World's of Ash: A Fantasy Tale

(hardback, and paperback copies found at: https://www.austinmacauley.com/us/author/rutan-jonathan-lee)

Chapter Forty-Four

Ash hurried to keep pace with the SpellMaker. For someone who’d been so weak a second before, he seemed rather energetic now. She had to walk faster.

Ash had no clue what the SpellMaker could be talking about—who was this girl he’d spoken of—yet something buried within told her to stay close so she wouldn’t miss a thing. But the SpellMaker must have had other plans. As soon as they were in a side hall, he shook free of her and whispered something Ash couldn’t understand. Suddenly, a presence—a heaviness on her legs—wrapped itself around her.

Ash slowed as a mass of Elves began to push her further back. She ended up at such a distance she barely caught sight of the SpellMaker and Lady Mist as they reached the end of the hallway and spoke a doorway into existence.

Ash was pushed yet again. It was Nawthen, he paid her no mind as he shoved past—her frozen legs unable to give any support. Ash tilted dangerously towards the floor.

“Fool,” Mythus said. His hands, strong yet kind, grabbed her. The heaviness around Ash faded as she was propped upright. “I can’t believe he refuses to entertain any new ideas.”

“But,” Carolyn asked, “didn’t you once think as he?”

She’d stepped through another mass of Elves swarming into the hall. Everyone was headed for the door that the SpellMaker and Lady Mist had created, more and more bodies flowing past with a hurried urgency.

Ash saw how Queen Eugin was the only Elf who was afforded any space, her guards making sure of that as they shoved everyone aside. Ash even saw Amalin and Casten as they followed in the Queens wake, most trying to give Casten the same respect they’d given his mother, but without any guards, such respect was small. There were hundreds of folks in a hallway so cramped it didn’t take long for Ash to realize she’d again found herself in the tree limb reserved only for Attendants.

Mythus sighed. “I did think that way,” he said. Carolyn took his hand and Ash’s as she pushed them towards a nearby door. “But maybe an old Elf can stop being a fool even if a much older friend cannot. Ophallo—no matter if he carried the blood of a Child of Man, I knew his mother, pure as any Elf could ever be. If it was he who killed King Denthro, then maybe…maybe everything I believed to be true was a lie.”

Carolyn smiled. Her pink hair and pink eyes shifting as she did so. Both went back to being a vibrant green, an act that caused Ash to shout in surprise. She let go of Carolyn—the crowd instantly carrying her away, they would have consumed her whole, but Carolyn was quick, as quick as the ever-changing nature of her body. She reached back out, took hold of Ash, and dragged her forward as she opened the nearby door. She pushed both Ash and her father inside.

“You’ve never seen a Switch,” Carolyn asked. She shut the door, the sound of the crowd fell away as soon as it was closed.

Ash took in her new surroundings. Much like the room she’d been given, this place had a large bed at its center and doorways and windows all over a wall that ran an unending circle around her. But unlike her room, this place was much smaller and much messier. Ash had to try hard not to trip over discarded robes, a few books, and many pants and shirts which were strewn in ragged piles all over the floor.

“What’s a Switch?” she said.

She made her way to the nearest window. It was like every other window she could see—small and circular, large enough to only peer through, perhaps open a crack to let in a soft breeze. She would have to be content with just taking a tiny peek at what was going on outside.

“A Switch is another simple spell,” Carolyn said, “like Adesmos, it’s one you learn when you start being trained in the Bright. Even if you have only a limited talent in magic, you should be able to handle it with ease. Most can do it without uttering a thing.”

Carolyn took a step closer to Ash. “All you do is say Eite,” she whispered. It was like they were sharing a wonderful secret. “And it happens. Usually saying Eite lets you feel certain stuff too—like your hair and your eyes—you feel each as if they were between your fingers, and you switch them. If you’re strong in the Bright, you can just think Eite and switch your whole body, make yourself taller or shorter, fatter or thinner, or—”

“Or you could do a thousand other things to prove you haven’t yet mastered yourself or your emotions,” Mythus said. He marched about the room, catching every word his daughter had been trying to whisper. “Any Elf who has that much control of the Bright has long since given up the games of Littles. They thank the Father for what was given to them at their birth, and they stay with what they have. They don’t keep altering hair color like infants, and they don’t remain as messy as you seem to be.”

