Thursday, August 29, 2019
Connor could think of only one thing to do to stop Galen from killing them all. Connor would have killed Mirror Galen without a moment's thought at this point. However, the moment he drew the knife, the weapon went flying across the room and clattered on the floor by the Southgate Stone.
Maybe one chance.
Connor shoved Mirror Galen into the path of an oncoming troll, hoping the creature kept him busy for just a moment. Connor then threw himself at the knife he had lost, scrambling across the floor on his hands and knees as he moved through the forest of trolls.
At the last moment, Connor stood and shoved the stone of Southgate off the pedestal.
The rock hit the floor with a bright spray of magic, and Connor feared he had just killed everyone --
Mirror Galen screamed in rage. He heard the sounds of angry and frightened trolls as the magic spread outward in waves of almost blinding light and color. The waves hit the shell around the King and Queen and flashed even brighter. Dangerous -- dangerous with the shield, and hazardous if they dropped it.
Connor had to stop the magic.
So he threw himself over the stone and dared just a little more magic to try and hold everything in place.
Mirror Galen caught him, screaming words Connor really couldn't hear or understand. He only saw that the man had a sword in hand and that meant --
The King had a sword as well. So did his friends. Mirror Galen looked up at the King with a shake of his head and started to step back.
Antisha and Liam were the ones who killed him. Mirror Galen still had a little magic left, but not enough to hold all the others back. Connor saw a look of disbelief on his face more than fear. Liam kept him busy, his weapon swinging relentlessly forward against the weapon Mirror Galen suddenly called to him. Liam took one cut, but by then Antisha had moved in and had no trouble striking the fatal blow that went straight through his heart.
And then he was falling dead.
Not a lot of help for Connor. He dared not let go of the Southgate Stone, but the power kept building within it. His eyes blurred, and he couldn't clearly hear what the others said. He needed help!
"Hold on," Liam said at his ear. "A moment. Taking out stones."
Praise the gods for that. However, this one burnt him with power and anger. He was Northgate, not Southgate, and the stone didn't know what had happened. It didn't understand the evil that had drawn power from it, but the stone did know that the person who touched it now should not have dared.
The stone was magical enough to know rage -- or perhaps it had learned such an emotion from Galen.
Connor didn't believe he could survive. He should have named an heir. He should have told the others -- no, they would do fine without him. He was a latecomer and an outsider. He thought he had done well, though --
"Easy now," the King said somewhere nearby. "I have a feel for the stone. Get him away from it."
"Let go, Connor," Nylia said. "We can't move you until you let go."
"Safe?" he whispered. He wasn't sure if he had really said the word.
"Let go," Nylia repeated.
Connor knew that he had to trust them. So he made his hands work, even though none of his body wanted to obey him now. Connor knew what was going to happen once he relinquished what little power he had over the Southgate stone. He hoped the others were wise enough to stay back.
His fingers moved, though slowly. He had his eyes closed. No use looking destruction in the face --
The stone was free.
Connor felt a wave of fire hit, and he could make no sound, unable to breathe, and the darkness came --
And then the darkness retreated, and the sounds of voices returned. Connor blinked.
"Damn crazy thing to do," Druce said, his voice unexpectedly trembling. "Didn't anyone tell our fine Lord Connor never to touch the stone of another keep? Why do you think the Mirror Galen wanted Ordin to take that Lordship at Northgate? He dared not do it himself."
"You knew what he was going to do, didn't you, Liam?" Nylia asked.
Someone brushed a hand over Connor's face, trailing cool magic that spread through his body. He knew it wasn't the first time from the tingles he could feel. The magic helped, but so did the voices of his friends.
"I knew what he should do. I trusted him to do it without saying so," Liam replied. "If I had, the rest of you would have protested. And we would have lost."
"We?" Connor asked. He wasn't sure how to ask the question. His mind refused to do more than listen and hold to the words.
"We survived," Nylia said. He was still on the floor of the stone room, he realized. Others were sitting by him. "But it was damned close for all of us, especially you."
Connor nodded. No use in speaking right now. No use in --
"Galen?" he finally asked.
"He tried to kill the King. After that, there wasn't enough of him left to clean up. Probably the best way he could die, given the evil he'd done. Fool," Nylia said. "A shame he won't have to face the anger and ridicule of others."
"But --" Rion said. He stopped and shook his head.
"Hell," Connor said, something coming clearly to his mind. "The spell fractured."
"Bright boy -- you always were," Rion said. He looked around at the others. "I don't think that was the only Mirror Galen created."
