Archive for the 'Lost in Silver' Category

14
Jul
11

Every Way You Can Get OTHER PEOPLE’S HEROES

Well, friends, for the last few months I’ve been deluging the hell out of you with each new announcement about the myriad ways you could get your hands on my novel, Other People’s Heroes. I’m very happy to announce that, as of today, it’s available in every conceivable format a person can experience the original novel. I’ll have nothing new to announce for OPH until somebody backs a truck full of money up to my house to make a movie about it. So let’s review…

  • If you’re old-school… if you prefer to get your books on paper, you can order the print version from Amazon’s Createspace. The print version will cost you $15.99, but it comes with my undying affection.
  • If you’ve got an e-reader, you have several options. Those of you with an iPad or iPod, you can just turn on your device, cruise to the bookstore, and do a search for the title or my name.
  • Owners of the Amazon Kindle can get the book in the Kindle bookstore.
  • If you’re the proud owner of a Barnes and Noble Nook device, the book is available in your store.
  • And if you have any other e-reader, you can click on over to Smashwords.com, download the book in your preferred format, and upload it to your device. Oh — and ALL of the e-reader versions, no matter your format, cost a measly $2.99. You’re paying more for that for coffee at Starbucks, people.
  • And finally, let’s say that you like your books in audio format. Let’s say you’ve got a long commute and you like to listen to books on the road. Cool. As of July 13, OPH is available to you as well. Cruise to Podiobooks.com and subscribe to the audiobook version of OPH, read and produced by yours truly. Oh yeah — and the audiobook version? ABSOLUTELY FREE.

So that’s it, right? We’re done? You’re never gonna have to hear me pimp my books again?

Oh, friends. Don’t you know me better than that?

At the present, I’ve got not one, not two, but four fiction projects in various stages. So here’s what you can expect in the future, probably in the order that you’ll see them become available.

  1. The Beginner, my second novel, is completely finished and edited and ready to go to eBook and print. The only thing I’m waiting on is new cover art. I’d really like to get that done before I go back to school, but that’s up to my graphic artist (a.k.a. my sister, Heather.)
  2. Lost in Silver, my fantasy novel for young readers, has been sent off to beta readers for their thoughts and commentary. Once The Beginner is done, my publish-fu will be dedicated to getting that in shape to release.
  3. 14 Days of Asphalt, the sequel to Other People’s Heroes, has been in the works for a long time. As of last night, I have finished work on the second draft. Once LIS has gone through the beta process, I’ll be asking for betas again to take a look at that one.
  4. And finally, my new year’s resolution back in January was to write or revise one of my fiction projects every day. With 14 Days finished, I need something else to start working on today, because I’ve hit it every day so far. So today, friends, I begin work on a new project. It’s actually the sequel to Lost in Silver, the continuing adventures of Linda Watson and her friends, and the continuing exploration of the strange worlds of Evertime. I’ll give you the title to chew on: The Light Man.

Damn, I’m busy aren’t I?

02
Jul
11

Calling all (beta) readers…

Yesterday, friends, I told you how happy I was with the performance of Other People’s Heroes in the eBook market. This continues to be true. But that’s really just stage one of my long-term plan (as much as it is a plan, anyway) to burn up the eBook sales charts. As I’ve mentioned, my book The Beginner is very close to joining OPH and A Long November in the eBook stores. But I can’t very well stop there, now can I?

I’m currently working hard on 14 Days of Asphalt, the sequel to Other People’s Heroes, and with any luck the newest draft will be finished by the end of the month. But I’ve also got another book, Lost in Silver, that’s pretty well finished now… at least in draft form. As someone going this alone, though, without the editing and production of a big publisher, that means I need to recruit some help. Some of you have, in the past, been kind enough to serve as Beta readers for me, going over manuscripts and giving thoughts, suggestions, and notes, which have invariably made my work better. And I thank you for that. I’m asking for that help again. Like I said, 14 Days isn’t ready yet, but Lost in Silver is. If you’ve been coming to the Realms for a while now, you may remember when I serialized that particular manuscript here, a chapter at a time. I’ve recently come around to a new direction for the characters, something that will really build well on that first story and help grow into new stories. And that means it’s time to make the first one available as well. Book two in that series, in fact, will most likely be my next writing project.

If you’re available as a beta for either — or both — of these books, I would greatly appreciate it. You don’t need to be a spelling and grammatical genius… just someone who likes to read and can clearly express your thoughts about a story. Send me your e-mail address and I’ll let you know what I’ve got in mind.

And thanks!

19
Apr
11

Time Travel Tuesday: Do It For the Children

Here’s something I find particularly amusing, and, actually, kind of topical. Many years ago, my friend Joan made an offhanded comment to me that at the time I didn’t really think much of. But things changed…

February 1, 2003

Do it for the children

I must admit, I was surprised when my friend Joan first told me she thinks I should try writing a children’s book.

Joan is a teacher, you see, someone who has a deep, constantly-evolving insight into the minds of the young that she gets to cultivate in-between trying to get them to stop eating paste and being worried that some of them didn’t know Louisiana is the state they live in. If this is something she thinks I’d be good at, maybe she’s on to something. Perhaps she thinks I have the sort of vibrant, lush imagination that would resonate with audiences of all ages. Perhaps she thinks I possess the average maturity of a 9-year-old. Both of these arguments clearly have merit.

Children’s books, I think, are frequently overlooked as an art form in and of themselves. There’s certainly no reason for it to be that way, lots of your great writers have done books that are geared for a younger audience — Mark Twain, Isaac Asimov, Judy Blume. Pulitzer Prize-Winner Michael Chabon (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay) came out with his first young reader’s novel, Summerland, last year. Neil (Sandman) Gaiman practically invented the current genre of mature-themed fantasy comic books, and he recently released Coraline with the young’ns in mind. Even Clive Barker of Hellraiser fame has joined in.

I’m not sure every writer should dip into children’s literature, though. I like a good Stephen King novel as much as anyone, but he’d have a lot of explaining to do if the parents of America were suddenly inundated with kids climbing into their beds at 2 a.m. complaining of nightmares about being abducted by a man with the initials R.F. and being held captive in a massive black tower or, for the really scary books, Maine.

No discussion of young reader’s books can be complete, however, without addressing the gargantuan popularity of that British entertainment juggernaut, the raven-haired lad who has won the hearts of the entire planet. I am referring, of course, to Simon Cowell.

No, wait, I meant to say Harry Potter, of course. Since the first book was published in 1997 the author, J.K. Rowling, has gone from a single mother working two jobs to the second-richest person in the United Kingdom after God, and He only claims partial residence there anyway.

So it is from Rowling that we find our strongest argument to pursue the art of children’s literature (that argument, namely, being that you could become exorbitantly wealthy and get to meet Alan Rickman), but what does it take to write a good children’s novel? That’s another question entirely, isn’t it?

Aside from simply having well thought-out characters, settings and stories, there is one thing Rowling does that I think a lot of people who attempt to write children’s literature forget. If you read those Harry Potter books something is clear — at no point does Rowling condescend to her audience. She never writes down to children, and the children respond to that.

Kids are a lot smarter than I think most of us give them credit for. They know when they’re being patronized. They may not be able to define “patronized,” in certain school districts they may graduate without being able to define “patronized,” but they know when it’s being done to them and they don’t like it.

It is this respect for her audience that has allowed Rowling’s books to latch onto people like nothing else in the past half-century. It’s the reason so many of Harry Potter’s readers are grown men and women who can see not just their children, but themselves in the books, and that’s what keeps them coming back for more. That’s certainly what’s going to have bookstore owners across America hiding under the counter at 11:59 p.m. this June 20, 60 seconds before book five is to be unleashed.

So with all due humility (humility, along with grace and charm, is one of those qualities I have in enormous amounts), I think it is safe to say I understand what makes a good children’s book.

Understanding and doing, of course, are two entirely different things. While I have tremendous respect for children’s books, while I even think it would be a lot of fun to try my hand at writing one, the more I think about it, I don’t really have any ideas at the moment that would be suitable. Oh I’ve got lots of story ideas, don’t get me wrong, but they all seem to involve shapeshifting aliens or homicidal phantoms with glowing icepicks or bitter third-generation artists who suffer a blow to the head and start to believe they are cartoon badgers. Not the sort of thing you necessarily want your kids to read.

Sorry, Joan. I appreciate your faith in me, but I guess this is one idea that will have to go on the back-burner until the pieces in my head fall together in the right way.

I just hope Alan Rickman is still available by then.

[2011 Note: Joan’s comment stuck with me longer than I expected. Not long after I wrote this column, I began the first draft of a new book, which eventually became Lost in Silver. This book, of course, was serialized here at Evertime Realms some time back, and is part of my long-term plans to inundate the world with eBooks.]

Blake M. Petit bets you think he’s kidding about that badger thing. Heh, heh, heh. Contact him with comments, suggestions or plot ideas he can rip off like that Lemony Snicket does at BlakeMPetit@gmail.com

07
Sep
09

Lost in Silver Chapter Twenty-Five: The Visitor

Well, friends, here we are, the end of my novel Lost in Silver. If you’ve been reading along, I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and if you’re one of the folks who decided to wait until it was over, after the whole Summer Love debacle… well, now’s the time. This chapter completes what I sincerely hope will be the first adventure of Linda Watson and her friends, and although I tried not to be too liberal with the story seeds for future adventures, I couldn’t resist popping in one or two.

And if you’ve got no idea what I’m talking about, you should probably start reading from the beginning. Go back to Chapter One, and you can just follow the link at the end of each chapter to the next one. How’s that for convenience?

Thanks for reading, friends, and I hope you’ve enjoyed it. I’ll be starting a new fiction project soon, although it will be a bit different in form. Stay tuned, stick around, and have a Happy Labor Day.

Chapter Twenty-Five

The Visitor

The people of Nogard began to creep out of the forest a few at a time, waiting for the dragons to pass first. Following behind them, the news of what had happened slowly rolled through the land.

They’re gone.

The dragons—

–driven out by some children.

We can go home.

By the time Elmer’s invisibility potion wore off, restoring Kevin and Emily, people were filing across the drawbridge, reuniting with fathers and brothers that Baliwick had under his control. Gene took Kevin down to the dungeon to release the prisoners, while Emily found her father, a broad smile nearly splitting his face in half.

“Ye bested me handily on the road there, Emily,” Eric said, hugging her. “I’ve never been prouder of ye.”

“I’m sorry I had to do it, father,” she said. “Ye weren’t quite listening to reason at the time.”

“Not that he ever did,” said Elmer, coming through with the mass of people over the drawbridge. “Welcome back, son.”

“Elmer,” Linda said. “I want to have a little talk with you.”

“Oh, no doubt, my dear. I look forward to it. But let’s enjoy the moment, eh?”

“Woo-hoo! Let’s party!” Kevin announced proudly as he and Gene led the way out of the dungeons. People in rags, unshaven, burnt, branded and scarred, came out into the sun and embraced their family and friends. As they took up a cheer, Kevin began crying, “Bring out the Ewoks! Come on, where’s the music? Isn’t there supposed to be some big celebration here?”

“Kevin?” Linda shouted. She was seeing him for the first time since they escaped the Macana, the invisibility potion gone. He wasn’t the same devastated boy they’d left behind. His leg was wrapped up with some sort of gauze, and his clothes were muddy and torn in several places. The ripped sleeve from the Macana vacuum-suit was tied across his chest like a sash, and there were several pouches dangling from his belt, some with stones, some with nuts, some with objects Linda couldn’t even guess at. A slingshot poking out of his pocket made him look like a child from an old comic strip, and his hair was mussed and unkempt. He appeared perfectly at home.

“Ah, Wildchild!” Elmer said, clapping Kevin on the shoulders. “I knew ye’d do well, lad.”

“T’weren’t nothin’,” Kevin said in mock humility. “Hey, Linda, what do we do with the overgrown Smurfs?”

Linda, Elmer and his family followed Kevin to the stable, where the two Macana soldiers were tied up. Lareil glared at them with cold fury to rival Baliwick’s, while Llaeli looked like he just wanted to leave.

“Should we throw these guys into the dungeon?” Kevin asked.

“I don’t know if that would be for the best,” Linda said. “If they could find us, so could Lallura, along with any other goons she has ready. I’ve got a better idea.”

She walked over to Lareil and nudged him in the ribs with her sneaker. “Well look what we have here. Boy, you seemed much tougher when you were trying to butcher helpless kids.”

“Let me go, girl, and I’ll–”

“You’ll what? Get beaten up by a bunch of children again? You’ve got nothing left and you know it, Lareil. Here’s what you’re going to do – we’re going to let you go and you’re going to go back and tell Lallura that it’s no good trying to expand your grip out into Evertime. Because no matter where you go or who you attack, we’ll be there – us or people like us – and we’ll kick your collective butts back to Mitimae.”

“Fine, fine!” Llaeli shouted in exasperation. “Just let us begone.”

Linda untied the Macana then pointed to a pair of the guards, holding two of the more impressive-looking swords in the palace. “You two. Go with these bozos and make sure they find their way back to the Evertime pool.”

“Yes, miss,” one of the guards said. If either of them were less than inclined to take orders from a young girl, neither of them showed it. In fact, they seemed honored to be chosen. Why not? If there was one thing that was constant, Linda thought, it was that everyone else seemed to know more about what was going on than she did.

*   *   *

Although all five of them were anxious to go home, Benny moreso than anyone, Emily and Elmer convinced them to stay the night, rest, and set out in the morning. Gail and Gene deserved to see how Nogard hospitality worked outside of the dungeon, Elmer insisted. There was no livestock left in the palace, so any feast they had would be limited to a vegetarian menu, but nobody complained.

Some of the men did find casks of beer remaining in the stores. They offered some to the children when the oats and vegetables began to flow. Kevin and Gene each braved a mug. Linda stopped Benny – she and Gail both abstained.

As everyone ate and made merry, Linda kept her eyes on Elmer, as if waiting for a signal for him. He gave it as she ate her third ear of roasted corn. A soft gesture for her to approach him, then he got up and walked away to one of the empty stables. She followed him, leaving Kevin behind to chat with Eric and watch Emily dance with an older teenage boy, with a sparkle in his eye and stubble on his chin.

“Who’s that, her boyfriend?” he whispered to Eric.

“Boyfriend?”

“Are they… um… ‘courting’?”

“Lad, ye make no sense sometimes. That there’s her brother, Linus. He was in the dungeon.”

“Her brother?” he said, his face lighting up.

“Hmph,” said Gail.

*   *   *

In the stable, Elmer had a seat. “Seems ye’re ready for our conversation, eh Linda?”

“Yeah, I am.”

There was a long silence.

“Well?” he said.

“You want me to start?”

“Makes more sense. I already know everything, after all. Ye’re the one who has to tell me what ye want to know.”

“What was that potion you gave me?”

“Me own special blend,” he said, laughing. “Ye wouldn’t believe how long it took me to get the spices just right.”

“I mean what did it do to me?”

“Ah, a much better question. It gave ye The Sight, to begin with. I assume ye figured out how that works by now.”

“It took a bit of trial and error, but yes.”

“And it made ye a bit stronger, a bit faster, a bit more resilient. Basically, it made ye do everything ye already did, but better.”

“Is that all?”

Elmer smiled. “For now, aye.”

“For now?”

“Well… it’s also given you ever so much potential, my dear.”

“Why me, then? Why not Gail or Gene? Or your own granddaughter – why did I deserve your little ‘gift’? Which almost got me killed, by the way.”

“Because, dear, I knew it was time to pass it to someone, and I knew ye would be the only one who could handle it.”

“You’re not answering my question. Why me?

“Because, Linda, you’ve been marked. You’ve got the Halo.”

She shuddered. “The what?”

“Now I know you’ve seen it, dear. Oh. it’s not actually anything religious, of course, it’s that little golden haze ye can see around certain people. Ye saw it on Edward, didn’t ye?”

She thought back to the first time she looked at Edward, through her Third Eye – the glowing brilliant white of his body, topped with a field of gold around his heart and mind. “Yes, I saw it,” she said. ‘I thought it looked like a lion’s mane.”

Elmer laughed. At first she thought it was because he didn’t know what a lion was, but instead he guffawed and said, “Yes, yes! Ah, ye are a perceptive one, aren’t ye, girl?”

“You’re telling me that I’ve got one of those… ‘Halos’ too?”

“Aye, ye do. Don’t bother trying to see it in a reflection though, me girl. It doesn’t work that way. Just take my word for it.”

“What is it?”

“It’s a mark, that’s all. It marks certain people – Edward. Ye. Myself. We’re a breed apart, young Linda. We’re something special.”

“Something ‘special’? Is that anything like ‘one of us’?”

“Eh?”

“Never mind. You probably wouldn’t answer me even if I did know how to explain it.”

“That’s one of the benefits of age, lass. Ye get to pick and choose which questions to answer.” He stood up with an old man grunt and began to shuffle for the door.

“What, where are you going? I’ve still got so many questions!”

“I know ye do, dear, but I’m afraid I’ve given ye all the answers I can for now.”

“But not all the answers you know, right?”

“Ye are a smart one, Linda. That’s why I’m confident that, in the end, ye’ll do exactly what ye are meant to do.”

“What’s that?”

“Find out for yourself.”

*   *   *

As they left the next morning – Wednesday morning, but Linda’s reckoning, only Emily and Eric joined them. They waved their farewells to the rest of the people of Nogard and made their way down the Yellow Brick Road to the Evertime pool.

“What are you going to do about this road?” Kevin said, kicking at the peeling paint on the cobblestones.

“I don’t know,” Elmer said. “Between the weather and the feet of travelers, this ugly shade should be worn away soon enough.”

“Aww…” Benny said. Once he had his head back about him, the road was the only thing about the whole experience he really liked.

“You do know what we’re going to tell Mom and Dad when we get home, right?” Linda asked him.

“A guy grabbed me at the baseball field and dragged me into the woods. He put a bag over my head and I didn’t see anything until you guys found me.”

