The world's last wizards protect the 19th century from their lost parents' nemesis.
|The eye-frying flash blinked out, replaced instantly by murky twilight, a continuous thunder, and the sizzling sting of wind-driven sand. It was a good thing that Heath’s eyes were closed against the sudden glare, because if they had been open, he might well have been blinded. As it was, it felt as if the skin was being flayed from his face.
“Sally!” The wind took his voice away so quickly that he jumped in surprise when Sally answered from right in front of him.
“Heath! I’m here!” He groped forward, found her only a step away, and enfolded her in his arms. A moment later, the dead Dave and Huey came stumbling into him, and they all toppled over in a limb-tangled heap. Heath’s Colt slipped out of his fingers and was lost in the blowing sand.
Frantic to keep the zombies away from Sally, Heath twisted around and lashed out with a fist. He connected with someone’s face.
Nobody hit back. Nobody even grabbed at him. He lay there in the sand with one arm around Sally while the two zombies sat only inches away but still visible only as vague shapes in the swirling, stinging sandstorm.
Then he heard something that made no sense to him. If he hadn’t known better, he would have sworn that one of those dead men was… crying. He listened for another moment, and became certain of it. One of them – Dave, he thought – was crying like a baby, and the other one was holding him and trying to sooth him like a mother.
“What the hell…?” The moment his lips parted, he got a mouthful of sand. He turned downwind and spat.
There was no time to figure out what was going on with the dead fellas, because right then, Trevor dropped down on his knees next to him and Sally and started shouting.
“I can’t feel the Pulse!”
“What?” Heath shouted back at him, trying to be heard over the roar of the sandstorm. He made sure to face downwind before he opened his mouth, though.
“The Pulse of the Earthblood! I can’t find it!”
“What are you talking about?”
“The source of a wizard’s power is the lifeblood of the Earth,” he answered. “I’ve always felt it, like a fetus feels the heartbeat of its mother. But now it’s gone!”
“How could it be gone? Wouldn’t that mean,” Sally asked, “that the Earth had… died?”
“I can’t believe that could be true,” Trevor shouted, but Heath could hear the beginnings of panic in his voice. He sounded like a little kid who got himself lost in a crowd. “But I can’t think of any other explanation, either.”
“The Eartheart still beats,” a hoarse voice said, “but its power is much diminished.”
Startled, Trevor spun, and suddenly his hands were filled with guns. Heath turned to find the dead Huey on his knees, with Dave tucked under his arm, shuffling closer to them. Dave was still whimpering into Huey’s shirt, but he shuffled along with him.
“If you’ll refrain from shooting me, dear brother, perhaps together we can dowse for a connection.” Huey looked at Sally. “Sally, darling, will you please look after Little Pete? He’s not hurt, really, but he is rather shocked at having been struck by his father.”
Sally sound kind of strangled as she said, “Lily…?”
“Yes, dear,” Huey replied, and Heath had to admit, despite Huey’s cracked, dead vocal cords, he sounded a hell of a lot like Lily. “I’m afraid that I took Little Pete out for a ride, and of necessity we’ve been trapped inside these revenants.”
“Is this some trick of Myrddin’s, or…” Trevor said, his voice shaking, “Lily? Is it truly you?”
Sally got up and crawled over to Huey and took Dave from her, and sat with her back to the wind, shielding him from the storm. Dave curled up on the sand with his head in her lap. His whimpering tapered off.
“This…” Sally murmured, as Heath came to kneel beside her, “this really is Little Pete. I’d recognize his crying anywhere.”
“But, how…” Heath turned to Huey, or Lily, or whoever the hell it was. “How did my little boy get into this dead man?”
“Look, Heath,” Trevor interrupted, “I understand your feelings, but we have no time for this now.” He looked at Huey and holstered his guns. “If you’re really Lily, we need to connect with the Eartheart, or we are going to die in this infernal sandstorm.”
“Yes,” Huey replied, “I believe I just said that.” With a gesture that was so feminine that Huey looked ridiculous doing it, he held out his hands to Trevor. Trevor took hold of them and they started into chanting something in unison. They chanted for a long time.
The sand was building up around them; every square inch of Heath’s exposed skin was on fire. It seemed that he felt every single grain of sand that struck him, each one a needle poked into his skin. Sally was hunched over Dave, stroking his hair and singing him one of Little Pete’s favorite lullabies. This was all too damn crazy to be believed. Heath felt like he was going plumb out of his mind.
He was thirsty as hell, too. Running through Rattler’s Fang while it was burning to the ground had taken a lot of his moisture, and he hadn’t had a drop of water since before he’d first seen Trevor come through the batwings into the Piebald. Sally, too, was looking pretty parched. Her skin was flushed from the sand-blasting, and her lips were dry and beginning to crack.
Dave couldn’t have been dead long before they raised him back up without his soul, but he was looking bad, even for a dead man. Heath wondered: what would happen to his son’s spirit if this body died again with him inside of it? Nothing good, he suspected.
Trevor and Huey – he couldn’t bring himself to think of him as Lily – were still holding hands, chanting away. So that Trevor could keep his back to it, Huey was facing straight into the wind. How the hell could he chant with all of that sand blowing into his mouth? Hell, he was dead; how could he do anything but grow mold? It was all just too damn crazy.
