Saturday, April 27, 2019
Connor couldn't breathe as magic raced through him, looking for the core no human held. The light must have blinded the others -- they all threw up their arms and retreated in haste.
Connor had to get control because he could destroy everything for miles around. That would not honor Lord Northgate.
You can do this, Lord Northgate whispered almost as though he were there.
Connor bowed his head and clenched his fists, willing calm and trying to get hold of it. He looked up to find Centaurs converging on him. One kicked Ordin down. He saw Anthisa, wounded, secured to the back of one.
"Up!" Braslyn shouted and grabbed his arm.
"I cannot --" Connor looked down at the dead body. Was it starting to fade? Going.
"Don't let it be for nothing!"
Take hold. You can do this.
Another grabbed Connor and threw him on Braslyn's back. Then they were riding. Connor hardly had the sense to hold on. The magic was more powerful than the world around him. He had never been trained.
He had watched others and even studied a little about humans with magic, but he wasn't prepared.
Braslyn rode straight through the woods for miles, hardly slowing, and then out again. By then the centaurs were winded and slowed. Another caught up with them, his arm bleeding.
"Chaos back there," the centaur said as another wrapped the wound. "I heard Galen order Antisha found and killed along with the human. Best that they not be found together."
"Take Antisha --"
"We will, boy." Then Braslyn stopped and stood very still. "You are Lord Northgate now."
"No," he whispered as power moved in him. "No. He can't be gone --"
Connor saw Antisha and two centaurs disappear into the woods. Braslyn moved faster and in another direction. Connor wanted to say something, but he couldn't think straight.
They barely made it another mile or two before Galen caught up with them.
If Connor had had time to understand what had happened to him when Lord Northgate took his hand, he might have had a chance to hold the man off. Instead, he felt a knife of power hit him in the back. Braslyn couldn't hold him. He fell.
"Go!" Connor ordered, breathlessly and put his hand on the centaur's flank. "Go. He's after me. You still know the truth!"
Braslyn gave a shout of anger -- but he ran.
Connor was on my knees when Galen arrived. Connor lifted his hands and created magic, but it fizzled away. He dropped his head, gasping.
"I couldn't hold on to it. I couldn't hold Lord Northgate's gift --"
Galen grabbed him by the arm and magic surged through Connor's body. He thought he was going to die -- but no.
"Gone? I can still feel something -- but no, not the power of the fae that would hold Northgate. The fool did nothing but waste our time. The power will go back to the stone, as we always intended anyway. And you, boy, are going to do exactly what we say."
Galen pulled open the front of Connor's tunic and slapped his hand over his chest. Connor could feel the seal settling over him, and he bowed his head, not trying to fight this man.
Galen dragged him back to the camp and put him in the cage Lord Northgate had been not so long before. If he hadn't taken him out, would he have survived?
No. Galen had said Lord Northgate was always meant to die so the power would return to the stone at court.
Liam twitched. Connor suspected he had a vision, and wished he could have joined in and seen the future.
Connor settled into a corner of the cage and bowed his head, exhausted and angry. Lost. He had always counted on the others around him; he hadn't even realized how much until now. He didn't have that core of magic like the other fae. What Lord Northgate gave him had been lost inside.
Liam remained unresponsive in the other cage. Connor worried. Then he worried more when he saw Ordin arrive and talk to his father. Galen's hand went to his son's shoulder, and he saw Ordin smile.
Not good news, then. Had they lost Antisha? Damn.
Ordin came to the cage and poked at him with a stick. "So, human, you lose. I wanted to kill you, but my father thinks you're better alive. Is that true, human?"
Ordin laughed and poked at Connor and then Liam but by then the camp was ready to move, and Ordin wasn't going to walk. He mounted a sealed Centaur, laughing.
The trip proved to be more miserable than the journey with his friends. They moved quickly, and the wheels on the cage hit every bump and hole. Connor felt bruised and miserable before they went more than a mile.
Connor thought about all his years at Northgate, calling back everything he'd learned so he could perhaps still deal with this trouble.
They didn't stop until mid-morning of the next day having traveled into some foothills. Forests drew shadows over them, and Connor suspected they had rushed here to get to cover. They were near to the court now, and Galen worried.
"They'll arrive," Galen said as he and another of his people walked past.
Ordin had grabbed something to eat and crawled into blankets to sleep. Connor decided to sleep as well. He looked over at Liam who had finally uncurled but didn't appear any more wakeful than before. The smell of food proved to be torture, but of course, he wasn't given any or any water. Connor wondered how long Liam had gone without either.
