My mother would have a heart attack if she knew I was about to rob a church.
“Hey Lalia.” I whispered, trying to fill the silence with something other than my hammering art. “What kind of shape rejects the Five Holy Orders of the Blessed?”
Lalia sighed. “You tell me, Dav.”
“A dodecaheathen. Get it?”
“Yes, Dav. We get it.”
She wasn’t impressed. Of course, Lalia wasn’t impressed by anything, except Glenin and his limitless knowledge of all things magical.
Glenin wasn’t with us, thank the Blessed.
Unter snorted behind me, and I jumped. It was his signature “this is taking too long, and I’m getting ready to kick the door down” snort and I tried to calm myself down as I twisted the pin. If I took much longer our covert operation would become an overt one.
The locked clicked open and Lalia slipped inside, barely illuminating hallway with a blue glow from the floating sphere she made with her staff.
“You stay here, Dav.”
I ignored her and followed Unter’s hulking profile as he made his way through priory corridors. The stone hallway looked threatening, but at least I’d be with people. My companions seemed so calm, even though the walls seemed so narrow in the dark, and my heart was beating so loud I was sure that the corridors would be swarming with angry nuns any moment.
But Lalia led us true, and we found our quarry. Maps. We couldn’t very well navigate through evil wizard Malorth’s magical realm without the layout of the landscape, could we?
I still felt bad about steeling from holy women, but I was pretty well convinced we were doing the right thing. I mean, priories wouldn’t be around for long if we didn’t stop Malorth from spreading evil across the land, so we had to take what we could. Right?
“We’ll give them back, right?” I whispered as Lalia sifted through the papers, trying to find the maps we needed. “After we…”
She pulled out another rack of maps and the rustling papers looked eerily bright under Lalia’s blue light. She stuffed the last scroll into her pouch and lit the way out, Unter bringing up the rear with his mace in hand. My job was to not die, I guess. I had already picked my lock.
The walls seemed to close in on us in the dim light, and even Unter was visibly relieved when we made it back to the scrubby wasteland out without incident.
Lalia elbowed him when we were outside the abbey. “You look relieved.”
“You were nervous, admit it.”
“It was stuffy.” His voice was strange. Whatever magical enhancements engorged his muscles, it didn’t translate to his voice. He sounded like a dying walrus.
“That’s why I hate pillow factories.” I said.
They both looked at me as if they had forgotten I was there.
“You know, they’re so stuffy.”
Unter snorted, but not in the amused, trying-to-hold-in-laughter sort of way. Lalia shook her head. “How is it, Dav, that you’ve managed to get more annoying?”
I quirked a smile, and tried not to feel so cold inside, though talking helped. I looked over my shoulder, half expecting a swarm of nuns to chase us down and make us read the Blessed Book of Proverbs or whatever they did to sinners. I mean, nuns didn’t kill people, did they?
I only saw the silhouette of the town and the peaked building we had infiltrated getting smaller as we moved away, barely illuminated by the sliver moon.
But I was still nervous and it made me want to say something, to diffuse the tension in some way, but based on the stiffness of Lalia’s shoulders, and the way Unter was fingering his mace, I needed to shut up more than usual.
I caught sight of Windover before I even saw our camp. Or rather, I saw his eyes, reflecting the dim light in metallic disks.
I had thought this was creepy at first, seeing his eyes glow in the dark, but now I was comforted that he could see us, probably much better than we could see him. Being a magical cat-man must have its perks.
Oh, and there was Glenin, back from one of his mysterious solo missions. Lalia perked up at the sight of him. I did not.
He had his legs crossed, eyes closed, and was doing some sort of hand yoga. I wasn’t sure if it was meditating or some sort of elf thing, but did know I got in a lot of trouble when I bothered him while he was at it.
“You’re back.” Lalia said, approaching him. She could bother him while he was at it.
“I know.” He said. “You have complete your task?”
“Yes. The maps are ready to go.”
“Here, practice.” He flipped something at her, but I couldn’t see what it was, other than it flashed in the faint light.
I turned away from them. Unter had already rolled out his sleeping mat and was letting out the wheezing snores I hadn’t gotten used to. I tried to follow suit, feeling for my own sleeping roll, which I had left… somewhere. It was hard to see in the dark.
“Enchant it.” I heard Glenin tell Lalia. He gave Lalia magic lessons periodically, but why in the middle of the night?
