World's of Ash: A Fantasy Tale

(hardbacks, and paperbacks, found here: https://www.austinmacauley.com/us/author/rutan-jonathan-lee)

Chapter Fifty

Ophallo’s grin grew. It…the corners of his lips reached almost to his ears. Ash was sure she could see each of his yellow and black teeth.

“You are correct,” he said, “I did feel the kin to Henry Ash the minute I stepped back into Penthya.” He snapped his teeth into a hard crunch. “But what makes you think this one is important?”

The SpellMaker sighed and waved a hand in front of his face. It looked to Ash as if he was trying to swat—as if Ophallo was nothing more than an annoying gnat or perhaps a frustrating Sprite.

“She’s important,” the SpellMaker said, “because you’re obsessed with those who are your betters, and she is that. Daughter to Steven who was the son of Isabella, she is so much your better. I know why you want to collect the line of Henry Ash. I know what you’re planning.”

Amazingly, Ophallo’s smile grew bigger. He stood back up straight. “You know so much,” he said, “but do you know this? When I was young, only a century old, I saw how my father found in me the same faults that drove my mother to suicide. Dear old Dad would have done everything to strip me of my rights because I couldn’t control the Bright like Isabella could. I could only travel to where a beam of light had already been, not to where it was going to go, and he pitied me. Did you ever see that in any dream you’ve ever had, SpellMaker? My father pitied me!”

Ophallo looked like an Elf. However, his skin was still that pasty white—such a worn color. It made his body slightly off from what Ash was used to seeing. But he did have the same pointy ears and long hair of the Elves she’d found in Spell and in Athren. There was also the way he yelled, his emotions getting the better of him just like what sometimes happened with Carolyn or Nawthen or even Lady Mist. Yet, unlike them, his voice kept growing and growing, flying well past a lack of control and quickly heading into a realm of pure lunacy. Ophallo may have had some similarities with others of his kind, but it was only when he finally turned to Ash that she understood why he was so much different from them as well.

His eyes were pink, the same soft hue of a Kawshun horse’s eyes, and that, plus his skin, was enough. He was dead—his body a suit of decay. Somehow, Ophallo had just figured a way to remain with the living rather than to be stuck on the Way of Unkindness.

“I started going to the Western Wilds,” he continued, his voice an unearthly bellow of rage. It caused even Syndon to take a step back from him. “Like Axis, like Cay, I wanted to escape, but instead, I found darkness! It wasn’t hard—it just took an Errun I couldn’t hide from, some beast who tried to fight me!”

Ophallo’s hand began to glow a strong and steady blue. Kind of like what was in the Pool if the blue of the Pool had somehow been diminished.

The energy sparked along his fingertips before it flew out. It wrapped itself around Ash, and as it did, she caught what Ophallo was saying. It was “Khaval,” yet the sound of it was unlike anything she’d ever heard.

Whenever Carolyn or the SpellMaker used magic, the words they spoke were always wonderful. But it took Ophallo uttering a word filled only with darkness for Ash to realize what it truly meant to work from the Bright instead of the Black.

“I also said Khaval to the Errun who was trying to kill me,” Ophallo explained, his blue pushed at Ash. It brought her right up to the SpellMaker before it vanished. “I was so scared, yet so angry, that I willed my hate to end him, and it worked. The word I spoke had more strength in it than anything I’d ever tried in the Bright. It bound the Errun for me. It held him until I choked his life away!”

The SpellMaker nodded. “Your first taste of the Black,” he said, “it must have been intoxicating.”

Ophallo let his smile drop as he began to walk back and forth along the cobbled stones. He regarded the SpellMaker with a quizzical expression. “It did,” he said, “how did you know?”

“Because,” the SpellMaker said, “the Black always tastes of power, but its power only comes from what is evil inside of the person who uses it. I’m even sure that after you killed, you only wanted to do more so you could bring that intoxication back.”

Ophallo roared. He let out not a yell, but another laugh. “Again,” he said, “you are correct! The Black was a drug, but what made me really want to do something with it was not the taste it gave but the realization it let me attain! The Black let me know I was free, it let me see how I could make all of Penthya free from the tyranny of the Bright and the cruel dictatorship of my father!”

The SpellMaker shook his head. “Denthro was a great leader.”

“But he lived by the orders of a Common Court that gave him his thrones,” Ophallo countered. “My sister had strength in the Bright, but she was a woman and, therefore, could not rule. I, too, had my faults and would have been denied the opportunity to sit on the Silver Throne. Even though there were two living children of Denthro’s bloodline, both ready and waiting, we were going to be thrown out of what was rightfully ours. And those are but a few of the insane orders given by the fools who follow the Bright. But when I tasted the Black, I saw better.”

“You plotted at that age,” the SpellMaker said, “I had no idea your plans began so soon.”

The sick smile returned to Ophallo’s face. “Of course, they started then. You tell me you’ve brought me another heir to Denthro’s kingdom, another member of the line of Good Blood who made my last attempt at taking the Silver Throne such a terrible mistake, but I tell you that as soon as I knew my father had to die, I found someone who had the same gifts as me! I joined with him so together we could do whatever we wanted!”

