The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie


Book 2 – 'War of the Angels'


Part I - The Golden Orb


Chapter 12



                Just as I’d done in the map room back in Konassas, I stood before the gate. Looking up into the face of the dragon glaring down at me, I chanted the incantation and waited for the mirror to transform from its reflective surface to a translucent shimmer. It only took a second, and the instant it began to glow, I gestured for the others to line up so they could pass through ahead of me – once I entered the gate, it would recognize me and bar passage to any others.


                ‘It’s how I got all of them though during ‘The Night of Flight’,’ I thought to myself, and felt an unexpected prickling at the back of my neck. The memory had come without want or warning, bubbling up into my consciousness from somewhere deep in my mind.


                Lately they’d been doing that – old memories making themselves known, whether wanted and useful or not – scraps of this and that, often disjointed and without reference. I couldn’t help but frown. That was millennia ago, Jamie; concentrate on what you must do now. I pushed hard to empty my mind of all the extraneous thoughts of the past.


                “Step up, one at a time,” I called out to my companions, mentally shaking myself in order to clear my head, and trying to focus on the important task at hand. “Make sure the person ahead of you is completely through before you enter,” I added. “That’s very important. Two can’t enter at the same time. But the process is quite safe and easy: you just walk in, like you’re walking through an open doorway.”


                ‘Easy when you don’t have a squadron of battle hov’s firing Ghosters at you, and an army of Imperial Avengers trying to deconstruct you.’ I suddenly realized my face was involuntarily twisted in a grimace, and my teeth were grinding noisily together as I relived the memory I was trying to repress – unhappy at the power of their grip on me. ‘Just hang on, and in a little while – if everything goes well – you’ll have your memories back.’ The thought – one of hope – spurred me on as I waved everyone up to the now active mirror.


                I wasn’t surprised when Renaud – grim-faced and serious as ever – strode up to me, prepared to be the first to pass through the gate. He’d traveled the gates countless times at the bidding of the Emperor, and as he moved to take his place in front of me he drew his sword, and then pulled and quickly palmed one of the many knives he always carried.


                “You will wait for the signal, sa’Crêsmané,” he said – not a question, but a flat statement of fact.


                This wasn’t the first time I’d traveled the gates with him. From the beginning of our time together, his training – both with the Vipers and as the protector to the Emperor – was so ingrained, that he would never allow me to pass through the gates ahead of him. Ever wary that I might enter a gate on one side only to walk into a trap on the other side, Renaud insisted on a proper plan and we’d carefully worked out a signal. But even as I stepped back and let him prepare to enter, I nodded my head as if to give my assent and permission.


                “Yes Renaud, I’ll wait for the signal we agreed on,” I said, emphasizing the ‘we.’ Although he was officially The Protector to The Protector, I sometimes felt the need to remind him that I wasn’t some little boy afraid of the dark, who constantly needed his hand held. And if, indeed, there were times when I really was afraid, there was no need for him to know it.


                Nodding back at me with a rueful expression he paused, waiting patiently. Sliding the asp ring from my finger, I handed it to him. He plucked it from my fingers without comment, choosing – as he usually did – not to respond openly to my assertions of independence. Sliding the ring on the little finger of his left hand he took one step, then a second, and vanished into the shimmering light. David, who was right behind him, stepped up to the gate – the smile on his face was full of anticipation at the prospect of a new and exciting adventure. But as he approached, I put up my hand and stepped in front of him.


                “The signal,” I said. “We wait.”


                A full five minutes passed as I stood before the mirror gate, impatiently waiting for Renaud’s signal. David kept shifting from one foot to another and twirling one of his knives. Finally a small object was ejected from the mirror. It flew out, arcing two feet into the air above my head. It seemed to hang above me for a split second – oblivious of gravity – then it rapidly fell to the floor, stopping only when it dropped into my outstretched palm.


                “Your ring?” David said, bending down to look at the coiled serpent ring resting in my palm.


                “It’s safe,” I replied, “the rest of you can go through.”


                As they began to enter one by one, I looked down at the ring, turning it over in my hand. Its eyes were small, bright red rubies. The ring I’d given Renaud had sparkling green emeralds set into the snake’s head for its eyes. What no one knew was that Renaud secretly carried a ring he never wore. It was exactly like mine – except for the jewels in the snake’s eyes. Had nothing come though the gate, or had my own emerald-eyed ring returned to me through the mirror instead of the one with the ruby eyes, I’d have known that there was danger ahead. It was Renaud who’d suggested the reversal of ruby and emerald. Since normally green would have meant go, and red stop, the reversal might fool a hostile party into allowing him to send the green-eyed snake through, thinking it would mean go, when it would have indicated the complete opposite.


                I made a tight fist around the ring and it dug almost painfully into my palm. It had belonged to Cristophe – a gift to him from me – fashioned by the same goldsmith who’d made both my ring and the asp bracelets. As it pressed into my skin, hatred welled up inside of me.


                ‘Do it out of love, not hate.’ The words of Brotus echoed in my head.


                “I don’t think I can, Brotus. I don’t think I can, after what…”


                “Jamie? Can I go through now?” David’s question abruptly brought me back to the present.


                “Ah… yes… of course, “ I said. “You can go. All of you can go. Remember, just one at a time though.”


                David put his knife away, gave me a cocky wink, passed through the mirror and was gone. Juston Tark followed him.


                “Unbelievable,” Tark muttered, but strode through the curtain of light with only a second’s hesitation.


                Charles was next. Calm and cool, the placid look on his face was an unreadable mask. If he had any fears or reservations, I couldn’t see or detect them. After learning of our destination, he’d remained aloof from the rest of our group – spending most of the night in the library tent of the Vosh, poring over folio after folio of their many bound books instead of sleeping with the rest of us in the community tent. Without so much as a look in my direction, he waited patiently until Tark had vanished, then quickly strode through the glowing frame.


                If Charles appeared calm, the Vosh seemed to have ice water flowing through their veins. Their faces were hard and resolute. A quick scan of their minds revealed a steely determination – not so much as a hint of worry or fear clouded their thoughts. Their entire demeanor gave one the impression that this was something they did a hundred times a day.


                “Are you all right with this?” I asked Garda as he approached the gate


                From the look he gave me, one would have thought that I’d called his father a Vorhallan and his mother a whore. Stiffening his back, he sucked in a deep breath. Through gritted teeth he spat out, “We are Voshconnan,” as if that explained everything. His eight companions gave me similar looks.


“I was only asking,” I said. “I want to make sure you’re fine with this.”


“The chiefs have made oaths of honor with you. Why do you insult us? We bring no shame.”


“I didn’t insult… I only… by my wings!” I said, borrowing David’s favorite expression. “Just go in one at a time,” I said, trying not to sound as exasperated as I felt.


                Methodically, the Vosh passed through the frame, disappearing one after another – each one giving me a look that would have curdled fresh cream. The last Vosh – a short muscular man nicknamed Kash from the Siron Hom Campa – bared his teeth at me as he passed through, and I thought I heard a guttural growl rise up in his throat.


                “I was only…”


                “I know,” Andrew said, putting his hand on my shoulder and grinning. “As I’ve explained to you, Jamie, they’re big on oaths and honor. They thought you were impugning the blood word of their chiefs.”


                Sighing deeply, I watched as Andrew stepped through the gate. After he’d disappeared, I stepped up to the mirror gate and paused. ‘Now, finally, the wind comes to the sun,’ I thought. ‘Please let it not be too late.’ I walked into the curtain of light and began falling through inky blackness, broken only by an occasional flash of light. While most humans appeared to become disoriented within the gate system, I’d easily adapted to it and actually enjoyed the experience of tumbling rapidly through the blackness of space. I wasn’t sure if all Icarians had the same feeling, but I suspected that since we could fly, we were more used to the rapidly changing movements the gate system put a body through.


