Chapter 1

The sun did little to brighten what had happened the previous night.  Charred earth stretched from horizon to horizon; nothing had survived the explosion.  Even the multitude of igneous rocks common to the island chain had been destroyed.  The land directly north of Silmaria was a flat expanse of death and devastation.

The barren region was laid out in a circle; at the center of the circle lay a charred object, about the size of a man.  A portal appeared next to the object; four robed men stepped out of the magical opening and onto the dead soil.  The four would have been described as stereotypical wizards with long white beards and pointy hats on, if anyone had been close enough to see them.  One wore bright red, the second sky blue, the third deep blue, and the last light brown.  All carried staves.

As one they glided over to the heap.  As one they tipped their staves toward the ground and lifted them in the air again.  The blackened object rose in midair and floated to the waiting gateway.  It went through and the wizards followed, leaving Silmaria alone once more.

  *    *    *

Calypsokles and Toro stared at the wreckage.  Nothing moved except for the few unfortunate survivors of the battle.  The pair plowed through the carnage, putting the soldiers and beasts who wouldn’t survive out of their misery and carrying the survivors to a clear patch of earth.

They moved down from the battlements to the main gate out of the city, which had been breached during the fight and now lay on the ground, a few soldiers’ bodies crushed underneath it.  The Silmarian guard was weeping openly, horrified at the fate of so many of his friends and comrades.  Toro watched silently, knowing nothing he could say would ease the soldier’s pain.

The warrior kept moving, refusing to stop when there were still those in pain.  Eventually the two arrived at the balloon that had crashed briefly before the explosion reached the city.  Toro recognized it as Devon, the Prince of Shapeir’s flying craft, and hoped that the prince was all right.

The minotaur and soldier sifted through the wreckage until they found a body tangled between broken boards and canvas.  They pulled it out, not daring to hope that the Prince had survived.  What they pulled out of the wreckage was far worse than Toro could have imagined.

With a howl of agony he wept over the still form of the King of Silmaria.

  *    *    *

Requin stared at the bodies on the floor of the ritual chamber.  His eyes went from Toma to Erana to the blue-plated guard, all three soaked in the sticky pool of blood.  The merman gently shook the archmage, hoping to awaken her.

Erana stirred, her face wincing as if her body ached.  In another moment she opened her eyes.  “I feel so- so strange.”  The wizard held her hands up to her face.

“Am I dreaming?  Am I really alive again?”  She gently touched her cheek, not wanting the illusion to shatter.

Requin nodded silently, too amazed at her appearance to say anything.

“I am alive!”  She leaped up joyously and hugged the Sea Person, laughing.  “It feels so good to be able to feel,” she sniffed the air, “to smell, to see-” she looked around the room and stopped.

Wordlessly she knelt by the dead guard’s side.  “There is nothing I can do for him,” she whispered, more to herself than to Requin.  He nodded again, not knowing what to say.

“But perhaps there is something I can do for him,” she moved to the bard and laid her hands on his chest.  “Yes, there is a faint beating of life in him.  I will do what I can for him.”  She turned away from Requin and squeezed her eyes shut.  A bright glow surrounded her and Toma.

Requin moved to the door, determined to guard this woman from all harm.  As luck would have it, the next people who came by were friends.

The three familiars passed by the room at a run.  They backtracked and stopped by Requin.

“Is that who I think it is?” Archimedes asked.  “Is that Erana?”

Requin nodded for a third time, helplessly opening and shutting his mouth.

The creatures brushed past him and stared at the half-faery.  This went on until the glow around Erana stopped and she raised her head.  She smiled shyly at her audience.  “Hello.”

Silence answered her.  Finally Amed remembered his manners and greeted the woman.  “It is an honor to meet you, Archmage.”

“Please call me Erana.  But now is not the time for greetings.  If these men are any indication, there must be wounded around here somewhere.  Could you take me to them?  I have a feeling I am here for a reason.”

The familiars nodded and led her to the main Hall.  Shapeirians, Simbani, Leopardmen, and Sea Folk were huddled together, talking amongst themselves and looking around them.  Erana noticed bodies lying on the floor: most looked like the dead guard she had just seen, though some were from the same group that was milling about now.  The faery also thought she saw several wizards she had once know lying in a small section, near a gigantic figure encased in the blue armor the dead guards wore.

She barely had time to register all this when a dignified centaur walked up to her.  “Praise the gods, the summoning spell worked!  I hadn’t hoped for something this wonderful!”

She stared at the centaur, very much confused.  “I’m sorry, but what is going on here?  Everything is so strange, was there a battle here?  I just found out that I’m alive and I don’t know what to think.”

The centaur looked at the familiars, who were still ogling the archmage.  “You didn’t explain anything to her?”

They shook their heads.

He gave them a stern glance, then turned back to Erana.  “Forgive me.  I am Logos, Speaker of Silmaria.  Until the King returns I am in charge.  Am I correct in saying you are the Archmage Erana?”

She inclined her head.  “I am she.”

“Good!  You see, we are in the middle of a tough time.  You were summoned to help us defeat an army, though I have since heard that the army has been destroyed.  I’m sure we can still be able to use your help.”

“Forgive me, but where am I?  And how long have I been dead?”

“You are in Silmaria.  You have been dead for over eighty years.”

  *    *    *

The captain of the J.S.S. Enterprise looked around for her crew.  “Where did you limey scum-suckers go?” she bawled.  Cursing, she tried to remember when she had last heard any noise outside her cabin.

They were the last ship in the fleet, carrying mostly supplies for the soldiers in the forward ships.  She had seen the Sea Folk attack ships in front of her; quite a few had been sunk, though many Sea People had died in the process.

The captain’s orders had been to wait for the siege of Silmaria to end before going in with her supplies.  She didn’t mind, she was tired of conquering peaceful nations.  She had an urge to throw her position away and become one of the famous Jotunheimian yodeling milkmaids and go on tour.  But then she remembered that her army had conquered Jotunheim a few months ago and the milkmaids were all in hiding or had fled to other countries.

She sighed.  Life never seemed to go her way.

Caught up in her dreams, she forgot about her absent crew until the door opened.  She turned around, a curse on her lips for whoever disturbed her.  The curse stopped on her lips with the rest of her body.

The person who opened the door laughed.  “What a stony complexion!  You should lighten up.”