She must have obliged, because a soft blue light suddenly illuminated the camp, the kind that came from one of those magical bubbles Lalia could make with her staff. It was called a circumdom if I recalled correctly, the area where Lalia could work her magic. Sure enough, when I turned and looked, the little trinket was suspended within a head-sized blue sphere. Whatever it was, it glittered.
Unter grunted at the sudden light and rolled over.
I took advantage of it and grabbed my sleeping roll before I mixed mine up with someone else’s.
“What do I do with it?” Lalia asked.
“Keep it still.” Glenin instructed.
“Is it an origin stone?”
“That is enough for now, you’ve had a long day.”
The blue light went out and Unter went back to his wheezing snore, and I could hear the other’s rolling out their own beds, no one commenting on Glenin’s abrupt lesson. One didn’t question the elf prophesied to save the world.
I could still see Windover’s eyes, the glow only punctuated by his blinks, but he didn’t greet me. I wished he would. He was the only one in the group who asked me how I was doing, and answered my questions. He as the closest thing I had to a friend on my forced adventure.
Still, it was early morning, and sleep would have its way. But I prodded myself awake so I could make the five signs with my hands, one for each Holy Order of the Blessed. It was a promise that I would use my hands for good, and in return, I would be protected by the Blessed. Even if I did steal from nuns. Hopefully.
I shut my eyes and toyed with the idea of braving Gelin’s wrath and running home, away from the little band of prophesy fulfillers, and pretend I never saw Lalia do magic behind my uncle’s bakery. Pretend I never got dragged into this world of glowing spheres and aching feet.
But I was asleep before I could decide.
Morning was painful to wake up to. My eyes felt sealed shut, and the chill on my face was stinging. But when Unter nearly tripped over me with his heavy, metal-tipped boots, I managed peel myself up.
The brush we’d been trudging through was as drab and prickly as ever, nothing like the hills and fields in my home. There, the bluebud flowers would be blooming, and everyone would be would have them in vases and over their doorframes, and the girls would weave the flowers into their hair.
Remembering this did not improve my mood.
As usual, Unter ladled out breakfast, but he handed me my bowl with a snort that almost sounded happy.
“Thanks, Unter.” He was too busy handing out other bowls to hear me.
I spooned a slopping bite into my mouth. It was as green and had a slightly metallic after-taste due to the primary ingredient: lovage.
Ah, lovage. The moderately edible, leafy plant that was described as a weed more often than a salad mixing. It also grew prolifically along roadsides, and Unter began incorporating masses of it into every meal as real food ran low.
I let a bite slide off my spoon and slap into the leafy mush below.
I waited for Windover to ask me how I slept, like he usually did, but he wasn’t eating his food either. And neither was anyone else.
My little group was pouring over the maps, spreading them out and rolling them up again.
I stayed where I was and listened. It’s not like I a magical destiny or anything.
“We can enter Malorth’s circumdom here.” Glenin said, tapping at the map Unter held out.
“Won’t we be in volcano territory?” Lalia said.
“Lalia, you disappoint me. Malorth won’t have been able to manipulate that portion of the land. We will be able to move on our own terms.”
“We can plan as we travel.” Windover reminded them, though he bent over the map as well, his whiskers twitching emphatically. “Remember, Malorth could have change much of the landscape. And he will know as soon as we enter his domain.”
“Allow a wizard to anticipate the actions of another wizard, wise one.” Glenin said, scrutinizing the crisscrossing lines of the map. “But your opinion is noted.”
“Very well, we will be off.”
“We actually have a chance at defeating him now.” Lalia said, rolling up the last of the maps and tucking them under her arm.
“We have always had a chance.” Glenin said, tossing his overly long hair. “It is my destiny.”
My destiny, it seemed, involved a lifelong hatred of lovage. I’d give up a few teeth just to have one of my uncle’s fresh baked rolls.
I ended up dumping most of the lovage into the brush when Unter wasn’t looking. It could use some fertilizer anyway.
I strapped my bedroll onto my pack and soon the maps and bowls were cleared away, and we fell into our usual traveling pattern. Glenin and Lalia took the front, Windover and Unter took the back.
I was placed in the middle, initially to make sure I didn’t run away and tell the world about the group of crazy people I met, but now it was more about making sure I didn’t trip over something and leave a blood trail for one of Malorth’s goons to follow.
