Dione allowed the frothy fringes of the lapping waves to wet the bottoms of her feet as she contemplated how long she could sit there before the tide rushed in to claim her solitude. How long could she remain hidden from the tasks of training with Aldous, trying to coax something to the fore that refused to surface, safely ensconced from the burdens of the everyday life she now found herself living?
She smiled. "Not long, I'm sure."
The sun was just hinting that it might seek the shelter of the horizon, and she had some time left before true night was upon her.
She sighed as she looked out across the sparkling water. Her gaze roamed upward to the soft, velvety azure expanse surrounding her. The sky seemed alive with the rays of the setting sun, the colors sharp and intense, stretching out into infinity across a canvas of deepened blue.
As she took in the beauty of the approaching eve, she thought Empyreana really was one of the loveliest places they'd been so far. As well as one of the oddest, her cynical side spoke up. It wasn't just the planet, but the planet's inhabitants.
"Winged beings." She shrugged. "And now birdboy as a new traveling companion. Who'd of thought such things were possible?"
She felt his presence without actually hearing his approach and smiled.
Turning her head slightly, she tossed an invite over her shoulder, "Join me?"
The large warrior came forward and stood above her, his shadow sheltering her. Just as his sword was a constant shelter from those who would harm, she thought.
She patted a sandy spot beside her and without checking to see if he'd really join her, looked wistfully toward the far off horizon.
"Dione, it will soon be time to leave," Lance gently offered.
"Oh, I know," she said as she turned and raised her gaze to look into his concerned face. She smiled as she added, "I'll be along soon, I promise."
Lance watched the play of shadows cross her face and saw the bare emotions that lay exposed, open for any to read if any cared to look. He caught the sadness that swam upon the surface of her dark eyes, and wished he knew what he could do to ease her pain and confusion.
Dione watched him for a moment, and then, gesturing with her finger, she again asked him to sit. He nodded and sank down upon the beach beside her. Pulling his legs toward his chest, he leaned his arms across his knees. He remained quiet.
She offered him a slight grin. "What am I doing here?"
Lance shrugged. "What do I do here?"
"Well, I think I can see how you got involved in all this." She laughed. "I can even rationalize the Sci-Fi stuff I seem to be caught in, sorta, but why was I chosen? The meager powers that seem to have come upon me won't come again, no matter how hard the old man pushes me. Must have been a fluke. So, why am I here?" She threw a rock toward the glistening water and watched it skip across the surface: one, two, three, four hops and then it was gone.
"It just makes me wonder, Lance, that's all."
Lance studied the water, noting how the sun was swiftly sinking, the sky growing grayer, matching his, and apparently Dione's mood. He could only shrug, unable to give voice to his thoughts.
Dione pulled her feet from the water and drew her legs toward her, much the same as Lance. Crossing her ankles, she wrapped her arms about her calves and propped her chin upon one of her knees. Eyeing Lance sideways she said, "For me, this whole…. let's call it an adventure…. has been in conflict with what I once believed. Everything, all the things I thought I understood changed the moment ya'all happened upon me.
"I never believed in other worlds; I certainly never imagined life beyond my own world, and then bang! In less than a heartbeat, my whole belief system was turned inside out!
"We've now been to countless ‘other' worlds; met innumerable ‘other' beings, and you know what I think?"
The warrior could only shake his head.
"I think I don't know whose reality I'm living, and I think I am confused, and I really want to understand but I don't. I don't even know if it matters that I'm here or if it would matter that I wasn't." Dione sighed. "I guess I should have told you my thoughts wouldn't make any sense."
The gentle swish of the building waves added a mournful echo to the prevailing silence encasing them.
Lance took her hand in his. His shaggy hair cascaded over her wrist as he ever so gently brushed his lips against the soft inner flesh of her palm. The soft gray of his eyes sought out her opaque ones. "It matters to me." Then he folded her fingers gently over the spot as if to hold the warmth within and stood. Without another word, he walked away.
Alone again, Dione continued to stare out at the water, where just a hint of moonlight was spreading across its dark surface.
She shut her eyes and sighed, yet again. One small tear escaped through the sealed lids to trail slowly down her cheek. Opening her eyes, she looked down at her still closed fist, and smiled, a sad, gentle upturning of the lips, and whispered, "Me too, Lance, me too."
Hi all, I just discovered that Wolfsinger Publications latest release, A Time To… Volume 3: The Best of The Lorelei Signal 2008 (Paperback), is out…. and much to my great pleasure and pride, has my story PROMISES in it! Very nice way to start the day!!
A Time To… Volume 3: The Best of The Lorelei Signal 2008 (Paperback): Despite being the 'fairer' sex, women have long demonstrated that they possess great strength. They instinctively know there is a time for everything and they face it with Strength, Dignity and Determination. Following in the footsteps of our award nominated first volume; this collection will present you with women: Are willing to risk their souls to avenge a wrong done to another Are willing to risk their lives to challenge an unjust social system Are willing to risk their status to save others from walking blindly into danger Are willing to risk everything to save those who would ridicule them These are the stories selected as the Best of The Lorelei Signal 2008. Come in and share in their strengths, triumphs and sorrows. Remember there is always – A Time To…
(As is, And I really mean that Copyright® – No part of this may be reproduced without permission)
Chapter Three "Wings of Hope"
"CaRous," a high-pitched voice stated.
Dione instinctively clutched the children to her as she whirled around to meet this new threat, pushing them behind her as she turned.
"We are CaRous! I am Ri-ee-lee, TiGaRoc, CaRous!" the stranger before her preened, thumping his chest as he threw his head back and silently crowed toward the sky.
He was barely taller than the children, almost reaching Dione's shoulders. His frame was slight but rippled with sleek muscles. He appeared human enough to her except for his extremely large, round eyes–the softest, warmest mix of browns Dione had ever seen, with splashes of lighter hazel and gold swirling in endless circles around large opaque pupils. Those eyes mesmerized.
He held his head to one side, arms crossed over his chest with one leather-clad leg cocked before him. He appeared to puff his chest out even farther, if that was possible, as he stated, "Not angels. CaRous."
He nodded as he pointed a slender arm toward the rock outcroppings to his left. "You must hide there. Caves will shield you while CaRous flee intruders."
Not waiting for a reply, he threw his head back again and set free a blood-curdling screech, then bending low at the knees, he opened his arms wide, stretching them out stiffly before him as if preparing to jump.
"W-What the–" Dione stammered as she plopped unceremoniously down upon the ground, landing on her behind.
Large wings unfolded from the CaRous' back. Hints of gold flecked the hazel tips of each feather, fooling one into seeing earth-toned rainbows flashing radiantly before them. Lighter browns peppered up and down the darker brown plumes, creating the illusion of sparkling lights.
One mighty push against the ground, followed by a rain of hot air and bits of churned up earth, and the CaRous was airborne.
"And that's just about all I can take," Dione whispered, as she spat the dust from her mouth.
A shadow crossed Dione's face. Startled, she looked up to see Lance standing before her, his hand outstretched. She took it. Rising, she experienced a momentarily queasiness as the world before her seemed to lurch, but it passed. Dione noted Lance's haunted gaze as he scanned the skies. Visibly pale, his clothes were torn in many places; dirt and sweat marred his face and his hair was in wild tangles as it waved wildly in the breeze. Dione reached up and brushed an errand lock from his brow. He closed his eyes as her fingertips brushed his fevered skin. As she withdrew, he turned away.
"Perhaps we should do as our winged ally has suggested," Ovid hinted. He held the Orb to his chest and stared about him nervously. "Should we not?"
Lance easily scooped the slight form of Aldous into his embrace and walked toward the cliffs. "The little CaRous was correct. The cave will shield us from," he hesitated before adding, "others."
"Then what, Warrior?" Ovid whined.
"Then . . . I do not know."
Dione and the children followed closely behind Lance. For once neither Twin spoke. Ovid brought up the rear.
A slight tug on his arm caused Lance to hesitate. Looking down, he saw the prince staring up at him with round glassy eyes. Col waited for Lance to acknowledge his presence. Lance nodded and the young prince whispered, "Will we always run?"
The warrior did not answer, remaining silent as he kept them moving toward the cool embrace of the shadows surrounding the cliffs. Once Lance reached the cave's opening, he simply stated, "Wait," and disappeared into the yawning darkness. He returned quickly, without Aldous, and instructed, "Inside, hurry."
Stepping aside, Lance waved Dione and Callie forward, but stopped the OrbWard. "Ovid, see to the wizard."
Lance ran a shaky hand through his hair and turned his attention to his charge. Col stood alone before the opening, biting his lip yet saying nothing, as the warrior knew the young prince would do.
Kneeling down before the boy, Lance's cool gray eyes met the soft frightened brown of the younger, and waited for the boy to speak.
Col shifted his stance and took his stare to the ground while he worried a small rock through the dust with his toe. Then in a whisper, he again asked, "Will we always run?"
"For now, we will run, whenever it is possible," Lance stated truthfully.
