The days continued to accumulate as our trek across the wind-swept plains progressed. Traveling nonstop all day and then sleeping by night, only to get up and repeat the process over and over was becoming quite tedious for me, but then three important events occurred that would have a lasting impact on our journey.
The first was ‘the dream,’ the second was Matthew and Lance, and the third was the discovery of les gemeaux.
Although our days were long with travel, and my nights equally long as I worked on the marvelous treasure in my head I now thought of as ‘The Screen’, Nic and I still always made sure we had time for each other. The long days of monotonous travel – instead of separating us in body and spirit – actually brought us closer to together. Our mornings would usually begin ‘whilst the others were sleeping, with me in Nic’s arms.
More often than not, we would discuss the events of the previous day along with any new powers, abilities or knowledge I may have acquired. Nic would always quietly listen to my explanations and then ask questions in what I understood to be an attempt to better understand the changes that were gradually occurring within me; while he loved me and was genuinely interested in what was happening to me, he also needed to understand his resources – such is leadership.
In turn, Nic would usually share some his thoughts on the kingdom, the whereabouts of Küronas or any danger he may have sensed. He even surprised me by occasionally bringing up the topic of an eventual governmental structure – speculating on how it should take shape, or offering his personal thoughts on its creation and development. I would often stretch out beside him during these times, and he would stroke my hair or kiss the back of my neck. He was definitely my strength.
I understood that the very private and personal quality of these times together was something we both desperately needed. And while I couldn’t fight danger or lead the others as Nic did, and he couldn’t perform any of the strange magical tasks I could, we always seemed to draw from each other’s strength. The effective unit we formed when working together always felt good and right to me, as if it was always meant to be exactly this way.
Every day I saw Nic leading the way, and the only reason I followed was because it was he – my sweet angel boy – who was urging us on. I would have walked through fire if he’d asked me, but all he ever demanded was that we go as fast and as far as we could reasonably travel each day.
In the evening, after dinner and a session of working with the screen, I would come to bed and we would recap the events of the day. More often than not, we would cuddle and kiss. Occasionally, we would make love after the others had fallen asleep. Though the journey had become long and difficult, and we often didn’t speak during the day, early mornings and late nights would inevitably find us in each other’s arms.
These became our special times, and the others learned that unless it was an emergency, we shouldn’t be interrupted. Surprisingly, Charles agreed. “A happy wizard is a powerful wizard," he would often say with a grin on his face. I didn’t quite know if I agreed with that, but I couldn’t imagine life without Nic, and he always expressed the same feelings to me.
One late night, after a particularly long and serious conversation with Nic, I fell into a deep sleep. Throughout the night I experienced a number of dreams, but one in particular stood out in my mind and I carried it back with me into consciousness when I awoke the next morning.
I was walking across the open plains with my companions just as I always did, when suddenly I was transported to a place of extreme quiet. Straight ahead, in the far distance, was a broad and tall mountain range. From the foot of the mountains, a vast plain stretched toward me then on past, reaching toward the horizon behind me. I felt a sense of desolation and remoteness, looking across this arid plain, this place of silence. Large rocks and boulders were randomly strewn over it, as if some titan had been playing a game of marbles with the huge stones, but had abruptly abandoned the game.
Looking around, I noticed to my right and left small hills, with outcroppings of large rocks crowning their tops. As the hills became eroded, rocks and boulders had emerged from them, and as the rocks themselves became more exposed to the elements, they too had become worn down, weathered by centuries of wind and rain. I was struck again by the utter lack of sound, save the whine of wind against obdurate rock.
The closest outcropping of rocks to where I stood thrust about thirty feet into the air, and formed a small, rugged peak. As I looked more carefully at the high pile of boulders, I noticed a small, narrow passage that led directly into the outcropping.
The hill was gentle and sloping, so it didn’t take much effort to climb it and gain entrance to the open passageway. It was large enough for me to pass through, although I scraped my wings slightly as I did so. Once through the passageway, I found that I was in a secluded grotto. A quick survey of the grotto revealed that I was standing in a small circle of bright green grass. All around me rose sheer and forbidding walls of raw granite. There was no way in or out, other than the narrow passage. Weak sunlight filtered down through a narrow chimney high over my head.
Directly in front of me, a jagged fissure split the rock, from which water flowed out into a small stone basin. It spilled over the lip of the basin in a tiny rill, then flowed a short distance across the rough stone floor, to disappear into a narrow crevice next to the base of the wall. I stretched out my hand to touch the water; it was icy cold. I cupped my hand and brought a small amount to my lips. It tasted chill and sweet, refreshing as it wet my lips and eased my thirst. I reached out for another cool handful, but jumped as a voice spoke behind me.
“I see you’ve come to drink the water.”
I lifted my head and quickly turned. There, directly behind me, where no one had been only a second before, stood an angel. With the sun in my eyes, all I could see were the gold flecks dancing on his wings. By the outline of his face and contour of his body, I first thought that it was Nic. I shifted my position, seeking some shade for my eyes. Once I was standing in a shadow and my eyes refocused, I realized that this angel wasn’t Nic, but someone slightly taller and a year or two older than the King of Icaria.
He was very handsome, and when he looked down at me, he gave me a warm smile. In his right hand he held an elaborately carved silver staff. It was beautiful; looking more closely at it, I could see that it was styled in the likeness of four snakes that were intertwined and curled over and around each other all the way up the staff. Finally, at the very top, their heads broke forth and stood prominently out in four directions. It almost appeared that they were looking out to the Four Corners of the World. Their mouths were open, as if ready to strike, and in each mouth I could see a gem sparking as the sunlight refracted within it.
On the very top of the staff were twelve gems of different colors that were imbedded in an elaborately carved finial. It, too, gleamed as it caught the sunlight, and the jewels that encrusted it seemed to dance in the light.
Then I noticed that in his other hand the angel held a rough, wooden staff. It was straight and tall, and quite plain.
“Are you thirsty? Would you drink of the water?” He asked.
“No, not if you don’t want me to. I’m sorry if I’ve trespassed here. I was just curious.”
He smiled again and then threw me the wooden staff. I caught it in my hand and looked at it. Then he came at me, swinging the silver staff that he still held. As he got closer to me, he swept it into the air and brought it whistling down toward my head. I gripped the wooden staff in both hands, and managed to thrust it up over my head just in time to parry the silver staff’s downward strike. As the silver staff hit my wooden one, my hands stung from the power of the blow.
