DargonZine 31, Issue 2

A Tale of Dark Endings

Yuli 01, 1017 - Sy 15, 1020


This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Tales of Darkness

     Wherever Vanshans went, Banewood was not far behind. He followed him when Vanshans left his tower in the Darst Mountain Range and traveled to Magnus. Banewood waited, watching from nearby while Vanshans searched for Stevenic nunneries. He watched as Vanshans had the body of a noble’s son secretly placed in a room inside the nunnery.

     When Vanshans left Magnus, making the six-month journey to Dargon, Banewood was on the next barge heading for Shark’s Cove. Vanshans might be a day or three ahead of him, but without a doubt, Banewood followed him.

     Banewood did not care if Vanshans knew he was on his trail. He would continue to follow Vanshans until he got the answers he was seeking. Vanshans was a powerful wizard who had attacked Banewood, leaving him in the rubble of his home. Banewood had a burning desire to know why. He could not and would not directly confront the wizard because he dreaded what the outcome would be.

     So Banewood followed Vanshans. Some might ask if Banewood was beyond the point of madness, even so far that he was hearing voices.

     Those asking would be right. But the real question is, was it madness, or something worse?

***

     Leashea sat in the office of Brother Timothy, the head priest of the Temple of Stevene in Dargon. Brother Timothy was behind his desk, while Leashea was in a chair across from him.

     “Your grandfather has been dead for sixty years,” Brother Timothy said.

     “Yes, that was a long time ago. But my grandfather was a powerful necromancer,” Leashea said. “My grandfather who, after sacrificing my own life to do so, I could not kill. All I was able to do was trap his spirit inside of his castle.”

     “So, you think your dead grandfather is behind all this?” Brother Timothy asked.

     “It was my grandfather who put the body of the dead noble boy in my room,” Leashea said. “I think he wanted to get me away from the temple. When I was three years old, he attacked the temple in Magnus and killed everyone inside except me, including my mother. Now that he is dead, he is not powerful enough to attack the temple in Magnus. So, I believe he had me moved here.”

     “Do you think he could have escaped the trap you put him in?”

     “Not on his own,” Leashea said. “He would have needed help. Magical help.”

     “How can you be so sure? That it’s him.”

     “I have been having dreams,” Leashea said. “Terrifying visions. Dark, evil spirits have been taunting me. Showing me things, things I do not want to see. There is a dark presence, a shadowy figure standing on the edge of my nightmares. I can feel something is coming. Even with prayer, I cannot find peace.”

     “Have you seen your grandfather? In your dreams, I mean.”

     “No, I have not seen his face,” Leashea said. “But I have seen another man’s face in his place.”

     “So how do you know it is your grandfather?”

     “I just do,” Leashea said. Her eyes became unfocused, not seeing the room where she sat. What she saw, was another place, another time.

***

     Corambis the sage sat in a winged-back chair behind a large round table. Carved in the center of the table top was the Wheel Of Life that he used to perform readings for his customers. Sitting across the table from him were Dyann Taishert, Arvyn Cortanis, and Arvyn’s sister Tanbry.

     “These readings trouble me,” Corambis said. “I keep getting the same reading every time I cast the stones or cards.”

     “What does it mean?” Dyann Taishert asked.

     “It’s a very bad omen,” Corambis said. “It suggests something powerful and evil is coming to Dargon. And soon. From the strength of the reading, this may be a major event. It’s almost like whatever it is, wants us to know it’s coming. And when it comes, it will be as bad, if not worse than when Kiev and Mon-Hyden were battling in the streets of Dargon.”

     “Straight,” Dyann said. “Do you think this may be connected?”

     “I don’t know,” Corambis said. “Kiev is still in the duke’s holding cells deep under the castle, is he not?”

     “Yes,” Dyann said. “The last I heard, he was secure. But I will send word to check on him.”

     “Dark days are ahead for Dargon,” Corambis said.

***

     Vanshans sat in a rear booth at the Golden Lion, lost in thought. He hated Dargon. He hated the smell of the sea, the smell of dead fish, and the smell of the dirty people who lived here. If he had a choice, any at all, he would be back at his tower, safe. Away from the many dangers, magical or otherwise, that waited for the unwary here in Dargon.