Mythus threw out his arms and muttered something Ash missed. It sounded like “Terso” or “Tersus,” she wasn’t sure. What she was sure of, however, was that once he spoke, a white light flowed from his fingertips and surrounded each book and every stray bit of clothing. It flung it all into closet doors that were opening all over the place. In the space of two seconds, maybe three, the entire room was clean.

Mythus turned to his daughter as the open closet doors slammed shut. “Tersus is also an easy spell,” he said, “one much easier than Adesmos or Eite, yet you seem not to use it. Why?”

Carolyn put her back to him. “You did say it took you a while to change.” She stepped even closer to Ash. “Maybe it will be the same with me. If I’m too busy to clean up my stuff—or if I like to change the color of my eyes and hair—don’t you think that might be okay?”

It was Carolyn’s room, Ash realizing she should have known that all along. It fit—the ragged piles, the small windows too because Carolyn would certainly never care how large they were. Already, Ash had seen how Carolyn could shut some doors and change them into panes of glass, yet she’d also been around Carolyn long enough to understand one other thing: Carolyn was the kind of Elf who would only come to her room to sleep or maybe just to get some clean clothes.

The place she called her own was simply a side area she had no affinity for. The rest of the tree, where life happened, had to have so much more of a hold on Carolyn’s heart.

Ash let those thoughts go. “You okay?” she asked. Carolyn needed her attention now.

Carolyn nodded and shifted her gaze to the window nearby. The level of anger in her voice and around her eyes was something Ash could understand. She wondered how many times, after talking with her mother, she’d looked the same.

“Of course,” Carolyn whispered, sounding only as if she wasn’t okay at all. “What are we looking at?”

“Him,” Ash said. She pointed to the bottom reaches of the window where she could just make out the tiny form of the SpellMaker as he hurried down the balcony. Ash could even make out that he was walking towards a much smaller figure that was making its way through the forest. “Wanted to see him from up here since we can’t get any closer?”

“And why can’t we get closer?” Poppa Henry asked. Ash was surprised to hear him. She’d thought he would have already stepped over to the SpellMaker’s locket by now. “Just have the Attendant say a spell to make that window bigger. Or have her create a doorway. Or have her grant me a Pass, and I’ll do it.”

Ash picked up her blue mirror and stared at her grandfather. “Why are you here?”

“Told you I needed the comfort of family. Do you want me to go?”

“No, but if you’re here, then why not just say a spell? I’ve seen how you handle magic. Can’t you do it?”

Carolyn leaned over to peer down at Poppa Henry. “That can’t happen,” she said, “not in an Attendant’s room at least. The SpellMaker wants us to mainly use our own magic in our own rooms—something about practicing and getting stronger in the Bright. We have to grant permission to others. Unless, of course, it’s family—and the spell is a simple one. The SpellMaker makes allowances for family. They can do very easy bits of magic if ever they come for a visit, but for others, I have to grant them a Pass.”

“Then grant my grandfather a Pass.”

Carolyn smiled. “No.”

“Why not?”

“Because I want to see if you have the gift. I give you, and only you, Ash, permission to work magic. Speak a door into existence.”

“But I…I can’t…” Ash took a step back from the window. “And I spoke out of turn. The balcony curves below us—it’s too far to jump. And…and anyway, I can’t do magic, so we should just go to the other stairwell…the one Lady Mist used when she first brought me to the Greeting Room. That stairwell has to be better.”

Poppa Henry began to laugh. “My Little Ash,” he said, “you can do this. I know you can. Besides, using magic is the fastest way, finding the other stairwell would take too long.”

Ash shook her head. “But,” she said. She had to think of something to get out of this. “But…you might get hurt by any spell I cast.”

“Ash,” Poppa Henry said, “creating a door isn’t like singing the Lyrics. It isn’t that powerful. Just concentrate on what you want to happen, and it will happen.”

“Just concentrate,” Ash sighed, “but Carolyn never said anything about concentrating.”

“It comes with the magic,” Carolyn explained. She smiled even brighter and hurriedly walked past Ash so nothing was between Ash and the window. “Your grandfather is right, you do need to concentrate, but once you say Adesmos, the image of what that word does will flow into your mind, and Spell itself will lead you the rest of the way. If you have the talent, it shouldn’t be too hard.”