Col's head flashed up. "But Lance, you can defeat them, you are–"
"Nay," the warrior stalled him, "hear me out, young one. We will run because we have many who look to us for protection. Ovid," he smiled, "would be theirs for the taking if we did not aid him. Aldous is an old man," he added mournfully. "What would you do, leave Dione and Callie to defend them? Although I pity the fool who faces Dione's tongue."
The young prince grinned. Shaking his head, he stated, "No, I would never wish the others harm, or harm such fools." He sat upon Lance's bent leg and wrapped an arm casually about the warrior's neck. Placing his other hand lightly upon Lance's chin, feeling the stumble growing there, hearing the slight hiss as his fingers brushed against the sharp whiskers, he asked, "We will not always run?"
"Nay, one day, we will go home to claim what is yours by blood. This I promise. One day when you are older, and the time is right."
Lance stood. Swinging the boy upward, he easily saddled him upon his shoulders. Col laughed, a good clean sound. They moved into the concealing shadows of the cliffs.
They walked within a large cavern deep enough to shelter them from prying eyes. Ovid had already started a fire and the flames had immediately begun to banish some of the chill. The slick walls of the cavern oozed moisture, and harbored slimy vegetation.
[It will do,] Lance thought.
Looking stronger, her color returning, Dione came to meet them. She tousled Col's hair as he ran by to join Callie by the fire. She shivered as she folded her arms beneath her breasts. "You know, this is probably the wettest damn place I've ever had the misfortune to be stuck in."
Lance could not argue her words. "How is the wizard?"
Dione looked toward the fire and smiled. "He seems to be coming around now that he's near the heat. Won't be long, I'm sure, before you'll be hearing him." She grinned.
Lance grinned back. "No truer words were ever spoken."
Placing a hand gently between Dione's shoulder blades, Lance coaxed her toward the fire, stating simply, "Seek the warmth."
Aldous sat hunched before the flames, his arms and hands completely hidden within his voluminous sleeves. "What is happening beyond?" he asked as Lance approached.
"CaRous!" Ovid supplied before Lance could respond.
The wizard's head snapped up. "CaRous? For or against?"
"It appears," Lance stated flatly, "for."
Drawing a lanky finger across his lips, Aldous mumbled, "Interesting, interesting, indeed."
"What?" Dione asked, slightly confused.
"CaRous rarely trust anyone," Ovid stated while absently twirling the end of one long eyebrow.
Aldous nodded. "Indeed."
Ignoring the wizard and OrbWard, Lance gently pushed Dione down in front of the fire and withdrew a cloak from his pack. "Wrap this about you and the children. It will help to keep you warm." Then without another word, he turned and headed back toward the cave entrance.
"Lance?" Col's nervous voice echoed out to him.
The warrior turned back to face the prince. "I go only to check the entrance, that is all."
Dione opened the cloak and drew the Twins to her. She wrapped an arm about each of their frail shoulders and pulled them into her embrace. "Rest easy, kiddos. The big guy will watch over us tonight." She offered them a smile, relieved when each pale, exhausted face smiled back.
"Young lady," Aldous piped up as if he just noticed Dione's presence. "Do you realize what you did? Do you understand?" He was so weak that his voice was a mere whisper.
Dione raised her head to meet his strange, piercing stare. "I haven't the faintest idea. All I know is there was a flash of light, first in my mind, and then all about me."
"Then what?" the wizard coaxed.
"Damned if I know. I remember thinking that my head hurt so badly that I really thought I'd die. Then, through all the pain, I heard the children screaming. I saw that, that . . . thing!" She waved her hand in front of her as if to push the memory away. "It came toward me, wanted me. It was in my mind trying to take control.
"It hurt having it there. Its voice droned on and on, telling me to surrender, to give myself over to it." She sighed. "I almost did. Anything to stop the pain."
Callie took Dione's hand within her own small one and squeezed hard.
"Yet you did not."
Dione kissed the top of Callie's head. "Almost, but something within me rebelled. A new voice spoke within my mind, a voice as foreign to me as the other, yet strangely, I wasn't afraid. It pushed against this thing's touch; demanded that it leave me alone. The part that I knew was me, agreed.
"Then something, oh I don't know what it was, I guess something alien wailed up within me and burst forward. Manifesting as the light, I guess. Or that is how it seemed to me, at the time. The voice of this new presence instructed me to rest, that it would see us all through," she finished in a whisper, hardly believing her own tale.
"Aye," Aldous stated. "Your power has surfaced, this is obvious."
"Now look, I keep telling you–" Dione started to protest, but the wizard held up his hand for silence.
"It is as the Orb predicted. Your power has come . . . it is unfortunate that it decided to steal energy from me in order to manifest, but no real harm done. I will renew come the morn. What I will need to do, and soon, is begin your lessons."
"Lessons?" Dione asked.
"Aye, girl, lessons. We cannot have you draining me again. You'll need to learn to draw from the available energy about you, wherever you happen to be. Elements of earth, air, fire, wind . . . the sun and the moon . . . Oh," Aldous flashed one of his rare smiles as he warmed to his subject. "So many wonderful things to taste, to savor. We start at sun up!"
"Joy," Dione mumbled.
Col and Callie ducked their heads beneath the cloak's edge and began to giggle.
"Stop that," Dione admonished, which only made them giggle harder.
"What's this, then?" Aldous asked of the OrbWard, thumbing toward the Twins.
Ovid answered with a shrug.
"Oh balderdash," the Wizard mumbled. "I am really too drained to care."
Ovid jumped to his feet and in a rush stated, "Wizard, let me fix you a pallet so you may rest."
"What? Why?" Aldous asked, eyeing the OrbWard curiously.
Ovid ignored him as he busied himself gathering blankets from their kits. Still cradling the Orb Key, he looked about him at the rocky cave floor, then at the key in his hand and back at the floor again. Shrugging, he turned toward the Twins and held out the Orb Key. "Please, young prince, would you mind?"
Col formed his mouth into a silent 'O' as he held his hands out toward the key.
Ovid placed it gently into Col's upturned palms and admonished, "Do not drop it!"
Shaking his head, Col whispered, "Never," then leaned across Dione's lap to allow his sister a closer look, the Orb Key leaning precariously off the tips of his fingers.
Ovid groaned softly, running a hand over his forehead before hurrying to complete his task.
Gathering the blankets, he piled one on top of the other to form a soft bed for Aldous' ancient frame. He looked over at the frail wizard and sighed. He had never seen him so pale or so weak.
Footsteps echoed out to them from the darkness, each step louder than the last. Someone, or ones were coming their way. Soft wisps of noise accompanied the footfalls, the scrap of metal on metal coupled with the raspy sound of something soft brushing against something rough.
Aldous and Ovid rose as one, each turning concerned eyes toward the darkness beyond the fire's glow. The yellow of the OrbWard's eyes matched the blaze of the flame, reflecting the glow and intensifying its radiance.
Then they heard the easy sound of men laughing.
"'Tis I," Lance's familiar voice sang out to them from the uncertain blackness, "with our new friends."
Aldous drew himself up, knowing Lance was never so at ease.
Within moments, dim figures appeared. Lance shared the lead with a stout, burly CaRous, this one was not as short as the first they had encountered, nor was he as young. The whiteness of his hair, coupled within the caves deep darkness gave one the impression that his head floated inches above his body . . . freely detached, but functional.
Beyond Lance trailed a large host of CaRous' in various stages of battle fatigue.
As they drew nearer, Dione noticed that the young CaRous who had helped them before walked quietly at the older, white-haired one's side. As they neared the fire, only Lance and the older CaRous stepped into the light while the others formed a menacing circle of flesh and metal at the edge where darkness met light.
Stepping toward Aldous, the CaRous thumped the wizard firmly upon his frail shoulders with both of his beefy palms, nearly knocking Aldous to his knees. Dione gasped, but Lance held up a finger, silently instructing her to be still.
Ovid reached out and took Aldous' elbow, hoping to steady the old man. Aldous shook him off.
"Now is not the time to show weakness," the wizard whispered, as the scent of magic rose from him.
Ovid could smell the spell as it settled on the wizard like a mantle and knew just how much the act was costing the near depleted man.
"Greetings, Wizard. I am Noe-ell, GaCaRoc, CaRous," the other supplied.
Aldous reached out and thumped the CaRous firmly upon his shoulders and responded, "Greetings, Noe-ell, GaCaRos . . . he of the nest . . . CaRous . . . of the winged people," smoothly translating the odd wording for the benefit of the others. "I am Aldous Ja Aval of the High Sun Fellowship from the world of Egressus."
The CaRous, Noe-ell, nodded as he motioned to the younger CaRous they had encountered earlier. "This is Ri-ee-lee, TiGaRoc, CaRous, my son."
Again the shoulder thumping was performed before Aldous added, "Greetings Ri-ee-lee, TiGaRoc . . . he who is now leaving the nest . . . CaRous . . . of the winged people."