“You mean Syndon,” the SpellMaker said. “You found him?”

Ophallo kept up his walk, his hands now clasped behind his back. It was as if he was taking a pleasant stroll in some park. “I did,” he nodded agreement to the SpellMaker’s words, never once losing his stride. “I found a very special Errun whom no one had yet realized had stumbled upon the Black. I found a Pride who was dabbling—rather limitedly, yet dabbling—in magic. He was more than willing to let me into his Band so we could combine our powers. He was even a rather good companion until I found someone better.”

“Who?”

Ophallo laughed some more, Ash suddenly wishing Yorgeth was around. She would have taken his glass-filled voice over the spine-chilling evil she was now enduring.

“Thought you said you already knew,” Ophallo sighed, “are you trying to trick me…perhaps cause a slip of the tongue where I reveal something I shouldn’t?”

“Maybe,” the SpellMaker said, “or maybe I want to hear you say it. Say his name.”

“Oh, I won’t tell quite yet,” Ophallo said. “If you know who he is or if you don’t, I’ll keep my master to myself. But rest assured, before I met the one who makes Syndon quiver, I had already learned how to sense Denthro’s heirs. I’ve known of Amanda Jane Ash, that she was alive and out there, and it was just my sister’s Seal which kept me from getting to her. If it hadn’t been for that, I would have sent Syndon for her as soon as I found myself free of the Reflection he trapped me in.”

Ophallo finally ceased his walk. He pointed back towards Syndon. His fingertips didn’t glow with any kind of magic, yet Syndon stared at Ophallo in horror nonetheless. Behind him, and still near to the cell her parents were in, were all that remained of the Errun. They, too, took in the hand that Ophallo leveled at their leader, Syndon’s horror over Ophallo’s outstretched arm growing as he turned to them and then back to it.

“Don’t be a fool,” he said.

Ophallo rolled his pink eyes in annoyance. “Let it be. It’s time your kind knew what you did to stay alive. You thought yourself so smart. You knew I’d found someone better in the Black, that I was about to leave, and you thought you could get revenge by locking me away. You cast so many containments over the mirrors in your camp. But after you lost your own life, you would have been stuck in glass as well, unless you took the only option available. Murdering your son—it may not have been the most noble of endeavors, but it was what you were forced to do.

“You killed Chood to survive, and if the side effect of breaking your own containment charm is that I got free as well and made a Shell, get over it. I think it is beyond time for your fellow Errun to know the truth. It isn’t like they haven’t already been talking.”

The SpellMaker shook his head once again. “Of course,” he said as Ophallo looked back at him. “A Shell. How many did you have to kill to form it?”

“Fifty.”

“But it isn’t complete. Your Shell is more dead than alive.”

“Oh,” Ophallo said. He threw his arms out wide. “It’s complete. In a decayed bit of flesh, I have nothing to fear. My heart doesn’t beat, so who cares if it is pierced. My lungs don’t need air, except for when I talk, so why should being drowned ever bother me again. All I need do is take life from Syndon’s victims. I use his attacks into Penthya to recharge, and until Steven Ash and his kids are drained—their Good Blood reforming what I do not have—I’ll think I’ll remain this way.”

The SpellMaker sighed. “But what about the other—what about Steven’s sister?”

“Dead,” Ophallo said, “probably long dead.”

Ash slowly took in his words. The fact that her aunt, one she hadn’t known had existed until just a day ago, was gone was something she thought she should agonize over, but she didn’t feel a thing. Something else was gnawing at her, something Ophallo kept saying that didn’t add up.

Ash couldn’t move. The blue was gone, but she felt as if she was still confined by a heavy force upon her chest which made it near impossible to roll about, or lift Justice which was trapped at her side. She tried anyway. Ash struggled until her head was up, just enough so she could stare right into Ophallo’s dead and pink eyes.

“Why?” she asked. Relief was all that was in her heart—her voice wasn’t as full of fear as she’d thought it might be.

“She speaks,” Ophallo said. He turned his attention to her. “What do you want?”

“If you had the spell to sense the line of Good Blood, then why…or maybe how…how could you miss my father and my aunt? Shouldn’t you have felt them, felt the Good Blood they had in their veins, before you sat on the Silver Throne?”

The SpellMaker laughed—his chuckle something nice that didn’t send chills down Ash’s spine. It was soft and gentle, but it was also mocking. Ash couldn’t believe it. The SpellMaker was laughing at Ophallo.

“Don’t you see,” the SpellMaker said, “he did feel it, he felt all the Good Blood running through your father’s veins, through your aunt’s veins as well, but he didn’t care. He was so close to victory, so close to tasting the success he knew was in his grasp, and he thought his magic was better. Even as the spell he’d cast warned him of the danger, he took the Silver Throne because he was sure his success would continue.”

Khaval,” Ophallo yelled. Blue energy shot out of both his hands as he brought his fists up and aimed them at the SpellMaker. All his walking had positioned him a few feet from the old Elf, and the current of energy he created quickly wrapped itself over the SpellMaker’s body and hauled him into the air.

