Here is another installment of THE EDGE OF FINALIA.
Many of you have checked out the earlier installments and the response has been overwhelming.
Here is another installment of THE EDGE OF FINALIA.
Many of you have checked out the earlier installments and the response has been overwhelming.
Gloating, Septus lifted his wand, and I was in a prison far worse than Devrolo's cage ever had been.
"This a tremor trap," he said. "Any sort of vibration will accelerate at such a high velocity the warren will cave in, and you and whoever stupid enough to try to rescue you will suffocate."
That was my worst fear. Death by suffocation. He must've known it. He was the kind of wizard who'd make it his business to know how I most was afraid of dying.
It wasn't as if the Parents ever had put a pillow over my head, or that I'd been tortured by a bully who held my nose and closed my mouth so I couldn't breathe. But from the time I was the toddler in the forest and saw the Ott-Cat pierced by the hunter's arrow, unable to take a breath...
I had to locate Septus' weakness. A chink in his armor.
Maybe pride. He was so full of himself, he reeked of it.
"You're just faking. You wouldn't want your brilliant inventions to be buried."
"They won't be affected," he gloated; then realized he'd stooped to my level. His eyebrows jutted out like sharpened knives ready to kill me. "None of your business."
He examined the tremor trap with obvious satisfaction. There I was inside it, penned like a caught rat. He licked his dry lips. Probably planning how to cook me.
"On second thought, why shouldn't you know? My inventions are protected by a spell so strong and so obscure no other wizard has heard of it." He rubbed his palms together, smugly. Why not, once he ate me for dinner he'd have gotten away with murder. "You are looking at the most powerful wizard who ever lived."
"I don't think so." I sounded as snooty as I could, to provoke him. "Did you ever meet Merlin?" I knew he hadn't. Not even Septus could have gone to the British Isles during the time when Arthur ruled Camelot. "Merlin is the most powerful. So there."
For a second I thought I had him. Wrong. He simply brushed it off.
"I will convene a High Gathering of the Brethren at the stroke of midnight. All hundred and seventeen of the Brethren, minus Zilian, of course, will attend. Mark my words, they will hang Devrolo for aiding and abetting an enemy."
He glanced at razor-edged instruments lined up on a shelf. Chrome, shiny and surgical. Sar-Aga had a book with pictures of instruments like those. I'd said they looked cruel. Sar-Aga said it depended on whose hand used them. They could save or take lives.
"Afterwards," continued Septus, "I will come back and dissect your brain. I might be surprised and learn something I don't already know."
He vanished without a trace of a tremor.
No time to find chinks. It could take forever.
If I didn't stop him, he'd blame Devrolo and me for Zilian's death. He was so clever the Brethren would believe him. They'd never suspect he was the real murderer. Devrolo would die. My brain would be cut in pieces and he'd be free to use all his dreadful weapons to destroy Finalia.
Zilian was very old, but he'd been brave. He'd tried to stop Septus. Now it was my turn. But I had to do it without causing a single tremor.
At the stroke of midnight, the parade of wizards entered the amphitheatre. They walked towards seats carved out of the sandstone walls, with markings of arcane signs. Magik transformed the room so it suited the occasion of a High Gathering. A sacred pear tree laden with fruit was represented on one wall, and the waters brought forth from sand by the earliest wizards were flowing in a fountain on the other. The ceiling, where I hovered, invisible, suspended, had three moons in a syzygy across a Finalian sky.
Septus added his own touch to the space over the stage – a sinister hologram of Devrolo, shrouded by a black cape, hunched near a hologram of a girl whose wild red hair threatened combust into flame. It was creepy, to see myself cloned as an evil twin.
A High Gathering was a very big deal. The wizards wore their best cloaks, shabby now, but retaining a rich purple sheen. Their beards were braided with henna-dyed string, and feathers. They reminded me of the DreamCatcher I'd made. I hoped Baby Ruby had moved it somewhere the Parents couldn't find it.
I'd never seen anything like it. The Grand Masters, like Devrolo, had bright yellow ribbons swinging from the backs of their cloaks. Blue ribbons for the Masters, gray for the Novitiates. Living fetishes had died out, but wizards substituted holograms. Three-dimensional Ott-Cats and feathered birds sat on elderly shoulders. The apprentices had no ribbons and sat in the back. They were so nervous they barely could stand it.
We'd made a plan. Now we had to carry it out.
As soon as Septus had left me alone in his chamber, I'd sat down in the tremor cage and opened my mind so Devrolo access me. He'd been waiting, I knew, until it was safe. If he'd come earlier, Septus would have blocked him. A battle between those two inside my head would have finished me off forever.
It had taken Devrolo only a second to realize that Septus murdered Zilian and imprisoned me in the tremor trap.
"I have to get out without making any vibration," I'd told him. "Or I'll suffocate."
"The time has come," he'd replied, "for you to embrace what you learned about molecular displacement and alternate means of energy, and to teleport yourself."
My arm had looked quite solid – way too solid to be broken down into particles so minuscule they could be moved with a single breath of air.
