Party Time

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Dana and Jayden are back to prove that social events can be a battlefield.

“I’d think you’d be happy,” Jayden said as knights escorted him and Dana to their hotel.“A serious threat has been permanently removed, free of charge.”

“You’re making it worse,” Dana told him.

“Just keep moving.”Stillman sounded exhausted after the fight with Ghost Hunter.More likely he was worried about his career.Ghost Hunter had attacked him, his knights, Bascal secret agents, and their best efforts to kill him failed.Granted killing a ghost is no easy task, but having some of their top men helpless couldn’t be good for morale.

“Surely the matter has been settled to everyone’s satisfaction,” Prince Onus said.“The danger is gone.”

“Prince, if you’ll kindly go to the castle,” Stillman said.“Royal authorities assumed you would be in no danger in Dragon Roost, which has been proven to be optimistic boarding on naiveté.A serious attempt was made on your life, and there may be more.”

“It’s not the first time,” Prince Onus told him.

Jayden took Stillman’s side.“Both your nations are in danger of being not merely defeated but totally absorbed into Meadowland.If you die there is no one in Kaleoth who can take your place.Your death would also end any chance for meaningful cooperation between your kingdoms when that is essential.”

“I’m considered a coward if I stay in the castle, a fool if I stay on the streets, and I insult my host if I bring my own security,” Prince Onus said bitterly.“Is there a route I can take that does work?”

“Refusing to let you bring guards was a mistake,” Stillman admitted.“I will ask King Rascan to allow you to bring personal retainers in future visits, but I need you alive and well for there to be future visits.Galling as this must be, please, go with our agents to the castle.”

“And how long are we to stay in our hotel room?” Jayden asked.

“Until you’re summoned,” Stillman told him.“With the ghost dead there are no threats to your life, so you may stay there with all your needs met until King Rascan decides how best to employ you.”

They reached the hotel, but Jayden stopped at the door.“Our services do not come free.”

“We will negotiate compensation worthy of your efforts,” Stillman promised.

Prince Onus stepped toward Dana and Jayden.“I’d like to speak with Jayden and Miss Illwind in private.”

Stillman’s faced paled.“While we’re willing to work with the Sorcerer Lord, the man has a reputation for damage and disorder we can’t ignore.There’s going to be trouble from royal security about them even getting close enough to see you.”

The prince’s face darkened.“They have given honorable service to Kaleoth, and asked nothing in return except passage to their homeland.”

“I’m sure they—” Stillman began.

Prince Onus didn’t let him finish.“Do not presume to give me orders.I realize Rascan thinks I’m a country bumpkin, but I am a prince, sir.I speak to whomever I choose, whenever I choose, and any attempt to restrict that will be considered a grave insult.I will take security measures seriously without being a fool or a puppet.”

There was a long, awkward pause as Stillman stared at Prince Onus and Jayden smirked.

“I apologize for not showing proper deference,” Stillman said.“If you wish to see them, we will certainly arrange it.Please do not think King Rascan has anything but the highest opinion of you, your grandfather and your kingdom.”

“Thank you.”Prince Onus turned to Dana and Jayden.“I would appreciate the chance to speak with you in the morning, if it’s convenient.”

“We’d be delighted, wouldn’t we, Dana.”

“Oh, um, sure.”Dana shook Prince Onus’ hand, making Stillman roll his eyes in exasperation.

Jayden and Dana went to their room, and once safe inside Jayden said, “I’m growing to like him.”

Dana collapsed onto the bed.“He makes a strong impression.So, how badly did we screw things up?”

“We didn’t.Ghost Hunter had to be removed for our safety and that of others.Meeting the prince again was a happy coincidence.In regards to Stillman, there was going to be difficulty working with him no matter what we did.In a way we may have improved our chances of securing the spell tablets.Stillman, his knights and the secret agents saw us kill Ghost Hunter.They are eye witnesses to what we can do for them, and that we are worth having even at a high cost.”

Dana drew Chain Cutter and set it on the bed.Her weapon had glowed ever since she’d gotten it, but now it was different.The light was stronger and warmer.She could hear whispered prayers from the blade.“Next question, exactly what is a sanctified weapon, because it looks like I’ve got one.”

Jayden studied the sword without touching it.“I’ve heard much about such weapons without ever seeing one.They are rare, strong and much prized.The priest spoke honestly when he said a small piece of heaven now resides within Chain Cutter.In most situations that won’t have much effect, as the sword was already strong, but you saw what it did to Ghost Hunter.Chain Cutter was already effective against the undead due to the shadow magic used to make it.As a sanctified weapon that will be greatly magnified.Living beings that have turned to dark ways will be equally vulnerable.Hags would be a good example.”

Sounding concerned, he added, “Chain Cutter could hurt anyone wielding it against good people.It might also be selective about who touches it.”

“I can touch Chain Cutter.”

He smiled at her.“Yes, the girl who befriended a church grim.Others of us might be less acceptable.”

“Us?”Dana got up off the bed.“Oh no you don’t.You’re not a bad guy.”

“I’ve committed questionable deeds.”

“No.”Dana grabbed his hands before he realized what she was doing.“You’ve done too much good to talk about yourself that way.People are alive today because of you.”

“What are you doing?”

“Come on.”Dana pulled his hands down and pressed them against Chain Cutter’s handle.“See, nothing happened.If he’s picky, he likes you.”

He pulled free of her hands.“That’s not how you test whether it’s safe to touch a magic item!And since when do you call Chain Cutter him?I recall you wanting to call it Buttercup at one time.”

“I felt calling Chain Cutter him was, I don’t know, appropriate.And I wasn’t testing whether he liked you, I was showing you he does.”Dana sheathed Chain Cutter and set the sword on the bed.“We both got help from on high when we fought Cimmox the necromancer.That means He likes both of us.You’ve got to stop seeing the worst in yourself.”

Jayden sat in a chair across from the bed.“Old habits die hard.We have Prince Onus’ invitation to the ball, and from there will hopefully meet King Rascan.Please be careful during the event.Nobles have little regard for commoners and may cause trouble for you.My presence may lessen this, but never underestimate the pride, callousness and stupidity of the rich and powerful.”

“I can take care of myself, thank you very much.If I can fight golems and monsters I can deal with catty women.I’m sixteen, after all.”

That got his attention.“When we met you said you were fifteen.”

“That was more than a year ago.”

Excited, he said, “You never told me you had a birthday!We should have celebrated.”

“We’re on the run from almost everyone!”

“That doesn’t matter.I know places where gold can buy secrecy and a good time.We could have had an expensive meal, desserts, hired a musician—”

“Don’t make such a big deal out of it,” she told him.

“It is a big deal,” he replied.“A birthday means you survived another year, and in these times that’s an accomplishment worthy of respect.I don’t celebrate my own birthdays because it could be a clue to my earlier life as Prince Mastram, but you’re under no such restrictions.Next time tell me, because we’re going to have a party.”

 

* * * * *

 

“Ma’am, I’m very sure the ghost isn’t coming back,” Dana assured a female guest.It was breakfast time and Dana was enjoying a meal in the hotel’s common room when the older woman had approached her table and asked if Ghost Hunter would attack again.“Jayden and I took care of him for good.”

