The Train: Episode 85

“One by one they’ve taken Dr. Ricer, Lucy, and now Nicole,” Michael thought. “Where are they? Are they dead?”

“You must not give up. Perhaps they can be saved,” Father Salvatore encouraged Michael.

“What?” Michael asked, struggling to think.

“There is a chance you may be able to save them,” Father Salvatore repeated.

“Yeah,” Michael responded, half listening.

“This wasn’t supposed to happen. He was part of a team. Elliot had said they would clean up things together. How was he supposed to fix anything without the others?”

Michael felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see Father Salvatore looking at him through the cracked lenses of an old pair of glasses.

“It’s not too late,” he told Michael.

“I hope not,” Michael said, picking up his shotgun. “If they can be saved, I’ll do it!”

“You can,” Salvatore smiled. “They are still alive.”

“How do you know that?” Michael asked, not sure whether to listen to the priest.

“Did you see them dead?” Salvatore asked. “Did you stand over their bodies?”

“No, but I saw someone grab Dr. Ricer, a tall man inside the burning cabin. And Lucy and Nicole just disappeared.”

“Abraham,” Salvatore said.

“You think Abraham took all of them?”

“I’m afraid so,” Salvatore said. “Abraham Carver was the groundskeeper at Summerhill Medical Center. His father raised him to love that place. In the end, Abraham saw people in one of two ways. Either they were helpless and in need of protection or threats he must eliminate.”

Father Salvatore walked to the doorway, his robes sliding along the dusty floor, and looked up and down the hallway.

“I opened this place in the wake of the Summerhill tragedy hoping to cleanse the property of the evil that had consumed it,” Salvatore said as he turned and walked back into the room.

“I tried to bring Abraham back into the world, back into society, but he had been alone too long, alone with the spirits that roam the halls of Summerhill. He was innocent at heart with a birth defect that made it impossible for him to speak. Poor thing didn’t understand people at all.”

Placing a hand on Michael’s shoulder, Salvatore gave Michael his backpack and said,

“Come with me. We must find Abraham.”

Salvatore turned into the hallway with Michael at his side.

“In the end he really meant no harm to anyone, that is until Scott Morgan had his near death experience. After that, Scott had a twisted view of me, which forced him to believe I had power he could simply take. This drove him to madness and sadly, he eventually took Abraham with him. I was imprisoned before I could stop him, and soon this place fell under his control,” Salvatore explained as they moved farther and farther away from the resort.

“How does any of this save my friends?” Michael asked, growing a little impatient.

“Now that Scott is dead, I believe I can get through to Abraham and have him lead us to your friends,” Salvatore explained.

Michael began to relax a little as a cautious hope crept into his heart.

“Where are we going?” he asked. “The resort is the other way.”

“Abraham spends all of his time in Summerhill, and it is there he will have taken your friends,” Salvatore said.

“Then that’s exactly where we’re going!” Michael said, once again feeling the fighting spirit.

* * *

The hallway lead to a stairwell going down then to a door that opened up onto the grounds of what was once Summerhill Medical Center. Standing like a great monster in the moonlight, the blackened ruins cast their shadow across the grass. The cool night breeze after the rain stirred the leaves of the vines and creaking trees embracing the skeleton that once was Summerhill. As Salvatore and Michael stepped through the door and onto the wet earth, the thunder sounded in the distance as the storm moved on.

“Poor dear Serena,” Salvatore said.

“I’ll say. What exactly happened to her?” Michael asked. “She seemed like the only normal person here. To just kill yourself like that. Strange.”

“Sadly, Serena was never as you say normal. She was the only child of an abusive father. When I found her, her body and spirit were broken. I took her in and raised her as my own child. I was hoping to bring her to a safe place where she could one day go out on her own and start a new life. But the more time I spent with her, the more I realized that while she had escaped addiction to drugs, she was becoming addicted to me. She clung to me. You see, I was the father figure she always wanted. In the end, she failed to protect me. That was more than she could take,” Salvatore explained.

“But why kill Scott Morgan, I mean Suriel, if you were safe?” Michael asked.

“She saw Scott Morgan as someone who was trying to take away everything she held dear. As soon as she had the opportunity, she killed him to protect me then took her own life to punish herself for failing me. Or perhaps she did it because she could not stand the thought of losing me again.”

Salvatore wiped his hands on his robes and looked out over the grounds of Summerhill.

“Abraham is in there somewhere. Of that I have no doubt,” he asserted.

Then he took a deep breath and said,

“Let us go find him and get your friends.”

When Michael reached into his bag, he found that his revolver was missing.

“Where’s my gun?” he asked, checking all the compartments.

“The revolver?” Salvatore asked. “You must have left it back in the room. Or perhaps you lost it when we made our way through the tunnels. Do not worry. Once we have found your friends, we will go back for it. I am certain it will be safe until you return.”

Despite his uneasiness about the lost weapon, Michael decided to let it go, at least for the moment.

“What was all that stuff back there in the rooms?” he asked.

“Scott was simply trying to take for himself the power he thought I had. I told him I have no power. I am just an old man who tries to help people in whatever way I can,” Salvatore heaved a sigh of regret. “But he would not believe me.”

“No, I mean with those prisoners,” Michael said.

“I do not understand,” Salvatore said.

As Michael described what he had seen in the rooms before they found Salvatore, the old man recoiled.

After a moment, a tear glistened in Salvatore’s eye as he said,

“Sadly, I do not know what Scott was doing. This makes my failure at protecting them weigh even heavier upon my shoulders.”

“Sorry,” Michael said feeling pity for the old man.

“What Scott did is not your fault. Oh but that is not what you meant, is it? You are sympathetic because of my distress and trouble.”

Michael nodded, “Yea.”

“Do not apologize. Compassion is a rare quality in a world so consumed with itself. But I have faith that this world can still be saved. We just need to discover a way to fix the mistakes of our past.”

“Fix the past?” Michael asked confused.

“A mere figure of speech, son. I mean we must remove the emotional scars left us by the trauma in our lives.”

As Salvatore continued to talk, Michael reached out from time to time to keep the old man from slipping on the wet grass and mud of the hospital grounds. And with every step, Michael couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was watching him.

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Published in: on June 18, 2018 at 12:40 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Prophet of Starfall: Episode 30

On the roof of the Pearson Plasma building, as Martin Armstrong held a gun on Elizabeth insisting that she fly him to safety, Nathan saw three possible outcomes to the events unfolding before him. He hoped he could guide Armstrong to the best one, which really wasn’t that good.

“I’m not helping you escape, Armstrong,” Elizabeth growled. “Now get that gun out of my face before I tear it from your hand!”

“Martin,” Nathan said, trying to sound calm.

His nerves growing more and more frayed, Armstrong’s eyes darted back and forth from Elizabeth to Nathan.

“You have kids don’t you?” Nathan asked.

Armstrong nodded.

“A boy and two little girls. Am I right?” Nathan asked.

At the mention of his children, Armstrong began to focus on Nathan more than he did Elizabeth.

