Chapter 14 – It’s Not Magic

No matter how far you get from where you started, everything eventually starts to seem familiar. People have the same motivations, no matter where you end up.

The Book of Lost Wisdom, Kalutu

Seventeenth of Learning 1142 / October 4, 2023

Eric lay in a bed, in a white room, with several…he didn’t know what to call them, though if he didn’t miss his guess, the beeping sound was coming from one of them. He looked around, taking in the strangeness of the place, including the scents, which he didn’t recognize at all. The only thing in the room that was at all familiar was the woman standing beside the bed staring down at him.

He knew her at once…Suzanna. His throat was incredibly dry.

Gallery

“Water…” he managed to croak, not sure if Suzanna would understand him.

But she moved quickly to fetch him a cup with something sticking out of it. He tried to move it aside to drink.

“Use the straw,” she said.

He looked at the long tube with curiosity but figured out how to use it almost immediately. What a strange device. He sipped slowly, knowing how easy it was to drink too fast when you were dehydrated.

“Danny, how can you talk? You’ve never been able to before.”

“I told you, I’m not Danny,” said Eric, hoarsely.

Suzanna pursed her lips the way she did when something vexed her. He remembered that expression and being on the receiving end of it. She had long straight brown hair that didn’t quite reach the middle of her back, brown eyes and light-brown skin. Her nose was larger than he was used to, but it looked right on her somehow. Had he known more about earth’s geography, he’d have realized she probably had Mediterranean ancestry. Eric had never seen anything like her outfit, except perhaps in dreams he didn’t remember. She wore blue jeans, white sneakers and a t-shirt that said “Everything I ever learned I learned by watching Star Trek”. He had no idea what that meant, but it was probably important. She was beautiful, not in the classical sense of the word, but to him. She had been there for him when he was younger. No, not him…Danny. He shook his head, trying to clear it.

“Okay, if you’re not Danny, who are you?”

“My name is Eric, and I’m the Prince of Twyl, at least, when I’m not sleeping. When I fall asleep, I end up here, inside Danny. I don’t know how or why.”

Suzanna shook her head, not in denial but disbelief. “What you’re saying is not possible.”

“I’ve had so many impossible things happen to me you wouldn’t believe it. You’re not Danny’s mother are you?”

“I’m not. I’m his nurse and carer. Danny…isn’t well. I take care of him when his mother is busy.”

“I think I always knew that.”

“Always?”

“I used to come here when I was young. I know you from back then. But I thought I was having nightmares, because I didn’t understand anything, so I was put on medicine to help me sleep without dreams. I’ve been taking them for years. I’ve only recently stopped and the dreams have returned…except I no longer believe them to be dreams.”

Eric stopped to sip more water, and Suzanna waited patiently until he continued.

“I have no idea where I am, or how I got here, but I do know that this is not my real life. For some reason I am linked to Danny.”

Again, Suzanna shook her head. “I’m not sure I believe that, but let’s leave it alone for now. Perhaps over time you can find a way to convince me. Danny’s mother is going to be back any second, and I’m not sure she can deal with this right now. Perhaps we should only talk when we’re alone.”

“I understand,” said Eric.

“I had given up on Danny ever speaking,” said Suzanna, wistfully.

“He still doesn’t speak. When I wake up in my world, he’ll be the same Danny you’ve known all along.”

“If I hadn’t seen the results of those tests, I’d be more skeptical, but no one seems to be able to explain the change that has come over him, and obviously, you’re not Danny or at least, not the Danny I know. Whether this is some sort of psychological aberration or something more esoteric, it’s hard to say.”

Eric was about to answer, when he saw the door to the room open and a woman walk in—Danny’s mother, Mrs. Bradsworth. Eric didn’t know her first name, which was a bit odd, but no one had ever used it around him, or if they did, he didn’t remember.

She was in her late forties or early fifties. Her short hair, dominated by gray, managed to retain a few fleeting wisps of auburn valiantly trying to remain visible. Her hazel eyes looked first at Suzanna, then at him. She reminded him of Leata. She looked competent, organized, barely a hair out of place. She wore glasses with silver frames, a rarity on his world. Her fair skin displayed wrinkles around the corner of her eyes and at the edges of her mouth, which would have looked more natural frowning than smiling. She smiled now though, but it seemed forced to Eric, as if she were putting on a mask. She didn’t seem happy to have her son back, or so he thought. Though, of course, it was all just a guess. She could have been annoyed at something else completely. He could almost feel Maynor slapping him on the back of the head for drawing unwarranted conclusions.

“Hi Danny,” she said. “I’ve talked to the doctor about taking you home, and he thought it would be good for you. Would you like to go home?”

