Official Review: The Aduramis Chronicles: The Definitive … – OnlineBookClub.org

[Following is an official OnlineBookC review of The Aduramis Chronicles: The Definitive Collection by Harrison Davies.] id249784-125 The Aduramis Chronicles: The Definitive Collection by Harrison Davies is a fantasy trilogy consisting of Destiny of ..
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Categories: General

4 Star Review for Destiny of The Wulf.

Esmerelda Weatherwax rated a book

really liked it

4 Stars.

6 months ago

Destiny of the Wulf (The Aduramis Chronicles – Book 1)

by Harrison Davies (Goodreads Author)

Read

Read in September 2017

spfbo book #26

I wouldn’t have known about this without the contest, and I knew it was YA going into it.

I enjoyed this one more than the last few YA books I picked up, there were more things going on with the plot and it had a lot more action to it than the last few.

There are two brothers who are orphaned after a band of Orcs raided their homes, they go to live with their uncle who helps them train with swords and obstacle courses. Eventually they are taken to a temple and told they are special and the last of a line destined for great things.

There’s real life gods in this book, and they interact with people, one of the gods has one of the main characters on a mission to save his brothers soul more or less, his brother has turned against the gods blaming them for his parents death.

there’s a legit afterlife in this novel as well, Death is a god and he decides what happens to you after you’re gone, and sometimes you’re stuck in the spirit realm which is like a limbo until he decides what to do with you and Coinin, one of the brothers is able to reach this place in dreams sometimes.

The god of Death, Mort ( haaaaaa), wants to take over and over throw the current god king. There are swords that the god king has given out to the realm, and tehy all need to be united every 1000 years or the other gods can challenge his throne.

Main characters need to find the swords in order to make sure the god of Death doesn’t win a civil war of the gods and take over and ruin the world.

Audience:

* people who like YA

* people who like coming of age stories

* people who like heavy religion and interactive gods

* people who like high stakes fantasy where the world in is danger

* people who like destiny/chosen one stories

Categories: General

Another 5 star review for The New World.

‘The New World’ is the concluding part of Harrison Davies’ thrilling ‘Aduramis Chronicles’ trilogy, and a superb finale it is.

This is a beast of a novel — at nearly 850 pages it’s perhaps the biggest single novel I’ve ever read and I’m admittedly a slow reader. Yet I loved immersing myself in the vivid fantasy world Davies has meticulously crafted. I read the first of these books around 2012 so it felt like I’d known these characters for quite some time. That the end was looming was a bittersweet feeling — which is exactly how a great book makes you feel.

Davies is a talented writer and superb at crafting extremely vivid descriptions of the settings and characters. This helped make it feel like a living, breathing world. I enjoyed the character interplay and the changing dynamics of their relationships. Draken in particular has always been an interesting character, at times loathsome, but here evidently on a path of redemption in an expertly handled character arc.

To me, the second half of the book was the strongest as it builds to what you know will be a heart-stoppingly epic climax — and, with some neat twists and a satisfying and emotional conclusion, it certainly doesn’t disappoint. Be warned though, in true Game of Thrones fashion, NO ONE is safe, and there will be tears before you reach the end. This is one of my favourite fantasy trilogies of all time and I would love to one day see this on the big screen where I think it would look stunning.

Available via Amazon.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/aw/d/1544610351/

https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/1544610351/

Rory Mackay

http://www.unbrokenself.com

Categories: General

DESTINY OF THE WULF: Chapter Ten.

February 4, 2018 Leave a comment

THE WAYWARD MATRON

Dareth Jericho was having a miserable time. His wife had been murdered by one of his guards, who had then been brutally dispatched in return, in an act of anger from his chief captor.

He had just learnt, after many years, that his former friend Lordich Secracar was alive and well.

Jericho had thought he had been executed. But not so. Lordich had conspired with Death himself to rid the world of the Brotherhood of the Wulf, and enforce his rule as leader of the Brotherhood of the Dragon.

His head swam as he sat cold and lonely in a damp, dark cell in an underground prison on a mysterious island.

To compound his loss, his newfound friend Silentus had been taken away and executed moments before. Dareth felt regret as the axe struck home, and his eyes closed in silent prayer and contemplation, even before the reverberation of steel on wood died away.

‘Forgive me, my friend,’ he said with a heavy heart.

In those few silent moments, he vowed to visit the dead man’s wife and pay his respects to her.

Lordich, true to his word, had permitted Jericho free rein over the small island, though accompanied at all times by two guards whom he very quickly named Stumpy and Beanpole.

Stumpy was thick as a tree trunk around the neck, with arms that could crush a man’s skull, of that Jericho had no doubt. Beanpole on the other hand was at least seven feet tall, with eyes that were large and protruding. The oddity about the pair was that Stumpy had a high-pitched voice, thin and reedy, and Beanpole had a deep resonant voice that grabbed and held the attention of all who heard it. Not that either said too much. Jericho had barely heard a word spoken by the unlikely duo in the past two days of his captivity. He sensed that they did not like each other much, and that he could use to his advantage.

If he were successful, he would be able to play one off the other and use this distraction to escape. He just needed a scenario and the opportunity.

So small was the island that he had explored most of it, bar the off-limits sections, but saw no visible means of escape. He had already been told it was futile to try to use magic to leave the island, and even the inhabitants used non-magical means to depart, which seemed to affirm the point.

Today, when they came for him, he had decided he would like to visit the top of the black tower and peer over the ramparts. Any hope he had of spotting Rosthagaar he knew would be fruitless; they had travelled too far in the clutch of a dragon for that. His intention was to get a better grasp of the lay of the land, and perhaps spot something he had missed, an escape route, or a place to hide while he devised a plan.

His heart was heavy, yet his spirit for escape was high, and this spurred him on. His thoughts, though, were interrupted by the sound of his jailers’ return; the distinctive shuffle of Stumpy and the jangle of keys that Beanpole incessantly twirled on a ring gave their presence away.

Cell door keys jangled in the lock, and with a click it unlocked. The door opened and Stumpy stood there with arms crossed, expectant.

Jericho stretched audibly, and then led the way out of the cell.

Stumpy and Beanpole looked at each other dumbfounded, and jogged after him.

‘Hold it! We lead the way,’ Beanpole grunted.

‘Fine, then lead me to the top of the black tower.’

‘Are you going to jump off?’ Stumpy laughed.

‘If only to stop having to look at your ugly face.’

Stumpy went to thump Jericho, but was restrained by Beanpole. He looked affronted at Beanpole’s actions, yet acquiesced.

Jericho chuckled quietly to himself, and set off with the duo. The protection of Lordich meant they could not harm him for fear of reprisals.

They passed through the cave-like dungeon quickly, and arrived at the black tower stairwell within minutes. Beanpole looked green at the thought of hundreds of steps to the summit, whereas Stumpy looked quite enthusiastic at the thought.

‘After me,’ said Stumpy, and with a spring in his gait he practically raced up the steps, followed by Jericho, and then slowly by Beanpole, whom, Jericho noted, was remarkably unfit.

Jericho thanked his stars that he was active. Despite his age, he could often still outpace new recruits to his ranks. With a slightly improved mood, he paced himself as the stone mountain ahead of him brought strain to his calf muscles.

Several minutes later Stumpy stood and stretched at the summit with a gaping smile, and down below the upper hatch Jericho could hear the echoed puffs and pants of Beanpole far behind.

‘Enjoyed that, did you?’ Jericho asked.

‘That was nothing; I do that every morning before breakfast,’ Stumpy boasted.

Jericho just nodded and looked around him. Nothing had changed since the last time he was here a few days ago, when he was dropped from a height by a dragon to land heavily on the hard stone floor of the tower. A crenellated wall ran the circumference of the tower, with slits for defence chiselled into the black stone. Jericho wondered why, since no ladder dared reach this height.

He walked over to the low barrier and grasped the coldness of the stone, and took in a deep breath of cold air that made him shiver slightly.

Below, the small island sat lost in a glittering ocean. From this height the layout of the land offered no clue as to an escape route, and as he suspected, Rosthagaar was nowhere to be seen, although whether he was looking in the right direction was anybody’s guess.

The distant horizon was hazy and marred only by a small black dot that seemed to run almost level with the tower, and appeared to be getting closer. This caught Jericho’s interest to the point that he ignored Beanpole’s gasps for breath behind him. What was the thing that headed his way? It could be a dragon, he thought, or was it a rescue? Then he dismissed the idea. Rescue was not an option; no one knew of his whereabouts.

‘Oh, I think I’m going to die,’ Beanpole wailed.

‘Quit your complaining,’ Stumpy squealed. ‘If the master saw you like this, he would kill you as soon as look at you.’

‘Better that than this damned pain in my legs.’

Jericho shook his head and returned to looking out to sea.

The shape had definitely grown larger, and it took on an oddly angular form. For a moment it reflected the sun, and there was a familiarity to it that he just could not put his finger on. What was it about this thing headed towards them that set his heart thumping?

His question was immediately answered; a second shape rounded the first and this was unmistakably an airship. An envelope of air held the wooden frame aloft with thickly wound ropes now visible in profile. As the ship pulled alongside its companion, new features presented themselves.

Black sails extended from the sides of the vessel. The main cabin was made from riveted iron sections and rusted in a semi-circular frame. The large glass fronted structure housed a wheelhouse, and smaller convex circles of glass ran down each side of the cabin of the pirate sky ship.

As the ship turned slightly to dock with its companion, the familiar skull-and-crossbones contrasted against the black of its envelope, and several cannon heads peeked out from holes cut in the side of the body of the ship, all serving to confirm his suspicions. Now he knew he had a chance to escape, not because the pirates themselves would aid his rescue, but that which floated alongside the pirate ship was his means of escape. He dared to allow himself, for the briefest of moments, a feeling of hope at the chance of freedom.

