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Rated: ASR · Fiction · Action/Adventure · #2162723
This is a first draft of my story. This item will be updated every Monday.
                                                                     Chapter 1
         Niall looked up through the driving rain seeing only dark stone and heavy clouds that clung close to the sides of the mountain, and Niall when he looked behind could only see the stone steps he had already traversed dropping down a short way before being hidden by more clouds that lay like a great soft blanket over the lands below. Shivering with cold as his thread bare clothes clung to him and his wet hair was plastered to his forehead. Three days of climbing had exhausted his supplies which had been little to begin with and had depleted his strength. The rain had done little to improve the situation as he had nothing to protect himself from its cold wet embrace.
         He was slowly climbing step by step, not knowing what else to do he began to sing songs that made no sense and might have earned him a ticket on the first train to madness if anyone had heard them, but there was no one listening except the bare rocks. Niall paused in his singing and tilted his head back drinking the falling rain that splattered his face. When he again looked ahead he found he had come to a large landing which was occupied by a short bearded dwarf.

          “Greetings young hero, I am Nolan, guardian of the Falling Tears.” The dwarf announced the moment Niall put his feet on the landing.
         “Hello.” said Niall. “I’m Niall, but I’m not a Hero, I’m just a Commoner.”
         “I was not referring to what class you belong too down there.” Nolan answered with a wave of his hand indicating the area below the landing. “I was referring to your courage in coming here, which does make you a hero, and I should also point out that you are what the Magicians would classify as a Hero.”
          “You are mistaken. The Magicains tested me with magic when I was born, and I’m just normal.” Niall responded. “Could I just get on my way?”
         “Okay Normal Niall. But first tell me this, what do you seek here?” Nolan asked gesturing over his shoulder.
         “I’m here too find the Blooming Ivy.” Niall answered.
         “And for what purpose do you wish to posses the rare Blooming Ivy?”
         “It is for entering the Craftsman Guild. Each applicant needs to bring something to prove their worth and I chose a rare plant.” Niall explained. “Why are you asking me these questions?”
         “Oh there standard questions.” Nolan responded. “What is your full name, and what is your present occupation?”
         “What does that have to do with anything?”
         “You don’t answer the questions you don’t go in.” Nolan said in a way of responding.
         “Niall Nightwood, Farmers assistant.” Niall answered.
         “Okay. What does your father do, what does your mother do and do you have any siblings?” Nolan asked. “And what kind of education do you have?”
         “How is any of this relevant?” Niall asked beginning to think this whole thing was some kind of trick.
         “In case I need to contact them in case of fatality and I need to know if they can afford funeral expenses.” Nolan replied.
         “I’m just here to pick a flower!” Niall exclaimed.
         “Just humor me.” Said Nolan.
         “Fine. My father his a farmer, and my mother works for the local Summoner Magician, as an enforcer of the law.” Niall said. “While my two brothers were born Heroes and were attached to the Archsummoner’s family as guardians.”
         “Well what about your education, I need to know if your qualified to do this task?”
         “I know how to read and write, but I don’t think that would be helpful when picking a flower.” Niall pointed out.
         “I see. Well what about fighting? Do you know anything about that?” Nolan asked.
         “Well not really. Commoners aren’t allowed to own weapons or learn how to fight.” Niall said.
         “Okay, final question, would you like a granite tombstone or one made of plain stone, or perhaps you would like to go with a cheaper wooden one. Although I wouldn’t recommend it, considering it breaks down quickly.” Nolan said.
         “What kind of question is that?!” Niall asked. “I’m just here to pick a flower.”
         “We’ll make it wood then.” Answered Nolan. “Any last words to be printed on the tombstone or would you like us to place whatever the last thing you yell on your grave?”
         “Is there something up there I should know about?”Niall asked.
         “Yes.” Nolan replied. “So we’ll go with option two then.”
         “Well, whats up there that I should know about?” Niall asked.
         “Follow the stairs up until you get to the gates, knock three times.” Nolan said. “Here your going to need this.”
         Nolan handed Niall a club made from oak.
         “Wait. Whats up there?” Niall asked again.
         “Good luck.” Nolan said before vanishing into a wisp of cloud.


         Niall looked at the club and then up the mountain. This was his last opportunity to turn back, but he really had no choice he had no food and it was a three day journey to the bottom. His only option was to go forward. He started up the steps. What ever lay up ahead he wasn’t ready for it, but turning back seemed the worse option after all he knew what lay that way, and the dwarf might have just been trying to scare him. Or maybe he was going to die? Niall tried not to think about that, but it hung in his mind. He passed through a cloud and came suddenly out above the storm and gasped at the blue sky and bright warm sun that shone out above the gray clouds. It was like stepping out into another world. A flock of birds appeared far away gliding above the storm for a short time before they vanished from sight.
         Niall took a moment to drink in the warmth of the sun before he climbed toward a set of gates. He couldn’t see what was beyond the gates nor could he see over the wall into the area beyond. He knock three times and the gates swung back revealing a path surrounded by blossoming peach trees which blocked his view deeper into the garden. Niall entered looking around constantly trying to see anything that looked threatening. He saw nothing except peach trees and perfect grass with the path wandering through the beauty.
         Niall didn’t notice the gate softly close behind him because he was caught up in the beauty of the garden. What ever Nolan had been talking about didn’t seem to be true. Niall followed the path drinking in the smells and sounds that filled the garden. He passed a statue of a man in armor who was holding his helmet in his hand.
         Niall heard a snorting sound and a pig ran across the path. He had raised his club, but just felt foolish because it was a pig so he threw the club away. Nolan had just been trying to scare him, Niall decided. He continued on his way passing more statues which seemed oddly placed many of them be close together. Niall was not an expert on garden care, but it did seem funny that they would be so poorly placed. He paused for a moment in front of a statue of a man with bulging muscles and a proud sneer on his face. Niall was sure if the sculptor had been paid well by the man whose likeness was captured in stone, because the man was obviously rich and the craftsmen was immensely talented. Niall glanced around at some of the other statues, some were laughing others seemed serious, but they all were life like in every detail.
         Niall guess whoever owned the garden was very rich. Niall heard snorting and heavy hoof falls and spotted more pigs roaming beneath the trees. Niall wondered what kind of garden came with a herd of pigs, they weren’t exactly pretty creatures. Niall passed a tree and heard the flutter of wings and spotted a large raven flapping away deeper into the garden. It was the only other creature besides the pigs Niall had seen.
         Niall passed another statue, but this one was different. It was a person screaming in anguish or was it terror. Niall was starting to think the garden was owned by a tortured artist. Maybe the artist had started out with a good life and the early statues reflected that life, but now Niall had come to the first of the tortured pieces of art. He walked on wondering if he would find anymore statues. He did, one kneeling weeping old man dressed in fine robes, and a man covering his face with his hands so his eyes were only partially visible, but Niall could see that he too was crying. The artist was entering his depressive state, it would appear.
         Niall continued on for awhile until he saw a man with long black hair, a ruffled beard and black robes that were crumpled and as untidy as his hair. It would seem the tortured artist had made an appearance.

         “Ah, our guest.” The man noted as he came close to Niall. “Well it is a pleasure to meet you, Niall.”

         Niall wasn’t sure how to reply without seeming rude, so he said the politest thing he could think of.

         “Who are you and how do you know me?”

         “You filled out an application with Nolan.” The man said. “My name is Corbran.”

         Niall was guessing that Corbran was not a tortured artist at all, he seemed too calm. He put the whole idea out of his mind and decided to take things one at a time and not try to guess ahead of time.

         “Glad to meet you.” Niall responded. “I didn’t realize it was going to be this much trouble to pick a flower.”
         “About that, is that the only reason you came here, think carefully now.” Corbran asked.
         “Yes, I only want to become a herbalist and join the Craftsman guild.” Niall said. “Why is it such a big deal.”
         “That’s it?”
         “Well I do have a craving for apple pie too, but I just need Blooming Ivy blossoms.” Niall explained.
         “Well I can let you proceed I guess, but first have a look at this.” Corbran handed Niall a mask painted black on one side and white on the other.


         Niall was not impressed with the craftsmanship it being a rough mask with no decoration.

         “Its okay, I guess.” Niall said trying not to hurt Corbran’s feelings.
         “Its hideous.” Corbran responded. “Now the Ivy grows in the center of the garden near a pool. I’ll see you later.”

         Then Corbran vanished just like Nolan, and Niall was left alone again.

         That was strange. Niall thought.

         He began following the path again, but he past no more statues. It didn’t take Niall long to find the pool, it was clear and glassy smooth overshadowed by a blossoming cherry tree. Niall noticed the ivy tendrils climbing up the trunk and mixing its own blossoms with the cherry’s. Blossoming Ivy at last, he ran around the pool and nearly tripped over a chest that was sitting between the roots of the tree. The lid of the chest was missing and Niall could see that a large flat red stone was sitting at the bottom. Niall had an idea, he took the stone out of the chest, but hesitated it was a really flat stone. He looked at the pool, maybe just one time. He skipped the stone across the pool and watched it bounce twice before it sank under water. Niall looked around, maybe he shouldn’t have skipped the stone, it might be a family treasure of Corbran’s. Niall turned the treasure chest over so he could stand on it and reach up to one of the ivy blossoms and pick it.
         Niall got down and righted the chest. Now he had to get the stone out of the pool and replace it in the chest, he didn’t want Corbran knowing he had skipped the stone. Niall waded into the water finding it cold and refreshing he used his foot to move the stone around hoping he wouldn’t have to dive for it. He was able to move the stone into the shallows at the far side of the pool where he was able to use his hand to lift the stone out. Niall sighed with relief walking out onto dry solid ground again. He looked at the stone in his hand and then at the chest across the pond. He looked around to make sure he was alone and then he did something he knew he shouldn’t. He skipped the stone again across the pool only this time much harder. The stone bounced four times before it bounced out of the water and hit the tree and fell back into the chest. Niall danced around and fell on his knees yelling.

         “YES! Victory! NIALL WINS!”

         “Hahhahahehe.”

         Laughter broke into Niall’s celebration. Niall leaped up and spun around facing Nolan who was laughing to the point of tears, while Corbran stood looking amused. There was also a girl there who was shaking her head in disbelief. Niall felt his face becoming hot, he tried to make it stop, but there really was nothing he could do.

         “How long have you been standing there?” Niall asked feeling a little annoyed.
         “The whole time!” Nolan said between laughs.
         “What!? Were you spying on me?” Niall asked feeling worse.
         “We were watching you to see if you would steal the Flame Gem, that’s our job.” The girl said.
         “Yes, many people come here and try to take the gem.” Corbran explained. “They wish to posses the jewel and will lie about their intentions. That’s why I gave you the mask, if you were lying you would have been turned to stone the moment you looked at the mask.”
         “But I wasn’t lying.” Niall said. Now realizing the true nature of the statues.
         “No you weren’t.” Agreed Corbran. “But many who do not come here looking for the gem try to steal it when they see it.”
         “What happens to them?” Niall asked, already guessing the answer.
         “I turn them into pigs.” The girl said coolly. “I’m Elinor, by the way.”
         “Its a pleasure to meet you.” Niall responded. “Now do I get something for passing your test?”
         “Are you suggesting that we give you the Flame Gem?” Elinor asked frowning.
         “I was think like Apple pie.” Niall said.
         Elinor relaxed and Nolan laughed again.
         “I knew I was going to like you.” Nolan said. “Now apple pie sounds good to me.”


         A little while later they were all sitting on the grass near the pool eating apple pie, which appeared through magic when ever Elinor wanted it. Niall was devouring it eating it so quickly that Corbran had to tell him to slow down or he would make himself sick.

         “So why didn’t you take the gem, you must have needed the money, you could have sold it?” Elinor asked. “I mean you being a farmer.”
         “Oh, is it valuable?” Niall asked.
         “Yes.” Elinor said. “You had no idea what you were skipping on the pool was, did you?”
         “Well I never heard of the Flame Gem before.” Niall said shrugging. “I really don’t spend much time learning about rocks.”