Eric didn’t know how to respond. Did Danny communicate at all? Did he nod or shake his head? He didn’t think so, but he wasn’t sure. He just kept looking off into space, without responding to her, waiting to see what her reaction would be.

“What do you think, Suzanna? Do you think we should take him home?”

“I do. He’ll be more comfortable there, and I don’t think there’s much they can do for him here, now that he’s out of the coma. They still don’t know what caused it.”

“Yes. That’s terrifying, because that means it could happen again. I’ll call for the car, while you get him ready.”

“Very good, Mrs. Bradsworth.”

“Suzanna,” chided Mrs. Bradsworth. “How many times do I have to tell you to call me Ida?”

“In the house it’s one thing, but here in public…I think it’s appropriate to show you that respect, ma’am.”

Ida Bradsworth sighed, and took a small object out of her pocket, which she put to the side of her face.

“Bring the car around please. We’ll be down in about fifteen minutes.”

Was she talking to someone? Was that some sort of magic box? Eric had heard of such things but had never seen one before. It was very small and looked nothing like what he thought it would. Perhaps this world had different magic, or things worked differently—he couldn’t take anything for granted.

Before he knew it, Eric had been dressed (which he felt was quite embarrassing, but it was obviously something that had been happening to Danny all along) and ready to go. It took all his discipline not to try to dress himself.

He had already noticed and been amazed by the magic lighting that seemed to be everywhere, but now, as they walked from his room, he felt dizzy. So many magic panels shedding light from above. Whoever designed this place must have been an arch mage. Perhaps even a demigod. Surely nothing like this existed in Thysandrika. The feelings and strangeness were so intense, he found himself focusing on Suzanna’s hand in his. He let that steady him. He wondered if Danny did the same when he wasn’t there.

“Try not to look around so much, Suzanna whispered. “Eyes forward, please.”

Eric complied and realized he’d need a lesson in acting like Danny as soon as he could arrange it. As curious as he was, it wasn’t going to be easy. He wondered what would happen if he slipped up.

The more he saw of this odd world, the more impressed he was. The magic here was different. Everything seemed different. And then the doors opened of their own accord and a stiff wind blew in. He looked outside and froze.

Eric had never seen a car before, and at first thought they were some sort of mount, but not a living one. Maybe something like a golem? He saw people stepping out from one and another slowly passing with three people inside of it. The noises, the sights, the scents, all unfamiliar, overwhelmed him. He tried not to look at anything, while looking at everything.

When he got her alone, Eric had a lot of questions to ask Suzanna. He just hoped he wouldn’t wake up before that happened.

*

King Terrence, Queen Treya and Leata stood by Lord Ormund’s bedside. He hadn’t moved. He’d been cleaned up and put to bed, but he hadn’t responded to anything since Captain Jericho had used Sarith’s Cloak to interrogate him. They watched him for a while, in silence. Then Treya cast her new skill.

She gasped. It took her a while to even recognize what she was looking at as a soul. It was in tatters. She had suspected there would be damage, but nothing like this. It was so complex, she didn’t dare try to use Soul Salve to heal it. Without knowing far more than she knew now, she was likely to make it worse. Why had Sheba given this to her? So she could see how hopeless the situation was?

No. She refused to believe that. Somehow, the clues she needed to help Lord Ormund had to be there. They had to. She just had to look harder. She realized she was scared. She didn’t want to examine the remnants of Lord Ormund’s soul more closely. She likened it to watching someone being cut open by a surgeon. She had never been squeamish before, but she had never encountered anything like this.

She forced herself to look again. To look closely. To examine each part of him in minute detail. She didn’t see any way to use the skill to heal the trauma. She could only look, so she did. She forced herself. It was her own selfishness that had led to this, and she would not shirk her duty to Lord Ormund, even if she had to come here every night.

She could almost sense some semblance of order before her, but she had trouble wrapping her head around it. She had done puzzles before, painted pictures broken into pieces that could be reassembled into a whole, but those had been flat. Souls were three dimensional and no matter where she looked, it seemed like pieces were missing. Even if she could somehow manipulate damaged areas, they would never fit together.

No one spoke, which she appreciated. She focused with all her will, looking for anything that might give her some clue on where to begin…but there was nothing. The damage was too extensive.

She couldn’t afford to believe that. Lord Ormund couldn’t afford for her to believe that. Sheba had given her a level and a specific skill for a reason. There was no guarantee that she would discover that reason in a day, or a week or a month. Damage that severe would take time to heal anyway.

She studied his soul for as long as she could, until her head started to pound from the effort, then finally ended the spell and sank back in exhaustion.

Terrance was there, as always, to hold her up and support her.

“Are you okay?”