                Floating through space, I soon found myself on the opposite side of the destination gate. Quickly popping through, I assessed the condition of my companions; of everyone, Juston Tark looked to be the one who was unsteady, and I was surprised to see the usually unflappable officer pull a cloth from under his breastplate and wipe away a few large beads of perspiration that had formed on his brow. Andrew appeared a bit more oriented, but still he blinked and blinked again while putting a hand to his head. David simply grinned at me and winked, while Charles continued to display a cool impassivity that masked his every thought and feeling. If the Vosh felt any ill effects, they didn’t show it. In fact, clutching their shields and weapons, they were already paired off and in formation according to their respective tribes – Garda at their head as the Shoc’s Nandal.


                “Welcome to Ajax,” I said softly a few seconds after I’d emerged from the mirror gate. They all were so focused on coming through the gate, it appeared they were ignoring the place they’d emerged into. At my words everyone began looking around and surveying their surroundings, although Tark continued to appear unsteady.


                The instant I’d appeared, Renaud stepped to my side – the all-knowing look he gave me spoke volumes, and I remembered the last time I’d stood on this spot with him. We quickly exchanged rings, and as I slipped mine on my finger, David became the first to speak.


                “Look at this place!” he exclaimed, looking about and his voice taking on a tone of awe and reverence.


                No one had to ask what he meant.


                The gate we’d emerged from opened onto a large and expansive square, bordered on all sides by monumental structures of impressive architecture. Large black slabs, thick and solid, made up the pavement we stood on and I immediately recognized the material as almand stone, quarried near Tower Mount and transported here at great cost and effort.


                The mirror gate where we’d come through lay in an alcove that was part of the main gate leading into the square. The gate itself, although massive, comprised only a small portion of the great wall bordering the north side of the square – its façade, inset with carved columns, highly decorated capitals and flowing arches, was designed to create the illusion of a grand arcade. At the center of the wall, and attached to it, was a large granite structure that loomed high overhead, forming a grand triumphal arch. Atop the arch in a hollowed out space above the cornice, a chariot pulled by a team of four mighty horses carried an armor-clad man who gripped the reigns tightly in one hand while brandishing a spear in the other. The sculptor’s chisel had carefully chipped away at the stone, creating muscles in the charioteer’s arms and neck that looked taut and straining, lending the statue a truly life-like appearance. The horses, strong and muscular, each had a pair of large wings sprouting from their backs. Wild eyed and full of spirit, they pulled hard at their reigns, while rearing up on their hind legs. Their front legs and hooves pawed the air and made them appear to be on the verge of leaping into the sky. The entire piece – horses, chariot, and rider – was fashioned from marble finished in gold leaf. Turning toward the arch, I faced a massive portcullis that barred entry. Through its bars, I could see the city beyond – a city of the dead.


                Turning my back on the arch, I glanced about the square, re-familiarizing myself with its lay out. While the north wall, holding the arch and gate, had been fashioned to look like an arcade, the grand structures to our right and left – forming the eastern and western borders of the square – were two actual arcades, each with three levels and each a mirror image of the other. Although they were at some distance from where we stood, they were so large it was easy to see that each was composed of two great towers nearly two hundred feet high standing at each end of the north wall, at the foot of which two long galleries stretched away to the south wall of the square. The lower two floors of the arcades featured a continuous series of Palladian arches. The top level was a wide esplanade with arching skylights of glass and metal. The large twin skylights – each made up of thousands of panes of glass – spanned a length of at least a thousand or more feet. The arched glass roofs were supported by a succession of highly carved and ornate columns, creating a covered passageway on either side of the square that stretched from the north wall where the walled gate stood, to an immense granite building that formed the southern-most boundary of the square.


                “Are we really on the moon, on Ajax?” Andrew said arching an eyebrow while his tone of voice betrayed his skepticism.


                “Look up,” I said, calmly pointing to the sky. “That’s where we just came from.”


                Every head turned upward toward the sky and I heard Andrew let out a surprised cry that sounded like he’d been doused with a bucket of cold water – the air rushing from his mouth as if he’d been punched in his stomach. In the sky above floated an enormous, dark blue orb, its surface streaked with clouds that could not entirely obscure a large land mass near its center – the planet we’d just come from. For a minute, no one spoke as they all stared silently, struck speechless at the sight before their eyes.


                “I see it, but I don’t want to believe it,” Juston Tark finally said.


                “It is what it is,” Charles said flatly, and I was surprised again by the emotionless calm of his voice.


                “‘He shall reach out and touch the moons,’” Herra of the Siron Verrit Astera said, and the other Vosh, their faces set with grim determination, nodded their heads at yet another confirmation of their arcane prophecies. Still uncomfortable in my role as savior to the Vosh, I pretended to ignore the comment and had started across the square, when I suddenly jumped as David gave an unexpected shout and pointed toward the southern wall.


                “By my wings,” he exclaimed, “by my bloody wings!”


                The light level in the square had been slowly increasing since we’d arrived, and now we could see why. Hovering into view and nearly perfectly centered over the tallest spire on the southern wall, Argon glowed brilliantly with the reflected light of the sun, bathing the square in golden luminescence. As my stunned companions watched, the giant sphere slowly climbed higher, obscuring a large portion of sky as it floated through the arc of its ascendance.


                “Argon, the Prince of Power,” I said softly remembering Luc’s story. “Protecting his younger brother Ajax, the Prince of Tranquility.”


                The massive moon, so close it looked as if we could reach out and touch it, continued its ascent. Being so much closer to us now than when we were on the planet whence we’d come, it was truly a heart stopping sight. During the past months, I’d watched it countless times as it moved silently and in harmony with its smaller companion. Every time I’d seen the two, I knew in my heart that somewhere, deep down in the depths my long forgotten memories, they meant something, but I could never remember what – until I’d absorbed the Golden Orb of the Lion.  The two moons – locked in their celestial dance – were a familiar sight to anyone back on the planet from the moment of their birth, yet up close the sight was an entirely new reality. For the longest time everyone stood frozen as if cast under a spell while the giant globe moved ever higher. It, like the distant planet, held an atmosphere and showed patches of blue amid areas of brown and green.


                “Let’s go, there’s important work to be done,” I said almost curtly as I turned my back on my small band of companions. Without further comment I walked with determined strides toward the large structure anchoring the south end of the square. Renaud quickly caught up with me – his long legs covered much more ground than mine – and then, before I could say anything, he slid in front of me, a ready shield and protection. I could see him glancing around the square, his eyes taking in every detail, and his seemingly relaxed stride couldn’t hide the inner tension he held in check like a coiled spring, ready to instantly unwind if danger threatened. The Vosh quickly joined us – Garda reminding his Shoc from the four tribes to be alert and ready. Charles, showing neither surprise nor emotion, remained quiet, appearing almost reflective as he joined our procession, and once or twice I caught him looking back over his shoulder toward the arch and the city that lay beyond its gates. Andrew, Tark and David – finally aware that we’d moved far ahead of them – collected their wits and quickly followed along, although they occasionally glanced at Argon as it continued to rise.


                After a brisk walk across the square, we paused in front of the steps leading up to the immense structure anchoring its southern boundary, and everyone suddenly froze in place as they took in the amazing sight. The building itself was quite tall. Its façade – littered with columns, capitals, arches, friezes in bas-relief and the occasional burst of statuary – was breathtaking in its grandeur. Atop six stories of stone, steel, and glass sat an enormous dome, and atop the dome a gilt-covered statue of a man gleamed and sparkled.  In addition to the dome, high towers and tall spires – their lines sharp and angular – reached for the sky.


                “So it wasn’t just a rumor,” Charles said quietly.


                “What?” Tark asked, turning toward him.


                “This, the Hall of Archives,” Charles said. “The repository of all the scientific knowledge of the empire. It was rumored to exist, but I was never able to actually confirm it. Jonas… “ But then he broke off and returned to silence – once more turning inward, lost in introspection.


                “So then, what is… was… this place?” David said, staring up at the great hall.


                “Ajax served as the main center of scientific research for the empire,” I said. “The city beyond the gate is called Ajax Prime; it’s where many of the scientists lived and worked; their laboratories and workshops dot the city. Research and the acquisition of knowledge was the reason this moon was terra-formed in the first place. This building,” I added, staring up at the Hall of Scientific Archives, “contains all the knowledge gained from that research."