“You can understand my concern,” the woman replied.“He pushed me to the floor.”

“I’m very sorry that happened.I promise he won’t do it again.”

Still looking worried, the woman asked, “But what if another villain attacks?We are at war, you know.The hotel guards couldn’t stop someone like that.Could you possibly deal with them?”

“We’ll do what we can to keep everyone safe while we’re here.”

“Thank you so much.I feel like a great weight has been lifted off my shoulders.If only my dear Herbert could be here to comfort me in these troubling times, but no, he’s gone, trout fishing.”

Dana watched the woman leave and couldn’t help but notice many guests watching her.Many looked relived at her promise, but some kept their distance.Dana didn’t blame them.Ghost Hunter’s attack had been frightening, and Bascal’s capital city should have been far from danger.

Jayden came down from their room and joined her at the table.“Good morning, and a glorious one it is.I see you’ve been busy assuring our fellow guests that they have our protection.That’s sure to smooth ruffled feathers.”

“It’s only fair.Most of them aren’t armed and none cast spells.If the hotel is attacked, we’re the best line of defense these people have.”

“True,” he admitted, and waved for a waiter to come.“Menu, please.Pray tell, what’s this note that came with it?”

“It’s from the lady in room 111,” the waiter said before he left.

Puzzled, Dana asked, “Who is she, and why does she want to see us?”

Jayden read the message and slipped it into a pocket.“She wishes to see me, not us.It seems Prince Onus isn’t the only one attracting attention.”

“What do you—oh!”Dana clapped a hand over her mouth.Red faced, she slid her hands down and whispered, “She sent you a note for that at breakfast?”

“I’ll have the poached eggs with pepper steak,” he told the waiter.Most softly, he told Dana, “It’s been my experience nobles have more free time than is good for them.A few use it wisely, but too many get involved in plotting, while others seek entertainment to ease their boredom.I don’t take kindly to being reduced to a diversion after mastering shadow magic.It’s demeaning.”

Dana was startled when everyone in the common room jumped to their feet.She glanced at the door and saw Prince Onus entering.He looked as surprised as she did, and he waved for the guests to sit down.“I’m not here on an official capacity.Please carry on.”

“We’ve over here,” Dana called out.Guests stared at her as if she’d done something wrong.“What?”

“Ignore them,” Jayden said.“Prince Onus, please, join us.”

Prince Onus approached their table.“If we could talk in private.”

Jayden smiled.“Certainly.Waiter, send my meal to my room, please.”

“Yes, sir,” the waiter said, and passed him another note.“Room 238.”

Dana finished her meal and got up to leave.“Let’s get you both out of here while everyone still has their dignity.”

“It’s years too late for that,” Jayden said.He led the prince to their room, and once they were inside closed and locked the door.“It’s good to see you well, prince.I hope matters in Kaleoth remain favorable.”

“Yes, but only just.Meadowland’s army still can’t cross Racehorse River, but they never stop trying.We’ve seen them harvesting timber for another bridge, and they’ve assembled a powerful force of catapults that fire across the river every day.River Twin has taken heavy damage.Thankful the loss of life has been limited.We fight back with wizards and our own siege weapons.The stalemate has caused much damage.”

“Last winter you told us your father was trying to get help,” Dana said.“Did anyone come?”

“The Guild of Heroes sent three of their top men, one of them an expert at designing and building fortifications.They’ve already been a great help.The Brotherhood of the Righteous sent five combat priests, twenty paladins and a hundred volunteer knights.”Prince Onus hesitated before saying, “This will sound odd, but goblins in Kaleoth have suddenly become helpful.Pranks and troublemaking have stopped, and they’ve actually caught a dozen Meadowland spies and turned them over to us.”

Dana giggled.“They did?”

“They keep referring to this War Winner of theirs.Some claim to be following his orders, but how much faith can you place in a goblin’s word?”

“I’ve come to take them more seriously than I once did,” Jayden said.He waved for the prince to take a seat.“We may have a chance to help your people in the future, but for now let us speak of tonight.How are you being treated?”

“Words can’t express how grateful I am to see you both again,” Prince Onus said as he settled down on a chair.“My time in Bascal has been trying.Half the people I meet treat me like I’m more than human because I’m a prince.Others act like I’m a dull child who must be endured.Talking to those who regard me as a person is sweet relief.”

“Why would they treat you like that?” Dana asked.“I mean, besides being rude, they need your help.Bascal can’t win on its own.”

“Kaleoth is a relatively new kingdom,” Jayden explained.“Onus’ grandfather King Brent is only the third ruler to sit upon that throne.Bascal boasts an unbroken string of kings thirty-two generations long.Few lineages are as ancient.It makes them proud.”

“What does that have to do with anything?” Dana asked in bewilderment.

“They’ve had centuries to develop traditions and needless bureaucracy,” Jayden said casually.“Their rules are often senseless or outright counterproductive.It doesn’t help that the nobility finetuned those rules to benefit themselves at the expense of commoners and foreigners.The situation works, barely, and for most residents that’s enough, but it makes their leaders arrogant and inflexible.”

Prince Onus pointed at his clothes.“I’ve been told to get more appropriate clothes for the ball.It’s not like I’m wearing rags.And I’ve been asked twice why I don’t have a royal striker, one of those brightly colored birds everyone seems to own.”

“You’re better dressed than most of the people I’ve met,” Dana told him.

“We’re in a war!” Prince Onus protested.“Clothes, parties, these stupid birds, none of that matters.”

Prince Onus got up and paced across the room.“I’ve had seven women send me notes asking to see me in private.I almost accepted one of the invitations until I was told these meetings are intended to be intimate, if that’s the right word.Three of the women are married!I’ve heard that’s accepted behavior here.”

Dana could feel herself blushing.“I guessed what you were talking about earlier, but seven?And married?”

He turned to her and said, “I feel awful for asking you to come with me to this event, but it’s getting so I can’t even go to breakfast without being embarrassed.I even had two of these women fight over me.You might find it far less pleasant than a party should be.If you don’t want to go, I’ll understand.”

“Oh no, I’m in.”Dana showed off her new dress.“I’m ready for the occasion.”

Prince Onus stared.“That…that’s beautiful.I think you won’t face difficulties in my company, but if someone should treat you with disrespect, allow me to deal with it.Bold as the nobles are in Bascal, they’ll listen to a prince, if only because I’m useful to them.”

“Your common sense is showing,” Jayden told him.“But as you seem to have a problem, let us help.Dana and I know a seamstress who can get you ready for tonight.”

“Cassandra?” Dana asked.“Oh, right, she’s great.I don’t think she can get you one of those birds, but she can get you dressed.”

Jayden put a hand on her shoulder.“Why don’t you introduce the prince to her?”

“You’re not coming?”

“I have to make preparations before we attend the ball, not least of which is summoning Stanley to look after our belongings.I doubt the king will let us bring our baggage with us.”

“Stanley?” Prince Onus asked.

