Updates:  Chapter 17 of Mystic Seasons Series Mythopoeia Book -8 posted, chapter eight of Lady in the Labyrinth posted

William Myrl

Chapter Twenty-Five


​     Magal Stronghand Petronus, in his seventy-third year of life, sickened and fell into a darkness from which he could not return. He was succeeded by his son, Magal Fierceman, who awaited the day of his official crowning, when the royal Philologist would take the ruby diadem from off the father's brow, and place it upon the son's.

       One thing remained unchanged in the palace. No one paid Ursula any mind. Aside from the servants, as many as not had yet to formally recognize her return to Petronica. Minda, the steward, was glad enough to see her. And there was Thyriel, her teacher, and then no more.

       She still did not understand the motive behind the new direction in her studies. She enjoyed them nonetheless. Ursula felt privileged to be given access to a few columns out of the tower of Philosophy. She would have been happy enough simply being back in the royal library. 

       Thyriel had given her insight into the secret lives of ancient kings and the writings of the philologists who had served them. It was an immense gift that she did not know what to do with, so she read. For now, that was all he asked of her.

       
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         The young Magal was not bereft at the loss of  his father. He took it stoically and was inwardly proud. This was his hour, his rising from mere prince to mighty king. There were many princes, but now, there was only one Magal. Ariad had disappeared, which only fed the paranoia that burgeoned in the mind of any Petronian king. There was a reason he had no uncles.

       His fist pounded on the dark oak table. He had not yet moved to his father's quarters, and his sitting room was uninspiring. It could be described as intimate, if the furnishing had not been so spare. There was very little of color or softness here, or even personal taste of any kind. It was the room of a man who was not often home.

       "Where is he?" It was not  a question. More a statement of frustration.

        Henai slid beside him, her hand small over his forearm. 

       "He fled because he feared you, as more will flee."

       "So he's off plotting among the Houses, and I'm supposed to let him go?"

       "He is not worth the effort of recovery. Not now. Not so soon. You have much responsibility. He will reveal himself in time, to be hung on his own plots," She brought her arm around his waist, and pressed her cheek against his back. His rigid muscles gradually relaxed.

       "You always keep so calm, Henai. You will make a good queen."

       "However I may serve my lord, I will," she whispered.

       "Those faithless farmers in Carrolan. They won't see us wed. They already show their despite for my rule."

       Henai was quiet for a moment, gently drawing him away from the table, heaped as it was with weighty documents and seals.

       "Mayhap we will have our binding ceremony in Carrolan instead."

       "What?"

       Henai's arm tightened, drawing him closer, and Fierceman experienced a fear that he would never admit, though it was not new. There was more strength in his lover than such a small frame should permit. "Do not tolerate this small rebellion. Carrolan struts its power as if it held the sword above us all. They provide much of the grain that feeds all three kingdoms, and send even more south into the Keepholds, filling their coffers with gold. What gives them that right? They are not a nation of warriors. Their houses are not as your house. They are merchants with swords at their hips. They are in need of a true master to bring them honor."

       Fierceman frowned. This was a direction their conversations had gone before, and it made him uncomfortable. He was angry with the Wardens for what was practically a dismissal of his summons, and he enjoyed displaying that anger in a show of manly passion, but it hadn't been unexpected. Actually entering into war with Carrolan over this seemed...extreme, even to Fierceman's  sex-addled awareness.

       "Does not  the serf need his lord?"

       "Yes," Fierceman reluctantly agreed. She smelled of some unnameable flower, exotic and unattainable.

       "Are you not the king now, and Lord of all Lords?"

       "Yes." This time more readily came his answer. He was the king. He wanted to be the king. Who were the Wardens to gainsay his will?

       "Serfs and farmers," Henai whispered, "waving pennants that should be beholden to yours."

       Heat kindled in his belly, not all of it outrage and indignation. Henai had traveling hands.

       "I will teach them a lesson. Is that what you want?"

       "No, my Lord, that is what you want. I only want one thing." 

       Fierceman, never the swiftest of thinkers, furrowed his brow.

       "What is that?"

       Her hand moved.

       "Oh."

       
                                                                                               *       *       * 


       These things happen both more slowly and more quickly than we like to imagine. Mok had remained in Lanolier for a while as the Wardens awaited the inevitable reprisal. The moon's silver lucency intensified in both the faces it showed, day and night. Then it faded into dimness. It was the most indolent flower in the heavens, yet the pattern of it's lighting and dimming dictated the length of the months.

