World's of Ash: Last Chapters...Let Me Know If It Ends Abrupt

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

Chapter Fifty-Three

It was a Last Breath, and it couldn’t be stopped. Ash could feel it. The power in front of her was all lightning bolts and gale force winds—some grand hurricane about to make landfall at any second.

Syndon went still, every last ounce of strength slipping free of him as—suddenly—Poppa Henry jumped in front of her. Ash didn’t see why he would bother. What could defeat an undefeatable spell?

Ash couldn’t argue about it, however. She could only watch as her Poppa Henry leapt to protect, the power she was feeling shattering him to bits before it struck her hard.

There was a surge along her body—especially at her neck, as if the mirror she wore was electrified. Ash flew.

She had a quick glimpse of the Greeting Room zipping beneath, her feet dangling just above the head of Casten, before everything went dark. It was about the billionth time she’d blacked out. She was so tired of doing that.

Ash opened her eyes. She was in front of the Wicker Chair.

The SpellMaker was sitting upon it with a thin yet happy smile on his face. It was something that looked so similar to the grin he’d worn in the Cell Room right before he’d died. But that grin had been of finality. This one was rather nice.

“I think the two of you did great,” he said.

The Greeting Room was not consumed with the Errun or the dead. It was quiet, each corner holding only empty doorways that led into empty halls.

However, Ash did—finally—spot something that thrilled her to her core. Poppa Henry was there. She saw flesh and form—there could be no mistaking it. The Poppa Henry she remembered, her Poppa Henry, was right behind her.

“You okay?” he asked.

“I—I’m fine,” Ash said. What was going on? “But you…you flew in front of Syndon’s Last Breath, and…and you shattered…and…”

“It’s okay,” Poppa Henry said, “it’s all okay. I’m fine too.”

Ash began to cry. “But,” she sobbed, “your arms were already torn off, and…and…you shattered! You said that would kill you!”

Poppa Henry quickly leaned over and hugged her tight. “I’m fine,” he said again, “my Little Ash, I’m just fine. What I told you was that my Reflection would disappear if I were to ever shatter, but I also said that would only happen if I didn’t have some mirror I could jump into. And I had a mirror, your blue one.”

“But,” Ash began. She was trying so hard to understand. “Would that cause me to fly?”

“Why would you fly?”

“I don’t know.” Since he already had his arms around her, Ash could finally do what she’d thought she would never do again. She buried her head into her grandfather’s side. “You blocked the spell, and I flew.”

The SpellMaker coughed. “I can answer that,” he said. “It’s why I brought you both here.”

Poppa Henry looked around, “And where are we…exactly?”

“An excellent question,” the SpellMaker sighed. “I am dead, I really am, and you are not…or…or at least the both of you are as alive as you can ever be. This place is simply something left behind, something I cast when I bent light and took a few with me into the heart of Athren. I made it so you two could dream like I used to.”

Poppa Henry gave a weary shake of his head. “I knew it. You added something to your magic, didn’t you?”

The SpellMaker sat back in his chair and lifted a hand. He pointed at Ash’s neck. “You were around your granddaughter at the time, and I took her, yet I left you behind in a glass form not made from Ash’s mirror or any mirror nearby. I didn’t add to make that happen, I opened. I pried wide a few doors that have been shut for centuries.”

Poppa Henry stepped forward, Ash doing the same so she could remain at his side. “Open,” Poppa Henry said, “but, how? And—and why…”

“Oh, the why is easy,” the SpellMaker explained, “it’s all part of that last dream I can’t stop talking about. The one of my death—the one of Syndon’s attack too, and of Ophallo’s return.”

Poppa Henry flinched. “Ophallo has returned. When…where…”

“In Athren, and as a Shell,” the SpellMaker said, “one that would have kept him safe from any attack, but I used a Last Breath to return mortality to him. When he is seen again, think fondly of me—fighting him before I died would have been much more difficult.”

Poppa Henry began to laugh—something boisterous and free of worry, like endless sunshine had just scattered gold across a sky that had been dark for far too long. It was beautiful.

“Great,” he said, “you got him. You actually got him by using a spell no one can counter.” He coughed, his laughter catching in his throat. “Yet…I mean…how…I flew in front of Syndon’s Last Breath, and…what happened?”

The SpellMaker leaned forward. He was smiling so broad Ash couldn’t help but to do the same. This grin, it wasn’t like Ophallo’s—stretching and stretching beyond imagination. It wasn’t even one of finality anymore or just nice. This grin was warmth and welcoming—a bright jewel that was as golden as her Poppa Henry’s laughter had been.

“That’s the best part,” the SpellMaker said, “you did stop it.”

“How,” Poppa Henry shook his head. “That can’t…a Last Breath…how could I stop the unstoppable? How could…unless—”

“Go on,” the SpellMaker prodded.

“Unless…when you opened those doors, some extra magic must have gone into the body you gave me. I stayed intact when Syndon took my arms. My body must have been powerful, right?”

The SpellMaker sunk back into his chair, Ash surprised at the give the wicker had. “What a great King you could have been,” he said, “if only that was the way this story had gone. Denthro was wise to want to start the process of getting you confirmed as his successor. If he’d just used his wisdom to also see how bent his own son had become.”

The SpellMaker sighed again, his smile dropping into a weary grimace. “But now is not the time to indulge the might-have-beens. We all make choices, and we cannot undo them. The doors I’ve opened will allow for long dormant magic to flow back into Penthya. And they will stay open; those who have the talent can reach inside, they can now easily create all over Athren, or bend light near to Spell, yet what I opened was specifically done to end a Last Breath.

