Wolfgang Neverfolt had the blood of myth running through his veins. The lycanthropic curse held back by his family heirloom helped push him forward with unimaginable strength and speed.
If there ever was a man with inner demons, a beast to fell man and its creations aside, Wolfgang Neverfolt was such a man. And the thing he feared the most, besides disgracing his family name, was the one thing that could destroy his legacy. Magic.
The Guardian possessed too much of it. She possessed enough magic to lay waste to the world. His hatred for the queen and for her pet witch came mainly from the fear of their power. The king, when he was alive, had had the Prophet of Dreams, but the king had never been a man of magic. The king’s dependency on The Prophet of Dreams had been purely to safeguard what the man ruled.
And The Prophet of Dreams was now proving to be more of a menace than previously thought. But the King of the Valley of Life had been a prudent man, not without reason, and a fair and just ruler. His ear had been open to all with a suggestion or advice that was true to fairness.
Who could say of the woman-child that now ruled his great and glorious city?
As he ran through The City, a city on the eve of destruction, his blood boiled again that things should come to this. That he did not believe in The Prophet of Dreams was one thing, but to believe that they could not protect their city was entirely anathema to him.
He raced across a bridge that came across his path with one giant leap. When the wall began to cut across The City, it sounded like giant boulders had been thrown into a giant meat grinder. Women screamed, children cried, and men yelled, all pointing to the atrocity that was quickly gaining on him.
He caught sight of the wall when he turned on a side street and started heading up to his estate. The wall was a terrifying thing, a simple creation of the strongest magic that ever existed, as thin as a sheet of paper. Any more observation than that was impossible. The wall gained on him in less than a few strides.
Wolfgang Neverfolt was a fast man, a soldier of exceptional speed when he had served in the ranks of the king’s armies, but it took all his strength to keep up with the wall. At times, he had to lunge on all fours, letting the bestial side of his heritage take over to keep up with the wall. The sheer force of the wall was awesome.
A wagon was making its way up the street when the wall hit it. The wagon was sliced cleanly in half. If it hadn’t been for the moving horse that pulled it, the wagon would have stayed intact permanently. The driver could only look in disbelief as his belongings were left behind.
Whatever dismay had been on the farmer’s face before quickly turned to apprehension at the sight of the shadow monsters. They came through the streets like silken snakes moving to the tune of screams of panic and yells of pandemonium. Their sinewy shapes moved along the streets with a deadly grace found in some of the stealthiest creatures in Sydowen Forest.
Wolfgang had enough time to see one of the shapes throw itself at the farmer. The farmer raised his hands in a useless gesture of protection. The wall stopped the shadow cold. Wolfgang even thought he heard it cry out in pain.
In the tumult of the devastated city, he wasn’t sure.
With a howl not heard since the days of his grandfather’s grandfather, Wolfgang Neverfolt raced forward to catch up with the wall. A shadow raced forward trying to get across before the wall could cut it off. Wolfgang was there to knock it back, hitting it square in the chest, before it could react.
The wall almost trapped the Lord of Wolvenshire on the other side, but his animal instincts, whatever was left of them, saved him in the nick of time. It took all of his strength and speed to get him across right before the wall could seal his fate.
Sheer determination had him in front of the wall by half a block. It was during this brief respite from his mortal race that Wolfgang Neverfolt finally realized where the wall would end its devastation. Ellen Pinto Roe’s wall was heading straight for his home.
Sara, was all he could think. She must not be hurt!
Two guards stood watch at the entrance of his home, standing at the black pillars of his gate. He could see them pointing behind him, obviously at the wall that was furiously fast approaching.
He passed them in a second, the wall closing in fast. One of the guards pointed and in that instant the wall sealed him on the other side. A shadow was immediately there. His partner could only watch in stupefied horror as his friend was pulled down by claw and tooth.
Wolfgang never looked back. He raced up the stairs, stumbled, regained his footing, and made his way to the Room of the Stars. He could hear violin music coming from inside. Before he could enter the room, the wall crashed through his home, through the very brick his father had built with his two hands, and into the lives of the Neverfolt people.
The wall had sealed him out of the Room of the Stars as surely as a door would have. Only this door could not be knocked down by any means.
* * *
The Room of the Stars was a sacred place. For those who did not believe in the One Spirit, it was a place where one could worship the cosmos and the awesome force of the stars. In a world where sages ruled and the common folk prayed to the moon and to the sun, the Room of the Stars offered a center for astrological studies.
Every sign in the sky had a potent of the future, a small glimpse of what laid ahead for the weary traveler of life. It was essential that these small signs of what was to be get studied properly to bring about the best circumstances for a person.
