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“At the end of the third History, Miktalien ventured to another universe by use of one of these portals.” Mikael ran his finger over the web of lines that covered the yellowed parchment. “And Tunkoh has done the same.”
“With the power of the Night’s Edge,” added Henrohf.
“Yes. Though we don’t know he’s all the way through yet.”
“The portals are unaffected by time. In this ‘Earth’ he traveled to, he may not be there yet. It could be a hundred of their years before he’s through, but it would seem like an instant to him.”
“What bothers me is that Ruyon hasn’t reported anything yet.”
“You mean he may have killed him?”
“Possibly. If he could break the barriers, he could defeat Ruyon. But there’s one other problem.”
“We set up barriers on both sides. He can’t be in a position to destroy the barrier on the other side.”
“Someone helped him.”
“No, not Ruyon. Someone there. Someone there knows of the Panthiverse, and somehow has contact with either Tunkoh or the Night’s Edge.”
“So someone is planning this.”
“What do we do?”
Mikael turned around and walked to another room. He knelt and opened a rusted trunk. Inside were ancient masks, knives, and armor. He dug to the bottom and pulled out two items, then shut the trunk and walked back into the other room. He laid the items on the table.
“We take up our dusty swords and follow him.”
Henrohf raised an eyebrow. “I’ve followed you into some nasty places headfirst, brother, but we don’t even know where this portal is.”
“Someone will. One of the former members of the Council that dissolved after we reunited the kings of this land and defeated the Kingdom of Darkness. Put on your sword, Henrohf; we’re going to the Water Kingdom.”
After three days on horseback, they finally saw the lustrous buildings of the Water Kingdom surrounding the glistening crystal tower in the center. “So you think Delegon knows?”
Mikael looked at Henrohf.
“Not the mad historian. Please tell me you’re not thinking of the historian.”
“He knows more about the Panthiverse than anyone in New Thernotia. If anyone knows where the portal is, he will.”
Henrohf sighed and shook his head, then heeled his mount to speed up.
They trotted onto the bridge which hung over a large river, the soft noise of hooves on dirt escalating into the hollow sound of hooves on wood, then louder as they reached the city’s stone streets. Walls were no longer necessary, but most of the buildings were constructed from stone by master craftsmen.
A bearded man stopped them in the middle of the cobblestone street “Fusa mino?” Can I help you?
“You don’t speak it?”
“Not anymore. It’s been years.”
Henrohf turned back to the man. “Tunala se pasanu?” Have you seen the historian?
“Eisa nalaeu.” In the tower.
“Per nava.” Thank you.
They kicked their horses to the clear blue tower the king designated his home. A man dressed in a leather tunic came out to meet them. “Captain Mulea at your service. What is your business here?”
“We wish to meet with the historian,” said Mikael.
Mulea shook his head. “The historian and the king are locked underground.”
“A young man came here yesterday, calling for the king. Knowing there were no more enemies in New Thernotia, we allowed them to be alone. When the man left, both lord Delegon and the historian were in a fit of rage. We locked them up to keep them from destroying the city.”
“Who was it?”
“We do not know. He seemed young, and carried a strange air about him.”
“What was he trying to do and why?”
“I am sorry to say that I did not speak with him, but King Delegon may be able to answer some of your inquiries. If he lets you live, that is. Please come in.” He stepped aside and let the recently dismounted men pass.
“Mikael, do you think it was Tunkoh?” asked Henrohf as they turned into a corridor left of the throne room.
“No. Tunkoh entered the portal a little less than a week ago. He has someone on his side. We’re dealing with more than one wizard here.”
“That’s what we need to know.”
“The dungeon is this way, sirs,” said the Mulea, gesturing to an open door that had concealed a set of stairs. They began to step down the stairs, but the man stopped them. “Don’t be surprised if it’s a little wet down there.”
‘A little wet’ was an understatement. The last four steps were concealed in murky gray water. The water came up to their thighs. On their left and right a corridor stretched under the ground for a distance, the dungeon system no longer used. In the first cage on the right was the king, shackled to the wall. He barely raised his head. “’Mikael. I have been waiting.”
“I tried to stop them myself. Too much power, too much.” He looked up to meet Mikael’s eyes, piercing Mikael’s soul with the most unnerving sensation Mikael had ever felt. His eyes were drawn wide, bloodshot, almost entirely red. “What do you want? It is not safe here. You must leave before it is too late.”