"Chant and meditate, while I go to the apprentices who love you and who believe in you. I will send them here. Together you will come up with a plan."
"What if we can't? What if there's a tremor? The warren will collapse and I won't be able to breathe and we'll all die, and Septus will destroy Finalia!"
"Then make it work."
Now, in the amphitheatre, I watched a few wizards huddle up front. They'd been envious of Devrolo's association with me. In retaliation, they'd sworn allegiance to Septus. Light, coming from wands, flickered off their faces—a mean and ugly sight.
Septus stepped on the stage. He snapped his finger. A chandelier appeared, illuminating him. Just as I had anticipated, he spoke in deep, convincing tones.
"The Finalian girl was raised to hate us. If our enemy has a face, it is hers." He pointed to his hologram of me. "She's been programmed to destroy us, and you fools are handing her the tools to do it!"
From the back row, Petilian spoke out. "That's not true. She means no harm!"
His heart-shaped birthmark was practically glowing.
"Only your complete destruction," Septus snapped. "You're beguiled by her youth and her charm--all the more reason to avoid her like a deadly virus."
Devrolo rose, but before he could say a word, Septus pointed a long misshapen finger with a dirty fingernail straight at him. "You! You are the worst of the lot, because you should have known better. You taught her spells and incantations."
Petilian stood. "You don't understand. She helps us learn."
He halted. Septus's eyes were aflame. If he continued, he'd be turned to ashes. He sat back down.
"I don't blame you, young Petilian. I blame Devrolo. He is the traitor. He taught her our secrets and we will excommunicate him for treason. The tribunal begins now."
A wizard never had been excommunicated. The others were baffled. They had no idea how to prevent Septus from initiating such a rash, divisive proceeding. They wanted Devrolo to protest, but he didn't say a word.
"Who speaks for the guilty party?"
Menace in Septus's tone warned of dire consequences should anyone volunteer.
"Where is Zilian? He'll speak," an unsuspecting wizard shouted.
Septus called out, pretending the old man was still alive. "Zilian, do you have anything to say?" When there was no response, he continued. "I guess he decided Devrolo is not worth defending. Is there anyone else who speaks for the guilty party?"
Silence filled the space. My turn. I could feel Petilian's pulse racing. I sensed his trust that I would save Devrolo.
"I'll speak." No one could see me. My voice was disembodied. "It's not his fault. I forced him to do it. If you punish him, you are punishing an innocent Wizard."
Septus looked around. "Throwing voices is a beginner's trick!" he scorned. "Apprentices, you should have outgrown it by now!"
Now, or never. This was the moment. I had to risk it.
I materialized spitting distance from him. My limbs were all there, solid, and not a molecule of the tremor trap was missing.
Everyone was startled. The plan was working. So far.
Lifting my chin high, I repeated, "It's not his fault. I forced him to do it."
Impressed, the Brethren craned their necks to see me for themselves.
Septus was stunned by my dramatic appearance. And furious. "Impossible," he snarled. "You can't force Devrolo to do anything he doesn't want to."
That was true. But I had to say something, before Septus made me vanish, which he intended to do. I could practically see the words to the spell scrolling in his brain.
Only, for the first time in my life, I was tongue-tied. I didn't know what to say, and yet, the longer I waited, the more danger we were in. The more danger Finalia was in. I'd seen those weapons. I'd heard what they could do. If Finalia were destroyed because I couldn't stop Septus, everything Sar-Aga had struggled for, coming all the way to our tiny planet, desperate to rescue some sliver of civilization, would be for naught.
Plus, it was personal. There was Baby Ruby. And the apprentices were counting on me.
What could I say to shut down such a powerful and wicked wizard?
What would Lecko say?
I had no idea.
I looked back where Devrolo sat. His eyes were clear and calm.
It's up to you, he was telling me.
Septus was mumbling a spell. The snake lifted its flat head, worried.
I'd come this far. Intact. Whole and undamaged, without any missing parts.
I had teleported myself, something no other Finalian had ever done. I couldn't give up now.
I waved my hands around, reaching for an answer, any answer, the first that popped into my head. My response to Septus rang out loud and unwavering.
"Yes, I can. I am the One Whom."
A gasp from the amphitheatre. Seers adjusted their spectacles for a better view. Apprentices stood. I seemed to shimmer. Radiance seemed to emanate directly from my heart and when I stretched out my arms the light filled the amphitheatre.
It was the first time I'd called myself that. I didn't think about it, I just did it. The strange thing was how it didn't feel strange.
Septus was stunned. "You were able to command Devrolo?"
The snake around his neck nodded at me, pleased.
I didn't understand why my statement had such an impact on Septus, but I wasn't going to ruin the effect by saying another word. I tossed my wild red hair, while the hologram of me spun around in a maniacal war dance.
Sparks flew out of the Wizard's fingers. "Answer me!"
I knew what those sparks meant. Electric shocks.
I spoke fast. "He's the Twiz who managed to capture me. Do you think he'd have revealed any secrets if I didn't force him to?"
Septus was nonplused.
I met his gaze without flinching.