"Others," Antisha said and shook her head in dismay. Then she sat down on the floor with them. "I guess we still have work to do."
Friday, August 23, 2019
Antisha looked back at the man with a glare that almost felt like magic in the air, and none of it good. "You have no right to make judgments of any kind. Shut up."
Galen glared. Connor began to think the man wasn't nearly as smart as people thought. Connor also felt as though he could move and think again. They had fought off all the creatures that had come for them and barely survived. Connor didn't understand why the others here thought he was the one who had led the trolls -- or maybe he did.
"Ah. These people think I'm behind the trouble, not just because I'm human, but also because we leapt to the Troll Lands," he said aloud.
Liam, looking pale and as annoyed as Connor had ever seen him, nodded. "Yes. And they weren't going to listen to us. Praise the Gods we had Antisha with us. They know her since she's worked with these people all her life."
"They knew Galen too, right?"
"Not so well. I had the feeling no one liked him," Liam said. "No matter what else, Connor, you at least are polite."
"And you killed my son because you didn't like him --" Galen began.
A soldier to the side caught the man's arm and glared. "You killed him -- or your mirror did the work. I was there and saw it happen. And you are a damned fool."
Galen looked shocked, but still not worried and not upset. Maybe there was a reason the mirror being had no trouble with the idea of killing Ordin. Perhaps he got that straight from Galen.
There would be a lot of things Connor would want others to explain to him later. So much he didn't understand -- and he hoped he survived long enough to learn the answers, even if he didn't remain Lord of Northgate. He wanted what was best for that place and those people.
That thought brought Connor a new feeling of peace and calm. Worries began to settle in Connor's mind, and he knew that he had to make sure he helped make things right.
Antisha led the way as the group headed for the stairs, gathering more people at every level until they were packed in tight. He wasn't certain what they intended to do, though.
Connor also wasn't surprised to find a shell of magic around the stone room.
"If we try to break through this, it's going to be a disaster," Antisha warned, almost touching the shell. Bits of power danced out toward her fingers, and she drew back "The shell is going to keep any magic out, and if we try to break it, the magic will implode and -- that would be horrible. Those inside would not survive. Neither, I think, would we."
"Then we have to find a way to deal with this creature," Druce said, snarling at Galen who didn't seem at all upset. The man was crazy.
"There's another way," Connor said. He even smiled, which didn't appear to set his companions at ease. "Antisha and I realized something --"
"Oh hell," she said. She took hold of Connor's arm. "If you can get in --"
"Go to the right," Liam said. He stared ahead, not seeing here or now, but just a little into the future, Connor hoped. Enough to give him an edge. "Go right and down. Get to the Southgate stone."
"Southgate," Connor said. "But --"
"You would never get to the Northgate one," Antisha agreed. "It's clear across the room. "However, if you can stop the Mirror from using the Southgate power --"
"Ah. Yes. But not with magic."
"Not unless you have to," Antisha said and met his look. "If you can get the shield down, though, we can help you."
Connor narrowed his eyes, recalling the layout of the room. They were right about not going for the Northgate stone. Besides, even if he could reach the stone, he wouldn't be able to use any magic that might cause a problem.
Connor took a deep breath before he stepped forward -- and then threw himself at the shield. The magic tested him, but Connor didn't fit the criteria for which it had been created. Even with the core of stone magic in him, it sensed him as a non-magical being and as something that was no danger.
Connor stepped through the shield, threw himself to the right, and dropped to the ground. He saw several trolls in the room, along with the King and Queen in a shell of exceptional magic that flickered dangerously as lights played over it. He didn't see Galen at first --
There he stood with his hands on the Southgate Stone. Mirror Galen concentrated on reaching the King and Queen. He had to work subtly. The creature did not pay much attention, even when a couple trolls growled.
Mirror Galen had no idea Connor had arrived.
Connor scrambled past the trolls who still had trouble with surprises and hadn't started to move against him. Their inability to react saved Connor from more than a vicious kick that half numbed his leg. No matter. He was already close to Galen.
Connor reached out and caught the man by the leg, yanking him off balance.
Mirror Galen lost control of the subtle magic -- it grew suddenly into a firestorm of multi-color lightning that spread all across the room. Everything went crazy.
Connor hadn't gotten the shield down, though, so no one could help him. Mirror Galen yelled for the trolls who recovered enough to stomp towards him. As long as Connor held tight to Mirror Galen, though, he figured he would be safe enough. Trolls were big, clumsy and they would be as likely to hit -- or stomp on -- Galen as him if he could stay close enough to his enemy.