         The three hosts looked at each other.

         “See you are a Hero, an ignorant hero, but still a hero.” Nolan said. “Your honest, brave, and strong enough to journey all this way.”
         “Well maybe up here I seem heroic, but down there I’m just the son of a dirt farmer, and also I’m a boy.” Niall said dejectedly. “I have no chance at being anything better then a craftsman, but at least that is better then a farmer.”
         “What does you being a boy have to do with anything?” Elinor asked.
         “Only girls can earn money, hold positions in the military and government.” Niall explained. “So my dad works in the fields and my mom is payed for his work. If your not born a Hero with special powers then you have no chance at a better life.”
         “Couldn’t you move to a different place?” Corbran asked.
         “No. Moving is forbidden in every nation for commoners, only Magicians and Heroes can travel outside their homelands.” Niall said.
         “It is getting late.” Nolan noted. “But Niall remember, heroes are not born, they are made through hardship. Heroes are people who make the right choices even when they seem impossible, they are people who push the hardest, and they are people who fall, but rise again and again continuing when others quit.”
         “Thanks Nolan.” Niall said.
         “One day you will understand Vi and the nature of Heroes.” Corbran assured Niall. “Goodbye Niall.”
         “Goodbye.” Echoed Elinor.


         Niall felt himself being pulled away from the garden.

         “Wait!” He called. “What is Vi?”

         But he saw the garden vanish and then found himself standing in his father's field in the rain again. He trudged home his feet becoming wet with mud and water. He hoped his mother had not returned from guard duty at the summoner’s home during his absence. His father didn’t care what Niall did, but his mom was a believer in the system and all its rules. Niall was aware that being away for three days was not exactly acceptable behavior in a male commoner. Girls were allowed to do everything!


                                                           Chapter 2
         Niall saw the lights of the house through the gloom and rain. The house was large, with plain white walls and red tiled roof with a few balconies jutting out here and there making the house seem grand and imposing. Niall’s mother, Rhona, was mainly responsible for the luxury of the house, being the bodyguard of the local summoner.
         Niall ran up the road but stopped short of the main door. His mother’s Unicorn drawn chariot was parked out front, except the Unicorns had already been led away to the stables. Niall ducked around the side of the house. Luckily his room was on the first floor and would not prove too difficult to slip in unnoticed. He always left his window unlocked just in case he had to do this, which happened often. He reached his window noting that the lights were off, which was good, and opened the window and climbed over the sill gently lowering himself onto the floor he slid the window closed again. Sighing, he crept across his dark room to where the switch was and turned on the lights. They were magic lights crafted by Magician smiths to work with just a flip of a switch. Niall turned around relieved that his entrance had gone unnoticed, he just needed to change now.

         “Where have you been?”

         Niall almost screamed. His mother was sitting in his armchair watching him.

         “I . . .” Niall was not good at making up stories or concealing the truth.
         “Well?” His mother asked again, her eyes cutting into the wet soggy Niall.
         “I went out for awhile.” Niall said truthfully.
         “Really? Niall, I got home last night.” Rhona said. “Your father said you went away three days ago. So what is important enough to keep you away that long?”


         Niall hated when his mother was calm. She must be really crazy mad at him to stay this calm.

         “I want to become a herbalist and join the Craftsman Guild. I went to get this.” Niall said pulling out the blossom of ivy.

         His mother was frowning and tapping her foot.

         "Niall,” Her voice was calm and almost kind. “Only girls can become herbalists, if you want to join the craftsman, you must become a blacksmith or an artist.”

         Niall felt a lump in his throat, he had already failed both the tests for those fields and no one had said only girls could do the other fields. It was unfair! He turned away from his mother. She got up.

         “Now let's not have anymore of this nonsense, you will just have to settle with being a farmer.” Rhona said briskly.
         “I don’t want to farm!”
         “Well what you want is not what your going to get.” Rhona said. “Now get changed you're getting water everywhere.”

         His mother swept out of the room. Niall didn’t feel relief at not getting punished. He let tears roll down his face and mingle with the rainwater already on the floor while he changed and dried himself off. He had accomplished nothing, three days of hunger and weariness for a flower that was supposed to secure his future away from the farm but had done nothing except raise his hopes before being let down with a crash.
         Niall put on dark black pants and shirt, men were not allowed to wear bright colors and went out into a short hall that leads into the dining room. His mother and father were already at dinner. Niall slide into his chair glancing at all the empty chairs, especially the two were his brothers used to sit. Looking at his parents, who were not paying him any attention, Niall felt unhappy. He looked at the food but didn’t feel like eating. He wished he could get up and just slip out, but if he got up his mother would make him sit back down and eat. The doorbell rang. A few moments later, a tall slender man who Niall didn’t know stepped into the dining room.

         “The Archsummoner and her followers are at the gate, shall I show them in?”
         “What?! Of course, show them in quickly.” Rhona said jumping up. “Remember Niall don’t make eye contact with any of them and say nothing unless they ask you something. Keep your answers brief.”
         “Do you think, Sean and Finn are here?” Niall asked.
         “Maybe, but don’t try to find them. If their here they will find us when its appropriate for them to do so.” Rhona said.


         A moment later the doors of the dining hall opened and two female warriors in armor came in first splitting they stood on either side of the door. Next, an old woman dressed bright blue came in followed by a gray-haired man. The women was the Archsummoner and the man was her husband, they were followed by their two granddaughters, who were still quite young the oldest only being ten. The two little girls were holding the hands of Niall’s two brothers Sean and Finn, who were their bodyguards. The boys were only sixteen and were practically identical. Niall was careful to keep his eyes down and only peeked every once and awhile.

         Rhona approached her guests but respectfully waited for the Archsummoner to speak.

         “Greetings daughter Rhona.” The Archsummoner said. “Surprising you this evening was by accident, but I hope it is a joyful accident for you.”

         Everyone smiled, except Niall, but it went unnoticed by his mother, yet he got the suspicion that the Archsummoner noticed, when he accidentally caught her eye and realized she was watching him. He looked away. The Archsummoner didn’t say anything about Niall, but she continued to watch him throughout dinner. The evening dragged on for Niall with every moment being filled with agonizing worry. What if someone said something to him? Or what if he spilled his drink, dropped a biscuit, or tripped on a rug? He also was hoping that the Archsummoner didn’t turn to him and say,
         “So son Niall, why don’t you find me funny?”
         He would just drown himself in the pudding if that happened. Luckily everyone ignored Niall, even his brothers. Niall was glad when dinner was over and everyone broke up and went to their rooms. He sat up looking at himself in the mirror wondering what he was going to do with his life.
         There was a knock at his door. Niall wondered if it was his brothers. He leaped up and opened the door, but no one was there. Closing the door Niall turned around and almost had a heart attack. The Archsummoner was standing in his room.

         “So Niall, how was your trip to Falling Tears?” She asked. “Did you find what you were looking for?”
         “How . . .who told you about that?”
         “I know most things that happen in my country, and right now I notice that you don’t follow our customs despite the fact that your mother taught you them.” The Archsummoner said. “My guess is that you're not content with the way things are.”

         Niall realized he had broken several rules, but then it wasn’t every day the Archsummoner just stopped in for a chat.

         “I’m not content.” Niall admitted.
         “Is that why you traveled to Falling Tears?” She asked again.
         “Yes, I wished to prove I could do more than farming.” Niall said. “I just want a chance to show my mother that I’m just as good as . . .” Niall paused.
         “Your brothers.” The Archsummoner said. “You are trying to compete with your brothers because you think if you're like them you will have your mother’s love and respect.”
         “I see the way she acts when people talk about Finn and Sean, she is proud and happy, but when people talk about me, the helpless boy, my mother becomes silent and unhappy.” Niall explained bitterly. “I just want to be treated like I matter too.”
         “Everyone matters, and you know there is no dishonor in farming.” The Arch summoner said. “Besides you may prove to be just as powerful as your brothers. What do you know about when they tested your brothers and you?”
         “I don’t know too much. I know they used some sort of magic to find which ones were special.” Niall said.
         “The magic they used involved the four elements. They placed small amounts of each element, water, fire, and earth, air of course being a little difficult to pin down was not used, but basically if you're a magician one element will be attracted to you will the rest will not move. If your a commoner none of the elements will move, but if you're a hero then all the elements will be attracted to you.” The Archsummoner said. “When you were tested none of the elements moved, so of course you were labeled a commoner.”
         “I’m sensing a ‘but’” Niall said.
         “But there is another reason for this reaction. Why the elements are attracted to magicians is because their powers are drawn from one of the elements meaning that element is attracted to them. Heroes are different they draw power from all the elements, but in a different way from magicians. But like I said there might be a reason for why you didn’t cause the elements to move. You might be a special hero you somehow is not connected to the four elements.” The Archsummoner said. “Now I propose that tomorrow you retake the test.”
         “No.” Niall responded turning away.
         “I must have completely misunderstood you, you implied that you were unhappy farming, and you have tried other things and have had no success.” The Archsummoner said. “Besides I think you know that you are not cut out for any of these things.”
         “I won’t take the test again, I won’t relive that shame.” Niall said.
         “Fine.”
         “What?”
         “I said fine.” The Archsummoner repeated. “But may I give you something?”


         She pulled a small wooden box with plain sides and a smooth lid.

         “I want you to put this somewhere safe for the time being, don’t open it until your next birthday.” She said.
         “But that’s only three days from now.” Niall said. “What is so important about when I open it?”
         “Well it won’t open until your birthday anyway, so there is no good trying before then.” The Archsummoner said.


         Niall accepted the box, mainly because it would be rude not to, and put it inside his dresser.

         “Well, in the morning I’ll make sure your brothers visit with you before we leave.” She promised. “Now I shall retire, and please say nothing about my visit or the box to anyone.”

         The Archsummoner vanished.

         “I won’t say anything to anyone that’s for sure.” Niall muttered.

         The next morning Niall awoke to find that the rain had gone and the sun was shining from the clear sky. Niall had missed breakfast, but he went into the kitchen and grabbed a piece of bread and slathered butter on it. Everyone was outside preparing to see the Archsummoner and her party off. Niall found his parents with his two brothers in the living room. Finn and Sean were twins in every way except in temperament.

         “Niall!” They both exclaimed.

         They shook his hand and hugged him. Niall didn’t know what to say, it had been a couple of years since their last meeting; who knew how much they could have changed?

         “How are you doing?” Finn asked.
         “What have you been up to?” asked Sean.
         “Nothing to much,” Niall said. “Just the same thing as always.”
         “Come on we know better then that, you must be still getting into trouble.” Finn said, glancing at Sean.
         “Yeah, why don’t you just spill?” Sean agreed.
         “Seriously, what do you want me to say?” Niall asked. “I’m not getting in trouble, or that I sneaking out and go rampaging across the countryside?”
         “Have you been sneaking out?” Finn asked grinning.
         “Yes he has.” Answered Rhona.
         “This sounds like a good story.” Said Sean rubbing his hands together.
         “Yes.” Answered Rhona. “It should be.”


         Niall felt embarrassed that he would have to explain this again.

         “I just was trying to do something more with my life.” Niall began. “I tried to compete the herbalist task by finding a Blooming Ivy.”
         “That’s a rare plant, where did you go to find it?” Finn asked.
         “Well,” Niall glanced at Rhona. “ I went to Falling Tears.”

         The room was silent for a moment.

         “Wow, that took a lot of courage.” Sean commented.
         “Yeah, more then the common farmer anyway.” Finn agreed.
         “I think your missing the point.” Rhona said, standing up. “Niall’s actions went against the traditions of this land. He cannot be anything but a farmer, that is the truth.”


         Sean and Finn looked at each other. Niall looked at the floor. There was a noise from outside.

         “We need to go.” Said Finn. “Sorry we can’t stay longer.”