He backed away and came at me again with a look of grim determination set on his face, but I held him off. Time after time he attacked me, the sound of our staves cracking loudly in this quiet place of refuge. I was getting tired. He was much older and stronger than I, and more than a few times, I thought that he would defeat me. Once during our fight, I became careless and his staff grazed the left side of my head. I fell to the ground, seeing stars for a few seconds, but when I realized how vulnerable I was, I quickly jumped to my feet.
I could see that I was probably going to lose this fight, but after executing a brilliant series of feints and strikes that pushed my defenses to the limits, he paused, and I could sense in him a split second of distraction. I took my chance: springing quickly towards him, I swung my staff hard for his legs. I’d caught him by surprise, and though he tried to jump away, my staff struck his left leg directly below the back of his knee with a satisfying ‘thunk.’ He stumbled, and fell backward on his wings. He grimaced in pain for a second, and I knew from the experience of having fallen on my own wings a few times, that the landing had to have hurt.
The surprise and pain of the fall had been just enough to dislodge the silver staff from his grasp. As he released it, a quick flick of my own staff sent it flying to the other side of the grotto. Now it was far enough away, out of his reach. I ended in a guard position, the end of my staff held at his throat. One jab and he was finished, and we both knew it.
For a second he looked surprised, and then he began to smile at me as he had before. Soon the smile turned into a laugh.
“Well done young prince, you fight with cunning and skill,” he chuckled. “You were a good choice to take his place.”
I frowned in puzzlement over his cryptic comment. “Take whose place? I don’t understand.” My staff was still at his throat.
Then, in one fluid movement, he pulled the staff from my hands, sat up and flowed to his feet. I knew that he was going to try to connect with my head again; I panicked for a moment, until I remembered that I could also use magic. I gathered my strength, and a silver ball materialized in my hand, waiting for the attack to come.
The older angel just continued to laugh softly, grounded the wooden staff on the stone floor and leaned on it. Finally he stopped his chuckling, but continued to smile at me. “You will be a great wizard as long as your heart remains pure, you think before you act, and you keep your temper in check.”
By now I was totally confused, but I also knew that I was fairly tired and out of breath from our sparring, for I realized that was what it had been. I was hot and breathing heavily, the sweat rolling off my body. My head throbbed from the angel’s glancing blow. I suddenly realized that I was very thirsty, and feeling a bit foolish crouched there with a lightning ball in my hand. I let the silvery orb dissipate and stood, wary yet of a surprise attack. He continued to lean on the wooden staff and smiled. Finally, he began to speak again.
“Drink, you’ve come a great distance, although you still have far to go,” he said, with an encouraging tone in his voice. Then he pointed the end of the staff he’d been leaning on towards the water flowing out of the rock, into the pool.
I looked suspiciously at him.
“Drink,” he repeated as he pointed the wooden staff towards the water.
Slowly, I turned around and looked at the clear, cold pool of water. I knelt down in front of it. I stretched out my hand, cupped it and placed it under the stream of water running from the rock. I put my hand to my lips and took a sip. I took another and another until my thirst was satisfied. As I drank, I felt refreshed and revived, as if the water was in reality not water at all but a potent, strength-giving elixir.
“You can never drink from here again,” he admonished me.
“I won’t, sir,” I said to him.
“Now go, and do what you have been chosen to do, that I may begin the healing.”
“For what have I been chosen, sir? And what healing?” I asked.
“Bring him back to me,” was all that the handsome angel would say, and he pointed to the passage I’d used to enter the grotto.
I took that to be a command for me to leave, so I walked back to the entry and prepared to pass through it.
“Hold,” the angel said. He bent down, picked up the silver staff and threw it to me. “Every wizard needs a staff.”
I caught it. As soon as my hands touched the cold, polished silver of the staff’s haft, a strange feeling came over me. I began to feel light headed, and a soft buzzing sound filled my ears. I got dizzy, and vertigo overcame me as I began to feel sick to my stomach. The feeling wasn’t unlike that of falling, except the sensation just continued, as if the fall were going on for a long time. After a few minutes the strange sensations eased, and I was left standing before him, holding the four-headed serpent staff. I looked up to see the older angel still looking at me, and then I noticed that he was pointing to the passage I’d used to enter the hidden grotto. I turned and walked back through it, but before I did I turned back to see him once more smiling at me.
As soon as I emerged from the passage, the ground began to tremble. I ran down the hill just as the mountain of rock caved in upon itself, filling up the grotto and the space where the angel had stood.
After the dust settled, I ran back to the passage, but now it was gone – destroyed by the rock fall.
“Are you all right?” I shouted, “Can you hear me?”
But I was met with silence. The only sound was the constant blowing of the wind over the arid plain. In that moment, I awoke. I was still in Nic’s arms, but I was covered in sweat and my head was pounding.
Over the next few days I had the same dream each night as I slept. It was always the same, and every morning I awoke with an aching headache and my clothes drenched in sweat.
A few days later, as we were walking, I slowed down and allowed Charles to catch up with me. As usual he was watching out for Luc and Jonathan.
I began to tell him of my dream. Every so often he would ask a question, mostly centering on the appearance of the other angel. But I noticed that the more I described my dream and the angel in it, the paler he became.
“That’s quite interesting,” he barely managed to whisper, when I’d done telling him.
I looked sidelong at him, surprised by his reaction.
“Charles, this is only the second time since I have known you that I’ve seen you to act this way. The first was a few weeks ago after you told us how Croal created us. If I recall, I was asking about Loran," I remarked.
Charles remained silent. I became a bit angry, but was determined not to get into a fight.
“Fine Charles, if you have nothing else to say then I’ll just leave you alone.” I began to walk a bit faster, intent on working my way back up to Nic, who was now far in the lead.
“Jamie?” Charles said quietly.
“What?” I was annoyed, keeping my back to him as I started walking even faster to reach Nic.
“The angel in your dream...”
“Yes, what about him?” I still had my back to Charles, but now I wasn’t walking away from him as quickly as I’d been a few seconds before.
“He was Alexander.”
I stopped and looked back at Charles. He remained pale. The expression on his face was serious, and I suddenly felt the warmth drain from my face.