Mirror Galen proved to be strong, and he had magic. He reached out towards the stone and grabbed at it, shouting in anger --
Change in plans.
Thursday, August 15, 2019
Connor staggered as they entered the crowded royal courtyard. The world spun around him so that for a moment he wasn't sure they had actually made to their destination. Nothing settled and he almost went to his knees with the sudden pain. Liam caught his arm and then shoved him aside and into the protection of his friends.
People began to shout all around them.
"There he is! There's the traitor!"
Connor realized they were yelling about him. He looked around in shock and dismay, the headache redoubled. Colors still blurred and flared, but he could stand on his own feet now -- something important, so his companions didn't have to protect him.
He thought Galen yelled something and it couldn't be good. Druce grabbed hold of the frail lord and shook him so hard that Connor would have worried about the older man's life if he could have found the empathy to care at all. Galen had gone too far.
Liam moved to stand before Connor and lifted one hand to signal the people to silence. Then he suddenly went to his knees as well. People had weapons in hand --
Antisha, herself pale and shaky, suddenly shoved forward and yelled loud enough to get everyone's attention.
"What the hell is going on! Back off, you fools, or I'll see your heads on the walls before the sun is down!"
Silence. Now there was power. And worry, Connor thought. He doubted Antisha had ever made such a threat before, but even he didn't question her intentions, at least at this moment.
"Princess --" one of the men said, but he lifted a hand and held the others back. "We heard what Connor did --"
"I don't know what you heard, but maybe you better learn the truth before you do anything that cannot be undone," she said. People shifted nervously, but they remained quiet. "This is the real heart of our trouble: Galen, our good lord of Southgate, made a mirror creature of himself. That creature is in the building, isn't he?"
"That can't be --" the man began. "No Gate Lord would do such a thing --"
Antisha and Druce dragged the real Galen forward and held him up. He tried to bow his head, to make sure they didn't see him -- but it was no use.
"At least stand up like a man and face what you've done," Erlis ordered, his voice so full of disdain that even Connor flinched at the sound.
"This is Galen," the soldier said. He seemed to be someone of rank. The others were listening to his tale.
Connor left them to tell the tale as he and knelt beside Liam. His friend had a bad cut across his shoulder, and Connor feared he couldn't do the magic to heal the wound. He tugged at Nylia's pant leg, too far gone to even speak --
"Oh hell," she said and dropped to her knees. Her magic spread over Liam, but a moment later, she looked at Connor and gave a cry of worry that drew the attention of the others.
Connor wasn't certain what had happened. He thought everything had gotten very quiet, but maybe he had started losing his connection with here and with himself. He wanted to close his eyes and rest. He trusted the others would handle --
Druce quickly put a hand on his shoulder and pushed magic through Connor so fast it felt like fire bursting through his head. He cried out. What had been fuzzy before became sharp and loud. He found himself gasping as though he had not breathed for some time, and if they'd had any meal of note in the last few days, he would have been violently ill.
Erlis caught hold of Connor and pulled him to his feet -- the last place he really wanted to be, but apparently, they were moving. Maybe they would go somewhere he could rest. Possibly somewhere safe --
No, not safe.
The battle had raged up around them again, with both weapons and some magic. Connor looked around as much as he dared because he feared he was still going to pass out. Royal soldiers encircling his small group and protected them, so apparently whatever Antisha had said finally got through to them. They shouted to others, and the Connor feared cacophony of sound would kill him.
Other things might kill him faster, though. Trolls had appeared, and very many of them. He saw ogres as well and other things that climbed walls and leapt into the fray, attacking anything that came within range of their blows and weapons.
The trolls were fighting viciously to get to Connor's group, which finally must have convinced the others that they were not part of the enemy attack. They still held Lord Galen captive, dragging him toward the castle. He didn't want to go, and Connor wouldn't have trusted the man to work with them. Wise of the others to keep him in hand.
They reached the door at least. Fae were fighting against the trolls and their army, but the trolls only fought them if they were attacked. They were still interested only in Connor's group, and he had to wonder if it was Galen they wanted now.
"Tell -- tell the fae to pull back," he said to Antisha and guard beside her. "They only want us. Don't get killed now!"
The guard gave him an odd, quick glance. It touched on honor, he supposed. Then the guard gave a quick bow of his head, an acknowledgment of Connor's status that he had not expected. The fae sent a few soldiers out and around the mass, and almost immediately, the fae began to fall back.
"Antisha -- your parents?" he finally managed to ask.
"With the stones," she said. "We didn't dare leap straight there with magic. You don't look well, Connor."