                As I spoke, everyone crowded up behind me. I was suddenly aware of my hearts pounding violently in my chest as feelings of anticipation and dread surged through me. Taking a deep breath, I moved forward, and Renaud immediately fell in at my side. At the base of the tall steps in front of the building, I paused for one final look up at the massive structure, and then Renaud and I started up the wide stone steps. We both moved quickly, the others scrambling to catch us up.


                In his haste, Tark stumbled, but caught himself before he fell. “I feel a bit strange moving around,” he said.


                “He’s right, you know,” David said. “I can’t explain it, but I don’t feel like I weigh the same – as if somehow I’m lighter.”


                “You’re probably not imagining it,” Charles answered. “This moon is smaller than the planet you live on, so its gravity is much less. When the moon was terra-formed, a series of gravity wells were placed deep under its surface at predetermined points. Their purpose was to increase the gravity so that it’s close to what we think of as normal, but it’s not perfect. There are spots where its strength varies. There are even dead spots that, if ventured into, will allow you to experience the normal gravity pull of the moon – so be careful.”


                By the time Charles’ explanation had concluded, we’d arrived at the broad landing at the top of the stairs, and were facing the tall, bronze doors of the hall. As he finished speaking his eyes met mine, and I realized I’d been giving him a steady, unblinking stare the whole while. A few seconds passed, he broke our eye contact, and I turned back to the portal. The great doors of the Hall of Archives, at least twenty feet high were, for the most part, plain and smooth. A dark, green-black patina, along with some simple detailing around the door frame, were their only distinguishing features.


                “It appears just as we left it, sa’Crêsmané,” Renaud said, turning his piercing eyes on me in a flat, level stare.


                “Yes,” I replied, moving toward the gigantic doors. I placed my hand on a round disk that covered the seam separating the two doors. The disk, about a foot in diameter, had an intricate carving of a dragon on its surface. “Its still sealed, and appears to be untouched,” I said, looking up at Renaud. “You know, it’s strange: I know this is my work, but I don’t actually remember doing it.”


                Renaud frowned slightly, but remained silent.


                “I’m sure you’ll be remedying that soon enough,” Charles said, and now it was his turn to flash me a cold, emotionless stare.


                Over two and a half millennia ago, I’d placed this seal here. Now, after giving it a careful examination, it appeared undisturbed. As my fingers ran across it, tracing the shape of the dragon, I silently hoped that it wasn’t the only thing that remained as I’d left it.


                Keeping my hand on the seal, I concentrated. First the tips of my fingers began to glow, then my entire hand warmed and gave off a pale, silver light; within seconds, the disk separated from the door and fell to the ground. It rang metallically as it hit the stone paving stones of the landing, then bounced and rolled away, its purpose served. No one tried to retrieve it.


                “So how do we open them?” David said, and I knew his comment referred to the fact that there appeared to be no apparent way of opening the great doors.


                “The mechanism is here,” I said, turning to a stone post to the left of the door.


                A flat disk was inset on the post, similar to the ones Charles had taught me how to use in the subterranean chambers of Eagles Rock. Laying my open palm on the disk, I waited for a few seconds until I heard a grinding sound, then I stepped back and went to stand before the door. The stone paving of the landing shook, and the doors slowly opened inward, granting us access to the building.


                We passed through the open portal, and the others gaped and stared about as they caught their first glimpse of the interior of the building. Although the purpose of the structure was far removed from that of a church, parts of its design mirrored those of a great cathedral; the grand lobby we’d entered strongly resembled the narthex of a church. Illuminated by glow torches and two great windows that admitted the golden light of Argon, it was a vast, open space filled with nothing but silence. Beyond the narthex stood two more tall, bronze doors. David crossed to them and began to push, and I could see the look of surprise on his face when they easily yielded under the force of his shoulder. With additional help from Renaud and Tark, the large, heavy, and perfectly counterbalanced doors slowly opened, revealing a small room with a high ceiling. On the opposite wall, a strange-looking set of doors were recessed into the wall itself. Approaching these doors, I placed my hand on a panel to the right; two tiny, yellow lights at the top of the panel turned green and the doors quietly slid open, revealing a small, box-like room that offered just enough space for all of us to enter. With all of us in the room, the doors slid shut and the Vosh – while trying to appear calm – shot each other troubled glances.


                <DESTINATION?> A disembodied voice called out, and the Vosh gripped their weapons and sprang into as much of a defensive stance as the cramped space allowed, jostling the rest of us in the process.


                Assuring them that everything was all right, I looked around and, speaking to no one in particular, said, “Hall of Heroes.”


                There was no response, but the room began to vibrate and then seemed to slide downward. In less than a minute the movement stopped, and the doors opened onto a vestibule. Before us stood another set of doors that, while heavy, easily swung open as soon as I pressed my palm to the disk imbedded in the doorpost. Passing through, we found ourselves standing in a long, wide corridor that was illuminated by glow torches set at even and alternating intervals along either wall. Some of the torches had gone out, creating small islands of darkness at random intervals, but there was still enough light to clearly see down the length of the corridor. Fashioned from the same almand stone as the paving of the square – although gray instead of black – the walls of the corridor rose high above us, capped by an unadorned, vaulted ceiling of the same stone. Once we were all in the corridor, I touched a second disk and the doors closed behind us.


                At the far end of the long, tunnel-like corridor stood a second set of massive bronze doors. I nodded to Renaud, who preceded me down the corridor. Andrew, David, Juston Tark and Charles followed closely behind us. The Vosh followed them, all the while looking about warily.


                “I can’t believe something this large is underground,” Andrew said, his voice echoing through the high, empty space. “I am right – we are underground, no?”


                “Yes, we’re underground," I said. “But if you think this is impressive, you should get a better look at the building above us. This corridor simply leads to the Hall of Heroes, and the Crypt of Honor. Most of the real treasures of the Empire are somewhere above us.”


                I caught Charles frowning, but he remained silent so I said nothing. Once we were at the end of the corridor and standing before the doors, we paused to study their highly embellished and decorated surface. These doors, like the great main doors we’d passed through to enter the hall, also showed their enormous age, exhibiting the same dark, greenish-black patina as the main doors to the building. Charles pushed his way forward and began to examine the individual panels of each door. There were twenty-four of them – twelve per door – and set into them were large, round, deeply carved bas relief disks framed in vines of ivy. The figures carved into the disks were busts of various men, rendered in full profile.


                “Gardarus, the father of nano-biology,” he said, touching the face of one of the figures. “And Quillingham, the creator of the endo-neural net,” he added, glancing at a disk a few feet above his head.


“These doors will be the hardest ones of all,” I said, “and the most dangerous.”


                David gave me a quizzical look, but I didn’t respond or react to it. I knew that the mechanism for opening the doors had been disabled – on purpose – and that a nasty surprise lay on the other side. As Renaud checked the doors for any signs of previous entry, I ordered my companions to press themselves as close to either side of the corridor wall as possible. When the Vosh gave me strange looks – as if I was asking them to perform some act of cowardice or dishonor – I reminded Garda that I’d agreed to their presence on this mission only after they’d pledged to obey my commands during the entirety of our time on Ajax.


                “Stay where you are, and don’t move,” I said, a bit irritated. “If you don’t, there won’t be enough left of you to carry back to your tribes.”


                Garda gave me a puzzled look, but ordered his Shoc to do as I commanded.


                Without a word being spoken, Renaud and I simultaneously pushed on the doors. Although they were far too heavy for even two or three men to open, I concentrated and directed a repulsing energy force at them. Backed by the strength of the force, all Renaud and I had to do was give a slight push and the momentum created by the force I’d generated was sufficient to swing them back on their heavy hinges. Then, just as they began to open, Renaud nodded at me and we both jumped back, pressing our wings and backs to the wall on either side of the corridor. In one split second there was a bright flash, a loud roar, and the corridor filled with a light so bright it was like staring into the sun. In an instant the light winked out and an acrid smell filled the corridor, causing everyone to cough. Momentarily blinded by the flash, it took all of us a few minutes to regain our vision. When there finally wasn’t any spots in front of my eyes, I turned and looked down the corridor in the direction from which we’d come. A gaping hole stood where the portal and doors had been. Both of the doors were gone, including the almand stone that had formed the posts and lintel, while the edges of the remaining stone resembled fused glass. I could feel the heat radiating off the fused stone even at this end of the hall.