       One passed, and no messenger returned from Petronia; no Rider with the dark mark on his brow. The coronation must have taken place, and yet they were without word. Even the merchant caravans returned without a hint of what the new king planned.

       Mok was in the practice yard with Mallo, warm from their exertion, when a servant came rushing out.

       "Lord Mok! You are needed by the crown."

       Mok nodded, not even seeing the one who had spoken, and handed his practice equipment to Mallo. He was glad to  have found the knight, faceless as he was. Mok would have been terribly alone in this place without him.

        "Will today be the day, my lord?" Mallo joked.

       Mok didn't understand him, his mind already flown to the roof.

       "The day for what, Mallo?"

       "The day you conquer Carrolan."

       Mok smiled. "Ah, no. I think that shall have to wait upon the morrow."

      The knight nodded. "I pity the future."

       It was a jest, or something like it, and yet it stirred old fires in Mok's belly as he ascended the inner stairs of the main Keep. In these last weeks he had become accustomed to being one of the 'Sirs,' and a Lord even among them. He accepted the deference, the respect afforded him by those he dealt with as if it was something he had been born into. He had focused so wholly on his training with blades and armor and absorbing the politics of his new peers, that he had allowed his original ambitions to slide away.

       He was becoming one of them.

       What did he want all this power for? For the most part it had just happened, had been foist upon him like Timothean with that now empty flask. Yet he had wanted this for himself as well. He could have fled, if he had not wanted it. He could still flee, taking a portion of his new-found wealth with him in a pouch and traveling to where none would know him. North or South, Ashram or the Keepholds; it did not matter.

       But that was not his desire. To free the slaves in all but name, to give the people who lived under the rule of Lords rights of their own to defend and to claim; this was his goal. As it stood under the laws of the land, he could hang every man, woman, and child in Loesser for no better reason than to feed the crows, and none could punish him. Lord's had the right to do whatever they willed. Knights and vassals had some immunity to this, but commoners, none.

       Other towns than Loesser knew perpetual abuse and were mired so thick in tax and tithe that they could hardly breathe, let alone feed themselves. It was patently obvious that there was no inherent difference between serf and Lord. Mok himself was the foremost example of this, and yet none challenged it. Traditions were stronger than the minds of men, and reason was as nothing to greed.

       Mok's footfalls rang quicker on the stones as he rose, headed for the roof and the Wheaton Crown. No, he would not forget himself, where he had come from, who had been hateful, and who kind. He would change Carrolan, by force if necessary, and alter the system of aristocracy that had ruled all these unending years.

        Who could help him? Perhaps that philologist, what was his name? Mok needed counsel from someone of learning, someone not of 'noble' blood, who would be sympathetic to the needs of the many. Yes, he would seek him out. As soon as this meeting was dispensed with.

       He flung open the steel-braced door to the roof and saw the peerage there.

       What was one more conversation with these distinguished persons? Suffice it to say that the Wardens were high strung. Reports had surfaced of untoward motion in Petronia. Lances were forming under banners, and banners into battles. Some groups, noblemen and their men-at-arms, were moving ahead and could at anytime be crossing the border. The new Petronus had indeed gone mad, it was unanimously agreed. He was waging war on Carrolan. It would be the first such conflict in centuries.

       In those moments, as Makor and Vassal went about their chest thumping from opposing seats, and as Soessa and Mok shared a look of understanding at a mutual need for the battles to come, as Mok's high flown ideals were once again set aside for more urgent happenings; far away, something else was going on.

       
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        The River Lumley flowed insouciant, above and below the drama at its shores. Aric lay unconscious, and Kerrigan was in the grip of the bloodhunter, Shiro. Bawn stood seething across the river. He could have crossed the distance in a single leap, but that would be all it required to see Kerrigan's lifesblood cascading down her neck. How fragile his charges were. He had forgotten. It was as if he had carried an egg in each hand this whole journey, and finally set them down to rest. His back turned, the fox had come.

       "A bargain. Bawn will listen," the hunter pressed.

        Power built in the barbarian as a subterranean pressure, as hot earthsblood buldging out of the soil and stone. Looking closely, one might see flakes of granite raising slowly out of the shore, and pebbles out of the grass around his feet. The air thickened, and his eyes lightened into gold He held his rage in check by the slimmest margin, lest he destroy what he had come to love.

        "Tell me what you want."

