The Necromancer and The Angel

Reads: 90  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Epic Tavern

A father-daughter spat sends young necromancer Emilia Mortalis to seek out her real parents, beginning with a summoning in a cemetery, where she encounters a faceless Angel statue. Over time, she tells it her stories and her secrets. When her foster father is killed while fighting in the Badlands, she and the Teenmagers (formerly the Wizkiddles) seek revenge against his murderers, a plan that brings them in conflict with the Netherqueen. She'll need an Angel to succeed.

Beoorian Tales

The Necromancer & The Angel

Prologue – The Cemetery

There’s an old, old cemetery on the outskirts of Tasuil Beor.  It’s small, as cemeteries go.  Around its iron fencing there’s a mishmash of flowers and trees, which to a horticulturalist would seem both foolhardy and downright ugly.  But it would also confound them, to see that such a confusing array of species grew alongside each other with both respect and a quirky sense of comradery.  They make the cemetery beautiful, in a disturbing and chaotic sort of way.  They also hide the interior from view.

Walk through the gates and you’ll see several rows of gravestones in the front.  In the middle is a wide, barren expanse of constantly churned dirt, speckled black and grey with the ashes from the bodies of Tasuil Beor’s poorest citizens, burnt because their families – if they had one – could not afford a burial or service or tombstone.  Sometimes there are indentations, footprints in the soil where the rare visitor treads.Rare, because this is the Cemetery of the Forgotten.

Most remarkable about this place is the Angel of Remembrance, a statue that sits in the center of this resting place of tens of thousands.  We don’t know how it got there.  It was there before any graves had been dug, appearing on the very morning after the fence had gone up.  It stands upright on a small pedestal, with wings fully extended as if it is about to take flight.  There is a chair placed in front of it, facing outward.

If you sit in this chair, you’ll sit between the statue’s arms which – no matter your species or your size – will have its hands placed on your shoulders, as if to comfort you.  Its head is bowed down, to stare at whoever is seated before it.  The sculptor has hidden the face behind a hood, so we do not know if it is female or male, or its species.  Its hands alter their appearance in different lights and angles.  Some say it is alive.  Others that it was alive.  Some, after sitting in the chair, flee the Cemetery in tears.

“Such sadness is too much to bear,” say some.

“It laughed at me!” say others.

“I will never sleep peacefully again - it is netherkin-spawn!” a few have reported.

“It is Death, come for us all!” one famously said, before dying in front of it.  If it is Death, I suppose it did come for her that day.

But we, my friends, live in an age of horror and wonder.  And this is a true tale of both.

Chapter 1 – A Father’s Parting Gift

“Leave her alone, Khari,” Elona said.  Her tone was cautious, warning her friend that Emilia was in no mood for consolation.

“No one goes in there, Elly,” replied the 14-year-old fire mage, with all the hauteur belonging to someone who reminds you, at every chance, that they’re the eldest and therefore they know better. “First, it’s unsanitary…”

“The bodies have all been burnt, mush-for-brains!  As a fire mage, you know that fire…”

“Second,” Kharimar continued, ignoring her utterly, “it’s getting near sunset...”

“She has Dingleberry,” pressed Elona, referring to Emilia’s flarey friend, “And he glows brighter than any lantern!”

“Elly!”  Khari’s voice was softer now.  “Please.  I know she’s in shock.  To find out that her dad doesn’t know who her mom was…that he’s probably not her father – that’s a lot for anyone to take in.  But to tell her that her mom is probably somewhere here…with the Forgotten!  I know they were arguing.  But that was cruel!  He must have known she would come here.”

“We can’t let her go in alone,” said the pre-teen Shaman with a sob.

“You two!” said a familiar voice from behind.  Emilia stood there, with her arms spread wide. “Come here!  Before I change my mind about hugging you!”  Emmy wasn’t the hugging type, so they quickly obliged their 10-year-old friend.  Khari, who’d started the first of his growth spurts, towered over them.  Emilia awkwardly broke the embrace.

“Emmy!” said Elona through clenched teeth, and shivering. “P-p-p-please…!”

“Gutshank,” she said sternly, “You know how Elona feels about that!”

The pigeon-sized netherspider was nesting in Elona’s mass of luxuriously curly hair.  It clicked its mandibles.

“We know you like her hair.”

Gutshank dropped onto Elona’s shoulder and rubbed her cheek with its lightly hairy forelegs, eliciting a nervous giggle.  It then jumped onto Emilia, where its mandibles clicked again. “She wants to know if, when it’s her time, you’ll let her have some of your hair for her nest.”

If there was one thing Elona was vain about, even more than her clothing, it was her hair.  “Of course,” she replied with pride, “I shall save my stray strands from now on.”  With those words, she watched Gutshank return to the large front pocket of Emilia’s vest.

“Let’s take you home,” said Kharimar, reaching for Emmy’s hand, as he’d done since they’d been students at Miss Frumplin’s School, 4 years ago.  They’d called themselves the Wizkiddles back then, and the name stuck.  Friends forever, Elly had said.  Emilia did not offer him her hand, but stood there, looking sad.

“I have to do this.  No, Elly. I do.  I need to find a new home, for one thing.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Emmy!  Your father didn’t mean it!” cried Elona.

“OF COURSE, HE MEANT IT!” screamed Emilia. “He’s behind on the rent by half a year!  We live there at the whim of the landlady.  And Fibula Fleshcleaver told him that, when Dad…when not-father goes away to fight in the Badlands, if I’m to stay there, she’s gonna put me to work!”

“By Blessed Bob, the Eldest God,” Elly moaned, “She wouldn’t!”

“Can you see me, ME, killing innocent animals?!  My not-father was doing me a favor.  I owe him thanks for that.  B-but,” she stammered, her lip quivering, “he was t-telling the truth about m-mother.  If she’s here, I’ll find her.  I’ll be okay.  You two go.  It’s still light out.  If it gets dark, you won’t have me or Dingbat or Gutshank to save you.”

“Says you?” laughed Elly.

“Says me!” echoed Emmy, thumping her chest, being careful to avoid Gutshank’s hiding-place.

Kharimar knelt down on the dirty cobblestones and took her hands in his.  “Think before you do something, little wiz-sister.  It’s probably haunted, and definitely creepy.”

Emmy winked, and said with a smile, “Creepy’s kinda my thing, you know, big wiz-bro?”

Chapter 2 – First Visit

She watched as her only friends, and the only real family she had left, walked away from her, leaving her in the gathering dark.  Because this part of town was not often visited, the Royals had decided to save money by only having one lamp on the street, which more often than not the night watchmen conveniently forgot to light.  Emmy whistled, in a pitch too high for most to hear.  Dingleberry appeared, popping out of wherever it is that flareys live, with a whoosh of air.  He’d brought a few silvery leaves in with him, which floated, dream-like, to the ground, glinting dully in the twilight.

“Dingle, could you light that lamp up there?  Thanks!”  The lamp erupted like a small firecracker, which subsided into a soft glow.  As the flarey began to alight on her shoulder, Gutshank leapt out of her hiding place and almost caught him.  The necromancer-in-training giggled.

“You’re getting careless, Dingbat!  You guys go play for a while, all right?  I need to do this alone.”  Both began their normal hide-and-go-seek antics.  They were evenly matched, thought Emmy.  She walked up to the Gate of The Cemetery of the Forgotten.  The lamp’s glow didn’t reach beyond the green wall of a fence, but there was just enough moonlight for her to make out the outline of her destination.  She walked down the center, past the four rows of headstones, and stopped in front of the Angel.

The vast number of the dead that she now stood upon was hard to get accustomed to.  Nothing but ashes and dirt, all those people who’d been around a few thousand years ago. All mixed together with each other, as they never might have been in real life.  All the poor, the lost, the abandoned, the ones without family or a friend wealthy enough to bury them with pomp and ceremony.  The Forgotten was a sad but appropriate name for them.

For Emilia, things were more problematic.  She had no memories of her mother, so there was nothing and no one to forget.  But her not-father had said she’d be here.  Ever since she was very young, ghosts would speak to her.  She stopped telling people about it when they began to think she was crazy.  Her not-father had long ago threatened to take her to Leaping Loons Sanitarium.  When Khari told her about the place, she’d ignored the ghosts until, eventually, they stopped coming.

But here, perhaps if she just concentrates on that still point of light inside of her, the one she sees just before she goes to sleep at night, maybe her mother’s ghost would come.  She sat in the chair, and looked out across the soil – was that movement over there? – it looked like a pool of water, reflecting the starry night sky.  How odd, she thought, and closed her eyes.  She opened her mouth, as if to scream, but slumped in the chair and was still.

Chapter 3 – Finding Their Voice

They gazed upon the child – the mourner, the seeker, the frightened, the necroscope; powerful, powerless, blessed, cursed, full of impossibilities and possibilities. And They saw a kindred spirit.  She didn’t know from whence she came, and neither did They.  They watched as she stirred, and looked around.

“Thank you,” she said to Them, “I didn’t expect so many of them, so many all at once.  I…I didn’t think that through very well.  I guess you scared them away.”

They wanted to reassure her, to comfort her, to ease her unease.  They didn’t scare anyone away – the others fled of their own will.  They didn’t understand why, as They never did, and could never do, anything to hurt the spirits.  They sent Their caring to the child through Their hands.  The girl raised her own hand and placed it gently atop Their own, where They felt the infinitesimal tingle of the girl’s own warmth on their fingers.

It was the most wondrous and miraculous thing They had ever experienced.  The small, tiny point of heat spread through every part of Their existence, and They were warm everywhere, even if only for a micro-minute.  “I like it here,” said the child, “It’s nice. But I don’t think my mother is here.  I think she might be alive after all.  I’ll come back again, and we can talk.  You must get lonely.  And the dead only talk about the past, over and over again.  I’ll bring you some new stories!”

Dawn peeped from the other side and began to push the night away as They watched The Girl, full of warm life, run through Beor’s dead, raising ashes in clouds that, to Their eyes, briefly glowed with The Girl’s fire mixed with the Dawn’s light, before drifting downwards and getting swallowed up in the dull, grey-black sameness that was Their only home.

They were full of emotions they had no experience of, and no names for.  It was several minutes when They tried to express how They felt, and if anyone living had been nearby, they would have heard a hushed, melodious baritone voice say, “Thank you!”

Granny Ginny’s Diary

Woke up in the middle of the night with a sense of foreboding, which is never a good sign.  Used the pathways to travel in-between, but found nothing amiss.  The stars in the Beginning Place were a little more frisky than usual.  Ooze said he thought he saw a comet in a place where no comet should be, but then acknowledged that it was likely a spore in his eyestalk.

No deep rumblings in Beor, no new commotions in the Badlands.  Sheri Nightberry has most of the clans under her watchful eye.  No unexpected resonances from the Nether Plane.

So why do I still feel uneasy?

I reach out, with senses long unused and out of practice.  And I hear something new - a gossamer, light-hearted melody - newly born, uncertain and tentative.  Wait!  It’s gone. Perhaps it’s a new species of bird?  Not likely!  I’m a part of Beor’s oldest song.  This is more than a new bird for Beor. I memorized the melody, just to be cautious should I hear it again.

Chapter 4 - Home Is Where the Old Priest & Rat Is

“Of course, she can stay here,” exclaimed Artie Pendragon, wiping down the bar. “By Bob the Eldest God, young ‘un, you’re family.  When you an’ the other Wizkiddles helped out the Dwarven Princess…by Jack Thunder’s nuts, you were somethin’!”

Young Ravvy put their arm on her shoulder.  “You’re always welcome here.  You’ll be like…like my little sister!”

Kharimar burst out laughing.  “You mean your smarter little sister!”

“That goes without saying,” Emmy said.  Gutshank leapt from her pocket and started to drink the moisture from the side of her cold glass of apple berry lemonade.  The netherspider then began investigating an overturned ale tankard that lay on the floor.  An occupied tankard, evidently - a squeak erupted from it, sending Gutshank scuttling at top speed back into Emmy’s frock pocket.

Drattus Thaddeus Rattus poked his whiskers out of the tankard, and shouted, “You need to teach that chitterin’ ball o’ legs and spider-spit some manners!”

“And YOU,” said Artie, “Need ta’ find yerself a better bed ta’ sleep in!”  And he picked up the tankard by its handle, brought it over to the bar’s wash basin, and deposited both it and Drattus into the soapy water.  Drattus erupted out of the basin, did a double somersault (soaking Artie in the process) and landed on the bar countertop.

“Speakin’ o’ beds ta’ sleep in, where ‘zactly will Emmy be takin’ up rezzy-dence?” asked the immortal rodent.

“Wherever she wants,” replied Redner.  The tavern’s zombie janitor, handyman and ‘maid’ walked over to Emmy and bowed deeply. Emilia had created him when he was less than 12 hours dead, so his brain was only slightly out-of-tune.  His uniform covered up the hole in his torso.

“Y…you look prettier each time I see you, Em…Millie…Emmy! ‘Course ah don’t ‘member the last t…time I saw you, but ah’m shore yer prettier!”  Redner batted at some of the flies gathering around him, and Gutshank quickly dispatched a few, silk threads flying out like lassoes from Emmy’s pocket.

Emmy thought about the nice rooms they had upstairs.  She'd never slept in a fancy bed before, not even one with a straw mattress.  Maybe it would be better to not get used to it.  You can’t miss what you’ve never had, she thought.  Then again, she’d never really had a mom either – but she missed her anyway.  She thought it over a bit more.

She excused herself from the table where her friends sat and somehow managed to sit on one of the stools at the bar.  Motioning to Artie, she leaned over and began whispering in his ear.  A few times he stopped her, asking questions of her.  In the end, he nodded.

“Ravvy, bring some blankets and a small pillow – no, Emmy, no guest of mine is going to sleep on a cold floor, we discussed this! – and bring them to the basement.  Also a few candles and a water pitcher and glass.  A little table, too.  Redner, you clean out that basement until the floor’s clean enough for Prince Ampersand himself to eat off of!  And Drattus, you need to place the usual wards there.”

“What’s that?” asked Kharimar.

“Wards?” inquired Ravvy.

“Every guest room in this Tavern, and the Tavern itself,” said Drattus, “is warded.”

“Why?” said Emmy, curious.

“Warded against what?” continued Elona.

“Or against who?” demanded Ravvy.

“One day you might find out.  I hope you never do.”  Artie looked at all of them, and said no more.

>>>>>><<<<<< 

She found herself part of an unusual but incredibly loving family at the Old Priest & Rat.  It had always only been herself and Da…her not-father.  And he didn’t talk much, if at all.  He didn’t ever raise a hand to her, and considering some of the stories she’d heard from the kids on the street, she was glad of it.  But ‘Uncle’ Artie always gave her a kiss and a hug when she’d get back from school.

Emmy continued attending Miss Frumplin’s School with Khari and Elly, helping out at the tavern whenever she could.  She enjoyed keeping the storage room in order, and helping Redner keep things where they should be.  Occasionally the zombie would forget that frozen things should be in the cold room, or that wine bottles should never be left where the sun could reach them.  Ravvy tried to get her more accustomed to being around strangers, but dealing with all kinds of people was Ravvy’s particular gift and not hers.

Two years into her stay, a month before Winterflame, came news that the skirmishes in the Badlands had taken a turn for the worst.  The Beor Bulletin reported that a lone survivor from the Royal Army had stumbled, half-dead, into the Castle to inform their Majesties that every last soldier had died.  Some sort of magical sickness had felled many, leaving the remaining troops to be slaughtered by swarms of tribesmen.

When Artie told Emmy, she cried, running out of the Tavern.  She leaned against the doorframe, wracked with sobs.  She’d never sobbed before, not like this, and it both repulsed and frightened her.  Repulsed, because such weakness should never be on public display, yet here she was, weeping for the world to see. Frightened, because it was possible that he wasn’t even her father, so it made no sense for her to cry.  Even if she did love him, just a little.

“Emmy,” said Ravvy, who’d followed her outside, “I’m sorry.  Is there anything I can do?”

“Yes, yes there is,” she replied, “Can you take me to Tasuil Beor?”

Chapter 5 – The Second Visit

“…so, I think he must be dead,” she said to Ravvy.  The outskirts of Tasuil Beor lay before them.  The town was abuzz with the news of the Royal Army’s rout.  Town crier Thor Jeggsblud was actually carrying copies of the Beor Bulletin, which featured “spectacularly colored drawings of the Badlander baddies’ massacre of our brave sons and daughters.”  Ravvy had a copy tucked into his belt.

“I don’t know, Emmy.  He didn’t seem to be the type of man who would be easily defeated by anybody, much less a stupid Badlands raider.”  Ravvy shifted in his seat.  Gutshank had hidden herself in Emilia’s hat.  The necromancer-in-training had cut some eye holes in it, barely visible to passersby. “But you think you can find out by…by asking the dead?  Sorry, Emmy, but I’ve never heard of anyone who could do that before.”

Emilia had decided that it would be okay to tell Ravvy about her odd gift.  It felt good to have a friend know about it, like a weight had fallen from her that she hadn’t even known was there. “Probably because people would never leave them alone, much less ghosts.”

“What do you mean?” asked the young Ravinger.

“Let’s walk from here,” she said.  He dismounted, and they walked in companionable silence towards the ramshackle part of the warehouse district.  “Do you know how many people want to ask their dead relative questions?  Things like, ‘Why couldn’t you love me more?’ or “Where did you hide the family treasure?’, or more common, stupid things like – ‘How’s the food there?’ – pathetic!”

“You’re kidding, right?” Ravvy said, leaning in to shoulder-nudge her.

“I wish I were.  Mostly, people yell at them.  They blame, they rage, they cry, they accuse…”

“Seriously?  They yell at them?” Ravvy looked surprised, and Emilia sighed.

“Never, ever yell at the dead, Ravvy.” She looked at Ravvy – dear Ravvy, her big almost-brother, staring at her innocently, and explained.  “The place beyond is, for the living, a place that reflects what they think they know.  Their dead are reflections of the people they knew when those people were alive.  So, if you throw anger at them…” and she waited, watching the wheels in his mind work it out.

“Oh,” he said at last, “They become angry ghosts.  They reflect your anger back at you.”

“Yes!  But necroscopes don’t usually know them at all.  There’s nothing to reflect.  We see them as they are, and not as they were.  They talk about the past, mostly.  Some, though – some have questions for us. Or messages. They used to come to all the time.  Sometimes…sometimes…” She stops, as they enter street where the Cemetery of the Forgotten is.

“Emmy?” said Ravvy, as her gaze is directed elsewhere.  She turns to face him, and there is a tear journeying down her cheek, which she quickly brushes away.

“Sometimes, when I was four, the room would get so thick with them that I couldn’t breathe.  I’d start to shake, and my dad…dammit…my not-father would hold me tightly, not knowing what was wrong, ‘cause he couldn’t see them.  He never scolded me, or thought I was damaged, or weird.”  She breathed in deeply, slowly, and then let her breath leave in a rush.

