The day was beautiful and Raphael had taken Megan’s cape off to let her enjoy the sun. He wasn’t sure if she was aware of her surroundings, but the episode when they had first found Anam gave him hope. They were strolling through the woods while Anam was chasing anything that moved. Raphael stopped and watched as the wolf pup flushed a hare. Anam gave chase and Raphael laughed as he watched the rabbit lead the wolf. It was a game of how fast can one go and still make sharp turns. Anam soon realized he was outmatched in this game and decided to change the rules. He tried to predict when the rabbit would turn and where so that he could get there first. The rabbit started to turn to the right and when Anam cut sharply to the right, the rabbit bolted to the left leaving Anam behind. Anam stopped and watched the rabbit disappear from sight before he returned to where Raphael stood. The pup gave a huff and plopped down at Raphael’s feet.
“I guess here is as good a place as any for camp, eh Anam?” Raphael asked but the pup gave no indication that he heard. After building a small hearth for the fire, Raphael cleared an area for the bed-roll. Before he could unpack it, Anam was sitting by the cleared area waiting.
“I thought you were too tired to go on,” Raphael said as he unrolled the bed-roll. Anam jumped onto it before Raphael could get it all the way undone. A struggle ensued when Raphael tried to get Anam off of it. Rolling and playing with Anam, Raphael managed to get the bed-roll undone but not quite the way he wanted. Working around Anam, Raphael straightened the blankets as best he could. With that finally done, Raphael put a pot of water on the fire and went to Megan. He led her over to the blankets and sat her down next to Anam. Anam curled up next to her while Raphael fixed their meal. Night came quickly and it was late when Raphael finished washing Megan. He laid her down and told her to sleep. Anam moved closer to her and Raphael got as comfortable as he could with Anam between them. “If he gets much bigger,” Raphael thought, “one of us is going to have to sleep somewhere else.”
Raphael and Anam watched as the sun rose over the horizon and brought the new day with it.
“It’s always beautiful, Anam. It gives me hope. No matter how dark the night gets, the sun always rises and brightens the world. Always. It makes me feel that no matter how long Megan and I endure this, there will be a dawn to brighten our lives.”
After a quick morning meal of bread and smoked meat, the three of them were on their way. Raphael had no idea where he was going, except that it was in the general direction of Magnus. He had heard that anything could be found there as it was *the* largest town anywhere. He was lost in thoughts of Magnus when he stumbled into an open grove in the forest. In the center of the grove stood a wooden cabin. It was ringed by a small stone fence, that was not completely finished. A stream of smoke drifted upwards from the chimney and through the open window Raphael saw a figure inside. As Raphael made his way down to the opening in the stone fence, the figure opened the door and came out. The figure turned out to be an old man. His face was wrinkled and weathered from many days in the sun. His hair was grey and unkempt and he walked with a limp.
“Come in, come in,” the old man said. His voice was ragged and hoarse. “I’ve been waiting for you. You’re late, you know. Should’ve been here hours ago,” the old man said, but when he saw the wolf pup he laughed. “So you’ve taken in another charge,” he mumbled as he went back inside.
“How … ” Raphael started to reply, but the old man was already inside. “How did he know?” he wondered. “I’m not getting any answers standing here.” Raphael followed him into a one room cabin. Looking around, he saw nothing hanging on the walls to decorate it. The inside of the cabin looked much like the outside — bare log walls. A small cot was in one corner next to a table with a wash basin on it. A bucket was sitting underneath the table. A simple cupboard stood in the middle of one wall. In it were jars, bottles, plates, cups and pouches with various amounts of stuff in them. Across the room from the cupboard was a writing desk and chair. Scattered across the desk were scrolls, maps and books.
“I’ve heard that you’re looking for help,” the old man said. “That you’re trying to remove a curse of some sort. Am I right?”
“Who told you that? Who are you?” Raphael asked defensively. “How do you know so much about me?”
“I have friends in various places and they tell me many things. My name is Emmet, and how I know what I know isn’t really important, is it? You have a problem with a curse and I think that I can help,” Emmet rasped.
“You can help?” Raphael asked. He didn’t like to be in anyone’s debt, but he had reached a point where having Megan cured meant everything to him. When Emmet nodded yes, warnings and hesitations flared in his mind, but the thought of having Megan back overcame them.
“If I can help you, then you must do me one favor,” Emmet added.
“Agreed,” Raphael said without ever asking about the boundaries of the favor, “if you can make her whole.” Warnings were still echoing in his mind. “This is for Megan,” he thought as he stilled them. The old man went to the cupboard and brought down a jar of dark liquid.
“Herbal tea for afterwards,” he said and set the jar next to the cot. He showed Raphael where to sit Megan and then told him to sit opposite her. After Raphael had Megan sitting, Anam trotted over and plopped down into her lap. Raphael took a seat opposite her just out of arms reach. The old man shooed him back further before setting a device between them. It was an odd looking thing made mostly out of metal wire with a thin, flat base. It had four triangular sides which came to a point on the top of it. The triangles only had metal wire as their outlines, though, and one could see into the center of it. At the top, there were two circular wires. They were balanced carefully on the top and intersected each other to form a rough outline of a sphere. Inside this sphere was a crystal cut with many facets. The old man lit a candle and set it inside the device. The two circular wires slowly started to rotate. The inner sphere reflected a myriad of colors from the candle.
“Amazing, isn’t it?” Emmet asked Raphael. Done inspecting the device, the old man drew a circle on the floor around all of them with chalk. He inscribed different signs around the circle. Raphael recognized a few of the runes from his earlier days. Anger and fear coursed through him as one word overtook his mind — Kell. He started to rise, but his eyes focused on Megan. He would have to trust this old man and see what happened. Yes, he would trust him but he would still be wary.