“Long story, but he’s friendly and loves singing,” Dana told him.“I’ll take you there and she’ll get you a nice suit.”

“I like these clothes,” Prince Onus protested as he went with Dana.They left the hotel to find secret agents outside pretending to be tradesmen.Dana spotted a few new faces among them, so Prince Onus must have had his security detail enlarged after Ghost Hunter’s attack.They followed Dana and Prince Onus without straying farther than ten feet from him while seeming to be just men walking down the street.This pretense stopped when they reached Cassandra’s shop.

“Sir, this isn’t the best choice,” one said softly.

“Stillman recommended it,” Dana said.

“Some establishments are suitable for those of questionable reputations, but royalty must be more careful where they tread.”

“Your insult against the young lady is inexcusable,” Prince Onus said angrily.“Miss Illwind, you spoke highly of this woman, and her workmanship impressed me.That is enough for me.”

“We won’t be long,” Dana told the agents as she led Prince Onus inside.

Cassandra’s store had changed since Dana’s last visit.The mannequins had been moved to the corners to make space for a massive pile of luggage.Eight men and women of various ages competed for limited floor space, all of them well dressed in the style Cassandra used in her clothes.The newcomers chatted as they unpacked.

“Hello, we’re,” Dana began, but no one noticed her.“Hi there, we’re…excuse me, we need to see Cassandra.”Still no response.“Customers!”

That stopped their conversations and brought Cassandra running from the back of the store.She pushed aside three men and a woman to reach Dana.“You again?And you brought a new man with you.”

“He needs your help for tonight,” Dana told her.

Cassandra’s two granddaughters caught up with her, took one look at Prince Onus and burst out giggling.Cassandra shushed them before turning a critical eye on the prince.“My, my, you bear a burden that would break most men like a twig.Green suits you, add some silver, nothing too ostentatious and we’re there.Give me a minute to get my relatives out of the way.Sissy, Meryl, get the girl’s hair prettied up.”

“Wait, what?” Dana asked.

“Don’t question grandma when she’s being nice,” one of the girls told Dana.“It doesn’t happen often.”

Cassandra didn’t need long to get a fantastic outfit for Prince Onus, with a green silk shirt and pants, and a darker green coat with silvery highlights.She added a dark green cape, blue boots and blue gloves with just a hint of silver.

“It’s impressive,” Prince Onus said as he tried on the coat.“The gloves are made of much thicker material.”

“You’re a man who works with your hands,” Cassandra said as she pressed a silver ribbon against his sleeve.Tossing is aside for another, she added, “I sewed steel plates into the knuckles.The way things are going around here you’ll need them.”

“Who are these people?” Dana asked as Cassandra’s granddaughters trimmed and styled her hair.

“Kinfolk pushed out of their homes,” Cassandra said.She sewed the ribbon into the sleeve so it formed a line running from his wrist to elbow.“They were evacuated ahead of the Meadowland army.Now I have to take them in.A pity they didn’t bring money to cover their expenses.”

An older man pulled at his hair.“It’s not my fault my sheep were confiscated to feed the army!All I got was this stupid claim ticket!”

“I’m so sorry,” Dana told him.It hurt to see her homeland making everyone miserable.

“Don’t be sorry, just pay,” Cassandra told her.

Prince Onus paid Cassandra and tipped generously, earning a smile from the old woman and giggles from her granddaughters.They left to find the secret agents waiting on the street.One took a look at the prince’s new clothes and nodded in approval.He did, however, say, “For your own sake, please don’t tell people you got it here.You’d never live it down, sir.”

 

* * * * *

 

“So, how do I look,” Dana asked.

“You’re ready to turn heads and break hearts,” Jayden told her.It was early in the evening, and both of them were in their room wearing Cassandra’s clothing.Dana felt giddy at having such a pretty dress, the best she’d ever seen, much less owned.

Dana laughed.“Me?What about you?You already have to beat girls off with a stick.”

“There may be some of that tonight.”Jayden checked himself in a mirror and nodded.“It’s impractical for traveling through the wilderness, but it will do.I’ve told the hotel manager we’ll be gone for the evening, and Stanley is on duty to make sure no one is tempted to steal our belongings while we’re out.”

Stanley floated across the room, only visible as a dust in the air being pushed gently aside.He brushed against Dana and felt like a summer breeze.“It’s too bad we can’t take him with us.I think he’d like it.”

“I think he’d savagely assault anyone who insulted you,” Jayden replied.“A perfectly natural reaction I approve of, but society would not.While we’re on the topic of violence, let me make sure your sword isn’t visible on your back.Yes, quite nice.”

“I’m conflicted about bringing Chain Cutter,” she admitted.“It’s a party!I shouldn’t bring a sword, but Cassandra sounded like I’d need it.”

Jayden kissed her hand.“Dear Dana, you should always be armed.”

There was a knock at the door.Dana opened it to find the hotel manager looking almost as giddy as she felt.“Sir, madam, it honors my establishment to have royalty visit us again. Prince Onus of Kaleoth asks for your presence at the door.”

“Let’s not keep him waiting,” Jayden said.

They found the hotel abuzz with excitement as guests stared and whispered.Prince Onus had arrived in Cassandra’s suit, and he looked amazing.Dana was at a loss for words until Jayden took her arm and led her to the prince.

“So good to see you again,” Jayden said.“Ah, I see you brought a carriage.”

“Hired for the night, and charging by the hour,” he told them.

“Then let’s not run up the bill.”

Dana followed Jayden outside to find a black carriage pulled by white mares.This night felt like a dream.She was a mayor’s daughter back home before the war started, but her family had never been rich.Now she was dressed like a queen and escorting a prince.It made up for a lot of madness she’d been through.

The carriage rode through the city for a short time before stopping in front of the castle.The building was massive, with tall walls expertly carved with dragons and eagles, towers that flew gold and red banners, and was surrounded by beautiful flowers.The gates were open to admit a long line of men and women dressed like they were wealthy beyond imagination.Dana, Jayden and Prince Onus exited and went to an attendant dressed in red by the gate.The man looked mildly annoyed before whispering to Prince Onus.

“This looks bad,” Dana whispered to Jayden.

“There seems to be some dispute over whether we’re going to be allowed entry,” Jayden said casually.“It’s annoying the prince.”

“No,” Prince Onus said firmly.“In the short time I’ve been here I saw a malevolent spirit attack innocent people, a being only killed with great difficulty.Your best men were unable to defeat it while they could.”

“Sir,” the attendant began.

Prince Onus was having none of it.“Your people have been relentlessly demanding I be protected, but when I bring individuals who risked their lives for my kingdom you object.Fine.If I’m not allowed to bring them as guards, I wish to bring them as my guests.Other men you invited brought wives, children, mistresses!”

Dana had some pity for the attendant.He was being a snob, but he also had orders from people who could punish him.Dana and Jayden were dangerous enough to hurt or kill a lot of important people.She didn’t like him, but she did understand his position.

“If you’ll excuse me.”The attendant left and whispered into the ear of a man dressed in silks and furs.The man glanced at Dana and Jayden before whispering back.The attendant returned and said, “My superiors have agreed to allow them entrance, provided they remain well away from the king’s table.”

