nder an old, burlap cloak, Tavis looked up to behold the huge arena known as the pits. He had been hearing the shouts of the crowd for blocks now. Tavis tapped his staff on the pavement as he trudged forward. Rhoden walked beside him, the cowl on his own blue robes pulled up over his head.
"It's been a long time since I came down here," Tavis began.
Rhoden gave no response.
"A long time," Tavis finished. The youth looked down at his hands again, still not believing the tan flesh that he beheld where burn marks had been only hours earlier. There were scars, obvious ones, but the hands were whole again, and the feeling he had in them before had almost completely returned.
"I still can't believe how you did that," Tavis attempted again, showing his hands to Rhoden for effect.
The conjurer glanced at the youth's healed hands briefly, then looked back down at the ground he walked on.
"I've heard about it," Tavis continued, "but never actually seen it done before. -Can you do other stuff too? Summon up demons or that sort of thing?"
Rhoden looked over the youth before responding. "I've never been able to summon things. Worked at it, but there's a wall I can't get past." He walked a few paces more. "Maybe someday." Then abruptly, Rhoden looked up at the arched entryway of the concrete coliseum before them. "Look, there's the main entrance. I'll pay for us to get in. After that we split up. Walk to the left side and create some kind of distraction -I don't care what you do, it won't take me long, so just give me a moment and the three of us will leave together."
"-Here's the gate, now, hush!" Quietly, Rhoden fished a few coins out of a pouch on his belt, deposited them in a soldier's open palm, and the two strode in, stepping around a high stack of crates as they entered. With a gentle shove, Rhoden pushed Tavis to the left side of the arena, and turned to walk the other way.
Tavis sighed, shaking his head. Oh, I'm going to have a lot of fun with this guy; I can already tell, Tavis thought, walking off toward the arena.
Then he stopped. Standing just before him, his back turned, was a lone soldier, leaning casually on his spear, tapping the ground absently with sandaled feet, watching the contest with gruesome interest. Just him, no one else, Tavis noted again. Close to my age, isn't he? Perhaps he was one of the ones that went to get Wiljes… the youth thought, his breathing growing deeper, the blood pumping in his veins. Perhaps he was one of the soldiers that…
He never finished the thought. Deftly, Tavis flipped the staff up into both hands. Whistling, it arced through the air and came down on the soldier's unprotected ankle. The young guard howled, and the other end of the staff swung up to hit his open mouth. Startled and agonized the soldier tumbled to the ground. Tavis didn't even track his actions after that, simply bringing the staff down again and again on the cringing soldier.
After a long, still, moment, Tavis looked up and saw a crowd of soldiers rushing toward him, shouting, weapons drawn, rage in their eyes at the sight of their fallen comrade. Tavis did not even brace himself. Despondent resignation washed over him as he prepared to be trampled by the onrushing soldiers just as his uncle was.
At that instant, the very air seared and flared, and a stench of ozone filled Tavis' nostrils. A figure by the arena wearing dark-green mage's robes screamed and was completely engulfed in fire. The soldiers halted their charge, and for a still moment the crowd went deathly silent.
Tavis watched the horrible spectacle with grim fascination, but then immediately, the nearby arena wall groaned and a huge, hulking red figure leapt over the ringside bunker, landing right in front of Tavis.
Trembling, the youth gaped at the enormous, muscled red monster. Tavis forced a swallow down and stood and shook. The hulking red figure took a quick glance down at the fallen soldier at Tavis' feet, lingering on the ruined ankle. "He'll never dance again," the big red stated flatly.
"…Wha… What?" Tavis stammered.
A distant cry sounded and the BeHemoth stole a look over his shoulder to see that the pack of soldiers behind them had resumed their charge, joined now by a few more guards in royal red and black armor.
"C'mon, kid," the big red bellowed, "Ain't got time now for autographs!" With that, he grabbed Tavis by the shoulder, turned him roughly around and the pair bounded for the door.
"Brogan!" cried a voice by the entrance. Looking up, they immediately spied Rhoden by the archway and ran to him. Reunited, the trio bolted for the exit. Rhoden touched a hand to the crates they had passed upon entering, and the wood snapped into flame, filling the whole of the entryway with fire and blocking the soldiers from following.