“Yes. I’ll be fine soon. I wish I could say the same about Lord Ormund.”

“How bad is it?”

She could hear the fear in her husband’s voice. She knew he too held himself responsible for this, at least in part.

“It’s bad. I’m not sure what I can do, but I am sure it won’t be fast. It’ll take time. I will take over Lord Ormund’s care until I can solve this.”

“Of course.”

Not a moment of hesitation, as if he had known she would choose this path.

“It will take a lot of time and work to learn how to use this skill, and then to figure out how to use it to help Lord Ormund.”

“Perhaps we should reach out to the Temple of Sylinar.”

“Perhaps. But I think if they could help, Sheba would not have needed to give me this skill.”

“You misunderstand me. I don’t think they can help either. But they might know of people who have soul damage. People you can help. People you can…hone your skills on, with their consent of course.”

“Do you think so?”

“My love, Sheba has given you a skill. Wouldn’t honor dictate that you help as many as you can with it?”

Treya stood dumbstruck. Of course! She had been so blinded by the overwhelming grief of seeing Ormund like that, she hadn’t considered what else she might do with the spell. She let out her breath and leaned into Terrence, who had, once again, saved her from herself.

“You’re right, of course. First thing tomorrow, I’ll go to the temple. Right now, I feel like I could sleep for a week.”

Leata had barely said a word for the entire time, but now she bid the royal couple good night. They watched her go before Terrence offered his hand to Treya, who took it. Then he pulled her close, wrapped an arm around her and helped her back to their chambers.

She really did need the support. Treya had so exhausted herself, she could barely stand. If necessary, she’d go back into Ormund’s soul every day, learning and growing in her new skill, until she understood enough to bring him back to them.

*

Eric’s mind buzzed as he tried to take in everything around him without moving his head. Suzanna sat with him in the back seat, while Danny’s mother and a man he had never seen before sat up front. The man was holding a circular device which seemed to be controlling the strange mount they were riding in. Eric couldn’t see much of him, except for the ring of hair around his otherwise bald pate. He was probably short, because his head was much lower than Eric’s. Danny’s mother had called him Edward, and he had called her Mrs. Bradsworth. The way others treated her made Eric believe she was of noble birth, or whatever the equivalent was in this world.

Nothing made sense to him. Though he had no words yet for most of it, the cars, the flow of traffic, the neon signs, the billboards, the traffic lights, the music seemingly coming from nowhere—it was overwhelming. And while Mrs. Bradsworth was there, he couldn’t talk to Suzanna to figure any of it out. Eventually he gave up trying and let it flow over him. He could understand why he had once thought this was some sort of nightmare, though.

The drive to Danny’s home was quite long. Eventually they ended up in a place with fewer vehicles and then areas that were more secluded. When they turned onto a winding country road lined with trees, Eric felt better. He knew what a tree was at least.

And then the mansion that they apparently lived in came into view. Several people were waiting to greet Danny by name, though of course, Eric didn’t respond to any of them. They all spoke to him respectfully, and he wondered if Danny was a prince of some kind in this world.

Considering the size of the house and the way they were treated, he stayed with the idea that they were nobles. Danny was guided inside and taken immediately to his room, which was in itself different from any room Eric had ever seen. He hadn’t really known what to expect, but everything was so different here, from the way furniture looked, to the liberal use of glass, which was everywhere it seemed. This place must have strong magic indeed.

When Suzanna switched on the television in his room, he stared at it, awestruck. Then Mrs. Bradsworth said something about having to make a call. As soon as they were alone, Eric turned to Suzanna.

“This is all a bit overwhelming.”

“For both of us, I think.”

“I don’t know what’s going on. It’s so different from my world. The magic here is like nothing I’ve ever seen.”

“Magic?”

“Yes. Like the moving painting over there. Is that a window into another place?”

“It’s not magic, Danny, it’s technology.”

Eric frowned. “My name is Eric. What language are we speaking?”

“We’re speaking English. How can you not know that?”

“I speak Twylish but since I’ve transitioned I can speak the most common languages. Apparently that extends to English as well. The goddess translates for me.”

“The goddess?”

“Yes, Sheba sorry.”

“Sheba?”

“The goddess of honor? Do you have different gods here?”

“Most people believe in only one god…at least most people around here. Or they don’t believe in god at all.”

“Don’t believe in god? I don’t understand.”

“Believing in god is a choice.”

“I can see how worshiping a god is a choice, but how is believing a choice?”

“Because there’s no proof that god exists.”

“He doesn’t ever show up?”

“No. Does Sheba?”

“Oh yes, I’ve met her a couple of times, though to be honest it’s not common. And we get our classes from the gods. Our skills. That’s how we know they exist.”