        The water rushed between them.

       Shiro said, "It is said Bawn cannot give word falsely. So I ask of you a boon. The emperor wishes audience with you. Promise it, and I release these children without harm. Very simple. Come with me to Nihon, into the city of immortals. You are needed."

       Bawn drew a tremendous breath. "You tried to kill me before. You and the other."

       "No. We tested. You passed. We would have made you sleep, and bound you, and made you prisoner. Bloodhunters do not ask. But poison could not slow you. I need another way. This bloodhunter must ask. I am humble, you see."

       "You threaten me."

       "No one threatens Bawn. I threaten your friends."

       Bawn growled. Who was this emperor? He knew of him as a figure of legend, but Nihon kept itself apart from the other kingdoms. It traded spices and silk and fine craft goods for grains from the Keepholds, and that was all. One did not visit the kingdom of the islands, and to step foot upon those rocky shores without permission was death under their law. Delegations were rebuffed, and only a handful of Nihonese families existed on the mainlands, facilitating the established roots of trade. People said their women were witches, and their men were all scoundrels and dogs. People said the Imperial City was wrought of gold, and that the emperor had no face of his own, only a mask.

         The emperor clearly knew something of Bawn, to have him hounded so. He knew that Bawn could break no promise, not even one extorted from him. Suddenly, Bawn wanted to meet this figure of legend. He wanted to pry off his mask and pound his throne into splinters.

       "Tell me  who you are," Bawn commanded.

       "I am the third Shiro. My companion was one of the Kuro."

       "Is that a name?"

       "It is what we have."

       The barbarian shrugged. He looked into the frightened face of the redhaired girl, so like the face of his ancient love. He had done what he could for them. It was better to let go, as he had been unable to last time. Asylphian watched him calmly across the span of three millenia. This image of her loveliness was the one memory that remained pure, the one that he kept bright. The rest had fallen into the mists of his uncaring, better lost to the waters of the years.

       He would not watch her die again, even if he had to see the world sundered, and Quel'kulu rising from the deep. 

       "Release them, Shiro, and I will go with you. Know that had she come to harm, the emperor himself would be torn from his throne."

       Shiro cared nothing for the threat. It was ridiculous, anyway.

       "What do you go by, gaijin, what is your name?"

       Bawn's jaw clenched. The words came unwillingly out.

       "Asylphian is her name. I swear it. I will follow. I will meet with your emperor, and I will not harm him as long as he does no harm to these young ones."

       Shiro  released Kerrigan, stepping back, and she immediately struck him. Her hand touched only mist, the white haze that surrounded him. She could not reach him, though he did not bother to dodge.

        With a lithe step the white clad warrior rose into the air, gliding over the river like a jongluer on a string. He landed lightly, a dancer coming to rest.

         His lower face was covered by cloth, but he met Bawn's eyes.

       "We go now."

       
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       Tiddles fidgeted on a high stool before a redwood table. They were in the basement of his new master's house, a place with no windows. Despite having been raised without a single glimpse of the real outside, this confined space made him uncomfortable. He did not fully trust Gorming yet, accountant or not. A collector may love the things he collects, but that does not signify that he has any feeling for them.

        Gorming came down the creaking wooden steps carrying a burning candle in a silver stick. It was unnecessary. An everburning orb hung from the ceiling. It would have been a marvel to anyone other than Tiddles, who scarcely noticed it. But the old man was comforted by candles. They reminded him of evenings spent studying in his father's house, a smaller house than this one.

        The servants didn't come down here but once or twice a season, out of need. The master didn't like them being around his things. There were shelves here filled with scrolls and books, and chests with heavy tallo locks. There was another shelf that ran just a pace beneath the ceiling, all along the wall, and it was filled with glass jars that glinted dully in the orb-light. Inside of them were twisted shapes, half  hidden in the shadow, floating in amber liquid. Fish, perhaps. Tiddles hoped that they were fish. He did not see little hands. He did not see tiny scales. He did not.

       Gorming sat, setting his candle on the table. His body was tired, less by the day's exertions than by years, but his eyes defied them all with their brightness and intensity.

        "I must apologize for the business of my schedule. I trust you have been made comfortable by my staff."

        "Yes. Thank you." None of the servants would speak with him. They had stopped screaming when he spoke, though, so that was something. Tiddles felt he should comment further. "It's a very nice room."

        "It was my son's." This was said in a manner that invited no further comment.  "Now, as you can imagine, I have many questions for you."

