I just stood there, looking at the young angel.
"Are you alright?" he asked, his hand still outstretched. "You look a little ill."
"Ah…. well…. Yes…. I’m fine." I slowly reached out my arm, took his hand in mine, and shook it.
He had slender hands, and long delicate-looking fingers.
"I’m Charles," he said again.
"Ah… I’m…. ah…. Jamie."
"Hello Jamie. Welcome to Eagle’s Rock. How are you?"
"Well… Right now I am trying to find something. It’s a bit complicated."
"You’re looking for the light blue orb, the Orb of the Bat. You’re feelings are correct: it’s here. You’re the wizard…. Right?"
"Well…. I mean…. Well, yes I am…. I guess you could say I’m a wizard in a manner of speaking. B...b...but how do you…"
"Jamie, I told you to come back."
The voice made me jump. It was Nic who apparently had followed after me. As he got closer he caught sight of the dark haired angel with the red and black tipped wings.
"So, what have we here?" Nic said coming to a halt and looked closely at the angel in front of him. Once again the red and black angel returned a look that flashed the briefest flicker of recognition, but it quickly passed as he extended his hand to Nic.
"Hello, I’m Charles."
"Hi Charles, I’m Nic. I see you’ve already met Jamie."
"Yes. I’ve been talking to the wizard, and you’re the king?" Charles asked carefully studying Nic’s face.
"I don’t know if I would put it that way, I mean…"
"Look, either Jamie’s the wizard and you’re the king or you’re not."
Charles looked perturbed and annoyed. Nic and I gave each other puzzled looks, and then turned back to Charles.
"Ok, fine. I’m the wizard and Nic is the king,” I grudgingly said, “but how do you know about that?"
"I’ve been here for some time, reading the ancient texts."
"What do you mean by some time?" I asked.
"Well, I’ve been here for about a month."
"Are you all right? I mean has anyone tortured or hurt you?"
I’d clearly remembered my own encounter with Abbot Gude, and his desire to get me to the abbey in order to pry information from me using whatever means necessary.
"No, I’m a prisoner here. I’ve been deemed valuable as a scholar and translator of the ancient texts."
I looked down and saw an iron manacle around his ankle; it was the one without the ruby bracelet around it. Attached to the manacle was a heavy chain that was fastened to an iron ring screwed into one of the sturdy legs of the copying desk.
"I usually spend my days here. At sunset I’m locked in my cell."
"Why aren’t you there now?"
"Because they’re having one of their rituals and I convinced them to allow me to continue my studies. Since they’re trying to obtain as much information as possible, they readily agreed."
"You mean you’re providing information to these monks?" I was a bit surprised.
"Well, it’s not like I had any other options," Charles voice rose in irritation. "They gave me a choice: scholarship or death. I love knowledge and so I chose it. I knew I would learn a great deal here in this marvelous library. I’ve told them some things, mostly what they already knew. I’ve been holding the most important information from them and stalling them for as long as possible.
"I was hoping that the chance would arise when I could possibly escape or be rescued. I just never expected the wizard and the king to do the actual rescuing. But since you’re here, you might as well help me."
Charles said all of this with a calm resolution as if he’d expected us to appear any minute and now that we’d shown up, we’d best get moving and carry on with the task of rescuing him.
"We’ll have to figure a way to get this off." Nic pulled at the heavy chain attached to the desk, but it was securely fastened in place, and just as securely locked around Charles ankle.
"Nic, I think I can help," and I rubbed my hand over the iron clasp, while my fingertips slowly began to warm.
No sooner had I done this, than it fell open, freeing Charles’ ankle. It was red and scratched and there was a little blood from where the heavy iron had rubbed it, but otherwise he seemed to be fine.
"I knew there was a reason why I brought you along, my little angel," Nic flashed a smile at me.
"I still don’t know how I do all of these things Nic, but I am glad to help."
In fact, my heart filled with joy when I saw how much I’d pleased Nic. Nic for his part came to me and gave me a small kiss and a hug
"Look, I know you two are a mating pair, but can you save the romance?" Charles interjected sarcastically, "Anyway, I thought you were anxious to get to the Orb of the Bat?"
Now it was my turn to frown. "Hey, it was only a small kiss and anyway…."
Nic shot me a serious look with his eyes that said, "Jamie, hush."
I frowned a bit deeper, but didn’t speak.
"Do you know your way out of here?" Nic asked Charles.
His question refocused me on why we’d come to the abbey, and my thoughts turned to quickly accomplishing our mission then leaving as soon as possible with my wings still intact.