“That must be nice. Knowing I mean. There are quite a lot of people here who strongly believe in god, and others who don’t. Those people are called atheists. It causes quite a bit of conflict.”

Eric shrugged. “I’ll take your word for it, and perhaps some day we can talk more about that. Right now, there are more important things I need to know. You used a word before that didn’t translate for me. Tec…”

“Technology?”

“Yes. I don’t understand. Is that some sort of magic?”

“No. Magic doesn’t exist on Earth.”

“Earth?”

“The name of this world. There are stories about magic, and some people believe in it, but most don’t. We haven’t seen magic.”

“So this object,” he gestured to the television, “isn’t magic?”

“It’s not. It’s technology. I’m not sure we have time for this entire conversation right now, Mrs. Bradsworth will be back at some point. But what you’re seeing is an image that is sent through the air and picked up here. Those people talking are somewhere else and we’re seeing them. Actually, this isn’t people live, it was recorded, and it’s being played back. It repeats.”

“So this isn’t happening now?”

“It is not.”

Eric shook his head. “This is going to take some getting used to.”

“Have you really met a goddess?”

“Yes. It’s where my skills come from.”

“Skills?”

“Yes, she gives me abilities. I’m not sure they’ll work here, but I suppose I should test them to see.”

Suzanna looked at him uncertainly.

“Don’t worry. I’m just going to try something.”

Eric called his shield. It wasn’t like it used to be. It didn’t appear instantly in his hand. It sort of faded in more slowly, over seconds. That was different. Perhaps Sheba didn’t have as much power in this world.

Suzanna gasped. “That shield. Where did it come from?”

“From Sheba, the goddess of honor, combat, and the hunt. My goddess.”

“But, it just appeared.”

“Yes.”

“Is that magic?”

“Not really, no. It’s a holy shield. Magic comes from the caster, this shield is a gift from the goddess. It’s her power that created it, not magic. I’m meant to defend people with it. I’m a Tank.”

“A Tank?”

“Yes, I’d never heard of that class either. I understand it’s very rare. I’m the only one on my world with that class.”

“I still don’t know what a class is?”

“People can be healers, or warriors or mages…it’s a long list. Every class has a set of skills available and each is offered by a different god.”

“You mean like in a video game?”

“A what now?”

“Maybe we should talk about that later. You’re on Earth, a world with no magic. The device over there is called a television. It has shows on it. Some of them are for entertainment and aren’t real, and sometimes we see real people talking about things, like when we watch the news and we find out what’s happening around the world or even locally.”

“I see.”

“We don’t have gods here, or if we do, I’ve never seen one, nor met anyone who has. This is going to take a lot of time. Ummm, you should probably get rid of that shield before Mrs. Bradsworth returns.”

“Oh yeah, sorry.”

Eric dismissed the shield, and it vanished. Suzanna stared at the place it had been, still clearly astonished.

“Can everyone do that where you’re from?”

“Oh no. I assure you it’s quite rare to have a holy weapon. It is a great honor. Frankly, I’m not sure I’m worthy. Also, I don’t understand any of this. Who Danny is, why I’m here and what I’m supposed to accomplish here.”

“You think you’re here for a reason.”

“I do. What’s the fastest way for me to learn about this world.”

“The Internet,” said Suzanna quickly.

“I don’t know what that is.”

Suzanna closed her eyes for a second as if she were thinking. Then she opened them. “Okay, imagine a magic box that was connected to other magic boxes. Each box has knowledge stored in them, and all the boxes can talk to each other. And you can talk to the box in your house. Therefore you could learn anything that any box knew, just by talking to it.”

“That sounds very useful. But it’s not magic it’s…technomaly.”

“Technology.”

“Technology. I still don’t know what that is.” Eric pointed to the images on the screen. “Is that the Internet?”

“No, that’s a television. It’s mostly for entertainment, not learning, though you can learn things from it. Wait a moment.”

She looked around the room, walked over to a table and picked up a small, thin rectangular object. It was black and almost flat.

“This is a tablet. I use it to keep Danny busy sometimes. He watches cartoons and movies on it.”

“I don’t know what those are.”

“Not important right now. What is important is that this device is linked to the Internet. You can look up things, if you can read English.”

“I can.”

Suzanna spent a few moments with the tablet, and then handed it to him. “Read that.”

“Four score and seven years ago, our forefathers…wait…why does this say four score and seven, why not just say eighty-seven?”

Suzanna laughed, and Eric felt his heart sing. “That’s a famous speech that a president gave…never mind. I just wanted to make sure you could read. This tablet, this device is connected to the Internet. You could look up almost anything.”

“I can?”