                Turning toward the source of the light, I looked through the open doors. Sitting on the floor directly in front of the doors were three Ghosters, linked together and aimed into a focusing collector – rigged by Renaud to do just what they’d done as soon as the doors to the hall swung open.


                “By my bloody wings,” David breathed, walking toward the monstrous contraption sitting on the floor


                Renaud approached the device he’d cobbled together over two and a half millennia ago, pressed a few buttons and threw a switch; I exhaled a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding as the machine’s vibrations ceased.


                “A booby trap,” I said, turning to Charles and Andrew. “just in case.”


                “What the bloody hell could be so important that you’d set up something like that?” David sputtered.


                “My memories,” I said quietly, and made my way into the hall.


                Andrew shot me a sideways glance, and when I appeared to ignore him he turned to David, raising his eyebrows and rolling his eyes at the gladiator when he thought I wasn’t looking.


                The space we entered – the Hall of Heroes – was enormous, and looked more like a cavern than a hall. It had been fashioned by carving out an enormous hole in the basalt bedrock of the moon, and the building above built on top of it. The hall itself was empty, the great space covered by a vaulted ceiling so ingeniously constructed that not one pillar stood within the vast, open room. A snatch of a memory flashed into my consciousness, and I saw the hall festooned with banners and heraldry. I envisioned the Emperor and the Council Royale seated on a grand dais constructed against the far wall, with a vast assembly of individuals facing them and a single urn, filled with ashes, sitting between both parties on a small, carved and gilded table. Once more, I shrugged off the unwanted memory.


                “What we want isn’t here,” I said to no one in particular. “Follow me. And hurry!”


                Turning to the left, I made my way to the far end of the hall and stopped when I came to a small arched doorway. The door itself, constructed of heavy wooden planks, iron bands and nails, was of a normal size – I guessed a little less than six feet, since Renaud would probably have to dip his head to pass through it. Set into the archway in front of the door was an ornate iron gate, with an elaborate. ornamental lock. Placing my hand on the lock, I concentrated. There was a sharp click, and the mechanism released. I swung the gate back and it creaked on ancient hinges; reaching in, I touched a small plate inset into the archway and the door quietly swung open, revealing a narrow, descending stairway.


                “This way,” I said. But again, before I could pass through the doorway Renaud moved ahead of me. I frowned at his caution, even as I was struck by the realization that from now on, I would never be allowed to take so much as a step forward on my own as long as he was nearby. Brushing aside my annoyance, I followed behind him as he began to descend into the lower reaches of the hall. The stairway spiraled downward to the right, taking us ever deeper under the building. By the time we were at the bottom, we were far below the hall floor.


                “We’re even deeper than we were before,” Andrew said in amazement.


                The stairway terminated in a small antechamber. Set into its far wall was a single bronze-and-copper door, highly decorated with intricate patterns and shapes. But the ornate door seemed to pale next to the two large statues positioned on either side of the door.


                “By the beard of Sarjanus!” Tark said as he crossed the room to stand before them. “What kind of demons are these?”


                Tark’s question made sense, since both statues – standing at least seven feet high – had the appearance of gargoyles, or even demons – an observation reinforced by the stubby, bat-like wings that sprouted from their shoulders. As gray as the surrounding stone, their almost naked bodies were broad and muscular. But what made them appear even more disturbing was the design of the heads sitting atop their massive bodies. Looking more like bulls than men, each wide face had a broad, flat nose, and a prognathus jaw line. The short, slightly curved horns that emerged from their foreheads only added to their demonic appearance. Bare-chested and wearing only short britches, their enormous, unshod feet supported two legs that looked more like pillars. Every inch of the creatures was covered with bulging, rippling muscle.


                “Ghröum,” Charles said in a shocked whisper. “But why are they…?”


                He was cut off when I shouted a warning to Tark the instant I realized he was about to touch one.


                “Stand back,” I called out. “The resurrection sequence began the instant we entered this chamber.”


                “Resurrection sequence?” David said, sounding puzzled. “But that’s the sequence you started when you resurrected the imperial legion at Eagles Rock.”


                I simply nodded my head in agreement while Tark shot me a strange look. But strange as his look was, it was nothing compared to the look Charles was giving me.


                “No, Jamie,” he almost shouted at me, “you can’t possibly mean… but that’s impossible… it’s just…”


                But he was stopped mid-sentence when a rush of warm air filled the chamber and two beams of light from the ceiling fell on the statues, which suddenly weren’t statues any more. Their color – still gray – took on a slightly darker appearance as their chests heaved with every breath they took in. Then, with loud ear- splitting roars, both creatures sprang to life. At first they acted as if they were coming out of a dream, turning their heads about and blinking their eyes – eyes that shone a strange, reddish color. Once more they both roared, then looked at each other and roared again.


                The Vosh, though poised for attack, looked as if they were ready to jump out of their collective skin. David, Tark, and Andrew quickly drew their swords as they took two steps back. Charles backed into one of the far corners of the room. “I can’t believe you would do such an irresponsible thing, Jamie,” he yelled at me.


                Only Renaud stood quietly to the side, appearing not to care and not even drawing his sword. The creatures continued to look about, both at each other and at those of us standing before them. Since I was slightly behind Renaud, I was sure that they hadn’t seen me yet – a fact that I quickly remedied when I moved from behind Renaud and walked forward to face them.


                The instant they saw me, they glared down at me with their red tinted eyes and for the fourth time since their resurrection they roared and bellowed – even louder than before. Quickly turning to the creature on my right, I took one small step forward, gave a quick stroke of my wings, and launched myself at it. As soon as I was within reach of its grasp, it plucked me from the air as if I were a ball thrown in its direction. Its massive hands enveloped me and pulled me to its chest, holding me so tightly that my spine creaked – had I not been Icarian, my ribs would probably have collapsed as the very life was squeezed from me. Quickly, the second Ghröum jumped toward us and snatched me from the first. Wrapping its great, muscled arms around me, it held me against its broad, bare chest in what undoubtedly looked like a death grip.


                If the task at hand weren’t so serious, and I weren’t so consumed by the fear growing inside me, I might have turned my head toward my companions and laughed at what I guessed were probably the looks of utter shock and horror on their faces – all but Renaud, who I glanced at just in time to witness one of his brief – and quite rare – half-smiles.


                “Yes, Charles,” I said, jerking my head toward where he pressed himself even tighter into the corner. “They’re Ghröum.”


                By now the second Ghröum was holding me so tight I could barely breath.


                “Put me down,” I gasped, giving out an involuntary giggle, “you’re tickling me!” And ever so gently, the second Ghröum – who’d snatched me from the first Ghröum – carefully set me down as if I were an expensive vase, made of the finest and most delicate porcelain.


                As soon as my feet touched the ground, I concentrated on catching my breath as a babble of shouted questions and exclamations burst from my companions, their stressed voices echoing off the walls of the small stone chamber. I threw up my hand to silence them. Still trying to catch my breath, I turned to the two Ghröum and my face took on a grim and serious expression.


                “You know what to do,” I shouted. “Get into the crypt and retrieve the sarcophagus, now! The dreams have only been getting stronger, and I fear we might be too late.”


                Without a second’s pause, they whirled about and we all watched in stunned awe as the two Ghröum each raised a massive leg and smashed one of their large feet against the door in a perfect sidekick that looked far more graceful than I would ever have guessed they could execute. As their feet connected with the heavy bronze door, it crumpled and blew open as though shot with a Ghoster, striking the wall behind it with an earsplitting crash, then hanging crazily from only its lowest hinge. Ignoring the damage they’d caused, they both ran into the crypt. Clouds of dust billowed from the open doorway and we all began to cough as it spewed into the antechamber. For a few seconds there was silence, but it was quickly broken by a loud scraping noise, followed by a heavy, dull thud, and more scraping. Moving nearer the door, I peered into the crypt, only to step back as more clouds of dust spewed through the doorway. Sneezing and coughing, I forced myself back to the open doorway. Through the obscuring clouds of dust, I could see both Ghröum had sprinted past the many rows of urns tucked into their niches, and were standing under an arched alcove that had been decorated with a stylized mosaic representing the twin moons Argon and Ajax. Grunting and straining, they began to slide the heavy sarcophagus toward the door. After another minute it cleared the twisted wreckage of the door, forced by sheer brute strength into the antechamber.


