Charles paused for a few seconds, and looked at the four angels and one boy sitting around the campfire.
“We’re ready, Charles,” I impatiently said.
Charles ignored my comment and began to speak
“Let me begin by making something clear: While it seems to all of you that I’ve seen and experienced many more things then the rest of you regarding the knowledge of our existence and destiny, I want you to understand that there are also many things I can’t remember, or of which I have no knowledge. I’m sure that I probably have just as many questions as all of you do.”
“So are you telling us that you’re memory is as bad as ours?” Nic asked.
“If not as bad, I’d have to guess that it’s not that much better. I was able to learn some things during my time of study in the abbey and a small portion of my memories are accessible to me, but I definitely wish I knew more. It seems that all of us have, for some reason, lost substantial parts of our memories. And just like all of you, I can only tell you what I’ve recently read and learned, or experienced. Unlike the rest of you, I do seem to have some memory of the before times but it’s not as great as you may think or hope.
“Some things I’m going to share with you, I learned first hand through observation and still remember, but that’s only a small part. Other knowledge comes to me from only secondary sources, through events that I heard of, or information I came to discover in the library. You can ask me questions and I will try to answer them, but like you, there are things I can only speculate on. But let me begin and I will tell you some of what I know.”
“Some?” I asked.
“Well, there’s quite a bit to tell. I’ll give you as much information as possible, but this is a process that will take some time. I’m also hoping that as I tell it in detail, it might open up more of the memories that I’ve forgotten. But besides that, if everyone keeps interrupting me I’ll never get started.”
I frowned and looked at Nic.
“Please Charles,” Nic said, “continue.”
Once more Charles looked around at all of us and began to speak.
“Eons ago there were beings that inhabited this place who were like gods. They had powers of mind control, levitation, bi-location, and healing, just to mention a few of their skills and abilities. They were wizards and princes. Even their tradesmen were magical, and could perform astounding feats.
“They began their existence as a primitive and war-like people. Their history was filled with centuries of conflict and destruction, but eventually through their wars, plagues, strife and social upheaval they came to learn the precious value of their humanity.
“The beginning of their growth into the people they eventually became started when some of their species developed an ability to intellectually grow beyond the narrow confines of their existence. It was a hard evolution – probably even harder than their initial evolution from one-celled organisms into the beings they’d become. But through internal and external self-examination, strife, and trial, they began to see there could be more to their existence then the quest for wealth, power and territory.
“This advanced group of individuals came to realize that no matter how they were divided as far as tribes or regions, physical appearances or characteristics, they were in fact the same species. These advanced individuals also came to realize that any war among them – even when it appeared that they were fighting a totally different group – was in fact a civil war. They started to realize that they were killing their own species and that there could never be a winner – only the irreparable loss of valuable parts of their humanity.
“These more advanced individuals – who eventually came to be known as The Enlightened Ones – were initially feared and even persecuted because their beliefs were new and unusual. But they began to educate the youth of their species – at first in secret – but finally, once they became more accepted by the rest of their society, openly through academies that they founded. By their efforts, they raised the level of intellectualism throughout the length and breadth of their society.
“As the population grew in knowledge, they also grew in the arts, and sciences. They abolished war and sowed the seeds of peace and prosperity. Eventually all the members of their race were healthy, well fed, and cared for. There was no hunger, disease or poverty. They had more time for art, music and culture. They cultivated their minds and grew in knowledge. Their existence had gone from one of strife and pain to peace and happiness. They led the most perfect lives that humans could lead – or so they thought.
“In addition to creating better lives, they also created a better world. There was no member of society who was more or less important then any other. They knew that all parts of their society were interdependent on each other, and that one person or group could not function without the other. Like a human body without a heart, or mind or hands, the loss of any part was disastrous.
“They built cities that were in harmony with their environment. The other creatures that inhabited the world with them were also respected. There were homes for the birds, and the creatures of the forest. Even the value of insects was recognized, and they developed and managed an ecosystem that was in complete and total balance. They learned the basic structure not only of their own bodies, but also that of every creature in their world and developed the ability to change and manipulate those structures.
