Chapter One

I am the Historian. I am immortal. I am ageless. I am nameless. I am carried by my own feet through times and worlds to witness great stories.

This is one such story.

This story is hard for me to tell.

Distance, time, life and death all become fuzzy concepts when the numbers get high enough and a certain detachment naturally evolves. Simply put, I’ve seen it all and I’ve seen it so many times that nothing is that special any more. That is what makes this story stand out more than any other.

This one is personal.

I was shaken right from the beginning. There was nothing noticeable about the day or anything in it, merely another light ebb in the passage of time.

I heard a strange noise and moved to investigate. It crackled and whooshed, the sound of wind and heat. It reminded me of a forest fire, though I could see no smoke in the sky. Neither did I sense the panic of animals that usually accompanies that kind of catastrophe. It was enough for a closer look.

More than that, it had been a long time since I had run into anyone at all. It wasn’t that odd to walk for years, even decades, without meeting another human being, but even a Historian can feel loneliness.

I suppose, in a way, Historians can never stop feeling a little lonely. Suffice it to say, even if there was no great story, I was anxious to hear a voice that was not my own.

I simply wasn’t ready for what that voice had to say.

I topped the crest of a hill and witnessed a battle of magic unfolding below me. It was two men, both dressed in rough leather. Rage and hate coursed over their faces as they hurled elemental magic at one another. Unnatural fire spouted from their hands, battering at each other like hammers, though I noticed that their burns weren’t as serious as they should have been.

One man, with wild gray hair, rolled away from an attack and fired back one of his own in a focused beam of flame. It struck the other man in the eyes and he fell to his knees, crying out in pain. Whatever protection he enjoyed had failed him and the wild-looking man moved to press his advantage.

He rushed at the man, but rather than using more magic to finish him off, he scooped up a large rock from the ground and threw it overhand as soon as he was within range. The rock struck the other man in the chest and drove him onto his back, gasping.

I found myself suddenly too close. Having been away from people for so long, my sensitivities were dulled and I found myself walking closer and closer, carelessly, like a moth drawn to a flame of violence.

I was close enough to see madness flash in the eyes of the first man as he came to stand over his fallen opponent. I was so near I could see the spots of char that dotted his rough leathers, as well as the burn scars that marred his own hide.

He knelt down and put both hands on the other man who was still gasping for air after the rock had pounded his chest. There was a momentary flash of light and the man on the ground arched his back for a shadow of a second before lying still, the life gone from his body.

The victor staggered to his feet, exhausted. I had no idea how long the two men had battled or what this form of magic took from its user. If there was one thing I knew about the universe, it was that you didn’t get something for nothing. Whether it was magic, science, or pure human will, there was always a cost associated with changing something in the world.

He rubbed his knuckles at his eyes and he looked for a moment like a man about to cry. A vast weariness weighed down on him and it looked like he might fall back to the ground at any moment. Then he lifted his head and saw me.

His expression of fatigue and sadness vanished in the first blink. The second blink encompassed confusion and disbelief, then that vanished. Both flashes of emotion were drowned out in a wave of fury and disgust. Flames licked around his hands and he shot them out at me and followed them up with a shouted curse.


The word, spat from his mouth like bile, oozed with contempt and fear. The flames from his hands rolled over me and I cringed from some ancient instinct, crouching to protect myself from flames that couldn’t have hurt me.

When I straightened back up, feeling a little sheepish, the man was gone. If I had been thinking straight, I would have sat and waited.

The man couldn’t have gone far, even with magic. If I had been patient, he would have eventually moved from his hiding place and I could have asked him some questions about what had happened.

As it was, I was not thinking clearly. It was the first and only time that I had ever been recognized for who I was. I had worn so many names and titles that I could scarcely remember all of them or even distinguish between them any longer.

The only thing I truly knew for sure was that none of them were my real name. I could feel that space inside me. I knew I was a Historian, but I did not know how I knew. Thousands of years had dulled my curiosity and I didn’t even question it anymore. Rather, I embraced the one fact of my existence I could lay hold on.