“You see, something Syndon never knew, and something Ophallo still doesn’t know, is that the Black is only a copy, a pale imitation. It uses the same words as the Bright, it even looks very much like the Bright, but whereas the Bright has all that is pure to power it, the Black has only the absence of pure to give it strength.

“I stockpiled energy—what I’ve been consuming for years allowed me to do this. Though Ophallo and his master may have found similar avenues that will let them work great magic, my centuries of preparation was better. It let me wrench open what Ophallo shut when he sat on the Silver Throne, and it also let me create a form of utter Brightness, something you occupied, Henry—something Syndon’s Last Breath could never stand up to.”

The SpellMaker went back to smiling, this time right at Poppa Henry. He looked like a wise mentor beaming pride at a student who’d just aced some terrible test.

“It especially couldn’t stand up to it when you used that body to selflessly protect your granddaughter.” The SpellMaker paused. “Although,” he finally said after letting that beam of pride fall from his lips, “I must admit,” he coughed again too. Was he nervous? “Everything did create a bit of a backlash which caused your Ash to fly through my Greeting Room.”

Poppa Henry stared down at Ash. “Is she hurt?”

“No, no,” the SpellMaker quickly added. “She was only knocked about—sent into a sleep I could use so you both could be here. When I was in Athren and when I gave to you that form, I also gave a Blessing. I did it as I had to do it to Carolyn, as I had to Bless poor young Sillan, and those Blessings left every single one of you with gifts the two of you are using right now.”

Ash started to pull away from Poppa Henry. “Wait,” she still had a grip on some of his fingertips. She couldn’t fully let go. “Will we always be able to dream like you used to?”

“No,” the SpellMaker said, “my Blessing on you and on your grandfather should be limited. I eased some of your worry, Ash, and…”

It was rude, but it fit so snug into what had just happened Ash couldn’t help herself. The SpellMaker had eased her worry…that couldn’t be right.

“But—” Ash blurted out. Her voice was back to being way too loud, something that echoed even in this dream, this memory, this whatever she was in. She shook free of the last of her Poppa Henry. “But I’m still worried! I’m still scared!”

The SpellMaker sighed one last time. “I saw this too,” he confessed. He leaned forward. “You’re talking about Justice. About how you made it shine.”

Poppa Henry let out a whoop of astonishment. Before the SpellMaker’s words could settle into the room, he was all excitement and joy. It felt wrong.

“My Little Ash,” he took a hurried step forward as he went back to hugging Ash tight into his arms. “You made Justice shine…I can’t…that’s…no one of the Bright has done that for centuries!”

He lifted Ash up—twirled her as if it were some grand day in some grand park, a clichéd twist of happy Ash had often enjoyed in every single movie she’d ever seen it in. But this wasn’t happy or joy, this was still upset and loud yells.

“I,” she felt like crying again. Poppa Henry didn’t know how this story ended. “I,” he dropped her back to her feet as she pulled away for a second time. She really couldn’t be near for this. “I didn’t do it for long. I was sure I knew what I wanted, and Justice went orange after I chose to stay in the Cell Room but…but when I was fighting Syndon, all the worry, every bit of who I still am, came crashing down. I was so scared and…”

“And Justice ceased to shine,” the SpellMaker said. He shook his head mournfully. At least he understood the seriousness of what Ash was trying to say. “You started to feel things you didn’t like, and when you hated your own heart for that, Justice knew you didn’t know yourself anymore. It went dim.”

“Yes,” Ash said, “and I do that all the time. In my world and on the Unkindness…I once outran a wolf, and then…then I froze a second later when I came face to face with a girl who shouldn’t have been half as scary as that wolf, and Peter…I maybe could have gotten to Peter in time, but I froze, and they took him, and…there’s a sickness in me! I can’t stay strong!”

Poppa Henry was, yet again, at her side. But this time, he didn’t pick her up, he merely reached out and squeezed her shoulder.

“My Little Ash,” he said, “it’s okay. Remember, even Jeth, he said it as well. You’re young, now is the time for you to not know who you…”

“No,” Ash was loud again, why was this so important that she had to raise the volume to make everyone understand. “I was stronger! I was better! For a second, I had this perfect shine, but then I lost it and…it isn’t just Peter! If I could have stayed strong, maybe you wouldn’t have shattered, maybe Carolyn wouldn’t have been hurt, or Sillan killed! Maybe even the SpellMaker wouldn’t have died or had to do whatever Blessings he had to do for us! Maybe I could…”

The SpellMaker raised a hand, his silent authority so much better than any shout Ash had been using. The room went hushed.

“I had to Bless you,” he began, “and I had to die. Never blame yourself for that. Like I told my daughter, it was what had to happen.”

“But…I…” Ash tried to spit out.

“No,” the SpellMaker was stern. All arguments had to cease. “It’s okay, I had to Bless you both, and I had to Bless Sillan and Carolyn too, so that you could see me this one time, and…and for the other’s…I, well, I may have messed up for them, but that is my fault, not yours.

“Consuming as much as I did, it…but I had to…I had to take so I could see, but…my dream…even with what I ate, I’m afraid things slipped. The big I remembered clearly, but the other stuff, like Carolyn and…and Sillan…they fell from my grasp. You two should be fine, my Blessing upon you both should fade and this ability to see visions should end. But what I gave to Carolyn and Sillan was more. I’m ashamed at how I have foolishly used such young Elves.”