Sara Neverfolt liked to come into the left wing of her uncle’s estate to study her music and to be alone. She loved to play her violin in the silence of the study room, to let the music fill the silence around her and allow it to move her with all its magical essence.
There was magic in the music that she played, she knew. No one believed her, of course. Magic could not be harnessed in such a way. But she knew better than to doubt her skill. She knew what she felt and what she heard mixed in the strings of her instrument. And today would be the day she would prove it.
So it was that she found herself alone in the Room of the Stars when the wall closed her in. She barely noticed anything odd she was so caught up in her music. The violin’s music vibrated through the room drowning out the rest of the world, it seemed. The vibrations in the air were exuberating. Her creations of sound intoxicating. She was so enraptured by her playing that she didn’t notice the red wall of force that now covered her doorway.
It wasn’t until the wall hit the cliff side behind Wolvenshire Estate that she stopped playing. She stumbled back by the force of the explosion, her violin spilling to the floor. Dust and debris drifted through the open window. Someone was shouting. Slightly dazed, she watched in horror as half of the roof caved in.
Then she noticed the wall. She scrambled to the doorway and found herself face to face with her uncle.
“Sara!” he yelled. “Get out of there! Quickly!”
She was trying to get her bearings straight. “Uncle? What’s happened?”
But it was too late. Wolfgang Neverfolt yelled at something behind her. She turned just in time to see a shadow crawl through the window and disappear in the shadows of the high ceiling.
And then another came through the window. This time she saw it clearly. It was a creature made of the worst nightmares she had ever had. The thing had row upon row of teeth. Its arm shriveled for a second and then coalesced into a wedge as sharp as a knife.
Sara Neverfolt never had a chance. The creature circled around her, nipped at her skirts, and allowed the second creature to fall from the ceiling right on to her back. Its sharp appendage went straight through her chest. The last thing she heard was Wolfgang Neverfolt shouting in rage and fury. The last thing she saw was an explosion of pure white light and a woman in black bursting through, hair a flame in magic and power.
Then she fell into the embrace of her violin and its music.
* * *
Wolfgang Neverfolt never felt such pain in his life before. Remi was dead, and now Sara. Whatever chance of survival his family had now lay with him. He pounded on the wall with all of his force. He hit it and hit it until his fists were beginning to bruise.
A feral growl escaped his throat when Ellen Pinto Roe bursts into the room. She held her sword up before her in a defensive position. There was no hint of excitement in her eyes. In the after glow of the portal, and in the dust still swirling from the fallen debris, she looked like one of the shadows. She scanned the room once, and then let her gaze fall on Sara and her lifeless body. It was then that stared at the shadows before her, a look that would have stopped most experienced fighters dead in their tracks.
The creatures didn’t act immediately, sensing the power within the woman before them. She stared at them flatly. In her right hand, she held a white ball of glowing light. It was instantly apparent the light was keeping the shadows at bay.
In the time it took Wolfgang to blink back his tears Ellen Pinto Roe sprang into action. She let the ball of white light fall to her feet, where it exploded into a shiny disc of shimmering force. The shadows fell back a step, half their bodies losing substance and form. With the grace of a feline, she dropped the tip of the sword to the disc of force beneath her feet. Light crackled all along the walls like lighting, up and down the blade, and then her sword ignited.
And so did Ellen Pinto Roe.
Effortlessly, she approached the shadows. Sensing the danger in the woman, the shadows spread apart. It was like a dance of impending doom. They moved in and around each other like ballet dancers. The shadows stayed right out of reach of her sword, and she stayed between the two shapes like a skilled puppeteer.
Suddenly, she charged. The shadow’s eyes glowed red with the intensity of the battle. She slipped her sword underneath its armpit, if it could be called that, and fell the beast in half. Quick on her toes, she turned to face the other shadow, which thought it could take advantage of the small opening.
It was a fatal mistake. Before the shadow could take a step forward, The Guardian turned to face it. The sheer ferocity of the look in her face stopped the shadow cold. It sneered at her, a gesture that clearly showed it was afraid.
Without hesitation, she lifted her right hand, sword in the other, and blasted the shadow with rings of light that came out of her palm. The shadow had no time to shout or cry out in pain. The light dissolved it where it stood, its arms still raised in a protective gesture.
In the silence that ensued, Ellen Pinto Roe stood as stoic as a statue and inspected her surroundings. There was a look of regret on her face, of something she wished she could take back and make right.
It took but a small gesture and the window was sealed with another shimmering wall of light, this one the color of the sun. It was perfect timing. Three shadows were kept at bay as the thing went up, there bodies burning at the mere touch of the magic.