“That’s right,” Linda said. She hated lying to her parents, especially about something like this, but telling them the truth would mark them all as lunatics. It was Gail who crafted their cover story, actually. They would tell them that a man in a black coat kidnapped Benny as the children played soccer – the other kids who were there that day would certainly have told them that much by now. Their story would be that the other three followed him to a pickup truck and managed to hide in the back until he stopped somewhere and they got Benny out somewhere in the northern part of the state. They would claim they hid for a few days, fearful that he was still looking for them, and when they were certain it was safe they stole a ride back in another truck. It wasn’t a flawless story, but it wasn’t bad. Linda didn’t at all like the idea of tying up police looking for a kidnapper they’d never find, but it was better than the alternative. Evertime, she knew, was something that needed to be guarded. Something so magical, and so potentially dangerous, should never become public knowledge.

“Here we are,” Linda said as they approached the pool. They each hugged Emily and clasped Elmer’s hand – Linda staring at him curiously the whole time – and made ready to leave.

“Goodbye, friends,” Emily said. “Come back some time – see what this place is like when we aren’t under occupation.”

“You bet,” Kevin said. “Any time we’re on the planet, you’d better believe we’ll be dropping by.”

“Hey, look!” Gene said. He pointed to the branches of a nearby baumer tree, where a beautiful yellow bird, a bit like a canary, was furiously working to build a nest. When Gene called attention to it, the bird looked down and sang a brief, sweet song, almost like it were singing just for him, before returning to her task.

“The animals are coming back,” Gene said.

“Aye,” Elmer said. “The last marks of Baliwick’s stay will be gone soon. Ye’d be welcome back here for that alone, if nothing else.’

The five children joined hands – Gene to Gail to Benny to Linda to Kevin – and stepped up to the edge of the Evertime pool.

“Hey, how do we know those dragons are gone?” Benny asked, his palms sweating. “I thought they couldn’t go in water.”

“Evertime water isn’t like regular water, B,” Linda said. “If it was, he could never have gotten to us in the first place. Don’t worry, they’re long gone.” She looked down the row. “Everyone ready? Okay then, on three…”

They jumped in and came out a few moments later in the still quiet of Evertime. The empty, motionless sky and the perfect silver of the water had not changed at all, but everything was different somehow. It was the same way climbing into the family minivan was different when it was time to come home from a long trip – you didn’t climb in the same way you did when the trip was beginning.

“All right,” Kevin said. “Anyone remember where we parked?”

“I’ve got the directions Murphy gave me,” Gail said, “but those were directions from the Infinity Bar and Grille.”

“And we remember how to get back there,” Gene said. “We’ll just have to go there and then take Gail’s directions back to Earth.”

“We’re going to a bar?” Benny said.

“No, B, we… hey, why not? You guys feel like making a stop? I’ve got something I want to talk to our old pal Murphy about.”

*   *   *

Although it was morning by Linda’s internal clock, the Infinity Bar and Grille was as crowded as ever. She got the impression it was always that way. Murphy smiled when he saw the children come in, the wrinkles folding oddly around the little t-shaped scar next to his eye. “Well, well! Little Linda Watson! Looks like you found everything you were looking for, eh?”

“Yeah, I guess we did,” Linda said, striding up to the bar. The other children stayed behind her, Benny clinging to Gail, unsure about some of the strange characters in the bar. A small group of people with green, lizard-like faces particularly unnerved him, but Gail assured him they were probably no relation to Baliwick.

“We’re about to head home now, but I wanted to make a quick stop here first. Say hello.”

“Aw, Linda, you flatter me.”

“I’m sure,” she said. “You knew everything that would happen to us in Nogard, didn’t you?”

Murphy laughed. “Linda, Linda, Linda. You know the rules. I couldn’t answer that question unless you did me a favor, and I’m afraid I just don’t have anything for you right now.”

“That’s okay. I didn’t really expect you to answer anyway.” She looked around the bar. “I was hoping to talk to Nancy. She’s not here, is she?”

“I don’t see her anywhere, do you?”

“I guess not.” She took the waterlogged watch off her wrist and handed it to Murphy. “Tell her I said thanks, but the next time I come here I’ll try to have a waterproof watch with me.”

“You got it, kid. Come on back sometime. I think you’d be fun to have around.”

“I’ll bet you do. Come on, guys. Ready to go?”

“Aw, I was just about to challenge that guy in the red cloak to a spell casting contest,” Kevin griped.

“Let it go, son,” Murphy said. “He’d wipe the floor with you.”

The five children left the bar and Murphy laughed. He waved to one of the adjoining rooms and a stern-looking blonde woman in a long coat came left a table with four similarly-dressed people. She walked over to him. “That was Linda, wasn’t it? She and the others did okay.”

“They did better than okay, Nance. Here, she wanted you to have your watch back.”

Nancy took it and smiled. It wouldn’t work again. Why would she want her to have it back? She turned the watch over in her hand and gasped. There was a message scratched into the back of the band. “Edward is okay,” it said. “He’ll find you when it’s safe.”

“Somethin’ wrong, Nance?” Murphy said. “You look like you saw a ghost, and I’ve got all of them in room seven tonight.”

“Who is that girl?” Nancy said. “Why did you want me to bring her here in the first place?”

“Aw, Nancy, you already used up your question for that favor. Sorry.”

*   *   *

Denise Watson was perched on the edge of her couch at 11:45 that Wednesday morning. Her oldest daughter, Jamie, was home from school and holding on to her, letting her cry, her own face impassive as if she were trying to keep her mother propped up. Jerry Watson was out of the house with his little brother, Marty, doing what they had done every day for five days now – putting up missing children posters on every telephone pole and bulletin board they could find, speaking to the police, dealing with the press when necessary. A missing child was increasingly big news these days. Five missing children from one park was enough to make the national news. NBC, CBS and Fox News had been camping out in Timberton for days now, and most of the other major outlets were in and out. Jerry had done several press conferences with the parents of the other missing children, pleading for their safe return, but Denise had stayed away from the camera. She wouldn’t have been able to deal with it.

“You want some tea, Mom?” Jamie asked. It was a small gesture, but seemed to be the only thing Denise would respond to these days.

“No, sweetie,” she said. Her eyes were red and puffy, and she was sitting next to a mound of used tissues that only got bigger and bigger as days went by and there was no news of her missing babies. Jerry or Marty kept trying to clean it up, but the mound always came back even bigger. The police tore the forest apart, but found nothing except a trail of the children’s belongings – watches, ribbons, that sort of thing. The trail led to a pond in the middle of the woods that nobody seemed to know about. Marty had suggested – to his brother, not to Denise – that perhaps the police should dredge the pond, but nobody seemed to notice. After a few days the police had abandoned the forest as empty of clues and turned their attention to leads from the public. An Amber Alert was issued even before nightfall on Friday, sending out news of the missing children to every news organization in the southern states, and a hotline was established. There had already been close to two thousand tips. So far, none of them had proved of use.

It was 11:47 now, and Denise discarded another tissue she had clutched and rubbed to her nose until only shreds of white fiber remained. She was reaching for a clean tissue when she heard the sliding glass door to the back yard glide open.

“Jerry?” she sniffed. “Is there any news?”

“It’s not Dad, Mom,” said a beautiful, familiar girl’s voice, a voice Denise secretly believed she would never hear again. Even before she turned around, even before she saw Linda and Benny standing there, clutching each other, the other three missing children behind them, even before Linda said, “We’re home,” all of Denise’s defenses vanished. She nearly trampled Jamie and hurtled the couch, grabbing a missing child in each arm and clutching them to her body, sobbing harder than she had since the police had arrived at their home Friday afternoon to tell them they had been kidnapped. Jamie approached tentatively, not sure what to do, but Denise grabbed her and pulled her into the embrace, and soon she was crying too. The four of them held onto each other and all of them began to cry, and as far as Denise Watson was concerned, they could stay in that tiny, leaking unit of family for the rest of her life, just so long as none of her children were ever out of her sight again.

*   *   *

It wasn’t until the next Monday that the children returned to school – only Gail was disappointed by that. Their teachers all were more than willing to allow them to make up the work they missed, and the kids each resolved to work harder than if they had been there in the first place.

Gail’s parents were ecstatic to have their daughter home, and over time, grew even happier with the change in her. She was more studious than before, more careful in school. She had never been a slack child, but now she seemed determined to make it to the top of her class. When her mother asked her about it, she just shrugged. “I’ve got to build up my mind,” Gail said. After a few months of this behavior, Gail’s father got brave enough to joke that if this was the result, he should arrange to have his daughter kidnapped more often. Her mother responded by throwing a pillow at him.

Kevin returned home to find his room full of gifts from his father – a new baseball glove, football, soccer ball, roller blades. Kevin showed his appreciation, but except for a new bicycle, he never used any of the gifts more than a handful of times. His appreciation for sports was undiminished, but his intention to pursue them seemed to be gone. He hopped on the bicycle the first time he convinced his mother to let him leave the house unattended again, rode to the Timberton Public Library, and got his first library card. The only other sports-inclined request he ever made, to which his father quickly agreed, was to be allowed to sign up for karate lessons.

Gene seemed mostly unchanged by his ordeal, although he did throw more of his time into his family and, especially, his pets. His two dogs got walked twice every day, his rabbit got only the freshest lettuce he could find, and his cat got more belly-rubs than the rest of the cats on the block combined. His mom pointed out to him that he was spending as much time with the animals as he was with his friends, who now included the two girls he’d been missing with, although he hadn’t really spent time with them before. “Well yeah, Mom,” he said. “Can’t you imagine how much it would suck if the animals weren’t here?”

Benny stayed away from his books for a while upon returning, but he drifted back to them. In fact, he began spending so much time reading that his parents got worried about him. Denise signed him up for sessions with the school counselor, who reported that Benny’s ordeal had made him retreat to his fantasy worlds. Benny, for his part, read and recited the stories and details of his books like any minor tidbit could be a matter of life and death. It actually got to the point where Denise forbid him to read for a time.

It was Uncle Marty who made the peace. He sat down with Benny one night and pulled him in close. “I know you miss your books, buddy, but your mom is just worried about you.”

“I need them,” Benny said.

“I know, I know, but you understand that you don’t really need them, don’t you?”

Benny just frowned.

“Okay, bad choice of words. How about this – you realize you need other things too, right? Your family, your friends, school… don’t those things matter to you anymore?”

“Yeah…”

“So how about a compromise? I’ll get her to give you your books back if you promise not to read ‘em 24-seven. Play outside. Read some of your schoolbooks. Let things get back to normal, okay?”

Benny eventually relented, and Marty made the piece between him and his mother. Before Benny was halfway through the Chronicles of Narnia, he’d made an A on his math test and joined the recreation department’s Pee-Wee football team, trading on his notoriety to get him in a few weeks late. After watching his first game, Denise commented that he had been safer back when he had himself locked in his room reading about bloodthirsty dragons.

Outwardly, Linda seemed affected the least by their experiences. The only change anyone noticed was a rapid, intense interest in her older sister. Jamie responded to the sudden deluge of attention by going back to school and spending more time away from her sister than before. Other than that, Linda seemed pretty much the same. Her grades stayed the same, her emotions didn’t change, she still liked sports and avoided books as much as ever. The people who had come back with her noticed only one thing – that she was much more alert than ever before. She was always looking around, taking stock of everything around her, gathering all the information she could about whatever environment she found herself in. It wasn’t a paranoid thing. She didn’t behave as though anyone was out to get her. Rather, it was more like she was waiting for something, although if you asked her, not even Linda would know what it was.

She realized it on the same day she stopped looking for it. It was about two months after they got back. November in Louisiana carried a coolness to the air, but it still wasn’t really chilly. Gene and Linda managed to talk Kevin and Gail into a two-on-two soccer match at recess that day, even though Kevin had wanted to show off some of the moves he’d learned in karate class, combined with a couple of the Cantrips he had learned in Lewiston.

“All right, Evernauts,” he said, using the name he’d adopted when it was only the four of them present. “Let’s have a game.”

Kevin and Linda paired off against Gene and Gail, who took a quick lead. It was 2-0 five minutes after they started, and where Kevin would once have gotten furious at losing, he was instead laughing at his own moves.

“Sorry, guys,” he said as a pass to Linda went wild, rolling right up to the fence.

“I got it,” Linda said. She ran to the fence as she once had for a baseball, taking in the area with her eyes. The entire school was to her back. The only person outside was a jogger, a young black man in a gray sweatsuit wearing a necklace, who she noticed had made a few laps around the school. He didn’t register as a threat.

As Linda ran up to the fence, he seemed to notice his shoelace was untied. He stopped and bent down, twisting the laces with his long, coffee-colored fingers and whistling the whole time. Linda had the ball in her hands and bounced it off her knee a few times, showing off for the others, when she caught the tune the jogger was whistling. The tune had words, she knew, for she had been taught them by someone very special.

“Heroes only exist in shadows,” she sang softly.

The jogger looked up at her and the necklace slipped free from his shirt. She realized there was a pendant dangling from the chain, what looked like a hand-carved and painted wooden eagle. The man smiled warmly, and she didn’t feel at all afraid.

She then did something she hadn’t tried since she left Nogard. She summoned up her powers and opened her Third Eye. The jogger began to glow with an intensity like Edward’s, and just like Edward, his heart and head had a beautiful golden aura. In her two ordinary eyes, the jogger winked and stood up.

You’re one of us now, Linda, Edward had told her. We’ll be keeping an eye on you.

“Linda? Hey, Linda?” Kevin put his hand on her shoulder and she snapped the Third Eye shut. The jogger smiled again, waved, and kept on his way.

“Something wrong there, Evernaut?” Kevin asked.

“No,” she said, “everything’s fine.”

Evernaut, he called her. It felt right. There was still so much out there… so much to learn… so much to do.

An Evernaut. That wouldn’t be a bad fate at all.

31
Aug
09

Lost in Silver Chapter Twenty-Four: The Fight

Chapter Twenty-Four

The Fight

Rubble fell from the sky as the top of the tower crumbled. Gail backed up as small chunks of rock began to rain down on the stables. Kevin and Gene ran inside one of the empty horse stalls, but Gail only stood there, staring up at the tower.

“Gail, get back!” Gene shouted.

“Linda’s still up there! What’s happening?”

As if in answer, they saw a giant black creature burst from the roof, wings unfurling and blotting out the sun. Gail pointed at it, shouting, “Is that a… a…”

“A dragon!” Kevin shouted. “Elmer told me, Baliwick and his men are Obsidian Dragons from another world!”

“He’s awfully selective about what information he shares, isn’t he?” Gene said.

“What’s that thing doing?” Gail asked.

The dragon flashed its tail and they saw a heavy object fly away from the tower. “Was that a bed?” Kevin asked as it passed out of view.

“Is that Linda?” Gail asked. Two children were falling from the tower now, clutching each other and screaming. Gail, grabbed on to Kevin’s arm and shrieked, “Kevin, do something!”

“Do what?” Kevin said. “I’ve learned a couple of self-defense and lock picking tricks! I can’t do levitation!”

“Is the ground shaking?” Gene asked.

As it turned out, it was.

*   *   *

Linda’s throat was screamed nearly raw, but with the wind whipping around her as she and Benny plummeted towards the ground, that was a minor concern. She held as tightly to her brother as she could, trying to pivot in the air so that he’d land on top of her. She didn’t know if her body could handle the impact – probably not, no matter what Elmer’s potion did to her – but it may at least give Benny a fighting chance.

There was what sounded like an explosion beneath them but she couldn’t look down to see what it was. With only a few seconds left, she opened up her Third Eye, hoping she’d see something – anything – that could save them.

What she saw was zooming up at them faster than they fell.

Edward, still glowing white with his brilliant golden mane, burst from the ground of the courtyard, hurtling through the air towards them like a truly-aimed arrow.  His white and gold form was wrapped with coils of violet magical energy, trailing behind him almost like a cape. His whole form somehow seemed even brighter than before. With a whistling sound, he matched their position in midair, snatching them both in his arms. They were still falling, but slower now, and when they landed several yards from the hole Edward had created, his legs took the full brunt of the impact, bending to cushion the blow and kicking up a cloud of dust. He didn’t seem to feel the landing at all.

“Edward? What happened? You said you were powerless in this world.”

“My own powers don’t exactly work, no, but you don’t live as long as I do without picking up on a few tricks for every kind of world. The spell I cast allows me to simulate my own abilities, but not for long. I’m going to be tired once this wears off, Linda.”

“My… I…” she thought she’d cry before she could get the words out. “Thank you,” she finally said.

He smiled. “You’d have done the same for me.”

In a brief moment of surprise, Linda realized he was right – she would. She probably couldn’t, but she would have tried her best.

Three pairs of footprints and two people came running at them from the direction of the stables. “Linda, you’re okay!” Gail cried.

“That was great!” Gene added.

“Who the heck is this guy?” Kevin asked.

Edward smiled that warm, comforting smile. “Linda, you never told me any of your friends were invisible.”

“It’s a recent development,” she replied. “Come on, let’s get out of here before–”

Unfortunately, “before” came at that exact moment when four of Baliwick’s five men (Harridan must have still been trapped), along with what looked like every Orange guard in the palace, tramped into the stables. A squad of them formed a human wall around the tunnel to the courtyard, while others surrounded them on all sides, blocking off the grate that led down to the moat.

“More of them!” Lareil shouted. “I’ll gut you all! Oof!”

“Thanks, Kevin.”

“No problem, Gene.”

The dragon at the top of the tower beat its wings against the sky. Impossibly, its bulk began to lift up, floating away from the shattered room.

“Emily,” Linda whispered.

“She was still up there?” Edward asked.

“Yeah. I don’t know what happened when Baliwick… turned into that.

The dragon floated gently over the stable, drifting to the ground. His men and guards backed away, clearing a spot for him to land, and clouds of dust erupted around him like a landing helicopter. As he set down, his body began to shrink again, the obsidian scales giving way to flesh tones, and hair replacing his horns. Although his clothes had been torn to shreds during his transformation, his cloak had remained in place around his neck, the dark leather blending into his scales. Now, as he resumed his human form, it fell around his body.

“He’s not magic,” Linda whispered. “I can’t see a purple field around him like Kevin.”

“That’s a natural function of dragons,” Edward said. “At least, dragons on his world. Still rather annoying though, isn’t it?”