Ash was confused. How could Sillan be a part of anything—he was dead, that should have been about it for him—but as for Carolyn, she understood that well. Whatever other concerns she had, they quickly faded.

“Is Carolyn okay?” Ash asked.

The SpellMaker nodded. “Physically, she will be fine. After you left Athren, Amalin understood what was going on. She protected Carolyn and retrieved my body.

“But when Carolyn wakes, things will be different. I had to give her my memories. It was the choice I made when I decided to let my last dream come about.”

Poppa Henry shook his head. “Wait a second,” he let go of Ash’s shoulder as all the joy he’d had over her shine bled away. “What do you mean? Your dreams are the coming future—the unalterable future—how could you choose to…”

“That is unimportant,” the SpellMaker said, “it is something—”

“No, this is very…”

“It’s unimportant,” the SpellMaker yelled. His voice made Ash cringe. She liked it better when he was just stern. “This dream is already fading, and I need for you to understand! Choosing anything, how I consumed…” the SpellMaker seemed on the verge of a great confession, but instead, he suddenly stopped talking.

“Never mind,” he finally whispered. “Just…everything, all I have done is nothing compared to how I have placed inside Carolyn things she cannot handle. How to teach you, how to guide you in the Bright, that would have been bad enough, but now she knows all I ever knew, she has the secrets, the lies I never spoke, and it will drive her mad. I’ve ruined her!”

“But why?” Poppa Henry asked. “Such a thing was considered beyond evil the last I was in Penthya, why would you ever implant memories?”

“Because I had to,” the SpellMaker said. “Because, like the Blessings I gave, like my very death, it was all a part of a choice I do not want to speak of, and I…I…to make that choice come about, such specifics had to be dreamt, had to be followed.”

The SpellMaker dropped his head in his hands. Ash thought he might never speak again, yet after a brief rest, he sat up straight.

“I forgot,” he shrugged. “Simple as that. There was Starlight and…and there was also…but still I aged, my mind slipped, and now too much of me has infected a poor girl!”

“And what about Sillan?” Ash asked. Maybe he was still part of this.

“When you see him again,” the SpellMaker said, “you will know. For him, I don’t think I messed up too bad.”

Poppa Henry stepped closer to the SpellMaker. “And this,” he ruined any chance for Ash to clarify that whole “when you see him again” issue. “This is all because of your last dream?”

“Yes,” the SpellMaker said, “I chose to follow that dream because there are things coming, things I could always see, but couldn’t understand. It is an evil worse than Ophallo and Syndon, and it alone is why you are here. To know of that evil and to also know what I have done.”

Poppa Henry shook his head. “Nothing could be worse than Ophallo or Syndon, nothing!”

“Yet there is something,” the SpellMaker said. “Something I could never pin down and study. No matter how much I lied to Ophallo, I could never truly see who his new master was. I only know that that master, and the maybe man, exist. I also know how we can stop them.”

Poppa Henry sighed. “You mean getting my son, his kids, even my daughter if we can find her. You want them to sit on the thrones.”

“That is correct,” the SpellMaker said, looking at Ash as he spoke, “but before you can do that, she will have to return to your world. I need for Amanda Jane Ash to retrieve a ring Isabella Denthro once gave to you.”

Poppa Henry laughed—and this time there was no beauty to be found in it. “Her wedding gift to me? Why is that important?”

“Because,” the SpellMaker explained, “there was a reason why she wore it—an heirloom passed to every first-born child, something you would have given to Stephen or Sara if Isabella had had a chance to tell you what it could do. Ash must bring that ring back to Penthya.”

Poppa Henry shook his head again. He really did that a lot.

“No way, I won’t send my Little Ash back onto the Unkindness—”

The SpellMaker raised a hand. “It can’t always be the Unkindness.”

“What?” Poppa Henry asked.

“You can’t always use the Unkindness,” the SpellMaker clarified. “Ash can go back to her world through that dark highway, however, once she has the ring, she must never use that road again.”

“Why not?”

The SpellMaker gave a brief smile. Ash didn’t like it.

“Another lost memory, however, there is writing on the ring, it will explain if Ash has the strength to reveal it. Just remember, once you have it, the Unkindness is dangerous, Ash must never bring that ring onto it or onto the fields of Kawshun.”

“I,” Poppa Henry looked at Ash who nodded vigorously. She wouldn’t take the ring to that dark world. She hated that world. “Fine,” he said, “Ash won’t carry the ring onto the Unkindness. I’ll even promise she won’t carry it anywhere because she’s going to stay in Athren, or Castle Watch, with her parents. I’ll get the ring.”

“No,” the SpellMaker said, “that won’t do. She must return to her world.”

“Why?” Poppa Henry asked. “I can go. It will be as simple as…”

The SpellMaker leveled a hand at Ash. “She doesn’t just signify the return of magic to Penthya, her arrival means that magic has returned to how it once was, a current flowing through all worlds, binding every reality if she or Peter or even if Stephen or Sara is the Wanderer. Ash must return so we can see if she will be the bridge that will unite everything.”

Poppa Henry shook his head once more—seriously, was that a nervous tick? “The Wanderer,” he sighed, “isn’t that just something Zayun scribbled onto the thrones?”

“It’s real,” the SpellMaker said, “and Ash has to go home so that, at the very least, the process of finding the Wanderer will begin. However, all of that is not the only reason why you, Henry, can’t go get the ring.”

“Why am I not surprised? What else has happened?”