         They said goodbye to their parents, and Niall, before they left and joined the rest of the Archsummoner’s party. Niall watched the chariots and wagons turn out onto the road heading toward the border with Kuzbendel. Rhona dressed in a suit of armor with a helmet and sword, went to perform her duties at the local law enforcement bureau. Niall begged the day off from work, but his father refused.


                                                                               Chapter 3
         The morning after the Archsummoner’s departure, Niall awoke before the gray light of dawn and felt the need to spend alone time outside before he had to go to work again. With his boots in hand he opened his window and dropped out onto the wet grass. Putting his boots on he began trudging away from the house, crossing the road and passing through the fields he came to the edge of the forest. He had taken many similar walks when he wanted to be alone. There was a path that led down to a hollow where there was a little stone monolith that was marked with an unknown symbol like an upside down ‘v’. Niall just would like to visit the stone, maybe because no one else knew or cared about it, making it a good place to be alone.
         Niall thought about farming for the rest of his life, but that made feel sick. He turned his mind to the gray morning drinking in the sounds and smells that filled the air. He was cold, not having thought to bring a coat, so he began heading home. He made it to the ditch beside the road and took a look down noticing the dark puddles that were sitting in the ditch. The road was also covered in dark splotches which seemed curious, but not something Niall took much notice of.
         He crossed the road and stopped. Ahead the grass had been matted down and blood was splattered everywhere. Niall stared in shock and began feeling a weakness in his knees and his stomach began to twist. He saw a mess of flesh, hanging down from bones that jutted up from the pools of blood, and a head that looked like something large had stepped on it was laying in blood. Niall collapsed to his knees and began shaking violently.

         “Niall, Niall!”

         His mother was calling him, but his eyes wouldn’t rise to see where she was, his voice was stuck in his throat, and his legs did not want to move. However, his ears heard her call him again, and then the sound of footsteps in the long grass that paused before making a crunching sound when the boots hit the road. Niall felt his mother lift him from the road and carry him toward the house. His head rolled back and he saw something move on the edge of the forest, but it was far away and his eyes were clouding over.
         Niall was aware when they arrived home, and he felt the softness of his bed and the blankets that were placed over him. His mother left for awhile, but he heard her come back a short while later. He was beginning to recover slightly and sat up.

         “Mom?”
         “Yes Niall, I’m here.” Rhona said gently. “Here drink some of this.”
         Niall drank a small amount of the water.
         “The law enforcers are on their way, they may want to ask you a few questions.” Rhona said.
         “What would do that?” Niall asked.
         “It could have been a wild animal.” Rhona said, doubting her own words.

         Niall didn’t believer her. He also had thought of something else that was unnerving.

         “I walked that way not fifteen minutes before, that means I must have just missed what ever killed that person.” Niall said.
         “Don’t think about that. Just rest.” His mother said.

         But Niall was feeling better already, and was now feeling curious.

         “It couldn’t have been a wild animal, what wild animal would tear there food apart and scatter it over that area?” Niall asked.
         “Niall, we are not going to worry about it, we’ll let the officials complete their investigation.” Rhona said firmly. “Now if your feeling better, I think you should try to eat if you can.”

         Niall didn’t feel like eating, his stomach was a little upset still. He got up and began wandering around the house. His mother had gone out when the officials had arrived leaving Niall alone except for the strange butler who was named Brianhurst. Niall began to wonder something else. Who had been killed?

         His mother returned just before lunch.

         “They determined that a pack of wild dogs must have killed the man, but they don’t know who he was.” Rhona told Niall as they sat down to eat.
         “Do they want me to answer questions?” Niall asked.
         “No. They don’t think they need too.” Rhona explained.

         Niall was relieved. He still couldn’t stop think about the man who had been killed, but he didn’t want to answer questions about the situation.
         Niall when lunch was done slipped upstairs and opened the door to the attic, which groaned as he pushed it back revealing the dusty stairwell. Niall turned the light on and began looking around for a book his grandfather had owned. He was searching over the bookshelf that took up part of the back wall when he heard a soft sound from the other side of the attic. Do we have mice? He thought. Turning around he looked across to where the light didn’t quite reach. Two eyes glinted in the dark, Niall staggered back nearly pulling the bookshelf over.

         “Who are you?!”

         The eyes vanished and didn’t reappear. Niall edged his way around to the top of the stairs keeping his eyes focused on the dark corner. Once he got to the top of the stairs he threw caution over his shoulder and took off charging down the stairs imagining the thing coming after him. He burst through the door and slammed it behind him. He stood there panting, until he remember he had left the light on. He opened the door quickly and missed the switch once but hit it the second time. He slammed the door again.

         “Hey!”
         “AHH!”
         “Stop slamming doors!” His mom said coming around the corner.
         “There was something upstairs!” Niall said.
         “Come on Niall lets go down and make you some tea, you had quite a shock this morning.” Rhona said.
         “Okay.” Niall said, but he had seen something even if his mother didn’t believe him.

         His mother pampered him and kept an eye on him the rest of the day until he went to bed. Niall didn’t fall asleep, he couldn’t he was looking out for the eyes from the attic, but they didn’t appear and Niall eventually fell asleep.

                                                 .           .           .

         Niall’s birthday dawned clear and peaceful with the sound of birds in the fields. Niall always worked a half day on his birthday and today was not an exception. After breakfast his father ordered him out to the west field, which was on the opposite side from where the man had died, to inspect the fence and the health of the young plants.
         Niall trudged over the lawn and down a hill, passing through the gate into the field he saw a strange old man kneeling in the field apparently studying the plants. Niall approached meaning to ask the man who he was, but as he drew closer he noticed the man had long yellow hair except it looked more like grass, like the man was wearing a straw wig.

         “Hey, what are you doing here?” Niall asked.

The man stood up and turned his wrinkled face toward Niall, who noticed that the man had one blue eye and one green eye.

         “Hello Master Niall, I’m your humble servant, Llyr.” Llyr said.
         “Did my mother hire you?” Niall asked.
         “No.” Llyr said. “I use to work here many years ago, and I have returned to continue that service like many of my brothers.”
         “Wait, you can’t just come back and start working without telling anyone or getting hired.” Niall pointed out.
         “Of course I can this is my land it has been for a long time, but I didn’t stop to discuss my rights.” Llyr said. “You must hurry if your to become a Hero.”
         “What?!”
         “Do you know what I am?” Llyr asked.
         “What do you mean?” Niall asked in confusion.
         “I’m a Polevick, a spirit of the fields.” Llyr said. “I bet you never heard of a Polevick.”
         “I suppose not.” Niall agreed. “Your not a real spirit are you?”
         “Well I’m more of a fairy really, I think I might be distantly related to gnomes or was it dwarfs.” Llyr said. “Well no matter, the point is your running out of time, in fact you better head back to your house and get your Hero box.”
         “My what?” Niall asked.
         “Didn’t you receive one for your sixteenth birthday?” Llyr asked.

         Niall remembered the box the Archsummoner had given him. She had said not to open it until his birthday maybe she knew this would happen.

         “Yes, I did.” Niall answered.
         “Good. Now go get it and meet me at the Vi stone.” Llyr said.

Niall had heard of Vi before in Falling Tears, but he still had no idea what it was.

         “Do you mean the one in the forest?” Niall asked.
         “Yes, the one you often visit.” Llyr answered.

Niall remembered the mangled body of the man, and shuddered.

         “Don’t worry the beast that killed the messenger is not here, not yet anyway.” Llyr assured him.
         “Messenger?”
         “Yes the man who died was carrying a message from Kuzbendel. My brother delivered it to the capital and a man will becoming to summon your mother, which is why you need to hurry and get home and meet me near the stone.” Llyr said. “Now go!”

         Niall ran home and went through his window retrieving the box from his dresser. He charged out over the road noticing the dust cloud approaching from the capital. He ran down the forest path to the monolith with its strange symbol.

Llyr was already there waiting.

         “Alright open the box.” Llyr commanded.
         Niall opened it and there was a flash of blue light then nothing else.
         “Great your ready, sorry there is no time to explain anything else, just remember when you come back run home and . . .well you’ll know what to do.” Llyr said. “Now touch the column and say ‘Ven’.”

         Niall did as he was told and at first nothing happened, but then there was a twisting feeling in his whole body then a blast of cold air. Wait I don’t know this guy and I’m just doing what he tells me!


         It was too late he saw the stone and the forest vanish and things went dark for a moment before he looked up and saw a light that shimmered and danced casting a bluish color down into the darkness. Suddenly Niall felt water on his face and he found himself rising up through water. At first he began panicking and splashing around before his head broke the surface and he found himself in another forest bright with color and filled with sweet scents. He staggered out onto the bank looking down into the pool he saw nothing but a sandy bottom through the clear water.
         Where am I, and how in the name of parsnips am I suppose to get BACK?!