“In effect, they created a utopia. The crowning achievement of that utopia was the spectacular city of Küronas. It was built on the great plain of Sarum, around the mysterious tower of Agramon. Using all of the technology and knowledge that they had learned, the Enlightened Ones created a city the likes of which had never been seen.
“Küronas became a city of knowledge, culture, art, and science. It was the intellectual center of their world. It housed the Temple of Knowledge, The Congress of Scientific Research, and the Parliament of Ethics.
“The Great Hall of Universal Justice and the Tribunal of Law were established there along with the entire governmental structure. It was a city of beauty and prosperity. The highways, waterways and skyways of all the provinces led to it.”
“Provinces?” I asked.
“Yes, the surrounding lands were also inhabited and eventually provinces were formed that looked to Küronas as their center.”
“This city sounds as if it were splendid Charles,” Nic added.
“Yes, you’re right Nic. The buildings alone were magnificent. The forum of Arturas that surrounded the Temple of Knowledge was breathtaking. The great square of Ondra was magnificent with its four splendid gates and the amazing tower of Agramon that rose above it into the heavens. In the summer, when the sun would set over the city, the dome of the Temple of Knowledge would glow like fire and the Tower of Agramon would cast a long shadow across the square of Ondra, giving the appearance of the hand of a huge sundial.”
“You describe it as if you’d seen it.” Nic interrupted
“Well I did… many times… it was my home… it was our home.”
At that remark, we all looked at each other in surprise
“Are you saying that this city… this Küronas was our home?” Nic continued.
“Yes it was.”
“Then why don’t any of us remember it?” Cody asked.
“That, unfortunately, is one of the mysteries I can’t explain. It seems that over the time we were in stasis – what you call being in your coffins – something happened to interfere with our memories.”
“Wait,” I said as a flash of remembrance raced through my mind. “At the abbey Loran said something about... ah... cold sleeping... something...”
“Cold Sleep Memory Loss Syndrome,” Charles replied. “I came across references to it in the abbey library. Apparently long term suspension similar to what you and Nic underwent causes memory loss, but I don’t know much more.”
“Do you think we’ll get them back?” Cody asked. “Our memories I mean?”
“I don’t know. From what Nic and Jamie told me, some of Jamie’s memories returned through his interaction with the amulet and the two orbs whose essences he absorbed.”
“But you know, Charles,” I interrupted. “It’s strange. I have to say that I definitely have gained knowledge from both the amulet and the two orbs, but I wouldn’t say that they’ve helped me actually remember anything from before I awoke in my coffin.”
“I agree with Jamie,” Nic said. “While I haven’t absorbed any orbs or had the knowledge of the amulet like Jamie, I have absolutely no memory of what I’ve heard you call the `before time.’”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Charles continued. “It seems I have some selective memory. Apparently not much more than all of you, but somehow I do remember some things. But the time grows later by the minute, so allow me to continue.”
It was then that I glanced across the fire and noticed Damian. He’d been rather passive both during our supper and at the beginning of Charles’ story, and while it appeared to me that he was listening, I also noticed that throughout most of the narration, he simply stared straight ahead with an almost disinterested look on his face.
But when Charles came to the part about our missing memories, I noticed that he began looking at him with such intensity that it seemed like he was almost glaring at him in anger, or maybe disbelief. I could also sense a feeling of agitation coming from him, but when I tried to stealthily enter his mind, using a gentle and what I thought was an imperceptible probe, I hit a rock solid mental wall that denied me even the slightest access. The rewards for my effort were a sharp pain in my head and the fact that Damian turned his harsh gaze from Charles and began to eye me suspiciously.
Charles appeared to either ignore or not notice Damian, and continued his story.
“The Enlightened Ones had reached the pinnacle of their evolution – or so they thought. They knew they were superior, and that superiority bred hubris. Although the society that they’d developed was peaceful and harmonious, there remained some disagreement among the Enlightened Ones.”
“Were they at conflict?” Nic asked.