Mikael shivered at the sight of the king’s face. “What do you speak of? What have they done to you?”
The king struggled against the chains which held him, attempting to get at Mikael. “You must leave, I tell you! Leave or you will die!”
Mikael leaned forward until he was nearly touching the bars. “King Delegon, focus. We must speak with the historian. We have reason to believe that Tunkoh, the wizard from the Histories, has entered one of the portals we sealed off with the aid of the Night’s Edge.”
“And maybe a little Esiran,” echoed a voice. A face materialized at the bars of the next cell. “Welcome, gentlemen. ‘Tis I, Ximazu, descendant of Ximnien, the greatest historian who has ever lived.”
Mikael yanked his legs through the deep water to reach the other prisoner’s cell, leaving the king to struggle and yell against his bonds. “What have they done to him? Who was the man we have heard of?”
“Man? I wouldn’t use that term. He seemed human, but at the same time he was not. He sought a private audience with the king, and I happened to be present. He began to inquire the king of the vault below the tower, which is closed to all but a select few.” Ximazu paused. “When Delegon refused, he threw back his hood, revealing the most hideous, shadowed visage I have ever seen. He recited an incantation in a language I have not heard, and the king and I ended up the way he is now.” Ximazu jerked his head to gesture to the king’s cell. “The only reason I’m sane is because a little knowledge of wizardry runs in the family. But I was unable to rid the king of his madness. Not only that, but half of Delegon’s guard has turned for this man. They put me down here with the king when I tried to go for help.
“That shouldn’t be much of a problem. What is this ‘Esiran’ you speak of?”
“The very essence of the Panthiverse. It is what the Guardian resides in, and it is the most powerful thing in existence. But there’s a catch.”
“It can’t just be used by any mortal, even with half a Great Being’s power. He’s going to need a Chryzthon.”
“The large gems that supply a source of magic to each universe.”
“Yes. And not just any Chryzthon. He needs the one that was shattered into six pieces during the Wars of Eternity.”
“We need to get to it before he does.”
“Yes. The portal is in the Wind Kingdom. Can you get us out, Mikael?”
“The bars are too thick, and the locks too sturdy. Delegon may be able to.”
Ximazu shook his head. “Not a chance. The guy already almost drowned me trying to melt the bars. He’d not focused enough to do anything but gush hot water.”
“Just not hot enough.” Mikael sloshed through the water back to Delegon’s cell and began to speak to him. “It’s a shame, Delegon, you let one little intruder get the best of you.”
Henrohf grabbed Mikael’s shoulder. “What are you doing?”
Mikael ignored him. “If you can’t stop one simple man, what will become of your kingdom? What will happen if a whole army comes up against you? You must not be much of a king if you can’t protect your own kingdom. Not much more than a regular, powerless, mortal man.”
Delegon drilled his gaze into Mikael once again. “Mortal?!” he cried, thrashing against the chains and turning the water around him white. “Mortal?! Powerless?! I will show you how powerless this king is!!!”
Mikael noticed the water that filled the corridor began to churn. A warm sensation spread into his legs, and as he dipped his hand into it he noticed it was getting hotter. He looked over and saw Ximazu jump and scramble up the bars, close to the ceiling. “You boys may want to get somewhere safe. It’s going to get hot in here.”
Mikael looked back at the king. His eyes were even more bloodshot than they had been, and all of his arm muscles were stretched to their limit pulling against the chains, veins popping. The water became even hotter, and the current made it hard to stand.
Mikael pulled through the frothy water, Henrohf behind him, as the king groaned and yelled even louder. He found the stairs and struggled to find the first one, but instead succeeded in slipping and getting a mouthful of warm gray water as Henrohf walked over him to get to the top.
Before he could lift himself out, Henrohf grabbed Mikael by the back of his leather vest and pulled him up onto the stairs, coughing, spewing gray from his mouth. He dragged him up three more steps until Mikael gained control again and crawled up the stairs by himself, the two of them stopping to crouch and cover their heads at the top.