I had gotten used to the routine, walking a long time while the others talked about magical things I didn’t understand. But I could see our destination peaking over the tops of the trees, the apex of a glasslike dome, glowing a faint red. Malorth’s circumdom, just like the blue one Lalia could make with her staff, only the size of some lesser countries.
And we were preparing to go right into it.
I swallowed, wanting to say something to fill the silence that suddenly seemed very cold. I twisted and looked over my shoulder, nearly running into Glenin in the process. “Hey, Windover.”
“What do sanitation inspectors look for in meat packing plants?”
Windover flicked his ears back. “Spoiled meat, I suppose.”
His whiskers twitched, but he didn’t say anything else. I felt better, anyway.
Glenin unpinned the ruby-like trinket from his cape and was having Lalia inside her own blue circumdom that hovered just above her staff.
I thought I saw the red dome flicker, but it must have been a trick of the light.
I let my thoughts wander as we walked on, and as usual, home came to mind. My parents. My little sisters. Maybe I wouldn’t have to run away. Maybe I could convince Glenin that I wouldn’t tell anyone about him and his magical prophesy, and the Origin of Evil, and unnatural Unter’s hugeness. Maybe I could disappear into the next town we came to, catch a ride back home with an obliging farmer.
But based on the trajectory of the moon and the sun, I wasn’t going to muster the courage to ask Glenin any time soon. He had nearly decided to kill me to keep me quite. I didn’t want him to consider that option again.
So I went along, following other people’s prophetic destinies into the brush. Chances were, lovage would be on the menu for lunch and dinner, and I resigned myself to a full day of blah.
I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up.
Because less than a mile in, right when the brush was about to give way to real trees, we were stopped. By angry nuns.
There were at least forty of them, all decked in their long, embroidered nun clothing, and ready to whack us with the Blessed Book of Proverbs.
“Do not draw your weapons.” Windover warned. “We go quietly.”
Lalia bristled. “But Windover, we need those maps.” She whispered as they surrounded us. By the way they were acting, it was like we were being circled by spinewings instead of middle-aged women.
“We’ll have to make do. Ladies, we will come peacefully.” Windover removed the blowgun he kept slung over his furry shoulder and laid it on the ground. He had always been the voice of reason in the troop, and Glenin gave us a sharp nod. Unter dropped his mace, Glenin his sword, and Lalia, ever so delicately, placed her staff on the ground.
I didn’t have any weapons to surrender, and so we were off, back the way we came, our hard-stolen maps in the clutches of a scowling nun.
“Better pay the penance of thieves than have our wanted posters plastered on every tree.” Windover counseled. “Be lucky we chose the popular traveling route. Theft isn’t uncommon and won’t be noticed.”
But if a procession of brightly dressed nuns dragging five thieves back to the priory for spiritual cleansing was unnoticeable, then I don’t know what was. We were drawing curious gazes when we were finally marched into town.
But how did they intercept us in the first place? They would have had to travel through brush in the early morning to intercept us, and none of them looked particularly rumpled. Maybe they kept a squad out there just to catch prophesied heroes who tried to steal their precious maps?
In any case, I was getting nervous.
“Hey Windover.” I said, leaning to the side to get a good look up at him. “One of the nuns accidently caught her robe on one of the shrubs. She said it was a bad habit.”
He laid his ears back on his panther-like head. “Not now, young one.”
But by the Blessed Orders, someone had to say something.
Somehow, I managed to keep my mouth shut, and the lot of us were herded into the priory, which looked very different in broad daylight than when I helped raid it at night.
It was beautiful really, with light filtering in through colorful glass inlayed into the ceiling and dappling the tile below. I relaxed. It was harder to be nervous when the ground looked like rainbows.
“We’re wasting time.” Lalia hissed to Glenin. “We need to go.”
“No.” Windover put a paw on her shoulder, speaking very low and hushed. “Word of a troop armed travelers has already been spreading. We need to portray ourselves as thieves caught in the act, not warriors, anxious to travel to a destination.”
Glenin considered them both. “We do as Windover says.” He decided, and turned back to contemplating the stained glass on the ceiling, depicting scenes of the Holy Orders and the glories they held.
The priory doors blew open, and the Prioress glided in, her long, white habit billowing behind her, decorated only with the colored light from the ceiling.
I instinctively bowed, making the sign of the First Holy Order with my hands. The sign of Honor. It seemed appropriate.
“If you needed to use our maps.” She said. “You need only have asked.”