“I was better! I am better!” Ophallo said. His yells caused his body to shake. “No magician can handle half the magic I have!”

“Yet the Silver Throne struck you down like the dog you are,” the SpellMaker said, “it broke you into a million pieces and scattered you across the winds that flow through Watch!”

He was laughing so hard, more and more he was losing himself in strong gales Ash didn’t think possible for an Elf his age. Except for three quick grins, a couple sighs, and maybe a shout or two of righteous fury, he’d been in such control of his body. But now, the SpellMaker was letting his emotions run free.

“What are you doing,” Ophallo asked. His magic pulled at the SpellMaker until he was mere inches from him. “You don’t do this! No Elf like you does this! What are you laughing at?”

“You,” the SpellMaker said. “You prance about telling me all your plans as if you have nothing to fear—you’re still lost in your arrogance, thinking yourself so much better than everyone else, how can I not laugh at that? You’re such a fool!”

“Stop it!” Ophallo said. “I have power, so much power! I’m no fool!”

“What power?” the SpellMaker asked. “The Silver Throne defeated you, Syndon is afraid of you yet keeps you alive by killing for you, and you barely have control over an old Elf who has become so weak it takes daily doses of Starlight and Dusk to keep him alive! You have no power, Ophallo, none! You just keep talking and talking…too scared to even kill me!”

Ophallo winced. He looked confused, surprised too, as if something the SpellMaker had just said had slapped him across the cheek. But he never got the chance to do anything about it.

“Shut the mouth of that Elf,” Syndon suddenly said. Ophallo whirled towards him. “Our authority is threatened each time he speaks!”

It was true. Ash could tell from where she lay. The Errun by the cells were snarling and flexing their muscles, but they were no longer doing it at her or at her parents. They were doing it at Syndon, mainly, but also at Ophallo—towards those they had followed who they were now learning were not what they had thought them to be.

“They know I killed Chood, and they also hear you are weak,” Syndon went on. “Shut the mouth of the SpellMaker before he makes them Challenge us!”

“Listen to your old friend, Ophallo,” the SpellMaker said. Ophallo turned back to him. “You say you have some new master, but maybe you should listen to Syndon, and do what he says. Or maybe you can’t kill me. I brought you Amanda Jane Ash while her father is just a few feet to your rear. Victory is so close, another taste of success floods your very mouth, and all that remains between you and it is one old Elf with no magic left inside him. Can’t you at least do one little thing? Can’t you get rid of me before you grab hold of the sweetness of ending even more of the line of Good Blood?”

Ophallo pulled the SpellMaker closer, his nose touching the nose of the old Elf. “I can do a lot of things,” he said.

The SpellMaker flew up into the air; with a terrible force, he smashed into the red brick ceiling above before Ophallo sent him crashing onto the cobbled stone corridor below. He did it three times, then four, then more times than Ash cared to count, the SpellMaker flinging up and down with a horrifying crunch each time he struck brick or stone. And when Ophallo was finished, the SpellMaker nothing more than a limp form with arms hanging at wrong angles and a head slightly caved in on one side, he flung the SpellMaker away. He again slammed him against something hard, this time the wall right next to the staircase.

“I can kill you in an instant,” Ophallo said, the SpellMaker a crumpled mess that lay on the other side of Ash. “I think I just have.”

“Not yet.” The SpellMaker lifted one of his ruined arms, one Ash had no clue how he was moving. He pointed a finger at Ophallo.

Terror, absolute and pure, filled Ophallo’s face. It was the first not insane emotion Ash had seen him make.

“My life,” the SpellMaker said. But his words were faint as a bundle of movement and crimson hair tumbled down the stairs and went to his side. The SpellMaker turned and reached out with his other hand. He looked at what was next to him. “My life for you all.”

Chapter Fifty-One

The Errun were attacking Syndon. That was the first thing Ash saw when her sight returned.

Carolyn had appeared. She’d tumbled over beside the SpellMaker, and…and…but what had happened next?

Ash blinked. The SpellMaker had grabbed at Carolyn, she remembered that. There had been light too, so bright…but after?

Ash blinked again. The Errun were still fighting Syndon. That was interesting.

Ash got to her feet. The magic keeping her down was gone, probably due to Ophallo having been flung towards the rear of the room where he lay passed out. Ash went to Carolyn. She was unconscious as well—the bright must have hit her and Ophallo rather hard.

“I am your leader,” Ash heard Syndon say. His voice was a heavy roar that rose above a den of wild violence. “I have received no Challenge! You can’t do this!”

“A coward deserves no Challenge,” one of the Errun said.

It was a quick statement, yet it took the energy from the room. At least for Syndon it did. He paused briefly, a wild slash at his legs catching the back of a heel and slicing it off before he recovered and fled. For a second, he had a moment’s rest, all the other Errun taking it slow as they cautiously approached.

“You are Syndon,” that one Errun continued, “not Chood, and that pasty white demon is an evil sorcerer you should have never let into our Band! It is you who has betrayed us!”