“But,” Ash said. “I wasn’t kidding. We can’t jump to the balcony because…we’ll get hurt.”

She couldn’t stop taking tentative steps back. Even with Carolyn already far at her rear, she kept retreating. But suddenly, hands were at her arms again, hands that had once prevented her from falling were now preventing her from escape.

Ash looked up at Mythus. “If Carolyn will allow it,” he said, “I can handle the height. Cleaning her room was easy, however, if she grants something a bit larger, a spell that no one can do without an Attendant’s approval, I can get us out of here as long as you can make your door. We’ll go the fast way.”

Carolyn smiled as her father pushed Ash back towards the window. “Of course,” she said, “a Pass is always yours. And don’t you worry about Ash. She can make a door. I know she can.”

Chapter Forty-Five

It felt strange, as if she’d tapped into something she didn’t know could exist inside herself—a weird kind of energy vault that, once opened, made her believe she could do anything she wanted. Ash lifted a hand—it seemed right to do that even though Carolyn had never done it. She said, “Adesmos,” that strange vault suddenly unlocking as energy flowed into her veins.

Ash saw a door, so perfect, in her mind. Carolyn hadn’t been lying—that image came as soon as she spoke. It even stayed with her as power flowed along her arm and down into her fingertips. It was guided by something—not a voice, but rather a gentle nudge—that directed everything towards the window.

Stuff melted. But first the wooden borders of the window got larger. They stretched all the way to the ceiling and fell towards the floor. The window quickly became big enough to easily see all the forest that waited, and when it reached full size—as huge as the door in her mind—glass ran like water. It streamed and dripped until it was absorbed in whatever wood it found.

“Excellent,” Ash heard her Poppa Henry say from around her neck. A doorway, something she couldn’t believe she alone had created, was where the window had once been. “Absolutely excellent! And for your first time, my Little Ash, I felt how connected to the Bright you were!”

Carolyn, too, was overwhelmed, she jumped and clapped as she rushed over and hugged Ash with an exuberance that was beyond compare. She was way more excited than anyone else in the room.

“My first student,” she said. She stepped back to look at Ash fully, her hair and eyes suddenly switching from green to blue, then to a deep luxurious red. “And Spell barely had to help! I’m a little jealous. When first I spoke a door, way back in Athren, I could barely see the image of anything in my mind, and what I created, no one could fit through. But look at you, your door is perfect.”

“It’s because she has a gift,” Mythus added. He walked past his daughter and Ash as he neared the new door. “You felt the parts of the Bright she touched, didn’t you? For such a simple…I mean, she hit a vein of magic that…are you sure this is your first taste?” Mythus turned to stare at Ash. “Have you ever touched the Bright before?”

Ash shook her head. She and Poppa Henry answered almost as one. “Never,” they said. However, it was clear Mythus wasn’t convinced. He kept up his stare for a few minutes more.

“Are you positive?” he asked again, “because that was…Ash, you didn’t just hit a vein, you hit a line of Bright I didn’t think existed anymore in Penthya. It was something much stronger than anything Carolyn has attained.”

Again, Ash couldn’t think of what to say. Yet this time it wasn’t any fear that caused her to not be able to find the words. It was Carolyn who made her forget how to talk.

Carolyn’s hair went from red to brown to yellow and then back to a thick crimson that held Ash with its intensity. It was the Switch, like what had happened when Carolyn had changed from pink to green, yet for some reason, Ash hadn’t thought that anyone could ever do a spell as quickly and as often as Carolyn could.

“Oh…I,” Ash finally coughed out. “I was lucky I guess, and…”

Mythus sighed. “Well,” he said, “I’m still not sure. One day I could see you becoming a great Light Bender, one of the best, but usually, to hit something like you just did, there would be early indicators that…”

It was Poppa Henry who interrupted this time. “She is my granddaughter,” he said from the blue mirror, the glass swaying a tad with his annoyance. “So, of course, she has skill in the Bright, magic runs in our family. However, this is her first taste of it and she just got lucky…trust me…can we go now, or do we need to stare some more?”