The long-lost portion of the golden temple formerly housing the temple’s infirmary now hovered near the tower. He recalled the day this particular section of temple had detached itself explosively from the main temple and floated away. There was considerable destruction, but thankfully no one was hurt.

Matron Truelove, herself unharmed, had called down from the quickly disappearing structure, and told anyone who would listen that she was sorry for the trouble, and added that she might be back one day. Jericho remembered distinctly Truelove’s face was a very bright red indeed.

With salvation in sight, Jericho did not delay. He stepped across the tower walkway to Stumpy who was knelt across Beanpole, and wafted air at his face.

‘I don’t know why you help him; he’s the one that said you couldn’t do a circuit of the tower stairwell within three minutes.’ Jericho smiled.

‘Oh yeah, you did, did you?’ Stumpy thumped Beanpole in the gut and then stood up. ‘Well, as it happens, I can do it in two minutes.’ And without further word, he ducked down the tower hatch and disappeared, eager to prove himself.

‘I never said that,’ said Beanpole angrily, and rubbed his bruised stomach.

‘Yes, I know, I just needed a way to separate you both.’ Jericho dived on top of Beanpole and pinned him to the stonework and then placed two very large hands around the shocked man’s neck.

Beanpole’s eyes grew wide; he knew what Jericho had planned for him. His attacker wanted to strangle him and he thrashed like a wild animal in the throes of a violent death.

Jericho withstood many blows and attempts to gouge his eyes, yet it did not take long to subdue Beanpole, and the man eventually succumbed to a lack of oxygen.

Jericho removed himself from the limp body, his deed done. Out of respect, he closed the dead man’s bloodshot eyes, and then reached into the victim’s clothes and sought out his wand.

Although he did not need it to perform magic, it would serve a purpose. With a swift flick of the wrist, Jericho aimed the wand at the wooden cover. It slammed shut and the bolt slid closed. He next heaved Beanpole’s body over the trapdoor in the hope that the extra weight would slow down any pursuit.

Without missing a beat, he raced to the rampart and checked the progress of the pirate airship. The vessel, to his relief, was barely a few hundred yards away, yet he still needed a way to attract their attention.

He slapped the wand in his palm absently, and then a thought formed; he raised the wand aloft and used a spell to elongate it into a long shaft, and from this sprouted a white pennant with the emblem of the Wulf emblazoned across it in gold and red. Jericho raised the new standard and waved it like a man possessed.

He hoped the good relationship the pirates held with Matron Truelove would ensure they would come to investigate, provided they spotted his flag and associated its device with the Matron.

Jericho willed the pirates to action, and as they drew close, he spied the captain with an eyeglass directed at him. The captain then gestured to his men, and slowly the ship began to move closer to the tower, painfully sedately from Jericho’s perspective.

A warning bell sounded faintly in the distance. His captors had realised he was missing, or they had spotted the ship, or both. Now he understood the slits cut into the tower ramparts. Sky pirates could reach this high, and the tower needed a defence against marauders.

Behind him, the wooden hatch resonated with a crash as if something heavy had smashed against it, most likely Stumpy he imagined.

He was desperate now. He knew the hatch would give eventually, and he did not want to be around when that happened.

The ship was a few yards away when a deckhand threw a thick rope to Jericho. He grabbed for it, and quickly tied it around his waist. He had to be swift as the craft was already moving rapidly by. He climbed on to the rampart and prepared to jump. He prayed they had lashed the other end of the rope securely.

Without warning, the rampart disintegrated around him in a loud bang and a cloud of dust. He fell and spun fast, and above him two heads appeared over the remains of the parapet and aimed wands at him. He flinched, but no spell struck him. Instead, a loud crack shocked his ears further, and then debris rained around him. The pirates had fired upon the newcomers with their cannon.

Jericho jerked to a rib-cracking stop as the rope suspended his fall. He swung in the breeze from a head wind and looked up. He cursed his luck; it was a long climb to the ship. Behind him, the tower had become smaller as they gained distance from it.

He felt a jerk, and realised unseen hands had begun to pull him upwards. It was a few minutes before he was roughly seized and hoisted aboard the pirate ship, to land unceremoniously at the feet of a dozen men, half of whom appeared barefooted.

He raised his head and was greeted by a rabble of mean-featured crew. Their clothes were tattered, yet colourful, and their teeth were held in vicious snarls, and just as colourful.

A hairy hand reached out to him and offered assistance. He took it not too keenly, unaware of the fate these men had in store for him. He was pulled to his feet roughly, and deposited among the throng of men. To his left, a long-bearded fellow thrust his way through the crowd. He wore a black hat that distinguished him from the other crew and his beard was finely braided with red silk. His teeth bore a charcoal-black colouring, and Jericho knew instantly that this man wore false teeth made from ebony wood. He was most impressed with his black leather knee-length boots that were polished to a high gloss. Obviously the cabin boy had pride in his work, or was whipped until he buffed the boots to the owner’s demands.

‘Captain Maurice Blackthorn, your servant.’ The bearded man bowed awkwardly, unaccustomed to the action, and received a snort of laughter from a handful of his men. His head whipped round and he stared at them with fiery eyes. ‘You dare laugh at your captain? This man is acquainted with Matron Truelove, and deserves our respect. The next of you to laugh will be thrown overboard.’

A chap to Jericho’s left gulped loudly and others looked down, unable to meet the captain’s eye.

Jericho noted how well spoken he was for a pirate and suspected Blackthorn was not always of this breed.

He stepped forward and offered a bow in return. ‘Dareth Jericho, Order of the Wulf.’ He extended an arm to the captain in friendship, and hoped it would be reciprocated. He had deliberately omitted his military title, as he and the various pirate factions had come to blows many a time. He hoped that they would assume he was a priest from the temple. He wore only a soiled cloak, his armour was still in the mountain pass at Sanctuary, and he silently prayed that his disguise held up to scrutiny.

Blackthorn took his hand and shook it heartily. ‘The matron will be pleased to see you.’

‘I also long to see her,’ Jericho smiled.

A sweaty, pot-bellied deckhand stepped between them, ears chock-full of gold earrings. ‘Captain, there is a dragon coming.’ He pointed aft with a hand laden with bejewelled rings.

Heads swung left and right. A mighty roar rang out that sent a shiver of fear through the crew. Panic set in, and crewmen ran here and there and gave quick glances over the bulwarks, on the lookout for the enemy. Each man hastened to fetch a weapon.

‘Helmsman, take her up as far as you dare. Man the cannons and protect the envelope at all costs. This is one captain who will not go down without a fight,’ Blackthorn yelled. ‘You there, move lively and fetch me that infernal peashooter.’

‘Peashooter?’ Jericho asked.

‘Yes, a newfangled machine from the New World; it sends a hot lead ball at a man faster than he can blink. It pierces the skin and he dies. Not as fun as a cutlass, and I’m not sure how effective it is on a dragon, but we shall test it out.’ Blackthorn chuckled.

‘Is there anything I can do?’ Jericho called above the din of men as they prepared to repel the threat.

The captain appeared momentarily stunned. He had considered this his fight, and had not expected a priest to take an active part.

‘Certainly, how fair are you with a cannon?’ Blackthorn asked.

‘I don’t know cannons but I’m good with magic.’

‘Each to their own, I suppose. I guess if you can distract the beast with your magic, we might have a chance to at least slow it down enough for us to get higher and out of his reach. Head aft and use what you can against the creature.’

Jericho nodded, headed to the rear of the ship and skirted the wheelhouse on the port side. Promptly at the order of the captain, the ship began to incline sharply and headed into the clouds, a defensive measure designed to elude an enemy. It stalled Jericho’s progress, and he was left clinging to a bulwark for grim death.

The ship suddenly lurched with a noise like thunder, and sent Jericho flying into the iron wall of the cabin. The dragon had attacked, its huge frame colliding with the side of the ship.

Jericho reached across and took a firm hold of the wooden bulwark to cast a glance over the side.

Sure enough, an enormous black beast prepared another attack run.

On its back, a hooded figure piloted from a sleek leather saddle just behind its wings. He held a rein in his hand threaded around two giant rings cast through the dragon’s nose. A deafening roar erupted from the beast and rumbled through its great chest. Jericho peered at a curious glow that emanated from the sides of an iron chest plate; it had a red hue to it, yet there was no visible reason why the light should be there. Jericho, however, knew the secret. Behind the chest plate, the dragon’s heart lay unprotected, behind a thinly armoured layer of skin.

It was nearly impossible to hit a dragon that was in control of its own mind in this spot with any measure of success. Many who had tried had either missed, or hit, but not downed the dragon, and were then consumed by its fiery breath.

A bucket of thick white liquid crashed down around him from above, and ran in slow rivulets down the deck. He looked up and he saw a pale-faced boy who gripped tightly to thick ropes that surrounded the bladder like envelope. In his left hand he held a wooden bristle brush that dripped with the same thick paste.

Jericho understood; the boy was there to seal any holes in the envelope with thin layers of leather patches that were strung around his neck. He had become unsettled when the dragon began its attack, and his paste bucket had slipped from his grasp.

Just how vulnerable were they right now, many hundreds of feet in the air? They climbed all the time, with nothing but a bag of air to hold them there. Jericho forced the thought from his mind, and instead turned to find the captain.

Finally he spotted him, aiming his peashooter at the beast off the port side. Jericho precariously slipped and slid down the deck towards the captain. The end of a black spiked tail the size of an elephant’s trunk swung past him and collided with a deckhand with a sickening thud. The unlucky soul was sent flying through the air and over the side of the ship with a terrified scream.