"Say goodbye, kid," the BeHemoth told Tavis through panting breaths as he ran. Without another word, the threesome sped off through the streets of Temacus.
Kenja's ship sailed on through the now evening sky. Streaks of pink and purple crawled through the orange clouds as the red disk of the sun dipped into the bay. Brogan saw the oncoming evening through the windows in the cabin. Worried, he was sitting on the edge of one of the benches, looking over Rhoden's prone and unconscious form as it lay on the window bench where the big red had lain him.
"Aw, Rhoden… It hurts to see you like this," the BeHemoth began, enormous knuckles knotting and unknotting.
No response from the conjurer, not even a flicker of the closed eyes.
"Buddy, when I think of what we've been through together, and now you going down like this -harder than I've ever seen you go down… Well, I just gotta hear you tell me that you're gonna pull through."
Rhoden's head jiggled a little as Kenja corrected steering up above.
Brogan gave a little chuckle. "S'funny isn't it? Hearing me talk like this. Big ol' Brogan… never got mushy on nobody. Well it ain't easy." Another chuckle. "Maybe it's just as well we got this situation here. It's probably the only time I could feel like I could really talk to you, know what I mean?"
Rhoden's body lay still.
"Yeah, I think you do." Brogan gave out a long, lingering sigh before continuing. "I can't tell you what it was like when that slaver mage had me back at the pits. I mean, here I am, big guy, nobody messes with, can't get through my thick hide, no sir. But somehow, this little cracker just punched right into my head, broke me down like I was some kind of little kid. Led me around by the nose. Into the ring for a show, out and back into your cell, told me what to feel and what not to feel… It was hellish, Rhoden. I've never been so scared in my life -and that's saying something."
Brogan twiddled his fingers for a moment.
"Magic," the big red scoffed, coughing out the word like it was a bit of phlegm. "Worst thing they ever invented was magic. Seems like I just freak out whenever I see it. When we met Zeyn for the first time -remember that? Sheesh, or when that rock-guy -Donix's friend- showed us his stone with all the weird images in it… I mean that was okay -better than a lot of the other stuff we've seen- but I just… didn't feel right about it. -Oh and don't get me started on Zeyn's… uncle… relative -whatever he was. Just summoned up this mud-man right out of the ground. Kind of thing I'd expect to see in the bogs!"
Brogan paused again to study Rhoden's unconscious face.
"Still," the BeHemoth began again, hesitantly, "As weird as he is, Zeyn never has double-crossed us. Even that time when the rock-men… what did you call 'em -Omoz captured us, he got us out of trouble. At first I thought you were crazy, warming up to that wraith as quick as you did, letting him touch you and all. But you were right. Right all along. You've never judged a person wrong, Rhoden, not in all the time I've known you."
Brogan cast his eyes about the cabin warily, lingering on the door and the windows.
"Hope no one's listening. I'd never hear the end of it if someone heard me going on like this."
Slowly, Rhoden's eyes opened. "Don't worry," he spoke weakly, "I won't tell anyone."
Head snapping around, Brogan glared at the now cognizant Rhoden. A crease of anger furrowed across his brow. "Why you dirty… How long have you been awake."
Rhoden smiled weakly in response.
"You were listening the whole time, weren't you? Oh… oh, you filthy bum… Why if you weren't lying there like some kinda old man I'd… Well I'd…"
"I know, Brogan," Rhoden replied bringing up a weak, pale hand and resting it on his friend's red, muscular forearm, "me too."
Brogan sighed, a deep exhausted sigh of relief.
Branches snapping, insects buzzing, the party of three plodded through the forest, each one proffering curses as twigs and brambles caught them.
"How could anyone want to live in a place like this?" Brogan howled.
"I'm amazed we made it this close to Tenjir at all, Brogan," Tavis barked "the way you were treating that fellow that offered us a ride up here on his wagon."
"Hey, he was givin' me attitude!" Brogan returned. "You could tell exactly what he thought of Trogs. 'Sides, he took Rhoden for a ride with that price he charged us!"
"Oh, yeah," Tavis eased back, turning to Rhoden, "Forgot to thank you for paying our way up here. We would have been walking for days."