Mythus nodded. “You are right,” he agreed, “Carolyn, Ash, take my hands.”

Carolyn turned towards her father, her hair changing yet again—this time into a shiny platinum blond as she took his fingers in hers.

“Are you okay?” Ash asked. She, too, took hold of Mythus as she did something she knew would make her Poppa Henry mad. She was the one to stare as she just kept looking at Carolyn to try and understand what was going on with her.

But it wasn’t Carolyn who spoke, Mythus did. “My daughter finds the Switch to be a spell which calms her,” he explained. “She has yet to quell her emotions like a true Elf should, and when she gets excited or upset or merely allows what should be buried to bubble up and take over, she does this. Quite unbecoming, but what can we do?”

Mythus tightened his grip—on Ash, on to his daughter too—his voice, without any emotion, except the vague interest that Ash had come to realize all Elves had no matter what they were talking about. But it seemed so cruel to not have him screaming or giving off any signs of anger or disappointment that Ash suddenly began to miss how her father would yell whenever he was upset or how her mother would sigh so heavily whenever she was disappointed. And here, Ash had never thought she would feel that way.

“Dad, I do work hard as an Attendant,” Carolyn said. Her voice was low. “I’ve learned a lot under the tutelage of the SpellMaker, and I haven’t taken the opportunity he granted lightly. I try to control my emotions, I can do lots of magic I was never able to do before, and…”

“And you still have a messy room,” Mythus said. “I love you, but now is not the time for us to dive into all the many areas I hope to one day see you put into your past. You are still young, I know this, and I had only hoped that after all these long months apart, I could finally see the mature adult I’ve dreamt about. But I am content to wait. Just hold on, please, and let us go to the SpellMaker. We can talk later.”

Carolyn gathered herself and tried to smile. Her hair and eyes didn’t change again, but Ash did catch them about to go, a tinge of blue was right at her irises, but it disappeared as Carolyn wiped it away with her free hand. In the space of mere seconds, Ash had been given another insight into her only friend in this new world. She saw how Carolyn was a bit giddy and excited, how she was also a tad spoiled and thought herself deserving of some of the gifts she’d been given. Yet Ash couldn’t help but to also notice that Carolyn, no matter her age and no matter how she wasn’t a human at all, was still a girl who wanted to please her father.

Ash was impressed. If it had been her father who’d said such things, she was sure she never would have gained control of herself long enough to stop her tears.

“Okay,” Carolyn said. She took a deep breath to calm herself more. “I’m ready. Ash, you good?”

“Yes,” Ash said. She had no clue what she was ready for, but she saw no reason to wait any longer. “Let’s go.”

Mythus mumbled “Nari,” a bright halo of purple instantly radiating out and around his hands. It quickly became a current that pulsed from him to both Ash and Carolyn. It traced every curve and corner of their bodies in what looked like the strongest of inks.

“Still good?” he asked.

“Yes,” Carolyn said. Ash, too, nodded in agreement. “The SpellMaker already has the girl he was talking about in his arms. We should hurry.”

Ash turned to where Carolyn was looking. The SpellMaker was at the bottom of the balcony—on his knees as he held a thin figure curled in his lap. From the height she was at, Ash couldn’t tell who it was that was with the SpellMaker, but she did suppose that whatever this person was saying, it had to be important. Gathered close by were Nawthen, Queen Eugin, Amalin, Jeth, and Casten. And just a few feet from them were a mass of Elves who filled the balcony so fully no one could make their way down it. Everyone was as close to the SpellMaker as they could get, and from how they looked, they didn’t seem to be hearing anything good.

“Great,” Mythus said. He clenched down even more onto Ash’s and Carolyn’s hands. “Hold on.”

He said “Nari” once more and Ash was gently pushed through her door. Her legs never moved, in fact, she didn’t think she could have taken a step if she wanted. But when the push came, the purple around her accepted. She slid forward, the current gliding easy on the wood floor and out over the edge of the room.

Ash was in the air. Instead of falling, she was floating, Mythus looking all around before he nodded towards a spot near to the SpellMaker, a spot no one was in. Ash had no clue how he was able to do what he was doing, he wasn’t speaking anymore, he was only nodding, but with the slightest flick of his head, he maneuvered the purple and guided them down. Instead of floating to the balcony below, they slipped right past, Ash hovering above the forest floor which was a tremendous distance away.