        "Yes."

        "It was your master who taught you to speak, I have already gathered. He must have been a man of great learning and patience. Who was he?" Tiddles hesitated only a fluttering heartbeat. He had already resolved to be as honest with this man as he reasonably could, and gain what advantage or pain was met thereby.

        "Corvus Corneus."

       "I have not  heard of  him. Where does he reside?"

       "Near Ragner Tang. He and all his fellows."

       "Near the plains? You must mean Limina. Odd home for a scholar, but still, that would suit one who did not want to be known. Tell me a little about his methods. It cannot have been easy to teach you our tongue." Tiddles would have frowned if his physiognomy had allowed it. He could not remember much of those early days. It had not seemed so incredible to him.

       "He gave me tutors to teach me to speak, and a special Tablet to write on. He didn't bother with teaching me anything much himself. He was too busy drinking." Tiddles was not being petulant or complaining when he said  this. He was merely sharing a fact. Corneus liked to party.

       Gorming drew his eyebrows together in tufty conference. "You were not a secret? Others knew of you there? These tutors were not sworn to silence?"

       Tiddles jerked  his head from side to side. "They belonged to my Master. They were all of the Children. It didn't matter what they knew. And I wasn't a secret anyway. I was a bet he made; that he could teach a Skree to be a prentice."

       "A bet? Who would he make it with? Was your master a merchant's son, who turned to the scrolls, or was  he a philologist in truth?"

       "Mmm," Tiddles hummed. He supposed he would have to get this part out of the way soon enough. If only he had been able to keep hold of the Tablet, the face in the clay would have known what to do.

       "He was a mancer. All his fellows were mancers as well. I was expelled from the Tower because I wasn't a good prentice. I lost a challenge, and my master lost his bet because of it." Gorming leaned back so far that he nearly overturned his chair. The old man's face had gone pale as the wax of his candle.

       "A tower, you say? A tower of mancers. What are you telling me little one, when you say mancer and prentice? Do you claim to have been raised by wizards?"

       The skree nodded.

       Gorming laughed, a tad shakily, and spoke. "That isn't possible. There are no wizards anymore. They left the world after bringing on the Fall. It was their shame. Or else they were destroyed by the war of the Nine, cast down even as the gods were cast. Our land would not be as it is if there were wizards walking in it. You surprise me, Tiddles. You surprise me. But you are not of their kind."

       Tiddles began drawing on the table with his little claw. It was a basic symbol, the first that any prentice learns after mastering the sight. It's name was adyt.

       Tiddles hand twisted in the air above the symbol as if he was twisting threads. A violet light appeared, no larger than a human knuckle, but bright enough to cow the candle, and overpower the gentler luminance of the everburning orb. 

       The old man stood up slowly, gaped, and then sat down. "You... you are a wizard in disguise."

       "Prentice, not wizard. I know a few things, not much." He twisted his hand in the opposite direction and the violet point winked out. Looking at the one who would have taken him as a pet, he realized that for once in his  short life he was the creature with an advantage. He could be in control.

       "I can give you secrets that no others have. But I need you to help me first."

       "Of course, anything you need." Gorming was still blinking at the space where the light had been.

       "I need my Tablet. I lost it when the woodsmen caught me. It is very special. I need to find it again."

       Gorming looked up gradually, looking as if he had stumbled out of sleep.

       "A Tablet? Yes. You'll have it. Show me the light again, please."

       
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       Time is a stranger who never shows his face. We think we know him, for the lift of his shoulder, and the timbre of his voice; we speak his name, and he turns away. The tighter we hold each moment, the more painful the drag of their leaving. Look away, unclench the fist, and a thousand years have passed. Only in death can we be so free. Even Hush can hear the falling sand. 

       He hears it loudest of all.

       Mok hardly knew how it had come to this.

       The sword whistling toward his head was stopped mid-swing. He had caught the blade in one hand. His gauntlets were as resiliant as the rest of his marvelous armor. The jolt ran up the joints of his arm and into his shoulder without effecting serious harm. The man was so surprised he didn't see the crystal blade slide into his belly. Then he was dead.

       That brought Mok's count up to eleven. If anything, he felt fresher and more energized now than when the engagement had begun. He swung to the right, sensing movement, and then caught himself.