Now here was a man who knew at a glance who and what I was. Thousands of questions roared through my head with all the intensity that comes with long repression. I took off walking towards the place where he had been standing. There was nothing on the ground but scorch marks from the vicious battle. There was no clue as to who the men were or why they had been fighting.

A brief investigation of the dead man gave me no more clues. He carried nothing on him but scars, similar to those of the man who had left.

His clothes were that of a hermit or madman. Rough leather had holes cut in it and the edges were tied together with strands of sinew to make a rough covering. The man who left had been wearing the same thing. If I had come upon this them without seeing what had happened, I would have thought these men only a short step above animals, closer to cavemen than masters of magic.

Still, I could not deny the intelligence behind the eyes I had seen, even with all the other emotions that had raged in them.

I took a quick survey of the land. I had to find this man again and find out what he knew. He might know something I didn’t know myself, not that it would take much.

I walked as I thought through the situation, moving towards the notches I could see cut in the mountains. I had no special powers and I couldn’t tell the future, but with enough experience, one can decipher the patterns well enough.

I broke down what I knew. The man was clearly a magic user of great skill. Someone like that couldn’t remain anonymous. The mere fact that I found him in the middle of a fight suggested that conflict raged in this land.

All that remained to me was to find the closest town or city and ask around. Finding people is always easy. People follow patterns more than any other animal, though they tend to see it least of all. You could always count on people to set up their civilizations right around water. Even nomadic tribes charted their routes from one water source to another.

Advanced societies that were no longer dependent on natural water sources still tended to stick close to where their ancestors had first settled.

My first step was to find water, which was why I was heading to the cleft in the mountains. I could see mountains for hundreds of miles and see where they have been cut by millions of years of running water.

I headed towards such a place now. I would find the river, then follow it down into the valley. If there wasn’t a town on that river, I would skip to the next one until I had found someone.

I could not remember a time I had felt so determined. I was driven to find this man of fire who knew the closest thing I had to a name.

I realized as I walked how deeply his reaction bothered me. There was more to it than recognition. The man had hated me. I knew nothing of my life before becoming a Historian, but while I had pondered endlessly about family, friends, and adventures I might have had, I never considered that I might have enemies, powerful enemies.

My thoughts flew and so did my feet. In no time at all I breathed sweet mountain air. It was clear and cold and smelled of pines. Cutting across the hills, I found running water. It wasn’t much of a river, but no rivers are at their headwaters. I stooped down and took a drink.

I can’t say why I did that.

While I certainly have the ability, I don’t have any particular need to eat or drink. I think I had started getting nostalgic. If that man knew me, then perhaps this is the world from which I came.

This could be home.

I coursed my way down the mountain with the waters of the river. The little stream grew larger and stronger as other small streams and tributaries silently folded themselves in. I slowed my walk, just a little, to breathe deeply of the sweet air.

Then my nose caught a whiff of something else. Wood smoke. My step quickened again, eager to find someone I could talk to about the strange sorcerer I had encountered.

Muddy footsteps on the bank showed that someone had left the river here and went in a straight line away from the water. Some distant part of my mind noted the strange nature of the footprints. They were deep, deeper than they should have been, and they were erratic, as if whoever it was had been struggling to walk.

Still, footprint subtleties were the farthest thing from my mind as I chased off in the direction they led. The prints were still fresh, they couldn’t have been more than a couple hours old.

I didn’t have far to walk before a beautiful cultivated field opened up before me. Golden stalks of grain swayed softly in the breeze, undulating with the wind like a dancer.

A small house presided over the field from the far end of the clearing. A wispy trail of smoke wound its way heavenward from the chimney. That must have been what I smelled back by the river. Whoever had made the footprints had walked straight through the field. Broken and crushed stalks combined to suggest a muddy trail that cut awkwardly through the field. I followed suit.

Seconds before I broke through the edge of the field, it finally dawned on me that I had no idea how I would start a conversation like the one I needed to have. There were a lot of pitfalls with each new land and culture. If I wasn’t careful, I could find myself in a lot of trouble.

