecy. Here he was, in a place far away from his home and once again he was the one everyone was depending upon. He thought it ironic that the moment he’d arrived at this place-once he’d regained his lucidity, that is-that he had felt a weight lifted from his consciousness.

The moment Luno told him he believed James was the one who could return them to their world, it came rushing back, sitting squarely upon his shoulders. He hadn’t realized what a burden it was until it had returned with the force of a massive boulder. Never free to live his own life, James had always been expected to serve others. Despite his outward appearance of strength and acceptance of this destiny, James struggled with this responsibility every day. What if he didn’t live up to the expectations? What if he couldn’t? It is never easy to live under the shadow of greatness. Especially when you’re expected to fulfill the expectations everyone has laid out for you since you were a child.

And yet, in this place he had found reprieve. Not once, but twice. First upon his arrival and second through the touch of a woman. Despite their age difference, James and Kilani had grown close. Her relationship with Luno was complicated at best. Every time James asked her about it she deflected the question and steered the conversation in another direction. Nobody in Harbor Town shared residence, which James found particularly odd since there were equal numbers of men and women dwelling there. He couldn’t get a clear answer to that question either. Kilani spent a considerable amount of time with Luno. Virtually every moment she was not with James she spent with Luno. Every morning when they’d meet to explore or study, Kilani would come walking out of Luno’s house. Every night she would retire to her own.

Luno had sent James and Kilani to confirm his map details in grid 14, which was on the western coast. Kilani and James talked constantly during their trek. Kilani always spoke about the plants. He quickly learned she was the resident horticulturist. When they would go on mapping expeditions, Kilani was always on the lookout for undiscovered plants. She invariably returned with bundles of plants and leaves with which she would conduct experiments.

She was the one who discovered the fire trees of the west. When the fire tree’s leaves touch, they immediately burst into flames. The sap of these trees is also highly flammable. This discovery was the catalyst for the construction of nearly all of the modern amenities at Harbor Town. Most of all, Kilani was hell-bent on finding a local plant that would enable her to make transporting powder.

As they reached the lichen-choked boulders that lined the small cove (aptly named Lichen Cove) on their map-plotting mission, James and Kilani sat and looked out over the sea.

“Do you truly believe we will ever leave this place?” she asked.

“Do you?” James replied.

Tears began streaming down Kilani’s cheeks. It was the first time James had ever seen her show any emotion other than excitement. She looked out over the water and let the tears come. James looked at her. Her blue-green eyes, glassy with tears, appeared to have left this world. Minutes passed. Kilani continued to stare out to sea. Finally she spoke.

“When you first arrived and Luno believed that you were the one who would get us off this island, I was excited. We all were. But a year has passed and we are no closer to finding a way out. I want to believe in you, James. But here,” she placed her hand over her heart, “deep inside lies doubt. Luno inspires hope, that’s what he does. I think he truly believes you will do what he thinks you’ve been brought here to do. That gives me hope. I suppose I’ve always had trouble blindly following. Blindly believing.”

“My entire life has been filled with the expectations of others. And all my life, I have held onto doubt. Perhaps I am not the person Luno believes me to be. But I will promise you this, Kilani,” James took her hand from her heart and placed it over his. “I will try with every ounce of blood that pumps through my heart to live up to those expectations.”

“Why burden yourself with that?”

“Because without hope, there is nothing. And I will not live in a world where there is no hope.”

Kilani broke her gaze for the first time and looked where James had placed her hand. It still rested on his chest with both his hands covering it. Their eyes met and locked, tears still streamed down her cheeks. Kilani reached her other hand and cupped the back of James’s neck. He felt a flash of heat rush down his spine. It surged back up and spread across his shoulders and down to his fingers. The tension that strung across his shoulder blades like piano wire melted away.

“I want to believe. Make me believe. Tell me you’ll take me away from this place. Be who you are supposed to be.” Kilani said these things not because she wanted a response from him but because she wanted to motivate him to press on, to keep trying.

As the heat dissipated, it was replaced. It wasn’t the emptiness or pressure James had come to expect but desire. Desire to fulfill the destiny Luno had laid out for him. Not for Luno or the others trapped on The Never but for her. Just her. Her approval, her acceptance, her love. Kilani released her grip on his neck and let her hand fall from his chest. Despite his immediate longing for her touch, he felt invigorated. James wondered what she so longed for but knew she would tell him only when she was ready, if at all. On that day for the first time, James felt as if Kilani saw him as a man rather than just a boy.

A cry of “Land ho,” returned James to the present. In that simple phrase James realized there were only two true mariners aboard the ship. He was grateful to have William and Roger and understood why Luno kept them close in his council during the planning phase of the expedition. He had even allowed them to name the ship, which they called The Queen Mary, after their wives, both named Mary.

“Bring her about the western point and look for a suitable place to anchor,” Luno shouted from the bow. “Aye, aye, Capin’,” Roger shouted from behind the wheel.

Luno slowed the ship as it rounded the point. For the first time, James saw the second widow, which was tucked in just behind the first. The islands were close, easily within rowing distance, especially considering his newfound strength.

The water along the coasts of both widows was brilliant green. It gave way to a deep blue several hundred feet from shore. The sails slackened and the ship coasted toward where the blue and green waters met. The sail was quickly lowered and stowed while William positioned the boat for anchoring. James, Kilani, and Roger lowered the stone anchor. The line, made of woven iron-tree vines, went slack shortly after breaking the surface of the water.

“She’s not much deeper ’n the keel Capin’. Touch and go by the looks of it. Good thing we anchored here or she’d run aground for sure,” Roger shouted to Luno, who was gathering supplies from the hold.

They dropped the bow anchor for stability despite the lakestill waters. Once the dinghy was loaded with the necessary supplies, the crew made their way aboard and began to row to shore. Luno wasn’t entirely sure if leaving the ship unoccupied would be a wise idea because of the unpredictable weather, but it had calmed significantly. As the anchors had gained easy purchase on the sea floor, he decided having everyone search for running water would be the best use of manpower.

The small boat made landfall without incident. They pulled the boat ashore and lashed it to a tree. Luno quickly unrolled a map he’d drawn based on his observations from the mainland. The strange mist still hung over the island, making visibility inland poor at best.

“I had hoped we’d be able to see better once we’d made landfall,” Luno said, looking up from his map into the jungle in front of him. “Our only choice is to head inland. We shall cross north to south, coast to coast in an easterly direction. Kilani, I want you to lead. James, take the rear. Be on your guard, there’s no telling what may dwell inland. Let us make haste; midday approaches rapidly.”

The group moved quickly into the jungle. They were immediately enveloped in the mist, which reminded James of the London fogs at their worst. Though William was no more than ten paces in front of him, James could barely make out his back, and he couldn’t make out anyone else in the group at all.

The interior of the island was eerily silent. Even the footfalls of the group fell noiselessly. James could detect no elevation change as they carried on. It wasn’t long before they had crossed the small island and were on the southern shore. Other than the giant trees, which disappeared in the mist not far above their heads, they hadn’t seen much of anything. They quickly turned and made their way back into the jungle, this time on a northeasterly heading.

Not long after they plunged into the mist the group stopped. An earsplitting shriek broke the silence. James could hear the leaves in the trees above fluttering under the weight of something moving from branch to branch. The group formed a tight circle, each facing out and looking up into the mist in hopes of spotting whatever was moving. The sound above stopped as quickly as it started. Several leaves glided through the mist and fell to the ground around the group. After another moment of silence, Luno ordered them to press on. After a longer spell of walking, the group again stepped through the jungle onto the beach, this time northeast of their original position. The Queen Mary was still visible, anchored just offshore.

“We will make one more pass to the southern shore and one pass back to the north. If we don’t find anything, we will implement our contingency plan,” Luno said.

Each time the group stepped into the jungle, James felt increasingly uneasy. His senses were on high alert as, yet again, he stepped into the mist-shrouded forest. For the first time since their arrival on the first widow, James thought he could detect a slight rise in the elevation as they moved rapidly toward the center of the island. The rest of the group’s unease had heightened as well. So much so that when Kilani came to a stop, every member, save Luno, ran into the back of the person in front of them. James, who had been looking up into the canopy, walked into Roger and knocked him to the ground.

As he helped Roger to his feet, James realized the heavy mist had dissipated slightly. In front of him, Kilani, Luno, and William were staring at a tall stone structure blocking their path. It stretched high into the air. The top was wreathed by the dense canopy. The base was as wide as three horse-lengths. Its circular shape revealed no seams.

“Vat the ’ell es it, Capitan?” William asked.

“I don’t know,” Luno replied, slowly circumnavigating the base while carefully inspecting it. He stopped on the far side. Glyphs carved into the stone stretched in a straight line from the ground into the canopy.

“Do you recognize it?” James asked.

“No. I’ve never seen writing such as this,” Luno replied. “Strange,” James said as he inspected the black granite tower. “What, boy?” asked Luno.

“This is somehow familiar… like I’ve seen it before.”

“Impossible,” said Luno. “The stone appears to be of the same type of rock as the cave. Perhaps the familiarity comes from there?”

“Perhaps,” said James. His hand was buried deep inside the satchel slung over his shoulder. Between his thumb and index finger the cool steel of the key instantly reminded him of the unquestionable desire it had awakened.

Slowly, Luno extended his hand toward the tower. As it neared the stone, he could feel heat radiating from it. Luno paused before contacting the surface.

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Kilani asked.

“Not at all,” Luno replied, mesmerized by the mysterious lettering. He lowered his hand and stepped back from the spire. Luno sensed importance in their discovery, but he couldn’t articulate where the feeling was coming from.

“We must get an accurate position. I feel we may need to return to this place and we won’t be able to find it unless we do so. James, Kilani, make your way north to the second widow as quickly as you can. As soon as I’ve got this mapped, we will continue our search for running water. We’ll meet you at our landing site before sundown.”

Overwhelmed by the desire to put as much distance between himself and the spire, James nodded and headed toward the northern end of the clearing. Kilani paused to have a word with Luno. From where James was standing, they appeared to be arguing, but he could not hear the exchange. James could tell by her expression that she wasn’t pleased with the outcome. “Everything okay?” James asked.

“Let us move with all haste,” she said and took off into the mist at a run. James hurried after. Several minutes had passed when the commotion in the mist-covered canopy above took up again. This time Kilani did not stop. Instead, she increased her speed. James kept close behind.

It didn’t take the pair long to reach the northern shore. They looked to the west. The coast curved slightly to the south, preventing them from seeing their landing point and the Queen Mary. Not wanting to waste a minute, they continued running along the shore. As they ran, James noticed numerous tracks in the sand. They started where the small waves rolled onto the shore and disappeared into the jungle. The majority were smaller than his own footprints. He did, however, spot two larger sets of tracks among the smaller tracks. Neither were identifiable.

The pair silently made their way to the dinghy without incident. They made quick progress across the channel and reached the shore of the second widow within an hour. They secured the small boat and moved down the shoreline to the east, parallel to the course they had just run on the first widow’s coast. Kilani had spotted cliffs on the far western side of the second widow. They made their way rapidly to where the shore turned sharply to the northeast.

James noticed similar-looking tracks in the sand: two pair of large tracks and countless smaller tracks. Based on his pace counting (a mapping trick Luno had taught him), they were approximately across from the tracks he’d spotted on the first widow. Underfoot the soft sand gave way to small stones. As they drew nearer to the southeastern point on the island, the size of the stones lining the shore gradually increased until James and Kilani were hopping from stone to stone. They had decided to avoid going into the jungle (and the mist) until they reached the cliffs.

The stones became boulders and spilled out into the sea as they reached the southwestern corner. James and Kilani looked up to the north, seeing the cliffs. Considering the lack of elevation change from the western side of the island to the eastern, James couldn’t understand how there were cliffs on this side of the island. By all logic they should be underwater. Knowing better than to question the rationality of The Never James followed Kilani as she made her way toward the cliffs.

Unlike the cliffs by Harbor Town, which were virtually smooth and perfectly vertical, these were choked by roots and vines and had numerous ledges and outcroppings. James and Kilani were reassured. Even in The Never, plants needed fresh water to survive.

Kilani grasped the nearest vine and began to climb. James followed closely. When they reached the first overhang Kilani paused.

“What is it?” James asked.

“Those plants,” she said, looking at the low-growing purple and white plants that were tucked into where the vertical face met the outcropping. “I’ve never seen them before.”

Before he could stop her, Kilani jumped from the vine to the ledge and carefully pulled one plant, roots and all from the rock. The long white roots reminded James of the guardian’s tendrils. She wound them around the base of the plant and gently placed it in her satchel. James knew they were in a hurry but decided not to rush her. He had long since suspected Kilani’s obsession with finding the local ingredients for transporting powder directly correlated with her desire to leave this place and return to… to something.

Without making eye contact, Kilani jumped from the ledge and grasped the vine above. She continued upward. Near the top, she paused again. James was about to insist that they keep moving when she spoke. “Do you hear that?” she asked.

“I hear nothing out of the ordinary,” James replied.

“I hear running water,” she said.

Without another word, she began moving across the cliff face, jumping from vine to vine. James followed though he questioned whether several of the vines would hold his weight. When she reached a leaf-covered protrusion, she paused. James froze as he gained purchase on the vine beside her. He listened. Sure enough, he could make out the faint trickle of water echoing through a cavern. Kilani removed her short sword from its sheath and began hacking at the vegetation covering the cliff face. As it fell away, a small shelf was revealed. James climbed until his head was even with the shelf. It stretched back two arm-lengths where a small opening, no higher than James’s forearm and no wider than his shoulders, continued into the cliffs.

Having learned from Luno, James removed a fire tree leaf from his satchel. He removed a second, which he kept tucked under his belt, and touched them together just above a small torch he’d also kept in his satchel. The leaves immediately ignited and fell in a ball of flame onto the sap-soaked torch. He extended his arm toward the opening and the light from the torch spilled inside. Kilani crouched, looking.

“It goes back for some distance,” she said.

“Can you tell if it opens up?” James asked.

“No. It curves to the left.”

James shifted the supplies that hung from his belt to his back for more freedom of movement and crouched. He peered inside and saw just what Kilani had described, and he could hear the sound of running water clearly. There was no doubt that inside was what they were looking for. Getting there would be another matter entirely.

“I may fit,” James said, measuring the opening with his hands. He looked at Kilani. She had already removed all of the supplies she had been carrying, save a small dagger, which she slid from her hip to the small of her back, and her own ready-made torch.

“I’ll go first to see if it widens,” she said already lying prone on the shelf and pulling herself toward the opening. After lighting her torch from James’s, she wriggled her way inside shifting her hips from side to side. Her bare feet-eternally dirty as none of The Never’s residents wore shoes-disappeared into the opening.

Several minutes passed as James watched her silhouette dance in front of the torch that lit her path. Soon the opening fell dark as she turned the corner. Minutes ticked by, each longer than the next. The rustling of her body shuffling along the stone floor ceased, and James’s pulse quickened. He called out to her. With each silent moment that passed James could feel his heart steadily making its way up into his throat. Finally she replied. The echo off the tunnel walls made deciphering the words difficult. James thought he made out the words “Come in.”

He quickly removed his gear, lashing it to the vine hanging over his head, and crawled toward the opening. He began moving into the narrow entrance, gripping his torch awkwardly. James had never liked tight spaces and this was no exception. He kept his arms in front of his body to narrow his shoulders enough to squeeze inside. Unfortunately this also reduced the leverage he could get and slowed his progress.

He rounded the bend, grateful that it wasn’t a sharp corner. The tunnel began to widen ever so slightly until James was finally able to return his elbows closer to his body and move along at a much faster pace. He also noticed the walls were wet as they shimmered in the torchlight. The sound of the flowing water was much louder and he thought he could hear Kilani calling out to him.

“I think I’m almost there,” he replied.

The tunnel widened again, and he was able to crouch. Beneath his feet, James felt moisture for the first time. He could feel each step become less secure, like the algae-covered rocks on shore at low tide. As he placed his foot and shifted his weight, James’s legs slipped out from under him, sending him to his back. As he attempted to reorient himself, he realized he was sliding downward on the slime-covered floor at great speed. He tried to gain purchase with his feet and hands but was unsuccessful. The flame of the torch rippled as the wind blew past. The sound of water grew louder still and for the first time, James could make out what Kilani was saying.

“Mind the rocks at the bottom,” she shouted from somewhere below.

James began to panic as the speed of his descent began to exceed the strength of his light. He tried to sit up but the shifting of his weight only sent him rolling onto his stomach. Before another thought could run through his mind, he felt the impact tear through his feet to his heels and up his legs. He bent his knees in hopes of absorbing some of the inertia. His body crumpled and his torch went dark as he let out a pain-stricken cry.

Minutes, hours, days. James had no idea how long he was unconscious. He thought he may be dead as a dim glow moved in his direction. The pain quickly reminded him that he was indeed alive. The glow brightened and drew nigh. James could make out a shape beside it. He tried to remember what happened, where he was, but he could only focus on the approaching light and the figure beside it. Finally, his mind began to recall what had happened. At the same time, a figure came into view. It was blurry yet familiar. As it moved closer, James realized who it was. Akil Karanis was standing before him. Akil smiled, nodded, and said, “Get to the castle.”

James was about to reply when his vision went blurry again. He squeezed his eyes closed. When he opened them, Kilani was standing in front of him. She wore a smirk that gave James a sense of relief. Perhaps his injuries weren’t as bad as he thought. He tried to move his legs as she crouched over him. Pain shot through his hips and up his back. He let out a cry.

“Stop trying to move, you bloody idiot,” she said, inspecting his body. “I told you to mind the rocks at the bottom.”

“And how was I supposed to mind anything? That was like a bloody sheet of ice. How did you escape injury?”

“I know how to land,” she replied.

Kilani reached her hands under James’s arms and placed her palms against his ribs. Once again, James felt the warmth and energy travel between them. His mind went immediately calm, and the pain and despair that had gripped him a moment ago was gone. He looked into her eyes and she into his, and he longed for her. To touch his lips to hers. To feel her breath against his skin. The need was overwhelming. He reached for her, but she quickly pulled away. Their eyes met again, and she was smiling. It was then that James realized he was standing. The pain in his legs and back were gone. He could move again. He had no idea how it had happened and before he could ask, Kilani was on the move.

“Come,” Kilani said, handing James his re-lit torch and heading off in the direction she had approached. James followed, forgetting about his vision of Akil as he did.

The sound of flowing water grew as they moved down the tunnel until it reached a seemingly deafening volume. James thought he detected a faint glow ahead. Kilani stopped and looked over her shoulder at him and smiled. A deluge of water spilled across the passageway in front of them. We must be behind a massive waterfall, James thought. He stepped closer, looking for a way around in the torchlight. The water fell up against the passage on all sides limiting the exit to either turning around or stepping through the powerful stream of water. Because they couldn’t see the bottom of the falls, James wasn’t comfortable with blindly stepping into the stream. It could be hundreds of feet to the bottom.

Kilani extended her hand into the stream of water, expecting the force to push it down. She was surprised to feel little resistance. Carefully, she leaned forward and let the water run into her mouth. Neither of them had drank since early that morning and she could immediately feel the energy rushing back into her body. When she had her fill, she stood upright and motioned to James to drink. He drank greedily from the falls once he also realized the pressure of the water was not a concern. His dark hair, only a fraction shorter than Kilani’s, was plastered to his head as he pulled himself back into the tunnel.