“You’ve broken our pact, Edward!” Baliwick said. “You know what this means, don’t you? She’s dead now!”

“Read the compact more carefully you slithering twit,” Edward said, his good humor gone in response to the threat in Baliwick’s voice. “I agreed to remain in your custody in return for her safety. I haven’t left the palace grounds. I’ve been humoring you, but it’s about time you remembered that our deal didn’t include chains, beatings or allowing innocent children to be butchered. I haven’t left, and I’m not going to, but if you want to lay a single claw on these children you’ll have to rip me apart.”

“Um… what’s stopping him from doing that, exactly?” Gene asked.

“Another little detail of our agreement,” Edward said. A trace of his smile returned at that.

“Fine,” Baliwick snarled. “I won’t harm them.” He turned to his men. “Kill them all,” he said.

The four black-glowing men stepped forward, smoke hissing from their bodies. Gail shuddered. “Four of them,” she said.

“That’s less than one apiece,” Kevin said. “How hard can it be? In fact, let me tip the scales a bit more.”

There was a sound like a rubber band snapping and one of the black guards slapped his chest. A blue bubble sprung up around him, stopping him in mid-transformation. The guard next to him got caught in the same trap.

“What are you doing?” Gail asked.

“I got a bunch of the Macana emergency pods caught in my bubble with that sleeve that tore off,” he said. “You’re right, Gene. I am good with a slingshot.”

He fired again, trapping the third guard just as his form got large enough to begin sprouting wings. It was a comical sight – three dragons smooshed inside what looked like blue glass globes. The fourth guard’s transformation was nearly complete when Kevin fired again. The dragon opened its massive obsidian jaws and the emergency pod went down its throat. There was a horrible spark of energy from its mouth and it made a croaking sound.

“Geez, the bubble is trying to expand, but its skin is too tough,” Gene said.

“Worst case of indigestion in history,” Kevin agreed. “One pod left. What do you say, Bally-boy? Want to test it?”

Baliwick’s only answer was an ear-splitting roar. His body was already in mid-transformation when Kevin reached into the pouch on his belt and withdrew the last emergency pod he’d retrieved from the Macana vacuum-suit. He slipped it into the cup of his slingshot as Baliwick’s jaws opened and began to spew noxious smoke. Kevin let go of the cup as the flames whipped up from Baliwick’s throat, and when the hurtling emergency pod cut through the smoke, a perfect bullseye aimed at Baliwick’s tonsils, the nova blast of fire slagged the metal cartridge in mid-air. There was a searing crackle of electricity, but the hot metal splattered against the inside of his mouth. Baliwick swallowed and, impossibly, a hideous smile cracked the lizard-like skin on the dragon’s face.

“Okay guys, that was my Plan A,” Kevin said. “Your turn.”

Linda took a step out in front of her friends, with only Edward on the same plane as her in relation to Baliwick. Benny had fallen to the ground and wasn’t moving at all, clearly not knowing how to react to this scenario. Baliwick, evidently, didn’t prepare him as well as he may have hoped.

“Linda, get back,” Edward said.

“No,” she replied. She said nothing else, but incredibly, she didn’t have to. Edward nodded, understanding, and straightened up next to her.

“The children are leaving, Baliwick,” Edward said.

Baliwick spewed flame at Edward, but in Linda’s Third Eye she saw an invisible shield of violet magical energy form as a barrier between his body and the tongues of fire. Linda didn’t have such a shield, however, and the sheer heat forced her back and to the side. Edward, protected as he was, threw his arms in front of his face instinctively, and Baliwick took advantage of the distraction. He leapt forward, shoving Edward out of the way with his massive claw, then with the other he reached out and snatched Gail. The giant paw – three long fingers and one back claw, each with talons like steel spikes — wrapped around her body. He reached out for Gene, but he fell to the ground and rolled away. Kevin lashed out at the talon that clutched Gail, and battered the Obsidian claws, shouting. Baliwick swatted Kevin aside and gave up on Gene. He held tight to Gail and jumped into the air, beating his wings and lifting into the air.

“Let her go!” Kevin screamed. “Where are you taking her?”

“He’s taking you apart one at a time, maggot!” hissed a muffled voice. The smoke in one of the energy bubbles was whisked away from the surface, revealing a sinister black face. One of the dragons had reverted back to human form. He looked entirely too satisfied for Linda’s comfort.

“He’s going to melt down the weakest link in your chain first.”

“He’s going to brainwash her like he did to Benny,” Edward said. “I’m going after them.”

“And you’re taking me with you!” Linda shouted. Edward nodded.

“And I’m taking you with me,” he agreed. He looked back at Gene and the general area he presumed Kevin occupied. “You should be safe down here; the guards don’t know what they’re doing with their one brain flapping away.”

He scooped up Linda in his arms and jumped after Baliwick, straight up. Linda had expected him to run or make for a stairwell. He didn’t need it, though. She thought he had just jumped to catch her before. Now he was carrying her through the air with him. It was the first time Linda ever flew.

*   *   *

Emily was dazed when she came to. The rumbling tower had pitched her through the open door to Benny’s room and she’d tumbled down the stairs for several stories before bashing her head into the quaking, stone wall. The next thing she knew, the tower had stopped shaking and all of the guards were rushing past her, rambling down the stairs as quickly as they could without trampling one another. Emily pulled herself to her feet, plastering her body to the wall so she would be out of the way, and they zipped past her. Finally the last of them moved past her and she stepped out, rushing back up the stairs. What on Earth was going on? What happened to Linda and Benny?

She turned the corner into Benny’s room to find the roof and stone walls torn apart and all of the furniture either missing or pulverized. She crept to the edge and peered down to see Baliwick, in dragon form, whipping into the air with Gail dangling from his claw. Linda, on the ground, climbed into the arms of a tall man that must have been the famous “Edward” her grandfather always talked about, and together they leapt into the sky, speeding after the dragon.

She yelped and jumped back down the stairwell as the dragon buzzed the roof of the shattered tower. Running down a few floors, she looked through a window and saw Baliwick hovering over the courtyard. He had turned around too face Edward, Gail gripping his claw for dear life with one hand and covering her eyes with the other. He expectorated a heavy stream of fire, and Edward went into a spin in the air, twirling around it while Linda shrieked.

Emily saw which way Baliwick was drifting – towards the roof of another tower. Emily looked down at the castle, hoping she knew which passages would bring her there. She started running down the stairs again.

*   *   *

Baliwick flicked his talon at the roof. Gail held on as best she could, but it was hard to find purchase on the Obsidian scales. The skin on her arms screeched with friction and she slid away, hitting the roof and immediately beginning to roll down the incline. There was terrible pain in her skin as she grabbed onto the shingles, trying to grip them with her hands and slow her descent with her shoes. She stopped sliding a few inches from the edge.

In the air, Baliwick fired a wider spread of flame, driving Edward and Linda back in the air. Baliwick was right over the center of the roof, when suddenly his dragon-body contracted back to its human form. The human Baliwick fell, cutting straight down through the roof. The entire roof caved in, breaking like an eggshell. In his human form, he must have maintained his dragon weight, because his body didn’t look remotely heavy enough to cause that kind of damage. Gail shouted again as the incline suddenly reversed – now she was sliding face-first into the tower. She never knew what she hit on the way down, but whatever it was, she hit hard.

*   *   *

“Gail is unconscious,” Edward said. “Watch out for her – I’ll handle Baliwick!” He dropped Linda by Gail, who wasn’t moving, and flew into Baliwick’s chest, knocking him backwards with two fists. He clattered into a rack of swords and staffs against the wall. No one would build an armory this high in the castle, so Edward assumed this had been someone’s private collection.

“I warned you, Baliwick,” Edward said. “These children are off-limits!”

“We have no bargain concerning them, Endomancer,” Baliwick hissed. “They’re mine if I can take them!”

“Take them, then.”

Baliwick hissed, lashing out at Edward with ten-inch razor claws at the end of his hands. Edward blocked each blow with his arms, the claws amazingly glancing off his skin as though it was armor. In Linda’s Third Eye, each impact was accompanied by burst of violet energy.

Baliwick, realizing his slashing attacks weren’t working, retracted his claws and made steel-like fists. Clutching them together, he drew back and landed a two-fisted blow beneath Edward’s chin. The prisoner lifted right out of the smashed ruins of the tower, hurtling through the air.

“Edward!” Linda screamed.

“Worry more for your friend girl,” Baliwick said. He shoved Linda out of the way and picked up Gail by the front of her shirt. He slapped her a few times, snapping her to consciousness.

“Wh… wha?” Gail moaned.

“Let her go!” Linda’s rage exploded and she brought her own fists down on Baliwick’s elbow. He shouted and dropped Gail, then turned to Linda in shock.

“I… felt… that,” he said. With a backhanded blow, he slapped Linda back into the remains of the wall.  There was a flash behind her eyes and, when she looked up, Baliwick was holding Gail in his outstretched arm. There was a tendril of orange energy creeping out of his eyes and into hers.

Edward came down just in time to grab onto Gail, landing a blow to Baliwick’s chin at the same time. She slipped from his hands again and he handed her, too loopy to know what was going on around her, to Linda for safekeeping. He turned on Baliwick, nailing him with a backhanded right to the face. He followed up with a roundhouse left to Baliwick’s gut, hurling him backwards into the wall.

The door to the room, hanging on one hinge, popped off and fell into the rubble. Baliwick lifted it with one hand and slammed it into Edward. The wood splintered on his back, but Linda noticed the purple magic field surrounding his body wasn’t as bright as it had been before.

She saw something else, too – a purple field standing in the doorway. Baliwick’s nostrils flared and she realized he was sniffing out what she was seeing.

“Emily, run!” Linda cried, but Baliwick was faster than her warning. He grabbed Emily’s arm, lifted her up and hurled her up and to the north. In the same motion, he snapped around and yanked Gail away from Linda, hissing at the girls with breath like a volcanic exhaust. Edward’s eyes darted between Gail and the direction Baliwick hurled Emily and, in a split-second, made his decision. He grabbed Linda roughly and tucked her under one arm, launching into the air after Emily.

“But – Gail!” Linda shouted.

“I know, Linda, but I can’t see Emily!” Linda’s mind processed the situation as soon as he said it – Baliwick was trying to brainwash Gail, but Emily was doomed if she hit the ground. It was easier to rescue someone out of her mind than someone who was dead.

“That way,” Linda said, and pointed.

The wind around their bodies grew faster and it was hard for Linda to keep her eyes open. She realized, as she pointed, she didn’t need to. She could see Emily just as easily with her eyes shut against the wind.

“Down,” she said. “A little more! Now to the left! No, too much! Straight ahead… straight ahead!”

“I’ve got her!” Edward cried. His outstretched right hand grabbed onto Emily’s invisible arm and pulled her into his own body. Both girls safe and clinging to him, Edward executed a quick 180-degree turn in the air and rocketed back to the castle, landing in the stable, where Gene and the invisible Kevin were trying to talk to Benny. For his part, Benny was just babbling.

“Baliwick’s hold is slipping,” Edward said. “He’s been trying to control too many people for too long. You girls stay here.”

“No!”

“It’s not that I don’t think you’re capable, Linda, you’ve proven you are, but you aren’t a match for an Obsidian Dragon. You have to realize that.”

“Well you won’t be for much longer! I can see your power fading!”

“Linda–”

“It doesn’t matter, Edward!” shrieked Baliwick’s voice, standing atop the tower. He was holding Gail straight out over the empty courtyard, gazing at her. Linda could see this time that the orange link between their eyes was complete.

*   *   *

In Gail’s mind, she was at war.

The moment Baliwick made contact with her she felt her consciousness get pulled deep into a place in her head she never knew existed. There were swirling colors all about her, and Baliwick stood there, his right arm outstretched to her. In his left hand he held a bouquet of long, orange tendrils of energy, each of them stretching out to some place Gail couldn’t see. As he reached for her, twirling his hand, she felt a similar tendril erupt from her own heart. It was trailing out towards him. If he grasped it, she could feel, he would have her mind the same way he had Benny’s.

“Come along, little Gail. Why are you even trying to fight? What have they ever done for you?”

“Leave me alone,” she said. She tried to close her eyes, to find some way to shield herself, but she couldn’t.

“It’s inevitable, Gail. You do know what ‘inevitable’ means, don’t you?”

“Leave me alone!” She reached out for the orange cord growing from her body, but her hands passed through it like smoke. Baliwick, she knew, would be able to grasp it with no difficulties.

“Stop resisting. It won’t hurt, I promise.”

“Go away!”

“In fact, I can even see to it that your experience is a quite pleasurable one.”

“NO!”

“Yes!” Baliwick’s hand flashed out and grabbed the cord. The second his fingers wrapped around it Gail felt a shock down to her soul and there was a pull, like her entire consciousness was being pulled along toward Baliwick’s sanguine glare.

“Let us go!”

Baliwick’s smile flickered. “You have a surprisingly strong will, girl, but I break them all in the end.”

“Let us go!”

Each word, as she said it, got sucked along the orange cord and into Baliwick’s form, absorbed, caught in his control. Gail’s mind was racing, trying to figure out something he couldn’t absorb, couldn’t control, and she wasn’t coming up with something.

“Come along, Gail. Just relax, let yourself go. They’ve never done anything for you. The boy ignores you, doesn’t he? And Linda hogs the spotlight. As long as she’s around you’re just a pawn. But in my game, you can be much more. A knight. A castle. Perhaps even a queen.”

“It isn’t like that! Linda…”

Linda.

She thought back to Linda, to their years of friendship, everything he was trying to demolish, and in that she found her key. She found an image of a green light in her mind, followed it with the letter “A” and an image of scales tipped off balance, one side far heavier than the other. She hurled the thought down the orange cord to Baliwick, then repeated it, then did it again.

“What’s this, girl?” he said. “Trying to say something?”

Green light.

“A.”

Scales.

Green light.

“A.”

Scales.

“What are you saying?”

Gr – go.

A.

“Go a–”

“What–”

Scales.

Weigh.

Gail’s mind amplified the intensity of the image. It roared down the cord to his hand like a bubble in a cartoon hose. It hit him like a medicine ball, exploding in a cascade of translation.

“GO AWAY!”

The shock bowled him over and the cords in both of his hands slipped. She’d shattered his concentration just long enough, and she saw the cord whipping back into her body before there was a flash and she was back in the real world, back in her own body, and falling from the very apex of the tower to the courtyard below.

*   *   *

Linda saw the orange cord between Baliwick and Gail glowing like a bolt of lightning. Gail thrashed a few times and, the way he clutched her neck, Linda was certain she would hear a horrible snapping sound at any moment.  Instead, she heard Baliwick shriek. All around her, the orange glow from Baliwick’s guards flickered like color on a broken television screen.

Benny shrieked against his gag, pounding his head into the ground. The guards were having a similar reaction, clawing at their faces, pulling their hair and shouting. Linda grabbed her brother, shaking him as he convulsed. The flickering got worse, then popped, and every glowing trace of orange vanished. The guards shouted as one as their color was drained, each of them glowing of their own accord. Most of them glowed a shade of gray – none as pure white as Edward or as demonically black as Baliwick. Somehow, that in-between shade looked normal to Linda’s eyes.

“Mprh?” Benny said. His eyes, confused, were darting around like a small animal watching for a predator. Linda pulled off his gag and the words flowed out of him in a torrent. “Linda, what’s happening? I could see everything I was doing, but I couldn’t stop myself! Where were you all that time? How are we going to get home? How–”

“Benny! B! Calm down, B, it’s gonna be okay now. I promise.”

“Hey, you might not want to sling those promises around just yet, Linda,” Kevin said.

Gene pointed to the tower. “Look!” he shouted. Baliwick’s grasp had already slipped and Gail was falling. Edward, fortunately, didn’t miss a beat.

“This is getting to be routine,” he said. He jumped into the air and caught Gail, then fell to the ground. This was a real jump, not flight like when he saved Linda before. He hit the ground in a dusting of purple energy much lighter than any Linda had seen yet, the girl tumbling from his arms.

“Ye, girl! Linda, is it?” one of the guards said. “What’s going on here?”

“You remember my name?”

“We remember parts of what that monster made us do. Why was he trying to kill you?”

“I’ll explain later,” she said.

“You haven’t won yet, children!” Baliwick shrieked from the tower. He pulled a battle-axe from the rubble and hefted it above his head. “Your protector is almost out of power! I’ll end this myself!”

He leapt from the tower, axe held tightly in his hands, and fell towards Edward. The prisoner still had a spark in him, though. As Baliwick chopped down, Edward grabbed the chains still dangling from the manacles on his wrists and whipped them around, catching the handle of the axe and yanking it out of Baliwick’s hands. In the same motion he put up his feet and caught the dragon in human form in his stomach, flipping him into the wall of the tower.

“Get the dragon!” the guard who had spoken to Linda cried.

“No!” Linda shouted. “He’ll kill all of you!”

“Are ye calling us afraid, girl?”

“No, I’ve just got a better idea. How fast can you open the drawbridge?”

“A few minutes.”

“I can do it faster,” Kevin said. “What’ve you got in mind?”

As Linda quickly gave her orders, Edward continued to ward off Baliwick. The dragon slashed with his claws, and with each slashing attack Edward deflected, the purple color faded.

“Edward!” Linda shouted from the tunnel to the courtyard. “This way!”

Edward battered Baliwick aside and bolted for the tunnel. Baliwick leapt after him. “Taking your orders from a child now, Edward?”

“It’s a matter of knowing who you can trust, lizard.”

Baliwick leapt like he was being hurled from a catapult, slamming into Edward’s back. His momentum carried them the rest of the way through the tunnel, digging a gash in the dirt of the courtyard. Edward rolled over, nailing Baliwick in the gut with an elbow, and Baliwick returned the favor by hurling Edward into the grandstand, smashing into the charred post Harridan had used for his exhibition earlier. Edward stood up from the splinters and ash, staggering on his feet like a punch-drunk boxer. That last impact had wiped out all most all of his power. Linda could barely see a tinge of violet now. The next attack would most certainly kill him.