“Now, look at the crystal in the sphere,” the old man instructed. “Let it fill your world.” Raphael found himself drawn into the glittering light. Megan was his last coherent thought for awhile.
Something snapped him back to consciousness. A movement, he thought. Shaking his head to clear his vision, he watched as the world began to focus. Megan was still sitting across from him with Anam in her lap. Raphael looked to his right and saw that the old man was in some kind of trance. Although the old man’s eyes were open, Raphael noticed that they weren’t focused on anything in the room. Then he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. Anam must be moving, he thought. Turning his head he saw that Anam had not moved, but that Megan’s hand was on top of the pup’s head. Raphael froze and waited. When Megan’s hand started to caress the pup’s head, he didn’t know what to do and before he could move, Megan’s body jerked and spasmed. Her head tilted back and she drew in a large breath. With another spasm, she let the breath out. She bent forward and her free hand closed into a tight fist. When she sat upright again, there were tears in her eyes. Raphael watched through her tears as her eyes changed from the dull grey to sparkling green. She opened her mouth and only a whisper escaped, but it was enough for him to hear. The first word she had said in years had been his name. He found himself beside her without knowing he had moved. She flung her arms around him and collapsed into his chest. Anam gave a yelp and squirmed out of her lap. Megan moved back from his chest to let the pup go. A smile crossed her lips and she looked into his eyes.
“I love you,” she whispered. Raphael looked into the loveliest face he had ever seen and echoed her words. She leaned in and started to kiss him when a spasm racked her body. She clutched his arms and another spasm swept through her. Her movements stopped and her body went dormant.
“I can not give you much more,” the old man coughed. Raphael turned to the old man.
“Just a little longer. Please, I beg you,” Raphael implored. The old man just nodded. Megan jerked.
“No!” she spat. “I don’t want to go back! Please, Raph. It’s a never ending nightmare. I can see everything but I can’t do anything. Help me,” she pleaded. Raphael wrapped his arms around her and pulled her closer. Megan broke the embrace and tears flowed down her face. She reached up and caressed his cheek. “I’ll always love you,” she said as she slipped away. A single tear escaped his eye and ran down his cheek to land softly on her hand. He slumped back and spasms wracked his body now as he fought for control of his emotions. Despair raged while anger and fear built up. I don’t want to lose you. Sadness crept in to replace despair as he realized that he had lost her again. He was finally able to throw his emotions into a room in his mind and bolt the door.
Opening his eyes, he caught movement from the old man. Looking over, he saw tears of blood running down the mage’s face. Raphael watched as the old man wiped the tears away and then bent forward to blow the candle out. Only when the old man had painfully moved to the cot did Raphael shift his focus. He turned and looked at Megan. She was still sitting there with her hand in the air where it had lain against his cheek.
“I am sorry,” rasped the old man. “It is too great a task for me. There is more than one hand in the curse that binds her.” Raphael jerked his head to the old man.
“More than one?” Raphael echoed.
“Yes. There is a predominant trace of someone and there is a slight overlay of another presence, a stronger one. Then there is a presence that is throughout the whole curse. It’s as if the curse has a life of its own,” the old man explained.
“If you can’t break it, do you know who can?”
“There are no sureties in life, but I think that by killing the person with either the predominant trace or the stronger presence, you may gain enough to break the curse. If she’s strong enough, that is,” the old man answered. “If she isn’t, then your best chance would be to kill the stronger presence. Now go, I am weary and have done all I can.” Traces of the tears of blood he had shed still lingered on his face. Sitting on the cot, he poured some tea.
Raphael went to Megan. He took her arm and stood her up.
“What do I owe …” he started to ask the old man but was interrupted.
“I said go! I did nothing for her and you owe me nothing,” the old man rasped as he lay on the cot.
Raphael led Megan out the door with the pup silently trailing behind. The old man had given him some small glimmer of hope and Raphael had decided to grab for it. Up until now he had feared that with the death of Kell, Megan’s fate would be sealed forever, but the old man had shaken that fear. There were no sureties in life, he had said, but by killing Kell, Megan could return to normal. “I can’t kill Kell,” he thought in anguish. “For all that he’s done, we were friends. That meant something to both of us at one time. Oh, Kell, why?”
He had also said there was another’s hand in Megan’s imprisonment besides Kell’s. Someone who was stronger than Kell. Killing this person could also free Megan, and it might be her best chance. Raphael could only think of one person who fit the description — Kell’s mentor, Loth.
The old man watched as Raphael and Megan left. Once they were out of sight, he sat down on the cot and sighed. He reached up and fumbled with something at the nape of his neck. Scratching and digging at his neck, the old man finally managed to tear his skin. He pulled the skin around to the front of his face where it tore. Setting a mirror up, he cleaned the rest of the false skin off of his face and neck. Next came the wig. It came off only after pulling out some of his original hair. Where there was once an old man, now stood a younger man in his late twenties. The only real thing left were the stains of blood left by his tears.
“What a mess I’ve made of things my old friend,” Kell said to himself. “I’ve cursed you and Megan for years and now I’ve probably sealed my doom, but it’s my only hope in being free of Loth. He’ll find me soon, I can feel it. Back I go to being slave and subject for his experiments. I’ve done you many wrongs my old friend, but maybe together we can fix one of them and free Megan. And just maybe, with your unwitting help, I can break free of Loth.” Kell settled back onto the cot, closed his eyes and waited for his master to find him. He knew his punishment would be great, but it was worth it. Even though his chances of success were small, it was worth it.
Thinking of Raphael and himself when they were younger, Kell cried himself to sleep.