The captain didn’t reply.  In fact, she didn’t do anything, for she was transformed into a statue, an attractive statue except for the expression of horror on her face.

The Gorgon left the captain’s room and returned to the deck full of statues.  She sighed.  “Now how am I going to get to Silmaria?”

Chapter 2

Erana stared at the line of wounded she still had to help.  By midmorning most of the fighters had been carried into the makeshift hospital in Gnome Ann’s Land Inn.  The gnome had generously volunteered her establishment for the war effort, and soon bodies filled the inn’s walls.

The mage walked to the next person lying on the floor.  Normally she liked to float, but she had to reserve her mana for healing.  ‘A small sacrifice compared to what these men have faced,’ she thought to herself.

Looking down, she saw a grizzled mat of fur.  On closer inspection she discerned a face so twisted in pain it was hardly recognizable.  Casting a calm spell, Erana raised her eyebrows in concern, noting that her spell had no effect.  Either the creature was immune to her magic or it was in too much pain to notice the spell’s effects.

“Hello, I am Erana.  What’s your name?”  She had discovered that how a patient reacted to his or her surroundings told her a lot about their condition.

“I am Rakeesh.  It is an honor to meet such a legendary paladin.  You were a model of virtue for all young paladins to follow, me included.”

Erana smiled at him.  “It is an honor to meet you as well, Rakeesh.  I am glad to find another paladin in these hard times.  Now, tell me how you were injured.”  As she spoke she examined his wounds, gauging their damage.  There was no point in wasting her magic on a dying man if there were others who could be saved.

“Please, leave me be.  There are others who can benefit from your healing.  I know I am too far gone.”

A glow surrounded them as Erana touched his chest.  A moment later it dissipated.  “I think you will be fine.”  She would never promise a patient anything; better to let them know the truth than to lie and comfort them.

Another liontaur near the old paladin’s side sat up.  Reeshaka had been staring at her father, afraid it would be the last time she would see him alive.  “He’ll live?”  Her face brightened slightly but still looked doubtful- she didn’t want to be crushed by her hopes.

Erana nodded.  “I cannot guarantee it, but I suspect he will make it.”  She smiled at Rakeesh.  “You are fortunate to be in such good health, otherwise I don’t think you would be with us here.  Now, please excuse me, there are others I must attend to.”  With a gentle pat on the liontaur’s back she was gone.

Erana sighed.  Another life saved.  That was the reason she had studied healing magic.  She hated loosing a person, but saving someone’s life was one of the best feelings in the world.  With a grim smile she looked at her next patient.  With a gasp she saw that it was a woman.  The woman had many third degree burns covering her, along with lacerations from what the mage guessed were planks of wood.  Splinters were lodged in the woman’s skin.

A Silmarian soldier sat by her side.  When Erana walked over he had stood up respectfully.  Now he spoke: “Yassas, my Lady.  Please, help the King of Silmaria.  I know if anyone can do it you can.  We have heard tales of your power.”

The half-faery gazed at the young man sadly.  She could tell that he cared deeply for his ruler, and that it pained him to see her lying helpless.  “I will do what I can.  If you must look on, please do not talk.  I will need to concentrate.”  He sat down, staring at nothing.

Erana could tell that even if the woman was saved she would have scars, possibly for the rest of her life.  Magic only went so far.  She probed with her magic, searching for internal damage.

As the light shot into the king’s body she grunted.  Opening her eyes, she let out a wail.  “I can’t see!  What happened!  Where is everything?”

Erana calmed the woman.  “You are safe here;  I’m doing everything I can to help you.  Please, lie still, it will make it easier for me to help you.  Why don’t you tell me what you last remember?”

Elsa obeyed as well as she could, fighting to lay still.  It was a struggle, her entire body burned and she wanted to sit up to see…

“Am I blind?”  She realized that her eyes were open and could feel the heat from torches.  “Why can’t I see?”  She started trying to get up again.

“Don’t budge!  You will injure yourself further if you move!”  She cast the calm spell and to her relief noticed Elsa relax.

“The last thing I remember is falling.  Devon had told me to get away, he was going to do something.  I was flying toward the city, then I looked back and saw this bright light heading at me.  I thought I was going to die.  I am going to die, aren’t I?  I’m blind and soon I will be dead!”

Erana cast a sleep spell on Elsa, knowing the woman would soon become hysterical if she kept thinking about what had happened.   The mage looked at Calypsokles.  “She has been temporarily blinded.  Her retinas were damaged by the extreme amount of light they received.  What caused such a thing?”  She had an idea of what could have happened, but she didn’t want to jump to conclusions yet.

Calypsokles’ voice was faint, and it broke into sobs more than once.  “You haven’t seen?  Outside of the gates, where we found Els- the King, the earth is dead.  I can’t tell how far the destruction goes, at least as far as the horizon.  Nothing in it lives.  Elsa was on the edge of it, and you can see how she fared.”  He stopped, unable to continue.

Erana thought as she worked.  What the man had described sounded like a thermonuclear blast spell.  But it couldn’t be, the spell always killed its caster.  ‘I’ll check on it after I’m done here,’ she promised herself.  Whatever had happened, it had to be fixed, and soon.

  *    *    *

Noved took one last look at the Lost City before he stepped into the portal.  A flash of light was the only sign that he had moved.  That and the fact that the city he was in was now occupied by liontaurs and humans, and that it wasn’t overrun by tangled growth.

Smiling sinisterly, the demon confidently walked into what he knew was Kreesha’s home and workshop.

The smile turned into a frown of frustration when the only person he saw in the main room was a young liontaur.   She was dressed in a magician’s attire, complete with magic staff and headdress.  Her fur sparkled, and on closer inspection Noved discovered that silver runes glittered over her tawny fur, constantly moving.

The liontaur turned to him with a smile on her face.  “Ah, Devon!  We have never met, but Kreesha and Rakeesh have described you to me many times!  I am so glad to finally talk to the great human hero.  Did you really kill all those nasty demons?”

Noved suppressed the angry glare he instinctively tried to shoot her.  Instead he smiled.  This fool thought he was Devon.  That could be a very useful asset to him.  Thinking quickly, he answered the girl’s question.

“More than you can imagine.”  Smiling suavely, he started telling his listener of his many deeds.

