The world's last wizards protect the 19th century from their lost parents' nemesis.
|As the brain of revenant body she occupied returned to death, Lily’s universe was reduced to a soap bubble afloat in a void. Within, there was only her: awareness without form, a locus of perception, nothing more. Without, there was only emptiness without volume: nothing contained by nothing.
Lily’s perception included the memory of sensation, of experience; since there was no sensation in her current experience, her memory fought the void without by trying to fill the void within.
“I love you, Lily,” said Peter Burnley, and kissed her. The sweetness of that kiss filled her heart, her belly, made her head spin and her nether end tingle. He pulled away at last, then rolled over and sat on the edge of her bed. He took his pants from the chair beside the nightstand and began to pull them on.
She stroked his bare back, raking her nails lightly across the pale skin, dragging them up to the sharp line where the tanned skin of his neck joined it.
“Do you have to go right now, Peter? I’m having some very naughty thoughts.”
He turned his head to grin at her over one of his broad shoulders. “What, again?”
“Well…” she purred, and slid a little closer.
“Whoa, there, Liliana; you’re gonna have to hold onto your frisky piebald for awhile, honey. I’ve got some scouting to do, and you know it.” He leaned over and kissed her again, but this time it was only a peck on the cheek. “It is your campaign after all. How you gonna plan your strategy without intelligence?”
“I know,” she pouted. “Sometimes I think we should just run away together and forget all about Myrddin Moridunum.”
“It’d be mighty hard to forget about him if he takes over the world, though, wouldn’t it?” He pulled his boots on and stood. He picked up his shirt and shrugged into its sleeves. As he was buttoning it, she rose and donned her best dressing gown.
She came around the foot of the bed and stopped before him as he was buckling on his gun belt.
“You’re right, of course,” she said and sidled up close to him, nestling against his chest. “Just hurry back, so we can pick up where we left off.” She tilted her face up to him, and his arms slipped around her as he leaned down and their lips met for a long, sweet caress.
When they parted, he stepped back and took his hat from her dresser. “Don’t you worry, ma’am,” he said giving her that lop-sided grin that she so loved, “I’ll be back quicker than a frog’s tongue snatchin’ a horsefly.”
“Oooh,” she said with a little shiver, “you said ‘tongue’.” She moved in again, but he laughed and danced away.
“I’ll be back soon. Keep that fire burnin’.”
He went out her bedroom door and closed it softly behind him. She heard the clomping of his boots on the planks of the hallway floor, and then on the stairs leading down to the saloon. She smiled contentedly and sat down before the mirror to brush her hair. She had reached twenty-three strokes when the shot rang out on the street below her window.
It could have been a drunk shooting his gun in a moment of jubilation, or an altercation between two men she didn’t even know. But the sudden lump in her throat and the pounding of her heart told her that it wasn’t so. That shot had a portentous sound to it. She trusted her instinct; it had brought her here, hadn’t it?
She ran out of her bedroom and down through the saloon, pushed her way through the crowd of people at the bat-wing doors and emerged into the dark street.
There he was, lying face-down in the dirt. Heath was just kneeling down beside him. She ran out, heedless of the horse-dung fouling her slippers, and fell to her knees beside the man she loved. He had been shot in the back, but there was something about the wound…
Quickly, she drew the power into herself, never mind the people watching. Heath kept the crowd back so that they couldn’t see her weaving the flows, but she wouldn’t have cared if they had. She let the knot settle into her beloved’s body.
The bullet was spelled to poison his heart, to ruin the tissue so that no Healing short of a full team of Redactors could hope to save its victim. She was helpless to save Peter’s life.
Despair rose up and choked her. She sobbed once, but pushed back her emotions, and held onto her weave. If she couldn’t save her love, she would for damned sure avenge him. Her Healing weave went to Peter’s mind, where it dwindled in his brain, and she touched it lovingly.
Yes, Lily. I’m still here, but not for long, I’m afraid. The bastard got me.
Would you like to do one more mission for the struggle, my love? It will require some suffering, I fear.
Anything, love. You know that.
All right, then. Hang on for just another moment.
She withdrew and began to weave another knot, this one far more complex than the simple Healing weave she had used, which was the only one she knew. She wove as quickly as she could, improvising here and there to accommodate the method of the murder, then she let the knot sink into the bullet wound. When it touched the poisoned flesh, she gasped with revulsion. The corruption leaped into her, and she knew instantly that she had been corrupted as well. She didn’t care. She pushed the weave farther in and wrapped it around the bullet itself. Then she connected a single filament to Peter’s last spark of life.
Go, my love. Trace the path of this magic back to the source of its power: the enemy’s own Earthfont. We shall use his own evil to destroy him!
Not good-bye, Peter. Farewell. I shall come to free you from the labyrinth if it is the last thing I ever do!
“I’ll be… waiting…”
And he was gone. Her only love was gone.