Windover stepped forward. “We apologize for our impulsiveness.” He said, his deep voice rumbling through the hall.
“You impulsively raided a priory of the Holy Orders and left with a few choice items? I find that hard to believe.”
She circled around us, taking in the view of our motley group. “You certainly are a strange bunch.”
“If we return your maps, would you kindly let us leave?” Windover asked. “After going through the proper penance, of course.”
She sighed. “I doubt your hearts would be changed no matter what we did. Normally, I would say yes and get you out of my town, but a representative from your home city showed up. Turiah. He’ll deal with your justice.”
Glenin snapped to attention, and Windover laid his cat ears back on his head. “I don’t understand, madam.”
“We don’t get involved in local politics, and we don’t ask questions. If you must know, it was because of this fellow we managed to find you in the first place. Now, go on, he’s waiting for you.”
Wait, wasn’t Turiah the elf city Glenin came from?
A press of nuns began to drive us towards a hallway and Unter kept reaching for the empty space by his belt where his mace used to hang. The Prioress wouldn’t let anyone be executed in her priory, right? She seemed like a fair lady. Frightening and powerful, but fair.
I let myself be pushed in with the rest of the group into a room that didn’t have stained glass in the ceiling, and was lit exclusively with torches that cast harsh shadows on the walls. I started to get nervous again.
“It’s kind of creepy in here, huh?” I whispered to Unter.
“Looks kind of like a Curse Convent in here. I hope we don’t get cultivated.”
He hit my very hard on the back of the head.
And because of that hit, I had little sparks of light in front of my eyes, so I didn’t see what made everyone else gasp.
“Aha!” I heard Glenin say, and my vision cleared enough to make him out, reaching at his hip for the sword that wasn’t there.
“You were a threat, I admit it.” A new voice said. A man’s voice, certainly not a nun’s unless the priory had changed some of their rules. “Most of my enemies never get that much notice.”
I had to lean to the side to see around Windover, and caught a glimpse of the speaker. He was an elf, with odd looking facial hair that cupped his chin and curled around his cheeks. I hadn’t seen him before, but I immediately knew who he was. Malorth. In possession of the Origin of Evil, slowly spreading a massive dome of power and dominion across the world.
The holy nuns, who were apparently neither, dropped their habits to reveal faceless shadows, all holding sharp, pointy objects.
I thought some words that should probably not be thought in a church.
“Take them.” Malorth commanded, brandishing his black wizard’s staff like scepter. “I’ll want to talk to each of them separately.”
Well, I wasn’t going anywhere. But before I could put my hands in the air and submit, Glenin lunged for Malorth. There was a flurry of motion and shouting, and I felt something slam into the back of my head. I caught a glimpse of the tile floor rushing to meet me just before everything went black.
I woke up in a cell. I was surprised, thought I wasn’t sure what else I was expecting. There was some light filtering in through a slit in the wall, a privy bucket, and an iron door that spread across the wall like a bruise.
Actually, it reminded me of when my cousin Jess locked me in my family’s cellar back home. The comparison was comforting for some reason, though Jess was still a jerk.
“Hello?” I said, as I tried to work the stiffness out of my neck. “Anyone there?” The silence felt a little less nerve racking when it was filled.
I looked my little stone cell. “I guess I’m between a rock and a hard place aren’t I?” My voice echoed back to me, letting me know how shaky and pathetic I sounded. And that pun was a low hanging fruit on a particularly short tree.
“You know, it doesn’t smell great in here.” I said, trying to calm myself down. “I’d use perfume, but Lalia took all of mine. When I asked her why, she told me that she hadn’t departed scents.” That one was a bit better.
And there was a faint sound coming from outside my cell, something between a snort and a groan. A guard? I could feel myself shaking, and searched for something to say to quite myself.
There really wasn’t much to look at let alone come up with a pun about. Hm… I was kind of cold. Rocks weren’t particularly good bedding, and I was getting hungry. Hungry.
“Unter made some toast the other day.” I went on. He hadn’t. He had made lovage, but I needed something work with. “He was roasting some bread on a stick. For the first time in his life, it came out perfectly golden and crispy instead of burnt on one side. ‘Wow’ he said. ‘it’s pretty toasty.’ ”
Yes, there was definitely someone listening.
“You should shut up in there.” A deep voice called, reverberating through the steel door.
“Wow.” I said. “That’s sound advice.”
“Who in the Cursed Book is this kid?”
“You shouldn’t swear.” I called back. “We’re in a church.”