"Human," Galen snarled, as though he spat the word out. "He's not one of us. He shouldn't be allowed to touch magic."
Thursday, August 08, 2019
"Creature?" Galen snarled with a shake of his head. The shadows moved as if half alive, and even the others looked around with new worry. "It is no such thing. The mirror is a copy of me, set to do what I am now too weak to do --"
The sound of his voice had grown stronger, and the fire in his eyes made it evident that the real Galen was no better than the copy he must have created.
"You should have stepped down," Druce replied with hardly concealed anger. "If you are too ill for the work, you should have moved aside."
"Ordin isn't ready," Galen said. "Ordin has much to learn still."
Galen must have seen something in their faces. He took a step away before Antisha even spoke.
"Your mirror killed your son for his magic. Your creature has been moving against the fae and killed many. He's working with the trolls. And now -- now we know the true answer to the myth, Connor. It isn't you. The thing we have been fighting isn't even truly fae. It is magically made and given purpose. You told it to rule, didn't you? And didn't limit how or where it might rule."
"And that's why you are hiding here," Connor added. "You already knew you couldn't trust it."
"It is me! I have nothing to fear --"
"Don't lie to us!" Antisha sounded very much like her father at that moment. Galen frowned and made a little waving motion with his hand, but he didn't snap at her. She leaned closer to him, her eyes blazing. "You are hiding here because you thought this would be the only place where you would be safe. Where is it?"
"I don't know."
"Don't lie to us."
Galen's face went white with fear. He knew he couldn't get away, and he plainly didn't want to anger Antisha more. Connor realized that Galen knew she was a member of the royal family.
"He's somewhere in the fae lands. Not here. He has reason still to fear me."
"Yes, he does," Druce agreed. He reached forward and caught the man by the arm, drawing a glare from Galen. "And that's why you are coming with us to undo him."
"No, I will not!"
Galen reached his free hand toward the stone, but Connor moved faster and stood between the Lord of Southgate and the source of his power. Had the stone seemed slow to respond? The others began wrapping Galen in a blanket of power that held the weaker Lord without any trouble.
"How do we find this mirror?" Nylia asked.
"A few drops of Galen's blood will do the trick," Rion replied. He'd gone stone-faced with his anger. "With the blood, I can do a simple trace."
"You wouldn't dare wound a Gate Lord --"
Antisha pulled her knife and swiftly cut across the back of Lord Galen's hand, drawing a startled yelp from the man. Connor could not figure out why Galen thought he was immune, given what he'd admitted. Maybe the illness had unsettled his mind. And what of Ordin? Perhaps instead of illness, it was the family line that had a problem. Maybe it was time to remove them from power.
Not his decision, though. He only needed to deal with the problem Lord Galen had created.
The man did not mourn the loss of his son. As far as Connor knew, Ordin had been his only child, but with the long age of fae, there may have been another. They were not a prolific breed, though.
Rion had spoken the spell, creating a field of light in his hands. At his nod, Antisha let a drop of blood from her knife land within the light. It sparkled and spread in a line, and from that came a view of a room.
"The Court," Antisha said with a hiss of anger and worry. "That's the room above the royal hall."
"Then that's where we go," Connor said, already preparing to head out again.
"Let's go," Antisha urged.
Connor had used magic for two big leaps already. He had to concentrate past a growing headache to focus on the way to the Royal Court. They could not drop in close enough to grab the Mirror Galen and chances were that he was going to feel the magic when they arrived.
Those thoughts stilled him while the others were starting to make the portal. He looked at Antisha.
"I assume you have some way of getting into the castle quickly," he said.
"Oh, Gods. I hadn't thought of that problem. We can't simply leap there. We'll have to go to the courtyard, and then I can go on in."
Connor nodded. "You need to be ready to move straight to your parents, and to open the way for the rest of us."
"Yes," she said. She took a deeper breath and nodded, forcing some of the panic away. "Let's go."
They had no time for any more planning. Connor didn't know what was going to happen, but he looked back at Galen and thought what a fool the man had been and what a mess he had created.
"You've not only lost your position but also any good name you may have had," Connor said as he looked at the man. Galen shook his head in mute disbelief; a fae's name in history was as important as his place in life.
"I have done nothing -- my mirror --" he began.
Connor didn't wait for any more excuses. He looked at Druce, Nylia, and Rion who had the man in their control. Even weakened, he was still a Gate Lord, and they would not take chances. Connor would keep aware of him, too.
