Raphael, Kyle, and Jandis travelled through Dargon following a small, magical wooden box. Jandis held the box and led the group where the small stone inside it pointed. Raphael and Kyle were behind Jandis, talking about their lives and where they had traveled. They followed the magical box as it led them closer to Loth. Jandis and Kyle were here because they were commanded to stop Loth. Raphael’s reasons were both simple and involved. He simply wanted to kill Loth. He wanted Loth dead because there was a good chance it would cure Megan. He also wanted to kill Loth because Loth had killed his best friend. And so the three of them walked through the town of Dargon using magic to lead them to a mage.
After following the box for less than a bell, Raphael, Jandis, and Kyle found themselves at the docks. Raphael caught sight of a figure stepping into an alley at the end of Commercial Street.
“Kell?” Raphael whispered.
“What?” Jandis asked.
“I thought I saw Kell,” Raphael said not knowing whether to hope his friend was alive or not.
“There is magic ahead of us,” Jandis told them. “Ready yourselves. I think we’re close.” Raphael gripped his cane tighter as they strode forward. As they reached the alley, they saw someone leaning against an open doorway, hunched over somewhat, as if sick.
“Kell?” Raphael asked as he walked down the alley. Raphael did not see any other people around, nor could he see inside the house that the person was leaning against.
“Kell?” Raphael asked again as he neared.
“I’m afraid not,” came a voice from somewhere in the house behind the figure. “Or rather not as you knew him.” Raphael knew that voice — Loth. As Raphael got closer, he saw that it was really Kell — and he was dead. His flesh was dried and leathery and had tightened to show the outline of his bones.
“Damn you Loth!” Raphael shouted.
“You think I wanted this?” Loth asked. “Your pitiful friend here was very useful to me before he ended his life.” Loth stepped next to Kell’s body and motioned slightly with his staff. Kell’s body fell forward into the dirt a few paces in front of Raphael. Loth stepped outside. “You never did realize the power that was in him, did you? He never did, either. Had he known, he could have destroyed me easily. Easily! All that time that he hated me and wished to be free of me, and he never knew that he could have enslaved *me*! And that power was to be *mine* to control! *Mine*!” Loth raged. His tall frame shook and small bolts of energy arced from the staff to him.
Jandis and Kyle were to Raphael’s right and they watched as Loth’s rage faded suddenly.
“Do you remember the cabin?” Loth asked Raphael calmly. “The one where you met Kell in disguise? Did you know that Kell held the owners captive until you had gone. He was going to free them once you were well away from there, but I showed up sooner than he expected. It was a joy to watch as I made him kill them.” Loth smiled and motioned someone out of the cabin. Three men stepped out of the cabin and stood to Loth’s right. They were large men dressed in dirty, ragged clothes, and each one held a sword in his hand.
“My bodyguards,” Loth said and then laughed. “Dock worker bodyguards,” he laughed as if it were a joke known only to him. His eyes closed to slits as he turned his attention to Jandis. “And who are your bodyguards?”
“Get … out of … my … mind,” Jandis said through clenched teeth.
“My, my, what a strong mind,” Loth said. “Let’s try this, then.” He raised his staff and pointed it at Jandis, but nothing happened. Nothing that could be seen.
“Get out!” Kyle yelled suddenly.
“The Elders!” Loth hissed.
“Stay out of my mind!” Kyle yelled.
“A bit touchy, aren’t you?” Loth said to Kyle. “Did you really think that I was going to try to enter his mind again, when yours was unprepared? Fool!”
Loth turned to look at the three men beside him. His eyes narrowed and arcs of magical energy snapped between him and his staff. It started at the bottom and moved up the staff quickly to disappear at the top. Making a circular motion with the top of the staff, Loth created a small dark cloud. He sent the small cloud towards the men. Raphael watched as the cloud slowly drifted to the men and settled on them. As it magically soaked into them, Raphael recognized the magic. The three men now had the taint that he had learned to dread. It had been Loth behind all the attempts on his life.
“I promised them a Sterling each, but now I don’t have to pay them at all,” Loth explained. “They’ll do whatever I command.