He thought about all those years at Northgate as he fell asleep, and awoke to darkness, flickering lights, and frantic people. Shadows moved like things alive while sparks flew up from three different fire, and in the glow of embers, he saw a dozen figures -- huge and ungainly.
The trolls had arrived.
Friday, April 19, 2019
Antisha stared at the captive centaurs, her face dark with anger. "Yes, they're thin because of the magic Ordin and Galan steal from them," she said. Rage showed in her eyes, and her voice had grown a little louder. She fell silent as someone walked by, though. They sat very still, but the person never looked their way.
"Isn't this a dangerous place to be with the magic you've used here?" Connor asked, waving a hand towards the odd ceiling above them.
"Galan and Ordin are using an excessive amount of magic to keep everyone under control," she said. Her face changed and showed more worry. "They have Lord Northgate and Liam, Connor."
Connor started to move out of reaction, but Antisha caught his arm with a hiss of warning. He stopped, dragging in one ragged breath and another. He gave a quick nod, and she let go of his arm, though her hand hovered nearby, waiting for him to make another stupid move.
"What can we do?" he finally asked.
She nodded to the Centaurs. "I had hoped the villagers would be closer and I could get them free -- yes, many of them are sealed as well, though not the children. They don't have power enough for the bastards to steal. The Centaurs are going to be tricky, but I'll have to try and get at least a few of them free of the seals and hope they can get to the others."
Antisha started to move, but Connor stopped her this time. She looked at him with a stare that reminded Connor she was powerful in many ways. He still held on.
"I'll do it. Tell me what to do," Connor whispered. "I'll get them free."
"Because I don't have magic, and I might go unnoticed. If they do catch me, you are better prepared to rescue me than I would be to rescue you. That's all this is about, Antisha."
She looked at him, considering the words, and the nodded. "You're right. It's easy to do. See that roan there at the end? That's Braslyn. He knows me. Before you do anything, whisper to him that I've sent you and that he has to remain still until you get a few others free. Then slap the seal. It should crack and break. Be quick, Connor. If the guard sees that the seal is gone, we'll all have to move."
"Where is Lord Northgate?" Connor asked.
"There," she pointed toward the center of the camp. "Caged, both he and Liam. Be careful, Connor. You and I have a lot of work to do."
Connor didn't waste time, though walking into the enemy camp was not something he had planned to do. He moved carefully up to the roan. The head almost bowed, fighting the control on him.
"Be still," Connor whispered. "Antisha sent me. I'll get you free and get some of the others as well, and then you can start moving."
Connor did not know if the Centaur understood him or not. He had to take the chance though. He slapped the seal, and it disintegrated in a flash of little sparkles. The Centaur shivered, and Connor looked around in haste, expecting someone to have seen.
"Be fast," Braslyn said, his voice not as quiet as Connor would have liked.
Connor moved on to the next one and then another and had just started on the fourth when trouble came their way. He heard the shouts but didn't see what had happened. Centaurs began to move. He threw himself away from the center of trouble, spotted the cages and headed straight for them.
He found Liam first. He had started to stand, though he didn't get far. Connor reached for the lock.
"No," Liam said. His voice didn't hide his pain. Connor could see bruises and suspected worse. "No. Get Lord Northgate. Get away."
"Go! There is no other chance. Be strong. I'm sorry."
Connor wanted to argue, but this was Liam, and there might be a good reason to do what the seer ordered. He went for Lord Northgate and would come back for Liam. Lord Northgate was already trying to get the lock open, though he couldn't really reach it. Connor tore the lock off and pulled Lord Northgate from the cage. He was not in as bad of shape as Liam, but he still had trouble keeping to his feet.
He'd had every intention of going back for Liam, but Galen and Ordin both were heading straight for them. Connor took hold of Lord Northgate and darted away from the camp. They wouldn't have much cover, but if he could get to the stand of trees on the far side of the stream, he spotted on the other side of the camp.
Connor should have had a better plan. He should have had something prepared, but all he could do was run and pull Lord Northgate with him.
They were not going to get clear of this mess. Connor spun when he heard the shouts and running feet coming too close. Ordin shouted and threw a blast of power straight at Connor. He wouldn't survive.
Lord Northgate threw himself in front of Connor, trying desperately to raise a shield. He deflected some of the power but the shield died, and Lord Northgate took most of the hit. He went down to his knees.
And then he fell forward, unmoving.