     But that choice was not available to him. He had lost a battle of wills with an evil spirit named Sandore. Now he was Sandore’s point of interaction with the physical world. He had to do what Sandore wanted. If he tried to resist, Sandore would take control of his body. If Sandore was content, Vanshans would stay in control. He knew what Sandore desired. That was to take the body of his granddaughter, named Leashea, as his host. Leashea had been safe in Magnus, but they had managed to have her moved to Dargon.

     Until Sandore was ensconced in the body of Leashea, Vanshans was at Sandore’s whim.

     Sitting across the table from Vanshans was Hayden Ley, his bodyguard, and manservant.

     “Vanshans, how long do we have to wait here in the Golden Lion?” Hayden Ley asked.

     “Until Trent returns from the tasks I have given him,” Vanshans said. “If you want to go whoring, you can do so after I set my wards and retire for the evening.”

     Vanshans closed his eyes and looked inward. In the past when he looked inward, he saw into the spirit world. Now, all he saw was a darkness that threatened to devour him.

     “How long is it going to take Trent to find the body?” Hayden asked.

     Vanshans did not answer.

     “What does Sandore want with a body that died over a year ago?” Hayden asked.

     Again, Vanshans did not answer.

     “Why don’t you let Trent be your bodyguard?” Hayden asked. “He’s better with a sword than I am. He’s bigger, stronger. I admit it. He’s a much better warrior than I am. We could take turns protecting you.”

     Vanshans opened his eyes and looked at Hayden.

     “That will not do,” Vanshans said. “I do not trust Trent to be in my presence. He is good to hire and keep at a distance from me, but I would not trust my person with him. He is dangerous and untrustworthy, where you are not. At all times when he is near me, I want you to be cautious of him and protect me.”

     “Straight,” Hayden said. “When are you going to retire for the evening? We don’t get to Dargon very often. Or any town for that matter.”

     Vanshans closed his eyes. He did not answer.

***

     Banewood stood on the cliffs above the new city looking down upon it. The morning sun rising in the east glinted off the river far below. Banewood watched as the city woke and started its day. He sensed the city as if it were a living thing, a huge beast with a life all its own. Only one thing had changed since he was last in Dargon, and it was a big change. The bridge over the Coldwell River had fallen when a barge collided with it and a race of people called the Doravin, who came from across the sea, had rebuilt it.

     “Banewood! Banewood!” A raven called as it rode on the updrafts coming from the river far below.

     “What do you want now?” Banewood asked.

     “Treat! Treat!” the raven squawked.

     Banewood reached into a pocket and threw a piece of meat out over the river. The raven folded its wings, diving after the meat.

     “I discovered this spot when I was first in Dargon,” Banewood said. “I would come here and watch the city wake every morning.”

     “Who cares?” the raven squawked as it landed near Banewood.

     “What?” Banewood asked.

     “Who cares?” the raven repeated.

     “You better watch what you’re saying,” Banewood said. “If you don’t, I’ll put you back in the cage.”

     “Then you won’t know what I know,” the raven squawked.

     “What do you know?” Banewood asked.

     “I know something you don’t,” the raven squawked. It turned its head sideways and looked at Banewood with cold, black eyes.

     “No, you don’t,” Banewood said. “You’re just a raven. You can’t know anything I don’t know because you’re just my madness talking to me.”

     “I might be you and I might not be,” the raven squawked. “I might be someone else using the raven to tell you something, or, as you said, I may just be your madness making itself known.”

     “Straight,” Banewood said. “If you’re not my madness and you know something, why don’t you tell me what you know?”

     “What if I could tell you what the wizard who attacked you wanted?” The raven took wing and landed on Banewood’s shoulder. “What if I could show you where he was going to be later today?”

     Banewood didn’t doubt the raven. But in the back of his mind, the voice of the raven sounded a lot like the dark spirit that appeared three years before on the Night of Souls.

     Banewood didn’t care.

     “If you know so much tell me,” Banewood said.

     “I could,” the raven squawked. “But why don’t I show you. Follow me.”

***

     Alone in her room with her eyes closed, Leashea was unaware of her surroundings. The aches and pains of old age were set aside while she reached inside to her special place of peace. It was a place of safety, a place of light, where no one could trouble her.

     Standing beside a crystal fountain filled with pure water, Leashea watched multi-colored birds flittering around scented flowers. Through the years, Leashea had explored the many paths leading away from the fountain. Most led through gardens filled with flowers or herbs and made their way back to the fountain. A few led to a small lake where she would swim in clear blue water.