The poison was already growing within her; if she did not find a way to purge it, she would die. She would…
Trevor. He had to come now. He had to!
He had to come…
Her bubble was shrinking. She was such a tiny mote of life in such a vast, seemingly infinite nothing. She was a speck, a point, a molecule, an atom… she was noth-
In a fragile vessel constructed of the reed-like remnants of her will leftover from the titanic struggle in which she was engaged, Morgana LeFey Ambrosius rode a tempest of wild emotions. Fueled by the strange transformation of her mortal flesh into pure Earthpower, and untempered by any shred of rational control, the anguish of Trudi Golden threatened to incinerate her and the thread-thin filament that connected her to the dwindling spark of Liliana’s spirit. To save her daughter, Morgana had placed her own life in peril.
She needed to find the nexus of control at the very eye of this hurricane of emotion, and there establish her daughter’s mind. Once that was done, she would boost Liliana’s strength with her own, Merlin’s, Trevor’s, the boy Peter’s, and even that of the two apparent mortals they had brought with them. There was more to Heath and Sally than met the casual eye, of that she was certain. Only by employing every shred of their combined strength did they have any hope of quelling this storm.
With a gust of blazing blue Healing wind, Morgana drove her boat of determination deeper into the maelstrom, the wailing winds whipping the rigging and stretching the shortened sail of her tiny craft, her only defense against the assault of the raging elements, the storm of emotion that had consumed Trudi. If her boat sank, the storm would consume Morgana and Lily as well.
Franz! Hilda! Trudi! Mein Gott! No! Noooooo!The echoes of Frau Golden’s last cries buffeted Morgana, every syllable a hammer to her skull, every scream a saw scraping against her bones.
From out of the waves before her little boat, three gigantic revenants rose up, sloughing off gobbets of sodden flesh that fell in gelatinous blobs back into the water and onto the wicker-like deck of her boat. They loomed over her like the stinking corpses of Titans, arisen from the deepest pits of Tartarus to take their revenge upon the god-children who struck them down. But Morgana was no goddess; her power was far less than even the humblest deity. She could only try to steer her craft through their legs and hope that she could slip by, if not unnoticed or unscathed, at least unsettled.
And steer she did, hard to port, skimming the inner left thigh of Hilda, who stooped and swung her monstrous arm down, barely missing the little boat’s stern. With a fast spin of the wheel to starboard, she drove the vessel forward, tacking across the winds of despair. Sharp thrusts from her willpower impelled her forward, inch by inch, toward her goal, her boat lancing through the mountainous waves. Frau Golden’s dead son, Franz, lurched toward her with the stiff-jointed motion of a revenant, and dove with the intent to crush her beneath his falling body. With an azure puff from her virtual pursed lips, she managed to evade his body in a burst of speed, but as it hit the surface, a wave of liquid grief lifted the boat stern-first. She poured everything she had into pushing the craft forward, in order to avoid being capsized. The boat slipped down into the trough, and she formed a bubble of blue energy as the wave washed over her, submerging her in the sea of sorrow. A moment later, the craft bobbed to the surface once more. As she released the bubble, she felt her energy wane, and her boat began to unravel.
She sent a desperate plea back up her lifeline, and soon felt herself bolstered by the reassuring presence of her beloved Merlin. She strengthened the fabric of her vessel and pushed on toward the last of the Titans: Trudi, the girl-child named for her granny. The surface of the sea was at Trudi’s waist. She raked her arms to and fro in great arcs, plowing the surface and creating monstrous waves, one after another, that buffeted her relentlessly.
Morgana tried to get her prow into the waves. The little boat rose up, up to the top of the mountain of liquid lament and tipped over the crest. Then she was hurtling almost straight down the other side. It seemed that she must simply drive on into the surface of the upsweep far below, and never rise again.
But thanks to Merlin’s support, her little vessel was stronger than it looked, stronger even than Morgana herself felt. It caught the upsweep and rode with it until she was climbing the next wave, and Morgana blew into her shortened sail, pushing onward.
Over another crest, and the dead girl’s flailing left arm was before her, approaching at speed on a collision course. Morgana remembered Frau Golden’s constant prattle about this child, of all the things that she did. She remembered the strudel that was Frau Golden’s pride, and her talk of little Trudi’s love for it.
In desperation, Morgana called up the memory of the pastry and sent the image out into the air above her vessel. Then, in her best imitation of Frau Golden’s stupendously amplified voice, she said, Truuudeee, vould youuuu liiike some niiiiice strooooooodellll?
The huge child looked up at the illusion and a macabre smile stretched her suppurating lips. The lower one split wide and a gush of pus slumped out of it and rolled down her chin. She reached up for the pastry, and Morgana’s boat slipped past her lacey apron tie and on into the storm.
The tempest grew so intense that the crosswind threatened to capsize the boat, so Morgana furled the sail and broke out the sweeps. To the rhythm of her heartbeat, a quick-time stroke indeed, she rowed the boat across the heaving surface. The crimson ambience, already so dim, was snuffed out completely. There was no way to see the waves or to anticipate their caprices. Here, she was truly blind, in a way that she had never experienced, either before the loss of her eyes or after.