She drifted like a leaf. She, Mythus, and Carolyn began to float softly back and forth as they got lower, and lower, until they were in the exact spot that Mythus had nodded at.

“That was amazing,” Carolyn whispered as soon as her feet touched a tangle of wild roots. “What spell was that?”

“The Nari,” Mythus said. He let go of her and Ash. The purple current vanished. “It’s a hovering spell—an advanced bit of magic, one I’m sure you will learn about soon.”

“I hope I’ll be able to do it,” Carolyn said, her father reaching out and taking her hand again.

“I know you’ll be able to do it,” he said. And that was that, Ash could see. Even with his still unemotional voice, his words were all he needed to give Carolyn a bit of joy.

Carolyn squeezed her father’s hand. Her hair stayed the same and her eyes never flicked into something new, but she did smile as she, he, and Ash headed to the crowd before them.

Where they’d landed was in front of everyone, Mythus picking a spot well ahead of the SpellMaker and the girl he held. They’d floated down before the masses dotting the balcony and the forest, yet as Ash looked around, she could tell their arrival had made no impact. Everyone, each Elf and Light Bender, for Yorgeth, Morgan, and Warven were there as well, was more interested in the girl than in what had drifted past.

“How many?” the SpellMaker asked.

“She can’t be right,” Nawthen said before the girl could reply, “we would know if they had grown that large. There’s no way they have the magic to cover such numbers, and—didn’t we leave Rone in Daylin just in case something like this happened? They can’t be here.”

“Why would she lie?” the SpellMaker said. He looked only at the girl, one so covered in filth Ash still couldn’t tell who she was. But she was familiar. As Ash neared, she couldn’t help but to think the girl was starting to look very familiar indeed. “She was captured by them, experimented on by them, and finally escaped in some manner from them. Why would she now, once she has reached safety, lie?”

“I don’t know,” Nawthen said, “but, she can’t be right.”

Queen Eugin shook her head. “She can be right. From what the SpellMaker told us—from what he showed us too—we already know the Errun have a handle on magic, and maybe, just maybe, they’ve been able to conceal.”

“But the Errun can’t control the Bright or the Black,” Nawthen said, “they just can’t.”

Casten stepped forward. “We saw them bend light,” he countered. “How many times must you hear that and see it? It’s true. If Ophallo and Syndon taught every Band how to pervert the Bright into the Black, then I say it is very possible for them to be swarming through this forest.”

“I dreamt this,” the SpellMaker said, his words halting whatever further protest Nawthen was about to make. “I suppose it is time to let you know that as well. This is all a part of my last dream, the one in which Henry Ash and his granddaughter arrive and I finally die, so let me hear, once more, from this girl.”

“No,” Nawthen tried to say, “I won’t…”

But Eugin cut him off.  “Enough,” she sighed, “let her speak. Let this girl tell us just how many Errun there are in these woods.”

Everything went silent, the figure in the SpellMaker’s lap looking up at him as the SpellMaker brought a finger under her chin and turned her face towards his. Even through her many layers of dirt, a note of familiarity again struck hard inside Ash’s heart. She knew this girl, she knew her well, but it wasn’t until she spoke that Ash realized who she was.

“There are thousands,” Emily Baker said. “There are thousands of Errun that Peter saved me from!”

Chapter Forty-Six

Of all the shocks she’d received since her grandfather had come back as a Reflection, this was the most jarring. There was no way Ash could have prepared for it.

Her head spun and she felt sick. If Emily had gotten free, what did that mean for Peter? Was he still captive? Was he somewhere in this forest? She didn’t know what to think. All she knew was that one moment she was right beside Mythus and Carolyn, and the next she was running, just a quick few feet, more lunging forward than anything else.

“Where is Peter? Where is he?” Ash asked. She slid to her knees. Even though Emily was in the SpellMaker’s lap, Ash began to shake her back and forth.

Ash was concerned for her mother and for her father—of course she was—but she hadn’t seen them get torn from one world to the next. And besides, her parents had been taken by those from Penthya while Peter was in the hands of the Errun. Ash couldn’t believe they would face half the horrors he would.

