(Note: This is not official version and may be removed in the near future. This do not reflect what is read in the podcast version, nor any other version you may encounter. I have preserved the rough form for posterity — or something like that. This novel has since been rewritten.)
James awoke into a world of light so bright that he had to squint just to be able to see anything at all. All around him was a vast nothingness that led nowhere. There were no walls, no ground, and no sky. He wondered for a moment if he were in heaven and if he had died. The pain that he had been expecting wasn’t there and when he brought his hands to his face he could clearly see that no gashes or scars were there. It was as if he were completely untouched, further adding to his fear that he had in fact died and gone to heaven.
Then someone appeared as a faded shade of gray. The figure walked leisurely, only fully becoming visible when the two of them were mere feet apart. The face of the man before him smiled warmly beneath a sandy blonde beard that hung at his neckline. Two faded green eyes looked down, further adding to the warmth of the smile. Then a hand extended. James took it and stood.
No sensations came to him. No lightheadedness; no pain or weakness. When he looked into the eyes of the man before him, though, sensation came in short waves, exposing warmth and cold, chills and shivers. The man only grinned wider and then spoke softly.
“This is a rather bizarre occasion.”
James recognized the voice immediately. “Dulien?”
Dulien nodded. “You’re not dead by the way. And I can still hear your thoughts, though they are more muffled when they are thoughts within thoughts.”
“Thoughts within thoughts?”
“Seeing how you are not dead, but you aren’t exactly dreaming either, you are capable of thinking even though your mind is thinking this right now.”
“That doesn’t make much sense.”
Dulien shook his head. “No, it doesn’t. But not a whole lot about you makes sense.” There was a long pause. Then Dulien continued, “When you return to the real world you’ll be in quite a lot of pain I imagine.”
“You lost control.”
“But, how did I lose control. Where did all of that energy come from?”
“It came from you. Sometimes,” Dulien came forward and knelt down to look at him eye to eye, “magic comes at such speeds and in such quantities that the user cannot comprehend it. It simply tears its way through, just as it happened to you. I suspect that it came from your world. As you said, it is a world without magic, yet magic exists everywhere. With magic forgotten in your world it is no small wonder that it would try to use you as a vessel to escape its confines. Magic is alive in some ways.”
“It doesn’t think if that is what you are implying. But it certainly has desires that it must fulfill. Being cooped up is no way for magic to live.”
“So, it just tore itself out of me.” James shifted his position.
“Yes, unfortunately. This is, to say the least, new and disturbing for me. You should be dead. Magic like that would kill most anyone. I’ve faced powerful magic before…this is something entirely new. Your soul should have been destroyed.”
He nodded, remembering how Dulien and defied Luthien so long ago, too long ago.
“I’m well known for that, yes, but unfortunately I think people have forgotten that it was I who invented the Fearl. Some more ambitious fellow capitalized on the idea.”
It came as a shock to James, and at the same time there was a sense of wonder and fascination. He couldn’t help being slightly overjoyed at knowing that the Fearl he owned was the same one with the imprint of its original inventor. Something about that made him feel lucky, though ‘special’ likely would have been the term used by everyone else.
Dulien put a firm hand on his shoulder. “I don’t understand how the magic of your world works, nor do I understand how this magic can simply cross worlds so easily, as if there were no barrier. Magic can’t really do that.”
“But it is doing that.”
“Yes. Listen, many have tried and many have wasted away their lives trying to find ways to access other magic. The only ones that ever succeeded were those that managed to connect our worlds, but even then they were limited to what the magic of this world was capable of. They could never touch the magic of Earth. You are the only one that I have known to do such a thing. And…”
“Let me guess,” he interrupted with a hint of sarcasm, “that makes me special.”
Dulien curled his lip in a soft smile. “Exactly.”
The light suddenly faded. There was something strange about it all, like it was all a magnificently elaborate and very lucid dream. As the light dissipated, he had the sensation of falling nowhere, and then sleep.
James woke up into a world of agonizing pain. He couldn’t pinpoint it to any one place because every single part of his body ached, even where he thought it shouldn’t. He couldn’t open his eyes. Instead, he grunted and groaned and protested to whoever would hear him. Flashes of light flickered in his eyelids, mostly white, but some like little red pixels from an old video game. New bursts of pain ran through him as someone touched his legs. He cried out, but he couldn’t move his mouth much at all, so the sound came as a muffle even to his ears.