“How long has it been since your wife passed?” Nathan asked.

Armstrong hesitated then said, “Three years.”

“Renee was only two at the time, wasn’t she?” Nathan asked.

Armstrong nodded, tears filling his eyes.

“She won’t remember her mother. Do you really want her to grow up without a father as well?” Nathan questioned.

Armstrong shook his head.

“What was your wife’s name?” Nathan continued.

Armstrong swiped at a tear running down his check and answered,

“Annabel.”

Nathan smiled and said, “Annabel. But she didn’t like that name, did she?”

Armstrong lowered his weapon just a hair as he replied,

“Said it made her sound like a fairytale princess. She preferred the name. . .”

Armstrong trailed off and Nathan finished his thought with,

“Bells.”

Armstrong nodded and smiled at the memory for a moment. Then he looked up at Nathan and said,

“I didn’t hurt anyone. I couldn’t hurt anyone. Jessica came onto me. It was during a field trip Hastings had arranged for his class. I didn’t take advantage of her I swear. She made the first move.”

Nathan nodded as he slowly moved closer.

“You’re being set up, Martin. I know that. But if you don’t turn yourself in, you’ll not only make it easier for whoever murdered Lincoln and Hastings to get away with it but you may also deny your kids their father,” Nathan said.

“What kind of a father could I be from prison?” Armstrong asked.

“You won’t be there for long, Martin. I promise. Whoever is doing this has targeted me as well. They’ve tried to take me out because they know I’m getting closer to finding out who the real murderer is,” Nathan said.

When Armstrong began to lower his weapon, Nathan’s instincts took over causing him to suddenly duck and turn out of the way just as a rifle fired somewhere behind him. The bullet sliced through the air striking Armstrong in the shoulder and throwing him backwards. As he fought to regain his balance, he fell over the side of the building. Elizabeth took three steps and dove after him.

Slowly Nathan got to his feet and looked around him. The shot could have come from only one direction. Nathan knew the sniper was long gone, so he ran toward the stairs and headed for the ground floor.

* * *

Elizabeth felt the wind rush past her as she quickly caught up with Armstrong and matched his speed. She grabbed his leg then moved to his side. Wrapping her arms around his waist, she spread her wings and slowed their descent.

The moment she touched down, she shouted,

“Need a medic here!”

Detectives Shields and French hurried over and saw that Armstrong was unconscious. Blood from the bullet hole in his shoulder soaked into his shirt.

“You shot him?” French snapped as he applied pressure to the wound.

“No!” Elizabeth defended. “If I had, he would need a priest not a medic.”

“Calm down,” Shields said. “What happened?”

“He—,” Elizabeth began.

“Move aside,” the EMTs interrupted.

“I’ll tell you what happened,” French barked, stepping out of the way. “She tried to kill our suspect!”

“If I had tried to kill him, he’d be dead. I don’t miss,” Elizabeth retorted.

“Everyone quiet now!” Shields ordered as the ground rumbled.

“I’ll ask again,” she said. What exactly happened?”

“Somebody shot him,” Nathan said jogging up to them, “but the bullet was meant for me.”

“What? Someone tried to shoot you?” French asked, his words dripping with sarcasm.

“Yes,” Nathan said, ignoring the insolent remark. “Apparently I’m a difficult target.”

“Thanks for bringing him down safely,” Shields said. “Armstrong has a lot to answer for.”

“I don’t think he’s guilty,” Nathan offered.

“Trust me,” Shields said, patting Nathan on the back, “he’s guilty.”

The moment Shields touched Nathan’s back, his vision went white.

* * *

When his vision cleared, Nathan was standing in the street across from Sapphire City Park. Frantic parents grabbed their kids as uniformed police hurried everyone to safety. Nathan stepped back when a vehicle roared past. Printed on the side in bold letters was CBPD Bomb Squad.

Nathan slipped through the crowd and headed into the park. No one seemed to notice him. A fallen banner announcing the Crescent Bay Founder’s Day Picnic lay across his path. Up ahead on a stone bridge a few feet near a monument dedicated to the sailors who founded Crescent Bay stood Jericho, a bomb strapped to his chest. Nathan saw that it was identical to the ones that had killed Lincoln and Hastings. Detective Cassandra Shields stood just in front of Jericho with the sun behind her.

“I need to get out of here,” Jericho said. “The bomb won’t hurt me, but it could kill hundreds.”

“No, Jericho. Don’t move,” Shields pleaded. “If you don’t stand still, the bomb may go off.”

“I can’t risk anyone getting hurt. If I jump high enough, the bomb should go off in midair,” Jericho explained.

“It’s too risky,” Shields said. “Let the bomb squad try and remove it first.”

“I’m sorry, but I can’t let anyone else get hurt,” Jericho said, bending his knees to jump.

“Jericho, wait!” Shields pleaded.

“Perhaps I can help,” a voice boomed from behind them.

Nathan turned around to see a figure floating in midair. The sun behind him obscured him from clear view, but Nathan could see that the sunlight reflected off his suit.

Before he could get a better look, Nathan’s vision went white again.

* * *

When Nathan came to, he saw Detective Shields staring at him with a look of concern.

“Are you okay?” she asked. “You kind of wandered off there for a moment.”

Nathan laughed it off and said,

“I’m fine.”

“Good, good,” Shields said. “Okay you need to spin by the station later to make a statement. I don’t know about you, but the chief will be glad to hear this is all over.”

As Shields walked away, Elizabeth stepped close to Nathan and asked,

“What did you see?”

Nathan paused still trying to take it all in.

“This is not over,” he sighed. “Not by a long shot.”

Unsettled: Episode 12

The Coldwater Crown Hotel was the crown jewel of Coldwater’s buildings. Its penthouse suite was reserved for only the most influential and powerful. Kristina had always hoped someday to spend her honeymoon in one of the spacious plush rooms with its chandeliers and marbled bathroom. Now she was in the hotel all right but gagged and tied to a chair opposite Detective Marquez while Charles Heath watched them with his strange little eyes.

“Sorry, boss,” Charley said. “I did what you told me, but I wasn’t sure if I should kill these two or bring them here. So I brought them here.”

Heath looked up at Charley in exasperation.

“Charley, you are an idiot. I want you to know that. But I can work with your incompetence. Now go on downstairs and wait for our guest. He should be arriving shortly.”

As Charley and Gordon left the room, Heath said,

“It’s tough to find someone this day and age that you can trust.”

Heath looked from Marquez to Kristina waiting for some sort of reaction. When neither of them responded, he nodded.

“Solid point. Wait right there. I want to go tell them what you said.”

Heath turned and headed for the balcony, closing the door behind him.

Kristina frantically looked around for a way to escape, something to cut her restraints. But when she spotted two men watching her, she sighed and started working on a different plan.

* * *

Stationed on the balcony of the Coldwater Crown Hotel were four of Heath’s best men. Councilman Parker was seated beside Police Commissioner Victor Thorn while Shaun Lambert, a member of Coldwater’s city council and Parker’s rival, stood in a tight group with Scott Marshall, owner of Foundation Financial, and Terrance Marsh the mayor.