Rhoden was looking down at his feet, his lips pursed.
The other two looked him over with concern. "What's the matter, buddy?" Brogan inquired.
Rhoden looked the big red over before replying. "I had that dream again."
"Aw, c'mon, Rhoden…" Brogan replied, less than sympathetically, "You mean the big, shadowy guy with the freaky red eyes, talking to you in riddles and waking you up? That's kid's stuff, Rhoden! Don't let it get to you!"
Rhoden chewed on the inside of his cheek. "No, it was more than that… It's hard to explain…" Then the conjurer looked up suddenly. "There," he proclaimed, pointing at a nearby grove, "that's the spot."
Without another word, the trio marched toward it, each one examining the boughs, stumps, clumps of moss and hillocks of soil with great interest. Slowing as they approached, they discovered a long, narrow, rectangular box-like container made of thick slabs of stone. Huge clumps of mud that had once covered the stone box were dug up and piled in heaps next to it. The slabs of rock that had once covered the box, protecting the contents, were broken up and scattered about the area. Wordlessly, Brogan and Tavis looked to Rhoden.
"This is the place," Rhoden declared, "Wiljes took me here years ago, showed me how to find it… It was warded, sealed… who-"
At that instant, the trio all stiffened and went wild-eyed as the skin on each of their backs began to prickle. Abruptly, haltingly, they all turned around. Hovering before them, a few strides away was an old cloak that seemed to hang in the air of it's own accord. Inky, threadlike hands hung out of the sleeves, with tendrils of fingers that seemed abnormally long. The floppy cowl nodded up slowly to reveal inside a head which seemed comprised solely of nighttime and ashes, and two, blazing, scarlet eyes.
"Holy, fredjing, mother of Anhur!" Brogan cursed. "What in nineteen hells… Get back, guys" he bellowed protectively, flailing out his arms to both shield and push back his comrades, "I'll handle this, this… Oh tredge, what is this thing?" Looking up, Tavis saw terror in the big red's eyes, a sight which made the youth tremble.
Unexpectedly, Rhoden bolted out from behind Brogan's arm and strode briskly toward the otherworldly figure before them. Pausing, he looked the wraith dead-on into its crimson eyes for a long moment. Then, slowly, a dingy cloak sleeve raised, and the shadowy creature placed tendrils of fingers on the conjurer's temple, ear and cheek. The two stood that way for what seemed like ages. Finally, slowly, Rhoden turned around, breathing deeply.
"His name is Zeyn," Rhoden began, "and he does not have the weapon -a lance, he says, but he saw the men that dug it up."
"And he just let them take it?" Tavis asked, incredulous.
Rhoden paused, then, with great control, continued "He did not know what it was that they were after, and it was not his concern at the time. When they unearthed the lance, however, and he saw what it was, he became curious, and began to scan the area to see if there was anyone else nearby."
"When did all this happen?" Tavis inquired.
"Right around the same time I started having those bad dreams," Rhoden replied flatly.
"Oh," Tavis uttered.
"I have just communicated what Wiljes told us, and the events of the last several days to Zeyn-"
"Just now? Just like that?" Brogan barked, "I didn't hear you say a thing?"
"Yes," Rhoden continued, with exaggerated patience, "but I told him all the same. It is the way we will communicate to him when we need to. As I was saying, he can help us track them down and recover the lance."
"Who?" Tavis asked, "Track who down?"
"Zeyn overheard a name as the men were digging it up: Mjorda."
"Mjorda…" Tavis repeated, weighing the name in his mouth. "But I thought you said it was protected and barricaded? How did they get through?"
"Zeyn says that they had a reaver and a slicer."
"Had what?" Brogan questioned.
"Magic-users. Special-purpose magic-users. Not the kind of folks you tangle with" Rhoden replied.
"Oh great," Brogan muttered.
"Which was another reason why Zeyn kept his distance. He thinks they were Elven though, so they were probably locals hired just for the job."
"Wait a minute!" Brogan shouted, "So why does Mr. Cloak here want to help us, huh? What's his angle?"