Baliwick kicked at a long shaft of wood that had broken off the grandstand, flipping it into his hand. He held it like a spear. “I should have done this the moment I had you in my custody, Edward,” he said.

“Leave him alone.” Linda stepped between Baliwick and Edward, clutching her fists so tightly the knuckles were bone white.

“Back down, girl, lest I kill you first.”

“You’re not killing anyone today, Baliwick,” she said. “Why don’t you take a look in the moat?”

“What are you blathering about, girl?”

“Only one way to find out.”

Baliwick glared at her with a look of pure hatred, but cast a glance in the direction of the drawbridge. It was down, and the pins that held it up were lying on the ground, slightly smaller than they should have been. The guards, no longer under his control, were flanking the gate, smiling with a certain sadistic glee. Baliwick hissed at a few of them as he walked past, making them flinch. Behind him, Linda and Gene were helping Edward stand.

“Well, girl? What am I looking for?” he snarled.

One of the guards walked out onto the bridge holding a long pole. “Sorry, chap. They’re underwater. Here, let’s see if this helps.” He shoved the pole into the green murk and poked at something. Four blue bubbles rose to the surface, humming in the air. In each a pair of fists and the look of a panicked dragon-man were clearly visible.

“Baliwick! Help!”

“Save us!”

“Get us out of here!”

The fury in Baliwick’s eyes was quadrupled as he turned on Linda. “You little beast! What have you done?”

“I thought. You should try it sometime. I remembered Emily mentioning you guys never went in the water. It didn’t make sense until you showed your true colors – you big, nasty, fire breathing dragon, you. So it seems to me, if you swallowed enough water, it may just put your fire out. And if that happened…”

“Take them out, girl, or I’ll tear you to ribbons!”

“You won’t lay a finger on me. As soon as you try, my friend shuts off the bubbles and your men all get the worst bath of their lives.”

“What’s she talking about?” Gail whispered to Kevin. “You can’t turn the bubbles off from out here.”

“Hey, that’s right. Better not tell Baliwick,” Kevin replied. His face was still invisible, but the smile in his voice was impossible to hide.

“What are your terms, brat?” Baliwick said.

“You and your slimy buddies go back to whatever world you came from and never come to Nogard again. You never lift a hand against anyone who was here today. You never, never even look at my brother again.”

“And how do you know I won’t just allow you to pull my men from the moat and then have your entrails for supper, girl?”

“I know you’ve got a deal with Edward, and he seems to respect that. You’re a serpent, Baliwick, but I get the feeling you’re a serpent of his word.”

“Your brazen ways will cost you your head someday, girl,” Baliwick said. “I only hope I’m there to see it when it happens. All right. Done. Pull them out.”

“Pull ‘em out, boys,” Linda said. The guards cheered and went to work pulling the bubbles from the water.

Baliwick reached out and grabbed Edward’s chains. “You’re still coming with me, Endomancer,” he said.

“No!”

“You said I couldn’t lift a hand against him,” Baliwick said. “You never bartered for his freedom.”

“No!”

“It’s all right, Linda,” Edward said, struggling with each word against his exhaustion. “You’ve done magnificently today. Bring your brother home. Enjoy whatever remains of your childhood. Someday, you’ll be one of the greatest of us.”

“What does that mean, Edward?”

“Somewhere, you already know. Remember what I told you. You’re one of us now. We’ll be keeping an eye on you.”

“Enough of this prattle,” Baliwick said, yanking on Edward’s chains. The guards had rolled the four dragons onto the far bank. From the direction of the stable came the final dragon, back in human form, having finally coughed the energy-bubble from his throat. Baliwick gave him a look of hatred.

“There was an invisible one, Baliwick,” he said. “How were we supposed to prepare?”

“Try using more than one sense, halfwit,” he said. “This isn’t over, Linda Watson.”

“It is for now,” she said. “That’s good enough.”

Baliwick and his one free man began to roll the other dragons down the Yellow Brick Road, Edward lashed behind them. After a half-mile Harridan’s bubble died, the energy in the Macana emergency pod finally running out. The other three dragons were still in their bubbles long after they had been rolled out of sight.

Next: Chapter Twenty-Five-The Visitor

24
Aug
09

Lost in Silver Chapter Twenty-Three: The Enemy

Chapter Twenty-Three

The Enemy

Deep in the dungeon of Baliwick’s keep, the man who called himself Edward dangled from links of metal set into a stone wall. Just a few, slender links, endowed by nature alone with the strength to hold him to the ancient masonry, even as it was nature that suppressed his strength too much for him to break away.

Nature, he thought. He had long since stopped trying to decide where nature ended and where science began. Magic itself was merely a manipulation of natural forces, controlled in the form a science most people would never understand. In truth, there was no distinction. It was nature, not Baliwick, that was his jailer.

And unlike Baliwick, if he sweet-talked it enough, it would be nature that would set him free.

There were shouts outside the cell. Guards scrambled and shrieks echoed down into his dank chamber. In the other chambers he could hear those prisoners not completely broken begin to whisper, then to cheer. Something was happening, and that special little girl was most certainly at the center of it.

Edward allowed himself to smile just for a moment before he began to recite his nice, simple magic words.

*   *   *

“Kevin, where did you come from?” Gene shouted as they scampered down the lucky thirteen steps to the grandstand.

“Forget that!” Gail shouted. “Why can’t we see you?”

“A little present I picked up from your friend Elmer!” Kevin’s disembodied voice shouted.

“Elmer? You found Elmer?”

“Aye, lass,” said a second ownerless voice. “I told ye I’d keep an eye out for your friend, didn’t I?”

“Emily?” Linda called as she made it to the bottom of the stairs. She was probably the first one down, but she couldn’t be positive, considering she didn’t know where Kevin or Emily actually were. She got off the stairs and prepared to run, but only wound up running right into a furious Baliwick.

“I don’t know what you or your new friends did to Harridan, girl, but I assure you, it won’t work on me.” He flashed his hands in front of them and, with a sound like a knife being drawn against flint, all ten fingernails shot out into long, glittering claws. His eyes were orange again, but this time with heat rather than power, and when he shouted at them, Linda could see tongues of flame licking the back of his throat.

“What are you?” she said.

“Your death, child!” he roared, and he lunged forward, slashing at the children. Gene grabbed Gail and pulled her aside, Linda rolling in the opposite direction. The dust around Baliwick rose up in a cloud about his feet and unseen hands grabbed the trail of his long coat, pulling it up and over his head. He roared, slashing his arms blindly back around his own body and failing to hit anything.

“Geez, Linda, what did you go to get this guy so mad?” Kevin asked.

“We dug up his flower bed, what do you think?” she asked. She grabbed the flapping end of the coat and wrapped it around Baliwick’s neck, yanking him back towards the support beams for the grandstand. “Somebody help me pin him down!”

“Done, me girl,” Emily said. The tail of the coat drifted through the air against the wood. There was a thud and a knife appeared, sticking the coat to the post like a butterfly pinned under glass. “How long will that hold him?”

“About long enough for him to untangle his arms and pull it out!”

“Well, then, we’re not running nearly fast enough, are we?”

Emily’s invisible hand grasped Linda’s painfully opaque one and pulled her towards the tunnel to the stables. Behind them, Kevin was leading Gene and Gail in the same direction. As they crossed into the courtyard, Linda was surprised to see that all of the “orange” guards were standing motionless, scratching their heads as if unsure what to do. Without Baliwick’s direction, they were completely helpless.

“Whoa, where are we going?” Linda asked.

“The stables,” Emily said, “unless you know another way out where we won’t be wading through Baliwick’s thugs!”

“We can’t leave yet!”

“Why not?” Gail shouted.

“Benny’s still here!”

“I don’t suppose I can talk ye into saving your own skin and coming back for him another time,” Emily said.

“No!”

“Then let’s pretend we’ve already argued about it and cut to the part where ye tell me where they’re keeping him.”

Linda smiled with gratitude. “Deal. The top of that tower.”

“Kevin, boyo, get the others to the moat.”

“Way ahead of you!” his voice called from the direction of the stables. Gail seemed to be pulled along by an invisible rope, and Gene was just trying to keep up.

“Linda, ye’re with me,” Emily’s voice said.

“Really? I barely noticed.”

*   *   *

Gail was scared, but had enough of her wits about her to be offended that Kevin was dragging her through the courtyard while Gene was allowed to run free. As they made it through the tunnel to the stables she jerked her arm loose and they heard Kevin’s feet scuffle forward a few steps, losing his balance upon losing the extra weight.

“What? Why are we stopping? Did you guys develop a death wish while I was gone?”

“Where have you been?” she shouted.

“Do we really want to have this conversation now?”

“Works for me,” Gene said. “I was starting to think the Macana got you.”

“I got lost, all right? I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere and I wound up in Lewiston again. Once I rested and patched up my leg, I went back through Evertime and found the bar, then Murphy gave me Linda’s note. You want to know what I had for breakfast or is that enough?”

“You had breakfast?” Gene said.

“How long are you going to be invisible?” Gail snapped at the air.

“I don’t know! Elmer said the potion would last an hour, I drank it maybe 20 minutes ago…”

“How did you meet Elmer?”

“Emily brought me to him.”

“How did you meet Emily?”

“Look, I didn’t have a camcorder with me, okay?”

“What were you doing all this time?”

“I took your advice!”

“What?”

“I read a book.”

He shouted a few garbled syllables that reminded Gail of Latin and, with a pop, the grate that led to the drainage pipe they crawled up to enter the castle fell open into the dust.

“How did you do that?”

“A handy little tome called Exomancy For Dummies,” Kevin said. “I used a shrinking spell on the bolts. The trick is shrinking them enough so that there’s a crack and air can get into the hole – otherwise you’ve got a vacuum and it’s that much harder to pull it off.”

Gene and Gail looked around dumbfounded, having no idea what direction they should technically be looking in. “You’ve been studying magic?” Gene said.

“A little, yeah. Mostly defensive spells. Easy enough stuff, but if the guy you’re squaring off with doesn’t expect them, they can be very effective.”

“How do you know all this?”

“I’m quoting from the introduction. Look, I knew you guys would go on without me, and evidently my athletic skills weren’t all they were cracked up to be.” Gail flushed at that, but Kevin ignored her and kept going. “I wanted to be able to help when I found you.”

“Well, you’ve sure as heck done that. Hasn’t he, Gail?”

“Yeah, yeah he has.”

“It’s wonderful that we’re all friends again,” said Kevin. “Now can we please cement that friendship by crawling down a hole that smells like butt and swimming for our lives?”

“Just like the good old days,” Gene said. “Let’s move.” He ran to the pipe and peered into it. “Hey, was there anyone else with you guys?”

“We’ve got some folks on the edge of the forest,” Kevin said. “Why?”

“It looks like – gurk!”

A hand came out of the pipe, clad in white, stained green by the filthy moat water. It grabbed Gene around the throat and shoved him into the dirt. The hand was followed by a body – a dripping, odiferous, blue-skinned body, with angry, hate-filled eyes.

“How wonderful,” said Lareil of the Macana. “Two of the insects that escaped us before.” He climbed out of the pipe, holding on to Gene, and Llaeli came out after him.

“You have a choice to make, boy,” Lareil said. “You can show us where your friends are, particularly the girl, or the one friend you’ve managed to hold on to can pick up your vertebrae from the dust.”

*   *   *

“When do you think Baliwick will get himself out of his coat?” Linda asked as she and Emily ran down the halls of the keep.

“About half a minute ago, actually.”

“Great. Well, nothing like working under pressure. This way.”

Linda hit a turn in the hallway and started up the stairs that led to Benny’s room. It was like watching a movie with a broken audio track – only Linda could be seen charging up the stone staircase, but the pounding of her shoes seemed to echo enough for two people. Linda half-wished she could run past a guard just to see the surprised look on his face. Of course, they were all pretty much mindless husks anyway, except for Baliwick’s own people, and after Harridan’s display, she didn’t think that would be worth it.

“Hey, Emily? I know this isn’t exactly the best time, but exactly how much do you know about Baliwick and his guys?”

“I don’t follow. What are ye askin’ me, girl?”

“You saw the execution, right?” Linda asked. The just passed up another window – she’d lost count, but she thought it was the last one before Benny’s room at the top of the tower.

“Well, I saw the attempt. I flatter m’self by saying it wasn’t a particularly successful execution.”

“You saw how they wanted to kill us, then? Harridan was spitting fire!

“Aye – and that surprised ye? Linda-girl, I thought ye knew what ye were dealin’ with! If I’d have known I’d have never let ye into this keep by yourself!”

None of this was adding up to Linda. Andro, Emily and Kevin all used magic, and they came across as purple in her Third Eye. But Baliwick and his goons were black, so whatever they were doing wasn’t technically magic, at least, not the same kind of magic. This was assuming, of course, she had any idea how this was working, which was debatable, considering the quality of her on-the-job training.

“Is that the room Benny’s in?”

“Only room up here,” Linda said. “Nice to see Baliwick left it guarded.”

“Halt!” the guard yelled, staring blankly ahead with orange eyes. He lowered his spear at Linda. “Surrender!”

“Emily?”

“Aye,” Emily said. The spear popped out of the guard’s hands and clattered to the staircase. The guard doubled over a second later, grabbing his stomach, then falling forward like he’d been kicked.

“This is so much easier when they can’t see you coming,” Emily said.

“I’ll bet.” Linda lifted a heavy bolt from across the door and shoved the door open. “Benny? Come on, Benny, we’re leaving! Now!”

“I don’t see him anywhere, Linda.”

“Well, you’re even with him, then. Benny!”

A sudden weight slammed into Linda’s back and she slammed into the ground. A pair of tiny fists rained blows down onto her shoulders and neck. They barely hurt, at least physically.

“Where’s Baliwick?” Benny’s voice howled. “What have you done with him?”

Emily grabbed Benny with invisible arms and pulled him off. “Is this your brother, Linda? He’s certainly an agreeable chap.”

“You should see him at bedtime,” Linda groaned. “Benny, calm down. I know you’re in there somewhere – try to stop this stupid, ugly creature that’s in charge right now so we can save you, okay?”

“I don’t need saving!” he screamed. “Baliwick! Baliwick, help! It’s just like you said! They’re trying to take me! They–”

Benny’s voice got muffled and, a few seconds later, a handkerchief appeared in his mouth.

“Sorry, Linda. He was getting on my nerves. Hand me the belt on that robe, will ye? I’ll tie him up.”

“How do you do that, anyway?” Linda asked, picking up the rope. “That bit where you make things appear.”

“It’s how my grandfather’s potion works. Ye drink it and your body and everything within an inch or two of your skin turns invisible. Ye can’t wear big cloaks or anything, but it’s a lot better than his old potion that only made your body disappear and ye had to run around starkers. Of course, when I let go of something it reappears. There – he’s tied up right nice.”

“Wrapped up like a Christmas present,” Linda said.

“A what?”

No Christmas in Nogard, Linda thought. “Boy, it must be rotten to live here in winter.” Linda hefted up the struggling Benny over her shoulder – he seemed lighter than he used to. But that didn’t make sense, she knew Baliwick had been treating him well — physically, at least. Did that mean she was getting stronger? “Let’s get out of here before Gail’s halfway back to Evertime.”

Emily held the door open for Linda, then closed it behind them. They didn’t get very far down the spiral staircase – perhaps one circuit of the tower – before they stopped, turned, and started running back up.

“Half a minute, you said?” Linda said.

“Aye. We probably tarried a bit too much in Benny’s room.”

“We should have thought of that before.”

Fire scorched the tunnel behind them, and now Linda wondered if her increased speed was because she was growing stronger, or if the fact that Baliwick and what appeared to be an entire regiment of orange-eyed guards were screeching only a few steps behind them was just one major source of incentive.

“Come back down, Linda-girl!” Baliwick roared. “Come back down and we’ll all play nice together!”

*   *   *

Hundreds of feet below them, Edward’s chains were rattling against the wall of his cell. His fingers traced the air, making intricate patterns with careful precision, each motion of his fingers matching the mumbling syllables he was reciting as fast as he could.

En-doh-eggs-oh, en-doh-eggs-oh, en-doh-eggs-oh,” he was humming.

Above him, he heard commotion, guards racing up stairs, angry shout and cries of rage.

He started talking even faster. “Endo-exo-endo-exo-endo-exo!”

The shackles around his wrists began to vibrate. If Linda had been there, the wash of purple she saw in her Third Eye would have been blinding.

*   *   *

“Where is the girl?” Lareil shouted, shaking Gene as hard as he could. Gene choked and clawed at Lareil’s hand, not breaking the thick skin of the vacuum suit. He kicked at the Macana, but Llaeli grabbed him by the legs and held him in place. “Tell me where she is, boy, and I may spare you.”

“Get – cough – bent!”

“You may as well tell us, child. Your sort is so predictable.”

“For-ghaa!” Gene’s voice was strained. “Forget it!”

“You’ll tell me, or I won’t kill you. I’ll kill your little friend here while you get to watch.”

Gail screamed and fell back. “No! Don’t!”

“I will kill you, girl…”

“Don’t tell him, Gene!”

“What?” said Lareil.

“What?” said Llaeli.

“Wh-haaat?” croaked Gene.

“I can’t believe you jerks chased us all the way here! Don’t you have some innocent bunnies to blow up or something?”

Gene stared at her, too busy being surprised to remember to suffocate. Lareil, likewise, gaped in amazement. “Well, well! You’ve been feeding this one for a change, have you boy? Maybe I should go ahead and strangle you anyway – unless she’d be willing to tell us what happened to your other friends.”

“One of ‘em is right here!” Kevin shouted. Lareil’s legs jerked together and he fell face-first into the dirt, dropping Gene on the way. Gene, hitting the ground, threw himself over Lareil’s chest to hold him down. Invisible hands gave him a length of rope which reappeared a few seconds later, tied around Lareil’s legs. “Tie him up, Gene!”

“Who’s that?” Llaeli asked. “Who said that?”

Kevin shouted a succession of three quick syllables, and Llaeli balked in pain, falling over next to Lareil on the ground. He clutched his stomach even as a thin fluid, a darker color blue than his skin, trailed from his nose and the corner of his mouth. Another invisible blow struck him across the face and he fell backwards unconscious.

