is head bowed, his eyes closed, Tavis slowed his breathing, concentrating on the subtle beating of his heart and the swelling of his lungs.
"Now then, Tavis," Wiljes began, speaking in soft, relaxing tones, "I want you to think of what I told you about your Ahdi earlier."
Tavis' head bobbed slightly.
"Don't speak now, son, just think about the very center of your being and let it grow until it's pressed against the inside of your skin.
Tavis felt a warm glow begin to form inside him like a swift shot of strong ale. It made him giddy as he allowed it to swell and fill him up inside.
"What you're feeling there isn't harmful," Wiljes explained. "You get used to it, in fact, develop a tolerance to it after awhile. The first time is always the most intoxicating."
Tavis giggled ever so slightly in spite of himself.
"Now," Wiljes continued, "I want you to press your Ahdi out until it passes just outside your skin."
Tavis found that it was less a matter of pressing, and more a matter of simply relaxing and allowing it to pass. His whole skin tingled as the feeling of warmth moved outside him, much like spending too long in the sun.
"Now I want you to imagine extending a little tendril out and touch me gently with it."
Tavis concentrated, attempting to imagine a small thread extending from his body. He found the warmth extremely difficult to manipulate delicately as Wiljes was asking, and it felt like trying to push water uphill.
"Go on, lad," Wiljes encouraged.
I'm trying, Tavis thought, straining with this thing inside him. The harder he pushed however, the more intangible it became. In a fit of frustration, Tavis struck out as though punching at a paper wall.
"Hooof!" Wiljes answered from across the room. Quickly Tavis jerked his head up and opened his eyes to behold Wiljes glaring at him under furrowed brows and holding a hand to his chest.
"Great Anhur, boy, I told you to touch me, not strike me!"
Sheepishly, Tavis retracted the warmth, allowing it to sink back into the pit inside him.
"Ho, wait, son," Wiljes called, "Look at yourself."
Tavis looked down at his arms. They were coated all around with a pale, blue light, like a glowing pair of sleeves. Tavis giggled in spite of himself. Then, raising his arms, he saw that the blue light spread all over his fingers as well like a pair of gloves. The warm feeling burned inside him now, pushing out beyond his skin and illuminating him even more completely.
Uncontrollably, Tavis burst out laughing.
"That's right, lad," Wiljes continued, "keep it up and I'll teach you how to channel."
With wind blowing hair and clothes madly about, the airship sailed on into the afternoon light. Brogan was diligently yanking on ropes, aligning sails and keeping masts in place. Zeyn stood like a sentinel near the stern, keeping silent and trying to stay away from everyone. The remainder of the company stood around the ship's steering mechanisms, taking turns talking to the ship's captain. Kenja, for her part, stood listening to them, wild-eyed and visibly shaken, intently following what the team was telling her, holding onto the wheel and tiller, guiding the ship with remarkable poise.
"You know, you were asking a lot to get me to believe that bit about the freaky ink-thing that you pulled out of the puddle, but now you're telling me that Rhoden here ripped open a hole and took you to fire-land?"
"Yeah," Gin continued, "and then Rhoden caught this big huge fire-bird thingie and we all flew on its back."
Kenja stared at the Elf girl.
"It felt a lot like this, actually," Gin added, vainly pulling flailing yellow locks out of her face.
"Okay," Kenja consented, still looking at the threesome incredulously, "So what happened after that?"
"Well," Tavis picked up, "Then we just flew to Rhanjiir, and that's when you met us."
"So, how come you didn't all just fly to Temacus on this bird-thing?"
Tavis looked up at Rhoden, who met his gaze with cold hazel eyes. "Well… uh… you see…" Tavis stammered, "…That is… well… -We were hungry! We wanted to get a bite to eat… Maybe freshen up a bit…. You know."
"Plus," it was Gin who spoke now, "Rhoden gets all funny in fire-land."
"…Yeah, that too," Tavis agreed, too quickly.
Rhoden gave a single, sharp exhale and sauntered off to the back of the ship.
Kenja's gaze came up and leveled at Tavis. "For someone who could never beat me at Tenkers, you've gone places."