“Kill him!” Loth ordered suddenly as he pointed to Raphael. Raphael looked over to Jandis and Kyle with a questioning look of ‘just me?’. Before anyone could reply, Loth snapped his staff toward Jandis. A streak of energy flew from the staff to strike Jandis in the chest and hurtle him backwards. Raphael couldn’t look back because the three men started to advance. His own blade was drawn and he stood relaxed.
He hoped they were just dock workers and not experienced fighters. But when the three fanned out to surround him, that hope died somewhat. His only, and possibly last, chance was that they wouldn’t work well together.
He stepped to the left and moved to attack. As the man blocked his thrust, Raphael used it to set his distance. The timing would have to be perfect. Using a few small thrusts and parries, Raphael watched as the middle dock worker closed in. He wasn’t worried about the far right man, yet. Just a little closer. Raphael feinted a thrust and left an opening in his defenses. Just as the left man lunged in, the middle one also attacked. Raphael moved quickly, just ahead of both blades, and stepped in between them. As he kept moving past both, he sliced the left dock worker’s side. Turning around quickly, he readied for an attack, but none came. The injured man was on his knees and the other one was just turning around. The third dock worker was behind the other two now. Raphael backed away slightly so he could watch Loth out of the corner of his eye. Loth was occupied with Kyle, and Raphael hoped Kyle could deal with him.
A movement behind the three men caught Raphael’s eye. Jandis stood up and took a charred medallion from his chest and threw it down. As Jandis looked up, he pointed at the closest man. A ring of light floated from his hand and encircled the dock worker’s waist. When the ring started to constrict, the man looked down, dropped his sword, and grabbed the circle of light. It was a useless effort as the circle tightened and slowly cut him in half. He never screamed.
Raphael used the opportunity to attack the remaining uninjured man. Without the other two, the fight ended quickly. Grabbing at his punctured throat, the dock worker fell silently on the ground. Raphael turned and made sure the injured dock worker wouldn’t rise again. Finished with his task, Raphael started toward Loth.
He saw Kyle slumped on the ground with his hands clutching his stomach. Blood was running from his eyes, nose, and mouth. Raphael grimaced as he remembered Kell suffering from the same symptoms.
Sparks of light brought him back to the present. Loth was grinning as he forced Jandis back with hits from his staff. With every touch from Loth’s staff, there would be a spark of light and the area touched was blackened and burned. Jandis was trying everything he knew to stay alive. He would send flashes of light from his fingers to strike Loth, only to be turned away or dispelled.
“It’s me you want,” Raphael said as he moved toward Loth. Loth hit Jandis one last time before turning to face Raphael. Raphael watched Jandis fell to the ground behind Loth. Most of his clothing was burned away and his skin was blackened.
Loth extended his hand and a glass sphere appeared. “Your precious Megan’s soul is in this globe,” Loth said as he suspended the globe in mid-air. “If you look deep enough, you can see her. Such a pretty thing. If the globe shatters, she dies. If I die, the magic holding the globe will end. I’m sure you can figure out what happens then. If you can touch the globe to her physical body, you’ll free her from the spell.
“I *was* going to release her. Even though it’s only a slight drain of my energies to keep her this way, it is a drain none-the-less. But when you killed Kell, I decided to keep her. As a reminder of Kell’s weakness and my revenge on you. Besides, she looks so lovely in this globe,” he said smiling.
“I am going to kill you,” Raphael said as he moved toward Loth. He had seen what Loth’s staff could do and he didn’t want a repeat performance. He had one advantage that Jandis didn’t have — he had a sword to put between that staff and his body. Loth smiled as the two closed the distance. Loth swung his staff at Raphael but it was more to draw him out than to strike him. Raphael blocked his attempts and struck back carefully. It was a game to measure each other’s skill. As time passed, the game got more intense. Raphael found that Loth’s skill with the staff was good — but not great. He noticed a few small openings and wondered if they were feints. He took advantage of Loth’s next opening and drew first blood.
“I see that you outmatch me in the physical skills,” Loth said as the cut on his arm started to bleed. “Let’s add magical skills to our fighting, shall we?” he asked as he sent a bolt from his finger into Raphael’s chest.