"Well, let’s just say that I know it fairly well. I think I can probably help you get to the orb by the safest route."
Nic and I began to head back the way we’d come from, then stopped when we noticed Charles was still sitting on the stool by the manuscript desk.
"Come on, Charles," I whispered loudly.
Charles frowned. "I really hate to leave. There’s so much that one can learn here, it’s really a pity I can’t stay."
"What? Would you prefer if we left you here and came back in another year?" I was getting annoyed.
"I wish you could."
He slowly got up. I could see that even though he’d been kept a prisoner, he was actually reluctant to leave. He headed in our direction, then paused and turned around. He ran back past the desk he’d been sitting at and thrust his hand into one of the stacks of books. Quickly, he pulled out a small red leather bound volume and ran back to us. I just shook my head at Nic. Nic smiled at me, grabbed me by the hand and led me to the staircase we’d first climbed, Charles following. Soon the three of us were heading down the spiral staircase, and then out of the library. After a few twists and turns we were once again in the ceremonial chamber.
"I think this way Nic."
I pointed toward the front of the room where the throne was. We quickly walked towards it. As we got closer, I noticed a curtain directly behind the throne. I could tell the energy was pulling me in that direction. We walked on to the elevated platform past the throne. Nic drew the curtain aside. Behind it was a door. Nic turned the handle and opened it.
We walked across the threshold and into the room. It was small, without any furniture except for a table with what appeared to have some ceremonial robes draped over it. Additional robes and ecclesiastical garb hung on hooks around the room. It looked like a changing room for people who were either entering or coming from the ceremonial room. I could almost see Abbot Gude being dressed for some sort of ceremony or event in this room, then stepping through the door, past the curtain, and on to the throne in order to preside over the assembly.
Built into the wall in front of us was another door. Since there was nothing more to see in the changing room, we quickly walked over to it. Nic slowly opened the door, and I could feel the energy growing stronger. Once through the door we were faced with a long, tall corridor with doors spaced every so many feet on either side. The corridor dead-ended in another doorway. The energy compass was getting stronger in that direction, so we made our way to the end of the hall. Once there, Nic turned the handle, opened the door, and went in; I followed him and Charles came up behind me.
This room was quite large, and although not as large as the ceremonial chamber, it was still an impressive space. There were more tapestries on the wall. Throughout the room I could see furniture that had been intricately carved and carefully gilded in gold leaf. In the middle of the room was an octagon shaped pedestal table, and on the table humming softly and glowing an eerie light blue color was an orb – the orb Charles had called the Orb of the Bat.
Slowly we crossed to stand in front of it. Although the room was lit in candle and torchlight, the orb’s blue light cast strange colors and shadows around the room. I looked at Charles and then Nic, their faces taking on a strange blue tint as we approached the orb. By the time we’d gotten to the table, I had my arms outstretched to take hold of the orb when…
"So little brother, I see that you’ve finally awakened from your sleep."
The three of us turned in the direction of a voice coming from one of the dark corners of the room.
"I wondered how long it would take until we finally met each other." The voice was serious, deep in tone, with a very formal cadence to it.
I squinted into the shadows where I could barely make out a shape, and nothing more. I didn’t have to wonder very long about who was speaking to me, for the shape turned into a figure as it stepped from the shadows and into the light cast by one of the torches. He slowly approached the three of us and stood an arms length away from me.
There before my eyes stood a young man in his early twenties. He was tall and slim, yet the muscles of his arms and legs were pronounced. He was wearing a short silk tunic, trimmed in silver and blue and tied with a silver and blue cord. The tunic ended about three inches above his knee. On his upper leg, I could see a tattoo exactly like mine. Except where I had a snake in one of the twelve sections, he had a tiger. Of all the angel boys I had ever seen he was the most striking. I think this was because he was the most developed and mature of any I’d yet encountered.
His wings alone were a work of art. They were beautiful, large, and definitely strong exhibiting the same luminous quality as mine. It was hard to tell in the darkened room, but they appeared quite similar to the ones protruding from my back – silver, white and sparkling all at the same time. There was definitely an iridescent quality in them and they shimmered constantly in the torchlight. I wondered if my own wings gave this same effect to those who saw them.
Looking closely at him, there was no doubt in my mind that this angel was powerful and that the wings that were attached to his body could easily lift both himself and a lot of extra weight if they had to. I glanced to my right, only to see Charles growing pale.