“Well everyone,” Heath greeted as he walked out onto the balcony. “I’m certain you’re wondering why I called you here.”

“You didn’t call me! You kidnapped me!” Marsh complained.

“Yes, yes. You and Marshall. But I knew you wouldn’t rsvp a party invite, so I had to improvise,” Heath laughed.

“I brought you here because, as you know, things in Coldwater are changing. Unfortunately, I will not always be able to run the day-to-day operations, so I have gathered you here because you will run things for me,” Heath said.

When Parker stood up in protest, Heath held up a hand to quiet him.

“Right through those doors, I have a police detective and a civilian who saw you come out here, so I will put this as simply as I can manage. Join me or I tell them how evil every single one of you is then let them go. Or agree to work for me, becoming incredibly rich, and I deal with the witnesses. What’s it going to be?”

“I hired you to clear my name so I wouldn’t have to worry about prison,” Parker roared. “You work for me, and I will not stand here and let you take over my city!”

Anger flashed in Heath’s eyes and he grabbed Parker by the shirt, lifted him, and tossed him off the balcony. As Parker screamed, Heath waited until he hit the pavement below with a thud then said with a smile,

“There now. You no longer have to worry about prison.”

Turning around to the other men, Heath gestured to the balcony.

“Of course if you don’t like either option, you can always take the express exit. Think about it. I’ll be right back.”

* * *

A few feet away, Billy stood on the sidewalk in the pouring rain and watched as people gathered around the dead body of Councilman Roger Parker.

“Well it would seem their arrangement has come to an end,” Jack said.

“Shame it had to end that way,” Victoria disapproved.

“He had it coming,” Lucas growled.

“Nothing more we can do about him,” Dylan sighed. “We need to rescue the others.”

“Yes we do. My favorite part,” Eddie said with a broad grin.

Billy slipped through the crowd to the front doors of the Coldwater Crown Hotel. The lights were out and the building was empty.

“How did he empty out the building?” Victoria asked.

“Who cares? Gives us the environmental advantage,” Lucas pointed out as he pulled the doors closed and locked them.

* * *

Heath came in off the balcony and walked over to Kristina and Marquez.

“Look. I don’t want to kill either of you, but this is a business deal, so I would like to offer you something other than dying.”

He began to pace as he spoke.

“The man I released from jail, the same one who’s been on my heels a little closer than I like, is on his way here. I need you two to do me a favor. When the smoke clears and this is over, I want you to tell everyone that he was responsible for everything that happened here. After all, what good is a plan without a fall guy? Can you do that for me?”

Heath removed Marquez’s gag.

“Release me at once, and I’ll tell the DA you cooperated.”

“Well that wasn’t what I hoped to hear,” Heath said slipping, the gag back over her mouth.

Turning to Kristina he said,

“Let’s hope I have better luck with you.”

But when Heath removed Kristina’s gag, she snarled,

“Untie me so I can stab you in the neck.”

Heath quickly slipped the gag back on Kristina’s mouth despite her protest.

“Well that was worse.”

“I guess you’ll both just be two more victims for the crime statistics.”

Suddenly the door to the suite opened and one of Heath’s men burst in.

“Sir, he’s here,” he warned.

Heath smiled and answered,

“Good. Now I get to find out how good he really is.”

“Do I tell the others, boss?” the man asked.

“No, no,” Heath corrected. “We don’t want to spoil the surprise, do we?”

* * *

Connor Lawton, one of Heath’s men, led a team of four through the halls of the Coldwater Crown Hotel’s first floor. Their orders were to clear the hotel and let no one slip in. Connor had complete confidence in his team. So far, there had been no radio chatter. This job would be a piece of cake, much too easy given the experience and training of his men.

Up ahead, Connor spotted a light just beyond a small dining room.

“Squad on me. Move with caution,” Connor ordered.

Quietly he and his men crept toward the room, stopping at the door marked Kitchen. The light was coming from under the door. Ordering his men to watch for any movement, he slowly opened the door. Connor knew they would follow orders and watch his back.

Whoever turned on the kitchen light could be hiding somewhere in the kitchen. Connor led in his men, stopped to listen, then continued all the way to the back.

“All clear. False alarm,” he said.

Turning to face his squad, he froze when he saw his men had disappeared.

“They wouldn’t have left me,” Connor thought. “Something’s wrong!”

Just as he reached for his radio, from behind him Connor felt a knife press to his throat.

He stood perfectly still and waited for the right moment to redirect the attack.

“Call for help,” the man behind him whispered.

“What?” Connor asked confused.

When Connor didn’t cooperate, the man reached around with his other hand and removed Conner’s radio. Holding it up to Connor’s mouth, he repeated,

“Call. . .for. . .help.”

The Train: Episode 84

Michael threw his weight against the door as someone on the other side pushed, trying to force their way in.

“We need to find something to pin these doors shut, or the butcher and the baker are going to keep on following us,” Michael said as he looked around for something to use.

“The butcher and the baker?” Serena asked confused.

“You know the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker,” Michael said, waiting for Serena to catch on.

When he saw from her expression that she didn’t understand, he added,

“From the nursery rhyme ‘Rub a Dub Dub’.”

Serena just stared at him.

“What kind of childhood did you have anyway?” Michael asked, struggling to keep his feet from slipping as he held the door.

“Here. Try this,” Nicole said, running up to him with a sharpened piece of wood.

“That would be great if they were vampires,” Michael said, turning and pressing his back against the door.

“Wait!” Michael said. Then looking at Serena, he asked, “They’re not vampires are they?”

Nicole groaned, “No, you idiot.”

Bending down, she shoved the piece of wood under the door. When Michael cautiously released the door, the piece of wood held it in place.

“Same as a rubber ball that rolls up against a door. Acts like a wedge, holding it shut,” Nicole explained.

“Thanks,” Michael said, straightening up.

Down the hallway, they saw a faint red light. Cell doors lined the walls, and hands reached out between the bars as cries of pain and anger filled the air.

“Stick to the center,” Michael instructed, “and stay directly behind me.”

Keeping a safe distance from the bars, Michael glanced into the first cell on his right. In the corner, restrained with a straight jacket, sat a weeping woman, her dark, matted hair falling across her face. The cell on the opposite wall held a bald, toothless man, his eyes bulging as he pressed himself against the door, reaching out and mumbling incoherently.

Michael shook his head in deep pity at these miserable souls.

Spotting a bright light pouring out of one of the rooms up ahead on the left, he told Serena and Nicole,

“Let’s keep going.”

In the next set of cells, a man struggled to free himself from the metal bands that bound his hands behind him. Blood oozed from open wounds on his forehead as he banged his head against the cell door.

“Let me out!” he screamed.

The cell across from him held two men, one tied to a chair with the other standing over him. The man in the chair was writhing in pain as he stared at Michael with eyes whose light was only a flicker. Blood dripped from his mouth, and the man by him held a pair of pliers with a bloodied tooth caught in the pincers.