They heard the king let out a deep-throated roar that sounded more animal than human, and with a loud blast, water shot through the corridor, blasting a geyser of steam up the staircase and into Mikael and Henrohf. The force shoved them into the locked door on their left, cracking Mikael’s head against it with a hollow thud. The water continued to gush past them, and they could still hear Delegon’s ferocious cry from his dungeon, muffled by the wall of water which separated them. The steam continued to fill the small space that contained the staircase, thickening the air into a hot, wet, unbreathable gas that forced Mikael to hold his breath. His face already felt like someone had forced it into a pot of boiling water; to breathe would kill his windpipe.
The enraged king finally began to quiet, his roars dropping into broken grunts. The rushing water ceased, its temperature making it become a heavy steam that hung swirling in the air. Mikael and Henrohf took in deep breaths as the steam cooled, and both of them waited until they regained their breath to walk back down the stairs and step into the hot water again.
Mikael wasn’t too surprised at what he saw through the watery haze: The king’s cell was now wide open, and Mikael imagined the iron that had once been the bars had melted and re-hardened under the water. The king was on all fours in the cell, head bowed so low it was almost beneath his shoulders. His back heaved and fell as he took heavy, labored breaths, like he had swallowed a glowing ember.
Henrohf forcefully slapped Mikael’s back in playful congratulations. Mikael paid him no mind and leaned forward to offer his hand to Delegon. “Your Highness, if I may—” he began, until he remembered:
The king was no longer restrained.
Delegon leapt at him in red-eyed fury and pinned him to the opposite wall. He wrapped his hands around Mikael’s throat and began to squeeze and twist, taking the breath from his lungs. Henrohf grabbed the king by the shoulders and pulled him back, an action which put him on his back in the water grayed by dirt and muck, the life being choked out of him. Mikael took deep breaths, and after recovering, threw himself at the king. He raised his elbow into the air, and, hoping he could hit hard enough to hurt but soft enough to keep him alive, slammed it into the back of the king’s head.
The king instantly fell limp, dropping face-first into the water. As he fell, a foreboding shadow slunk along the face of the water, crept up the wall, and vanished into a crack in the ceiling.
Mikael pulled his friend out of the water and waited until he had finished hacking water to turn back to the king. He was still lying in the water, but after several moments he began to slowly push himself out of the water. He came up on all fours first, his hair wet and dripping in front of his face. Then he put himself on two feet, staggering like a drunken blind man. He looked at Mikael and whipped his head back to get his hair out of his face. “Mikael?”
Mikael marveled at the change that had so quickly come over the king. His eyes had returned to their original color, his voice was calm, his arms relaxed, and his face its normal color.
“Is that you, your Majesty?”
“It is. How came you to be down here?”
“We came seeking Ximazu. Tunkoh has broken our barriers.”
Delegon’s face fell. “Impossible. Tunkoh died decades ago, and even if he still lived, no mortal could break those barriers.”
Henrohf crossed his arms. “That’s the thing. We don’t believe he’s mortal any longer.”
“He’s gained the aid of the Night’s Edge. We think he has broken it with his aid.”
Delegon thought for a moment. Then he stepped into the corridor and faced Ximazu’s cell. He held his hand to the lock, and a stream of water entered it and began to probe the lock. With a few clicks, the door swung open. Ximazu stepped out quickly without acknowledging the king and clapped his hands together. “About time. I wondered how long you chat bags would yap on. Now, which way to the traitors?” He walked behind Mikael and turned into the stairway. The remaining trio rolled their eyes at each other, then chuckled as they heard a thump.
Mikael led the rest of them up the stairs to the locked door. “Henrohf and I will go first,” Mikael said when all eyes were on him. “They may not suspect anything if it’s just the two of us. If all goes well at first, we’ll come and get you when it’s clear. If things go south, we’ll call you. Acceptable?”
Everyone nodded. Mikael turned back to the door and threw his shoulder into it until the lock shattered. He opened the door a crack and stuck his head out, then realizing just how humid it was in the dungeon. The blast of cool air on his face felt refreshing.
The hall was empty, but Mikael could hear activity in the throne room. He swung the door open, slowly to avoid creaking. He motioned for Henrohf to follow, and the two of them casually strolled through the hallway and into the throne room. Mulea was speaking to a group of twenty other guard members. The eyes of some of the guard fell on Mikael and Henrohf. Mulea noticed and followed their gaze.