‘Captain?’ Jericho yelled. ‘Blackthorn?’

The skipper turned to the sound. ‘What is it?’ he yelled.

‘Aim for the dragon’s chest plate, sever it with your cannon, and we will have a chance to defeat this foe,’ Jericho hollered. The noise of the dragon and the rush of wind deafened him. ‘Behind is the dragon’s heart, we can defeat this abomination if we can get a clear shot at it.’

‘I might just have the thing.’ Blackthorn smiled. He raced off to the stern of the ship and skidded from handhold to handhold just as Jericho had.

A minute later he returned carrying a long bundle of sackcloth, and after he had struggled back up the incline, he dropped the package with a clang and finished with a few deep breaths.

He dropped to one knee and quickly undid thin strips of leather that bound the material, and extracted a six-foot-long harpoon. He looked at Jericho with a broad smile on his face.

‘For catching big fish,’ he said. ‘And they don’t come much bigger than that.’ Blackthorn pointed at the incoming creature, and then offered the harpoon to Jericho.

Jericho took the weapon and tested its weight. It was so light it felt like a ceremonial spear from the temple, yet he knew if it hit home, this would do the trick and kill with no trouble.

‘One shot, make it count.’ The captain clapped Jericho on the back, and jumped down a dark hatch cut into the middle of the deck.

Barely a minute later, several thunderous shudders rocked the ship, and to his horror he saw that the ship spat flames and smoke. He watched as the dragon swerved and dodged incoming cannonballs with ease. It was the rider, in control of the dragon, who needed to be relieved of his saddle permanently for the plan to work.

He summoned all his mental strength and soaked up the energies from the earth and sea below, and the air around him. He visualised in his mind the rider’s saddle, and as he focused on the task, his hands began to glow blue. He concentrated on the buckles, and visualised how they were fastened, and imagined he was undoing them. Several attempts and one sweaty brow later, he had, by sheer determination, unfastened one of the buckles that held the saddle to the dragon. This was enough to unseat the rider, who fell from his ride. He did not fall far, as the reins he held arrested his drop.

The rider was shaken by the fall, but soon recovered, and attempted to remount his charge. Jericho aimed a knockout spell at the rider and missed, so uncontrolled were the ship’s movements. He grabbed hold of a rope to steady himself, and took aim again with an extended arm. His whole being focused on the rider, now almost back in his saddle. He drew the necessary elemental forces from around him, and seconds later the rider was no longer a threat; he fell to the sea far below, a silent scream of shock on his face.

Without warning a pair of hands grabbed him from behind and threw him to the deck; he looked up and saw a toothy grin. ‘Be more careful, son,’ said an aged pirate, who then stomped off with a wooden leg visible below his knee.

The elderly pirate had saved Jericho from impalement by a spike from the dragon’s tail as it swished across the deck. He had been so deep in concentration, he had neglected to keep focus on the enemy’s whereabouts. But wait, this was a new dragon and a new rider.

‘Damn, just what we need,’ he cursed.

‘You can say that again,’ said Blackthorn, and offered him assistance up from the deck.

‘Have we managed to get the chest plate off yet?’ Jericho asked.

‘No, but my lads tell me we are mere minutes away from a direct hit. These things are devilishly tricky to hit. But I have some of the best marksmen at my disposal.’

‘Captain? The dragon is leaving,’ a voice yelled from a crow’s nest strapped to the side of the envelope.

Blackthorn and Jericho looked to where the crewman had pointed, and sure enough the riderless dragon had quickly disappeared into the distance, and appeared to head north.

‘Well, I’ll be. Why would it be doing that, do you think?’ Blackthorn pondered.

Amongst the thunderous discharges of the multiple cannons aboard ship, Jericho had an idea.

‘Free will. The beast regained its free will when its rider fell. The spell that bonded the pair has been broken.’ Jericho remembered the last conversation he had had with his cellmate, Silentus Madook.

‘What’s that now?’ Blackthorn asked.

‘A wizard of sufficient skill can take away the beast’s mind and control its actions. When the rider fell, the creature was able to control its own mind once more. I guess it’s going home.’

‘To the tower?’

‘I highly doubt it. Would you willingly return to captivity? I mean, they aren’t homing pigeons, after all. There were rumours of a dragon stronghold in the far north, though that was before we thought they were extinct.’

‘So I guess all we have to do is take down the rider to rid ourselves of these beasts.’ Blackthorn turned to a short, thin man near him. ‘Tell the cannon teams to aim for the rider.’

‘Aye captain.’ The wiry man saluted, and ran off at full speed.

‘I guess you won’t need that harpoon after all.’ Blackthorn raised a brow, and reached for the weapon.

The captain jerked, his head snapped back, and a look of puzzlement spread across his face. He looked down at his chest in a drunken fashion, and his eyes widened in shock. A three-foot black spike from the tail of the dragon exited his chest, glistening red with his blood. Before Jericho had chance to react, the dragon’s tail whipped the captain into the air and out of sight. Jericho was horrified at the violence of the captain’s death. He had seen death on a grand scale, but never one that involved a dragon, and it was a terrifying sight.

Panic ensued. The death of the captain shocked the crew into inaction, and now the dragon was free to pick them off one by one. Without a captain to guide the men, all was lost, and Jericho knew they would never listen to him. He was an outsider, and from their perspective he had brought bad fortune upon their heads. As superstitious as they were, it was a wonder they had not thrown him overboard already.

To his alarm, the dragon headed back, and fast. He began to run. He needed to get undercover, and quickly. He made for the main cabin, and hoped for a plan to escape this.

The dragon swooped overhead; Jericho dived, and slid into the side of the iron framework. He stood and rubbed his shoulder, now sore from the impact, and made his way to a set of wooden steps that led up to the wheelhouse. He took them two at a time and reached the main cabin door quickly. He burst inside to find the deck deserted, each member of the crew preferring to save his own soul, however he might. Yet how did one save oneself thousands of feet in the air? He looked around and spotted a wooden lever on the rear wall. Its handle was painted red and looked important. He stepped up to it, and noticed a small sign pasted above it. He wiped away a layer of dust and read: ‘In case of emergency, pull!’ He shrugged and pulled the lever.

For a moment not a lot happened. Then somewhere deep below, a rumble, followed by mechanical sounds, began to rattle the ship. He ran outside and looked over the edge of a wooden rail. Something peculiar had emerged from the sides of the ship, and he needed a better viewpoint. He looked about him and spotted a ladder set into the metal framework that followed the curved roof of the wheelhouse. He hopped onto the first of the rungs and climbed quickly.

Seconds later, he was balanced awkwardly on the roof of the cabin, and swayed with the ship. He stepped carefully to the edge of the wheelhouse and peered over. He saw that several small boats hung loosely at the starboard side of the ship, suspended by thick ropes from cast-iron hangers.

Several of the pirate crew jumped into the first of the newly acquired appendages and cast off.

The moment the boat left the ship, it dropped like a stone, and a leather patchwork envelope began to unfurl from a central pipe set into the mid section. The envelope filled with hot air from a quick-lighting furnace, and the boat slowed. The pirates were now in charge of individual smaller versions of the mother ship.

Jericho turned quickly; this was his means of escape. He headed back to the ladder and had nearly reached it when, out of the corner of his eye, a huge black shape loomed. His head whipped around, and he instinctively dove for cover. The immense black dragon, arms outstretched, made a grab for him, but missed and collided with the side of the envelope. The envelope immediately began to collapse in on itself to trap the dragon. Claws, legs and tail became entangled in the thick ropes that surrounded the air sac, with no chance of escape. The dragon began to scream, a horrific sound that threatened to burst his eardrums.

Jericho wasted no time and jumped from the roof of the cabin to the deck below, only to twist his ankle in the process. With a yelp he hobbled to the bulwark at the starboard side of the ship, to find that the escape boats had gone, and none remained.

He gripped his hair and joined the dragon, as it attempted to free itself, in a scream of frustration. He looked up into the sun-filled sky, with Er’ath’s sister planets faintly outlined.

‘Mighty Rindor, if I ever served you well, please find me a way out of this,’ he pleaded to his god.

‘Dareth Jericho, as I live and breathe,’ said a soft female voice behind him.

Jericho dropped his hands and turned to face the voice. A smile erupted across his face, for there before him stood his sister, Matron Eliana Truelove, and she smiled broadly. She wore a white bonnet and pinafore, tied around the waist, and under this she wore a blue tunic. They rushed into each other’s arms and hugged.

‘My god, Eliana, you’ve put on some weight,’ Jericho winked.

‘You need talk; you’re looking a bit grey around the gills, there, cheeky boy.’

‘It is so good to see you after all these years,’ he said, and wrapped an arm around her shoulders.

‘Brother, as lovely as this is, I think you have failed to notice that this ship is sinking fast.’ She swung an arm in a wide arc to indicate the threat.

‘Of course I noticed. The sudden drop kind of gave the game away. Wait! How did you get on board?’

‘I ported here, of course,’ Truelove replied.

Jericho laughed. ‘Indeed, how stupid of me? I couldn’t port from the island, but we are far from it now.’

‘Take my hand, brother.’

‘Where are we going?’

‘To the infirmary, of course. Do you think I stopped by from the third cloud on the left?’

Jericho rolled his eyes; he had truly missed his sister, even though she still ribbed him as she had done when they were children. He quickly took off his boots and held on to them tightly.

Without further delay, he and his sister vanished with a crack. The dragon, in one last-ditch attempt to escape, let loose a fiery blaze from its nostrils. The inferno caught a hold of the envelope at lightning speed and the pirate airship with its new captive fell to its doom, engulfed in a huge ball of flames.

