The world's last wizards protect the 19th century from their lost parents' nemesis.
|Trevorus Ambrosius stood in a vast, silver-walled cavern deep in the earth beneath the Frisky Piebald, the nexus of power that Liliana had found and claimed for them. The shining walls glowed orange, red and yellow with the reflected radiance of the bubbling Earthfont in the cavern’s center. Trevorus stood at its edge, looking across at Sally Calico Burnley, the lovely wife of the Sheriff, who had befriended his sister, as her husband had befriended him. Their own reflections were huge, shadowy and distorted on the irregular surfaces of the silver walls. The argent beam still linked their lockets, and as he watched, a column of the puissant lava rose from the center of the Earthfont to intersect it.
As the lava touched the ray of white light, a kaleidoscope of swirling colors burst free and began to roll and sweep around seemingly at random. Slowly the streamers concentrated into brighter, denser forms, coalescing into a vaguely human shape. The light resolved itself into sharper focus, and the shape began to take on a familiar aspect. Soon, the image of Liliana was smiling down at him. She looked so solid, so present, that he felt that he could reach out and touch her. Then her image blurred once more as his eyes filled with tears.
“Liliana,” he croaked, his voice tight with restrained grief, “I’m so sorry…”
“Hush,” her voice whispered inside his mind. “There is no need for sorrow, dear brother. You had to follow your own path, as did I. I am glad that yours has led you here at last.”
“Too late, though, love. Too late.”
“Nonsense. Though there is little time left, and none for recriminations. You must be ready to walk the path to the Enemy’s stronghold.”
“He is. Our home is now his, and he has brought it here. I found this Font on my journey to California, and I knew that this was where I needed to be. Soon thereafter, I sensed his presence. The castle is hidden in the clouds on a mountaintop to the north.”
“The Labyrinth spell?”
“Is ready, as I told you in my last letter, when I sent the locket. The Enemy quickened the spell himself, when he had my beloved Peter killed. The Burnleys are powerful, Trevor; Peter’s life force, severed from his body by the Enemy’s minion, followed the lines of his controlling spell, and guided my thread to his own Font. Then Peter’s energy melded into the newly-formed Labyrinth spell.”
“But, without you, how can I possibly succeed?”
“Do not count me out yet, dear brother. I still have a part to play, as do others.” She smiled. “Sally, too, is stronger than she knows. With her own strength, and the gift that I have bequeathed to her, she has within her all that is needed to help you. Together, you shall persevere.”
“I love you, Lily.”
“And I, you, dear Trevor.”
At the same time that she was communing with her brother, the ghost of Lily Ambrosius spoke with her friend, Sally.
“Hello, Sally, dear.”
Sally’s heart was pounding, and her voice quavered as she responded. “Hello, Lily. I-I’ve missed you.”
“I know.” She smiled, and Sally felt her throat tighten with emotion. “You were a good friend to me. Now, I need you to be a good friend to my brother, as well. He needs your help, and the safety of your home and family are at stake.”
“I-I’ll do whatever you need me to do, Lily.”
“The journey between this Earthfont and that of the enemy will be difficult, painful, and very dangerous, Sally.” The face of the specter lost its smile and became… grave. “You must call upon the strength within you and keep moving forward. Never step back. If you do, even once, you will fail, and all will be lost. Myrddin Moridunum will triumph at last, and everything for which my family has worked since the Great Schism will come to naught.”
“I can’t say as I understand, Lily,” Sally replied, “but if this Myrddin fella wants to hurt my family, I’ll fight him to my last breath.”
“Of course you will, dear. I would have expected no less.” Lily’s ghost began to fade, the colors bleeding back into the gushing, gurgling lava fountain. “I shall be watching over you, dear. Good luck.”
Then, with a loud roar and a hiss of steam, the geyser of lava shot high into the air. By the time the flying gobs of liquid rock had splashed back into the pool, she was gone. Across the pool, the Earthfont, Trevor’s eyes – were those tears on his cheeks? – were locked upon her own. She nodded to his unspoken question, and he raised his hands.
A moment later, in a last flash of argent light, their reflections disappeared from the walls of the silver chamber.
Little Pete rides his pony.
He rides it oh, so fast.
He rides through lots of Indians,
And tips his hat as he rides past.