       Mallo raised two fingers in salute. They had fought their way to the top of a hill, where Mok could see the outcome clearly. He had had twenty lances under him, a little over a banner's worth of men and women fighters. He still wasn't certain how many they had come upon in that hollow of the wood. He had chased them out, perhaps a few had escaped. The ones who fled into clear space were being run down by the knights who still had lances. It was a gay and gallant sport for them. Mok looked away.

       "I didn't expect there to be so many."

       Mallo had already sheathed his weapon, and now held his  hands out to the sides in a helpless gesture. "The King has declared the Caenus Grande, houses in all of Petronia are happily coming out in arms. If it continues like this, all of Carrolan will burn before Petronus has to leave his seat."

        "Maybe," Mok shook his head. Farms and villages were being overrun all along the border, and even Urmondane, the city beneath the mountain, had suffered some minor raids. But the bodies littering this field told a different tale. The Petronian houses were disorganized and quarrelsome.  Their armies rarely met the standards of a single banner. More often, as far as reports could show, it was five or six lances to a party. They moved quickly, but when caught, were easily pinched out of existence. "More days like this and perhaps  they'll stop coming."

        "No." There was tallo in Mallo's voice, tempered into steel. "There are more men by far in the westlands than the east, for all our greater land. And far too many of them have nothing to do.

       The thrill of killing was still rampant in Mok, the thrill that the sword gave him. He laughed in spite of himself.

       "We will give them something, Mallo. What do you think the other Wardens would say to attacking instead of defending?"

       "Soessa might be pleased by it. The rest would call you mad."

       "Maybe so. It was something Tyme Kent said that made me think on it."

       "Kent? The grandfather? I've never heard him speak an intelligible word."

       "He talks to me. I think he believes that I'm his long dead son. There are periods of history that he is impressively knowledgeable on. He says that in the last Tellurian wars, the arguments were much the same. Safer to defend, to draw in one's forces tight when they are biting at you like this. But little nips can bleed a horse to death, or a man, if they are numerous enough. They came out of the ground, impossible to predict. Small pockets could be expunged, for they never attacked in full numbers. It would have gone on for a thousand years, and in the end, our side would have fallen if there hadn't been heroes true enough to pass the twin spires into Telluria to kill their king."

        Mallo was impossible to read given his encasement. His tone, however, was not.

       "Grandfather gave you Telly tales, and you believed him? There's no such thing as monsters, my Lord, though there be many strange sights in our world."

       "They do not have to be monsters," Mok said, though in his mind's eye he saw that glaucous, tusked face buried beneath a mound of ice. "There is land north of Ashram. It may well be other nations of men dwell there, and we have had to face them in ages past. The lesson is the same."

        "As you say, Lord." There was an undercurrent of amusement there.

        Mok regarded his heavy suited friend. "Are you smiling, Mallo, is that what I hear?"

        The visor gazed back at him. "You shall never know."

        Mok sighed. The crystal sword glowed dimly in his grasp, and he knew that if  he swung it, it would be instantly ablaze. Hundreds of dazzling moats danced within the blue matrix. The killing made them shine.

        "I think I would like to visit Petronia. I have never been. Would you like to go with me, Mallo? The wardens couldn't object if I took only my own loyals, and any volunteers. If we set fire to Mondane, that might set a better tone for this thing than what has been so far."

        "You would start a war?"

       "I was under the impression that it had already been started."

        The point of his blade floated over a corpse.

        "It hasn't been declared, my lord."

       The sky was heavily streaked with violet today, something to do with the cold and the season. The sunflower was pale and heatless. It was the middle of the day, and frost still rimed the grasses in shadow.

        It was the middle of the day, and frost still rimed the grasses in shadow.

        Mok could not feel any of the cold, the sword would not allow him to feel it. He observed these things only from a distance.

        "Today, I declare it."

       
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       Tiiddles was flustered. He had gone through all the trouble of retrieving his Tablet, even to the point of reuniting with the woodsmen who had captured him and traveling in a carriage with Gorming back to the place of brambles. He had crawled under that same bush and dug among the leaves and roots until he heard its none too pleased voice nearby. He had brought it back to Mondane, all the way answering endless questions about the artifice and its uses, and he had begun to make himself a nice nest in the old scholars well appointed home.

        Then someone had to go and set the city on fire.

        Tiddles huddled in the basement with Gorming and his chests and shelves of jars. The sounds of the fight were muted here, and very far away. More striking were the fluctuations in the Mondial, the vibrato of pain and high emotion, the power of growing flame, and something else as well. Tiddles couldn't put a name to these unusual vibrations. There was a great strength somewhere in Mondane, a vortex almost like a wizard, though it wasn't a wizard. They would never leave the Tower.