Prince Onus looked like he had a harsh response ready, but Jayden said, “We are humbled by your generosity in such harsh times, and will speak well of you to others.If you would be so kind as to direct us to our seats?”

“This way, please.”

Dana tried desperately to keep from gaping in awe as she, Jayden and Prince Onus were led into the ballroom.There were silk banners draped between marble pillars holding up the vaulted ceiling.The marble floor was polished until it reflected like a mirror.Magnificently scented flowers with blooms as big as apples grew in intricated carved marble urns.Tables were set along the edges of the room, most for guests while some held silver trays heavy with mouthwatering food.

The guests were nearly as inspiring as the room.Men and women wore the most beautiful clothes, and jewelry worth a fortune.Silks and furs, gold and rubies, it was a king’s ransom in treasures.Over half the guests had brightly colored birds perched on their shoulders, with padded shoulder guards for the birds to grip onto.Most guests were seated and spoke in stiff, formal tones, but a few danced to the tune of twenty musicians, some playing instruments Dana had never seen before.Light was provided by silver chandlers hanging from the ceiling burning white candles.

“Oh wow,” she said.“It’s like being in heaven.”

“The hereafter is far more beautiful than this,” Jayden replied.“It’s also a good deal friendlier.”

Their seats were at the very corner of the room.Dana saw waiters whisper to one another and direct guests away from them.

“Must we be treated with disrespect at every turn?” Prince Onus said bitterly.

“I kind of prefer it this way,” Dana told him.“I don’t have anything in common with rich people.If we spoke, I’m worried I’d embarrass myself and you.”

“Kaleoth had poor relations with Bascal before the war,” Prince Onus said.“We didn’t fight, but they made it clear we were beneath them.There wasn’t much trade between us, and our people were treated like bumpkins when they visited.Necessity makes us allies, but we’re not friends.”

“How did they used to get along with Meadowland?” Dana asked Jayden.

“Nearly as badly.Meadowland’s kings ruled uninterrupted for fifteen generations, far less than Rascan’s line.While Meadowland was much larger, militarily more powerful and had a stronger economy, Bascal’s leadership never thought much of their neighbor.At best they treated Meadowland like a large, angry dog that had to be treated gently.”Jayden beckoned to a waiter.“Wine.”

More guests entered the ballroom.Not all wore equally beautiful clothes and jewelry, and those with simpler appearances were seated in the ballroom’s corners.Dana saw a young man and woman with black hair and less expensive garments seated at the next table over.They were at most two years older than she was, and Dana was surprised they came without parents or relatives.Jayden smiled at them, but the pair looked away.

“Charming,” Jayden said.“I don’t expect much for myself, but surely a prince deserves a warmer reception.”

“I’d rather she didn’t,” Prince Onus replied.

“Sister or girlfriend?” Jayden asked.

“They don’t look related,” Dana said.Her gaze wandered across the ballroom, and met many eyes along the way.“People are staring at us.”

“I imagine they don’t get many foreigners at these events,” Jayden told her.

Prince Onus looked away.“There’s another reason for them staring.It’s mostly women watching us.”

“I’m sure they wouldn’t do anything silly at a ball,” she assured him.He gave her a look that said otherwise.“Really?In front of all these noblemen?”

“They will try to be discreet,” he said.

An attendant rang a bell and called out, “Announcing Princess Estell.”

Just then a young woman wearing the most beautiful dress entered the ballroom.Her blond hair trailed down her back and included silver jewelry, her yellow and red dress had jewels sewn into it, and she carried a scepter made of gold and rubies.Men and women across the ballroom rose to their feet when she appeared, and many hurried over to her.

“That’s the crown princess,” Prince Onus explained.“She’s next in line for the throne until Rascan fathers a male heir.”

The couple at the next table separated, much to the girl’s distress.The young man whispered to her before kissing her hand and joining the growing mob around Princess Estell.The girl sat down with such a long face it made Dana hurt along with her.She told Jayden, “Girlfriend, and he should know better than to treat her like that.”

Jayden glared at the young man trying to speak with the princess, an impossible act when so many others were trying to do the same.Jayden’s voice was barely above a whisper, but held a level of scorn he normally reserved for the worst villains.“I’m familiar with his kind.Young, ambitious, untested and desperate for a chance at glory.He’s asking for an army commission or other unearned position.The poor girl will be lucky to see him again before the night is over while he fawns over his betters.”

“I’ve seen that during my stay here,” Prince Onus said.“It surprises me that you recognize this behavior.I thought you had little to do with royalty.”

Oops.Dana worried that might give away secrets Jayden didn’t want revealed.Jayden showed no such concern.

“Begging for political or military office happens at all levels of Meadowland society.It’s repulsive how far men will debase themselves in the name of career advancement.Worse, those promoted based off their ability to ingratiate themselves to those in authority inevitably use that power for self-enrichment at the expense of those beneath them, or prove themselves so incompetent that they destroy what they asked for.The only exception is for positions few want.”

Worried, Prince Onus asked, “This is common?”

“Be grateful Kaleoth does a better job promoting men to positions of authority,” Jayden said.“It may give you an edge in the coming war.”

“Hold on, my dad inherited his job as mayor,” Dana protested.“He didn’t beg for it, or buy it or anything like that.”

Their conversation ended briefly when waiters brought plates, eating utensils and trays of food to their table.A waiter also slipped a note to Jayden before leaving.

“I meant no disrespect,” Jayden began.“Your father is an upstanding man in every respect.He is, however, responsible for a town far beneath his capabilities.North Lights is a small town on the edge of the kingdom, sparsely population and producing little income.There is no opportunity for graft or bribe taking, only the burden of guiding and protecting it.In such cases leadership passes from father to son.Were your home town more prosperous there would be many men seeking to claim his job.”

Prince Onus gestures to the trays and said, “Ladies first.”

“Thank you!”Dana piled food on her plate.“Everything looks so good.Um, why is the princess here and not the king?”

Jayden waited until she’d served herself before taking a portion.“For now he’ll stay in another room and have important men brought to him so they can speak in private.He’ll come out around midnight to make speeches and issue proclamations.”

“You’re surprisingly experienced at this,” Prince Onus remarked.“How many balls have you been to?”

“Enough that I’m not surprised at the attention you and I are drawing from bored women with money.”

Dana glanced at the young woman sitting near them, still alone.“Should I keep her company?”

“We’ll give the boy a fair chance to do right by her,” Jayden told her.“Then we destroy him utterly.”

“Must you make a scene?” she asked.

Jayden pointed his fork at the depressed young woman.“For that I am most definitely making a scene.”

A waiter came by to pick up empty trays, drop off full ones and pass Jayden another note from an admirer.Dana giggled when he put it and the others in an empty water glass.She asked, “Is that going to happen all night?”

“Yes,” Prince Onus replied.“If he actually picks one it could make the others jealous enough to act foolishly.”

A young nobleman in an expensive suit with a brightly colored bird on his shoulder sauntered by their table, slowing down only briefly as he met Jayden’s eyes.“I hadn’t realized we were quite this desperate.”