Wait, was I? Was the priory a massive hoax to capture Glenin, his prophesied destiny, and the rest of the group? Now that I had calmed down somewhat I could think again.
The guard said something else through the door, but I ignored him. I stood up, and began to pace in the small confine of the cell. The first question on my mind was why, by Blessed Book of Proverbs, was Malorth here and not inside his wavering, red circumdom? From what little information I had gleaned from Windover, Malorth stayed in his domain, which was why we had to enter the circumdom to get to him. The very place he had absolute power. Great plan.
I tried to think of some explanations. I didn’t have anything else to do, though being a thoroughly non-magical person in a world of glowing orbs, didn’t help me come up with any theories.
For starters, I didn’t know anything about magic. I asked Lalia about how it worked, but she had spared me any details. She spared me most interaction actually.
I watched her use it though, summoning her own circumdom, creating things within it and lighting our fires. The little blue stone, her origin stone, I heard her call it, had something to do with it.
But what did the origin stone even have to do with magic in the first place? I had seen Lalia do magic without it, but she always seemed tired afterwards. I accidently knocked over the privy bucket while I paced, but it was empty, thank the Blessed.
So far, I had no theories. Windover always been purposely vague when he answered my questions, but he’d talked a little. According to him, the Origin of Evil was an origin stone of amazing magnitude with prophesies wound around it. Prophesies that apparently involved Glenin defeating Malorth in a heroic battle, where he’d be immortalized in ballads and live forever in the hearts of children.
I did my best in trying to keep my mind occupied before I went back to panicking. Maybe Malorth had somehow expanded his circumdom over us without us knowing. But I had seen the top of it as we were marched back to the priory. It looked fuzzy, and full of lines, but maybe that was normal for circumdoms. I had only seen Lalia’s smaller ones.
Maybe he was so afraid of Glenin’s prophesy he decided to hunt us down himself. Strange, when we were planning to head right into his domain where he could flick our lives away like flies.
My, the cell was small. Pacing helped, even though I was still jittery.
I heard a voice outside my cell door and I pressed my cheek against the iron, but didn’t catch any words. Then the door opened, and I fell out into the hall.
“Ah!” I then caught the sight of a very shiny pair of boots.
“All right, you’re coming with me.” My guard said. From my vantage point on the ground, he looked very, very tall. He hauled me to my feet and pushed me forward, making sure I got a good at his javelin.
My other three guards were… not human. Or anything else I could describe. They had a human frames, but looked made of ink with a petroleum sheen swirling over everything from the limbs to the equally black broadswords that looked far too big for a normal person.
I swallowed. According to Windover, Malorth could make anything he wanted within his circumdom. Apparently, he could bring them out with him.
My heart started rattling away, and I felt the urge to say something. But what does one say to magical ink-men without even the impression of faces on their flat, pitch black heads?
“Come on.” My one human guard said, prodding me along the dimly lit hallway. “It’s not far. You’ll be persuaded soon enough.”
He turned down the hall, hauling me along while I digested what he’d just said. You’ll be persuaded soon enough. What was that supposed to mean?
It helped that I knew absolutely nothing that Malorth wanted to know, so I had nothing to lose. Nothing, except I’d never be able to go home again. Never mind. I had everything to lose.
But when the guard and his inky friends pushed me into a doorway, it wasn’t a dungeon filled with twisted devices. It was a dining room.
Why there was a private dining room in the middle of a priory was lost to me, but I didn’t have much time to consider it. The guard shoved me into one of the padded chairs in front of a place setting. The napkin had embroidery on it. Fancy.
And there was Malorth, lit by the flickering candlelight, needing no title to identify exactly who he was. He held a wizard’s staff in one hand, and a spoon in the other.
“You are quite the mystery to me.” Malorth said. He shared that erratic elven accent with Glenin, switching from high to low with no discernible pattern. “I could read your companions rather well. There’s the so-called prophesied leader, the strong man, the wise one, and the girl adds vantage through magic, but you… what do you do, boy?”
The answer was, of course, absolutely nothing. He’d be beating a dead horse long before he figured out I was thoroughly non-magical. There was something oddly comforting in that, bowling the evilest wizard in the land with shear normalcy. I sat up a little straighter.
Malorth began to dish himself up some of the delicacies, and I did have enough presence of mind to notice that none of the dishes contained any lovage. Malorth pushed a platter of potatoes towards me. “Help yourself.”