“No, it took shape as political and philosophical disagreement. Much like political groups, each vied for an optimal position of influence within their society. There was no fighting or war. All of the parties respected each other, but there were disagreements, especially within the scientific and philosophical communities.
“As their society had progressed, their scientists developed more and more technology, and they worked harder and harder on unlocking every secret of nature. It was their goal to create not only a unified theory for their universe, but also a complete book of scientific rules governing every aspect of their existence – rules that they could not only understand but also manipulate.”
“One by one the great locks of nature were picked, doors were opened and knowledge was gained. Piece by piece they dismantled the structures of their genes, and atoms. They learned the secrets of physics and chemistry. The barriers and boundaries of light, sound, gravity, and space were not only broken, but also altered.
“Finally, the great scientist Minoton and his team of researchers broke the dimensional barrier and opened up a world of parallel universes. But in doing this, they made a great mistake. In their pursuit of intellectual knowledge, they lost their humanity and headed down the road of technical intellectualism.
“It seems that it was never intended for the barriers between the universes to be breached – at least not without dire consequences. Once Minoton let the walls come crashing down, all manner of problems developed. Beings and creatures that were unfathomable entered their world. Chaos was unleashed. After much effort, the scientists finally were able to rebuild the barriers, but by then serious damage had been done. Although they were eventually able rid their world of the creatures, monsters and altered physical laws, there was one problem they could not overcome so easily.
“A disease that had entered this world through one of the dimensional portals began to infect people. It spread slowly, but within a few years it had killed hundreds then thousands. Infection occurred with just casual contact and once a person was infected, death was virtually inevitable. Those who did not die – and they were few – lost most of their intellectual abilities and were again on the level of primitives.”
“What do you mean, Charles?” I asked, quite surprised at his revelation. “Are you saying that those who contracted the disease and lived some how lost their intelligence?”
“Most died, Jamie. A few had some sort of immunity. But the disease attacked the brain and those who recovered were on the level of primitives.”
“And it couldn’t be cured?”
“Well, let me continue please.”
“Using their great knowledge of the body, Minoton and the other scientists began an attempt to find a cure. They tried everything, but without success. After much fruitless effort, it became apparent that their world was coming to an end. Many despaired, some committing suicide rather than risking infection and dying or even worse, becoming idiots.
“Debates in the Temple of Knowledge degenerated into riots. The Congress of Scientific Research was in shambles. All had lost hope… all except two very remarkable men – Jonas of Amadon and his old teacher, the brilliant scientist Croal.
“Jonas had observed his society for a long time. He was a great philosopher, and through years of study and inner contemplation he had become as completely self-actualized as any one had ever been. He realized that the so-called enlightened ones had become so entangled in a web of technologies that they had lost sight of the true goal of their society. Now it was crashing down around them.
“Croal was a great scientist – often over shadowed by Minoton, but actually far superior to him. Unlike his fellow scientists, he had not lost his humanity, but had become as self-actualized as Jonas. For years both men had been advocating a different approach to their society.
“But while their society was far too advanced and civilized to ridicule or persecute them, these two great men were never the less shunted away from the mainstream of leadership by their colleagues, and had always worked in the shadows of others.
“As the disease spread, Jonas and Croal had watched as Minoton and the other scientists continued to fail miserably at finding a cure. One day a student of Jonas’ walked into the laboratory of Croal with a note.
`Meet me in front of the Tower of Agramon,’ was all it said.
“Croal left his laboratory and traveled to the great city of Küronas. Once there, he went to the Square of Ondra. At the entrance to the square he walked through the North Gate known as The Great Gate of the People. He strode across the open expanse of the square and looked to his left at the beautiful Eastern gate – known as Ondra’s gate, then he glanced to his right toward Wizard’s Gate – The Western gate. The square was enormous, but eventually he came to the Tower. Standing at its base was Jonas.
`My dear Croal, thank you for coming.’
“Jonas greeted and then embraced his old teacher. Croal met the embrace and returned it.
`My lord, what do you wish?’
`Come Croal, I was your student. There’s no need for formality, my dear friend.’