Truelove and Jericho landed softly inside the section of the golden temple that was her infirmary. While she donned her footwear, he looked around at the familiar surroundings and noticed that not much had changed, besides the patients. Several casualties appeared to be asleep and were in various states of healing at the hands of his sister.

The infirmary contained twenty beds in total, and had offered a place of medical care to the guard of the temple, before the incident with an incorrectly mixed growth tonic. He remembered that when the room had left the temple unexpectedly, two walls were missing, and it seemed Eliana had rebuilt the missing walls and roof section above the dormitory. At the opposite end of the room were Eliana’s comfortable living quarters, and a small surgery.

‘Come, this way, you look like you could do with a good square meal,’ said Eliana, and tugged at his arm.

He hobbled after her down the natural corridor between the beds, and took the odd glance left and right. Two of the beds, he noted, had curtains drawn, and either the occupants wanted privacy, or their injuries were exceedingly gruesome.

‘I hadn’t given it too much thought, but now you mention it, I am rather hungry,’ he replied, and his stomach rumbled in agreement.

‘It is fortunate then that I have a full pot of broth bubbling away nicely in my quarters.’

‘To be truthful, I haven’t had much of an appetite since they murdered Eraywen,’ he said, and looked suddenly pale.

Eliana stopped short. ‘Oh, Dareth, I had no idea, I am sorry. What happened?’ A hand reached across her mouth, her eyes wide in shock, and tears welled.

‘Those people back there in the tower, they were dark wizards. They used Eraywen to lure me to their lair, in an effort to have me spy for them.’ Jericho paused to allow himself to be led into Eliana’s office, and she guided him to a comfy leather chair opposite a toasty fire. There he sat and stared into the flames for a few minutes, and mourned his loss. Eliana did not prompt him, but waited patiently for him to continue.

‘We had escaped, Eraywen and I, along with a slave called Silentus, a good man. Only we were caught, and they killed her. Cold-bloodedly killed her, snuffed out her life like a candle.’ Jericho’s face contorted with pain and rage, and he struck the arm of his chair with his fist. ‘That is when I was taken to their master, Lordich Secracar.’

Eliana took a sharp breath at the name. ‘But surely you are mistaken. The man is dead.’

‘I wish I were mistaken, sister. No, he is very much alive thanks to a little deal he did with Death. Tell me though, how is it you were passing the black tower?’

‘I was blown off course by an unusually high wind that caught my sail. I had to winch it in for fear it would rip from the mast.’

‘You have a mast?’

‘Oh yes. That, and much more.’

‘Tell me, how do the pirates find you up here? All alone, I might add,’ Jericho questioned curiously, eager to change the subject.

‘That, dear brother, is a closely guarded secret, and one I will not divulge. These pirates are seriously misunderstood.’

‘Misunderstood? They are liable to cut your throat as look at you. Why do you help these men?’

‘I promised the gods and made a vow to help all those in need of medical care, regardless of creed, colour, religion or background. I have made this my life’s work.’

‘You don’t miss the Brotherhood, your home, me?’ Jericho asked, in the hope he would trigger in his sister a desire to return home.

‘Oh, terribly, but my help is needed here. You have many fine healers at the temple. The pirates, however, have none, well, none that wouldn’t think twice about amputating a damaged limb of a shipmate, when a simple healing potion would have cured the man. These people need expert care, and I’m the one to provide it.’

‘That you are, sister, that you are.’ Jericho nodded, barely able to control the disappointment in his voice. ‘Since I cannot persuade you to give up this endeavour of yours, it is imperative we make all haste to the temple. The Archmage needs to hear what I have to say.’

‘Very well, I shall make preparations and then I shall return to my work. You, in the meantime, please eat something.’ Truelove handed him a bowl of broth that swirled with steam.

He took it and looked at it, no longer hungry. Now that he had time to think, he was clouded by grief; his wife’s death was akin to a knife through the heart.

Eliana Truelove left him sat in his chair to stare at his bowl. She furrowed her brow in concern for him, and a tear ran down her cheek that she wiped away with her sleeve. She had fond memories of Eraywen. Even as a child they had played together, and now to lose her so young wrenched her heart.

She left Jericho where he sat, raced to the farthest corner of the dormitory, and pushed aside a secret door set within a dusty old bookcase. It swung aside to reveal a dark and narrow staircase that led upwards. She slipped inside, and wound her way to the top as quickly as she dared. At the top, she opened a small wooden door. Sunlight made her squint, and she was forced to shield her eyes from the glare.

She entered a brightly lit room. The space itself was aft of the infirmary and was minus a rear wall. Only a thick rope cordoned off the drop.

The paintwork had lost much of its finesse, the weather had not agreed with it. Any furniture had long been removed and replaced with an oddly shaped contraption in the centre of the room that included a large ship’s compass sitting in a wooden frame, and a tiller that hung from the edge of the room.

Eliana glanced at a map of the known continents of Er’ath that had been pinned to the wall opposite her. From this crude document, and a check of the sun, she determined the necessary course. Once done, she manoeuvred the wooden tiller to make the desired course correction. All the while she kept half an eye on the compass for accuracy. Satisfied, she lashed the control to its current heading and grasped a second handle that protruded from a wooden wheel. She turned this with vigour, and listened to the sounds of the mast rising from its horizontal position to vertical. She felt the building heave as the wind caught the sail and altered their course. Completed, she locked the handle in place, and then wiped her sweaty brow as she retreated from the room.

She entered her study a few minutes later to find Jericho asleep in his chair, and his food untouched. She quietly retrieved a woollen blanket, carefully draped it across her brother, and then joined him in the chair opposite. She would let him sleep, that was the best medicine.

Sceptic Film Premiere.

February 3, 2018 Leave a comment

Off to a red carpet, black tie, film premiere.

Categories: General

DESTINY OF THE WULF: Chapter Nine.

January 28, 2018 Leave a comment

ENLIGHTENMENT

Curator Menin sat heavily in a comfortable leather armchair and gave a deep sigh. Her recently rebuilt office was shiny and new, however, she looked grave. Coinin had explained to her in graphic detail the events that surrounded Death, and his plans.

‘This is very serious. I must speak with the Archmage immediately,’ Curator Menin decided, and then almost as an afterthought, ‘you must come too.’

‘Where are we going?’ Coinin asked.

Menin appeared hesitant to tell him, but he could see that almost immediately her mind was made up.

‘Once a year the Archmage must venture forth on a great pilgrimage. There he must seek council with the gods and pray for wisdom and guidance for thirty days,’ Menin replied.

‘Where is this place?’

‘That I cannot tell you; it is a secret passed down from Archmage to Archmage.’

‘You are not an Archmage,’ Coinin accused.

‘Indeed. It is true I am not sworn into office yet, but the intent is there.’ Menin winked. ‘Come now, hold my hand.’

‘Why do I need to go?’ Coinin asked wearily. He was tired of being pushed from pillar to post.

‘I know that the Archmage will wish to speak with you, and more so considering the importance of your message,’ Menin replied.

Coinin held Menin’s hand lightly and observed a sound that hung in the air and resembled a hum, quiet at first, but then gradually grew louder. A bright white light appeared ahead of him, and formed a ball of intense brilliance. A rush of air and the room appeared to fold in on itself to form a tunnel of swirling luminescence. Together, Menin and Coinin were sucked into the vortex headfirst. Coinin felt dizzy as he whirled around the tunnel of light, his body contorted and elongated to impossible proportions. The sensation did not last long, however, before Menin and he landed on soft grass with a bump.

It took a moment for his senses to attune to the new surroundings. He retched and evacuated his stomach contents, to a chuckle from Menin. She clapped him on the back whilst he bent double, his hands on his knees.

‘That always happens the first time. You will get used to it.’

Coinin looked at her like she was crazy, but then something new overwhelmed him. He realised now how quiet it was, tranquil he thought. He felt an inner peace wash over him like a tide and all his worries and cares seemed to fade to nothingness. A sweet smell of honey seemed to permeate the air, and in the distance, songbirds uttered a multitude of morning calls.

He had not noticed until now that a figure a few feet away, clad in brilliant white, sat cross-legged and watched the morning sun rise.

Menin and he had appeared on top of a cliff that overlooked a glassy sea. The sun in the west cast long shadows wherever it met an obstacle.

Coinin was surprised to see that the figure in white had an odd addition to his shadow, what appeared to be a set of majestic open wings. Yet, when he looked at the physical presence, no such appendage existed.

Coinin sensed this man was special, a spiritual being of significant importance.

The Archmage turned and faced Coinin with his head cocked. He wore a hood that cast a dark shadow and hid his face from view.

‘Please join me,’ said Archmage Orodor softly with a pat of the lush green grass at his side.

Curator Menin beat Coinin to it, and made herself comfortable beside Orodor. She turned and nodded at Coinin, and then indicated he should do as asked.

He sat next to Orodor, who turned to face him and dropped his hood. There sat not an old man but a boy of roughly twelve. The beard had gone, as had the wrinkled prune of a face. Instead, the prepubescent boy stared back at him.

The boy mage swept long blonde hair out of his eyes with a smooth young hand, and smiled at Coinin with pearly white teeth.

‘Archmage Orodor?’ Coinin asked, and looked from Menin to the boy, confused.

‘You look somewhat perplexed; here moments ago I was an old man at the end of my life, now I am what you see before you,’ Orodor chuckled.

‘I admit I’m surprised, and I confess, puzzled.’

‘If you were not, I would warrant that you were as wise as the gods themselves,’ Orodor said. ‘I have reached the end of my physical life–’

‘You are dead?’ Coinin interrupted, and received a stern look from Menin.