                                                                                         Chapter 4

         Niall took a moment to look around, hoping there would be a door or a column of stone that would teleport him back home, but there was nothing of the sort. While he was engaged in hunting for an exit he became aware of the presence of an old man with a green beard watching him.
         “Excuse me,” Said Niall. “Can you tell me where I am?”
         “Yes.” Replied the old man.
         Niall waited for the man to continue, but he didn’t.
         “Are you going to tell me?” asked Niall.
         “No.” Replied the man.
         “Can you tell me who you are then?” Niall asked trying to sound polite.
         “No.” Replied the man again.
         “Is there anything you can tell me?” Niall asked dropping his politeness.
         “Yes.” The man said. “Follow me.”
         The man began walking away into the forest. Niall slowly followed keeping an eye out for any ambushers who might be lurking near by. They didn’t seem to be following any path, but they moved in a seemingly singular direction. Niall looked around and found the trees were groaning despite the fact that there was not even a breeze.
         “Why are the trees making that sound?” Niall asked his guide.
         “They speak.” The man said.
         “Speak?!” Niall paused beneath one of the trees.
         “Follow me.” The man commanded.
         Niall continued to follow the man, yet listened to the trees at the same time.
         Is this where the magicians power comes from? This place is obviously filled with magic. I should try to learn about this place there might be a way to become a magician and then I won’t have to farm.
         Niall’s strange companion led Niall around several rock masses that didn’t seem like they were naturally occurring, and for awhile they followed a stream that cut through the woods. Niall glanced off into the forest and noticed that there was a dark area where he could clearly see moon rays dancing between the dark tree trunks, yet where Niall stood it was day light. Niall knew better then to ask his companion, but he was curious about that patch of night.
         The trees began to thin and they came across a path that led them to the edge of the woods. Niall caught his first glimpse of the world he had entered. A slope descended down to fields of tall waiving grass that stretched out toward a mountain that had lost its peak to volcanic activity. Niall also noticed a little hut that was half into the woods and half out. His guide led him toward the hut. The door was flung open and a short thin women popped out with a huge smile on her face.
         “Niall! You dear boy, I knew you were coming.” The women said, before turning to the man. “Your late, Sketch.”
         “Yes.” Agreed Sketch.
         “Well come in Niall, I just poured the tea.” The woman said.
         “Who are you, exactly?” Niall asked. “I also have more questions, that I would liked answered too.”
         “I’m sure you do, but it would be better to talk sitting down with a cup of tea.” The woman said. “You can call be grandma if you like sense I have no proper name.”
         Niall allowed himself to be led into the cozy little cottage, and sat down at a round table set for two. Grandma poured the tea and then leaned back in her chair pulling out her needles and a ball of yarn she began knitting.
         “You just sit there and enjoy our tea why I tell you what you need to know.” Grandma said. “Well first I will tell you about this land, which is called Illvania if you were wondering, and it is the homeland of magic and creatures not found in the human world. But it didn’t always exist in fact once upon a time all people and creatures use to live in one world, until the magicians discovered away of creating Illvania, which is really just a mirror of the human world, Merthdrum. They then imprisoned all the magical creatures here and sealed it off so no one could come here.”
         “They didn’t do a very good job then.” Niall pointed out. “I mean, I made it here.”
         “Yes, but that is because for some reason the two worlds have begun to merge again, and soon the worlds will reunite.” Grandma said.
         “Why?”
         “I don’t know, but I have a guess.” Grandma said. “Some magicain could be uniting them with his magic, how I’m not sure and why is more of a mystery.”
         “Okay, but what about you are you a magician?” Niall asked.
         “No. I’m called Nokomic. I’m more of a fairy, I believe you would say.” Grandma replied. “Now we need to discuss you.”
         “Me? What about me?” Niall said. “Wait, I can’t stay too long I need to get back home and I’ve already been here for a long time.”
         “Don’t worry about that, no time will pass in your world no matter how long you stay here.” Grandma explained. “Any way, you know about Heroes I believe, at least a little.”
         “Yes, my brothers are Heroes.” Niall said.
         “Alright but do you know why there considered heroes?” Grandma asked.
         “Because they have special powers.” Niall said.
         “Well yes they do, but there is more to them then that, or at least there was in the past, now I suspect the magicians have turned Heroes into their tools.” Grandma said.
         Niall wanted to contradict her, but he found that he believed her. His brothers were spending their lives working for the Archsummoner as bodyguards, and he knew many other Heroes were playing similar roles through out the world.
         “What did they use to be?” Niall asked.
         “Heroes use to train and complete trials that would test their powers, but at the same time would help others. They also fought powerful enemies to protect the innocent and powerless. No magician would be a match for a fully empowered hero, and that is why it became tradition to bind heroes to their families in order to control the heroes.” Grandma explained. “Now with you that tradition will be broken, I will set you on the path to become a hero.”
         “You will? But don’t I have to be born a hero?” Niall asked.
         “Yes, and you were otherwise you could not have come here only a person with the Vi life force can enter this world.” Grandma said.
         Niall was on the verge of asking what Vi was, when Sketch burst in.
         “The Hound is coming.” He said.
         “Alright then. No time Niall to explain, here.” Grandma handed him a book. “Head to the mountain that is where you will start your journey.”
         Niall didn’t know what they were talking about, but Sketch was shaking with fear and Niall wasn’t going to stick around and meet this hound. He bolted out and began running across the grassland heading for the mountain. Glancing back once he saw a dog break the tree line, its head was lowered to the ground but its shoulders were brushing the lowest branches of the trees. Niall almost stumbled as he looked backwards, the hound raised its head and saw Niall.
         Niall looked ahead and ran as fast as he could, the pounding of huge paws began as the dog came racing toward Niall covering the distance in a few leaps. Niall felt a blast of its breath as it bent its head down to crush him between its teeth. There was a swooshing sound and Niall saw a beam of light shoot out of the sky and the hound vanished leaving nothing except giant paw prints. Niall collapsed with relief and lay in the grass for awhile to catch his breath. I wonder what happened? That dog was huge!
         Niall got to his feet and began walking over the open fields toward the mountain again. He no longer knew what he was doing, things just seemed to be happening to him too quickly and he didn’t understand everything, but he could guess what had killed that messenger back home, that hound.
         The day was dragging on, and he wondered when night would fall, but the day just went on and on with no sign that it was nearing its end. Niall came over a rise and saw the mountain’s foot was covered in pine trees that were shrouded in mist and darkness like the place he had glimpsed on the way to Nokomic’s house. He ran down the slope curious to see this forest that seemed so dark.
         Niall climbed a slope and came to the edge of the woods with nothing ahead except mist that twisted and clung to the dark trunks, and cold moon light. He stepped into the darkness and emerged into a wood that lived in night. Looking back he could see the warm sun light and open fields just beyond the trees. Niall turned back to the darkness and nearly walked into a horse.
         “Where did you come from?” Niall asked the horse.
         “I happen to live here.” Replied the horse.
         Niall would have been surprised except that so many strange things had been happening lately.
         “Are you a fairy as well?” Niall asked.
         “Yes, I’m called a Puca.” Said the Puca. “This is the beginning of your first trial, but you should read the first part of the book that Nokomic gave you.”
         “Okay. But first could I ask you why there some places that are night time and others that are day time?” Niall asked.
         “Because time is a place of course.” The Puca replied. “Now start reading.”
         Niall did as he was bidden and opened the book. It was broken up into three sections the first was called ‘The First Brother’. Niall began reading.

         “Von the shadow was sent by the king of Beth to the forest near the place of Falling Tears to rid the land of a plague that had spread out from the forest through the water. But when he found the pool from which the plague had spread he was faced with an old man who was sitting by the water.
         ‘What do you want human?’ the man asked.
         ‘What I want is to destroy you old man.’ Von responded
         Von had guessed that the man was a Vodyanoi who had poisoned the water to lure a victim here. Von had only his hands, his speed, and his stealth against the sharp eyed Vodyanoi. Von went back into the darkness of the forest moving with great speed, but without making a sound, Von got behind his adversary. He was not going to give the Vodyanoi a chance to react. Diving from cover he tried to jump onto the man’s back, but the Vodyanoi turned with lightning speed and caught Von by the neck and stuck his head into the pool holding him under. Von kicked and fought to break the grip of the Vodyanoi, but the fairy was too strong, Von had no way of escaping from this situation, except one he began drinking the water.
         Von knew the secrets of magic and was able to drink the whole pool. The Vodyanoi had no power once his pool was empty and released Von as his body began to disintegrate. Von watched as the man turned to dust before his eyes.
         When Von returned to the king with the good news, the king was pleased and offered Von one item from his armory. Von took the Helm of Shadow as his prize.”

         Niall closed the book.
         “Will I be fighting a Vodyanoi?” Niall asked.
         “I have no idea.” The Puca replied. “This is the trial of water so it could be any water dwelling fairy. You just need to defeat one and claim your prize.”
         “That sounds easy enough.” Niall said.
         “You must be unfamiliar with water fairies.” The Puca commented.
         “Well I don’t know if I have ever seen one.” Niall pointed out.
         “Good luck then, now go.” The Puca said.
         Niall was about to ask what Vi was again, but the Puca was already trotting away into the darkness.
         This place is weird. Its like they are trying to avoid giving me information.
         Niall looked around not sure where he should go. How was he going to find a water fairy and when he did was he just suppose to attack? He began walking up hill assuming it didn’t matter which way he went.
         The forest was unnerving with the sounds of small animals and insects scurrying and chirping in the cool night air. The trees here didn’t make the groaning whispering sounds the trees in the other forest had, but they had a menacing appearance. He began hearing other sounds above the normal sounds of a night forest, something was walking with a heavy tread deeper in the woods. Niall paused in a shadow of a tree and waited for the heavy steps to recede into the forest. He began hearing voices that sounded odd and inhuman, but they were distant and unintelligible so he continued onward heading away from the them. In occurred to him that maybe who ever was talking could help him, but he didn’t feel like taking a chance.
         The ground changed to low wet lands where the trees were scrawny and twisted, there was a stench of rotting vegetation and Niall felt the water seeping into his shoes. Ugh! What a mess. He assumed he must be getting close to finding a water fairy or maybe he would wander into a bog and drown. Splashing in pools of filthy water and struggling through sucking mud, Niall staggered and nearly fell into the water. The darkness was not helping either. He could see only where the patches of moonlight revealed the dark outlines of swamp plants and trees. Eventually Niall scrabbled up a slope to where the ground was firm and the trees tall and thick. He was exhausted and collapsed to rest for awhile beneath the sweet pines. He stank like a marsh and he had had better days, or rather nights.
         Something rustled the undergrowth causing Niall to scramble to his feet and look around. He saw the ferns along the bank twitch and sway as a medium sized turtle clambered into view.
         Only a turtle. I didn’t realize such a magical place would have ordinary creatures like turtles. At least its not that giant dog.
         The turtle walked up to Niall pausing at his feet before it began slowly walking toward the trees. Niall was curious why it was heading away from the water and into the forest. He began to follow its slow pace between the trees think that perhaps it would lead him to another body of water, maybe one inhabited by a fairy. He followed the turtle for what seemed like an age until he found himself at the edge of a small lake, which may have actually been a large pond.
         The turtle went straight into the water and Niall saw the ripples as it swam into the pond. He sighed. Well that was a waste of time. There was no sign of a water fairy or anything else for that matter.
         Niall turned back to the forest preparing to walk in search of a water fairy, when he heard the soft swoosh of water like something was sliding through the water. Before he could turn around long bony arms grabbed him around the throat and mouth and an slimy heavy voice whispered in his ear.
         “The waters are perfect for dying!”
         Niall was dragged backwards into the water struggling and trying to break free, while his attacker hummed to himself even under the waves.
                                                                               Chapter 5
         Niall was still fighting beneath the surface of the pond trying to free himself from the grip of his attacker as he watched bubbles slip between his lips and rush toward the moonlight that shone through the cool waters. He struggled his hold his breath longer, but his lungs felt as if they would burst. A rush of bubbles shot upwards as Niall could no longer hold his breath. Then of a sudden his attacker let go entirely and Niall kicked out rocketing to the surface, sputtering and coughing he swam toward shore. He dragged himself up onto the bank a lay there coughing water onto the ground. A hand was layed on his back and he jerked his head up looking right into the face of a beautiful women that was illuminated by the moon. He realized this could not have been his attacker.
         “Who are you?” He asked.
         “I’m the person who just saved your life from one of the Vodyanoi.” The woman replied. “ But you can call me Nix.”
         “I’m just glad you came by when you did.” Answered Niall.
         “Yes, you didn’t seem to be doing to well on your first trial.” Nix said smiling. “The others are harder you know.”
         “So you know about the trials are you like a life guard?” Niall asked, having heard that in Kuzbendel life guards prevented people from drowning.
         “I don’t know what you mean by life guard, but I did come here to save your life Niall. Your important to us.” Nix said.
         Niall assumed she meant other fairies that had helped him sense he had arrived in Illvania.
         “Well do you know how I can defeat this Vodyanoi, I can’t drink that much water.” Niall said.
         “So you’ve read the first story, but the drinking the water is not the important part of that story.” Nix pointed out.
         “The book!” Niall pulled the book out expecting it to be wet and useless, but it was dry and unharmed. “Magic?”
         “Of course.” Nix said. “The only thing you need to worry about is getting the prize the story mentions, and that Vodyanoi does not posses it.”
         “Then who does?” Niall asked.
         “I do.” Nix replied. “I’m the queen of the water fairies so who else would have it?”
         “Does that mean I need to defeat you to get the prize?” Niall asked not like the idea much.
         “No, you don’t need to fight me for it. As it happens I brought the prize with me and I’m willing to give it to you.” Nix said.
         “Just like that?” Niall asked.
         “Yes.”
         “Why would you do that?” Niall questioned her.
         “I have my reasons and they don’t concern you, yet.” Nix said. “I want you to succeed.”
         “I plan on it, but how can I win, you saw how I almost drowned!” Niall said.
         “Yes, but with the prize you will be stronger then before. Also you should be more careful about turning your back on bodies of water.” Nix advised. “Before you begin your next trial be certain that you read the next story in your book.”
         Nix pulled a an object wrapped in soft cloth out from under her cloak and handed it to Niall, who received it with a slight reverence which may not have been warranted. He slowly removed the covering revealing a helmet that had a visor that would hide his face completely. He wished that it had a tall red plume, but it was alright.
         “Head protection is good. Although a weapon would have been more practical.” Niall observed.
         “The helmet doesn’t just protect your head, it also will make you invisible when you speak the first brother’s name.” Nix explained.
         “What was his name?” Niall asked himself as he flipped the book open.
         “Its Von.” Nix said, looking to the sky for patience.
         “Von!”
         “You need to put the helmet on before it will work.” Nix said.
         “Right.”
         Niall put the helmet on and repeated the name.
         “Did it work?” He asked.
         “Yes, but remember that most creatures do not rely on sight alone, and keep in mind that he helmet will reflect sunlight and moonlight.” Nix warned.
         “Got it.” Niall answered taking the helmet off and reappearing.
         “If you really want a weapon climb to the top of the mountain and speak with the dwarf, his name is Nolan, about it, I’m sure he would lend you one.” Nix said. “He will also direct you to your next trial.”
         “Do you know what the next trial will be?” Niall asked.
         “No. Besides you need to do some work or you won’t learn anything.” Nix said.
         “So why did you help me, if you want me to learn something?” Niall asked.
         “You wouldn’t get along with my daughter, she has less patience then I have.” Nix said. “Because you would have drowned it I hadn’t helped and I already told you I have my reasons.”
         “You have a daughter?” Niall asked. “I didn’t realized fairies had children.”
         “Where did you think fairies came from?” Nix asked.
         “I guess I never gave it to much thought.” Niall admitted.
         “I can see that.” Responded Nix. “Alright, enough talk. You need to get going.”
         “Okay. Will I see you again?”
         “Who knows?” Nix responded.
         Niall began walking up hill away from the pond, he glanced back only once to see the moonlight reflected on the water, but Nix had gone. That was the strangest encounter yet I think. I wonder what her daughter is like?
         The way ahead grew steeper and the trees began to thin as Niall noticed the warm bright sunlight that appeared like a wall that cut through the night just ahead where the trees ended. Niall rushed forward happy to have come again to day light. He crossed the invisible wall and stood upon the mountain slope drinking in the warmth of the sun. He was still wet from his near drowning, but he stood in the sun letting his clothes dry, while he opened the book to the second brothers story.
         Von had a brother named Ven who was said to be the greatest craftsman anywhere. Ven was employed by a Dwarf in a village that was at the foot of a sleeping volcano. Now it happened that the mountain began to smoke and there was trembling in the earth. The town was in turmoil with packing and trying to evacuate before the eruption which could happen at any moment.
         Ven alone was calm and come into the public square and called the townspeople together and said, “Go home I shall protect you from the mountain.”
         The people at first would not listen, but Ven turned from them and gathered all the metal in the village. He used his magic to melt the metal and foraged seven mighty shields that would never melt even if all the dragons were to unite and endeavor to do destroy them. When Ven finished he went out and placed one shield at the edge of town on each side, one to the east, one to the west, one to the north, and one to the south. When that was done he placed the last three in the center of town, and then went back to his home and sat by the fire.
         The people were afraid and didn’t believe that the shields would save them and they continued packing, but before they could escape the mountain erupted sending fire and smoke shooting into the sky, ash rained down everywhere except in the village instead it piled up around each shield. When the people saw this they began to wonder if Ven had saved them. The lava came running like rivers down the mountain, but when it came to the shields it ran around the town and none entered beyond the shield wall. Ven had saved the town.
         Niall closed the book. His clothes had dried and he was prepared to continue. Boy, I hope they don’t want me to redirect lava. He looked back at the night woods and saw to large eyes glowing at the edge of the woods, the giant hound was sitting watching him. Niall felt himself trembling, but the hound turned and walked back into the woods. Niall sighed with relief, but decided to get moving before the dog changed its mind. He looked up at the summit of the mountain still a good hike away. He began climbing up the grassy slope until it turned to loose stone and then he turned around looking out over the country he had crossed, his life in Iberio seemed far away now, and he wasn’t missing it, not yet anyway. He knew he would be returning to his own home after all these trials were complete and he would no longer have to farm, then he would be a hero.