“For power, I did it only for the power that all Errun deserve,” Syndon said. He whispered after that, a few quick words Ash didn’t catch. But they must have been important. He smiled wickedly before he jumped back into the fray.

Even with a hurt leg, he remained fast. Ash marveled at how agile he was as she crouched down to shake Carolyn awake. Syndon had no problem catching up with the Errun who were still taking it slow. He made sure to face the one who’d cut his heel, that beast finding it difficult to touch him again.

It took no more than three seconds, maybe four, before that Errun was done. Its head fell from its body before the rest of it collapsed to the floor.

“You did it for your own power, not for the Band’s,” the Errun who kept taunting Syndon said. Syndon raised his sword high as the others around him stepped back. They had been five, but now they were four, and Syndon appeared quite willing to take that number down even further. “You deserve nothing but death!”

“Then bring it,” Syndon said. He rushed again towards those who stood in front of him. It was like he no longer feared a thing.

Ash watched with a growing dread. She still had Justice, but she thought that if she had to face Syndon, there would be nothing she could do. As good as Justice was, Syndon was better. It was no wonder he could act so brave.

Carolyn refused to wake. Ash shook her and shook her as they both stayed beside the SpellMaker. His body was as mangled as it had been before he’d spoken his…his…there had been light, just like when Isabella had died, even some of the words had been the same, but Isabella was all memory—had the SpellMaker cast a Last Breath too?

Ash took a moment. Her heart was racing—why wouldn’t Carolyn get up—but she calmed and knew. There was just too much similarity.

The SpellMaker had cast a Last Breath. However, he was beyond casting anything now, he was probably already long since cold, but Carolyn was breathing. Her chest rose and fell, yet it seemed to Ash as if it were doing so a bit too hard, her eyes also moving so fast behind closed lids. Ash tried one last time to get her to rise, but she failed in every regard. Even as Ophallo got back to his feet, Carolyn refused to do the same.

Ash griped Justice’s hilt. She was alone—no Poppa Henry to convince her to punch someone in the face or run down the Unkindness, no Carolyn at her back either or the SpellMaker at her side. For the first time, Ash was completely on her own—a terrible change from anything close to normal. What should she do?

Fight or run? Each was horrible, but now with Ophallo back awake, it was a done deal. Ash knew she would die if she fought. It wouldn’t even be that long of a battle.

How about run? Something deep inside did call for that to happen, it was a desperate need within her heart to just leave the body of the SpellMaker behind—leave Carolyn, her parents too—and fly up and out to freedom. A few days before, at her school, she’d merely been a girl ruled by fear, and that girl remained. She yelled loudly for Ash to flee, just like she’d always done in her own world.

But Ash wasn’t in her own world. She stood back up straight. She would fight as she had already fought on the Kawshun, and down in this very room. Alone or not, she wouldn’t leave her parents, her friend, or the lifeless SpellMaker. She would give Ophallo and Syndon something to remember.

Kaio,” Ophallo said. He lifted a pale hand at an Errun who was fighting with Syndon. Except, his fingers weren’t pale anymore, they looked pink—and alive. In truth, Ophallo looked much better than any Elf Ash had yet seen. He had his height, his build, he still looked old—an Elf over a hundred at least—but his skin was filled with such health.

Ophallo was no longer in a dead body, but the strangest thing of all was in how weak his magic had become. He said “Kaio,” something Ash had only heard the SpellMaker say, but what flowed out of Ophallo was not at all like what the SpellMaker had been able to create.

A look of pain and weakness filled Ophallo’s pink and rosy face—his eyes also widening in shock. His bolt of red energy sputtered like a dying engine—its deep crimson color going a softer hue until it vanished, the poor Errun it hit howling and stumbling about as it bounced off brick walls until it finally fell to the floor and ceased to move.

“My magic,” Ophallo said. He stared down at his hand. “The Black is—what has happened?”

“You are mortal,” one of the remaining Errun said.

That Errun charged as the other two stayed with Syndon. Ophallo stood his ground but only for a second. While Syndon sighed and resumed his awful swordplay, Ophallo’s hand dropped to his side. He would have to defend himself without his magic, and it didn’t look as if he wanted to give a fair fight a chance. He took off for a rear wall that had once held a bronze door.

Adesmos,” Ash heard him yell. The bronze returned as he swayed on his feet and almost fell. He’d said another easy spell, yet it was something else that had drained him terribly. “Adesmos nottun aferus!”

Ash had no clue what the second part of his spell could mean. She was only surprised to hear and watch as Ophallo spoke it. He was already so weak he could barely stand, but the “nottun aferus” caused a stumble to the ground, the Errun at his back slashing wildly for him.

Ophallo twisted out of the way and somehow got up just before he lunged for his newly made door. He yanked it open, the black on the other side so thick Ash thought she may have been imagining it. How could such an eternal dark be moving—dancing or writhing (it could be writhing)—about? That didn’t make much sense.