Little Pete rides his pony.
He rides it out of town.
He rides into the mountains.
He rides his pony all around.
Little Pete rides his pony.
He rides it up the ridge.
He rides it through the foggy-fog.
He rides it on a bridge.
Little Pete rides his pony.
Rides through the castle gate.
He rides down into darkness,
Then right there he has to wait.
Rattler’s Fang was burning. Heath ran through streets that yesterday were quiet, homey paths through the neighborhood where the miners and other employees of Thaddeus Gadsden had lived back in the town’s heyday. Tonight, they were the pathways of Hell.
A cold wind blew, but it didn’t cool the air any. It only fanned the flames that ate the wood frame houses like an army of wolves tearing apart a herd of crippled deer. He couldn’t find the defenders anywhere. For that matter, he hadn’t seen hide nor hair of the attackers, either.
Up ahead, a burning warehouse had collapsed into the street; he wouldn’t be going any further in that direction. He stumbled to a halt, and then turned around and headed back the way he had come at a walk. He took a left at the first cross street he came to that was still open enough to let him pass. This he took to the next street that led north, and turned left again. This street led directly out of town to Gadsden’s old silver mine.
He was near the edge of town when he saw them. Mel had been right. It looked like the whole damn Comanche Nation was out there. Directly in front of him, maybe a hundred yards away, Heath saw a huge, black stallion, bigger than Trevor’s Jet, but in places, Heath could see through this one’s ribcage. Astride it, bareback, his ass right on top of the creature’s exposed spinal bones, was a man wearing a big, feathered chief’s war bonnet and carrying a war lance with a flaming head. Even from this distance, Heath could see that his eyes glowed red as blood. It could have been Ten Bears, all right; Heath didn’t know for sure.
Then, as if he’d been waiting on Heath’s arrival, the chief’s horse reared, and he raised his war lance over his head and let out a rattling hiss. Immediately, the horde of warriors ran at him like bats out of hell. Or in this case like bats coming back into hell. Heath turned and ran back into the burning town. He ran for a long time, taking turns at random. He wouldn’t be able to keep this up for much longer. Where were Gordy, Dave and Huey? Where were the rest of the men of the town? Surely they didn’t all turn tail and head for the hills. That was what he’d tell them to do when he found them, though. There was no resisting an army that size, especially one that by all rights should be lying down in its grave.
The exertion and the heat were drying him out. Wiping sweat from his face with a sleeve, Heath swerved to avoid a falling porch post, and ducked around a corner as bullets began whining past from behind him. Heath cussed under his breath. They looked slow with their stiff-limbed gait, but they covered ground mighty fast. He pulled up short as more bullets came at him from straight up ahead, where a whole passel of the corpses was heading his way.
He dropped to his belly and opened up with his Winchester, firing and cocking the lever as fast as he could. Wherever a silver bullet hit one of the monsters, it fell down, dead again. They had terrible aim, but there were so many of them; eventually one of them would get him with a lucky shot.
Before the ones behind him could catch up, he scrambled into an alley and ran. Damn! The dead Indians had caught him in crossfire before he had even found any of the other defenders. It was like they had been laying for him.
He ran into an area where the flames had not yet reached. It was dark, but he could hear the Indians behind him, so he couldn’t slow down. Up ahead, he could see the far end of the alley, and the fire-lit street. He didn’t see any enemies there, so he ran faster.
Then something snagged his foot, and he was flying face-first through the darkness. He landed hard on his belly, his Winchester beneath him. A knee came down hard on his back, and before he could react, his hands were tied behind him. He was yanked to his feet and slammed against a wall by two stinking corpses. One of them jabbed him with a stick, or something.
A spark flared in the darkness, a flame took hold of a wick, and a glass shade was quickly lowered over it. A hand turned the key and the flame grew brighter, shedding light on a face he hadn’t seen since the Centennial of 1876. The face grinned at him.
“How do, Sheriff,” said Leroy Sykes. He looked at the two dead men who held Heath against the wall. “Now, boys, don’t be too rough on the Sheriff; even if he is the one who sent you out here.”
Heath looked at the faces beside him and choked back a scream. They belonged to Huey and Dave. An arrow stood out from Dave’s chest, and as Heath squirmed and struggled against the dead men’s grips, it jabbed him again and again.