     Today, something was different. A new path appeared, one she never noticed before, leading deeper into her private world. She also sensed another presence in the secret place with her. The presence did not disturb her, nor did she sense any danger from it, only curiosity. Nothing like this had ever happened before.

     Leashea remained by the fountain until she heard someone walking along the new path. It was a man and he talked to a raven sitting on his shoulder as he walked.

     “This is certainly a beautiful place,” the man said to the raven. “I only wish I knew where I was. Hello? Is anybody here?”

     “I am,” Leashea said. “Who are you?”

     The newcomer stepped into the garden. His unkempt brown hair was long enough to reach past his shoulders. He wore loose-fitting britches, a shirt, and had a red silk scarf wrapped around his neck.

     “Greetings, my lady. My name is Banewood,” the newcomer said as he made an exaggerated flourish with his hand and bowed from the waist before Leashea.

     The raven squawked as Banewood bowed and jumped from his shoulder to land on the fountain. “Banewood. Treat?” it squawked.

     “Hello, Banewood. My name is Leashea.”

     “A most beautiful name,” Banewood said. “To match a most beautiful lady.”

     “I’m far too old for your flattery to have any effect on me. I may look younger here, but believe me, I am far from young.”

     “As you wish, my lady,” Banewood said. “But you look far too young to be old. Would you happen to know where I am?”

     “Your eyes are deceiving you,” Leashea said. “I am over one hundred and nine years old.”

     “Then you’re the most beautiful old person I have ever seen,” Banewood said.

     “As for where you are, you are in a place where it is impossible for you to be. If you tell me how you come to be here, I will tell you where you are.”

     “My raven told me he had something to show me,” Banewood said. “When we got close to the Temple of Stevene I saw a doorway in the alley next to the temple. And by doorway, I mean, it was an open doorway standing by itself, not attached to anything. Light was coming from the other side and it was calling me. Always being one to take the untrodden path, I went through it and found myself in the most beautiful field of brightly colored flowers I have ever seen. Their scent was most heavenly. I followed the path for a while until I came to be here.”

     “Your raven spoke to you,” Leashea said. “Are you a wizard?”

     “No, not a wizard, but I do have some skill in the art.”

     “I see,” Leashea said. “Somehow, you have entered my private space.”

     “Your private space? What do you mean by your private space? I have never heard of such magic.”

     “It is a place where I go to when I need to be alone. This place is not magic. It is a place that only exists inside of my mind.”

     “If that is true, I don’t understand how I can be here,” Banewood said.

     “Neither do I,” Leashea said. “All these years and I never knew. I thought I was safe, protected from those outside only to find out there is a weakness.”

     “Yes, my lady,” Banewood said. “Sorry.”

     “Do not be sorry. I am grateful to you for revealing this to me. I wonder what will happen to you if I wake up while you are still inside.”

     Before Banewood could react, Leashea opened her eyes and returned to her darkened room.

***

     “So, the Rattler would not let you have Mon-Hyden’s body?”  Vanshans asked.

     “No,” Trent said. “I was unable to take it from him. He’s a very skilled fighter.”

     “Really?” Vanshans asked. “He’s been in Dargon over fifty years.”

     “He sure handles his age well,” Trent said. “Or he’s dead already. He did not seem to grow tried while we fought. I think he would have gone on fighting for bells.”

     “No, he is not dead,” Vanshans said. “I have known of the Rattler for years and he remains a mystery.”

     “I did find out where Mon-Hyden died,” Trent said.

     “Good,” Vanshans said. “At least that is something.”

     “You let an old man beat you?” Hayden asked.

     “If it’d been you,” Trent said. “You’d be dead.”

     “When you go to meet the Rattler again, you will not go alone.” Vanshans closed his eyes and stopped speaking for a moment. Then he continued, “I will send someone along with you to help. Maybe then you will be able to get past him and retrieve the body.”

     “Do I have time to get lunch?” Trent asked.

     “Yes,” Vanshans said. “I need to make some arrangements first.”

     “What about me?” Hayden asked.

     “Trent, you are free to do as you will for the rest of the day,” Vanshans said. “Be ready to return to the Rattler in the morning.”

     “But what about me?” Hayden asked again.