‘Death has such a finality to it. I prefer to think of my passing as a new adventure, as if one were stepping through an unfamiliar door. This is my reward for service, to spend eternity gazing upon the beautiful vista before you, never wanting or needing for anything as long as I choose to. Should I wish it, I would be welcome to reside with the gods. However, I thought I would give it at least a couple of millennia before deciding my next journey. My role now is to watch over the peoples on the troublesome rock called Er’ath. I am to act as go-between for the gods and the new Archmage, Menin.’ Orodor turned and smiled warmly at her.

Menin had a tear in her eye, and it was obvious she had no idea Orodor had passed to his new existence so suddenly and without the usual preparations. ‘Brother Orodor, you will be missed so. It will be difficult to tell the others.’

‘Let my passing not hurt so, sister, you will see me regularly on your visits. I have now replaced Archmage Turlock in this role. She has taken leave to reside with the gods. This has been the way for millennia,’ Orodor continued, grasping Menin’s arm fondly, ‘and no doubt will remain so for millennia to come.’

‘It is hard to say goodbye.’ Menin sniffed.

‘Do not fret; I am in a better place.’ Orodor smiled.

‘So there is a better life after death than the one I witnessed with my parents,’ Coinin mused.

‘Not only better, but considerably more rewarding.’

‘Why am I here, Archmage?’

Orodor pondered his response a moment. ‘I must enlighten you of a task set before you.’

‘Listen, I don’t want any more tasks, I just want to go home.’

‘As did I when I received the Office of Archmage, but the gods were kind and showed me the path my life would take in a vision. In fact it led right up to this point.’

‘You knew when you would be talking to me, now, on this hill?’ Coinin asked disbelievingly.

‘I didn’t know the day or the hour, but I sensed it was drawing closer. That kind of happens when you get to my age. I have to say, you do bear a remarkable resemblance to the boy in my vision.’

‘This task? Is it destiny again?’

‘Ah yes, the greatest of all annoyances. The eternal battle between choice and what is foretold. It is not my favourite of subjects. I hear you too despise it?’

‘It’s all I’ve heard since meeting up with you people, and yes, it is quite annoying,’ said Coinin, perhaps a little too snappily.

‘Honest to the core, I like this boy. That is why I am not going to talk to you about your destiny, but that of Er’ath. You see, the world does revolve, day to night, and the sun rises and sets without fail, but who controls these things? Not the races of this land, but the gods. Hence why you are here. They have seen fit to invite you into their presence so that you may know how you can best serve them.’

‘The gods are here?’ Coinin looked worried.

‘Not quite. I, as their representative, speak for them now.’ Orodor smiled. ‘The wish of the gods is that you take the Office of Curator at the Brotherhood of the Wulf temple, and lead our forces in war against all who try to defile her.’

‘Laliala already asked me to be Curator. I’m not sure about that,’ Coinin confessed.

A look of disappointment passed over Orodor’s eyes, not for Coinin, but for Laliala. ‘You told him?’

‘It was the only way I could shut him up.’

Orodor laughed out loud and stood up, and then began to pace in front of Coinin.

‘What am I going to do with you? The simple truth is, you and your brother are, by my calculations, the last in the line of a once great and noble family. Coupled with that greatness is responsibility. You see, each of the four houses of Rostha, has, or had, a duty to protect Rosthagaar and the lands that surrounded her from all manner of troubles. Unfortunately, High King Hantestum of Rosthagaar has defied the gods and they are understandably angry.’

Orodor went on to recount a tale of the God Rindor who had restored peace to the land thousands of years ago, and the creation of a new rulership, which, alongside the Brotherhood of the Wulf, maintained order and belief in the true gods. That was until fifty years ago. It was then that Jibril Hantestum rose to power, and killed his brother who had the rightful claim to the throne of Rosthagaar. He then cut down the four Kings who held joint rule in each of the lands that surrounded his Kingdom.

Because of this action, Hantestum had unwittingly broken a decree by the gods that each of the four houses should guard one of Rindor’s four sacred swords and present them before him every thousand years.

‘In five years’ time Rindor will descend to reunite the four Swords of Cerathil with the Unity Sword and he will be unable to perform this task. His anger, I fear, will know no bounds,’ Orodor finished.

‘What does that mean?’

‘He may punish those who failed to heed his words. Who is to say?’

‘I don’t mean to interrupt, but Coinin here has some important news, Archmage,’ said Menin.

‘Let’s hear it then.’

Coinin spent the next several minutes describing in detail his meeting with Death and his desire for his name to be placed in the Scroll of Life.

‘I suspected as much,’ Orodor nodded. ‘If he succeeds, then he is one step closer to becoming king of the gods, and I now believe from what you have told me that he is likely responsible for directing Hantestum to seize power, thereby potentially preventing the reuniting of the swords. Alongside this action, he will need his name to be restored to ascend to the heavens to seize control.’

‘That makes the most sense,’ said Coinin.

‘I desire that alongside your duties at the temple, that you focus your efforts on obtaining the Swords of Cerathil,’ said Orodor. ‘But for that to happen, you need to accept the Office of Curator, and more importantly, your destiny.’

Marrok, in Coinin’s absence, had spent time in isolation, unsure of his brother’s next steps. He knew Coinin was with Menin when he had partaken of the festivities in the dining hall, so was not immediately worried that he could not find him.

He mulled over his own future, which he was certain was to ensure Coinin fulfilled his destiny. Desperate for answers, and with Coinin gone, he volunteered to help with the temple cleanup. Secretly though, the overriding reason for offering his services was to get close to a young woman he had set his heart upon. He had first seen her sitting two rows behind in the Great Hall during Menin’s call to arms speech, prior to the battle three weeks ago, and again last night, as she danced with him.

He had greeted the young woman cautiously at first, not keen to rush his approach, quite unlike his usual brash style. He was not inclined to scare the loveliness away before he had had a chance to court her.

He had learnt that her name was Talina, and that she was part elf. Her mother, a human, had won the heart of an influential elf after he had been injured in battle, and she had tended to him, much to the chagrin of his fellow elfs. The family were cast out of Astanoth before her birth, and she grew up close to the borders of her former home, never able to set foot into elfish land while her father lived. Of course as time wore on, and with the death of her father five years ago, the memory of his betrayal had faded.

Talina was finally allowed back home, and this as it happened was not due to her father’s demise; the elfen population had waned due to battles and pestilence that had plagued the land, which devastated the populace.

The elfen leaders felt that they needed to encourage outcasts and half-elfs to make home there and again rebuild the society. It was a blessing and a curse. With so many undesirables present, the city guards often found it difficult to maintain order.

She had often visited Astanoth with the Brotherhood, as an assistant to Master Brostix, a temple envoy, while on his regularly scheduled visits to the lands of Er’ath, often on critical peacekeeping or trade missions.

Marrok had, over the past few hours, listened to her talk, and soaked in every detail of her personage. Her beauty was breathtaking, and her slightly pointed ears aroused him, to the point that every time he looked at her he blushed. Talina paid no heed, nor did she make mention of this. Instead she offered him a winning smile that only served to melt his heart further.

He had not said very much to her at all, just grunted in all the right places, and he had observed that she would often take little glances at him. He was sure on more than one occasion that she too had flushed brightly.

There was one electric moment when both he and Talina had reached for a pail of water at the exact same moment, only for their hands to meet on the rope handle. An instant tingle shot up his spine and for the first time in many years he was genuinely happy in that moment.

‘Talina…’ Marrok faltered. ‘I don’t want to seem presumptuous, but I would very much like it if you would walk with me tonight. I hear there will be a spectacular moon.’

Talina smiled sweetly. ‘I thought you’d never ask,’ she said. ‘I would love to.’

Marrok flushed and looked away. Inside he whooped happily.

‘I must admit, I am no further forward in determining how to obtain the Swords of Cerathil,’ Orodor remarked.

‘It’s a pity Trenobin is dead, he owned a Sword of Cerathil, I have seen it,’ Coinin responded sadly. ‘In fact, thinking about it, we will find it on his wall at his home right now.’

‘Of course, I had forgotten, his family was one of the original four chosen by Rindor to rule alongside Rostha. I guess when Hantestum cut them down, the family kept the sword. That is good news indeed.’

‘I will send a troop of men to recover this sword immediately upon my return,’ Menin offered.

‘Yes, yes, please do,’ said Orodor absently. ‘That’s two down, and two to go.’

‘Two?’ Coinin asked.

‘Yes, Trenobin had one. The other is held within a lower chamber of the temple. There is a fifth sword secured in the Tower of Elyia at Castle Rostha. This is Rindor’s Unity sword which is used to unite the four, along with the Rose of Cerathil that Menin now wears around her neck.’

‘How hard can it be to obtain the swords?’ Coinin asked. ‘I take it the swords are regional?’

‘Regional?’ Menin asked.

‘Yes, Trenobin’s belonged to the dwarves, and I guess the temple sword belongs to humankind,’ Coinin replied thoughtfully.

‘Very perceptive, yes indeed, and I think you know which regions that leaves?’ said Orodor solemnly.

‘I would say elven, giant and Madorine. Do you think the swords still exist?’ Coinin asked.

‘The giants were never in possession of a sword and undoubtedly they still exist. Rindor, I am sure, would have had something to say, should his swords have been destroyed,’ Orodor declared. ‘Besides, I do not believe they could be destroyed by mortal hand.’

‘What importance do the swords hold for Rindor?’ Coinin enquired.

‘That is a good question, and one I am unsure if I should answer. The response itself may betray a trust, not something I’m accustomed to. Then again, the response may aid us in our search.’

‘I hate to make decisions like that, never knowing if the choice you make is the right one,’ Coinin nodded.