Raphael staggered back as the magical bolt burned his chest. It wasn’t a bad wound, but it was enough to let him know he was in trouble. He doubled his attack and pushed Loth’s defenses hard enough to keep him from sending another spell, but he knew he couldn’t keep the pace up for long. He was scoring small hits on Loth, though, and it was then that Loth’s defenses opened wide. Raphael thrust his sword and realized too late that it had been a feint.
Loth, smiling, brushed the sword aside. He thought he had Raphael’s attack parried enough to counter attack, but when the pain lanced through his body, he knew he had made a mistake. Glancing down, he saw that the sword pierced him in his side, low and to the outside. Loth concentrated and energy crackled from his staff to his wound.
As the energy flew from Loth’s staff, Raphael pushed the sword in deeper. Loth drew in a sharp breath, and Raphael saw the staff begin to move. With his sword in Loth’s side, there was no protection against the staff. There was a jolt of energy and Raphael was thrown to the ground.
Pain lanced through him as he fell. The smell of burnt hair and flesh assaulted his senses. He looked up to watch the killing blow, but it wasn’t there. Loth, with the sword still in him, had turned toward Jandis.
“You *dare* to test my will! I am the master!” Loth screamed at Jandis. Raphael saw his only chance, and while Loth was mentally occupied with Jandis, he moved. If he could grab the sword and cut across Loth’s midsection, it should be enough to kill him. As he moved to grab the sword, Loth turned toward him.
He *knew* he couldn’t avoid the staff, but maybe there would be time enough to complete his task. That one final cut was all that occupied his mind. His vision narrowed slowly to focus on the sword handle. As he got closer, he watched his hands come into view to line up with the hilt. Before he got there, the staff shattered his vision as it came straight toward him. His body didn’t stop, though; it was going to try to complete its course of action no matter how hard his brain screamed warnings.
He saw the staff get closer and thought for sure that he would fail when a streak of brilliant blue light whizzed past his eyes to strike the staff. His guess was that Jandis must have knocked the staff aside to clear the way. He didn’t care as his hands grasped the sword.
He cut from where the sword was to Loth’s upper abdomen, where it caught in a rib. Loth clutched his stomach and leaned on his staff. He looked incredulously at Raphael. Slowly, he sank to his knees and smiled. Looking at Loth’s expression, Raphael knew what was going to happen, and he dashed to the globe. It had just started to fall when Raphael caught it.
He grimaced as he cradled the globe, for he knew what was coming. It was a decision he had made instantly; he had left his back open to Loth to save Megan — his life for hers. When the pain exploded in his back, his thoughts went to the globe. He cradled it and turned so that his back would hit the ground. Raphael landed half on his side and half on his back, and he looked down into his hands. The globe had not cracked or broken. He started to smile when he noticed that he was losing control and feeling in his body. He fought to turn from his side to his back so that the globe would not fall from his hands, but his body didn’t move.
Time slowed as he watched the globe fall from his hands. As it fell, he saw Megan inside it pounding on the glass. She was screaming something at him but he couldn’t hear her. “She always did have a fiery soul,” he thought and that was part of what he loved about her. He watched as she stopped pounding and became still. She lifted a hand and placed it against the glass wall as if to steady herself, but her eyes never left his.
“I will always love you,” he whispered to her. He knew she heard as he watched her tears run down her face. He saw her lips move and he knew what she said without having to hear it.
It wasn’t a long fall, but it was enough. The globe shattered when it hit the ground. Raphael heard Megan cry as the pieces settled and blackness overtook him.
“I lied,” Loth said. “Breaking the globe sets her free. But you’ll never see her, and much to my dismay, I don’t think I will either,” Loth said as he watched his blood make a large pool around him. “Your sword has done a rather good job of cutting me open.” His staff fell from his lifeless hand and he fell quietly to the ground as he died.
The figure on the bed jerked and drew in great gasps of breath — life giving breath. She spasmed and the wolf pup that lay beside her jumped away. Megan sat up and Anam looked at her in confusion.
“Raphael,” she whispered as tears fell from her green eyes.
“You can’t be dead,” she thought. “I’d know if you were dead,” she told herself. “I saw ships behind you!” She said jumping out of the bed and running to the door. Opening it, she turned and ran down the stairs yelling for the only person she knew.
“May! May, where are you?” she yelled.
“Who’s yelling for me now?” came a voice from the kitchen.