After he had finished telling her feats he had never accomplished, she respectfully said, “My teacher, Kreesha, tells me that you are an experienced wizard.  I would be honored if you will give me a demonstration?”  She looked at him hopefully.

“Gladly.”  Barring his teeth, he advanced, demonic magic on his fingertips.

  *    *    *

The blackness was everywhere.  No matter how far he ran or where he turned, he was surrounded by it.  Azrael screamed silently inside his mind.

Light came slowly, breaking the all-encompassing darkness.  With it came a curious sensation.  Azrael was reminded or sandpaper rubbing against his cheek.  Wet sandpaper.

A meow sounded in his ears, then a furry body thudded into his side, protesting his slumber.  Putting two-and-two together, the Winged One’s mind cleared up and he tried to move, hoping to see Cally.

It wasn’t as easy as he thought it would be.  His mind was still woozy and his limbs didn’t want to respond to his commands.  He flexed his mental muscles and tried again, getting slightly more movement.  A third try and his aching body finally answered his orders.  His eyelids opened as he sat up.

The light that he had seen earlier came from a small glint on the floor nearby.  He tried to crawl to the glint, but found that his hands were chained to the wooden planks beneath him.  Steel manacles held him in place, letting him reach as far as his feet before becoming taut.

As his eyes adjusted to the darkness he could see more of his surroundings.  A large form was above the glint, and Azrael realized that the glint was a ring on someone’s finger.  The someone was a woman, but he still couldn’t see well enough to make out her face.

Cally was pacing next to him, rubbing her side on his wings.  He got the impression that she was worried about him.

“I thought you had left me for good!”  He moved his hands to pet her, and at his movement the cat yowled in happiness.

Cally bathed him for a few moments.  When she was done Azrael noticed that she was glowing slightly, giving him more light to see by.  The light increased and he could see who the woman was:  Nawar!

The light must have affected her, because she opened her eyes and looked around.

“Where am I?”  She saw Azrael in the dimness and let out a gasp.  “Oh!  Azrael, is that you?  What happened to us?”

Her arms were shackled to the floor as well; she moved to him but stopped five feet away from him.  “Why are we chained up?”

“I don’t know.  What’s the last thing you remember?”

She thought for a moment.  “I was- we were walking to the Hall of Kings, looking for…” she trailed off, not remembering what it was they were looking for.

“We had to find Amed and Archimedes to help defend Silmaria.”  Azrael’s memory was becoming clearer.

“Right.  Reeshaka was going to get Rani and we went to Town Square.  Then something came up to us.”

“It looked like a skeleton!  Like a skeleton covered with skin!  It cast a spell on me and I blacked out.”  The Winged One shuddered at the thought of the Dark Master.

Nawar nodded.  “And now we’re here.  Wherever that is.”

She experimented with the chains, seeing how firmly they were embedded into the wood.  They didn’t budge.  Reaching to her hair, she took a pin out and picked the lock of a manacle.  A bolt of light came out and shocked her.

“Ouch!  Well, I guess that’s out of the question.  Do you have any ideas how to get out of here?”

Azrael looked to Cally, hoping she would help as she had so many times in Mordavia.  The calico stared back unblinkingly.

He sighed.  No help there.  He shifted his weight to become more comfortable, and heard a muffled clank.  Checking his pack, he found that nothing had been taken from it.

He was surprised that he still had his pack, let alone everything in it.  “I still have all of my equipment!”

Nawar checked her own possessions and found that nothing had been taken from her, either.  Of special interest to her was the ring on her finger.  “They didn’t take my ring!”

Azrael didn’t understand.  “What’s so important about that?  I have a sword and shield!  I can fight my way out if I need to!”

The harem girl shook her head.  “This is a present from Emir Zayishah!  She gave all of her women a present before we left Raseir!  She gave me a djinni ring!  Watch!”

She twisted the ring and a cloud of orange smoke trickled out from it.  The smoke formed a person, or at least the top half of a person because from the waist down the body turned into smoke.

The djinni was male, or so it appeared.  It was dressed in the traditional turban and arm rings, the latter being crossed in front of it.  Its voice was airy and fierce, like a sandstorm blowing through the desert.  “What is your first wish, master?”  It turned its eyes to Nawar.  She jumped; there was nothing in the eye sockets, when she looked at them it was as if she was blind.

Taking a deep breath, she addressed it in a powerful voice.  “Djinni, can you get me out of here safely?”  Looking at Azrael, she amended, “us out of here safely?”

The djinni nodded.  “It is within my power to do so.  Is that your first wish?”

Azrael motioned to the woman.  He clambered as close to her as possible.  “Nawar!” he hissed.  “Let’s not waste your wishes!  Save them for when you need them!  We can find another way out of here!”

Nawar looked at him as if saying, ‘This is wasting a wish?’ but said nothing to him.  Instead, she looked at the djinni’s forehead, not wishing to make eye contact.  “Return to the ring, I call for you later.”

The djinni bowed and dissolved, the smoke vanishing into the ring.

She put her hands on her hips.  “How do you plan to get us out of here?”  Nawar tried to look imposing and might have succeeded if she hadn’t been shackled to the floor and very disheveled.

“I don’t know, yet, but if we have to face that-that Thing again we’d better save some wishes!”

She agreed, and so kept quiet.  They sat silently for what seemed like hours as they tried to figure out a way to escape from their confinement.

They studied their environment more closely.  Everywhere they looked they were encircled by wooden planks.  The room was only ten square feet and empty but for its captives and their shackles.  The ceiling was only six feet above the floor, giving the small quarters an even smaller feel to them.  A small door was just out of the prisoners’ reach.  It was made out of plain oak, and looked sturdy enough to withstand some force.

‘Our only escape route doesn’t look too promising,’ Azrael mused, but said nothing aloud.

The silence below was a direct contradiction of what was happening above the two prisoners and the cat.  Azrael and Nawar were being held captive in a ship- the Dark Mistress.  The ship was speeding South, propelled by magic as much as by the strong gales rushing over the waves.

The gales were only the first sign of an upcoming tempest, but the crew on the Dark Mistress paid it no attention; for that matter they didn’t pay anything attention.  Rotting zombies–what was left of the crew–shambled along the deck, doing only what their master commanded.