‘Life is full of them, but on reflection, I have decided it would be best if you know the full facts. Without them, our search may not be as easy as we first thought.’ Orodor took a deep breath. ‘Taminoth, the Goddess Taminoth, confided in me the reasoning behind Rindor’s insistence that the Swords of Cerathil be joined once every thousand years.’ Orodor paused. ‘If the swords are not united, he cannot rule over the other gods. You see, they themselves set down a commandment that if the ruling god endeared himself to his peoples, the swords would most likely be united by his creation, and he was free to reign for a further one thousand years. If the peoples hated their god, the likelihood that they would follow his commands was less than certain, and that cast doubt over his ability to rule. If the swords are not united, then his brothers and sister are free to challenge him to rule.’

‘You said brothers. There are only three gods,’ Coinin corrected.

‘Have you forgotten so soon? Mort is also a brother of Rindor, and has claim to the throne, but he cannot do so while his name remains hidden from the Scroll of Life,’ Orodor replied.

‘Do you think that Rindor would destroy the peoples of Er’ath if we failed to unite the swords?’ Coinin asked.

‘He certainly would have a right to do so if we failed in our duty, but I do not wish to wait for five years to find out.’

‘So I guess we need to go hunting for these swords and stop the worst happening.’ Menin spoke thoughtfully, already forming a plan.

Orodor looked at her grimly. ‘Sadly, not all of us will join in the search.’

Menin cocked her head and frowned. ‘How so?’

‘The boy here is to take office as Curator; you are to be sworn into office as Archmage. As a consequence of that unique position, we never do battle, nor do we have leave to gallivant around the world in search of lost treasure,’ Orodor replied bluntly.

‘You mean I cannot aid Coinin in his search for the swords?’ said Menin, crestfallen.

‘Now hold on, who said I had to find them?’ Coinin frowned.

‘You can and must lead the way. You will not be defenceless in your task. We will teach you skills beyond imagining, and befitting the Office of Curator. Sanctioned with the protection of the Brotherhood of the Wulf, you will find safe haven in all the lands we hold sway.’ Orodor gestured grandly. ‘Additionally, you will have to hand the finest of warriors and battlemages.’

‘Orodor, I do not think the boy is ready for such an undertaking. Perhaps if we delay my oath of office, I can lead my men to victory,’ said Menin with a hint of desperation.

‘No, Laliala.’ Orodor turned to Coinin. ‘My boy, for that is what you are, I ask so much. Will you take the Office of Curator and guide my people, excuse me, Menin’s people with your strength, courage and spirituality to defeat the dark forces that work to enslave us, and ultimately save all who inhabit Er’ath from sure and certain destruction?’

‘It’s true you ask so much.’ Coinin lowered his head. ‘Answer me this one question truthfully, and I will no longer resist you.’

‘By all means my dear boy,’ Orodor agreed.

‘I am but a boy of seventeen. Why have you chosen me and not a scholar who has worked tirelessly at the temple for fifty years?’

Orodor stood and paced and carefully considered his reply. His hand absentmindedly caressed his chin where once grew three yards of grey beard.

Coinin played with dirty fingernails while he waited patiently for the former Archmage’s considered response.

It was a full five minutes before Orodor stopped short and faced Coinin.

‘Your father went to great pains to protect you and begin your training. To all within the order, your father left to marry your mother. In part this is true, but in reality he left at my instruction.’ Orodor again plucked at his nonexistent beard. ‘You see, your mother was already with child, a long-awaited event foretold by the gods. This one would command armies to victory over an evil that threatened the land. Of course I talk about Marrok.’

‘Marrok?’

‘Indeed, Marrok is to command your troops. He will become a fine general and lead your troops to many victories. All he lacks is foresight and direction. That is where you become valuable. The gifts you possess and those you will learn in the coming years will serve you well. You will be able to offer Marrok guidance and purpose. Without you, he will be lost. You are the binding force that will unite the Brotherhood on your quest to rid this world of darkness and evil. I know your misgivings surrounding destiny are great, but know this: your rise to greatness was foretold countless generations ago, and is manifest in all our teachings. You are the chosen one who will lead Soliath Wulf’s people to a new enlightenment.’

Orodor scratched his head before continuing. ‘Besides all that, do it for your parents who suffered to protect you. Let not their sacrifice go unrewarded.’

It was Coinin’s turn to be silent. He carefully weighed his options and allowed all that was said to him to sink in.

‘If I refuse?’ he said with a raised brow.

‘Then there’s a good chance Er’ath will be decimated by Mort if he becomes High King of the gods, and an equal chance Rindor will exact some form of punishment,’ Orodor answered.

‘I assume you’ve tried obtaining the swords before now.’

‘Yes, without success.’

‘Is it set in stone then that I will agree to follow my destiny?’

Orodor chuckled. ‘Yes, but what is important is whether you do so freely or begrudgingly. What is unclear is if you will succeed, and is a matter of faith that the prophecy that surrounds you and Marrok has been correctly interpreted.’

Coinin nodded. ‘So then we have to prevent a war in the heavens from destroying this planet. Well, I guess we can’t let that happen, can we? What must I do?’

Orodor smiled hugely before answering. ‘Training, and plenty of it. However, first you must undergo a sacred rite of passage and be inducted into the Brotherhood of the Wulf.’

‘This should be interesting,’ Menin smiled.

‘Why?’ Coinin asked, curious.

‘You will see.’

DESTINY OF THE WULF: Chapter Eight.

January 21, 2018 Leave a comment

MORT’S PLAN

Unbeknown to Coinin, Marrok had barely moved from his bedside for almost three weeks, much to the disapproval of Matron Rod’lin. He had slept beside Coinin and talked to him almost without pause in the hope that something would revive him, and yet his brother remained asleep.

The last thing that Coinin remembered was falling into the fiery pit, before being snapped awake in unfamiliar surroundings. The whole place was magical, if you could call it a place. There was no land or skies, just whiteness, apart from the oasis-like patch of the greenest of grasses upon which he sat. There was light everywhere as if a distant sun beat down upon him, and a solitary palm tree offered him shade. He looked about him and spotted a river nearby, where a big brown bear was thankfully engrossed in catching salmon and had not spotted him. His instinct was to run, but the air held a musical note that calmed him and made him sway slightly.

Coinin moved off in the opposite direction to the bear. As each foot came down, a fresh patch of grass would erupt from the white, and then disappear as his foot left it. He felt certain that he had been to this place before. Was this the same place where an unearthly voice had shown him the key to defeat the enemy at the gates of the temple? The answer, he was sure, would present itself before long.

As if someone had listened to his thoughts, a ghostly figure in white began to form ahead of him. He stopped walking, unwilling to go any further, until the figure turned to face him and beckoned. He felt compelled to do as bidden. It was a woman with long golden hair.

‘Hello, Coinin. I am glad you could visit me,’ the woman said. A sweet smile lit her face.

Coinin felt strangely at ease with the woman, and smiled back.

‘I presume when you say visit that means I’m not dead?’

‘That’s my boy, as intelligent as ever. Our time is short, and I intend to use it to the full.’

‘I have a strange feeling that I know you,’ said Coinin.

The woman chuckled. ‘You should, I am your mother, or at least I was in the physical realm.’

Coinin was stunned; it could not possibly be true. ‘My mother has been dead for many years.’

‘That’s correct, I have,’ the woman said sadly. ‘I understand you will have some reservations, but be assured, I am your mother, yet I reside in a new plane of existence.’

Coinin raised a sceptical eyebrow, unsure how to respond. ‘A new plane of what?’

‘I am dead to you in the physical realm, but my soul endures here forever. We are in a place between places, a spirit realm, if you please.’

‘I thought when you die, you ascended to Ædeen, the garden of the gods.’

‘A lavish tale meant to appease the masses,’ Godwen replied simply. ‘In essence it is Death himself that determines your destination, based on your past deeds. Ascendance to Ædeen is not guaranteed.’

‘If you are my mother, then you will know that she was a hardworking, honest, god-fearing woman,’ Coinin began.

‘Indeed I am.’ Godwen smiled.

‘Then answer me this. If you are that woman, why haven’t you ascended to Ædeen? Why are you here in this place?’

‘Death has his reasons; there are thousands of people just like me waiting for their judgement from Death as to their journey’s end,’ she replied, and threw her arms wide in frustration. ‘Do you know how lonely it is here? If your father is here, I haven’t seen him these many years, and that hurts the most.’

Tears formed in her eyes and ran down her face. In that moment Coinin knew that this indeed was the spirit of his long dead mother. He tried to grasp her into a hug, and fell on his face as he passed through her body.

‘I am sorry, Coinin, I truly am, but we can never embrace in this place,’ said Godwen.

Coinin did not say a word as he lay there in the white nothingness and sobbed, as a patch of grass grew beneath him. Godwen was beside herself and tried to comfort him, but without touch, she did the only thing she knew. She sat next to him and sang a lullaby that she had often recited to him as a child.

Coinin’s muffled voice called to his mother to stop; the memory was too much to bear. After all these years, he was finally able to say a proper goodbye to her, but he did not want to, he wanted to keep this moment forever and let time stand still, so that he might spend it with her, and then perhaps find his father.

‘No, Coinin, you cannot stay,’ said Godwen, who had stopped her lullaby mid-sentence.

‘How did you know?’

‘There is much that I do not know. Your desire to stay cries out to me. But you cannot stay here; this is not a place for the living. Besides, you have a brother who even now sits at your side in the hope that you may return to him.’

‘He will learn to live without me; I will find a way to stay,’ said Coinin, and raised his head to look Godwen in the eye defiantly.

‘Your death would crush your brother, and I would never allow it. Do you think I wish my own son dead? No, I do not, that would hurt me beyond words,’ said Godwen. ‘Once our business is concluded, you will return to your body and follow your destiny.’