Then a pair of fingers pried his left eye open and more pain stabbed him. His vision was blurred and he desperately tried to focus in on the face above him, but before his eyes could adjust to the sudden light the fingers let go and his eyes closed with a sting.
“He’ll live,” said a voice, muffled beyond recognition. “Barely. He’s lucky.”
Whoever the person above him spoke to didn’t respond and he lay there motionless. Other sounds tugged at his ears, hooves clunking over hard ground and something dragging in the earth—dampened as if he were wearing ear muffs. Then he realized he was being drug behind a horse. The contraption that he lay in rocked occasionally, sending sharp pains up his backside. He tried his best to ignore them.
He lay there for what felt like days, awake only slightly. It all seemed so dreamlike, ethereal, as if he were drugged up on something. He knew it was only the pain and the exhaustion that had come over him after using so much magic, but the sensation of being out of body was so strong. Thinking proved harmful, as his mind throbbed when he did so. So he stayed motionless, thoughtless, and used every last bit of energy he had to block out the pain.
Then everything stopped. He jumped at the sudden change and couldn’t remember if he had slept, or if he had been awake. Every sensation seemed to run together, making it impossible to tell whether he was awake or not. He heard new voices now, strange voices. One he could tell, even through the muffled sounds, wasn’t human. It had too much of a lisp to it, serpent-like. The other sounded like a large man, though the voice sounded even deeper than it should have been.
“What business do you have here?” the deep-voiced man said, a hint of annoyance there.
“Just passing through to Teirlin’pur sir,” someone else said. James thought for a moment that it was Pea.
“And what business do you have there?”
“Looking to buy supplies and find some medical assistance for this young boy here.”
Something rustled around nearby, kicking dirt to the side.
“I see. What happened to him?”
There was a short pause. “Magical accident of sorts.” Another pause meant that the deep-voiced man wanted more of an explanation. “We were attacked some days ago just at the western most tip of the Spyder Range. He tried to use magic, as stupid as that might be, and ended up rather cut to pieces by our attackers.”
“Hmm, I sssee,” the serpent-like man said. “And, sss, where do you hail from?”
Another short pause. Then a different voice answered. “Nir’alor, north in the Leaning Prairie.”
“Yesss, I have heard of this place. It isss near the Ssspeth’aral River, yesss?”
“What were you doing so far west?” the deep-voiced man said.
“We were on our way back from the Sempur in the Bay of Salm.”
“And what business did you have there?”
“Best smoked fish I think this side of the Fire Rim,” said a muffled, yet clearly female voice.
Another long silence ensued, where nobody said anything and nobody moved, aside from the horses, which shifting uncomfortably from time to time.
“You may passs.”
A series of thank you’s followed and then silence again. The silence remained for a long time. He bobbed around, aching. He knew that tears were falling from his face because a hand graced the side of his cheek to wipe them away. A voice tried to sooth him—Triska, he assumed—but nothing seemed to make the pain end.
His ears suddenly perked up. Sound traveled smoother now into his ear drums. He could hear greater detail—the clear sound of hooves echoing in the distance, of feet walking, of people murmuring. He sniffed the air; it smelled damp, like wet earth. It dawned on him that they were underground. He could hardly believe it. They were so far from the tunnel under the Spyder Range last he was awake. How did we get here so fast, he thought. How long have I been out? It couldn’t have been more than a few days. It couldn’t have. There’s no way. I’d be dead if I was out that long. No food. No water.
Jerks of pain traveled up his arms. Sensations flooded back to him beyond the pain. He realized now that his hands were numb. He had no sensation there at all, as if they were stricken with frost bite or gone entirely. And, for some reason, he didn’t care. Of all the feeling coursing through his body, the numbness was the best feeling of them all. Secretly he hoped that his whole body would go numb.