                The heavy sarcophagus had been fashioned from Sarullium – the same material as the urns holding the ashes of the dead that lined the walls of the crypt. As the Ghröum pushed it through the doorway, I could hear a strange vibrating – almost rasping – sound coming from it. The fear that had been building up in me quickly took a quantum leap in intensity. Glancing down at the blinking lights at the base of the unit, I shuddered. Although all five of the glowing lights should have been green, four of them were red, and blinking on and off in rapid pulses. The remaining green light appeared pale. It flickered and fluttered, and every so often would turn red for a few seconds before reverting back to its pale green color, only to flicker again and turn red once more. More alarming than the changing lights were the words flashing on the screen below them.


                For a few short seconds, the panel read:




                But all too quickly the words blinked out, and I read with dread the words that replaced the first command:




                This warning remained for a much longer period of time. Eventually it was replaced by the first command, but only briefly – then it quickly switched back to the second, ominous warning.


                “We might be too late,” I cried, looking from the control panel on the sarcophagus to Renaud.


                Renaud – the only one other than me who fully understood the significance of what was happening – moved toward me and wrapped his arms around me, holding me tight. “It will be alright, Jamie,” he said, dropping his usual formality, and for once not referring to me by my Icarian title. “It’s still functioning. I think we arrived just in time.”


                I wasn’t as easily convinced by his assurances, and I fought the urge to release the gripping fear inside me in one massive scream powered by the Great Shout – the only thing stopping me was the thought that such an action might bring the whole Hall of Archives tumbling down on our heads.


                Once the sarcophagus was in the chamber, it crowded the small space and made it hard to move about. The Ghröum, looking quite fierce and grunting noisily, stared anxiously at the box and I could sense their worry. They, like me, knew what it held.


                “Get it open,” I screamed, sheer panic gripping me. “Get it open, now!” And the walls shook from my voice.


                Renaud released me and went to the foot of the sarcophagus. The instant his arms weren’t holding me, I felt myself shaking with fear. Bending over the large sarcophagus, Renaud’s fingers flew as he began to touch the controls, but my cries for action grew even more desperate and finally the two Ghröum, ignoring Renaud’s orders to stand back, approached the large, heavy box. Great bellowing roars burst from their mouths as they dug their fingers into the molding surrounding the lid and pulled on it with all their might. There was a crack!, and then a crunching sound as the lid was ripped from its hinges and tumbled to the floor – landing near two of the Vosh, who would probably have been crushed under its massive weight had they been a little less nimble.


                The grating sound from the sarcophagus ceased, and silence filled the chamber. Almost numb with fear and worry, I approached the open sarcophagus, dreading what I might see. Without thinking I closed my eyes and lowered my head, desperately hoping that my worst fears wouldn’t be true. I could feel my hearts beating madly in my chest. Finally, I gathered up some courage, swallowed hard, and opened my eyes. The sight that greeted me caused me to take a deep breath of relief for there, nestled in the sarcophagus and sleeping peaceful on a soft, down-filled mattress, lay a boy – perfectly preserved and still very much alive. Examining him carefully, my eyes swept over every visible inch of him.


                A froth of wavy black hair lapped down around his pale, angelic face and cascaded onto the silk pillow gently cradling his head. Once more holding my breath, I slowly reached into the sarcophagus and gently took his hand in mine, and instantly new feelings of dread washed over me when I felt how cold he was.


                “He’s breathing, and his color is improving,” Renaud said. “A few more days and I don’t think he would have survived, sa’Crêsmané, but I think we’ve arrived in time. He’ll be fine, I’m sure. It will take a few minutes, but once he gets warmer he’ll revive, and I’m sure his resurrection will be successful. I was trying to activate the heating coils when… they,” he said, looking sourly up at the two Ghröum, “ripped off the lid.”


                “They were only following my orders,” I said. “And I don’t care – Renaud, I was so afraid! Once I finally realized what the dreams were about, I knew time was running out.”


                “He appears completely healthy, sa’Crêsmané,” Renaud said. Then giving me a look and a slight nod of his head to indicate his approval, he added, “The wind has indeed come to the sun. All is well.”


                “I’ll accept that when he’s talking to me,” I said, worry and doubt still coloring the tone of my voice.


                Although I hadn’t immediately noticed it – focused intently as I was on the sleeping boy – when I finally looked about the chamber, all of my companions were surrounding me, staring intently into the sarcophagus – everyone except Charles, who continued to stand in one of the far corners of the room. Turning away from them and back to the boy, I continued my examination of him. For a few minutes I stood holding, then stroking, his hand. Waiting impatiently… anxiously… nervously…


                Although he appeared to be quite young, I knew that he was fifteen. His smooth, flawless complexion – although pale at first – began to turn pink as warmth gradually came to his body. His face had a singular beauty – one that I’d admired many times. Looking down at his full, red lips, I was tempted to kiss them, and then on impulse I bent over him and did just that. His ears, peeking out of his dark hair, came to the slightest of points, and I smiled when I remembered why.


                He was dressed in a beautifully embroidered robe that was covered with a red silk dalmatic. Holding his hand even tighter, I lifted his arm out of the sarcophagus; when the sleeve of his robe fell back, it revealed a bracelet – an asp bracelet, identical to mine except for the engraving etched inside it, which spelled out a message I knew by heart.


                While the engraving on the one I wore said, “To my brother, boy of the sun; from your brother, boy of the wind: our love is eternal – Jamie”, the inscription on the bracelet on his arm said, “To my brother, boy of the wind; from your brother, boy of the sun: our love is eternal – Charlie.”


                The reality was that at the moment, I was wearing his bracelet and he was wearing mine. We’d exchanged them only moments before I’d closed the lid of the sarcophagus, I taking his as a reminder just in case the rumors were true, that cryo sleep destroyed the memory unless the proper precautions were taken. Just before he’d climbed in, I’d given him the last of the Darroot extract I’d managed to steal. There hadn’t been enough for both of us, and I knew my chances of getting to him were far better than his getting to me. I also knew that the very special gift he possessed could once more completely unlock my own – and possibly Nic’s – memories.


                I’d been so absorbed in my examination of him I’d totally forgotten about everyone around me. When I looked up, I was once again reminded of the group of questioning friends and companions surrounding me. And although I wanted to speak, for a full minute I remained silent – my eyes straying back to the precious contents of the sarcophagus.


                After another minute of silence I was finally able to swallow the large lump in my throat that had prevented me from speaking. Feeling my eyes fill with tears, I turned to Renaud. “Thank you, Renaud,” I said in a trembling voice as tears began to roll down my face. “Thank you, for making the journey with me,” I said, turning to those who had come with me to Ajax. Then turning to the two large Ghröum, I stared into their fierce, reddish-tinted eyes and blinked away a few more tears. “Thank you for everything, Ga’dhat, and thank you, Ga’tann; you’ve been faithful guardians, but most of all, good friends."


                Both of them looked down at me and grunted. But I knew from their thoughts they were just as happy to see me as I was to see them, and I could tell by their bearing that they were proud that their most important mission – the one I’d set them on – had been successful. Their love for Charlie was almost as deep as mine, and while the structure of their faces and mouths prevented human speech, it was easy for me to feel their worry and concern that my brother Charlie was alive and safe.


                Still holding Charlie’s hand while waiting patiently for a positive sign that he was indeed well, my eyes were drawn from my brother’s face to the foot of the sarcophagus when a small rustling sound caught my attention. Charlie was covered to his waist by a blanket made of Odden cloth, the same rare material used to make the regimental flag of the Imperial Legion. In fact, the blanket wasn’t really a blanket at all, but his own heraldic flag, draped over him by me after I gave him the sleeping draught and tucked him in. And although it was folded in half and half again I knew that, splashed across its purple field, was a brilliant, stylized sun. Charlie de Valèn was The Boy of the Sun, and the most powerful Talent ever created by the empire – but more importantly my little brother, and save for my insane brother Loran, the only remaining member of my family.