But to make everything worse, she still couldn’t shake the guilt. She’d been ignoring it—a turn of her stomach, a slight welling of panic—but it was there. Peter was lost, and there was no way she would let the emotions she’d had back at her house just vanish without saying sorry.

Ash rocked Emily as hard as she could. Yelling as she pushed and pulled and avoided each wide eye that came her way. Ash had to know where Peter might be, but Emily wasn’t talking.

The SpellMaker smiled. It was as if he alone found her actions mildly amusing, or at least he seemed that way whenever Ash caught the cocked-up nature of his eyebrow and a gleam of something, maybe a lost sense of mirth, in his eyes.

Only minutes before, he’d used magic to push her far. But now he was at peace with her being so near. When Emily stared at her, but especially when Carolyn, Mythus, and Casten reached over and pulled Ash to her feet, it was the SpellMaker who spoke to calm everyone down.

“Tell her, Mrs. Baker,” he said. He directed his smile at Emily before he also stood, Emily joining him in the process. “Tell Ash about Peter.”

“Ash…Amanda Jane Ash,” Emily said. Her head whipped from the SpellMaker to Ash as if she was trying to make certain Ash, really, was the person the SpellMaker had been talking about. “Ash, is it you?”

Ash knew how she must look. Dressed in brown leather pants and a green cotton shirt, her brown and red streaked hair messed and jostled about, probably sticking up at odd angles too instead of its usual combed and peaceful nature—she was even lit up by the light of some brand new world—she could understand how Emily might not recognize who she was. But if that were the case, then what Emily needed was to take a minute and stare at herself. If anyone was unrecognizable, it was she.

The last Ash had seen of her, Emily had been running hard for a bit of revenge. Changed and showered from her time of basketball practice, looking about as perfect as ever except for some blood and a broken nose, Emily had been the larger-than-life girl Ash had known for far too long. But now, she was only scared.

Her nose had been fixed, maybe by magic, for it seemed fine, but she was way too thin, her arms and legs like worn branches hanging low off a dying tree. She looked awful, but it was in her eyes that Ash truly saw pain.

They were wide with fear, not narrow with anger, and menace. She looked only horrified and confused. Just like Ash, she had endured much, yet she was at a level of endurance Ash hoped to never reach. Her soul was cracked.

“Emily, it’s me,” Ash said. She couldn’t be upset over her brother anymore. Her concern instantly shifted to an old enemy who’d been ruined. She knew she had only one thing she could say. “I—I’m sorry I punched you.”

Casten was the first to let go of her, Mythus and Carolyn quickly following his lead as they both dropped whatever arm they held. Ash was free and she stumbled forward, Emily also pushing away from the SpellMaker to reach out and throw her arms wide so Ash could hold her just as the SpellMaker had done.

“Punch?” Emily asked. “What—Ash, what’s going on?”

She cried and cried, Ash finding it easy to cradle her against her shoulder, and pat her head—something she had never in her life thought she would do. It was a situation that would have seemed absurd if Emily weren’t such a mess, but she was a mess, her tears so real Ash couldn’t help but to try and make her feel better.

“Emily, it’s just another world,” Ash attempted to explain, hoping her words were getting through the matted layers of dirt. “We’re in another world.”

“But, how, Peter never told me how?”

“Magic, simply magic,” Ash said. “Tell me about Peter, is he alive?”

“I…” Emily began, “he found something. Those animals…the gray-skinned, they…they were doing things. They said words and poured light from their hands, and he ran and…and I thought…I thought he wouldn’t come back, but he did. He found something, and with…with a sword…a sword as black as night. He came for me after they said I wasn’t the one. He and the sword, they…they were beautiful and scary. He killed…he tore through the gray. We got away, but only for a while. Something else came. Not a beast, not gray. Something tall—maybe…maybe a man, and…Peter and the sword, they fought, but they were losing, and…and then…then there was more light and words, and I was running and…and…oh Ash, what is going on?”

It was the last thing Ash got from her. No matter what else she said, Emily kept crying. She pressed herself harder and harder against Ash’s shoulder repeating only “What is going on?” though many more questions were sent her way.