Their master looked at the stormy clouds on the horizon silently.  It was a gaunt figure wrapped up in a midnight-black shroud.  The cloth covered its entire body save for its hands and face.  The face that stared out from the shroud was from a nightmare.  It was comprised of a skull covered by tightly stretched skin, flaps of which were hanging in tatters.  Glowing red lights filled the eye sockets and spilled over onto the sunken cheeks, giving a mockery of life to the clammy yellow flesh.

For there was no life in the Thing, the lich.  It had died centuries ago and through ritual kept itself in a state of undeath by feeding off of the living.  Recently it had become the new Dark Master; after Katrina’s death it was the being with the most knowledge of dark magic on Gloriana.

The lich thought nothing of its power at the moment.  Its thoughts were on the approaching storm and how well the ship would fare against it.

By its side stood a fat man, Roman from his features.  His clothes were expensive but torn and dirty, as if he had been on the run for a while.  He was sweating heavily, partially from fear, partially from his missing arm.  Days after the Dark Mistress left Silmaria’s harbor Ferrari had gathered enough courage to confront his captor.  In a fit of rage, the lich had ripped the man’s left arm from its socket, leaving Signor Ferrari screaming and writhing on the deck.

Now the wound throbbed constantly, and Ferrari knew he would have to get medical help soon.

Ferrari had never been so miserable in his life.  At first he was overjoyed, having the blackbird at last.  But even that brief elation couldn’t make him forget the skeletal figure waiting for him whenever he left his cabin.  The lich had told him that the only reason he was alive was because it enjoyed feeding off his fear.  And Ferrari had plenty of fear to keep the Dark Master sated.

Ferrari planned to get away from the ship any way he could.  If he didn’t, the Dark Master would injure him more and he would die from his infections.  The worst part was that he knew he would be resurrected by the lich and serve him for eternity.

Shivering, the fat man waddled to his cabin, trying to isolate himself.  On the way down, he remembered the first week of the voyage.  He had tried to stay in his room, but hunger had gotten the best of him and he ventured out, only to be confronted by the lich, also hungry.

On the fourth day Signor Ferrari was sneaking to what had been the ship’s galley before the sailors had become zombies when he saw a small door hidden behind several large crates.  Curious, he had managed to shift one of the lighter boxes enough to let his considerable frame reach the door.  He had put his ear against the wood but heard nothing.

After many attempts he had finally picked the lock.  A small shock came out of the hole, but Ferrari’s pick was designed to absorb the jolt without it hurting Ferrari.

“Look at me, resorting to picking locks!  Still…”  He stared at the door, hoping to find something useful to him.  The way he saw it, if the lich wanted the room blocked off and had the lock trapped, he wanted it open.

Taking a deep breath, he looked around for sailors, and seeing none he opened the door.  He could barely make out two forms lying in the dark room, but he recognized them both.  One was almost impossible to confuse with anyone else- the giant wings on his back showed that he was Azrael.  The other form was very familiar to Ferrari; he had seen her dance nightly at the Dead Parrot.

The thought of the Dead Parrot made him moan with longing and nostalgia.  He put the past out of his mind and focused on the two figures.

They both had chains on their arms and were unconscious.  At least Ferrari hoped they were unconscious.  If they were dead he had no chance.  Knowing Azrael was a paladin-in-training, he was confident in the belief that Azrael would break free and defeat the Dark Master.

“But how to help them get free?”  Hearing a shuffling sound behind him, Ferrari had quickly closed the door and shoved the crate back into place.  He had walked quickly to his room and slammed the door shut.

Remembering his discovery, Ferrari returned to the hidden door.  This time he had something to help the pair escape.

Keeping a wary eye out for zombies, Signor Ferrari opened the small door and stepped in.

Chapter 3

Erana sighed.  The first weeks of her new life were filled with running a makeshift hospital and quick naps filled with horrible dreams of the patients who didn’t live.  She hadn’t slept for the first day or two; there had been too much work before she could rest.

Now things had calmed down a little: the most serious cases had either been treated or had died.  She had been saddened and angered at each death, but she knew that there would be many deaths.  She, Salim, Julanar, and Andre were all working constantly, but they still had much work between them.

After tending to the wounded Erana had built her new home on the isle of Limnos.  She knew she had to have a place to relax after helping the city, and that it had to be secluded.  She had never been very comfortable around many people.

Now she sat in her mushroom house, looking out a window to the beautiful garden she had created.  Her gardens always brought such joy, their tranquillity easing the pain in her mind.  When she was in a garden all thought of pain and suffering were gone, locked in a closet at the back of her mind.  The patients’ faces sunk back into the darkness of her consciousness.

A thought pushed its way into her mind, slipping past her mental barriers.  ‘It’s so lonely here,’ the thought whispered.  ‘All this beauty and no one to share it with.’

Angrily, Erana shoved the thought away.  Even so, an image of Devon appeared in her head.  No matter how hard she tried to banish him, he kept reappearing in her mind.

She walked outside, hoping to loose herself in the lush beauty.  All her life she had been alone.  It was a fact she had gotten used to; not many people saw her as anything but a magic using crossbreed, something no culture would except.  She had done many good deeds, tried to make people safe and happy, tried to earn people’s respect and love.

“Oh, Devon!”  The words came out involuntarily, betraying her inner pain.  He was the only one who had ever truly loved her, if only for a short time.  He had seen her unbarred soul, known her thoughts, lived her life.  He had given her hope.

A tiny frown struck her mouth.  When her soul was released, she had gone to Hades, hoping to forget her life and the pain it had brought.  But he had come near her again, filling her with longing.  She rejoiced at seeing the Prince again, dreaming of a new life they would share.  Her suffering only increased; he chose the Dark Master over her.

The Dark Master.  Katrina and the other wizards had been knocked unconscious from the current Dark Master, the lich Shadrack.  A few days after the Battle for Silmaria, also known as the Battle of the Beasts, the wizards woke up to find the city in a state of emergency.  Their spells helped enormously, speeding Silmaria’s repair up by months.

Only Katrina had refused to help.  The former Dark Master had walked out into the dead land early one morning and returned that night.  Though she had said nothing, Erana knew the woman had been searching for any trace of Devon.  Since then, the woman stayed in her isolated castle.  Attempts to speak with her had proven useless.