Bowing his head, Noe-ell waved his arm out to them and loudly informed, "Ri-ee-lee will now travel with these beings, known to us as "the other," until his quest is completed." His tone dared any to disagree.
Lance shot the wizard a warning glance and shook his head.
[Aye, Lance,] Aldous thought, [but how do I deny them?] The wizard sighed. How indeed? As he opened his mouth to try, the Orb flared to life.
Col jumped up, bobbling the Orb Key from hand to hand, trying to regain control of it. Ovid leaped across the fire, nearly knocking Aldous down as he dove forward to catch the tittering Orb before it fell to the stone floor. Once he had the Orb Key within his own hand, he stood and directed it again toward the young CaRous. It bathed him in its warm glow. The other CaRous' knelt down upon the cold floor and hummed.
"Well," Aldous proclaimed, "it appears this matter is now settled."
(As is, And I really mean that Copyright® – No part of this may be reproduced without permission)
I've turned in my Fairy Chapter for the upcoming Paranormal Writing Guide to be published by Dragon Moon Press and received word that WolfSinger Publications will be publishing my short story PROMISES in A TIME TO … Volume 3 – The Best of The Lorelei Signal 2008.
I don't have the release dates yet, but I will post them here as soon as I know!
(As is, And I really mean that Copyright® – No part of this may be reproduced without permission)
"How much longer, OrbWard?" Aldous complained.
"Not far now," came his breathless reply. "I sense the Orb Key awakening. Not long now, this I am sure."
"Phugh . . . that's what you swore the last time I asked."
Ovid swung around, his eyes shining eerily in the somber light of the passageway. Aldous squared his shoulders and faced the sulking OrbWard, but before one could confront the other, a noise drifting out from the gloom distracted them.
They turned in unison. Dione, anchored between the Twins, was laughing at some, as yet unknown antic that, Ovid was sure, Col had performed at his expense. Callie hugged Dione's arm with both her own and giggled uncontrollably, tears streaming from her tightly sealed eyelids.
Placing hands upon his hips, the OrbWard turned away from the crotchety old wizard to view the trio better.
They laughed harder.
"What?" he asked.
They went silent at the sound of his voice. All three looked at him with a hint of guilt burning upon their faces before they exploded with uncontrolled mirth.
"What?" Ovid growled, growing tired of having to repeat himself, and more then a little suspicious.
When no answer came, he waved his hands high above his head and paced off toward the far end of the passageway. Leaning against the flickering wall, he slid down its length to plop upon the dusty ground, there to await an end to this latest outburst.Lance, standing behind the trio, did much the same as Ovid and sank to the tunnel floor and leaned back against its cool walls to wait this latest outburst out. They'd been through this before. All one could do was wait the three of them out. When the Twins grew tired, their fatigue bred foolishness and Dione was usually more than willing to join in on such foolishness.
One never knew when the children would erupt. With Col being chief amongst the antic-makers, and Callie and Dione always managing to be involved in some manner, Lance was grateful that the Twins only grew punchy with laughter. They could just as easily swing the opposite way leaving him saddled with argumentative, complaining charges. The large warrior smirked as he thought, Much like the adults around them, and looked toward the sullen form of the OrbWard, and then to the scowling figure of the wizard as he approached.
"What set them off this time?"
"One never knows," Lance answered the wizard truthfully."Well, this is as good a place as any to rest. What say you, Davenhawkes? Shall we break?""Aye, it is as good a place as any," he agreed.
The Twins fell to the floor, their descent trailed by their laughter. Lance watched as Dione reached down and gently tickled each on their rib cage. They squirmed, each begging loudly for mercy as they tried to escape her probing fingers, and both grinned brilliantly, lessening the gloom about them. Relenting, she tousled both their brown locks, and gifted them with her own bright smile.
Lance had to admit that Dione had turned out to be very beneficial to the children. He could see it in the way they clung to her. They had taken to her instantly, and she them, easily becoming their surrogate mother. Dione, Lance noted, acted very much like their mother–never too busy to play, or cuddle, or love them . . . or scold them. The Twins yearned for just such a bond like they had shared with their parents, Darius and Kamaria, even if they didn't recognize their longings or their need for that lost warmth. Their parents' deaths had been a bitter blow to ones so young.
He clenched his fists tight, yet another crime to drop at Lord Xenos Daytus' feet.They had been on the run since those deaths. Almost a year had come and gone since their fearful flight into the portals. He sighed. They had been on the run all right, crisscrossing their way through various worlds following the Orb's direction. To what end, he didn't know, but so far the only Champion they'd found had been Dione. He wondered anew if the pup of an OrbWard knew as much about the Orb Key as he claimed. Shrugging, he pushed the thought away. He'd most likely never discover the answer to that question.
As if summoned by his thoughts, Dione approached and sat down beside him. He nodded toward her, but remained silent. She seemed content to mimic his silence for a time.
Finally, she asked, "Is it safe here?"
Lance nodded again. "Aye, I believe so."
"Hmmm . . ." she replied.
Lance had seen her answer this way before. Something puzzled her.
"Why," she began predictably, "don't we ever meet anyone else in these damn tunnels? I mean, ya'all keep yapping about Spirit Raiders and this Xenos whomever, yet we never see them. Why is that?"
"Be grateful, young woman, that we do not!" Aldous snapped.
"'Tis quite simple, dear lady," the OrbWard answered as he rose and joined them. "The Orb protects us. When a danger is sensed, it opens a portal and sends us through. That is why it appears as if we do nothing but zigzag through the worlds. But now, we are near to choosing another. Our path will become defined."
"Another?" she echoed.
"Aye, another Champion to come to our aid," Ovid confirmed dreamily.
"And that's another thing," Dione challenged. "As a so-called Champion, what, exactly is it I'm suppose to do? Ya'all keep telling me I've got some kind of talent, but I'll be damned if I know what it is."
"I suspect, Honored One, that what you proclaim, may not be entirely true. Alas, only you may know. Do not worry, you will sense your talent, and recognize it when it appears. Hold faith with the Orb," Ovid supplied.
"Phugh and poppycock, Ovid! Can't you do any better than that?" Aldous taunted."Now see here, old man…" but never finished his sentence.
The Orb Key blazed to life, filling the passageway with its brilliant light, spewing eerie images of shadowy beings into existence and sending them racing across the walls in grotesque similes of the true forms they imitated.
"Children, to me," Lance thundered.
They quickly did his bidding, gathering behind the large man, huddling within Dione's warm embrace.
The wall before them shimmered, its once inflexible form growing less and less solid as a portal beckoned. Ovid held the Key out before him and waited as the wizard added his essence to the Orb's magic. Soon, where once stood a solid barrier, now there stood a hole, and beyond they could see an azure sky filled to overflowing with moist white, billowy clouds.
Lance stepped to the threshold and looked out. His eyes grew large as he turned around with alarm. "Wizard, there is nothing out there for us to step upon! How do we enter here?"
Aldous stepped to the edge and did a cursory scan of what lay beyond and then shrugged. "Phugh and poppycock, poppycock and phugh." Rolling his sleeves up over scrawny elbows, he complained loudly, "Well, Ovid, that cursed Orb is really nothing more than a blundering nuisance. I guess it is up to me, once again, to come to the rescue."
The OrbWard growled, his top lip peeling back to show large, sharp teeth, but Aldous continued as if he didn't notice. "Gather round all, I'll just have to spell us down. I hope your precious Orb appreciates the effort, Ovid, I'm an old man, after all!"
Lance shook his head as he ushered everyone toward the wizard's awaiting arms.
Aldous mumbled faintly, his arms spread wide before him. Then, without warning, their feet left the ground and they floated through the passageway and out of the portal.
Dione felt the now familiar tingle caress her as she passed through the yawning opening. When she had first experienced it she had been terrified. Lance had calmed her with his deep, gentle voice as he explained that it was only a spell that enabled them to speak the common language of whatever world they entered. It was necessary, and so she would have to learn to endure.
She supposed it was what enabled her to continue to understand her companions.
Necessary, yes, but still unnerving as it passed over her body. She shuttered and squeezed her eyes tight until it was over, resenting what, to her, felt like a personal violation.
They passed through the portal and were instantly enveloped by large, puffy clouds filling the expansive sky. Moisture beaded up on their skin, and the air that wound about them felt cold and unwelcome.
"This should do." Aldous waved a hand beneath him and they all landed with a loud thud with what could only be described as a platform made of fog. "It will hold," Aldous said to Dione's raised brow. "Trust me."
Dione merely shrugged.
They started their descent, Aldous' magical platform slicing through the canvas of velvety moisture toward, what Dione hoped would be dry, solid ground. Veiled in the mist, virtually blinded by it, her senses grew sharper. The sound of churning waves washing up against stone echoed out to her, the steady hiss creating a dawning apprehension within her. Yet the sound reassured, too, giving her hope that there really was something more substantial beneath them besides air.
She licked moisture from her lips. Reluctant to shatter the vacuum about them with the sound of her voice yet needing to know, she whispered, "Where are we?"