“What was that, Kevin?” Gail asked.

Cantrips For Self-Defense,” Kevin said, “my new favorite book, after Grey’s Sports Almanac. The first spell let me hit him faster, the second spell let me hit him harder, and the third spell let me know where to hit him to make it hurt the most.”

“He was bleeding from the mouth because you hit him in the stomach?” Gail asked.

“I don’t think that’s his stomach.”

“Ew.”

“For – ghe – forget them,” Gene said. “What the heck happened to Gail?”

“What do you mean? I’m fine.”

“Yeah, but you… you… did something.”

“Kevin told me to.”

“What?”

“He whispered for me to distract them so he could tie them up.”

“Aha!” Lareil shouted. “Base treachery and deceit. Foul – oof!”

Kevin kicked him in the side. “Yeah, and you were willing to torture and kill 11-year-olds. Spare us the lecture, okay?”

“Gail,” Gene said, clearly impressed. “That was… you were good.

“Thanks,” she said. “It felt good. Maybe I’ll try not freaking out a little more often.”

“So what do we do with Dingus and Dorkus here?” Kevin said. “We can’t just leave them.”

“Why not?” Gail asked. “Let Baliwick roast them like he was going to do to us.”

“Baliwick?” Lareil said. “What’s a Baliwick?”

“A big, ugly guy with sharp teeth and major halitosis,” Kevin said. “Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?”

“Uh, guys?”

“Yeah,” Kevin said. “He eats babies for breakfast and middle-schoolers for lunch. I’ll bet a skinny blue alien would be the perfect appetizer for dinner.”

“Guys?”

“And he can sharpen your bones and use them to pick his teeth,” Kevin continued. “I bet you guys are really stringy.”

“Guys!”

“What, Gene?” Gail asked.

“Is that tower supposed to be shaking back and forth like that?”

The others looked where he was pointing and saw the tallest tower in the castle quaking like it were hit by a localized earthquake. Stones fell away from the sides while gouts of flame and thick billows of black smoke belched out of the windows.

“Is that the tower where Linda and Emily are?” Kevin asked.

“I don’t know,” Gail said.

“Of course it is,” said Gene. “Otherwise, it might mean something was going right.

*   *   *

“Exoendoexoendoexoendo…”

*   *   *

Linda, with Benny slung over her shoulder, burst back into the room he’d had in the top of the tower. Unfortunately, that turned out to be as far as they could run. Baliwick and the guards followed them into the room before they could shove the door shut.

“This has gone far enough, Linda!” Baliwick erupted. He’d pulled his arms out of the sleeves of his coat, but left it fastened around his neck with a cord so it hung heavy about his frame like a cloak. The dark grey fabric of his tunic quivered back and forth as his chest rose and fell. Each breath had more weight to it than the last, and Linda was afraid he would explode there in the staircase.

“It’s not far enough until we’re out of here,” Linda said. Benny shrieked against the gag and flailed against her, hitting her even harder and never causing any pain. She tossed him onto the bed and clenched her fists, raising them in a boxing posture.

“You’re going to try to fight me, Linda? You?” He laughed and puffs of smoke spilled out of his cheeks.

“If I have to,” Linda said. She popped open her Third Eye and saw Emily, dazzling violet, creeping behind Baliwick and avoiding the phalanx of orange guards. She reached out for Baliwick’s cloak, ready to pull it against his throat, when he pivoted around and grabbed her by the invisible shirt, hurling her into the wall. Her left arm smashed against the stone and she shouted on the way down.

“You don’t trick me twice, girl!” he said, sniffing at the air. “Too much wind, too many people, I couldn’t sense you in the courtyard, but here you’re so clear to me I can almost see you.”

“Leave her alone!” Linda punched out into Baliwick’s stomach. It was like punching a steel light post. Her thumb cracked and she shouted in pain. Towering above her, Baliwick laughed. His skin was slowly changing before her eyes. From beneath his clothing crept a sort of dark, black, glassy substance, coating him like a second, impenetrable skin.

“What are you?” Linda said.

“Your ending, child! I’m going to tear this tower apart with you in it!”

“You do that and you’ll get Benny too!”

“Stupid, sightless girl. You’re not what I’m looking for, Andro confirmed that. I don’t need you or your petulant brother anymore!” Benny howled, flailing around the bed, panicked to hear his perceived “friend” talk in such a fashion.

Baliwick’s tunic ripped apart beneath flexing muscles, the shreds falling away from his torso. His skin was now black with armor except for a lighter patch along his chest and stomach like the belly of a lizard. The guards, even in their blank state, turned around and ran out of the room in an orderly, if terrified fashion.

“What are you?” Linda repeated.

“Obsidian Clan,” Emily moaned, clutching the arm that slammed against the wall.

“Obsidian Clan?” Linda said. “What does that mean?”

“Please,” hissed Baliwick, long, black tongue flickering against her face. “Allow me to show you.”

Baliwick bent over, his body expanding, and he roared with a burst of flame and smoke from the pit of his stomach. His entire body was covered with the black armor now – smooth and hot like obsidian glass. His hair pulled into his head, leaving him bald, and his nose elongated. His limbs twisted and his fingers turned into razor-sharp claws. From behind, his pants ripped apart and a gigantic tail flapped against the floor. His entire body continued getting larger and larger, and when his tail flailed against the walls the entire tower shook. Finally, he reared back on his haunches, tearing the roof off to make room for his 20-foot tall form. A horn sprouted from his nose and, from his back, opened a pair of enormous leathery wings. He fired a torch from his mouth into the sky and Linda grabbed her brother, pulling him under the bed. Giant claws hurled the four-post oak furniture through the air and beyond the realm of the castle and Linda, shaking, found herself staring into the blazing eyes of a giant Obsidian Dragon.

The claw grasped Linda, then, picking up Benny with her, and looking at the arc the discarded bed took, hurled them both into the air outside the tower. Benny was still gagged, so Linda’s scream was much louder.

*   *   *

“EndoexoendoexoENDOEXO!”

Edward’s body was washed with a cascade of pure light and, for a moment, it was impossible to see inside the cell. The light faded again, except for his eyes, which flashed blue in the darkness. He gripped the chains that bound him to the wall and twisted them around his hands, getting a tight grasp as close to the wall as possible. With a mighty shout, he jerked his arms forward. The metal links of the chains creaked and squealed against each other, but did not break. Finally, the stress proved too much for the wall itself and the stone blocks the chains were bolted to exploded, showering Edward’s bare back with rock and dust. He stood up straight against the falling stone without a mark against his skin – no cuts, no bruises, not even a smear of dirt. The chains fell by his side, their rattling drowned out by the shrieks of the other prisoners.

“I’m comin’, Linda-girl,” he said.

With a single jump, Edward pulverized the ceiling of his cell, ripping his way through the floor of the level above his. There were five more levels before the surface. He didn’t even slow down.

Next: Chapter Twenty-Four-The Fight

17
Aug
09

Lost in Silver Chapter Twenty-Two: The Execution

Chapter Twenty-Two

The Execution

 

Linda’s handlers were not gentle in returning her to her friends. They pulled open the door and hurled her across the cell into a mound of straw. She didn’t stop until she slid into Gene, who was awake by now.

“Linda, are you okay? What did they do to you?”

“Baliwick wanted to have a chat,” she said, grunting. “It was just like talking to my grandfather, except with magic lightning instead of butterscotch candy.”

“Did he hurt you, Linda?” Edward asked.

“Not much. I’m okay… for now.”

“For now?”

“Yeah… I’m not sure how much longer that’s going to last.”

She kept her head down, not meeting any of them in the eyes. “Linda?” Edward asked. “Linda, what is it?”

“Baliwick found out I don’t know who the girl in the picture is,” she said. “He didn’t take it well.”

“How ‘not well’ did he take it?” Gene asked.

“There’s going to be an execution tomorrow,” she said.

“All of us?” Gail asked.

“I don’t know. Me, that’s for sure.”

“Well that’s it, we’ve got to get out of here,” Gene said. “We’ve got to get Benny and get out of here.”

“How do we do that?” said Gail.

“There’s got to be a way. Maybe we can get through that stone Benny moved earlier.”

Linda opened her Third Eye and gazed through the walls. “No,” she said. “It’s too well guarded out there, we’d never make it.”

“Another rock then?” Gail said. “Maybe there’s another loose one.”

“And how do we find it? There’s got to be a thousand rocks in this cell.”

“And a great many of them lead out towards something solid,” Edward said. “I don’t think spending your energy looking for a bit of loose masonry is the way out of here.”

“Do you have a better idea?” Linda asked.

“Not at the moment,” he said, “but this is still a relatively new problem. I’m sure I could come up with something.

“Edward, Baliwick wants to have me killed tomorrow. Do you think you may be able to come up with something soon?”

“Hard to say for certain,” he said. “Don’t worry, Linda. You’ll be protected somehow.”

“You’re in chains!”

“Chains do not a prison make, to paraphrase someone smarter than I. If there’s one thing Baliwick is adept at, it’s underestimating anyone smaller than him.”

“That’s just about everyone,” Gene said. “The guy’s huge.”

“Yes, well, we’re just going to have to count on the fact that he always seems to forget even tiny sleeves like yours are big enough to hold surprises.”

*   *   *

Morning came too soon for Linda. Between the leftover aches from Baliwick’s interrogation and sheer anticipation for what was coming, it was impossible to sleep, and she suspected it was best to go into an execution well-rested.

She knew it was morning only because she heard the guards banging on cell doors and requesting the rest of the “vermin” wake up and eat. Their door opened a few moments later and four bowls slid into the room. Linda was hoping for something warm – oatmeal, maybe, or even grits, but instead found herself looking into a bowl of runny gray mush.

“Last meal, moppets,” the guard said, laughing. “Eat hardy. No one likes to die on an empty stomach.”

He slammed the door and skulked off, laughing. “You think that means if we skip breakfast they’ll let us live?” Gene asked.

“It only seems fair,” Linda said. “I’d prefer lasagna for my final meal. Nobody should have a bowl full of smashed beetles as the last taste in their mouths.”

“You get used to it,” Edward said.

“Good morning, Edward,” Linda said. “Come up with any brilliant escape plans yet?”

“Oh dozens, yes. Unfortunately, most of them involve battering rams, attack squads and death rays. What are our assets again?”

“I’ve got this rock that was stuck in my shoe,” Gene offered.

“Oh, good. Now we’ve got a two percent chance of escape. You should have mentioned the rock earlier, lad.”

“How can you make jokes?” Gail said. “They want to kill us! We’re never going to get out of this place!”

“When you’ve been in as many deathtraps as I have, Gail, you learn to make jokes. It keeps you from losing your mind.”

“But does it help you stay alive?” she asked.

“Well now, if it didn’t, would I have been in more than one of those deathtraps?”

Linda looked up at that grin, that insufferably cognizant grin that never seemed to leave Edward’s face. “You do have a plan, don’t you?”

“It’s not exactly a plan, dear. It’s more like a pipeline to some very important information. Baliwick’s wards drive away animals and weaken humans in an attack, but they don’t dampen magic. I’ve been having a very productive conversation with Elmer as you slept.”

“Elmer?” Linda said. “Could you ask him what was in that juice he slipped me?”

“Way ahead of you, Linda. It was a present.”

“A present? Do presents usually leave you half-dead when you unwrap them?”

“Well, we’ve always had unusual customs in our circle of friends. Elmer knew the potion would make you weak for a time, but he also knew the gifts that you woke up with would more than make up for it when the time came.”

“Gifts?” Gail asked. “Linda, do what is he talking about?”

“You’re immune to his brainwashing, Linda, you already know that.”

“Yeah, I know. But every time he tries to use it on me it feels like someone’s driving an ice pick into my brain.”

“Well, no one ever said there wouldn’t be drawbacks. It’s your other gift Elmer says is important.”

“What’s your other gift, Linda?” Gene asked.

“You’re talking about the… the Third Eye?” she asked.

“Third Eye? Is that what you call it?”

“I had to come up with names myself. Nobody gave me a manual to go with these ‘presents’.”

“It’s as good as any. You’ve figured out how it works by now, haven’t you?”

“Yeah. I can see whose side everyone is on – people are either light or dark. And people who have been brainwashed are orange, just like their eyes.”

“I’ll take your word for that,” Edward said. “Elmer’s descriptions left something to be desired. But here’s what you have to remember – you have more than just five senses to rely on for information. When you’re in the courtyard for the execution, he’s going to create a distraction visible only to you. It will be up to you to take advantage of it.”

“How?”

“That, I’m afraid, I don’t know. But I know this, Linda – he knew that potion would give you certain weapons against Baliwick, but he wouldn’t have given it to you unless he knew you were strong and capable and brave enough to use those weapons.”

“Nice endorsement,” Gene said.

“How could he know that?”

“Come closer,” Edward said. Linda stepped up to him, leaning her head as close to his as she could, and he whispered. “He knew the same way Nancy knew you were someone who could be trusted.”

“How is that?” she asked.

“You’re one of us now, Linda. That’s not a responsibility you can turn down, but it comes with certain advantages as well, and one of them is that you will never fight alone. There will always be one of us nearby.”

“Who is us?” Linda asked.

“If you think about it,” Edward said, “you already know.”

“I don’t think they’re going to give me time to think about it, Edward.”

“You’ll have what you need, lass.” His head perked up. “Do you hear that?”

“No.” She opened her Third Eye to see Baliwick and an entire squadron of orange-glowing guards marching down the hall. “He’s coming,” she said, out loud to the others.

Now?” Gail asked. Edward answered by whistling a familiar tune.

“Bravery, Gail, bravery. Don’t let him know you’re frightened.”

“Trust me, he’ll figure it out!”

“Gail,” Linda said, grabbing her friend by the arm, “Calm down. We’re going to get out of this.”

“How do you know that?”

“I don’t need to know it. I believe it.”

“What’s the difference?”

“You call it ‘believing’ when you do it for no good reason.”

“That’s supposed to be comforting, Gail,” Gene said.

The door shrieked open to reveal Baliwick, wearing the same leather-like coat he’d had on when they saw him that first day at the playground. He waved in six guards, two for each of the children, and they lifted them up so they couldn’t struggle.

“Say good-bye to Edward, children. Your future will be too short to count on a return engagement.”

Edward whistled again, and Baliwick bristled. “Again with that insufferable tune, Edward? If this is a scheme to make me give you a Victrola just so I’ll hear a different song from you for once, it’s very close to succeeding.” He snapped his fingers and the guards marched for the door.

“Edward, help!” Gail screamed, trying to thrash against the guards. They held her tightly, though, and when the door slammed behind them she began to shout louder. She continued shouting until another sound cut through her wails, somehow soothing her.

“By the skies, is he whistling through the blasted door?” Baliwick snapped.

“No sir,” said one of the guards holding Linda. “It’s the girl.”

He looked down at Linda, and sure enough, she had her lips pursed into a perfect “o” and the same tune that Edward had used as his calming mantra was tooting into the torch-lit hallway.

“You try my patience, girl.”

“What are you going to do, kill me twice?” she said, returning to the whistle.

“I’ll make it hurt. Significantly more than otherwise.”

“Really? Is Andro nearby? I don’t see him anywhere.”

“I don’t need Andro to butcher you.”

“You needed him to even make me squeak before.”

He clamped his mouth shut and smoke hissed from between his teeth. Gene and Gail both jumped at the sight, startled. “What in the…” Gene muttered.

“Take them!” Baliwick said. “Take them before I slaughter them right here.”

“Come on, girl,” one of Linda’s guards said. The six giant men turned towards the staircase, dragging the three frightened children off to slaughter. The only thing any observer would find unusual was the fact that Linda was whistling the entire way to her doom.

*   *   *

It was daylight in the courtyard, the sun glaring down on a large, open area full of guards. With her Third Eye open, Linda could tell that there were only six of the black figures, the ones like Baliwick. All the rest were orange, mindwiped beings, completely unable to control their own actions. She liked to think that most of them would be opposed to this, were they capable of being so.

On the eastern edge of the courtyard, the sun only now peeking over the wall, was the massive gate and drawbridge they had avoided during their own entrance into the palace. There were a series of stalls and booths along the north and south walls, all of them fallen into disrepair since the occupation began. The western edge, where they were being led to, had an enormous grandstand that Linda hoped hadn’t been constructed just for their benefit.

The guards took them up the steps to the grandstand – thirteen steps, Linda unfortunately counted, lashed them each to a post, and left them to Baliwick and one of his black-glowing comrades.

“Let the execution begin!” he declared.

“Already?” Linda shouted. “No show trial? No speeches about your own magnificence to share with the masses? Don’t you know anything about showmanship, Baliwick?”

“These people are all in my thrall already, Linda. I have no need for such pleasantries.”

There was movement along one of the walls – a corridor that led to the stables they used to get inside the castle. Everyone’s attention was on the three of them, she was the only one looking there. Even if everyone else had been, they probably wouldn’t have seen anything. The motion she saw was visible only to her Third Eye. There were two figures, both of them small, around her own size, shrouded in violet mist the way Andro had been. They crept into the courtyard, keeping to the walls, clearly there for the events that were unfolding, even if she couldn’t tell who they were.

“Harridan,” Baliwick said to the man next to him, “are you ready?”

In response, Harridan turned to an unoccupied post. He took a deep breath, looking like the big bad wolf about to huff and puff and blow down a house around some tasty little piglets. He puffed his chest out, then exhaled a blazing gout of fire onto the post. He spat out the flames like a human blowtorch, scorching the post beyond all recognition. When he finished, wiping his mouth like he’d eaten messy soup, the remains of the post burned into ash, crumbling to the grandstand in a pathetically small heap.

Harridan smiled at the next post over, or, more accurately, to Gail, who was lashed to it.

“Linda…” Gail said, her voice trembling. Linda replied with Edward’s whistling tune, but not even she was drawing comfort from it now.

“Number one,” Baliwick said, pointing to Gail. Harridan began breathing in again.

“No!” Linda screamed. “That’s it? You’re just going to… torch us off the planet?”