"It's not so much me," Tavis replied. "I've pretty much been along for the ride. It's all of these guys that have gotten us past Elf guards and rock-men prisons, and demons and all that."
"I want to know if it's true what Ginny here says about you and that lance." Kenja said, nodding to the huge silvery-steel weapon Tavis still held. "Sounds like you've been at least a little useful to have around."
"Tavis taught me everything I know!" Gin piped up. "He's great with fighting." With that, the little Elf girl stepped proudly up next to Tavis and took hold of his free hand. "He's my friend."
Kenja smiled warmly at the little girl's declaration of ownership. Playfully, she poked Tavis in the stomach. "Yeah, he's taught me a lot too. He's quite the charmer."
Gin scrunched up her face and her eyes went hard at Kenja's flirting. Stiffly, she turned and looked up at Tavis. "If you need me, I'll be up front." She then turned and hotly sauntered off.
Kenja raised her eyebrows innocently, then turned to Tavis. "I didn't know you two were-" she raised her index fingers and made little apostrophes in the air, "-'intended'."
Tavis sighed and rolled his eyes. "We're not," he explained, "she's just a little… Well she's a little girl!" he spat.
Kenja laughed delightfully. "Don't be too hard on her," she returned, "I know what it's like. I was a little girl once, too."
Tavis chuckled slightly and looked down at his feet.
"And little girls sometimes need someone to talk to." She continued, eyeing Tavis meaningfully.
Tavis looked back up, then over his shoulder at the pouting little Elf girl who sat on a crate up at the stern, looking off to the passing clouds. "Be right, back," he declared, then turned, walked to the front, and gingerly sat down beside Gin.
"Nice clouds, huh?" Tavis ventured.
Gin looked on for a long moment with hard eyes. "You like Kenja, don't you?" she finally ventured.
"Well, sure," Tavis began, "She was one of my best friends when I was growing up."
"Are you going to marry her?"
"What!?" Tavis belted, jerking his head back. "Ginny! No! I mean… well, not now at least -probably not ever. What are you talking about!?"
Gin looked down at her lap, a soft sadness in her eyes. "It's okay. You can do whatever you want. I can't stop you." She brought her little hands to her face to cover her eyes.
Tavis swallowed hard, paused a moment in thought, and then spoke. "Ginny, Kenja's my friend, but you…" he put a hand on one of her little knees, "You're my pal… my buddy. We've been through things together… and that means a lot to me."
Gin took her hands away and showed Tavis her wet eyes.
"And you know, Ginny," the dark-haired youth went on, "It doesn't matter where I go in the future, or who I meet… I'm always going to think of you as my buddy."
Abruptly, Gin leaned into Tavis and threw both arms around his sturdy torso.
Taken aback, Tavis hesitated at the Elf girl's sudden show of affection, and looked back to Kenja for answers. Her only advice was a broad, knowing smile. Thoughtfully, Tavis looked back down at the little blonde head buried in his chest, and wrapped his arms delicately around her small frame.
Morning sunlight shone behind the silhouettes of Wiljes and Tavis as the two stood on a green hilltop. With a loud groan, the gray-haired uncle bent down, plucked a single wildflower from the ground, then rose and held it before him with both hands.
"Right now, lad, I want you to watch just once before you try it. Like I said, this is a bit different what we're doing here. It's called channeling. It means that you pull mana in through your Ahdi -not from yourself, now, and then let it out in a directed stream. Here, have a look, now."
Gently, Wiljes closed his eyes, slowed his breathing until it was quiet and steady, and then began exhaling firmly. Tavis began to breathe along with his uncle, letting his Ahdi swell, until his other sight took hold and he could perceive the bluish glow around himself, and around Wiljes.
The old man drew a breath, held it, and then let it go with will and intensity. Tavis saw the nimbus around his uncle flare, and then contract and course down his arms. With a rush that felt like wind, mana escaped Wiljes' hands filling the air around them with a hazy sphere. Crackling, the flower between his hands burst to flame. Tavis shivered, and let his mundane vision slip back. In that second, the flower bent, dimmed, and turned to ash.