“Sure”

It didn’t take very long for Suzanna to teach Eric how to use the search function. He obviously had a lot more to learn but that was all they had time for before Mrs. Bradsworth returned.

Suzanna took the tablet away just in time. Eric remembered to stare blankly at the television just as she entered the room.

“Suzanna, I need to go out. I had wanted to spend time with Danny as soon as he got home, but you know how it is.”

“I do, Mrs. Bradsworth…”

“Ida.”

“I do, Ida. You’re an important woman. People depend on you.”

“I want to be there for my son.”

“And you will be. He’s not going anywhere. I’ll be with him until you get back.”

“I was hoping to give you a bit of time off. You’ve worked so many hours.”

“It’s fine, Ida. I don’t mind staying with Danny, however long it takes.”

“Your a gem, Suzanna. I promise you, you’ll get some more time off now that Danny is home.”

“Off with you. I’ll see you when you get back.”

She waited until Mrs. Bradsworth was gone before turning back to Danny.

“We really do have to be careful.”

No reaction.

“Eric?”

Nothing.

While she had been talking to Mrs. Bradsworth, Eric must have woken up. Or she was going insane and hadn’t had that conversation at all.

Suzanna put the tablet back on the table. She couldn’t wait until Eric returned. Hopefully, she would be able to figure out what was going on.

*

“Wake up, it’s time to go.”

Eric opened his eyes. Dahr was already sitting up.

“What do you mean go?” asked Dahr. “Didn’t Striker say she was meeting us here?”

Eldiss was standing in the doorway. In the gloom he might have been an ogre phase-shifter.

“Those that pursue aren’t buying Striker’s deception. They’re heading this way. Which means, we have to move.”

Had Eric not recognized the voice, he’d have reached for a weapon, because the reborn’s shadow in the darkness was truly terrifying. Eric was thankful he no longer dreamt, because waking up to that would have definitely given him nightmares.

Eric was going to ask why they should cooperate, still annoyed that they had woken him at such a significant moment. He still had so much to learn about Earth and what he was doing there. Earth…he had heard that word before but couldn’t remember where. No matter, it would come to him in time.

“You expect us to just come with you?”

Dahr rolled his eyes. “You keep forgetting, we are exactly where we’re meant to be.”

“Look, if we leave here, how will Striker find us?”

“She’ll find us,” Dahr assured him. “She’s linked to Eldiss. Probably Aisha too.”

Eldiss frowned. “How do you know that?”

Dahr shrugged. “It was easy to work out. There was no way you could have known to be on that road if you hadn’t been in communication with Striker all along. It’s sort of obvious that the two of you have some way to talk to each other.”

“You’re dangerous,” said Eldiss, looming over the pair of them.

Eric leapt from the bed, preparing to summon his sword and shield.

“We’re both dangerous. I would suggest you assume a less threatening posture.”

Eldiss glared at Eric, then broke out laughing. “Okay, that’s funny. You’re so serious. Lighten up. I’m not allowed to do any permanent damage to either one of you. You’re in no danger from me. That being said, if Dahr thinks that the reborn have a way of communicating with each other, taken together with the fact that we’ve had spies among you for decades, what do you think reporting that to your people will do? Will it solve problems or cause a wave of suspicion aimed at everyone around you? That’s the funny bit, really. We don’t have to attack you at all. All we have to do is make you suspect each other and watch you destroy yourselves. Perhaps we’ve already started.”

Eric looked at Dahr, who shook his head very slightly. Eric relaxed. “I don’t get it. You say you want a treaty with us, and then you come out with something like that. What, exactly, are you trying to accomplish?”

“Me? Nothing. This isn’t my war either way. I have a farm to run.”

“Isn’t Aisha coming with us? If we’re leaving, and they track us here, how can you come back? There’ll be no one left to feed the chickens.”

Eldiss started to speak and stopped, suddenly uncomfortable.

Dahr started getting dressed. “I’m not so sure that matters, Eric.”

“What do you mean? If you don’t feed… wait, are you saying the chickens we had for dinner were undead.”

“Reborn,” snapped Eldiss.

Eric ignored him. “I was eating undead chicken!”

“Technically,” said Dahr, “you were eating a chicken that had previously died, yes. It’s just that that chicken happened to die a second time.”

“Okay, that’s horrible. Dahr why didn’t you say anything?”

“Because I didn’t know. I only just figured it out now.”

“Come on you two, there’ll be plenty of time to talk on the road.”

“Where are you taking us?” asked Eric.

“Away from here. Get moving.”

Eldiss left the room, and Eric followed Dahr’s example and started dressing.

“Dahr, it doesn’t bother you that we ate undead chicken?”

“Maybe a little. But you know what would bother me more?”

“What’s that?”

“Starving to death.”