Erana knew how Katrina felt to a point, but she would never completely understand the mysterious woman.  How anyone could have lived in darkness, hoping to bring nightfall to the land forever was beyond Erana.  Still, she knew all too well the loneliness Katrina was surrounded by.

She sighed again.  Enough time had been wasted on self-pity.  She still had work to do in the city.

A blue glow encircled her and she disappeared from the garden paradise.

  *    *    *

Katrina stared at a tapestry adorning a black stone wall.  It showed a blackened circle of ground outside of Silmaria- the one Devon created by using the Thermonuclear Blast spell.  Surrounding it was a wall of thorn bushes.  She and Erana stood outside the wall, glaring at each other.

Smiling sardonically, Katrina remembered the scene.  Erana had finished growing magical hedges to protect the city from lasting toxic fumes.  Katrina appeared beside Erana and created huge poisonous thorns on each bush, ensuring no trespassing.  The two sorceresses squabbled over how best to protect the citizens of Silmaria from the dead land.  Finally the King of Silmaria arrived and settled the debate, saying that the thorns would stay, but if they pricked someone’s finger the victim wouldn’t die.  Instead, he or she would fall into a deep sleep only curable by a royal kiss (or some poison cure pills).

Moving onto the next tapestry, Katrina saw Erana and the other magicians teleporting the coronation guests home.  After Katrina had gone into the dead land to find Devon’s remains and failed, everyone lost all hope for him.  Some speculated that the spell couldn’t kill him since he was already a vampire.  Others assumed that his remains were so small and far between that no one would ever find them.

Whatever happened to Devon, no amount of searching would find him.  Since there was no other reason to stay in Silmaria, the visitors left.

Aziza and Keapon teleported the Sultan and Emir and their escort back to Shapeir, taking the two katta merchants with them.  Ruzhat and Dunya stayed behind, opting to continue their “vacation” in Silmaria.

Erasmus took the Baron and his family home and moved back into his Spielburgian summerhouse.

Rakeesh and Kreesha returned to Tarna;  Rakeesh had decided that he needed to get back and work on the Simbani-Leopardman Peace Agreements.  Reeshaka volunteered to stay and help rebuild the city.

The next wall hanging showed the FA and Wolfie flying toward the East in Devon’s balloon.  The flying machine had been fixed after Elsa’s crash and given to the FA as a present for his help to Devon during the Rites of Rulership.  Katrina willingly gave it away; looking at it reminded her of Devon.  Besides, she could fly without using the contraption.

Wolfie wanted to return to his homeland and had collected enough money to make his way back.  FA had never been to Inja and so decided to bring the Canine home himself.

The last completed tapestry depicted the gigantic blue-armored figure being locked into a magic-proof cell.  The remaining invaders had been captured or driven off the island.  The once mammoth fleet to the west of Marete was reduced to a few ships that evaded patrolling triton troops.  One ship wouldn’t move and when Silmarian soldiers boarded it they found it filled with statues.  Nothing living was aboard.  The ship was towed to the harbor for further investigation.

Katrina looked at the blank cloth hanging down further in the hall.  In time pictures would form on them, too, showing past events.  For all her efforts, she couldn’t get any to show what had become of Devon.  She knew he hadn’t been destroyed in the thermonuclear blast, but she didn’t know what had happened to him.  He was blocked by her magic.

Rani came up to her and she gently laid a hand on the tiger’s white fur.  “Where are you, my love?”

The only answer she received was a deep purr.

Chapter 4

Elsa leaned on Calypsokles.  Since the crash her body wasn’t able to support itself without stabbing pain shooting through her.  Her vision was temporarily gone, an aftereffect of the intense light the blast had given off.  She had to rely on Toro and Calypsokles to guide her and help her move.  It was infuriating.

As senior surviving officer in the Silmarian Guard, Calypsokles had been promoted to Commander-in-Chief of Mariana’s forces.  He and Elsa realized how weak the military really was and started plans to improve it.  Another Battle of the Beasts wouldn’t be survived.

Toro stayed by Elsa constantly; often sleeping outside her quarters to make sure she was safe.  He blamed himself for her injuries and vowed never to let her be hurt again.  The King of Silmaria had many enemies and he would be there to protect her from them or die trying.

Now, flanked by the Guildmaster and Commander-in-Chief, Elsa toured the city, “viewing” the damage to be repaired.  No other escort followed, obeying the King’s orders for solitude.  The guards of Silmaria had soon learned that an order by the King was one to be obeyed without question.  Some of them still had bandages.

The first stop was the area around the Hall of Kings.  The King and convoy paused at Ferrari’s house.  Calypsokles gently pressed Elsa’s arm and pointed her toward the structure.  “My King, what is to become of the evil one’s home?  He has fled the city and we have searched the house for any evidence in his disappearance.”

Elsa turned blank eyes to the origin of the voice.  “The State will auction it off to the highest bidder.  We have ownership of it now.  Has anything been arranged with his other property?”

The Commander-in-Chief nodded.  “The Princess of Shapeir is willing to buy the Dead Parrot Inn and the arena from us.  She has also expressed interest in Minos’ mansion.”

Elsa’s face darkened.  She spoke quietly, her tone menacing.  “What did you tell her?”

The guard was suddenly glad that she couldn’t see his face, or the nervousness it held.  “I was not authorized to sell anything without your permission.”

The King nodded curtly.  “Good.  I do not want her staying in my city if I can help it.  What is next?”

The trio continued down the city, stopping and discussing the amount of money needed to fix buildings, tax levels, and whether to renovate or completely rebuild.  They ended at the West Gate.  The wall was obliterated; the only sign that it had ever existed was the weed-covered rubble swept to the side of the path.  Only a few yards in front if the gate were the thorny hedges.  They loomed over passer-bys, casting everything near it into shadow.  Only a tiny trail wound between it and the volcanic rocks making up the island.  Silmaria would have to rely on the ocean for trade and transportation.

Fishermen-turned-laborers carried new stones to the entrance and pushed carts of mortar to and fro.  Reeshaka supervised the reconstruction; the paladin was an essential part of Silmaria’s reconstruction.  Not only did she direct workers, she helped with chores, no matter the size.

The liontaur looked up at the King.  “Greetings.  We are successfully underway.  We shall soon have a new wall.”  She smiled, glancing back at the workers.

Elsa nodded.  “I’m glad that you have found something to work on.  I have more important things for you to do now, however.”  She turned to Calypsokles.  “If our tour is done, we can go back to the Hall?”