        "This will pass us by," Gorming said. "Mondane has weathered worse storms than this." His wrinkled visage was the color of the parchment he used to keep his notes, white with a tinge of sickly yellow.

        Tiddles was not so sure. The city had indeed weathered many a storm, but it had also been razed nearly to the foundation of stones on more than one occasion in its history. When was the last time that it had been forced to defend against an invading army?

        Many of the nicer estates were being raided rather than burned, or raided first, at least.

        Were those footsteps on the floor above?

       Gorming, who had been muttering assurances to himself for the past half turn, now fell silent. There was a thump above, and a servant's cry. The two huddlers in the basement froze in place. They hadn't planned this far. The light of the everburning orb still shone, illuminating the deformed masses preserved in shadowed liquid. Gorming had just mustered the courage to stand when the door to the stair was opened. A voice called down.

       "Who's down there?" A pause. "We can see the light."

       Gorming had come rigid. His mouth moved, but only dank air proceeded.

       "Any women?" another voice issued. "I want another woman."

       "Shut it!" A murmured conference followed, then the first voice spoke again.

       "If you come out now with your valuables you'll be safe. If we have to come down there..."

       "Hey!" Tiddles cried. "Hey! We're coming up."

       Gorming looked at him with eyes as wide as coins, his flesh atremble. "What are you doing," he mouthed, and Tiddles could only give a lizardly shrug in response. Better to cooperate if one could, than be killed outright. He hoped.

       There was a blanket nearby he had used as a cushion for his stool. He grabbed it and quickly shrouded himself so that he could have been a frightened child.

       "This is splendid," the Tablet said, under his arm.

       "Shhh."

       "Let us see you!" the men called down. Tiddles went forward, tugging Gorming after him by the fabric of his tunic until  they reached the foot of the stair. At least two men waited above, two that could be seen through the gap of the door. They looked like motley soldiers, with mismatched armor. The foreman had a leather tunic and tallo epaulets painted green. His shortsword was notched, and his forearm bloodstained.