                                                                                         Chapter 6
         Niall found the going difficult as the slope grew steeper and the loose gravel slide out from under his feet. He began to struggle to stay upright, but he could see where the gravel turned to solid stone again, and he gritted his teeth in determination. He began using his hands half crawling and half running until he finally arrived upon the hard rough surface. The going became easier and Niall moved quickly over the terrain until he came to the bottom of a few steps that went to where the top of the mountain had apparently blown away by a past eruption. Niall walked up the stairs so he could look down into the center of the mountain, but when he put his foot on the top step he seemed to pass through a wall or cross a line and then a whole staircase appeared climbing a steep slope toward a summit hidden in clouds. Niall looked about recognizing the area, he was back on the stairs leading to Falling Tears. How can this be? Niall looked back down the mountain and didn’t see the mountain he had been climbing, but instead saw Iberio laying below him. He had somehow crossed back into his own world.
         That meant only one thing, Nolan was the dwarf he needed to see. He wasn’t sure how he had crossed over, but he was sure that Nix had intended this outcome. Niall began climbing once again toward the summit of Falling Tears.
         When he again reached the platform where Nolan stood guard, he saw the dwarf standing at the far end.
         “Greetings young hero, I am Nolan, guardian . . .” Nolan stopped his introduction. “Your Niall. What are you doing here again?”
         “Its a long story, but the short version is I need your help forging a weapon so I can complete my second trial.” Niall answered.          “Can you help me?”
         “I thought you weren’t a hero?” Nolan responded.
         “I thought you said I was?” Niall countered.
         “So you admit I was right?” Nolan asked raising an eyebrow.
         “Yes.”
         “Alright, follow me.” Nolan said.
         Niall began the trek to the main gates of the garden. The doors swung open as they approached and Niall was again brought into the peace and beauty of the garden. Nolan led him along until he came to a stop and pointed down into the grass.
         “Pick that up, I told you that you’d need it.” Nolan said.
         Niall picked up the club that he had thrown away on his previous visit. He didn’t see why he would need a wooden club during the trail of fire, but he didn’t question Nolan about it.
         They moved to where the pool stood and where the Flame Gem was still sitting in its chest glowing faintly. Nolan went and retrieved the Gem. Niall was curious about what he planned on doing.
         “Hand me the club.” Nolan commanded.
         Then with the club and Gem in hand, Nolan closed his eyes and took a deep breath letting it out slowly. The club began to grow longer, thinning out and becoming a staff, but then the top section changed from the dark wood to a shining iron blade.
         “There you go the perfect type of weapon for you.” Nolan said. “ I’ll just need it back once you have completed your trials. Just stick it blade first into the ground anywhere and I’ll get it when I need it.”
         “Okay.” Niall said. “ Thank you for your help.”
         “That will be two hundred gold pieces.”
         “WHAT!?”
         “I’m only joking.” Said Nolan.
         He returned the Gem to the chest and Niall turned to go, but he noticed a wooden grave marker placed not far from the pool. “Niall Nightwood” was carved into the top part while the bottom remained blank.
         “Whats that for?” Niall asked.
         “For you of course, just as we discussed.” Nolan responded. “Its just a precaution, besides you will need a grave someday so why not have it already prepared for you?”
         Niall couldn’t argue with that, so he didn’t try.
         “How do I get back into the other world?” Niall asked.
         “By ‘the other world’ I assume you mean Illvania.” Nolan said. “Just walk to the other side of the garden and exit from the gate opposite from the one you came in by and you will be right back where you belong.”
         “Alright, thank you Nolan.” said Niall.
         “Your welcome, now you don’t come again.” Nolan said. He waved goodbye before walking off into the garden humming casually.
         Niall held his new spear admiring the long blade and the smooth handle. It was light, but balanced with spiraling pattern carved into its surface.
         Confidence and excitement drove Niall from the garden and out onto the barren mountain side. He was again in Illvania, but he had come out on the opposite side of the mountain. Niall could look down and see an abandoned village just below where the loose gravel ended and the soft grass began. Niall again began to wonder what he had to do in order to complete his trial. He scrambled down the slope until his feet touched grass then he ran the rest of the way to the village.
         All the buildings seemed like they were new, no vegetation had grown up around the buildings, no rotting wood, or collapsing structures indicated that time had passed at all. Niall wondered between the structures noticing that the houses were nearly identical and were placed in perfect lines separated by the same distance. It was like someone had decided to make a town completely uniform, but the strangest part was that the flowers that were planted in front of every door were scarlet and only had three flowers that were blooming.
         Niall began to feel uneasy as he continued to walk and walk and walk and walk. He wasn’t sure if it was just because everything looked the same or because he wasn’t moving. After another ten minutes of getting no where Niall stopped. He had to figure out what was going on. He took off one of his shoes and left it in the middle of the road and started walking again. He looked back a few times to make sure the shoe was still there and it was for awhile and then when he had gotten to far to see the shoe, he turned around and went back, but although he traveled for a long time he never came back to the shoe.
         Niall knew it was some sort of magical trick, the question was how to break this pattern. Maybe if he did something besides walking in the same direction. Niall walked up to one of the houses and pushed the door open, it was hot and stuffy inside with a smell like wet rugs. There was no furniture only a heavy ceramic jar that was warm to the touch. Niall began twisting the lid which slowly unscrewed until he was able to lift the lid. There was a blast of hot air that caused Niall to drop the jar which rolled across the floor. Niall backed away as a fiery creature climbed out. It was like a salamander except its skin was black with patches of lava that leaked down to the floor burning and scorching the boards. The creatures tongue flicked out and it began coming at Niall, slowly at first but picking up speed as it got closer. It lashed its tail and lunged at Niall’s ankles. He jumped away looking for the exit, but the door had disappeared. He was still holding the spear that Nolan had made him. He brandished it at the lizard, which didn’t seemed bothered by the weapon, because it attacked again spitting fire that burned the floor. Niall swung the spear like a club using the staff instead of the blade to crack the creature on its skull. Despite the blow the lizard just shook its head and burst into a raging fire for a moment before the fire died and revealed that the lizard had grown enough to fit Niall’s head in its jaws. Niall backed up, but felt the wall press against him. He was trapped.
         Niall lowered his spear aiming the blade at the creature, which again lunged forward with its jaws wide open. Niall didn’t react quickly enough to get the spear down the things throat, instead the spear struck beneath its throat and shivered to pieces against hard scales. Niall felt the fiery breath blast his skin and the lava that dropped onto his clothes burning clothes and skin. Niall cried out in pain as he felt his skin begin to split and peel on his face and arms. The creature opened its jaws and Niall could see the fire burning in the back of its throat, it was like looking into a furnace. Niall could feel the skin on his chest begin to boil, he was beginning to feel faint, and yet he was wide awake.
         There was a great crashing sound and there was a bark like a dog only it was much louder then any dog Niall had ever heard. His last thought before he passed out was he wasn’t going to wake up.