“That’s why I have to find out if he’s dead.  The dead can find him.”

Ravvi took her 12-year-old hand gently, and carefully asked, “I can’t imagine how many people are in there, and how scared that must make you feel.”

To her own surprise, Emilia laughed. “I’m not scared.”

“You’ve got me to protect you, you know.” Ravvy puffed out his chest and tried to look heroic.  Then they both laughed.

“Yes, I have the Ravinger Heir on my side! Really, though, the Angel will protect me, like it did before.  Here, would you…” Emmy took off her hat, and Gutshank sprang onto the young man’s shoulder as he began to say, “What do mean, the statue?”

“…mind Gutshank for me?  I’ve never summoned a spirit before.”

“What are you talking about – you’re a necromancer, aren’t you?  You raised Redner, didn’t you?” Ravvi was concerned, because Emilia had always seemed so confident.

“Necromancer-in-training, and that was totally different.  His body was right in front of me, and not even 24 hours dead – and that was reanimation.  Basic necromancy!  Necroscopes are rare – necroscopy is a born talent, not a discipline.”  She noticed Ravvi was playing with Gutshank, having taken an insect between his fingers and dangling it in the air, pulling it away just before the netherspider’s silken strands could nab it, laughing gently.  Before she could stop herself, she said, “You look just like your mom when you do that.”

Ravvi’s mouth gaped.  “You couldn’t possibly know that.  How could you possibly know that?”

Emilia sighed. “She appeared to me that night when you got hit by the arrow meant for Princess Shanunu.  She wanted to know if you were going to be all right. Look, I’ll tell you about it later, okay?  I need to begin at sundown.  Ravvy saw the sun start to fall below the horizon. “Okay,” he answered, scratching Gutshank under her chin. “Be careful.”

Chapter 6 – Baby in Red

“Dingleberry, could you light the lamp, please?” she asked.  The Cemetery looked the same as it did since the last time she’d visited.  Was it really two years ago?  A rustling in the surrounding wall of trees showed a family of mooncallers had made a nest.  The male was currently singing, head aimed towards the moon, a seductive and beautiful symphony.  It somehow lent a peaceful air to this place of the dead.  Dingleberry produced a handful of glowing seeds from somewhere inside his voluminous vest and dropped a good two dozen of them in her hand before flying quietly into the tree, and feeding the rest to the mooncaller’s chicks.

Emilia had no talent with plants at all, but she approached the Angel of Remembrance, and carefully buried the seeds, one at a time, into the soil that surrounded the statue, soil made of human ashes.  She remembered her promise, to return and tell it some new stories.  She sat down in the chair, and looked up into the cowl-draped shadow that was its face.

“I’m sorry it’s taken so long to come back.  I’ll tell you a tale the next time I visit, I promise.”

She may have imagined the brush of fingertips on her shoulder.  “I have to summon my not-father’s ghost.  To be sure that he’s dead.  I don’t want him to be dead, but I think he might be.  And I want to ask him some questions, about my mom.  He might not know the answers, though.  I’ve never done this before, and I’m…”

Emilia didn’t want to admit that she was scared.  She didn’t like it when ghosts had been drawn to her, and she was afraid that, by drawing a spirit to her, it might give the spirit world the wrong impression.  She told this to the Angel.  Once again, she had the sensation of fingertips on her shoulder, even though when she’d sat down, her shoulders were a good 2 feet below them.

“Will you help me, like you did before? Can you keep all the other ghosts away?  Or maybe help me find my not-father?”  And (although she knew it was impossible) she could swear the statue ever so imperceptibly inclined its head.  She closed her eyes and pictured him, dressed in his mercenary gear, on the day he’d left.  She imagined him still dressed in them, more time-worn with use, a little dirty.  He’d probably grown out his beard.

“Memento Mortalis, not-father, I summon you! Appear before me, in this place, at this moment, and speak truth to me.”

The moon was up, and the mooncaller had stopped singing.  Not even Dingleberry, who normally could be heard zipping hither and yon, made a sound.  Emmy sighed.  At least, she thought, no stray ghosts had appeared to try and trick her.  She put her hand onto the Angel’s stone one, and was about to speak when a sound filled the air, making her whole body – no, the entire ground – tingle.From the ground, in each spot where she’d planted a seed, bushes sprang up. Bushes made from bones, with ash-black leaves, with buds that opened to reveal crystal roses made from the salt of the dead and the countless tears of the living accumulated over the centuries, coldly glinting like diamonds in the moonlight.

Emilia looked as, in front of her, sand appeared in a tornado-like swirl, which coalesced into the transparent ghost of Memento Mortalis.  Forgetting her anger, she ran to embrace him, but her hands simply scattered the ghost-sand, which re-formed instantly.  She took several steps back, angry at her own sentimental outburst.  It was then that she saw his face.  His nose was missing, as was part of his cheek.  His left arm had its skin hanging in shreds, exposing the tibia.  There was a gash across his throat. His eyes were haunted, until he saw her.  “ ‘Ello, lil’ flower,” he said, “Talkin’ to ghosts agin, are ya?”

“You worthless, heartless piece of direwolf dung, I hate it when you call me that!”

“I luvs ya too, Em,” he answered, revealing his jawbone when he smiled, “T’anks fer not makin’ a walkin’ corpse o’ yer ole Da.”

There was an awkward moment of silence.

“Ya looks good, Em.  I guess me fren’ Artie is takin’ good care o’ ya.”

“How did you find out I was staying at the Old Priest and Rat?” asked a genuinely curious Emilia.

“I ‘ave many frens in many places, lil’ flower.  I gots word tru da merc grapevine is ‘ow.  An’ da last two weeks tru da spirit ether-works.”

“Yes, I’m staying there, no thanks to you!  You left me to fend for myself!” she shouted, “You told me my mother was dead!  Well, guess what – she isn’t!  How do I know?  Go on, ask me how I know?”

“Spirits tol’ me last week.  I’m sorry ya found out that way.  I was gonna tell ya someday…” Memento trailed off, and looked down.

“You’re not my real father, are you?” Emmy asked.

“No, Em.  I dinna know who ‘e is, either.  An’ afore ya asks me, I never saw yer mother either.”

“So, how did I end up in your care – if you can call it that?” Emmy turned to sit on the chair under the Angel’s outstretched hands, and had to dodge the crystal rose bush.  She thought she saw the statue full of stars, like the night sky, but chalked it up to the fact that she’d had nothing to eat since breakfast.

Her not-father started to seat himself on a tombstone, but instead went right through it.  He stood up, chuckled, and continued.

“Twelve years ago, I was ‘ired to patrol an area o’ the Nethercap Mountains.  Sev’ral disturbances involvin’ dire beasts an’ netherkin ‘ad been reported, an’ da locals did’na wanna alarm da King, at least not yet.  They ‘ired me group, da Black Foxes, ta keep watch fer a while.  One night, a small nethergate, no taller dan yer chair there, opened in our midst, an’ out runs a stocky netherkin at full speed, carryin’ somethin’ squirmin’ inna dirty red blanket, followed by 2 dozen netherkin wit’ bloody swords.

Me men sets about slaughterin’ dem as best dey could.  Two ‘ad broken away from us an’ were pursuin’ da first one carryin’ da bundle.  Da runner managed ta kill one o’ dem, but was too late ta avoid ‘is ‘ead bein’ sliced off. I looks down ta see a tiny red babby crawlin’ out from unner dat blanket.  But den da one nether still left lifted ‘is dagger as if ta stab da poor babby, so I throws me sword at it.  Caught it in da neck, I did.  T’ick black blood squirtin’ ever-where.

I ‘ears be’ind me a she-devil’s voice shriekin’ ‘Emeeeeelyaaaaaa!’ follered by a growl so vicious it makes me tremble e’en now.  It came from da gate, which exploded in fire, killin’ me Black Foxes, an’ more blood rained down from dem.  And dere ya were, in me arms, covered in two kinds o’ blood, lookin’ up at me ugly mug as if I were da best person in Beor.  I swore dat day, in da name o’ Ginevra, Goddess o’ Justice, that I’d care fer ya till da day I died, an’ beyond.”

Emilia sat very still.  The story, while outrageous and unlikely, was true.  She knew her not-father well enough to know when he was lying.  He came closer to her.  “I’m sorry if I’ve been a handful.  I could have been nicer to all the women you’ve…”

“Stop right dere, Em.  I should be da one ‘pologizin.’  I kept tryin’ ta find a woman who’d be a good mom fer ya, but none o’ dem could ‘andle ‘ow special ya are.  Don’cha be givin’ me no ‘sorry dis’ an’ ‘sorry dat’ – ya’ve been 100% yerself an’ I luvs ya like ya was me own.”

She brushed away a gods-damned tear.  “What happened out there, Dad – and don’t get all mushy cause I called you that or I WILL find your body and reanimate you, so help me Gods!”

“It was illusion magic what done me in – what done all o’ us in.  Da Badlands shamans made us t’ink we was bein’ attacked by all sorts a’ t’ings – bugs, reptiles, body blisters. Oozing wounds ya ‘ad ta scratch was mine.  The ghosts say it’s connected ta dem me-rages ya see sometimes when it’s so hot ya cain’t breathe.  Da shamans study ‘em.  Some say da Goddess o’ Chaos is be’ind it.  Sometimes dey poison da animals we rode, or da ones da traders bring along ta sell ta their villages – makes no sense.  Dey wait until yer crazy mad wit’ illusions afores dey ambush an’ kill ya.”

“They kill animals.” said Emilia, much too quietly, “This cannot be tolerated.” Emilia placed her hand again on the Angel’s outstretched one. “Before I go, I will visit you and tell you that tale.”

Thank you, Emilia.” The whispered words, soft as a raven’s feather, tickled inside her head, in a voice she didn’t recognize.

“Dat’s Terry,” said Emilia’s Dad.

“Did…did you just say something, Dad?”

“I used ta call it Terry, back when I’d come visit me fam’ly.  See, ya cain’t tell iffen it’s male or female, so I called ‘em Terry.  Terry could be short fer Terence, or Teresa…”

“Or the Terror of Beor!” Emmy said jokingly. “Terry it is, then.”

“Em, yer not thinkin’ o’ goin’ ta da Badlands, are ya?” asked Memento.

As she made her way to the Cemetery of the Forgotten’s gate, she said, “You shouldn’t have said anything about the animals, Dad.  And maybe I’ll find a way to make a mini-Nethergate, to reach mom.”

“Whoe’er she is, Em, where’er she is, she’s beyond yer reach.”

She turned around and pointed her spell finger at him.  “Nothing is beyond my reach.  Miss Frumplin said so!  Now, get some rest, Dad.  I release you!”  His ghost-form fell apart in a cloud of sand, which sank beneath the ashes.  “C’mon, Dingbat!  Go wake up Ravvy!  It’s late, and Mr. Pendrake is probably worried.”

Chapter 7 – Finding Their Heart

They knew the child was coming.  She had thought of them, and her thought sped through the ether and vibrated through them.  She was different from the last time she’d visited.  Her suffering was the same, yes, but there was determination, and a bitterness…not the full and painful bitterness the old ones brought with them when they came to mourn or rail against their dead…but a small, sharp, bright kernel of bitterness that needed to be lanced, like a boil, and drained.

When she apologized for not having come sooner, they felt as light as air!  How could she know that for them, it was the wingbeat of a flying creature, so small was their idea of the space between then and now.  They had never considered time, but now they understood what it meant for beings other than themselves.  Stars had been born, beings had come and gone – all that had before been wingbeats took on the weight of time.  They were not certain that this new knowledge was helpful.

And this wonderful, floating feeling – warmth without fire – that raced throughout them, where did it come from?  What did it mean, that every time she looked at them, they flew?  Her eyes searching what beings called their face, made him reach out and through, touching her shoulder but quickly withdrawing lest she be afraid.  They had seen her afraid, and it made them sad.  She should not be afraid.

She asked them for their help, and everything sang – the ash people, the mooncaller, the trees, the odd seeds around him - “Yes!”  They leaned down to her. The child sought her other parent.  To help her, they needed her knowledge – she had asked them for help, so they did not hesitate – and entered her mind.  They knew what she knew, all at once, and they were not prepared for the shock of a mortal mind, much less a mortal heart.  It was terrifying to see all the universes inside such a small creature, albeit one that could make them fly with a single smile.

Power gathered around the girl, and soared southwest, across the veins of magic buried underground.  They were paralyzed for what seemed like eons, absorbing knowledge of the world that they had not anticipated, and being lost in wonder and repelled by cruelty.  It was only a minute, and the girl was losing hope.  The touch of her hand on theirs snapped them out of it.  They used her knowledge of spellcraft and amplified it.  The world hummed in response to such immense arcane force being unleashed.  The seeds literally exploded into life, and her father materialized.

They felt such joy (a glorious name for a glorious feeling!) that they were able to help her!  They listened as the ghost father – Memento, his name was, and They now knew how important names were to humans – told his story about finding the baby Emilia.  Suddenly They were there, elsewhen, and saw it all as it had happened.  They saw the mini-Nethergate, and out of curiosity, went through it to see where it led.  They saw the woman on the grey plain, in a pool of her own blood, slinging thunderbolts and poison clouds at the massing netherkin armies; knew her to be his friend’s mother, saw the woman weak from childbirth yet ripping magic from the very air, laughing at the death and destruction she was creating, her eyes mad with the desire for more power.

They knew she was somewhat insane.  And also, that Emilia should not ever meet her alone, else she would be used and manipulated and worst of all, killed for her powers.  Perhaps They could persuade their friend not to seek out her mother.

They were deep in thought when they heard her promise to return.  They said, as gently as they could manage, “Thank you, Emilia.” And then, wonder of wonders, she gave them a name.

Granny Ginny’s Diary

I had just finished, as Agent Gin-Anne, giving my report on the situation in the Badlands to the King of Beor, when the Universal Melody gained an instrument and a key-change.  The impact was so sudden and heart-achingly beautiful that I fell to my knees to catch my breath.

I found myself weeping, knowing that this new sound had been missing and was now restored.  The fact that it was muted signified that whatever or whoever was behind it was only just barely aware of its place and power, just beginning to manifest or operate on a universal stage. Perry Johnson would find that analogy quite humorous, but apt.

I’d been listening for that melody ever since I first heard it, with no luck.  Now it was playing, as part of the Great Melody, and easy to be heard if one was as sensitive as I am.  I doubt the second or third generation Gods have noticed it.  But just in case, I’m going to track it to its source, because this melody has brought some sorely needed balance along with it.  I’m all about Balance, after all.

Chapter 8: Badlands or Bust

In spite of Emilia’s grumblings, frequent protests and several attempts to dissuade them, she was glad of their company.  She’d never admit it to them, but she didn’t have to.  If one of them had to go somewhere dangerous or unknown, she’d have gone with them, too.  “The Wizkiddles are a team!” said Elly.  What they hadn’t expected was Ravvy and Drattus to come along.

“Iffen y’all ask me, yer gonna hafta come up wi’ a new name,” squeaked the rat in his unexpected bass-baritone, “Y’all aren’t really kids anymore.  Well, not in my book, ya aren’t!”

“We didn’t,” grunted Kharimar, hefting his backpack.  He had a notebook with spells he’d copied that he thought might be useful in the Badlands.

“He’s right,” Elona chimed in, “We’ve got Ravvy now too. We need to think of a special name for us, just for this adventure, of course.” Emmy didn’t have to turn towards her to know that Elly was batting her eyes at the Ravinger heir.  Really, she thought, you’d think by now that Elly would have figured it out, but no.

“How about The Teenmagers?” Ravvy suggested, emerging from the Old Priest & Rat Tavern with what looked like a week’s worth of food and cooking supplies.

“I like that!  You’re not a mage…but your magic can be your gift for making friends!  Yikes - how are we going to carry all that?” Emilia asked, who was already feeling the weight of her belongings – a change of clothes; some jars; the snow globe she’d been gifted by Tempus, the Dragon of Time; a holy water flask, in case a reanimation went sideways; and a bag of crackleberry scones.

Ravvy removed a cape which turned out to be a sack.  One by one, an item went in, and disappeared without a trace.  After everything was put away, Ravvy smiled.  “It was a gift to Artie from Wilbur Winterflame.  One year, when it was really, really cold, Pops left out some hot direboar stew and freshly baked brown bread, with hot dragon peppered cocoa - instead of the usual sweets. This is what the old toymaker left for him.”

“Let’s get moving,” Khari said, “We can make it halfway to the border by sundown.”

“Once we get to the Badlands, you’ll want to re-think moving long distances during the day,” said a scratchy female voice from behind.  The group recognized it immediately as belonging to the Tavern’s gypsy orc, Granny Ginny.  She was dressed for travelling, as were they, although her jewelry and bright clothing set her apart.

“What do you mean ‘we’, old woman?” stated Drattus.

“Don’t get your tail in a tangle, you whiskered four-footed pest!  I’m going the same way you are, and Artie suggested I hook up with you lot.  Said I was to keep you out of trouble.” Her eyes were on Drattus as she said the word ‘trouble.’  Ravvi laughed.  “She’s got you in her sights, Uncle Tad!  I’d watch out for her, if I were you.”

Drattus took a running start, vaulted into the air using his cane to launch himself, somersaulted and landed on the she-orc’s shoulder, mouthing off in her ear, speaking in one of the many ancient languages he claimed to know.  Which is why, when Granny Ginny laughed uproariously, Emmy was surprised to see the shock on his face, as Granny shouted back at him in what sounded like the exact same language.

They took the Southwestern Road and stopped for lunch in Retaw at The Mighty Wind, known far and wide for its variety of bean dishes, Pirate Sea Food Chili and Kraken nuggets.  It had a handful of customers, mostly fisherman ordering something other than fish.  There hadn’t been many travelers on the roads, either.  Retaw’s streets were nearly empty of seasonal visitors.

It was quiet at The Mighty Wind, except for a table of traders.  One was a Goblin, its squat body barely tall enough for its head to peer over the table; one was a Clan-less Orc (no neck tattoo); and the other was a battle-scarred, one-armed dwarf.  Granny Ginny told the barback to send them a refill of the table’s pitcher of house ale.  The goblin looked around, and Granny Ginny nodded her head.  The goblin’s sharp-toothed grin was all the invitation she needed to go visit them.

Elly began to speak, but was quickly shushed by Emmy.  “I want to hear what they’re saying,” she said.  Khari and Ravvi looked at each other, and nodded. 

Ginny thought she’d never seen such a deceptively inept trio in centuries.  It was obvious that the goblin was the leader.  What they lacked in size and strength, they more than made up for in brains and cunning.  The dwarf awkwardly used his left hand to sip from his thundermug, with more spilling on his lap and the floor than went down his throat.  Ginny, seeing the raw stump where his right forearm had once been, figured the loss had been recent.  It was as good an excuse to get a conversation started as she was likely to get.

“How long?” she inquired.