                Once more the flag that served as a blanket moved, and I stared intently at it. Slowly and cautiously, a pointed snout, small and green, emerged from the folds. Little by little, it inched it’s way out from under the blanket until finally the head bearing the snout became visible – a head about the size of my fist, with small pricked up ears. Green and scaly, the small, lizard-like creature turned its head this way and that.


                “A garga lizard,” David said, surprise coloring his voice.


                Finally the little lizard stopped when, after cocking its head sideways and looking up, it spied me standing over it. The instant it caught a glimpse of me, it jerked its head upward, gave a loud akkk! and scrambled wildly in an attempt to crawl out from under the cloth. As it continued to emerge, the four stubby legs attached to its long, slender body worked frantically to extricate itself from the encumbering weight of the covers.  Finally, with most of its torso out from under the blanket, it once more turned its head sideways and looked up at me. Giving another loud akkk!, it unfurled its green, leathery wings and hopped on top of the blanket that covered Charlie’s lower body. Giving itself a small shake – much like a dog shaking water off its fur after taking a swim – it flapped it wings furiously and flew toward me, dragging a long, sinuous tail after it – a tail almost twice the length of its body. After a clumsy and wobbly flight, it alighted on my right shoulder, lightly curled its tail around my neck, nuzzled its head against my cheek, and cried akkk! once more.


                “Spinoza!” I said, bringing my left hand up until I was gently scratching it under its chin. “I hope you took good care of him. Did you?”


                As if the little lizard understood me, it bobbed its head and cried akkk! one more time, then looked down over my shoulder into the sarcophagus, at my sleeping brother.


                As worried as I was over Charlie, Spinoza’s appearance made me smile; when his forked tongue tickled the lobe of my ear, I giggled. I’d known it was too dangerous for me to take Spinoza with me, so I’d reluctantly given it a little of the same draught I’d administered to Charlie, and placed the sleeping garga lizard in the sarcophagus with my brother, whispering softly to it to take care of Charlie for me. Once more tears filled my eyes as I recalled the moment, but then I jumped when the hand I’d been holding suddenly clutched mine, and I looked down as Charlie’s eyes fluttered open. Taking a deep breath, I stood silently staring into his beautiful green eyes – a color and hue that was quite remarkable. Taking deeper breaths and slowly looking about, he gripped my hand even tighter. When his eyes finally focused on me he smiled, and in the instant our minds touched I knew he truly was all right.


                A few more minutes passed, and with Renaud’s assistance we helped him sit up, watching him slowly acclimate to his newly conscious state. All the while, Spinoza twitched and moved his tail, occasionally flicking it in my face as he looked down at Charlie.


                “You came,” Charlie said, in a light tenor voice that was slightly raspy.


                “Of course, love – I promised.”


                Statcha, one of the two Vosh from Siron Sel Stalla unhooked a water skin from her belt and passed it to Garda, who in turn gave it to me. I smiled gratefully at the Vosh woman and, carefully holding it to Charlie’s lips, raised it. Then, as if to show me he really was fine, he grasped the skin in both hands, pulled it away from me and began taking the water in large, loud gulps. After he was finished, he wiped his mouth on the sleeve of his dalmatic and handed the water skin back to me.


                “That dalmatic is worth the full year’s labor of five field Kalorians,” I said dryly, frowning at him.


                “Sorry,” he said. “You’re right. But why did you dress me in this? Wouldn’t a simple short tunic have been better?”


                “If you remember, Charlie, things got a little scary at the end,” I said, smiling at him. “We didn’t exactly have time to pick the proper outfit.”


                “I remember,” he said, smiling up at me. “But then, you and father never did have a very good sense of fashion,” he added with an impish grin, and in that instant I knew he was fine. “But since you’re here,” he continued, “that means that everything is ok. You and Nic won the war, no?”


                “Ah, no, Charlie,” I said quietly. “It’s a bit more complex than that. But as soon as you’re up to it, we can start the transfer. By the way, Nic and I are both proof that the rumor was true – extended exposure to cryo-sleep destroys the memory. The mind remains healthy, but the memory fades.”


                “Oh. And what’s a long time?” Charlie asked, focusing his beautiful green eyes intently on mine. “How long have we been asleep?”


                “A very long time, little brother. A very, very, long time.”


                “So tell me,” he said, suddenly looking quite healthy and chipper – curiosity having gotten its hold on him and stirred him back to life.


                “Always the nosey one,” I said, laughing.


                “Me?” he laughed, “How many times did you break the codes to Father’s laboratory? Wasn’t it you who blew up half the lab after you snuck in and started nosing around Father’s experiments?”


                “I told you, my memory is bad,” I said, trying not to laugh. “I’m sure you’re just making that up.”


                “Well, you can just ask Castor…”


                And suddenly he fell silent as our eyes met, our thoughts touched, and we looked at each other with great sadness.


                “It’s probably best if we do the exchange soon, Charlie,” I said, quickly changing the subject. “That is, as soon as you feel up to it.  My memory has more holes in it than the walls of the Duke of Akteon’s castle after the Succession wars.”


                “Well, if you can remember that, your memory can’t be that bad.”


                “But that’s the problem: I can remember that there was someone named Akteon who was a duke, and his castle was destroyed in the first war of succession, but I have no idea who he was, what the wars of succession were, when they were fought, or their outcome. Every so often a fact will surface in my mind, but it has little or no relevance for me.”


                “Then we must have been asleep for a very long time, Jamie.”


                “You have no idea,” I said, giving him a serious look.


                “But you’re here now, and everything will be alright,” he said.


                I forced a smile as I looked into his eyes, but didn’t answer.


                “Can I get out of here?” he suddenly shouted.


                His word was the Ghröums’ command and in seconds, Ga’dhat and Ga’tann lifted him out of the sarcophagus as if he were a plum gently plucked from a basket. Once he was standing and regained his legs, he carefully stretched and unfurled his wings – a bit difficult, given our crowded conditions.


                “Maybe it would be best if we went to the hall upstairs,” I suggested.


                Everyone agreed, but when Charlie went to take his first step he stumbled, and almost fell.


                “I guess I’m still not used to standing,” he said, making light of his clumsiness.


                Frowning, I was ready to speak when suddenly Ga’dhat picked the boy up in his arms and started up the stairs.


                Once we were in the hall, everyone gathered around us – everyone except Charles, who stood to the side. I was surprised again at his silence, but I knew that I’d surprised him with the Ghröum and Charlie – someone of whom he’d no knowledge.


                “What’s all this about?” David asked, and with his question came nods of agreement from both Tark and Andrew. And although the Vosh said nothing, I couldn’t help notice that they’d been wide-eyed and ready for action from the second the Ghröum had resurrected until now.


                “I’ll explain everything soon,” I said.


                “I think you can put me down now, Ga’dhat,” Charlie said, interrupting the conversation as he smiled up at the gray skinned Ghröum gently holding him.


                Ga’dhat gave me a look that to anyone unfamiliar with the Ghröum would have most likely been taken for a murderous gaze. I easily recognized it for what it was – a look of worry and concern for Charlie.


                “It’s alright, Ga’dhat. His color looks good now. You can drop him on his head if you want,” I said wickedly.


                Ga’dhat grunted and in his thoughts harshly scolded me. Slightly chastised I said nothing, remembering that the Ghröum often didn’t understand the subtleties of Icarian humor. I smiled weakly at him and he gently placed Charlie on the ground. Charlie stood clear of us, then stretched and unfurled his wings. Almost identical to mine, they shimmered in the yellow torch light of the hall.


                “This is Charlie,” I said quietly to my companions. “He’s my little brother.”


                “Not so little,” Charlie interrupted. “Only two years younger.”


                “By my bloody wings,” David said.