Rhoden stole a glance at the red-eyed wraith before responding. "It's what he does. It's why he's here." The conjurer turned then and began heading down the trail. Zeyn followed, hovering close behind. "Come on," Rhoden called, looking over his shoulder, "They're not too far ahead of us."
Brogan pinched his eyes shut and shook his head. "Oh, I am gonna love this guy!"
Out on the deck, everyone was quiet, pensive, restless. Kenja diligently manned the wheel, keeping the ship level and steadily plunging through the skies over Temacus. Tavis sat by a railing, holding a sail rope in his hand. All the rigging was basically in place, and he just needed to keep an eye on it now. Gin was pacing nervously around the deck, a look of worried apprehension on her face. Zeyn stood like a sentinel at the front of the ship, stiff, rigid, tendrilous fingers clenched, red eyes staring off into the descending evening sky.
Aimlessly, Gin wandered over to where Tavis was sitting. "Tavis…" she began, touching his arm gingerly.
"Hmm? What? What is it?" Tavis answered.
"Tavis, I'm scared."
"Yeah," he responded, running a hand through his thick, dark hair, "I know what you mean."
"I feel the same way I did when I had this bad dream a few days ago."
Tavis gave her a sidelong look.
"See, you and me were in this forest, and then this big scary Orc-guy came up the hill. He had a sword or something and he was big and mean looking. You hit him with your lance… In fact, I think you killed him. But anyway, It didn't matter because there were some more guys at the bottom of a hill and they were all attacking our friends. One of them came at me and I just had a little stick to defend myself. -Oh, and then Brogan got hurt real bad, and-"
"Gin," Tavis interrupted, "can you tell me some other time? I mean it sounds like a real scary dream, but I've got a lot on my mind right now and I just need some time to myself."
"Well I've got a lot in my head right now too and I need to talk to somebody about it, so let me finish telling you about my dream!"
"Hey," Kenja's cool voice broke through the escalating row. Unnoticed, she had walked up right next to them without a sound. "Gin," she began calmly, "Tavis gets like this sometimes."
"I know," the little Elf girl concurred, "My dad used to get this way too!"
"How about you come tell me?" Kenja offered. "I have to steer, but you can come up and talk to me while I do it."
"Fine," Gin agreed. "Mean old Tavis won't listen to me!"
Tavis turned deliberately and looked off into the clouds.
Kenja took the little girl's hand and walked back to the wheel with her. "It's been pretty clear so far," Kenja opened, reassuringly. "Have you seen any other ships or gunners or anything?"
Gin cast her eyes through the sky and over the city beneath them. "No, I don't see any more soldiers."
"Good," Kenja replied, "Maybe we've got angels watching over us."
"Yeah… Maybe… So anyway, like I was saying, I was having this really bad dream -and it had to be a dream, because when I woke up, I didn't have that staff that I was using to fight off the big mean guy that came at me with a club…"
Tavis let his eyes glaze over, and sat quietly, thinking.
Several hours later, after what seemed like leagues of trudging through the brambles and snapping branches of the Elven forest, Rhoden brought the party of four to a halt.
"It looks like we're getting closer," the conjurer spoke through belabored breaths. "Zeyn says that there's a little farming village just over the next rise-"
"-Oh, well, if Zeyn says there is…" Brogan mumbled, interrupting.
Rhoden shot the BeHemoth an icy stare. "As I was saying… Mjorda and his men might be camped there, so let's try to keep it down."
Everyone nodded in silent agreement, and soberly hiked up the hill, taking pains to step lightly on the noisy forest floor. As they approached the top of the hill, Rhoden gestured to Tavis and Brogan to stay back, then he and Zeyn peeked up over the hill. The conjurer's face changed instantly from a look of hard inquiry to an expression of unmitigated terror.
"What's going on, Rhoden?" Brogan asked in hushed tones, his deep gravely voice rumbling gently.
"My stars…" Rhoden uttered absently, then stood up, and strode quickly down the hill, Zeyn floating behind. Instantly, Brogan and Tavis got their legs under them and pumped over the ridge.