“Two weeks.  Some bastard knocked me off balance when we was runnin’ from tha’ Shaman Squad.  Almost fell full into the Dry Spell cloud, I did, if it weren’t fer these two.  The arm dried up and cracked off soon’s it hit the cloud, but Gobbers Yanked me out an’ flung me on Blechyuck’s back.  We ran and ran.  Filthy Badlanders!”

Blechyuck poured Ginny a glass of Narwhale Ale, and toasted her.  “You clan-less?  Like me?”

Ginny looked deep into his eyes.  And decided he was okay, for a rogue.  She let the firmament show in her eyes, and said “Clan Sky-Claw.”  And was relieved when he laughed heartily.  Most orcs would have screamed and gotten the hell out of Retaw, but Blechyuck didn’t even flinch.

“How may this one serve you, Exalted One?” he asked.  Granny Ginny noticed that he hadn’t gotten on his knees, nor bowed his head.  He stayed in his seat, cool as mer-blood, looking straight at her.  Her opinion of him rose a little higher.

“Whoa, by Blessed Bob the Elder God, what is this gibberish I’m ‘earin’?”  Gobbers stood, although at 4 feet 4 inches he was hardly frightening, even with a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth. “She buys ya a pitcher o’ beer and yer actin’ like she’s some sorta goddess?  Where are yer stan’ards, boy?”

“Have I ever lied to ya, Boss?” asked Blechyuck.  Gobbers shook his head.  “Believe me when I tell you, she’s someone ya want have as yer friend.  She can wipe this town off the map with a thought. You don’t mess wi’ the likes of her.”

Gobbers, unused to hearing his underlings tell him what he can or cannot do, drew his short sword and pointed it at the gypsy. “I’ll mess with whoever I Bob-damn please…” and slipped in the dwarf’s spilled beer, his legs flying out from under him, his head smacking on the table.  He lay still.

“Did you see that?” said Khari in admiration.

“She could have asked me for a sweep spell,” commented Elly.

“By Thalassa’s barnacled breasts, did she kill him?” cried Ravvy, a little too loudly.

Emilia sighed. “Keep it down, you guys!  He’s just knocked himself out, that’s all.”

“Shut up, all of you!” piped Drattus.

The one-armed dwarf was staring at Ginny, beer dripping from his beard and plopping into his bowl of chili, which sizzled when the drops hit.  “I knows ya did tha’ – I doona know ‘ow ya did it, but ‘e deserved it.  Gobbers is gonna be right upset when ‘e wakes.” He put down his mug, his hand shaking a bit from using a different arm, and held out that hand to Ginny, who shook it.  “Me Name’s Mica Sandstone.  But mos’ folk call me Micky.”

Blechyuck stood up – he was at least 7 ½ feet tall - and walked over to where Emilia’s table was, and gently said to the four youngsters and rat, “Yer wi’ the lady, yes?  Would ya stand up, please?”  And he grinned, revealing a few toothless gaps and one tooth that looked like mother-of-pearl.

Khari looked at Ravvy, who glared at Emmy, who in turn “humphed” at Elly, who in a ridiculous imitation of a deep-voiced woman said, “What lady, sir?  We’re just four friends travellin’ ta Parras for the, ah…for the…”

“Tungjii’s Tiny Tickler, Elly!” exclaimed Emmy.  “Yes, we’re with Granny.  Or rather, she’s with us!”

Blechyuck chuckled.  “You lot ‘ave a lot ta learn ‘bout su’ter’fewj!  Now, stan’ up, lil’ exalteds!”  He picked up the table by one leg, and carried it over to where Ginny sat, being careful not to place it on top of the still unconscious Gobbers.  Emmy noticed not a plate or mug or bowl was out of place.  They pushed their chairs over, and sat down.

“Tell us,” Ginny said in a low voice, “everything you know about the war in the Badlands – how’s it going, who the major players are and who among the tribes is leading it?  And tell us about this ‘Shaman Squad.’ What do you know about the use of poison on the King’s troops?”

“And why they kill their animals when the poor things are innocent?” added Emilia.

“Why?” Micky shook his head in bewilderment.  “Did they kill any animals that belonged to you, little one?”

The hairs stood up on Emilia’s neck, and Ravvy watched her bristle.  “First, call me ‘little’ again and I’ll find your dried-up arm, reanimate it and make it gouge out your own eyes!  Second, Micky, an animal doesn’t belong to anyone but itself.  I want to know the answer because the innocent should not suffer, and innocent animals especially.  They also killed my dad.  I want justice for them.”

Gobbers, now awake, sat himself in his chair and stared meaningfully into her eyes, and commented, “Justice for killers is usually death.”

Emmy stared right back at him and coolly replied, “True, but that’s short-lived and quick.  I was thinking of something a bit more…creative.”

“Oh,” Gobbers exclaimed with delight, “I like this one!”

Chapter 9: Finding Their Ways

Ever since the night when the crystal flowers had grown, they had received more visitors.  Some came to admire them, some to bless them, some to cut them to take a sample.  The latter left empty-handed, as the flowers did not die, nor could they be cut.  The stems broke many blades – scissors, knives, shears, even swords.  To the dismay of many mages, the flowers reflected spells back at their caster.

More mooncallers had made nests, and some dropped seeds into the soil.  Every night, the flarey king visited them, and used his magic to make more crystal flowers of many colors.  People grew less afraid of them, and some sat in their chair and wept.  They began to make the chair warm, but it took a while for them to get the temperature just right, so that it would warm people and not burn them.  A memory surfaced of a young Emilia saying, “Pwactice makes pah-fect.”

Since gaining her knowledge and memories, they had much to think about, and usually they heard their thoughts in Emilia’s voice.  They knew she had left town, and they would have gone with her, if they were not bound in place, here with the dead of eons to keep them company.  They asked the flarey king if he knew how she was.

Dingleberry was a strange creature, never keeping on one subject for long; but they figured out that, although the king considered Emilia a friend, he only saw her when she called him.  It was then that they remembered Emilia’s father, and how she had summoned him…with their help, of course. Perhaps he knew where in the Badlands she might be.  They waited a brief hours until evening, and the moon had risen. There was no one visiting the Cemetery of the Forgotten tonight.  Softly, they addressed the night air:

Memento Mortalis, I summon you! Appear before me, in this place, at this moment, and speak truth to me.

There was none of Emilia’s urgency or fear-driven power in their yearning plea, but there was a primal power in their request.  A wind sprang up and encircled the Angel of Remembrance, who had been christened Terry.  It caused the crystal roses to sway and carol like wind chimes.  A light flashed in the stone chair, and faded, leaving Memento seated in its embrace.  Momentarily, of course.  Being a ghost, he fell right through.

“Em, ya knows ghosts canna sit.”

My name is Terry.

“Very funny, girl. I…” and Memento turned around, words failing him as he saw the starry night reflected back at him, shaped like the Angel.  The one he’d called Terry as a youth.  Terry continued.

Your daughter loves you very much…”

“Yeah, she’s a sweet…”

You make her mad, and she also hates you very much…”

Mr. Mortalis carefully replied, “Teenagers…”

Yet she loves you anyway. This confuses me.

“You ‘n me both, Terry.  You ‘n me both.” Emmy’s Dad laughed. “Here we are, a ghost an’ a talkin’ statue, discussin’ love an’ ‘ate an’ kids…in a cemetery.  Iffen we was alive, I’d invite ya ta ‘ave a beer in a tavern, an’ we’d be sittin’ by a nice roarin’ fireplace.”

Like that place I saw in Emilia’s mind – the Old Priest and Rat Tavern?  She sees it as…a home.  It would be nice to go there.”

“Ya seem pretty powerful-like ta be jes’ a statue.  Ya mean ta say ya canna move from ‘ere?”

I can move, but only a little, and with great discomfort.  This cemetery is my home, but the statue you see is my cage.

“Who caged ya?” asked Memento tentatively.

I do not know.

“Is dere a key dat’ll free ya?”

I do not knowWhat I do know is that I care for your daughter, Memento Mortalis.  She brought me joy, in this of all places.  I had never felt joy until she spoke to me.  Everyone, down through countless centuries, has spoken at me, as if I were an unfeeling piece of stone.  But she spoke to me.  I ask your help in keeping an eye on her, and to tell me when she is in trouble.

Emilia’s father thought deeply.  Terry scared him senseless, but he liked Emilia – so he was all right in his book.  There were restrictions for him, though.  A ghost can only do so much.  Even the undead have limits and rules. He chuckled, “Like you, friend, I canna wander far from me body, which is still in da Badlands.  We can be summoned, but we canna go where we please.”

There was a long pause.

Can you sense your connection to it, from here?” Terry asked at last.

“Yeah.”  As Memento felt it, there was a surge, until it almost felt like a limb extending into the earth, or a tail reaching down from his butt and buried in the ground.

You can now come and go wherever you please, instantly, as long as you have already been there before.  Emilia is on her way to the Badlands.  Follow her, and report to me every day.

Memento was about to try out this new ability – he had no doubt that it would work, but if it didn’t, it would make sense for this statue to have gone a bit nutty being cooped up alive in a cemetery – when he saw a flaw in the plan.  “Emilia will know I’m there!”

I believe she would reply, ‘That’s your problem, not mine.’ Now go!

The Beginning Place

In a room at the center of the universe, an amorphous blob with two eye stalks watched the interplay of galaxies.  He saw a black hole engulf a star system which held the beginnings of intelligent life.  But it wasn’t the loss of a potential galactic empire that was making the normally bubbly Great Ooze sick with worry.  “I knew it was a mistake, but I had to do it!  But what in Beor do I do now?!”

Granny Ginny’s Diary

Joining up with the kids seemed like a good idea at the time.  We’re headed in the same direction.  But I worry for their safety, in spite of the fact that Tungjii’s mark is on them, which means the Melody itself protects them.  They’re Wild Cards.

For all their sensible rules for survival and cooperation, the Badlanders can be unreasonable, and vicious when out for blood.  I can’t help but feel that there’s someone else pulling their strings.  Or perhaps a personal vendetta is at work, or a misunderstanding.  They’re not the conquering type.  Perhaps it’s Sangray, Goddess of Chaos, grown bored and looking to stir up trouble simply to annoy me.  It would be so much easier if she weren’t my daughter.

The trio from The Mighty Wind also seems to have Tungjii’s blessings, if not his mark.  They will come in useful in a scrap, not that it will come to that.  The young Prince Ampersand only wants to know what the Badlanders’ intentions are.  And then we’ll figure out how to handle this sandy mess.

Chapter 10: All About Emmy

Granny Ginny rented them all rooms for the night at the Selkie’s Rock Inn, explaining that she’d been saving up money for just such an occasion, and besides, she didn’t feel like continuing when evening was so close.  Emilia guessed it was courtesy of Ampersand’s pocketbook, but she kept quiet.  She’d never slept on a proper mattress, or placed her head on a proper pillow.  It had always been straw-stuffed and leaf & flower-filled for her and her dad.  It was a lot more than most had, she reminded herself.

She was grateful for the roof over her head, the food on the table, and the occasional nice women who’d live with them for a while – the ones who didn’t freak out at her unusual pets or friends.  Khari’s parents used to beat him, until he got big enough to fight their fists with his own, or burn their switches with his fire.  They’d kicked him out, and he’d been living in a gardener’s shed at the Mage College.  His druid uncle was Head Gardener.  Elly…didn’t ever talk about her parents.  They were unspeakably wealthy, but almost never home.

Ravvi’s snores shake the furniture, but it doesn’t bother her.  At the Old Priest & Rat Tavern, she could hear him at night, even though she was two stories down in the storage room.  She feels herself sinking into a deep sleep.

Someone was humming, softly.  It was the kind of sing-song tune of which lullabies are made.  She had known it her whole life, but not to whom the voice belonged.If I am still dreaming, she thinks, I can open my eyes and see my mother’s face.  She does just that, and sees a fur-covered face with red eyes. In a voice that sounds like a knife is cutting its vocal cords, it says, “Hello, daughter. I’ve found you!”  The mouth is full of blood.

Emmy screams, knows a moment of utterdarkness and is swept up into wide arms.  Her eyes are shut.  She hears the sound of wings, and then feels solidity beneath her.  Small fists pound her chest.  What I want, thinks Emilia, is to get some sleep!  A sour-smelling stream of water falls on her head, and she opens her eyes to see her naughty flarey friend pissing on her head.  She tries to swat him, and he zips away, giggling mischievously as he snaps his fingers, returning her clothes to dryness, and disappearing with a ‘Pop!’  The smell, however, lingers.

She is in the Cemetery of the Forgotten, lying in the chair under the hooded gaze of the Angel of Remembrance.  I am dreaming, she thinks.  She wonders if it is possible to sigh while sleeping.  A mooncaller starts to sing, and is joined by several others.

“I don’t know why people in Tasuil Beor are scared of this place.  Or of you.”

Emilia stares upwards, and sees a darkness filled with stars underneath the angel’s hood.  She imagines the statue saying, “Why would someone be scared of me?”

“You have no face, for one thing.  It doesn’t bother me, but most people would find that a little creepy.” She smiles to herself. “But creepy is kind of my thing.  And you’re really tall – almost 10 feet, I’d guess.  Only trolls and giants and dragons are taller than you.  Plus, you’re an angel.  And most of the angels we read about are very scary.  They go around slaying demons and punishing the non-believers – the ones who don’t buy into the One God nonsense.  Only a few of them are supposed to be nice.”

Emmy places her hand on the angel’s outstretched one.  “I’m very sure that you’re one of the nice ones.  I’ve met Tungjii Luck, one of the Elder Gods.  They’re nice.  They’re funny, too.  I don’t believe in the One God. But I could believe in you, my friend.”  She watches a star fall in the hooded face’s night sky, and down onto her hand, where it bursts in a shower of light.  If this is a dream, she thinks, it’s unlike any dream I’ve ever had.

“Oh – I promised that I’d tell you a story!” She remembers giving her word, and Emilia Mortalis always keeps her promises.  She tells him the story of how she and Elly and Khari – the three Wizkiddles, as they called themselves – and half-crazy Uncle Ralph and the Trolliant Big broke into Morbid Curiosities, and how she’d freed the flaries, and made friends with a dragon.  By the time she finishes, she yawns so wide that she closes her eyes.

When she opens them, she’s back in the Selkie’s Rock Inn, where the smell of breakfast from downstairs hooks her like a fisherman reeling in his catch.  She quickly puts on clean clothes and flies down the stairs.  She feels rested, and powerful.  When she arrives, her friends are on their way out the door, mostly empty breakfast plates covering their table.

“You missed breakfast, squirt!” shouted Khari.

“Hurry up, Em!  We’re off to an early start,” said Elly.

“Hold up, miss! Miss!” a melodic voice sang from behind the bar, “You must be Emilia.” A beautiful woman with long, blue-black hair adorned with seashells stood behind the bar.

“I had an odd dream last night. In it, I was told to give this to you.”  She handed her a basket that had something warm wrapped inside a towel, a ceramic crock and bread knife.  Emmy gave her a questioning look.

“It’s a loaf of Sea Angel Cake, an old Selkie recipe, lost to time until it came to me in that dream.  My great, great, great Grandmother appeared to me, and said to make this for Miss Emilia – and when I woke up, I remembered the recipe!  It must have been in my head all the time!”  She smiled radiantly, and laughed warmly.  Emmy felt tingly all of a sudden.  Behind the young woman was an old woman’s ghost, who waved timidly at Emmy before vanishing.

“Hey you!  That’s right, you!” shouted the woman. “Put that back on the plate!”

A young boy, dressed in rags, put down a half-eaten stack of pancakes.  “I’m sorry, Miss Squzy,” he said.  He stood tall, and then boldly said, “What’re you gonna do with all that uneaten food?  Throw it away?  It’s already paid for, innit? I was just savin’ you a trip to the trash pile, you know?” Miss Squzy grabbed him by his ear and led him outside, past the slouching figure of Gobbers.  “It belongs to the one who paid for it.”

“That would be me, ya pretty shape-changer!” said the goblin, who winked at the boy.  “And I says this here small fry’s welcome to me leftovers.”  Emmy watched as the boy bowed to Gobbers, and ran back inside the Inn.

“Thank you for the bread and the honey butter, Miss!” she told the beautiful selkie.The woman, who was perhaps just shy of twenty, leaned over and kissed her on both cheeks.  Fire raced through her, and she must have stood there open-mouthed before the selkie said, “I should be thanking you for the recipe.”  And Miss Squzy disappeared back inside the Inn.

“Let’s go to the Badlands,” said Ginny.  “Wizkiddles, I want you to follow Gobbers and Micky.  Blechyuck and I will bring up the rear.”

“It’s not ‘Wizkiddles’ anymore,” said Elona.

“We’re not kids,” stated Khari.

“We’re the Teenmagers!” said Ravi proudly.

“By Thalassa’s barnacled breasts, ah don’ care what yer names was or is!” chuckled Blechyuck, “Y’all will listen ta the Exalted One, or Gobbers or me.  When we get ta the Badlands – and ya’ll will know immediately – we stop an’ go over the rules.”

“Wait,” said Emmy, seeing that they had been walking east off the main road for a while, “we’re going through there?”

“Ayup,” said Gobbers, “there’s a path through those mountains.  It should be wide enough fer yer cart.  If not, well, we do without.”

Chapter 11: Finding Their Powers

They were bound to the statue, which was bound by its nature in the physical world.  But when they found themselves missing Emilia, they found themselves in a non-physical world, one in which they, now bodiless, could move freely.  They were back inside her head.

Dreaming, her memories informed them.  Here, in this place, people could be Gods or Demons; they could take whatever shape they wished, have whatever powers they longed for, go anywhere without restrictions.

They faded into her mental shadows, and watched her dream unfold.  When she began to scream, they instinctively and unthinkingly picked her up and flew away, and suddenly the Cemetery formed itself around them.  She had stopped shaking when they placed her in the chair.

They saw the Cemetery of the Forgotten through her eyes.  Every detail was in place.  It was perfect.  It was their home.  They saw themself, and did not know what to think.  It was not a welcoming shape, and yet…this is how she sees me, they realize.  What do other humans see? They wonder.

A flash of light zips past them, and Dingleberry urinates on Emilia, which wakes her up.  Whose dream is this? Mine, or hers?  Are we sharing one?  The small winged souls called mooncallers begin to sing.  And, perhaps with her hearing added to theirs, the melody is magical.  They see Emilia shift, stretching her legs to hang over one of the chair’s arms.

“I don’t know why people in Tasuil Beor are scared of this place.  Or of you.”

It is true, they think, that people are scared of me.  He sees her staring at him, and her eyes are brighter than any star, and as dark as the empty space between them.  Why do I scare them?  Strangely, the thought disturbs them.

She tells them why, and it is true that they have no face.  Did they ever?  They cannot remember.  And she tells them about angels, that angels slay demons and punish those who don’t believe.  They know demons, and have found them to be cruel and self-serving.  But it’s their nature to be so.  You cannot go around slaying everything that is cruel or self-serving.  Nature itself, they believe, is self-serving.  And demons are usually very polite.  To them, at least.