In the same reverent whisper, Ovid explained, "Empyreana, the planet of extremes, a world of high peaks and blue, airy skies filled with caressing clouds floating over large expanses of crystal clear oceans."
"No land?" Dione didn't care for the way her voice rose.
"Oh, poppycock, Ovid, ever the romantic, aren't you? My dear, Empyreana is a wet, lonely world with little to offer us in way of shelter or comfort, though there is land, I assure you. The puppy only venerates this place based on what he has been told, having never truly been here. I suggest you listen to only half of his nonsense, and perhaps the truth will lie somewhere in between."
With a voice resembling nothing of his usual gentle tone, Ovid retorted, "One day, Wizard, I shall bite your head off and curses be tossed to the winds!"
"Ha, puppy, with your luck, you'll choke long before you can savor your rebellion."
"Ovid, Aldous…enough!" Lance warned. "If not for me, then…." but his words were snatched from him as a new sensation seized him.
An odd strangeness threatened, creeping in toward them, moving unseen just beyond their sight within the concealing mists, angling toward them with deliberate slowness.
The hair along Lance's arms responded to the unknown presence. In one liquid motion, he drew his sword and forced his charges behind him.
Even before the ring of Lance's sword echoed out to him, Ovid's head snapped up to sniff the air fervently. A low rumbling built from the inner cavities of his massive chest to emerge as a fully developed thunder. Ovid's upper lip peeled upward and wrinkled beneath his nose revealing dagger-sharp incisors.
"Oh, curse the moons," Aldous moaned. Rolling his sleeves up past his knobby elbows, he proclaimed while staring into Lance's steel gray eyes, "I can't promise how long I can hold our descent platform if I'm forced to divide my concentration."
The warrior nodded once in understanding, and demanded, "What color the Key, OrbWard?"
"It is gray, warrior…gray!"
Lance growled. "Get us down, wizard!"
Aldous did not answer.
The misty clouds surrounding them swirled and coiled, caressed and toyed, teased, but refused to give up any secrets. Silence entombed them, and a chill that had nothing to do with the moist air, caused shivers to overtake them.
Echoing out from the shimmering curtain of mist came the roar of many voices raised in unison mingled with the unmistakable sounds of battle.
Dione sheltered the Twins in her embrace, trying to shield them from whatever unknowns lurked within the phantom depths of the clouds.
Aldous' white skin grew even paler, giving him the look of an animate, alabaster statue; sweat trickled down his forehead and his brow was creased with the force of his concentration.
The clouds rolled and swirled before their anxious faces, all eyes open wide, muscles tensed to spring at whatever threatened from its depths. Each coil of the vapor was like tendrils reaching out to them in teasing invite, playfully waiting for them to step forward . . . to their certain doom.
The sounds filtered in to them, but remained just beyond any hope of seeing. The position of the unseen battle was hard to follow as the clouds amplified, and muffled, all at the same time.Suddenly, the battle shifted, finding a point of entry and just that quickly the sounds solidified, raining down on them from above.
Lance's sword swept up to meet the threat, even as he pushed Dione and the children down toward his feet.
While waving a hand above his head, Aldous mumbled yet another mysterious chant, his red eyes glowing brightly against the swirling backdrop of graying clouds. And then, with what Lance thought was amazing clarity, chaos erupted from the swirling smoky wall surrounding them.
Lance stepped forward, without hesitation, his sword already in play. Behind him, Dione hugged the children to her chest, crouching low over their small forms. Her eyes darted about, frantically searching for whatever threatened. Her own fear barely contained.
Dione heard a faint whisper ensue from her left side and felt a tentative pat upon her cheek. Distinctively, she swung her head to answer . . . and a scream froze in her throat.
The thing came forward, moving slowly–expectantly–almost gleefully. She could almost imagine seeing the triumph in its cold, dead eyes.
Transfixed, her rising fear effectively imprisoned her. She could not move.
The thing floated ever nearer, focusing all of its attention upon her and the children she held huddled beneath her. Its unfathomable stare caught her own terrified stare.
"Oh my god," Dione moaned as numbness seized her mind. The thing inched closer, never removing its icy stare from hers. Each forward step it took, the greater the numbness within her grew. Tears streamed down her cheeks, but she was helpless to escape the pain. All about her chaos reigned. The children whimpered in her arms, but she could do nothing.
She heard Col scream, "No, Dione, don't! It's a Spirit Raider."
"Don't what?" some rational part of her burning mind asked.
"What indeed," the raider whispered back.
Col's tiny hand reached out and grabbed her arm, yanking her away. "Don't touch it," Col screamed, the terror evident in his anguished cry. "You will die!"
Something within Dione heard them; something deep within her tried to respond.
The Spirit Raider glided ever closer, its features swirling and rolling in upon itself, refusing to solidify. She raised her head as it hovered near. It extended a willowy arm and pointed a long bony finger toward her. Its phantom eyes showing death–hers.
"Oh god, oh god," she cried out as she inched backward away from the groping hand. "Please, give me strength."
The Spirit Raider's pale hand casually descended. She thought she heard a cackle echo in her mind before the words, "Mine. Mine. Now mine," in a singsong voice chimed in her head.
Dione tried to stand, but the pain dropped her back to her knees. "Get out of my head," she shouted, each word spat out through clenched teeth.
It raised a hand and made a pushing motion forward, and she screamed. White-hot light flashed behind her closed eyelids. She gasped, yet grew more determined.
The Spirit Raider sensed the change in her. Now it was the one who inched backward.
The pain lessened. The numbness faded. She could see the Spirit Raider's confusion. Its hesitation was all she needed. In one swift movement, she was rolling away, dragging the Twins with her.
Her escape was halted as she banged up against something or someone. She didn't know which. Sitting up, she turned to look behind her.
"No, no, no," she chanted.
The Spirit Raider came on, its purpose never wavering. From somewhere, it had now produced a large black blade that it held positioned before it.
Dione pressed her trembling hands against her ears and shouted, "You get out of my damn head!" as the pain renewed, engulfing her completely. Blinding spikes of white-hot arrows raced through her mind.
"Dione," Col whimpered.
The black blade arced downward toward the huddled forms.
Lance heard his charge scream. Ancient oaths wailed within him, oaths that bound and transformed him. The blood rage rose and took over. Turning, he quickly dispatched a minor Spirit Raider as it carelessly floated too close to his gleaming blade. Its severed head rolled away into the clouds, its body reduced to a putrid pile of ash. Raiders hidden within the clouds, too far away to help, but close enough to feel the raider's death, screeched in unison, at the loss of the captured soul.
Col screamed again, and Lance was there, swinging his weapon in a wide arch to halt the black one's downward thrust. A chill swept up the length of his blade to numb his hand, yet Lance managed to hang on.
"Not this time, you hell-spawn. This time we dance."
The Spirit Raider nodded and brought the blade up again.
The ring of metal echoed all about, yet time stood still. Lance met each stroke with his own, even though he could no longer feel his hand. The numbing cold was progressing up his arm. Soon, he would not be able to defend himself.
Lance knew true fear. This creature was different. More powerful.
"Get them away, wizard!" Lance shouted daring to waste a precious breath in warning. But heard no answer.
He was tiring, while this Spirit Raider remained tireless. Lance had to find a weakness, and he had to find it soon.
Chanting the lessons learned from his youth on Lolpaw Isle, letting them become his mantra, he pressed. "Do not meet its stare; keep your mind a blank; do not touch the blade; do not show your fear; to dance with death is to hold honor."
This Spirit Raider easily pushed aside his attempts, forcing Lance to step away. The warrior raised his weapon to block the next arc of the black blade, and tripped, falling backwards to the platform, his blade sliding out of his numbed grip.
"Mine, mine, mine," the Spirit Raider cackled.
Lance knew this thing spoke the truth. He raised his face skyward, prepared to dance his final dance with death.
"Lance!" Dione screamed.
A flash of blinding light rippled across the clouds and rolled outward, washing over everything in its path. The pulsating brilliance reached the Spirit Raider just as its blade began its sideward swing. The light ran the blade's length, wrapping spiral coils about its opaque shaft and racing onward to ensnare the creature, the black blade dropping to the platform floor with a clang.
Lance sprang to his feet. Grabbing his own blade as he rose, he swung wide, the gleaming edge taking the howling Spirit Raider in the side of the neck, sending the head bouncing backwards into the clouds.
The mysterious light vanished as quickly as it had materialized, leaving them encased in blackness.
At first, Lance thought himself blinded, but soon realized he could just make out the image of his hand before him. He dropped to his knees and groped about searching for the Twins. He dared not utter even a whisper for fear of the unknown hidden within the dark.
He tilted his head and listened. Quiet was all about him, encircling him, imprisoning him.
A glimmer of light sparked into frail existence from within the opaque backdrop and he swung his head toward it, drawn to it much as a bug is drawn to the flame.
He saw them.