At the sight, Tavis became savagely ill. His legs bent like thin grass and he would've tumbled down the hill had Brogan's supportive arms not come up underneath him. A few, small, thatched houses stood on the edge of broad fields that filled up the little valley below. Farm equipment and houses alike had been broken and set on fire. But littering the ground, their dark fluids seeping into the ground, were the bodies of butchered Elves. Tavis couldn't even count them all, the bodies had been so brutally rent asunder that it was difficult to match up limbs and organs with bodies.
"Steady kid," Brogan encouraged, getting his hands under Tavis' arms. "Tredge, someone had it in for these guys."
Then Zeyn pointed, raising his arm wordlessly in the air. Rhoden followed the gesture. "There's someone down there," he declared, already striding forward, "-alive." Zeyn accompanied the conjurer down the hill. Following a ways behind, Brogan helped the still woozy Tavis. They arrived to find Rhoden already talking to a small, blonde Elf girl of barely six summers.
"So then they all started demanding that we give them some food-" the Elf girl paused to rub a hand under her running nose. "They- They wanted to take our plow horses, too. That's when my dad-" she paused again, halting breaths rattling through uncooperative lungs.
"It's all right, girl," Rhoden consoled. "Take your time."
She brought her little hands up to clear wetness away from her blue eyes. "So then my dad told them no, and then these men, they…Oh where are they taking my parents!" The story ended there, her voice too broken up with weeping to continue.
The sun had dipped behind the mountain peaks, leaving the party of five to march on through the gray, dying light of day. Zeyn led them on, floating up at the front of the company, following the wide trail left by Mjorda's men. Brogan and Rhoden followed behind the wraith, hanging on any signal he might give. The Elf girl accompanied them through the forest, lagging back with Tavis. After her fit of crying, Gin's disposition had changed almost entirely. Still chatty, she and Tavis had been bantering back and forth, their conversation rolling between playful and combative.
"What kind of name is Gin anyway?" Tavis snipped.
"-There's nothing wrong with my name!" she retorted, "My mom was named Ginerial, so they called me Gin. Besides, it's a better name than Taah-bis!"
"You don't even say it right! Who taught you Roke anyway?"
"We had a little coniven where I lived, we weren't savages!"
"Oh… School I guess is what you say."
"Figures that you'd learn Roke, though. I mean, you've got to talk to someone other than Elves at some point -Your accent is terrible though."
"Oh I knew we could all get along," Brogan mumbled from up front.
Rhoden looked up at the big red thoughtfully. "It hasn't come to blows yet."
"Yeah," Brogan admitted, "she sure did change her attitude in a hurry. Got her away from that farm and the tears dried right up." He chuckled. "I guess kids got a way of dealing with that sort of thing."
Rhoden nodded. "It's good we brought her along. Besides, I think she might be useful. Look up there." The conjurer stopped and pointed through the woods to the lights of a tavern that shone through the leafy trees before them. The whole company came to a stop as well, peering off to the glowing windows and dark wood through the trees.
"Come on," Rhoden signaled, walking to a small grove away from the path, "over here." Obediently, the rest of the team followed him into the enclosed thicket, quickly finding a place to sit or squat. Zeyn dropped down from hovering in mid-air and sat on the ground. The wraith's eyes dimmed down to slight, red dots. With a single, great heave, his cloak caved in like a collapsing lung, and sat still on the forest floor.
Gin edged around him, peering curiously into his hood. "What's he doing?" she asked.
Rhoden looked the girl over. A pale blue moon had risen up in the sky now, highlighting the conjurer's close-cut silver hair and long ponytail. "He's projecting. He's going to investigate the tavern for us before we go in."
"Weird," Gin replied, peering at the wraith's dim eyes with wonder. "How long is he going to stay like that?"
Kenja's ship sailed on through the evening sky. Tavis had stood up and begun to pace now, as the trip wore on, feeling abnormally long from his nervousness. Gin had talked herself out, and Kenja had listened thoughtfully to her entire tale. Wary, unmoving, Zeyn remained stationed at the front of the ship. Tavis eyed him hard, trying almost to see into him and figure out what was going on inside his… mind. What kept him standing there, the youth thought. It isn't just tonight, either. Everywhere we go, he's floating out front, staring at things the rest of us can't see. For a brief moment, Tavis considered slowing his breathing the way Wiljes had taught him and looking at Zeyn with his other eyes, the eyes that saw streams of magic flowing and pooling. The thoughts of the morning on the hillside behind Wiljes' house flooded back to mind, though, and he quickly dismissed the idea, rubbing absently at the old scars on his hands.