All Ash was sure of was that while Ophallo made it through his door, the Errun behind him could not. That creature found only a barrier, something invisible, yet something that kept him out when he attempted to cross the threshold.

“He blocked us; didn’t you hear?” Syndon said. He was standing over the bodies of two more Errun. “No one else can go through that door. In fact, no one can use that wall for a good while to create anything since the spell he spoke will prevent that too. You’ll have to face me, Hyck, face me and finally see if you can do what your brothers could not.”

“With pleasure,” Hyck said.

He turned to Syndon as the bronze door slowly vanished. It left behind a room filled with two rage obsessed Errun as Ash and Carolyn, as even Ash’s mother and father—and a whole room filled with corpses—sat in wait for whatever else was to happen.

Only, there weren’t as many corpses as there had been a second ago. Ash looked around. Again and again she stared at every bit of her surroundings, but the truth never changed. The room wasn’t as crowded.

The Errun alone were all that littered the cobbled stone corridor, and Ash didn’t know when that had occurred. She didn’t even know who could have taken all those dead Elves?

The Cell Room was silent. “Just you and me, little girl,” Syndon said.

Ash watched as he yanked his blade out of Hyck’s chest. For some reason, he was starting to remind her of Emily. Not the Emily she’d last seen—all covered in mud and cowering in fear—but the Emily from her school, the beautiful dark-haired girl with rich mocha skin who’d terrified her for far too long.

Syndon held up his dirty curved blade and—like Ophallo, maybe he’d even learned it from him—snapped his teeth into a wretched crunch. Ash wasn’t afraid. She didn’t know how it happened, it just arrived. She saw how this wasn’t an Errun standing in a Cell Room of Athren. This was a bully she knew well.

Ash took a deep breath. She felt centered, as if—for the first time—she’d accepted a change in her life that would last. It wasn’t Justice who was controlling things here—this was her choice, like when she’d rushed to save Casten on the Unkindness, except better. That time had been too quick, a decision of such hurry because the awful of that highway had made her panic. However, now…this was thoughtful and deliberate. This was what she—and only she—wanted.

“I am Amanda Jane Ash!” Ash yelled. It felt right to do that, powerful too. Justice burst into a radiant orange. As she spoke and lifted it high, her sword just started to glow, an electric outline that traced over every inch of her silver blade.

Ash charged. It was the loudest thing that Justice had been advising her to do. If she wasn’t going to run, Justice wanted her to catch Syndon off guard, which kind of seemed possible since he was now just as stunned as she over what her sword was doing.

Ash flung her glowing blade in a beautiful arch of perfect, but Syndon remained quick. He recovered from his shock just in time. He blocked her.

Ash adjusted, came at him a different way. In truth, her new shine made her lighter on her feet and gave her a rush of extra energy. This awesome made her a skilled dancer who stepped and leapt so fast she was a blur that should have diced Syndon into cubes.

Yet, even with her shine Syndon must have cast a spell that was better. And hadn’t her Poppa Henry once warned that Syndon was one of the worst—the craftiest in all of Penthya? Maybe he’d worked magic when he’d whispered something after his heel had been cut.

Ash couldn’t see a thing, she couldn’t feel the magic either, but Justice could. Each time it neared Syndon’s flesh, something knocked it aside. Justice was always bouncing down to the floor as Syndon laughed and laughed.

“You’re getting tired,” he said.

This was also true. Against his own Errun, Syndon had been fast. But Ash really was amazing. Against her, Syndon had become nothing more than a lumbering beast she had no problem running circles around. However, it was beginning to take its toll.

She’d already gone around him a dozen times. She would whip behind, jump right in front of his face, strike out at one of his sides, and twist to do the same to the other. But nothing came of it. Ash was barely able to stand.

Justice still felt light in her arms; however, each time she blocked another of Syndon’s blows, the reverberations jarred her bones until they screamed. She couldn’t take much more.

“She is tired,” Ash heard her mother say. “Maybe she could rest in here?”

Ash turned slightly to the right. Syndon had her backed up near to the side of the brick arch that led into her parents’ cell. Her mom was an inch or so away. She was as close to the glowing lines of crimson as she could get without touching them, all that was on her face a strange yet peaceful smile, as if watching her daughter fight was the most glorious event in the world.

“It’s nice,” her mother said. “You could step inside, Ash. You can bring your friend too.”

Ash huffed in frustration. “Mom, I can’t talk now!”

“Don’t yell at your mother,” her father spoke up. He was still sitting on a leather chair with a book in his hands. He barely looked at his daughter as Ash flicked away the sharp edge of Syndon’s sword. “You just open the door. Your mom is right. It’s quite restful in here.”

A door, there was no door to his cell. Ash wanted to scream that as loud as she could.

“Not just tired,” Syndon smiled. And this was great, she had to deal with more from him too. “You’re exhausted by the shine.”

He had his sword pressed up against hers, his meaty flesh, and twisted breath, baring down as he looked at her. What was he up to?