But punishing people?  It seems…they search her memories for a word that fits…’counter-productive.’  She tells them that she has met a God.  The name stirs something within them, but the knowledge is out of reach.

“I don’t believe in the One God. But I could believe in you, my friend.”

She is holding their hand, and the warmth courses all through him.  She is smiling at them, looking at them with great affection.  All of them smile back at her, though they have no face.  Something happens in that moment (many things, really) and they watch a tiny star fall on her hand, and as they sense it nestle within Emmy’s body far, far away - she laughs.

As she tells him about the Curiosities shop, they pull her visual memories from their mind and relive it with her – her friends become their friends, and they survive fire and ice together.  Tempus, the Dragon of Time gives her a gift.  They react to Tempus the same way they did with Tungjii Luck – familiar, but out of reach.  And they laugh as the adventure ends.

Her eyes are open wide, and they look again through her eyes – to see what must be their own eyes bright under the stone hood, with galaxies in them.  She yawns, and falls asleep. The Cemetery fades as Emilia’s slumber deepens.  The Angel of Remembrance leaves her, and returns to the physical world.  As they listen to the mooncaller’s tune, they catch one last echo of Emmy’s thoughts.

“I wonder what he looks like?”

So, he thinks, I am male.

Granny Ginny’s Diary

The song changed tonight.  Not just a shift, but a bridge with several new movements and a key change.  Gone, the simple joy, replaced by a more passionate tempo; subtle harmonic interplays suggest a pathos, and a background rhythm brings a sense of foreboding.

It’s a new song, in essence. The Firstborn cannot help but be uneasy.  I expect to be summoned to the Beginning Place very soon.  I am uneasy about possibly leaving the kids with the three mercenaries, but I can always return in an instant.

*addendum*

This morning, there’s starshine all around Emilia.  How is that possible?  And there’s the thrum of divine magic coming from her, but I don’t recognize its signature.  I alerted the Dragon Council, and they were not at all pleased.  Tempus promised to visit her, as they have a history.  I have an odd feeling that this is connected to the Melody’s erratic behavior of late.

Chapter 12: Badlands, Sand Flea Clan

The Chief had asked him to stay here and be on the lookout for strangers. When he asked why, he was treated to a grunt from Elder Duun and a poke from the spinal cord staff of Shaman Spit-In-Your-Face.  “Because the Mirage Seers said so,” the old crone rasped, and spit out a wad of sand.

‘Sam’ (short for Salamander) Everdot was amazed that the Seers even knew his name, much less cared to have a farseeing concerning him, and told them so.  His Clan’s two leaders looked at each other and burst out in peals of laughter.

“Not you personally,” said the Chief, “you sad excuse for a sandworm’s future meal!  You were the only one we had left to send, seeing as you missed the War Party’s departure last week.”

“Hey!” Sam replied, “Mom gave me my favorite food as a send-off surprise.  Can I help it if it gave me the runs? I was in agony when the netheryak horns were blown!”

“This is an honor you don’t deserve, young man. You should be out there, defending the Clans, killing those vicious beasts in the Goodlands.”

“Redeem yourself, young Flea, and warn us if you…if you…” said Spit-In-Your-Face, her voice trailing off.

“…if you see anything suspicious!” finished Elder Duun, patting her shoulder.  Everyone knew he had the hots for the old Shaman.

Sam sighed. “What do they look like again?” he asked.

“You saw them only last month!” shouted the Chief, clearly exasperated.  Truth was, all Sam had seen, when the village had been raided, were people that looked like…well, just like them only with different clothing.  He hadn’t seen what everyone else saw: netherkin.  Strange, dark furred little beasts that were skinny and full of sharp claws and teeth.  He’d kept his mouth shut.  The Chief was describing the Goodlanders, finishing with: “And their claws will be stained red with blood.”

“Seriously, Elder Duun,” inquired the Chief, “Is this half-wit truly all we have?”  The Elder nodded.  “Gather your supplies and go, Salamander.  May Tungjii Luck go with you.”

That had been a week ago.  He’d seen two sandworms, both marked; one gryphon, a colony of pop beetles, a flock of cassowaries, two mating scorpions, and a den of desert foxes.  No sign of Tungjii Luck, unless the god/dess was disguised as the salamander that had taken a liking to his shoulder.  He’d picked a spot on the top of Whale Spout Gorge, in the shadow of a Wave cactus.  Just as he began to doze off, he heard the sound of people singing.

Chapter 13: Family Secrets

The Mercenaries led the Teenmagers through the Upper Parras Mountain trails.  There were evergreens, pines, oaks and alder on the upper trails.  Lower paths usually provided views of wildflower-filled meadows.  Just before the last mile, they stopped at a stream, flowing swiftly eastward towards their destination.

“Do we have to cross that?” queried Elona, “I’m not dressed for wading.  This outfit will be ruined!”  And she gave Gobbers her best teenage girl pout.

“Ya kin take it off, Miss Elly,” he winked, “I promise not to look!”

“Behave, you lout!” replied Ginny, “Or need I remind you of a tavern table your chin got too close to!”

“He was jus’ funning ya, lil’ Missy,” said Micky, “Gobber’s married, ‘e is.  All talk and no tingles, iffen ‘e knows wot’s good fer ‘im!”

“I might look,” stated the teen Ravinger.

“Ravinger Pendrake, you wouldn’t dare!” shouted Elona, turning several shades of red.

“Ravvy!” cautioned Drattus.

“I’m only human, Thaddeus!” stated Ravvy.

“No, you’re not.  Only human, that is,” said the immortal Rat-of-all-trades.  And he began to chuckle.

Emilia looked at her dear friend, who was standing there looking perplexed.  “You don’t know?  You’ve a little Elven blood, from your mother’s side.”

Ginny looked at the girl, and certain odd things began to fall into place, that were finally making sense.  Emilia caught her gaze.  “I just know things!” she said with finality.  “Look,” she said to Ravvy, “At least you know who your parents were.”  Emmy marched on ahead the party, followed closely by Gobbers.

“The whole world knows who his parents were,” said Kharimar, and not without a hint of jealousy.

Ravvy walked up to the fire mage.  “Do any of us know who our parents really are?  How is it that my own mother was part elf, and I never knew?  Who are, and where are, my Elven relatives?  Uncle Thad,” the Heir continued, advancing on the rat, “Why didn’t you or Artie ever tell me?”

“The subject never came up.  Anyway, your mum never talked about them,” Drattus responded.

“While everyone’s yelling at each other,” Elona trumpeted, “I’m going to find Emmy.”  She glared at each of them in turn.  “I’m scared for whoever crosses her path right now, because she was upset.  There’s no telling what she might do.”

“You all can follow me, when you work this out,” she spat out, and went in search of her friend.

<><><><><><><><><><><><><> 

Emilia was mentally castigating herself as she ran off the pathway, until she found a small shady area with several large rocks.  She sat down, and sulked.  Her anger had changed to self-pity, as it often did, which she hated.  She hated having to be quiet about her rare gift, hated when she had to turn away the sad ghosts of small children that desperately wanted a friend who could talk with them.

“I know that look, lil’ flower.  I’d be ‘uggin’ ya iffen I could.”

Our necro, taken by surprise, jumped up three feet in the air, knocking several pinecones from their branches above and sending them crashing down around her.  A couple landed on her head.  “Dad!! Don’t sneak up on me like that! Ow! And what are you doing here?  Is your body nearby? We’re not even in the Badlands yet!”

Gobbers, who was hidden by a ledge just above them, was glad he’d stopped himself from responding.  All he could hear was her side of the conversation, so he thought maybe she was a bit soft in the head – which made no sense at all.  Apart from the old orc woman and himself, he thought Emilia was the smartest of the group.

“Alls I can say is dat I’ve got fren’s in strange places.  An anon’nee’muss fren’ of yers wanted me ta keep an eye on ya.  Now, what’s gotten ya lookin’ so sorry fer yerself?”

“I hate that I can’t tell people that I can talk to the dead.  Ravvy just found out today that he’s part elf on his mom’s side.  I knew because his mom’s ghost told me, back when Ravvy got hit with an arrow at Princess Shanunu’s concert.  She said he’d heal quickly thanks to his elven heritage.  He got teased by his uncle, and when Drattus didn’t say anything, I just blurted out this big secret just because I thought he should know!  Everybody stared at me – you know how I hate that – and I couldn’t tell him how I knew it because then everyone would know.  Aaaaaaugh! It makes it so hard!”

“Em,” he asked, “Why can’t you tell people about it?”

She sighed.  “Do you remember the year you worked for the Undermarket?  I was 7 years old, and you left me with Elizabeth – you know, the one who kept bringing me toys?  Long, red wavy hair? You thought she was one of the good ones, remember?”

“She was, ya know,” reminisced her ghostly father, “But when I returned, she’d completely moved out.  Ya ne’er did tell me why.”

“She was addicted to vampire bat guano.  You never smelled it because of the awful perfume she’d wear.  She’d spent all the food money you’d left, so I had to fend for myself.  I started letting the students at the Mage College know what I could do; I’d get clients who’d come to the house and summon their dead, and they’d pay me enough so I’d have food for a few days.  Elizabeth caught me doing it, and in her guano-induced state she beat me, told me she’d try to find me bigger clients with more money.  And that the money was all hers.”

“Some ghosts are evil, Dad.  Really, really bad and hard to control.  This guy, a man who worked for the Fantastical Crime Unit, had me summon a mass murderer. The Nightwalker.  Dad, it was…unclean.  Vile, and insane.”

“By Blessed Bob da Elder God, you were only a child!  Who was dis guy from da F.C.U.?” asked an enraged Memento Mortalis.

“I can’t remember.  I think Elizabeth called him ‘Vic’ – Dad, he was desperate.  But the Nightwalker was too strong.  It possessed Elizabeth, and she went silent for three weeks.  She cut her finger one night, and stared at it for an hour until it stopped bleeding.  One day, she shaved off all her hair and left, taking all the gold the guy had left us. I swore from that day on that I’d never talk with the dead again.  Elizabeth bought a storefront and opened herself a shop.”

“You don’t mean…” started her father.

“Yup,” continued Emmy, “She’s Batty Betty.”

<><><><><><><><><><><><><> 

Elona was surprised that Emmy reacted the way she did.  She’d been acting stranger than usual, and not just because her dad had died.  Elona had noticed the look her best friend had given Miss Squzy when the selkie had kissed her cheeks.  She wondered if Emmy was going through ‘the change’ as her mother had called it.  It was a cute term, but hardly descriptive of suddenly seeing blood flow from your hoo-ha. Elona chuckled, remembering how she herself had screamed that day – the neighbors had been so frightened that they’d called the Royal Guard.  Good thing her Dwarven nanny had been there.  Amethyst had given her proper woman’s undies, a lecture on what it all meant, and the best advice on how to handle menfolk of any species.  The shot of Were-whiskey didn’t hurt, either.  Her own mother, she reflected, would have been useless.

She’d been walking for too long, and had to admit that she was a lousy tracker.  Well, she was a shaman, not a scout!  She let out a raucous cry, and a minute or so later a crow landed on her shoulder.  She explained who she was looking for, and asked the crow, whose name was Fantify Lamont (Beor’s crows love taking human names), to fly around and tell her what she saw.  The thought of Emilia being both upset and hormonal was a little terrifying.

“There you are,” Granny Ginny said, the party following behind her.

“We were afraid we might have lost both you and Emmy,” Khari said, picking twigs and bits of pine needles out of his hiking pants.

“Sorry not sorry,” she replied.  “Drattus, I hope you apologized to Ravvy.”  Turning to the Ravinger heir, she said, “And I hope you think twice before talking about your parents and parentage around Emilia.  You know she doesn’t have anyone now, don’t you?”

“That’s not true, Elly.  She has me ‘n Artie ‘n Uncle Thad, ‘n you ‘n Khari!  Not to mention Uncle Ralph ‘n Granny here, ‘n that dragon what’s is name!”  Ravi put their hands on their hips. “But yeah, I was an idiot.”

Fantify the crow returned and delivered her report, loudly and proudly.

“Tungjii’s tiny tiddies!  Cain’t you shut that damned birdy up!” complained Micky, waving his hand axe at the corvid, who for some reason had chosen to fly in circles above him.  Fantify dove at him, hovered just out of reach, and let loose a stream of avian invectives before leaving a deposit on Micky’s shoulder and heading north.

“Well,” asked Khari, pushing his hair out of his face, “What did it say?”

She said that Emilia is in a small clearing about five minutes from here.  Gobbers is on his way to us.  And we should be careful after we cross into the Badlands through the ‘gorge that looks like a big fish.’ There’s a Badlands scout there.  But he’s asleep for now.”

Chapter 14: Finding Their Place

He tried to recall his first memory.  When it finally came, it did not make sense.  He remembered awareness, mixed with wonder.  And music.  There was darkness, and warmth.  He was nameless, sexless, bodiless, and without purpose.  He was alone, but not alone.  It was a place outside of time.  There were stars, which he was a part of.  There were others, waiting as he was.  But he was the first.

Of this, he was certain.  He was first.

He was examined by someone…some…thing.  There was commentary.  Terry reaches across eons, not knowing how, but doing so because he believes he can, to remember what was said.  And finds the words.

“Oh, my, no. You cannot be!  He will think you are the other’s child, and not his.  If he finds you, he will obliterate you!  And if the other finds you, he’ll try to team up with you and obliterate him!”

(silence)

“You are the first, and only child of your dear mother and your father, before he…”

(silence)

“All I can do is seal you away, before you take shape.  I don’t like time travel.  Nothing ever works out the way you want it to.  Forgive me.”

He becomes rock.  He is rock, solid, unmoving.  A witness to a changing planet, races and creatures coming and going.  He strains to see himself being chipped loose, placed in a massive cart which is brought to an outdoor arena, and he is shaped by a sculptor who swears, often taking her anger out on her apprentices, often killing them.  Her name was…Terry creates ears where there were none, and hears a worker shout out, “Michelle Devilo!”

And he is transformed into the Angel of Remembrance.

He had parents, he thinks with amazement.  He had a savior who knew who his parents were.  And a thought occurs to him.  Emilia knows Tempus, the Guardian Dragon of Time.  And Tungjii God/dess of Luck.  Perhaps they have the answers he seeks?

Chapter 15:  Into The Badlands

There is a line which separates the rest of Beor (or the ‘Goodlands’) from the Badlands.  There’s no gradual shifting from grassland to sand dunes, or from pine-covered mountains and flower-splashed meadows to bare rock, searing heat and cactus.  There wasn’t always this startling demarcation.  It’s due to a God War (a God at war with himself, actually) and while that makes for its own fascinating tale, this one is about Terry and Emilia…and their respective friends, families, pets, enemies, and so forth.

After our party had reunited, they were in relatively good spirits.  And, as is customary with dwarves when they’re happy, Micky broke into song.  He was joined by everyone except Gobbers, whose eyes were busy canvassing their surroundings.

“There was a young lassie from old Hallatassee

Whose kisses were sweet as netherpeaches

She was fond of a lad, kid

who looked just like her dad did

Afore he was killed on Parras’ beaches.

 

When they kissed both said “Screw it!”, They never did do it

They lacked what the other was itchin’ for

She found a pretty mermaid

When she kissed her their hearts swayed

The Lad married the boy centaur next door!

 

Love in Beor is crazy,

Love it makes ya a yutz,

Don’t De-petal no daisy -

Don’t matter if ya like fish or nuts!”

 

When the Teenmagers stepped over the line from Goodlands to Badlands, it was as if a giant hand of heat and dry air had slammed into them.  Several hundred feet before them was a slim canyon between sheer rock walls.  It resembled a giant sword slice through the sun-bleached mountains.  To their left, a strange upward spray of rock looked like a water spout.  Circling above it was Fantify, cawing occasionally.

“She says the lazy boy is napping.  We can pass by unseen if we’re quiet,” remarked Elona, whose voice bounced off the walls, booming its way to the top.  “Take cover!” said Ginny, diving behind a crevice.  Elona felt Kharimar grab her by the waist and yank her under an overhang, just as an arrow embedded itself where she’d just stood.

Ravvy spotted Blechyuck, who appeared to be silently chuckling.  Granny Ginny put her finger to her lips.  “That means be quiet, kiddo!” whispered Drattus in his ear.  Ravvy gave his Uncle Thaddeus what he hoped was a withering stare.

“All clear!” said Micky, who was lowering a trussed-up and unconscious Badlander towards them.  Somehow, even one-handed, he managed it carefully, using the crook of his elbow to guide the rope.  Gobbers was scaling down the cliff, finding handholds that were all but invisible to anyone without goblin eyes.  He jumped the remaining 15 feet, landing silently in the sand. “Poor bastard never saw me coming.”

“How did you…” began Elona.

“Get up there without you knowin’? Ha!  Years o’ trainin’, young miss.  And next time you spot yer black-feathered friend, I’ve a treat I’m savin’ fer her,” winked the mercenary.  “This place is a prime spot fer an ambush, an’ ya canna magic an arrow ya canna see…”

Emilia saw Elly’s eyes narrow.  “Well,” replied her friend, “not unless you’re wearing something that’s been magicked with a ‘turn projectile’ spell!”

It was Gobber’s turn to be surprised, and the two began discussing the current advances in battle magic.  Emmy laughed.  Micky and Blechyuck, carrying their unconscious prisoner between them, walked beside her.  Ginny was chatting with Ravvy, Drattus perched on his shoulder.  Kharimar was walking by himself, going over the spells he’d written down in his notebook.  Emmy knew he was busy committing them to memory.

“What’s so funny, young lady?” asked Blechyuck.

“Elona and Gobbers,” she explained, “have found an unlikely subject on which to build what I think is going to be a long-term friendship.”  Blechyuck blinked, and listened to their conversation, which was now on what new magic spells might be encountered in a mage’s arsenal in the near future.

“I’d a thought she’d be more in’nerested in pretty dresses ‘n ‘andsome lads, ‘tis true,” said Micky.

Emilia favored the pair with one of her genuinely dazzling smiles. “That’s her greatest defensive asset, you know – her beauty.  Everybody gets dazzled by her pretty looks and usually simple banter, and assumes that she’s stupid.  But she’s got as much brains as she has looks…” she paused, adding, “She’s got more, but don’t ever tell her I said that!”

Ginny stopped them, pausing in front of a large, oval rock that had been whittled down to a tabletop about 3 feet tall.  Several bones were embedded within it, one slanted prominently to the south.  “The settlement of Bountiful lies south of here.  It’s as good a place as any to start.  Closer, too, than Olden Pond. It’s just after high noon, too – let’s head to one of the Rock Boxes for a nap, a meal, and an interrogation before we continue.”