Restlessly, Tavis meandered over to the railing and looked down at the city passing under them. In the distance, he saw the Hall and the King's Tower, the orange light of the dying sun glowing red through the pinkish glass that made up the tower dome. Just up ahead before them stood the wall of the old city, a stone, turreted bulwark jutting up out of the midst of a throng of buildings. Tavis recalled the walls from many years back, first when he was very young and had come to see the new Enteroh inaugurated, and then many years later when his family had passed through them in father's wagon on the way to their new home in Rhendale. Tavis recalled asking his father about it once. Father said that the old empire built up a lot of walls years ago, but there was really no use for them now.
Moments passed, long ones. Tavis had sat down again, a little closer to Zeyn this time, hoping perhaps to see something different at this shorter distance. And then, almost impossibly it seemed, Zeyn faltered. The burlap cloak crumpled slightly, his hovering wavered, and one of his thin, threadlike hands flew to the railing, clutching it for support.
Tavis stared, aghast, not knowing what to think. Barely a second passed, and then a flurry of missiles flew up into the air. Thick javelins bit into the hull of the ship, while thin arrows stuck into the wood like quills. Some cut through sails and ropes. Gin screamed. Kenja crouched low over the wheel. Tavis hunkered down to the deck, lurching toward Zeyn as he flattened.
A few seconds of awkward silence passed. Casting their eyes about, everyone attempted to register that they were still flying and in one piece. Violently, the cabin door swung open. "What in Belza is going on here!" Brogan hollered at top volume.
Then the second wave came then, more unforgiving than the first. Huge wooden bolts with steel tips whistled through the evening sky, punching holes in Kenja's ship and snapping mastbeams apart like branches in a fire. Immediately, the deck beneath them began to hiss and groan.
"Tredje! What-" Brogan began, snapping his head around to look at Kenja.
"The blower's been punctured," she responded, almost too calmly. Gin hung at Kenja's waist like an apron. "We're going down."
Tavis' throat constricted. Nervously, he began looking about for some kind of answer. His searching came to an abrupt halt as he heard the javelin scream through the air. It flew right up by the railing that Zeyn was leaning against, and sliced through his cloak like a needle through tissue. Tavis stared bewildered as the javelin continued sailing upward, not even slowed by the creature it had just passed through. Horrified, Tavis stared at Zeyn, watching inky, smokelike ichor seeping out of entry and exit wounds. With no regard to his earlier uneasiness about the wraith, Tavis scrambled forward, got underneath the rumpled cloak, and cradled the ethereal creature in his arms.
Wan, red eyes stared up at him, pleading, pained. With great effort, Zeyn lifted a frail, tendrilous arm, uncurled wispy fingers with too many joints, and placed them against Tavis' temple, ear, and cheek.
The deck spun out from underneath him. An enormous bright sun rose and fell in the sky. Madly, clouds swirled by. And then, Tavis found his footing again on a soft, grassy meadow, the full smell of a spring morning in the highlands filling his nose. His head tingled and he felt what seemed to be distant thoughts rumbling around in the back of his mind. At the same time, he felt exposed and wary, as thought someone else was inside his head, staring out from inside his own eye sockets.
That day, Tavis thought, out on the meadow… when Wiljes tried to show me how to channel fire… The day I burned… Intuitively, knowing he would be there, Tavis turned and saw his uncle Wiljes, laboriously breathing and leaning heavily on his staff. Instantly, Tavis rushed to his side and got an arm under him for support.
"It's all right, lad," Wiljes began, almost with a chuckle through his strained breathing, "it's all right."
"Wiljes…" Tavis began, dazed, "What did… How are you…"
"Don't worry son, there's no need. We all have to go sometime," a little half chuckle again through belabored gasps for breath. "Only problem is that I saw it coming, that's all."
"Why did you stay, then? If you saw it coming, why didn't you leave?"
"I had my reasons, my motivations… Things that kept me going, kept me looking after all of you."