The thought slowed me down. My Historian patience finally reasserted itself in my mind. There was too much at stake here for me to rush this. I was in no hurry, after all. I needed to understand the situation a little more before I started sticking my nose in.

I shook my head to clear it and assumed my regular pose of a meandering traveler possibly looking for a meal or a bed. It was a persona I had down perfectly. It was the ideal blend of badly disguised eagerness and an affected nonchalance.

Chapter Two

It is impossible for the sane to truly understand madness.

-Musings of the Historian

My theatrics were wasted. The man who sat on the front porch didn’t even look my way as I walked up. His eyes were fixed on some point in the distance.

Tears ran freely down his face, though there was nothing else to suggest that he was crying. There was no look of sadness, sound of sobbing, or trembling in the shoulders. There were only lonely trails of wetness building to drips along his jaw.

I coughed, feeling awkward, uninvited to this emotional moment. He swung his head to look at me and squinted a bit as he looked me up and down.

“Now isn’t a good time, whoever you are.” His lifeless voice dismissed me and he looked back to his imaginary vision. My curiosity about the man I had seen out in the country faded as my compassion was stirred for this man. Whatever my problems, it seemed that this poor soul had it worse.

“Is there something I can do to help?” I offered. He shook his head slowly, as if the motion hurt him, though he was clearly uninjured.

“Would you tell me about it?” I pressed. The hopeless always have an urge to share their story. It’s as if having someone know of their struggle somehow gives it meaning. I suppose it does, in a way.

“Who are you?” The sad eyes were on me again. It was hard to say for sure with the emotions laying heavy on his features, but he looked to be around forty years old. Powerful shoulders and callused hands told the story of a lifetime of hard labor.

Men like him were the salt of the earth. They would never be rich or famous. They would die one day in the fields with their legacy around them in the dirt. They were the shapers of land. They were the ancestors.

“I’m just a traveler. I have come from far away and wanted to hear another human voice. I’ve been getting on my own nerves.”

“If you want stories and gossip, you should keep walking. The village is another couple miles further down the river. There’s nothing I can offer you here.”

I nearly took him up on his offer, but something stopped me. An itch at the back of my mind told me there was a story here. It wasn’t much, like a push from a feather, but after so long, I felt it easily.

I rationalized that any great story would eventually include fearsome people, like the man I sought. In my mind, I settled in for the long haul. I edged my way forward and sat down on the porch with the man, though not so close as to make it uncomfortable for him.

“Perhaps there is something I can offer you,” I suggested, looking for an opening. He raised his hands in refusal.

“If you’re a peddler, you’re really wasting your time. We have no money and nothing we can spare. I do all the work here. We can’t afford and don’t need another hand. Perhaps you’d better be on your way.”

I really only had one card left to play, though I had to be careful how I went about it.

“All right, I’ll be on my way, but before I go, I was wondering if you could tell me something. I saw something… strange, on my way here. Do you know of anything going on that could be of danger to travelers?”

“Hmph!” he snorted. I had hit a nerve at last. “You don’t need to travel to be in danger. There is plenty to be had, even for those who do nothing at all.”

“I’m not sure I follow you, friend. Are you in danger?”

Tears welled again in his eyes.

“No, not me.”

I about had him broken now. I made my final move, carefully putting the final crack in the dam.

“So then, someone you care about. Can’t you protect them?”

It was a bit of a low blow, I have to admit. It was obvious the poor man had no chance at relief. Such a question would only serve to rub salt into an open wound. He shuddered as if struck. The dam broke and the words came rushing out in a flood of frustration and bitterness.

“How can I protect someone from themselves? Twenty years I have protected her. I have shielded her from the cold, the heat, famine and violence. Look at this, this scar. I got that fighting a wolf who got into the stock. Why couldn’t it be like that?

“I am still strong. I have wronged no man. Why now am I faced with a battle I can’t win? Why?”

His voice broke at this last agonized word. It was the primal question of intelligent beings. As an animal writhes in pain, so a thinking mind squirms under uncertainty and injustice.