“Ah, gentlemen,” he said, casually strolling toward them with his hands behind him, “I hope your talk with the king left you unharmed?”
“Indeed,” nodded Mikael slowly.
“Did you find the knowledge you sought after?”
“We did.” Mikael kicked his nerves into high gear as the captain drew closer.
“Well then.” Mulea pulled a short sword from behind him. “If that is the case, I’m afraid we’ll have to arrest you as well.” He motioned to his men, and pulled behind them as they closed in on Mikael and Henrohf. The two drew their swords.
“You are a traitor of the highest order, Mulea!” Mikael heard Delegon shout as he approached to aid Mikael. His gleaming sword of water appeared in his hand.
“Ah! Your Highness!” Mulea gave a sardonic bow. “I hope you have a lovely time with my guard. More should be coming to entertain you soon. Men, apprehend the threat or eliminate it!”
The twenty men bore down on them in a curved formation. Mikael parried the first thrust and wounded the leg of his attacker, attempting to keep him alive. He continued to attack the others, feeling his long-rested skills gradually awakening. After wounding five others in quick succession, he was faintly aware of Mulea exiting the tower, but he paid it no mind.
After eleven of the guard had been incapacitated, the rest of them pulled back, startled at the skill and agility of their foes. The warrior trio lunged forward with their weapons without touching the guard, forcing them backward. “Let us out! Out of the way!” they shouted.
The guard looked at each other with shocked expressions, but they began to force their way forward again, blocking the way of the door. They may not have been the best guard, but they were loyal to their cause, even if it was treasonous.
Mikael continued to parry and slice, and he and Henrohf tried to shift to the right to get around them, but they held a line too well. Mikael wounded another soldier and pushed forward hard, using close-combat techniques to fight the two beside him. He grabbed the flat of his blade and thrust the tip in between the shoulder and chest plates of one, plunging it deep into his shoulder, then brought the pommel back into the face of the other before he could try anything. He slipped through the gap before anyone else could close in on him, and now the guard was threatened on both sides. They turned about, unsure of how to face the threat. Mikael opened his mouth to issue a command, but it was cut short by a high-pitched scream behind him. He whipped his head around to see Mulea standing twenty yards from the tower entrance, holding an eight-year-old girl by the shoulder. With the tip of a sword to her back. Tears streamed down her cheeks.
Mikael instinctively began to rush at him, but as his mind caught up and realized the danger of the situation, he stalled. The guard had stalled as well.
Mulea shook his finger at Mikael. “Now, now, Mikael. This whole mess is unnecessary. Look at all the blood you’ve gotten on the lovely floor. Wouldn’t want to get any more on it, would you? Especially young blood?”
“Let the child go or I swear I will kill you as slowly as possible.” Mikael ground his teeth and saw Henrohf and Delegon circling to the right from his peripheral vision.
Mulea acted shocked. “Oh, you mustn’t talk like that, Mikael! Now we both know I don’t stand a chance against you, so you’ve left me with no choice. Drop your weapon! You are a threat to the growing kingdom of the Night’s Edge and you must be immobilized.”
The girl began to sob louder. “I want mommy,” she wailed.
Mulea tightened his grip on her shoulder. “Shut up!” He let go of her shoulder and thrust his hand towards Delegon, the only one who posed a threat from a distance. His hand became jet black and a stream of shadow shot from it, smacking Delegon into the wall and rendering him unconscious. Mulea smiled. “What, you think I turned for nothing? I obtained a bit of power in the transaction. Try anything, Henrohf, and the girl will never see her mommy again. Now drop your weapons!” He shouted.
Mikael was unsure of what to do. He knew he couldn’t trust Mulea, and he wouldn’t leave witnesses of his treason or the people would turn on him. And the girl was a witness. Their only option was to take out Mulea while he still had the girl. He looked at Henrohf, who nodded.
Mikael, ever so slowly, began to step toward Mulea. Henrohf kept circling to get in Mulea’s blind spot. “Mulea, this course of action is not necessary. Let the girl go.”
Mulea glared at him. “Another step, and I will run her through!”
“Kyriana!” A woman’s voice shouted. Mikael saw a woman at the door, beginning to run for her daughter.