“Great,” I said in a whisper that only he and I could hear, “Just great.” I turned abruptly and continued on walking further ahead, toward Nic.
Later that night, I told Nic of my dream and of Charles’ reaction. We both agreed that dreams were dreams, and at this very moment in time, we were much more concerned with reality. We went to bed that night and I slept soundly in the arms of my Niklas, never to dream the dream of the handsome older angel again.
The next morning we began our journey as we always did. I’d decided to switch places with Cody, letting him walk close to Nic, while I took up the rear. I needed some time to think. The dream was still very vivid in my mind, and I wanted to take some of the day to sort out as much of it as I could.
Just as I’d improved in the use my powers, Cody had also been working on his powers of levitation. He was constantly practicing and could now move rather large objects without much effort. He’d gotten into the habit of levitating small rocks, as we would walk along. Using his mind, he would lift one rock, and then another and finally a third, then he would put them into motion, juggling them as a jongleur would toss balls into the air. The only difference was that Cody never actually touched the rocks; they floated in front of him as he walked. It was both eerie and amusing to watch him walk along, hands at his sides and three fairly large rocks braiding patterns in the air in front of him, moving weightlessly to his whims.
As Cody walked ahead of me, and I watched him doing his juggling and levitation trick, a smile crossed my face. He was such a kind boy, always eager to please – very serious and solemn in his work, yet quick to offer a smile, join in a laugh or tell a joke. In all of the time that we’d been together, from the first moment we’d found him to that very day, I couldn’t remember one incident of anyone ever being upset or mad at him. He was a natural, born diplomat. It seemed that no matter what would go wrong or how upset we would sometimes get at each other, Cody always had a way of smoothing the situation out a bit. He had a great talent for making peace when tensions began to rise, which happened more often than not when Charles and I got into a disagreement. But Cody always had the ability to make me laugh or at least smile, and his easy-going ways often headed off potential flair-ups of my volatile temper.
Continuing to walk on, my eyes focused on Cody, and I became lost in my thoughts, when suddenly he stopped and as I watched, one by one the stones he was juggling dropped from the air and landed with three separate thuds on the ground. He didn’t seem to even notice that they’d fallen. As I got closer to him I could see that he was concentrating very hard on something and almost appeared to be in a trance.
“Cody?” I called as I approached him, “Cody?”
He made no response.
I placed my hand on his shoulder shook him gently a few times, only to receive a blank stare from his glazed and distant eyes.
“Nic, come back here,” I called out, but got no answer. Nic had been moving further and further ahead, but when he saw I was standing there with Cody, he headed back. Charles also made his way up to us, with Jonathan and Luc in tow.
By the time Nic arrived, Cody seemed to rouse from his introspective thoughts.
“Do you hear it?” he said.
“Hear what?” Charles asked.
“An energy pulse, it’s very faint, but I’m sure that I hear it.”
After a quick poll, it was agreed that none of us could hear anything. But we all knew that Cody was much more sensitive to energy pulses than the rest of us.
“What is it, Cody?” Charles asked, “Another orb?”
“Well, I don’t think so; it definitely sounds bigger and stronger. It seems to be ahead of us a bit further in the distance, that’s maybe why none of you sense it yet, but I can tell that something’s definitely out there.”
With that said, we continued our journey. By early afternoon, I could also just barely hear something, and by the time we made camp that evening all of us – except Luc, who wasn’t an Icarian – could hear it. The next day we continued in the direction of the pulsations, that were getting louder and stronger the further we marched. Finally, we came to a small out-cropping of trees that sprouted from the plains.
“It’s here,” Cody announced. But his pronouncement was unnecessary, since we all could feel the energy pulsing up at us through the earth.
I looked at Cody. “It’s a coffin, isn’t it?”
“Yes, that’s what I think; it’s too big to be an orb. The energy signature is huge.”
“I agree, Cody.”
“Well, Jamie if you’re ready, let’s get it over with,” Nic said.
“Ok everyone, move over to the side, it’s right here.” I pointed directly under where I was standing. “I’m going to bring it up and set it over there,” I continued rather matter-of-factly, and I pointed to a flat place directly in front of one of the large trees. “I should have it up on the surface in a few minutes.”
Everyone moved to the left side. I took a few steps back and extended my hand out, with my palm parallel to the ground. I closed my eyes and let my thoughts settle into the earth. Before long, I found it; surprised to discover that it seemed much larger than the one Cody had been in, with the dead angel.
Just as I’d done with both Cody’s and Damian’s coffins, I wrapped my thoughts around it, and in doing so grew quite certain that this coffin – if indeed that’s what it was – was much larger and heavier than any other I’d previously encountered. Slowly and forcefully I began to pull. I managed to move it ever so slightly, but it’s size and weight was great.
From the time I discovered I had this ability upon finding and unearthing Cody’s coffin, I’d been exercising my powers. After unearthing Damian’s coffin, which had been in much drier and firmer ground, I could see that my power had grown even more. Since then, and through additional practice, I’d continued to increase my strength, and felt greater confidence in my abilities.
Now though, I was beginning to realize that maybe my earlier self-assurance wasn’t as justified as I’d previously thought. After a few minutes of abortive attempts, during which time I became drenched in sweat, I’d only managed to move the large object a few inches.
“Are you alright Jamie?” Nic asked, concern echoing in his voice.
“It’s a lot larger and heaver than I first thought,” I said, in an attempt to explain my lack of success while at the same time trying to cover my slight embarrassment in sounding so arrogant and cocky a few moments earlier.
“Jamie,” a firm and steady voice said.
Turning to the direction it came from, I saw Charles had moved and was standing directly behind me.
“Jamie,” he started once again, “You have the essence of three orbs, please use them effectively.”
I scowled at him. “Easy for you to say Charles,” I thought to myself, but kept quiet.
Charles smug pronouncement angered me. If he knew so much, why wasn’t he the one trying to pull an impossibly large and heavy object to the surface from deep within the ground using only the force of his mind? Frowning even deeper and with a feeling of great annoyance I tried once more.
Charles’ chiding and my increased temper must have been just enough to give me strength I didn’t know I had. As I concentrated once more I could feel something stronger and more powerful than I’d ever felt before well up inside me. Fueled by my anger, I tapped into it. Once more I reached my mind around the large object and yanked it with all the mental strength I could muster.