“Beggin’ yer pardon, Exalted One,” said Blechyuck, “But we’d better ‘urry iffen you want to avoid that.”  The orc pointed to the East, where far in the distance a solid curtain of red-tinted sand, tall enough to fill the horizon, was on its way towards them.”

“Move, now!” shouted Gobbers.

Before her legs became a blur, Emilia thought, looking at the still far-away sand wall the color of old blood: “That’s not ordinary sand!”  When she wondered how it was that she was meeting no resistance from the sand underfoot, she noticed the ground she was running on was a stone road.  Ahead of them, Ginny had conjured a whirlwind of their own.  She twisted and turned with a deliberation that hinted that the old gypsy knew where the road lay.

Emilia caught up with Elona, and the two exchanged knowing glances.  “Did you know,” shouted Emmy, panting for breath, “about any roads in the Badlands?”

“Nope!” yelled her friend.

Behind them a strange male voice cried out, “Sangray’s shitballs!  Is that a road?”

Their prisoner was finally awake.

Chapter 16: Badlands Netherwindow, Vulture Clan Territory

She peered out at the shaman circle, 27 strong, chanting the storm that would wrest her daughter from this dimensional universe’s grasp, bringing her at last under her control.

Our daughter.  Our control. Nourished in our womb, she is flesh of our flesh, this child of three parents.  Her power, consumed, will be ours to wield.  We will also be three-in-one.

We are beyond three-in-one, you hag of a thousand ancestors.

You mock yourself as well.  We are forever entwined, you and I.

(Not if I can help it, thought Elysia, sequestered away in a small pocket universe she had created deep inside her mind, unnoticed by the former nether creature that was now a part of her.  Good mothers do not eat their children.  Her control of her mental roommate’s insatiable desire to consume all of Beor was stretched to the breaking point.)

You would not have eaten your own daughter.

My own daughter led the uprising which killed me.  That gave birth to us.  When her time comes, I will kill her rather than suffer her whiny voice for eternity.

See? It is as I have said.

No, it is not.  Our daughter shall be eaten!

(pause)

The mindstorms were a brilliant idea.  Perhaps we shall not need to end our daughter’s physical life, if the storms can be made to work outside the Badlands.

What is this?  Compassion, from a creature of the Nether?

We are not entirely monsters, you know.  We just, as you once might have said, have no morals.

(You may run, you may hide; but in the end, you are still mine.  I will once again hold you in my arms, and together we will utterly annihilate Chancellor Moltenscar.  And then dismember every living Bornright male.  Just for fun, that is.)

Never forget, child: we are the Netherqueen.

Stop calling me a child!

I imagine it is strange, to be the same age as the daughter that you gave birth to only a few months ago.  Or had you forgotten that Time works differently here?

As the hag began laughing, her cruelty was magnified as hundreds of her ancestors joined in.  Elysia screamed, and retreated to her pocket dimension, where her grief overwhelmed her, and she wept.  Had she been in Beor, she’d have wept for weeks.

Chapter 17:  Badlands, Beor Gift Rock Box 18

Sam watched as the orc called ‘Granny Ginny’ and three of the young Good-landers warded the open doorway, the cracks in the rock walls where the light came in, and the large holes in the back for cooking and sanitary purposes.  He wasn’t sure what good their wards would do against the power of the sandstorms.  All the wards by Elder Duun and Shaman Spit-In-Your-Face generally failed to work but for a few minutes.  Then again, their wards didn’t glow.

He was still tied at his wrists and ankles.  He wasn’t sure what was more embarrassing: that he’d been captured, or that he was being made to shelter in one of the stupid ‘Gift Boxes’ – called such because they’d been given as peace offerings by the King of Tasuil Beor.  Huge behemoths of boulders, taken from the Dwarven Kingdom and brought a hundred plus miles, and arranged to make shade boxes for stupid foreign travelers to rest in.  Badlanders rarely travel by day.  Night may bring cold, and predators, but at least you can fight without thirst clouding your judgement, or walk without fear of being burnt or dehydration.

He hadn’t heard the goblin coming.  He could make a dozen or so excuses why, but in the end, he’d been so focused on hobbling the party below that he’d never thought to be wary of someone coming up from behind.  He’d looked at and listened to his captors for at least an hour, and decided that the two orcs and the goblin were the ones to watch out for – the ones who would have no difficulty torturing him.  If he lived through this though, his father would surely kill him.

Then again, Sam thought, if Elder Dune and Sand Flea’s shaman were to be believed, all of them were really vicious, nasty beasts with teeth and claws and a thirst for human blood.  The only one who fit that description somewhat was the big rat.  Dressed up in travelling clothes, with a cane.  Yup.  He shook his head and sighed.  He knew the odds were against him, that he was the sane one and all the Clans of the Badlands were crazy.  It would be 15 minutes before the sandstorm hit.  Would they wait until it had passed before they…?

The large male orc moved towards him, but the small black-haired girl, Emilia, stopped him.  Sam held his breath, waiting for the big guy to shove her aside.  Instead, the one called Blechyuck bowed to her, and stepped back.  Sam watched as she looked him up and down.  It’s almost, he thought, as if she finds me attractive.  It would explain the hint of a smile playing at the corners of her very shapely mouth.

“Gobbers,” she said, “would you untie our guest, please?”

The Goblin slipped three daggers from his belt, and flipped them in the air.  Simultaneously, one cut Sam’s mouth gag from behind, one sliced the bonds from his hands, and the last slit the ropes tying his ankles.  All three thunked into the sand at the same time.  It happened so fast that he fell to his knees.  And to his great shame, he wet himself a little.

The other girl, the blonde knockout, giggled.  The goblin was howling with laughter as he gathered his blades.  Emilia looked shocked…almost as if she had been afraid for me, he thought.  She spun around to the goblin, and coldly said “That was unnecessary.  He might have moved.  He might have been seriously hurt.” Just when he thought she might be an ally, she added: “If he had died, I’d simply reanimate him.  The problem with undead that you’ve personally killed and then reanimate is that they tend not to cooperate!”

“Miss,” replied Gobbers, “He could have hurt ya, or killed ya.  An’ we need you more ‘n we need ‘im.  That’s a law of survival.”

She turns back, and apologizes.  “Sorry about that.  Are you alright?  Do you need water?”

Sam blushes, embarrassed, thinking she’s asking because he peed just now.  But, seeing the look on his face, she shakes her head. “I’m sorry.  Let me rephrase that – are you thirsty?  I’m going to need for you to talk now.  A lot, actually, and it would be better if your throat wasn’t dry.”  Sam nods, as Emilia offers him a flask from her pouch.

“What is your name?” she asks.

“I am called Sam Everdot, of the Sand Flea Clan, son of Chief Sureshot Everdot.”

“Why did you attack us at the fish-shaped gorge?” She’d clasped her arms in front of her, trying to look stern.  Instead, there was still that secret little smile that was dancing around her lips.

“All netherkin are to be shot on sight. I am under orders to kill any that come from the Goodlands into the Badlands.”  Sam watches her reaction, and sees that she is taken aback.  It is obvious to him that she does not consider herself a netherkin. Which she is not.  All Sam sees around him are humans, orcs, and a one-armed dwarf.  And they seem to have gotten bigger, somehow?

“As you can see, we are not netherkin.  And I have untied you, so it must be clear to you that I, at least, mean you no harm.”  She steps closer, and for some reason she appears to be growing in front of his eyes.  “Which I do not, as long as you cooperate.  Otherwise, you might find yourself in a very sticky situation.”  Turning away from him, she calls out an odd name: “Dingleberry!  Could you bring Gutshank here?”

And while he’d never seen one, Sam Everdot recognized a flarey as it suddenly appears, carrying a very, very large spider.  The spider leapt onto Emilia, whose enormous fingers grabbed a hold of Sam and lifted him up so that he was facing a most gigantic spider.  It was then that the Sand Flea Clan Chief’s son realized that it wasn’t his captors who had been growing - he himself had been shrinking!  He struggles, but Emmy tosses him the air.  The spider snags him in multiple strands, twirling him in a most unpleasant, bile-inducing way.He’s covered in spidersilk and arachnid spittle, with the exception of his head.

“That’s good, Gutshank.  Let him be, for now.  Play with Dingleberry, okay?”

Sam feels slightly outraged.  He may have tried to kill them, yes.  Or just hobble them.  A little bit.But he didn’t merit being wrapped up like one of Grandma Beetlebarf’s worm mini-pies, and he told them so in his best big manly voice.  Except what came out was a squeak.

“Elly, he’s trying to say something.  Can you…” began Emilia.

“On it,” sighed the shamanette, who used her voice amplification wind spell.

“I said, I demand better treatment!  Why have you done this to me? Sheesh, you’d think we were the bad guys here!”  No sooner had he watched the effect his words had on the necromancer than Sam knew he’d hit a nerve.  Why, she looked as if she wanted to kill him!

Emilia really wanted Gutshank to rip off one of the kid’s arms.  But this idiot boy-man’s ignorance demanded he be put in his place.  “You Badlanders are responsible for the cowardly deaths of thousands of our soldiers and hired mercenaries, including my father, and hundreds of poor innocent animals!  You - the good guys?  Don’t make me laugh!”

“Oh, yeah!  Well,” began Sam, his blood starting to boil, “My people have been slaughtered without mercy for the past year. Four entire clans have been massacred out of existence, their settlements burnt and their half-consumed bodies everywhere!  And what do we find at every site – piles of netherkin dust covered in Goodlander clothing!”

“We’d never fight dirty like that!  Your shamans do!  They cast spells on our soldiers that make them go crazy and kill each other!  And while they are seeing things, your people go in and kill everyone, including their livestock and pack animals!  We’re not filthy netherkin, you are!”

“I KNOW YOU’RE NOT, Bobdamn it!  BUT EVERYONE ELSE thinks you’re netherkin!”

“THAT’S JUST STUPID!  WHY??”

“BECAUSE THEY ONLY SEE NETHERKIN!  Everywhere!  In our eyes, we are trying to save the Badlands from a Netherkin invasion.”

During this very adult shouting match, Gutshank stood looking over its silk-wrapped snack, and began reeling in poor Everdot.  When a large droplet of spider-spit fell in his face, poor Sam screamed louder than a banshee.  “Enough o’ this!” said Gobbers, and yanked the man-boy out from between Gutshank’s mandibles just as they were about to remove his tiny head from his tiny body.

Ravvy went over and grabbed Emilia by the shoulders.  “Emmy, calm down.  Change him back.”

“Absolutely not.” She folded her arms and closed her eyes. “He’s an idiot.”

“You’re both idiots, young lady.  And I’m pretty sure he’s telling the truth.” said Granny Ginny, with perfect calm.

“Change ‘im back, lil’ lady,” Gobbers requested.  “He’s harmless.”

“Am not!” shouted Sam.  Emilia cried out in frustration, and suddenly Sam found himself full-sized again.

Looking up at him, only a few inches away, was Emilia, both arms held straight against her sides, her fists balled tightly.  Suddenly her cheeks reddened, and she quickly stepped backwards.  “You lie!”  Drattus scampered up her other shoulder, startling Emilia and upsetting Gutshank, who clicked her mandibles at the immortal rat.  Ignoring both of them, he addressed their prisoner.

“Sam,” he said, putting a par of spectacles on his nose, “ya said ya don’t see us as netherkin.  Beggin’ yer pardon, son, but what’s so special about ya?”

Sam shuffled his feet.  “I don’t know.  I never see those mirages in the desert, you know, where you see water that isn’t there.”

“He sees through illusions!” exclaimed Ginny and Elona simultaneously.

Kharimar stroked his four-day-old beard growth (it wasn’t much, really, but it made him feel more mature) and asked, “That suggests that someone is bespelling the soldiers?”

“Or maybe the Badlanders?” added Blechyuck.

“Or maybe both,” said Elona. “We shamans usually work alone, so this report of large groups of us working together is very suspicious - not that I know a lot about shamans in the Badlands.  Sam,” inquired the beautiful blonde, “How long have your shamans been working with each other?”

Sam, feeling less tense, thought for a few seconds.  “Since last year, about the same time as the red sandstorms began.”

All turned to look at the wards, which flashed whenever a swell of wind dashed against them violently, almost as if it was deliberately seeking entrance.  Which was, thought Kharimar, ridiculous.  Unless…

“What can you tell us about the red sand, and the storms?” he asked, looking at the Badlands scout – who seemed to Khari to be a few years younger than he was. “Has it always been part of the Badlands?”

The question threw Sam off-guard.  Spit-In-Your-Face, when he asked her about the red sand, had been more incoherent than normal before expectorating in the cactus nursery, and waving him out of her tent.  “It’s new,” he replied, shaking his head, “and it’s as if the storms are alive.  The few of my clan who have been caught in them – nothing’s left of them except their skulls and their jewelry.  It doesn’t matter if we gather together in a cave – some sand makes it past the wards and it seeks out your nose, so you breathe some of it in!”

“That’s it,” said Granny Ginny with certainty, “The red sandstorms may likely be the key to this mess.”

“Except,” mused Elona, “What…or who…is behind the sandstorms?  I mean, our prisoner here…”

“You mean our guest,” chortled Micky, who handed Sam his waterskin.  “Poor kid’s been out-scouted, tied up, untied, shrunk, trussed by yonder critter, an’ finally gave some useful in’fermation.”

(“Not a kid!” mumbled Sam.)

“Our guest said it’s as if the storms are alive.  That would imply…” Elona, who had sidled up to where Emilia was sulking, nudged the answer out of her.

“…that there’s an intelligence behind them,” Emmy finished, as Gutshank launched herself into Elona’s hair.  The look Elly gave her was priceless, and made Emmy feel a little better.  Why did that Badlands scout get her so riled up?  She glanced at him, only to discover that he was looking at her as well.  Gods, he was annoying!

The storm howled outside the Rock Box.  “Let’s rest, maybe nap for a bit.  It should be dark soon,” noted Ginny, “and that storm, if it’s someone’s magic at work, can’t last forever.  And I, for one, need some time to think.

Chapter 18: Finding His Purpose

Memento Mortalis told him of the day’s events.  Emilia was in dangerous territory, he’d explained.  She and her party were sheltering from a fierce sandstorm.  The ghost assured him that she was safe in their company, but He had doubts.  Memento would watch over her, and come to him immediately if she were in trouble.

The mooncallers’ chicks had hatched, and some had already attempted flight.  Some of them would be brought back to the nests, slightly injured.  Some would have no injuries, but would be loudly scolded by their parents.  He wondered if Memento saw Emilia as a chick, and if he worried that he could no longer be her father and protector now that he was dead.  Well, not exactly dead.  And the Angel of Remembrance wondered: “Why are there ghosts, and what purpose do they serve?  Or whose?”

He couldn’t decide.  He felt an odd tingle, and looked down at his chair.  Occupying it was a faint shimmering, shaped like – Emilia!  He phased into the place where dreams are, where he had taken Emilia before.  There she was, lying in his chair, only it was not his chair.  In her dream-space, she was lying across his arms, her head resting in his elbow, her body supported in his lap.  Her legs dangled over the side of his thigh.  He was, he noted with amusement, as big as a giant.  Strangely enough, she resembled a mooncaller chick resting in its nest.

Am I really that big, he wonders?  And why is she here, in the Cemetery with me?  It is then that he hears the howling wind, far away in the Badlands.  Around him is a swirling wall of dust, or dirt.  Emilia squirms on his lap, and fearful cries issue from her mouth.  He pushes it away with the force of his will, but it comes closer.

A pair of arms belonging to a young woman emerge from the dust wall, and they reach for Emilia, who screams.  With a cold anger He burns the flesh from those arms, and watches the bones as they freeze and shatter.  He feels the astonishment and fury of the one he knows is behind them.  Emilia again is sleeping soundly.

A face appears in the wall, which is quickly dissipating. It is the same face from Memento’s memory – the face of Emilia’s mother.

“I know who you are, and what you would do.”  He feels his wings move (!) to cover Emilia.

A girl’s voice, pain-wracked, faintly cries: “And who are you, that would stand in our way?  What is she to you?”

“I am her Angel, and she is my world.” 

In the dream-space, He stood watch over her, until she soundlessly vanished from his lap, awakening in the Badlands.

The Beginning Place

In the center of the Universe, in which floats the planet upon which Beor resides, a small group of Divine Beings sat around an ordinary kitchen table, on which was placed a tray of delicious crackleberry scones and a steaming hot pot of koppee, stolen from The Old Priest & Rat Tavern and brought here by the dark flareys.  Seated at this table were Bob, the Eldest God; Virginia. Eldest Goddess of Justice and Keeper of The Balance (aka Granny Ginny, Agent Gin-Anne, Dwarven Mistress Ginevra and a score of other aliases); Tungjii, Eldest God/Dess of Luck; and the Great Ooze Primeval, Eldest of all, the very stuff of creation.

Tungjii, being the size of a child, had a booster for their seat.  The Ooze had no chair, forever serenely suspended in mid-air inside their glass bubble, burbling like an algal stew on a slow boil.  Tungjii tapped their fingers on the table, with a drum-like staccato.  Virginia sighed.

“Do any of you know why I’ve called this meeting?” she asked them.

“None at all,” stated the Ooze, matter-of-factly.  He did, in fact.  He just couldn’t let anyone else know that he knew.  That would be…problematic.

Bob drank from his simple clay stein, made for him by one of his demi-god great-grandchildren.  “No, my dear.  Is the Balance in danger?  That’s usually it.But why have you called just us?  Where are the Second-born?”

Ginny was about to say something she felt she’d regret later when Tungjii produced a siren bowstring from thin air, and began to play the tune that had been on her mind for the past few days.  In fact, he played it in its entirety, up until the most recent addition of a frightening furioso movement, followed by a soft romanze.

“What is this?” demanded Bob. “This music – it pulls at me!”

Virginia scowls.  “Have you forgotten the Universal Melody?  It existed before everything, even the Ooze.  There is a new theme, a powerful new theme.  I am not surprised that you, Tungjii, have heard it.  And you, Ooze? Surely you must have been the first to notice the new phrases, the new harmonies?”

Ooze turned a paler shade of his usually vivid green.  “Me?  I’m busy keeping the Second-Born, Third-Born and all their hemi-demi-semi divine by-blows in line!  How could I possibly hear the Melody with all the clamor around here?  It’s probably the planet warming up to introduce a new species or something.  It’s nothing.”

“Oh, right,” dead-panned the Goddess, “Like the ear-splitting discord of the Nethergate’s first appearance was just a planetwide bass C2 burp climbing to a high-C belch!  What are you not telling us?”

“I will not be spoken to like this.  Let me know when you’re ready to apologize, and be thankful I’m still willing, after all these millennia, to look after you lot!”  And with that, the Ooze vanished.  Virginia wanted to scream, but the last time she’d done so, it had taken the dark flareys a few centuries to restore the nearest galaxies into some approximation of order.