“Your citizens are pulling down houses outside city walls,” Jayden told him.“I’d think that would tell you how dire your situation is long before we arrived.You must be a tad dull.”

The nobleman harumphed and continued on his way.Prince Onus scowled and got up, but Dana put a hand on his arm.“He’s a jerk, not an enemy.If we hit everyone who spoke badly to us there wouldn’t be many people still standing.”

“But imagine the fun we’d have,” Jayden said playfully.“It’s amusing how many of these people don’t want us here and how many do.”

A waiter walked by them, trying to look casual as he dropped a note on Dana’s lap.She felt herself blush and clapped both hands over her mouth.Jayden’s expression darkened, and he seized the note and uttered a quick spell to burn it to ashes.The light drew attention from nearby tables.A few women gave Jayden appreciative nods while men chuckled.

“Who sent that?” Prince Onus asked.His voice was rich in hatred.

“I didn’t check,” Jayden said.“It spares us from crippling the man for life.” 

Dana looked away in shame.What kind of girl did these people think she was?In her humiliation she almost didn’t notice a servant leading a nobleman away from the room.“Where’s he going?”

“The king is finally having personal meetings with his followers,” Jayden said.“I’d like to get to the head of that line before someone embarrasses us further.”

“I don’t see a way to do it,” Prince Onus said darkly.“The princess is surrounded by petitioners.You’d never get through them without hurting one, not that I’m against it at this point.She’s the only one in the room with the authority to show you to her father without his asking for you.”

Dana glanced at the young woman at the neighboring table.She looked as miserable as Dana felt, with her head propped up with her right hand while she ran the fingers of her left hand around the edge of a wine glass.There was a small pile of notes on the edge of her table, all unopened.She wanted one man’s attention and he wasn’t giving it to her.

Instead the young man waited around the princess.Dana saw him speak to her; his expression eager, almost hungry.Dana couldn’t hear what the princess said, but he looked away in shame.Rather than leave, he pressed his case again.Whatever his request was, it proved no more successful a second time.Still he didn’t leave.

Jayden was also watching.“This has gone on long enough.”

Jayden got up and marched through the ballroom to the band.They were resting after finishing a long piece.Jayden passed a few coins to their leader and spoke briefly to him.The band leader nodded and led his players in a song Dana recognized.“That’s Hearts over the Moon.”

Dozens of women watched as Jayden marched to the young woman.He spoke loud enough to be heard by nearby tables.“Waiting for someone?”

“Waiting a long time for someone,” she said, her voice soft and sad.

“I’m someone.Stop waiting.”Jayden took her left hand and gently helped her to her feet.He led her in a dance, his eyes fixed on her the whole time.

“I, um,” she began, but her protests died as quickly as they began.Dana watched them move gracefully across the ballroom, and she wasn’t the only one watching.

“He’s quite a dancer,” Prince Onus admitted.“It’s not a skill I would have expected.”

Jayden led his partner by Dana and Prince Onus.He didn’t take his eyes off the girl while saying, “Come along, prince, dance with the girl you brought.”

“Jayden!” Dana scolded him.

“I, um,” the prince began.“I guess we could.If you wouldn’t mind.”

“I know I’m going to humiliate myself,” Dana said, but she got up and joined Prince Onus.She wasn’t a graceful dancer, but they managed to acquit themselves reasonably well.They tried to stay near Jayden and the girl as more dancers joined them.

The girl stared at Jayden, her expression perplexed.“Do I know you?”

He bowed to her.“Jayden, Sorcerer Lord.”

The girl gasped.“The man who killed an iron golem?Why would you dance with me?You don’t know who I am.”

“You’ll tell me if you wish.”

Dana caught sight of the young man who’d come with the girl.He was still trying to convince the princess of his worth long after there was any chance of getting whatever he wanted.The princess gave him a condescending look before pointing at Jayden.

“Trouble coming,” Prince Onus said.

“I think that’s what he wants,” she told him as the young man ran across the ballroom, his face showing outrage as he slipped between dancers and pushed some out of the way.

“How dare you!” the young man yelled.Musicians stopped playing and dancers moved away.Jayden got between the girl and her boyfriend, looking bored by the outburst.“Stay away from her!”

“I asked the girl to dance, nothing more.I’m surprised you didn’t.”

His face turning red from anger and shame, the young man held a finger an inch from Jayden’s nose.“If you touch her again, I’ll break you in half!”

Jayden turned to the girl.“I have brought you trouble.Please accept my apology.”

“I’m talking to you!” the youth yelled.Jayden turned his back on the young man and walked back to his table.Being ignored only infuriated him further, and the youth yelled before charging Jayden.He got within ten feet before two men dragged him to a halt.“Let go!”

“You’re going to get yourself killed,” a man said to him.“That’s the Sorcerer Lord.”

Unphased, the young man yelled, “You think knowing magic lets you take advantage of my girlfriend?”

Jayden raised one eyebrow.“She’s yours?The way you treat her I would have never guessed.”

The crowd of onlookers parted as Princess Estell approached.Her disapproval fell on the young man.“This behavior is unacceptable.Return to your seat.Sorcerer Lord, I apologize for this man’s actions and hope you won’t take offense.Boys do mature more slowly than girls.”

Jayden bowed.“The matter is already forgotten.”

Not finished, the princess said, “Prince Onus, I would appreciate the pleasure of your company to discuss matters of state, as would several of my father’s most loyal retainers who share a border with you.Sorcerer Lord, I would be grateful if you and your assistant would wait in the library.”

“Of course,” Jayden said.“I wish you good health and success, Prince Onus.Until we meet again.”

Prince Onus let go of Dana’s hand slowly when a servant led her and Jayden from the ballroom.As they left, she heard a nobleman say to another, “The boy survived.You owe me a gold piece.”

“I know we weren’t having a nice time, but did you need to do that?” she asked Jayden as they exited the ballroom.

“The longer we stayed, the better the chances of our visit ending badly.”

The servant brought them to an ornately carved wood door and opened it.Inside was a library as fantastic as the rest of the castle, with tens of thousands of books on oak bookcases engraved with eagle and dragon motifs.An enormous map covered in colored flags dominated one of the library’s walls.A lone man wearing silks and furs stood by a table with open books, a decanter and small crystal goblets.He looked to be about fifty years old with graying hair and an annoyed expression on his face.Dana figured he had the right to be annoyed after the trouble they’d caused, for the jeweler crown on his head could only mean this was King Rascan.

“Your majesty, what a pleasure to meet you,” Jayden said, confirming Dana’s theory.She curtsied while Jayden merely smiled.

“Not two hours passed since you arrived, and already there was a scene,” King Rascan told them.“You have a lot of gall coming here.”

Jayden wasn’t bothered by the hostile greeting.“I’d never get anywhere without it.You are a man with the weight of the world on your shoulders.That map speaks volumes on the danger your kingdom faces.”

Dana stepped in front of the huge map.“You’ve got every house and game trail here.I’ve never seen such a complete picture of the kingdom.”