“Take my arm,” she said, extending it to James.

Without question, James grasped her forearm, just above her wrist. He was confident his reenergized strength would find no difficulty in holding her. Kilani handed James her torch and leaned into the stream of water. James held her by the arm as her head disappeared. Almost immediately, she straightened, a smile on her face.

“It’s okay,” she shouted over the noise. “Take a big step and you’ll be fine.”

“What about the torches?” James asked.

“There is light on the other side,” she replied.

Before he could respond, she released his arm and stepped through the water. James followed quickly, carefully laying the torches on the tunnel floor before stepping through. He immediately found his footing as he passed beneath the falls. The deafening noise ceased the instant he crossed to the other side. He looked up. The light source appeared to be the water itself for all around the perimeter of the cavern a soft white light emitted from it.

Every wall in the circular cavern was draped in a curtain of water that spilled over a ledge that also encompassed the cavern. It was absolutely silent. In the center stood a rock structure James immediately recognized. It was identical to the structure they’d found on the first widow. Careful not to touch it, James and Kilani circled the stone spire. Rather than one column of unidentifiable markings, this had two, each on opposite sides. The top of the stone tower stretched to such a height, the light from the flowing water could not reach.

James tried to consider how much time they had spent inside. He wasn’t exactly sure, but he knew they must find a way out quickly or their friends would be stranded on the first widow. He looked back to where they entered the cavern and realized he wasn’t certain where that was.

“Do you remember where we entered?” he asked, looking at Kilani. She jumped at the sound of his voice, which was loud in the silent room.

“Of course, it was right over-” she too stopped to consider. “We stepped in and made our way to the center where the tower stands. The side we approached the tower had no markings, which limits it to one of two sides.”

As she said this she moved around the circular spire looking for some indication of where they had entered. “It’s only been a few minutes, we should be able to follow the water that dripped from our-” she reached down and felt her clothes then her hair both of which, to her surprise, were completely dry. “Either way, we entered in that direction,” she said pointing behind James. “Or that direction,” She said, pointing past the tower to the opposite side of the room. “I’ll check one. You check the other.”

James nodded and moved off in the opposite direction. The logic of this approach was sound, but it left much room for error, which made James uncomfortable. He began to circle the stone spire, but he stopped exactly halfway between the two columns of writing and began moving toward the curtain of water opposite his position. He looked over his shoulder repeatedly to confirm he was maintaining the proper heading. When he reached the water, he marveled at its beauty as it shimmered in its own luminescence.

Cautiously, he extended his hand into the water. His fingers contacted the wall behind before his entire hand was through the stream. He placed his hand flat against it and began walking, letting his fingers feel in hopes of finding an opening. James looked across the cavern to see if he could spot Kilani. The tower between them obstructed his view.

“Did you find it?” he called, knowing despite the size of the cavern, sound traveled well.

No reply. James kept moving along the circular wall, his hand feeling for an opening. He called out again, this time much louder. No reply. James was about to break away from the wall and go looking for Kilani when he felt the beginning of a depression in the stone behind the curtain of water. He slid his hand along the depression until his entire arm was engulfed. The opening they had come through was a clean-cut entry into the cavern. This was more of a gradual tapering away from the water curtain.

He looked around for anything he could use to mark the depression. Neither displaced stone nor wayward debris littered the cavern floor. Allowing his concern for Kilani to override his desire to mark the possible exit, he pulled his hand from the wall and headed across the cavern. As he approached the stone tower the strange glyphs etched into the black granite reminded him once again of the black metal key, and he reached for it in his satchel.

James had an overwhelming desire to touch the spire, which looked strangely familiar. His mind lost all focus. His arm lifted and reached his hand toward it, guided by not his body but the tower itself. James could feel an energy radiating from the stone as he drew nearer. His hand pressed this energy. Like an invisible membrane, it gave but did not break. James pushed harder until he penetrated the membrane. As he moved his hand through, James could feel the barrier wrapping his wrist. As his arm stretched closer to the spire, the invisible barrier moved up his forearm like a sleeve.

Deep inside his mind a futile cry attempted to prevent contact, reminding James of Luno’s instructions. The draw of the tower was too strong. James’s fingers barley contacted the stone when a massive surge of energy pulled him forward until his palm lay flat against it. His vision went white. James could feel his mind with more clarity than ever before. He could feel it connecting with his body. He could feel it connecting with his surroundings, and he could feel it connecting with the tower. Then everything went black.

Kilani watched James step toward the tower and stare at the inscriptions. By chance or fate or the will of The Never, she had decided to see if he had discovered the exit, having had no luck herself. They must have passed each other on opposite sides of the tower. When she doubled back, he was there. The instant his hand lifted toward the spire, she began to panic. She shouted his name as he ran toward him. As she reached him she could hear muttering. Some of the words sounded familiar, but most she’d never heard before. She shouted again and reached out to him. A force stopped her from touching him. A barrier just inches from his body. She shouted his name again. He did not reply but continued to mutter in the strange language.

His eyelids fluttered but remained closed. His lips moved impossibly fast but otherwise his body remained still. He wore an expression not of fear but almost… pleasure. Kilani tried to step between James’s body and the tower, but the same invisible barrier that surrounded his body extended outward to the tower preventing her. She pulled her dagger from its sheath and drove it into the barrier. The blade snapped and a jolt of pain shot up her arm and down her spine, sending her to the ground. Slowly, she got to her feet. She looked around for anything she could use to break him free. There was nothing. She cursed the place. Her magical powers were limited here unlike back home where she could think of at least a dozen incantations that would break the barrier.

Growing increasingly frustrated, Kilani decided to try the only thing she could think of. She ran to the curtain of water and said, “ Poikelo.”

A gust of wind rushed from her hands and blew through the curtain of water, refracting off the wall as it carried the water with it speeding toward the tower and James.

The force of the impact was incredible. At first, Kilani feared she had crushed him. She ran back to the center of the cavern as the water settled on the floor. As she drew closer, her heart sunk. He still stood in the same position and was looking the same direction, yet something was different. His hand was at his side. Not only that, but he was dripping wet. She ran, bare feet slapping against the wet stone. He turned to her as she approached.

“Do I smell that bad?” he asked.

“Like rubbish,” she said with a smile, taking him in her arms.

“What happened to you?” she asked.

“It spoke to me,” he said.

“What did, the tower?” Kilani asked.

“The castle,” James replied.


“The towers and the castle are one,” said James.

“What did it say?”


— 23 -

The Return of David Ogilvy

September 1895, Scotland

Shadows fell on the expansive flatlands in front of the castle. Dug into the largest of the mountains, the castle had a clear view of the valley. It was a stronghold in its day. A great battle had laid waste to the outer bailey wall leaving sections of the battlements in crumbles on the ground. Most of the towers between battlements remained standing, giving James a clear view of any approaching visitors.

Incantations had been cast upon the entire valley. They were far more complex than anything even his mother could comprehend. When he’d asked who had created this place, she’d ignored his question. They had been here once before when he was much younger, but he remembered very little of his previous visit.

The sun ignited the peaks in a blaze of orange light as it descended behind the mountains. James could see their horses grazing beside the stable in the distance. Incantations prohibited anyone to transport or even approach on horseback; on foot was the only way one could get close. The hills stretched around the valley like an incomplete wreath with one section at the far end open to allow passage. The long shadows from the hills made it difficult to see anything at their bases at sunset, which despite the enchantments worried his mother.

The wind was strong as it blew across the tower but it was not the biting air that would be coming down from the north in the next few weeks. James wrapped twine around one end of a piece of black cloth and fastened it to a rotting pole he had found in the stable. He propped up the pole with several stones he found strewn about the top of the tower. His makeshift flag flapped loudly in the wind as he descended the stone spiral stairs.

James crossed the outer bailey, careful to avoid the rubble of the spilled walls behind him. He crossed under the arched second portcullis, imagining what the battle had been like. A glint of metal caught his eye on the ground.

A silver handle stretched up to a flat-bladed axe. James found it difficult to pry the axe out of the ground and, not surprisingly, was unsuccessful at raising it with magic. Eventually he was able to dig out the handle with the knife he always carried on his belt.

The axe was almost too heavy for James to lift. His determination was steadfast, and he managed to crouch under the handle and lift it with his legs. He couldn’t imagine a man swinging a weapon like this very effectively during a battle. He lumbered his way inside the keep, carrying the oversize weapon on his shoulder. The light from the fire in the hall’s fireplace danced across the stone floors. Several large wooden tables, which were in surprisingly good repair, stood inside the hall. James dropped the axe on one of the tables with a bang, half expecting the table to collapse under the weight.


His voice echoed in the hall. Their belongings were laid out on the table closest to the fireplace. She had managed to gather several large piles of firewood while he was off wandering the castle. A metal pot was slung over the lug pole and the liquid inside was just beginning to steam. James felt guilty that she had done so much without his help. He knew he took advantage of her guilt. He knew she felt that his struggle with his father’s death and his insistence in accepting blame cast an unfair burden on him. Unfair for a boy of thirteen. Or any child for that matter.

James wondered if his father would be disappointed in him for making his mother get them settled in by herself. He was tired of running from place to place. Tired of not having any friends and tired of not having any freedom. He thought exploring while his mother set up their beds was a small price to pay for this burden he’d been born with. A small part of him knew he was wrong. She was his mother and she was just as alone as he was. Knowing all this, sometimes he simply needed to escape, to do anything that had nothing to do with the damned prophecy. He just wanted to be a kid-even though that age had passed years ago. He was a man now, a man without a father, which meant it was up to him to take care of his mother, not up to her to take care of him. Things would change. He would change.

He called out her name again and again. She did not reply. He assumed she’d gone looking for their next meal. Precisely what he should have been doing instead of wandering about. He heard the roll of thunder outside that always preceded a late summer storm in the highlands. Lightning flashes lit the cracks in the large wooden door at the entrance to the great hall. As the rain fell, James began to worry. Between the lightning and the firelight his eyes were having difficulty focusing. He decided he must look for his mother.

James lifted the bolt securing the door and pulled. It groaned on its hinges. The rain outside was coming down in sheets. He couldn’t see past the steps that spilled onto the courtyard. Lightning flashed and for a moment, the courtyard was lit, revealing three black figures huddled under the arch of the second portcullis that he’d passed through earlier. He closed the door behind him so he wasn’t backlit by the fire from inside.

Quickly, James pressed his body against the stone wall of the keep. He waited, knife drawn. Lightning flashed again. They were gone. Could he have imagined them? Rain-soaked and cold, James held his ground and waited for another flash. It came a moment later. Three successive flashes revealed a lone figure in black moving his way across the courtyard toward the door. He knew by the shape that it was not his mother.

Darkness swallowed the person as the lightning stopped. James tried to track where the figure would be based on his speed. He strained his eyes to see. Another flash, this one further off, provided enough light for James to see that the cloaked figure had reached the bottom step. He could hear heavy boots making their way up to the door. The figure lifted the bolt and stepped inside, allowing the firelight to spill out onto the steps. He didn’t turn his head to indicate he knew James was there, just within arm’s reach. The door remained open after the man stepped through. James crouched and slowly moved toward the door.

He stepped inside, knife in hand, low on bent legs, ready to spring at the intruder. The firelight glistened in the puddles the man had left in his wake on the stone floor. James could see the black silhouette standing in front of the fire. Slowly and silently, James made his way around the perimeter of the room where the shadows from stone columns kept the light at bay. He stopped when he reached the wall with the recessed fireplace. He could not make out the man’s face. He watched and waited.

The man appeared to be warming his hands by the fire. He said a word too quiet to hear and a gust of wind swirled around him, rustling his cloak until it was dry. The man lowered his hood. James immediately recognized him from the council temple. It was David Ogilvy-or the man who’d claimed to be David Ogilvy.

The man rubbed his hands together and lifted them to his mouth as if to blow warm air into them.

“Summer draws to an end, I’m afraid,” he said, still looking into the fire. James froze, holding his breath.

“You need not be afraid, James, son of James. I am not thy enemy.”

He turned toward James, lifted his hand, and swept it across the back wall, igniting torches that were mounted by metal brackets.

“There, that’s better,” The man said, smiling. “Come, we have much to discuss.”

“Where is my mother?” James asked, planted in place, knife still at the ready.

“She will be along shortly, I assure you. She is tending to our horses.”


“Surely you remember my wife, Tabitha?”

“David Ogilvy is dead. Lady Tabitha told me so. Who are you?”

“My tale is one that cannot be told while standing with weapons drawn. I will tell you all that I can, as I have told your mother, but you must first trust that no harm will come to you.”

“If you are who you say you are, then you know I cannot,” James replied.

“Your mother has taught you well, young James.”

“It was my father who taught me to trust no one.”

The man’s head hung in despair. After a moment he lifted his gaze again to James’s eyes.

“James, I am sorry about your father. He and I were good friends for our parts. I made him a promise once, and I intend to keep it.”

“And what promise was that? You left him. You left your own wife for over ten years. How do you expect to gain the trust of anyone after being away for all that time? You are a coward who hid in the shadows and now you expect to be welcomed back as if you’d never left? You will find no forgiveness here, traitor.”

“I’ve forgiven him,” Tabitha Ogilvy said, stepping into the great hall.

“We must hear him out, James,” his mother said, following Tabitha through the door and closing it behind them.

James looked into his mother’s eyes and then into the eyes of Tabitha Ogilvy. James took a deep breath and sheathed his blade.

“Very well, let us hear your tale Mr. Ogilvy.”

— 24 -

Escape from the Widows

James and Kilani ran down the narrow tunnel. Ahead of them a pink orb hovered, lighting the way.

“James, please tell me what’s going on?” Kilani asked. “We must hurry, our friends are in trouble.”

“What are you talking about?” she asked as they rounded a bend and began up a steep set of stairs.

“Darkness will fall and they’re stranded on the first widow. If we don’t hurry there won’t be anything for us to find,” James replied, increasing the pace as they reached the top of the stairs and continued down another tunnel.

“What do you mean? Total darkness won’t come for another month.”

James stopped and turned to her. “It is coming tonight,” he said and then continued down the tunnel.

The twisting and turning continued for some time. Somehow, James appeared to know exactly which tunnels to take and before long they reached the open air. The sun had fallen behind the trees in the jungle.

“This way,” James said, taking off at a run once again. The noise in the jungle was deafening. Sounds Kilani had never heard before came from animals screaming at the impending darkness.

The pair burst through the dense foliage at the jungle’s edge and onto the beach. Several small creatures that resembled a cross between a crab and an otter scattered into the sea as the pair ran across the sand toward the boat. As they rounded the northern point of the second widow, Kilani came to a dead stop. On the horizon was a blood red moon. James looked over his shoulder and stopped. He walked back to Kilani who stood staring at the moon.

“We must keep moving,” he said.

“What’s happening?” she asked.

“I’ll explain everything when we get back to the boat. Please Kilani, time is of the essence,” he pleaded. Kilani nodded and they took off at a run again, still energized and from the water they drank several hours before. In minutes they reached the boat. Kilani glanced over her shoulder as they pushed the boat into the water. The moon, which had risen entirely above the western horizon, was etched with black striations, making it appear alive, an organ wrenched from the body of The Never and thrust into the sky. As Kilani stared at it, she thought she could hear the beating of a heart. The sound of her name being shouted at her brought her back to the present.

“Hold on, Kilani,” James said.

“ Tertiri ze Manukto ahlnas Svartbek,” James said, his hands extended over the water. The boat turned quickly and began moving to the south. Kilani noticed the oars were still sitting at the bottom of the boat. She looked at James, who was staring into the distance. His face was illuminated on one side by the blood red moon, giving him the appearance of a man wearing a mask. It frightened her enough to look away.

“What happened to you back there?” she asked, looking at her hands.

“I touched the tower.”


“It called to me,” he replied.

“What did?” Kilani asked.

“The castle. When I touched it, she shared with me the language of this land. Somehow, I understood. Somehow, I always knew.”

A smile came across her face, and she looked up at James.

Despite his still eerie appearance she was able to look into his eyes. Excitement returned. Hope returned. “You are the one,” she said.

He looked at her, but said nothing. The water receded beneath the boat as it glided gently onto the beach. Kilani could see the silhouette of the Queen Mary in front of the rising moon as they jumped out of the boat.

“They’re not here,” she said.

James extended his hand. Three green light orbs rose from his palm. He sent them high into the air where they exploded like fireworks. They heard a shout from down the beach and saw someone running toward them. Whoever it was, was screaming.

“Let’s go,” James said.

They ran toward the screaming man. James sent his pink light orb out in front of them. Its brightness intensified as it went until they could see the man’s face. It was William. He was breathless and panicked.

“Roger, ze been bitten. Zey ere trapped en ze jungle by monsters.”

“What monsters?” Kilani asked.

“Ee’ve never seen anyting leeke eet. Eye saw ligzts an came ran ere.”

A strong wind blew up the beach and William let out a cry. “’Ell an’ zee div-eil!” he screamed. Kilani and James turned.

Clouds were dancing in front of the moon. They weren’t substantial enough to block it completely, but James knew it was only a matter of minutes before complete darkness fell.

“We must hurry,” James said, taking off at a run down the beach. William and Kilani followed closely. James saw the faint tracks William had left where he stepped out of the jungle onto the sand. He stopped. The noise from the jungle was deafening.

James held both hands, palm up just in front of his body. Thousands of sand grain-sized orbs of glowing light rose from them like stars. They rose above their heads where they hung for a moment before rapidly moving into the jungle.

“ Tertiri ze Manukto kama,” James said. Each tiny orb grew in size and intensity, lighting the jungle beneath them. The noise fell silent. Thick dark clouds blew across the sky and finally blocked the last of the red light. The Never had fallen dark. James stepped into the jungle. Kilani and William exchanged nervous glances and followed closely. As he walked, James once again sent three green orbs high into the air where they exploded like fireworks one after the other.

“Not much furzer zere is a bamboo grove,” William said.

“Zey’re just beyond it.”

Each of James’s light orbs hung just below the canopy, like lanterns burning so brightly that they left no shadows. Kilani marveled at this feat.

The group reached the first stalks of bamboo, which were thicker than any James had seen during his travels back in his world. Rather than green, the chutes were midnight black.

They moved around the perimeter of the tightly knit plants that would not allow passage by anything but the smallest of jungle creatures. William looked nervously into the bamboo thicket as they passed. Despite the power of the orbs, it seemed no light could penetrate this bamboo forest.

“Juzst aeead,” William whispered.

They reached the end of the bamboo grove and James came to a stop. In front of him stood the strangest creature he’d ever seen. It had its back to him and paid none of the three any notice. The creature stood on two long legs, balanced by long toes. It had four arms, each equally spaced and equal in length with extremely long fingers, which were clenched. A shell extended down the creature’s back, stopping just over its waist. A pair of wings were folded over the top of the shell. The shell fanned at the top blocking the view of the creature’s head. Dozens of other jungle creatures, each stranger than the next, also stood immobile, almost touching each other. It was as if the light had frozen them in place. In the center of the circle of creatures stood Luno and Roger. Roger’s arm was over Luno’s shoulder for support.