It was obvious that this man was not usually an emotional person, he wasn’t the type. The heavy emotions he struggled under fit him poorly, like an overlarge hat. He had been worn down over a long period of time. Even the strongest of characters can be worn down and broken with enough time and pressure.

My eyes wandered over him, searching for more clues, and took note of the mud on his pants. In fact, most of his clothes were sopping wet, though their color didn’t make it immediately obvious. My mind shot back to the riverbank, the uneven footprints, too deep in the mud. Everything started to click together and then I had it.

“She tried to drown herself, didn’t she? You pulled her out.”

Once broken down, walls don’t go back up quickly. He nodded, confirming my suspicions.

“This is the second time she’s tried it. I’ve locked up everything in the house that has an edge to it, but there’s nothing I can do. I’m only putting it off. How can you save someone so determined to end themselves?”

“What made her so sad? Did she lose someone?”

It’s a sad fact that things often go wrong with small farms like this. Even with every precaution, children could be swept away by nothing more than an exceptionally cold night. A grieving mother might get swallowed up by her loss and choose to follow her child to the grave, especially if it were her only one.

“Nothing like that. It’s the madness.”

This was the infuriating part about always being new to an area, everyone used the terms they were familiar with and expected you to know them as well. Still, there was nothing for it. You had to jump in, ask the obvious questions and have people look at you like you’re some kind of simpleton.

“What kind of madness? I have encountered many people with afflictions of the mind. Could you tell me the symptoms?”

The expected look of disbelief was right on cue.

“I hope you don’t feign ignorance to mock me, traveler. There are many ways that people can lose touch with reality, but there is only one madness.”

“I am certainly not mocking you, good sir,” I said in a comforting tone, sensitive to his raw emotions. “I simply would like to know specifically what is happening to your…”

I was stuck. I knew it was a female, but for a man of this age, it could be wife, daughter, mother, or sister. Luckily, my obvious unease and sudden stuttering helped convince him of my sincerity. He spoke up and saved me.

“It is my wife that is afflicted. Her name is Edana.” Something in the way he said the word “wife” set something off in my mind, but I filed it away for later questioning and leaned forward to listen to his explanation.

“She started almost a year ago. She has already lasted longer than most. People with the madness inevitably end their own lives. They are unable to bear what it does to their minds. Some disappear in the night and are never seen again.”

“What does it do to their minds?” I knew it was a touchy subject, so I tried to keep things general, not specific to his wife.

“They break down. Something inside them starts to wear away, like a riverbank. It starts with an irritability, they yell at people for no reason. That isn’t much, but it’s only the beginning. It gets worse and worse.

“Eventually they become violent, and there is a madness in it. My wife broke her favorite vase, a white delicate thing that had been her mother’s. She stood over it and stomped on it over and over again. When her boots could do no more damage, she grabbed a hammer and spent the next hour there on the floor, crushing each piece to dust.

“Rather than providing relief, it made things worse. When there was nothing left of it to break, she pounded on the dust with her fists and screamed at it, her face wet with tears. That was two months ago.

“Now the only things left in the house are things she can’t break, though heaven knows she tries. Even the walls have been gouged by her nails. She has become like a caged beast.”

There was no denying the hopelessness of the situation. Whatever this affliction was, it happened often enough that people knew its full progression.

What he described was tragic enough, but it was even worse to consider what hadn’t been said. No mention at all had been made of any sort of treatment or survival. This madness, whatever it was, was a death sentence. A slow death that dragged every loved one down with it.

This was a strong man, and he clearly loved his wife; though in his description, I again noted the strange tone he used when he said “wife.” But for all his strength and love, he was all but broken, a shattered child in a man’s body.

Impulsively, I reached out and put my hand on his shoulder. It was a comforting gesture in nearly every culture I had visited and it seemed the only appropriate response to his description of utter despair. Of course, there was one land where the gesture was a vile insult and a challenge, but that was a rare exception in a culture that took respect for personal space to an unhealthy extreme.

He looked at me and nodded, acknowledging my effort, but the depression didn’t waver even for a moment.