Emily was beyond words, beyond any help that Ash could give, and when Ash looked up for someone to tell her what to do, she was comforted to find that the SpellMaker already had things in hand. He moved up behind Emily, his fingers right over her head. When Ash found his face, he simply nodded and whispered, “Dormio,” so soft Ash wasn’t sure he’d spoken.

But when blue light flowed from his fingertips and wrapped itself around Emily’s dark black hair, Ash was relieved. Emily closed her eyes and slumped to the ground.

“What did you do?” Ash asked, the SpellMaker already turning away. He motioned for someone to come to him. “Will she be okay?”

“Maybe not for a while,” the SpellMaker said. A few Attendants, just three in white robes, pushed through the crowd to get to him. “There was magic spoken over her, Black Light magic of the Errun, yet also other things, other spells of such strength. I have no clue what kind of charms may be running through her veins.

“It will take much study for this girl to ever be okay again, and for now, I have given her sleep. I think it might help if she is out of it when we clean her and put her somewhere safe. I don’t need her getting any more upset when the fighting begins.”

The three Attendants followed a few more of the SpellMaker’s directions—a nod of his head and a flick of a hand. They grabbed Emily. Even Carolyn went to help.

“Not you,” the SpellMaker said. He pointed at Carolyn. “You need to be at my side. But let the other Attendants hear my voice, let them hear that even if it takes their lives, they are to make sure no Errun bothers Emily Baker ever again, do you understand?”

“Yes, SpellMaker,” all three Attendants said, bowing slightly as they began to take Emily out of the forest.

“Good,” the SpellMaker said, “the Band after her will be here soon, and I don’t have much time. Where is my daughter?”

Lady Mist stepped forward. She’d been a foot or so behind, standing next to Nawthen, Yorgeth, and Warven. Jeth and Amalin were just a bit behind her, and though all had heard what the SpellMaker had said, each only looked confused.

“What is happening?” Lady Mist asked. “That girl spoke of a boy who carried a black blade which could only be Judgment. But that sword, it…and…how could—”

“You’ll have to stay,” the SpellMaker said.

“Father, tell me—”

“I am telling you,” the SpellMaker said, “it’s all a part of the last dream I ever had.”

“The dream in which you die?”

The SpellMaker sighed. “Yes, that one. I saw Mrs. Baker on the edges of the Cliffs of Random, right where those mountains slope down into such wild parts of the Centaur Woods I don’t think anyone noticed when she arrived. When whatever let her go—the maybe man—when he released her, she ran, and a whole Band of Errun gave chase.

“She stumbled down paths long forgotten, ways into Penthya no one in Daylin remembers to inspect, and for days, she was hunted as Pride Syndon used magic and a Looking Glass, to keep in contact with whatever was after her. Though Syndon has known for a good while where Spell is located, it wasn’t until he followed Emily Baker that he understood how significant it has become.

“When he took her, Syndon must have thought Emily was kin to Henry. But having Emily and Peter together woke him to his mistake. It is why Emily heard the Errun say she wasn’t the one, and when she escaped and brought the Errun closer to Spell, Syndon saw how he could rectify his error. He senses the true kin of Henry behind my walls. He knows he has to attack.”

The SpellMaker paused to catch his breath. He smiled too. It was like he found this story too exciting to believe.

“Telling this at last,” he continued. Gone was the weary sigh and any trace of exhaustion. He only looked happy.

“Father,” Lady Mist said. She grabbed his arm, gave it a squeeze. “Why are you—”

“Never mind,” the SpellMaker said. He shook free of her. “Never mind. Just know that Syndon is as crafty as ever. While they are attacking here, there will be an opportunity Syndon won’t let pass. He will send his force to Athren and Daylin as well. He truly believes the Queen and I will stay put—that we will not suspect he is inside our most valued city—and that is just the greatest error he could have made. I dreamt of how he has used magic, of how he has rushed most of his Bands towards the cities closest to the Cliffs of Random, yet also how he and another have worked woeful charms so they could sneak a small contingent right into the heart of Athren. I must go, but you will stay.”

The SpellMaker had returned to being serious and weary. It was a tidal pull of emotion—exhaustion to happy, happy rushing out as waves of weary swept back in. The SpellMaker focused his renewed serious only on his daughter. But Lady Mist never got the opportunity to do more than nod at his sudden change. Queen Eugin stepped forward, her eyes ablaze with as much anger as she could muster.