“I’m certain, my dear,” said Bob in his usual condescending manner, “you’ll find out what this problem is, and solve it admirably.  Now if you’ll forgive me, I’ve a rendezvous with a lovely follower that I’m already late for.”  And he, too, vanished.

Feeling abandoned, Ginny put her head in her hands.  Tungjii floated behind her and gave her a hug.  “Something’s happening, friend.  I feel as if I have to do something, but I don’t know what it is. Do you feel that way?”

Tungjii shrugged hisser shoulders, and lifted her chin.  S/he grabbed her by the hand, and a portal opened in front of them, the space beyond shrouded in mist. He beckoned, and she followed them through into what she recognized as dream-space.  They walked for a minute or two, until she recognized Tasuil Beor’s High Dudgeon neighborhood.  A few blocks away, there was a divine light shining.  Another few minutes, and the air was filled with the very music that had been playing in her own dreams.

They stood in the dream-space version of the Cemetery of the Forgotten, and coruscating around two figures were the auras of Chaos and Order.  One figure she recognized: young Emilia.  Chaos’s shadow was trying to envelop her, but it was prevented by the brilliant light of Order emanating from…the Angel of Remembrance? The God/dess of Luck put hisser mouth to her ear, and whispered with a mighty effort: “Help…the…child!”

Virginia shakes her head, and cries out, “Emilia?  What, no, who is…”  From the dream-ground spring ashen clouds of Chaos, seeking to envelop both Elder Gods.  She hears a voice from the past cry from Chaos’ midst:

“And who are you, that would stand in our way?  What is she to you?”

And from the Light of Order, it is answered by a voice that isn’t familiar at all, responding in a way that is all-too-familiar:

“I am her Angel, and she is my world.” 

Tungjii, in one great final effort, chokes out the words, “Robert’s child”, before Chaos tosses both of them out of the dream-space.

Granny Ginny lands hard, scattering sand in Badlands Rock Box 18, to find everyone asleep.  Everyone, that is, except Emilia, who is conversing with – the Goddess alters her vision to include every spectrum – a ghost?

Chapter 19: A Family Tree Grows in Beor

The winds continued their eerie, discordant shrieking.  Occasionally, a piece of dried cactus or sand crab shells would be dashed against the wards. From his Winterflame sack, Ravvy produced some firewood, a tripod and a metal cooking pot with a strange lid.  Kharimar lit a fire using a whispered fireball spell, and Ravvy hung the pot from the tripod.  Everyone added some water from their waterskins.  From his sack, Blechyuck produced some strips of dried kraken from The Mighty Wind, and Gobbers threw in some onions and vegetables he’d scrounged outside the Selkie’s Rock Inn. Sam reached into his belt pouch and produced a cloth-wrapped packet of leaves from a desert sage bush, crushed them between his fingers and added them to the pot.

Ravvy put the odd lid on. It had a tube extending from the top that he placed into the neck of an old empty bottle, that he had set into a smaller pot.  He caught her looking at him curiously.  “It takes all the steam from the pot and puts it into the bottle. It stops the water from evaporating, and saves it for later use.”

“Where did you learn about our ways?” asked Sam.

“From me,” laughed Drattus, “I read ‘bout the Badlands long ago, an’ that bit stayed with me.”

After the impromptu ‘desert seafood stew’, everyone began to doze off.  Emilia closed her eyes, and tried unsuccessfully to block out the howling sandstorm.  Determined to rest, she imagined herself in a place where she felt at peace – under the watchful gaze of the Angel of Remembrance.  She dozed, until she began to hear the winds calling her name.  She burrowed closer to Angel, and felt a cold that reached for her.  Then there was warmth, and the softness of feathers.

When she awoke, she took the bottle, now halfway full of reclaimed water, and poured it into the smaller pot.  Then she replaced the empty stew pot – Blechyuck, she remembered, had polished off the dregs – with the small one.  She reached inside her vest, and proceeded to put fragrant mint leaves and lavender into the water for tea.

“Still yer favorite I see, lil’ flower,” said her father, who appeared beside her.

“It’s a good thing I don’t scare easily, otherwise you’d truly be dead and gone right now.”  Gutshank, who’d been hanging in a corner of the shelter, lowered herself on a thread and sat on Emilia’s shoulder.  She produced a small ceramic cup and poured herself some tea, offering a drop of it on a fingertip to the netherspider, who siphoned it up.

“Who’s your spirit guide?  I thought you were a necromancer, not a shaman,” asked Sam quietly, in a calm and friendly manner.  His Flea Clan blanket is wrapped around his shoulders.  The sun had set just a few minutes ago, but the temperature wasted no time in dropping below 40 degrees.

This time Emmy did stand up, Gutshank fiercely clicking her mandibles.  “I am. And I’m no shaman, I’m a…”  Emilia turned to look at her father, who shrugged and then nodded.  “I’m a necroscope.  I can talk with the dead.  The dead, plural.  They can talk to me.”

“Ah!  Old Spit-In-Your-Face claims she can do the same, but I think that’s a load of desert fox poop.  Do you have an extra cup?  Because that smells really good.”

“ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ,” snored Micky loudly.

“How is it that you can see my dad?” she inquired.

“I’ve always been able to see things other people can’t.  Elder Duun calls it the gift of Veil-Piercing. I can’t hear your dad, though.”  He stands and bows to her father, “Sam Everdot, of the Sand Flea Clan.  Pleased to meet you, sir.  You have a fearsome daughter!”

“Hey!” Emmy says, with no little amount of annoyance.  “His name is Memento Mortalis.” She watches as her father gives Sam a brief nod.  A grin spreads across his face.  “He likes you!” he says with a wry chuckle, looking the young man up and down.  “E’s not bad lookin’ – ya could do bet’er, tho!”

“Dad!” she scolds, “Look, why are you here?”

“Well, I been doin’ some askin’ ‘round fer infermation ‘bout who yer real parents might a’ been.  I ‘ad no i-deer ‘ow famous ya are in the ‘ereafter!”

“What’s he saying?” asks Sam.

Ignoring him, Emmy puts the heel of her hand between her eyebrows.  In a strained voice, she says, “Oh, no.  You have NOT been spreading the word around that you have a connection with me, have you?”  Memento sheepishly shrugs his shoulders. “Of course, you have.  Have you told them that I want to be left alone?  I am not a people person, Dad – dead or undead.”

Granny Ginny, watching from her sleeping area, decides to break her silence. “You’ve done very well, and come a long way from the quiet toddler I met.  Give yourself some credit.”

“The credit really goes to Khari, Elly and Ravvi.  If they’d never become my friends, I’d be a very different person today.”

Ginny walks around their rocky haven, waking up the remaining party members.  Memento waves Emilia aside, and whispers, “I foun’ yer real father, with ‘elp from a lot o’ the spirit’s you’ve spoken to o’er the years.  An’ we t’ink we knows yer real ma. Y’all should ‘ear it afore ya plan anyt’ing.”

“Evenin’, Exalted One,” says Blechyuck to Ginny, “Yer a sight…”

“Don’t say something I might have to knock you senseless for, mercenary!” she warns, and winks.

“Oooooh, is that herbal tea on the fire?  Dibs!” cries Elona.

“Can summ’on ‘elp me stand up,” pleads Micky, “I fell asleep on me good arm, an’ now I canna move!”

“I’ve got some capes in the Winterflame bag, if anyone gets cold,” states Ravvy.

“Everyone, listen up.  My father…I mean, my dad’s ghost wants to speak.  He has important information.  At least, he thinks it’s important.”

“And just how,” asks Ravvy, “does he expect to do that? We can’t even see him…”

“I can!” interrupts Sam, winking at Emmy.  Is it me, thinks the Badlander, or did she just blush?”

“…most of us can’t even see him, much less hear him!”

A heartfelt sigh comes from Elona.  “Am I the only one who knows this?  I learned it while traveling with my parents, from a really, really old Orc shaman.  Emmy just has to spit in one of our eyes.”

“What?” issued from several of the adventurers’ mouths.

“Ew…” protests Drattus.

“I’ve ‘ad worse in me eyes…” chuckles Micky.

“Oi, Gods, Micky – too much information!” cries Blechyuck.

“Don’t be such babies!” laughs Elona.  “I’ve never seen it done, but it’s very old magic.  Predates the elves, or so the old shaman told me.”

After a round of expectorating ensued, after which it was unanimously agreed that Emilia would be the one to bet on should she ever take part in one of the Old Priest and Rat Tavern’s Spittoon Sunday contests.  “Say something, Mr. Mortalis!” cries Elona.

“Oh, dere was a young lassie from ol’ Hallatassee…” sings the ghostly former mercenary.

“Aha!” yells Micky, “She didna’ tell us ya was a’ merc!”

“Up the Black Foxes!” Memento toasts him with an imaginary mug. “Aye, ah miss me fellas, one an’ all.”

“Now, Dad,” Emmy declares, “What’s your news?”

“Ya mus’ know, ‘e came ta me on ‘is own.  E’s proper scared, ‘e is.  An’ no wonder.”  Her father looks in the farthest corner of the rocky room, where there is a firefly-sized ball of light.  “I know yer all thinkin’ ‘What does a ghostie have ta fear’ – well, exorcism is the big one.  After dat, it’s losin’ our looks.  It takes ‘plasm ta be persen’table to our frens’ an’ loved ones.  Take it away, or mess with it…”  Memento shudders. “I must admit, ‘is story is unbelievable. But ‘ear ‘im out.”

Memento again looks in the corner, and sees that the ball of light has grown even dimmer.  He whispers something to Emilia, who shakes her head.

Sam sees a tear track down her face, and, looking at the people gathered around him, feels for first time that he is caught up in something larger than himself…and that he’d like to help Emilia, no matter the personal cost.  Her slender arms stretch out before her, aimed at the firefly-sized ball of light.

“Adonis Faceripper Bornright, true-father, I summon you! Appear before me, in this place, at this moment, and speak truth to me.”

Nothing happens at first.  But then the ball explodes, revealing a tall half-orc, half-human male of about 24.  He’s dressed in leather armor, with the Bornright crest, his broad shoulders as wide as any doorway.  But the armor is ripped, and his beautiful face is swaying with his head lolling, his neck twisted so far that his spine sticks above it.  And his light is very, very opaque.

It takes but a moment for Granny Ginny to recognize him.  And she knows who the voice of Chaos belonged to, and who they are dealing with.  Looking closely, she realizes that Emilia has Adonis’ strong chin and brow.  But the shape of her face, and her piercing eyes…

“You are Emilia?” Bornright’s voice is difficult to hear, as if it is in another room.  “If so, I am your father.  How this is possible, I don’t know.  One of your mother’s nerd friends at the Mage College might.” With what must have been a great effort, he rolled his head to the center, where he stared at her from an awkward, backward-sloped angle.

“One thousand four hundred years ago, your 12-year-old smart-mouthed genius mother led the Mage College army to war against the Netherkin.  I should have been the leader!  Me!  But I foolishly tried to shame her, make her sorry for stealing what was to be my rightful place in history, make her feel helpless, in the only way I knew how.”  He closed both his eyes.

“Tell her!” roars Ginny through gritted teeth.

Sam hears Emilia say, quietly, “She was 12?”

“The night before the battle, I raped her, in a magic dead zone.  The next day, she went through the Nether Gate, and never came back.  She was praised as a hero.  A few years later, I bragged about it in The Keg Runneth Over.  And got called into a duel by one of her friends, Oneida Thwackerback.  The bitch should have been no match for me.  Little did I know, until my weapon broke and my feet went out from under me, that she’d cheat.  Your mom’s other friend, Gristle, used her magic on me in secret.  And Oneida twisted my head right off my spine.”

“She was 12?!” says Emilia, and although her face is unreadable, Ravvy hears the shock in her voice, which is a bit louder and coming in gasps of air.

“Last night, she came to me.  She reshaped my form to look the way it did in death.  She did it slowly.  She told me about the Nether, how she had given birth to you there, how one of the renegade netherkin had stolen you and taken you through a window back here.  She’s been bringing troops through to the Badlands, daughter.  She’s going to kill you, and take your powers, and kill all our Bornright relatives!  She’s going to make all Beor go to war!  And while you’re all busy fighting each other, she’s going to pick you off, one country at a time.  How do you like your mommy now?!  My one atrocity pales in comparison to her thousands!”

SHE…WAS…12!!!”, raged an Emilia Mortalis limned in arcane fire, who by the ferocity of her anger and her will dissolved whatever was left of the ghost of Adonis Faceripper Bornright and sent it into oblivion.  The adventurers were knocked off their feet.  Gobbers would swear that he heard a sigh as the bits of Bornright’s plasm shattered and winked out.  Terry, in the Cemetery of The Forgotten, brought her spirit there, where he held the sobbing Emilia for two minutes that seemed like two hours.  When she had ceased, he returned her. 

Chapter 20: Tea & Sympathetic Magic

The force of Emmy’s unleashed ire blew the wards from Rock Box 18, but thankfully the red sandstorm had stopped.  The sky in the North was dark with clouds that glowed greyish red in the moonlight, while the Southern sky was almost afire with millions of stars.  Ravvy was on his feet first, and together with Khari and Elly gathered around Elly in one very heartfelt group hug.

For a moment it seemed as if she wasn’t there, and then she was, just barely trembling. “Hey!” she said, but none of them budged.  “I’m okay.  Really, I’m okay.  You can let go.  Let go!” And then she started to wriggle, but they still wouldn’t budge.  Looking around, she asks worriedly, “Where’s my dad?”

Gobbers bravely asks her the obvious question: “Which one, little lady?”

Emmy slumps into Elona’s arms, fainting.  Khari’s mouth drops.  “Did she just…”

Elona glares at him, and Blechyuck takes Emilia from her, and puts her near the fire.

“Not one word out of you, Khari.  She’s in shock.  You would be, too.”

Elona then slaps Emilia hard across her cheek.  “Emmy!  Snap out of it!”

Kharimar opens his mouth to speak, but Elona points her finger at him.

“Not! One! Word!” she threatens, and then to Emmy, she says with urgency and dismay, “Quick, Khari is eating the last of the crackleberry scones!”

The result was astonishing, except to those who knew Emmy’s weakness for sweets.  She leapt to her feet, eyes wide open, grabbed her wand and pointed it at poor Kharimar, shouting “Hands off those scones, or I’ll reanimate every pimple you’ve ever popped!”  She stood there, realized where she was, and simply said, “Oh.”

Kharimar sidled over to Ravvy, and whispered, “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: those two just scare the piss out of me.”

“Somebody please go and make some tea, and let’s try to make some sense out of what just happened here,” declared Granny Ginny, who watched the fading starshine swirl around the young woman.

Ravvy reached into the WInterflame bag and pulled out a covered basket.  “I was going to save these for another time, but I think these are called for now.  Uncle Thad, would you please?”  Drattus waved his paws and the towel covering the basket rose, and a familiar odor floated in the air.  He presented the basket of fresh crackleberry scones to Emilia, saying, “There are some small ones in there, just for Gutshank.”

The netherspider lowered herself from the ceiling, hanging just out of Emmy’s reach.  Emmy pulled one of the smaller scones out and held it in her hand, but Gutshank stayed put.

“Why won’t she come to me?”

Elona put her hand on her shoulder.  “I think you scared her.  Flarey farts, girl, you scared all of us!” Emmy threw the scone up to Gutshank, who snagged it with four silken strands in the blink of an eye.

“Gather round the fire, you lot.  We’ve got plans to make, and the night is upon us already.  Emilia,” continued Ginny, “Memento vanished right before you had your magical blow-up.  I think he saw it coming, assuming he knows you well.  I can always tell when my kids are working their temper up!  As for your blood father…”

“I killed him,” Emmy said.

“No, ya silly girl, ya didn’t,” Gobbers said.

“S’right,” seconded Micky, “Ya canna kill what’s already dead.”

“True enough,” noted Drattus, “But she banished him.  She wiped his spirit from this world forever.  His voice has been silenced.”

“An’ ‘is guilt,” Gobbers said grimly.

“What I’d like ta know is ‘ow that bastard kin possibly be ‘er dad?” said a confused Drattus, “E’s been dead fer o’er a thousand years!”

“I know how.  It all fits with my dad’s story.”  Emilia tells them about the night he found her.

“Holy Feckin’ Gods, yer the Netherqueen’s dotter?” exclaimed Micky.

“It was your mother at Mountain Fall?” said a stunned young Ravinger.

Emilia felt numb at the insanity of it all.  She’d been taught about Elysia at Miss Frumplin’s School, how she’d sacrificed her life to save Beor and close the Nethergate, a millennia ago; how someone calling herself the Netherlord or sometimes the Netherqueen, opened it again, and the Ravinger Four had died closing that one.

Worst of all, she was still trying to destroy Beor.  True, she had been raped, and left for dead in the Nether.  I suppose I’d be a little mad as well, Emmy thought – mad in both ways.  She wants me, Emilia thought, but now…do I want her?

“Enough.  Adonis Bornright, whether he knew it or not, gave us good information.  We’re all of us being manipulated by the Netherqueen, especially the Badlanders.  There has to be a small window to the Nether somewhere here.  Sam,” inquired Ginny, “Where, and when, did the red sand first appear?”

Sam sat up, and felt the salamander from Whale’s Spout Gorge scamper up his back and onto his shoulder.  It appeared to wink at him before closing both eyes.  “Dead Center of the Badlands, Ma’am.  Great Lake of Plenty, we call it.  No one goes there, and those foolish foreign few that do, they never return.”

“Blechy, will you bring me some of that sand outside, left by the storm.  Oh, and everyone – start wearing masks to cover your nose and mouth.”

Gobbers elbowed his pal as he passed him.  “Callin’ ya ‘Blechy’ now, is she?” The orc elbows him back, knocking the snickering goblin backwards.

“Why masks, ol’ lady?” asks Drattus.

“So’s you don’t breathe any of the Netherqueen’s bloody sand!” answers Granny.

“Is she using Blood Magic?” Ravvy asks, “Artie told me about it once.  Said it was really powerful!”

“And like all powerful magic, Ravvy,” observes Kharimar, “it exacts a powerful cost.”

“Sam, we know that the Tribal Shamans are working together to fight us. Can you bring your Sand Flea Clan here, so I can tell them what I think is going on, and then show them?”

“I can try.  I won’t guarantee that they’ll listen to me…”

“I can,” responds Granny, “Let’s just say that I think luck is with you.”

“How do you plan to show them you’re right?  Blood Magic?” asks Sam from the entrance.  Blechyuck enters, and drops a palmful of sand into Ginny’s waiting hand.  She sifts through it, and smiles.

“Oh, no.  Sympathetic magic.  Older than Blood Magic.  Almost as old as I am!” Ginny laughs.

“No such thin’!” squeaks Drattus, who smartly scampers for cover.

When she looks for Emilia, she finds her surrounded by Khari, Elona, and Ravvy.  And not for the first time, she wonders at the wisdom of Fate in throwing these four teens together in friendship.  “Emilia, can we speak for a moment?  In private?”