`Well, it’s been a long time my Lord… sorry... Jonas.’
`Maybe so, but I’ve never forgotten your lessons my friend. You are the greatest teacher and scientist within the kingdom.’
`You flatter me Jonas; I am just an old man. Minoton and his group are the great ones.’
`Hardly, my wise teacher: They’ve condemned our world to death.’
`Is it true, what I’ve heard of the Emperor?’
`Yes Croal, and the royal family as well… but its best that we not talk about this now. I asked you to come for a much more important reason.’
“Jonas and Croal began a slow walk around the square.
`Do you know why I’ve asked you to meet me?’
`I have some idea, but why don’t you tell me Jonas?’
`Well, it’s no secret that our entire world is dying and those that will be left will be thrown into a dark and barbarous world.’
`Of course, but this is nothing new.’
`I asked you to meet with me to see if there is something that we can do.’
`You know Minoton and the others are doing all the research, you should be talking to them.’
`Minoton is a fool; he’s the creator of this disaster. No my friend, I’m not trying to find a cure… well maybe in a way I am… but not as you may think.’
`Then what do you have in mind Jonas?’
“As they talked they continued walking around the great square. An outside observer to the scene would have noticed an older man walking with a younger man. He would have observed them coming to a bench near Ondra’s gate and sitting. Then he may have noticed the younger man becoming more and more animated as he talked and gestured to the older man.
“In turn, the older man himself became more animated and began gesturing. After about two hours of what was obviously a heated discussion, both men got up, embraced and then separated, the younger man walking quickly through Ondra’s gate and the older man going back into the city through the Gate of the People.
“That meeting was the beginning of Croal’s great opus and The Circle of Jonas.”
Charles stopped and looked at all of us. It was getting late, and I looked around the fire at my companions. Everyone was wide awake and giving their full attention to Charles. He took a drink and then continued his story.
“That day in the square, Jonas had proposed a novel – even radical – idea to Croal.
“Jonas had become weary of the society that he was a part of. Its members were intellectual and quite technical, but they had long ago lost their understanding of life. They had the scientific knowledge of the universe, but lacked the transcendence that he experienced after his many years of philosophical introspection.
“Jonas began his career as a scientist – he’d been Croal’s greatest student – but one day in Croal’s laboratory something happened that forever changed his life. He had been performing a series of experiments for his teacher – a man he admired more than anyone else. The experiments had been of a fairly routine nature except for one, and that one had been giving him false results.
“He went to Croal exasperated and angry, telling him of the strange and unexpected results.
`Why are they strange Jonas?’
`Because they’re not the expected ones.’
`And is that bad?’
`Well of course, it’s not the result we want.’
`And what are the results we want, Jonas?’
`Why, the correct ones of course.’
“Now Jonas was even more exasperated. Here was one of the greatest scientists in the kingdom and he was asking foolish questions.
`Jonas, what are the correct answers?’
`The ones we expect.’
Croal smiled, and then began to laugh. Jonas was shocked to see his teacher, the great scientist Croal reduced to tears as he laughed and laughed. But as he stood there watching Croal shake with laughter, Jonas began to smile and then started laughing along with Croal.
“That was the last time Jonas worked in Croal’s laboratory. From that day forward, he studied philosophy and grew in a new and different way, and he always looked for the unexpected result.
“A few days after their meeting in the square, Jonas moved into Croal’s laboratories and the two friends began their collaboration.
“Before the time of the plague, Jonas had taken many years to formulate his thoughts. His society was dying; maybe here was a chance to create a new one. As a teacher of philosophy he had many former students who’d become friends and colleagues and they quickly joined the ranks.
“Croal also had a band of faithful former students and many of them responded to the call of their beloved teacher.
“It had actually been quite fortunate that Croal had fallen out of favor with the current scientific community, because his laboratories had been relegated to an obscure corner of Küronas – away from the rest of the honored scientific community and away from prying eyes. He, Jonas and their associates and assistants began work on a bold project unfettered and unrestricted. They didn’t even have to rely on subterfuge, since no one of serious consequence had paid attention to Croal’s work in years.