King Rascan glanced at her only briefly before turning his attention, and anger, back to Jayden.“Time has not diminished your boldness.Years ago you had the audacity to seek to buy my treasures.Most recently I heard you’d survived an assassination attempt by some of the most dangerous men alive.”

“None of them were technically men, and one wasn’t alive,” Jayden told him.

“Of course they weren’t.”King Rascan poured himself a drink and took a sip.“You are guilty of breaking nearly every law there is.Other men would show shame or remorse, but not you.”

“I feel no shame because I saw the danger to you and your neighbors long before you’d admit it,” Jayden replied.His tone was firm without being confrontational.“War if successful must be planned years in advance.I saw measures being taken to bring violence to your lands.I warned others and was ignored.When that failed, I did what little I could to prevent it from happening, and failed again.If you seek to demonize me, do so for that.

“Despise me, insult me if it pleases you, but don’t turn down my help when your kingdom needs me.Yes, your majesty, you need me.You need every resource, every man, every opportunity you can get, or your dynasty ends with you.I do not ask more than you can give.The spell tablets I seek are worthless to you and your wizards except as showpieces or paperweights, but in my hands can do limitless damage to those trying to hurt you.”

Jayden stepped in front of the map.“I presume this sea of blue flags represent Meadowland forces sent against you.Point at one, your majesty, a threat you want forever gone, one your men can’t defeat without suffering grievous losses, and I will make it go away.”

King Rascan took another sip of wine.He stared at the map for a moment before saying, “How little you understand.”

“Then explain it to me.”

King Rascan waved to the door.“The men and women at the party are Bascal’s richest and most powerful.They are also the most judgmental snobs you’ll ever meet.They place great stock in ancestry and proper behavior.You are by all accounts a criminal, admittedly not the worst our world has known.I am judged by the company I keep, Sorcerer Lord.Your reputation damages mine.Yes, I need you.Yes, I am afraid all I have will be lost, all those I love killed or enslaved.Meadowland accepts slavery these days, you know.”

“We’ve seen it, and set the girls and kids free,” Dana told King Rascan.

“Then you know the danger my people are in,” King Rascan told her.“But in victory I may sow the seeds of defeat.My people won’t forgive me for associating with a criminal, no matter that you’ve come to help.They will look down on me, question my orders, scrutinize my every move for more signs of weakness.If they find any, they will use that as their excuse to ignore my orders when it suits them.Such disobedience will spread and grow in strength.Your presence tonight will haunt me until I am dead, and haunt my successors for generations to come because their father welcomed a criminal.”

King Rascan’s lips pulled back to show his gritted teeth.“That is what you are costing me, Sorcerer Lord.It is a price I must pay for my kingdom, my people, my daughter, and it’s going to get worse.I have invited more outsiders into Bascal, hundreds of them.Mercenaries, adventurers, even a mad scientist, and with each of these questionable defenders I doom myself and my heirs to the threat of rebellion from my nobles.Meadowland once suffered the scourge of civil war.I have no desire to share their fate.”

“I’m sorry you’re hurting,” Dana told him.“We wouldn’t be here if there was another way, but we need those tablets.Sir, you’re in more danger than you know.Jayden thinks the Inspired are in Meadowland.”

King Rascan dropped his drink.“He wouldn’t!Tyros couldn’t be such a fool!”

“He had the wizard Victory’s Edge in his service, which shows he is such a fool,” Jayden replied.“Victory’s Edge hinted he was with the Inspired, and if one of them is present more will come to sink their claws into Meadowland.Disastrous as that is, they will surely seek to expand their influence, and kingdoms weakened by war would be their most likely targets.”

“Then I have no time to find other ways to protect Bascal.”King Rascan stabbed his finger at a single blue flag on his map, close to his border but far from other flags.“There is a threat here equal to your boasts, one I need to die quickly and horribly.End its life and you shall have the reward you seek.”

“You make it sound like this isn’t a person,” Dana said.

“I have a young dragon in my employ,” King Rascan told them, his voice softer.“Scald serves me as he once served my father.He is young by the standards of his kind and needs centuries to reach full size.Despite his youth he serves bravely, and it is his reports from high in the sky that produced this map.That nearly cost him his life.”

Dana realized this dragon was more than an employee to Rascan.Scald was a friend in time of need, one who had been hurt almost to the point of death.

“Scald was on a reconnaissance mission observing enemy troop movements when he saw a newly built fort far from enemy forces.He was curious why, and as he approached, he smelled a foul odor noticeable from miles away.He didn’t get close enough to see what it was before a full grown wyvern with a rider attacked him.Had Scald been larger, stronger, he could have effortlessly torn the impudent beast apart, but as a youth he escaped by the narrowest of margins.”

“Will he be okay?” Dana asked.

“My healers and holy men tend to his wounds,” King Rascan said.“They say he should make a full recovery.Scald begs for the chance to go back in the air.I dare not let him, yet I must have him there.”

“You need this wyvern dead,” Jayden said.

“Your assessment of my map was incorrect, young lady,” King Rascan said, the force returning to his voice.“This is no longer a complete picture of the kingdom.With Scald grounded I don’t know where Meadowland sends its troops.Even worse, Meadowland’s forces can now create a map as detailed as this one for themselves, for their wyvern’s rider studies us from the safety of the air.Yes, Sorcerer Lord, I need the wyvern dead, and I’ll willing to work with you to do it.”

King Rascan pulled the flag from the map and handed it to Jayden.“Bring me its head, and both spell tablets in my treasury are yours.”

“We shall return victorious,” Jayden promised.

“If we have a deal then leave at once,” King Rascan ordered.“The longer you stay the more damage it does to my reputation.I trust you can find your way out.”

Jayden bowed and left the library.Dana stayed only long enough to say, “I’m sorry you have so many problems.We’ll do what we can to help.”

Once they left, Jayden headed back to the ballroom.“We’ll say our goodbyes to Prince Onus and leave.”

“Do we have to?He’s so lonely.”

“I’m no happier than you, but we have what we came for, and our continued attendance could cost us that.”

Dana studied his face as they walked.“What’s wrong?”

He hesitated before speaking.“King Rascan promised both his spell tablets.Both implies there are no more in his possession.I’d heard he owned far more than that, which now appears incorrect.There is a chance these are spells I already know.We could be risking much for little reward, or none at all.”

“The spells might be weak even if they’re new.”

“Also possible.”They returned to the ballroom to find little had changed.The band was playing a new song and nobles danced gracefully across the room.“There’s the prince talking to two noblemen.Let’s make our apologies to him and go.”

Dana caught sight of the young man Jayden had embarrassed earlier.“Look who’s heading our way spoiling for a fight.Don’t maim him.”

Jayden opened his mouth to no doubt offer a sarcastic reply when he was interrupted by whistles.Guests stopped dancing and the band stopped playing.Bells rang outside the ballroom.Armed guards rushed in and surrounded Princess Estell.

Then the wall in front of them dissolved, bricks melting like hot wax and dripping onto the floor to reveal the night sky.Men yelled.Women screamed.The colorful birds so many guests had brought squawked and flew off in terror.Dana saw a white cloud sailing across the sky with men riding it and stone gargoyles flying alongside.The cloud shot across the sky to the breached wall.