“Does she recognize you? Or does the madness destroy all of the mind?”

“She knows me.” His tone didn’t make it sound like good news. “It is as if her mind is alive and healthy, but there is something else in there taking over. She has cursed me and apologized in the same breath. Sometimes she even apologizes first.

“That ended about a month ago. She doesn’t truly speak anymore. She only screams now, incoherent screeches no one could understand.”

“I am truly sorry for this sickness that has taken your wife. If I might be bold, what do you plan to do?”

The question sparked something and he was angry all at once, turning to face me, fists clenched.

“I don’t like what you’re suggesting, stranger. I won’t do it! I can’t kill her!”

“No, no, no!” I stammered trying to defuse the situation. “I didn’t mean any such thing! Do people do that?”

His face softened, though his fists remained clenched.

“Yes, they say it is a mercy. The law has no penalty for killing someone with the madness.” His fists unclenched and his whole body relaxed with them. “Perhaps they are right. Her existence must be something horrible for her to want to end her own life. She was always so strong.”

“Logic and reason don’t count for much when it comes to raising your hand against someone you love. I understand why you can’t do it, I don’t think I could do such a thing.”

Actually, I had no idea. Such decisions were made by people living their lives. My life was observation. I watched other people make these choices. Still, my words had their planned effect and he mumbled his gratitude, once again fighting back tears.

“What is your name?”

“My name is Altur. What’s yours?”

Once again, I froze. It was the one question I truly couldn’t answer. I should have avoided it, steered the conversation away from names. Instead, I had walked right into it.

Normally, I would work around it, or ask my host to pick a name for me, but Altur wasn’t in any shape for naming or elusive explanations.

I needed to give him a name, any name.

I wracked my brain. Thousands of names flowed through my memory, each one tied to a story. Each time I opened my mouth to say one of them, my tongue seized and I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t claim a name that wasn’t my own.

The effect was one of a fish, mouth opening and closing in an awkward rhythm. Altur was distracted from his own troubles long enough to stare at me curiously. His mind likely went to my comment about other sicknesses of the mind.

Necessity is truly the mother of invention, and I rolled the dice with a gambit.

“The Historian,” I said. But I didn’t quite say it like that. I mumbled it softly and cleared my throat, as if a bug had flown into my mouth halfway through. I also wiped my forearm across my mouth as I said it, just for good measure. Altur’s confused look held for a second longer, then he took a stab at it.

“Your name is Tory?”

I smiled broadly.

“It’s a fine name, isn’t it? I am glad to meet you, Altur. I wish it were under better circumstances.”

“Good meeting to you as well, Tory, and no one wishes that more than I.”

We shared a moment of silence, looking out at the lush golden field. I still had that itch, the instinct that there was more of a story here than the tragedy of a woman gone mad. I hazarded my old question again.

“So what do you plan to do? Is there anything that can be done to help her?”

“There is nothing. I cannot take her life, and there is no relief for what ails her. All I can do is keep her from killing herself. Luckily, she stills eats and drinks. She does it automatically, like she doesn’t know she’s doing it. Maybe there is something left of her.

“Maybe if I can wait this out long enough, the madness will find an end. Maybe she can learn to be herself again.”

It was a fool’s hope and we both knew it. Degenerative diseases didn’t turn around all by themselves. They seldom did it with treatment. Unable to help myself, I nudged him toward this reality.

“Hasn’t anyone tried that before? Have any of the others shown an improvement?”

New tears gave me my answer.

“What else can I do? I cannot kill her and I cannot stand by and let her kill herself. No one has ever died of the madness. They either kill themselves or disappear forever.”

“No one has found the ones that disappear?”

“No, but that is expected with the madness. They would flee so that they could kill themselves, away from anyone who would try to stop them. If they drowned in a river, which seems to be the most common method, the current could carry them endless miles into the badlands, far beyond where we could send a search party.”

“I guess there is nothing else you can do,” I admitted. His shoulders slumped a little more to have his fears acknowledged and confirmed. He looked to me with the desperation of a drowning man.

“Would you wait and watch with me?”