                                                                               * * *
         Niall awoke suddenly sitting up in bed, not at home but in some strange room with the sound of the sea lapping gently on the shore. How had he gotten here? He pulled the covers off and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. He was only wearing shorts and he could see the blisters and boils where he had been burned. He wasn’t in any pain, but he looked terrible.
         There was a knock at the door and Niall dived back under the covers just before the door opened and in came a whole crowd of people. Niall recognized them all. There were the three from Falling Tears, Nolan, Elinor, and Corbran, Nix, Nokomic, and Nokomic’s friend Sketch.
         “Well I’m glad your grave will remain empty for awhile yet.” Said Nolan cheerfully.
         “We’re glad your okay.” Elinor said.
         “You should have died.” Said Sketch seriously.
         “Thanks.” Answered Niall. “I would have if you people hadn’t saved me.”
         “You did all the hard work.” Said Nix.
         “Yes you did a great job dealing with that baby Fire-belcher.” Nolan said. “All though you could have kept my spear in one piece.”
         “There called Fire-Bulchers, not belchers.” Nokomic said. “Now Niall tell me what happened excatly, how did you defeat the Fire-Bulcher?”
         They all looked at Niall expectantly.
         “Ah, well I didn’t, I think I must have passed out right before it bit my face off.” Niall said leaving out the part about the giant dog.
         “So why are you still alive?” Corbran asked.
         “I thought you all did.” Niall answered. He didn’t see why the giant dog would have saved him.
         “This is strange.” Nokomic said, glancing at Nix.
         “Your telling me!” Said Niall. “Is this some type of conspiracy, I mean what do you all have to gain by helping me?”
         There was silence.
         “Tell him.” Said Nolan.
         “No, not yet.” Said Nix. “We stick to the plan.”
         “I don’t think we should entirely stick to the plan.” Said Nokomic.
         “Tell him everything.” Nolan said.
         “Everyone else leave the room.” Nokomic said.
         They all filed out and closed the door behind them. Nokomic sat down in a chair.
         “You must be patient, you will understand everything.” Nokomic began. “Our only motive is to reunite the worlds again, bring things back to where they should be.”
         “So that’s why your helping to make sure I unite the worlds again.” Niall said.
         “Well no the worlds are coming back together no matter what any of us do, but if you don’t complete the three trials and return home the worlds will collide and many will die in both worlds.” Nokomic explained.
         “Wow, wait, wait. Your telling me if I fail that’s it, the worlds end?” Niall asked.
         “Yes.” Nokomic answered. “Now do you understand how important it is for you to complete these trials?”
         “I don’t know if I can do this.” Niall responded.
         “You have survived two already.” Nokomic pointed out. “There is only one left.”
         “But I didn’t get the shield.” Niall said.
         “Yes you did.” Nokomic said. “Elinor has it, and when your ready she will give it to you, but she wants to put you through some training so your not helpless any more.”
         “I’m not helpless!”
         “She thinks you are.” Nokomic said. “Besides you admitted that you didn’t know how to fight.”
         “When?”
         “Nolan asked you when you first went to Falling Tears.” Nokomic said.
         Niall flopped back onto his pillow. “Alright. When do I start?”
         “After dinner.” Nokomic said.
         “Dinner? I just woke up.” Niall said.
         “Yes, but here it is always dinner time.”
         Niall looked out the window and he could see the sun was hanging low in the sky. This was the first time he had found a spot that was not day light and not full night either.
         “This whole time is a place thing is hard to remember.” Niall complained.
         “Well you can call it breakfast if you like, now get dressed and get some dinner.” Nokomic said sweeping out of the room.
         Niall waited for a few moments before climbing out of bed and opening the sliding closet doors and finding all manner of clothes, he pulled a shirt and pants out. He found a pair of socks that were clean and white, as well as a watch that he could fasten on to his wrist. He looked at the back of the watch and found a inscription “Made in Kuzbendel”. It made perfect sense, watches were forbidden in most countries, but what was curious was that it was in a magical world were no one wore watches or socks. So how did these things get here?
         Once he was dressed Niall went out of his room which opened into a small courtyard that was lit by the scarlet rays of the perpetually setting sun. Nolan was standing near by with a plate of food which he handed to Niall.
         “Here you go, careful don’t eat to much or Elinor will make you throw it all back up all over the courtyard.” Nolan said chuckling.
         Niall heeded his warning and only ate a little of the potatoes and some of the beef.
         “You should eat some of the broccoli.” Nix observed.
         “It will be fine, if I skip them just for one night.” Said Niall.
         “My daughter would insist, but for now have it your way.” Nix said.
         “I don’t think I’m going to like your daughter.” Niall said. “She doesn’t sound like my kind of person.”
         “Wait until you meet her.” Nix said.
         “When will that be?” Niall asked.
         “I don’t know, better hurry Elinor looks inpatient.” Nix said.
         Niall looked up and saw Elinor standing watching him and tapping her foot. He got up and began walking toward her. She met him halfway across the courtyard.
         “Are you ready?” Elinor asked.
         “I guess, what are we doing first?” Niall asked.
         “First you need to stretch out, get your blood flowing, so follow me.” Elinor led Niall out of the house. “I want you to walk out to that rock at the top of the hill and then come back.”
         Niall walked up to the rock touched it and walked back.
         “Do it again only this time do it faster.” Elinor said.
         She made him do it again and again each time making him go faster until he was flat out running. Elinor made him run until he collapsed at her feet, painting and trying to catch his breath.
         “Good. Now I want you to take this club and beat all the rungs on the line over there.” Elinor instructed.
         Niall looked up from where he was laying and looked at the rugs swaying in the breeze. He groaned and lowered his head.
         “Come on get up lets get going.” Elinor prompted.
         “Why do I need to beat rugs? How is this helping me?”
         “Just do it!”
         Niall got up slowly and took the club from Elinor. He walked over to the first rug and gave it a couple whacks.
         “Put more effort into it.” Elinor commanded.
         Niall began walloping the rug vigorously. He noticed that once he started really hitting the rug it began to glow faintly and as he continued to smack it the glow became stronger until it was shining brightly.
         “Good, now the next rug.” Elinor instructed.
         “Look my arms are killing me, can’t I stop for awhile?” Niall complained.
         “Do one more then you can stop.” Elinor said.
         Niall beat the next rug until it to was glowing, and then he dropped the club and sat down.
         Elinor sat down next to him and handed him a ladle of water she had scooped from a water pail she had brought out. Niall swallowed it quickly feeling its coldness moving through his body and falling into his stomach.
         “So how is this suppose to help me complete my final trial?” Niall asked.
         “Its good exercise, but I will show you how to fight as well. In fact lets see how well you punch.” Elinor said standing up.
         Niall got up too.
         “I think you will be surprised. I got into some fights when I was younger and I did pretty well.” Niall said.
         “We’ll see.” Elinor responded with a smile.
         Elinor spread her feet and held her hands out palm first. Niall understood and punched her hand in what he imagined was perfect form.
         “Okay. Not bad for a first try.” Elinor said.
         “Oh yes for a first try.” Said Nolan pushing his way through the rugs. “It would have been perfect for a five year old.”
         “Nolan were trying to work here.” Elinor said.
         “Alright, okay, I see how it is. I’ll just go and find something to eat.” Nolan answered.
         “Alright Niall lets work on your stance.” Elinor began. “Widen it and keep both your fists up. You should always try to conserve energy in a fight until you see an opening and then you have to strike hard and fast. This stance will give you stability and power. Now try again.”
         “Okay.”
         Niall punched her hand again.
         “Good, but keep your fist tight and follow through.” Elinor advised.

         They spent a long time out on the lawn and Elinor showed him different stances and she drilled him until he was exhausted.
         “You are doing really well for your first day.” Elinor praised him. “Now you should rest and get something to eat.”
         “Thank you.” Said Niall to tired to say anything else, but he did notice that Elinor didn’t seem at all tired.
         Niall’s watch told him he had been training for five hours and his stomach said everything else.

                                                                               Chapter 7
         The time continued passing, but Niall found it was becoming tiresome having it always dinner time. He also had Elinor pushing him to do more and more. They had moved onto weapons and Elinor favored swords, so Niall was stuck wielding a wooden long sword. Apparently Elinor didn’t understand how to hold back either.
         Niall stood opposite to Elinor his wooden sword grasped between his sweaty hands and he was panting trying to regain his composer. Elinor still seemed relaxed and composed holding her sword casually by her side.
         “Come on Niall, you can do better.” Elinor said.
         Niall had attacked three times and he had been unable to touch her. Elinor on the other hand had struck Niall three times.
         I need to rethink this. I’ve been aggressive with my attacks and she has stayed on defense the whole time. I’ll play her game, I guess.
         Niall let his grasp go slack on his sword and he relaxed.
         “Your turn, I think.” Niall said smiling.
         “Your going to regret that.” Nolan said from the sideline.
         Elinor just smiled and gripped her sword. Rushing at Niall, who to his credit stood his ground, she hit him on his knee and then blocked his downward slash and finished him with with a blow across the chest that knocked him to the ground.
         Elinor helped him up and they both walked to the side of the house.
         “Your starting to improve.” Elinor said. “You just need more practice.”
         “I don’t mind working harder, as long as I don’t have to do the dishes tonight.” Niall said smiling.
         “Your still doing dishes.” Said Nokomic coming out of the house.
         “You could just use magic and get them done in no time at all.” Niall said.
         “I could.” Said Nokomic. “Now I think you should read the last story in the book before dinner.”
         Niall had nearly forgotten the book with the stories about the three brothers. He was on the story about Vi-Den, the last of the brothers. He still wasn’t sure what the point of the book was it hadn’t helped him complete any of his challenges. He sat on the edge of his bed a flipped the book to the last story.

         The last brother was named Vi-Den who was the strongest of all. He went into battle with only a spear, no shield or armor to protect him. It happened one day when Vi-Den was traveling to see his mother that he met an old woman who was heading in the same direction. Vi-Den talked with the woman as he walked with her and the conversation turned to technology. Vi-Den was not fond of technology, but the old woman could only praise the greatness of some of the newest inventions. One king had even created a device for looking at the stars, while another had created a machine that spewed smoke and traveled at great speed on two tracks that had been laid on the ground. Vi-Den was uninterested in such things and soon found something else to talk about.
         They continued on there way until they came to a crossroads and the old woman went her way and Vi-Den went his. Vi-Den walked for a long way before he spotted an old man standing by the side of the road with an old book in his hand. When the man spotted Vi-Den he hailed him, and begged that he would buy the book from him so that he would have money to buy food with. Vi-Den agreed and bought the book. He then went on his way following the dusty road. Vi-Den flipped through the book as he walked along, it wasn’t very long and he began reading it, just to pass the time. Just as he finished the book he came to a fork in the road and something small and shiny caught his eye. He bent and picked it up. It was a small gold ring which someone might have lost, so Vi-Den took it with him on his travels.

         Niall felt let down by the last story, it didn’t seem well thought out, and why had the author chosen to right about something so boring? He closed the book and went down to dinner.
         After dinner and dishes, Niall went to bed for a few hours before Elinor had him back to training. He suspected that soon he would be going to complete his final trial, and after that he would return home a hero.
         When Niall awoke Nokomic was waiting in the courtyard for him.
         “Now you must start your final trial.” She said.
         “But what about my training, am I ready for the last trial?” Niall asked.
         “Time is against us, I’m afraid. You must complete the trials and return home.” Nokomic said.
         Elinor walked into the courtyard carrying Niall’s helmet and shield that he had received in the first two trials.
         “Here are your things Niall.” Elinor said handing Niall both objects.
         “Nolan will show you where the next trial begins.” Nokomic said.
         Niall found Nolan by the front door.
         “Come on Niall, your destiny awaits!” Nolan said cheerfully.
         They walked up the shore line until they came to a little rise where the ground became rocky. Niall found at the summit that there was a round hole in the ground that fell out of sight.
         “Well here it is.” Said Nolan.
         “You mean this hole? Where does it go, and how am I suppose to get down there?” Niall asked in disbelief.
         “Yes the hole; I don’t know, and you jump.” Nolan said answering all three questions at once.
         “What’s down there exactly?”
         “No idea.” Said Nolan. “In you go.”
         Niall sat on the edge of the hole with his legs dangling down into nothingness. He took a deep breath and began slowly inching over the edge. Nolan walked behind Niall and gave him a shove that sent him falling over into the darkness. Niall almost instantly felt a smooth surface catch him and he found himself sliding deep into the earth.