Dione lay upon the ground, eyes open yet blank, with both children huddled about her. Callie wore the look of wide-eyed terror, her eyes darting about, never ceasing their roving as she clung to Dione's still frame. Col remained strangely silent. His complexion was pale, and his small body trembled slightly, but his eyes gave no emotion away. Near them, Ovid hid his face within his hairy hands and whimpered.
Lance rose and gathered them into his protection. Carefully cradling the limp Dione within his arms, he pressed his ear to her chest and sighed. The steady beat of her heart gave him hope.The light expanded, gallantly pushing against the blackness, forcing it to give quarter. Aldous stood rigid at the center of the platform with a finger wisp of flame floating lightly above his outstretched, shaking palm.
There was nothing of the battle left about them. Quiet was the norm, the battle as dead as the Spirit Raider.
"What happened, wizard?" Lance demanded.
"Spirit Raider!" Aldous spat back. "But how?"
"Nay, it cannot be so," Ovid protested. "The Orb would never place us in such danger. It would never," he repeated, as if trying to convince himself.
"But it did!" Col screamed. Large tears flowed freely down his cheeks. "It did," he whispered, burying his face in the shadows of Dione's still form. His arm draped over her waist, his small hand balled tightly into a fist, while his body shook with the force of his now silent sobs. Callie sighed and laid her cheek against his trembling back and closed her eyes.
"Xanos must have found a way to circumvent the Orb's protection." Lance pushed hair from his brow. "That Spirit Raider was like no other I have faced. What do we do, wizard?"
"I must get us down," Aldous muttered. "Then we must seek shelter, quickly. There are–"
Lance shot him a warning glare as he nodded toward the Twins, silencing the old man.
Lance knew what the wizard wished to say. There were more Spirit Raider's about. He didn't need to possess magic to know this was so. He could feel them probing even now.
Muttering to himself, Aldous thrust the flame forward, trying to peer into the smoky clouds surrounding them. "Why did I not sense them before? I sense them now."
Lance watched as Aldous thrust the flame into the cloud wall. The wizard's hand stalled just at the edge and went no farther.
"What has happened here?" the old man mumbled to himself. "What indeed?" he said as he tried again to pass the flame into the clouds.
Aldous gasped. "Lance, come here," he tossed over his shoulder, never taking his eyes from the mist. "Try to touch the vapors beyond."
Stepping forward, the warrior joined him at the edge of the mist and extended his hand toward the rolling wall. He found it impossible to pass through. Something stayed his hand. He looked to the wizard, alarm clearly registering upon his face.
"What is this?" Lance whispered, gingerly tapping his finger against the invisible shield, but before Aldous could answer, a loud thud resounded from the other side of the shield. They both jumped back.
Callie screamed, and Col tried to cover Dione's body with his tiny one.
Lance again drew his sword.
"Put it away, Warrior," Aldous instructed. "Save your strength for when we are on land. For now, they cannot touch us."
Lance kept his sword before him as he asked, "What have you done, Wizard?"
"Oh balderdash. Try to be grateful for a change, Lance." Shaking his head, he continued, "I wish that I had. Then mayhap, I would understand it."
The wizard made a pushing motion with his hand toward the platform floor and they slowly began to descend.
As the magic took them toward the ground, Aldous' stick-like frame walked the perimeter of the shield. Constant muttering could be heard as he poked a finger at different points and bent over to examine where the shield met the flooring. An occasional, "Balderdash," could be heard amidst the mumbling but no other discernable content.
Ovid, clutching the Orb Key to his chest, crawled over to where Lance now sat, a child to each side of him and a limp Dione cradled on his lap. Below them, nothing could be seen but clouds swirling as the platform pushed its way through its midst.
"What has happened to her?" Ovid asked.
Lance only shook his head.
The darkness surrounded them, lurking just on the edges of the wizard's flame as if only waiting for an opening. To Lance's right sat a large pile of ash. Tendrils of foul smelling smoke curled up from it to clog his throat with its stench.
"The light saved us. It burnt the Spirit Raider to a crisp." Callie supplied seeing the direction Lance stared.
Ovid nodded, "Yes, the Orb Key must have acted, thus saving us. Perhaps atonement for–"
"Please be quiet, Calador." Lance rubbed his forehead.
The OrbWard looked stricken and turned away.
"No," Callie was saying. "No."
"No what, princess," Ovid asked, turning back to face her.
"No, it was not the Orb, it was Dione. I saw it."
"You are mistaken," Ovid cooed, "The Orb Key ignited, I am sure. You only thought it was the Lady. You were scared. The Orb Key is our savior, of this I have little doubt."
"Oh, do cease, OrbWard, " Aldous exploded. "I grow weary of your prattle concerning that silly Orb. I am tired enough just trying to get us down without you and your constant praise about a piece of glass that so obviously lead us astray."
Ovid jumped to his feet and rounded on the wizard. "You take your insults back, old man. You of all people should know better than to insult the Orb."
"I think not, pup."
"What? What?" Ovid nearly screeched.
"Ovid, sit down. Aldous, please silence yourself," Lance stated flatly. "That Orb had nothing to do with the shield that even now keeps the Spirit Raiders from our minds."
They both snapped their mouths shut with an audible click and stared at the warrior as if he had suddenly grown a third eye.
"Then," Ovid asked, "who did?"
"Dione," Callie again supplied.
Lance nodded. "I believe the child speaks the truth."
"Poppycock and balderdash," Aldous mumbled, slowly sinking to the floor. "Then she is the only one who can remove it."
"We are trapped?" Col stammered.
"Nay, young prince, calm yourself." The old man said. "We are safe for now. The Spirit Raiders cannot get in to harm us."
"This is good news," Lance added, nudging Col with his elbow.
Col sniffed and ran his arm under his nose. "I suppose."
Another thud sounded within their vacuum and a dark form slide off the invisible shield to fall from their sight. Then another, and soon the shield vibrated with the force of the constant assault.
"There appears to be no Commanders. Xenos cannot sustain long distance control for long. Without Commanders to hold the crystal vials, they will vanish. Then we will be safe," Ovid stated with confidence.
"This Hand appears to be only a small scouting party," Lance supplied. "I think they may have been as surprised to see us, as we were them. We should be long gone from here before word reaches Lord Daytus of our whereabouts." He looked down to the Twins and gently stroked their fawn-covered hair before saying to the wizard, "Something is amiss. That final Spirit Raider, the one with the black blade," he nodded toward the second pile of ash, "was different." He hesitated as he looked down to his charges.
"Yes," Aldous agreed. "It would appear the game has changed." Col's hand jerked at the wizard's words. Aldous sighed, "Do not worry children, a false trail will be laid, and they will be off in the portals chasing their own shadows."
Lance waited for the wizard to say more, but he, too, had grown silent.
The clouds that had concealed the truth from them, thinned to reveal the seriousness of their situation. A full Hand of Spirit Raiders battered against their shield, hacking at it with their black, deadly blades. They floated forward, attacked, and fell back, only to renew and come again.
Lance could only hope the shield held.
Light from without joined with the wizard's flame, finally illuminating the planet that awaited them.
"Oh dear, oh dear," Ovid chanted.
"What happens when we reach the ground?" Tears ran freely down Callie's pale cheeks.
"Ah, little one," Lance cooed as he hugged her near. "All will be well. Dione is watching over us." He hoped he spoke the truth.
Callie snuggled closer to him and reached out to take one of Dione's limp hands within her own small one. Col aped her.
The ground appeared to be rushing up to meet them. Within moments they felt the impact and were tossed backward like nothing more than tiny twigs.
Dione moaned as she reached toward her forehead.
The barrier dimmed, and the shielding slowly started to fall.
"Wizard?" Lance shouted.
As if sensing their chance, the next barrage of attacks started. Dione's body shook and her eyes rolled back in her head, showing nothing but the whites.
The OrbWard grabbed the wizard's frail arm and yanked him to his feet. "Help us."
"Move out of my way and let me do my work," the old man snapped with confidence, yet his eyes failed to conceal his fear.
From without, a blinding flash of light erupted, throwing the wizard backwards. Then all went very still. Now the wizard was as immobile as Dione.
"Blast it all to Blackwood," Lance shouted as he hefted his sword before him. He kissed its polished metal and then bowed. "Guard them well, OrbWard," and turned to face the fading shields.
He met the attack head on, and sliced, then back, jab, counter, slice. Quickly and thoughtlessly the powerful warrior fought. Somewhere in the back of his mind he noted that there were less of the Spirit Raiders than there had been. More than half the Hand was gone.
Again, step back, jab, counter, stab and slice, each movement taking him to his next opponent.
Lance heard the command echo in his ear and did not hesitate, quickly falling down on one knee upon the rocky ground. Above him, he heard the soft swish of an arrow pass by.At that moment, Dione awoke and sat up. Turning her confused eyes skyward she gasped, "Angels! Hundreds of them." (As is, And I really mean that Copyright® – No part of this may be reproduced without permission)
(As is, And I really mean that 🙂 Copyright® – No part of this may be reproduced without permission)
Chapter One "Dione Amber Clancy Blume–'Rest in Peace'"
The sun seemed dazzling, nearly blinding, after the dim light provided in the portals, causing them to shield their eyes against the glare. The warrior, Lance Davenhawkes, his stance menacing, scowled as he scanned the unfamiliar terrain stretching out lazily before him.