James whispered, “Apoteket,” and the creatures directly in front of him moved aside slowly. The movement immediately drew Luno’s attention, who stared gape-jawed at James as he walked toward them. Roger’s leg, if it could be called a leg at this point, was torn to pieces. He was pale as a ghost from blood loss. James put his hand on Roger’s hip and said, “ Tertiri ze Manukto tupasarri.”

Roger, who had been too delirious to realize what was going on, refocused. His injured leg began healing itself rapidly. Luno looked from the healing leg to James and then back to the leg with an expression of disbelief. He began to speak, but James interrupted him.

“We need to leave this place. The lights will only keep away some of the creatures. The ones it won’t are truly the ones we don’t want to meet. Roger, can you walk?” James asked. Roger hesitantly put his foot on the ground and slowly shifted his weight onto it. “Aye, Capin’,” he said as he took his first few steps, “b’lieve I can.”

“ Tertiri ze Manukto Svartbek ahlnas,” James said, extending his hands.

The leaves of the surrounding plants began to sway. Globules of water from the leaves began to combine and hover toward James.

“ Tertiri ze Manukto hilosaari.”

The water glowed blue for a moment then back to clear. “Cup your hands and drink. The water is safe,” James said, sending the water directly in front of Roger who hesitantly cupped his hands. The water fell into them and he drank greedily tossing all doubt aside. Immediately, he was reenergized and his color returned. Not far away a low guttural growl broke the silence. Many of the smaller creatures ran off into the darkness beyond the light from James’s orbs.

Quickly, the group retraced its steps past the circle of larger creatures, which were still stuck in some type of trance, and back toward the bamboo grove. They heard the growl again this time it came from beside them rather than behind. As they moved out of the jungle, James’s light orbs moved with them leaving darkness in their wake.

The group reached the far edge of the bamboo forest and now only had a short stretch of jungle before the beach. Once again the growl interrupted the silence. The powerful bass sent tremors through their chests. Finally, the group stepped out onto the sand. As soon as Kilani, who took up the rear of the group, stepped out of the jungle, James turned and began moving down the beach toward the boat.

When it struck him, James didn’t see it coming. A black shape lunged out of the jungle hitting him in the side. The force of the impact sent both him and his attacker hurtling through the air and into the water. The light orbs immediately fell dark. The weight of the creature was stunning. James felt as if a giant rock had dropped on top of him. Both he and the creature flailed in the water. The long claws released from his chest and back as they both submerged. James pushed for the surface, for air. Although he felt his head break the water and air rush into his lungs, the same blackness that had encircled him when the monster brought him under the water remained. He was disoriented. Not sure which way was land and which way would take him further out to sea.

He heard two things as the water drained from his ears: the screams of his group coming from behind him and the sound of the creature breaking the surface of the water. This sound was much closer. James lifted a hand above the surface of the water.

“ Tertiri ze Manukto vinka.” Light orbs rose into the air from his palm. He immediately saw the midnight black skin of his attacker as it swam toward him. Its eyes glowed red from the reflecting light.

The head of the creature looked very much like a big cat from his world. Rather than fur, the skin appeared to be almost rubber. James knew he had seconds before the creature was on him. “ Inarjavai,” James said.

His shield went up just before the creature’s giant paw took a swipe at him. James quickly began to swim toward the shore.

The creature pursued. As soon as he reached a depth that allowed him to walk he cast another incantation. The water parted between him and the shore, allowing him to run at full speed. The parted water immediately crashed together behind him, preventing the creature from keeping pace.

The moment he made landfall, his crew was at his side. “Stay back,” he said.

The creature cautiously made its way onto the beach not taking its eyes off the group. It bellowed, revealing thousands of needle-like teeth inside its terrible maw. James turned his palms downward, saying an incantation as he did. A line of sand rose from the beach in a wall just in front of the creature. It jumped back but was met by another wall of sand behind it. It jumped upward in an attempt to come over the barrier and again was rejected by what was now a cage. The sand rippled as the grains danced along the barriers but held strong when the creature attacked. It let out a terrible roar as it fought to get out.

“Let’s go! We don’t have much time,” James said.

The group moved quickly down the beach. All but James gave the encaged creature a wide berth as they passed. James stopped in front of the cage and said “ Apoteket.” It immediately stopped fighting and sat on its haunches like an obedient dog.

As they continued toward the boat, the clouds covering the moon blew clear, again revealing the blood-red color. Both Roger and Luno let out gasps at the sight of it. Now much higher in the sky, the moon cast shadows from its intensity. They rowed back to the Queen Mary in silence. Luno must have more than his fair share of questions, James thought.

Luno sat silently staring at James, who rowed. Once they reached the Queen Mary and all were safely aboard, William broke the silence. “A bleeding disaster, no?”

“I think not,” Luno replied. “Think of all we have learned. I am curious as to your story, James and Kilani, and how you’ve come to your newfound abilities,” Luno said, his eyes boring into James.

James retold the story of how they ended up in the cave. When he reached the part about the stone tower, Kilani, whose mind had been elsewhere, paid close attention.

“As soon as I touched it, it was as if it woke a dormant part of my brain. I don’t know how, but I know this place. I know the language,” James said.

“Anythin‘ ’bout a way home?” Roger asked.

“No. Nothing.” James replied.

“What else?” Luno asked.

“There was a warning. It spoke of the islands in the South Cove.”

Luno had a curious look on his face as he thought that through. “Anything else?” he asked.

“More than I can recount in one sitting. Mostly about the animals and plants of the island,” James said.

“South Cove,” Luno repeated, standing and walking to the crate that held his maps. He removed one scroll and unrolled it on the deck among the feet of the group.

“Prey Island, just off the southern cape. The Resting Man to the east of that and… the black castle. It is now clear that one of these places is the key to our escape.”

“We should head there immediately,” said James.

“Immediately?” Roger said, incredulous. “Have ya not listened to yerself?”

“The Never serves its own needs. It wants to keep us here forever. It has no interest in keeping us alive or safe. If we are ever to get off this bloody rock we must go there,” said James.

“I agree, we should depart immediately,” Kilani said.

Luno looked at the pair in disbelief. More often than not, others had to convince him to listen to reason, and he’d never known James to make rash decisions. Kilani was guided by a different force entirely, and Luno knew what was on her mind as she spoke her agreement.

“And what of the third widow and the Severed Heart? asked Luno. “Have you learned anything of either?”

James considered the question for a moment yet did not show his frustration. He wanted nothing more than to make for the southern islands, for the black castle.

“The Severed Heart holds many useful plants. One of which may be used for transporting.”

“Do you know which plant?” Kilani asked with sudden interest.


“James,” interrupted Luno, “what about travel through South Cove?”

“What’s it matter? Ain’t no other way of gettin‘ ’ere ’cept by boat,” said William.

“Not yet,” Kilani replied.

“You tink of transporting?” William asked. “Eff ve find ze plant, no?”

“What of the first law?” Roger asked.

“The first law of magic states that one can only transport to a place they themselves have physically been before. Many have tried to break this law. Most end up going nowhere.

Some disappeared never to return,” Luno reminded the group. “We’re arguing over the semantics of a thing we shouldn’t even be considering until we have the means to achieve it,” said Luno.

“If we had the plant it would be one thing. It could take weeks or months or years even to find a single plant on an island the size of the Severed Heart. It will take us less than a full day to sail to South Cove,” said James, his hand in his satchel once again, fingers caressing the key.

“We cannot afford to make rash decisions. We were given a warning, we should heed it,” said Luno.

“Luno may be right,” Kilani replied, avoiding eye contact with James.

And on the conversation went until just before the sun began to rise. They had decided two things. First, they would travel to the Severed Heart, where they would spend no more than one week searching for the plant. If, at the end of one week, they could not find this plant, they would sail around the western side of the main island and to the Resting Man to the east of South Cove.

Despite his reservations about visiting any of the satellites on the southern side of the island, Luno had decided to go along with the agreement because it gave everyone time to reflect upon the rationality of James’s interpretation of what he was told. He’d hoped James would reconsider once he’d had a few days to think it over.

“We’re agreed then,” Luno said excitedly. “We sail at dawn.”

— 25 -


September 1895, Scotland

Ogilvy, Margaret, and Tabitha sat at the large wooden table by the fire. James paced in front of the fireplace, unable to relax.

“I suppose I shall begin at… well, the beginning,” Ogilvy said, shifting in his seat. “I was sent to find your father by Akil. He believed, as you know, that you are the Anointed One prophesized by the Seer. Once I met him and gained his trust, I revealed our world to him and told him of the Seer’s decree. He agreed, after much convincing, to begin training. During one of our training recesses, Alvaro’s people attacked. They kidnapped me and left Margaret unconscious and injured. This was eleven years ago.

“So you’re saying you’ve been held hostage for eleven years? You didn’t appear to be captive when we saw you at the council headquarters,” said James.

“Please allow me to finish before your questions,” Ogilvy said. James nodded, yet frustration was clear in his expression. “I was taken to a place with which I was completely unfamiliar. Even now, I couldn’t tell you where they held us. If I had to guess, I’d say it was in the bowels of some ancient city.”

“At first, they were civil. They asked questions about what I was up to. They asked why I was speaking to your father, James. They wanted to know why I was training him in our ways. How they knew this was happening is yet another mystery. I gave them answers, but nothing they wanted to hear. Akil and I had rehearsed in the event one of us was taken captive. Eventually they became impatient, and that is when the cordiality ceased.”

“They then threatened me. I knew they wouldn’t kill me before getting as much information as possible, so I didn’t worry much at first. Soon, though, the situation became more serious.”

Ogilvy stood from the bench and walked to the fireplace. For several moments he was lost in the dance of the hot coals.

“On the third day they blindfolded me and walked me down a passage and into a room where they removed the blindfold. A man stood in the center of the room. It was too dark to see his face. He held out his hand and a memory orb expanded, engulfing the entire room. He began walking down a hallway, his back to me. He silently opened a door and stepped into a bedroom. There were two beds. Both were occupied. As I got closer, I realized my sons were in the beds. Despite the effort Margaret had made to hide them from Alvaro, he had found them. Alvaro turned and looked right at me as if I was standing in the same room and he grinned a terrible grin. The memory faded and again I was in the darkened room with the man.

“He said he wanted to speak candidly to me. He said, ‘I believe you see, Mr. Ogilvy, the lengths Alvaro is willing to go in order to get what he wants.’”

The man stepped forward out of the shadows, and I gasped. It was Alexander Vinokourov. He paused and looked at me with a sneer. He actually appeared to be enjoying himself.

Broken, I asked what I must do to free them.

Again, Ogilvy paused. James stood transfixed. In the few moments since Ogilvy had begun talking James had felt mistrust, pity, and admiration for the man who stood before him. He knew the bravery required for a man to admit that he had been beaten. He admired this. His father had constantly reminded him that bravery manifests itself in many ways. Standing up in a fight was but one. Admitting one’s own shortcomings was a form of bravery Stuart held in the highest regard and said was reserved for only the wisest of men. James noticed Tabitha was wiping her eyes.

“Vinokourov and I struck a deal. He agreed not to harm my family and in exchange I agreed to become his guinea pig. I would allow his dark sorcerers to perform an experimental incantation on me. If it worked, he would get all the information he required. If it didn’t, I would wander about mindlessly for the rest of my days.”

Ogilvy stood and paced in front of the fire. After a moment he spoke again. “Not even giving me a moment to grieve for the family I was about to lose, the guards marched me into a room full of cauldrons, vials, and glass. The stench was nearly unbearable. Vinokourov entered a moment after and said, ‘I’m told for this to work properly you must be completely willing to let it happen. If you are not, I can assure you of two things. First, you will lose your mind and second, your family will die terrible deaths. Now. Will you cooperate?’”

“I repeated the primer incantation clearing my mind as Akil had taught me and scores of sorcerers before me. I tried to bury my subconscious deep within the recesses of my mind. My voice said, ‘I will.’ My mind was already gone-buried, hidden. I cannot recount what happened after.

My next recollection was waking up in excruciating pain. My head felt as if someone had driven a dagger into it. I cried out, but I heard nothing. My eyes hurt, yet I saw nothing. All was black, then brilliant white, and then I was there, back in my body. I was me again. A blurred face stood over me. I could tell it was smiling at me. It whispered, and my vision became clear. It was Akil. He had come for me. I tried to speak but he quickly put a finger to his lips to silence me. I obeyed.”

“I find it easier if you watch the remainder of this story yourself,” Ogilvy said, extending his palm. From it rose a small blue orb. It expanded, filling the room with the scene.

Ogilvy unsteadily got to his feet. He and Akil were in a darkened cell lit only by the small pink orb floating over Akil’s shoulder. Akil motioned to Ogilvy to follow quietly as he moved beyond the doorway. They proceeded through corridor after corridor and down countless steep, narrow staircases until they finally reached water. Akil stepped quickly into the freezing darkness of the water, giving Ogilvy no choice but to follow or be left behind. His body convulsed from the cold as the water surrounded him. Unable to remain afloat, Ogilvy began to sink into the black depths. A hand reached down and lifted him back to the surface. Along with allowing him to breathe, Akil’s touch gave Ogilvy a renewed strength. They swam through darkness over impossible depths. The terror of the unknown was enough to keep Ogilvy beside Akil despite his desire to stop. A sound echoed in the distance. Akil froze, treading water and not making a sound. After a moment he nodded and continued. The scene faded.

“Time passed. Minutes or hours, it was impossible to know. The only thing I could see was the pink light from his orb hovering just above him in the water,” Ogilvy said, bringing up a new orb.

The pair had stopped swimming. Akil turned to Ogilvy. “Grasp my arm and whatever happens, whatever you see, do not release it,” he said, his first words since their journey began.

Ogilvy wrapped his hand around Akil’s wrist, and Akil held Ogilvy’s wrist. Akil turned his body and began carving a circle through the water with his free hand. As his hand sliced through the water it left a trail of light until they were encircled in it. Immediately, they were surrounded by creatures. Their heads were each larger than a man’s torso, and their necks arched high beyond the reach of the light and back down into the water concealing what must have been behemoth-size bodies. The closest slowly opened its jaws and extended a tubular tongue toward the pair. The moment it breached the circle of light it recoiled in pain. All the creatures let out horrible shrieks and lunged at the men. Without warning the pair began falling through the water at great speed through a tube of light. A moment later they surfaced. They were outside. Free.

Despite the overcast weather, the men squinted, allowing their eyes to adjust to the brightness. Sheer cliffs broke the rolling waves not far from where the men floated. Akil looked at Ogilvy and said politely, “David, you may release my arm now.” Ogilvy looked at Akil’s hand, which had turned white from lack of blood, and released his grip. Akil began to swim toward a low rock formation that stretched out into the sea from the cliffs. Ogilvy followed. They scrambled up onto the rocks and walked a short distance through a narrow natural archway that opened up to a set of steps that had been hewn in the stone centuries ago. Moored at the bottom of the steps was a small sailboat. With the agility of a much younger man, Akil made his way to the boat and Ogilvy followed. Their journey on the water was not at an end.

The orb contracted and Ogilvy continued his narration.

“Because of my diminished state, I don’t remember much from the next part of our voyage. I stumbled upon the deck and collapsed shivering, dehydrated, and exhausted. The next thing I recall, the sun was just cresting the horizon, backlighting the hills that surrounded the harbor Akil had sailed into. I sat up in the boat, looking for Akil, but I discovered no sign of him. Men were moving about the docks readying for a day of fishing. I was wearing new, dry clothes, yet I had no recollection of having changed.”

“Why didn’t you transport once you were clear of the prison’s enchantments?” James asked.

“James, allow Mr. Ogilvy to finish,” Margaret admonished.

Yet another orb filled the room and the group watched with intrigue.

Ogilvy made his way to the dock. There was no sign of Akil. Numerous boats, all much larger than the boat he had just disembarked were moored along the dock. At the end of the dock stood a saloon. Ogilvy allowed his hunger to dictate his first destination, and he pulled on the large wooden door, upon which was inscribed with the name The Thrush’s Nest. The bar was crowded with fishermen. Each had a drink in his hand, and none acknowledged Ogilvy as he entered. Every one of them was captivated by the storytelling of a man in the center of the crowd. Ogilvy smiled at the familiar voice. It was Akil.

“You see, my friends, there is nothing to fear from magic. The power to wield it lies within each and every one of you, should you chose to use it. The fear of it is what prompts some men to demonize it. Do not let other men make up your minds. Discover the truth, which is generally less grandiose or threatening than the truth those who wish to sway your opinions speak. Mortal peril or perpetual danger can be highly motivating for those who believe in it.”

All of the men nodded as a class of schoolboys would nod at their professor after being told a simple truth that had long eluded them. Finally, someone noticed Ogilvy and turned in his direction. The rest of the crowd turned as well, revealing Akil, who was seated at the bar, drink in his hand.

“Ah, I see my traveling companion has finally woken,” he said with a smile, rising to his feet. “I am most gracious to all of you for allowing me to share but a glimpse into my world. I trust you will all take what I’ve shown you here today into consideration before passing judgment on our kind in the future.”

The crowd nodded emphatically at this and several of the men patted him on the back as he moved toward the door. Akil gave Ogilvy a wink and walked past. The door to The Thrush’s Nest closed behind them, and they were alone on the wooden boardwalk that lined the harbor. Ogilvy looked quizzically at Akil but said nothing.

“I imagine you’re wondering why I divulged the secrets of our kind so readily to the so-called unfaithful?”

“Well, I’ve never seen anyone be so candid about… us with… them,” Ogilvy said.

“The very object of all our efforts is to avoid a war between the magical and nonmagical. Those men may second guess the next time someone tells them sorcerers are a threat to their existence. It makes it difficult to make war when the will of the people is against you.”

They began to walk, following the ever-widening pathway as it transitioned from wood to cobblestones. The street was lined with three-story structures. Merchants were beginning to stir but were not quite as active as the fishermen down on the docks. Akil led Ogilvy into an unmarked door, up a set of narrow wooden steps, and down a dimly lit hall to a small room. It was furnished with a small bed, a rickety-looking round table, and a pair of mismatched wooden chairs. He offered Ogilvy a seat and took the opposite. His grin was contagious, and soon both were smiling at each other like fools. Finally, Akil spoke.

“I’ve done it. All their research and resources, and they were beaten by a simple old man. Quite spectacularly, I might add.”

Akil had a look about him that could be best described as boastful arrogance. He rubbed his hands together as if warming them over a fire and leaned in across the small table.

“What?” Ogilvy asked, taking the bait.

“I’ve reversed what they considered irreversible. They’ve been working for decades to come up with a way to irreversibly alter minds, and every time they’d thought they finally accomplished it, their subject either went blitheringly mad or someone managed to reverse the hex-every time until about eleven years ago, that is.”

Akil stood and began pacing the room excitedly.

“Eleven years ago Alvaro was able to procure the services of a sorcerer previously thought unprocurable. He had sworn never to do magic again and somehow Alvaro was able to change his mind. He is a great sorcerer, although I doubt you’ve ever heard of him. He is slightly before your time. His name is-”

“Alexander Vinokourov,” Ogilvy interrupted.