                                                           Chapter 8
         When Niall came to the bottom of the slide he tumbled off and landed on sand. He scrabbled to his feet looking around at the stone that enclosed him. A tunnel curved away from him leading away into the unknown, lit by torches that burned blue and cast strange shadows that danced into the distance.
         Niall put his helmet on his head and lifted his shield, he wished he had asked for a sword before he had left, but it was too late now. He began walking into the tunnel cautiously at first, but when he found the silence unbroken and the peace undisturbed, he relaxed.
         The air seemed clean and light, so Niall guessed that there must have been some kind of ventilation. He walked for sometime before coming to a place where the tunnel split in two, he decided that he would take the right side and would always stay to the right so he could find his way back. Only the shadows moved ahead and Niall began to wonder what kind of trial this was? Maybe it was like the town and he would continue following the tunnel, but would get no where. Then he came to where the tunnel again split, but this time there were three choices. That settled it he was at least moving forward, and again he went right.
         The ground began to slope downward and Niall could hear the sound of water lapping against rock. He came around a bend and saw dark water slapping the shore. A boat was pulled up beyond the water and an old man stood beside it as still as the barren rock.
         “Excuse me,” Said Niall “Can I borrow your boat to cross the water here?”
         The man turned toward Niall with eyes as dark as the water.
         “You do not want to cross here, go back to where you came from.” The man said. “Only death awaits you.”
         “I’m not turning back, I’m here to complete this trial. Now if I cross this water is there a way out on the other side?” Niall asked.
         “Yes, there is, but you will not make it, there is monster that waits to devour any who cross over.” The man warned.
         “I will take my chances.” Said Niall. How bad could it be? He asked silently.
         “Then you may take my boat.” The man said. “Trust nothing in this place.”
         “Thank you.” said Niall.
         Niall pushed the boat into the water and sitting down he began working the oars. He could see the other sandy shore on the opposite side of the lake which was particularly narrow at this point. He arrived quickly because the lake was calm with no wind nor currents to pull him of course. There didn’t seem to be any monster lurking anywhere on this side of the lake. Niall pulled the boat up onto the shore and then he said “Von!”. He knew had just disappeared and now he could avoid the monster if there was one. He started up another tunnel, he hadn’t gone far when he saw someone coming toward him.
         The person was hidden in shadow and when the person drew closer to a light the light seemed to dim so that the person was hidden completely and at all times. Niall backed against the wall and was going to let the person pass, but the person stopped and Niall began to feel like he was being watched. He was thankful that he was invisible.
         “I know your there, boy. Come out here is nothing to be afraid of.” The person said.
         Niall knew it was a girl from her voice and she wasn’t much older then him. He took off his helmet and stepped into the light.
         “Here I am. Now its your turn.” Niall said.
         “Why do you want to see me, can’t we just talk?” The girl asked.
         “I think I would rather be on my way.” Answered Niall.
         “Oh is that what you want, you don’t want to talk to me for awhile, or maybe you would like to see me?” The girl asked.
         “I would much rather be on my way. I couldn’t hope to get to know you from one conversation and I don’t care what you look like, so I will wish you a good day.” Niall said.
         He began to walk past the girl, who didn’t try to stop him until he was already past her.
         “Are you sure you don’t want to stay here for awhile. Maybe I could teach you something that might help you in the future?” The girl said.
         “What could you teach me?” asked Niall pausing. “I’m only interested in getting out of here and getting home, so if you can help me do that I will listen.”
         “If you don’t want to talk to me, at least take this.” The girl dropped a long spear at Niall’s feet. “It will help you defeat the beast that awaits you.”
         “Thank you, but who are you and why are you helping me?” Niall asked.
         “I was told to by my father.” The girl said. “He needs you to survive.”
         “Okay. Whose your father, and why does he care about me?” Niall inquired.
         “You’ll get to meet him soon, and he cares about everyone Niall, but he needs you to understand the situation.” The girl responded. “He’ll contact you after you complete this trial.”
         “What situation?” Niall asked.
         “I think you should wait until my father talks to you, I don’t know as much about people as he does.” The girl said. “Now you should hurry, before the worlds collide.”
         “What kind of monster is waiting for me?”
         “I can’t tell you that!” The girl said.
         “Okay.” Niall said. “What about your name?”
         “I don’t have a name like most people, everyone calls me Death.” The girl said. “Goodbye boy.”
         Death vanished and the tunnel became lighter. Niall stood for a moment looking at the spear on the floor. He picked it up and held it, balancing the spear in his hand. Everything was beginning to feel set up, like his movements were not his own.
         Niall began again following the tunnel which began to twist and turn as it lead him farther into the unknown. Niall wondered when the monster would appear and what kind of monster was it?
         Light appeared in the distance, and not the cold blue light of the tunnels, but the strong warm light of day. Niall ran forward bursting out into the forest and stopping abruptly.
Curled beside a tree was a large serpent with two heads, its reptilian eyes were open and its tongues were flicking in and out as it watched Niall.
         Niall put his helmet on and became invisible. He knew the snake would be able to track his scent, but the snake would not be able to see his spear.
         The serpent opened one of its mouths and Niall realized what was about to happen moments before the snake spit fire. Niall ran trying to avoid the flames, but some of them scorched his arms and clothing. He dodged behind a tree listening to the hissing of the snake and the rustling of leaves as it slide over the ground. Niall knew he had to move, but he also knew that he would need to kill or at least demobilize the snake in order to get away.
         Niall ran dodging trees and brush until he got to a little clearing. He pulled off his helmet, and stuck his spear into the ground butt first at an angle then he took his helmet and leaned it against the spear shaft.
         “Von!” He said, and the helmet and spear vanished. Then Niall turned to face the direction he had come, hearing the hissing of the serpent Niall raised his shield so it hid the upper part of his body so the snake would not notice he was no longer carrying a spear.
         The snake came into the clearing pausing to study Niall with its amber eyes. Then suddenly it lunged forward and Niall saw a spurt of blood, but the serpent was still coming forward. Niall dodged both its heads and ran in a circle around the beast which was thrashing around. Something strange happened the serpent began to shrink and change form becoming a man. The man was dressed in farmer’s clothes and Niall recognized him.
         “Dad?”
         “Yes Niall, why did you stab me?”
         “Your not my father. You can make yourself appear as anyone.” Niall surmised. “The only question is shall I destroy you or will you leave me alone?”
         The monster changed form again into Rhona Nightwood.
         “Can you destroy me Niall, your own mother?”
         “I told you I’m not falling for this!” Niall said.
         “Maybe not, but can you really kill someone who looks like your mother? Surly it would be difficult to return home and see your mother again after killing me. Soon you will start dreaming about killing her, and then you’ll start to wonder what it would feel like to kill her, you have done it once you could do it again. You will become a killer.”
         “Shut up.” Niall said. “I’m not a killer.”
         “Not yet, but soon.”
         “Stop saying that!” Niall said. “I won’t kill you, you will kill yourself by attacking me. If you die it is your fault.”
         “You can just keep saying that to yourself, but once you have killed there is no undoing it, no relief from guilt except death!”
         “I have already done enough.” Said Niall. “You will soon bleed to death, so you can pursue me or you can save yourself that’s up to you.”
         Niall said the two names of the spear and helmet and they both returned to him. “Make your choice quickly.” Said Niall.
         The beast hesitated at the edge of the clearing, before it slunk away into the brush. Niall sighed in relief. He turned and began walking through the forest until he came out near a small pool of crystal clear water. He was reminded of when he had come into this world, through a pool just like this one. Was this his way home?
         “You did a wonderful job Niall.” Nix said appearing near the pool.
         All the others appeared also. Nokomic was looking proud and unusually happy. Nolan looked about the same not seeming to be any happier then before. Corbran and Elinor were looking like proud older siblings.
         “You did it!” Said Elinor. “Now you can go home and soon everything will be as it should be.”
         “Yes it will be.” Agreed Nokomic. “For Niall things will be a lot different through.”
         “Yeah, I’m finally a hero, I don’t have to be a farmer anymore!” Niall said.
         “Here is a gift for you to take home.” Said Nix, handing Niall a small box.
         Niall excepted it and slide the lid of and pulled a plain silver ring from the package.
         “A ring?” He asked.
         “Well we don’t have too much to offer you, so we did what we could.” Nokomic said.
         “Think of it as a reminder of what you did here.” Nix added.
         The ring was rather large when Niall put it on his finger, but a moment after he had put it on the ring tightened so it was to small for him to pull over his knuckle.
         “What happened?” He asked.
         “Its a magic ring that changes sizes to fit different people.” Nix explained. “Now we best get you home.”
         “Alright.” Said Niall. “But how?”
         “All you have to do his step into the water and say ‘Merthdrum’” Nokomic said.
         Niall did as she said felling the icy water on his thighs. After he spoke the name of the human world he felt himself sinking into the water.
         “Goodbye!” Called Elinor.
         “We’ll see you soon!” added Nolan, just before Niall felt himself get sucked down through the water entering a black void.
         He slowly felt himself moving downwards and he looked down to see if he could spot his world, but all he could see was a bright pinpoint of light which was slowly growing. Soon the darkness was washed away with clean bright light and Niall felt something solid beneath his feet. He wasn’t home he was standing in an open field not far from a small cottage with a thatched roof completely over grown with vines that blossomed with purple and white flowers. Butterflies glided through the air and gently rested on the flowers while Niall wondered toward the house. It was one of the most peaceful places Niall had ever seen. Suddenly a shadow fell over Niall and a blast of cold air hit him from behind.
         “I’m glad you made it.”
         Niall turned around to face Death who was again wrapped in shadow.
         “So this is where you and your father live.” Niall said.
         “Yes and he is anxious to speak with you. Follow me.” Death said in her youthful voice.
         Niall trailed after her enjoying this place that he had come to. There was a pounding of giant paws and the enormous hound that had chased Niall before came hurling around the side of the cottage. Niall froze, but Death kept walking toward the house. The dog bounded to her side and used its huge tongue to lick her.
         “Oh I love you too Bruno.” Death said stroke the dogs cheek.
         Niall began inching his way closer.
         “You have a giant dog?” He asked.
         “Yes. I sent him to watch you so you wouldn’t get into too much trouble.” Death said.
         “Watch me?! He scared me half to death more then once, I thought he was going to kill me!” Niall exclaimed.
         “How could you be scared of such a beautiful and cuddly dog?” Death asked in surprise.
         Niall didn’t know what to say, so he just left it alone. The door of the cottage opened and a tall man dressed in white, with a long white beard and hair that steamed out behind him, came out.
         “Welcome Niall, I’m glad you could come.” The man said.
         “Hello.” Said Niall.
         “Allow me to introduce myself, I’m called the First Lord, but if you prefer you can call me ‘my lord’, ‘lord’, or ‘Bill’ which ever you like.” The man said.
         “Is Bill really your name?” Niall asked.
         “No, my real name is much to long and in fact I don’t think I could remember it, and besides my name is now a powerful curse word which would destroy you if you heard it.” Bill explained.
         “Oh, well Bill it is then.” Niall agreed.
         “Well I think we should get to business, lets take a walk down toward the lake.” Bill suggested. “Oh and Death dear, you can take off those shadows now they make you look like death.”
         The shadows fell away revealing a teen girl with shoulder length black hair and a brightly colored red dress with black stockings and a wide brimmed red hat. Niall was surprised by her appearance.
         “What are you looking at boy?” She asked.
         “Your not how I pictured Death at all.” He said. “I’m sorry.”
         “Did you expect me to be a skeleton or something?” She asked.
         “Well maybe more like a banshee, I suppose.” Niall admitted.
         “Alright, I think we should discuss the situation.” Bill said, interrupting any further conversation.
         “What is the situation? I’ve heard rumors about a situation, but I can’t imagine what situation people are talking about.” Niall said.
         “Well the situation I’m talking about is connect to you. Do you know anything about heroes other then they are powerful, and they have to pass trials in order to become a hero?” Bill asked.
         “Well I know in my world there often connected to magicians.” Niall answered. “But I don’t know much about them. Commoners aren’t really allowed to know about such things.”
         “Do you know why magicians connect heroes to themselves?” Bill asked.
         “No. But I could guess, they are trying to prevent heroes from turning on them.” Niall said.
         “Yes that is true, but even more then that they are weapons used to bring people under a magicians control.” Bill said. “I should tell you that every person who has become a hero for the last thousand years has been under the control of a magician.”
         “Until now.” Said Niall. “I became a hero without any help from a magician. I want to make a difference in the world, I want to help people without interference from any magician.”
         “Well you messed that up.” Said Death.
         “What do you mean, I’m not connected to any magician.” Niall retorted. “I’m free to choose what I want to do.”
         “Niall,” Said Bill. “ Nearly everything you have done was planned by a magician.”
         “What?”
         “The Archsummoner gave you a box, now in that box was the power of a hero, and the reason you hadn’t shown any signs of being a hero was because when they tested you originally they took the power from you. By giving it back to you now it allowed you to come here where the Archsummoner had made arrangements for you to complete your hero training.” Bill explained. “Nokomic, Nix, Nolan, and the brother and sister were all helping you to complete your training, well it wasn’t really training. They were strengthening your powers, awakening the magic inside you, and then they bond you to a magician.”
         “Without me knowing, how?” Niall asked. “And why didn’t they train me from the beginning I would have been more powerful?”
         “Yes that is true, but all heroes are registered at birth and they wanted you to be absolutely secret, which is also why they brought you into Illvania to awaken your power.” Bill said. “They also couldn’t bring you to Illvania until the two worlds were closer together.”
         “That’s another thing, what happens when the worlds are back together?” Niall asked.
         “All the magical beings will roam your world and this should tip the scales a little back in favor of the magicians who thrive on magical energy.” Bill said. “How much do you know about the war that is raging in your world or was raging for many years between Iberio and Kuzbendel?”
         “Well I know that a truce was called seven years ago, but I don’t know much else, I’m not allowed to know about state matters.” Niall said.
         “The war was started because of technology and magic. The magicians wish to make the world subject to magic and they cannot stand technology, while the people of Kuzbendel hate magic and believe that technology will make everyone equal.” Bill said. “In the conflict technology was proving the stronger, so the magicians called a truce for seven years and Kuzbendel agreed. That’s when the Archsummoner began to hatch a plan to bring back the magical creatures and also to create the most powerful hero to destroy Kuzbendel forever. Now they renewed the truce for another seven years and then again for two more years, but now that truce is at an end and although Kuzbendel has sought a permanent peace, the Archsummoner has tricked them into becoming the bad guys by staging an ambush of her own caravan, causing outrage through the world. Now there will be war, which is why they want you back quickly to prepare you for war. They have made you into a weapon.”
         Niall stopped walking. “This is bad. I don’t want to be a weapon!”
         “I know.” Said Bill. “But these things are not the worst of your problems. You will also face many of the magical creatures. The Archsummoner thinks she can control what she us unleashing, but she can’t. Be prepared to fight hard, and what you know and believe will be tested.”
         “How did I end up here?” Niall asked himself.
         “Don’t kick yourself, it could have happened to anyone.” Death said smiling.
         “What am I going to do?” Niall asked.
         “Whats right of course. I’m only telling you this so you know that not everyone can be trusted even the ones closest to you have there own agendas.” Bill said. “But I can offer you something that will help.”
         “Are you going to help me fight? Your like really powerful, couldn’t you do something?” Niall asked.
         “No. I’ve been entrusted with the guardianship of time, and thus cannot leave this place.” Bill said. “I will give you something that might help.”
         Bill handed Niall a small round stone with a hole that had a string running through it. Niall put the stone around his neck and put it under his shirt.
         “Now I’ll tell you something that you wanted to know.” Bill said. “Vi is the life force of heroes it gives us a unique power which no one else has, but each power is special and different. These powers limits are unknown and even I’m not sure how far my powers go.
         “Are you a hero too?” Niall asked.
         “Yes all seven of the lords are heroes, but we have been assigned greater responsibilities now so we no longer behave like normal heroes.” Bill explained.
         “There are others like you then?” Niall asked.
         “Yes, there are seven of us total, the other six are also guardians of different things, like nature, or justice.” Bill said.
         “So is Death one of the lords?” Niall asked.
         “No.” Said Death. “I’m the lord of death, I just didn’t like my real name.”
         “Which is . . .”
         “None of your business.” Death said.
         “She would be something of a hero, I suppose.” Bill said ignoring their exchange. “She does have a lot of power. Well lets not waste anymore time. Niall, be careful, don’t trust anyone, keep your mind focused on the truth and do what you know to be right.”
         “Sure thing Bill.” Niall said. “But what exactly am I suppose to do?”
         “Unfortunately you will have to decided what your going to do.” Bill said. “You will see your path soon enough.”
         Niall began to feel the tug of his world and the colors around him began to fade.
         “Goodbye boy.” Said Death.
         Everything became bright white light again, and Niall saw it fade into the distance as he entered again into the dark void heading for home.