“While the other scientists were working on a cure for the disease, Jonas had conceived a different approach. This approach was so radical; even he sometimes doubted his sanity. He and Croal had totally rejected the idea of trying to find a cure; instead, they began engineering a new kind of species that would be immune to the disease.
“They both felt that a new species, immune to the disease that was ravaging their own society, and given a new world to operate in, wielding the knowledge and aware of the mistakes of the old world, might create the society that the Enlightened Ones never had been able to.
“This new species might – with help from the brilliant team Croal and Jonas had assembled – hold the key to a new and more promising future.
“While Croal and his team of scientists worked to create the new species, Jonas and his colleagues focused on the structure that the new society would take. The disease, although usually fatal, was slow growing and that fact allowed Jonas and Croal years to work on their special project.”
Charles paused. He could see that while everyone was still interested, it was getting late and the looks of fatigue on their faces indicated that it was time to stop.
“I think that should be all for tonight. There’s more to tell, but I think we can wait until morning. It looks to me like all of you are tired.”
“Yes, I agree Charles,” Nic said.
Nic lifted me up as he got to his feet. I’d been starting to doze, and while I was eager to learn as much as quickly as possible, it was getting harder and harder for me to keep my eyes open.
“So Jamie, is this giving some of the answers you were seeking?” Charles asked, as he looked at me in earnest.
“Yes Charles, thank you but I am waiting for more.” I said with a yawn.
“And you’ll learn more, Jamie,” Nic looked into my eyes and stroked my hair, “but now we all must get our rest. I’m afraid that we’ll have to get up early, strike camp and get moving quickly tomorrow morning. I’m uneasy about the monks. We’re still a bit too close to the abbey.”
“But what about what Charles is telling us?”
“We’ll reconvene as soon as we once again find ourselves in a safe place, my love.”
I knew Nic was right, and anyway it was late, and I was far too tired to argue with him.
We prepared ourselves for bed and within a few minutes I was lying in Nic’s arms. As I became more comfortable, I felt a kiss on the side of my cheek and then Nic’s warm breath as his lips moved close to my ear.
“Did you notice Damian this evening as Charles was telling his story?”
“Yes, I did. I didn’t realize you noticed also.”
“I was surprised to see his reaction. It was obvious to me that he was agitated.”
I turned my head toward Nic and began to relate the results of my failed mind probe. Nic listened intently, and when I finished began to slowly shake his head.
“I have a feeling Damian might be more aware then we think, Jamie. As I watched him, it almost seemed that if he could have spoken he would have disagreed with Charles. I know you said that you thought that his mind was damaged, but after seeing his reaction to Charles’ story, I’m beginning to question that assessment.”
“His mind is definitely damaged Nic, but I never said he wasn’t aware. When I first entered his mind after we found him, I was amazed at the complexity I found; unfortunately, little of it made sense to me. I can tell you that the way he is came out of a horrific experience he was put through.”
“Including having his tongue cut out of his mouth?”
“Yes. I’m sure it all happened at the same time. And although his mind has been damaged, it’s also strong and powerful. The defense that he can mount against a mind probe is amazing, yet for all the strength he can muster to block his thoughts, and the complexity of his mind, he’s very childlike.”
“I wish he could talk.”
“So do I Nic, but unfortunately who ever hurt him wanted to silence him – apparently forever.”
“Yes, and they were certainly quite successful,” Nic replied ruefully.
I nodded in agreement, but although the topic of Damian was concluded there was still another subject that was on my mind.
“Do you have any memory of the scientist Croal?”
“No. If I ever did I certainly don’t now,” Nic replied.
“I don’t either, but every time Charles brings up his name the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true.”
“Well Jamie just like any speculation about Damian, lead us no where, I feel like Croal falls into the same category. Then since no further talk or speculation could answer the questions Damian’s presence among us had created, we settled down and soon were fast asleep. The night was warmer then any previous one had been since Nic and I first awakened in our coffin, and so I found myself sleeping much more comfortably then I had in days. I was lying on my side, Nic had his arm around me, and I felt safe and secure. Sleep came quickly and was dreamless.