“Athren is under siege and Syndon has the power to enter it at will,” she seethed, or tried to seethe. Of all the emotions, Elves seemed to have the hardest time dealing with anger. “How could you dream this and not tell anyone?”

“Because this is the way Penthya returns to greatness, this is the choice I made,” the SpellMaker said. “Yesterday was not the only day I released my protection from around the mirrors and many waters of Spell. Years ago, I let those same charms slip while Syndon was close, while he and a few others thought they were being quite secret as they roamed wild through this wood. I let Syndon feel my magic, and that allowed him to be able to find Spell. It was how he burned my old Greeting Room to the ground, and once he could feel one part of Elf magic, it would never be all that hard for him to feel even more. It’s how he is now inside Athren.”

Lady Mist grabbed the SpellMaker’s arm again. She was angry too; it was so clear. There was no comfort or concern in her fingers. Ash was certain she’d leave a bruise.

“Father,” Lady Mist said, “why would you do such a thing?”

“To bring about you, my dear, to bring all this about,” the SpellMaker said. “I opened the door for Syndon, and now a majority of his force is already in Daylin, more are coming here, yet a good amount will be inside of Athren, and while Daylin or our home would be devastating to lose, we cannot let Athren fall. It would be like having the Anoral destroyed all over again.”

Nawthen appeared. One minute he was safely tucked away, the next he was right in everyone’s face. “And you called us to your side! How could you?”

“Very easily,” the SpellMaker said, “almost as easily as I can do other things.”

“Like what?” Nawthen seethed, Ash having no trouble seeing how he did it correctly. He and Lady Mist—Carolyn, too, now that Ash thought of it—could give lessons on the appropriate way to be upset. “Are you going to further prove how much you’ve removed yourself from your own kind? You dreamt this, and still you let it happen! We can’t get back to Athren in time! Syndon might be able to use magic to go there whenever he likes, but we’ll have to ride, and that will take a day or more, even with the fastest horse!”

“We can return to Athren in the blink of an eye,” the SpellMaker said, not looking at Nawthen, but instead casting his eyes about. He paused to stare first at Carolyn and Ash, then at Mythus and the Queen, and finally at Yorgeth, Warven, and Amalin before returning to his daughter. “We can quickly go anywhere we want, but first I must hear it from you, Mist, can you stay and keep my home and those who are behind its walls safe?”

Lady Mist let go of his arm. “Don’t you dare,” she whispered, “not that…you’ve told me how much magic it would use.”

“Can you protect them?” the SpellMaker asked again.

“I—will they have to fight?”

“Many Errun are in Athren, but many more are coming here. Those behind these walls must fight. They can do nothing else.”

“But all of them—the scholars and the Attendants?”

“All of them,” the SpellMaker said. “Can you protect them?”

“Please,” Lady Mist tried one last time, “don’t do this.”

“It is what I dreamt. I can do nothing else.”

“Then let me help you, I could help you.”

“No,” the SpellMaker said as Lady Mist tried to once more grab hold of him. But he held up his hands and moved away from her. “You must have strength. After this day, you will be looked upon as my replacement.”

“Father, I—”

“But, don’t worry,” the SpellMaker continued, oddly looking from Mist to Carolyn as he spoke, “I’ll always be there when you need me.”

With that, he stepped even further away, Nawthen the only one who wasn’t content to stand and observe like everyone else. He walked right up to the SpellMaker.

“I want to know,” Nawthen said, “how are we supposed to get to Athren? It’s too far, and you have yet to explain how we’re supposed to arrive in enough time to save it!”

“Good,” the SpellMaker said, “you’re close. That helps.”

“I asked you how we’re supposed to get there,” Nawthen said again, Eugin shaking her head, her hands outstretched as if she might have to pull him from the SpellMaker. “We can’t bend light! No Elf can work that strong a magic this far into the Centaur Woods! There is no quick way into our greatest city! How are we going to get there?”

“Whoever said I couldn’t bend light,” the SpellMaker asked. He lifted an arm as Ash felt a strange sensation, a pulling all over her body. “Whoever said I couldn’t do just that very thing?”