     “Hayden, get ready to go,” Vanshans said with disgust in his voice. “We have to go into the city.”

     “Fark,” Hayden said. “Will we be back before dark?”

***

     Mid-morning the next day, a raggedly dressed man burst through the doors of the Old Guard House shouting, “Sergeant Cepero! Sergeant Cepero! You have to come to the cave!”

     “Ratche, what are you yelling about?” Sergeant Cepero asked as he looked down on the main floor of the guardhouse from his desk on the second-floor balcony.

     “The Rattler’s hurt,” Ratche said. “A bunch of people ambushed him and Varrus just outside of the cave. The Rattler was hit by crossbows and Varrus is wounded.”

     “Calm down Ratche,” Cepero said. “Breathe, count to ten and tell me what happened.”

     “Fark you, I just told you what happened,” Ratche said. “The Rattler needs you and he needs you now! He has two bolts sticking out of him. And you know I can’t count!”

     “Ol’s balls,” Sergeant Cepero said as he made his way to the main entrance. “Go back to the cave. I’ll meet you there as soon as I can. Kinle, bring around a horse and then go get the healer.”

     A short time later, Sergeant Cepero rode past piles of burning trash on the beach northwest of Dargon as he headed up to the entrance of the cave where the Death Rattler prepared the dead. The smell of smoke from the burning refuse of Dargon filled the air.

     Sergeant Cepero dismounted and entered the cave. Inside the cave were several tunnels exiting from a large chamber. A fire roared in a fireplace set in the far wall across from him. To his left was a large table with chairs. To the right were wooden crates stacked against the wall, almost reaching to the ceiling. In the center of the stone chamber was a raised dais, ten feet around and two feet high. In the center of the dais was a second raised section, raising another two feet from the lower dais. This second raised section was large enough to hold the body of a man, leaving space all around it.

     Sergeant Cepero avoided the raised dais as he crossed the chamber. Ratche and his companion Jacer, two of the Rattler’s workmen, sat at the table. The Rattler stood next to a cot on which Varrus, the Rattler’s head assistant, rested. The Rattler looked unharmed, while Varrus had a bandage on his head and arm.

     Cepero knew Rattler was mute. Whenever he wanted to speak, he would use sign language and Varrus would speak for him. The Rattler looked down at Varrus, then walked over to the table and placed his hand on Jacer’s shoulder. Jacer started to quiver, then to shake. His eyes rolled back into his head.

     “Cepero, you must act quickly,” Jacer said. He spoke in a monotone with a cold, almost death-like quality. “There is a great danger to Dargon.”

     Sergeant Cepero stared at the Rattler in disbelief for a few breaths, then said, “What is the danger?”

     “A necromancer is in Dargon,” Jacer, speaking for the Rattler, said. “He is seeking the body of a Beinison wizard that died in Dargon a year ago. The necromancer wants the wizard’s body and he cannot be allowed to get it.”

     “Straight,” Cepero said. “What do you need of me?”

     “The body he is seeking is not here. If he has discovered where the body is, he will attempt to get it. Get word to Dyann and Corambis. They have been expecting this. They will know what to do.”

     The Rattler removed his hand from Jacer’s shoulder. Jacer fell forward, face down on the table. The Rattler staggered backward, nearly falling to the ground.

     The healer entered the cave as Cepero stepped outside.

     “I thought Ratche said the Rattler had been hurt,” Cepero said to the healer. “Varrus is hurt, but the Rattler didn’t look hurt to me. Maybe he’s dead like everyone says. Go take care of Varrus.”

***

     “The Rattler said this?” Corambis asked. “Did he say what the necromancer wanted with Mon-Hyden’s body?”

     “No,” Sergeant Cepero said. “He only said that he must not get it.”

     “I see,” Corambis said. “How would he know where the body is? That’s only known to a few people.”

     Corambis walked over to his desk and sat down. He took out a scroll, a quill, and an inkpot and started writing.

     “I’m going to send a message to the duke and Dyann,” Corambis said. “We’re going to need the Town Guard too.”

     “How many?” Sergeant Cepero asked.

     “All of them.”

***

     The sun slowly descended toward the horizon to the west, casting long shadows through the trees. Hayden and Vanshans sat in a park near Dargon Keep, across the street from Dragon’s ice house. Instead of his normal wizardly robes, Vanshans wore pants and a rough-spun shirt. His long white hair was unbound and blowing in the gentle breeze. He looked like someone’s father, not a wizard.