“Are you brave?” Syndon asked. “You have Justice and it only shines when whoever wields it knows themselves, truly knows who they are, faults and all, and I can see you, little girl, you want to be brave, yes…you want that so bad. But are you? Or are you the type that hits fast, a balled-up knuckle to an unsuspecting face, and calls that bravery when such violence is nothing more than cowardice!”

Syndon had again become a roar, a piercing wail that cut deep into Ash’s soul. Her grandfather had said he was crafty, but he’d never mentioned Syndon could be a psychic demon able to pluck thoughts straight from her mind.

How was he so spot on about Emily? That punch…yes, Poppa Henry had told her to send it, but it had been she alone who’d felt pride over something so horrid, and now, Syndon knew all about it. Was this magic? Or was it just that easy to read it upon her face?

Ash didn’t feel centered anymore, all her shine fading as she gulped fear and felt more tired than ever. Where was the surety and the feel of all that power? Ash didn’t know what to do, her orange flickering as Justice dimmed and dimmed until it went back to being only a silver blade.

“You no longer know who you are,” Syndon laughed, “poor little girl!” Ash shook her head. She couldn’t listen to him. She couldn’t keep holding his blade mere inches from her face. She couldn’t…

“Seriously, honey,” her father sighed from behind her, “stop standing about and open the door…come inside.” A door, again with the…her father triggered a memory. It was only a nudge, but whatever it was, it did the trick. It even fit with what the SpellMaker had said when first she’d met him.

She wasn’t supposed to kill Syndon or be bothered by him, or anything else, and if that was the case, her fight in this room was pointless. Syndon pushed at her, Ash unable to do anything except move further up against the wall beside her parents’ cell. Syndon’s blade was even more on top of hers as he leaned down, his fetid breath so much a bellowing harsh aimed directly at her face. It took all her remaining strength—or more likely Justice amped her up—but Ash finally threw him off.

Syndon stumbled as Ash sliced at his knees. Again, nothing touched his skin, but Ash had swung hard, the force of her attack sending shockwaves out and around whatever it was that protected him. She put Syndon on the ground.

Ash headed far from her parents. She didn’t want to use a wall. Syndon’s warning about how Ophallo had made it so no one could follow was still with her even though Ophallo’s door was no longer there. A wall seemed dangerous.

Ash ran to the middle of the cobble stone corridor. She could hear Carolyn. Not awake and talking, this voice was only an echo in her mind. How Carolyn had said that creating a door outside of Spell was bad, especially if the one creating it was new to magic.

Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.

Chapter Fifty-Two

Ash took a deep breath. While there really was a danger in saying “Adesmos” when touching something that only had hard earth beneath it—her door could open into anything at all—hadn’t she just made Justice shine? Maybe she shouldn’t be so nervous.

Of course, that shine hadn’t lasted all that long, but she’d done it, and anyway, Syndon was back on his feet and staring her way. Ash put her hand onto stone. She had no choice but to keep running no matter how much she’d just convinced herself to stay right where she was.

Ash yelled. She didn’t mean to make it so loud—it even hurt her ears when “Adesmos” came out—but why not scream. It was like saying her name, something righteous that made her feel such power.

A door formed. A nice sized one with a bronze handle that Ash quickly turned with ease. She jumped through her door just as quickly.

She fell, but only for a second. Suddenly, she was hurled upwards and out, some force pushing her towards the heavens.

Ash twisted in space. A smattering of color, a blue mixed with brown, was all that was over her as a hard wood floor was all that waited below. She hit with a bone-shattering thud, Justice skittering out of her hands. It came to rest far from the door she’d created.

It was still open, light from the Cell Room pouring out to help illuminate the only place that had been on her mind when she’d used magic to escape from Syndon: the SpellMaker’s Greeting Room. Ash scrambled to pick Justice back up.

The blue she’d seen, one crisscrossed with brown, was the same canopy of tree limbs and sky she’d previously marveled at when first she’d been brought before the Wicker Chair. She’d made it. She had formed something with magic and had opened it onto exactly where she’d wanted to go. She was kind of proud.

But the more she looked, the more Ash began to wonder. Had she made a mistake?

She saw Casten with a new sword. He was standing next to Lady Mist who held a staff not unlike the one Amalin had been given. The two of them were right before the Wicker Chair, fighting for their lives as dead Errun, and a few dead Elves, littered the ground at their feet.

Casten ducked a blow and stepped in front of Mist. He killed two in a matter of seconds while she sent a bolt of red from her staff to take care of the rest.

There was more. Errun were at the doors and along the hallways. Jeth was there too—he was fighting in front of a hall Ash thought might have been the one which led to her room, but she wasn’t sure. All she was sure of was that right beside him was a figure of glass. It was her Poppa Henry; he was using magic and his own sword—a curved Errun blade—to help defend the SpellMaker’s home from an evil tide of monsters.

But other than Poppa Henry, Jeth was by himself. At his feet were bodies in white robes, dead Elves that made it clear he’d once had a whole group to back him up.

Ash stood and pulled Justice off the floor. From Poppa Henry’s stories, she’d always imagined Penthya to be a place of great magic. Yet ever since she’d entered it, what she’d found was that while magic was there, that magic could sometimes carry darkness. It was heartbreaking.