                “Well, yes,” Andrew said. “I can see it. You look… well, like brothers,” he added, as he blushed over what was beginning to appear quite obvious.


                “As I was saying,” I said, giving Charlie a mischievous look, and so relieved that he was alive and well that I was experiencing an almost euphoric sense of giddiness. “Renaud and I brought him here at the end. And maybe he can help me with my memory.”


                “So, shall we?” Charlie said, cutting off the explanation I was about to give my companions while at the same time giving me an inquisitive look.


                “What? You’re ready this quickly?” I said.


                “Yes,” he replied. “I want to know what’s been happening."


                “Alright,” I said, “but brace yourself. While my old memories are a wreck, everything that’s happened since I awoke is right here,” I said, tapping the side of my head. “We’ll do the exchange, but I want to warn you, you’re in for a lot of surprises – and shocks,” I quickly added. “Oh, and Charlie,” I said, suddenly giving him a stern look, “I’d prefer it if you didn’t exchange one very specific category of memories with me, please.”


                “What do you mean?” he asked, giving me puzzled look.


                “Bend forward,” I commanded, and as soon as he did I whispered in his ear. Suddenly his face blushed a crimson red.


                “Oh… I promise,” he said, stammering slightly.


                “Good, then let’s do it."


                Since he still appeared a bit unsteady on his feet and we were both about the same height, I knelt in front of him in order to make it easier; I didn’t want to risk him falling and hurting himself. Once I was in front of him, he reached out, placed his hands on either side of my head, and then it simply happened.


                Unlike the overwhelmingly strong and powerful rush of feelings I’d gotten from the amulet, or the crushing cascade of information that flooded into me during my absorption of the orbs, the force that flowed from Charlie to me, and from me to him, was warm and comforting. Love and tenderness wrapped itself around me, while I in turn sent the same strong feelings to him. That he felt the same way was evident from the warm smile that blossomed on his face. I was also smiling – I couldn’t help it. Bathed in his love, I realized I hadn’t felt that way in a long time, and how much I missed it. And while the love that Nic and I felt for each other was my first and greatest love, the love between Charlie and me flowed from the kind of bond only brothers can share: forged from birth, tempered by our mutual experiences, and strengthened in strife.


                When it happened, I began to feel as a vessel must when the liquid it was always meant to hold fills it completely. Like a warm, gentle rain the feelings, emotions, and memories easily flowed into me, strengthening me and making me feel whole, and complete. The revelations filling my head as my memory reconstructed itself, while powerful and strong, didn’t shock or upset me. They just felt right as they remade me into who I was meant to be – who I’d always been and who I really was. The opposite was true for Charlie, as he began to discover and learn what I’d learned and experienced since my resurrection. And as the grin on my face grew, the one on his disappeared as some of my darker and more painful experiences touched his own mind. And then, even though it had taken less than a minute, we were finished and the transfer was complete. Slowly I arose and looked about the room, and while words couldn’t describe what had just happened, I simply knew that I was whole again.


                I turned to my companions – my eyes meeting each of theirs for a few brief seconds. It was only when my gaze fell upon Charles that it lingered far longer then I’d intended. My concentration was broken when I felt a warm hand resting against my cheek.  Startled, I looked to see that it was Charlie. I looked back at him, surprised to see his forehead creased with lines of worry.


                “Jamie,” he said, surprised and wide-eyed, and I knew from the tone of his voice he was now processing the memories he’d just gotten from me. “I had no idea.”


                “Yes, it’s all true,” I said.


                “I’m so sorry,” he said, tears coming to his eyes. “And also surprised,” he added. “Your friend, Luc?”


                “It’s ok, love,” I said, suddenly accessing my newly acquired memories and marveling in surprise as much as he was. “I know it’s strange, but it all really happened. You have the memories now.” And then I wrapped him in my arms, and we held on to each other, crying.


                “Thank you for the gift,” I said between sobs.


                “Thank you, Jamie, for protecting me and saving me,” he said. “I’m so lucky.”


                “I’m the lucky one, Charlieboy,” I said, moving away from him as I rested my hands on his shoulders. “You’re alive. You survived. I’m so relieved. I’m sorry I didn’t remember right away. Another few days, Renaud said, and…” my voice cracked as I said the final words.


                “But I did survive – all because of you. I tried to help you, though. Do you remember the dreams?”


                “Yes, of course I do. At first my memory was so damaged they made no sense; it was only later, in the last days after the golden orb, that I finally put it all together.”


                “But you did, and everything’s alright.”


                “Hardly,” I said. “You have my current memories now. You know what we’re up against. And that’s only the half of it."


                And suddenly our conversation switched to what the two of us had often referred to as ‘Mind Talk,’ a strange combination of both speech and thought woven together without apparent rhyme or reason. We’d mastered the technique as small children and had gotten so used to it that we easily bantered it back and forth between us exchanging words and thoughts so quickly that anyone hearing us would most likely be clueless. It got even worse when we mixed Icarian, human, and Kalorian words, while at the same time stringing them together with pure mental thoughts or images no one but the two of us could comprehend. But master it we had, so that to the two of us, the banter came as naturally as every day speech came to anyone else.


                “The Baron von Agramos…


                “My Niklas…




                “…yes… it’s very…




                “And he…


                “As you see…


                “It is so….


                “They will bend the knee to him… every one of them…" 




                “I will see to that…"




                “Need you ask…?"


                 “But you always suspected…"


                “Maybe I did, but that doesn’t lessen…."


                “Then, what will you…"


                “Well, as you can see…"


                “And Loran, he…"


                “Just look and tell me…"


                “And you intend…?


                “You can see my plan…"


                “NO!” Charlie shouted, suddenly gasping for breath. Staggering back on still unsteady legs, he looked as if the air had been knocked out of him. Renaud gave me a strange look. David, Andrew, and Tark jumped and the Vosh instantly were on the balls of their feet, switching from cautious wariness to full defensive postures. In the blink of an eye, Ga’dhat was at his side – his massive hands steadying Charlie.


                “But, Jamie…!"


                “As I told Brotus, if anyone can think of a better way…"


                “I’m so sorry…” he said, tears coming to his eyes.


                “But this is not for now, little brother. For now, we’re both alive. We survived. I kept my promise to you… the most important one I ever made. And I will keep my other promises, too.”


                “Do you really promise?” he asked, giving me a hopeful look.


                “Yes, I promise,” I said.






                “And truthfully?”


                “Yes, Charlie, of course truthfully,” I said, irritation coloring my voice.


                “Good,” he said. “I’ve never known you to break a promise, Jamie. And if you keep the ones you made to me, then I know no harm will come to you. In order for you to keep your promises you have to keep living, and I know how you are.”


                “I’m glad you know me so well.”


                “Well, I do,” he said, “‘my little love,’” he finished, quickly shooting me a wicked smile.


                “I told you not to take any of those memories,” I said, frowning at his use of one of Nic’s pet names for me when we made love.


                “I didn’t,” he said, suddenly protesting far too loudly as the smile quickly vanished from his face.


                “Then how did you…”


                “It was an accident. I only got one.”


                “Charlie?” I growled.


                “Well, maybe two.”




                "Ok four, but I didn’t do it on purpose."


                "Then fair is fair, and maybe I should just…"


                Charlie quickly jumped, letting out a surprised squeak, and Ga’dhat gripped him even tighter by the shoulders as his wings quivered slightly. “No Jamie… please! I’m sorry. Please don’t. Please!”


                “You know I should,” I said sternly, but quickly backed down the instant the words left my mouth. I just couldn’t torture him – not after all we’d been through.


                “But you do know better than that,” I said, still keeping a stern tone of voice with him. “You just don’t go mucking around in people’s heads, fishing for information – especially that kind of information. My time with Niklas is private, just as your own time with…"


                “I know, I’m sorry,” he said. “Please, don’t go there in my mind.”


                “Afraid I of what I might find?”


                “No, it’s… well, it’s personal,” he said, blushing and looking down at the floor.


                “As is what I do with Nic.”


                “Ok, truce! Please? I’m really sorry, Jamie. Really!”