"…Incredible…" Tavis gasped.
"You see? Channeling, like I told you. Here," Wiljes bent down with an additional groan, picked another wildflower, and handed it to his nephew. "You have a go."
Haltingly, Tavis took the flower. Instantly his breathing became forced and frantic.
"Slow down now, son, slow down. Take it a step at a time."
Tavis nodded, composed himself, and closed his eyes. Slowing his breathing, he felt the warmth inside him begin to swell. Gradually, the feeling spread out until it filled his entire body.
"Pull now, son. It's not coming from inside you this time, remember. You're pulling it from the things about you. The grass, the soil, sky, the sun… Pull it from whatever gives best to you."
Tavis extended his nimbus until it just pushed outside his body. Methodically, he began to press his will onto everything about him, testing each item he encountered. He found, however, that nothing gave easily. Every item he probed seemed to draw back at his touch, reluctant to give to even the slightest degree. Frustrated, he attempted to forcibly penetrate the unwilling stones, soil, and grass, but they would not yield. He tried to pull from the air, but it swirled away at his touch.
"You've got all the time in the world, son, just let it come." Wiljes advised.
But there was no consolation in the old man's voice. The power was there, it had to be there. The flower would burn and he would feel it, hot in his hands. Like an ember, like coals he would feel it come alive. Determination growing, Tavis propelled his will down his arms, like torrents of waves, pounding more and more into the weak flower in his hands.
"Son… Tavis… Steady on. Not all at once now. Keep your wits lad, hold your head together…"
Like a drum in his head, chords of blue-tinted will coursed down his arms. His breath came out in hot, little spurts now, synchronized with the measures of warmth sweeping down his arms. Burn! The youth chanted in his head. Burn! Burn! Burn!
Then all the warmth coursing down his arms broke free. The soft feeling of the flower between his hands was gone and his palms went numb. Dizziness washed over him and his knees felt weak. Tavis' ears filled with a ringing like that of an enormous bell and went so lightheaded that he didn't even hear his uncle screaming.
"No, lad! No! Great Anhur, God above, no!"
Startled, Tavis opened his eyes and beheld the frantic face of his uncle, brow furrowed, eyes wild, hobbling maniacally toward him on his staff and grabbing the youth's wrist, twisting it painfully and quickly upward.
Tavis caught the scent first, bloody and ashen like overcooked meat on an outdoor fire. He looked down at his hands and fell right to his knees. Tanned skin had been replaced by red and black churning pitch. His fingers stuck together as he moved them, and he saw the frail, blackened vegetation of the small flowers mingled in with his liquid flesh.
The dizziness left him almost instantly when he beheld his ruined hands, replaced by fierce stinging and a throbbing in his head. Uncontrollably, Tavis screamed and screamed and screamed.
"No, lad! Up! Come on!" Wiljes was already yanking the shrieking youth off the ground. "Come on, boy! Back to the house, now! I've got some salve inside -Up lad!"
"Up just ahead there," Rhoden called out to Kenja, over the sound of rushing wind, "Just over those hills down where you see the steam from the springs." Kenja nodded in response, then pulled hard on the tiller as she turned the wheel, bringing the ship arcing down at a sharp angle. With a practiced response, Brogan, pulled hard on yardarms, aligning sails to respond to the plunge.
Tavis looked open-eyed over the ship's railing down to the ground where Rhoden pointed, Gin standing close by his side. "Right down there?" Tavis shouted back to the conjurer.
Rhoden eyed the youth a moment before answering. "I told you once before that I buried him myself."
Tavis looked hard at the conjurer before looking back down at the ground. "Where are we going to land?" he shouted.
"Land?" Kenja replied incredulously. "Buddy, unless you can summon up a lake for us to set down in, we're not landing anywhere."
"So how are we getting down there?" Tavis returned.
"Right here, Tavis." The youth turned to see Brogan throwing a huge bundle of rope and wood at him.
Tavis stepped aside just as the bundle fell and struck the deck with a loud, dull, thud. "What's this?"