The magic cloud dissolved and unleash its cargo.Dana saw at least twenty gladiators in their fancy armor taking the lead.Behind them were two wizards with staves, both dressed in unusual outfits made of white and black cloth.One had a white mask across his face with thin eye slits in the fabric, while the second had a bushy black beard.Behind them Dana saw a score of skeletons and a disgusting barrow wight hunched over and howling like a mad dog.A wave of pain washed over the guests from the presence of the undead and they cried out, but to Dana’s amazement she felt nothing.

Panic took hold and people across the ballroom screamed.Guests and servants ran for their lives, tipping over tables and spilling food, while some cowered from the intruders.Only Dana and Jayden headed toward the invaders.Jayden cast a spell to form his black sword, raised it high and yelled, “Protect Princess Estell!”

Those three words worked a kind of magic equal to any Dana had seen him use.Many guests fled, but not all.Men in finest clothes seized chairs, knives from their tables, even wine bottles and went to the princess’ defense.Guards horribly outmatched by stone gargoyles and heavily armed gladiators held their ground or pushed forward with Jayden in the lead.Princess Estell ran from the room while both guests and her personal guard risked their lives to protect her.

Gargoyles flew across the ballroom and slammed into the defenders.The guests’ makeshift weapons were no good against stone monsters, and the gargoyles effortlessly knocked men and women aside.One gargoyle left the others and flew at Princess Estell.Her guards tried to stop it and failed as it plowed into them and knocked them to the ground.It nearly reached her when a giant black hand seized hold of it by the legs.

It was Jayden’s work.He used the giant black hand to pull the gargoyle away from the princess and swing it into an intact stone wall, smashing off the top half of its body.He threw what little was left into the onrushing gladiators, knocking two down.

Another gargoyle flew overhead and tried to drop onto Dana.She rolled out of the way and the gargoyle landed next to her.Dana shot to her feet, drew Chain Cutter from the concealed sheath on her back and swung at her enemy’s wings.Her sword hacked off the wings, and to her shock buried itself deep in the stone monster.It looked as surprised as she did, and fell apart into a pile of gravel when she pulled her sword out.

With the defenders so overpowered, Dana and Jayden had to hold back the full force of the enemy attack.Dana didn’t know why she wasn’t frothing mad or shrieking in pain like the last time she’d fought skeletons.What she did know was Chain Cutter was her most effective weapon against these abominations.She went straight for them.

“You’ve kidding, right?” a skeleton asked as its eyes flared red.The skeleton met her charge and tried to claw her face.She swung Chain Cutter to literally disarm her foe, and sword met bone in a blinding flash of light.The skeleton didn’t blacken and die as others had when Chain Cutter had hit them.No, this time it was blasted to dust.The light dimmed only a little, and she heard her sword singing hymns of praise.

The next skeleton backed away from her.“Uh, boss, maybe this isn’t such a good idea.”

“Kill her,” the masked wizard ordered his skeletons.“Kill everyone.”

Dana ran into the mob of skeletons.A year ago they would have been a threat, but not when she was armed with a magic sword and had been trained by Jayden for months.They tried to overwhelm her with sheer numbers and failed.Two skeletons ran from her and died shrieking when their own creator made them crumble apart with a wave of his hands.

“Disobedient curs,” the masked wizard hissed.He pointed his staff at Dana, and the barrow wight leaped at her with sharp claws reaching for her throat.Dana jumped left and stabbed her sword into the barrow wight as it passed her.The monster’s howls degenerated into a high pitched screech.Light poured from its gaping maw, then rays of light burned holes across its body from the inside before it burned into dust.With them gone the pain and rage affecting the crowd vanished.

Jayden’s magic hand seized another gargoyle out of the air.He brought it down like a hammer on the gladiators, knocking four of them down.He swung the gargoyle again and battered aside more gladiators, making openings in their formation that defenders rushed in to take advantage of.The gargoyle eventually cracked apart under this abuse.

The bearded wizard cast a spell that formed a javelin made of ice.It hovered in the air for a second before launching at Jayden as fast as an arrow.Jayden cast his own spell and formed his shield of spinning black blades.Ice javelin met shadowy blades, and the javelin was ground down to shaved ice.

“Curious,” a voice called out.Dana couldn’t tell who was talking, but she heard it clearly.“What else do you have?”

Screams erupted from around them.Both Dana and the masked wizard turned to their right.The gladiators had formed a wedge and were forcing their way deeper into the ballroom.Guards tried to stop them, but even with a steady stream of reinforcements coming from across the castle they were being pushed back.The bearded wizard supported them by making bricks on the floor rise up and form a long whip of stone.The whip lashed out and knocked down men like they were toy soldiers.

Bad as this was, Dana was still fighting the masked wizard.She raised her sword and told him, “You’re not the first necromancer I’ve fought.Surrender!”

The masked wizard clapped his hands.“Your sword makes you a threat, but nothing makes you my equal.Ladies and gentlemen, the cacophony of madness.”

The masked wizard cast a quick spell, and to Dana’s amazement he began to gibber.It was random sounds, bits of words and animal cries blended together into an obscene tirade that grew in volume with every passing second.Guests and guards gripped their heads in agony and cried out, but not Dana and Jayden, and not the gladiators who forced him back.

Dana didn’t know why this bizarre spell wasn’t affecting her.Jayden’s mind cloud spell must be protecting him, but he hadn’t cast one on her.Then she heard Chain Cutter’s prayers grow in volume to match and then exceed the masked wizard’s obscene magic until it drowned him out entirely.Dana charged the wizard and he raised his staff to block her swing.Chain Cutter effortlessly lopped off the top two feet of his staff, and the tip of her blade nicked his left arm.

There was a flash of light and the masked wizard screamed in agony as his arm burst into flames and burned away.Dana cried out in surprise and backed away.The wizard fell to his knees and gripped the charred stump of his arm.He’d lost everything up to his elbow.Dana saw a brass cap covering what remained of his arm.It took her a moment to realize what had happened.“Your arm was undead.You grafted a dead man’s arm onto your body!”

“You’ll suffer for that,” the masked wizard hissed.

Dana wasn’t sure what to do.He was defeated, and without an arm should be no threat, but he was a necromancer.He’d done inexcusable deeds.She couldn’t bring herself to kill him even after what he’d done.

Her hesitation cost her the chance to make a decision one way or another.A magic cloud formed under the masked wizard and lifted him off the ground.He flew back out of the destroyed wall.It was then that she saw another magic cloud floating outside.It was small, barely big enough for the man in white and black standing on it.He watched the battle with the same disinterest as a boy would watch ants warring upon one another.He even held a book in one hand and wrote in it with the other.

“That’s disappointing,” the man said, his voice carrying throughout the ballroom.“Let’s try something different.”

The bearded wizard took a purple brick from inside his uniform and threw it on the ground.Bricks across the ballroom lifted up and flew across the room, making walls buckle and the ceiling groan.The bricks swirled in a tighter and tighter spiral until they stuck together to form a crude version of a man.It started small but added hundreds of pounds every second until it was five feet tall, and continued growing.