The shock stopped Ordin, which saved Connor as he knelt and turned the man over. He was pale and almost still, but his eyes opened, and he took a ragged breath.
"I had meant -- something different. Always intended for you --" Lord Northgate gasped and lifted his hand and Connor took it. "Remember our afternoons when you were young, Connor. I name you my heir."
His hand tightened, and the power of Northgate flowed into Connor as the man died.
Thursday, April 11, 2019
Connor awoke at dawn to the sound of something rustling in the grass nearby, but when he sat up, whatever it had been darted away in haste. Nothing large, at least.
Connor ached from having hunched over to sleep and barely managed not to moan as he slowly stood. If something watched him, he didn't want to sound weak.
He breakfasted on dried berries and water from the pack. He tried not to think about home just then. Friends had died. Nothing would be the same at Northgate.
The realization hit him harder than he had expected. He walked with his head bowed and not paying enough attention and only looked up again when he came to a stream that had been hidden in the stands of grass.
Connor hadn't expected anything so wide and deep and hadn't even noticed the scraggly line of trees that marked the course.
A bridge sat not far down the steam. It looked like a steady bridge of solid rock --
As Connor neared, a gnarled, dirt brown face looked out from under the edge.
They both yelped.
"Human!" the creature shouted, and Connor heard the bustle of others in the shadow of the bridge. "Human here!"
Gnome. Connor had only met only two at Northgate, and while they could be fierce in a battle, they weren't usually a problem. Connor gave a very proper bow.
"I'm following after my friends, trying to catch up with them," Connor said softly.
"And which are your friends?"
"The ones who are hunted," he admitted. "And the villagers who didn't give me to the enemy."
The face peered intently, lips pursed as he considered the answer. Gnomes weren't given to taking sides; they usually only fought out of necessity. This one considered things at great depth while Connor watched nervously for trouble.
"It's evil what they did to the centaurs. Go. Save them."
Connor had no idea what the gnome meant, except that magic must be used to keep the centaurs under control. That might be evil enough.
He crossed the bridge and kept going, aware of the chatter of Gnomes behind him. He glanced back and saw only one gnome face watching him, and nothing following after.
Connor hadn't expected to start catching up with the others, but he soon realized that for whatever reason, Galen had taken the entire village with him and those people were slowing him down. In another two hours, he began to hear them -- and realized he was far too close. He fell back, stopping by the side of the trail and trying to decide what he should do next.
The night was coming. Connor knew he would do better to hold back and wait for darkness before he got closer. He very carefully moved off the trail by a half dozen steps, breaking as few of the stalks as possible. There he sat down and bowed his head, weary now that he let himself rest.
He was getting too used to resting out in the open, alone in a hostile world. Connor had no doubt dangerous 'things' were out there not far away. Just because he had chanced to get away from Ordin and Galen didn't mean he was safe from the rest of the world.
Connor slept in snatches which seemed worse than no sleep at all. The sudden surge from sleep to wake so often gave him a headache, and he despaired of ever seeing the shadows change and nightfall.
He finally slept for a little longer. When he came awake, twilight had spread around him, the shadows nearly disappearing in the coming dark. He stretched a little and slowly stood, trying to listen for any sound of something too near.
Nothing. Even the sound of those he had followed was lost, though Connor thought he could see a light farther down the trail and maybe to the right. He suspected the trail twisted there, but he would have to be careful. Galen and Ordin would put out guards or at least magic to make certain no one came upon them.
Connor went down the trail as far as he dared, listening to the sounds of the camp that were almost clear enough to tell what people said. Then he again moved carefully into the weeds until he found a path made by animals, though smaller than him. It provided a little room for him to move and draw less attention. He even slid along on his side part of the way, pushing his pack ahead of him.
Then he unexpectedly came to a larger, open area; a bubble with the tops of grass above him, and full plants on all sides, but enough room to sit up. He also found Antisha there, turning with a start and then offering him a bright smile as she waved him forward.
"You are alive!" she said and slapped him on the shoulder, her voice a whisper that couldn't be heard above the nearby sounds. "We couldn't be certain, you know."
"What are you doing here? Where are the others?"
"I sent everyone on," she said and glanced out at a camp, barely seen through the grass. "I have a duty, though. I can't let Galen and Ordin continue what they're doing. How did you get past the magic wards they put up?"
"Pure luck," he admitted. "They didn't go off. How did you?"
"I was already here when they made camp," she explained. "There wasn't likely to be another place anywhere else along the road. Look at the Centaurs. What do you see out of place?"