It was funny. Now that I called myself The One Whom I felt more powerful. As if by claiming the name, I was assuming the identity.
I heard shuffling around me. One by one, the Wizards rose. They pressed their hands to their hearts and bowed slightly in my direction.
Amazed that the entire community was showing me such respect, I pressed my hand to my heart, and bowed back. A warm current passed from them to me, and back again. I liked the feeling. Suddenly I was taller, straighter, my head reaching the top of the tremor trap.
The Beast appeared from behind the stage. "Mind the Serpent," he communicated.
Septus didn't notice. I could tell he too busy was recalculating his options, now that no one would allow him to excommunicate Devrolo.
The Serpent hissed softly, coaching me.
"Your Fetish met with Lady English," I said boldly.
"Yes," Septus struggled to save face, "And Lady English sent us a message. She wants me to forge a partnership with the Border Watchers."
"Instead you murdered Zelian."
The Brethren fell into a shocked silence. I watched bile rise in Septus' gut like a StickyBall going up the skinny throat. I wished he'd choke to death on it, but he didn't. I watched the lump go back down, wondering what his next move would be.
The man was brilliant. His face streamed with manufactured tears as he confessed to the assembly. "This girl has no idea what I'm going through," he wept. "Poor Zelian. He was inspecting the Armiggidden machine. He was old and couldn't see well -- he leaned over too far and lost his equilibrium. I tried to help, but I was too late. I intended to tell you at a more appropriate moment, but now I see a way to honor him." Septus spoke fast before support turned against him. "I'll go to Finalia. If I find common ground with the Border Watchers, we will build an alliance, and together we will defeat the Maw that has corrupted the Governors, and grows stronger every day."
So he knew about the real evil all along. Maybe he'd use the Armiggidden against the Dreaded Forces instead of against the Finalians. Everyone applauded.
I studied Septus. He didn't mean it about the Maw. He didn't care about the Maw. He just cared about himself and taking over Finalia. The flap of skin hanging from his neck was bright red and quivering. If looks could kill, I'd be dead.
With a swirl of his cape, he and his Fetish were gone.
The wizards and apprentices took a moment to venerate Zelian's long life.
Then they rushed to congratulate me. I had facilitated a truce. I'd prevented the first wizard in their history from being excommunicated. I'd given them hope.
Released by Septus' departure, I stepped out of the tremor trap. Devrolo twirled his wand over my head, cleansing bad spells, covering me with heartfelt blessings.
Massif lumbered out from the back of the stage. I ran to him. He ordered me to climb onto his shoulders. When I did, he stood on two legs, so that I towered over the whole High Gathering.
"She is here," he roared. "The One Whom is here at last."
Chapter Sixteen - Lecko fights the Trants
I had defeated Septus. For the moment, anyway. The accomplishment was greater than anything I'd ever achieved. It made me dizzy, in a good sort of way, like when I was a Four and would twirl and twirl until, laughing with joy, I fell down.
The feeling wouldn't last long. More sinister forces than Septus were gathering, all the flotsam and jetsam of the universe. Putrid emanations clouded the atmosphere. The henchmen of the Maw were making their presence evident.
I didn't know that at the time. I didn't know Lady English was watching through her vision scopes, and that from the top of Mount Omeb she saw the pollutants grow denser and stronger. I was too deep inside the warren for her scopes to access me. She had an urgent message, hurry and take charge, but there was no way for her to send it.
For once, I wasn't thinking about her. The apprentices and I were dancing a triumphant jig, led by Devrolo whose rusty feet danced the fastest of all.
If Lecko had been there, my happiness would have been complete.
Lecko was nowhere near. He was in unfamiliar territory. The vision of me he'd seen in the Desert Beyond had been an optical illusion, and now he was apprehensive.
LuniPar hadn't followed. Lecko was sure he would have if he'd defeated the Necrofager. He worried that LuniPar was dead. He blamed himself for leaving the older man behind, breaking the Border Watcher code. Saving me became the primary way to prove he was worthy, both to LuniPar and to himself. But where to go? The only evidence he had of my existence was the cave the Border Watchers had found, with the faint odor of Massif, and strands of my hair. Other than that, the cave was so pristine they knew it had been swept clean by Twiz magik.
Not much for him to go on. He had no idea where the Twizes lived.
He fingered the Dream Catcher, as if it could bring him to me. I wish it had. A lot of trouble between the two of us might have been averted. Maybe, if he'd gone to sleep, dreams would have revealed my location. But he didn't dare close his eyes.
Eventually, when I teased him about being such a hero, he confessed how scared he'd been, this far from Finalia, and in such hostile terrain. Like me, he'd always imagined the desert as a vast stretch of emptiness. It wasn't. It was full of subtle color, and low-lying prickly plants that snatched at his clothes, ripping his tunic. Jagged rocks piled up to trip him. The underbrush looked like webs and stuck to his skin. He said noises unnerved him: scoffing snickers; deep low hoots; snuffling snorts. He became convinced a host of creatures waited out there, all of them anxious to attack, and that the only restraint on their hideous blood-thirst was the sight of his javelin.