"Rope ladder, pal," Brogan answered. "Go ahead and hook it onto the rail, we'll go down the fun way. It'll be just like being back in the service."
"Hold on," Kenja interrupted, "Who's we?"
"Well, you know, I figured I'd shimmy down there with Tavis do what we gotta do, and run back up."
"Not a chance," Kenja countered. "I need you up here to help steer as I take us down. No way am I going to do this without somebody rigging."
Brogan looked back at Tavis and shrugged. "Sorry. I tried." The BeHemoth then turned and went back to pulling on ropes and beams, tightening and aligning sails.
"So I'm going down alone," Tavis moaned.
"Only if you want to spend all day getting samples from every spring on the hillside. There's at least three dozen of them down there."
"So are you coming down with me then?" Tavis queried impatiently.
Rhoden raised his chin slightly and looked down his nose at Tavis. Before either of them could exchange a further word, Zeyn floated over to the conjurer and placed an inky, threadlike finger on temple, ear and cheek. The two stood suspended in their silent conversation for an awkward moment and then Zeyn pulled back his hand, stepped over to the railing, and fell backwards over the edge of the ship.
"Hey! -Hey!" Tavis cried, running over to the rail, too late to catch the wraith from falling. The youth peered over the edge watching helplessly as the billowing form of Zeyn's cloak descended toward the ground like a feather caught in the wind.
Tavis jerked his head around and glared at Rhoden. "What did you tell him?"
Rhoden surveyed the youth a moment before replying. "The location of Endae's grave."
"What?" Tavis screamed.
Rhoden stood silent for another moment, a hardness in his hazel eyes as he glowered at the youth. "He figured you would all go on bickering, so he asked me for the location."
Tavis continued staring, open-mouthed at the conjurer for a moment before returning his gaze to Zeyn's billowing robes as he plummeted downward.
"Just what in Belza is he doing here with us anyway? Why did he come along?" Brogan asked.
"Anhur only knows," Rhoden returned. "And that's only if Zeyn has told Him."
Brogan shook his head. "He said that too, didn't he?"
Rhoden just looked on at the BeHemoth.
"I knew it," Brogan continued, eyes closed, arms around his midsection. "You know, those things he says are starting to make my stomach hurt."
Rhoden turned back to look at Tavis. "You'd better throw the rope ladder down, though. He will need it to get back up."
Mumbling exasperated curses, Tavis walked back to the bundle of rope ladder lying on the deck, and tied it to some sturdy knobs on the railing.
"Hold me tight, Brogan," Kenja called, "We're going down low."
As the sun was beginning to set, Zeyn climbed up over the railing. With a rustling of fabric, the wraith pulled himself on deck, and adjusted the cowl which had blown back and exposed too much of his smoky, opaque 'head'. As he hovered over to where the group sat by a cabin, Tavis noted that he showed no sign of exertion at all; No heavy breathing, no sign of fatigue, and no break in his 'pace' as he hovered soundlessly over the deck.
Arriving next to Rhoden, the wraith pulled a dark-green ovoid flask from the folds of his cloak and displayed it to the group. Subtly, he placed slight fingers on the side of Rhoden's face for a short moment.
Rhoden nodded, turned to the group, and gestured to the cabin door. "Let's go inside, out of the wind. Zeyn will help us summon Endae."
Tavis swallowed hard at that, then stiffly turned and entered the cabin with Gin right behind him.
The group quickly entered and got seated around a small table in the middle of the tight chambers. As Rhoden shut the door, the room became eerily quiet, compared with the howling wind that had been in all their ears since the afternoon.
Tavis glanced about and noted the presence of a few beds and benches built into the sides of the room. Small, milky-glassed windows just behind and above them let in the dying light of day.
"Let me see the stone," Rhoden stated shortly.
Tavis fished around in his pouch for a moment, found the dark, amber-colored stone, and held it out to Rhoden.
The conjurer took it carefully and held it up between himself and a window, studiously examining how the light passed through the dark stone. Slowly he turned to Zeyn and took the dark-green ovoid flask from the wraith, holding it by its narrow neck. Deliberately, he tapped the flat stone onto the tiny opening of the bottle several times.