Serena gasped and shuddered, grabbing Michael’s arm. There was one more cell door to pass before they reached the end of the hall. Michael did not want to look, but he could not help himself. On one side of the cell was a large open furnace, its fire blazing. When Michael touched the cell door, he jerked his hand back from the hot metal. Two chains with weights stretched out from the wall were attached to shackles around a man’s wrists. In his desperation to move away from the rising flames, his strength was rapidly waning.

“Please! I am certain we can reach a peaceful arrangement,” came a voice down the hall.

“Father Salvatore!” Serena exclaimed.

“Serena! Wait!” Nicole ordered as Serena ran up ahead and disappeared into the light of the open room.

Michael and Nicole hurried after her.

The room was filled with candles, and covering the walls were odd markings, scrawled in what Michael hoped was red paint. On the right, an older man rested on his knees, his hands bound to the wall. When Michael and Nicole entered the room, he lifted his eyes, weary from a long struggle with little hope. Across the room from him stood a younger man, his short black hair pulled back into a ponytail with a bit of twine.

“Stop!” the younger man yelled to Michael and Nicole. “Drop your weapons!”

Michael dropped the shotgun, and after a pause, Nicole reluctantly dropped her pistol.

“Suriel! What are you doing?” Serena asked the younger man.

“It is time for the ascension when he must pass his power onto me. His time has ended, and he refuses to let me become what I am meant to be, to take my rightful place,” Suriel protested.

“Listen to me, Suriel,” Michael said. “I’m sure this all makes perfect sense, plenty of reasons why what you say should happen. But have you considered the reasons why it shouldn’t?”

“Quiet!” Suriel said. “You are an outsider! You know nothing of our beliefs.”

Suriel’s head twitched as though struck by sudden pain. He turned his pistol away from Salvatore and began to strike himself on the forehead as he said,

“I have to think.”

“Son, trust me. This is not the answer. Please let me help you,” Salvatore begged.

“No! You will only lie to prevent the ascension. You refuse to give up the power that is no longer yours. I am the rightful heir,” Suriel insisted, slamming his hand against his chest. “It is my place to rule our people.”

Suddenly there was a loud crash out in the hall behind them. When Nicole jerked her head in the direction of the noise, she saw the two men who had been slowly moving toward them in the other hallway.

“Michael,” she said through gritted teeth, “this situation is getting worse. We need to do things my way.”

“I can still fix this,” Michael said, desperately trying to think of an answer.

All at once, a shot rang out and Michael and Nicole dropped down. As Michael rose to his feet, he saw that Suriel’s hands hung limply by his sides as blood from a bullet wound in his chest soaked into his shirt. Serena stood next to Michael, Nicole’s gun in her hand.

“What happened?” Michael asked.

But when he turned to Nicole, she was gone. Hurrying out to the hallway, he looked up and down but could find no trace of her.

“Nicole!” he shouted.

“Are you all right, Father Salvatore?” Serena asked.

“I am, my child,” he assured her, “but you should not have killed him.”

“I am sorry, Father Salvatore, but I had to keep you safe,” Serena explained.

Then she stepped back and said,

“Everything I did, I did to make you happy. Are you happy?”

“I am, child,” Salvatore replied.

“Then I am at peace,” Serena smiled.

With that, she lifted the gun and pressed it under her chin.

“Wait!” Michael exclaimed.

But before he could stop her, Serena pulled the trigger. She dropped the pistol and fell to the floor dead. Michael looked down at Serena’s body as her blood pooled around his shoes.

“Dr. Ricer, Lucy, and now Nicole. They’re gone,” Michael said in defeat.

“Not yet,” Salvatore said. “There is still a chance to save them.”

Published in: on May 17, 2018 at 1:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Dragon Fire: Episode 97

After the king’s meeting with the envoy of Acimeth, Princess Lillian had slipped away to the royal garden, a place where she always found peace. The sound of birds’ morning songs filled the air as Lillian moved slowly through the soft grass. Closing her eyes, she breathed in the sweetness of the lilacs’ pleasing fragrance and listened to the hum of bees, busy about their work at the brilliant purple and bluish blossoms. Lillian longed to remove her shoes and run through the grass barefoot as in the days when she and Allaster were children. But when she had grown from a child to a youth, her father posted guards with strict orders to bring her in should she do anything unbefitting a princess.

“This marriage will unite our two countries, my daughter,” the king had stressed. “You must show character and bravery as well as meekness. If this arrangement fails, King Stephanus will take us to war.”

Although Lillian knew a war would hurt her people, she could not deny her heart’s desire. She wanted only to marry Allaster, her childhood friend. Now it seemed as if disappearing, fleeing from her homeland, was the only way she could be with him.

Hearing the soft fluttering of birds’ wings, Lillian glanced up to see a male bird, carrying a bit of food in its beak, returning to a nest where patiently waited his hungry mate sitting on a clutch of eggs. As the princess watched in awe, the male fed the female then quickly flew away in search of more food. Lillian’s spirit was lifted for a moment at the wonder. But then her grief overcame her and she bowed her head to hide the tears. It seemed that the price of her happiness was war with Acimeth. Yet, she reasoned, the king was strong and wise. He would surely find a way to keep the peace. Lillian considered this for a moment as she eyed the guards and struggled with what to do.

Then she remembered Allaster’s words as he looked into her eyes, “We cannot run away, Lillian. It would break your father’s heart and put your brother Nesmoru in line for the throne.”

Cursing his logic as she paced, she began to consider how she could keep her brother from the throne and still be free.

When the answer suddenly appeared, she stopped in midstride.

“I will wait until I am queen then bring Allaster back as my personal advisor,” she said to herself.

“Once I am queen, I shall do as I wish,” she said aloud, her head lifting. “My father used to say that the most fearsome day is when the lioness first discovers her howl.”

Hearing a twig snap behind her, Lillian whirled around to see Derali standing there, his manservant just behind him.

“For it is with this voice she will establish her place and protect her family,” Derali said, finishing the proverb.

Lillian recoiled, worried about how much Derali had heard.

Derali laughed, “Do not fear, Your Highness. I have seen many arranged marriages. Some prospered, others not. This I can tell you, though. Prince Lanidus is a good man who is only concerned. . .”

Derali paused glancing back at his servant. . .”for the welfare of others.”

Lillian smiled and took one last look of longing at an open spot between the guard and the hedge surrounding the garden. Then she turned to face Derali.

“In truth, I am not at peace with this marriage, but I will respect my father’s wishes and do what I must to guard the safety of my people,” Lillian said.

“Safety?” Derali asked confused.

“It is well known that King Stephanus has his eye on Ethion. My family has ruled over this land since the days when Tobias Ashblood freed it from the children of dusk, and your idle threats of war and fear mongering will not daunt King Isembart. He will not fall into defeat.”

Derali was taken aback.

“I know not of what you speak,” Derali answered, his brow furrowed. “The only purpose of King Stephanus is the marriage of his son. Prince Lanidus is the fifth of six sons, and King Stephanus only wishes his son to wed well.”