“This isn’t one of your insipid movies, Linda, I’m not going to be distracted long enough for you to execute some brilliant escape plan. Harridan…”

Linda looked at the purple figures in the courtyard, still invisible to all but her Third Eye. “So I guess if there’s some brilliant plan to save us, whoever’s behind it would have to do it right now!”

One of the purple figures raised its left arm, used its right arm to cross itself, then pulled something back and let go. A small, glittering object shot through the air. Harridan puffed out his chest, oblivious, and Gail’s eyes were closed and wet.

Gene, however, was saying, “What the…”

The glistening object smacked Harridan in the chest just as he bent forward and began to spit fire. Gail screamed at the sound, but the flame never touched her. A blue bubble of energy snapped into place around Harridan and his torch scarred the inside of it, filling the bubble with smoke.

“What in blazes is that?” Baliwick shouted. Harridan, inside the bubble, tried to punch the inside. Instead, he succeeded in causing the bubble to roll forward and off the grandstand, falling onto a few of the orange guards beneath him.

“What’s happening?” Gene asked. “The Macana? Gail, open your eyes, you’ve got to see this!”

“No, no…”

“Gail, he’s trapped!

“Trapped?” She opened her eyes. “What happened?”

“That’s what I’m trying to figure out,” Linda said, looking at the purple figures as they rushed, unnoticed, towards the grandstand. As Baliwick leapt to the ground to try to break Harridan out of the force bubble, the two purple figures climbed the steps and ran to the captives, one untying Gail, the next, Gene.

“What’s that?” Gail asked. “Somebody is messing with the ropes!”

“Don’t worry,” said a voice coming from one of the purple people. “We’re getting you out of here.”

Linda recognized the voice. Gene clearly did too – his eyes were bulging and looking around in astonishment. “KEVIN?” he shouted.

“In the transparent flesh,” Kevin said, freeing Gene’s arms and turning to Linda. “No time to explain now. Unless you guys want to be part of the Nogard Fourth of July Barbecue, let’s just get the heck out of here!”

Next: Chapter Twenty-Three-The Enemy

03
Aug
09

Lost in Silver Chapter Twenty-One: The Interrogation

Hey, friends. If you’re new to the website, every Monday I’ve been posting a chapter of my work-in-progress, a fantasy adventure called Lost in Silver. If this is your first time here, why not start with Chapter One: The Visitor? For those of you who’ve been following along, here’s Chapter Twenty-One!

Chapter Twenty-One

The Interrogation

“Robin Hood,” Linda said, scribbling the words into the dirt of the cell.

“You win again,” Gene said. “You’re unbeatable at hangman.”

“Let’s hope that bears out when Baliwick gets tired of playing games,” Edward said, rattling his chains a bit. They had been in the dungeon together for several hours now. It was probably past nightfall, although with no exterior windows and with Linda’s watch ruined by the moat, it was impossible to be certain.

“I just wish I could see what sort of stuff he’s doing to my brother while we’re stuck down here,” Linda said. “Poor B wasn’t totally gone yet when I saw him, but now…”

“Not ‘totally’ gone? What do you mean?” Gail asked.

“Well, he was still… there was still a little of Benny left in there.”

“How can you tell?”

Because there was still white inside of the orange, Linda thought, but she couldn’t very well say that. “Because of the way he acted. Remember Emily’s father? It wasn’t like that at all.”

“That doesn’t necessarily mean anything, Linda,” Edward said. “Baliwick’s particular method of mind control can affect people in many different ways.” He shuddered. “Trust me.”

“He’s in there somewhere. I know it.”

“All right, all right. I believe you. The question is, how are you going to bring him out?”

“We could slap him until he comes out of it.”

“Gail! I’m not going to do that to my brother.”

“There’s no guarantee it would work anyway,” Edward said. “Baliwick’s power is a lot denser than a few smacks to the cheek.”

“We need to find a way,” Linda said. “We’ve got to get him, then get home and warn Jamie.”

“Jamie?” Gene asked. “What’s she got to do with this?”

“Baliwick had it all mixed-up,” Linda said. “He kidnapped Benny to find his ‘sister,’ but I’m not old enough to be the person he’s looking for. He showed me a picture of her and it looked just like Jamie. I know it was her.”

“A portrait of the princess looked like your sister?” Edward said.

“Yeah. Do you know anything about it?”

“Not enough,” he said. “Bits and pieces. I wasn’t exactly an Evernaut yet when all this happened. I know that a long time ago… not quite 20 years… Baliwick’s master staged a rather violent coup on a world called Alacria. That world’s Praetor – their word for a king – had an infant daughter. He didn’t want Baliwick’s thugs to get his hands on her, so he entrusted her to one of his lieutenants to hide somewhere in Evertime. Baliwick searched for her for a long time… that’s where things stood about ten years ago.”

“What happened ten years ago?” Gene asked.

“Something happened to me,” Edward said. “I was… let’s say lost. For a very long time. Once I found my way free, I was very weak. That’s when Baliwick found me. He always was the type to hold a grudge… Since I’ve been enjoying his hospitality here in the dungeon, I’ve only managed to lock on to bits and pieces of information. I am fairly certain he’s narrowed his search quite a bit. Tell me, Linda, is your sister adopted?”

“Jamie? No way,” Linda said. “Any time Mom wants to make her feel guilty she starts describing childbirth.”

“And Jamie and Linda both look a lot like their mom,” Gail added. “There’s no mistake. They’re family. What’s that scratching sound?”

“I don’t hear anything,” Gene said.

“And yet the portrait looked like her?” Edward said. “That’s impossible. If Jamie really is your blood-sister, there’s no way she could also be the princess Baliwick seeks.”

“Then why did the portrait look like her?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “Something else is at work here… but clearly, Baliwick was even more wrong than he realized.”

“Then this is all for nothing?” Linda said. “Kidnapping Benny, making us schlock through moats and vacuums and everything else, losing Kevin – and all of it for nothing because Baliwick was wrong?” She sat down on the straw, covering her eyes so she didn’t start to cry.

“Not for nothing, Linda. I don’t believe anything is for nothing.”

“Don’t start in on fate.”

“I’m not. Fate and I, if she even exists, haven’t been on speaking terms for a long time. But I do believe there are forces at work that you and I can’t imagine. If you’re in this world at this time, I do believe there’s a reason. You may not learn it now, you may never learn it, but there’s a purpose.”

“That’s not comforting, Edward.”

He shrugged, an awkward motion with the chains draping from him. “Sorry, lass. That’s the best I have.”

“Come to think of it, I do hear something,” Gene said.

“What are you talking about?” Linda asked.

“That scratching. It’s coming from down here.” He pointed at a large stone block at the base of one of the walls. “What’s on the other side of that?”

“Should be another cell,” Linda said. “Maybe another prisoner is trying to pry the stone loose.”

“That’s difficult to believe,” Edward said. “Most of the prisoners are in chains. Those who aren’t are generally considered too weak to be a real physical threat. No offense.”

“None taken,” Linda said, gripping her unchained forearms. “That’s Baliwick’s mistake to make.”

Hard as it was to believe that anyone could be picking away at that stone, though, that seemed to be exactly what was happening. There was a definite sensation of slight movement down where the scratching was coming from. A stone was rocking back and forth in the wall, shuffling forward a little at a time. It was being pushed from the other side. The kids gave it a wide berth, standing back in case whatever turned out to be following it was something unpleasant. Gene found himself wishing he had a baseball bat in his hands; Linda craved  Eric Tate’s sword, which she had briefly wielded. Gail, as was usually the case, kept it simple – she just wished she were somewhere else.

“Hey, Linda?” Gene whispered.

“What?”

“For what it’s worth, I don’t think it was a waste.”

“What?”

“Coming out here… finding Evertime… I know it’s been rough, and I know the reasons we’re out here are terrible, but for what it’s worth, I’m glad I found out about all of it.”

The rock had shuffled forwards maybe another inch. “And you’re telling me this now?” she asked.

“Well… yeah.”

“Why?”

“In case… well, in case whatever’s behind that rock…”

“In case it kills us all and eats our faces and mails our toenails back to our parents?”

“Well… I was trying to find a nicer way to say it, but basically, yeah.”

The rock was about three inches out now. “Great, Gene. That makes me feel a lot better.”

The rock was four inches out now. Linda really didn’t know how thick it was, but she doubted it was more than six inches. She hated this, sitting here, not knowing what was on the other side of the rock. If only she could see…

Oh, duh. She could. This was going to take some getting used to. It wouldn’t tell her exactly what was on the other end of the rock, but she bet that opening up her Third Eye would at least tell her what side their visitor was on. She concentrated and opened it, then raised a hand to try to shield herself from Edward’s brightness. It didn’t work.

“Why are you squinting, Linda?” Gail said.

“No reason,” she said. She turned to the rock and, of course, her Third Eye could see right through it. There was an orange creature on the other end, pushing it through, and it only had about an inch to go.

“Maybe it’s friendly,” Gail suggested.

“No,” Linda said. “It’s under Baliwick’s control.”

“How can you tell?”

“It’s a hunch.” She clenched her fists to steady herself, and saw Gene doing the same. Whatever was about to come out of that hole, they’d be as ready as they could be.

Except that she wasn’t ready when she saw her brother scramble through the constricted opening after the rock.

“Benny?” Gail shouted, squinting at him in the dark. Gene had a similar reaction. Edward, however, simply rattled his chains and bristled.

“No,” Linda said under her breath.

“Linda, it’s me! I told Baliwick I wasn’t going to help him anymore and he threw me in the cell next to you.”

“And you just happened to find a loose rock, is that it?”

“Yeah. What’s going on? Do you know who the girl in that picture is?”

“No.” This was almost sad – surely a fully conscious Benny would recognize the girl as Jamie, but this child didn’t have control of his own mind. Baliwick’s grip was so tight it was squeezing out the very information he wanted.

“Are you sure? You look like you know, because–”

Linda grabbed him by the shoulders and shook hard. “No! I’m not gonna play this game, Baliwick! Do you hear me?”

“Linda, what are you doing?” Gail shouted. She grabbed Linda’s arm and tried to pull her off Benny, but wasn’t strong enough. “Gene! Help me!”

“I… no, I don’t know what’s happening here, Gail.”

“What?”

“I’m trusting Linda,” he said.

Linda, on the other hand, wasn’t doing much but pushing Gail off her and shaking Benny harder. “Give me my brother back, you monster! I know you’ve got him in there somewhere! Bring him back!”

“Linda!” Edward shouted. “Calm down! It won’t work that way!”

“What won’t work?” Gail said. “How do you know that Baliwick is controlling him?”

“Remember what Emily said?” Linda asked. She dragged the struggling boy across the cell to the thin band of light that came in through the crack in the door. “Look.”

“No, Linda, no!” Benny shrieked, struggling. He kicked her in the side as hard as he could, but although she winced, she didn’t buckle.

“Hey, watch it, kid!” Gene shouted. “That’s your sister!” He grabbed Benny’s legs and held him down as Linda held his head down in the light. His eyes were shut tight.

“Linda, no,” Benny sobbed. Fat tears began to squeeze out from beneath his eyelids. “Linda, why are you doing this?”

Her hands began to shake over his head and her own voice cracked. “Benny, if you can hear me in there, I’m sorry,” she said. Then she put her thumb on his eyelid and pulled it open. The eye was almost completely shot through with orange. There wasn’t a trace of Benny at all there. She thought about his real eyes, a pretty blue that his mother always liked to show off, and she hated Baliwick even more.

“Are you listening, Baliwick?” she said into Benny’s ear. “Can you hear me through there? I hope so, because I want you to remember something. We’re kids, but we’re not stupid. I’m gonna get my brother back, and I’m gonna get away from you, and then I’m calling in the Army, the Navy, the Marines and whoever Nancy’s talking about when she says ‘One of us’ to kick your slimy butt all the way back to wherever you came from, because as long as I’ve got anything to say about it, you’re never going to find that girl!”

She dragged Benny back across the cell to the hole he made. “Go on! Go back to him!” she screamed. “Tell him he’s not getting away with any of it!”

“Linda–”

“GET OUT!” she howled, refusing to acknowledge whatever thing was wearing her brother’s face. Benny, looking as pained and as hurt as he could, sulked back into the hole. Gene took hold of the rock and pushed it back in behind the retreating child. Only once it was back in place and the four of them were again alone did Linda allow herself to cry.

*   *   *

“Are you all right, Linda?” Edward asked, many hours later.

“Of course not,” she sniffed. The crying hadn’t lasted long, but it was enough to give her a runny nose. Somehow it was more embarrassing in front of Edward than it was in front of the other two, who eventually had gone to sleep. It wasn’t an easy sleep – Gail was restless and Gene periodically murmured things about man-eating cats, but at least it was sleep. Linda didn’t think she’d have that luxury tonight.

“You’ve nothing to be ashamed of,” Edward said, as though he could read her thoughts. “You’ve acquitted yourself remarkably so far, you know that.”

“Yeah, well, I haven’t done enough to protect my brother, have I?”

“Your brother was half-controlled before he even wandered off with Baliwick. He never would have done so otherwise.”

“Is this the part that’s supposed to make me feel better, Edward?”

“I suppose not. Sorry.” His voice dropped. “Tell me… when you were issuing your warning to Baliwick – a bold maneuver, by the way – did you mention someone called Nancy?”

“Some woman we met on the first world we went to,” she said. “She told me something about ‘our kind,’ something weird like that. I really don’t know what she was talking about. Why? Do you know her?”

“I knew someone named Nancy, once. A long time ago. Before my… difficulties.”

“Who was she?”

“Someone special. Someone important. But then again, isn’t everyone? She’s probably out there looking for me right now.” He held Linda’s eyes with his own, as if to give extra weight to his words. “Of course, if she did know where to find me, it would be quite dangerous. She’s a brave, resourceful woman, but it would be a disaster if she attempted her way through the dark places she would need to traverse to find me.”

“Don’t you want to see her again?”

“Oh yes, very much. But not as much as I want her to stay alive.”

There was something about the way he said it – this wasn’t some macho, overprotective urge on his part. There was no bravado in his words. If Nancy – his Nancy, anyway – knew where he was, he had serious doubts that she would survive the journey. Linda didn’t know what to say to that.

Edward’s usual knowing smile was gone from his face. There was still a trace of a curl on its lips, but it had a different quality, like he was remembering something pleasant. As he thought he began, unconsciously, to hum a tune that sounded familiar to Linda.

“What’s that?”

“Just an old chant. I’ve hear rumors that it has a certain power… like a signal or a beacon. Personally, I’ve just always found it calming.”

“How does it go?”

He began to sing it for her, quietly, with a sweet voice that sounded unusual coming from this powerful, gruff man.

“Angels hide in ivory towers.

Children cry for saviors,

But they have perfect hands.

Heroes only–”

“Heroes only exist in shadows,” Linda sang.

“Yes. How did you know that?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “I feel like I’ve heard it somewhere before. How does it end?”

“Heroes only exist in shadows,

“And only in the Darkness

Is Light allowed to stand.”

“That’s beautiful.”

“I’ve always thought so.”

“What does it mean?”

His knowing smile returned. “What do you think?”

There was a tapping sound outside the door before she could answer. Edward’s head popped in that direction. “What–”

“Baliwick,” Linda said. She’d opened her Third Eye the minute she heard the sound, and the black glaze that signified the leader of the dark men was distinctive enough for her to be sure it was him and not one of his cronies.

“Bloody, bloody Baliwick,” Edward muttered. “Don’t be afraid of him, Linda. Don’t be afraid to stand – you’re stronger than you know.”

He let his head fall when the door opened. He was still playing possum, it seemed, letting Baliwick think the beating he’d administered that afternoon affected Edward much more than it actually had. Baliwick stood there, backlit by dim torches, firelight glancing from his sharp, gleaming teeth.

“Hello again, Linda,” he said. “I understand you didn’t appreciate the visit I arranged for you earlier.”

“I’d appreciate a visit from my brother,” Linda said. “If you see him, let him know I’m looking for him.”

“Brave quips. Been learning from Edward, have you? Back in his prime, those were his specialty.” He walked up behind Edward, grasped his long hair. “You can stop feigning pain, Edward. You aren’t hurt. Not anymore, anyway. I see you learned a few tricks over the years. I must say, I’d have been disappointed if you hadn’t. In the long run, it will make our association all the more satisfying, don’t you think?”

“Satisfaction is such a vague term, Baliwick,” Edward said, his voice sounding weaker than Linda knew it really was. What satisfies you, for instance, may turn the stomach of a decent human being such as Linda there.”

“Linda, yes. She’s the real reason I’m down here, of course. She’s far more interesting than you are these days, that’s a certainty.” He bent down in a condescending fashion to face Linda. “Hello, dear,” he said. “It’s time for another one of our lovely chats.”

“Chats?”

“Oh yes. You see, girl, I’ve tried being generous with you. I’ve tried being subtle with you. But you haven’t yet told me what I need to know, so you see, it’s time for me to be blunt.”

“Blunt?”

“Come with me, Linda.”

He grabbed her by the wrist and led her from the cell. The entire exchange had been quiet. Gene and Gail slept on. Edward, dangling against the wall, waited until he was certain Linda was looking in his direction. Then, instead of a bold maneuver to release her or some clue carefully disguised as an off-the-cuff remark, he simply began to hum. It was the tune he’d been humming earlier, but he was concentrating on one phrase, over and over again, and as he hummed, Linda replayed the words in her head.

Heroes only exist in shadows.”

“Heroes only exist in shadows.”

Baliwick took Linda away from the cell, and Edward’s song was the only weapon she had.

*   *   *

At the end of the row of cells, Baliwick led Linda up the stairs. There were windows upstairs, and she could see that it was, indeed, long after dark. He brought her through a labyrinth of hallways and chambers, finally leading her into another tower. There were many “orange” people, Linda noted through her eye, but she only counted about five “black” guards, including Baliwick, through the entire castle. She supposed there could have been many more in other parts of the castle, parts she wasn’t allowed to see, but somehow she doubted it.