“You can no longer form a body to inhabit,” the SpellMaker said, another hand raised to cut off any further protest Poppa Henry was about to make. “Once more, my fault, but it is there. What I blessed you with, your last body, allowed for you to have strength, but only for a short while. If you ever make flesh from glass or water again, you will die.”

Chapter Fifty-Four

Ash rolled over. She’d been in front of the SpellMaker—confused about how Sillan could be back from the dead, worried, too, about who Ophallo’s master could ever be, even who was the maybe man had been a nagging concern. It was infuriating how she kept finding more and more questions inside of Penthya. She needed a moment—just a half-second when her grandfather and the SpellMaker weren’t talking, then maybe she could get some answers.

Ash blinked—she must have. She was back awake.

“Mom…Momma,” Ash said.

She was in a large bed, her mother just off to her side. Ash rolled a little more, every question quickly tabled as she got a better look. Her mother was curled up on a leather chair, her legs tucked beneath her—a large quilt draped over her body. She was asleep, her dark red hair falling across her forehead. There was no strange yet peaceful glow upon her face. Was everything back to normal?

“Mom,” Ash said once more.

She tried to throw off some blankets she discovered she was buried beneath. There were quite a few—the first being a nice and silky bit of luxury which bathed her skin in what felt like a dry, yet somehow liquid, bath of cool comfort. And above that were six others with a final one being a thick and downy quilt—like what her mother had over her. Ash couldn’t get free of any of them.

It wasn’t that they were heavy. It wasn’t even that they were tucked up so tight she couldn’t move. Ash could wiggle and thrash, she could even roll and breathe, but she didn’t have the strength to do much else.

“Calm down, baby, calm down,” a voice, her father’s voice, said as Ash flipped to her other side and saw him. “It’s a quick spell, one that has been placed on the covers—something Lady Mist told us would help you.”

Another leather chair was set up on her left. Ash had to struggle some more. Her father was slowly rising and she had to push and pull until she had both her arms free so she could wrap them around his neck when he made it to her.

“Daddy,” she cried. “Are you okay?”

“Yes, baby,” her father said. “Everything is fine.”

He hugged her as fiercely as she was hugging him, the bed they were on creaking and rocking as her mother also woke. She leapt to join them.

“But in the Cell Room, behind those red lines,” Ash pulled back. She looked carefully at her parents. “You both acted so weird.”

“And now it’s gone,” her mother said. “It’s all gone.”

She grabbed at Ash—tried to haul her closer. But the sheets, Ash may have gotten her hands free, but they wouldn’t let the rest of her do the same.

“There was the Lohmah,” her mother continued, “and it was awful. We could tell you were in trouble, but that spell kept us from you just like these darn covers are doing now.” Her mother huffed in exasperation, pulling more forcefully until she gave up. “In the Cell Room, your father and I,” she sighed, “well, down there, we didn’t want to escape ever again. After he almost got us out of…of…oh where did we almost get away from?”

“From Watch,” Ash’s father said, “but we were caught and shoved into another prison that made us not lift a finger when you were fighting. Ash, I’m so sorry.”

Ash smiled. “It’s alright.”

Her father took a second. He peered over at her mother as if to confirm whether he should go on. “It’s not alright,” he finally said. “We saw you, but it was odd. We knew you were there, yet it felt like a dream, so disconnected from what we wanted to do that we didn’t care when you were on the verge of being killed. And after you jumped through that door, we just sat until they brought us here with you already tucked into this bed. Honey, are you sure you’re okay?”

Her mother nodded and, this time, scooted forward so she didn’t have to pull to bring Ash close. She hugged until Ash could hardly breathe.

Ash didn’t mind. Air or no air, too tight or not tight enough, it felt great. Her mother never did this.

“We’re so sorry,” her mother said. “We didn’t help in that miserable Cell Room, and now that you’re under these Sanytus covers, we can’t check you out! This place—all this magic—it’s too much!”

“I’m fine,” Ash said as soon as her mother pulled away. “I’m sure whatever spells—”

Her mother huffed again. “Spells, charms, how can magic be real? We need a doctor, not some woman who says some blankets are what’s best for our daughter!”

Her father grabbed her mother’s shoulder. He gave it a quick squeeze. “Honey,” he said, “everything my father ever told—Penthya, the Errun, Elves, they’re real, and maybe…maybe magic can work better than any medicine we’ve ever known.”

Her mother shrugged him off—a look of disappointment and anger upon her face. It was something Ash knew well. Back at home, her mother always held the same whenever there was an argument about her job.

“I know magic is real,” she said. “Ever since those things grabbed me in my car and somehow took me—”

Ash’s father sighed. “They bent light,” he looked as angry as her mother, and Ash didn’t understand. How could her parents, in a new world, still cling to old emotions? “They’re Light Benders, just like my father always spoke of.”

“Whatever,” her mother said, “I know that magic is real, I really do, I’ve known it since I was grabbed, and I’m tired of it. That lady, that Mist woman, she told us that some Carolyn…”

This was interesting. Ash gave sitting up another try.

“Carolyn,” she asked, “what about Carolyn…is she okay?”

Her father leaned over. He pushed Ash gently back towards the bed. “Don’t,” he smiled, “you can’t. Do you know Carolyn?”

Still, Ash gave escape one last shot before the covers she was under defeated her yet again. She let her father’s warm hand guide her down.

“Yes,” she said, “Carolyn was the other…there was an Elf girl in the Cell Room with me, and she…she got knocked out, but you…Is she okay?”