Sometime in the early morning, I was awakened by a sound. I pried my eyes open, slightly raised my head, and listened intently, but the only thing I could hear was an occasional crackle from the fire as it burned down into a glowing pile of embers. I laid my head back on Nic’s arm and turned slightly to reposition my body closer to him when suddenly a figure and a face loomed over me. I blinked and rolled to the right just as something sliced the air near my left ear and struck the ground.
“Nic!” I screamed. As I did, I jumped to my feet.
Nic, although initially disoriented, also scrambled up. By now, my shouting had roused Cody, Damian, Luc, and Charles from their slumber; by their actions, I could see that they were moving much more slowly into consciousness than Nic and I.
Still shaking the cobwebs of sleep from my head, my eyes began to dart around the camp. Almost immediately, I saw the figure of a black robed monk. The sword that had been in his hand was now embedded in the earth at the very spot where my head was resting only a few seconds earlier. As the mantle of sleep quickly evaporated from my mind, I began to notice that there were more monks closing in on us from the surrounding woods. Although the fire had burned down, and the light it cast over the campsite was diminished and fitful, I was still able to count at least eight of them.
Nic grabbed his dagger, drew his sword and assumed a defensive position. At first I stood frozen with fear, but then something stirred deep inside of me and although I was unarmed, I took up a defensive posture that allowed me to protect Nic’s back and flanks. I flicked a glance at Nic, now standing to my left, armed and ready for the fight, and suddenly everything about our posture and positions, the way we stood in relation to each other, even our movements somehow seemed as natural to me as breathing. It felt to me in that instant that everything we were doing was meticulously and carefully choreographed, as if this were a dance that we’d performed a hundred times before. An odd sense of rightness filled me.
As the monk standing directly in front of Nic began to pull his sword from the ground, I heard a ‘swooshing’ sound and felt a rush of wind as Nic’s sword sliced through the air. In less than a second the monk’s body crumpled to the ground, as his severed head somersaulted and hit the dirt with a soft thud. While his head rolled one way – it’s eyes frozen open in a look of surprise – his body slumped in the other direction, and I watched in shock as it’s still beating heart pumped the monk’s lifeblood into the dirt. In one fluid motion, Nic whipped the blood from his sword and turned to face his next attacker. I blinked in surprise and horror, but then instinct took over as one of the monks charged me. At first I stepped back in fear, but suddenly and without even thinking or acting consciously, I created and threw a lightning ball at him.
The ball crackled as is whizzed through the air, hitting the monk squarely in the chest. There was a blinding flash, the monk screamed, and when the smoke cleared he was lying on the ground with a large hole in his chest. Sluggish gray smoke rose and curled from the wound and parts of his now-charred robe were on fire. I looked into the gaping wound of the black robed figure lying a few feet in front of me, and felt a little sick. But there was no time – another monk raced toward me, wielding a large knife.
I jumped to the side just as he charged me. He fell to the ground on his knees, then scrambled to his feet and turned to charge me again. Acting quickly, I formed another fireball and threw it. In my haste, my aim was off; instead of hitting the charging man directly in the chest as I intended, the ball went high and grazed his hand, hitting the knife instead. The monk screamed in agony, clutching his blackened and burnt hand and the knife tumbled to the ground where it glowed and smoked, the last third of its blade sheared away.
The monk gripped his hand and screamed a curse at me. I made a small jump into the air, stroking my wings twice for height, and delivered a kick directly under his chin. He staggered and then fell to the ground unconsciousness. Once more I surveyed the camp to discover the condition of my friends.
By now Charles, Cody and Luc were on their feet – still a little groggy and unsteady, but very much aware of our precarious position. I looked around for Damian, but didn’t see him. My eyes darted about the campsite searching for him without luck, but then without warning a monk ran toward Cody and began to raise his sword. The instant it was above his head, Nic’s dagger flashed through the air and slammed into his throat. For a few seconds he stood frozen. Then the sword tumbled from his hand and he fell to the ground, making choking and gurgling sounds as his blood soaked the ground and mingled with that of the decapitated monk.