It didn’t seem like a good time to disobey orders, so I served myself some. They did smell pretty good.
“I must ask, why are you on your little adventure?” Malorth asked, spooning some of his own potatoes into his mouth. “Glory, wealth?” He seemed strangely normal for an evil, take-over-the-world type person, eating food and asking questions.
“The satisfaction of a job well done?”
“No need to be insolent. Your name?”
“Dav then. Whatever you hope to gain from your little quest, I can match. Double even. Lend your services to me, and you will be richly rewarded.”
“Uh, that would be great, but I don’t have any services to lend. Sir.” A little formality couldn’t hurt.
Malorth arched his thin eyebrows. “I have already spoken to your other traveling companions. Each has a role, a part to play, but you, you are a wild card. The most dangerous one of all, I’ll warrant.”
“But you waste your talents on your fruitless quest. I can help you grow, Dav. Your potential is boundless, don’t let your fear inhibit you. Do you know why I do what I do Dav? Do the things that your close minded friends condemn?”
“To increase your sphere of influence?”
Silence. The candles in the chandelier above us flickered, casting shadows on the walls, and the one human guard at the door fidgeted slightly.
No one spoke for a long, long time.
Malorth pointed his staff at me. “Be glad my circumdom is already in place, or I’d take the information strait from that thick skull of yours. Who are you?”
“You’ve already told me your name, Dav.” He sounded board, almost like Glenin when he corrected Lalia during one of her magic lessons. “Perhaps I can rephrase that question. What are you? And what do you hope to gain from your futile quest? Why do you follow your precious leader who can only promise you failure?”
“I’m not following Glenin.” I said. For some reason, saying made me fill a little braver. “I’m being dragged behind him.”
Malorth lifted his chin. “Specify.”
“I’m a normal kid, okay?” I deflated a little. “I was happy. I had a home. I saw Lalia do some magic, and they decided I needed to keep quiet.” There was no need to specify who they were.
“And you still follow an elf you barely know?”
“Glenin was the one who wanted to kill me.” I remembered it clearly. It was the first time I had seen a sword, and it was unsheathed, pointed at my chest. “You know, to keep the beans from spilling.”
“And you never ran away?” I couldn’t tell if Malorth believed me, but he sounded intrigued. Clearly, I was no longer a threat.
“How?” I let the question hang. Any one of my magical friends could hunt down my non-magical butt without even trying. Windover had convinced Glenin against swinging his sword, but I didn’t think he’d help if I ran. He’d been perfectly happy taking my away from my family, after all.
“So please.” I couldn’t keep the shake from my voice. “I just want to go home.”
Malorth smiled slightly, causing an odd morph in his beard. “You’re a talented actor, I do admit. It is clear I cannot do this the easy way.” He pushed his plate up back and stood up.
Out of instinct, I mirrored the action, but one of the ink-men stepped forward to hold me in place. It was like being held by porcelain.
Malorth made his way towards me, his staff striking the tiled floor with a soft clap with every step. “Since you will not talk about the usual subject, I will be direct. Tell me where the Origin of Evil is, and I will let you live. Deny me this knowledge, and I will have the nuns mark you and your friends as cursed, and in your death, demons will claim your spirits and torture you to eternity.” He met my gaze, cool and unaffected.
I suddenly felt very cold. Malorth had chosen his threat perfectly. Of all my traveling companions, I was the only one who believed in the Holy Orders. The thought of eternal damnation was…
And then it hit me. “You don’t have the Origin of Evil?”
Malorth picked up a carving knife with the hand free of the staff, and pointed it at me. “If I didn’t know any better, I would think you were actually surprised.”
“Don’t play stupid. One of your number stole it from my fortress, a crime I witnessed with my very eyes. You cannot deny this, boy.” He paused and pressed the point of the carving knife into the wooden table. “If you refused glory and knowledge, threats to your physical being will not be persuasive. But perhaps I can threaten the lives of your friends.”
The wall behind him parted, and the illusion of a solid wall wrinkle away into a fabric.
And there, bound and gagged were my four traveling companions. And they were conscious, staring at me with wide eyes. My heart began sprinting, and I started to feel very cold.
Malorth was saying something, but I was focused on the people I had spent the last six months following. Unter looked almost small on the floor, and Windover’s proud panther-like face drooped. Lalia managed to get to her knees. She was trying to say something through her gag, jerking her head towards Glenin.