Derali’s servant coughed suddenly.

“King Stephanus is a gentle soul,” Derali said, glancing back at his servant. “And Prince Lanidus is far more uneasy about your reputation than your father’s.”

“My reputation?” Lillian asked.

“Far and wide, word has spread of Princess Lillian’s wild heart and unmatched beauty. My king was certain that when you saw Prince Lanidus, you would flee,” Derali said.

Lillian slightly blushed, turning away to hide her guilt.

When Derali’s servant coughed again, Lillian saw a smile work its way across Derali’s face.

“That is not to say that the prince is hideous. In truth, many maidens were distraught by the news of his marriage.”

“He sounds quite spirited,” Lillian said. “But he must know that I will not be a queen who sits by waiting for his consent before I act.”

Derali laughed, “Of course, Your Highness. The prince is an honorable man of courage with a fierce loyalty to his kingdom and its people. He is the best among his brothers.”

“You know him well?” Lillian asked.

“I grew up with him,” Derali said. “Although I am merely a humble guardian, the prince is like a brother to me.”

Suddenly the joy fell from Derali’s face as he yelled,

“Step aside, Your Highness!”

Just as Lillian turned out of the way, the guard nearest her fell, a bloody wound in his back.

A man wearing colors she did not recognize walked toward her. When she looked toward the second guard, she saw that he was already down while another man in matching colors stood over him.

“Get behind me, Your Highness!” Derali warned, drawing his sword.

“I can take care of myself,” Lillian said.

“I do not doubt that, but please allow me this,” Derali said.

Before she could answer, two men ambushed Derali from behind, striking him and grabbing his servant.

“Let us be gone,” one of the two men yelled.

As Derali’s servant fought against their hold, the two men struggled to drag him out of the garden.

“Are you injured?” Lillian asked Derali.

“I am unharmed, Your Highness, but they have taken him!” Derali said in anguish.

“Your servant?” Lillian asked, confused by the messenger’s distress.

“Do not fear. My father will see that your servant is returned.”

“He is not my servant! He is Prince Lanidus!” Derali confessed.

Lillian looked up to see that the men had reached the edge of the garden. Glancing over at one of the fallen guards, Lillian quickly reached down and lifted his pike. When she threw the weapon, it arched through the air and pierced one of the escaping men, pinning him to the ground.

The other man fled, taking Prince Lanidus with them.

“Who were those men?” Lillian asked.

“They work for Riscio, a disgraced guard captain who, after failing to depose King Stephanus, fled with those loyal to him. Since his defeat, he has been searching for a way to take the throne for himself. The man you struck is Drilli, once a trusted guard before he joined Riscio’s band,” Derali said.

“My father will find those who took Prince Lanidus and see that he is released. You must not worry,” Lillian said.

“His life will be preserved, but I fear he will be held captive until King Stephanus releases all of Riscio’s men from the prisons of Acimeth,” Deralli explained.

Coming Soon. . .

Published in: on May 6, 2018 at 8:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Train: Episode 83

Through the manhole cover, Michael and the others climbed down a long ladder until they reached the bottom. As his eyes adjusted to the dim light, Michael saw that they were in a musty sewer of putrid waste. Searching through his bag, he pulled out a heavy flashlight and swept the beam along the walls and floor. On the surface of the foot deep water, he spotted traces of blood.

“This way,” he directed.

Bugs crawled along the slimy brick walls as an occasional rat scurried off into the darkness.

“Why would Saint Suriel bring Father Salvatore down here?” Serena asked.

“No idea,” Nicole answered, the barrel of her pistol aimed just over Michael’s shoulder.

A few yards down, the sewer opened up into an empty room with a flight of iron stairs.

Michael slowly swept the flashlight’s beam across the water’s surface, and when he found no signs of blood, he pointed to the stairs.

“He must have gone this way. It’s the only way up.”

A faint light poured down the steps.

Keeping a wary eye out, Michael slowly ascended the stairs, pausing to listen for voices. At the top of the steps was a heavy wooden door. Slowly he turned the knob and pushed the door open with his shotgun.

When he stepped through the door into a long filthy hallway, its tile floor cracked and stained, he was certain he heard a faint cry. At the end of the hall, a pale green light cast a glow onto the floor beneath a closed door, and up and down the hallway, the weak light of open rooms cast shadows on the walls.

“Where are we?” Michael asked Serena.

“I do not know,” Serena said.

Stay close,” Nicole advised, her gun raised.

Leading with his shotgun, Michael crept down the hall toward the first room.

When he reached the doorway, he took a step back and froze.

“Why did you stop?” Nicole asked.

When Michael failed to answer, Nicole took her eyes off the hallway and looked inside the room.

Hanging from the ceiling were twelve cloth bags, each six feet long. The cloth had been tightly wound to form a sort of cocoon.

“What are those things?” Serena asked.

Michael cautiously stepped closer and slowly reached out to touch one of the bags.

When the tips of his fingers brushed against the damp cloth, something inside the bag began to move and make a soft noise.

“What is that sound?” Michael asked, struggling to identify it.

“Sounds like moaning to me,” Nicole said. “Somebody’s inside that thing.”

With her free hand, Nicole removed her knife from its sheath and took a step toward the bag.

When Michael heard a low rustling sound, he looked around the room and saw that each of the bags had begun to move.

Suddenly Michael spotted a man standing at the other side of the room. He wore a gas mask and was dressed in a long white lab coat splattered with mud and dark patches of blood.

As he turned around and looked at Michael through the mask, his black rubber boots squeaked. Then with a black rubber gloved hand, he reached out and stopped one of the bags from moving.

His eyes focused on the tall man, Michael put his arm out to keep Nicole from cutting into the bag.

“What?” she asked.

When Michael pointed to the man standing motionless as he watched them, Nicole slipped her knife back in its sheath and aimed her pistol.

Michael’s instincts told him to shoot, but the unarmed man didn’t seem aggressive as he kept staring at them.

“He’s not in here. Please. Let’s keep moving,” Serena pleaded, pulling on Michael’s sleeve.

Michael hesitated but then said,

“We’ll be back for them.”

He stepped out of the room and slowly continued down the hallway, uneasy at turning his back on the man in the gas mask and dirty coat.

Nicole took a quick glance backward but the man didn’t seem to be following them. A few feet farther down the hall, she glanced back again and saw that now the man was standing still in the hall watching them.

“That room must be for those guests who need extra help relaxing,” Michael joked, trying to calm his nerves.

“I do not know what purpose this place serves,” Serena insisted.

When Nicole looked back and saw that the man was standing even closer, she insisted,

“Michael, we need to find a way out of here!”

Turning away for just a moment, she looked back and saw that he was closer still.

As they approached another room, Michael could feel cold air wafting from inside. A pale white light poured out from the room as he turned slowly into the doorway, afraid of what he might see.