“What?” I knew what he was asking and I stalled to think it over.

“Please. Surely you are tired from the road and could use a place to stay for a while. She has only become worse. I do everything I can, but after all I can do, I still have to rest. That is how she got down to the river this time. I was too exhausted and I fell asleep, thinking that she was also sleeping. But it was the madness, a moment of silence before an attack.

“Please stay with me. With two of us, taking turns, perhaps we can make it longer than those others. Surely you wouldn’t deny me this one chance at hope.”

His one chance at hope was a wandering stranger that happened upon his land. That alone told me how far gone hope was for this man. Still, he was right about one thing. I couldn’t deny him the chance.

Chapter Three

Never underestimate a farmer.

-Musings of the Historian

I nodded my assent and his rough, heavy hand reached over to clasp mine. For a reserved man like that, the clasped hand was the equivalent of a tight embrace and tears on my shoulder.

I was grateful for his restraint.

When the moment ended, he showed me around the farm. It was a nice little place. The buildings were old, but kept in good repair by knowing hands. The fields had been carefully worked and he showed me another couple fields that were farther from this little meadow.

I admired the experience this farmer displayed as he motioned to fields left fallow to let the nutrients build back up in the soil.

Too many farmers would plant all the land they could, trying to milk all profit from the dirt. In a few years, they would rant and pull at their hair when their crops started to produce less and less.

The pinnacle of our little tour was when he showed me the inside of the house. As he had said, all furniture had been removed. Marks on the walls showed the scars of former fits.

It didn’t take much imagination to complete the image of the afflicted woman throwing chairs and heaving tables in her rage.

For the moment, she lay peacefully in sleep, no trace of fury marked her features. She was a pretty woman, in her own wholesome way. A hint of freckles was barely visible on her tanned face, a light dusting across the nose. Her face was almond-shaped, with soft skin and a feminine chin.

Soft brown hair gathered under her head like a pillow. Small ripples of muscle were visible in her arms, even as she slept. This woman was used to hard work, like her husband.

That is what it took in situations like this. There wasn’t a choice. Everyone worked as long and as hard as they were able. To do anything else would be to tempt fate, and fate enjoys punishing the careless with freeze and famine.

Even with the signs of hard labor evident on her body, she was still young, quite a bit younger than Altur. I glanced back over to him and saw him gazing down at his wife.

The look on his face was distilled tenderness. It was true, I thought to myself, there was no way in this world that Altur would ever be capable of raising his hand to kill this woman. It was a look that said that her mere discomfort was a pain to him.

The utter hopelessness of their situation moved me to the core. I knew in that moment that I would not leave this man until the story had ended, though I could only imagine tragedy. Little did I know then how much of the tragedy would be my own.

The tour over, Altur apologized profusely, but begged me to stand watch at the door while he went and got some sleep in the barn. She had been raving all through the previous night and much of the morning, and he had stayed with her until she quieted. I agreed and ushered him off to take his rest.

I sat on the front porch and waited. At one juncture, she woke up and screamed at the door for an hour before her voice gave out and she pounded at the door with her fists. There was nothing for it, though. Altur had switched the bar to lock from the outside and permanently sealed the back door. She was imprisoned, a beast in a cage, like Altur had said.

You might think that this was a traumatic experience for me, sitting guard while a mad woman raged and hurt herself a couple feet away. While it reflects badly on me as a person, I have to admit that after the first couple minutes, I tuned her out and went back to contemplating the wind in the fields.

Experience brings calm, and I was more experienced than anyone. There was even something strangely comforting having someone so alive close by, after all the time I had spent alone on this last walk.

When her voice gave out, she settled down to hitting something against the floor. Since there was nothing else in the house, I was forced to conclude that she must have been hitting the floor with some part of her own body, her head or hands.

In time, even that stopped and there was silence again. She must have worn herself out. No madness will ever truly triumph over fatigue. In the end, the body demands that the mind shut down for a while.

At last, Altur emerged from the barn, looking much more like a man. His shoulders were squared and his steps were long and confident. It’s amazing the difference a little sleep and someone to share your struggle with can make.