“So you have heard of him. Marvelous. I trust then, that you are aware of the reason he swore to never use magic again and the accomplishments that gained him his notoriety.”

“I have a limited knowledge. My father used his story to frighten me to sleep as a child. He told me Vinokourov the Terrible was a dark sorcerer. He worked for many heads of state, training them in the dark powers. In his story he said Vinokourov was killed in the last great battle. I always thought he was just a myth.”

“I’m afraid not on both counts. Vinokourov the Terrible was not quite as terrible as he’s been made out in children’s stories, but he was indeed a master of the powers some consider dark.”

Akil had a look of admiration, which Ogilvy, noticeably, found somewhat disturbing.

“Alexander changed the way we do magic. His discoveries have allowed us to peacefully coexist with unfaithful. It’s ironic that he was such a staunch supporter of eliminating them from existence.”

Akil paused for a moment, reflecting yet not sharing his thoughts. He continued: “Rumors of his death are legendary. Smote by the great sorcerer from the Far East in an epic battle. In my travels I visited where Alexander was born in Petroavlovsk in hopes of finding some evidence of his survival for I’d been hearing rumors of sightings of him over the years. This led me to the Scottish highlands, where the supposed battle took place. It was here the trail of evidence abruptly came to an end. It turns out the events that took place during that battle as well as the ultimate outcome are nothing but mere speculation.”

“And how do you know this?” Ogilvy asked.

“When the trail of evidence ended I returned to London and continued my studies. Always in the back of my mind was the desire to uncover the truth about what happened to Alexander Vinokourov. When Alvaro, who was a peer of mine at the council training program- and, I must say, who was rather less gifted than I in the powers of magic yet rather more gifted in the powers of persuasion-when he finally came into power, I knew what he wished for our kind and for those who did not believe. He spoke of it often as a student. It was then that I decided to keep watch over Alvaro. If I were to dissuade others from falling for his persuasive rhetoric, I needed to know what he was up to.”

“During one of my reconnaissance missions I discovered the place where you had been held prisoner. Alvaro calls it Cetus. I am quite certain he is not responsible for its original construction. It is here where he conducts business that is beyond the scope of legality. Unlike his predecessors, who were bent on uncovering dark powers that would enable them to forcefully and violently overthrow their opposition, Alvaro solely focused on mind altering. He believes that if he can alter the minds of his opposition he can control their will and have ultimate power. Winning the minds of those who oppose you is much more powerful a feat than forcefully overthrowing them.”

“When I had made my way into Cetus, it quickly became apparent that Vinokourov was working to help Alvaro finally discover the power of permanent mind alteration.”

“After years of trial and error through which scores of men died or went insane during their experimentations, he had discovered what he believed was the answer. I had to see with my own eyes if the rumors were true. Getting into Cetus uninvited had become much more difficult, but as you have witnessed, I was able to gain access.”

“Luck, it appeared, was on my side, for I inadvertently stumbled into the room in which you were staying. After questioning you at length, I realized the effects of this power were not permanent. I found myself disappointed in the simplicity of the resolution, and yet I had to be sure I was correct.

Ogilvy gave a halfhearted smile across the table.

“Then, it was simply a matter of waiting until you were alone which, unfortunately, took quite some time. When the opportunity finally presented itself, I tested my hypothesis. The result sits across from me at this very moment.”

The image dimmed and the orb contracted. It was a moment before anyone in the room spoke.

“Akil convinced me… I decided to return to Alvaro,” Ogilvy said and grimaced, as if he’d swallowed a mouthful of sour milk. “I cannot recall much of what happened over the past eleven years. It’s all blurry, vague. When I returned to Alvero, Akil made it so I would not remember anything about our escape.”

“So you became a spy for Akil?” Margaret said, fascinated.

“In a manner of speaking,” a new voice said from across the hall.

The group turned, startled. Akil stood beside the door, having made his way inside without a sound. He wore a stern expression on his face.

“I had no other choice but to return David to Alvaro,” said Akil moving toward the others. “Had Alvaro caught wind of his escape or the knowledge that his mind-altering incantation was reversible, everything that David sacrificed would have been for nothing. He and his family would be hunted down like dogs.”

Tears began to roll down Tabitha’s cheeks as Akil reached a hand to her shoulder.

“Why are you here now?” Margaret asked, looking at Ogilvy.

“My incantation failed,” said Akil. “David saw Margaret and James at council headquarters and had a memory recall, which broke my incantation and thrust him back into his previous mind.

“So he just left Alvaro?” asked James.

“I… I needed to know my family was all right,” Ogilvy said, looking at his wife who refused to make eye contact.

“I intercepted David before Alvaro was able to contain him. Had he been able to track you here, he would have led Alvaro to this place as well.”

“What happens now?” asked James.

“Now, I’m afraid, there is no hiding the fact that Alvaro’s mind-altering incantation is not permanent. He will surely set Vinokourov upon the task of continuing his work. As for David, his mind contains information Alvaro will be desperate to hide at any cost. The choice of what he wants to do with that information, I leave to him. As for you both,” Akil said looking at James and Margaret, “you must distance yourself from David and his family immediately. Anyone in close contact with David will find themselves in grave danger.”

“I could not recall anything that happened immediately after our escape from Cetus,” Ogilvy said, looking at Akil. “Not one thing until I saw James and Margaret walking toward council headquarters. Then, like a flash, my past life came back to me. And now, as I stand here, something else has come back, and it frightens me more than anything I could have imagined.”

— 26 -

The Severed Heart

James, Kilani, Luno, William, and Roger sailed to the Severed Heart without incident. They anchored in the northern cove, which faced the same direction as North Harbor and was similar geographically, with beach on the southern portion and cliffs to the west. A thin row of trees ran along the narrow strip of land separating the northern and southern beaches. The row to shore was fast and effortless with James’s newfound skills. Not having to worry about finding a water source, (again thanks to James’s newfound abilities) they made camp on the beach.

When they made landfall, Luno immediately began putting his crew to work. After camp was set up to his specifications, which included moving the shelter three times, he decided to break the group into search parties. This time, he kept a man behind to look over camp and the Queen Mary.

Kilani and Roger would follow the northern coast while James and Luno would follow the southern. When they reached the western shore, they would turn and head back toward camp, following the same line only slightly to the north or south depending upon their respective groups. Kilani and Roger were off at a maddening pace long before Luno had finished relaying instructions to William on what he should do in the event something were to happen while they were away.

“If you are attacked, be it man or beast or other force we’ve yet to encounter,” Luno said, turning William’s calm expression fearful, “you should first attempt to defend the camp. Always leave an escape route. If your defense fails, retreat to the boat. Do not under any circumstances raise anchor, do you understand?”

“Oui, Capitan,” said William looking not in the least bit pleased.

“Very well,” he said cheerfully, “we’re off.”

James leaned forward in preparation to take off at a run, but Luno simply sauntered down the beach.

“Let us, as an old and extremely wise wizard once said, pursue that flighty temptress adventure,” Luno said, picking up a piece of driftwood and inspecting it closely for a moment. He began practicing using it as a walking stick.

“We’re not running?” James asked.

“We have much to discuss, my boy, and I find it most difficult to talk while I’m trying to dodge trees and rocks that are rushing at me. Not to mention, it feels good just to walk along and take in our surroundings rather than pass through them so fast we cannot enjoy their beauty. Wouldn’t you agree?”

“Aye,” James said, looking at him suspiciously.

“First things first, my boy. Teach me that primer incantation.”

James smiled. “Tertiri ze Manukto. To perform an incantation in this place, you must first ask permission to do so. Even if you know the incantation, it will be of little use without first asking permission.”

So they continued along at a snail’s pace compared to Kilani and Roger, who’d reached the northern tip of the cove before James and Luno had even reached the stream that ran from the higher elevation down into the cove. James spent most of the beginning part of their walk explaining useful incantations to Luno. They also discussed the language itself, which was completely different than anything either of them had encountered. As James had discovered during his experience with the stone spire, each native word had one and only one meaning and no single word shared the root of another. Both Luno and James agreed this system was highly complicated and extremely difficult to learn.

When they finally did reach the stream, both of them looked at it with surprise. James scooped up the water with his hands and said a word in the native tongue.

“It’s drinkable,” he said, looking up at Luno.

“Perhaps that incantation isn’t necessary after all,” Luno chortled. “We should relocate camp up here.”

He bent and drank from the stream. James could see the tracks Kilani and Roger had left in the soil along the edge. His thoughts strayed to her. What if she were injured? He didn’t like being separated from her in an unfamiliar place. He tried to reassure himself. As he’d learned many times over, Kilani was more than capable of taking care of herself. He cared for her. The more time he spent with her, the stronger that feeling became. Despite her relationship with Luno, he believed she was starting to feel the same.

Luno had dunked entire head into the stream and James couldn’t help but smile as his hair danced on the surface like clouds in a breeze. He finally resurfaced, flipping his hair back and rubbing his bearded face with his now clean hands.

“You should try it,” he said. “The most goddamn refreshing thing I’ve ever felt.”

James did try and indeed it was.

“I think,” said Luno, “we should follow the stream.”

Without waiting for an answer, he began to walk along the bank as it twisted deeper into the jungle. James followed. He felt comfortable for the first time since their voyage began as they strolled along the path, which had been worn by all the creatures that came to drink.

The banks became steeper as they pressed on. The vegetation lining the stream also became more dense, making it nearly impossible to follow while keeping the water in sight. In the end, both Luno and James decided the best course of action would be to wade in the stream rather than travel along its banks. The bottom was rocky and very slick, making travel slow. Luno didn’t appear to mind as he continued to question James about the language of The Never.

“What I find quite intriguing is the lack of a word for death,” said Luno. “There’s ‘life,’ ojala, ‘pain,’ lieska, and even ‘loss,’ tormala, but not death. Fascinating.”

“Perhaps it exists but was intentionally omitted,” James pondered.

“Interesting theory, fascinating in and of itself, actually. I imagine with that word would come an incredible and terrible power, so yes, perhaps you are correct. This place doesn’t want anyone to have that power.”

“Except her, who apparently has no problem wielding it,” said James, referring to the island.

“Again, you are correct. Your powers of perception have indeed sharpened with time in this place. Or perhaps they simply come with age,” Luno said. “How old are you, boy?”

“Nearly seventeen,” James replied.

“My god,” said Luno, “I never realized you were quite so young. This place does things to a man.”

They reached the base of a nearly vertical section of the stream. The water spilled from pool to pool each nested among large boulders. The men climbed to the first pool where they stopped and gazed into the water. The pool was deep, much deeper than the size of the boulders in which it was wreathed. An emerald glow sparkled from beneath the surface. The sun overhead cast rays of light that danced in the moving water.

Luno quickly cast aside the gear he was carrying and held out his hands.

“Tertiri ze Manukto vinka,” he said. Nothing happened.

He repeated this several times, each time James made corrections in his pronunciation. Finally, he had enough and asked James to send a light orb into the pool. As it descended, the walls edging the pool were lighted then faded back to shadow. When it reached perhaps twenty feet, the light from the orb spread and sparkled.

“I believe it opens into a larger area down there. During my travels back in our world, I once visited a place where Mayans lived, before they were decimated by the bloody Spanish. The natives spoke of underground rivers that stretched for miles beneath their jungles. They said men would go exploring in them never to return.”

“Then might I suggest we move on?” James said.

Luno had already removed his shirt and stowed his short sword in his belt.

“If your powers of perception have indeed sharpened, James, then you’ll know I cannot leave anything unexplored. It’s against my very nature. Now, I want you to stay here. I shall return in two minutes.”

Luno slid into the pool, took a deep breath, and submerged. As he descended, James sent three additional light orbs into the water. Each went sequentially deeper, lighting the way for Luno. When Luno reached where the walls appeared to end, he turned, looking around. After a brief pause, he swam out of sight. James looked nervously into the water as the seconds turned into minutes.

“You really shouldn’t dwell on the past,” a voice said.

James turned toward the sound. Above him in the higher grouping of boulders stood Luno with the grin of a much younger man on his face.

“The pools connect. All four of them join. There is a large cave where the pools converge. Fascinating,” he said, not for the first time this day. “At the far end of this cave is another tunnel where I dare not dwell as the current is strong there, and I fear I’ll not return. Now bring my gear and let us continue, we’ve much to discuss, much to explore and little light in which to accomplish either.

The pair continued their journey along the stream. When they reached the top pool, both were relieved to see the elevation flatten and the vegetation thin enough to walk astride the stream rather than through it. Having been submerged up to their knees for so long, their feet were becoming waterlogged.

“ Tertiri ze Manukto poikelo,” said James. A warm breeze swirled around the men drying their clothes and hair.

“I wonder how the others are fairing,” said Luno. “Did you notice there wasn’t one sign of life in the water?” Luno asked, rapidly changing topics.

Used to Luno’s ever-shifting attention, James, whose every thought was on how the others were fairing, replied, “I did notice. Rather strange.”

“Indeed. Neither plant nor animal dwell in such a rich source of fresh water. Well, this land continually perplexes and vexes, that’s for sure. Lets keep moving then, shall we?”

“Tell me,” James said, trying his luck. “Do you know what it is that drives Kilani to seek this transporting powder with such fervor?”

Luno stopped and turned to face James. His face had changed from that of an excited child to an old man, weary and concerned.

“Her desire to leave this place is strong. Stronger perhaps than any other’s. Even your own.”

“She’s made that clear on numerous occasions. My question is what drives her to return? What compels her to this pursuit with such obsession?”

“Each of us comes from a life much different than the one we live here. For some of us, this place, despite all the hardships that come with living here, is a chance to start over, a new beginning. For others it is a prison in which they do not belong. For those wrongfully exiled, they were torn from all they had known and loved and banished to a place from which there is but a fleeting hope of escape. And for those who truly deserve banishment because they’ve committed the most terrible crimes, this land finds quite terrible ends for them. Kilani left much behind. All of it dear to her.”

“What did she leave behind?” James asked.

Luno’s expression turned even more weary as he thought about James’s question.

“I was hoping you had the answer to that,” he said, dismally.

James was shocked. He’d thought for sure she would confide in Luno. He looked at Luno and saw a beaten man for the first time since they’d met on the Harbor Town pier so long ago.

“It is clear by your expression that she did not,” Luno said. “Much remains a mystery with that one. She keeps her own council. We are close, she and I, but ‘close’ is relative with her. I don’t know if she’ll ever let anyone get truly close. And I fear one day, her obsession will be her undoing.”

James couldn’t help but think of the black castle as Luno finished his sentence. He pushed it out of his mind as they continued upstream. The sun reached its apex and began its slow descent to the horizon. Luno was unusually silent for the next several hours. The stream meandered uphill through the jungle then out into a grassy field where it narrowed to a creek not much wider than James’s foot. The field stretched across a large plateau that then rolled back downhill to the jungle below. On the northern side of the field several miles from where they stood, a steep hill rose off the plateau. The grass on the hill tapered to rock toward the top. A small, sickly-looking tree adorned the otherwise barren peak.

“I believe there lies the highest point of the island,” said Luno, pointing to the hill. The gully in which the stream traveled wound its way through the grassy field toward the hill where Luno suspected its source would be found.

“To the peak,” Luno shouted, taking off at a run. James, relieved that Luno’s mood had improved, happily followed. The field stretched farther than it appeared, taking the pair the better part of an hour at full speed to reach the base of the hill. The stream trickled from another pool at the base of the hill. Above it the water spilled down the steep stone face into the pool. Luno paused only for a moment before skirting the base and ascending the eastern and more easily traveled side.

When they reached the top, it wasn’t the view that captured their attention but the small tree. It did indeed stand only a hair shorter than James, and its leaves were small and rather malnourished in appearance. The root system was what drew the gazes of the men. From below, the tree looked as if it sat on top of the rocky peak. From their vantage point, James and Luno could see that the roots created an arced canopy as they stretched across a crater that descended well below the base of the hill. Hundreds of birds (the first creatures they’d seen on the Severed Heart) flew between the roots where their nests were tucked away. James and Luno had spoken extensively about the lack of both birds and insects on the main island, but here it was apparently not the case.

The birds, James noticed, did not once fly out the hole above the level of the ground. Luno sniffed loudly. Then it dawned on James that he too smelled something familiar. Smoke.

Both James and Luno scanned the distance searching for the source. The hilltop view gave them a clear line of sight of the entire island. James’s gaze was fixed on the direction from which they’d traveled. He thought possibly William had started a fire and the smoke had blown their direction. Luno, however, began searching the ground until he discovered something and bent over.

“Here,” he said.

James moved to his side. The dirt was disturbed. Most of the hilltop was hard-packed dirt, but here it was loose.

“Smell it?” Luno asked. “I can feel the heat as well.”

James put his hand over the spot. He could feel heat rising from the ground.

“ Tertiri ze Manukto inari,” he said. The dirt swirled and began piling itself neatly off to the side. As it did, it revealed a small hole in the ground. Bit by bit, the dirt lifted from the hole and into the pile. Beneath the dirt were the remnants of a small fire. Charred wood and hot coals that were still smoldering immediately ignited as the air hit them.

“Somebody was here. They saw us approaching and covered the fire. They’re not far. Perhaps they fled to the jungle or down into there,” he said pointing to the root-filled crater.

Both men cautiously approached the rim of the deep crater and searched for signs of the person who’d started the fire. The birds flew about paying no notice to the onlookers.

“Have you ever heard of one of the other exiles making it to any of the satellite islands?” James asked.

“Never,” Luno replied.

Satisfied nobody was hiding among the birds and roots, both men scanned the surrounding area. James turned to the south and realized he could see clear across to the main island. In its center stood Mt. Misery. James recalled his trip to the top with Kilani. It felt like a lifetime had passed since they’d been there.

“I think it’s time we made our way back to camp,” said Luno. “The hour is getting late and before long, darkness will invite creatures best left in the company of themselves.”

James nodded as he scanned the tree line where the grassy field surrounding the hill met the jungle for any sign of this person. Luno had already started down the hill, and James moved quickly to catch up, realizing what Luno had discovered as he came to his side.

“No tracks,” he said.

“Aye,” Luno replied. “Either this person was a master at traveling without leaving a trace or we’re missing something. Either way, I believe we will be returning to this place before our time on the Severed Heart has ended.”

The pair reached the base of the hill and drank from the stream where it fell into the pool. Luno stood for a moment gazing deep into the pool then up the cliff face to the small tree at the top.

“I wonder,” he said.

“What is it?” James asked.

“What if, when this person saw us coming they covered their fire and simply jumped into the pool? And what if this pool has an underground connection to the others, which he used as a means of escape?”

“That’s an awfully long way to travel under water,” said James.

“Indeed,” said Luno. “Nevertheless, be on your guard when we reach the pools.”

The men continued along the stream back the way they came. Luno still insisted on walking, which frustrated James for two reasons. First it meant risking reaching camp before dark was questionable, and second he wanted to see Kilani as soon as possible.

“Tell me, James, what exactly did you learn about the plant that can be made into transporting powder when you were in that cave?”

“Very little, actually. I made some inferences based on the information I was provided.”

James could tell Luno knew something, and he wondered why he had waited so long to bring it up.