If he'd known the truth, he would have been much more terrified.
A battalion of Trants had tracked him since he'd entered the Desert Beyond.
Trants were fearless and organized. Mutated from alien species centuries earlier, they resembled a cross between a rhinoceros and a huge mammoth. With long snouts, they smelled their prey across a mountain range or miles of sand dunes. Body armor, a second skin, tougher than steel, was pocked and scarred from endless skirmishes, and easily camouflaged by purple thistles and giant boulders. Five eyes, strategically situated in their heads, designed to withstand grit and sand, gave them day and night vision. They clumped in groups of three, their basic attack unit. Three Trants equaled a pack of wild boars, a herd of elephants, a passel of jackals—all of which they'd exterminated during the Days of Chaos. Trants hunted at will, and stopped only when they were too full or too bored. At the moment, they were neither.
The treaty that ended the Days of Chaos decreed Trants could not enter Finalia. But if a Finalian left the Buffer Zone, he was fair game. Trants had crude grenades and radon blasters stashed in hollowed boulders, but preferred up-close, in-your-face combat, employing artillery integrated into their hooves and horns – razor sharp, and lethal.
A Trant attack, we were taught, was not something about which survivors spoke. There were no survivors. Another reason never to leave the Precinct.
The attack on Lecko was planned. It went something like this:
"We will s-s-s-separate the boy from the w-w-weapon," ordered Li-li-li, First in Command. His stutter was typical --the longer the stutter, the more ferocious the fighter.
"What if he attacks first?" asked one of his troops.
They weren't in a hurry to tangle with the legendary Golden Javelin.
"We trick him. He throws the j-j-j-javelin at a moving target, and we p-p-pounce."
Lecko kept up his punishing pace. He searched the landscape for signs of activity. He saw none. Yet sounds persisted, the whisper of branches in the air, not unlike the whisper of the Necrofager saying he was worthless. A whisper he began to believe.
It's your fault the girl was taken. Your fault you didn't stay with LuniPar--
"I must concentrate on my mission," he reminded himself. "Finding Gemma."
I'd been his best friend since the first day I started school. He'd been with the Sixes, leaning across the fence to watch the new arrivals. The other Fours were timid and walked in a straight line, heads down. I hopped and skipped, a bright spirit, Lecko said, with my red hair and sparking green eyes. I wasn't dressed properly. Instead of the Starters Uniform – a white plastic jumpsuit that repelled spills – I'd worn a crimson taffeta skirt that I'd found in a box in a basement where I shouldn't have been. The basement that housed the memories Finalians weren't supposed to keep.
I'd seen him smile at my antics and offered him an orange StickyBall. He took it. He was too old to have StickyBalls – a form of spun synthetic sugar – but he still liked chewing them. "Now we're friends," I'd said. And we'd been, ever since.
Until our last time together.
I was still ashamed at how childish I'd been, accusing him of having a superior Border Watcher attitude. I'd had no idea he was under orders. Actually, I'd had no idea how important people thought I was to the survival of Finalia. It turned out that Lady English had warned the BWs that if I perished, forces dark and unspeakable would take over, destroying everything alive. No wonder Lecko had kept his mouth shut.
The crunching of vegetation distracted him. A grotesque creature humped across his line of vision. Its legs moved stiffly, as though made of metal, and its body looked covered with dried grass. I wish I could have seen it. Lecko was sure it wasn't real, but he wasn't taking any chances. He took his stance. The creature rose up on two legs. Lecko took a step back, the lance in a tight grip. Shouting, he ran towards it. The poor thing lost its balance. Legs flew in one direction, the head rolled off in another.
The monster was no more than a crudely made dummy manipulated by wires. When he bent down to examine it, the battalion of Trants shouted, "Enc-c-c-close!!" Lecko was surrounded. Li raised his snout, trumpeting a call to arms -- three low notes, and a series of high ones. The noise toppled boulders and sent terra firma into spasms.
Trants did not fight until they heard it.
Lecko went into action. He hurled the Golden Javelin; it rocketed towards Li. In his excitement, he forgot to loosen his grip and was whipped along like the tail of a comet. Just in time, he dropped to the ground.
The sharp tip pierced the tender underside of the huge snout. Li howled in pain. Terror spread into the hearts of the other Trants. This first success gave Lecko some courage. Before the Trants regrouped, he rushed Li and seized the Golden Javelin.
Combat focused him in a way that the practice sessions had not. The wounded Trant lowered his deadly horns, but by then, Lecko and his weapon were united. As the next Trant sounded the alarm, he hurled again, and again the javelin hit its mark. The javelin was a tool, but it was training him to trust it. They became a team. If he survived, he'd have the right to call himself a warrior.
Li's second howl of pain was even louder; it galvanized the battalion. All snouts rose in the air, trumpeting together. The Call to Arms was terrifying, Lecko admitted to me. The decibels seized his heart. His knees turned squishy; his legs grew rubbery. In moments he'd be pulverized beneath their feet; ripped apart from artery to artery. There was no way he could beat these fighting machines.