Colan, with the agility of youth, jumped to his feet and moved to the older man's side, and then stood rocking back and forth on his leather-clad soles. The man eyed him skeptically, yet nodded. "The area appears safe."
With a joyous shout the young prince ran down the hill and plunged deep into the beckoning waves of endless, cool grasses. His twin, Callie, caught up in the pleasure of his infectious mood, laughed as she quickly joined him, anxious to release the tension she had carried since entering the portals.
"Ah, youth." Aldous sighed as he watched their reckless play, grateful that he had arrived in time; thankful that they were still able to laugh and embrace life. One second later and they might not have managed so well.
"What now, Wizard?" Lance asked quietly, neither demanding, nor doubting.
The Sun Wizard, Aldous Ja Aval, looked expectantly to their other companion, standing apart from them, sniffing the air with interest while cradling a small globe within his large, hairy hands.
"What say you, Ovid Calador? Why has the Orb directed us here?"
The OrbWard turned steely yellow-flecked eyes toward them. Shaking a shaggy head, he shrugged as if to say, "Who knows," and then smiled sheepishly.
Mouths gaping open at his matter-a-fact reply, both Aldous and Lance turned stunned stares toward him, but it was the wizard who found his tongue first and erupted into the prevailing calm.
"You don't know? I thought you were attuned to that sun-deprived Orb. Are we now lost, adrift in the dimensions?" he complained, stretching silk clad arms outward away from his frail frame to encompass all, and nothing. His voice took on the tenor of a whine and his mouth swooped down in a horrendous scowl as he stared the OrbWard down.
Lance remained silent, massive arms folded across his broad chest, mouth held in a stern line.
Ovid whimpered and tugged nervously on a shaggy ear while mumbling, "Only the Orb knows why it has directed us here. As yet, it has not deemed me worthy of sharing its knowledge. We must wait and trust in its judgment."
"Phugh! Poppycock and balderdash," Aldous spat. "Give me a good incantation anytime over this nonsense of divine guidance. This whole affair sours my stomach." He raised his albino eyes upward in woeful agony, the blue tint to the irises clashing soundly with the fiery red of the pupils, and added, "After all, I am an old man. Too old for this foolishness!"
Davenhawkes allowed a small, skeptical grin to crack his disciplined composure.
"So," the wizard concluded, "I guess I'll just sit here and anticipate that silly Orb's audience," and lowered his lanky frame toward the awaiting ground, silk robes floating regally about him as he crossed skinny legs beneath him. Propping his chin stubbornly over the mound of his linked hands, he sighed expectantly and murmured, "Phugh and poppycock!"
"Please, Aldous? You really should not insult the Orb. All will be revealed in time. You must learn to trust in the light!" Ovid Calador implored.
"Poppycock, balderdash, and phugh!" the wizard mumbled again, content to ignore the large OrbWard.
"Ovid, where are we?" Callie suddenly called up to them, effectively breaking up some of the building tension. She pushed her auburn locks away from cheeks already ruddy from the winds constant bite, her small hands fighting gallantly with the tresses as they danced carelessly in the open breezes.
"Ah, I can say with a confident certainty that we are now standing on a planet so named Earth, a remote place really, with the natives proving too suspicion for us to establish an outpost," Calador replied smugly, showing a small measure of his former confidence.
Aldous mumbled louder, but didn't elaborate.
The OrbWard, likewise intent on ignoring him, straightened his spine and puffed his chest out far in front of him as he continued, "This is a planet that does not believe, nor rely on," he directed down at the slumped form of the wizard, "magic. Hardly anyone ventures here."
"La-de-da! Then I vote we leave. Now!" Aldous put out.
Lance sighed, resigning himself to the prospect of watching over not two, but four children. When he saw that the wizard was about to launch yet another volley of barbs, he quickly moved to intercept, his deep voice effectively silencing them. "We must wait, Ja Aval, Calador, for our questions to be answered. In the meantime, I suggest we find food, and mayhap, shelter. It appears we have no contacts on this world and have no way of knowing how long we'll be made to wait."
"Always the sensible one, Davenhawkes," Aldous chimed in, his tone less sarcastic. He rose stiffly, grunting as old bones popped, complaining of recent misuse.
Lance nodded once for answer before turning to march down the hill to join the children, his long legs quickly eating the distance that separated him from his charges.
The tall, wild grass rubbed against his exposed calves, the soft, silky caresses seemed somehow soothing to his taut nerves. The gently swaying stalks gave him silent comfort. The open fields seemed to dance at the winds command, beckoning even to his walled-off soul.
"Lance, isn't this place fantastic?" Colan called out, giggling as he spun his slight frame in small circles, arms held away from his sides in lighthearted abandonment. "It's so fresh, so untouched!"
So unlike Egressus, the solemn warrior thought ruefully.
"I believe, my young prince, that we have emerged in what is known here as the country," Ovid supplied, raising his voice to be heard from his lofty position at the top of the hill. "This particular planet has large pockets of civilizations…very large…it is fortunate that we emerged here in this tranquil valley instead."
"Well, Calador, I'm impressed," Ja Aval said, allowing the OrbWard to puff his chest out before adding, "it eases my fears some to know that you have a bit of knowledge hidden in that thick skull."
"Wizard, why do you persist? You know that all OrbWards are required to learn about civilizations that lay beyond the portals, just as you know that all apprentices, who would be wizards, must learn the spells that open the portals to those worlds. None dare risk the portals without the consent of the Bloodline, a learned OrbWard and an adept wizard. Why should you assume that I have not the required knowledge? Why do you call me different?" a wounded Ovid finished with a snarl.
Ja Aval, nonplused by the show of impassioned emotion from the otherwise gentle OrbWard, answered, "Hee, because you've not even experienced your first dual moon!" "I may be young, but I am capable! You may count on that," Ovid retorted proudly.
"Oh, I shall. I shall indeed," Aldous Ja Aval replied cryptically. "You may count on it." Standing, he took his lanky frame down the hill to join the others.
For Ovid Calador, a noble-ranked Guardian of the Orb Order, there was nothing else to do but follow. Cradling the Orb Key against his chest, he waded down through the sea of grass to come up alongside Lance. Young Callie skipped over and eagerly grasped his hairy hand, granting him one of her brilliant smiles as she did so. He squeezed her hand and smiled back. Looking down into deep, brown eyes sparkling with heightened emotions, he forgot the sour comments of the dried-up old wizard. Her mood captured him; her excitement was highly contagious.
"Why, Princess Calliena Valathorn," he teased, lightly tapping the tip of her nose with a dark fingernail. "You appear mesmerized!"
"I am, I truly am," came her breathless reply. "Such pleasures!"
Before Ovid could comment, Colan's voice sang out, his small frame jumping up and down excitedly. His arms, raised above his head, lashed the air wildly before reversing to point downward into the tall grasses.
Lance was at the young prince's side immediately, sword drawn, pushing the overly curious lad back behind him, his body becoming a shield between Colan and the unseen something. The muscles in his forearms bulged as he held the sword steady above him, ready to swing in an instant.
The wizard stood apart, fingertips aglow with calm preparedness, no hint of emotion revealed on his ancient face. Yet all Ovid Calador felt was panic, sure that Lord Daytus had found them and had set his Spirit Raider upon them.
Callie pulled on the OrbWard's arm in an attempt to drag him forward, even as Lance held up a hand, silently ordering her to stay put.
And just when did orders stop either twin? Ovid wondered, before addressing the immediate tugging on his arm. "I swear, child, when will you and Col learn to show fear?" Although he was sure he felt enough for all of them. "Do you not think it would be prudent to remain here until Davenhawkes determines whether there is danger?"
She looked up at him. Amusement lit her eyes as she gave him a lopsided grin. Ovid knew at that moment that as determined as he was to keep her with him, Callie's determination would be stronger. Managing to break free, she ran to Col's side. Lance moved slightly, adjusting his body to shield them both. His scowl deepened, but his sword never wavered. Ovid shrugged apologetically toward the warrior. He sniffed the air warily; every nerve in his body afire, yet his nose told him there was no danger. Deciding to join them, he moved cautiously, his hands still cradling the Orb Key where it rested against his chest, one hairy hand shielding it from view.
Drawing nearer, Ovid could see that the grasses had been beaten back and forced into a crude shelter of sorts. Closer still revealed what had formed it.
Ja Aval, standing behind him, looked down at the prone form and smirked loudly, "No need for magic here," and released his hold on his flow. "Phugh and poppycock!"
"Wizard," Ovid snapped, turning to confront the old man. He was tired of his complaining, and was about to tell him so, but was halted in mid-sentence as the Orb flared to life, bathing the sleeping form in a brilliant blue light.