“I understand your desire. I do. I believe if we had gone along with your decision to immediately head for the southern islands all of our lives would have been in danger. You realized this and planted a seed in her head without taking into consideration the impact your so called inferences would have on her,” Luno said, finally delving into the subject James truly desired to discuss.

“Despite what you think, my assumptions are based on fact.”

“She holds you in very high regard. She trusts you. That isn’t an easy thing for her, and it appears as though you took advantage of that trust.”

“Is it any more reckless than risking our lives without the slightest hesitation?”

“Every day in The Never we risk our lives,” Luno replied.

“It was your idea to come here if I recall correctly,” said James.

“Aye, it was. A false hope is better than a certain death.”

“Then we both played a part.”

“Very well. I’m not the one you need to convince that this wasn’t meant to be a fruitless trip from the beginning.”

They continued through the flatter part of the jungle. Luno had planted a seed of doubt in James’s mind, and James didn’t like it. He had gained a lifetime of knowledge in seconds, yet his ability to think through the ramifications of his decisions hadn’t changed in the slightest, he thought. He could potentially be hurting the one he cared about most in this place. Especially if Luno told her what he wanted her to hear rather than the truth. Before James could ponder any more on the topic, Luno interrupted. “James, what do you think would happen if I had touched that stone?”

His tone had completely changed; the friendly perpetually inquisitive Luno had returned.

“Why did you tell us not to touch the stone on the First Widow?” James asked.

“When my hand drew near, I felt a dark energy. I drew away.”

“As I approached the stone in the cave, I too felt an energy. It called to me, drawing me closer until I no longer had control over myself. At that point I had little choice but to make contact with it. Whether the energy was dark or otherwise I know not. I don’t believe the knowledge I received was intended for good or evil. As I said before, it felt more like an awakening than a sharing of information. As if it were there all the time. It was just knowledge and only the wielder of that knowledge can determine its purpose. So to answer your question, I don’t know what would happen if you touched the stone. I do see that you are drawn to it as Kilani is drawn to her means of escape.”

“I do admit I am drawn to such a source of knowledge. You were chosen by the guardians to be gifted passage over the water, so my mind tells me only you could have received that power. But, indeed, my desire for it is strong and I daresay worth the risk. As I said earlier though, with every step we take in this cursed place we risk life and limb.”

“Perhaps we shall return to the widows one day so I may attempt to gain this knowledge as you have. Alas, there are other tasks that take priority. First of which is making it back to camp before nightfall.”

They arrived at the first pool shortly after the end of their conversation. Both men cautiously approached the edge, looking for any sign of disturbance. They saw no tracks or water displaced upon the dry rocks. They did this at each of the lower pools, coming up with the same results.

The sun hung low when they finally reached camp. James was relieved to see Kilani and Roger had made it back before them. From a distance, it looked as if Roger was retelling an exciting story. His hands were moving about as he spoke to William. Kilani stood beside Roger, turning immediately when she caught sight of the men making their way down the beach. She smiled and hurried to meet them. James couldn’t help but smile. He looked over at Luno, who was also smiling.

They gathered around the fire William had made and ate Gail fruit (aptly named after Gail Bisset, who discovered them shortly before being consumed by a croc monster) until they had their fill.

As the others finished up, James walked around the perimeter of the encampment and cast several protective incantations, which would prevent most things from crossing or at the very least, alert them if the perimeter was broken. James remembered casting similar incantations with his mother nearly every time they relocated. He wondered how she was fairing in his absence. James had been all she had thought about after his father died. His heart pained for her, to know that she was okay. He returned to the group disheartened.

The moon had risen in the sky, giving the night its typical twilight glow rather than the darkness that came in the presence of the blood-red moon of the previous night. Luno had considered returning the group to the Queen Mary to sleep but because they had encountered so little hostile wildlife and James was able to cast his protective incantations, he’d decided the group would bed down on solid ground.

“Now,” Luno said, “let us begin our formal debriefing. Roger and Kilani, please share with us your discoveries.”

Kilani nodded at Roger, who stood and began his recounting of their adventure.

“Made it t‘ the northern mos‘ point o‘ the island, findin‘ nothin‘. Terrain along t‘ coast were difficult a‘ best an‘ damn nigh impassable a‘ worse. Decided t‘ head inland t‘ avoid the sheer cliffs along the western side. That‘ when ’e happened upon a village.”

“Village?” Luno asked excitedly, jumping to his feet. “Were there people there? What did they say?”

“Afraid not, Cap‘in. She looked t‘ be abandoned though twas still en good repair. Built by a real craftsman. Looked completely out o‘ place setting there en a grassy field. Whoever lived there mus‘ a‘ been ’ere fer quite a while.

“Blimey,” said Luno. “How many buildings?”

“Five in all. Three houses, the pub an‘ a church.”

“Fascinating. You inspected them all?”

“Aye. Every one. Dust inside look as eff they been left fer ’bout a year is my guess,” Roger said. Kilani nodded in agreement.

“My god. All this time I’d thought nobody could cross the water. Did you see a vessel of any kind nearby?”

“No sign o‘ any. No tracks o‘ evidence o‘ anyone ’cept fer those buildings. Whoever they be, Cap‘in’, ere long gone.”

“Perhaps not as long as you think,” Luno replied, looking at James.

“You discovered something as well?” Kilani asked.

“Aye. We followed the stream to its source at the base of a hill, which is probably slightly southeast of the village, based on your description. Frankly, I’m surprised we couldn’t see it from the top of the hill. We could see clear across to South Harbor from there. Anyway, we came across a fire pit on the top of the hill. The coals were still warm.”

“Ten summon‘ ez ere,” William said.

“Perhaps they relocated for some reason,” suggested Roger. “Though I cannot reckon why one would abandon such fine quarters.”

“Speaking of the stream,” said Luno, “if we continue to stay here, I suggest we relocate to the eastern side tomorrow. The water is drinkable, and we shouldn’t rely on James every time one of us gets thirsty.”

“And what should we do about the people?” Kilani asked.

“We can’t find them because they don’t want to be found. If that changes during our stay here so be it. I don’t believe we should go out of our way to search for them. We’re here for a purpose, and that hasn’t changed. We still need to keep to our deadline. Unless Roger or Kilani have discovered the plant we seek,” said Luno, looking at each of them questioningly.

“No we haven’t. I’ve found several species that don’t, to my knowledge, grow on the other islands we’ve visited but none pass the first test,” Kilani said.

“It’s settled then. William, do you think you can relocate camp by the stream in a day’s time?”

“Tvice wit my eyes closed, Capitan,” he replied.

“Very good. At dawn we will continue our search. I think the pairings have worked out well and should remain the same tomorrow. Any objections?”

James wanted to object. He wanted to get Kilani alone and explain before Luno planted the seeds of dissent in her mind. He would not go against Luno’s orders despite his instincts and so remained silent.

“I shall take first watch. Kilani, second. Then William, Roger, and James. Now rest while you can.”

The second day of searching was far less eventful than the first. James was grateful that Luno had decided to run this day rather than keep the same slow pace as yesterday. They followed the coastline as they had originally intended to on the first day, making it all the way to the southwestern most point just after midday. They saw no sign of the island’s occupants, who Luno was sure were there somewhere. They ran a parallel course just north of the coast making even faster time on the return trip.

Roger and Kilani, had again come across grueling terrain along the northern coast. Despite being further inland, they didn’t arrive back at camp until just before the last rays of daylight fell behind the trees. Exhausted and famished, they reported finding nothing out of the ordinary. They did mention they’d caught sight of the hill.

William had reported seeing unusual tracks crossing over the stream not far from where he’d set up camp, but he had not been disturbed while relocating. That night was as uneventful as the last save a disturbance in the jungle while Roger was on watch. Strange sounds, like those of some small creature being attacked and eaten, broke the silence of the night. Before Roger could alert anyone, whatever was happening had ended and the silence resumed.

The following morning while the group was preparing for another day of exploration, William shouted in surprise.

“Ze dinghy!” he said in a panic standing in the place where it had been tied to a tree.

Everyone in the group stopped what they were doing and directed their attention to William and the missing boat. William looked out over the water at the Queen Mary, still anchored offshore. He saw no sign of the small boat.

“Tide come in and pull ’er out?” Roger asked.

“She was tied to the bloody tree. Not only that, but the tide line is back here,” Luno said pointing to a dark brown line in the sand several feet closer to the water from where the boat had sat.

Kilani bent over tracks in the sand that abruptly ended at the tide line. “The boat was untied and drug into the water. Whoever did it wasn’t alone. There were at least four of them. And…” she looked up at the group, “and the tracks they left were very small.”

The rest of the group gathered around to inspect the footprints in the sand. Kilani positioned her foot beside one of the prints for scale. Sure enough, the footprint was roughly one third smaller than her foot.

“Natives?” James asked.

“Not a chance,” said Roger. “That was European craftsmanship on the top of that hill eff I’ve ever seen it.”

“The questions we need to ask are where did they take our boat and how do we intend upon getting back to the Queen Mary once our time here expires,” said Luno.

“I heard summon in the jungle last n‘. A screaming o‘ sorts. Twas like a small animal been eaten by a larger. Didn’t sound t‘ alarm ’cause it lasted seconds,” said Roger.

“Perhaps that was a means of distraction,” said James.

“No bloody way summon could pull t‘ boat into t‘ water n row away without me heain‘. Leastways, what of yer protective incantations?” Roger replied.

James had forgotten about the protective incantations he’d cast the previous night. They would have covered the beach area surrounding the boat for sure. The thought of someone being able to bypass them was disturbing.

“Regardless of what happened, we need a way to get back to the Queen Mary and quickly. I believe we shouldn’t spend any more time here than necessary,” said Luno.

“I could summon the Queen Mary close to the cliffs, and we could jump aboard.”

“Too risky. We don’t know what lies beneath the surface. It’d be too easy to tear a hole right through her hull,” said Luno. “William, Roger, how long would it take you to make another boat?”

“Without our tools, it’d take weeks, Cap‘in,” replied Roger.

“With James’s powers and your craftsmanship, do you think you could make a two-person boat from a single tree?” Luno asked.

After pausing to think for a minute, Roger replied, “Aye, I think we could.”

“Very well. James, Roger, and William will begin working on the new boat immediately. Kilani and I will start to break down camp. I want to be aboard the Queen Mary before nightfall.

“And what of the plant?” Kilani asked. “We can’t just give up the search and move on.”

“Given the circumstances I think it’d be foolish to stay another night,” Luno replied.

“Let me search today while they make the boat and you break down camp,” she said resolutely.

Luno paused for a moment to consider her proposition. “I don’t want anyone traveling alone,” he finally said.

“Then come with me. James and Roger can work on the boat and William can break down camp.”

It was clear there was no changing her mind. In the end Luno decided to go along. James was more than a bit concerned about Luno and Kilani spending that much time alone. He felt as though he and Luno were vying for the affections of the same woman, and Luno had just been given the opportunity to plant seeds of dissent in her mind. His only consolation was that Kilani was so driven to find this plant that he doubted she would afford Luno the opportunity to have a conversation, especially since they’d planned for an early departure.

So it was that Kilani and Luno headed off into the jungle as James and Roger studied the task at hand. While James now had a mastery level understanding of the native language, his practical experience with the incantations limited his effectiveness. Compounding the issue was the absence of some words “he would have liked to use from the native vocabulary. Instead of “cut,” which wasn’t in the vocabulary, he first tried “disassemble,” lehtinen, splintering a massive tree. His second attempt detached it at the base but didn’t allow enough trunk to make a proper boat because it had cracked a large section in the process. In the end, James simply lifted a large tree, roots and all, from the ground and laid it on the beach.

He was able to break pieces of stone from the boulders lining the beach that were sharp enough to use as carving tools. As Roger trimmed away branches, James practiced a technique that would make quick work of the major carving. He was able to move large quantities of sand through the air at will. Once he got them moving fast enough, he was able to abrade away layers of wood very rapidly. It did, however take him quite a bit of practice to get the sand to work where he wanted. Several times he left nothing but a pile of dust. Eventually, he managed to fine tune this skill enough to first cut away the root ball and tree top, which would have taken Roger virtually all day, and hollow out the center. With Roger’s guidance they had a roughlooking canoe by midday.

By then, William had broken down camp and was able to help. Together they shaved away enough of the remaining wood to make the boat seaworthy. James was even able to cut paddles with his sand technique before the boat was finished. James strengthened the boat with incantations to assure it would survive the journey through the water. William and Roger tested the boat, made some modifications with James’s help, and then tested it again. It took four runs before they were satisfied enough to consider it seaworthy.

The three men loaded the boat with supplies, and William and Roger paddled the canoe into the harbor toward the Queen Mary hoping to limit the need for multiple trips once Kilani and Luno returned.

The remainder of the afternoon passed slowly for James as he waited for Kilani and Luno. He tried to imagine what Luno had told her and how upset she would be when they got back. James decided to take a walk down the beach toward the easternmost point of the island.

His head was so full of thoughts that he didn’t even notice the small man standing at the tree line watching him. The man simply stared as James passed with the curiosity of a cat watching a mouse. His skin was darker than Kilani’s, and he wore no clothes save a thin rope belt slung with patches of fabric. Over his shoulder was slung a bow and a quiver of arrows. Also tucked into his belt was a short stone dagger on one side and a leather pouch on the other.

James stopped where the beach ended and looked at the horizon. The sun had all but set behind the infinity of the sea. They’re late, he thought. He grew increasingly anxious as the sun continued to fall away in the distance. Finally, he decided that if they didn’t return by sunset, he would order William and Roger to board the Queen Mary, and he would search for them alone.

The small man stood on the beach just in front of him. His bowstring was taut, an arrow resting on his hand that gripped the rise. James jumped back in surprise. The man spoke, and James understood. It took him a moment to process what he was hearing because he’d never heard anyone other than himself speak the language of The Never in full sentences before.

“I will take the man and the woman,” he said. “You must go and never return.”

“I come in peace,” said James. “My name is James. What is your name and where are you from?”

The little man was equally surprised to hear James speak the language and immediately lowered his bow.

“It is true. You are here,” the man said with a sense of wonder.

“What is your name so I may address you properly,” asked James.

After a moment, the man appeared to awaken from deep thought and replied, “My name is Peroc,” he said.

“Peroc, where are you from?”

“This is my home,” said Peroc. “Where are you from?”

“Far beyond the sea. I shall tell you the story sometime. Please tell me, where are my friends?” James asked.

“Friends? The man and the woman?”

“Yes, my friends.”

“They are making their way back. They are not far.”

“Are they safe?” James asked.

“Not for long. As the sun sets these lands become dangerous.”

“We would like to meet your tribe. Will you take us?” Asked James.

“I will do as you wish, Chief. I do not suggest we travel at night considering what roams this land after the sun has set. You and your… friends have been careless and somehow lucky not to have run into… trouble.”

“If we wait until morning, you or your tribe will not hurt my friends, correct?”

“I will see to it that the Chief ’s bidding is done. Your friends will be safe. Celebrations are in order. We have awaited your arrival for generations. I must tell our tribe the good news. I shall return here in the morning. I suggest you sleep on your floating tree. With each passing night, it draws nigh.”

Floating tree? James thought for a moment and realized there was no word in the native vocabulary for boat. He couldn’t help smiling at the translation.

“Aren’t you worried about this creature you speak of? Darkness falls as we speak,” said James.

“No,” said Peroc.

“You must wait until dawn. Until then.” Peroc gave a respectful bow, reached into his pouch, sprinkled the transporting powder Kilani so desired, and was gone in a flash of orange light and smoke. James ran back to the stream inlet where William and Roger were waiting by the canoe. Luno and Kilani had joined them in his absence as well.

James urged everyone to make haste in boarding the Queen Mary. Once on board, he recounted running into the strange man and what he had learned. Sleep was hard to come by that evening as the place came alive with movement and sound. The trees and shrubs rustled and screamed. James likened it to the large colonies of walrus he and his father had encountered on one of their trips north.

The thought of his father brought back, all the longing and guilt that had been pushed deep inside. James remembered the cave. It was so real. For a short time he had believed it was his father and the weight, the burden had lifted and in that moment, he was free. It all came crashing back down when the truth was revealed. His thoughts strayed to the black castle. To Akil. Why had he not said anything about traveling to The Never? As his thumb ran over the cold steel of the key, he knew the answers were there. He would not be distracted from reaching the black castle again-even if it meant going on alone.

— 27 -

The Choice

July 1896, Portugal

You’re correct, Margaret, the boy does have exceptional abilities,” Tabitha Ogilvy said.

“There is concern in your voice. Speak your mind,” Margaret replied.

They stood in a multi-windowed kitchen. Morning light filtered through, casting long shadows on the stone floor. A large, black tea kettle hung from the lug pole over the fire. The intoxicating smell of cooking bacon found its way into the nostrils of everyone in the small house.

“I believe he has put up a wall, so to speak. Any combat-related skills I try to teach him he is refusing to learn. Not outwardly refusing, but I can tell he is resisting. I think he still blames himself for his father’s death and as a result he thinks more harm will come to others he loves if he lets his powers get out of control again.”

“You are most perceptive, Tabitha. I will speak with him,” said Margaret.

“Thank you. I must go into town and pick up some supplies. Is there anything you require?”

“No, thank you.”

“Very well, good day.” Tabitha walked through the doorway toward the exit in the back of the house.

Margaret sat on a small wooden chair beside the fireplace. She allowed a weary expression to take hold of her face. She had known James had internalized his fears and blame for his father’s death. She had repeatedly tried to talk with him about it, but to date, he’d been very obtuse about the matter.

Every time she thought about that day, the day her bond was broken, the day James returned and told her Stuart had died, her heart ached. Not only for her lost husband but for her son as well. He was nearly fourteen, and had made hardly any progress with his studies. The burden of blame is a heavy one, especially for someone who is not yet a man.

As far as she was concerned, there was only one person who needed to be blamed for her husband’s death-Alvaro. He’d continued his rise to power since that day they had met at the temple and was now Master Elder Ameriketako, one step from complete control of the council. He had shown no indication that he had even played a part in her husband’s death, but she knew it was him. She knew he had ordered those men to capture James and her husband. Regardless of how he had actually been killed, none of it would have happened if Alvaro hadn’t sent the order for their capture. He was the killer, not James, and he would pay for what he’d done to her family. Margaret swore to it. She had sworn to it every night since her husband’s death.

She realized tears were streaming down her cheeks. She sat up from her exhausted slouch and wiped them away.

“Mom?” James said, standing in the threshold.

“Good morning,” she said, gazing into the fire in hopes he didn’t notice. “Tea?”

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“I’m okay, son. Just thinking about your father.” She smiled. His face turned cold immediately, and she could see the guilt in his eyes. Every time she had shown her grief to James, his own guilt appeared to resurge as if his father had died all over again.

“James, sit down. We need to talk.”

James could tell by the look on his mother’s face what was coming. He’d heard it before and would probably hear it again. He sat and quietly waited for his mother to begin.

“Mrs. Ogilvy says you aren’t progressing like you could be. I see it as well. Why do you think that is?” Margaret asked.

“I don’t know,” James replied, as he had so many times before. The question was different but the underlying meaning was always the same. Even at thirteen he was able to see that.