"Loran," he said to the other angel "I thought…"
"That I was dead? Sorry to disappoint you Charles, but I’m very much alive. Actually, I was going to say the same thing about you and this little boy who now chooses to call himself a wizard. I thought being a princeling would be enough for him, but I see that he grasps for my power."
I gave Charles a puzzled look, and then turned to Nic, who I could see was quickly sizing up the situation. I didn’t think anyone else noticed, but I could see his left hand move slowly and stealthily to his short sword while his right hand came to rest on to the hilt of his dagger.
"Jamie, he looks like you, only older." Nic whispered, never taking his eyes off the other angel.
"So little brother, you’ve come for the orb I see. Well, it’s MINE. You may have drunk from the cup of the snake, but the bat is for me to quench my thirst. And after I’ve taken in the bat then I will take the snake also."
Once again someone was talking about something I knew nothing about. Somehow he felt I was going to take the bat. But why couldn’t we both benefit from it? I was certainly willing to share it with him. And as far as the snake that I’d absorbed when the red orb smashed? Well, I was willing to share that as well. He was another angel boy, albeit older and stronger and maybe a little menacing at the moment, but we were all the same, weren’t we?
"I’ll gladly share the snake with you."
Then he shot a look at Nic, and began to laugh.
"Oh this is too much… it’s Niklas. Of course, I wasn’t thinking. You were the replacement for Alexander weren’t you? Stupid Croal, he has given me a double gift… the old fool."
"Maybe I’ll kill your consort before I kill you. How would you like that?"
I had no idea what this powerful angel was talking about. But I knew that we had to do something since his intentions were to either kill or harm us.
"Can’t we make a truce or a pact of peace?" I asked, hearing the sound of fear in my quavering voice.
"Peace?" he shouted. "Alexander is dead. There can be no peace. I was chosen to hold the staff of power and now I claim the crown also."
"Loran," Charles unexpectedly shouted. "You know that’s impossible!"
"No Charles, it’s not impossible. It’s only impossible within the confines of your small mind."
Nic was now glaring at the young angel-man. He looked like the tiger tattooed onto the older angel’s upper leg, ready to strike at any moment. Charles on the other hand had stepped back ever so slightly and was continuing an almost imperceptible retreat into the shadows toward the glowing orb. I didn’t look directly at him, but I could see his movement from the corner of my right eye. My mind was racing and I tried another tack.
"So then you know me sir, but I am at a disadvantage because I don’t know you. Is your name Loran as Charles says? I am sure you can help us and tell us more. You seem to have the knowledge of many things we still don’t understand. As far as the snake, I told you I’m happy to share any knowledge or information about the orb with you. But can I ask you why you call me your little brother?"
"Of course Charles knows me. I’m Loran, little Jamie, and I am your brother. I was ten years out of the maturation tank when you were created. From the rumors I’d heard later it was obvious that you were such a pure and innocent flower as far as Croal was concerned. Apparently he claimed that you were his best work. The stories I later heard of how he fawned over you from the conception vessel, to the moment he placed you in the maturation tank made me sick – they still do. I thought that you and your so-called mate were eliminated a long time ago, but like some disease that won’t die, I see that you’re both back.
"But you’re right little boy, we really never met face to face although I saw you once when you were brought to Gold Glass Flats. It looks as if you don’t remember that. It doesn’t look like you remember much of anything – Cold Sleep Memory Loss Syndrome I’d guess. But it doesn’t matter anyway since you’re not going to know me that long in your very short, inconsequential life. And as far as any knowledge you have from the snake, well it will all be mine when its essence leaves your dead body and enters mine, little brother."
Once these threatening words were spoken by Loran alluding to my impending death, he suddenly stepped forward and drew his sword in one incredibly fast and fluid motion. I blinked in surprise then managed to jump back as it sliced the air in front of me. The blade came so close that I could feel the air it disturbed brush against my face. But the powerful angel never hesitated. Once more he lifted his sword to continue his attack. Instantly Nic, who was by now gripping his short sword, jumped between us and I heard a loud clang of metal as he blocked Loran’s downward swing. Then Nic reached out with his left arm and pushed me away. I stumbled back, trying to regain my balance.
Once he saw I was out of Loran’s path of attack, Nic moved from a defensive stance to an all out offensive attack. In a chain of lightning swift and devastatingly powerful attacks that seemed to catch him off guard, Nic’s sword hammered down on Loran’s guard, forcing the larger angel into a defensive crouch and retreat. The room echoed with loud clangs as time and again the two swords met, steel against steel. As I stood watching, I began to wonder if one of my lightning bolts could help Nic in his battle with Loran, but quickly had to dismiss it. I still didn’t understand how to accurately control them and I wouldn’t risk hurting or killing Nic, so I helplessly watched in fear as the battle raged on.