Then, slowly and surely, the heavy object began to move; the ground shook slightly and it began its journey to the surface. Just before it was about to break through the grass covered ground, I felt my strength falter, but then I glanced over at Charles who was smugly smirking at me. Anger and annoyance at his demeanor boiled up from deep inside me, and with one great, concerted mental pull, the object broke the surface. Now even angrier, I allowed it to rise completely out of the earth, and caused it to hover a few feet above the ground. I floated it off to the side, safely out of everyone’s way, and just for good measure held it suspended in the air for a few more seconds in defiance to Charles’ earlier goading.
“Satisfied?” I said, under my breath as I turned toward my friends. “There,” I said speaking louder and looking directly at Charles. “It’s ready for your inspection!”
I noticed Nic shaking his head, while Charles just continued smirking, but the others didn’t seem to notice my annoyance and irritation.
Seconds after I placed the coffin back on the ground, everyone ran over to it. Upon closer inspection, it was obvious that not only was this coffin larger than either Cody’s and Damian’s, it was even larger than the one that had held Nic and me.
As we stood there looking at it, Charles came up behind me and quietly whispered. “I don’t recognize this vessel at all… I never saw this design before.”
I looked at Charles and frowned, but neither of us said anything further.
Just as with Cody’s coffin, as soon as the container surfaced, the energy pulsation was deafening. Nic walked over to what looked like the lid; there on the front was the same type of protrusion that had been on Cody’s coffin.
As I had before, I approached the protrusion and waved my hand over it, but nothing happened. I concentrated harder, but still nothing happened. I finally put my hand directly on the protrusion and directed all my energy into it, but the result was the same.
“Stand back,” Nic shouted.
I took one step back just in time to see Nic’s sword slice past my face. He hit the protrusion, and in a second it was cut off and WHOOSH! the lid of the coffin slid open. As soon as it flew open, the pulsation ceased. Simultaneously, two angels leapt from the open container.
They were each the same size. One had dark, slightly curly hair that was closely cropped to his head. He had brown eyes and appeared to be about the same size as Nic, and roughly the same age or a bit younger.
The second angel had light blond hair, a fair complexion, an attractive face and light blue-gray eyes. He also appeared to be as tall as Nic, but definitely a bit younger than either Nic or the first angel who had emerged. The brown-haired boy was thin, but muscular while the blond-haired boy – not as physically developed as the brown haired one – appeared wiry and quick.
Their entrance shocked us. Up until now, anyone emerging from one of the coffins needed at least an hour or two to acclimate themselves to the world. These angels sprang out of their coffin and landed on their feet in what seemed like mere seconds to me. Not only that, I couldn’t help notice they were heavily armed and prepared for battle.
Both angels had golden wings like Nic, although not quite as beautiful or regal as his. Each wore battle armor, although unlike Nic’s, their armor seemed a bit heavy and it covered slightly more of their bodies. Each had a short sword resting in a baldric that lay between their wings, and both had daggers clasped at their sides.
Nic was in front of them almost from the second they sprang into action, and while his weapons weren’t drawn, I could tell that he was prepared to draw them at a moment’s notice. As soon as the angels caught sight of Nic, they dropped to the ground on one knee and bowed their heads low.
“Your Highness,” the blonde angel said, “we live to serve and obey you.”
As his mate, I could tell that Nic was a bit wary, but he didn’t show it – at least to anyone else.
“Who are you?”
“I’m Lancelot.” the blond angel spoke again.
“And I’m Matthew,” the dark haired angel said. Both angels continued to bow their heads.
I looked over to Charles. It was obvious to me that he was definitely uneasy with this sudden, surprising turn of events, and as I’d hoped he would, he gave me the look that I was searching for.
As a wizard, I had the ability to read minds. In fact, it was one of the earliest powers that I’d discovered. At first, my ability had been crude and my efforts could be misdirected or unfocused. Now many months after I had awakened, I’d honed that ability to perfection.
Upon first learning of this unique ability, I’d attempted to indiscriminately probe the mind of any person I encountered. In fact a look into Charles mind soon after our rescue revealed a few things, and although I didn’t understand much of what I’d learned, it had made me wonder if much of his knowledge was key to our future.
Later I became more hesitant to probe the minds of others. I began to feel that it was similar to spying on a person or seeing them naked when they would not have wanted me to. Therefore, although I had this power, I’d made a pact with myself that I would never invade another person’s thoughts just for sport or curiosity. I made a set of personal rules that governed my powers of mind reading. Up until this point, I was determined to read another’s mind only to save a life, get out of danger, give assistance to another, or if a person directly gave me their permission.
The only person I freely communicated with mentally, and without always asking, was Nic; since we were a mating pair, he’d given me permission to enter his mind whenever necessary. In fact, I’d thoroughly read his mind and had also shared all of my thoughts freely with him so there were no secrets that we kept from each other. It was also quite convenient, for there were times when we would communicate this way without anyone else being aware of it.
All of my companions knew of my self-imposed rules about mind reading. They knew their thoughts were safe within their heads and they needn’t fear me mucking about in their brains, looking for information. But they also knew that just the right glance to me, given at the right moment, was a direct signal for me to enter their minds. Charles had just given me that look.
Gently and carefully, I entered his mind.
“Charles, what is it?”
“Jamie, they’re Royal Thrones.”
“What do you mean, Royal Thrones?”
“Royal Dominion Archangels of the High Throne.”
“Yes, so what does that mean?”
“They’re like Nic. They are battle angels. It’s their sworn duty to protect the Crown.”
“Well, we have the Crown here. Nikki IS the King after all.”
“You don’t understand Jamie. I DON’T KNOW THEM!!!”
“So, you don’t know them. So what?”
“Jamie, I knew, or at least had seen, every angel who was ever created within the imperial and royal services – just as I knew Damian when we found him. I thought those directly in the service of the royal and imperial houses was a very small group – and I assumed I knew every angel who lived or died – remember, I was the first. I thought I knew of EVERY single Icarian within the special inner ruling circle who was cryo-tanked (placed in a coffin as you say) and I’m telling you again that I don’t know who these angels are! I’ve never seen them until right now.”
Suddenly the ramifications of what he was telling me began to enter my consciousness.
“So where the did they come from, Charles?”
“I don’t know.”
“Charles, are we in trouble?”
“I don’t know that either.”