All present knew what it meant, but Ovid proclaimed it out loud anyway. "The Orb has chosen. Here is the one we have been sent to collect."
"Phugh and poppycock, poppycock and phugh!" Aldous spat as he studied the sleeping form. "Doesn't look like much of a match for Xenos Daytus!"
Ovid nodded his shaggy head in nervous agreement.
"Regardless, Aldous," Lance said, giving his own doubtful look at the lithe form, "the Orb has chosen. I, for one, do not choose to doubt its wisdom…nor its selection," and lowered his sword.
As if on cue, the figure stirred, struggling sluggishly from deep sleep to restless slumber. It would only be a matter of minutes before arriving at the point of fully awake.
Moaning softly, she rolled from her back to her side, and back again, causing her face to suddenly become framed with an unruly mass of bobbed, ebony tresses. Completely awake, large, expressive eyes opened to the bright sun overhead . . . and the strange man standing above her.
Lance could see the alarm mirrored in her near black eyes, but her movements refused to show it. She sat up and yawned, acting as if his presence meant little to her. Extending her lean body into a long, relaxed stretch, she eyed him covertly through dark lashes.
Here is a shrewd one, Lance thought, discovering that he was being drawn to her in ways he did not yet understand. Carefully, she allowed herself a cursory glance about. Her eyes mirrored how quickly she summed up her situation, even as they betrayed her urge to bolt and run.Lance moved to block her.
Midnight orbs locked with the determined gray of his own, and he knew she understood flight would not be easy. With a sigh, she relinquished that scheme. He grinned in appreciation as he watched the birth of a new one cross those dark pools. It seemed that she shared his survival philosophy: If one portal closed, look for another . . . quickly.
He kept his gaze locked with hers, and waited for her to speak. He could tell she was tall, almost of a height with him, taller than any woman he had ever met. Her body fit her frame, firm but lean, exuding strength and power, even motionless. She seemed of an age with him. For that, he was grateful. The last thing he needed was another child to watch over.
Perhaps the Orb really did know what it was doing, he silently admitted. He never would have doubted its judgment openly, but in his mind, he often wondered.
Lance recognized the stubborn tilt of her chin, and the challenge that was building within her stare. Again, he felt drawn to her.
Slowly, almost casually, she rose to her feet, never once taking her gaze from his, and took one cautious step forward. Lance grinned, and brought his sword up. He gently palmed the blade, allowing the sun to gleam off its polished metal.
He heard her sharp intake of breath. Watched as she struggled inwardly to compose herself, and again felt that tug of admiration.
She brushed her hands against the sides of her hips and then she began her own curious study of Lance. If she was alarmed at his great stature, she no longer let Lance read it in her eyes. Satisfied, she allowed her gaze to wander away from him, and saw Aldous and Ovid. Alarm shown openly in her eyes as she swiftly swung her wide-eyed gaze back to him.
"Who are you guys?" she demanded. He could hear a slight quiver to her voice, but that was the only clue to her nervousness. He doubted if the others noticed. Her eyes were ablaze with questions, and some unknown emotion that Lance could only compare to relief.
It made no sense, but the woman seemed glad that they were there. Glad, but angry, too. Lance wondered who had scared this woman so badly that she actually showed relief to be confronted by him and his unlikely crew. What monster did she flee that brought her proud being to cower within a field out in the middle of nowhere?
He found himself growing protective, wishing to face this unknown reprobate and ease her pain. At the moment, all he wanted was to see joy leap into her dark, liquid eyes.
Lance mentally shook himself. What was wrong with him? He shifted his stance and pushed such fancies from his thoughts.
Lowering his blade, he remained silent. Keeping his features bland, he waited, allowing her to show him how she wished to be treated. Women were not something he knew a great deal about.
A bird could be heard singing eloquently some distance away, its song blending sweetly with the soft breeze. The grass hissed, its voice answering the bird's melody as the stalks gently swayed to its tune.
The sun felt warm . . . comforting . . . but Lance noticed nothing but the strange, alluring woman before him. She stood with arms tucked neatly beneath her breasts, one leg slightly cocked with defiance, staring back at him.
The warrior aped her, folding his arms across his chest and carefully bringing his sword up to rest against a strong shoulder. He expected to hear, at the very least, another sharp intact of breath, or an unnerved hiss, for he was use to such reactions when he struck this pose, but wasn't prepared for the slow, lazy grin that spread effortlessly across her face. "Who have we here?" she practically cooed, shifting her body to peer around Lance's bulk. "Are you two the reason the big guy here is so agitated?"
The wizard's cackle wafted through the air, joined by a muffled snicker that could only belong to Ovid. Confused, Lance followed her gaze.
"What the . . ." Sticking out from beneath his left elbow was Col's youthful head, while Callie mimicked her brother's actions beneath his right elbow. Two pairs of large brown eyes ogled the woman with unbridled curiosity, not a hint of fear present.
Her smile deepened.
Reaching out quickly, Lance grabbed the Twins by the scruff of their necks and hauled them away from the stranger.
With exasperation, he asked, "How have I instructed you to behave in matters such as this?" But gave them no time to reply before answering his own question with yet another. "Haven't I always told you that first I see to your safety, appraise the situation for danger? Then, when I say that it is safe, and only then, is not that when you show yourself?"
Two auburn heads nodded in unison. Lance did the same. "Am I not your Protector?" Again bowed heads nodded. "Good, then see that you remember these things before you reveal yourselves in the future."
Davenhawkes turned, half expecting the woman to have fled while the feeble OrbWard and cackling wizard looked on. She remained where he had left her, smirking at his discomfort.
Mumbling about children, women, and fools, he ordered, "Stay put!" before shouting, "Aldous, to me!" Giving the Twins a warning glare, he raised his finger in admonishment. "I mean it, little ones. Stay put or I'll tan your royal hides!" Then he stormed away.
"Phugh and poppycock," the Wizard muttered, hiking his silk robes up around his knees to reveal white, skinny shanks and rather large, awkward looking feet. "What am I now, a wet nurse?"
Lance ignored his complaints as they passed each other, and set his sights on the woman casually awaiting him.
As he neared, she extended her slender hand. Lance accepted absently, continuing to mumble about errant children and sour old men.
"Strong, silent type, right?" she said as she withdrew her hand. No reply. "Your kids, big guy?"
"Yes, they are my burden, my cross to bear," he grumbled.
She laughed, the tone rich and vibrant. "Kinda an odd way of putting it," she replied, eyeing him queerly before shrugging away any further questions she may have wished to ask.
Lance had no time to acknowledge her, nor introduce himself before Ovid appeared and neatly ensconced himself between them.
"Pardon, pardon," the OrbWard said, keeping his back pointed to the larger man. Straightening his immaculate waistcoat with one hairy hand while extending the other toward Dione, he bowed. "Let me be the first to welcome you into our little fold."
Practically oozing charm, Ovid took one of her hands within his own and gently licked the top. "It is a pleasure to meet one so highly regarded by the Orb. I am at your service, dear lady."
Dione's features went from amusement to frank astonishment. Pulling her hand back, she wiped it against her leg, before demanding, "What's going on here?" Frowning at the creature before her, she continued, "You guys miss your costume party or something? Or do you always run around dressed like lunatics?"
"Oh, no, no," Ovid stammered. "Dear lady, you do not understand. We come not to harm, but to ask aid. We are here to serve you.""Speak for yourself, Guardian, I serve no one!"
"Wizard!" Lance warned.
Aldous mumbled, "Phugh and poppycock, Lance, you know it's true."
"Wizard, it may be true, but please, leave Ovid to his musings, he does no harm."
Dione grew silent, her stare long and steady. The silence was growing near unnerving. Then, with a shake to her head she said, "Sorry, chum, you've come to the wrong place if you're looking for help. I'm the wrong gal." Bending down, she groped for something hidden in the tall grass.
Lance moved before the OrbWard and drew his sword.
Looking up, Dione grinned at the large man with his very serious looking weapon. Showing her backpack as she stood, she said, "Easy, big guy, everything's cool here."
Lance raised an eyebrow, saw what she held, and then slowly lowered his blade.
"Well, look gang, I've gotta go. It's been interesting."
"No, no! Lance, she cannot leave us!" Ovid howled. "She is the one, the Orb has spoken! Wizard, do something…"
"Phugh and poppycock," Aldous mumbled. Eyeing the OrbWard acidly, he raised his hands as if to do as Ovid bid, seemed to think better of it, before spouting, "Oh, balderdash!" and hiked up his silk robes and ran after the retreating woman. "Madam," he huffed. "Really, will you not at least hear us out before rejecting us?"
Slinging her pack across one shoulder, she shrugged, "Talk."
"Can we stop? After all, I am an old man."
"Yeah, I'll give you that. Okay, let's go back; I'll hear you out, but only if you make it snappy." She then turned and scanned the area with a weary eye. Nodding, as if what she saw satisfied her, she followed Aldous back to where the others waited.