Dana had to stop the brick monster before it got any bigger and ran after it.Most of the gladiators were fighting Bascal soldiers and knights coming to their princess’ defense, but one got between her and the growing monster.He raised his sword and ran two steps toward her before Prince Onus tackled him.The gladiator struggled to shove Onus away while the prince drove his right fist into the gladiator’s face again and again like a sledgehammer.The gladiator dropped like a stone.

“Um, thank you?” she stammered.A gladiator flew by her head, followed by another.Men fighting around Jayden were so tightly packed together that he couldn’t use his magic hand to its full effect without hurting innocent men.Instead he plucked gladiators from the crowded battle and hurling them across the room.

“You stop the monster, I’ll stop the wizard,” Prince Onus told her.Another gladiator flew screaming through the air to land at the prince’s feet.

Dana hated his plan the second she heard it.The bearded wizard was a major threat.Kaleoth could lose its only heir, and more importantly a good person.One look at Onus’ face showed he wasn’t going to back down regardless of the consequences.He charged the bearded wizard, leaving Dana to fight the growing monster of bricks.

And it was getting a lot bigger.Dana wasn’t sure if it was a golem, an elemental, maybe something entirely new to her, but it was eight feet tall and getting larger.It marched toward the diminishing line of gladiators still standing.The room shook and cracks spread across the floor like a spiderweb.

Dana ran for the brick monster and slashed at its right knee.There was no blinding flash of light as her sword sunk deep into her opponent.It swept its right arm at her, and she had to pull Chain Cutter out quickly to get out of the way.She swung at it again and sliced off a hundred pounds of bricks with one hit.

Jayden’s giant hand flew over her and grasped the brick monster’s head.It pushed hard enough to tip it over, and it fell with a crash that echoed across the room.Dana slashed at it while it was still down.She hit it twice in the right arm and chopped it off at the elbow.

“Die, vile girl!” the bearded wizard snarled.He formed another whip of bricks and lashed out at her.She jumped over the whip, although two gladiators and three Bascal soldiers weren’t as lucky and got bowled over.The whip pulled back for another swing that never landed.

In Dana’s travels with Jayden she was used to being ignored by his enemies.After all, she was weak compared to him.In this battle it was her turn to draw attention from dangerous enemies, while Prince Onus went unnoticed because he had no magic sword and couldn’t cast spells.Overlooking him was a mistake the bearded wizard regretted instantly.Onus charged the wizard and drove his shoulder into him, then punched the evil wizard in the gut and doubled him over.He followed up with more punches to the wizard’s face, grabbed him by the head with both hands and rammed his knee into the wizard’s face.

The brick monster struggled to its feet.Dana slashed it and did massive damage.Again and again she hit it, but more bricks flew up to replace what she destroyed.The brick monster grew no bigger, but it healed all the injuries she inflicted.

“I need help!” Dana called out.

“Coming!” Jayden called back.A gladiator tried to stab him and suffered for it when Jayden cut the man’s sword in half, knocked him over with a kick to the chest and stomped on him once he was on the ground.Jayden formed his black whip and swung it around the brick monster.More bricks flew across the room to join with the thing, a terrible mistake when they locked in place over the whip.His whip hissed and it ate the brick monster apart from the inside.It tried to kick Jayden, and Dana sunk her sword deep into its foot before it got close.She pulled her blade out and took its foot off.The monster toppled, and this time came apart.

“The construct didn’t grow nearly fast enough,” the dispassionate voice said.“We’re going to have to work on that.”

Dana went to help Prince Onus, who didn’t need assistance.He had the wizard in a headlock with his right arm and was savagely beating him with the left.The wizard couldn’t perform the complex hand gestures or utter the arcane words to cast a spell under such an onslaught and fell to his knees.Prince Onus finished the fight with a kick to the wizard’s stomach before grabbing the man’s staff, ripping it from his grasp and breaking it against a nearby stone pillar.

Which was a mistake.Once Prince Onus’ hands were off the wounded wizard, a magic cloud formed under him and flew him to safety.It joined the other two wizards in white and black flying outside the castle.The one who’d stayed outside the fight observed them with curiosity after their victory.

“I appreciate the opportunity to see you in action,” the third wizard said.“I’d never seen shadow magic before.It’s impressive.”

“What part of Sorcerer Lord didn’t you understand?” Jayden demanded as he ran to the edge of the hole made by the enemy wizards.“What made you think you stood any chance against me with cheap parlor tricks and disposable men?”

A gladiator struggled to his knees.“Disposable?’

“I don’t see magic clouds carrying you away,” Dana told him.

Another gladiator reached out to the escaping wizards.“No, wait!”

“You’ve failed everywhere you’ve tried to seize power!” Jayden yelled.“You’ve lost countless wizards since your wretched order formed!Men and women who could have saved this world died trying to control it!You are a band of idiots running headlong to your own destruction!”

The three clouds drifted leisurely away into the night.The only wizard of the three still capable of standing after the battle said, “Hmm.This has been educational.Until we meet again, let me leave you a parting gift.”

At this distance it was hard to tell what the wizards were doing, but Dana saw a red circle of light suddenly link them together.She’d seen this when Zentrix was invaded and knew what it meant.

“It’s a binding spell!” she yelled.“Everybody run!”

Guests, guards and even gladiators still standing took her warning to heart and fled for their lives.The circle of light turned blue, and Dana saw dozens and then hundreds of ice javelins form in the air.The remaining wizard was drawing power from his defeated allies, making his spell massively more powerful.

Jayden began casting his fireball spell.He chanted and held his hands together as even more ice javelins formed.Dana dragged tables in front to him as a makeshift barrier, and Prince Onus joined her.Jayden’s chanting ended and a tiny spark floated into the night.A second later the enemy wizard’s spell also finished, and a storm of ice javelins whistled through the air as they flew at everyone in the ballroom.

BOOM!

Jayden’s fireball went off in front of the breached wall, swallowing up countless ice javelins.Others broke against the castle’s outer wall or the floor and walls of the ballroom.Three hit the overturned tables and went halfway through.

“Are you hurt?” Prince Onus asked them.

“I’m okay,” Dana told him.“Those wizards must have been with King Tyros if they had gladiators working with them, but who were they?”

“The black and white uniforms they wear marks them as members of the Inspired,” Jayden said as he watched the magic clouds disappear into the night.“The worst is upon us.”


Submitted: February 24, 2021

© Copyright 2021 ArthurD7000. All rights reserved.

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Deborah O'Carroll

This may be the most amazing chapter yet! Aaahh! I loved it. So many golden moments. Dana making Jayden touch her sword. Prince Onus being amazing. Jayden dancing. All the drama. Amazing fight. Dana and Jayden talking with the king bold as you please. Dana taking Onus to Cassandra. Even Jayden wanting to celebrate Dana's birthday! I loved every minute!

Wed, February 24th, 2021 3:50am

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Glad you enjoyed it, and there will be plenty more to come.

Wed, February 24th, 2021 6:25am

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