“May? Oh, May, he’s alive!” she yelled. “I know it!”
“Who’s alive? And who’s yelling and causing such a commotion?” May asked as she stepped out of the kitchen. She caught sight of Megan standing at the foot of the stairs and took a step back.
“Sweet Stevene save me!” May yelped. “You’re alive? Oh, Father of us all, you’d best be alive. I can’t stand no spirit in my place!”
“I’m alive, May! And so is Raphael. He’s somewhere where the ships are. Where would that be?” she asked. “I have to get to him. He’s hurt, May.”
“How are you … That don’t matter right now, I guess. You’re here and he isn’t. He didn’t look too good when he left. I’ve been worried about him ever since. Ships, huh. Has to be the docks. Well, don’t just stand there, come on!” May said as she headed for the door. Megan noticed that it was near dark as she stepped outside.
She followed May through the streets of Dargon. When May stopped, Megan saw the dock area. It was huge. There were ships all along the docks. “Where are you?” she wondered.
“Here’s the docks. Where is he?” May asked.
“I don’t know,” Megan answered.
“What do you mean you don’t know? You said he was where the ships were. That’s here, so where is he?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t know the docks would be this big. He wasn’t too close to the ships, though.”
“Well, I’d guess that he’d be on the south side of Commercial street then. Let’s go. We’ll search each building if we have to,” May said.
“No, he wasn’t in a building. He was outside one.”
“Can’t be that hard to find, then, can he? Just how do you know he was here and near a building?”
“I’ll explain that later, May. He’s got to be here! And he’s hurt, May. He would have given his life for mine,” Megan said as she started to cry.
“That way,” May said and pointed toward the end of Commercial street. “If he isn’t there, it’s still a good place to start.” They walked along Commercial Street looking around and between buildings. It was near the end when they saw a body lying on the ground, half in the shadows, between buildings. Megan ran to it, but it wasn’t Raphael.
As she stood next to the body, she looked deeper into the shadows. There were other bodies on the ground, and one of them was Raphael. She ran to where he lay, knelt down, and cradled his head in her lap.
“Don’t you be dead, Raphael Etrigan!” She said as she shook him. “You didn’t drag me all this way to die on me! Wake up!” she yelled at him and shook him harder. A groan escaped his lips, and she clutched him tighter.
“Raphael?” she asked.
“Megan?” he whispered. His eyes opened and he focused them on her. “Am I dead?” He asked.
“No,” she told him. “Nearly, though.”
“You’re free?” he asked.
“All those years, and the first thing you say to me is ‘you’re free’?” Megan said teasing. “I ought to leave you here in the dirt.”
“I’ve missed you,” he said smiling.
“And I, you,” she told him.
“There’s another one over here that’s alive,” May said. “An older man. Is this Loth?” she asked.
“I can’t get up,” Raphael said. “Loth should have a sword stuck in him, though.”
“I’ll see who it is,” Megan said as she got up. “And if it’s Loth, I’ll make sure that he doesn’t stay alive for much longer.” As Megan turned, she noticed Loth on the ground with the sword still stuck in him. She went over to him and pulled the sword out of his body.
“You might not want to watch this, May,” she warned. Taking the sword, she hacked at Loth’s neck.
“I’d like to see you heal this!” she spat at Loth while she cut his head off. “Black hearted, vile …” she muttered as she stuck the sword back in Loth’s body.
“I take it Loth is dead?” Raphael asked. “The living one must be Jandis. He helped me kill Loth. If not for his magic, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. How bad is he?”
“I don’t know,” May replied. “Wait here and I’ll get a wagon. And the town guard. They’ll need to know about this.”
“I don’t think I’m going anywhere, May,” Raphael told her. “I can’t move my legs.”
“What?” Megan asked. She twisted the sword once more before she went back to Raphael.
“I think Loth’s final blow did it. I can’t feel or move my legs.”
“We’ll get you to a healer,” Megan said. “I’m just glad you’re alive. I didn’t want to lose you now that I’m free.”
“Come closer,” Raphael said. Megan sat next to him. “Let me see your eyes,” he said. She bent down, and he looked into her eyes. Even in the fading light, he saw her green eyes. He smiled and lifted his hand to touch her hair. “I love you.”
“I love you,” she said as she kissed him.