For a moment, Michael felt as though his heart would stop. The room was filled with gurneys, each gurney holding a sheet-draped body. Crates marked with different numbers had been stacked at the back of the room, and blood dripped from some of the crates. Fluorescent lights flickered overhead as a man entered the room wearing black rubber gloves and boots, welding goggles and a breath mask. Carrying a saw caked in blood, he stopped and wiped it across his blood soaked apron then looked at Michael in silence.

“Michael, we need to get out of here now! Every time I take my eyes off that man back there, he moves closer,” Nicole informed.

“Not much better in here,” Michael said, staring at the man with the saw.

“Either we get out of here or I start shooting,” Nicole warned.

“Please don’t,” Serena begged. “If Saint Suriel knows we are here, he might kill Father Salvatore.”

Michael saw another door less than 15 feet away. Glancing back into the room with the bodies, he saw that the goggled man had exchanged his saw for a large hammer and was coming closer.

“Okay. Run for that door up ahead,” Michael motioned. “I’ll keep an eye on these two.”

Nicole took Serena’s sleeve and hurried her toward the door while Michael shifted his gaze from one man to the other. Each man came closer every time Michael looked at the other.

“Come on!” Nicole snapped.

Michael turned and bolted for the door. When he reached the door, he spun around to watch the hallway. Reaching behind him, he pulled the door open and slipped through, leaving the two men standing in the hall watching.

As he quickly pulled the door closed, he looked for a bolt to lock it. There was none.

Turning around to Nicole and Serena, he saw that they were in a hallway twice as long as the one they had just left. The hall was dark except for the faint light that streamed from each of the open rooms. Michael quickly flipped on his flashlight and was searching the hallway when suddenly he heard the door behind him begin to open.

The Prophet of Starfall: Episode 28

In a panel van parked a good distance away, Graham Prescott watched four monitors, each with a clear view of the courtyard outside Crescent Bay University’s Anderson Hill Dormitory. Each monitor was being fed video from a different drone circling the courtyard.

“Sir,” one of Prescott’s men said.

“What?” Prescott snapped imperiously.

“Why is such an elaborate plan necessary? Why not just walk up to him and kill him?” the man asked.

Prescott slowly turned to the man and glared, quickly looking at his nametag.

“Marc, is it? Look, Marc, I would love nothing more than to walk right up to Nathan Nichols and nuke him till he looked like an overcooked burrito, but unfortunately I can’t. Our employer insists on secrecy, so we have to keep our distance and do things the hard way,” Prescott explained.

After a pause to consider, Marc asked,

“But why, sir?”

With a low growl, Prescott ran the fingers of his left hand over his cane that rested on the seat.

“Do you know what people have started calling Nathan Nichols?” he asked.

Seeing the growing anger in Prescott’s eyes, Marc decided to drop the subject.

“Never mind, sir,” Marc answered.

“No!” Prescott barked. “You started this, now let’s see where it goes. Answer the question!”

Marc hesitated for a moment then mumbled, “The prophet?”

“And do you know why?” Prescott asked.

Marc started to step back but Prescott snarled,

“Why?”

“Rumor has he knows things. That he can tell you anything about a person,” Marc replied.

“Just by being around them. Correct?” Prescott added.

Growing increasingly nervous, Marc merely shook his head.

“Which means?” Prescott continued.

Marc gulped, sweat beginning to form on his brow.

“He would know who hired you if you got too close?” Marc softly answered.

“That’s right!” Prescott said with mock glee.

Then with a sudden blast of blue energy from the cane, Prescott reduced Marc to a pile of ashes. Turning his attention back to the monitors, he grumbled,

“Idiot.”

“Nichols and the girl are exiting the building,” a voice said over the speaker.

“Good,” Prescott responded into a walkie. “Let them get to the parking lot. Too many obstructions in the courtyard.”

Prescott turned to the pile of ashes that was once Marc and sarcastically explained,

“Now by obstruction, I mean trees and fountains and people. Stuff they can hide behind.”

Just then the wind picked up, blowing the ashes away.

Prescott adjusted one of the drones to get a better view of Nathan and Elizabeth as they crossed the courtyard. Nathan led the way with Elizabeth a few steps behind.

“Wait till they get to the parking lot. Sniper 1, you ready?” Prescott asked.

“Check,” sniper 1 replied.

“Sniper 2 ready?” Prescott asked.

“Sniper 2, check,” the other sniper replied.

“Truck ready?” Prescott asked.

“Yeah, boss,” came a response.

“Bruiser ready?” Prescott asked.

“I have a name,” a voice returned.

Prescott rolled his eyes and corrected,

“Coil ready?”

“Ready,” the same voice replied.

As Prescott kept his eyes on the monitors, suddenly sniper 1 said,

“They’ve stopped.”

“You got a clear shot?” Prescott asked.

“It’s a go,” sniper 1 answered.

“Then take the shot,” Prescott ordered.

“Goodnight,” sniper 1 said.

Just as the rifle fired, Nathan moved to the side, sending the bullet into the concrete. He instantly pulled out his revolver and returned fire in the direction the bullet had traveled.

“Sniper 1, report,” Prescott ordered.

“Sniper 1 down, sir,” sniper 2 said.

“Sniper 2, fire,” Prescott barked.

“Yes, sir.”

As the rifle fired again, Nathan spun on his heel, once again dodging the bullet then returning fire.

“How is he dodging the bullets?” Prescott yelled.

“He’s not dodging the bullets, sir. He’s moving out of the way just as the bullet is fired,” a voice explained.

“Who said that?” Prescott snapped.

There was a pause before the man came back with,

“Addams, sir.”

“That wasn’t me, sir. It was Marley,” a second man said.

Prescott dropped the walkie and rested his head in his hands.

“Why do I surround myself with idiots,” he moaned.

Then looking through his fingers at Nathan, Prescott grabbed the walkie and ordered,

“Send in the truck.”

 

*          *          *

 

“What was that?” Elizabeth asked, scanning the area with both of her pistols out.

“An ambush,” Nathan replied. “Remember what I told you just before we stepped outside the dorm back there?”

“What?” Elizabeth asked.

Before Nathan could refresh her memory, Elizabeth spotted a large out-of-control truck barreling down on them. Quickly stepping in front of Nathan, Elizabeth firmly planted her feet and bent her knees.

When the truck jumped the curb, its front end lifted just enough for Elizabeth to catch it by the grill.

“Throw it!” Nathan shouted.

With all her strength, Elizabeth tossed the truck high into the air. It flipped over end-to-end then exploded, destroying two remote drones nearby.

Stepping back to Nathan’s side, she asked,

“Are you okay, Nathan?”

“I’m fine but hold on. This isn’t over yet,” Nathan warned. “Look at that.”

The ground began to rumble as a giant of a man ran toward them, roaring like a beast.

“I’ll get him,” Elizabeth said, popping her knuckles and neck. “I’ve been looking for a good brawl all day.”

Estimating that the running man was around 7 feet tall, Elizabeth calmly walked toward him.

Stopping to bend her knees, she settled her weight on her back foot and watched as the man raised his giant fists over his head. When he was close enough, Elizabeth struck him in the chest with her open palm.