Altur took care of everything. He worked the fields, he made all the meals, and he saw to Edana’s every need. He didn’t let me help with anything else and heaped praise and gratitude on me for my role, which turned out to be watching Edana while he slept.

It suffices to say that things slipped into a kind of pattern and held steady for a solid month. The only thing that changed over that time was Edana’s state of mind. It grew steadily worse and Altur had to force her to wear leather mittens that he strapped onto her wrists so she couldn’t take them off. This was so she couldn’t scratch at herself or him when he entered to take care of her.

With regular sleep and someone to talk to, Altur’s courage did not break again like it had on the day I met him. He calmly adapted to each new development in his wife. There was no more talk about killing or giving up, only a steady plod through each new day.

From my own perspective, any sliver of hope there might have been when I showed up had long since vanished. There was certainly no improvement and her affliction got worse by the day.

Calling her behavior animal-like no longer did it justice. After all, even animals have their moments of serenity. All such times were gone for Edana. I didn’t know how much longer this could go on.

Then came the night when everything changed.

I was in the barn, “sleeping.” Altur insisted on taking the night shifts, as they were often the worst. Any excuses I made about not needing much sleep were waved aside and he insisted that I go sleep. So I would go to the barn, shut the door, and wait for eight hours or so, feeling a little silly.

On that night, my simulated slumber was interrupted by screaming.

“NO, NO, NO!” The screams were Altur’s, each syllable saturated with raw panic. In seconds, I was running to the house, fearing the worst. It was hard to find my way in the moonless night, Altur did his watch in the dark, no fire or lit candles. This had been his home for decades, he would have known the exact location of everything even if he were blind.

“STOP! You can’t take her!” His scream came from far behind the house, towards the tree line. I changed course and sped up. Walking countless worlds lends itself to a few tricks and I could move very fast indeed when the situation called for it and I was certain I wouldn’t be seen.

I closed on Altur, who was already crashing through the trees, close on the heels of someone else who was making just as much noise. At times, I could hear Edana scream, but it was muffled, like she was gagged.

I didn’t let Altur know I was there and pushed my way forward a bit, trying to get a look at Edana’s kidnapper. It was too dark to see anything, but I could hear him muttering under his breath as he jogged through the trees.

The man was tireless, even with a struggling woman on his shoulder, but Altur was fueled by powerful emotions and gained steadily.

What happened next took everybody by surprise. Hearing that Altur wasn’t giving up pursuit, the man cast a hand backward and a ball of flame burst out behind him. It rolled over itself as it slammed through the trees to where Altur was pounding his way through the vegetation in his crashing pursuit.

In the light of the fireball, everything was illuminated for a moment. The face of the kidnapper I already knew, it was the man I had seen out on the plains, the one who had killed the other sorcerer.

Edana was trussed up in a bag over his shoulder. The shock of it brought me to a halt. In the same moment, he saw me. And if I was surprised, he was astonished, freezing in his tracks in wonder at seeing me appear out of nowhere not five feet from where he stood.

If his surprise at seeing me wasn’t enough, Altur had one more shock in store for him. When the flame ball came rolling at him, he didn’t even break stride. In the light of the fire, he saw Edana bouncing around on the man’s shoulder. Nothing else mattered.

He barreled right through the wall of flame like a raging bull and came out the other side snorting and bellowing like one as well. The sorcerer’s eyes jerked back to him just in time to see the angry man, little flames still alight in his hair, right before he was taken down in a full body tackle.

Altur ducked a shoulder and hit him right in the midriff without breaking stride. The fire thrower folded in half like a piece of paper, knocked out of the air with a stick.

Edana fell off to the side and squirmed wildly in her sack. Altur sat astride the intruder, raining blows down on his face and body, his own chest heaving like a bellows from his sprint through the woods.

The man under him blocked everything he could, but it wasn’t much as Altur was in his rage. Where the sorcerer’s hands failed, his voice saved him. He said the one thing that could stop Altur mid-swing.

“I can help her!”

Main Menu