He nodded, then remembering she couldn’t see, said yes.

  *    *    *

Sthenno trudged up the path to Pegasus’ Peak.  Upon reaching it, she paused to wipe the sweat from her brow.  A snake, who had been napping on her forehead, hissed at her in warning.  “Back off!” she snapped.  She got irritated when it was hot.  And the Silmarian sun was beating down on her unmercifully.

She glared out at the scene before her.  Two tall mesas dominated the small canyon, shadowing the Hippocrene stream.  The beast, the wretched murderer was joyfully flying around its nest.  ‘I bet it sleeps in its own filth,’ the Gorgon thought to herself.  ‘That nest looks disgusting!’

The snakes seemed to pick up on her thoughts, for they almost hissed in laughter.  They knew better when Sthenno was in a bad mood, though.

“Here, beast!  Come meet your relative!”  The winged horse perked its ears at the sound and flew closer to investigate.  It had almost reached the Gorgon when a blue light shimmered between them.

Erana materialized in front of Pegasus, arms wide open.  “I have returned, as promised, my friend.”

Pegasus whickered in pleasure and hovered before the mage.

Erana smiled.  “I have missed you, too.  It must get lonely here.”  Her gaze turned sad for a moment as she viewed the barren canyon.  Some sense must have prickled the back of her neck, for she lazily floated until she was facing Sthenno.  “Oh!  Hello, I didn’t see-”

Fortunately for her, the Gorgon was trying to look past the mage to Pegasus.  By the time her gaze returned to Erana, the mage had averted her eyes and was casing a protective spell.

“You are the one responsible for the statues on the ship, aren’t you?” she demanded.  “Turn them back and you shall leave here peacefully!”

Sthenno walked around the floating woman and peered at the horse.

“Excuse me, I was talking to you!”  Erana had never met anyone so rude!  Evil, yes.  Intent on conquering the world, yes.  But rude?  She bet Avoozl never ignored his enemies.  Feeling a twinge of guilt for her uncontrolled emotions, she cast a calm spell.  “What I mean is that you should look at me when I’m talking to you.”  She realized the irony of her statement as soon as she made it.

The Gorgon laughed.  “All right, I’ll look at you.”  Staring at Erana’s eyes, her face twisted in anger.  “Damn wizards!  You always spoil my surprise!”  Waving away the faerie as if a nuisance and nothing more, she approached the horse again.

Erana had put up with enough.  Raising her hands, she created a net of vines that ensnared the Gorgon and pinned her to the ground.  A large stem pushed the tangle of greenery up to face the enraged mage.  “I will thank you to be more polite when talking to people,” she directed.

Sthenno screeched in exasperation.  “This has nothing to do with you!  Leave me alone with my prey!”

“Harmful intent is something I cannot allow, no matter if I am involved or not.  And in this case, I am.  Pegasus is my familiar.  I will not let any harm come to him!”

The beast snorted its agreement, shaking its head forcefully.

Sthenno gazed at the vines, causing them to shrivel and turn to stone.  “Then I shall have to kill you, too.  Do you really want to start something, half-blood?”  She calmly brushed herself off as she pushed stone stems off herself.

Erana realized that the Gorgon was taking away her sense of reason.  She couldn’t let her feelings interfere with what was happening.  “Why would you want to kill this beautiful creature?  What has it done to you?”

“It’s not what the beast has done to me, it’s what the beast is.  It sprang from my sister’s lifeblood, when that damned Perseus slew her.  Medusa will be avenged!  The Gorgon name shan’t be soiled by some freak of nature!”  So saying, she lunged for Pegasus, staring at its eyes.

The winged creature flew away quickly, retreating to the nest high above.  Erana sighed and flung her arms at the woman on the ground.  The Gorgon’s face took a look of surprise before it froze, forming a mask from which only the eyes moved around angrily.

“Do not worry, as soon as I find a safe place for you, you will be able to move.”  She lifted her arms again and the pair disappeared, leaving Pegasus to its lonely peak.

  *    *    *

Reeshaka looked at her new ring.  Though it was dipped in Styx water, it didn’t feel any different.  It was certainly attractive; King Justinian had worn it until his death, when it passed onto Logos and then Elsa.  Now she was commissioned to use it to forge a new ring of truth.  The first two steps had been taken; the king’s ring was dipped in the Styx water brought back from the Rites of Rulership.  All she had to do was bathe the ring in her blood and that of the earth’s.

There were two reasons for the ring.  Obviously, she would be needing it later on in her paladin career.  More importantly at the moment, forging a ring had been the last of Azrael’s paladin quests.  It was the least she could do to honor his memory.  She thought with sadness of how she had found his and Nawar’s body after the Dark Master’s attack.

She put the ring away; no point in dwelling on it, at least for the moment.  There was another reason for her meeting with Elsa.

“You know about the Dark Master, the lich who invaded our city a few weeks ago.  I have asked our resident expert on the matter.”

Katrina stepped in front of the king.  “I have decided to follow the lich,” she started.  “King Elsa wishes for a representative of Silmaria to accompany me to show that she wants revenge for the murder of six of her citizens and a stranger to the land, as well as the harming of many wizards.  She thought you would be a good choice, considering you will know something of the country we enter.  I have agreed.  I do not think I will need any help on this mission; Rani and I are formidable opponents.  Nevertheless, some help would be…appreciated.  We leave tomorrow morning.”

Reeshaka looked from the wizard to the king.  “Where am I going?”

Elsa smiled faintly, but covered the smile before Katrina saw it.  “You and Katrina will be teleported to Tarna, and from there you will make your way to South Fricana, where the Dark Master resides.  I assumed you would be willing?”

“But the city-?”

“Doubtless your help will be missed, but this is far more important than anything you can help with here.  I will not force you, however.  This is your choice.”

The expression on Katrina’s face proved she felt differently.  She remained silent.

The liontaur thought of her father, hoping to glean some inspiration from his career.  “I will go.”

  *    *    *

Ferrari opened the door again, holding the knife in front of him.  He had managed to salvage it from the wreckage of the galley.  Actually it had been in the ship cook’s back, but he didn’t think the corpse would mind if he took it.