No sooner had she returned then Col and Callie erupted on the scene, each begging to be allowed to sit upon her lap.
Bowing their tiny heads, the children retreated to end up balanced, each upon one of the warrior's crossed legs.
Shrugging, Dione sank down into the tall grass and, folding her arms across her chest, waited.
"Thank you, dear lady," Ovid stated as a large toothy grin spread across his hairy face.
"Oh, do quit simpering, Ovid," Aldous spat. "She hasn't agreed to anything except to listen!"
"And your times running out," she reminded sternly. She looked over her shoulder, once again studying her surroundings. Turning back, she licked her lips and prompted, "Well?"
"Tell her, Wizard," Lance's deep voice gently intoned. "Let this matter be decided here and now."
"Phugh and poppycock! Always me . . . always," Aldous complained. Then drawing his robes about him, he sank down amidst the grass with a sigh. Folding his bony arms around even bonier knees, he said, "Ah, where to begin . . . well, first introductions. I am Aldous Ja Aval, Supreme Wizard of the High Sun Fellowship." Turning his strange eyes upon her, he nodded. "Now, the fellow holding the clear ball is OrbWard Ovid Calador, a noble-ranked Orb Guardian."
Ovid stood and bowed.
"Oh do sit down, Ovid! That big fellow is Lance Davenhawkes of Lolpaw Isle–the children's sworn Protector for life, and the two slips upon his lap are–stand, children, for your introduction…Lance, I thought you had taught them better–Prince Colan Valathorn and his twin sister, Princess Calliena Valathorn, affectionately called Col and Callie, for short."
Dione smiled as two brown-haired heads bowed in unison. She saw them exchange a knowing grin, and before they could completely rise from their formal bow, started to run toward her.
The warrior was quicker, grabbing each by their waist belts and hauling them back toward his awaiting lap.
"Ah, Lance," Col complained, stomping one foot defiantly.
The large man only shook his head and pointed back to his lap.
"Children, if you please, I am charged with telling this story and I would like to continue! Refrain yourselves from further antics," Aldous scolded. "Now, what next? Yes, the where and why. We have come through the portals to this planet, from our own world, Egressus, to beg you to lend your talents to aid us in overthrowing an existing plague upon our world–one Lord Xenos Daytus. You see, the Orb has picked you as our champion, so to speak."
"Okay, that's it! I'm outta here!" Dione said as she rose. "I don't believe in aliens from outer space, but, believe you me, if I did, you guys would fit the bill."
"Dear lady, it is all true," Ovid cried. "Just as the wizard has said. Please, we have great need of your talents."
"I don't have any talents, and times up! I'm outta here."
"But you do," Davenhawkes stated quietly, as he set each child on the ground next to him. He rose silently to stall her flight. "The Orb has chosen, it cannot be wrong."
"Look, you guys seem harmless enough. Well," she hesitated, eyeing the large man before continuing, "most of you do, but I've gotta go. You're not the only ones with problems, and mine ain't far, far away. Honestly, I'd like to help, but…"
"Oh dear," the OrbWard moaned, wringing his hairy hands before him as his champion walked away.
She turned and gazed back over her shoulder and waved farewell. Before her fleeting form a dust cloud could be seen rising, moving toward them at an ominous pace.
Lance hooked a child under each of his arms and ordered, "Open a portal, Wizard. It is time for us to leave."
Nodding, the wizard placed a thin, white hand upon the OrbWard's slumping shoulders and with uncharacteristic understanding said, "It cannot be helped, Ovid. Sometimes others don't hear a calling as clearly as we. Lance is right, we must go before Xenos locates us."
With one last, hopeful glance back toward the retreating woman, Ovid nodded. With both palms upturned, he held the Orb out before him and closed his eyes. At the same time, the wizard began to mumble as he took up a stance beside him. Ancient words, recognized, but their meaning unknown to the others, flowed from his parted lips and were quickly stolen from him to mingle with the howl of the now boisterous winds.
The Wizard's and the OrbWard's minds melded, allowing the Orb to become their consciousness. A light formed within the center of the clear ball, building in its intensity. Small waves of energy crisscrossed the smooth surface and flared outward, flashing into the empty air before them. A hazy spot emerged from the strike point, ripping the fragile air and solidifying it into a large quivering, gray puddle suspended above the ground. An opaque dot formed at its center and expanded, its touch melting the grayish veil, revealing a doorway at its core.
Lance shouldered aside lingering matter and stepped through, Twins in tow. In the distance, from the direction the woman had gone, he heard a loud popping, and then another. Someone screamed, but he was now too deep within the portal to see the land he had left. Aldous sprang through, followed quickly by the OrbWard.
Ovid turned to shield the Orb, and was practically knocked backwards by a figure leaping through after them.
Another loud pop cracked the air, and an object whizzed past them, its flight echoing deep within the tunnel.
"Quick, slam it shut!" Dione shouted.
Wide-eyed, the OrbWard moved quickly to comply, shielding the Orb completely. With its light extinguished, the portal sealed, leaving them standing between worlds in a dimly lit tunnel.
She looked around at her new companions. In answer to the large blond man standing before her, his brows raised in question, she shrugged, "I changed my mind. Never let it be said that Dione Amber Clancy Blume turned down an adventure!"
"No, never let it be said," Lance echoed dryly.
Copyright® – No part of this may be reproduced without permission)
In celebration of the grand opening of the new Books We Love Reader's group at Yahoo, we're inviting you to get acquainted with some of our BWL authors by participating in a fun scavenger hunt. We promise it isn't hard. You just need to join the group and then follow the provided links listed on the loop the morning of March 20th, answer some really easy questions, send them to Ginger and wait to see if you've won. The answers are all hiding in plain site at the various websites…you just have to find and collect them all to be entered into a drawing for one of eighteen books. Some will even be personally autographed. You'll have two days to hunt. The contest ends Saturday at midnight.
All entries must be received by Ginger Simpson at firstname.lastname@example.org by noon on Sunday, March 22, 2009. Winners will be announced shortly thereafter.
Whether you come to play or not, we hope you will join us in celebrating the beginning of what we hope will be a stimulating and pleasant group experience. If you aren't familiar with us, please visit http://www.bookswelove.net to get an idea of who we are and what we're about.
I'm sure you may have already played in a contest or two there. If not, maybe you'd like to enter one while you're there.
Jude Pittman has assembled a wonderful group of talented authors, but without readers, that talent has no purpose. Remember, Saturday, March 20th.
Part One (As is, And I really mean that ) Copyright® – No part of this may be reproduced without permission)
Lord Daytus forced his armor-clad hand tighter about the reins as he looked down from his lofty perch. The battle had gone as anticipated; he was victorious. Now, all he need do was claim his prize.
He allowed a covetous leer to replace the stern countenance he had maintained throughout the siege. The leer grew wider . . . eager . . . as he kneed his mount forward to begin his descent to the valley floor below and onward to the fortress.
The dual moons of Egressus peered lazily down at him from their regal perch in the darkening skies. Their waning faces lent an eerie light to his descent, amplifying his form to create a long, pale shadow that fouled the land as it passed over–an omen of pending doom.
Having reached the causeway, he kicked his mount into a fleet-footed prance and drew under the arched gateway to emerge within the outer bailey. His heart raced with his eagerness. He had waited a very long time for this precise moment . . . he intended to relish it.
Looking about, he saw that his men had already commandeered the area and were about administrating the law . . . his law.
Spying a Spirit Raider Commander, he waved him near. “Where are they? I would see them grovel.”
The man seemed to squirm, unable to meet his steely stare as he stammered, “My Lord, they have fled. The Wizard Ja Aval must have opened the portals and sent them through. There is no one of import left here.”
“What!” Lord Daytus bellowed, outrage turning his eyes a fiery red. He slammed his mailed fist against his leg and dismounted, causing many to drop their heads or lower their eyes as he passed.
“Follow me, and send word that I would have Tar-Varel brought here. The portals must be traced, no matter how long it takes, nor how exacting that task becomes.” Silently, he promised, They will not escape me so easily. I will know the direction they have fled, and then . . . then, they are mine!
Clinching his fists tightly to his sides, he entered the Hall, barely able to stifle a growl as he peered down at the shimmering pile of powdered residue left by the recently opened portal.
Throwing his head back, he howled into the dark, barren chamber, “Ja Aval, how did you know? Old man, if you can still hear me, know this: You will not fulfill your ambitions, not while I remain determined to thwart you. I concede the battle, for now, but the final victory shall be mine. It will be me controlling the Orb . . . me transforming the worlds…not your weak, chosen few. This, I promise you!”
A phantom breeze rose, whipped at his cloak, its breath sending the pile of gossamer residue leaping over his boots. A distant cackle echoed through the chamber, chasing the breeze, and he knew Ja Aval had heard.
Continued in Chapter One "Dione Amber Clancy Blume–'Rest in Peace'"
Coming next month!
Copyright® – No part of this may be reproduced without permission)