"Do you have a container we can use?" Rhoden inquired.
Obediently, Tavis fished into his pouch again, then handed Rhoden the small, white cup.
The conjurer took it and experimented with placing the stone in the mouth of the cup. Purposely, he allowed it to fall through the cup's too-wide opening and clatter inside. "Not quite going to work either," Rhoden began, "Perhaps there's something else around here we could use…"
"No, wait," Tavis interrupted, "If we could just fix it in there with some glue or a piece of cork or something, we could make it stay put in the opening. Ginny, help me scout around and see if you can find any-"
At that moment the door swung open with a bang and a rush of wind and a familiar, hulking, red form filled up the doorway.
"What's going on? All of you in here playing cards without me?" Brogan boomed. His eyes cast about quickly and met unwelcome stares from Rhoden and Zeyn. "Ah… Doing the witch-doctor thing then. Well, don't mind me, I just popped in to get my mug." Brogan fumbled around a sack of things in a corner of the room and then pulled out his leather and pitch mug. He then held it up in salute and began backing out the door. "Kenja's got a good, ol' skin full of that ale from Rhanjiir and she's feeling generous with it."
"Wait!" Tavis shouted, turning to Rhoden and stopping Brogan in his tracks, "That's it! We could use Brogan's mug!"
"Use it for what?" Brogan bellowed. "What are you talking about? -Get your own mug!"
Rhoden paused and eyed the stein held protectively in Brogan's huge hand. "It would work. I could heat up some of the pitch and place it around the mouth of the cup."
Brogan's beady eyes widened. "You want to ruin a good mug? What are you… Mug like this you don't find every day, and you want to just ruin it?"
"It's the best thing we have to work with, Brogan," Rhoden returned evenly.
Brogan stumbled for a moment before finding the words. "But this is my mug! Paid good money for this and now you want to just ruin it!"
"We could repair it once we get to Temacus. All we need is a little of the pitch off of one side. It won't do any harm that we can't fix later."
"But this is a souvenir item, pal! Couple a years it'll be collectible! You go and pull a chunk out of it and it'll be blemished! Won't get a thing for it! I-"
Without anyone noticing, Gin had climbed off the bench, walked over to Brogan, and had cut off his tirade simply by placing one, small hand inside of his.
"I'm sure Kenja's got another mug you can use for some ale tonight," the little Elf girl encouraged.
"You too? Aw, but Ginny, I…"
"It's all they have to work with," she explained calmly. "Here, I'll help you find another."
"Awwww, tredge!" Brogan swore as he abruptly thrust the mug into Rhoden's hands.
"Thank you, Brogan," The conjurer replied levelly.
"Yeah, thanks for nothin'! I mean really, when a guy can't even hold onto his own mug!"
"Come on," Gin consoled, leading him gently back out to the deck.
"Did you see that?" Brogan went on, "Did you? They took it right outta my hands!"
"I know," Gin replied steadily. "I saw them. It was terrible."
"All the time I'm drinking tonight, that's all I'll be able to think about!" Brogan went on complaining long after the wind had drowned out his voice, Gin consoling him the whole time. Fluidly, Zeyn closed the door again.
"That girl is a treasure," Rhoden declared, still looking on at the closed door.
"Can we get started?" Tavis chirped, sounding like a child.
Rhoden turned to him with a cool gaze.
Tavis looked down at the table, etching little circles on it with his finger. "I know it hasn't been very long, but it seems like it's been forever." The youth looked up. "I'd kind of like to see him."
Rhoden nodded slightly and then got quickly to work. He set down the cup and stone, and then muttered a few words under his breath, pulling at the same time on an edge of Brogan's mug. At the contact, the black pitch began to hiss and sizzle as tiny flames licked at the sides, and then a big clump came off in Rhoden's fingers. Quickly, Rhoden discarded the mug and sat down next to the little, white cup. Fingering the pitch delicately between his fingers, he began placing it in a thin, even strip around the inside of the mouth of the cup. Once that was done, he rolled up the remainder of the pitch into a ball, set it on the edge of the table, and then said a single word aloud and burned the remainder of the sticky blackness off of his fingers.