The sound of the impact was so loud it echoed off the concrete. Doubling over with pain, the man clutched at his chest and gasped for air. Elizabeth grabbed him, lifting him as easily as she would a basketball, and threw him across the parking lot into a line of trees.

“Where are the rest of them?” Elizabeth asked, her blood pumping.

“Retreating,” Nathan said.

“Seriously? After one punch?” Elizabeth complained. “I think I may have to crack a few ribs before I can go home.”

“They aren’t retreating because of you,” Nathan said.

“What?” Elizabeth asked in confusion.

Nathan pointed toward the sky, and when Elizabeth looked up, she saw 4 21 hovering overhead. He floated down, landing next to them, and said,

“Ms. Hayes. Prophet.”

Nathan nodded his greeting and 4 21 said,

“When Jericho convinced me and the other heroes in Crescent Bay to give you opportunity to come into your own, I assumed he meant that you would be handling matters such as solving murders or preventing future disasters in your own way, dealing with problems I did not have time for. Every hero in Crescent Bay has a special skill, a strength to bring these problems to a solution, but I am afraid I must interfere when your solutions involve shooting into crowds or throwing lethal exploding devices into the air, especially this close to a college campus.”

“Those were not problem solvers,” Nathan corrected. “We were simply defending ourselves.”

“Explain,” 4 21 said.

Once Nathan had recounted Prescott’s attempted ambush, 4 21 said,

“I understand that you are new to this. You must be careful. A soldier does not fire on innocents nor does he act without regard to the safety of others.”

“Sorry,” Nathan said.

“It seems you had no choice,” 4 21 admitted. “Just be careful.”

Without another word, 4 21 lifted into the air and flew off.

“I don’t like being scolded,” Elizabeth said. “Not one little bit!”

Deciding to ignore her comment, Nathan proposed,

“Let’s go find Detective Shields and tell her about Jessica.”

Dragon Fire: Episode 95

As High Priest Zephryses quickly descended the stairs, two of his guards stepped forward and slipped a chain around the stunned Allaster.

“I do not understand. The potion was to have worked only once,” Zephryses cursed, pacing across the courtyard as the wind lifted his robes.

“What shall we do, sir?” one of Zephryses’s trusted priests asked.

“As yet, I have no answer. I could spend the rest of my life killing him, but he will keep rising from the earth,” Zephryses complained.

“King Isembart expects a report on the prisoner,” the loyal priest said.

“Precisely. I was to find a way to kill him and send a report to the king. Now, that is not possible. I cannot leave him alive in the dungeon for fear someone might free him or listen to his account of what happened. He must die once and for all!” the High Priest fumed.

As Zephryses continued to pace, a giant of a man bearing dual swords at his sides and another strapped to his back strode through the doorframe.

“How have you ever tasted victory?” the man asked.

The towering man was known as Riscio, the leader of the mercenary group Zephryses had engaged to compliment his small army of loyal soldiers. An outlaw in his own land, he moved freely in the kingdom of Ethion, safe from all but the bounty hunters.

“What is this you say?” Zephryses asked enraged.

“You have been given the perfect opportunity to win the king’s favor yet you waste time whining like a woman. Lock the prisoner away in a deep dark hole—,” Riscio began.

“I cannot do this for the king will want proof of death,” Zephryses interrupted.

“Then you must tell the king that the prisoner has escaped and assure him that you will faithfully search to the ends of the earth until he is found,” Riscio answered with a dramatic wave of his arm.

“But of course I cannot make this adventurous journey but must remain in Ethion to protect the kingdom,” Zephryses responded, considering the plan. “Perfect.”

“Of course,” Riscio said with great self-satisfaction.

High Priest Zephryses leaned toward Allaster and peered into his eyes.

“These men will take you to a place where no one will find you,” Zephryses explained, smiling as his eyes grew wide with delight, “and there I want you to stay. Never forget that I will always be within reach of the princess. If I hear of your escape or attempted escape, she will be dead long before you can save her. Do you understand?”

Weakened by his helplessness, Allastar bent his head and slowly nodded.

As Zephryses turned, he gave instructions to Riscio.

“Far out in the sea is an island where no one goes. Legend has that it is haunted. Take him to the prison there and lock him away. Once you have secured his chains, you and your men are free to go. If I have need of you, I will send word.”

“What of my people? I have men locked in the dungeons of Acimeth, imprisoned by King Stephanus,” Riscio said.

“After the marriage ceremony of King Isembart’s daughter, I will see to it that your men are released. Until then, stay out of my way,” Zephryses said turning.

“You are in error. We will take this prisoner to the island after my men have been released. They will not be freed at your pleasure.”

 

 

*          *          *

 

As the horses pulled the wood and iron carriage down the narrow, well-worn road that cut through the king’s forest, Prince Lanidus rested his throbbing head against the soft cushions. The fragrance of wild flowers filled the air as the birds greeted the new day.

“You know, your majesty, if you had slept last night instead of gambling and drinking, you would be in better spirits,” Derali the Captain of the Guard pointed out.

“I am to wed soon,” Lanidus reminded him, “so why not have fun before then?”

“Marriage is not something you should resign yourself to. It represents the union of two souls, two travelers who will forever journey together,” Derali said.

“What would you know of this?” Lanidus remarked.

Derali’s expression grew somber and he lowered his eyes, aimlessly adjusting the ring on his finger. As soon as Lanidus realized what he had said, his heart sank.

“I am sorry, my friend. How long as it been since she passed?”

“The last full moon,” Derali said.

“I forgot. I was not thinking of your loss. I am just concerned about my upcoming marriage. How can I be joyful?” Lanidus asked. “This marriage is merely a union of the kingdoms Acimeth and Ethion. I wish to wed for love.”

“I hear the Princess Lillian is quite beautiful,” Derali said, trying to encourage him.

“Surely you know that the bride of an arranged marriage is never beautiful,” Lanidus said, “only convenient.”

Derali shook his head in laughter. “I wish to be there when you meet her so that I can see your surprise and delight.”

“I have heard that until recently the kingdom of Ethion was beset upon by a demon of some sort,” Lanidus said.

“Not a demon,” Derali corrected. “A priest of Authrax who was immune to death. They burned him alive yet he rose from the ashes. The townsfolk call him the burned priest. But truly such things are but legend.”

Lanidus laughed and said, “And I suppose it is also legend that giant plants grow in Ethion that can consume a full grown man? My favorite story is the one about a large pantherlike creature with the wings of a bat.”

“All legends,” Derali assured him. “Ethion has been thriving since Tobias Ashblood drove out the Children of Dusk.”

“I was taught about Valkovians in my youth,” Lanidus said, “but I never saw one. My teacher said some of them were kind and honorable.”

“That may be so, but many who have been seen have tried to kill anyone who is not a Valkovian,” Derali informed.

“So I am to be king of a perilous land,” Lanidus said. “Wonderful.”