There was that. Eric shook his head, chuckled and finished getting dressed. He wondered how close the search party was, but it didn’t matter. If Eldiss was somehow able to track them, there was no way the party could ever catch up.

*

Growing up, Chari had heard her share of tales of dungeon delving. She’d been told countless stories of adventurers exploring lost labyrinths searching for treasure. This was true of all children in Melar, and probably across Thysandrika as well. Chari had even heard stories that recounted the search for the Book of Lost Wisdom, though unlike Dahr, she had assumed it was a real thing, and that it existed somewhere, even if no one had ever found it.

It had never occurred to her that those tales might be parables, and only after Dahr had suggested it had she revisited them in her mind. She realized that Dahr had probably been right, and she had missed it. It annoyed her, because she didn’t like to be wrong, but in this case, she thought it might have everything to do with the way those stories had been told. At least, telling herself that was better than believing she’d missed something she was beginning to think was obvious.

Every dungeon story was the same. Some hero or group of heroes ended up in a dungeon, where they fought monsters and found treasure and eventually either died or emerged victorious. They were filled with excitement, adventure, narrow escapes, even romance sometimes. This set Chari’s expectations of what she might find if she were ever lucky enough to make her way into a dungeon. So far this dungeon had not lived up to expectations. They’d passed through a lot of empty rooms and corridors, but had yet to run into anything more dangerous than a rat.

They were in a large room now, larger than any they had been in up to this point. There was nothing in it to indicate what it might have been used for, or what might have been using it, but the space was too large for it not to have been built for some purpose. The word that came to mind was cavernous, with a high ceiling supported by three rows of stone columns. This was by far the largest room they’d been in, but beyond that, it looked like every other room. The only thing different from the entrance corridor was how it had been constructed. The entrance corridor was made from individual smaller stones held together with mortar, where as most of the rooms after it had been made from solid stone walls, almost as if the dungeon had been excavated into the rock, rather than built on top of it.

“I didn’t expect dungeons to be so…boring,” said Chari.

“Don’t let your guard down,” said Sam. “An attack can come at any time, from any direction. In fact, I’d be happier if there was something here we had to fight.”

“So would I,” said Chari, chuckling.

“That’s not what I meant. Something has cleared these rooms and hallways of creatures. My guess is, that something is still around.”

Chari shrugged. At this point, she’d welcome even that encounter. She looked for Kalutu and found him doing what she had the last time she’d seen him. He was looking around thoughtfully. She had no idea what he found so interesting, but she left him to it.

He was so strange. A were-owl bound to two masters, who had suddenly ended up with a family of his own— a family of familiars. Because he was loyal and dedicated to Dahr and Eric, she trusted him, but she also worried about him.

Chari hadn’t lied when she’d told him that she’d watched him training to fight, and he did practice as hard as any of them. But the fact that Kalutu was willing to take a hit for any of them, even her…probably even his own familiars…was something she would have to watch. He’d end up dead if he wasn’t careful.

Chari had enough self-awareness to realize she was very much cut from that same cloth, but she had trained for a much longer time and had skills to help her. Kalutu didn’t have god-given skills. He had what he’d learned in a couple of weeks. He hadn’t even been in the other realm with them. She would have to keep an eye on him. She couldn’t imagine what Eric or Dahr would say if she’d lost him somewhere along the way, and she had no intention of finding out.

Chari was pulled from her thoughts when something up ahead ducked around a corner. She drew her sword, and Sam was beside her a moment later.

“What is it?”

“I thought I saw something. Ahead.”

The two stared into the darkness, straining their eyes and ears for some clue as to what might be lurking. Despite recent thoughts, Chari felt real fear. This was different from her encounters in the other realm. She had felt protected there. But standing here at the end of a dark corridor, waiting for some unknown enemy to reveal itself, was no longer some distant theoretical situation that she might encounter in some unnamed future. This was happening now, and whether she lived or died would be decided in the minutes to come. She might not survive to see Eric again. Even worse, he might never know what had happened to her. She should have informed someone of her plans, because her disappearance would just add to the mystery that already existed, and might even obscure what was really going on. Why hadn’t she thought this through?

They were all aware now that something was going on. Kalutu nodded to Bruce and the spider, without asking what was needed, turned invisible and presumably went to scout. Kalutu drew his blade, but no one spoke. The tension they’d felt upon entering the dungeon had all but faded, but it was back now. They didn’t know what was coming, but they were ready for something to happen. Chari imagined that they looked like a very strange painting, a group of disparate figures frozen in time, focused on a single entrance to a large room, ready for some sort of attack. She wondered how long they’d stand there, alert, unmoving, expectant if nothing happened, but she didn’t have long to wait. Only a short time later, a large group of creatures stormed the room…trodara.