Unsure what else to do, he lifted the Golden Javelin straight up. If they were going down, they'd go down together. He seemed brave, holding the spear high in the air. But it was an illusion. There were too many Trants. The javelin waved in circles above his head. It drew the gaze of the entire battalion, all eyes fixed on the glowing golden tip.
"Ch-ch-charge, charge, charge!" they shouted in unison.
They charged at Lecko from every direction.
He whirled around once, and then, not knowing what else to do, aimed the spear straight into the ground. The tip stuck deep in the desert soil; the hilt vibrated in the air. Lecko used the weapon as a pole, and vaulted high over his enemies to the relative safety of prickly brush and a sand trap.
Unable to stop their tremendous momentum, the Trants crashed into each other, wreaking enormous damage with their razor sharp horns and hooves. Gaping wounds hemorrhaged an olive-green fluid. They couldn't see. Their five eyes were useless. The damage they inflicted on themselves was far worse than had ever been inflicted on them by an opponent. They thrashed; they fell.
The Golden Javelin remained upright, stuck in the ground.
Lecko waited. The moaning of the wounded seemed genuine, but he wanted to make sure. There were foes that faked injuries until it seemed safe to approach, and that was when they seized and killed you. The moans ceased. He could wait no more.
Somewhere, out there, I was held captive. He needed to fulfill his mission.
He climbed out of the sand trap, swatting the Desert Fleas, cousins to the TeetFigs, and just as annoying. Carefully, he stepped around the twitching limbs and acrid puddles of olive-green as he headed for the Golden Javelin. He tried to pull it from the ground. The tip was stuck deep in the desert soil.
"You're b-b-brave for a Finalian, young man," wheezed Li, his head lifted. "B-b-but you're no match for what's coming. You're no match for the D-d-d-dreaded Forces."
"The Dreaded Forces?"
"The armies of the Maw. You're no m-m-match. That s-s-said, I would have l-l-liked to have f-f-fought by your side."
Li's words cost him dearly, Lecko told me, regretfully. The Trant fell back, dead.
He returned to the Golden Javelin. He and the lance must become inseparable, or the battle would be lost before it began. He adjusted his grip.
The javelin left the soil as if there had never been a problem.
He didn't dwell on the import of Li's words. But I did, when he'd repeated them to me.
If a Trant was afraid of the armies of the Maw, where did that leave us?
Chapter Seventeen - Gemma's Army
I was asleep in my cage. A huge Black Knight assaulted me. He had no face. His lance dripped with poison. I recited incantations to make him vanish. He kept coming. I tried to establish a barrier between us, a force field. He kept coming. I had no weapon because I'd refused to have weapons. Devrolo wasn't there. No more help, he'd said. I needed to see for myself how strong I was. The Black Knight kept coming.
I ran beneath him, but he moved backwards as easily as he moved forwards.
"You can't hurt me," I screamed. "This is my dream and you don't belong!"
His answer was to raise the lance. He was about to pierce my eye.
"No, you don't!"
It was a classmate's voice. Granito's. A brigade of Thirteens marched into the dream. The Black Knight took one look at them and disappeared, like that.
I was astonished. The Thirteens had never entered my dreams before.
"Thank you," I said, tears stinging my eyes, but they'd gone and I woke up. I wiped the wetness away. Not a brigade, but an army. An army of Thirteens.
For a long time I remained quiet, listening to the music made by my cage.
When Devrolo had offered me my own quarters, I'd refused.
"I'm comfortable around you. You're like the grandfathers I read about in books."
Grandparents had been eliminated in Finalia -- they were too fond of their grandchildren, the Governors said, and they insisted on sharing memories and giving presents. Except for the ring from Sar-Aga, and the hologram from Lecko, I'd never gotten a present. It was against the rules in Finalia. Gifts caused dissension, said the Governors. And unlike some of the Parents, mine never broke the rules.
I'd read about presents, about boxes wrapped with bright paper and colored ribbons, and children shrieking with delight, opening each one with 'oohs' and 'aahs.' I, also, 'oohed' and 'aahed' at the descriptions of little dolls with eyes that opened and closed, and red fire engines and silver skates and picture books and a wooden sled with metal runners. When it was Baby Ruby's birthday, I made her a pretend party and given her a pretend present.
As for grandparents, once I'd learned what they were, I'd wanted one.
Devrolo had tried not to show how pleased he was, but I could tell. Employing a few quick spells that he thought I wouldn't notice, he'd adorned my cage with ribbons and small bells that played delicate tunes.
My dream started to fade. "No," I cried, and the cage music stopped abruptly.
I grabbed my sketching materials before the images faded altogether. Sketching was crucial if I ever expected to master DreamStates.
"Draw the figures that come in the night," Devrolo kept telling me. "Which ones are friends? Which serve the Void? What are their strengths, their weaknesses?"
Every second of Devrolo's training was now directed to me as the One Whom.
As the One Whom I would lead an army against the forces of the Maw. About that Devrolo was clear. I was equally clear that nobody would follow a Thirteen from Finalia who had never fired a weapon in her life.