A halo of blue light blinked on around Trevor and Huey. Heath thought it was dimmer than the ones he’d seen them wearing before. The minute it did, though, Trevor released one of Huey’s hands and started to weave a knot of light. When he was done, he gave it a flick, and it expanded, grew bigger and bigger and stretched out and down, like an overturned bowl. Then it settled over them and shut off the storm.
In the sudden silence, Sally’s lullaby seemed loud. She dropped her voice to a whisper, and kept smoothing Dave’s hair. God, Heath thought, she is so beautiful!
Now that the threat of the sandstorm was held off, at least for the moment, the first thing he did was to locate his Colt where it had dropped when the two revenants had stumbled into him and Sally. It was buried in the sand; he had to crawl around combing the area around them with his fingers, but he found it pretty quickly. Then he spent a few minutes clearing out the sand and making sure the weapon was clean.
After his gun was as clean as it was going to get until he could get hold of some oil and a soft cloth, Heath thought it was time to start figuring out where they were and how they were going to get back. He turned to Trevor, who was staring incredulously into the eyes of the big, beefy barfly who claimed to be his sister. Huey sat there on his haunches, looking pretty much as he always had, except for the expression on his face, which reminded Heath of Miss Lily, sure as hell.
“So,” he began, “Like I was sayin’ before, how the hell did Little Pete get into poor Dave’s dead body? He sure wasn’t there when Leroy Sykes had, uh, Huey and him drag my carcass up to the castle.”
“I had to preserve myself so that I might do my part to trigger the trap I set with the help of my beloved Peter. So, using stone-working spells taught to me by our father and taught to him by those consummate builders, the Gnomes, I prepared my crypt at the entrance to the Earthfont below the Frisky Piebald. At last, Myrddin’s poison had wasted away my body so badly that I was near death, I realized that I could wait no longer for my brother’s arrival. I withdrew into myself, slowing down my bodily functions to a point that I seemed quite dead, and trusted my dear friends Sally and Heath to follow my burial instructions.”
“Then you are alive!” Trevor seemed real happy about that, which wasn’t too surprising.
“I required Little Pete’s help. I could not leave the vicinity of the Frisky Piebald without the assistance of someone with great power. You, Sheriff, and Sally, were both quite busy, and I could not allow you to know of my continued presence here, lest Myrddin discover my trap through you. Burnley is a powerful bloodline, as is Calico, though without my influence, the magic would probably have lain dormant, the great potential never to be realized. Little Pete enjoys the contributions of both. He will make a fine wizard one day.
“However, I could not foresee the chance interaction of Myrddin’s Binding with his Earthfont. It seems that the energies released in the explosion of the Earthfont, combined with the spells being woven, along with my triggering the Labyrinth trap that was supposed to imprison Myrddin within when Peter’s spirit was released, has had some unexpected results. Our two spirits were present; if we had not anchored ourselves to these soulless bodies, we might well have become lost on the astral plane.”
“Where the hell is his body?” Heath was furious that she would use his son this way.
“When we left, Little Pete’s body was slumbering in the arms of young Millie, safe in the Frisky Piebald, with Mel Sampras to look after them.”
“Can we get him back into it?”
“As long as the revenant body remains able to hold his spirit until we get him home, yes.”
“All right, then. Do either of you have any notion of where we are? Or, maybe, how the hell we got here?”
“I don’t know, Heath,” said Trevor, without taking his eyes off Huey. “All I can say with any certainty is that we are no longer on the Earth upon which we were born.”
“No longer—“ Heath was stunned. He had figured they were in Death Valley, or that African desert he had heard about, and either one of them would have been hard enough to accept, but this… it was like something out of a dime novel. “You mean we’re on some other planet? Like what, Mars, or something?”
“No, Heath,” said Huey, or he guessed it was Miss Lily who said it, “not Mars. This is Earth, but not the Earth we know. Or at least, I hope it is not, for some terrible catastrophe has left this world’s life energy nearly depleted.”
“Well… how are we going to get back home?”
Trevor shook his head, silent.
Lily said, “I don’t know. I only know that the energy here is too weak to sustain us for long, even though we were able to establish a connection to it. The shield we have fashioned is barely adequate to protect us from this storm. In fact, the magic that animates these revenant bodies that Little Pete and I currently inhabit is being used up at an alarming rate, and I cannot replace it quickly enough from the available supply.”
“What are you saying?”
“If we do not quickly find a way back to our own Earth, say, within a week or so, I think these bodies will return to their natural state. We, having no other anchor, shall die with them.” Heath stared at him… her… dumbstruck. “You, on the other hand,” she continued, trying to sound encouraging, “should survive for a bit longer.”
“Provided, of course,” Trevor added, “that we find a supply of fresh water, and maybe a bit of food.”
“Yes,” Lily agreed. “Of course, we can do nothing until this storm abates.”
Heath looked at Sally, who shrugged. Having nothing better to do, he settled in next to her and Dave… Little Pete… and they all lay down to sleep.