        "Just the two of you?" he asked. "Where are your valuables"
        "It's all papers and books down here," Tiddles said. "You can look and see."
        "Come up then, come up."
        When they reached the head of the stairs the men pulled them roughly up and through. There were four of them here, and more in the rest of the house, judging by the noise. Fires showed through the windows to the night.
        One of them seized the old man by his collar, shaking  him. "Where is your gold, your savings? A house like this has to have treasure."
       "There's only what you see," Gorming gulped. "I'm a scholar, and a naturalist. The gold that I have is all kept for me by the Hanse I work for."
       He was shaken again, violently. "There has to be something." A knife appeared before his nose.
       "Wait! Wait! I keep a little, not much. I'm not a dragon with a hoard. There's a small chest in the storeroom in the cellar, the back corner, and there's another in the altar room."
       "We already found that one. It was half empty."
       "That's all, by my spark, the rest is with the Hanse house." A loose hold was kept on Tiddles shoulder, though no one paid him much mind. He sized up the four men, and breathed deep as his birdlike chest allowed. He had to get away. There was no other  choice. He would go into the mountains and hide until it was safe again. Gorming would survive. Even with all his dithering, these men had no reason to kill him. The question of what reason they had to do any of this at all would have to await a further moment. For now, there was only escape.
       Tiddles brushed the man's hand where it enveloped his shoulder, and he mouthed a word. "Adyt."
       "Hush!" The man released him, shouting a curse, thinking his hand afire. Green light as bright as a new lantern poured from the back of his hand. All the men were momentarily distracted as he waved his arm and tried to put it out. They were all of them cast in eerie emerald shades, so mystified that they did not see the Skree make his way between their legs, wrapped in a blanket.
        "Tiddles!" Gorming called, realizing the ploy. "Don't leave me!"
       He was already gone. 
       Mondane had turned lurid with shadow and flame. The people of the city ran screaming from terrors real and imagined. The invaders were not engaged in indiscriminate killing, it only seemed that way to a folk who had never been under attack by an army of men. There were no walls around Mondane. It had never needed them. Walls did little good against an avalanche, as they would have to be built on all the wrong sides, and the Skree who came to kill livestock and sometimes children could sneak over or under them.
       Now any who resisted were being cut down, and noble knights on horseback plodded through the streets, pointing out the estates they wanted ransacked.
       No one noticed the child-sized figure darting from darkness to darkness, from an alley to an overturned wagon to a decorative pylon. Much of the city was on fire, but not here; not where the houses were of value, not now that their point had been made.
       Tiddles was moving out to the thinner stretches of Mondane. He was going into the mountains. The small working towns built into the clefts and mines were untouched by this, naturally, being too far away and too difficult to reach.
       It was not the mining camps that he wanted to find. There was a sudden flush in the mondial, the lines of power bulged and brightened, pressing forward in an oblate sphere. Tiddles looked, he was unable not to, and he quivered under his blanket, cringing further into his hiding place.
       There was a man upon a gray mare barded with white plates. The man was suited in oricalcum. Tiddles knew this sort of armor very well. It was the sort that wizards clad their human champions in so that they wouldn't wear out so fast. The man had long hair that fell below his shoulders, and his eyes shown violet in Tiddles mage sight. The man himself, however, was little more than a host. 
       There was the sword.
       There was THE SWORD.
       "Hikari." The word was drawn from him involuntarily, less than a whisper. The man's gaze turned immediately toward him, followed by ripples of focus in the ley lines.
       Tiddles shrank into himself, becoming as small as he could manage, which was very small indeed. He was only a bundle of rags, some discarded heap in an alley in the midst of a war. What was it doing here? The sword had been lost long enough ago that the Tower had recorded the event in their annals. It was one of the last happenings that they had taken note of, before that had turned their eyes and hands away from the world completely, and closed off the Tower. What was it doing here? He could feel its savage energies like a heat more puissant than that produced by any mortal fire. This was the relic of the spark of the mancer who had died in the creation of it. One of the Nine, the sword was one of the Nine who had cast down the gods.
       Tiddles would have been invisible to any mortal sight, hidden as he was. Any mortal sight.
       "Who are you?"
       Tiddles' shuddering increased. Now he was not hidden so well.
       "Who are you? There is not much power there, but your presence is doing something unusual to the webs, as if they are familiar with you. I have not seen the like before."
       Coitus! Tiddles thought. A full wizard knew how to mask the impression he made on the Mondial, it was not something a prentice learned.
       "I'm no one, master. Please let me go."
       The golden shape upon the horse shifted, as if Betai himself had risen to prosecute him. "No one? You almost seem a conduit. The webs pass through men as if men were not there. By you the webs are... channeled. How?"
       Who was this man? He had the sword, yet didn't know about wizards? 
       "It's something I've always been able to do. But only a little. I can make pretty lights. It's not safe for me here, won't you please let me go? I'm nothing to you."
       His aura undulated as he considered Tiddles' plea. The Skree watched in silence.
      "My name is Mok," the man said. "I think that we shall meet again."
       He spurred his  horse forward in a canter, and Tiddles saw that there were others with the golden man, other riders and men on foot. To his Sight they were only dim shapes. He had not seen them for the glow.
       Hikari left him as a migrating star.
       He rushed out of the city, now hardly heeding whether he was seen. That sword, he had to distance himself from it. There was nothing in the ancient spark but the need to burn, to devour all it touched.
       Killing gave it strength and strengthened its user, but the one who wielded it would one day become kindling to that light, or was already. Whatever came of this story, whatever else, the sword would survive, even alone in a broken land blasted by its power.
       When he finally reached the edge of the trees just beyond the limits of Mondane, it seemed that hours had passed. He was exhausted, his legs cramping and his breath coming in clips.
       He discarded the blanket, and looked for a rock to climb under for the night. There was a perfect example barely two dozen paces away. A heavy granite slab draped in moss. No one was looking for him. No one was out here. The humans were all occupied by their fires and their wanton warring. Hikari resurfacing explained all that. There would be no peace in these lands until it had had its fill.
       The Sword of Light and Cutter of Ties; it was perhaps the only weapon left that could do permanent harm to an Exalted. Not that there were any Exalted left for it to harm. It had done its job too well the last time.
       Tiddles pitied the humans. He was just about to hide under his rock when he noticed the sparks in the night. He had never seen his own kind before. He had never known how solid his own form was to those with the Sight.
       A dozen sets of glittering eyes stared out of the near darkness. The Skree had come to investigate the riot in Mondane. Tiddles had come home. 


                                                                                                                                  © Aug. 30 2013 William Myrl