Godwen had hit a nerve. Coinin jumped up. ‘Destiny! What do I know of destiny?’ He flung his arms in the air. ‘Everybody talks about a great destiny, but they speak in riddles and half answers. Well, I do not want this destiny, if there is such a thing.’

‘It’s not like you have much choice, son. Destiny is the predetermination of the course that your life will take,’ said Godwen. ‘You cannot change what must be.’

‘So you were always destined to die so young?’ said Coinin angrily.

‘Yes, I was,’ Godwen replied, and then looked away, sad.

‘Then I will defy destiny. I will look destiny in the eye and call it a thief who steals free thought and loved ones. I challenge destiny to hold true to mine, and neither will I follow the path it has chosen. I choose my own course in life.’

‘Son, you cannot go against it. You may believe you follow your own path, but it has already been laid out for you.’ Godwen sighed. ‘You must follow the wishes of the gods to the letter and not stray from that path.’

‘I simply cannot believe that. I am in charge of my life, and my own decisions, not the gods,’ Coinin growled.

‘Again you fail to see the truth. You are of course in control of your life and decisions. However, one element of your life is irrevocably set in stone, and all your choices in life, whether you try to go left or right, will ultimately lead you to reach your destiny.’ Godwen frowned. Her son appeared pained by this news, and she did not know how she could help him.

‘If it is the will of the gods that I fulfil my destiny, then I demand that they explain to me what it is, because I tire of not knowing. If they cannot do this, then it is best that I throw myself into a volcano. Let’s see how my destiny holds up to that.’

Godwen was shocked into silence.

‘Why is it my boy always had a hard time doing as he was told, or foretold in this case?’ the deep gravelly voice of Ædelmær questioned behind them.

Godwen and Coinin whirled around to see Ædelmær smiling broadly at them.

‘It is good to see you both.’ Ædelmær’s eyes danced with joy.

‘Papa?’ Coinin’s eyebrows raised in expectation.

‘It is I,’ Ædelmær winked, ‘and not before time by the sound of things.’ He turned to Godwen and held her close. ‘It’s good to hold you again.’

Godwen looked her husband in the eyes and tears flowed. ‘I missed you so much.’

‘I missed you too.’

Coinin felt a pang of distress that he could touch neither parent.

Ædelmær looked up at Coinin quizzically from the shoulder of his wife, and tried to make sense of his son’s reluctance to acquiesce to his fate.

He released Godwen and faced his son. ‘Did I or did I not teach you to always obey your mother, boy?’

Coinin looked at the visage of his father, his face surly. ‘How can I obey the dead?’

‘It is just as well we are not dead then,’ Ædelmær responded. ‘At least not until Death makes his decision.’

Coinin looked confused, and rightly so. ‘What do you mean you aren’t dead? Mother said–’

‘Godwen says a lot of things, but she missed out a crucial matter that you should know,’ said Ædelmær, and deliberately did not look at Godwen and her steely stare.

‘Ædelmær, we do not need to burden the boy any further, please,’ Godwen pleaded.

‘He has a right to know.’

‘A right to know what exactly?’ Coinin looked from one to the other in search of an answer.

‘We may never leave this place; we will remain in limbo until certain events transpire,’ Ædelmær responded.

‘That is correct,’ a cold, raspy voice called from the whiteness.

The voice made Coinin shiver, and the temperature plummeted as the white around them turned a shade of light blue.

The air felt oppressive, and the very breath had been sucked out of him. His chest was tight, and he felt the urge to run. No one would have blamed him, for out of a mist that had formed a lone figure floated towards them. The newcomer wore the blackest of robes, with an oversized hood that hid the face. His clothes were old, little more than rags that flapped about him, and gave the figure an eerie presence. Coinin was more concerned with the eight-foot scythe the tall figure carried and the off-white skeletal hand that grasped its shaft.

The creature, as this was obviously not a man, towered above Coinin and studied him with a slightly cocked head. The shadowed face was not discernible under the cloak, yet Coinin felt eyes searching his features, for what, he did not know. All of a sudden the creature spoke, making him jump.

‘You are not on my list, not for some time, and yet you are here. Explain how you have entered my domain,’ the raspy voice demanded.

‘I cannot answer.’ Coinin gulped.

‘You dare defy Death?’

‘I cannot answer you because I do not know.’

‘This is unacceptable. I will not have souls of the living enter my home uninvited,’ Death raged.

‘This is your home?’

‘Why would it not be?’ the creature snapped. ‘My appointment may require me to appear thus, but that does not mean that my home must also be uninviting.’

‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend.’

The figure turned three times, and in wisps of black smoke transformed into the familiar shape of a man. ‘That is better,’ he said. ‘It hurts my back staying in that form.’

Coinin was taken aback. The horrid creature before him now appeared to be an average man of around forty years old, with long black hair, greying at the temples, yet still the eyes shone red and appeared to resemble those of a goat. The cloak had gone, in favour of a doublet.

‘May I present myself? The name is Mort.’ He held out a hand to shake, but Coinin stood fast.

The figure rolled his eyes, and spoke with an altogether more pleasant voice. Gone was the rasp. ‘It is simple; each of us has a dark side, and you’ve seen that side of me, my work persona, or Death. Mort is the face my wife sees every evening.’

‘Death has a wife? I mean, you are still Death even now?’ Coinin asked.

‘For millennia now, yes. Between you and me, my job is monotonous. I need a change of profession, and I think that is where you could come in handy.’ Mort put a hand on Coinin’s shoulder and then led him aside.

Coinin instantly felt chilled to the bone at Mort’s touch, and wished he would remove the hand. He did not like where this encounter was headed.

‘For untold years I’ve watched my brothers and sisters reap the benefits of being gods to the people. Adoration, love, and worship is bestowed upon them, and what do I get? I am screamed at by terrified people, who see me as nothing more than a harbinger of death. I am despised, hated, and reviled. I am far more than what you see. I used to paint and throw pots, and play a merry tune upon the lute, would you believe? My brothers, with the help of my sister and me, created man and all the other creatures of Er’ath thousands of years ago. Then time came to apportion responsibilities, such as who controls war, love, and the arts. One night, my elder brother Rindor persuaded me into playing a game of chance, the loser of which would spend eternity collecting the dead. It was a role none of us wished.’

‘You obviously lost,’ Coinin observed dryly.

‘Not by any fair means, I assure you. He wanted to be king of the gods and therefore stacked the deck in his favour.’ Mort shook his head.

‘How do you know he cheated?’ Coinin asked. ‘He might just be an excellent player.’

‘If that were true, I would never have beaten him at every card game we ever played up until then,’ Mort snapped. ‘Besides, several hundred years ago my sister Taminoth let slip that Rindor had cheated.’ Mort scowled.

‘If you’re Rindor’s brother, then that makes you a god. So why have I never heard of you?’ Coinin asked.

‘I am there, as Mort, in the ancient texts, though sadly I was written out of the scrolls a thousand years ago by some eager young priest keen to keep the idea from the people that the gods were somehow responsible for death. I mean, who would want to worship a being whose brother marked their family members for death, and then collected their souls?’

‘You have a point there,’ Coinin agreed.

‘That is why, thinking about it, I am glad you are here. I need you to do a little something for me.’

‘Is this to do with my destiny?’

‘In a way, yes, it is. You already know you will become Curator of the Brotherhood of the Wulf, and with it hold the keys to the vaults of the golden temple. Within, securely locked away, you will find proof that what I say is true. I ask only one thing: that you restore my name to its rightful place.’ Mort looked into the distance, a faraway expression on his face.

‘Why can’t you do this yourself?’

‘I may be a god, but even with that comes limitations. I cannot manipulate objects in the same manner as you do.’

‘No, you only manipulate people into doing your bidding.’ Ædelmær scowled behind them.

Mort, swift of motion, caught Ædelmær by the throat and squeezed.

‘You were saying?’ Mort demanded.

‘Stop! What are you doing?’ Coinin pleaded.

‘This insolent soul dares to insult me,’ Mort spat.

‘How can it be an insult, when the facts speak for themselves?’ said Godwen. ‘Go on, Death; tell him. I urge you to tell my son the truth.’

Mort looked even more furious, and let go of Ædelmær, who dropped silently and clutched at his throat. He turned to Coinin, who was sickened to see the skin on Mort’s face peel away to reveal muscle and sinew, intertwined with maggots that ate their way through the flesh.

‘You see, Coinin, he cannot keep up the pretence,’ said Godwen. ‘Even his face is something evil.’

‘Silence, woman!’ Mort hissed.

Godwen continued resolutely. ‘He has a two-part plan. He needs you to restore his name into the Scroll of Life, so that he may rise from this hell and raise an army in his quest to overthrow his brother.’

The skin on Mort’s face was all but gone, leaving a pale skull that glistened in the light. ‘I said silence, wench!’ He struck Godwen with such force that she was lifted off her feet and fell several feet away.

‘No!’ Coinin screamed, and ran to his mother, who lay and cradled her jaw.

‘He lied to you; he is trapped here as punishment from his brother, for attempting to overthrow the High King millennia ago. By decree of the gods he is to remain here forever.’ Godwen winced in pain. ‘All Curators are forbidden to speak of him, or restore him to the Scroll of Life. To do so could be the undoing of the world. You must hold fast to that decree and defy Death.’

‘Who says he wouldn’t do a better job at ruling than the other three?’

‘He is pure evil. His bloodthirsty armies would march over the lands of Er’ath and consume all life that is good, and then they would mount an attack on the gods and imprison them in the same manner as he, most likely,’ said Ædelmær.

‘What have the gods ever done for me?’ Coinin became angry. ‘They took you from me, and all I’ve seen is death and destruction this past day or so, with more to come no doubt.’