“Then what do you know?”
“That we have to be very careful. I smell danger.”
"Charles, I have to go warn Nikki."
I flew out of Charles mind… probably a bit too quickly, because I noticed him wobble slightly and then hold his head as if he were dizzy.
Very carefully, I entered Nic’s mind.
“Niklas, can you hear me?”
“Yes Jamie, what’s wrong?”
“Charles doesn’t recognize these two, and he assures me that he knows all the angels who were ever created.”
“Well, apparently he doesn’t know about these two, Jamie.”
“No, he doesn’t. Be careful Nic. They’re battle angels like you, and there are two of them with swords and daggers.”
“I’m sure I can take them.”
“That’s not the idea Niklas; something’s not right here: be very careful, please.”
“I will, Jamie.”
Slowly I crept out of Nic’s mind.
Back in my own head again, I could see that the two angels were still kneeling and Nic continued to stand over them.
“Rise,” he commanded.
“Yes, your highness.” Again, it was Lancelot who spoke; outside of stating his name, Matthew hadn’t said a word.
“Look at this.” Cody suddenly shouted.
We all looked to see Cody bent over the coffin that the two battle angels had emerged from. He was reaching into it, trying to pick up something. After a few seconds, he withdrew his hand and we could all see that he was holding a pulsating orange orb.
“The Orb of the Hawk.” I heard Charles quietly whisper, then add, “What would battle angels be doing with an orb?”
I almost had to remind myself to keep breathing. For some strange reason, the temptation to hold my breath was extremely strong. A feeling of dread overcame me and suddenly it felt as if I could sense throughout every cell of my body that something was definitely not right with this scene playing before my eyes.
Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for my thoughts to be confirmed, for suddenly there was a loud BOOM like a clap of thunder and the air before me began to shimmer. Dense and dark, a cloud of smoke formed a few feet in front of me, and when it cleared. I was looking upon my older brother, Loran. He looked exactly as he had during our first encounter at the abbey. For a few seconds he simply stood and looked at all of us standing before him.
“It certainly took you long enough to get here, little brother,” he said in a snide and sarcastic tone of voice. “If you were a true wizard you could have easily eliminated all that travel in an instant. But I guess we know who the real wizard is, don’t we Jamie?”
Then he stood silent staring at me with a smug smirk on his face. I gulped, took a step back and began to feel sick to my stomach.
“Loran I mean you no harm… I never have.” I said, trying with all my might to remain calm as I stood quaking under his gaze, but I choked on the words even as they left my mouth, while a slight quiver in my voice betrayed my true feelings.
“Well, of course you don’t, little brother – there really isn’t anything you can actually do to me,” he said. And as his eyes rested upon me, I felt like a fly trapped in a spider’s web.
“I… I’m sorry about what happened at the abbey,” I stammered. “I… I… didn’t even realize what I was doing.”
“It was quite the trick, Jamie. I’m sure you thought yourself the clever little wizard, but remember one thing: you’ll never have the mastery of the orbs of Lon Nol that I do.”
A sense of dread began to burn in my chest like a raging fire ready to consume it, and the panic that raced through my mind made me feel like my stomach wanted to violently empty itself of the food I’d just eaten during our noonday meal. I bowed my head and tried to focus. I began to try with all my might to clear my mind and bring under control the fear that dominated my conscious thoughts. More as an instinct than a conscious reaction I activated the screen, and it flashed open before me. Loran blinked his eyes, stared for a few seconds and suddenly his expression turned from one of smug arrogance to pure rage.
“How did you learn to use that?” he shouted at me. Then his eyes darted to my upper leg. “The owl! You have the owl,” he snarled at me, and I watched his eyes move down my body, resting on the tattoo. “You stinking little turd. How did you come to get the owl?”
I didn’t respond, but swallowed hard and kept looking at him. I could feel my mouth getting dry. A sick feeling welled up from my stomach. He took one determined step towards me, but stopped as Nic moved to my side, put his arm around me and glared back at him. I, in turn, took one step backward, stumbling as I did. Only Nic’s arm around my waist prevented me from falling over.
Too frightened to say another word, I glanced over at Charles; he, too, had a wild look of fear etched on his face. I noticed that his eyes went from me to Loran’s upper leg. Glancing in the same direction I could see that in addition to the Tiger, there was now a spider in one of the spaces in his tattoo. Loran stood silently staring at me for a few more seconds and I watched carefully as he first narrowed then closed his eyes. I watched him take a deep breath and slowly let it out. And it seemed to me that he was trying to release some of the anger and hatred he’d shown me after his initial appearance.
“Actually, Jamie,” he began in a calm and almost quiet voice when he finally began to speak. “Let’s just say this is something of a social visit.” I watched as a forced smile came to his face. “First, I wanted to see how my little brother and all his friends were doing, and now having done so, I see that you’re all as pathetic as ever. Second, I came for the Orb of the Hawk – it will enhance my powers greatly. Third, I have begun to gather my soldiers to me.”
As he said the last part, he looked at Matthew and Lance who were now standing in front of Nic. Both boys stared at him, but neither said a word or made any movement.
“But today you’re lucky, for there will be no battle, Jamie,” he said still holding the smile that by now looked more like an angry sneer. “I will absorb the essence of the Orb of the Hawk and continue to increase my army. We will meet another day, little brother: I, and my army, against you and your sorry little band of misfits. Oh, and yes, I see that you have absorbed three orbs. Well, I will soon have three orbs myself. And I want you to know that those will be the last three you ever get to absorb; I will be taking all of the rest. Soon it will be over and I’ll establish my kingdom as both king and wizard.”
“Come with me,” he commanded, suddenly turning towards the two battle angels. “NOW!” he shouted in an imperious tone.
Suddenly, Matthew sprang into action. He was on Cody in an instant, and quickly had the young angel on the ground. Swiftly he scooped up the orb from the hands of the shocked and startled boy then flew to Loran’s side and bowed.
“Your Grace, I am at your command," he said in a formal and deferential tone.
Lance, who’d positioned himself closer to Nic, continued to stand his ground.
Suddenly it occurred to me that Loran had entered Matthew’s mind and had been conversing with him. He had told the battle angel to seize the orb and deliver it to him. His ploy had worked exceedingly well, for now it rested in his hands.
“Come,” Loran said, frowning at Lance, “it’s time to go.”