“We think so,” Ash’s father said. “Lady Mist did put you under these covers, but she mainly used them because your Carolyn told Mist some things in a voice that reminded everyone of the SpellCaster…SpellDealer…I’m not sure of the name, but it was his voice from her lips and…”

“SpellMaker,” Ash said, “Carolyn spoke in the SpellMaker’s voice?”

“That’s it,” her father agreed, “SpellMaker. Lady Mist said that Carolyn spoke, and it sounded like the SpellMaker. She reminded everyone about Sanytus covers and…”

Ash’s mother huffed one last time. Ash was on the verge of asking if this had anything to do with the memories the SpellMaker had given to Carolyn, but she lost another moment. She let her mother speak instead.

Sanytus covers,” her mother said, “I just…it’s all magic, magic, and more magic! I want someone in a white coat with a tongue depressor and a stethoscope to check on my daughter! You need to go get Mist so Ash can get up!”

Ash watched as her father slid to the edge of the bed. He sighed again—the anger somehow disappearing from him. It had been slipping while he’d leaned towards Ash, but now, it was fully gone. That was new.

“Of course,” he said. However, before he left, he did something else unexpected. He gave her mother another squeeze of comfort, and she didn’t try to shrug it off. Maybe they would be alright. “Rachel…”

“Yes?”

“I love you—you and Ash and Peter, and I will do everything to get us all back home. I want you to know that.”

“I know,” her mother said, “and I love you too. Just…just go get Mist.”

Her father began to head out. But quickly, he came to a stop. There was movement in a large mirror hung up beside a thick wooden door which was a good distance from where Ash lay.

Unlike the previous rooms she’d seen while in Spell—and the deep brown of some nearby walls let Ash know she still had to be in Spell—this room wasn’t circular, and it didn’t have a bed at its center or windows, or closets, dotted everywhere she looked. This room had a bed placed against a rear wall that was at least three to four feet from a closed oak wood door which was the only way anyone could enter or exit. It had a huge mirror too, one which stretched the entire length of a wall right next to that same oak wood door. Where Ash was now was much bigger than where she’d previously slept.

Yet there was a level of chaos to this room—scattered clothes and dropped odds and ends—that made Ash think even more of Carolyn. In fact, Ash was so caught up in everything about her friend it took her a while to realize—the flickering in the mirror was her Poppa Henry.

“No need to get Mist,” he said. Her father altered his steps. He got as close to Poppa Henry as he could. “Trial is done.”

Ash saw how her father shook his head. She knew exactly where he got that from.

“Done,” he asked, “what do you mean done? I thought Trial could last days?”

The oak wood door opened before Poppa Henry could reply. Casten and Lady Mist nodded to everyone as they entered. “Yet,” Casten said. He paused at the threshold so Lady Mist could step in front. He only went inside once she was in the lead. “Trial was resolved rather quick.”

“Does this mean,” Ash’s father asked. “Is my father in the clear?”

Lady Mist nodded. “He is victorious. Carolyn’s Remembrance of Ophallo’s return—added with Ash’s—let the outcome that has arrived be the only outcome most thought should occur. Henry Ash is no longer regarded as wretched.”

Ash tried—one last time—to sit up. She failed, the covers flattening her as soon as she gained an inch. She groaned, that noise alone finally getting Lady Mist’s attention and making her hurry over.

“Sorry,” Lady Mist apologized. She yanked the covers off.

In an instant, Ash didn’t feel weak at all. She felt better—actually, she felt great. There was a renewed strength flowing into her that made her believe she could conquer the world.

“A Sanytus,” Lady Mist explained, “brings health to anyone. It does, however, also keep people compliant and weak as it brings that health, and until the one who has placed it on you takes it off, I’m afraid it won’t ever stop. Still, how do you feel? Good?”

Ash sat up and stretched. Her mother had risen when Lady Mist had arrived, and with no one else on the bed, Ash could easily leap to her feet. She went to her mother’s side as she tried to take stock.

It was amazing, she felt better than she ever had in her entire life. All of Syndon’s talk in the Cell room—everything about exhaustion and fear and each bit of wrong that had ever been in her heart, was gone. The Sanytus covers had fixed not only any physical damage, but also each of her emotional ones.

“I’m great,” Ash said. Lady Mist pulled the blankets the rest of the way off before she dropped them on the floor.

Casten pointed. “You know,” he said. Lady Mist walked back his way, and Ash could tell—it was in his voice. He would have smiled if he were able to. “You could pick up in here. If you could be more…”

“Elf-like,” Lady Mist said. She did smile—something like what her father used to do. “I am what my mother made me. But I’m also my father’s daughter, and I will lead as he led even if my room and my emotions do not conform to other’s wishes. Don’t you worry about me.”

“The SpellMaker?” Ash asked. She tried not to yell, but she was back to being loud anyway. Her heart was pounding so much defiance too—no more lost moments—so maybe more loud was okay. “He died,” she continued, “but he…he did something to Ophallo before he went. He used a Last Breath, and—”

“Yes,” Lady Mist said. “While you were asleep, all the remaining Attendants and the many Light Benders spoke a Remembrance using your memories. Henry gave permission and we…well we saw what happened. You were very brave.”

Ash wanted to laugh. There remained a touch of doubt in her—a want to explain, as she had to the SpellMaker and to her Poppa Henry, about how she was never able to stay brave for long—but this time, the laughter died in her throat as she decided that silence would be better. Now that she was free from the Sanytus covers and felt this good, why should she have doubts? Why should she ever care again about any silly question she’d once had?