     “What are we doing here?” Hayden asked. “Not that I mind sitting in a park, but it’s hot and it’s boring. It wouldn’t be so bad if it were a nice spring day in Melrin. We could watch the festival dancers.”

     Vanshans did not respond. He watched the ice house across the street.

     “Why are you dressed that way?” Hayden asked. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you dress so oddly. Well, odd for you that is.”

     Vanshans did not respond. He watched the ice house across the street.

     “Where’s Trent?” Hayden asked. “Do you know if we’ll get back to the Lion before it gets dark?”

     Vanshans did not respond. He continued intently watching the ice house across the street.

     “Trent gets to run around Dargon doing gods knows what while we just sit in the park,” Hayden said. “When’re we going to dinner?”

     Vanshans did not respond. He sat on the bench, all his attention on the ice house across the street.

     After a few menes, a flurry of activity near the ice house drew Hayden’s attention. Town Guards on horseback rode up to the ice house and dismounted. Then other people, some wearing fancy clothes, arrived on horseback. Less than a mene later, more guards arrived on foot. Crossbowmen and archers took positions on the roof. A short while later, ducal guards came out of the keep joining the gathering crowd.

     “Something’s going on at the ice house over there,” Hayden said. “Looks like they’re preparing to defend it from an army.”

     This time, Vanshans responded. “Things are going as planned and on schedule. Yesterday when we went to the place where Mon-Hyden died, Sandore discovered the location of the body through his dark arts. The body is in a secret chamber in the ice house.”

     “You mean the ice they’re using is also used to …”

     “What?” Vanshans asked. “Never mind. Keep watch for the Rattler, I expect him to arrive soon.”

     Less than a mene later, the Rattler and Varrus stepped out of the shadows beside the doors of the ice house. The Rattler moved to where the fancy dressed people gathered.

     “There he is,” Hayden said. “Over there by the doors.”

     Vanshans walked to his horse and removed something wrapped in black silk from his saddlebag. He set the thing on the park bench and removed the cloth. Hayden thought it looked like a small tree with a lot of tiny mirrors hanging from its branches. The tiny mirrors glinted in the light of the setting sun.

     “What’s that?” Hayden asked.

     “Something Trent recovered from Sandore’s castle,” Vanshans said. “Be quiet and let me concentrate.”

     After a moment, the twinkling from the mirrors increased, followed by a gust of wind that pulsed from the device. Across the street in front of the ice house, on the street in the midst of the guards, and along the top of the roofs where the archers had taken position, numerous patches of shimmering light shaped like doorways appeared.

     The Rattler struck his staff on the ground and the doorway that appeared near him vanished. A female wizard made an arcane gesture at the one near her and it vanished. The other doorways began to darken until they were nearly black. Every time a doorway vanished, a small mirror on the tree crumbled to dust.

     “Good,” Vanshans said. “The Rattler should be able to deal with what’s next.”

     As the gloom of evening encompassed the ice house, an eerie sound started coming out of the shadow doors. It sounded like souls in torment, the moan of death and the wail of a woman in labor, all at the same time. The guards standing near the doorways moved away, dropping their weapons as they did.

     A few breaths later the wailing increased, and black, shadowy figures that were hard to see in the gloom began coming through the doorways. The shadows ignored the nearby guards and moved toward the Rattler and the other wizards. The guards tried to attack them, but their weapons just passed through the shadows with no effect.

     Some of the shadows entered the ice house, and some went into other nearby buildings. More shadows kept coming through the open doorways.

     The Rattler started closing all the doorways close to him, as did the other wizards. But it would take them some time to get them all. As it grew dark it became hard to see the doorways.

     “It is time to go,” Vanshans said. “That should keep them all busy for a while.”

     “What are those things?” Hayden asked. “What about the tree of mirrors?”

     “That is all illusion,” Vanshans said. “They are just shadows. They cannot hurt anyone. Sandore may desire death and destruction, I do not. And if the device is still there tomorrow, you can return to the park to pick it up. Replacing those tiny mirrors is going to be very expensive.”

     Hayden and Vanshans mounted their horses and rode in silence back toward New Town in the deepening gloom. When they reached the Old Guard House, Vanshans stopped in the middle of the street. He sat there a mene, staring at it, before saying, “Hayden, go inside and see if there are any guards.”