It was then I saw another monk running toward the body of his fallen comrade. He was the one I had knocked out earlier. He ran unarmed, since the knife he had carried was still lying on the ground, too hot for him to touch. Suddenly, the realization of what he was about to try hit me.
“Get the dagger!” I screamed.
Charles and Cody gave me blank stares, and I could see that they still weren’t completely aware of what was happening.
“The dagger. The one in the monk!” I screamed even louder.
The monk I’d been fighting with earlier scrambled toward his fallen comrade, but Luc, who up to this point had been frozen like a statue, suddenly ran to the spot where the man lay and knelt beside him. From where I stood, I could see that Luc’s eyes were wild with fear and for a second he just knelt unmoving, staring into the eyes of the dying man.
“The bloody dagger, Luc,” I shouted. “Get the dagger!”
Luc reached out and grasped the handle of the dagger firmly. I could see him trying to pull it out, but he was having difficulty. By then the monk was on top of him. He grabbed the little boy by the shoulder, awkward with but a single hand, and struggled to lift him. As he did, I could see Luc still holding on to the pommel of the dagger. The monk pulled harder, struggling to pick up the squirming boy. Then with one mighty tug, he managed to lift Luc to his feet and pull the boy towards him. Luc screamed and tried to break free, but I could see that the monk had him firmly in his grasp.
Staring directly at the monk and Luc’s narrow back, I watched as the man wrapped both his arms around the boy and drew him to his chest in a bone-crushing hug in an attempt to subdue him. Luc continued to struggle but I could see that his actions were fruitless as the monk succeeded in taking firm control over his flailing and twisting movements.
But just as I was convinced Luc was doomed, I watched in surprise as the monk’s eyes suddenly grew wide in horror and a grimace of pain crossed his face. His hands dropped limply to his side, and Luc fell to the ground. It was only then that I could see that the dagger Luc had been gripping was now buried to the guard in the monk’s chest. Somehow during his struggle with the monk, the dagger that Luc had so desperately been clutching had become dislodged from the dead monk’s throat and in the instant the second monk snatched Luc and pressed the boy to his chest, the blade rose between them and plunged, apparently by accident, into the attacking monk’s chest, lodging in his heart and killing him.
In the meantime Nic, who had been on the offensive from the second he’d decapitated the first monk, using masterful swordplay and fighting skills, had been able to cut down two more of the monks, which meant that there were now three left. Nic quickly engaged another monk who jumped in to attack as soon as the warrior angel dispatched the last one he’d been fighting. I was still looking at the monk with the dagger in his chest when I heard a gasp.
I turned just in time to see still another monk bearing down on Charles. He was waving his sword while Charles backed away from him. In an instant I leapt high, did a quick somersault and plummeted to the ground. As I did, I brought both feet down on top of the shoulders of the monk, connecting with him with all of my might. I heard a loud crack as I drove my legs into him. He crumpled beneath me and hit the ground. My momentum carried me downward and I crashed down on top of him, and for a few seconds struggled to regain the breath that had been knocked out of me in my inelegant landing. A bit dazed, I got to my feet but noticed that the monk beneath me wasn’t moving. My attack had broken his neck. He lay in a strangely twisted heap, his eyes wide open, his mouth agape, and his body bent in a most unnatural position.
By now Nic had dispatched the monk he’d been fighting, which meant that seven of our eight attackers were now dead.
Nic and I looked at each other then around the camp only to realize that the eighth and final monk was fleeing into the woods. I started after him, but Nic grabbed me.
“No Jamie, we’ve killed enough men today.”
“But Nic?” I shouted. “He’s going to go back and tell the others where we are.”
“Maybe so, but by then we’ll be gone.”
I surveyed the campground. The sight sickened me. There, lying all around us, were the bodies of seven dead monks. The ground was covered with blood and just in front of the fire lay the head of the monk that Nic had severed. I felt light headed, and began shaking slightly as the adrenalin that had been driving me began to wane. And while I felt a bit sick to my stomach, I remained standing, surveying the carnage surrounding us. Nic approached me, put his hand on my shoulder and stared down at me, a look of concern on his face. I returned his look with a cold and almost vacant stare.