They were as she remembered them to be. They looked like furry shadows. They had yellow eyes, and sharp stained teeth. Most fought barehanded, but a couple had weapons. Since she knew trodara didn’t make their own weapons, these had to be spoils. Chari advanced, and the others followed behind.

She took out one with a single swipe of her sword and started cutting a path through them. Kalutu, was suddenly beside her, finishing off the ones she didn’t kill immediately. The two of them became a no go zone for the attackers, who did their best to get around them. There were so many that she couldn’t kill them fast enough to prevent the others from flowing around her like water. But avoiding Chari and Kalutu didn’t seem to be working for them either.

Every time Chari risked a glance, she was surprised anew. Mutt charged into the fray, growling, and snapping at anything that came near. Bruce appeared and bit one of them, which howled in pain, but the spider vanished and was gone before his trodara opponent could return the attack. She knew that the bite was venomous and that the trodara was likely going to die if he didn’t have a potion to counteract the effect.

Sam was small and agile, and though his sword wasn’t long, he seemed quite skilled as he darted and dodged between enemies, cutting and stabbing at will. He was much better at finding existing fights and helping out than tackling foes head on, which made sense to her. With his speed and agility, he could get anywhere in the battle quickly, aiding anyone who needed the help. She realized she was trying to do what Maynor had taught them. She was assessing the abilities of her team, so she could know how to best deploy them.

She caught sight of Bear, who had lumbered into the enemy, presenting a large target that drew a lot of their attention. He opened his mouth and roared a sound that drowned out the entire battle. Both sides froze as the echoes overwhelmed them. Chari hoped that it wouldn’t attract anything from further afield. More likely, she thought, it would encourage anything in earshot to move in the opposite direction.

Bear was already lumbering forward, ripping into the enemy with his claws and fangs, and there was little the trodara could do. A few tried to jump on his back, where they met diving attacks from Wingman who continually harassed them, going for their eyes, and disappearing before they could catch him. The high ceiling helped the hawk a lot. He even managed to knock a couple off Bear’s back completely.

Gruff butted and kicked at them, and generally made himself a nuisance, but in a battle like this, that was enough of a contribution to keep the enemy on the back foot.

Drake, the lizard, ran into the fray, and Chari was momentarily worried, because he was so small… until he opened his mouth and breathed a stream of fire at the creatures in front of him. One of them went up in flames and immediately ran into two more, setting them alight as well.

Obby pulled himself into the battle and engulfed any of the creatures near him, their claws and fangs unable to do much damage to an ooze. If they’d had fire or lightning it would be another story. She realized as she watched that it would be traveling with them, toting around a handful of trodara while digesting them. She was saved from focusing on the fact by a pair of trodara that thought she might be an easier target after all. She quickly proved them wrong with a few hard swipes. The funny thing was, she’d barely used her attacks so far, saving them for need, conserving their cool downs and her endurance.

That was when she spotted Flapper. The beaver wasn’t fast on the ground and each time he went toward an enemy, someone else got there first. He managed to get a bite or two, but he was too slow and too limited. This was not his environment. He spent the fight, as far as she could see, trying to get from enemy to enemy without getting much done. That had to suck. She took out another trodara that had just been running by, trying to flee from an irate Bear, who lumbered after it.

And just like that, the battle, if it could be called that, was over. She had worried that familiars wouldn’t be much use against their enemies and found that her fears had been unfounded. She took stock of the situation, and none of them seemed to be injured.

She was about to remind Sam of their conversation about the dangers posed by large groups of trodara, when another creature emerged from around the same corridor. It looked very much like a trodara, but it was larger…much larger. Unruly black fur, talons the size of daggers, a mouth full of teeth that could bite any of them in half, except for perhaps Bear, and a pair of yellow eyes filled with malice. It looked like a giant trodara that had been working out. It carried a spiked club in one hand and a metal shield in the other. It didn’t attack, but just stood there, slowly taking in the scene.

“What the hell is that!” shouted Chari.

“Pasdara,” whispered Sam, but she still heard him through the silence that followed the battle.

Every single eye was on the creature as it examined the carnage, without moving. Then, it opened its mouth and bellowed.

Bear charged forward and placed himself between the group and the pasdara. It must have been twice his size, but Bear stood his ground. It raised the spiked club high into the air and brought it down.

Chari, sword drawn, charged. It was not the first time she had seen a creature this large, in fact, she had fought one in her transition in the Other Realm, but that had been a test and this was something else. There was no room for error. Death here would be permanent.