"You've been protecting us, you mean? With your magic?"
"You've needed all the help you can get."
"But you're hurt, you're… Why did you do it?" Tavis' voice was almost showing anger.
"You can't ask me that, lad," Wiljes snapped in return. "I may as well ask why you've followed this caper as long as you have. All the things you did -that were so unlike you, putting your friends in danger… Tell me lad, was it worth it?"
Tavis bit his cheek, his lip, and his eyes faltered and fell to the ground.
"There's a reason I brought you here, you know. To remind you of what's inside you, and the reason why you did come this far." Wiljes' soft, old eyes read the consternation on the youth's face. "It could have been somebody else, might have been, but it's you now. You realize that, don't you."
"Yeah… I think so," Tavis replied weakly, then looked on into his uncle's eyes, something he never thought he'd do again.
Wiljes' whole body heaved then and began a fit of coughing, his whole body racked with terrible shaking.
"Wiljes," Tavis began, his voice distressed, "Wiljes, you can't…"
"It's too late, son," the old man managed through horrendous coughing, "On your way now…"
Uncle Wiljes seemed to fall away off to the horizon. The ground slipped away from under Tavis again and he felt as though the very soil beneath him was breaking apart. His normal vision returned soon enough. Another barrage of steel-tipped shafts sang through the air, totally demolishing the whole section of deck on Kenja's ship where Zeyn stood, leaning against the railing. Tavis tumbled back, grasping for anything he might find that would keep him from sliding off the broken edge of the ship. Zeyn was not so lucky though. The shafts tore into him and he hung in the air, as though suspended. His torn cloak swelled and rippled in the air for a churning moment. Then, like a flag cut from a pole, he tumbled down through the sky, chips of deck and railing accompanying him.
Tavis stared open-mouthed, a torrent of contending thoughts chasing through his head. Immediately, Brogan stormed over to the railing, leaning on a portion that was still intact.
"You fredjing tredge -heads!" he boomed at top volume, searching for the faces of the archers and artillerymen on the walls of the old city. "DO YOU KNOW HOW HARD HE WAS TO GET USED TO?"
Brogan was answered with another torrent of arrows. He ducked and waited for the ship to fly over and out of range of the archers and crossbows.
Quickly the big red turned to Tavis, who still lay on the deck. He clapped a huge red hand on the prone Tavis' shoulder and pulled him roughly up to a standing position.
"Come on kid!" Brogan yelled, "Into the ring pal, all our firepower is out!"
Tavis shook his head, confused. "What…?"
"All our magic support is out, pal. It's time for the direct approach, there's nothing left!" Brogan bent down, retrieved the lance from where it had fallen on the deck and shoved it roughly into Tavis' hands. "Here, don't forget this."
Tavis looked at the lance and then up to Kenja who stood at the wheel, Gin still hanging on her waist. "What about…"
"Brogan turned and looked over his shoulder. "Set her down in the bay?" the big red bellowed. It didn't sound like much of a question.
"Not much choice at this point," Kenja replied. "I'm out of range of those bows now, so it's just a matter of landing her on the water and getting on shore before she sinks."
"You look after my buddy Rhoden, too," Brogan cautioned.
"Count on it, hon," Kenja answered.
Brogan half-hauled Tavis to the front of the ship, eyeing the king's tower as it drew closer, staring intently at the pink glass of the tower dome.
"Bring back a story, kid."
"What?" Tavis asked.
"Something we used to say before we went into the ring. Now you're supposed to say 'Nobody tells 'em better'."
"Oh," Tavis replied dumbly.
"What's the matter, kid? You seeing your whole life go before your eyes?"
"All week now," Tavis replied.
Brogan looked at him quizzically. "Eyes out now, kid. -And don't poke me with that sticker." With that, Brogan gathered Tavis up next to his body and wrapped his arms around him, the way a father might do to a child. Looking out, Tavis saw the pink glass of the King's Tower right beneath them.
"Okay, deep breath!" Brogan hissed. With that, the bow lurched as the big red planted a foot on the railing and shoved off, throwing them into the late evening sky, arcing and turning slightly with the control and patience of a juggler's pin.