A pair of fingers opened his eyes again and he realized he could see. Darl looked down straight into his eyes. He could see the scraggly white beard, the stern, frozen face of grumpiness, and he got the urge to smile. When his lips quivered it stung like lemon juice in a paper cut. Then Darl let go of his lids. He expected his eye to close automatically, but it stayed open. He blinked once, twice, three times and then opened his other eye. Pain hit him, but it was less than it had been the last time someone had pried his eyes open. It suddenly felt as though all of his pain were lessoning, though he knew that it would never be completely gone so long as he were injured. He looked up, to one side and then the other, never moving his head. They were in a tunnel, but it was more of a cavern than anything else. The ceiling was high, stalactites of every size and shape covered every inch. His eyes wandered forward. He could see a faint light where the entrance was. Every so often a torch would come into view, blazing flame driven by a hint of magic that he could sense with sudden clarity. His mind filled with the impression of magic all around—Pea and Triska the strongest sources. He sensed his own magic, buried deep inside and quivering.
The walls of the tunnel were a murky brown color on the verge of gray. There were no markings or anything other than the torches that hinted that the cavern was frequented by travelers. When James looked back he saw little sign of activity. Any markings that had been there before he and his companions had arrived were absent, likely watered down by the moist environment of the cavern.
James felt stronger now. The pain had dulled down so that it only ached like a bad bruise. He turned his head and wanted to grunt, but couldn’t. He moved his lips. They cracked like glass or splintered wood, forcing him to cringe.
Then he managed, despite the irritation and pain to say, “Where are we?”
Triska responded by laying her hand on his shoulder. He winced and she withdrew. “You’ve been in and out of consciousness for close to three weeks.”
“Wh-wh…” he stammered.
“We’re on our way to Teirlin’pur. I did everything I could for you, but I’m afraid I’m not that good of a healer. A city like Teirlin’pur will have many skilled healers who might be able to help.”
He looked at her briefly. She reached down and then pulled back, acknowledging him with a nod instead of a touch.
“You barely survived,” she said. “Not even just barely. It’s more of a miracle that you’re alive and can feel anything at all. You tore every nerve ending, every muscle, and almost every inch of skin. How you stayed together is beyond me. Any other boy would have died or fainted after the first minutes of that outburst.”
He tried to smile, but let the motion end with a simple curve of his lip.
“I don’t know how you did that.”
“I know that. James,” she leaned closer so she could whisper, stumbling a little in order to keep up with the horse, “You didn’t just use magic beyond anything imaginable. You controlled creatures that are dark, creatures that are evil. You lifted them up from the depths of Loe and used them for good. That’s not possible. It can’t be possible. That fire serpent shouldn’t have listened to you. I can see the good in you. I can feel it. I saw it in your mind. It’s beyond me. It’s…strange. Why didn’t it turn on you? Why didn’t it turn on all of us? Beasts of Loe can smell judgment. They can smell good and evil, like a sixth sense.”
Triska paused and James tried to think. It didn’t hurt his head anymore to put thoughts in his mind. He thought of the serpent and the hands that had come out of the earth. He couldn’t explain how he had created them to begin with, let alone how he had controlled them. They were dark, he could remember it clearly. Beast of Loe. I don’t know how I could have summoned them. It’s all supposed to be impossible.
“Not only that,” Triska continued briskly, “but you’ve done things that shouldn’t be able to be done. Your Fearl should be limited. It should grant you access to certain magic, physical magic like you have been using. Yet your sword is enchanted by your touch, something exceedingly rare to see combined with physical magic even among true magic users. You’re crossing boundaries that, well, they can’t be crossed James. They can’t. They never have been and never should have been. But you’re doing it.”
“I know you don’t understand.” She gave him a warm smile, but he could see through it into the concern and fear that was there. “Be careful. I don’t know what this means to control the things you have controlled. Loe is a dangerous and unstable place. To command its creatures is frightening, no, terrifying.”
“Tr-triska, I’m n-not like L-luthien.”
“I know you’re not. I know you won’t become like Luthien, no matter how much influence this connection to all of this power might have on you.” Then she smiled the warm smile that James had found so wonderful about Triska. He tried to smile back, but his lips only cracked and he could do nothing but faintly lift his chin.
James didn’t really understand everything. Magic was already a new thing to him, and now he was learning that not only did he have control of certain magic, but he could use dark magic in ways that were impossible—for good. Somehow he thought of it as a test, perhaps sent down by God, or simply a trial he must face. He thought of Star Wars and Luke Skywalker and how Luke had nearly fallen to the dark side. This was different, he knew that, but he still felt like it was a test of sorts.