This time the prisoners were awake and wary, ready to defend themselves in any way possible.  Azrael clumsily held his sword and shield in front of him, partly from inexperience, partly from the bulky chains.  Nawar had a dagger in each hand, poised to throw.  They relaxed a bit when their eyes adjusted to the light and saw who has opened the door.

Ferrari noted with some satisfaction that they didn’t relax altogether; he was still an enemy, though a less dangerous one than the Dark Master.  “Do not worry, my friends.  I am here to help you.  It seems that we have been cast in the same lot on this voyage.  I have a special interest in helping you escape.”

Nawar sneered at him.  “Looks like something didn’t agree with you.  I’m guessing this has something to do with your ‘kindness’?”  She pointed to the stump of his arm, swollen and black.

The fat man grimaced before catching himself and acting slightly amused, if not bored.  But Nawar caught his face.  “Ah. I see I’m right.  I don’t think we want to go anywhere with you.  You’ll probably give us to whatever did that to your arm.”  She aimed one of her daggers.

Ferrari backed up a step, holding out the knife.  “I can’t say that I blame you.  I give my word that-”

“Your word?”  Nawar laughed.

“That I shall not harm you,” he continued smoothly.  “I can help you get off this cursed ship.  You need my help.”

“Actually,” Azrael spoke up for the first time.  He stopped as the harem girl made a swift hand motion.

“And in return?”  She looked at him expectantly, waiting for the strings attached.

“I ask for nothing; I merely want to accompany you on your journey.”  Ferrari smiled ingratiatingly.  He looked nothing more than a used saurus merchant.

Azrael whispered something to the girl.  She nodded, reluctantly.  “All right, but if you so much as twitch the wrong way, you know where I’ll put this.”  The dagger pointed to the man’s groin.

The fat man mentally gulped, but stayed cool on the surface.  He knew she would do it, and that he had to pretend not to care if he wanted to stay in control.  He shuffled over to the chained figures and picked the locks, letting the tool absorb the electric shock.  Letting the chains clank to the floor, he stepped back.  “Hurry, the zombies are crawling on this ship.”

“Zombies?” Azrael asked.

“There’s no time- we have to go!”  Even now he could hear sounds approaching the cabin.  “I will explain later.”  He moved to the door, only to be intercepted by a hulking figure.  Gort.

While Nawar gave a small shriek of shock, Azrael moved to confront the giant.  Ferrari stumbled back, his remaining arm warding off the green man.

Behind Gort, more zombies waited to get a piece of living flesh to taste.

Chapter 5

Baron Sigurd Ritter walked down from the docks, leading his disguised mount by a silver bridle.  The beast was a trophy from one of his jobs in the Eastern lands.  There, lizards grew to the size of horses, which was what his trophy was used as.  Now, the giant lizard looked like a normal horse.  Only on closer inspection would one see that the beast’s eyes could swivel separately, or that they were yellow.

Rumors of Elsa von Spielburg’s accomplishments in her home valley had spread, and the Baron had left his home of Schloss Ritter to meet this remarkable woman himself.  If she proved to be competent and a worthy woman to bear him children, he would marry her.  If not, he would find another.  Unfortunately, she had left for Silmaria weeks before he arrived.

A harrowing trip later, he and his faithful mount reached Elsa’s new dwelling.  Fighting evil along the way, the pair had finally caught up to the elusive Spielburgian princess.

Wishing to know more of his bride-to-be, he stopped one of the dockworkers and asked if he knew anything about a foreign princess.  The tanned man gave a look of disbelief, and when he realized the stranger wasn’t joking, pointed up the hill leading to the Hall of Kings.

Sigurd nodded and jerked at the lizard’s tether.  Giving what sounded suspiciously like a snarl to the surrounding people, the “horse” followed its master.

Up the hill, the Baron noticed the number of carts in the street, reminding him of the Tarnan bazaar, and other marketplaces of great cities.  A variety of merchants hawked a variety of wares, from perfumes to books to walking sticks.  The Baron stopped at the closest stall, a perfume vendor named Mungo.

Mungo was dressed in frilly, gaudy clothing that seemed ill suited to his brawny, barbaric appearance.  As the Baron approached, the cretin sprayed him heavily with one of the odorific liquids at the stand.

“Would you like to learn more about our ‘Pirate Parfum’ line?  It is 100% authentic, with scents ranging from ‘Scurvy Sea Skipper’ to ‘Blushing Blackbeard’ to ‘Putrid Pirate.’  I myself am wearing the horribly alluring ‘Lethal LeChuck.’”

Sigurd shoved the vendor away in disgust.  “How dare you spread your filth on me?”  He would have added that he was a royal person, but he kept his rage in check.  Normally he traveled in cognito to surprise his targets, and this was no exception.  His visit to Elsa was without pretext, but it wasn’t the major reason for coming to Silmaria.

Baron Sigurd Ritter was in Marete to kill Katrina.

  *    *    *

Erana and Sthenno teleported into Silmaria’s city jail; the Gorgon went into a small cell opposite an armored giant.  The giant was completely encased in the plate mail: Erana and Shakra had tried removing the armor but it seemed to be attached to its occupant.  The giant had glared at them through the small visor and growled.  Instead, the giant had been searched and placed in a magic-proof cell until a decision on its fate was made.

Sthenno’s cell was warded against magic as well; Erana didn’t want the Gorgon to escape and hurt innocent people on her rampage.  The snake-locked woman glared at the archmage, but Erana ignored her.  After informing the guard in charge about his new inmate and warning him not to look into the Gorgon’s eyes, Erana waved her hands in the air.

A swirl of light and the faery was gone.

“So,” the giant rumbled, “what are you in for?”

  *    *    *

Erana appeared in the Hall of Kings’ main hall.  Logos was absorbed in some sort of legal document and didn’t look up at her.  She smiled and walked past him to the Merlin’s rooms.

The old man was staring out at nothing, a book lying on his lap.  Next to him, the bard Toma tossed fitfully, his features scrunched up in agony.  As Erana got closer, the bard’s form stopped moving and his face became calm.  She laid a hand on his forehead and gazed at him.

The Merlin, accustomed to her arrivals, said nothing.

“Any change?” she asked.

“Not until you got here.  He seems to calm down when you arrive, almost like he needs to be near you.”  He chuckled mournfully.  “There’s nothing I can do for him, with all my knowledge I can do nothing for him!”  His voice broke, self-hatred and sadness mixing on his face.