It was obvious to me; it wasn't obvious to him.
What if I was wrong and he was right?
Hadn't the Thirteens come? And they'd acted like an army. And, at least in the DreamState, they'd saved me.
I didn't need to draw the faceless Black Knight. He'd entered so often, I had lots of images of him. I concentrated on sketches of my classmates, making them so detailed I almost brought them to life. I attached them to the bars of my cage. That's where I put all my sketches. I had nothing of Lecko. If he had entered my dreams, he'd been too skillful to give himself away. I suspected he was no longer trying.
In the warren, the mood was dark, anxious. Everyone was waiting for Septus to report a truce with the Border Watchers. Most believed his story about Zelian's accident; it was inconceivable to them that one wizard would murder another. When Petilian and I had visited Zilian's chamber to pay respects, we'd seen his old dusty capes hanging limp, and his wands listless on the shelf, despairing that no one acknowledged the truth.
Devrolo, too, was affected. While he cooked me a magik cake called flapjack, he admitted he'd never been this scared, not during the Days of Chaos, nor during the Finalian persecution that followed. "Nervous, agitated, on edge, yes, but not like this." He flipped the flapjack. It did somersaults in the air. "I've lived a long life and I don't fear death." As the cake fell on a plate, he choked up. "I'm scared for you, Gemma. You are so young and so unprepared." A dollop of honey spread itself, and a fork appeared.
He placed a hand on my shoulder. "When I look back at the girl I captured, and at the girl you are now, how you stood up to that murderer Septus and saved me from ex-communication, I am astonished at your transformation. The Book of Life spoke truly."
Devrolo coughed loudly, stuck the plate in my hand and hurried off to his secret alcove. I tasted the flapjack. It was good, really good.
But not nearly as good as hearing how much I mattered to him.
When the Beast entered the chamber, I was almost done eating. A carafe bubbled with chemicals. Yellow sulfur light bounced off my face. I licked the honey from my lips.
Massif stared at me. "You look like an Ott-Cat."
I remembered the Ott-Cats I had seen inside his DreamState, innocent, graceful creatures, slaughtered. He remembered also, because his protective heart reached toward me. He wanted me to remain deep inside the warren, attended by wizards, safe.
"Unfortunately", he explained, "you have a destiny. My job is to help you fulfill it. During the Days of Chaos, an Osirian fighter said he recognized me from the Book of Life. Full of sorrow, I did not respond. The fighter recited this passage: 'the girl is accompanied by a beast, half-wolf and half-bear, and by a serpent, and by a raven on her shoulder. She shows no fear.' Then he departed, a white raven on his shoulder."
"From that moment," said Massif, "I knew. I was that beast."
"It's ready." Devrolo stuck his head out of the alcove.
The Beast joined him.
Rattled by all this demonstrativeness, I was happy to draw. This time I sketched a recurring dream -- the Beast, the Serpent, and a white Raven (was it the same white raven?) at my side while a ragtag bunch of people gathered around.
Muffled conversation drifted from the closet.
Devrolo: "We can't wait. Time is running out. The One Whom must take authority right away, or it will be too late."
Massif: "She has no idea how to lead an army."
Devrolo's rising tone conveyed the depth of his conviction.
Devrolo: "She'll have you. We have to stop protecting her. It's a choice between that and annihilation. As the Book of Life succinctly phrased it, she is our only hope."
I covered my ears, but heard, anyway.
"Start with this. Give it to her along with instructions."
Massif came out carrying a package. I was sure it was a weapon.
"No," I whimpered, "Nobody can make me."
"Don't worry. You won't be alone. The Apprentices will follow you. They all want to be in the army of the One Whom."
He pointed to my sketch of the ragtag group who brandished hand-made weapons. Apprentices were among them. I'd even drawn Petilian.
"You said yourself, Massif, I don't know how to lead an army. Plus, I'm in a cage."
"Animals get comfortable in their cages. Risk is the price of freedom."
"I didn't get comfortable. I adapted."
Massif took the sketch. I was in front, a raven on my shoulder, the serpent around my neck and the hybrid beast by my side. The likeness was accurate, not only of my face, but of Massif's as well. I'd captured more. I'd captured his true inner self.
For a long time he just held it. I left his thoughts alone. When he handed back the sketch, he spoke to me out loud.
"The only way you will be able to see your sister will be at the head of this army, defending Finalia."
There was no argument, but still I argued. Any Thirteen would have. Devrolo, Massif, Lady English, they all were supposed to be the adults. They were supposed to have common sense. Why didn't they see I had no idea what to do?
"I don't even know who we're fighting. And how can I find Baby Ruby if I'm in the middle of a war? I know as much about soldiering as a TeetFig."
"First things first," realized the Beast.
He handed me the package.
"No! I don't want a weapon. They'll just kill me that much faster." I slammed the door to my cage.
"It's a uniform, Gemma."
On it was written: Made Especially for Gemma, The One Whom.
"It's a present from Devrolo. He worked hard on it."
I threw a startled look at the alcove and carefully opened the package, planning to save the wrapping to show Ruby.