Tavis picked up the scrying stone from the table and offered it to Rhoden, who held up a finger, gesturing to the youth to wait, and instead picked up Zeyn's ovoid flask.
"I promise it will be easier to put this in first," the conjurer explained.
Tavis pulled back the stone sheepishly.
Cautiously, Rhoden poured the fluid from the dark-green flask out into the cup. As it flowed, it gave off a serpentine mist almost like steam. To Tavis' surprise, it didn't rise, but just hung in the air, dancing slowly about Rhoden's hands, and then settling on the table when he finished pouring.
Rhoden then looked up at Tavis and took the stone from him. Gingerly, he set the stone in place in the mouth of the cup, then pushed it firmly into the already cooling ring of pitch.
"Allright," Tavis began hesitantly, his gaze wandering up to Zeyn's glowing red eyes. "So now… Can we… call him up?"
Zeyn, in response, pointed down to Tavis' pouch.
Tavis clutched the leather pouch nervously, and looked quizzically back up at Zeyn.
"Endae will need an avatar," Rhoden filled in.
Tavis nodded, the realization washing over him. He then fished out the little jade figurine and extended it over the table.
Zeyn stretched his threadlike arm and plucked the figurine nimbly from the youth's fingers. With what appeared to be a practiced maneuver, the wraith set the figurine smoothly atop the dark-gold stone, and then flicked it, sending it spinning. Amazingly, the figure did not fall, but hung there, a hair's breadth above the stone, turning silently in the air. Zeyn uttered a single word in his rasping, distant voice, and then stood back.
"You may call him now, if you like," Rhoden instructed, "or at any other time."
Tavis looked haltingly down at the spinning, jade figurine. For all the time he had waited, his lips couldn't form the words. At length, the youth summoned his resolve, and spoke.
"Endae? Are you…"
But he didn't complete his thought. The spinning figure began to shimmer like smoke in the sun. At once the figurine appeared to spin faster and then slow down at the same time. Tavis screwed his eyes up to see it clearly, but found that the image constantly seemed to shift and blur before him. Finally, the form solidified, and where once there was a jade figurine, now stood an old, rawboned man with a graying beard, leaning on a wooden staff. The miniature man opened tiny eyelids very slowly, as though waking from a deep sleep, and then looked out and beheld Tavis.
The two gazed at each other for a long moment, and then the miniature man began to laugh warmly. "Good lad, I knew you'd figure something out."
Balancing a bowl of stew between thickly bandaged hands, Tavis stepped cautiously to the table where Wiljes sat and placed dinner before his uncle.
With a jerk, the old man looked up from the thick book beside him. "Thank you, son. Where's yours?"
"Not very hungry. I ate a little something earlier."
Wiljes slurped up a few spoonfuls before responding. "You've got to get plenty to eat, you know. Build up your strength."
Tavis stared over his uncle's shoulder to the window behind him.
"Here, you're changing the bandages every night? Re-applying the salve?"
"Of course," Tavis replied dryly.
Wiljes slurped a few more spoonfuls of stew.
"You keep up with the breathing exercises, and it'll help them heal faster, you know. Cut the time down to a few months."
Tavis looked down, drawing little circles on the table with a bandaged finger. "I'm not going to do it any more."
Wiljes paused from the stew, setting his spoon down. "How's that, then? Doing what?"
"I'm giving it up. No more magic."
Wiljes paused a moment more, and then resumed slurping his stew. "Probably just as well. The king's making every practitioner of magic enter a registry. Hopes to keep his eye on any knockabout who might be a threat."
Tavis let out a grim chuckle. "There's something else I'd like to be done with. I've had plenty of Enteroh Nashan."
"Well, you're going to hear a little more, I've been doing some investigating and discovered some rather disturbing things about the Enteroh. I've been meaning to talk with you about him."
Tavis simply looked on, face twisted slightly like he had tasted something bitter.