     Hayden dismounted and went inside. He was inside only a moment before returning. “Only one, sitting at the desk. The rest appear to be at the ice house.”

     Vanshans did not respond. He rode north toward Merchants Way.

     Hayden followed Vanshans. He didn’t know what the wizard had planned. It wasn’t his job to understand him, it was his job to protect him. And that is what he would do.

     They continued heading north and came to a stop in front of the Temple of Stevene.

     “There’s Trent,” Hayden said.

     Trent stood on the street. He wore leather armor, had a sword in one hand and a long dagger in the other. He looked ready for battle. “Is he waiting for us?”

     “Yes,” Vanshans said. “For this next part, all I need for you to do is to protect me. Do nothing else. No matter what you see or hear, no matter how much you may object to what we are about to do, all I want you to do is to protect me.”

     “I don’t understand,” Hayden said. “What are we about to do?”

     “All you are to do is protect me,” Vanshans said. “When we are done here, I want you to still be …”

     Vanshans turned to look at Trent, then nodded. Trent walked up the entranceway to the temple and went inside.

     “What’s Trent doing?” Hayden asked.

     “Just stay by my side,” Vanshans said. “Do nothing.”

     About a mene later screaming children ran out of the temple’s main doors.

     “It’s time,” Vanshans said. “Come.”

     Hayden followed Vanshans into the temple. They passed crying children without speaking. Inside the main doors, a priest lay sprawled in the aisle. Hayden moved to check if the priest was dead.

     “Stay by my side,” Vanshans said. “If he is dead, there is nothing you can do for him.”

     Trent appeared in an archway leading further into the temple.

     “The temple is clear,” Trent said. “No one will interfere with you. She’s locked inside a room near the children’s quarters.”

     “You didn’t kill them all, did you?” Hayden asked.

     “I did only what I was paid to do,” Trent said. “Something you wouldn’t do.”

     Hayden’s stomach started to churn, and his head was spinning. How could Vanshans do this? How could he order the death of everyone in the temple? At least the children got away.

    A moment later, they stood in front of a locked wooden door. Vanshans placed his hand flat on the door, and the door turned to dust. Inside the room, an old woman sat on a pillow on the floor. On the far side of the room, the wizard Vanshans had defeated near Gorod lay on a bed. Sitting on the wizard was an enormous raven, looking at them.

     “Vanshans isn’t that …?” Hayden asked, but before he could finish the question Vanshans looked at Hayden, and the look silenced him. He could no longer speak.

     “She is here,” Vanshans said. “I have done everything you asked. Release me.”

     Vanshans face grimaced as a wave of pain washed over it.

     “The guards are taken care of,” Vanshans said. “They are at the ice house waiting for us. But the children will bring others.”

     Vanshans took a step toward the woman.

     “Trent is outside, waiting,” Vanshans said. “But he has been ordered not to kill. I don’t care how much you hate Stevene, I will not have people killing for me. All of the priests are unconscious.”

     Relief washed through Hayden. He knew Trent was a killer, but at least Vanshans wasn’t.

     Vanshans groaned in pain and collapsed to the floor.

***

     The water flowing from the top of the crystal fountain filled the air with a soft, crystalline tinkle as it flowed down the intricate paths of the fountain. Leashea stood next to the fountain, waiting. Banewood was out of sight behind it, with the raven on his shoulder.

     As soon as her grandfather entered the secret place, Leashea felt his presence.

     “What a lovely place you have,” Sandore said as he stepped into the clearing.

     “I am glad you like it,” Leashea said, turning to face him. “I have been waiting for you.”

     “Where are we?” Sandore asked. “Why not call me grandfather? It sounds more personal.”

     “Because I hate you,” Leashea said. “I have hated you since the day you killed my mother. My entire life has been one of pain and suffering because of you.”

     “Killing your mother was not personal. It was something I just had to do.”

     Sandore’s spirit form looked the same as he did on the day she killed him.

     “You look beautiful,” Sandore said. “A lot like your mother.”

     “I do not remember what my mother looked like,” Leashea said. “At least in here I do not hurt anymore. I am at peace.”

     Leashea turned to Banewood and said, “Go, do it quickly.”