Erana shook her head firmly.  “Do not blame yourself for this; I am the one skilled in healing magics.  If only we knew what he had done to resurrect me, then we might be able to cure him of this malady.”  The archmage had tried all of her healing methods to break Toma’s illness, but nothing had worked.  Shakra and even Katrina had tried to help but nothing worked.

Suddenly two thoughts joined in Erana’s mind.  “Wait- you say he seems to be better when I am near?”  The old man nodded slowly.  “And he was wounded after he resurrected me.  Maybe he gave me some of his life force!  So we each have half of a life!  When he’s not near his other half, his body becomes too weak to function properly!”

“If that’s true, then why haven’t you been affected?”

“I have been under more harrowing circumstances before; my soul was trapped with Avoozl for eighty years.  I must be able to withstand the strain better than our poor friend.”  She stroked Toma’s brow lovingly.

“I could see how that would explain Toma’s condition, but we still don’t have any idea how to cure it.” the Merlin pointed out.  “Do you expect to carry him with you wherever you go?”

“If it comes to that, then yes, I will.  But for now we should see if this new theory gives us any ideas for treatments.”

The two wizards started looking through huge volumes with herbal concoctions and lists of remedies in them.  Hours later, the pair took a break and compared notes.

The Merlin tossed a heavy tome onto a table next to him.  “The only thing that even comes close to helping is something called faery-root, a type of plant only found in the Faery Realm.  What have you found?”

“Faery-root?  I have never heard of that.  Hmm.”  Erana gazed at the floor, thinking hard.  In all of her years healing, and her childhood in the Faery woods, she had never encountered any mention of the root.  “I- no, I did not find anything.  I shall have to look into that.  I have some contact with the Faery Realm.  Maybe they can inform us of this mysterious root.  What did the book say about it?”

The Merlin scratched his head wearily before recalling the text.  “It said that a split soul can be saved with faery-root, and it went on to say what faery-root was.  It didn’t get into many specifics.  I’ll try to find any other references to it in my other books.”

“And I will let Shakra and Katrina know about this, in case they know anything of it.”

“Or Salim and Julanar.  Oh, and you should probably take Toma with you.”  He hesitated.  “What can we do?  Will he have to live with you until we cure him?”

Erana nodded gravely.  “I have spare rooms in my home.  He can stay there and I will bring him with me back here.  If that is all right with you?”

He agreed and watched as his apprentice vanished with his soul’s mate.

  *    *    *

Azrael pushed Nawar back and raised Lightbringer warningly.  Gort didn’t flinch, nor did the other rotting zombies behind him.  Ferrari held the small knife in his hand, feebly trying to ward his attackers off.  Gort knocked the knife out of the fat man’s hand and sent him sprawling after it.  The green man’s eyes remained fixed on the paladin-in-training as he moved forward.

Azrael hated to use violence, no matter what kind of creature his enemy was, but he knew that in order to survive he would have to kill (or re-kill in the zombies’ cases).

Nawar saw that the Winged One’s chances of defeating the undead crew was minimal at best, and knew that Azrael hadn’t had any true training of how to fight.  ‘Well, this seems like an emergency to me!’ she thought.

She quickly rubbed her djinni ring.  The orange djinni appeared and asked what her first wish was.  “I wish you would get Azrael and I off this ship safely!”  She added ‘safely’ as an afterthought; many Raseirian tales told of djinnis who tried to make the worst out of a wish and get their masters in trouble.

“I shall obey,” the djinni stated.  He swept back into the ring without another word.

“What?  Where’s my help?  Come back out he-”  She stopped as the ship lurched.  The zombies were caught off guard and, being none too steady to begin with, fell to the deck.  Azrael stumbled forward but remained upright.

The ship shook again and through the doorway Nawar could see storm clouds swirling directly over the ship.  The tattered sails and flags waved fiercely as the wind picked up.  A voice called out above the wind, “so our guests have awaken.  I can smell them!  Such delicious fear!”  Nawar felt the hair on her arms and neck stand straight up.  The voice was chilling and certainly not human.

“Azrael, we need to get out of here!” she cried.  She pushed him past the zombies and to the ship’s rail.  Some of the zombies tried to grab their legs as they ran past but the pair evaded the skeletal hands easily.  Behind them, Ferrari cried out.

Azrael looked back to see Gort holding the man by his neck.  Ferrari was kicked weakly, and his face was turning black.  The Winged One didn’t stop to think; gaining speed as he went, he charged the walking corpse.  The ship rocked and Gort fell backward, taking Ferrari with him.  Azrael fell on top of them and started prying at Gort’s hands.

Nawar watched with agitation.  The crew could find their footing at any time and prevent any chance of escape.  She was debating whether to help Azrael or pull him off of Gort when she saw the owner of the chilling voice.

On top of the poop deck, a thin shape loomed over the scene below.  It was wrapped in a black shroud which covered most of its body, but what Nawar could see made her heart skip a beat.  The figure’s face was a skull with tatters of flesh hanging off of it.  A forked black tongue escaped from the thing’s mouth to lick what would have been lips on a normal person.

“Come to me, sweet one,” it crooned.  Its arms opened to embrace her.  It glided down the stairs and floated toward Nawar.  She tried to run but found herself rooted to the spot.    By this time Azrael had managed to free Ferrari and was guiding him to the edge of the ship.  They stopped when they saw the lich approaching.

“Hot flesh to eat, heavy fear to drink.”  The Dark Master was within an arm’s length away when a bolt of witch fire struck the planks between it and the three hypnotized humans.  Wood chips flew in every direction, but none managed to hit either Nawar or Azrael.  The distraction enabled Nawar to grab Azrael’s arm and pull him to the railing.

They looked down at the sea.  The sudden storm had pushed the ship close to a landmass, but it was too far away to tell what it was.  Nawar took the storm and witch fire to be signs of the djinni’s magic, and knew that she would survive a plunge into the ocean.  Without a second thought, she jumped into the roiling waters.  She knew that the chances of Azrael safely flying in the storm were small, so she pulled him along with her into the water.

Ferrari followed without a look back.  The storm continued on, sending the ship away from the people trying to keep afloat in the ocean.

Seething with cold anger, the Dark Master watched the bodies get farther and farther away.

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