The good shouldn’t die anymore, that was all that consumed her as Ash made yet another choice that was hers alone. It didn’t cause Justice to shine, but it was hers. She put her back to Casten and Lady Mist. They were doing fine. She would be a better help with Jeth.

Syndon fell through her door. Before Ash could take a step, he flew like she had done, Ash watching with a rabid interest. She saw his feet, as if he’d jumped down with them tucked against his chest in preparation for a landing onto something hard. But in the Greeting Room, there wasn’t anything for him to land on, his feet weren’t even aimed downwards anymore. They were pulled out straight, as if he had an invisible wire wrapped around his ankles.

Her door slammed shut—so nice of it to do that after Syndon had arrived—and Ash took note. The force of his descent and then the force of his sudden ascent twisted him. Syndon flipped feet overhead, head over feet, Ash ducking at the last second as he went past and crashed to the floor.

Quicker than she expected—wasn’t that just like him—Syndon was up. Never letting Ash out of his sight, he flicked his sword in broad circles. He made it hum.

“Interesting,” Syndon said. He nodded towards where her door was already starting to vanish. “Switching of gravity and perspective, haven’t felt that in ages. You’re still lost and confused, aren’t you, little girl? Is that the first door you’ve created?”

“Second,” Ash said.

“Then you need practice!” Syndon launched himself at her. “Because that wasn’t good at all!”

As it had been in the Cell Room, Ash could find no success. She could survive, taking Syndon’s heavy blows as she ran, dodged, and tried to attack, but no matter how she deflected his sword, or slipped Justice down towards his feet, nothing happened. The charms around him stayed, and every time Ash thought she’d won, that she’d finally pierced through to his skin, his spells sent her blade off to the side.

However, she was already at the same level of exhaustion she’d felt when she’d fled to the center of a cobbled stone corridor. That couldn’t be good.

Casten was still dealing with the mass of Errun near to the Wicker Chair, he was busy protecting Lady Mist who was having her own problems trying to take care of any Errun he couldn’t kill. With all of Ash’s moving about, they were now both far off—just ahead of her and to the left. Ash knew she couldn’t get to them. She didn’t even think they’d realized she’d returned.

As for Jeth, much was the same. He was to Ash’s back. She was trying to get to him, hoping with each spin she could inch closer his way, but so far, nothing had come of it. Whenever she could turn, she saw that Jeth was now fighting the Errun all alone. Poppa Henry was gone.

Justice flew from her hands. Ash had tried to take one last glance over her shoulder to figure out where her grandfather was, but Syndon had been ready. He sent Justice spinning.

“Ophallo wanted you alive,” Syndon said. Ash fell to her knees, Syndon towering over her as he raised his sword. “He had your brother before that tiny brat escaped, and he wanted you and your father so all your blood could give him a living Shell. But I don’t think I need to care anymore about what Ophallo wants.”

Syndon lifted his sword even higher. Justice lay a few feet away. It was too far to pick up, but somehow, it was still close enough to be heard. It warned Ash of where the blow would hit, at her shoulder first and then down. Unless a miracle happened, she would die.

A miracle arrived. Something clear yet alive—a living mass of air and light—appeared from nowhere. It tackled Syndon—sent him crashing to the floor.

“Get away from my granddaughter,” Poppa Henry yelled. He knocked Syndon’s sword away—the weapon sliding over to where Jeth still fought.

Ash couldn’t believe it. She couldn’t stop watching it either. Her Poppa Henry, his own sword now gone as well, pummeled Syndon. He was trying to kill him with his bare hands, but it wasn’t working.

Glass fingers slipped off their intended targets, and a glass head found only an invisible barrier to ram up against. No matter how her Poppa Henry struck, only tiny fractures, fissures in his body, formed to show for the violence he was creating.

“I kill her I hurt Ophallo, I hurt you too,” Syndon said. He grabbed Poppa Henry’s hands—yanked them off him. He began to get to his feet. “I’m tired of following the orders of pink or pale flesh because there is magic behind such skin. Who cares about who Ophallo has found! His master is strong, but he isn’t here, and I’ve had my own spells for quite some time! I will kill you, and then I will kill Amanda Jane Ash and her father. I will even hunt down and take out your grandson and your own daughter, so I can finally end anything that could ever put Penthya back onto a path of peace!”

Syndon had gotten as upright as he could, Poppa Henry forced to stand as well. Syndon still had a secure lock on his hands.

Syndon also jammed a foot into Poppa Henry’s chest. He began to push hard with his clawed toes, his gnarled fingers pulling and tearing at the same time. Poppa Henry did nothing in return.

Ash couldn’t believe it. Syndon was breaking him apart and her Poppa Henry just stood there staring in confusion.

“What do you mean you’ll hunt down my daughter?” he asked. “You know where she is?”

“No, but I live,” Syndon said, “and so does Ophallo.” He yanked at glass arms even more, his leg straightening as he jammed his foot deeper into Poppa Henry’s chest. “I think you, too, have died. Magic has helped a lot of us to survive, and the Seal remained intact for years, remember?