But while Nic was strong, the angel claiming to be my older brother appeared to be stronger. He met and countered every move Nic made. Slowly, he regained the offensive, until in one powerful swing Loran’s sword crashed against Nic’s, knocking it from his hand and sending it clattering across the floor. My eyes grew wide in fear as Loran raised his sword preparing to kill Nic and end the fight. In that instant I threw caution aside: raising my hand, I hurled what I hoped was a smaller and more accurate energy ball. The small glowing object left my hand and flew with blinding speed. It exploded with a loud report near Loran’s raised arm and knocked the sword from his hand. Gripping his now burned hand Loran turned, glared at me, and then strode toward me.
Niklas, clutching his dagger in his right hand, sprang at him with all his might. He hit the older angel squarely on the chest with his body and pushed him back a few feet. Loran, while surprised, remained standing and once more began to struggle with Nic.
In the meantime Charles, who had been slowly moving away from us and toward the orb, ran to the table. He grabbed the orb in both hands and retreated to one of the darkened corners of the room, which took on a bluish glow from the light of the orb.
Loran and Nic were caught up in mortal combat. While Nic was armed and very strong and Loran unarmed and one-handed, the strength of the older angel was incredible. I watched as he picked Nic up like a doll and tossed him against one of the far walls of the room. Nic hit the wall, but staggered to his feet, blood running from his nose.
"Ahh… Nic," I screamed.
But he gathered himself together and again charged Loran with all of his strength.
"Jamie, come here now."
Surprised I turned to the direction of the voice calling me. It was Charles. He was calling to me from the corner of the room. I looked at him; his face was a strange blue color from the light cast upon it by the orb.
I heard a crash and turned back to the fight just in time to see Nic once again fly through the air and slam against the wall with a sickening thud. I could see some feathers fly from his wings. This time he got up slower than the last time, but as soon as Loran began to move to intercept me, my lion-hearted angel charged Loran once more.
"Jamie, hurry. Come here, move quickly"
I looked at Charles and lost my temper. My blood began to boil as I moved toward him. Nikki was in a fight for his… no, both of our lives, and if Charles thought we were going to escape and leave Nic behind to die, I was going to snap his neck with my bare hands.
"Jamie would you move, NOW!"
‘Yes Charles, I’ll move’ I thought ‘and I will be the last thing you ever see.’
I ran across the room to where he was standing. As I approached him, ready to deliver a deadly fireball, he stepped forward with the orb.
"Hurry Jamie, here."
It looked like he was going to throw the orb at me, but then I could see that he was deliberately hurling it to the ground right in front of my sandal-clad feet. So instead of me catching it as I had assumed he meant me to do, it smashed in a hundred pieces at my feet.
"NO!" screamed Loran as he threw Nic to the ground and started running toward Charles and me.
But it was too late. The orb had smashed at my feet; the blue molten essence that oozed from it was directly in front of me. It jumped up and floated inches from my head. It paused for a second and seemed to be drawn toward the older angel approaching us, but then it drew back to me. It floated upward to a point about five feet above me and then like a hawk leaps at its prey, it plunged into my chest.
The pain was searing. It felt like a hot dagger had been shoved into my chest and then deep through my heart. I couldn’t breathe for a few seconds; the world turned a light blue. I felt warm and then hot all over. I fell to my knees as my head filled with the sound of bells. But this time I was not transported from where I was, as I’d been with the Orb of Snake. While my head hurt, I suffered no amnesia. I was still in the abbey, I was still with Nic and Charles and Loran.
I got to my feet as quickly as possible. As the blue haze cleared from my head, I looked in horror to see Loran standing with his hand around Charles’ throat. Charles’ feet were at least two feet off the ground. Loran lifted Charles even higher and smashed his body against the wall. I know the force of the blow hurt Charles’ wings and he would have screamed from the pain, but it was impossible since Loran’s hand was firmly clenched around Charles’ throat, preventing him from even breathing let alone screaming. He pressed Charles against the cold marble wall. His right hand continued to choke the life from the young angel, his useless left hanging at his side.
"You pompous little bastard… I always wanted to do this to you," he was screaming at Charles.
Charles face was turning blue and his eyes were bulging. He kicked and struggled, but I could see that against Loran’s strength his efforts were futile. For a few seconds I was totally frozen. A few feet from me, Charles was dying right before my eyes. In the other corner Nic lay unconscious, blood oozing from his mouth. My beautiful angel boy had begun his attack with only one goal: to save my life – now he was hurt, possibly mortally.