The pasdara with its huge spiked club and massive shield could kill her with a single strike. Any of them in fact. The familiars, including Kalutu were spread out, circling it, giving it multiple targets, but Chari was going to be the one to get its attention, because of all of them, she was the one who was most likely to survive. And because she was on a holy quest for the goddess of honor. If she died, it would be a worthy death that no one could question. She only wished she knew what it was in service to.

Just as she entered striking range, she noticed a flash of movement. It looked more like a distortion than a creature. Like a small barely visible whirlwind. She took a defensive posture, but she wasn’t the target of the newcomer.

The blur, whatever it was, attacked the pasdara, moving so fast, she could barely see it.

“Now, Chari!” it yelled. A woman’s voice she had never heard. Some sort of trick? She did not think so.

Chari charged the creature, and the other members of Lost Wisdom joined in.

Even with all of them, the pasdara was not to be taken lightly. The only thing that saved them initially was its preoccupation with the blur attacking it. That giant spiked club came down again and again, cracking the ground, never hitting its target. Chari, on the other hand, did.

As she had the first and only time she’d fought a giant, she attacked its legs from behind. Trying to take the creature off its feet while it was distracted. Kalutu worked the other leg, just as Eric once had, but this time was different. This time, they had Bear.

Bear’s strength, fangs and claws were weapons every bit as dangerous as the sword in Chari’s hand. His attacks were something the pasdara could not ignore. It raised its club again, finally ignoring the shape racing around it, aiming down at Bear, the largest target in the room. The club was big enough where a single blow might have taken out more than one of them.

But Wingman wasn’t about to let that happen. He flew straight into the pasdara’s eye, claws extended, screeching a battle cry that required no translation to be understood.

The creature, distracted by this new attack, brought its left arm up to shield its face. They were all on it now, even Flapper, who tried to fell it like a tree. The blur was still moving and attacking. Chari had tried to figure out what it was and, as importantly, how it knew her, but her main focus was on trying to take the creature down.

It was a battle Chari thought they should have lost. That huge club would have crushed them one by one, or in small groups even, had it been allowed to fall continuously. First the blur had attacked it, then Wingman. Bear distracted it as well, but somehow managed to avoid that club the few times it descended. And the rest of them were trying to chop it down, to get it off its feet.

Without that blur, whatever it was, they’d have fallen for sure. Chari found herself wondering how it would have gone if Eric and Dahr had been there. She had been ready for a fight, but not against something like this. This kind of thing was beyond them. What would happen if they met something even worse? Still, it wasn’t landing any of its blows, and they were hurting it. She could see blood running down its legs like sap leaking from a tree. They weren’t warriors, they were lumberjacks. Thank the gods they had a beaver with them. And even as she thought it, the pasdara toppled, sending a vibration through the ground that all of them must have felt.

On its back, the creature lost much of its strength and leverage. Not that it wasn’t still dangerous, but Lost Wisdom was not without its strengths either, even if part of that strength was only a medium-sized dog, and a goat. Lost Wisdom may not have looked like much separately, but they fought together as one. She wondered if it was because they were all familiars to a single master and thus, uniquely coordinated. She’d have to ask Kalutu about that.

In the end, they took out the pasdara without injury , but Chari knew that they had whatever attacked it first to thank for that.

And in spite of their advantages, it still took a long time to finish it off. By that time, they were all exhausted. Chari looked around, and then she saw the newcomer. A young lady a couple of years older than her, wearing a white combat robe that was as clean as if she’d just put it on.

“Princess Chari, an honor.”

“And you are?”

The woman laughed. “Tired, but glad to see I was in time to help.”

She looked to be about twenty, with long brown hair bound into a pony tail and tucked into her garb, presumably so it wouldn’t get in the way while fighting. Her intelligent brown eyes seemed like they were both laughing and guarding a secret at the same time. She had a slightly upturned nose, small enough to emphasize a pair of lips that looked like they were pouting, even when she clearly wasn’t. Her skin was porcelain perfect. She held herself with a calm confidence that Chari found annoying. And she had never seen this woman before.

“Who are you, and how do you know who I am?”

“I’m Zephyr. I was actually looking for Prince Eric and Prince Dahr.”

“Of course you were,” Chari chuckled. “I’m afraid you’re too late. They’re already gone. But before I say more about that, I’m definitely going to need more information. A bit more than just your name.”

Zephyr nodded. “Sorry. I’m Zephyr Kindred, and I’m from the Fellowship. I was sent to find Prince Eric and Prince Dahr to assist them.”

Chari stared wide-eyed at the young woman. “You’re from the Fellowship?”

“I am.”

Chari had sheathed her sword, but she drew it now.

“You’d better start talking, and I’d better like what I hear.”

 

The Book of Lost Wisdom continues with Chapter – 15 – The Long Journey, coming soon