Glenin. He was the only one that wouldn’t meet my eyes.
“Pay attention, boy!” Malorth grabbed my chin and forced it towards him. “Do you or do you not want to see your friends again?”
I kept staring at Glenin. Suddenly, it all made sense.
His mystery solo missions, the little amulet he had Lalia mess with just before Malorth’s circumdom began to fuzz. Apparently, the Origin of Evil, had been pinned to Glenin’s cape, harmless and destroyed, for the past day.
I didn’t know much about magic, but I was pretty sure that there was only one thing left between Malorth and his reign of terror. And it was a single wooden stick.
I kicked out. Something splintered
Malorth stumbled back, holding the top of his staff, suddenly no more magical than a pond rock. The cold pressure on my shoulders disappeared as the ink-men melted into steam, and I ran to where the others were tied up, and started to pick at Unter’s bonds. I saw a shadow come up behind me, but I freed him just in time, and Unter sprang to his feet. I heard his fist collide with something a moment later. The human guard, I guessed.
I moved on to Windover, Lalia, and yes, Glenin. Their wrists were swollen, and they were unarmed, but my little troop of traveling companions still managed to pack quite the punch. And it helped that Malorth and his was running down the hall in the opposite direction. He had no magic now, and few real minions.
I made the third Holy Sign with my hands, the Holy Sign of gratitude. It felt more than appropriate for the situation.
I still wasn’t quite sure how it all worked, with the circumdom, the Origin of Evil, the staff, and whatever other insane things plaid into it all. I was just a non-magical kid who got nervous easily. How in the Cursed Book was I supposed to know? (Hey, after facing the evilest man in town and facing eternal damnation, I had the license to swear a little).
I turned to where my friends were. I guess we were friends.
Lalia was massaging her wrists where they had been tied, and Windover clapped a furry hand on my back.
“Prophesies are mysterious things, aren’t they young Dav?”
“What?” I was tired. I wanted a good night’s sleep on a real bed and eat a hot meal without lovage in it.
“Don’t you see? You defeated him, the one who possessed the Origin of Evil. He’s fled, his power drained. The prophesy has been fulfilled, and you have been the instrument in fulfilling it.”
I didn’t get much time to take it in, because at that moment, Glenin attacked me. “My destiny, boy.” His face twisted into a snarl. “You stole it from me.”
My back hit the tile floor and specks of light began to drift through my vision. Had he been armed, I’d have been dead on the spot. But Glenin wasn’t armed, and Windover, scholarly and calm in the tensest situations, can be a swirling vortex of terror when the need arises.
And there were nuns. Blessed, blessed nuns, breezing through the door, helping to my feet, and trying to calm Lalia down who was shaking with fury.
“Traitor.” She snapped at Glenin, who was being held in a chair by Windover’s powerful arms. Unter was there to, glowering so dark I could almost see the storm cloud hovering over his head. The nuns seemed nervous to approach him.
The Prioress came too. “We had no idea.” She said to Windover, wrapping her shawl around her. “After he took you, these shadow people showed up and had we known…”
“It is over.” Windover rumbled, extending his claws into Glenins shoulders to keep him from running. “I hope no harm has come to you.”
“To us? Only fear, but we can heal. If you still want the maps, you can take them, a gift from us.”
“It appears we haven’t need of them after all, Madame.” He gave a pointed glare at Glenin, who was unnervingly silent. “We will be on our way very soon.”
“So we were done.” Lalia snapped. “We just had to wait for Malorth to get tired, and his circumdom would shrink to the size of an egg in a few years. And you’d have signed out death sentences anyway.”
“My fate is not of your concern.” Glenin spat back at her. “You don’t understand.”
“How? How...?” She sounded so sad, so brokenhearted. I wanted to say something.
“All of his minions are gone.” I said, picking up the bottom half of Malorth’s splintered staff from the ground. “They must have gotten a staff infection.”
And Lalia laughed. She actually laughed.
The nuns led us out into the priory proper, where the torches didn’t cast harsh light on the walls, and sunlight came through the ceiling in a hundred different colors.
Somewhere, the red border of Malorth’s circumdom were dissolving, and the monstrous creations he made within were turning to steam. People in the area would be able to return to their lives.
So would I, maybe. I didn’t know what we’d do with Glenin and his prophesy fixation, but with Lalia laughing and rainbows on the floor, I didn’t want to worry about him right then. I was ready to go home.