     Banewood left the clearing, heading for the door he had used to enter. The raven hopped from his shoulder, landing on the edge of the fountain, remaining in the secret place.

     “Who is that?” Sandore asked.

     “He is my imaginary lover,” Leashea said. “You think I spend all my time in here alone?”

     “I know your body is old, but I know some magic that can make it young again,” Sandore said. “I searched for years to find a way to bring my wife back to me from the dead but was unable to do it. I did find ways to extend life, but not restore it.”

     “I am old, and I am tired,” Leashea said. “I just want it to end. You can have me; I will not resist.”

     “That is unfortunate,” Sandore said. “I was looking forward to the fight.”

     “What good would fighting you do?” Leashea asked. “I cannot resist you; I could not even kill you.”

     “Would you like to hear that I am sorry?” Sandore asked. “Would that make you feel better? The truth is I don’t care how you feel. I did not care then, and I do not care now.”

      “I know you feel that way,” Leashea said. “All that does is add to the hate I feel for you. I know Stevene teaches us to forgive, and I know I should forgive you. Even if it is just to spite you. But I cannot.”

     “It is good that you know your place,” Sandore said.

     “What is my place?” Leashea asked. “Am I just a tool for you to use?”

     “Yes,” Sandore said. “I thought you understood that. It is why I waited until you were old enough to be without your mother before I took her. Just in case her death was not enough. You are just another tool for me to use to get what I want.”

     Leashea sat on the edge of the fountain, running her hand through the water. The raven hopped over and looked at her, his eyes darker than the blackest night. Something in the back of Leashea’s mind nagged at her. She did not understand how Banewood could have gotten into her secret place, but now that he was gone, why was the raven still here?

     “Leashea! Treat!” the raven squawked.

     Leashea touched the raven and a wave of nausea washed through her followed by a sensation of pure malignant evil. The bird’s eyes flashed with a blood-red light and it took wing, landing on Sandore’s shoulder.

     “Sandore! Treat!” the raven squawked. Then the raven ruffled its feathers and laughed.

     In the face of such evil, Leashea did not know if she was going to have enough faith to do what must be done.

***

     When Vanshans collapsed to the floor, Hayden rushed to help him. Trent stood in the open doorway, weapons ready, watching down the hall for guards. Hayden placed his hand on Vanshans’ chest, feeling it rise and fall. Vanshans was breathing slowly like he was asleep.

     Hayden lifted Vanshans from the floor to put him on the bed next to the other wizard, but before he reached the bed the wizard lying on it jumped up. The raven squawked as it fluttered its wings. Banewood stood, his eyes wildly looking around the room.

     “It’s gone,” Banewood said. “Finally, the evil is gone. It must have been trapped inside when she pushed me out.”

     “What?” Hayden said. “What evil?”

     “Oh, it’s you,” Banewood said. “I think I know you.”

     “What are you doing?” Hayden asked.

     “I made the lady a promise,” Banewood said. “I don’t want to do it, but I gave her my word I would.”

     “Do what?” Hayden put Vanshans on the bed to rest and turned back to Banewood. “What lady?”

     “I don’t have time to explain,” Banewood said. “She only has a few breaths before it’s too late. We can’t let it out.”

     Banewood moved to stand behind Leashea with tears in his eyes. He stood still, hardly moving for a few breaths, with his hands on Leashea’s head.

     “By the gods,” Banewood said, taking his hands away. “I can’t do it.”

     “Will somebody tell me what’s going on?” Hayden asked.

     “I promised the lady I would kill her while she trapped the other wizard and the evil in her secret place,” Banewood said. “That would trap them in her body, unable to escape.”

     “Whatever you’re going to do, do it fast. I think the guards are here,” Trent said.

     “Banewood, Hayden, Trent, stand aside,” Vanshans said.

     Vanshans rose from the bed on wobbly legs and walked over to stand next to Leashea. He placed his hand on top of her shoulder. A blue glow enveloped his hand and started to spread out to cover her body.

     “I release your spirit from this life,” Vanshans said. “Be free of pain. Go, be at peace.”

***

     Leashea stared at the manifestation of evil on her grandfather’s shoulder. She sensed the malignancy coming from the raven. Was it a foul spirit or an evil god? She recited a prayer to Stevene for protection she learned when she was very young.

     Her face was beginning to show her true age. The backs of her hands had wrinkled and developed age spots. She felt her joints starting to seize and ache. The end was coming, and she was glad.