A new “color” intruded upon her Third Eye as they approached their destination. In a room with several bleak orange guards, there was a huddled form that hummed a deep, royal violet. The closer they got to the room at the top of the tower, the more intense the color became. Her first instinct was to think it got “brighter,” but that wasn’t it at all – it was a dark violet… almost indigo. At the same time, of course, it wasn’t any of those colors at all. That was just how her brain decided to understand the information she was getting from her Third Eye.

A pair of orange guards stepped aside as a third opened the door for them, letting them enter a small room, similar to the one where Linda awoke following her fever. Instead of a bed, though, there was a table in the center of the chamber, a heavy-looking wooden thing, draped with thick canvas straps. It didn’t look quite as comfortable to Linda as the last place she lay down.

The violet creature was huddled in the corner. It was a man in deep robes almost the same color as the one she saw with her Third Eye. A gray hood came up from the robes, covering his face in darkness, although a wisp of brown hair was visible sprouting from his chin. His hands were bare, hanging from the wide sleeves of the robe, and he flexed his fingers the way Linda’s mother did before she began a long afternoon of typing.

“This is Andro,” Baliwick said, as though that explained everything. “He is here to help us communicate, you see.”

“Let me guess… he has ‘ways of making me talk’?” Linda said cynically.

“You enjoy joking with me, don’t you Linda?”

“Passes the time.”

“Mmm. I see. Andro likes jokes as well. Don’t you Andro?”

Andro was suspiciously quiet.

“Take my word for it. Once he begins laughing, there’s simply no stopping him.” He picked up Linda and sat her on the table. A dozen strategies raced through her head – hitting Baliwick in the face, shouting to distract Andro, making a break for the door, but one of the guards beyond the chamber pulled it shut just then and she could practically feel her options dwindling.

“Unfortunately, Andro has a particularly morbid sense of humor. Personally, I don’t quite understand the popularity of it, but perhaps you’ll understand.” He shoved her down and, before she even thought of moving, whipped the strap up and across her chest. Another strap flashed and her legs were bound. A third strap went across her forehead. All of them were tight enough to prevent her from moving.

“What are you going to do to me?” she said, trying not to sound frightened.

“Just a simple interrogation. By your age I’m sure you’ve seen thousands of them on that horrible television box you people use. Our version is a little different, of course.”

“Different how?”

“Well, in your world, you have one of those charming policemen asking questions.  In our world, I’ll be the one asking the questions. With a little help, of course, from an Exomancer.”

Exomancer? It felt like a thousand years since all of this began, but Linda was certain she’d heard that word before somewhere…

“Andro? Perhaps just a small demonstration of the penalty for failing to answer a question properly.”

The air around Linda sizzled and there was a flash of dark, as though dark were a physical presence and not just an absence of light. Violet/indigo energy scorched the air around her and funneled down into her body, jolting her like she’d received an electric shock. She bit down as hard as she could and every muscle clenched at once, but she kept from screaming through the pain. After a few seconds, the energy stopped, replaced only by a humming sound and a pop, like air filling in an empty place in the air above her.

Oh, an Exomancer, Linda thought. One of those magic people. Right. Lucky me.

“How was that, Linda?” Baliwick said.

“Mmph,” she said, not opening her mouth.

“Oh, I’m so sorry you feel that way. But you know, there will be a very simple way to avoid feeling it again. Simply tell me the truth when I ask you a question. You can do that, can’t you?”

“Mmrgh,” she said.

“Very good. Now Linda, tell me, who is the girl in that portrait?”

Linda jammed her teeth together. “The Queen of England,” she said.

Baliwick glared at her disapprovingly. “Andro, if you will…”

Another dark bolt crackled down around her, making her body jump and strain against the straps.

“I know you know who she is, Linda. Tell me!”

“Dorothy Gale,” she said, muttering the first name that came to her mind. Andro struck her again.

“Who?”

“Nancy Drew!”

Crackle!

“Princess Buttercup!”

Crackle!

“Who?”

“It’s Bugs Bunny dressed up like a girl bunny!”

CRACKLE!

“Who is it, you stubborn little girl?”

Linda’s chest was heaving with each breath. “Maybe you should learn to ask nicely,” she said.

With a frustrated twist of Baliwick’s arm, Andro called down the strongest barrage yet. Linda shrieked and jerked against it, trying to make it look like she was in as much agony as possible. She made a good show, too. Baliwick most certainly believed she was in agony with each jolt. The truth was that, while these indigo lightning bolts stung every time they hit, after the fevered burning of every fiber in her body she’d suffered from Elmer’s potion, the power Andro was hurling at her was nothing. If this was the best they could hit her with, she could hold up against it all day just to keep Baliwick from thinking he had the upper hand.

“Let’s try an easier question. How did you find this castle, Linda?”

“We followed the Yellow Brick Road.”

Crackle!

“Who told you how to find us?”

“Judy Garland!”

Crackle!

“All right, all right! It was really that woman who played the Good Witch, the one in pink.”

Crackle!

“You are not endearing yourself to me, Linda!”

“Really? After you kidnapped my brother I thought we could be bestest friends.”

Baliwick’s eyes flashed orange and she felt a stabbing pain behind her eyes. Again, he couldn’t make it through. Rage coursed through his face and twin curls of heavy, black smoke hissed out of his nostrils like they were chimneys venting an industrial plant.

What the—she had time to think before Andro’s power surged again. It was stronger this time – much stronger. Through her Third Eye she could see the purple energy arc from his body to her own, making her seize against her bonds. She shouted for real this time. This time, it hurt.

“Who?”

“Amelia Earh–”

Crackle!

“Who?”

“W-w-wonder Wo–”

Crackle!

Crackle!

CRACKLE!

Heroes only exist in shadows.

“WHO?”

“I don’t know!” she screamed.

“That isn’t good enough! Andro!”

But this time, the lightning did not come. She gasped, surprised at her reprieve, but grateful. She wondered if he’d been stopped by whoever sang Edward’s song into her mind after the last jolt, then she realized she did it herself.

“Andro! Strike her!”

Through eyes that wanted to close against the pain, she saw Andro’s hooded head slowly moving back and forth.

“What?” he said.

“Sshe tellss the truth, Baliwick,” Andro said in a toneless, sibilant voice. “Sshe doess not know.”

“She does not know?”

“I have wayss of knowing theze thingss. You know thiss.”

Baliwick pounded the wall, the stone cracking beneath his fist. “Then this has all been for nothing. This has all been pointless.” He opened the door and pointed to the guard. “Summon Emus. Bring him here. He was the one brought me false news. And throw this one back into the dungeon with her friends. Let her rest. I want her strong again in time for her execution tomorrow.”

Next: Chapter Twenty-Two-The Execution

27
Jul
09

Lost in Silver Chapter Twenty: The Reunion

Hey, friends. If you’re new to the website, every Monday I’ve been posting a chapter of my work-in-progress, a fantasy adventure called Lost in Silver. If this is your first time here, why not start with Chapter One: The Visitor? For those of you who’ve been following along, here’s Chapter Twenty!

Chapter Twenty

The Reunion

For the rest of the day Linda was left alone in her tiny room, except for twice when a guard came in with food for her. Both times she re-opened her “third eye” to examine him, and both times she saw the same thing – orange. Baliwick was not sending anyone in his right mind to confront her here, and the thought that something she had done could have disturbed him so much was slightly to her. Although she supposed it was unfair to take credit for it – it wasn’t so much what she had done to Baliwick as what Elmer had done to her.

She didn’t doubt that her new perceptions were due to Elmer’s potion, but she couldn’t figure out why. Why had he given her this… she supposed you could call it a “gift,” if not for the several hours of blinding agony she had to endure beforehand. Why now? And was the “third eye” the only thing the potion did to her?

She’d been left to eat by herself – some sort of thick soup that she was afraid to try at first. Trusting food sent by Baliwick didn’t seem very smart. She gave in, though – if he wanted to kill her, it would have been far easier for him to snap her throat than go through the charade of poison. Plus, she eventually reached a point where hunger and exhaustion overcame fear. The soup tasted like some sort of mushroom cream – not a favorite of hers, but undeniably nourishing. With each bite she felt a little stronger, and after her dinner was done, she’d progressed to the point where she was just tired instead of deathly exhausted.

The sun eventually began to dip and she wondered if she was going to be provided with a lamp or candle or if Baliwick would just leave her in the dark until morning. Or if he would try things in the dark. He could sneak up on her if her first two eyes couldn’t see… but somehow, even in pitch-black, she thought it unlikely that he could sneak up on her third eye. She opened it again.

For the first time, she saw something different. The two orange guards were still outside her door, but she saw two more shapes coming up the stairs. One was Baliwick – she recognized the ugly black cyclone that the third eye assigned him. The other shape was much smaller, and wasn’t completely one color, either. It was mostly orange, but at the core there was a white glow; diminished, but not gone. It was like a flashlight with dying batteries inside of an orange fog. She knew what it would be even before Baliwick opened the door and ushered the other form inside.

“I’ve brought you a visitor,” Baliwick said as the door opened, revealing himself and his companion to Linda’s ordinary eyes.

“Hey, Linda. Isn’t this cool?” Benny said. He was smiling unnaturally, his eyes sparkling with orange swirls. He even seemed to have a small tick in his cheek, twitching nervously every so often.

“Benny, are you okay?” she asked.

“I’m great. Baliwick is awesome – and he’s taught me so many things. He’s gonna make me a knight and take me with him on his adventures.”

She shook her head. “No he isn’t, Benny. He’s a liar.”

“He wouldn’t like to me. He’s my friend.”

“No, he isn’t Benny.”

“Yes, I am, Linda,” Baliwick said. “Benny and I are very close, and I’d like to be close to you.”

“I’ve seen your temper, Baliwick. I’m not going to be that easy to sweet-talk.”

Baliwick’s face soured. “Aren’t you a clever little thing?”

“Why did you bring him here?”

“I was hoping he could help me talk to you, Linda. Such undeserved hostility towards me… I hoped that if you saw how well your brother was treated, you’d be more inclined to help me in my search.”

“How well he was treated? Which part was that – the part where you lured an eight-year-old into the woods by promising him Happy Meals or the part where you brainwashed him?”

“You’ve got quite a sharp tongue, Linda. Your sort often does.”

Again with “her sort.” She wondered if Baliwick meant the same thing Nancy did with that particular turn of phrase.

“Come on, Linda,” Benny said, grabbing onto her slowly- strengthening hand. “It’s okay, really. I’m fine, aren’t I?”

“No, you aren’t, Benny,” she said. “When’s the last time you looked at your eyes?”

“My eyes?”

There was no mirror in the room for Benny to look into, but upon mention of the state of his eyes, he raised his hand and touched his face, right over his nose, between the eyes. He winced, as though there was some mild pain that touching made worse, and as he did that, Linda’s third eye saw the white gleam inside his orange glow flare up just for a moment before growing weak again. He wasn’t lost after all. If she could watch that gleam, watch how it changed, maybe she could bring him back.

“I know what you’re thinking, Linda,” Baliwick hissed. “Your brother is mine, make no mistake of that.”

“You don’t know what I’m thinking,” she said, with a certainty she couldn’t explain. “You can guess what’s going through my head – after you kidnapped my brother, it probably isn’t that difficult, but you can’t see into my head.”

“Watch yourself, girl.”

“I’m safe from you.”

Baliwick’s eyes flashed orange again, and Linda felt an impact behind her eyes as though she’d been hit. Hit, but not penetrated. It was like the time she’d been shot by a paintball gun, except when she got hit by a globe full of yellow gel, the person who shot her with it didn’t look as furious as Baliwick did now. She closed her third eye, and the pain subsided a little.

Safe?” he howled. “You’re far from safe, girl. If you’re not with me, you’re never safe again!”

He grabbed her by the wrists and lifted her off the bed, turning towards the door. Leaving Benny behind, he carried her down the stairs. She struggled against him, kicking him in the side a few times, but the blows glanced off without harming him. Whether this was because he was strong or she was weak, she wouldn’t tell.

He took her down past the ground floor, down a long, winding stairway, and to a tunnel full of what looked like cells. “Welcome to my dungeon, dear,” he said. “If you don’t appreciate my hospitality, perhaps you’ll learn to fear it!”

He threw open the door at the far end of the dungeon and hurled her in, landing in a heap of filthy straw.

“Linda!” Gene’s voice shouted.

“Are you okay?” Gail helped her sit up and she looked around, seeing a man hanging on the wall in the gloom. Baliwick went up to him.

“Still taking a little nap, Edward?” he said. He slapped the man in the face, but the man didn’t seem to notice. He just hung there like meat, and Linda wasn’t even sure he was alive.

“Another playmate for you,” Baliwick said. “May you all rot together.”

He left, slamming the door behind him, and as soon as the echo of his footsteps faded, the questions began.

“Linda, where did he–”

“Where have you been–”

“Do you still have a fever–”

“Children, children,” said the man on the wall. “Really, let the girl catch her breath.” Linda was stunned – a moment ago this man could have been a corpse. Now he was smiling, eyes sparkling even in the dark.

“How did you do that?” she whispered.

“Edward’s pretty good at playing possum,” Gene said.

“Edward?”

“At your service,” Edward said, although dangling from the wall like that, he didn’t appear readily available to be of much service at all.

“You’re Edward?” Linda whispered into the shadows. “The Edward?”

“Well, I’m certain there are others out there somewhere… it’s a big multiverse, dear. But if you mean, am I the Edward that Murphy told you to look for, then yes, I believe I am.”

“You know about that?”

“Oh, of course. I’m quite telepathic.”

“We told him about it,” Gene said. He dropped his voice to a whisper. “Watch this one, Linda. He’s got a wicked sense of humor.”

Perhaps he did, but as she listened to his voice, Linda concluded that she kind of liked Edward’s sense of humor.

“What are you doing here?” she asked.

“In the dungeon, you mean? There’s been something of a feud between Baliwick and myself for some time. He recently found me in a rather weakened state. Took advantage of it. Before I had the chance to regain my strength, he whisked me off here, to a universe where he knew I’d be powerless.”

“Powerless?” she said, hope draining from her voice.

He smiled sharply. “Well… mostly powerless. And you, my dear, are in the dungeon because…?”

She told them how Baliwick had nursed her back to health (if “health” was really the proper term for someone who woke up seeing colors through an eye that didn’t exactly exist) and how he’d tried to use Benny to win her over. Her new perspective, though, she kept to herself.

“He’s got Benny in the castle, then?” Gail said.

“Yeah. And based on what I heard, he’s feeding him junk food,” Gene added.

“It’s Benny, but it’s not Benny,” Linda said. “Talking to him… it’s like talking to a puppet that looks like my brother while Baliwick pulls on his strings.”

“Heavy, orange strings, eh Linda?” Edward said.

That word “orange” sent her spine crawling. Edward definitely knew more than your average prisoner. “Exactly. Can you help us?”

“If anyone can, it’s me.”

“Yeah, but can you?” asked Gene.

“I don’t know yet, actually,” Edward said.

“Oh good. As long as we’re all on the same page here.”

Gail turned to Linda. “What happened? Why did you get so sick?”

“I’m not sure,” she said. “I think Elmer had something to do with it.”

“Why would Elmer want to make you sick?” Gene asked. Linda didn’t have an answer.

“Are you okay now?” Gail asked.

“Good question,” Linda admitted. Breathing deeply to steady herself, Linda opened her third eye.

She wasn’t prepared for what she saw. Gene and Gail both looked like bundles of white light, like the sparking at the core of her brother. Gene burned just a little brighter than Gail, though, and she wondered why that was. She could “see” into the other cells, dozens of prisoners that also glowed, all of them flickering between dim white and dark gray. Several of them had tendrils of orange within their forms too, although none were as tarnished by the color as Benny or the guards she had “seen” upstairs. The guard at the entrance to the dungeon glowed black like Baliwick – one of his own people. He clearly didn’t trust this job to one of his brainwashed peons.

Edward looked… the only word she could think of to describe it was “remarkable.” He glowed white, like Gene and Gail, only much, much brighter. It was like his entire body – muscle, hair, tendons and all – had been replaced with fiber-optic cords, pumped through with blinding sunlight.

But there was also a secondary glow around him, one of pure summer-sunset gold. This second glow didn’t cover his entire body, but surrounded his head and flowed down into his chest, holding everything from his mind to his heart in a bold, golden fist. It looked like nothing so much as the mane of a mighty lion, and Linda suspected this lion was not cowardly at all.

“Linda?” Gail was saying, pulling on her sleeve. “Linda, are you okay?”

“Yes, Gail,” Linda finally said, staring up at Edward, at the light only she could see. “I’m fine now.”

*   *   *

Llaeli and Lareil, together, pulled themselves from the Evertime pool into the baumer orchard. Not bothering to hide his disgust, Lareil removed the tether that bound the two of them together from his belt and let it fall to the ground. He flicked his wrists, spattering Llaeli with the flecks of Evertime water, which simply joined the water flowing from his own body. “What sort of world is this, now?” he griped. “More trees, shrubbery… this is worse than the tavern.”

“Let’s just find the younglings and get home,” Llaeli said. He shuddered. Lallura had sent him on this insane mission using the logic that, since he was the only one of the first two Macana that entered Evertime to come back, he’d be well-suited for this exploration. This was clearly the opinion of a madwoman.

Tethered together, they had wandered aimlessly among the trees and pools for what felt like days. The boredom was bad enough. The fact that he never got tired, hungry or thirsty somehow made it worse. After days alone with Lareil, who seemed to regard the entire thing more as an annoyance than anything else, his only aim was to return to Mitimae, and from there, to return to the base-ship and never, ever leave behind anything familiar again.

“There’s a path,” Lareil said, pointing to Baliwick’s ersatz Yellow Brick Road. “A painted path,” he added. “A poorly painted path.”

“Which way did the girl go?”

“The one called Murphy said west.”

“Which way is west?”

“I don’t know,” Lareil admitted. There was no north, south, east or west aboard the Macana’s nomadic base-ship, and they had different terms for direction on the worlds they scoured, based on their orientation to the planet as they approached. Lareil knew direction was based on their position relative to the central star in the planetary system, but couldn’t remember which direction walking towards this “sun” would bring them. The path stretched as far as they could see, both to the left and to the right. That was all they knew.