Clothes were inside. Special apparel designed by Devrolo to withstand military attacks as well as magik spells. Unlike the school uniforms I'd hated, I was thrilled with my new camouflage suit. It was almost as good as a Golden Javelin.
Devrolo couldn't help himself. He came out to watch my reaction.
"The fabric changes color and even shape depending on your surroundings," he explained. "The material feels soft, but it can't tear."
I was smiling so hard it hurt my cheeks.
I stripped off my old clothes and donned a pair of pants – they configured themselves around my legs as if melted on, and instantly mimicked the yellowish glow from the carafe and the dark brown of the chamber walls. The long-sleeved shift secured itself with a zipping sound. It would keep me warm or cool, Devrolo said, depending on the need. As I held up the vest, I cooed with pleasure. A small Krono lily, once the official flower of Finalia, but now extinct, was embroidered in threads of pure spun helios – the rarest of asteroid-extracted metals. The flower had taken Devrolo all night.
I jumped out of my cage and threw my arms around him in a fierce hug.
Mightily embarrassed, Devrolo handed me a pair of boots Petilian had donated.
I stuck my feet in. "They fit."
"They accommodate to every foot. They'll help with stamina and speed."
For my head, Devrolo had constructed a helmet made of the strongest, lightest membrane he could invent. It resembled a small shimmering moon. I felt like a Viking warrior maiden, from an ancient Nordic saga.
If the characters I'd read about it could do brave and astonishing deeds, maybe it would be possible for me. I adjusted the helmet.
"I wish I could see what I look like."
Behind a tattered chart of obsolete constellations, Devrolo found a polished sheet of graphenium. He held it up.
I stared at the girl in the reflection. She wasn't familiar. The helmet, the leggings, the tunic had transformed me. I was no longer a Middle Youth turned Thirteen. I was the leader of a collection of ragtag soldiers on a quixotic mission to protect life on my planet.
Maybe crossing the Desert Beyond wouldn't turn me into a pile of bleached bones buried in the sand after all.
I tugged at the tunic. It pushed at my shoulders, making me stand straighter.
"Shoulders back, spine erect, crown of the head high," instructed the Beast.
Just then, Petilian entered.
I spun around. Petilian's mouth was agape.
"You look amazing," he managed.
I stood very tall. The tunic stopped pushing.
"Close your mouth, Petilian, and stand at attention." The command just popped out. I'd read 'stand at attention' in one of the books in the library.
To my surprise, Petilian snapped his mouth closed, stood stiffly and saluted.
"Generals don't giggle." Wizards crowded into the quarters. They, too, were excited to see the transformation and all began offering advice. "Generals bark their orders. They drill. They recite regulations. They never leave a wounded body behind."
A wounded body? I stared at Massif. I felt dizzy.
"I know," he signaled. "Looking the part is one thing; being it is something else."
Devrolo stepped in. "You'll learn on the job. It's the only way anyone learns."
"Did you learn to be a wizard just by doing it?"
My point hit home. He became distraught and worried, reminding me of Lecko when I threatened to jump off the Edge of Finalia.
"The Beast will take you to the weapon chambers where you will choose what you need. Pick a good weapon for yourself, Gemma. There's a circular decapitator--"
"Devrolo," I interrupted.
He wrung his hands together. "I must go attend to the apprentices."
I pushed away my fear, and focused instead on what might be possible. It wouldn't be what adults could do, understandably, since I was a Thirteen.
"Devrolo, it's okay. I'll learn on the run. I can do it. That's how I learned to do this. Listen."
I pursed my lips and whistled.
Everyone who'd crowded into the quarters stood very still as I recreated the song of the Dactosae.
Long and mournful, tinged with wild mania and sheer inexplicable joy, the birdcall evoked the life they lived before exile.
Massif led me out of there before the Brethren became maudlin. It was his duty to show me the weapons. Meanwhile, Petilian flew up and down the tunnels of the warren.
"It's happening!" I heard him shouting. "The One Whom is leading an army."
The apprentices couldn't say spells fast enough to get their duffels packed. Petilian was beside himself – literally. Overly zealous, he mumbled the wrong spell, and created a double Petilian who followed him around, arguing with him about what to take.
I saw them both, as I was returning with a blaster reluctantly over my shoulder. Massif had gone off to prepare the provisions.
"I have to find to Devrolo to undo the spell." Petilian dashed ahead.
I followed, dragging my feet, wanting to postpone my good-bye.
When I saw them in the chamber, my cage no longer had its ribbons.
Petilian was pleading, "Don't get us mixed up, Master Devrolo, and undo me by mistake!"
Devrolo smiled sadly. "I'd keep your double here to help me, but it doesn't look like he'd be useful."
The Brethren were to stay put until they'd heard from Septus. So far there had been no news from him.
"I don't want anyone else to help you. I want you to come with us."
"Take care of the One Whom, will you promise to do that?"
Petilian nodded, blinking rapidly so as not to mortify himself with tears.
The wizard bowed deeply to the lad. "Go on now, and join Gemma's army."
His double gone, Petilian bumped into me on the way out.