     “What is happening to you?” Sandore asked.

     “I am dying,” Leashea said. “My body is aging as we speak. I have kept you here long enough for me to die to prevent you from taking control of my body. You will be here with me, but soon I will die, and you will be forever trapped in my dead body.

     Sandore flew into a rage and a ball of blue fire appeared in his hand. He threw it at the crystal fountain, which shattered into a cloud of steam and glass but quickly reformed again. Sandore started throwing balls of fire at everything he saw, the flowers, the statues, and the benches. Everything he destroyed quickly reformed. Sandore’s rage grew.

     “No,” Sandore screamed! “It cannot end this way. Not again!”

     “Stupid,” the raven squawked. “Stupid, stupid Sandore.”

     “Don’t call me stupid,” Sandore shouted at the raven. “You’re going to be trapped in here too.”

     The raven’s form began to shift, changing from a bird into a dark shadow in the shape of a man. From within the darkness, a pair of red eyes peered outward.

     “No,” the shadow said. “I will return from where I came. If you beg, I may take you with me.”

     “I do not beg,” Sandore said. “I will never beg.”

     “Oh, I think you will,” the shadow said. “I gave you a second chance at life and you couldn’t even handle an old woman. If you had taken her it would be different, but you let her out-smart the great Sandore.”

     “I remember him now,” Sandore said. “That man. Leashea, he wasn’t your lover, it was the wizard we used to trap Vanshans. How did he get here?”

     “I used him, just as you have used me,” the shadow said. “He was my possession as I followed you. I have been with you since your escape from the castle.”

     “Why have you done this?” Sandore asked. “I don’t know why I ever trusted you.”

     “I have done nothing,” the shadow said. “It was you that failed.”

     “Who are you?” Sandore asked.

     “You know who I am,” the shadow said. “I was here at the beginning, I am here at the end. You made blood sacrifices to me. I have come to take one last offering. You.”

     As life faded from her physical form, Leashea saw a golden glow start to appear at the edges of her vision. The dark shadow engulfed her grandfather, who screamed as it touched him. She watched the shadow until she could no longer see her grandfather.

     Leashea quickly aged from a youthful girl to a withered crone. As she did, she smiled all the while at Sandore. In her heart, she knew she had won.

     With her death, Leashea finally defeated her grandfather.

***

     The blue glow quickly spread to cover Leashea’s body, then it floated upwards away from her changing from blue to gold. Before it passed through the ceiling, it took on the form of a young woman.

     “Finally, she is at peace,” Vanshans said. “Sandore is gone too. Now I can return to my tower and continue my research.”

     Trent reappeared in the doorway, “We need to go; the guards are on their way.”

     “I’m going with you,” Banewood said. “My memories of how I got here are a little bit foggy. I’m not even sure of where I am. It feels like I just work up from a dark dream.”

     “How are we going to get out of here?” Hayden asked. “The guards will be all around the temple and be ready for us.”

     “The time I spent with Sandore was not a total waste,” Vanshans said. “I was able to learn a few things from him. Find a mirror large enough to step through.”

     “There’s one in the vestry next to the chapel,” Trent said.

     “Lead the way,” Vanshans said.

     A moment later, Vanshans stood before the full-length mirror the priests of Stevene used when they prepared for services. He placed his hand upon the mirror, closed his eyes and concentrated. A few breaths later, the image reflected in the mirror changed. It wasn’t a reflection of the room they were in, but that of a different room.

     “I do not know where this portal leads,” Vanshans said. “But go through it quickly, I cannot hold it for long.”

     Banewood was the first through, followed by Trent with his weapons ready.

     “I will follow you,” Hayden said. “You go first.”

     “No, you must go before me,” Vanshans said. “The portal will close after I step through.”

     “As you say,” Hayden said. He drew his sword and stepped through the mirror.

     “Where did they go?” Vanshans heard a voice say just outside of the vestry.

     “Check in there,” another voice said.

     A Town Guard opened the door and stood in the doorway, looking at Vanshans.

     “In here!” a guard shouted.

     Before the guard could step into the room, Vanshans stepped through the portal. On the other side, Vanshans found himself standing in a room very much like the one he had just left. It also appeared to be a vestry.

     “What now?” Hayden asked.

     “We find our way home,” Vanshans said

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