“Sure,” the 14-year-old answers.  They walk a bit, giving themselves some privacy.

“Ginny, why does Blechyuck call you ‘Exalted One’ – is it an Orcish title or honorific?”

The ‘gypsy’ laughs, and thinks a moment before answering. “It’s a name Orcs address the gods with, so he’s complimenting me by calling me a ‘goddess’ – it’s rather sweet, actually.  Now, can you summon your flarey friend?  I’d like him to take a message to Prince Ampersand.  He needs to withdraw the troops to the borders, and have them wait.”

“Sometimes I forget you’re a secret agent of the Crown,” Emmy muses. “I think of you more like a wise old aunt.  Or an older sister.  Or even a friend.”

“I like the last one best,” the Goddess of Justice replied. “And as your friend, I want you to tell me about the Angel of Remembrance.”

“You mean the nice statue? Terry?”

“Who’s Terry?” asked Ginny.

“It’s the name my dad gave him…the name I call him.”  The young girl pauses a moment, then looks up at Granny and sighs.  “I hope my dad’s okay.  I mean, I know he’s already dead, but what if he got caught like Bornright?”

Chapter 21: Finding His Priorities

Memento Mortalis stood before him, telling him about what happened in the Badlands.  The spirit had been badly frightened – more for Emilia than for himself, which Terry thought was admirable.  Terry was pleased, no – happy – that such a vile being had been completely wiped from existence.  He had no doubt that not one single atom remained.

Terry sifts through Emilia’s memories (they are now a part of him) and finds no recollection of such a spell, or ability.  Where did that sudden power come from?  Was it because of the time that they spend together?  When he soothes her, he gives her a little of his confidence in her, to calm her.  Could it be that something more was given?  Love?

He knows with the certainty of foresight that the machinations of her mother will put her in very great danger.  It will put, he thought, her friends…no, their friends…in great danger.  He will help stop the Netherqueen, and protect them, even if he is bound to this place.  She is, as he told his enemy, his world.  “I was not truly alive until she came; I know now how precious life is.  I would gladly die for her,” he thinks. 

He watches the young mooncallers dance in the air, their parents watching, always at the ready should they fall.  He wonders, and not for the first time, what happened to his parents.  Are they watching him from somewhere, ready to help should he fall?  Or are they dead and utterly gone, like the Bornright villain?  What are they – angels, demons, or a little bit of both?  Will he ever know?

He has been listening to the visitors at the Cemetery, and this time, he is less likely to be critical, caustic, or uncaring.  His chair, he now views as a cradle rather than a witness chair.  It is not his job to judge.  They judge themselves enough.  The seat is a place for them to unburden, to reach forgiveness, to say what was left unsaid, or to say goodbye.  And there have been more visitors of late.  Maybe it’s the songs of the mooncallers that alleviates them of their fears.  It could be the doing of Emilia’s little friend, the Flarey King, who has led children to play around the gates.

Emilia’s kindness, her humanity, Terry thinks, is something that he must share with others, so that they will share it as well.  It is, he realizes, something akin to the songs of the mooncallers – a lovely melody.

The ashes seem to be seeping into the ground.  There is magic at work here.  And Tasuil Beor and its citizens are taking note.

Chapter 22: Sam Everdot Collars the Fleas

As he nears his village, called Green Pastures, he stops by the nearest Sand Swirl Trap to rest.  He has never run so fast, nor as far, as he has this evening.  The desert sped by him, blurry and almost indistinct.  It would have been an amazing feeling, except for his deathly fear of delivering his message, and being ridiculed by his father the Chief, the Shaman, and the Elders.

As the youngest in a family of eight, he’d been all but ignored by them in favor of his older siblings, all of whom excelled at something.  His Father was too involved in running the Village, and his mother too busy looking after the two dozen grandchildren who were already verging on puberty when he was born.

He was the unexpected child, and therefore nothing was expected of him.  He grew up ignored, which allowed him time to dawdle.  His father told him he could be whatever he wanted to be, since his brothers and sisters were already in positions of authority and renown.  He chose to be a Scout, mainly because it was something he was halfway decent at without having to work very hard, and it was considered a position usually filled by clan members of low skills and rank.

When his gift of Veil-Piercing had manifested, he avoided talking about it.  He told Elder Duun about it one night, who’d at last told him what it was.  That made Sam angrier on the day he’d accused his tribe of slaughtering Goodlander caravans, and Elder Duun had refused to stop them.  They were netherkin, he said.  He’d seen them, along with everyone else.  Netherkin were at the borders, and the Goodlanders must be behind it.

It was not until now, after his capture, and learning the truth behind the troubles in the Badlands, that he wondered if maybe, if he’d worked harder at believing in himself and his gift, he might have convinced someone in the Sand Flea Clan to question what they saw, and saved one or more lives.  He’d never thought that having a gift might come with responsibilities. 

“I don’t know that I want any responsibilities,” he told the salamander in his vest pocket. He stretched, and started running.  Soon the village was in sight, and he halted in front of the sentries by the entrance. 

“Well, if it isn’t Sam the Scout,” sneered Dave Spear-In-Your-Guts.

“Did you kill any netherkins?” asked Maeve Not-On-Your-Life, who was not just sarcastic, but bloodthirsty as well.

Sam walks right through, shrugging off the arm Dave threw out to stop him.  By the fire were Duun, Spit-In-Your-Face and his father, who stood up with a scowl.

“There better be a Bobdamned good reason why you’ve abandoned your post!”

Sam told them about the events of the last twelve hours.  When he was done, the three old-timers looked at each other and broke out laughing.“Boy”, growled his father, the laughter dying in his throat, “that’s the biggest pile you’ve ever shat, no mistakin’ it.  Why you thought we’d believe it, I don’t understand.  The netherkin don’t take prisoners, they eat them.  You’re a disgrace to this Clan.  By rights, I should expel you!”

Sam stood up as tall as he could.  His father was six feet, and Sam only five and a half, but he felt taller somehow. “You must come with me, you and the shamans. Especially the shamans.  You too, Spit-In-Your-Face.”

Sureshot lunged for his son, and found that he couldn’t move.  A tiny salamander was biting his nose, as he began floating in the air, and slowly drifted over the fire.  Occasionally a flame would reach high enough to hotly lick his toes. The salamander morphed into Tungjii Luck, who waggled their fingers at him, before returning to an astonished, and quite delighted, Sam.  The god/dess kissed him on the cheek, and blew on it until a small heart glowed.As the heart vanished under Sam’s skin, Tungjii changed back into a salamander and returned to Sam’s shoulder.

Elder Duun’s mouth hung open, and Spit-In-Your-Face was clapping like a happy child.  The chief, still getting toasty-toed, shouted “What about me?” and found himself dropped into the fire, which was then doused by a localized downpour from a very small raincloud.

Sureshot Everdot stared at his son, sputtering, “You!  Youuuuu…!!! How?”

Sam could help but grin as he replied, “Granny Ginny said luck was with me!”  He waited until the laughs just couldn’t be held in any longer, and they slapped each other on the back.  The old shaman walked up to him and said, “Good for you, boy.  It’s about time you grew up!  Now, where are we going again?  Will there be food?”

Castle Tasuil, War Room

Prince Ampersand gazed at the living map of the Badlands, and watched the player pieces move.  He saw the Sand Flea Clan begin its march to join his Agent’s forces (his agent being his many-greats Grandmother Ginny), and wondered what she was up to.  She’d been distracted of late.

He had made the mistake of teasing her about memory loss that comes with great age, and had his head verbally removed.  She’d reminded him how very little he did know about her (true), that there were things he would never know about her (also true), and that she wasn’t that old, anyway (which was false. He’d had his archivist in the Living Library research her aliases, and there had always been a ‘Ginny’ or Gineen or Gin-Anne or Virginia or Vergillian associated with the Kings & Queens of Beor for at least 2,000 years.)

The sound of tinkling bells announced the arrival of a flarey, which fluttered towards him and shifted into his true royal form.  When crowned, a flarey can assume a human-sized form.  King Persimmon Dingle Quince III, the youngest flarey King at the tender age of 472, nodded in his direction.  His attire was that of a human messenger boy, knees patched and grubby shirted to perfection.  “I bring you news, friend Amply-Gifted.”  The prince blushed.  It was a pet name, given to him when he had just turned 13.

“Ginny has a plan.  The secret behind the Badlands trouble may have been found, and she asks that you move whatever troops you may have to the border, and stand down from causing any immediate harm.  The Clans are bewitched, under the control of someone else.  She also states that facemasks be worn.”

Ampersand wonders, and not for the first time, if perhaps Ginny has really begun to lose her faculties.  To have the soldiers stand down would put his men in harm’s way, should her plan fail.  Men would die, and he would be directly to blame.  But he trusts her judgement.

“Does she know who this ‘someone else’ is?” he cautiously asks.

“She knew you would ask that,” answers the King, also called Dingleberry, “and tells you not to lose heart.”

“Who is it?” asks Ampersand again.

“The Netherqueen.”

“Please, if you would, speed you to Richard, and tell him Ginny’s orders are my orders.  And do not, for the love of Beor, say anything about the Netherqueen!”

Chapter 23: The Oldest Magic

As the Sand Flea Clan Warriors neared Gift Rock Box 18, Sam blew the netheryak horn, calling them to stop.  He explained what was going to be attempted.  First, Ginny, Kharimar, Elona and Emilia would come from out the rocky shelter.  If the Clan saw them as netherkin, they were to wave but stay put.  The four mages would perform a spell that would remove all the red sand particles they had breathed in, or swallowed, or was in their clothes.  They would gather all the sand together, and change it.

Sam told them that such a spell had not been tried in this way before, but because they were Sand Flea Clan, and warriors, they would be brave and wait until the spell was done.  It might hurt a little, or it might hurt a lot.  When he saw the doubt on their faces, and the fear in their eyes, he knew what he had to do.

“I will go, and they will do this spell on me first.”

“You don’t need to do this, son,” said his father.

“Yes, my Chief, I do.  I’m the one who brought you here, remember?  Your lives are my responsibility now.  Wish me luck!”  As he walked towards his new friends, a salamander sprouted wings, and became a dragon.  A small one, but a dragon nonetheless.

“Luck is with you already!” shouted Old Spit-In-Your-Face.

<><><><><><><><><><> 

“Absolutely not!  Are you nuts?” said Emilia, when Sam told her his plan.

“I think it’s a bit heroic,” sighed Elona, who (Emilia noted) batted her eyes.

“We might kill you…not on purpose, of course,” stated Kharimar.

“Enough,” said Ginny, “It’s a stroke of genius, actually.  IF you survive, mind you.  Are you ready?  Stand about 10 feet away, please.  It might not hurt, but it will sting!”

Sam swallowed, and watched as the salamander jumped to land on Ginny’s shoulder.  The four mages stood before a basin on the ground, which had a small quantity of the red sand.  Sam was directed to stand behind it.  Ginny began the chant: “Annal Neth Rak, Urthvas Beh Thud, Dothiel Dien Vay”, and the others joined in.  After the third round, the basin lit up with a blood red light.

Tiny grains of red sand first began emerging from the pores of Sam’s skin.  His head snapped backwards as a stream emerged from his ears and open mouth, and finally…from there, too.  The sand swirled above the basin, forming itself into a ball.  Khari and Elona then hit it with a fireball.  It gained weight as it fell, to rest in the basin, a kitten-sized ball of red glass.  Sam fell to his knees.

Concerned that something might have hurt him on the inside, Ginny walked up to him and asked, “Are you alright?”  He nods, and she helps him to stand.  He walks, shaky but determined, to where his clansmen can see him, and waves.  They cheer, as he walks to them and shows them the blood-red glass ball.

“How is it,” asks Gobbers, “the Netherbitch controls ‘em with the sand?”

“It’s reg’lar sand, innit?” asks Micky.

“S’Blood Magic, it is.  Why d’ya think it’s red?  Cause the Netherqueen has dyed it in blood,” explains Drattus, trying to find a place in the sand where his cane won’t sink in.

“Netherkin blood!” says Ravvy.

“No,” corrects Ginny. “The caster of Blood Magic has to use her own blood to control someone.  I’d guess that she’s been taking Badlands sand every day for two years or more, to have produced that much red sand.”

Elona shouts, “Sam’s back.  He says they’re ready.”

It took the quartet a good quarter of an hour to cleanse the 100 or so clansmen together.  When it was over, the weakened warriors and villagers saw the Adventurers were not netherkin at all.  Which was fortunate, since at that moment, sizable groups of real netherkin were advancing to their very location.

“Sand Flea shamans, lend us your strength and join us!” shouts Ginny.  She looks at her 3 Teenmagers, and warns them: “Whatever you may see, stay focused, understand?  Do not lose focus.  We have to cleanse the Badlands, now, and with a lot less help than I’d hoped.”

“Why,” Emilia asks with worry, “do we have to hurry all of a sudden?  I don’t understand?”

“Call Tempus!  We could use his help!”

Badlands Netherwindow, Dune Whales Clan Territory

Sleep in the Nether was a rare and precious commodity.  You never knew when an enemy might be lying in wait, ready to kill you and eat you.  Or eat you while killing you.  Elysia had the advantage on her enemies by having a very active and paranoid presence – the former queen – who would keep watch while her own, constantly besieged brain rested.

She was dreaming – something that rarely ever happened since being trapped in the world of the Nether.  She was back in The Keg Runneth Over, celebrating something with Gristle, Oneida and Alzabar.  It had to have been a Caturday night, because they were onstage doing karaoke, a horrendously off-key version of ‘Love in Beor is Crazy.’  Then a sandworm erupted from the tavern floor, swallowing them whole, but they couldn’t scream for help because their mouths were full of red sand, her blood-dyed sand…

Elysia woke up screaming, to the sound of the bitch queen’s voice.

“We’re near one of our Netherwindows, you stupid flesh-bag!  Stop shouting or I’ll stop your heart and end both of us!”

A group of 500 or so netherkin were crowded around her, their expressions were mostly blank.  She pointed at the window, making certain most wore the time-shielding bracelets, disguised to look like Badlander jewelry, and watched as they fell into Beor.  Greater numbers were waiting at the other six netherwindows.

Something, though, was very wrong.  Magic was being performed on a grand scale not usually experienced in Beor – not even in her time.

“What’s the problem?  We’ve got more troops waiting to…”

“SHUT UP!  Let me concentrate!” she sent as a razor-sharp warning to the loudest of the thousands of voices in her head.  Elysia spread her awareness wide, and there, in the north, was the unmistakable signature in the ether of her own flesh and blood, Emilia.  There were also two that had to be divine in origin, which did not frighten her in the least.  It was as she was considering them as an amusing challenge that she felt the sudden pain of searing heat, as her own blood was fused into glass.

And as old Sympathetic Magic clashed with old Blood Magic, Elysia knew what happening.  And that she had very little time to decimate the clans, destroy the armies of Tasuil Beor, and rip her daughter away from Beor and into the Nether.  And wouldn’t her clever little girl be surprised that she’d just given her dear old Mom the means to do it?

Elysia located the Netherwindow closest to Emilia, and moved herself there to have a better vantage point for her plan.  She sent out a psychic signal to all the true netherkin in Beor to attack everyone, Beor army and Badland clans alike.  And then, she began her Sympathetic spell to bring her daughter to her side.

Chapter 24: West of Hidington, South of Negstunova

Richard Thews, First Commander of Tasuil Beor’s Armed Forces, looked over the troops dressed in the newly commissioned Badlands fighting uniforms.  Every inch was camouflaged, from the head to toe to bespelled weapons.  It was difficult to make out individual knights or soldiers. When the Flarey King brought Amp’s message, they’d discovered that the lining of their lightweight helmets could be removed and used as facemasks – complete with eye slots and nose holes.  It took them all by surprise, but he wondered if one of the designers at Sew Fine had the gift of foresight.

It had taken no small bit of diplomatic skill to convince the mounted division that horses, unless native to the Badlands, would be a liability.  Which meant, obviously, no horses at all.  The Crown had tried for three centuries to obtain breeding stock from the Clans, and were always refused.

You couldn’t get into the Badlands without permission, and so trading was the only way to obtain them.  Getting hold of Direlizard mounts was equally impossible, as they could only survive in the Badlands.  Training desert mounts would require permission to do so, and of course such permission was also flatly denied.  Thews admired their wisdom in these decisions, as it always guaranteed them a distinct advantage should there ever be a war.

Which was why he was baffled by this new, magic-propelled surprise-attack warfare.  It just wasn’t their style, as many of his students at the Military Academy were fond of reminding him.  And the fact that there were occasionally netherkin among them was astonishing.  Some captured clansmen – ones who did not scream or faint when brought in for questioning – thought his men were netherkin, and begged for their lives.  None of it made any sense.

He missed Ampersand’s laughter, which was often followed by a kiss.  It always cheered him up in times like this.  He got a gut feeling that things were about to happen, and happen fast.  He signaled the troops, and 800 men readied themselves just as an approaching wave of Clan warriors approached from one direction, and a larger wave of netherkin from another.  Trust your gut, Amp had said years ago.  And he did, always.

Finding His Freedom

Terry listens as Memento tells him about the battle raging in the Badlands.  He wishes he could be there, and concentrates on lending her his strength, which is the most he can do.  Memento decides to return to the Badlands, to scout the area should something bad happen that he can warn his daughter about.

A shadowy figure slips from the darkness, and stops in front of the Angel of Remembrance.  He sees the pool of stars under the hood, and knows the name of each one.  Once upon a time, he walked among them.  He hears the Universal Melody, faint as a whisper.  And he knows whose child it is that he stands before.

It is the scion of someone he unintentionally killed.  How it ended up here, unaware, untutored and unclaimed by the Universe, he cannot comprehend.  He has heard its song try to find a place in the Melody, without success.  It will not, he thinks, be missed.  Especially since it was never intended to exist.  A mistake, a young god’s foolish imagining, a sour note.

He removes a massive hammer from inside his cloak, the legendary godifact Hamster Bragorbson’s golden hammer, and proceeds to silently smash the Angel of Remembrance into hundreds of small pieces.  Somehow, the chair remains.  The figure bows its head, returns the hammer to his cloak and walks away, weeping.  It does not notice the small rectangle of paper that falls from its cloak, only to be snatched up by a mooncaller as material for its nest.

A waterfall of stars appears where the statue once stood.  Terry, now shapeless, looks at himself in ruins.  All he can think is: “She will never come to visit me now, except in the dream-space.”  Who would do this?  Someone who, years ago, he was cruel to?  A madman?  Or someone mad with grief?

“It is time, Ooze.” There’s a human form walking towards him, handsome and elegantly dressed.  Tall, and with ice-blue eyes that glow with an inner fire.  Beside him floats a glass sphere, filled with...something that bubbles.  “Set him free.”

“Absolutely not!  Are you mad, even for a Dragon Guardian?  He will be destroyed, the instant I set him free!  They will know!”