Prince Lanidus did not realize the truth of his words for unbeknownst to him, Riscio and his soldiers were hiding in Ethion, and Riscio would do anything to free his men locked away as prisoners of the kingdom. Hearing of this threat, King Stephanus had commanded Derali to accompany his son the prince.

“Well I am not a weak man,” Lanidus continued. “I was one of the greatest soldiers in the last war. I can defend myself and no demon priest will stop me. I will marry King Isembart’s hideous daughter and make this cursed land my own!”

Derali could not help but laugh at the prince’s words for he had seen drawings of Princess Lillian and knew Lanidus would be at a loss for words when he saw her beauty.

Dragon Fire: Episode 93

Late that night in the palace dungeon, Allaster sat on the floor of his cell, chained to the wall as he watched the rats scurry back and forth across the cold stone patiently waiting for the prisoner to surrender to death. Allaster considered all he had lost as he thought back over his life. First, wolves killed his mother as she gathered firewood at the edge of the forest. Then his father died on the battlefield of Ethion. The only light in his dismal childhood was Princess Lillian, and in a matter of hours, he would lose her as well. His father used to tell him there was a time and place for everything. Soldiers did not cry on the battlefield, and Allaster knew he was in a fight for his life. He had fixed his heart on hope, determined not to yield to despair, but as the hours passed, his resolve weakened and he broke down and wept until his tears were spent and he slipped into a troubled sleep.

 

*          *          *

 

Allaster woke suddenly to a rapping on his cell door. When he lifted his head, he saw through the bars of the cell door High Priest Zephryses flanked by two of his personal guards.

“You were having a nightmare it seems,” Zephryses said.

“Oh sir, have you come to help?” Allaster asked, knowing the answer the moment the question escaped his lips.

Zephryses laughed, “Dear me no. I have come for another reason.”

With a wave of his hand, the cell door unlocked and opened.

Giving orders for his men to stand guard, Zephryses stepped inside the cell and stood over Allaster.

“The king is convinced of your heresy. Easily done. However, not everyone is convinced. Tomorrow when you die, I fear the princess will use her influence to plead your innocence. So to guarantee my legacy, you must appear guilty.”

“What do you mean?” Allaster asked.

“I will simply see to it that your alliance with Authrax manifests itself,” Zephryses said.

Zephryses took a step back and from his robe removed a small vial. Black flecks whirled through the deep purple liquid.

“What is that?” Allaster asked recoiling.

“A potion I have been working on. It is not as yet perfected, but its power will serve my purpose,” Zephryses boasted.

Allaster drew back against the wall in fear, struggling to distance himself from the mysterious liquid. But with a wave of his hand and snap of his fingers, Zephryses lifted the helpless Allaster into the air then opened his mouth.

He uncorked the vial, releasing a strange, unpleasant odor, then drew near Allaster and poured the foul mixture down his throat.

“Do not worry, my boy. Tomorrow you will die, but it will not be the last time.”

Allaster choked as the purple liquid made its way down his throat. When the vial was emptied, Zephryses stepped back and Allaster fell to the floor.

Slipping the bottle back into the folds of his robe, Zephryses turned to leave but stopped when he heard Allaster cry out in pain. Looking over his shoulder, he watched as the young man he had once called his son clawed at his stomach and writhed in agony.

“Oh yes. I neglected to tell you about the painful effects of the potion. But have no fear. The pain will soon subside and then you will die,” Zephryses smiled.

As Allaster’s cries grew louder, Zephryses moved his hand in a circle then closed his fingers, sending Allaster into a deep sleep.

“Much better,” Zephryses said. “We must not have your cries disturbing the palace guards.”

Zephryses stepped out of the cell and ordered his guards,

“Stay here until dawn. No one is to see him, especially a wayward princess with illusions of liberation.”

 

*          *          *

 

 

Princess Lillian begged her father to show mercy to Allaster.

“He is innocent, Father. He did not do this!”

At last the king shouted,

“Enough!”

Her heart broken, Princess Lillian fled to her chambers. All through the night, she paced the floor, planning how she would free Allaster. She would summon help with the reward of a rich purse. Her mother’s jewelry should buy some loyalty. Once Allaster was free, they would leave the country forever. But Allaster had been accused of joining the Children of Dusk. Would anyone dare to help him? Would they oppose the High Priest? As the sun’s crimson light appeared on the horizon, Lillian knew she had no choice but to charge the pyre and free Allaster herself. She cared not what happened to her nor what her father wished. She would gladly die to save her true love.

She quickly dressed in her hunting clothes and waited in the shadows until she saw the guards leading Allaster out of the dungeon. His hands were bound and his eyes wore a look of hopelessness. With bowed shoulders, he stumbled along, turning his head away as the villagers cursed and threw rotten food at him. Lillian steeled herself as they tied him to the stake. As the guards poured oil over the pyre, King Isembart rose and said,

“On this day, it is with great sorrow that I put to death Allaster—.”

Overcome with grief, the king suddenly stopped to compose himself.

“As a boy, he was like a son to me, but when he grew into a man, he joined the Children of Dusk, lost to the darkness that once poisoned this kingdom. I will not let my people suffer that evil again, so by the law set down by Tobias Ashblood the Great, I decree that Allaster a priest of Authrax will be burned at the stake until dead.”

Turning to Allaster, the king said,

“If you wish forgiveness, now is the time to ask for it.”

Overcome by sorrow, Lillian watched as Allaster struggled to speak, to lift his head and once again plead his innocence.

“You have nothing to say?” King Isembart asked. “No defense to offer?”

When Allaster remained silent, the king nodded toward the executioner then walked away, his chin pressed against his chest.

“This is my chance!” Lillian thought.

But when she tried to race forward, she found that her body was frozen. As though bound with rope, her arms and legs would not move.

One by one, the guards lit the torches then turned toward the pyre and lit the wood.

Lillian tried to scream but found she could not speak.

The only sound that filled the air were the cries for mercy as the fire consumed the helpless Allaster.

Suddenly the mysterious hold on her disappeared and Lillian fell to the ground unconscious.

The fire climbed higher and raged until it had finished its work. As the flames died and smoke filled the air, the satisfied villagers began to return to their homes. Lillian slowly awoke but had no will to rise. She heard footsteps approaching her and a man’s voice say,

“Your Majesty.”

“What do you want?” Princess Lillian asked.

“My name is Genfyre, and I believe he was innocent.”

Lillian looked up to see Genfyre extending a hand of help.

Reaching up, she took his hand and fought to stand on her trembling legs.

“You do?” the princess asked.

“He was my friend, ma’am,” Genfyre said.

“Look!” someone screamed. “Something stirs!”

Lillian and Genfyre whirled around and saw movement in the ashes of Allaster’s death.

“What sort of magic is this?” Genfyre asked, his eyes widened.

Suddenly a hand covered in soot exploded out of the remains and the form of a man stepped forth from the ashes.

“Who is that?” Genfyre asked

“It is he!” Lillian said, her heart overjoyed. “My one true love!”

Published in: on January 22, 2018 at 6:02 pm  Leave a Comment  
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