None of the others talked to him. He could blink without any pain now and everything else on his body had turned into a dull ache. Triska worked a few spells on his wounds and he could feel some of them healing, but there were still others that felt like open sores, though when he tried to move too much all the pain came back to him, so he stayed motionless. He wondered if maybe he had hurt more than his flesh and perhaps had bruised all his bones. And he wondered how he had survived for so long—three weeks—having not been awake at all the entire time. Can Triska feed me without me being conscious? Or was I conscious and I just don’t remember?
James fell asleep.
When he woke he found that they had stopped in a small alcove where a large fire was lit, guided by magic. The others were fast asleep, he still in the makeshift gurney, and Mirdur’eth close by watching him intently. He tried to smile, and miraculously managed to do so without his lips cracking. Next to his hand was a water pouch. He took it and lifted it to his lips. His throat screamed in protest as he swallowed and then the water was too much and he pulled it away choking.
He set the pouch down and fell asleep again.
Morning had come and gone by the time James awoke. He opened his eyes wide and grinned at the renewed energy pouring through him. He knew it wasn’t enough energy to walk, but he certainly felt a million times better than he had the day before. His wounds were healing, most of them anyway, and he could finally move his body. He leaned forward. It hurt, but only slightly and not enough to cull the desire to move. He was covered in a gray blanket; or rather he was wrapped like a caterpillar in a cocoon. Raising his arms, he looked at the cuts. There were scabs where minor scratches had healed, and scars where more serious ones had closed up. Then there were several large gashes, partially healed, that ran from his wrist and up to his shoulders, only a couple still bad enough to bleed. His hands were the worst of all. They were mangled, or looked that way at least. He couldn’t tell where the gashes started and stopped, nor where there was clean skin. His hands were tainted red where blood had already stained and new blood ran. He didn’t dare flex his fingers.
The day sluggishly rolled by. Another alcove presented itself and they made camp there again. Even laying in the makeshift gurney couldn’t keep him from growing exhausted. He ate, though what it was he couldn’t tell because the sensation of taste had not returned to him, and then he feel asleep in a hurry.
James woke once again to find that they had long since left camp. He wasn’t sure how long he had been sleeping. He took frequent naps because all of his strength still had not come back. He ate in the gurney, and when he had to use the bathroom the others helped him stand so they didn’t have to use a bowl. As grateful as he was that the others had done so much for him while he was unconscious, he hoped to be able to use the bathroom without help.
Darl, most of all, seemed nothing but angry and annoyed at having to have anything to do with James in his time of need. But that was to be expected.
By late afternoon the tunnel opened up significantly, widening out into a massive opening. He could see sunlight—golden, glorious sunlight. And he could see grass and trees. The last thing he remembered was the darkness of the Fire Rim, the endless flames, smoke, and evil that was there. Opening his eyes into the tunnel had presented yet another dark place. But now he could see light and sun. He never thought he would be so happy to see the landscape in Angtholand, considering the reason for his journey, but he was and he couldn’t help it. A big smile filled his face.
Leaving the tunnel proved far simpler than entering it. Two guards paced in front of the exit—one was obviously human and burly, while the other looked nothing remotely close to a man, except that it walked upright. It had a snout covered in fur and scales, and a slightly hunched over appearance. Its eyes were slits like a snake and fur covered most every part of its exposed body.
They passed the two guards without a single word from either of them, though the serpent-like creature made a single hissing noise.
When they had moved some distance away from the tunnel the others mounted their horses and Mirdur’eth turned delicately to the side to let James see where they were headed.
Off in the distance was a city, its tall golden walls gleaming with crystal spires. Homes and great buildings were situated around the walls, all simply golden and shining in appearance. Sunlight glimmered off the rooftops and inside the walls were more homes and buildings. Trees were interspersed between homes so that the gold hue had a brilliant emerald trace. Shining above it all were sixteen great towers, each equally high and each with a shimmering jewel above the roof. The jewels were all of different colors—red, blue, green, purple, and more. Crystal spires ran the length of each tower giving the impression of impregnability. James thought it was the most magnificent city he had ever seen. It was enormous in all respects and entirely fantastic, almost like something out of a fairy tale.
“Welcome to Teirlin’pur,” Iliad said softly.