“No.” Lance quietly and shyly said.
“What do you mean, ‘no’?” Loran’s voice rose, and as it did I could feel myself tremble.
“I am a Royal Dominion Archangel of the High Throne. My duty is to the Crown, before which I now stand.”
“You impudent fool, you were created for ME!” Loran’s voice boomed. “Come here at once and obey me.”
“I serve the Crown.” Lance said so softly that I almost didn’t hear him. Then he went before Nic, knelt on one knee and bowed his head.
Loran’s anger flared. I could see him gathering a red ball of lightening in his hand. I knew, from the knowledge I’d gained from the screen, that it was a fatal bolt, one that would cause death to whomever it touched. He hurled it at Lance, but before it touched him, it struck an invisible wall and evaporated into nothing. At first Loran just blinked, as if his mind couldn’t grasp what had just happened. He appeared puzzled as he looked down at his hand, then at Lance, then back to his hand. Then his look turned to one of sudden awareness and great surprise. Instantly he turned to face me.
“So, I see we’ve been practicing, little boy.” he said, spitting out the words at me. “Well, if the cretinous fool wants to stay with you, he can. It will just mean one more of you to kill later.”
Matthew was now standing behind Loran; I saw that he had his hand on his sword. Loran looked at Nic, and took a step toward him. My older brother’s arm was outstretched as if to strike Nic or cast some kind of spell on him, and instantly the fear that had held me helpless evaporated. I couldn’t explain it, but suddenly all my fears evaporated, replaced by wild anger.
“That’s enough, Loran,” I shouted. Cody winced, Charles snapped his head from Loran to me, and even Nic turned to face me, his mouth gaping open in surprise. “Leave us, immediately!” I commanded – the force and strength of the words coming from my mouth even surprising me. Then stepping away from Nic to stand directly in front of my older brother, I riveted my eyes on his and glared at him.
Loran sneered, but I could have sworn that I noticed him step back slightly.
“Why, I’ll…” Loran tried to continue, but I cut him off.
“You’ll do nothing of the sort, Loran. I think you should leave here in all due haste. Take this one with you” – I motioned toward Matthew – “he seems to desire to serve you. If Lance wishes to stay, he stays; the choice is his to make. He claims that his desire is to serve the Crown. Well, the Crown stands before him, and before you as well, and you should show it the respect it deserves.”
Now I was pointing to Niklas, who just stood nearby still silently staring at me. In fact at this point, everyone’s eyes were glued on me. Loran’s face went from a sneer to shock.
“And furthermore Loran, I’ve spoken to Alexander. He’s given me a task, and I intend to execute it. Yes brother, I know that you speak the truth, we will meet again. I extended to you my friendship and trust, but you spurned the offer. Very well, on your head be it. Yes, we will meet again, and at that time you will have reason to fear this band of so-called misfits.”
Loran just stood there, looking into my eyes. I met his gaze and returned it, unblinking. Then there was a sudden flash and he was gone as quickly as he came. Matthew was also gone, along with the orange Orb of the Hawk. After Loran had vanished, everyone just looked at me.
“What did you just do?” Cody asked in a tone of awe and amazement. “I mean, he was going to kill us, I know he was, but then he just ran off.”
“I think you scared him, Your Grace,” Luc said, and as I looked at him I could see both surprise and pride in his face when his eyes met mine.
“That’s because he fears him.” Charles interrupted, looking at me.
I looked at Charles, puzzled at his pronouncement.
“Loran came here to get the orb and cause trouble, but he suddenly realized a few things. He realized that Jamie now has three of the essences, while he only has two. And Jamie’s use of The Screen came as a complete and utter surprise to him; he hadn’t thought about that possibility, and it caught him off guard. Then he saw Jamie effectively block his attack on Lance – he definitely hadn’t counted on that.” Turning toward me, Charles continued, “You also mentioned his dead mate Alexander, and finally and most importantly, you stood up to him. Sometimes the best thing to do to a bully is simply stand up to him and call his bluff.
“Jamie,” Charles continued, now looking directly at me. “It’s like we talked about before. I told you that Loran was trained to be a wizard; he knows the formulae taught to him, and he follows a script that was written centuries ago by people who are long dead. You don’t have any of these constraints put upon you. You’re different. Your power and your wizardry flow from the events and forces that you’ve had to deal with. You truly are the first Icarian, learning to fly carefully between the sun and the water.
“Jamie, at the moment he fears you. You are younger, certainly inexperienced, and you’ve yet to fully actualize yourself, but in this encounter with Loran you made him see your differences and your potential. I could see it in his face. He was afraid to fight you today, because he wasn’t sure what the outcome would be. He wants to control the situation; he needs to believe he has the upper hand. Today, he realized that he might not have that upper hand any more. It unsettled him, and caused him to withdraw”.
Nic walked over and took my hand. He looked into my eyes with an expression that was both amused and surprised. “Jamie, you’re terrified of him. I know this for a fact. You and I have had many conversations about him and I know how fearful you really are of him. What ever possessed you to confront him like that?”
“Well Nic… I… well… honestly, I don’t know,” I said as I could feel my cheeks get hot as the blood rushed to my face.
Charles began to walk away from our group.
“Come here, Nic and Jamie,” he called back as he continued to walk.
Once we were a slight distance from the others, and more importantly out of their hearing, he continued in a soft, quiet voice.
“It’s called The Rite of Unification.”
“What are you talking about, Charles?” I asked.
“Listen Jamie,” Charles continued. “Since there were no females created, there had to be some method of reproduction. It was by no means certain that the original genetic combination created by Croal would survive over the dark ages that would come once the disease had completely taken over the world of the Enlightened Ones. Nor was it certain that it could ever be successfully reproduced, so it came to be decided that the genetic material from the two strongest, most intelligent angels would serve as the basis for the creation of all the others. All the means to perform these actions exist and can be found in Küronas.
“Loran and Alexander were the angels selected for this task, since their genetic characteristics were highly desirable. Loran was the first of the Imperial Principalities angel class. He was chosen to be the wizard and Alex, who was the first Royal Dominion Throne, was to be the king. In order to assure that the species would survive, the king and wizard were joined in a secret and special ceremony called The Rite of Unification. It was a special bonding on the metaphysical level, and was done to ensure that they would remain united forever since the genetic material from each was needed to create more Icarians.