Connor crawled forward and tilted his head so he could see the Centaurs. They stood in a line not far away, their heads up. Thin, he thought.
"What are those glowing spots on their chests?"
"Seals," she said with disgust. "Galen and Ordin have full control over the Centaurs, and also drain power from them."
"Which is why they are so thin?"
Thursday, April 04, 2019
By midmorning of the third day, Connor finally felt well enough to leave the cave. He gathered a few things he could carry; some dried fruit, a jug of water and a blanket. He'd pay them back for the loan.
Connor's arm still ached, but not with the constant pain that had threatened to make him ill and weak. The fever had passed as well. He felt clear-headed for the first time since the attack on Northgate.
For the first time in his life, Connor really considered that he might not have the ability to think like the fae. He began to suspect there were aspects of magic involved that he couldn't see or feel and that they were so inherent to --
Lord Northgate had not named an heir.
Connor stopped at one of the crossroads in the little maze and considered how that affected what had happened. He'd read histories about how Lords had sometimes taken the lands of another. He'd never heard of it done with the Gate Lords, but that didn't mean it couldn't happen. Was there anything that would stop someone?
The Gate Stones?
The stone in the High Tower held a special power connected to the keep. When a Lord named an heir, that person must feel the pull of the stone, though not so strong as the Lord did. The power passed when the Lord of the Keep died, or when he was removed from power by the High Court. Smaller pieces of the Keep stones were kept at the High Court, and if the Lord died without an heir -- or the heir died at the same times, as had happened in battle -- then the new person was named at court. The piece of stone held untapped energy that returned to it when no one else took up the power.
Were Galin and Ordin following them, or were they already heading for the Royal Court to claim the keep? Was Lord Northgate already dead?
The thought angered and chilled him.
Connor knew nothing of the Royal court. Would they accept Ordin and Galen? Would they be able to convince the Royal Court that one of them should be Lord of Northgate?
Connor suddenly realized he didn't know how fae thought. He could live among them, and he felt he understood much of what they did -- but at this crucial break, he couldn't say if the Royal Court would give over the keep to Ordin and Galen since they had won the battle.
Could it be that simple?
Connor didn't want to think so. He also had to believe Lord Northgate still lived.
By the time Connor reached the village, he could tell something had gone wrong. He couldn't hear a single sound, as he waited at the edge of the maze, crouched over and staring out at the corner of the buildings. Nothing moved, and he could see signs of trouble even from here.
Connor carefully removed the stand of grass and as carefully put it back into place. Then he crept into the village and looked around. There was no one around and no sign of bodies -- but then there wouldn't be. When fae died, the magic that held them together dissipated, and took the thin shell with it.
He could see they had put up a fight against the enemy, including the centaurs which had apparently trampled through, their hoof marks plain in the mud.
This would have happened with or without Connor being here. The others would have come this way anyway, so it was stupid for him to feel any guilt. Still, he thought about Liam's sister and wished he had at least asked her name. He thought about Liam, too. Lord Northgate.
This was fae business, he thought suddenly. This was the fae world and their troubles, and there was nothing a human could do to help.
Especially if he crawled away and didn't try.
Connor found a few more bits of food and packed them away in the blanket he used as a sling. He still had no idea how far he had to go or what trouble he might find. Connor knew that some of the fae creatures considered it stealing to take so much as a berry from their bushes. He'd counted on the others knowing what was safe and what wasn't until now. He'd have to be very careful after this.
Connor had no trouble finding the path that the others had taken away from the village. In fact, they had knocked down grass and made a new trail heading almost due south. He found the tracks of fae with the centaurs; enough of them that he thought they must be a good part of the villagers.
Connor followed after them through the silent grasslands where everything had seemed to disappear. He didn't hear a single bird and nothing rustled through the brush. All the creatures of the area had been spooked.
The villagers hadn't given him away. Some had seen Liam's sister take Connor to someplace safe.
He didn't understand what was going on and that left him feeling uneasy. This wasn't his place. He'd spent very little time away from the Keep, but at least he knew some of the basics of survival. He even knew what creatures to watch out for, and kept an eye open for any griffins sailing almost silently through the sky. However, he saw nothing at all.
Connor was better for the days of rest, at least. The trail was easy to see, though he walked long into the night without spotting any of those he followed. Connor did find an area where the grass didn't grow and settled down under his blanket by the side of a boulder, hoping he would be less noticeable there. He even slept, too exhausted to keep awake and listen for things that didn't seem to be around anyway. Even the breeze was nearly still.