The longer she stood, it just made sense. Everything about Sillan and Ophallo’s master—the maybe man too, and even a lot to do with the SpellMaker—had no real relation to her. She needed to forget them.

“But,” Ash shook her head. What was wrong with her? She wasn’t someone without care? “Amalin, Warven,” and yes, this still gave her some concern. Thank god for that. “Are they okay?”

Lady Mist looked first at Ash’s parents, but it was Poppa Henry who spoke to let everyone know what to do. “I brought Ash to this world,” he said, “and she has fought, she has killed. It does nothing to try and keep any other misfortune from her. Tell her everything.”

“If you insist,” Casten said, speaking for Lady Mist as soon as Ash’s father and her mother nodded agreement. “Amalin was the first to figure it out. She said it was from when she was a child, way back before she was in Bayden. She met something, she said they were…”

“She called them the Veil,” Lady Mist added.

“Yes,” Casten continued, “the Veil, or the Veilor, none of us can be sure for she is not. All we know is that fighting in Athren—seeing Warven get a slash from an Errun blade, yet then a few seconds later seeing Warven turn and start to fight Yorgeth—it jogged Amalin’s memory. She saw darkness. She remembered the Veil and knew how to act.

“Because of her, we won the day even if our wounded and our dead were taken from us. The dead completely, their bodies stolen by Ophallo we assume, but the wounded taken only in mind. We had to kill most, and Warven…Warven was…well, he will never be an undead solider waiting in the Western Wilds.”

The room went silent as Ash was not the only one to digest the news of some unholy force sitting on the other side of a few cliffs. All the fighting, all the deaths, was for nothing. If Casten was right, then each that had recently fallen was only another body for Ophallo, or maybe for someone else, to exploit.

“Good,” Ash’s father said once the silence had gone on for long enough. “I think if some zombies are in the Western Wilds, then that’s great. My boy is over there, and since I doubt anyone in Penthya will wait, this is perfect. Instead of a few going with me, I am sure a whole legion must be forming. When are we leaving?”

Lady Mist sighed. “We’re not leaving,” she turned towards Ash’s father, “the Elves aren’t anyway, and we’re pretty sure the Common Court and Watch aren’t going either. They were very surprised to hear from us since all Looking Glasses, except for Casten’s, were blocked long ago. Many on the Court have not received word from Athren, or from Spell, in ages, and when we suddenly appeared with news that Henry Ash was no longer a villain and that Ophallo and Syndon had returned, I don’t think they took it well.

“All the Court wants is to get you, Stephen, trained. They want you to learn magic because if you are not the son of our greatest villain, then you are the man who is our last hope of reclaiming the magic in the five thrones. If you can sit on the Silver—”

Ash saw her father begin to scowl, his eyes going low. “I don’t understand,” he said.

“About what?” Lady Mist asked.

“About how can you see the innocence of my father, yet not help me find my boy? We’re not the bad guys! Help us!”

“And we will,” Casten said. “But first we have to make you stronger. There are things in the Wilds—things all over this world—which could end you in an instant if you don’t know how to defend yourself. If you run off without knowing magic, you’ll only get yourself killed. If you could just get trained in the arts of spells and—”

It was her mother this time. She took a step from Ash and walked right up to Casten. “No,” she said. “No more magic. We’re done with that.”

“Really,” Casten said. “But magic is power. It will help your husband.”

Her mother put a hand out behind her. It was another new, yet Ash still understood what it was she wanted. Ash walked over—took her mother’s fingers in her own.

“I don’t care about Penthya,” her mother said. “I’m sorry, but I don’t. Magic healed my little girl, but it also let those monsters, those Errun I saw outside the Cell Room, take my boy, and that means magic can be awful. Seeing my father-in-law living inside a mirror was a shock when he showed up a day ago, but I have gotten over it, and I will continue to get over it, but I don’t want my husband or my daughter getting any closer to anymore spells. Don’t teach, just use magic to find my son so you can undo the mistake you made when you kidnapped us.”

“Mistake,” Casten said. Ash wished he would raise his voice like her mother was doing. “What mistake? We came through the crack Henry left when he died. We never knew the Errun could still do the same. We owe you nothing except the knowledge you need to survive.”

Ash saw her father throw up his hands in disgust. “And no one will change their minds?” He turned towards the mirror Poppa Henry was in. “Me staying here means I’ll be trained but…but…Peter needs me now! Can you help, Dad? This is your world, I may have been born here, but it’s not my world! We have to do something!”

“We will do something,” Poppa Henry said. Footsteps in the hallway were heard beneath his words. “It’s something I was told in a dream before I reappeared in Ash’s blue mirror. There is one other place we can go—a place that involves someone who is being brought here now.”

Emily Baker entered. She was cleaner, her skin back to perfection—a luminous soft mocha free of all dirt and debris. Even her hair looked amazing—a silky black Ash remembered well. She’d always been envious of how shiny and amazing Emily’s hair could be. But there was something else. It was around her eyes—a little less than when Ash had found her on a forest floor, but it was there. Confusion and terror still swam in Emily’s soul.

However, Ash caught how things could have been worse. Emily looked a tad stronger too—maybe she’d also spent time under a few Sanytus covers, or more likely, who was at her side was helping her to be that way. Morgan stood on her left and Arathus was at her right—Emily smiling each time she cast a quick peek down at that dog. Was Emily a dog person?

“Rachel will take Emily and Ash home,” Poppa Henry said.