The attack had been so ferocious and single-minded that I needn’t have read any of the monk’s minds to understand the utter hatred they had for us, and the fact that they would have done anything to destroy us. I understood, for the first time, that this was war, and there would be no mercy for us from the monks, and what ever controlled them.
“They’re never going to let us alone, are they Nic?”
“I’m afraid not, Jamie.”
In the aftermath of the battle, I’d completely forgotten Luc, Cody, Charles and Damian. Now my eyes shot to my friends as worry and concern flooded my brain.
Charles stood to my right, still looking down at the monk whose neck I’d broken, and although he was visibly shaken he seemed fine. Cody, who also appeared to be fine, was kneeling next to Luc, and although he was carefully checking the little boy for injuries, it seemed that Luc was also unharmed though distraught over his encounter with the monk who was laying dead a few feet away from him.
Nic, who’d emerged from the fight without a scratch, was leaning against a tree gathering his thoughts and catching his breath. I noticed then that Damian was missing. I suddenly remembered wondering where he was at the very beginning of the fight, but then the attack had begun and the fighting was so fast and furious that any thoughts of him had fled my mind.
“Damian,” I shouted. “Where’s Damian?
I frantically looked around the campsite, but the tall thin boy was nowhere to be seen. I began to walk around the perimeter of the camp, calling his name. As I walked past Nic, he reached out and took hold of me.
“Jamie, your arm.”
I looked at him, puzzled, and then I followed his eyes, which were fixed on my upper left shoulder and saw a thin rivulet of blood trickling down my arm. Following the blood to its source, I could see that my upper arm had what appeared to be a two-inch gash running across it. As I looked more closely it appeared to be shallow. It must have happened in the initial assault, when the first monk attacked us where we lay sleeping, but I couldn’t tell. I hadn’t remembered or even felt it until Nic pointed it out to me, and then as I became more aware of it, I felt a sharp, painful sting radiating from it.
“It hurts a little Nic, but I’m fine.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, but where’s Damian?”
Just as Nic was ready to answer, I heard a sound coming from the forest behind him. Leaving Nic and following the sound, it didn’t take me long to find Damian. He was lying at the base of a tree between two exposed roots, curled into a ball, tears running down his face. The high-pitched hooting sounds he was making were muffled and choked. I knelt down beside him and put a hand on his back. He was trembling. As I looked closely at him I was amazed at how such a tall boy with wings could squeeze himself into such a small shape. I took my hand from his back and began to gently stroke his hair.
“Damian, it’s over,” I said speaking in a soft quiet voice. “The evil men are gone. Everyone’s fine, and so are you.”
Although he seemed a bit older then me, I felt like I was speaking to a child. I continued to stroke his hair as I spoke to him. After a few minutes, the shaking subsided. I could see his tears had also stopped and the soft hooting sound he had been making had turned into heavy but silent deep breaths. Nic came over and knelt beside him and after a few more minutes, we were able to get him up and on his feet. His face was tear streaked and pale. His eyes were hollow and distant as if he couldn’t see us and mentally he appeared to be in another world. I reached out and took his hand. Nic reached up and wrapped his arm around the tall angel boy. After a bit more talking, we were able to rouse him from his trance-like state, but he remained quiet and distant.
Once it became clear to Nic that no one had been badly injured, he ordered us to gather our things and get moving as quickly as possible. While Luc and Charles helped him strike camp, Cody fashioned a dressing for my arm as Damian stood nearby watching and gently rocking back and forth.
In a short time, everything was packed and we were ready to go. As we left the small clearing, I looked back one last time to see the bodies of the monks we’d killed littering our former campsite. An icy cold feeling formed in the pit of my stomach and flowed through my body. It was a feeling I knew wouldn’t be disappearing very soon, since the fight we’d just been through made it even clearer to me that no matter where we went or what we did, we would remain in danger every step of the way.