“Mommy!” The girl struggled to get out of the captain’s strong grip. The captain turned his attention to the woman and lifted his hand to silence her.
Mikael saw his chance. Two long strides and a jump, and his blade would fly through Mulea’s chest. He took the first step, the second…
And Mulea noticed him too early.
Time nearly stopped as Mikael was in mid-air, and he was suddenly acutely aware of all his surroundings: The other thirty guard rushing into the room from his left, the mother screaming in anguish, Henrohf rushing to make a desperate final attempt to save the girl, the bloodied tip of Mulea’s sword two feet further toward him than it had been three seconds ago.
He gave himself many curses inwardly but followed through with his technique. He twisted his blade so that the flat slammed into Mulea’s face, and they both went to the floor. Mikael pounded his fist across the man’s temple just before they hit the ground, rattling his skull against the floor, then again multiple times after they had gone all the way down. The ring on his hand cut into the man’s face, pulling blood from multiple wounds. He continued to use his fist until he felt the man would be disabled, then slammed his elbow across his temple. He leapt to his feet and rushed to the girl’s side. Henrohf was already there, and the mother was shrieking out of despair. Delegon had recently awoken and deduced what was happening.
Mikael lifted the girl’s head off the floor. Her face was already unnaturally white, but she still had the consciousness to look at Mikael. He choked on tears as he realized his failure.
“I’m sorry,” he managed. “This was my fault.”
The girl maintained her gaze. “Sir…Do you…Think…I’ll see…Eth…Eth…” she began to cough, and blood came from her mouth. But she somehow held on.
“Yes,” Mikael tried, tears now flowing. “I am sure that you will see Ethsaren.”
The girl tried a slight smile. “Thank you…For…Trying to save me. Will…You tell my mommy…what happened?”
Mikael his eyes and saw the mother crawl to her daughter, trying to get her voice. “I’m…I’m here, Kyriana.”
“Mommy?” The girl smiled again at the sight of her mother. “Why…are you crying?”
The mother sniffed and continued to cry.
“It’s…okay, Mommy. I’m…going to…see Ethsaren.”
The mother tried to smile, but tears continued to gush from her eyes. She took her daughter’s cold hand.
“Mommy…Don’t be…mad at him, okay? He tried to…save me…”
The mother nodded, smiling at the kindness of her daughter even in her last moments. She squeezed her hand tighter.
“I…love you, Mommy.”
That was the last word Mikael heard the girl speak.
Henrohf put a comforting arm around the mother as she wept uncontrollably, shocked at the sudden abduction and murder of her daughter. Mikael slowly rested the girl’s head on the floor and closed her eyelids in respect. “Most gracious Ethsaren, maker of this young one, we now return her spirit to rest with you,” he said with as little tremble in his voice as he could.
Mikael rose to his feet, wiping the rest of his tears from his face. He picked up the sword that had ended the girl’s life and returned to Mulea’s wretched, bleeding form. He pressed the tip under Mulea’s chin just hard enough to draw blood, closing his mouth.
“Urk…You will never—urg—Stop him. No one…can stop him…”
And Mikael cut the man’s breath to an eternal halt.
Mikael circled around Henrohf to meet Ximazu, who had stayed in the hallway. “Mikael, this loss has occurred because of the increasing corruption of the Night’s Edge,” said Ximazu, in a whisper. “It is merely a demonstration of what he can and wants to accomplish. He has been nothing but pure deceit and malice since the Wars of Eternity started.”
“What do I do?”
“You must follow Tunkoh. The shards of Chryzthon lie in vaults in various locations. One here, under the tower. The other, Tunkoh has already obtained. The other four lie at his destination. And…” Ximazu sighed.
“What is it?”
“Well, they are each guarded by dragons. Six children only can command the dragons.”
“Why can we not simply kill them?”
“If they were normal dragons, it wouldn’t be an issue, but they aren’t. They’re Drakes.”
“Drakes? I thought they were merely a religious myth?”
“No. They are nearly extinct thanks to the conquests made by the Night’s Edge, but still existent in their universe.”
“Don’t let the girl’s death be in vain, Mikael. It is not just our universe this time—It is every universe.”
Mikael looked back at the girl and her mother. If this was even a taste of what the Night’s Edge could do, would do, then he had no choice. He would have to do this.
And he could not fail.
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