Ash’s mother squeezed her hand. “Good, the sooner we get Ash out of here the better. Once she’s home and never returns, I will breathe a lot easier.”

Poppa Henry frowned. “But she must return. I’m sorry, but you have to go get a ring my Isabella once gave to me, you will even get Emily back to her mother; however, after that, you must return, especially if Ash is found to be the Wanderer.”

A familiar sigh once more filled the room. Ash turned to see Lady Mist with her eyes closed and her head slowly shaking back and forth. “I still think this is wrong,” she said.

Poppa Henry looked her way. “We’ve discussed this, your father…”

“My father put memories into a young girl’s head,” Lady Mist countered.  She had her eyes back open, her head upright too, as she glared at Poppa Henry. “I loved the man, and I will follow much of what he planned for us to do, but he invaded a child’s mind so she could teach us what he could not…does that make any sense? He never even tried to teach those very same things when he was alive, so why…or maybe how could he…or…just…maybe the Wanderer is also wrong.”

No one knew what to say next, except for Ash. “Um,” she tried. It was another line of questioning, something she was delighted to find she also felt concern for. “What’s the Wanderer?”

“Five thrones,” Poppa Henry began, “everyone knows that.”

“Yes,” Ash agreed, “you’ve told me about those thrones since I was…”

“But I never spoke about what was written on the back of them,” Poppa Henry added, “it’s an inscription, a brief thing, yet it speaks of five thrones, but six rulers. Five people to sit on the thrones and a sixth who is the strongest amongst them, someone so powerful in the Bright that he, or she, can never remain in Penthya but, rather, they wander. They are the true guardians of magic, roaming every land to police the ways of spells and charms, and especially in Penthya, the Wanderer is meant to keep the other five rulers in check.”

Ash saw how her mother couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Her eyes went wide, her lips pursed, as she focused a sudden anger at the mirror Poppa Henry was in. “No way,” she said. “This is even more ridiculous, and…I agree with Mist! A Wanderer…that…Ash goes home! She doesn’t go get a ring! She doesn’t find out if she’s all-powerful! She goes home and forgets all about this place!”

“Then Penthya will fall,” Casten said. His voice remained cold. Ash wanted to grab him—shake him till he broke. Why couldn’t he have a touch of emotion like Mist and her mother? “Some may not agree that there could ever be a Wanderer,” he stared at Lady Mist, “but the five thrones speak of such a person, and those thrones need to be controlled. Stephen Ash is just the best suited to take the silver one now and wield the power it has. But Watch and my people will need to train Ash so the other chairs can be taken and a Wanderer can be found.

“No longer does any Penthyan care about ancient laws dictating that only men can sit on those thrones, or that they alone can rule. Ash must return. The more thrones that have an occupant and the more certain we are of who the Wanderer is, then the more that magic will be tamed.”

Ash smiled. This was exactly what the SpellMaker had wanted.

However, she also caught a slight grin of victory on her father’s lips. How could he be feeling the same?

“More reason for you to help in finding my son,” he said. So not about the SpellMaker or what he’d wanted. That made sense. “We all go and hit Ophallo before he’s ready! Let me find Peter, and I will sit on your stupid chair!”

Lady Mist shook her head again. Ash’s smile and the one her father wore dropped away. “No,” Lady Mist said, “no matter any doubt, this was the one definite. The Silver Throne must come first. It’s all the agreement anyone could find. Our acceptance of Henry Ash’s innocence may have been quick, but this was quicker. The Elves will hide and we will train, and Watch, one day, will act, but Watch and the Council will only do that if Stephen Ash first learns of magic. There are no alternatives.”

Ash knew what would come next. His smile may have been gone, but her father’s intentions were still written clear upon his face. “Then I will learn,” he said.

“Honey!” her mother shouted. She let go of Ash’s hand and walked over to him. “This place…remember, we were locked up twice. Granted, both prisons were as nice as that Elf Cell Room, but we were still locked up. What if they do that again? What if they hurt you?”

It touched Ash—which was nice. Her sudden lack of concern was quickly becoming an issue, yet she had to admit, there were some feelings, like with her parents now, that still found ways to sneak inside. Her mother and father may fight, but deep down, they did still love, and that made Ash happy. Maybe that meant everything else would be okay.

“This is for Peter,” her father said, “and I’ll be fine. This training can’t last long, so you and Ash hurry. You find the ring, find out if she’s this Wanderer, and come back as fast as you can.”

“Alright,” her mother said. “But when are we going?”

The mirror Poppa Henry was in began to change. It switched from reflecting the room to showing a dark and dreary world Ash hadn’t wanted to ever see again.

“You’ll leave now,” Poppa Henry said, “just step up and walk through. Arathus and Morgan will be there to protect you along the way.

Ash’s mother looked about the room. “Okay,” she said, “so which one is Arathus and which is Morgan?”

“I am Morgan,” the willowy white-haired woman beside Emily said, “she is Arathus.”

Ash winced in anticipation of something awful. All she could hear was her mother’s laugh. “A dog,” her mother said, “a dog is coming with us through a mirror? Will it just lead the way or will it tell us directions…I mean, dogs can’t talk in this world, can they?”

Arathus scampered over. She didn’t bite—which was good—and she didn’t snarl. She just shocked Ash’s mother half to death. “Of course, I talk.” She jumped up and put her paws onto Ash’s mother’s shoulders. “I cannot take to the air like a Wind Weaver, I cannot build great underground cities like Dwarves, but I can talk, and I can Bend Light. I will protect you.”