I felt like a fool. As usual, my hot temper had flared and made me lose all perspective. In my anger, I’d thought Charles was some sort of coward and was trying to lure me away from the fight so we could escape, leaving Nic to die. Now I realized that he’d risked his life to get to the orb, and smash it so that I could benefit from its essence.
I looked back to Charles, locked in Loran’s death grip. The red and black angel was slight of build and no match for this monster. He’d stopped struggling. His arms dangled limply at his sides, his face was purple, and I could see that he was almost unconscious. I knew I was totally powerless. The three of us were going to die at the hands of an older brother I’d just met ten minutes before.
"I’m just a boy, what can I possibly do?" I thought to myself.
But then somewhere deep inside of myself I could feel the new essence – that of the bat – merging with the essence of the snake and it was like the power of a great engine was switched on inside of me. Charles was now near death and I could feel his life force slipping away. Thrown the wrong way an energy bolt could just as easily kill him as it would Loran. Once more I began to raise my arm and took a deep breath. The quick-wittedness of the bat, combined with the insight of the snake, told me exactly what I must do.
What happened next astounded me. I knew that I was no match for my older brother. He could squash me like a bug. I also knew instinctively that the power of the tiger he’d absorbed was nothing to make light of.
I concentrated all of my anger, fear and courage towards Loran. Then I reached out my arm toward him. Suddenly a bright flash lit everything in the room; red and orange light sparked from my hand and toward Loran. There was a great explosion as if a battery of cannons had gone off. In some respects, it was similar to the time I repelled the soldiers in General Zakaria’s provisional offices, but it was also very different. It was stronger, more focused and much more concentrated. I felt the power leap from my body, and the sudden energy drain made me weak and sick to my stomach.
It took at least a minute for my vision to clear from the wild explosion. During the time it took to regain my sight, no harm had come to me, so at least Loran hadn’t attacked me. I fully expected to see Charles still in his death grip, or worse yet dead on the floor, but once I could really view my surroundings again, Loran was nowhere in sight. Charles lay motionless on the floor and Nic seemed to be stirring on the other side of the room, but Loran had vanished. I could see that Nic was finally trying to get to his feet and even though his face was bloody he seemed to have suffered no major injuries. This was not the case with Charles.
I ran over to Charles. He looked terrible. Loran had almost crushed his windpipe. I knelt at his head and put my ear to his nose and mouth. I could hear him breathing, but it was labored. By now Nic had joined us. Gently he lifted Charles in his arms. I could feel hot tears come to my cheeks as I choked back a sob. We couldn’t lose him now. He was definitely a great scholar and intellectual. I’d just come to see in his heroic act how necessary he was to our future.
"Charles?" I called out to him in a quivering voice. "Charles?" Please, don’t die, I need you."
Charles eyes fluttered and he slowly opened them. I could see that he was trying to focus on me. After a minute or two his breath became a little more regular. He eyes were open wide and he gave me a slight smile.
"Charles, please tell us how you are, how can we help you?"
"Jamie, don’t you know about red and black angels?" he voice rasped as he gave me with the tiniest of grins.
"What are you talking about, Charles? Red and black? Then it occurred to me that he was referring to the unusual coloring of his wings – beautiful snowy white with red and black highlights
"Well this is no time to be talking about your wings!"
"No Jamie, red and black angels have the gift of rapid healing. I am getting better with every minute that passes."
In fact, as he spoke I could see his color slowly returning and his breathing improving. He still looked pretty bad, but lying nestled in Nic’s arms, I could see that he was gaining strength. And that was a good thing, because I could hear shouts and voices growing increasingly louder. Either the services had concluded, or the battle that just ended caused them to be terminated rather quickly. I got up and listened carefully as the noise increased. Nic was on his feet holding Charles; I was amazed at his strength even after so fierce a fight.
"We have to get out of here, Nic."
Nic simply nodded, and with Charles in his arms walked towards the door. Halfway across the room we stopped when we suddenly heard cries and shouts coming from the opposite side of the door. Nic looked at me and just as I was about to tell him to move back, the door of the room burst open and in flooded an army of black robed monks. They began streaming through the open doorway, but then paused as soon as they saw us. We all stood there staring at each other and no one said a word. I looked back at Nic and then sharply turned back to the monks when I heard a familiar high-pitched voice.
"Welcome to the abbey." There, slowly making he way through the crowd of monks and taking his place at their head was the shriveled up old man I knew as Abbott Gude.