“How do we decide?” Llaeli asked.

“I say we simply burn everything we find in both directions. That way we’re bound to get the little rodents.”

Llaeli wanted to point out this probably wouldn’t be the most expeditious use of their time, but at that moment there was a rustling sound to the left of the orchard and a man burst onto the Yellow Brick Road. Lareil instinctively reached down at his side for his weapon, only to grasp air. They hadn’t brought the lightning-casters down into the water for fear they would short out and electrocute them both. He would not have considered that a loss in Llaeli’s case.

The crazed human didn’t seem to be running towards them, but away from something else. He was dressed in shredded clothing and wore a scruffy beard. A single heavy brow hung down over crazed, green eyes, and he was shrieking in the language the Macana had been taught as “Mitimae,” but that the human children had called “English.”

“Wildchild!” he screamed. “There’s a wildchild in the woods! Look out for–”

He stopped when he saw the Macana, tripping over his own tangled feet and crashing onto the yellow cobblestones. As he wheezed, pointing at the two of them, Lareil clenched his fists, missing the weight and heft of his lightning weapon.

“Blue people!” the human screamed. He scrambled to his feet, howling, “Blue people! Blue people!” and started running on the stones, off to the right.

“That means we’re going left, then?” Llaeli said.

“I hate nature,” Lareil said in response. He kicked a baumer fruit out of his way and started to march irately down the road. Llaeli moaned and followed.

Next: Chapter Twenty-One-The Interrogation

20
Jul
09

Lost in Silver Chapter Nineteen: The Dungeon

Chapter Nineteen

The Dungeon

Gene’s journey upstairs hadn’t exactly been fun, but he found it far preferable to being shoved downstairs by a guard with hazey, orange, brainwashed eyes. He was brought to the bottom of a winding staircase, then to a guard with black eyes – one of Baliwick’s people, it seemed, rather than one he’d taken control of.

“Two more prisoners,” said the one holding Gene’s arms.

“Two more? Where does Baliwick intend to put them all? We’ve out of room down here.”

“Baliwick told us to bring the prisoners to the dungeon.”

“Of course he did. He doesn’t have to figure out how to make them fit.” The guard looked down at Gene and Gail, who was trying not to cry. “Two little ones, eh? Can’t be too much trouble. Put them in the chamber at the end for the time being. That’s the only one with any room left in it.”

The guard led them down a long tunnel of cells, each with a heavy wooden door. At the very end, at the last cell in the dungeon, the guard removed his key ring and unlocked the cell. “Go on now,” he said. “Be done with it.”

The two guards holding on to Gene and Gail shoved them rather roughly through the door onto the moldy straw that covered the floor. Gail felt certain rats and spiders and roaches would come crawling out all over her, then remembered that animals of all sorts had been driven from this castle by Baliwick’s power. She was starting to envy them.

“Have fun,” the dungeon guard said. “If you’re lucky, Baliwick will soon remember he sent you down here. If not, go ahead and rot.” He slammed the door shut and locked it, plunging the cell into darkness. There were no windows this far underground, and no torches inside the cell. The only light they got was a thin sliver that came in through the port in the door the guard used to deliver meals.

“Are you all right, Gail?” Gene said.

“Okay. What do you think he did to Linda?”

“I don’t know.”

A third voice, a tired one, cracked through the darkness. “If she’s not down here, she’s got a fighting chance.”

Gene spun around in surprise to find the person who was speaking, and Gail jumped, grabbing on to his arm. He squinted, hoping his eyes would adjust to the darkness.

“Well, well,” the voice said. “Cellmates. That’s new.” It was a tired voice, one that sounded like its owner had forgotten how to use it for a while. There was an accent too – not like Emily’s but more like the sort of British accent Gene saw in the movies. It was a strong, male voice, and as he grew accustomed to the darkness, Gene could begin to make out the person it belonged to. Chained to the wall, hanging in the shadows, was a man with a  thick, black beard and black pants. He had no shirt on, but tatters of cloth remained about his shoulders and arms, with a pile of scorched fabric at his feet.

“Since you’re here, could you be a pal and get my medallion?” he asked.

“Your what?” Gene said.

“My medallion. When Baliwick shredded away my… dignity, he left my medallion in that mound of cloth and ash down there. If you would, just pick it up and put it in my pocket. I’d do it myself, but…” he rattled his chains. “I’m a bit hung up at the moment. Anyway, I’d hate to forget it here when it’s time to go.”

“Do you expect to be leaving sometime soon?” Gene said.

The man shrugged. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that circumstances often change for me with very little advance notice. When it is time to leave, chances are I’ll be in a bit too much of a rush to think of picking it up on my way out.”

Gene walked carefully over to the man and sifted through the cloth, which was badly burnt, although a few trace shreds appeared to have once been red and blue. Finally he found a round piece of metal with an engraving of some sort, but it had been seared and even melted a little. He couldn’t tell what the engraving had once been, nor did he quite comprehend how it could have been damaged in exactly this fashion without its owner being roasted as well. He reached over and slid the disc into the pocket of the man chained to the wall.

“Thanks, son. You’re all right. What’s your name, anyway?”

“I’m Gene. This is Gail. Who are you?”

“I’m Lie–” He stopped abruptly, seized by a fit of coughing. When his throat was clear again, he shook his head. “You know what? Just call me Edward.”

“Edward?” Gene said.

“That’s right. That’s my real name, anyway. I don’t think the other one will mean much down here.”

*   *   *

When the burning in Linda’s body stopped, it did so instantly. There was no slow lessening of the pain, no gradual decline. One minute the last tissues in her body left untouched – in her skin – were ablaze like everything else, then suddenly there was no pain at all.

There was, however, exhaustion. She had no idea how long she’d been crippled by that agony, but it left her far too weak to even want to move.

She felt different, somehow, too. She hadn’t noticed it while preoccupied with the burning, but as the wave of fire passed through each part of her body, the cells it touched felt… changed. They were not energized, she had never been more tired in her life, and it wasn’t like they were full of any sort of power either, but… they were most assuredly different.

She was lying on something soft – it felt like a down-stuffed mattress, and she wondered where something like that could have come from. There was a foul smell around her as well, and it took her several seconds to identify it as the moat-water that had dried in her hair and clothing. She couldn’t hear anything, and her eyes were closed. It was going to take a formidable effort to open them.

When she finally managed to force her eyes open, she saw sunlight streaming into the room through spacious windows. The walls were made of stone, and she was lying on a big bed beneath a purple canopy. There was an enormous wardrobe in the corner and a single oaken door leading out the room, now standing shut. Where was she? How long had she been there? Exerting even more energy, she managed to lift up her left arm high enough to see her watch, a gesture which proved futile. The watch may have been able to withstand cool, clear and profoundly magical Evertime water, but after a dunking in a run-of-the-mill, tepid moat, the hands were stopped and the crystal was fogged over. So much for taking a licking and still ticking.

She let her arm fall back to her side, aware that she was enjoying lying there. She didn’t know where she was, except for all of her instincts telling her that she was in the middle of terrible danger. Since she was in no shape to do anything about it, she could at least enjoy the situation as much as possible. The mattress was soft, the sunlight was warm and she was no longer in pain. There had to be a way to use that.

Her enjoyment ended when the door slowly opened. She tried to lift her head to see who was coming her way, but she couldn’t. A few moments later, he stepped into view; hair long and greasy, eyes like burning coal, wearing a smile that probably coaxed Eve into munching that apple way back when.

“Hello, Linda,” he said. “I’m glad you’re awake. It’s so wonderful to finally meet you. My name is Baliwick.”

Linda opened her lips, but found she couldn’t talk. Her mouth was dry, her tongue nearly shriveled up. Baliwick seemed to notice, because he nodded. “Oh, you poor thing. You’ve been so ill – don’t try to talk just yet. Here.”

Suddenly, he was holding a cup to Linda’s lips. She was helpless to stop him from tipping it back, pouring cool, clean water into her mouth. As it flowed down into her throat, it tasted normal enough. Of course, Elmer’s potion had tasted just like ordinary juice, too.

The cravings of her body began to override her fears, though, and she began to guzzle the water as fast as she could. With each gulp she felt it spread down into her chest, bringing back a little strength. Soon she was even leaning forward a little to drink the last precious drops.

“My, you were thirsty, weren’t you?” Baliwick said. “I’m afraid I only have the one cup, but I’ll send for more.”

“Th—thank you,” Linda croaked, not really knowing what else to say. Situations like this seemed to limit her options a bit. Her voice was cracked and labored, like she hadn’t spoken in some time.

“You’re quite welcome,” Baliwick said. “You’re such a polite little girl. Somehow, I knew you would be.”

Slowly, she started to get her mouth to form other words. “Where are my friends?” were the first four.

“The other boy and girl we found you with? Oh, they’re quite safe, don’t you worry about them. They’re being cared for in another section of my palace, waiting for you to be well. I’m sure you’ll be able to see them shortly.”

Linda was tired, not stupid. She didn’t believe a word of it. “Where’s… Benny?”

“Ah, young Benjamin, my first guest. He and I have been having such fun together, you’d be amazed. He’s told me so many wonderful things about you.” Linda believed that much. Benny probably wouldn’t be suspicious enough to withhold information from this charming snake.

“Why did you take him?”

“Now, Linda, let’s be fair. I didn’t ‘take’ him. He came with me quite willingly.”

“Once you whammied his mind.”

“Whatever does that mean?”

“What color are his eyes now?”

Baliwick’s smile dropped when she said that. He’d been toying with her before. Suddenly, he looked like he wasn’t enjoying the game nearly as much.

“I want to show you something, Linda, I want you to understand something, because if you understand, perhaps you can help me to understand.” He reached into his sleeve and withdrew a scroll, but he did not unroll it at first. “You see, Linda, I am trying to find someone who was lost long ago. A lost princess, one might say, although the caste system of her world doesn’t recognize her exactly that way. She was taken away from her family and hidden somewhere in Evertime.”

He was lying, Linda could tell that much. If this “princess” of his was missing, she was willing to bet whoever took her did it to protect her from Baliwick himself, or people like him.

“After many, many years of investigation, I have managed to narrow down my search. I know this princess was left on your world and adopted by a family in your home town. So naturally, my search must encompass any young girls who would be the same age the lost princess is now. That’s why I needed to speak to Benny. I think he might know where to find this girl.”

He unrolled the scroll and Linda was rather surprised to see, not writing, not a document, not fiery letters he would use to cast a spell upon her, but instead a simple charcoal drawing of an infant, eyes closed, sleeping.

“This is what the princess looked like the last time I laid eyes upon her. She was quite young at the time, only a few days old. My exomancers have worked their spell upon this drawing. Watch this.”

He waved his hand over the scroll and the girl in the picture began to age. Her bald head grew hair and her chubby cheeks narrowed. Her face grew into her nose and her head grew into her body. After watching the girl age for a few more seconds, Baliwick waved his hand over the scroll again and it stopped.

“You’re around twelve years old, aren’t you, Linda?” he said.

“Eh… eleven,” she admitted. She didn’t see how he could possibly use that knowledge to harm her, and she wanted to know where this was going.

“I thought so. This is what the princess would look like at your age.”

Linda examined the image carefully, and began to see the connection. This girl in this picture looked like her – the same eyes, the same nose. But that was all. The chin was different, Linda’s was a bit fuller, and this girl’s ears stuck out a bit more than hers did. There was a resemblance, but no one would mistake the girl in the drawing for Linda. They could be cousins, maybe even sisters, but not twins.

“That’s not me,” she said.

“I’m aware of that,” he said coldly. “The resemblance is… unsettling, though, don’t you think? It perturbs me, you know. The moment I asked Benny about his sister, he began to go on and on about his wonderful sister, Linda. You.”

“Me.”

“But you’re not the girl in this picture.”

“No.”

“There’s something else that perturbs me, Linda. You see, the girl in this picture isn’t the age our lost princess would be now, either.”

Linda didn’t expect that one. “She isn’t?”

“Oh no. And yet my men assured me that Benny had a sister just the right age.” He waved his hand over the scroll and the picture began aging again. The head grew into the wide ears and clumsy chin, the lips grew fuller and the face became quite a beautiful one. He let it run for a few “years,” then stopped it. “This is what the princess should look like today. So tell me, Linda, do you know who the girl in this picture is?”

Of course she did. Linda didn’t know exactly how to feel – frightened at what she was seeing or amused that Baliwick’s men weren’t smart enough to ask Benny how many sisters he had. The girl in that picture, of course, looked exactly like their older sister, Jamie.

“Never seen her before.”

“Hmm. Really? You want to know something interesting about your sort, Linda?”

She let the “your sort” comment go by. “What?”

“You’re all terrible liars.” He rolled up the scroll and slid it back into his sleeve. “Let me ask you one more question. Why, during your feverish delirium that was ever so charming, did you see fit to call out the name ‘Edward’?”

She tried not to let the surprise show on her face. She suspected she was failing.

“I don’t know. I’ve never met anyone named Edward,” she said, truthfully.

“How do you know Edward, Linda?”

“I don’t.”

“Tell me!” He grabbed her by the front of her shirt and lifted her from the bed, shaking her in front of his face. He shook her and her arms simply dangled, too weak to fight back.

Tell me,” he hissed, and she saw a black, forked tongue flicker across his lips. She stared into his obsidian eyes just as there was a flash behind them – an orange flash. Suddenly her head began to hurt, like it was being split down the center with a hatchet.

Then she felt something pop.

All of a sudden it was like she had a third eye in-between the two she was accustomed to. This third eye let her see everything differently. Instead of the tall, charming but unnerving countenance he wore, Baliwick appeared as a dark, man-shaped haze, swirling about on itself. That wasn’t all – this third eye could sense two guards outside of the door. She “saw” orange hazes, men whose brains had been corrupted by Baliwick. In the floor below her, she “saw” a few more of the black hazes and many, many more of the orange ones. The orange ones greatly outnumbered the others, in fact. She couldn’t “see” beyond that – her third eye had a range, it seemed.

She didn’t actually “see” the colors, but her brain had never processed information like this before – these vague representations of black and orange seemed the best way to make her understand. It was good enough.

Baliwick dropped her on the bed. With her normal eyes, she saw a look of rage and confusion on his face. With an effort, she “closed” the third eye, making the images of Baliwick and his guards vanish. “I don’t know how you blocked me, girl, but it doesn’t matter. You will tell me what I want to know. Sooner or later, you’ll tell me everything.”

He stormed out of the room, leaving her there, and after the door closed she heard the sound of a heavy wooden bolt being laid across it outside. That was fine with her. She was too scared by what had happened to move, even if she hadn’t also been too weak.

*   *   *

Gene scratched a pattern into the dirt of the cell with a sturdy piece of straw. Someone unfamiliar may be afraid he was inscribing some magic rune that would rend the cell to pieces.

“X,” he said, handing the straw to Gail. “Your turn.”

“I’m tired of Tic-Tac-Toe.”

“Wanna play hangman?”

“I’d prefer if you didn’t,” Edward said. “Something of a sore spot for a man in my position, you know.”

“Oh. Sorry.”

They looked up from their game when they heard bickering beyond the heavy door. The voices were muffled, but it seemed that the heaviest of them was demanding admittance into their cell.

“Who’s that?” Gail said.

“Our host,” Edward grunted.

The door creaked open and a large shape glided in. It was difficult to see, with the light coming in from behind him, but when he spoke there was no room for doubt. They were facing Baliwick.

“Edward,” he said.

“Baliwick,” replied Edward, brightly. “This is such a surprise. You never visit anymore, you never write, and although my telephone has been out of service lately, I somehow doubt–”

“Shut up!” Baliwick brushed the children aside and smacked Edward hard across the face. Edward’s face bobbed, but when it came back, Gene could almost swear he was smiling.

“How did you do it, Edward? How did you bring that slip of a girl here?”

“Me? Why Baliwick, as flattered as I am by your confidence in me, I must swear ignorance in this case. The girl’s presence isn’t my doing.”

“And neither is that little shield around her mind, I take it.”

“Well, I do confess to having one of my own, but I came about it the hard way.”

Baliwick wrapped his long fingers and blackened nails around Edward’s throat. “What do you know about Linda?”

Gene and Gail exchanged glances. What was being done to Linda? Edward, for his part, simply laughed.

“I don’t know Linda at all, Baliwick, but if she’s gotten under your skin this efficiently, I’m rather anxious to meet her.”

Baliwick’s lip curled up into a snarl. “You think I can’t break you, Edward? You’re helpless here, you know that. Your powers, your friends, you left them all behind, and everyone thinks you’re dead.”

“Well, it’s not like it’s the first time. And at least I’ve managed to keep my positive outlook on life.”

Baliwick roared and flashed his hand across Edward’s face, leaving three deep cuts in his cheek. Blood dropped down from one of his long nails, which in this light seemed to Gene to be even longer than they’d appeared before.

He turned on the children.

“And you two,” he said, “you were with her, but I suppose you don’t know anything either.”

“Honestly, no,” Gene said, his voice quivering.

“Nasty little brats. You came here to take young Benjamin away, did you? He’s mine now, understand that. And he likes it here, and even if you somehow survive you’ll never steal him away.”

“Leave the children alone, Baliwick,” Edward said. The humor was drained from his voice, replaced with strength, despite his bound arms and bleeding face. This only served to infuriate Baliwick more, and he showed this by grabbing Edward’s long hair and smashing the back of his head against the stone wall more times than Gene could count. With each impact there was a sound like a baseball being hit. After the first several poundings, it sounded like a baseball being hit… only wetter.

When it was over, he let go of Edward and allowed his head to dangle in front of him. His lips were moving, mumbling something they couldn’t hear, particularly when Baliwick began screaming.

“You’ve always wanted to be a martyr, Edward! Fine, then! Hang here, amongst your thieves, and WAIT FOR PERDITION TO CLAIM YOU!”

He stole away from the cell, slamming the door behind him with a sound of thunder that echoed in Gene and Gail’s ears for several long moments, until Edward coughed.

“You’ll have to excuse him,” Edward moaned. “We’ve had… a bit of a falling out. Don’t worry. I’ll be fine.”

Next: Chapter Twenty-The Reunion




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