“Do you want to know what I think?” she asked, looking deep into his blue, forget-me-not eyes. He didn’t respond. “I’m going to tell you whether you want to know or not. I think you’re holding on to guilt so tightly that it has become fear. You are afraid you will hurt someone else just like you believe you hurt your father. Is this true?” she asked. Again James didn’t respond.

“This is exactly what Alvaro wants, James can’t you see that? You will never become what he fears more than anything if you continue to hold on to this guilt. Not only that, but whatever power you weren’t able to control that night will remain out of your control for the rest of your life. If that happens it is more likely that someone you care about would be hurt again. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

James nodded.

“I miss your father. I miss him every day.” Margaret could see James wince when she said it. She could see her words had not gotten through to him. “I do not blame you for your father’s death. I never have. There is only one person who bears the guilt of his death. That person is Alvaro. One day you will be strong enough to defeat him. When that day comes, we won’t have to live in hiding any more. James, I’m telling you if you don’t let go of your fear and guilt that day will never come. Alvaro will remain in power, you will be just another boy and your father will have died for nothing.”

“Don’t you see, boy, all of us, the people who surround you, who protect you, we all believe that day will come. We are happy to die if need be to ensure that it does. All of those sacrifices will be for nothing if you cannot get past this. It’s okay to be afraid. It’s okay to be angry. What’s not okay is to allow those feelings to repress your abilities. Use those emotions to embolden them. It is up to you to decide. If you continue on your current path, you will achieve nothing but more hurt, more pain, and more guilt.”

James was hearing what his mother was telling him, but he was having a difficult time processing it. He was afraid of hurting someone else… of killing someone else. But how can you just turn that off? That fear of loss resides in the hearts of all children. And then there was Alvaro. His mother made it a point to regularly remind him that he was to blame. James had a difficult time harboring any anger for the man. He had been very kind when they had met at the temple not long ago. Despite that, everyone around him says the opposite. He wants to make his mother happy and proud. Bearing this burden of overthrowing Alvaro, of making a difference in the world, was a burden he often wished he never had to bear. He longed for a normal life with friends and school and a home. Hearing this from his mother made him wish he could crawl back into bed and sleep everything away.

“You carry a heavy burden, James. You have almost your entire life. Part of me wishes that could be different for you. Remember, all of us have expectations for our lives. Some are greater than others. We carry these with us until we’ve seen them through or until the day we die. Don’t let yours be a weight. Let them lift you. Believe in yourself. Believe you can accomplish more. Even more than others believe. Go with confidence and strength. If you do this, James, you will become more than you ever could have imagined. You have two choices, son. You can let these feelings, the guilt, the fear, the weight of expectation drag you down and be nothing or you can let them lift you up and be more than anyone could possibly fathom. It is up to you, son. I’ve taught you never to give up. Your father taught you never to give up. The decision is yours.”

With that, Margaret quickly stood and left the room. James stared into the fire. How can I be more than what people already expected of me? he wondered. His head was swimming. Part of him wanted to run away, to rid himself of all of this. The prophecy, his father’s death-he wanted to leave it all behind and never have to think about it again. He stood, having made up his mind.

He walked out of the kitchen and down the hallway toward the room where he slept. He stopped outside the door to the room where his mother had retreated. He knocked. She opened the door, red eyed. He could tell she’d been crying.

“I’ve made my decision,” he said. Margaret stood, waiting for more but more never came. The troubled-looking boy turned and went into his room.

Later that morning, Tabitha Ogilvy returned. Margaret discussed the conversation she’d had with James briefly then went to get James from his room so he could start the day’s lessons. She stepped inside his room and for the second time in her life, her heart felt as if it had been torn from her chest. James was gone.

— 28 -

The Belator

Before the sun rose, James was awake. He had stowed all the gear they would need on the small boat. He was climbing down the rope ladder to board and make a trip alone when he heard someone stirring on deck. Kilani leaned her head over the side. The bright moon meant that even at this hour James didn’t need a light orb to see.

“In a hurry, are we?” asked Kilani.

“Anxious is a better word, I think,” replied James, settling into the stern of the canoe. “Care to come along?”

Kilani looked over her shoulder to see if anyone else was awake then quickly made her way down the ladder. James positioned the boat with his paddle so the bow seat was just beneath her feet. She stepped cautiously inside and sat. James handed her a paddle, and they began pulling at the water.

“I’m curious, James,” said Kilani.

“So I’ve learned,” he replied.

“I’m curious why you are paddling this boat when you have the knowledge to use probably a dozen incantations to get us where you want to go without all the work.”

“I shall satiate your curiosity by telling you this. Even when I was at home both my body and mind required some physical exertion to get going in the morning, which is why at the present moment, I am paddling us across the harbor.”

“So it’s got nothing to do with a fear of your newfound abilities?”

James couldn’t tell where Kilani was going with this line of questioning and decided to tread cautiously. Kilani never asked questions for the sake of conversation.

“What makes you think I’m afraid of my new abilities?”

“I’m not sure, exactly. Just a feeling I’m getting.”

“Worry not, my lady. If you’d prefer, I’ll propel us across this harbor at maddening speeds,” said James. He extended his hands over the water and said, “ Tertiri ze Manukto ahlnas svartbek.” Immediately the boat lurched forward. James let his oar drag in the water as a rudder.

Within minutes the small boat ran aground on a beach. Kilani had to hold onto the sides to keep from being thrown over the bow onto the sand. She laughed out loud. That’s a wonderful sound, thought James. They quickly unloaded the supplies and readied the canoe for another trip. Kilani volunteered to stay behind.

“I forgot to tell you some exciting news,” James said, looking over his shoulder at Kilani as he prepared to push off the sand with his oar.

“It’s so exciting you forgot to tell me?” said Kilani.

“The natives can transport,” James said, immediately pushing off the sand and gliding across the water toward the Queen Mary. Kilani stood dumbfounded, staring after him. A smile crossed her face as she watched him paddle back to the ship. Things are about to change for the better, she thought.

James first returned with William and Roger and then made another trip to bring Luno. As James steadied the canoe beneath the ladder for the last time, Luno stepped inside. A small satchel, which James had never seen before, was slung over Luno’s shoulder. James was tempted to ask what was inside, but he decided against it. He turned the boat and began to paddle. Instead of reaching for the paddle lying beside him to help, Luno simply sat staring at the sunrise.

“Amid all your excitement yesterday I didn’t get the opportunity to tell you about our travels,” Luno said, looking over his shoulder at James. “We reached the abandoned village that overlooks the northern coast.”

“And what was your impression?” asked James.

“I agree with Roger’s and Kilani’s assessment. It has been abandoned for about a year. Its constructors were European, masters of their trade for sure, who were quite possibly abducted from their homes.”

“What makes you say that?”

“Their belongings are still inside the buildings. Several of the beds are turned down. One house had long-rotted food on a table, and outside there were the sun-bleached bones of some kind of creature tethered to a pole.”

“Do you believe the natives have something to do with it?” asked James.

“My list of suspects at the moment is short.”

“Do you think we’re walking into a trap?”

“If they wanted us captured or dead, my boy, I believe they would have already taken or killed us.”

“So what do you believe?”

“I believe, my boy, they are not so different from us. Based on what you’ve told me, they too have been waiting for someone of unprecedented abilities to come along and deliver them from whatever it is they need delivering.”

Luno had confirmed that James’s suspicions were rightfully founded. He had spent most of his life being that person and was rapidly growing weary of it. Neither spoke for the remainder of the paddle across the harbor.

By the time they arrived, Kilani, Roger, and William were standing ready. They had divided the supplies among them and left two piles for James and Luno. James sheathed his dagger and slung his bedroll over his shoulder. He looked up and down the beach for any sign of Peroc. The beach was empty in both directions. He decided to drink from the stream before they got going. Luno joined him as the others had already had their fill while waiting for the pair to return from the Queen Mary.

James knelt at the edge of the stream, his long hair dangling in the water. He splashed some in his face before drinking. As he drank, he suddenly noticed a reflection in the water that hadn’t been there before. He looked up. Peroc stood on the opposite side grinning down at him. James smiled back and looked over at Luno, whose entire head was submerged in the water.

“Today is a good day,” said Peroc in his native tongue, “I bring you and your friends to my village.”

“My friends are happy to meet you and the members of your tribe,” said James.

“And I am happy to bring Chief and his friends home,” said Peroc.

At this James could only smile awkwardly. He reached over and tapped Luno on the shoulder. Luno lifted his head from the water and gave James an irritated look. James tilted his head toward Peroc. Luno’s expression quickly changed to a smile.

“ Muojarvi,” Luno said in the native language James had taught the group.

“ Muojarvi,” said Peroc. “It is an honor to meet friends of the Chief.”

Luno looked at James for a translation.

“He said it’s an honor to meet you.”

“Where are the others?” asked Peroc.

“Down the beach,” replied James, pointing behind him.

“We must gather and go,” said Peroc. “It is a long walk, and we don’t want to be out after sunset.”

He nodded and the trio walked back to where Kilani and the others stood. James introduced everyone and they set out heading west. No words were spoken as they moved through the jungle. Peroc was pleasantly surprised to find out they could all keep pace with him with little effort. What he didn’t know was this pace was still not as fast as they usually traveled.

They followed a well-worn game trail for some time, until it broke through the jungle into a grassy field. James recognized the field immediately from the hill with the weary-looking tree perched on top. Peroc gave a slight bow in the direction of the hill and kept moving in a westerly direction. Not long after crossing the western edge of the grassy field back into the jungle, Peroc came to a halt.

The group looked down into a crater. Rather than being barren and void of life, this crater was full of trees and plants. So dense was the vegetation that one couldn’t see the bottom. Trees grew inward from the sides of the crater, stretching impossible distances before bending slightly up toward the sun. The edges were steep yet plant life was still able to cling to the sides. James noticed there were birds here as well. Thousands of them moving about from tree to tree.

“Our home is at the bottom,” said Peroc.

He quickly turned and ran along the rim of the crater until he reached a narrow path on the far side of a giant tree. They made countless switchbacks and traveled over and under numerous trees, all growing from the sides of the crater rather than the bottom, before reaching flat terrain. Everyone in the group was awestruck when they came to a stop. The bottom of the crater was completely treeless. Only a closely-knit groundcover grew on the crater floor. Looking out across the expanse, James was reminded of the manicured lawns of manor houses he’d sometimes stayed in back home.

In the distance, he could see several structures, but there was no sign of people. Peroc beckoned them on and moved across the clearing toward the structures. Roughly halfway from the crater walls, the deep shade provided by the trees disappeared. James realized they all stopped growing in exactly the same place, creating a perfect circle of sunlight. A large rectangular stone platform sat in the center of the circle. About to step into the light, Peroc’s arm swung out across James’s chest.

“We do not step into the light,” Peroc said, with a most serious look on his face. James relayed the message to the others.

The group made their way around the circle of light and on to where the structures sat.

“This is our home,” said Peroc. James translated for his group. “Where is everyone?” asked Luno.

James translated Luno’s question. Peroc studied the sky for a moment before answering.

“They are hunting. I did not expect us to make such fast time. They will be surprised to see us here when they return. It won’t be long now,” said Peroc.

James translated.

“Why can’t we go in the sun?” asked Kilani.

James relayed the question.

“He calls it the circle of fire. Anyone who steps inside while the sun is overhead will burn,” said James.

“Intriguing. I wonder if it is anything like the sun at the top of Mt. Misery,” said Luno.

Peroc looked at James questioningly. James translated and found that Peroc was unfamiliar with the lone mountain on the main island.

“We do not travel there,” said Peroc. “We are forbidden to travel to the main island.”

“By who,” James asked.

“By the island,” said Peroc, pointing to the ground.

“How many are in your tribe?” asked James.

“There are thirty four of us. You are the thirty fifth,” he said with a smile.

“All of the others went hunting? Why?”

“What we hunt requires many men. We’ve yet to send a hunting party where at least one man has not returned.”

“What is it that you hunt? We have traveled far on this land and seen little in the way of life.”

“We hunt the tampere. You did not see them because they did not want to be seen. They were watching you, of that I’m sure.”

James took some time to relay everything they’d discussed to his group. When he was done, he noticed Kilani had an impatient expression on her face. He knew she desired to know one thing. James turned back to Peroc.

“When you left yesterday you vanished. How?”

Peroc reached into the small satchel, which hung from his belt, and removed a pinch of orange powder. He smiled and tossed it over his head. In a flash of orange smoke and light he was gone.

“So it’s true,” said Kilani, more excited than James had ever seen her.

“We call it travel powder,” Peroc said, startling the group when he appeared out of thin air behind them.

“Where do you find this powder?” James asked.

As Peroc opened his mouth to answer the question he was interrupted by a loud horn sounding from somewhere on the rim.

“They’re back,” said Peroc.

He took off at a run, careful not to step into the circle of light, and made his way toward where James and his group had followed him into the crater. He yelped, his hands cupping his mouth. There was a reply from somewhere between the rim and the bottom.

“They have slain a tampere. We will eat well tonight, my Chief,” Peroc said excitedly.

He began running in circles shouting with excitement. It took quite some time for James and company to see the first of Peroc’s tribe make their way out of the undergrowth. All members, including the women, were similarly dressed (or undressed). All save one stood even shorter than Peroc. The tallest led the line. She was a stern-faced warrior whose war paint was mixed with blood. They were all marked in bright yellow paint and each carried on their shoulder a part of the large creature.

The animal part, still unidentifiable, was massive. From end to end, the tribesman spaced about three feet apart and still the creature hung past the last man in line by a good four feet. The skin was smooth in texture with a marbled green and black pattern. The carcass left a trail of blood in its wake. With each step, the hunters let out a short celebratory shout. Despite the size of their burden, they moved with apparent ease.

When finally the tribesmen had all stepped onto the flatlands they stopped.

“They’ve slain a bloody croc monster,” said Luno “Biggest one I’ve ever seen.”

The hunters wore expressions of pride as they began to march toward the camp, shouting with each step. Peroc let out a joyous cry and raised his bow into the air several times as they headed toward camp.

A horn sounded from behind. Peroc stopped his dance and turned toward the sound.

“What is it?” James asked.

“Meloc’s been injured. They’re bringing him down,” he replied.

Despite the troublesome news, Peroc continued to dance to the rhythm of the hunter’s song back toward the trailhead. James relayed what Peroc had told them. Shortly, two tribeswomen appeared. Between them they held a crude stretcher made simply of sticks and leaves. On the stretcher lie an older man, Meloc. His hair was white, his skin was ashen, and his legs were torn apart and bloodied. The two women carrying the stretcher trotted off toward the camp. Peroc followed still calling out his celebratory cries despite the return of the injured man.

James exchanged concerned looks with the rest of his group and fell in behind Peroc as they headed to the camp. When they arrived, the hunting party had already begun cutting pieces of the creature and setting them on stones positioned around a roaring fire. They had set the head of the creature just outside the ring of fire. Its lifeless green and amber eyes looked on as its flesh was prepared for a feast. Everybody continued about their business as if James, Kilani, Luno, Roger, and William were not there.

The injured man was propped against the head of the creature and left to himself. He appeared to be fading in and out of consciousness as he attempted to remain seated. James called to Peroc several times, who was still dancing around celebrating, with no luck. Finally he grabbed him by the wrist.

“What will you do with him?” he asked, pointing to the injured man.

“Meloc is our eldest. It is an honor to die in the hunt for tampere. He will live to see us feast on its flesh then join our ancestors,” said Peroc.

“Will you not tend to his wounds?” asked James.

“It is against our laws,” said Peroc. “It appears you are upset by this. Please don’t be. Meloc has accepted his fate and will die with honor.”

“But there is no need for him to die at all,” said James.

“We only have the skills to prolong his death with injuries so severe,” said Peroc.

“I would like to try. I believe I can heal him,” said James.

Peroc’s expression changed immediately. He looked over at Meloc, who appeared to be teetering on the brink of unconsciousness again. Luno watched the exchange curiously. While he couldn’t understand what they were saying, it was easy enough to infer what the conversation was about. James said something that made Peroc’s casual tone and posture change immediately. Peroc turned and shouted at his reveling tribesmen. The music and festivities immediately came to a halt.

James turned away from Peroc and made his way to the dying man, who had slumped to the ground beside the teeth, which were exposed in an endless snarl. James put his hand on Meloc’s forehead. Immediately, the little man’s eyes opened. He smiled at James. James took his hand and helped him sit up.

“ Tertiri ze Manukto tupasarri ojala,” said James. A pink light rose from the palms of his hands and rolled in on itself like a wave in the ocean as it hovered above them. James moved his hands apart. The light stretched and finally broke into two pieces. James sent each piece toward Meloc’s legs where they quickly wrapped themselves like bandages covering a wound. Meloc let out a terrible cry and fell to the ground.

“Tupasarri,” said James. The pink light lifted like a mist from the grass, revealing uninjured legs. Meloc stirred on the ground. Behind him, James could hear the cheering of his tribesmen as he helped Meloc back to a sitting position.

The old man smiled again at James but remained silent.

“Rise,” said James. “You are healed.”

Taking Meloc by the hands, he helped him to his feet. He was unstable for a moment but quickly found his equilibrium. Before he could say anything, he was swept away by his reveling tribe mates who’d reconvened the celebration. Still no one, with the exception of Peroc, had directly addressed James or anyone else in his group. It made James feel almost as if they were invisible. James returned to where Luno, Kilani, and the others stood watching everyone prepare for the feast and celebrate.

“Well done, my boy,” said Luno.

“Does anyone else find it the least bit odd that we’ve been invited here only to be ignored?” Luno asked.

“Oui, zis is not right,” said William.

James looked at Kilani, who appeared to be daydreaming and not paying the least bit of attention to the goings-on around her. The revelry continued for some time-as did the ignoring-until James finally lost patience and went in search of Peroc, who’d wandered off behind one of the structures, each slung with dried animal hide. At the peak of each tent, James saw stacks of human skulls, one on top of the other, skewered by a pointed spear. The sight was unnerving and for the first time since they’d arrived, he was concerned for their lives. He dodged men and women dancing in circles as he made his way in the direction he’d seen Peroc walk. James noticed the tall, stern-looking woman he’d seen at the head of the hunting party staring at him as he passed.

A loud boom froze James in his tracks. Everyone around him appeared immobile as well. The afternoon light went dark as if someone had thrust the sun behind the horizon in mere seconds. The fire, which had been low and steady, grew until its flames reached high into the air. The native closest to James brought her hands together. Her claps resounded as if she were banging on a large drum. Soon all the tribe were clapping in rhythm and forming a line on each side of the fire. James could not see Kilani, Luno, and the others.

The tall woman stepped out from her place in one of the lines and stood with her back to the fire, facing James. She continued to clap as she spoke.

“Since our mother’s, mother’s, mother dwelt here, the island foretold of the coming of one who would lead us. All this time we have, by law, never had a rightful chief. All this time we’ve waited for the one foretold. Peroc, our brother, believes this day will see us our leader. He could travel across the water, it was said. He would speak the language of the land. He would master the spirit of the island. Peroc believes he is found. Peroc, step forward.”

The clapping stopped and in a burst of orange light and smoke, Peroc appeared just in front of the woman.