Now, in addition to the struggle against the powerful fears, pain and rage of Trudi Golden, she had her own fear with which to contend. This darkness was cold water seeping through the woven reeds of her will, oozing into her lifeboat, freezing the flame of her passion, stifling its draft, threatening to drown it.
She gasped, her breast heaving with anxiety. She couldn’t do it. She was not strong enough; even with Merlin’s help, she was too weak to save her little girl. She was too weak to defeat the despair of one mortal woman.
Really, it was only fair. Why should she have her daughter when Trudi had lost everything? Why should her family remain intact when Trudi’s had been so totally destroyed? She did not deserve to be happy. It was her fault that Trudi had had to betray them. Her fault for not protecting Trudi’s family from the enemy she had brought down upon them.
No. That wasn’t true. She and Merlin had protected them. They were under the same spell of protection that protected Trudi herself, and the rest of the village, for that matter. As long as she remained loyal to the Ambrosius line, Myrddin could not touch her or her family.
There had been something else. Trudi had betrayed them before her family was ever touched. There must have been something else… something that Trudi wanted…
A crack of crimson lightning split the darkness before the little craft, and the blood-red ambience returned, waxing brighter as the heaving surface of the sea began to boil.
Power! The voice was so loud, filled with so much force; it was as if the very cosmos shouted Trudi’s crime, her confession witnessed by its every atom. I was jealous of your power. His Blackness promised it to me.
The sea churned and Morgana’s little boat suddenly rode the rim of a whirlpool. It was slowly drawn down as Frau Golden’s true crimes were torn from the shreds of her soul.
The anguish, the rage, the fear, all, at their root, were motivated by guilt. Morgana could see that now, as Frau Golden confessed it to her. He asked for little things at first. It felt like nothing, like no harm could come of it… No harm… A terrible, empty moan rose from the spinning depths of the vortex, and Morgana’s heart felt as if it would break. Trudi’s agony was profound, and it was so hard to hear, for though she had destroyed her own life and those of her family, she had also wrecked the life that Morgana and her family had lived. The only way she would ever be at peace was if she truly emerged from her self-recrimination and unburdened herself. Morgana wanted that for her, but she was so angry… she wanted to smite her.
I allowed him into your house, but I also allowed him into mine. It is all my fault. My fault…
This construct of Earthpower was created when Trudi’s mortal body was forced through the dimensional barrier despite the wards placed against those without magic. It was a meeting of immovable barrier and irresistible force. The stress created was immense enough to rend the very fabric of the universe, but the path of lesser resistance, barely, had been to instead force the essential magical energy of the Earthfont itself into the mundane substance of Trudi Golden.
Trudi had betrayed them all because she had wanted power.
Now, she was power.
Frau Golden, she called, hear me. For what you did to your own family, only they can forgive you. But for what you did to me and mine, I can. If you will go onward and leave this vessel to Liliana, I offer it to you. Go. Find them if you can; I know they await you. Make your peace, Trudi, and let me save my little girl.
As Morgana’s little boat, and her hopes for her daughter, slid down into the maelstrom of Trudi Golden’s guilt, a final pronouncement emerged from the depths.
IIIIIII aaaaammmmmm sssooooo ssssoooooorrrrrreeeeeeee… The echoes of Trudi Golden's last words followed her into the void.
Morgana’s little vessel was nose-down now, rushing into the emptiness that was all that lay beneath the fury of Trudi’s grief. The roar of the wind rose to a crescendo. There was a sound like the entire universe was imploding, sucking the whole of existence into the hole with Morgana’s boat. Darkness fell once more, and utter silence.
Void. Without light or sound, timeless.
Then, an instant or an eternity later, a soft susurrus of hull across sea shushed, and was soon joined by the faint thumping of a healthy heartbeat. A soft, azure glow grew from everywhere and nowhere, resolving into a point of light that pulsed in time with the beating.
Smiling, Morgana sent her daughter a mental caress and the dawn star rose from a calm sea. Through a clear, blue sky, Liliana’s mother, a dove, flew out toward her own body.
“It is finished.” Morgana sat back and let her weight settle into the embrace of her husband. She felt as if she had run a marathon while spectators all along the way had beaten her with sticks. Then she felt what little strength remained to her drain away, as the chain of energy broke apart and the Burnleys stepped back, leaving her in the care of Merlin and Trevor. Their strength still bolstered her own, but it was amazing how much more had been supplied by the three supposed mundanes from Colorado.
“Is Lily-“ Trevor began.
“Lily will be fine,” she said, “but this new way of being may take her some time to accept.”
“Yes,” Trevor agreed, as he, too, stepped out of the circuit. “Before, she was dead in a dead body, but at least she was human. What is she now?”
“Alive,” said her father.