“Everything was going according to the plans Jonas had devised. Ten years after Loran and Alex were created, they underwent the Rite of Unification. Right after that, Jamie, you came into being. It was decided that a second Imperial High Seraphim should be created, in case problems arose and a spare was needed. So you were created, and chosen to be the Imperial Crown Prince and Scribe of the Imperial House of the High Seraphim, the first and greatest clan of all the great houses.
“But an accident occurred, Alex was killed, and Loran suffered disunion, a fate not much better than death. Upon the death of Alexander, there was nothing to do but elevate you to Wizard and create a mate for you who would take Alexander’s place and would become head of the Royal Clan, forming The Royal Dominion House.”
“And that mate was Nikki?” I looked at Nic, and smiled at him. He gave me a serious look back, and I could tell that he was taking Charles’ words seriously.
“Yes, Nic was created to become your mate, and your role, Jamie, suddenly went from Imperial Crown Prince to Wizard.”
“No wonder Loran hates me. He was supposed to be the wizard and I stole it from him.”
“You stole nothing, Jamie.” Charles continued, “After the death of Alexander, the only logical thing to do was to make you the wizard, and Nic the king.”
I stood thinking for a few seconds about what I’d just been told, then looked back at Charles. “Wait, why didn’t Croal just create another mate for Loran?”
“He couldn’t: once Unification occurs, it’s permanent and irreversible.
"The Rite of Unification creates a mating bond that lasts forever. The negative side is that when the other half dies, there can be no other mate. It has its counterpart in the natural world. Some animals mate for life, so when the other half dies they will no longer join with another – they have permanently bonded with their original mate and a second pairing with a new mate is impossible.”
“Oh, I see, and this made him angry?”
“Actually, Jamie, it made him insane.”
I know I must have given Charles a strange look, because he paused for a few seconds. He seemed to gather his thoughts, and then he continued:
“The bond is so strong that neither you nor Nic can imagine a life without the other. That is why when you are threatened Jamie, as you were in the provisional offices and in the abbey with Loran, Nic came to your defense even though the odds were against him. And that’s why, even though your fear of Loran is so thick you can cut it with a knife, you stood up to him when he threatened Niklas. Each of you will fight to the death to save the other. You are bound together forever this way, for if one of you is gone, the mind of the other will not be able to stand the separation.”
“And that’s what happened to Loran: after Alex died, he went insane. He’s like the walking dead. He’s incomplete without Alexander, yet he still lives. Alex’s death created a conflict in his mind – a conflict too great to resolve, and insanity has been the result. That’s why he’s trying to assume the role of King and Wizard both – he is attempting to resolve the conflict in his mind, but he can’t, because he can’t bring Alex back.”
“Oh…” I said barely noticing the word escape from my lips.
“You stood up to Loran just now to protect Nic, just as Nic fought against him in the abbey to protect you. The bond of metaphysical love between you is stronger than the thickest and strongest iron cable that anchors a great ship in a harbor. It is stronger than the gravity that holds us to this world.”
“Are you saying that if something happens to one of us, the other could go insane also?” Nic addressed Charles.
“Most likely Nic; that’s why you fight so fiercely for each other: your metaphysical nature cannot even think of life without the other.”
“We will talk of this more,” Charles said, “but now the others are looking strangely at us. I think it’s best if we return to them and get out of here.”
“Oh, and ah… yes, you two?”
Nic and I both turned back toward Charles.
“I wouldn’t say anything to the others about this. This is a private issue only for the King and the Wizard.” Nic and I silently nodded our agreement to Charles. We made our way back to the group.
Everyone was still a bit shaken from our encounter with Loran. Everyone except for Jonathan – he was laughing and trying to attack Cody as if he were an enemy.
Even though the little angel was blind, his sense of hearing and direction were incredible. Cody would jump around him and try to duck out of Jonathan’s way, but the blind little angel always seemed to know where he was. At one point, as Jonathan mounted his attack and charged the now laughing Cody full force, Cody jumped and took flight, thinking that Jonathan would head for him but be thwarted when suddenly Cody would seem to have disappeared. But much to Cody’s surprise, the little boy also jumped and collided with Cody just as the blue-winged angel’s feet left the ground, and both fell in a fit of laughter.
“That’s enough.” Nic addressed the two boys in a serious tone. “We need to get moving as quickly as possible.”
Cody sheepishly looked up.
“Yes, Your Highness.” and he took Jonathan in his arms.
I noticed Lance standing to the side. While not as tall or muscular as Nic, he was nonetheless strong; I could see that he was serious in his manner. I also noticed that he seemed to closely observe every movement and action around him.
I walked over to him and looked him in the eye.
My mind was filled with what Charles had been telling Nic and me about mating pairs, and in light of my recent encounter with Loran, my interest in Nic’s safety was now a much greater concern than ever before.
“Excuse me, but would you all wait one minute, please,” I said as everyone stopped and looked in the direction of Lance and me.
“Lance, I have to ask you: why did you stay here, and not go with Loran?”
“Just as I told that other angel… you called him Loran? The one who wanted me to come with him?”
“Yes Lance, his name is Loran and you might as well know, he’s my brother.”
“It’s just as I said to him. My duty is to the Crown. This is the King.” Lance pointed to Nic, “And my orders are to serve the king.”
“Do you know who I am?”
“Yes, Your Grace. You are the Wizard.”
“That’s correct, Lance. And as Wizard, do I have command of your actions?”
“Yes, Your Grace, of course you do. You are of the highest authority.”
“Then kneel before me.”
Lance immediately knelt down before me and bowed his head. I saw Nic raise an eyebrow, while Charles frowned. I reached out my hand and placed it on his head. He was both taller and older than me, so it must have been strange to everyone viewing the scene to see the older, stronger boy kneel before a much younger and probably weaker one.
I paused for a second, looking at the group now huddled around Lance and me, but continued to address the young battle angel.
“Lancelot, bound both by my command as Wizard and your sworn duty as a Royal Dominion Archangel of the High Throne, I do hereby command you to preserve and protect the Crown of Icaria against all attack and any manner of evil, even unto the very death. Do you so swear?”
“I do, Your Grace. I swear, to my very death, should that be needed,” the battle angel said softly.
“Arise, general; the armies of Icaria await your command. Your King requires your protection, and your Wizard, your loyalty.”