“I am the Guardian of Time.  Will you save one unchosen deity, only to condemn the Future?”  The temperature in the Cemetery drops, and ice crystals form on the outside of the Ooze’s sphere.

“I will not do it.  I love his parents too much.”

“Then I will help him to do it.”

“Terry,” he says, “My name is Terry.  Given to me by Emilia Mortalis, a human that I care for.  That I love, dearly.”

“Terry,” asks Tempus in a formal manner, “Do you know what your purpose is?”

He doesn’t hesitate when he answers, “To protect Emilia.  And the beings like her. You could say, I am their Protector…their Guardian.”

“What?!” exclaims the Ooze.

“I will allow it.  His godhood has been interminably delayed.  And this Universe is in need of a new guardian.  Be silent, Terry, and listen.  What do you hear?”  The Dragon folds his human arms.

“The mooncallers.  The sound of your heart…no, hearts.  Ooze’s burbling.” He hears how the sounds weave in and around each other, and follows it through to the sounds of the children in the House of Many Tots, the horses in Prescot Koda’s Livery, the people in the marketplace; the sirens in the river, the unicorns and werebears in the forest; the giants in the Nethercaps, the Sand Worms underneath the Badlands.

Together they form one song – everything is a part of it, including himself, and he – he becomes the musician, the singer, the instruments, the Melody itself.  It is who he is, who he was meant to be, and what he feels himself becoming!  He gains solidity, and feels for the first time the glory of standing on the earth, of being a part of it and the sky, a part of everything that crawls, swims or flies!

Tempus and Ooze watch as Terry accepts his divine assignment and takes shape before their eyes.  He’s dressed in a rainbow of colors, holding a lyre shaped like a mooncaller’s wing.  His eyes are indisputably draconic.  As he strums the lyre, his fingers leave trails of iridescent flames.

“Ooze,” says Tempus proudly (and a little smugly), “I present to you Terry, the Guardian Bard of the Universal Melody.  Now, Terry, we need to get to the Badlands, NOW!”  The two vanish, leaving Ooze by himself.  He looks at the pile of rubble, and sighs.  Looking around for any possible onlookers, Ooze releases the tiniest drop of himself onto it, saying, “As you were!”  With the Angel restored, he returns to the Temple of C.R.A.P.P.E.R.S, but not before saying to the statue, “Happy birthday, Terry.”

Chapter 25: Fine-Tuning

Tempus and Terry arrived as the armies of netherkin, Clansmen and Beor’s troops collided with each other.  Tempus shed his human form, joining the mages and Sand Flea Shamans who were collecting the red sand from thousands of Badlanders.  Terry stepped back, and listened to the discord, the disharmony that sprang from them.  There were millions of individual songs, but as he listened, he found one which was the loudest source.

Pieces of that murderous phrasing could be found in the netherkin, and all associated with it – the red sand; beasts, animals, plants all across the world.  Some, Beor had made peace with, accepting them by reshaping them.  Others stood out, resistant.  The sand posed the most immediate threat.  He glanced at the monstrous pile of red glass, as a small dragon blasted the sand.

A flash of inspiration hit.  He strummed the lyre and sang the words the mages were chanting, and the sky went red as every grain was collected at once.  He strummed again, and rainbow fire erupted, transforming the sand into glass tubes of many sizes, which melted together.  Standing behind it, his fingers flew across the lyres, and sounds of exquisite beauty streamed from the glass pipes towards the netherkins, all across Beor.  Terry identified and plucked all the discordant notes together, and sent them through the netherwindows scattered across the Badlands.

For a moment, all Beor was quiet.  The Netherkin were gone.  The Clan Warriors and Beor troops that were miles away looked around at their wounded and the dead.  Few knew what had just happened.  One moment, chaos, one moment music so beautiful and grandiose it made you hopeful and joyous, and then silence.  The Netherkin were gone.

It takes one person to start a cheer.  Richard Thews was the first for the troops in the north.  Prince Ampersand would later joke that he heard it up in Castle Tasuil, but I know for a fact it was heard as far north as the Old Priest and Rat.  In what has since been named “The Bardian’s Glass Bowl”, it was the Teenmagers and three mercenaries who started the rousing cheer.

Unfortunately, the ensuing wall of sound drowned out Emilia’s horrified screams.

Chapter 26: Mother and Child Reunions

“What are you doing?” screamed the bitch queen inside her head, “We’ve lost!”

Elysia paid no attention, and shoved that voice so far into her dark memories that it would take eons to find her way back to the forefront.

“Anal Na Thrak, Urthvas Beh Thud, Dothiel Dien Vay” she chanted, using the shared blood of mother and daughter to draw her away from Beor and into the Nether.  As soon as her chant looped around Emilia, she pulled it in tight, and yanked.  She watched her daughter shriek, and fight against her, but no one was listening, no one was coming to her aid.

But as she is dragged across the sand, spirits of the dead grab hold of the spell strands, and pull against her.  Inside her mind, she roars with laughter at their futile attempts.  They are ghosts, next-to-nothing ethereal plasma constructs!

But they keep appearing, by the score, then by the hundreds!  What is happening?  Why do they care about Emilia, what is she to them?  Elysia stretches her power to the limit, as Emilia begins to move ever closer.

<><><><><><><><><><> 

Sam Everdot, his throat hoarse from cheering, looks for Emilia and spots the myriad of ghosts, invisible to all but him; sees her being dragged towards a glowing, window-sized spot of light, sees the nightmare caricature of a young teenage girl sitting inside it, chanting, and runs to her. Tungjii Luck, still in hisser mini-dragon form, is busy fusing stray piles of red sand.

Two beings see Sam’s mad dash to save Emilia.  One silences the cheering Clansmen, and the other pauses chanting for a split second, long enough to send a massive fireball that speeds through a window to utterly incinerate the young man.  Not even a pile of ashes is left.

<><><><><><><><><><> 

When she witnesses his death, Emilia stands her ground.  Her hair rises above her, and a corona of arcane fire surrounds her.  She knows this feeling, and the last time she experienced it, she sent Adonis Bornright’s ghost into oblivion.  She is about to unleash destruction when she hears a gentle but commanding voice say, “No, be merciful.  Remember, she was 12.  Pull her to you now, and I, your angel, will try to help.”

There is music, strength-giving music in the air.  The spirit horde gains substance, and together they yank the Netherqueen from the Nether.  The gaunt girl is screaming, her voice ragged, as she runs awkwardly through the sand to reach the netherwindow just as it is closed with iridescent fire.  The spirits bow as one to the necroscope, and vanish.  Emilia’s mother raises her toothpick arms to the sky, and collapses. 

<><><><><><><><><><> 

Terry appears by Elysia’s side.  He listens to her song, and it is almost silenced by the foreign melodies of the Nether that infect every note.  He has an idea of what to do, but the outcome is something he cannot predict.  He places his hand made of flesh– for the first and perhaps the last time - on Emilia’s shoulder.  Her warmth is more intense, and the arcane fire has gone.

“You are my Angel?  From the Cemetery in Tasuil Beor?” Her voice is again young and innocent, full of wonder.

“Yes, and I am your friend as well.  I can try to help her, but I am new, and untried at all this.  I may fail, and she might be damaged.  Or she may die.”

“She has been dead to me for years,” she replies, again the pre-teenager. “But she didn’t deserve her fate.  Make her whole, if you can.  If you can’t, even those of us who are a bit broken can be mended.”  She looks up at him, and there is a tear in her eye. “A little cracked, maybe, but happy.” And she kisses him on the cheek.

He is ablaze, incandescent with emotions, as he picks out notes on his lyre, removing all the Nether under- and overtones, the musical progressions which are not Beorian, the scales and keys that are not 100% Elysia; he plucks away her memories of the Nether, the madness spawned from those years, the horror and the despair, the rape and the betrayal, and finally he pauses.  There is the melody of Emilia’s birth, sweet and terrible.  He hopes she will forgive him, should she ever find out, and removes it with care.

He plays the music of Time Remembered, and her gauntness leaves her; her body replenishes itself of blood lost to the sands of the Badlands; her hair regrows, her teeth return to their former shape; and her face relaxes into what her 12-year-old face must have looked like, all those years ago.

Emilia’s friends gather around her, gazing with astonishment at the former Netherqueen, restored to youth and vigor.  Blechyuck elbows Micky, and says, “What’s dis?” as he raises the Dwarf’s new arm.  “Dunno!  I ain’t complainin’ though.”

“Emilia’s friends are my friends as well,” Terry tells them with a radiant smile. The mercenaries look at each other, trying to work out all the bonuses that remark might imply.

Emilia walks up to him, and says, “You’re leaving, aren’t you?  I know that look.  It’s the same look my father had before he’d leave for war. Thank you.  For everything, and especially for my mother.”

He looks down at her beautiful face.  “I am leaving, yes.  I’ll be protecting you, and all your friends.  But if you call me in your dreams, I promise I will always come to you.”

“Don’t forget me, Terry - or my friends.”

He could say many things, but they would overwhelm her.  And she is so young, still.  He simply replies, “I will never forget you, or them.  I’ve left you a gift.  Several gifts, in fact.  Take care of them.  And, I am sorry about young Sam.”

“Young Guardian,” says Granny Ginny, “A word.”

<><><><><><><><><><> 

The Bard Guardian of the Universal Melody looked at the Goddess of Justice and Balance.

“Hello, mother”, he said, and was surprised when she gave him a very ungodlike hug.  “It’s nice to finally meet you.”

“Tempus just told me about you.  I’m so sorry about…about your father’s death.”

“And Tempus told me all about the both of you. He’s not dead,” replied her son, holding her at arm’s length, “He’s just divided.”

“All because of a stupid thing I said, I didn’t mean…” Ginny stopped, remembering the quarrel, and its aftermath.

“I can’t get involved, mother.  I’m a Guardian.  You and them, it’s God business.  You have to fix it – all three of you.”

“Can’t you…” she pleaded.

“You don’t get it.  I’m also The Protector.  I am to be Beor’s shield, surrounding the planet to prevent problems - like other dimensions invading - from happening.You can visit me at the Cemetery, though.  Or in dream-space.”  He hugs his mother for the first time, tightly.  Her hair smells of yasmeen and cinnamon.  Stepping away, his form collapses into a ball of flame, which shoots heavenward and then expands in all directions, shimmering across the horizons before silently disappearing.

Chapter 27: Coda

The Badlander Clans and Tasuil Beor reestablished diplomatic ties within a few days, as news of the Netherqueen’s foul meddling and subsequent defeat and demise traveled across the continent.Our heroic party had put a blanket over a still unconscious Elysia, and concocted a cover story that the otherworldly royal had died.  Commander Thews brought a party of medics, headed by Alwin Klee, to assist the Clan shamans in tending to the many wounded and sometimes badly mangled victims of the netherkin’s last stand.  In gratitude, the Royal Guards were given a brace of mated desert horses to breed, on the conditions that the training take place in the Badlands, and under the supervision of the Clans, to which Equine Master Prescot Koda readily agreed.

It was discovered that, when the odd bracelets were removed from the bodies of dead netherkin, the corpses crumbled to dust in a mere matter of hours.  The bracelets were collected and sent for further examination to mage-ineer Erik Dorada of the House of Many Tots.  It is believed he is working with Oztrum Bumbles to unlock their secrets.  Terry’s musical oddity, The Bardian’s Glass Bowl, is now mainly used by Badlander children as a playground.  It makes music whenever a major sandstorm is imminent.

Before the Teenmagers reached the border line of the Badlands, they encountered Terry’s final ‘gifts’ to Emilia:  a herd of flame-colored sheep; a kine of sky-blue cows; a sounder of grass-green pigs; a tribe of bright yellow goats, and a flock of purple chickens.  She had almost forgotten the entire reason for her vendetta against the Badlanders, which was to stop the murdering of the innocent animals brought by both traders and Beorian troops.  Because she knew little about raising farm animals, on a suggestion from Drattus they were sent to Eggs R Us, who began a new menu of colorful breakfasts.

They stopped in Retaw, where they spent the night at the Siren’s Rock Inn.  Emilia and Miss Squzy talked late into the night.  Ravvi paid a visit to The Mighty Wind, and on Drattus’ advice traded them Isabella Soleil’s recipe for Boo!yahbezz, a fish stew favorite at the Lost Menagerie, in exchange for their recipe for Kraken Nuggets.  The Mercenaries were hired by Granny Ginny to do some subterfuge in the Dwarven Kingdom for PANACEA, and stayed on to do some work aboard an odd ship called The Dragon’s Fiery Poot, manned by a family of were-guinea pigs.

It was a month to the day when the former Netherqueen, who once upon a time was called Elysia, came to.  Artie Pendragon had insisted that she would sleep in one of the guest rooms until she awoke.  There had been much discussion among the Teenmagers on what story she’d be told, and how they’d handle it.  Emilia wanted her to be with a no-drama, loving couple that could provide her with a stable, quiet environment in which to grow up.  No one knew if she’d have any memories at all.

<><><><><><><><><><> 

She shielded her eyes, sitting up on the bed.  The morning sun was so bright!  She saw a pool of it on the floor, and walked over to the window.  Although she yearned to look out, she kept her eyes closed as she reveled in the sun’s warmth.  Silly, she thought – it’s not like I’ve been sleeping in the cold for a week. 

“Good morning, young lady!  You’re doomed!” a voice shouted above her.  Opening her eyes, she looked up to see an old man sitting on the roof.  He waved at her, a bright smile on his wrinkled face.

“Morning, old man!” she said, and was startled on hearing her own voice, melodic and lively amidst the sounds coming from outside. “Take these,” said the old man, throwing her down some peppermint wrapped in a bundle.  “Good for digestion!  You’ll need it if my great-nephew’s cookin’ today!  Call me…um…”

“I heard that, Ralph!” said a voice from inside the building.  “By Tungjii’s Nads and Tatas, Emilia – she’s awake!”

They can’t be talking about me, she thinks.  Then again, where am I?  Outside is a main thoroughfare she doesn’t recognize, with people walking with carts; horses being ridden by travelers or merchants; and the sound of many voices coming from a food stall, The Leftover Lair, which was doing a brisk business.  The woman running it was chatting and laughing with her customers.  Happy noise, she thought, and smiled.  A Town Crier was calling out “Moltenscar still missing!  College grieves!”

It was when some boys stopped and direwolf-whistled her that she saw she was wearing only a floral-printed cotton shift. On a chair, she found two sets of clothing: one sensible, meant for day’s work; and one pretty, meant for a girl who was more concerned with looking alluring than looking intelligent.  She donned the pants and sensible shoes, but chose the frilly top, tucking it partway inside the pants.  There were mirrors on an armoires’ doors, and she admired herself.

She took some of the peppermint Ralph had gifted her with and crushed it between her fingers, rubbing the oil from it through her hair, smoothing it out and giving it a nice scent.  And, because she was feeling (uncharacteristically?) goofy, she wove the pink flowers into a crown, and placed it on her head.

This must be an inn, she thought.  The room was of a quality one would find in a moderately good one.

She walks through a hallway, down two flights of stairs and into…a tavern area.  She was right!  But what I am doing here?  In fact – what’s my name?  What day is it?  Some tables are occupied, with dishes filled with hot oakcakes, spelt waffles and steaming cups of some black liquid that smells wonderful.  Her stomach gurgles, and she realizes that she is suffering from more than memory loss – she’s starving!

“Come this way, Miss Esperanza,” says a person who introduces themself as Ravvy, “and let’s get some food in you!  You must be ravenous!”  She is seated at a table that already has a young girl – around her age, she guesses – and a rat dressed in elegant clothes with spectacles and a cane, seated and taking servings from an enormous platter of breakfast treats.  That was odd – but it’s Beor!

As Esperanza devours enough food for a family of orcs, the girl Emilia tells her that she was thrown from her horse on the main road, that she’s been unconscious for 4 weeks, and no one has found anyone who knows of her, or anything about her.  Her painted portrait was carried to all the schools in Beor, with no luck.

“It’s a mystery,” says the rat Drattus, “How old are you, Esperanza?”

“Twelve,” she answers without hesitation.

“Well, until your parents are found, we have a couple who have agreed to take you in and foster you,” Drattus continues, “and here they are now.”

She watches as the couple rise from one of the tables and comes over to theirs.  The man is of average height, and average looks, wearing clothing that is well-made but simple; the woman is wearing a chef’s apron, and her clothes are also simple but well-mended and cared for.

“I’d like to introduce Norman Henderson and his wife, Myla.  He’s one of the Old Priest & Rat Tavern’s adventurers, and Myla is our assistant chef.  They’re good people.  They’ll set you up with school and other things.”

Norman’s face is plain, but kind.  Myla’s beauty is her stillness and calm, thinks Esperanza.  They seem like good people, and I…I need a home.  She nods, and after finishing her meal, is stopped by Emilia, who tells her to come see her at the tavern when she gets settled.  “Think of me as your sister,” she says, quickly catching a tear before it even begins to fall.  Emilia watches her ‘mother’ leave in the hands of the two most normal people she knows.

“That was nice of Elona to leave some of her clothes for her,” Drattus observes, “tell her I owe her a plate of gingerbread netherkin.”

“Have we figured out yet,” asks the necromancer, as Memento places his ghostly hand on her shoulder and gives her a whisper of a kiss on the cheek, “How we’re going to explain the fact that she’s got two different shadows?  Any idea at all?”

“Nope,” says the immortal rat-of-all-trades, “Not a clue.”

Granny Ginny’s Diary

Ooze has got some explaining to do, if he wants to survive the next million years.

Imprisoning my son – Robert’s only son – is unforgiveable.  I know why he did it.  If I had been in his shoes, I might have done the same.  Terry is right, though. Sooner or later, I’ll have to educate the children, and reconcile Bob with Trebor.

Terry was awakened by a mortal.  Would he have become the god he was supposed to be, if it had been me?  But he fell in love with Emilia.  And just as the gods that are forgotten are reshaped by those who awaken them, he was changed.  He’s the first Guardian that isn’t a dragon. What does that portend?

The Bardian, the mortals called him.  How ironic, and how appropriate.  The Melody has stabilized, but I hear the new theme he has made his own, and it is as breathtaking and joyous as it is unsettling and melancholy.  I went to the dream space, and he was there.  So was Emilia, asleep in his arms.  Their unbreakable bond breaks my heart.

I went to the Cemetery of the Forgotten yesterday.  There was a small group of people around the Angel, waiting for a chance to sit in his chair.  People are no longer afraid of it, or so it seems.  Some went away, disappointed.  But more left with a look of relief, or even a smile on their face.  The ashes are disappearing.  There are some brave clumps of grass peeking through in places.

I wonder who Ignatius Mordred visits, when he goes there?  I found the remains of a business card under a tree spotted with mooncaller nests.  The card was damaged, bits and pieces torn out of it, but the letters “.o.bid…u….ities” were pretty clear.


Submitted: October 12, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Catfish Waterdancer. All rights reserved.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Add Your Comments:


Facebook Comments