‘You are wrong Coinin, the gods never took us from you.’ Godwen pointed to Death. ‘He did. Everyone dies, but he enjoys the taking of life. Our deaths have been part of his grand scheme since your birth.’

‘He killed you so that he could one day ask me to do his bidding?’ Coinin looked at Death with revulsion.

‘Yes, he did.’

‘If I refuse to become Curator, Death doesn’t get his day,’ said Coinin.

‘You cannot anger the gods in that manner; you must follow your destiny. Your life depends on it,’ said Godwen quietly.

‘Why is it so important that I do this?’ Coinin demanded through gritted teeth.

‘If you do not do this, another may come to take your place who is weak-willed and will restore Mort’s name in the scroll. You are a good man. Will you see mankind destroyed, and watch innocent people die?’

Before Coinin could reply, Death wrenched him by the shoulder.

‘Enough of this! In my domain, your parents still feel pain, boy. Do as I ask, or I will make them suffer for an eternity.’

‘Do not listen to him. Your mother and I are not what matters; think of Marrok, what pain he would endure should this monster win,’ Ædelmær pleaded.

‘You matter to me,’ said Coinin, pained by his father’s words.

‘Coinin Wulf! Stop being a child. There is more at stake here than us. Go now,’ Godwen ordered.

‘Yes, go now. But know this, Coinin Wulf, I will make you suffer if you defy me,’ said Death menacingly.

Coinin raised his head and faced the devilish creature that circled him slowly. ‘You already have, the moment you took away my family. No deal!’

Death rose to his full height and roared at the young man who defied him. He lunged at Coinin and grasped him in his skeletal hands. Death grew steadily taller by the moment. He brought the terrified young man close to his faceless skull.

‘Then so be it. Now begone!’ Death spat at him.

Death raised Coinin high above his head and slammed him hard to the ground. Instead of colliding with a solid object, however, he passed through the floor as if it were a cloud.

He emerged from Death’s realm, and saw the circle of Er’ath below him. He hurtled towards the planet at immense speed. The continents visible below the cloud cover shone green like emeralds. A landmass to the North was visible, and glittered white with snow. There was no sound until he had passed through the upper atmosphere, and the rush of wind greeted him deafeningly. He was already panicked, but he now reached a new height of fear as the ground rushed up to meet him.

He saw Rosthagaar below him with its vast city, and a flash of the village of Arrom that appeared desolate.

But all too quickly the golden temple came into view, atop its volcano. He instinctively covered his eyes when the temple’s tower was just feet from him. He expected a quick, grisly death, yet only a minor jolt met his senses.

He was confused momentarily, and then he opened his eyes. Everything blurred and he blinked away tears and a crust that had formed around the eyelids. He grimaced at a headache like no other he had experienced. It drummed away at the base of his skull, and slowly spread to his forehead.

‘Coinin,’ said a distant voice. ‘You’re awake.’

Coinin’s senses slowly returned, and he now recognised the voice of his brother, although everything appeared out of focus, and that included a shape on his right, which he took to be Marrok.

‘Of course I’m awake. I haven’t been gone that long.

‘What do you mean? You were unconscious for three weeks.’

‘You’re mistaken; I’ve been gone an hour at most.’

‘If only that were true, I wouldn’t have spent three weeks sitting tending to you while you had a nice little nap,’ Marrok snapped.

Coinin contemplated this and laid his head back down on his pillow. ‘Really?’

‘Yes.’

Time must work differently in Deaths realm. Mere moments there must pass as days here on Erath, Coinin thought.

‘I saw Mother and Father,’ Coinin announced.

‘You mean you dreamt about them?’

‘No, I mean I met them. I wasn’t sleeping, I went someplace else.’

‘What do you mean someplace else?’

Coinin recounted his story of the past hour, or three weeks, depending on whom you asked, and went on to describe the realm of Death, the meeting with their parents, and the warnings he had received.

All the while Marrok sat and listened impassively. Not once did he interrupt Coinin’s flow, until he had finished, at which point he turned aside from his brother and gave way to grief.

Coinin gave Marrok the freedom to mourn; he knew how deeply the deaths of their parents had upset him, and how he needed time to come to terms with that fact that Coinin, not he, had seen them. He was sure if Marrok had met them, that this would have gone a long way to fortifying him.

Marrok dried his eyes and turned back to Coinin, full of questions about their parents and his encounter with Death.

‘We’re in trouble, and we’ve yet one more enemy. Death.’ Marrok sighed and turned away.

‘We’re not in any more trouble than usual,’ Coinin quipped.

Marrok rounded on his brother angrily. ‘Oh, so you think this is funny, do you? You’ve angered a god, and now we are in grave danger.’

‘You haven’t listened to a word I’ve said, have you? Whether or not I did what Death asked of me, we were always going to be in danger.’

‘How so?’ Marrok glared.

‘I told you, if I put his name in the Scroll of Life, he will have the power to destroy the peoples of Er’ath entirely. Either way we are marked men. At least this way the danger is limited to you and me.’

‘I’m glad to see that you have made that decision for me,’ said Marrok testily.

‘You think I made the decision lightly?’

‘I just don’t know. What right do you have to make decisions about my life?’

‘I have no right, I know, but would the deaths of countless people be something your conscience would allow?’

Marrok turned away and lowered his head; his knuckles gripped the bed in frustration.

Coinin reached out to his brother and grasped his shoulder. ‘Forgive me, brother. If the truth be told, I very nearly sided with him.’

‘What stopped you?’ Marrok asked quietly. His head tilted towards Coinin almost imperceptibly.

‘Death took our parents. What kind of man would I be to allow Death to rip apart other families. I couldn’t live with that knowledge.’

‘People die all the time, families lose loved ones daily.’

‘Not on the magnitude Death was exploring.’

Marrok said nothing and the minutes passed in silence, until he whirled around and clapped his hands together.

‘Well, I guess there’s nothing for it. We’ll just have to be ready should he show his ugly face around these parts.’ Marrok grinned broadly.

Coinin was baffled. ‘Just a few minutes ago you were angry. What’s changed?’

‘You know I can’t miss an opportunity for a good fight. And the chance to send Death a clear message, that he better not mess with the Wulf brothers, is too good to miss.’

Coinin sat up and was glad to see his brother smile happily at the thought of sending Death a message. ‘I don’t want to break the mood, but it probably won’t be Death that pays us a visit, but more likely an assassin or two he’s hired to kill us.’

‘It’s all the same to me, brother. Let him send whomever he likes. I’ll happily show them the error of their ways.’

The curtain that surrounded the bed swished open and Curator Menin stood there with a smile on her face.

‘It’s about time you joined the land of the living. This calls for a celebration, and an excuse to open a bottle or two of Master Ignatius’s best wine.’ Menin chuckled.

‘There’s really no need,’ Coinin objected.

‘Coinin, you’ve had us all worried, and I think we all need a cause to celebrate now that you’re back with us.’

Matron Rod’lin sidled up to Menin and leant in close. ‘Excuse me, but there’ll be no festivities until I’ve thoroughly checked my patient.’

Curator Menin bowed before the matron and then turned and winked to Coinin. ‘I bow to your authority, of course, matron, but please have Coinin up and about quick smart. There are those eager to thank our heroes.’ She smiled and nodded to Marrok, who visibly swelled with pride.

Coinin spent the better part of the day subjected to prods and pokes by Doctor Zarth and his students, until he felt the urge to scream.

Marrok had excused himself to bathe and shave, and set about his task to remove three weeks of dirt and grime. He was surprised to find a new leather tunic laid across his bed upon finishing. He had to admit it, his had taken a good beating. He dried himself, and then dressed in his new garb, and immediately felt its quality. A true artisan had made this garment. The leather was thin, yet strong; perhaps lamb, since it flowed like water as he walked.

Several hours later the night had drawn in, and with it worshippers keen to join the celebrations arranged by Curator Menin. There were very many in attendance in the dining hall that buzzed with an air of excitement.

The hall had been decked top to bottom with lavish decorations that hung from the ceiling and beams. The adornments glittered red and gold, and cast pinpricks of light upon the guests below.

Aside from an enormous banquet that boasted every delight imaginable, Master Ignatius had set up shop in the middle of the room and busily poured bottle after bottle of sumptuous red wine for the revellers, and seemed to be very happy doing so.

By the time Coinin and Marrok had arrived at the festivities, the attendees were already quite merry.

Coinin stopped at the entrance to the hall to enjoy the dancing from afar; he did not dance, and was far too weak to partake.

So many witches and wizards spun and whirled to the rhythmic music played by a small band of musicians on the podium that the sight of them was hypnotic. Every now and then a witch or wizard paused for breath, took a sip of wine, and was immediately refreshed.

‘The wine is Ignatius’s special brew, guaranteed to give you a kick. Would you like some?’ Menin smiled, and offered each a cup of burgundy liquid that seemed to dance with light within the small cup.

‘Thank you,’ said Marrok, and took the cup and sipped its contents. A moment later, a smile spread across his face. ‘Good stuff.’

Caught by the beat of the music, Marrok sauntered off into the crowd and left Coinin and Menin alone.

‘You know you don’t have to go to all this trouble,’ said Coinin, with what he hoped was not an ungrateful tone.

‘It’s a double celebration, the defeat of the enemy, and the return of a conquering hero.’ Menin smiled. ‘Please, enjoy yourself.’

‘I don’t know if I can.’

Curator Menin looked at him with a raised eyebrow. ‘What is it?’

‘I think we need to talk.’

Menin nodded, took Coinin by the arm, and led him away.

Marrok, unaware of Coinin and Menin’s departure, was content to dance with a beautiful young woman by the name of Talina. He did not know if it was the wine or his own desire, but he knew somehow that someday he would marry this girl who gyrated so evocatively around him.

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