Several moments passed and then Tavis heard a knock at the door. Mechanically, he pushed his chair back, stood, and paced over to the entrance. Clumsily he opened the top half to behold a blue-robed thirtyish man with pale skin, hazel eyes, and the odd combination of a short crop of receding silver hair and a ponytail.
"Morning, neighbor," Tavis said, "Help you with something."
The stranger peered at Tavis before replying. "Yes," he began, "Is Endae in?"
"'Fraid you've got the wrong house, friend. Never heard the name."
Quizzically, the stranger peered again at Tavis. "I've known Endae for years. This is his house."
"Look friend," Tavis retorted, irritated, "The fellow that lives here with me is my uncle. I think I'd know his name."
Tavis felt a gentle touch on his shoulder and jerked his head around to see Wiljes smiling softly.
"It's all right, lad," his uncle assured, "Let him in. It's probably time you and Rhoden got aquatinted anyway."
The trio of Rhoden, Zeyn and Tavis sat and stood about the table, mesmerized by the tiny bright image of Endae before them.
"So," Tavis began, somewhat awkwardly, "how is… I mean, are you okay?"
The tiny figure laughed again, warmly. "I'm fine, lad, absolutely fine. I'm in no pain here at all."
"Are you… alone? Or is there… can you see other people, I mean…"
"Well I can see you right now," Endae replied, chuckling again. "There are others here, of course. Quite a few, in fact. Good folks to talk to, some of them, and others have taught me much, just like anything else."
"Is there anyone there that I know?" There was a little shake in Tavis' voice as he asked this time.
"No, I don't believe so. I would have known if your father or mother were here… would've felt them, I suppose."
"That's good, Endae," Tavis replied, somewhat more at ease with the news. "You know, I'm still not used to calling you that -Endae I mean."
"Only a name," the miniature man replied, "Just something you put on for show, like a hat or a coat. Call me Wiljes if you prefer."
"Okay, Wiljes," Tavis replied quickly, "I think I'd prefer that."
A moment passed and then Wiljes spoke again. "You saw Rohnjeck." It was a statement, not a question.
"We did," Tavis answered quickly.
"And…" Wiljes went on, "What did you see?"
"I saw that day," Tavis replied, fidgeting with his hands. "You know, the one where you showed me how to channel… in the meadow, -with the flower, I mean."
"Oh yes, yes indeed…" the miniature Wiljes pulled at his beard. "Tell me, have you ever tried it again -not just channeling, but magic I mean, of any sort?"
"No. I got close once, though. One night when we got in a fight. We got attacked and Brogan was getting hurt real bad-"
"Brogan?" Wiljes queried.
"Yeah. Big fella. You probably never met him. He's a good guy though, protective, kinda funny. He has his moods though…"
"I'm sure he's a fine fellow. Go on with your story, lad."
"Oh yeah, so we were fighting , right? And Brogan starts getting clawed at by this big, ugly thing like a bull. He had skin all black like tar, and-"
"Is that what they're called."
"Yes. That has something to do with Enteroh Nashan. I'll tell you about that later, though."
"Okay," Tavis fidgeted again when he heard the king's name. "So Brogan was getting hurt and I yelled out one of those words you taught me, and these sparks went everywhere." Tavis paused a moment in the retelling. "It sounds kind of odd to talk about it now, but at the time it felt pretty good, like I was super-powerful and nothing could hurt me or even touch me."
"Don't go thinking that, lad," Wiljes cautioned. "Everyone's vulnerable. Everyone. Always. Don't forget that and go off like a rooster, it'll bite you."
"Sure, okay," Tavis answered, somewhat sheepishly.
"Tell me," the miniature Wiljes continued, "Did Rohnjeck show you anything else?"
Tavis looked down. "Yeah." The youth swallowed before continuing. "I saw me holding the lance, screaming… with sparks and all like that night I told you about. And… I was with Enteroh Nashan -Only it wasn't him, not really him, you know, he looked more like an animal… a big snake or something. It was like dreams you have where you see people as animals or things, but you recognize that it's them."