Ash saw her mother’s eyes go wide. She looked as if she may have thought that dogs could speak, and why not, since she was in a world where Elves and the Errun lived, yet seeing it done was impressive.

“I…I…” She tried to find her voice as Arathus pushed off her and walked away. “I’m good with that. You’ll be great with us. Thank you.”

“Accepted,” Arathus nodded. “Let’s go.”

She ran and jumped. The mirror Arathus was aiming for bulged inward and accepted as she pushed into it rather than broke it in half. Ash had not yet seen what the process of entering the Unkindness looked like from this end. Before it had always been what she’d felt; things happening so fast her entrance was something she hadn’t stopped to study.

Arathus fell into the pane until she went right on through it. The surface of the mirror rippled slightly, but that was all. It calmed quick—was ready when Morgan and Emily took their turns.

“Here, let me help,” Poppa Henry said. His hands reached out to take Emily by the wrists, Ash hoping this tiny escape wouldn’t be enough to do as the SpellMaker had warned and kill him.

He was fine. Emily and Morgan soon were where Arathus already stood as Poppa Henry looked over at Ash. “You ready?” he asked.

“I,” Ash shook her head yes, but her voice betrayed a sudden no. It spoke the reality her mother was already showcasing with each shake of her head. “I don’t,” Ash kept on. Hadn’t the SpellMaker warned her about this road? “Will it be okay? I mean…”

Her Poppa Henry still knew her oh so well. “My Little Ash,” he smiled, “this road is only a danger once you have my ring. It isn’t the best place to be, and I wish I could send you another way, but with Morgan and Arathus with you, it should be fine.”

“Oh,” Ash replied, but another thought was in her head. “But why can’t we bend light? Isn’t the Seal—”

“Yes,” Poppa Henry explained, “the Seal is broken. But Emily has been touched by magic no one has yet been able to get a handle on. Bending light would be too dangerous for her. We must go this way. Everything will be okay.”

Things kept making sense, and Ash nodded another yes. It was time to go.

However, her mother gave one last shake of her head. “I don’t,” her voice made it clear, she did not feel the same. “Ash, you’re really okay with this?”

“Mom,” Ash said. Yet, there was one last thing she’d almost forgotten. “I’ve done this a lot. I’m fine. But can I ask Lady Mist something? It’s…I’m actually still worried about this.”

“Okay,” her mother said, “what?”

“Is Carolyn really okay? And where is she…where is Jeth and Amalin? Why didn’t they come to see me?”

“They wanted to be here,” Lady Mist said, “but Amalin had to stay in the Greeting Room to fully explain what she remembers. She was so young a Remembrance would barely work on her, so she is telling those from Watch everything she can.”

“And Jeth and Carolyn,” Ash continued, she couldn’t leave without knowing.

“Jeth went to Athren,” Poppa Henry said. Ash turned to look back at him. “It is his home, and he’s been away for far too long. He stopped by when you were first placed under the Sanytus covers, but he couldn’t stay. He is off to where Carolyn still is since…well, you know about the memories, and Athren is just the best place to deal with such invasive magic. Now, please, step through this mirror.”

“Okay,” Ash said. She took one more look around the room.

She was going back to her world. Yet the knowledge that soon she would return was a thrill—and there was more feeling, more care, inside this thrill, which was an added relief.

Penthya was wild and dangerous. It was a place where she’d taken a sword and had used it to kill. It was darker than any story her Poppa Henry had ever told, and it was amazing. She couldn’t help but to feel so many things about returning.

She smiled. “I need one last—”

“What?” her mother asked. Her voice was high and agitated, as if she could not believe Ash had something else on her mind. “I’m ready! I’ve made up my mind, and I’m…what else could you need?”

“Could I change?” Ash asked. She pointed to the white silk pajamas she was wearing, something she was glad someone had dressed her in since she’d leapt out of bed without checking to see if she had anything on.

“Oh, sure,” her mother replied.

Casten stepped out of the room—Ash glad that her father quickly followed. He even closed everything behind him as Lady Mist hurried to a nearby wall. She created a door which she opened to reveal a closet filled with clothes.

“Sure,” her mother continued, “get changed. Just…just do something for me, okay?”

“Anything,” Ash said. She was delighted to also see that her Poppa Henry had stepped away as well. He’d returned the mirror to its normal reflective state.

“Hurry,” her mother said. “I am ready, but…walking through glass, I know I just saw it being done, but still…I’m nervous. Hurry.”

“I will,” Ash assured. She grabbed a thick yet short leather skirt—something more suited for a battle than a walk down a dark highway—and a long-sleeved shirt and some stockings and boots to go with it.

It took only a few seconds, but everything fit. Lady Mist even reached under her bed and pulled out Justice. She handed it to Ash in a sheath ready to be attached at her hip.

Ash was as well dressed as she ever could be, and she grabbed up the blue mirror that was her grandfather’s most favorite resting place. It had been put on a tiny table set next to the bed she’d been enjoying, and once Ash had it in hand, her father came back inside. They said their final goodbyes before Ash stepped towards the mirror her Poppa Henry had already returned to, the Unkindness also behind him, Arathus and Morgan looking as if they had no idea what was going on but patiently waiting nonetheless.

“So,” her mother said, “you’ve done this?”

“Quite a few times, I’ve done it through water too.”

“Water…what does that feel like?”

“Good and bad, but it’s like that with glass as well. They’re both…doing it lets you dream.”

“Dream,” her mother said, “dream what?”

Ash took her mother’s hand again. “You dream everything,” she smiled and stepped towards home.