Devrolo and I looked at each other. I couldn't. I couldn't say good-bye. He must have understood. He didn't try to say anything as I turned away and ran through the tunnel on my way to lead a war we had to win.
The Wordnik Word of the Day for May 7, 2012 is
(noun) The chatoyancy of the adularia variety of feldspar; the moon-like sheen of the moonstone, best visible when the stone is cut with a convex dome.
'Adularescence' comes from 'adularia,' a kind of moonstone or feldspar, and the Latin '-escence,' process or state of being. 'Adularia' is named for Adula, a mountain group of southeast Switzerland.
"'I love for gems to have inclusions -- the more nonperfect it is, the more it fascinates me,' she says. 'But moonstones are a particular favorite. It's their adularescence -- it's a quality specific to moonstones, meaning they give off a billowy blue light.'"
I like how they use the word chatoyancy in the definition of this word. In case you're wondering, chatoyance is an optical reflectance effect seen in certain gemstones. But I bet you all knew that, right?
The Wordnik Word of the Day for May 3, 2012 is (noun) A kind of divination by means of the finger-nails. This word is Greek in origin, and contains 'onychos,' fingernail, and 'manteia,' oracle, divination.
The Wordnik Word of the Day for May 3, 2012 is
(noun) A kind of divination by means of the finger-nails.
This word is Greek in origin, and contains 'onychos,' fingernail, and 'manteia,' oracle, divination.
Recently unearthed ... rare Egyptian message from BEYOND!
The Word of the Day for April 12 is:
tragus TRAY-gus noun
: the prominence in front of the external opening of the outer ear
"The tragus, she explains, is the tough fold of cartilage that sticks out from the ear at the entrance to the ear canal." — From an article in the Irish Independent, December 5, 2011
Did you know?
The tragus is the tongue-like projection of the outer ear. Its name comes from the Greek word "tragos," meaning "he-goat." According to hearsay, the Greek word was influenced by Peloponnesian tragedy. In this style of drama, satyrs were represented as goatlike creatures, and their prominent ears became associated with a feature of our own human ears. "Tragos" contributed to the English language in another way as well; it is also the word from which "tragedy" is derived.
The Wordnik Word of the Day for April 9, 2012 is
(noun) An instrument for registering the vibrations of a sounding body. That devised about 1858 by Léon Scott consists of a large barrel-shaped vessel made of plaster of Paris, into the open end of which the sound enters; the other end, somewhat contracted in shape, is closed by a membrane with a style attached on the outside, whose point rests against a horizontal cylinder covered with lampblacked paper. If the membrane is at rest the trace of the style is a straight line, but when the sound enters the membrane vibrates, and the writing-point registers these vibrations with great perfection.
'Phonautograph' is made up of the Greek 'phone,' sound, voice, and 'autographos,' written with one's own hand.
This comes in from a reader:
If you recall, sometime in the past, a certain chocolate company was framed by other agents for it's suspicious similarity towards the aims of the Midnight Sun. However, further information concludes that not only is the chocolate itself organic, it is also certified fair-trade (which means fairness to all workers, no human trafficking, etc.). Though this could possibly be a further accessory to the flamboyant mask the Midnight Sun has created, it does question our accuracy in our assumptions. (I mean, really. The Midnight Sun, fair-trade? Please.)
Perhaps further research is necessary?
Thank you for your time. Best of luck,
Thanks, Agent PL.
Yes! We did before point out how they want chocolate alchemy, but this fair trade business makes us feel better. Sorry for the suspicion, Dagoba!
The Wordnik Word of the Day for April 4, 2012 is
(adj) Having a musty, stale, or stuffy odor.
'Frowsty' is chiefly a British term and may be a blend of 'frowzy,' in a state of disorder, and 'musty,' moldy, sour. It may also come from the Old French 'frouste,' ruinous, decayed.
Agent KL sends in her time card:
0:3 Put on White gloves so midnight sun thinks I'm one of them (just in case)
0:7 Shove book into backpack
0:11 Cover my face with my winter scarf
0:30 Tell bus driver I have to go to the washroom and runs out of bus
0:42 Hides behind a dirty trash can (it's too dirty for midnight sun members so they will never look there)
0:56 Shreds the whole book apart
1:02 Find dirty garbage and covers up the book
1:43 Scolds myself for being careless
1:57 Prays that midnight sun members will disappear
Er, time card classic, I meant.
The Wordnik Word of the Day for March 30, 2012 is
(noun) Silly or delusive nonsense; balderdash; flummery.
(noun) A dish composed of saltpork, potatoes, and molasses, eaten by the fishermen of Cape Cod.
'Flumadiddle' may be a blend of 'flummery,' nonsense or a sort of jelly made of flour or meal, plus 'diddle,' to cheat or waste time.
The Wordnik Word of the Day for March 22, 2012 is
(adj) Pertaining to or having the taste or smell of slightly burned animal or vegetable substances.
This word comes from the Greek 'empyros,' fiery.
Copyright © 2010-2013. All rights reserved. Illustrations by Gilbert Ford