“Show us why you believe,” said the warrior woman.

Peroc turned to James and beckoned him to come forward. Reluctantly, James stepped into the center of the rows of tribesmen and walked toward Peroc.

“You speak our language, do you not?” Peroc asked.

“I speak your language,” James replied in the native tongue.

“Tell us how you arrived here.”

“We traveled from the main island,” said James.

“And by what means did you travel?”

“My friends constructed a ship,” James said, realizing as he heard himself speak the word “ship” he’d spoken in English because there wasn’t a word for something that travels over the water in the native tongue.

“I traveled over the water,” James said to the curious expressions of the crowd.

“Now,” said Peroc, “show us.”

James believed if he refused to display his powers, none of them would ever leave alive.

“ Tertiri ze Manukto vinka,” said James.

Thousands of pinpoint light orbs rose from the palms of his hands. He sent them into the air with a tossing motion. They rose into the overhanging trees above their heads, where they hung like stars. They grew brighter and larger until the ground below was lit like the day. James could hear reactions coming from the onlookers. The lights dimmed and shrank. They began to fall like snow all around the tribe. Several men and women reached up to catch the falling stars.

With a wave of his hand the miniature orbs quickly rose and began to swirl above their heads. They swirled closer and closer until they had all joined together. The single orb shot high into the air and exploded like a firework. This drew applause from the onlookers.

“We have been watching them since they’ve arrived and seen things we cannot explain. Now you must believe the explanation is simple. Before us stands our new leader. Our chief. Are there any who doubt this proclamation?” asked Peroc, looking at his tribe. Nobody spoke. James could see the warrior woman looking at him. She was the only one with a hostile expression.

“Then let us welcome he and his friends,” Peroc shouted.

Cries of approval were shouted as the tribe quickly ran about. Someone placed a gentle hand on James’s back and coaxed him forward. The darkness that had consumed the area at the beginning of the ceremony lifted slightly allowing James to see Kilani, Luno, Roger, and William being ushered in his direction. A blanket was unrolled just in front of him and hands from all directions placed food of various types upon it. Soon James’s group stood surrounding the blanket. They sat upon request. Each of them was adorned with a headdress similar to the one the warrior woman had been wearing when she’d returned from the hunt. James wore by far the largest and most ornate.

The group was instructed to eat while the tribe danced around them in a choreographed display.

“Ho, Chief,” Luno chortled. “Seems you’re wanted just about everywhere you go.”

“Ze are cannibals,” said William. “Did you see ze skulls? Nique te mere!”

“We’d be premature to pass such a judgment. They could simply be how they honor their dead. Let us not jump to conclusions,” said Luno.

“This place gives me an uneasy feeling,” admitted James. “I’m not sure William isn’t right.”

“No sense ’n lettin‘ a good meal go to waste, I dare say,” Roger said, picking up a piece of meat and stuffing it into his mouth. “Fantastic,” he said, chewing.

Reluctantly, James reached down and selected a piece of meat and put it into his mouth. It was, without a doubt, the tastiest thing he’d eaten since he’d arrived in The Never. The others quickly dug in, enjoying the feast. All except Kilani, who slowly picked at the food. When they’d had their fill they were led to the center of the clearing. The ring of fire was long gone as the sun fell below the rim of the crater. The tribe sat in a large circle around the stone platform.

Three women seated just behind the circle played on three drums. Torches stood in the ground around the platform, casting eerie shadows. James and company were seated facing the front of the platform. The drumming changed rhythm the instant they sat. There was a cry of fear in the distance. James looked into the faces of the tribe folk nearest to him and saw no concern. The cries continued. He looked in the direction of the cries and spotted two torches steadily moving closer to the platform.

The warrior woman stood and walked to the base of the platform. She waited silently as the torches approached. The cries had ceased until the two torches, being carried by two members of the tribe, reached the ring of people surrounding the platform. James looked on in horror. They were dragging a woman whose feet and hands were bound. What clothes she wore were tattered and torn. She was very thin and dirty. She had the complexion of a European. Her hair was long and mousey brown. The woman pleaded in a language James was sure he’d heard before but couldn’t understand. She then began screaming and struggling against the two men dragging her toward the platform, but she lacked the strength to gain any real headway.

They finally reached the base of the platform. The drums stopped, and the warrior woman took a step up onto the first level and began to address her tribe. “The island demands this gift in exchange for our good fortune, and tonight we are fortunate indeed,” she said, looking at James. “What was foretold long ago has come to pass.”

The tribe cheered at this. The captive woman looked on in terror at the warrior woman as she spoke.

“Tonight the moon passes for the twenty-second time since our last gift. The time for another has come. The island has been good to us. In return, we must be good to her. If we are not, death will befall us all.”

The drums started again, this time the beats struck in quick succession. The members of the tribe began to sway from side to side. Four tribesmen, two men, and two women, with bodies painted entirely in red, stepped through the circle and grasped the woman. Two lifted her under her arms and the others held each leg as they raised her onto the platform.

James looked at Kilani and Luno, who wore horrified expressions. The red-painted tribesmen reached the top step of the platform. They placed the woman on the table-size stone, which James realized was hovering slightly over the top step. The woman kicked and spat and cried until she touched the stone. The moment she contacted it, she fell silent.

The red-painted tribesmen turned, leaving the woman on the stone. She did not make any attempt to escape. James again looked over at Luno.

“What the bloody hell is going on? Luno asked.

“They said they’re giving the island a gift,” said James.

“Human sacrifice,” said Luno.

James looked back at the platform. The warrior woman had removed a long dagger from her belt and was making her way up the steps toward the woman. James couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He wasn’t about to let it happen. He quickly stood as the warrior woman leaned over the stone table with knife in hand. The woman on the table hadn’t moved.

“Stop,” James cried in the native tongue. “This is not acceptable. You must not hurt this woman.”

“Chief, I have no intention of hurting this woman,” the warrior woman said with a mirthless smile. She took her dagger and cut the bindings on the woman’s wrists and ankles. Held by an invisible force, her arms immediately snapped outward and her legs opened. The warrior woman lifted her head, again smiled at James with her evil smile, and retreated back to the base of the platform.

Perhaps I’m wrong, James thought. The drumming stopped again and the torches surrounding the circle extinguished synchronously. For an instant, they were enveloped in darkness. Then a bright light shone on the platform. It was a perfect circle, its edge fell just one step below the stone table. The moon was aligned perfectly through the center hole in the trees and cast a beam of light more focused and intense than James or any in his group had ever seen.

The light was somehow mesmerizing and James couldn’t help but look in wonder as it crept ever so slowly closer to the edge of the table. The warrior woman stepped completely off the platform, careful to avoid the light, and returned to her place in the circle as the light came within inches of the edge of the table. James remained standing, ready to act.

The round beam of light struck the woman’s outstretched fingers first. She immediately let out a blood-curdling cry. Smoke began to rise from her hand as the flesh on her fingers quickly turned to dust. In an instant, James realized that the warrior woman wasn’t going to kill this woman, but the island was. Beside him, Luno, Kilani, William, and Roger had all gotten to their feet.

James ran toward the platform as the cries continued. Nearly her entire hand was now nothing but bleached bone. A slight breeze blew away the gray powder that moments ago had been her flesh. In the distant darkness the cries of a man echoed those of the victim.

As James reached the edge of the platform, he felt energy similar to that which came from the stone tower he’d touched in the cave on the Second Widow. He tried to surge through it, but he was unable and fell back to the ground. The others in his group hit the ground as well.

He quickly stood. “ Tertiri ze Manukto norge,” he said, sending a surge of electric energy that looked like a miniature lightning storm toward the barrier. The invisible wall absorbed the spell and did not yield. By this time the beam was creeping toward the woman’s elbow and her cries continued at an earsplitting volume. They could also still hear the unknown man’s cries in the darkness.

“You are defying the will of the island,” the warrior woman said calmly.

“The island did not put her on this table. You did,” said James. “ Tertiri ze Manukto suomi,” he said. Several large rocks lifted from the dirt beneath the ground outside the circle. He sent them hurtling toward the invisible barrier. Upon impact, each of the rocks shattered into sand. He then lifted a large amount of dirt into the air. It began to swirl like a hurricane creating a dense black cloud. James again directed it toward the barrier but this time sent it high into the air in hopes of blocking the moon’s rays from hurting the woman further. Unfortunately, regardless of how high he went, the barrier continued even higher.

James abandoned this idea, letting the dirt fall to the ground like rain on the tribe. The light had passed the woman’s elbow and was steadily moving closer to her torso. He knew he had only seconds before any intervention wouldn’t matter.

“ Tertiri ze Manukto suomi,” he said, concentrating on the stone table inside the barrier. To his surprise, the table rose into the air. James sent it as far from the circle of light as he could inside the barrier. The woman immediately stopped screaming and looked around, confused. The stone table struck the far side of the barrier and came to an awkward rest on the steps. James knew this was merely a temporary solution. The moonlight was steadily making its way in the direction of the woman. He had time, but not much.

The warrior woman ran to James’s side, an incredulous look on her face.

“You dare defile the ceremony? If this woman does not die, the island will seek its revenge upon us all. Especially the one who interrupted the ceremony.”

“I will not stand by and watch her die,” James said. “If I am truly your chief, I order you to help me.”

The warrior woman stood looking at James with a defiant expression. It was clear that regardless of his title, she had no intention of bringing an end to the ceremony. Kilani, who James had forgotten was even there, reached down to the warrior woman’s belt and ripped away a small sac. She tossed it to James. The warrior woman turned on Kilani, ready to fight. Kilani brought herself to her full height, over a head taller than the warrior woman, and the warrior woman paused, realizing she was outmatched. Infuriated, she turned and walked away.

As this was happening, James reached into the sac, pulled a pinch of transporting powder from the bag, sprinkled it over his head and said, “ Tertiri ze Manukto ahlnas.” The next thing he knew, he was standing inside the barrier beside the table. The woman looked up at James in surprise. She whispered in a language James could not understand. Tears streaked her face. James tried to lift her from the table, but she was held there by an invisible bond.

“ Tertiri ze Manukto lehtinen,” said James. The table immediately fractured, then crumbled. The woman’s body was free. What was left of her right arm was bright red and burnt but James thought it would be okay. He lifted her into his arms, took another pinch of the transporting powder, and tossed it over his head.

Both the woman and James had disappeared. Kilani, realizing they were now alone, nervously looked at Luno. The four of them stepped closer together as the tribe recovered from the shock of what it had just witnessed. Several of the tribe were shouting angrily and moving about pointing at the platform.

“Now vut?” William asked, eyeing the increasingly hostile tribe.

“Hold our ground. James will return,” said Luno.

The warrior woman marched quickly back toward the group carrying a spear. Over her back she’d slung her bow and quiver. She stopped just in front of the group and looked right at Kilani. She shouted in the native tongue.

“I will not fight you,” said Kilani.

The warrior woman clearly did not understand, because she grasped the spear and pointed it at Kilani, just inches from her chest. Before Kilani could react, Luno stepped in front of her, snatched the spear from the warrior woman’s hands and broke it over his knee. Enraged, the warrior woman began to pull her bow from her back.

“ Tertiri ze Manukto reisa,” Luno said. Both bow and arrows immediately caught fire. The warrior woman quickly pulled them from her back and dropped them to the ground, where they burnt to ashes. She looked at Luno in shock and fear. Several tribe members began disappearing in orange flashes while others made their way back to the encampment on foot. The warrior woman, who’d retrieved another sac of transporting powder, disappeared in an orange flash. Within a minute, they were alone.

“Without James I fear we are extremely vulnerable here. We should leave at once,” said Luno.

“Into the jungle at night? I’m not sure that’s a good idea. At least here we know what we’re facing,” said Kilani.

With a flash, James appeared not three feet from where they stood. He was alone. He looked around, surprised to only see his friends.

“What’s happening,” he asked.

“The tribe has fled back to the encampment. I don’t believe they’re particularly happy with us at the moment,” Luno said.

“Where did you take her?” Kilani asked.

“Back to Harbor Town,” said James.

“What now, Capin’?” asked Roger, looking at James.

“I’ll take us back to the Queen Mary. Who first?” James asked.

Without waiting for a response, James put his arm around Kilani and they were gone. A moment later, they were standing on the deck of the Queen Mary. Their faces were less than an inch apart and in that instant, James wanted nothing more than to feel her soft lips against his. She quickly withdrew and James disappeared, leaving Kilani standing alone. Seconds later he returned with Roger, then William, and finally Luno. The group relaxed when Luno and James arrived. Before he could explain or the group had a chance to object, James disappeared again.

He transported to the spot where he had healed Meloc, beside the tampere’s head. Several tribesmen, who were running about with their weapons, jumped back as he appeared. James sent light orbs overhead, lighting up the entire encampment. A dozen orange flashes immediately brought more tribe warriors to the scene.

“Where is Peroc?” James demanded.

“You disgraced our tribe and damned us all,” said one of the armed tribesmen, pointing his spear at James.

“You disgrace yourselves with your murderous ways. You will not go unpunished for your years of brutality. Now tell me where I may find Peroc before I get angry.”

The ground trembled beneath their feet. Immediately they dropped their spears. Two of them turned and ran toward their tents. The others huddled in a tight group.

“For the last time, were is Peroc?”

“The ring of fire,” one of them shouted.

James immediately transported just outside the ring. Twodozen tribesmen looked on as the moon shone its deadly rays onto the platform. Inside, Peroc stood against the far wall in the rubble of the stone table. The circle of light was inches from reaching him.

On the Queen Mary Luno, Kilani, Roger, and William paced nervously on deck. No one had said much after James disappeared without announcing where he was going. In a flash, James returned, accompanied by a man none of them knew. He was shorter than James-most men were-with broad shoulders and matching golden hair and beard. He looked drawn, thin, and weak. The man collapsed on deck. Kilani and Luno ran to help him up and ask what was going on, but before they could get in a word, James was gone again.

The man muttered something before falling unconscious. Luno and Kilani exchanged looks of confusion. There was another flash and James was back. Beside him stood Peroc. James held an ornately carved tree stump under his arm. He set the stump on the deck and removed his arm from around Peroc’s shoulder. Peroc stayed close while eyeing the others as if expecting them to attack.

Exhausted, James sat on the stump and looked up at the group.

“Speak up plain, Capin’ what in t’ bloody ’ell is going on?” Roger asked.

“I knew they’d turn on Peroc, so I returned for him. He told me about the prisoner-the other screaming voice we could hear-and we rescued him as well. He is the woman’s brother. They are the last survivors of the village Kilani and Roger discovered on our first day here. The others, sixteen in all, were killed in a ceremony just like the one we witnessed tonight.”

“Murdering savages. C’est des conneries!” said William.

“Peroc, tell us about the ceremony. When did it begin?” James asked.

James translated as Peroc told the tale. “He says that as far back as our stories go, there has always been mention of the twentysecond ceremony. Every twenty-two days, the island requests a sacrifice. His tribe was required to provide it. Throughout their history, it’s usually been one of their own who would go on the stone table. They would hold games to decide who among them would go. Legends were born from these games.”

“Within the last generation, others began to arrive on this island. At first they came in small numbers, one every several years. Eventually larger groups began arriving.”

“Rather than capture and hold them, they would simply watch the newcomers until one was needed. Then, one at a time, they would take from the group. This man and his sister are the last of a very large group that arrived roughly ten years ago. The group built their own camp by One Tree Hill and appeared to thrive. Peroc’s people taught them rudimentary magic. They taught the group their words. They showed them where to find water and how to avoid being preyed upon by the tampere. They encouraged them to breed, but no visitors have ever been with child in this place. Essentially they raised them like beasts to slaughter. The newcomers trusted Peroc’s clan. When one went missing, there was always an explanation for their disappearance.”

“Finally they stopped coming. As their numbers dwindled, Peroc’s people realized it would soon come time for one of their own to go back on the table. The games were set to be held on the day we arrived. One of their tribe spotted our ship. The games were cancelled, and Peroc was sent to bring us to their camp. Everything changed when Perocheard me speak their language. He knew then that the legend of the outsider coming to lead his people to a better place was true.”

“What of the children? Why weren’t there any children at the camp?” asked Kilani.

James translated the question. “He said that they do not take the children to that cursed place. The children stay at another camp, one that is equally protected but not infested with the stench of death and murder. When the children are old enough, they make the journey to Peroc’s camp.”

“Your tone implies that you do not agree with the sacrificing. Please explain,” said James.

“He says that as long as he has lived, they have never missed a ceremony. The elders spoke of a time when the tribe decided not to sacrifice someone for the island. They said before that day, their people, the Belator, were the deadliest hunters on the island. The day the sacrifice was not made the elders say the land shook in anger. The ground parted and released terrible creatures from the underworld. The tampere. Peroc has always lived under the shadow of the tampere, so he cannot confirm whether there was once a time they did not exist.”

“When he passed the test and became a warrior, he made the journey to the new camp. He was the first of four to arrive from the children’s camp. The last to arrive-the slowest and weakest-was immediately taken to the stone table. He was Peroc’s brother. Since then, Peroc has always had disdain for the ceremony and all it represents.”

The group sat in silence for some time. Each of them digesting what Peroc had told them. Finally, William spoke up.

“What is under ze stump, Capitan?” he asked.

James had forgotten entirely about the stump upon which he’d been sitting for the duration of Peroc’s story. He stood, removed the dagger from his belt, and pried open the lid.

The group craned their necks to see what was inside. James thrust his hand into the barrel and lifted a handful of orange powder and let it spill through his fingers back into the barrel.

“Transporting powder!” Kilani said, her eyes fixed on the powder. “What is it made of?” she asked, looking at Peroc.

“It comes from the root of the tree on One Tree Hill. It is ground to powder and cured in the ring of fire for ninety days. It can only be harvested once a year, which is why the Belator have such a vast supply,” James translated.

“I think ‘had’ would be more appropriate,” said Luno.

“What are the transporting laws of this place?” Kilani asked.

“One must have physically been there in order to transport there,” James translated. “They’re just like our laws of transporting.”

“What the bleedin‘ ’ell is happenin?” said Roger, looking over the side rail at the island.

The island was shaking in the water. James had heard stories of how earthquakes appeared from the water, but he had never witnessed one first hand. It was an eerie sight. Several large chunks of rock slid from the side of the nearby cliffs into the water, sending waves that rocked the Queen Mary from side to side. Monstrous roars erupted from the jungle, causing the hairs on the back of James’s neck to stand. He wondered now whether the legend Peroc’s ancestors told him about the tampere were true, and if they were, what monstrosity had the island unleashed this time.

“I would fight a thousand tampere to have my brother back,” Peroc said as if he could read James’s thoughts.

The island settled and everything was still.

“Capitan, you ’ave a plan, no?” William asked.

James and Luno exchanged glances, neither sure who he was addressing because he’d referred to both of them as captain at some point during the trip. James nodded at Luno.

“We shall return to Harbor Town, regroup, and depart from there, well rested and fully supplied. Are there any who disagree?” asked Luno. To the silence that followed he said, “Very well. Harbor Town it is. At first light we shall set sail and leave this cursed place behind.”

“And what of Peroc?” asked James.