                “Ok, you’re forgiven. Just don’t let it happen again. Remember Charlie, any ruler who unethically uses the powers we’ve been given should at best be served up to his enemies on a platter, and at worst be ground-up and turned into sausages by his own people."




                “You really are forgiven. I mean it. Lesson learned.” And once more I hugged him fiercely to me.


                Then, realizing our conversation had shaken something free in my mind I abruptly stopped, moved back from him, and looked him squarely in the eye. Charlie frowned every so slightly, but I raised a finger to stop him from pouting, and began to frantically search through the pockets of my cloak. At first I panicked, thinking that I’d lost it, but then my fingers brushed against it, and I carefully pulled a crushed and dried up Sh’arhan flower from deep down in one of the inner pockets of my cloak. Holding it in the palm of my hand, I extended it to Charlie.


                “I promised it would be one of the first things I did,” I said, giving him a loving smile.


                Charlie slowly reached out his hand and gently plucked it from my palm. A sweet and tender smile came to his face. “A Sh’arhan,” he chirped in Icarian. “My favorite flower.”


                A smile came to his face, and I smiled back at him as he pressed the dead and desiccated flower tightly to his nose. I doubted that it had any smell left, but I knew in my heart that the smell of true love never fades, and when his beautiful green eyes met mine I knew that, smell or no smell, it was indeed the love it stood for that he felt.


                Once again he began a conversation that only two Talents could have – part thought, part spoken word.


                “Is he???”


                “Yes. He’s fine, and…”




                “He’s… and also under my protection.”




                “Recall the memories… I think… you…


                “Yes, I know… and…  better that way,” he said frowning slightly. “But I don’t…


                “I didn’t ask you to… I… and we…"








                “When it’s time,” I said.




                “When it’s time, Charlie.”


                Looking almost as dejected as Giovanni had over two weeks before, I reinforced my words by resending him the scene between my Master of Ceremonies and myself just hours before we’d left Konassas. And although I’d already given those memories to Charlie earlier, I did it once again to reinforce my position. After he’d received them for the second time, he slowly nodded his head in resignation.


                “Charlie, right now I can’t have you both occupying the same space. It’s the same reason Nic and I have separated for the moment," I added, trying to give him a sympathetic look while sending him the same message in pure thought. “It’s far too dangerous. And so much depends…"


                “I know, Jamie,” he said quietly, looking down at the ground.


                “Thank you, Charlie. I promise you, with all my heart, that you will both be together again, as soon as it’s possible – as soon as it’s safe. But for now, you’re going to have to go away to a place where no one can find you.”


                I was surprised, but pleased, when he readily – if slightly reluctantly – nodded his head in agreement.


                “Then it’s time that we get everything sorted out,” I said, turning to my fellow companions. “We’ll…"


                I stopped. Looking into their faces, I could see questions – lots of question – all begging to be asked, all begging for answers. Pausing, I took one more of the many deep breaths I’d taken during this strange and amazing journey.


                “My friends,” I began, once again feeling the lump in my throat I thought I’d banished sometime earlier. “I know all of you have many questions, but there just isn’t time for them right now. I ask you to trust that I will answer them when there is time, but today is one day closer to the activation of the germinus – and one day closer to death for me. When this day ends, I will have forty-four days left. Niklas and the army await Loran in Fire Block; the princes and scribes of Icaria await word to move toward Taldor Valoren. The Guild of Archers await their fate in the Poniçessian foothills. The Vosh await the fulfillment of their prophecy. The Kalorians await their destiny.  Brotus…” I pausing slightly and blinked back a few tears. “…Brotus and the Iron Regiment await the assault at the Pass of Tears. And I…” I paused a second time, “… I await my fate at Gold Glass Flats within the Circle of Ondra.”


                I felt a hand on my shoulder. Looking up, I saw Renaud’s piercing eyes studying me.


                “No matter what happens, mh’ondab, you will always be the one who truly deserves the title of sa’Crêsmané.”


                “That isn’t of importance right now,” I said, understanding the great honor he’d just paid me. “Right now, we must all do our parts. I need that from all of you. I can’t do it without all of your help – and the help of countless others,” and I watched with satisfaction as I saw nods from everyone standing around me.


                “Captain Tark,” I said, turning to Juston Tark, “You will pass through the gate with David, and return to the forest. Once you arrive, I want you and David to ride with all haste to Fire Block Canyon. Tell King Niklas – and only King Niklas – everything that has happened since we left Konassas, and then you can stand with him in battle.” Tark and David both nodded in silent agreement. “Garda,” I continued, turning to the Vosh Nandal, “You and your Shoc will return to the forest.  I know that the three tribes haven’t arrived, but maybe you can convince Doshen Sessani and the three other Doshenii to begin their journey and send word for the other tribes to intercept us along the way to Fire Block Canyon." Then, giving all of the Vosh a cold, level stare, I continued, “You will tell each of your Doshen exactly what I tell you to tell them, and not one word more or less. Do you understand? I’m not trying to deceive anyone, but you must understand the existence of Charlie has been hidden from many for his own safety, and I’ll do what ever is necessary to protect my brother. It is the most important honor oath I have ever made in my life,” I added, using words and terms familiar to the Vosh.


                “I understand, Garon a’ Kalasia. We honor your honor oath, and we pledge you our honor,” Garda said, and as he gave his assent, the other eight Vosh solemnly nodded their heads in agreement.


                “Also, Garda,” I continued, “have them be prepared to leave with me for Fire Block as soon as I rejoin you – which I will do once I complete one final act here. Renaud and Andrew will accompany you. Ga’dhat and Ga’tann will be protection enough for me until I return,” I quickly added, when I noticed Renaud frowning at me. “When we’re done here,” I went on, now turning to address Ga’dhat and Ga’tann, “you’ll take Charlie to Ghröum, and keep him safe. And no one outside of this group is to have even the faintest shred of evidence of his existence, is that clear?” I said. “Except what you tell Niklas in private,” I amended, giving Juston and David a knowing look.


                Tark and David slowly nodded but remained silent.


                “Now I send you on your missions,” I said, pivoting to face Juston Tark, Andrew, David, Renaud and the Vosh, who were now congregating together. “Charlie, Ga’dhat, Ga’tann, Charles, and I will remain behind,” I continued, “and I’ll be joining you in a few hours."


                Charlie, standing to the side and flanked by the two Ghröum, nodded. Charles, who stood off to the side and away from everyone, said nothing.


                “Stay here,” I said to them.


                Once more, I received a light smack across the face from Spinoza’s long tail – his way of telling me he was beginning to feel ignored.


                “Go to Charlie,” I said, gently scratching behind his ears. "Go to Charlie, until I send the others back.”


                Cocking his head to the side and looking at me as if he were following and weighing every word I’d said, Spinoza chirruped at me and began to beat his wings furiously. Jumping from my shoulder, he skittered through the air this way and that, finally finding his way to Charlie. Alighting on Charlie’s shoulder, he almost fell off and scrambled to regain his footing. He gave another akkk! and nuzzled Charlie until my brother finally gave in to Spinoza’s demands, and began to scratch the little garga lizard behind his ears. Smiling to myself, I began to walk across the Hall of Heroes, heading for one of its far walls. As I did, I motioned for my companions to follow me


                Arriving at the wall I stopped in front of a mirror – a gate I’d managed to disable with the help of Renaud the last time I’d been here. Now that I had my memories, I knew how to switch it on. After a few minutes of adjustment, it was once again operational and I started the cycle to activate it. As soon as it went active, I directed my companions to enter. One by one, they passed through the gate and vanished. Once more Renaud was the first to enter, although the look he gave me told me he wasn’t pleased to leave me behind. Tark was next, and while he tried put on a brave face, he looked as if he might be ill as he prepared to walk into the shimmering light. David gave me a smile and a devilish wink, while Andrew gravely nodded to me. One by one, the Vosh entered until only Garda remained.


                “The People will be ready,” he said solemnly, and then crossed over, vanishing into the shimmering light.


                When they’d all left, I turned back to those remaining behind – Charles, the two Ghröum, and Charlie.


                “Now, let’s finish what I came here to do,” I said, walking briskly toward the steps that led to The Crypt of Honor.