"I understand, son, I do," Wiljes consoled. The miniature, old man let the words sink in before going on. "I'm not sure that he's an evil man by nature, Tavis. I know I've told you that before, but he's been drawn deep into someone else's devices."
Tavis looked at his uncle incredulously. "How can you say that, Wiljes? How can you say that after what he did to father and to… to you."
"Well, son," Wiljes gave an affectionate, knowing smile, "I know it may not seem like such a long time since I've been gone, but… well, you lose track here. One of the biggest difficulties was coming to the realization that I no longer needed to keep track. I've always tried not to be a judgmental man…" Wiljes' voice trailed off. "But anyway," the miniature man gave a dismissive wave of his hand, "I can sense things here, feel things like I couldn't before. I can even feel the influence of some of Nashan's plans here, in fact."
"You can? But I thought you were all right now?"
"Oh, I am son, I am. It's just something I can… feel now, more than I could before."
Uncle and nephew exchanged long glances and then Wiljes spoke again. "Do you know what you need to do now?"
"I… I think so," Tavis replied, a little weakness in his voice. The youth's head nodded, and he jerked it back up again reflexively. "Sorry, I… I guess I'm starting to feel a little sleepy." He finished the sentence with a yawn.
"Well you've probably had a long day, lad. Talking with me in this state is bound to make you sleepy, too. It's very draining for both of us."
Tavis attempted to mutter a response through a yawn.
"Let's both get some sleep, shall we son?"
"Okay," Tavis agreed, "Good night, uncle Wiljes."
"And to you son. Let's speak again soon."
"Count on it, Wiljes." And with those parting words, the image of the miniature old man began to shimmer and blur until it was nothing more than a jade figurine, spinning again which slowly wound down and clattered on the table.
Like a zombie, Tavis rose from the table and shuffled over to one of the window benches, hunkered down into it, and immediately fell asleep.
Trondal dashed down the hallway, eyes wide. Arriving at the end, he pulled a door open and quickly slipped inside. He saw Nashan seated at a table next to another Devict who wore the customary black and violet robes, but with the distinguishing gold trim of a Hall official. The Enteroh had one arm around the Devict's shoulders, and was consoling him quietly.
"Highness… Sire… Something's just happened, I thought I should make you aware-"
"Shhh," the Enteroh responded quietly, turning and putting one finger to his lips. The Enteroh then turned back to the Devict by his side and patted him on the back. "Easy, easy there Wohlen... You're going to pull through."
Trondal stepped cautiously around to the other side of the table to behold the Devict by the Enteroh. The sight startled him with shock. Trondal knew Wohlen, knew him quite well. Reflecting, Trondal recalled seeing him in assemblies at the hall, loud outspoken, speaking all the strains and rhetoric a bureaucrat should. Here he sat though, ashen faced, mucus running from the wide nostrils of his large, hawkish nose and great, welling tears streaming out of his dark eyes. His hair was matted and unkempt and he shook and heaved breaths in and out like a man taken in frostbite.
"My stars," Trondal muttered, aghast, "What's happened to the poor fellow?"
"Well," Nashan began, patting Wohlen's back again, "he was helping me out with a little errand and got a little to deep into it. Wasn't quite ready I'm afraid."
Trondal looked on at the afflicted Devict, absolutely tongue-tied.
"You had some news for me, Trondal?" Nashan inquired.
"Yes, highness," Trondal began, still disturbed. "We scanned another surge. A powerful one, similar to the one several nights ago."
"Fabulous," Nashan replied with light sarcasm. "Corin will be calling me again, I imagine to blame me for it."
"It's the same people as last time," Trondal continued hurriedly. "That boy, with the lance. They're in an airship, I believe, headed back toward Temacus."
Nashan looked up meaningfully into Trondal's face. "Good work. Tell Lacondus. Have him send out a fleet to meet them. He may assemble whatever he'd like. Spare no expense."
"At once, highness," Trondal replied, bowing slightly. His eyes lingered again on Wohlen's sickened face, and then shuffled hurriedly out of the room.
"That's it, Wohlen, good fellow," the Enteroh went on. "We're going to pull through this."