“I believe we should offer him a choice. We could learn much from him, and he is no threat to us. He may return to his home at any time,” said Luno nodding at the crate of transporting powder, “but he is welcome to join us on our journey. I’m not sure he would get such a warm welcome if he decides to return home.”

James translated. Peroc looked at the moonlit island with a stern expression. It was clear that he was not in a hurry to give an answer immediately, so James told him they would depart at sunrise. The group went about preparing their bedrolls on deck. Kilani saw to the unconscious man while James took his position on the crow’s nest for first watch.

James noticed Kilani constantly looking over her shoulder at the barrel of transporting powder. He grew increasingly worried she would try something rash. What was it that drives her to want to leave this place so desperately? he wondered. Akil had told James the dangers of attempting to transport somewhere you’d never physically been. Neither was sure it could be done and both had seen people try and fail. Some simply vanished and never returned. Others ended up going nowhere.

James saw Peroc finally turn away from his long gaze at his home and make his way across the deck to beneath the mast. He looked up at James.

“I shall join you on your journey if you will have me,” he said.

“We will be honored, warrior Peroc,” replied James.

James found the subtle sway of the crow’s nest relaxing as he looked out over the island. In his pocket he fingered the cold steel of the key and could hear the black castle’s call. He turned to the southeast, imagining he could see its curved spires on the horizon. He imagined himself standing on top of the keep, his colors flying in the wind. The need for it steadily grew inside him, becoming most apparent when he had time to reflect upon it as he did now.

James thought of Akil, his mentor, his father for all intents and purposes during their years together. The vision he’d had after falling in the cave came back to James. Akil had been here, James was sure of that now. That meant he’d found a way out and James was certain the way out was somewhere inside the black castle. A shadow quickly passed in front of the moon. James turned to see what it was but saw only empty sky and the brilliant orange moon. For an instant, a sense of foreboding washed over him. Before he could determine its source, the feeling was gone and James quickly forgot it had been there at all. Tomorrow he would see that all preparations were made for the journey to the black castle. There would be no more delays. He would have his absolution.

— 29 -

Akil and the Siren

June 1626, Ireland

Akil Karanis turned before reaching Belfast and took the western path along Lough Neah, he then headed west once more toward the Sperrin Mountains. His quest for answers had taken him many places. Of all those, where he was heading was the destination he feared most. It also may be the most important. The seer who’d foretold of the Anointed One so many generations ago had a specific message, which over time had been distorted. Akil was bent upon unraveling the vagaries so he could find this person himself.

He traveled on horseback along a narrow road that hadn’t seen use in decades. The rain fell hard and heavy despite sunshine in the distance. As the terrain turned up and the rolling hills along the road grew steeper, Akil stopped and dismounted his horse. To his right was a gap in the cliffs not much wider than his shoulders. He felt a compulsion to enter, yet he also wanted to reach his destination, Sawel Mountain, by sundown. Despite his haste, he tethered his horse to a small shrub and stepped into the gap.

The instant he set foot inside, the rain ceased. The path turned a sharp corner revealing a perfectly hewn set of stairs. The stairs twisted left and right with no discernable rhyme or reason until they reached their terminus. A natural archway opened onto a plateau that overlooked the green countryside to his left. Directly across were sheer cliffs that rose another hundred feet. The wind was strong. As Akil steadied himself for fear of being blown over the edge, he heard a sound in the wind. It had a musical quality like chimes in a breeze. He searched for the source of the sound but saw nothing.

Akil had a sudden compulsion to sit. Having not stopped moving since the day before last, he was weary. He deserved a break, he thought, and so he sat, resting his back against the stone arch, hoping it would shield the wind. The chime-like music continued. His mind, always thinking of his next step, his next destination, went idle, taking in the beauty of the music. Thinking of no better occasion to light his pipe, Akil reached into his pocket and fished it out along with some tobacco he’d managed to procure from the last civilized village on his route.

He sat and enjoyed the music, which grew less chimelike and more voice-like as time passed. Despite the raging wind, Akil felt warm as he puffed on his pipe and studied the striations in the stone archway above his head. It was when his vision started to blur that a warning sounded in the recesses of his mind. He was tired and would have liked little less than to take a nap right there, but the nagging warning poked at his brain. His eyelids grew heavy. It took all of his strength to fight off the sleep that was trying to take him.

The warning inside sounded again, louder this time, and Akil stirred from his stupor. He shook his head in an attempt to clear his thoughts. A woman stood no more than two armlengths away. He wasn’t sure how long she’d been standing there watching him. Akil quickly got to his feet. The woman was stunningly beautiful. Akil felt an overwhelming compulsion to touch her. He had to feel her dark hair in his fingers. The smooth skin on her face, to feel her lips against his. Again the warning sounded.

Akil shook his head once more. The woman stepped toward him. Akil stepped back. He felt drawn to her like he’d never felt drawn to a woman before. Yet somewhere within his desire there was a sense of caution. He stepped back, again passing through the protection of the archway and onto the windy plateau. It didn’t feel right. He knew this and still his internal struggle to keep himself from running to her, pulling her close, kissing her, raged on.

With each step forward she took, Akil stepped back. His clothes rippled in the wind as he and the mysterious woman continued their dance atop the mountain. Akil shivered from the cold. He wondered how this woman could possibly stay warm dressed as she was in nothing more than her intimates. He began to take off his traveling cloak so he could offer it to her when he stopped. The raging wind appeared to be missing her completely. She stood there staring into his eyes, and her hair hung perfectly straight at her shoulders while his cloak blew out like a kite behind him.

Suddenly, she wasn’t so beautiful. Her face grew older before his eyes. Her skin grew dark and scaled. The music she had been singing became a shriek of anger. Akil’s hands went to his ears immediately. What was left of his clouded mind cleared, and for the first time he knew he had reached his destination. He had found the Siren.

Akil quickly recited an incantation that blocked all sound except speech from reaching his ears. The siren’s expression turned fouler as she moved closer to him.

“You are not like the others,” she said.

“I should hope not. I intend to leave with what I have come for.”

“So do all men. And all of them fall under my spell and do my will until I destroy them.”

“I am not under your spell, dear Siren, and have no intention of doing your bidding. I am however willing to go peacefully if you give me what I seek.”

Akil’s words were far braver than he felt. He’d studied the legend of the Sirens. He cursed himself for allowing her to surprise him as she had.

“And what is it you’ve come for, Akil Karanis?”

“I want the lineage of the Anointed One spoken by the Seer. It was written in the book,” said Akil “the bloodline of the Anointed One.”

“And what makes you think I have the book?”

“I have followed its path for many years and many miles and evidence of its existence stopped with you.”

“Most men come because I have called them. Few come for my treasure. None have come for the book. You are indeed different than the others, Akil Karanis.”

“Give it to me, and I shall go in peace and leave you to your foul deeds.”

“No man can defeat me. Not even one so unique as you. I shall make you an offer. Turn, walk back the way you came, and never return. Do this and you shall live. Do it not, and you will serve me until your death.”

Not bothering to reply, Akil sent a massive blast of energy at the Siren. She flew up into the air, her body spinning like a top. The wind immediately ceased. The roughly hewn cliffs that lined the far side of the plateau transformed into a beautiful castle carved into the marble. With one strike, the Siren’s powers of illusion were shattered. She landed nimbly just short of the edge.

“You are powerful, Akil Karanis, but your arrogance will be your undoing,” said the Siren.

Despite her distance, Akil heard her voice as if she were standing next to him. He did not wait for her counterattack. Akil raised his arms. Several large boulders rose from the ground and flew toward her. She did not flinch or try a defensive incantation. She simply continued walking toward him. The stones crashed into her with destructive force. The impact sounded like thunder. Bits of stone and dust flew into the air, engulfing her in the rubble.

Akil lifted slabs of stone straight out of the ground, encircling the Siren and surrounding the rubble pile with a curtain of rock. He then sent a fireball into the air. It came down like a wave and crashed into the center of his stone cage and began to swirl until the entire area within his newly constructed walls was engulfed in flame.

Satisfied that the Siren was either dead or seriously injured, Akil made his way to the castle entrance. The steps leading up to the main doors were cut from a deep red marble that contrasted with the walls of the castle, which were a mottled white. This creature had an impressive gift with stonework, he thought as he inspected the entry.

“ Ireki,” he said, raising his arms and facing his palms at the doors. The doors did not respond. He said several other incantations, each more obscure than the last, before he finally resolved to use force. The castle was a masterpiece and he hated to destroy any part of it. He stepped away from the entry and said, “ Suntsitu.” The doors shuddered slightly but did not open.

Akil looked over his shoulder. The blaze still swirled within the walls and there was no evidence that she had managed to escape. Returning his attention to the entry, he sent several horse-sized pieces of rock hurtling toward the doors. Each broke upon the doors like waves upon the shore. Everything he had read and heard about Sirens indicated they had little power outside their abilities to ensnare their enemy’s minds. The magic the Siren had used on the doors, however, was extremely advanced and highly foreboding.

After trying several dozen incantations, Akil finally turned away and headed toward the swirling fire inside the stone curtain. He lifted his hands, and the fire immediately extinguished. He then commanded the stone curtain to fall back into the earth from whence it had risen. A charred ring of debris was all that remained. The heat from the fire had been so intense that it had melted the smaller pieces of stone. He saw no evidence of the Siren.

Akil could feel his heart beating faster. A noise from behind made him jump. He quickly turned. The doors to the castle stood open. Cautiously, he approached. Darkness black as sackcloth consumed the interior. Akil stepped to the entry, extended his hands, and sent several light orbs inside. Immediately upon crossing the threshold the orbs disappeared, swallowed by the darkness.

He took a deep breath, readied his mind for whatever lay inside, and stepped into the darkness. As he crossed the threshold, the ink-black air faded until he could see once more. To his surprise, Akil found himself standing in a cave. There was nothing ornate about the interior. Bones, mostly human, were piled on one side. Opposite the bones was a large pile of gold and silver. At the far end of the cave a trunk bound by leather straps sat alone against the wall.

“ Jasoketa deitu,” Akil said, summoning the trunk. It did not move. He stepped farther into the cave, ever mindful that his enemy could be lurking nearby. He quickly covered the distance between himself and the trunk, checking over his shoulder every several steps.

When he was within arm’s length of the trunk, the lid opened. Akil looked around, expecting to see the Siren rushing toward him, but he was alone. He took a step closer and peered inside. On a bed of purple satin sat an ornate pocket watch and single book.. It was the book he had been looking for, the book men of his generation did not believe was still in existence. The book that the Seer had written, detailing the events leading up to the Epoch Terminus and the lineage of the one who could stop it. Again he looked over his shoulder. He saw no sign of the Siren. Slowly, he reached his hand inside the trunk and grasped the leather binding.

Akil felt as if the blood and warmth were draining from his body. His head began to spin, and he fell to his knees. The Siren was correct, he thought, his arrogance would be his undoing. He released the book and turned as he fell to the floor. The Siren, once again perfectly beautiful, walked toward him, her bare feet padding silently on the cave floor. She stood over him with an expression of pity on her face.

“I gave you too much credit, Akil Karanis. In the end, you turned out to be just as greedy as your predecessors. While your treasure may come in a different form, your lust for it is the same. Now you will become my slave.”

The Siren crouched and placed her pale hand on Akil’s forehead. Akil could feel the Siren breaking into his mind. She extracted his thoughts and his memories. One by one, he could feel her sorting through them as if they were socks in a drawer. She appeared to relish the memories that caused Akil the most hurt. The process caused Akil to relive his past as if it were happening over again. The speed at which the emotions passed over his mind was unbearable. He cried out from the loss, laughed from the joy and screamed from the pain practically simultaneously. He felt the memories of his childhood slipping through his mind. When she reached the first memory of his love, everything stopped. Akil refused to let her have this. This belonged to him and him alone. Akil would not share it-even if it killed him.

“Well, it appears as if I’ve found something of value,” the Siren said, sneering.

She redoubled her efforts, but Akil was steadfast in his defense. Frustrated, she pulled her hand away and let out a cry. Too weak to do anything, Akil simply lay there and watched as she paced across the cave floor, her face changing from beautiful to horrible and back to beautiful as she muttered to herself. She stopped and turned, facing Akil. The Siren stepped forward and again placed her hand on his forehead. Again, Akil could feel her digging into his mind. This time she hurriedly passed every memory not taking the time to absorb them until she found the one she was looking for. He felt her pry, trying to unlock the door he had put up to keep her out.

Akil felt a surge of strength from her failure and frustration. He could see her body shaking as she tried and failed to break through the door. In an effort that would either sap the last remaining strength from his body or set him free, Akil sent a burst of energy at the Siren. Not nearly as powerful as the first, she was simply pushed back into the large pile of treasure on the far side of the cave. Seizing the mere seconds of opportunity Akil thrust his hand into the small satchel on his belt and removed a pinch of transporting powder. He threw himself on top of the trunk and tossed the powder into the air over his head. Nothing happened.

A low guttural laugh rose from deep within the Siren as she rose to her feet. “You have promise, Akil Karanis,” she said taking a step forward. “You cannot transport to or from my kingdom. Always has it been. Now, what is it you hide so fervently? Is it more important than this book you’ve sought for much of your life?”

Akil released his grip on the trunk and fell to the ground.

“Do you know who I am?” the Siren asked.

Akil remained supine, looking up at the Siren as she spoke. His body so weak he couldn’t find the strength to lift his head.

“I am Okon ak aintzinako.”

“Impossible,” Akil replied in barley a whisper.

“I was there, Akil. I was there when your so-called Seer made his prediction.”

“Okon ak aintzinako is long dead. You are a deceiver, nothing more.”

“You doubt me, Akil? Have you no desire to know what I know? The true prophecy, the entire prophecy? If you knew the truth, you wouldn’t have wasted your life searching.”

“No,” Akil said, finally finding the strength to lift his head.

“I see doubt in your eyes, Aki Karanis. Fear and doubt.”

“You are a deceiver, nothing more,” said Akil.

“I can prove to you that I speak the truth. First you must allow me into your mind.”


“It is the only way, Akil,” she said in a soothing, motherly voice. “We Sirens cannot create memory orbs like you sorcerers.”

“If I give you my mind, I am powerless against you.”

“Look at yourself, Akil. You lay there like a baby with concerns of powerlessness. You are mine to do with what I wish. I am willing to share with you that what you have sought your entire life yet you refuse.”

“At what cost? It is of no value if I am killed, rendered mindless, or become your slave.”

“Let us then come to a mutually agreed upon resolution, shall we?”

“Since when has a Siren ever suggested a mutually agreed upon resolution?”

“You are no fool, Akil Karanis. This is rare among humans. If I were to prove to you that I am indeed Okon ak aintzinako, would you consider attempting to reach an accord?”

“I fail to understand why the great Okon ak aintzinako would bother reaching an accord with the likes of me.”

“We are a dying race, as you know. You are a powerful sorcerer. In all my years I daresay I’ve met less than a handful with your abilities and potential. Let us help one another.”

“If you can prove to me that you are Okon ak aintzinako, I will consider your suggestion.”

“I would call you an arrogant fool for believing you have another option or just simply kill you where you lie, but in order to make progress we must occasionally bite our tongues and withhold our impulses, yes?”

The Siren walked slowly toward Akil. As she drew nearer, Akil could feel his strength returning. He stood, his face a hair-length away from hers. Her pupil-less irises were blood red and rolled like ocean waves inside her eyes. She reached for his hand and lifted it to the side of her face. Her skin was smooth, her hair soft. The Siren closed her eyes and Akil felt a surge of warmth travel through his hand and up his arm. In that instant, he knew she was Okon ak aintzinako, the greatest and eldest of all Sirens. Thought to have perished in the Great War so many centuries prior. He lowered his hand and stepped back.

“Despite the circumstances surrounding our meeting, it is truly an honor to be in your presence,” Akil said, balling his right fist, covering it with his left hand, and bowing slightly.

Okon nodded with a smile.

“What is your proposition, Lady Okon?” Akil asked.

“You truly are inimitable, Akil Karanis.”

“Despite our disagreements, you no doubt deserve the respect I bestow.”

“My proposition is this: I will share with you what your Seer decreed, and you will find, capture, and bring me Gai ak zangar.”

“Impossible. He too was thought to have perished in the Great War yet if you survived, perhaps he did as well. Even if he did survive, I wouldn’t know where to begin searching for him, and once I found him, I would have no chance of capturing a Siren so great as she. Your terms are unreasonable.”

“If I doubted your ability, Akil Karanis, your life would have been forfeited the moment you stepped through the archway.”

“I don’t even know where to begin searching.”

“I am old, Akil Karanis, as you know. Yet death from old age is scores of human lifetimes away. You will have a lifetime to search-more even.”


Okon put both hands on Akil’s chest and closed her eyes. Again he felt a surge of heat, this time through his chest directly into his heart. The heat grew in intensity until Akil screamed. He faltered back as she lowered her hands, but he did not fall.

“It is done,” she said.

“What?” Akil asked breathlessly.

“You will live thrice as long as a normal human, perhaps longer.”

Akil gripped his chest, the burning fading. He captured his breath then looked up at the Siren.

“How do I know you will keep your word even if I am able to bring Gai ak zangar to you?”

“I will give you a taste of what you seek,” she said, glancing at the trunk beside them.

“The book?”

“The book and something else,” she said with a mirthless smile, her face changed from beautiful to terrible and back in an instant. “There is a place you must go if you are to know and understand your Seer’s decree. It is also a place where you must begin your search for Gai ak zangar, and only I can send you there.”


“Take the book. Hold it close, for things of value are easily lost.”

Akil looked hesitantly at the trunk. The Siren nodded with an expression of girlish innocence. He slowly reached down and picked up the large volume.

“Very good,” she said. “Now, take the trinket beside it.”

“The watch?” asked Akil.

“That is no mere watch. Your Seer predicted an end to your race, did he not?”

“The Epoch Terminus.”

“Indeed. An enchantment has been cast upon that trinket, which now belongs to you. It winds down as your Epoch Terminus approaches.”

Akil held the book against his chest, picked up the silver pocket watch, and slid it into his pocket.

“Tell me where you plan to send me.”

“We call this place it Ak Egundiano.”

“No. You cannot. There is no return from that place.”

“You must find one.”


“Then all is lost. Not simply your reward but the fulfillment of the your Seer’s decree.”

“What are you saying?”

“The Anointed One must also travel to Ak Egundiano to find his power. So you see, Akil, if there is no return, the prophecy will not be fulfilled, and your race will perish.”

“You scoffed at the prophecy, yet now you hold it in high regard.”

“I scoffed at your interpretation. Despite the information you lack, what I speak of Ak Egundiano is true. The Anointed One must return from this place or all will fall to ruin.”

“So then you believe the Epoch Terminus is tied to more than just mankind?”

“Perhaps. Nevertheless, I believe you will succeed where all others have failed.”

“The Never. It cannot be,” Akil said in a whisper. “When? When must I go?”

The Siren’s eyes clouded black as she stepped away from Akil. She spread apart her hands and the ground began to shake. Using all her strength, she fought to bring them together. As they drew closer, the quaking became more intense until, in an earsplitting clap of thunder, they came together. A wisp of grey smoke ascended from the place where, a moment ago, stood Akil Karanis.