Connor closed his eyes against the growing pounding in his head and turned his attention to the spell. He had to concentrate and not let his mind wander.
One step forward and another and another.
And they stepped out into chaos.
Friday, August 02, 2019
The others helped get the portal ready -- a rush of movement and growing magic. They all needed rest, but better to settle the trouble first.
Connor studied what they did because he couldn't quite get the feel of the magic. At first, he had thought this might be something fae could do, but a human could not grasp. However, as he watched and felt it out, Connor began to understand how the spell worked. The intricacy and beauty of the massed spells filled the corner of the room, a dazzling array of light.
Amazing, really. If this had not been such a dangerous mission, Connor would have enjoyed learning the magic.
"I have the link to the Tower," he said when Rion asked. "I think it's going to stick with me, even in other places, right?"
"Yes. It has become part of you. Lord Northgate would have been proud of what you've done so far, Connor, and under very troubling and trying circumstances."
Connor bowed his head in thanks and looked around at the others. The soldiers who were coming with them had all volunteered for this dangerous journey. Connor didn't want to drag anyone off to the troll lands if they didn't think this was a good idea, though. Druce had talked to them and explained the situation. Druce had become as strong an ally as Antisha.
Connor had already told everyone thank you. Maybe he should have said more, but they didn't have much time left. So he went to the portal and with his friends was the first to step through. Even Rion went with them.
The troll lands turned out to be rocky land with dots of trees on hilltops. Clusters of stone buildings looked very little different from the stands of rocks, except that trolls stood by them -- or sometimes on them.
The soldiers came in behind Connor, and that drew attention everywhere. He heard the shout of trolls go all across the land in what seemed to become just one howl, so loud the ground trembled. However, they'd chosen the area well. There were no troll cities here, though he thought the pile of stones in the distance might be one. In some ways, he found this place fascinating.
"We have to move quickly," Nylia reminded him when he had paused to look around. "We don't want them to have time to call an army in before we're gone."
He nodded agreement. The soldiers fanned out around them and prepared for battle in case anything did come their way. From the panic Connor saw, he wasn't nearly as worried as he had been before they made the jump to here. Everyone was right; trolls didn't react well to anything unexpected. As long as you were not right next to one at the time (because they were always apt to hit things) surprising them was always to your advantage.
Connor had made sure he was seen, and as importantly, felt. The power of Northgate radiated out from him so there would be no doubt he led this group. The others were moving to make certain no troll got close to him. He and his companions moved back into the crowd and back to the portal that still stood open, as it would be while the soldiers were here, drawing attention while Connor and his companions moved elsewhere.
They went into the portal, and Connor lifted his hand, feeling out the magics that twined here. Northgate felt the most powerful, but the gates were all linked. He felt the court, and the other three as well. With a nod, he turned towards Southgate.
Distance meant nothing, only the concentration of the traveler. Connor and his companions very badly wanted this over with quickly. Five steps and they could already see the indistinct shape of things at the other end.
They headed elsewhere to attempt something perilous. Connor and his companions were going straight into the Southgate Tower itself because they needed to cut Galen from his power. Only gate lords should have been able to enter the tower, but the others were certain if they remained close together, Connor's presence should protect them.
The place was more in focus and looked much like the Northgate Tower, Connor supposed. At the last moment, Nylia took his hand on the left and Antisha on the right, while the others joined hands so that they formed a small circle.
No talking. No questions. They stepped forward.
Southgate took him by surprise. The tower's stone blinked feebly with power and the place stood shrouded in cold and fog, even within the building. Galen was draining the energy so much that he had weakened his own power base. Fool.
And probably desperate.
The others remained close to Connor, but they understood the situation here. Whatever Galen had hoped to gain, he was draining away the power of his holding to get it.
The Lord of Southgate wasn't here. At least that's what Connor thought until a figure moved in the fog and stepped forward. The man who moved forward had Galen of Southgate's face, though it looked worn and pale. His body stood hunched over, and he walked with the slow movements of --
Of someone very ill.
"Lord Southgate?" Connor said.
The man frowned. "You are the human boy. You can't -- what happened to Lord Northgate? Surely he didn't name the human boy --"
"You killed him," Connor said.
This odd semblance of Galen stopped and then took a step back, hand to his chest. "No. No, not me. My mirror."
Antisha made a hissing sound of frustration and took a step closer to the man, even letting go of Connor's hand. Rion whispered a curse, and though Connor wasn't entirely certain what the man had said, he could tell from the others that this wasn't good.
"You fool," Rion said, his voice still a snarl. "Why? Why would you set such a creature loose?"