Lance blinked, looked up at me with a puzzled look on his face and addressed me. "Permission to speak freely, Your Grace?"
"Granted," I replied.
“With all due respect Your Grace, I’m just a common battle angel… I’m not….”
“You are my general, Lance, and also the personal protector of my mate, His Royal Highness Niklas. It’s a role that I think will suit you perfectly.”
Lance continued to give me a look of confusion. “But, Your Grace…”
“You heard him, General Lancelot.” Nic said, beaming a smile at the angel and reaching out his hand to assist him as Lance arose from the ground. “The wizard has spoken. I think you will serve perfectly at my side as my principal general.”
“The deed is done, Lancelot,” Nic said, still smiling. “Would you refuse both the King and the Wizard of Icaria?”
“Well… ah… well, no…of course not, never, Your Highness!” Lance suddenly blurted out, now standing at attention.
“Then it’s settled,” Nic continued. “For the next few days I’d like you to walk with me as we journey; I want to relay the events of the past months to you. I want you to be prepared for what might lie ahead. And,” Nic paused and his smile got even bigger, “it’s going to be good to have a sparring partner for a change, to keep me in shape.”
At the words sparring partner, Lance turned to Nic and a look of surprise crossed his face.
“I would be honored Your Highness, but I know that my skills are nowhere near yours. I’m sure there are many more suitable partners than myself,” Lance said in what I was starting to see was his natural voice – one of softness and quiet gentleness.
I snapped my head up in surprise and stared at Nic, when peals of laughter suddenly rolled from his mouth.
“Lancelot, take a good look at this group,” Nic said, between fits of laughter, “And tell me, how many of them would make a better sparring partner than you?”
I watched as Lance slowly turned his head to survey our little group. A slight smile came to his lips, then as if realizing what he’d just done, he bowed his head and I could see him begin to blush. He seemed to try and suppress his smile, but it was obvious that he wasn’t having much success.
“I understand, Your Highness,” was all he said, still blushing and looking to the ground with a slight half-smile set on his face.
“I guess magic doesn’t count for much amongst you fighting men,” I said, sounding a bit annoyed.
Still smiling Nic approached me and put his arms around me. “Don’t be that way Jamie, of course magic counts. Everything everyone does in this group counts.”
Still frowning, I looked up at him. He bent down, kissed me, moved his lips to my ear, and whispered, “You’re a much better sparring partner in other things.”
As he rose up, his eyes caught mine and he winked at me. Now it was my turn to lower my head and blush. Although I was sure Charles hadn’t heard him, I could hear him snickering and I knew my blush was now in full bloom, as the heat rose to my face and even my ears.
“Everything’s settled then,” Nic said turning from me toward Lance and lightly slapping the shoulder of the newest member of our band. Then he firmly shook Lance’s hand.
In fact, everyone except me shook Lance’s hand. Since I had just invested him, I chose to remain more aloof and simply offered him verbal congratulations. I noticed that Cody seemed to shake Lance’s hand a bit longer than the others and maybe it was my imagination, but they seemed to be smiling curiously at each other. But I quickly dismissed the thought as I turned to Nic.
For about an hour, we remained at the site where we’d discovered Lance and Matthew’s coffin – partly to rest a bit and recover from the surprise encounter with Loran, and partly to better introduce and acclimate Lancelot to our group. But soon it was time to continue, and we resumed our trek across the open plains.
As he’d indicated earlier, Nic invited Lancelot to walk beside him, and as I watched them striding a few feet ahead of me, I smiled to myself as I heard Nic begin an animated retelling of our journey, beginning with the awakening of he and I in our coffin in the dark and dense forest. Lance, for his part, listened in rapt attention as my mate spun his tale, occasionally asking a question in a respectful tone or simply nodding his head at one of Nic’s comments.
I was inwardly pleased that Nic seemed to have gained a kindred spirit. Both boys were warriors – and from what Charles had told me about Royal Thrones, I had no doubt that Lancelot was also a fierce fighter. Yet both were quiet and gentle, not what one would expect from someone trained in the art of war and killing. Occasionally Nic would laugh and smile when the young Royal Throne would respond to something Nic had said or a question he would ask the younger boy, and I knew that my decision to make Lance my mate’s principle protector had been a wise one.
We continued on when suddenly after about two hours of walking, I turned to Cody and gave him an inquiring look. He in turn returned my look with a slight nod of his head. I stopped walking and within a few seconds Cody was at my side and we began to confer. After a brief discussion with the blue-winged angel, I knew what I must do.
“Nic?” I shouted.
Nic, who had been walking with Lancelot lost in conversation as he relayed the events of the past months, abruptly stopped, turned, and walked back to me.
“What is it, Jamie?”
“Cody and I think we sense something,” I said.
“Do you mean like an orb, or a coffin?”
I looked at Cody, as we both shook our heads no.
“We don’t think so.” I continued. “But it’s something like that.”
By now Charles and Lance had joined us.
“What happening?” Charles asked.
“They sense something,” Nic said responding to Charles question. “But they say it’s not an orb or a coffin.”
It’s hard to explain,” I began, looking for the right words, “but the orbs… uhm… well…”
“They pulse in a special rhythm, “ Cody said jumping into the silence my pause had created. “A rhythm most like a hypnotic heart beat,” he added.
I nodded my head in agreement.
“And the coffins, well…”
“They just shriek,” I said, now cutting off Cody as I jumped into his pause. “But this is something completely different,” I added. Once more Cody nodded in agreement.
Luc, who had been with Jonathan, had by now also joined us. The little blind angel remained silent, but I could sense excitement radiating from Luc.
“Maybe it’s one of those doors,” Luc said, his eyes brightly shining. “Like the one we found in the forest. There was a humming coming from that – you all said you heard it.” And I remembered that Luc, not being an angel, was not attuned to some of the sounds the rest of us heard.
“At this point it’s hard to say. Neither Cody or I have ever felt anything exactly like it, but I think it’s worth investigating,” I stated.
Nic agreed, but emphasized caution, and once more we sojourned on, now searching for the source of the strange signal, although, after a brief discussion, it was decided we would reconfigure our group. Since Cody and I were the most sensitive to the sound, it was suggested that we lead the way with the others following closely behind. I agreed and soon, with Cody and I assuming point, we moved on.