When all was safe, she grabbed Sara by the arm and lifted her over her shoulder. It was apparent The Guardian had more strength in her than expected. It wasn’t until she grabbed the pieces of the broken violin, that she turned and regarded Wolfgang Neverfolt as he crouched on the other side of the wall.
“I’m afraid I will regret this for the rest of my life, my lord,” she said plainly, her voice breaking the silence in the room sharply.
When he didn’t say a word, she approached the red wall. “The wall will not last forever. You must get your people out of Wolvenshire Estate and out of The City. I am very sorry that tragedy has befallen your family, but your lineage does not have to end here.”
“The lords will not stand for this!” he cried at her, spittle sizzling on the wall. “You have brought ruin to all of us! Leave! Leave this city to the Council and those that truly care.” The last came out in a growl.
Ellen Pinto Roe ignored the comment. “This city is no longer safe. The Council has gathered at the castle. We will be gone by nightfall. Come with us. There is still a need for you within the ranks of the intrepid city. The people could use someone with your kind of legacy to keep them hopeful. Do not abandon us now, my lord.”
Wolfgang seethed. “I will never follow you or your queen again. Be gone, Ellen! There is nothing that you can say that will not be a waste of breath. I will sit here and let the enemy come. Whatever fate awaits me, then so be it.”
With those words, he turned away from her forever and leaned against the wall, his clothes burning and singeing for a moment. He barely noticed when Ellen Pinto Roe took his beloved niece and slipped between the veils of reality and the world of fey.
* * *
There was only one lord present out of the entire Council. Joleen Zelonis shook her head in frustration. The fools would stay, instead of flee, she thought darkly. Maybe they deserved what was to befall them for their hubris. Only she knew what truly awaited them on the other side. Lord Noral’s entourage came out of the gates and came to stand beside the queen’s carriage.
Lord Noral’s dark handsome face had none of the lightness she was used to this day. His armed guards, much like her own Home Guard, looked ready to slay anything that moved. People gave them a wide berth making sure not to draw to close to the men and their steel weapons. She wondered if two hundred armed men could defeat a mob of thousands of destitute and bewildered people.
Speaking of her people, they continued to file out of The City, through the gates of Castle Bonemeyer like water through a river. Their numbed stares gazed out of unbelieving eyes as their entire life and world was being left behind.
How long, she wondered, will they follow me?
It was a question not worth answering, even if she had been the one to ask it. She knew where they must go, to Emperel, the City of Lights. It was a journey that only the strongest would survive, a journey that would take them through some of the most dangerous country in the known world. No longer would they have the Lake of Dead Men to fish out of, Sydowen Forest to hunt out of, nor the safety of their homes to stay out of the elements.
Nature was truly a cruel mother, and she wondered just how many of the thousands would really survive her harsh embrace.
In the mid-afternoon sun, she could feel the peaks that awaited them to the west. It would get cooler the higher they went into those passes. Had the enemy come from the west, she would have ordered her entire naval fleet to take to sea. She would have been allowed the comfort of better movement and speed had that been the case. But she had no doubt her naval fleet was out of reach to her.
She had already sent riders to notify Ardelle Blackflame of their coming. She only hoped the lord of Emperel had enough provisions and space to satisfy the needs of thousands of people. Her father had always spoken highly of the ruler of Emperel. She only hoped it was a relationship with strong enough ties to carry over for her.
She would have to show a strong backbone. Of that she was sure. What would keep this man from imprisoning her and laying claim to her lands and Castle Bonemeyer? Her father’s relationship with Ardelle Blackflame was her only buffer. If she could only play to those sensibilities, she had a chance.
The captain of the Home Guard, a man by the name of Jacques snapped her out of her thoughts. “My queen, The City is emptying at a speed that requires us to move. If we tally any longer, there will be such congestion here that your safety will be compromised.”
“Where is the Lord-General, captain?” she asked before giving the okay to begin their trek. Once The City got started, there was not stopping it.
Jacques, wearing the red crimson of her Home Guard and a broad steel sword at his belt, nodded to a wagon that was being pulled by four fine horses. “He is in that wagon over there, my lady. He is still unconscious, but The Guardian has assured us he will wake once he has rested and has had time to heal. He lost a lot of blood, my lady. It is a miracle he is still alive.”
Captain Jacques was a good man. A man that was loyal to her father and to her. Now that Remi Neverfolt was dead, he was next in line should the Lord-General not recover from his injuries.
She hoped the Lord-General did not leave her. He was the strength behind the army. If he died there was no telling what that would do to the morale of her vagabond city.
It was already a difficult situation to handle without an army. Some pretense would have to be shown that she could protect her people. Or the One Spirit knew what would happen then.