“It kept you from us and us from you until you breathed your last. And that makes me wonder, Henry, if no one could travel from our world to yours for as long as you and your children were alive, then wouldn’t that mean your Sara never died?”

“My Sara,” Poppa Henry said. Still he was unconcerned that Syndon was yanking him to a degree which had already caused his arms to splinter even more. It made no sense. He wasn’t even bothered by the fact that the more Syndon straightened his leg, the more those cracks got worse. “My Sara brought home, I could—”

Syndon smiled. “Not if you’re dead.”

Ash rolled to her side. She’d been too stunned to move as she’d watched her grandfather and Syndon fight, but now, she had to go. She leapt for Justice and brought her sword up in a hurry as she got back to her feet. The blade instantly warned her of danger.

Poppa Henry’s attack had not gone unnoticed; his miracle only being done by running through a crowd of Errun who were now desperately trying to catch up. When Ash reclaimed her blade, it expertly told her how she should move if she wanted to take them out.

Two Errun were quickly dispatched. The others slowed, that time allowing for Syndon to pull Poppa Henry’s arms to their breaking point.

“I will kill your Sara,” Syndon said, “I will make sure all of Penthya remains in chaos!”

The world came to a crawl—a speed that allowed Ash to see everything with ease. Casten and Lady Mist finally saw Poppa Henry and tried to head his way. Ash even caught, from the corner of an eye, Jeth running for her. He’d scooped up Syndon’s own sword, the one that had been sent towards him, and now he had two blades, both helping to do what one alone had not been able to accomplish. He was taking on the remaining Errun, and he was winning.

As Syndon gave one last yank on her grandfather, Jeth fought until he was where Ash would have been if she’d remained. But she hadn’t. She’d taken care of the other—slow—Errun and had run.

A sickening crack filled the room as Ash flipped into a vivid horror. If her Poppa Henry shattered without somewhere to go, if he broke apart without a mirror nearby, he would be gone. No more Reflections, no more life in glass or on the surface of water. He would be dead—really, really, dead. She had to get to him before he was torn to bits.

She was already too late. A terrible moan, a horrible yell of “No,” rose above an explosion of shattered glass. Ash only realized a few seconds later that it was her own voice making such a sound as she launched herself at Syndon and hacked and slashed against the Errun she was sure had murdered her grandfather.

It didn’t matter that even without arms, Poppa Henry was still there—that the body he held hadn’t broken fully. Her Poppa Henry stood with his back towards the Wicker Chair, and nothing was on Ash’s mind except revenge.

“Don’t,” Poppa Henry warned, but his words weren’t enough.

Ash got up close and struck again and again, praying, begging, for something to let Justice through. But nothing worked. Justice flew off with each blow she made, and all Syndon did was stand there before he threw Poppa Henry’s arms to the ground.

He flicked out a hand and grabbed Ash by the throat. “I may not be able to kill you,” he snarled. He held Ash up as he turned her towards her armless grandfather. The Wicker Chair was at her back, Ash struggling in Syndon’s grasp. She couldn’t breathe, yet, oddly, she was thinking only one thing. She wondered if Casten and Lady Mist were still there, if maybe they could see her dangling with her feet so far above the Greeting Room floor.

“You might have a body that can withstand a lot,” Syndon continued, “but that doesn’t mean I can’t hurt your kin. Stay alive, Henry—watch as I kill your family.”

A blade erupted from Syndon’s chest. Ash didn’t catch where it had come from, she was too consumed with other thoughts to even bother with what might be happening behind Syndon, but she did note the curved angle of this new sword, the rust covering and the ancient stain of blood from many a corpse that covered it.

It was his. Syndon’s own weapon was sticking right through him.

“Does your magic prevent your sword from getting to you?” Jeth asked. He twisted the blade he held so the curved front danced before Syndon’s eyes. “Or did you once coat it in your own blood like every good Errun does to mark his weapons? If you did, then any spell of protection wouldn’t think of this sword as a danger! It would see your blood, feel your blood, and believe this sword just another part of you!”

Syndon dropped Ash as he fell to his knees. “May-maybe I am more powerful than you think, cattle.”

Jeth pulled at the sword until it sprung free. “You remember,” he leaned down too, his lips an inch away from Syndon’s ear as Syndon brought a hand to his chest, thick gray blood pouring over his fingers and down onto the floor. “You remember how you chose me as your next meal?”

“Of…of course,” Syndon said. “I remember ever-every Elf I meet. They—they think so little of my kind, and…and it is always nice when I give them a surprise!”

Ash lay before him. She could see a sudden triumph on Syndon’s face as he brought his head back and slammed it into Jeth. She heard bones break, saw blood, green and bright, fly from Jeth’s nose as Syndon raised a hand and aimed it past her. He pointed a finger at the Wicker Chair.

“You watch the power that…that an Errun…you watch the power that an Errun has,” Syndon said, gray blood and white spittle flying from his lips. “Watch what I do with my life!”