“My lady?” came the gentle prod again. “I need the order. Already, the area is overfilling with people, animals, and wagons. The procession will be miles long. There will be no masking the trail we leave behind us. The enemy will be at our heels the entire way to Emperel.”
She nodded grimly. So the monster was ready. That’s the name she had given her vagabond city. In its wake, it would destroy the forests it traversed. It would lay siege to any mountain range and passes it traveled over. The waste the traveling city would leave behind would stay in tact for many years to come, for all to see. There was nothing to be done by it.
Captain Jacques was correct. The enemy would know where they were for days after they were long gone.
“Captain,” she started. “It will take us two weeks to get to Emperel. How many of my people can we hope to save? And be honest.”
Captain Jacques looked at her with the resolve of a soldier. No man could be asked to answer a question like that and be expected to sleep in peace for the next ten years. “About half, my lady.”
She turned to the wagon that carried her Lord-General. She had known him since they were both in diapers. Her, Addigo, and Johannassen, the three of them running around like little kids should.
Those had been the happiest days of her life. His presence would not only comfort her, it would give her people strength to endure the unendurable. She had never wanted comfort from the man. Now that she could have used his strength to lean on, he wasn’t there for her. Was that how he had felt? Always wanting, but never finding her there?
It was something to contemplate.
“Set up parameters, Jacques,” she ordered. “Get as many able men to walk on the fringes. Have them pick up whatever they can use as weapons. I do not want one hoe or pick to go unused. If I see a rake so much as laying there, without being in someone’s hand, they will have to answer to me.”
“And Captain,” she said as he turned away to give her orders, “you may give the order to commence movement.”
A slight nod of his head and a proud, “yes, my lady,” and he was away giving orders.
A few moments later arrived Ellen Pinto Roe, Sara Neverfolt slung over her shoulder. A beautiful woman walked at The Guardian’s side. They came to stand in front of the queen.
“My lady,” said Ellen Pinto Roe, spilling the lifeless form of Sara Neverfolt to the ground. “I am afraid I was not able to reach her in time. I’m afraid Wolfgang Neverfolt will not be coming with us. He is racked with pain and misery. Nothing I could say would convince him otherwise.”
“Bury the girl, Ellen. The lords can not be helped, anymore.” She would not worry about the lords anymore.
She turned to more important things. The queen remembered the woman’s name. “Marguer Losom. You did a fine job bringing the people forth from The City.”
The woman rang her hands. The nervous twitch made her seem older beyond her years. “There are still thousands of people left in The City, my queen. I cannot help but feel as if I failed you and them.”
Joleen Zelonis understood all too well. “You cannot blame yourself. You can lead the herd to water, but you cannot make it drink. You have done more than you should have been asked to do. What of the other representatives?”
Marguer Losom shed a tear. “I am the last, my lady. Most were caught beyond the wall. Some others are still guiding the citizens out of The City.”
Joleen Zelonis patted the other lady’s shoulder reassuringly. “We will not know who was left behind for many days yet. Let us get moving.”
As if in response to her quiet musing, the carriage lurched into motion. People began to walk alongside the soldiers and Lord Noral’s own carriage. A city made one by its devastation. Her carriage traveled about twenty paces when she finally opened the door and got out. She was no better than the people she was sworn to protect and so she would walk.
She might be young in years, but her father had taught her well.
News of the queen’s actions spread throughout the camp. And their respect for their new queen rose and held back any reservations anyone had for a moment longer.
Lord Noral approved of this course of action, and before long he, too, was walking, guiding his horse by its reigns, instead of on top it, where he would be able to look down on everyone else.
Before the day was over, they reached a point where Castle Bonemeyer was just a dot in the horizon. A bend in the high road up ahead would take the castle out of view. For some, it would be the last time they would ever lay eyes on it.
Joleen Zelonis stared at it for a moment. The Prophet of Dreams was buried there. Who knew what the man had taken to his grave. His book, which she held in one of her pouches, would reveal what he hadn’t taken with him.
But most importantly, her father was buried there, as well as her mother. Both her parents were now together. It was a union that endured beyond all space and time, she knew.
Lord Noral’s eyes watered and he gave thanks to the stars above that he had been granted the pleasure of living in such a great kingdom. His words were loud enough for many of the people, including Joleen, to hear.
Ellen Pinto Roe said nothing. Her home was not in the castle, per say, but with the rightful ruler of the kingdom. Her home was by Joleen’s side. But something was transpiring between The Guardian and Marguer Losom that the queen was failing to catch. She made a mental note to find out what that was.
Having the enchantment of seeing her home for the last time broken by the two women, she gave the order to continue moving on.
She didn’t turn back when they went around a final bend and Castle Bonemeyer fell behind a copse of trees at last.
Copyright © 2004 by Julian Lawler III