                                                                     Chapter 9
         Niall saw lights flickering in the distance and then suddenly he was thrown violently into his living room.
         Wow! Why didn’t I return to the monolith, where I came in? Maybe the worlds are nearly together again.
         Niall looked around, but the house was silent and his mother was no where to be seen. He walked out side looking around the yard, but it was also deserted. He began walking toward the monolith. When he came closer he heard voices, so he crept up through the trees and looked into the clearing where the giant stone stood. His mother was standing there with Llyr the Polovick.
         “He should have been back by now.” Rhona said. “The worlds are nearly united again.”
         “Something must have gone wrong.” Llyr said.
         “But Nix confirmed that Niall had left, so why hasn’t he returned?” Rhona asked.
         Niall was about to reveal himself when another person entered the clearing by the path. It was a girl around Niall’s age, with a tangle of brown hair, and she was wearing a school uniform.
         She must be rich. Only the rich go to school.
         “Whats the problem?” She asked.
         “The boy hasn’t returned yet.” Answered Llyr.
         “Can you sense his presence, Fiona?” Rhona asked.
         “Of course, he is hiding behind that tree over there.” Answered Fiona.
         Niall popped his head around the side of the tree.
         “How on earth could you know that?!” He called.
         “Come!” Said Fiona.
         Niall felt a tingling in his stomach and then it felt like he was dropping quickly and a moment later he was standing between his mother and Fiona.
         “What was that? How did you do that?” Niall asked still shaking and feeling a little sick.
         “Niall this is Fiona, she is your master.” Rhona said. “I know you must have a lot of questions.”
         “Like why you kept this all a secret and made me into a hero so I can serve her?” asked Niall.
         “No one made you do anything, Niall. You went to Falling Tears on your own, you insisted that you didn’t want to farm, and you were the one who open the Archsummoner’s box.” Rhona said. “ You also agreed to go into Illvania. You took the book and read the three stories that bound you to Fiona.”
         “Wait, what to you mean bound me to Fiona?” Niall asked.
         “I wrote those stories.” Fiona said. “The book was magical and when you read it you gave me the power to command you.”
         “Oh come on.” Niall said.
         “Then you accepted the ring and put it on, you could have thrown it away.” Rhona finished.
         Niall looked at the ring on his hand, and he knew he couldn’t get it off. How could he have been so stupid? Was it because he wanted to be a hero or because he didn’t want to farm. Maybe part of him had wanted this.
         “So now what?” He asked.
         “Well I think we should have lunch before you leave.” Said Rhona.
         “Where are we going?” Niall asked.
         “Its secret.” Said Fiona.
         “Secret? A secret hide out, what are we going to be doing at this hide out? Are we forming a secret club, cause if we are I would like to be club president.” Niall said.
         “What are you talking out?!” Fiona said.
         “Niall please don’t be stupid.” Rhona said. “Try to behave.”
         “You know I’m not five anymore.” Niall pointed out.
         “I never would have guessed that.” Said Fiona in mock surprise.
         “Lets go back and eat lunch.” Said Rhona.
         They all began walking back toward the house. Niall was trying to avoid Fiona and walked beside his mom.
         “So all those times when you discouraged me, were you planning this?” Niall asked.
         “Lets talk later, okay?” His mother responded.
         Lunch was served in the dinning room. Niall sat next to his mother, hoping to avoid Fiona, but she sat opposite him which was even worse, because she kept looking at him and he was trying to avoid her eyes. When lunch was over Rhona asked Fiona to step out for a few moments.
         “Now say what you want to say, Niall.” Rhona said.
         “I just would like if you had talked about this whole problem with me, instead I have it sprung on me.” Niall said.
         “Niall you know how this works. You have to become a hero, and you must be attached to a master.” Rhona said. “You didn’t want to be a farmer, now you don’t have to be.”
         “I know, and I wanted to be a hero, otherwise I wouldn’t have gone forward with this, but I wanted to make the decision and I wanted to be free.” Niall said. “Now I’m trapped and for what?”
         “Okay, Niall, I’m sorry but this is the way it must be.” Rhona said. “Now you will need to pack tonight you will be leaving to complete your training.”
         “Okay.” Niall agreed. He wasn’t going to argue, it was pointless he had known that for along time. Besides he had wanted to be a hero.
         Niall went to his room and found a large trunk waiting for him. His mother had been prepared for this for awhile it seemed.
         “Need some help?” Fiona asked coming into his room.
         “Why are you in a hurry?” Niall asked.
         “Very much so.” Fiona answered.
         Fiona snapped her fingers and the drawers flew open and in less then a moment, Niall’s things were all in the trunk.
         “Wow, that was cool.” Niall said hoping he didn’t sound too impressed.
         “Great. Now hurry, I want to be away as soon as possible.” Fiona said.
         Niall’s trunk vanished.
         “Hey, what happened?”
         “I sent your things on ahead. Now you’d better say goodbye to your mother.” Fiona said.
         Niall came out and found his mother standing there.
         “Already?” His mom asked.
         “All set.” Niall answered. “Goodbye mom.”
          Niall gave his mom a hug and she kissed him.
         “Goodbye Niall.”
         “So is there a holiday plan so I can come and visit?” Niall asked.
         “Well, you’ll be busy I don’t think we’ll see each other for awhile, but don’t worry.” Rhona said.
         “Are you ready?” Fiona asked.
         “Ready.” Niall said.
         Fiona vanished.
         “What about me?!” Called Niall.
         Then Niall was standing in a room made of stone with glass windows splattered with rain. He appeared to be in some manner of castle or fortress. There was a knock at his door then Fiona came in.
         “Your stuff has been unpacked and put away. You need to come down and meet everyone.” Fiona said.
         “There’s more heroes here?” Niall asked.
         “Of course there are.” Fiona said. “I’m the senor master here, there are four other masters and their heroes living here as well.”
         “So its like a school.” Niall said.
         “I guess you could call it that.” Fiona agreed. “Come on lets go meet everyone.”
         Fiona led the way down a flight of stairs into a wide hall way with stain glass windows along one side.
         “We need to stop by the armory first.” Fiona said. “I’ll need you to turn over your weapon and armor.”
         Niall realized he hadn’t seen his spear and armor sense he left Illvania.
         “I don’t have it.” Said Niall. “I don’t know what happened to it after I left Illvania.”
         “Okay, I guess I have a lot to teach you.” Fiona said.
         “Am I missing something?” Niall asked.
         “Yes, we’ll have to go over the basics.” Fiona said. “Most heroes when they get here know something about master and hero relationship and they know some magic, but with your situation you are behind. I will demand much more from you so you can catch up.”
         “That sounds wonderful.” Niall said.
         “You better curb your attitude Niall. Your life is changing and I can’t deal with your problems, in fact you should forget your old life.” Fiona said. “You just need to focus on being the best hero.”
         Niall didn’t say anything. Fiona skipped the armory because as she put it, “Niall, you don’t know enough to break the rules anyway.”
         “Is there a rule book I should study?” Niall asked.
         “Yes, I’ll give you one.” Fiona answered.
         They went through a door and down a flight of stairs emerging through an arch into a hall with long tables forming a rectangle surrounded by tall-backed chairs. They walked quickly through the hall and came to two great doors which opened on their own. Niall followed Fiona down the stairs into a small courtyard with a fountain.
         Niall saw a boy with his head submerged in the fountain.
         “Whats he doing?” Niall asked.
         “He’s trying to drink the fountain dry, again.” Fiona said. “That’s Ian by the way, he is a little strange.”
         “But doesn’t the fountain just keep filling?”
         “Yes, but he thinks its possible to dry the fountain out, he’ll get tired soon.” Fiona said. “Come on, you can meet the others.”
         They walked out of the courtyard and passed through a gate that led them across a long bridge that spanned a gorge.
         “What is this place?” Niall asked.
         “Its called Flemton Castle, its where all heroes go to be trained, and now it is your home.” Fiona said.
         Niall heard the rumble of thunder in the distance, and he looked out from the bridge to where a solitary mountain peak stood shrouded in dark clouds. He was beginning to guess his location, he was on the far side of Falling Tears, the place where the two worlds met. A thought occurred to him, what about the worlds they were suppose to be merging soon.
         “Fiona, what happens when Illvania merges with this world?”
         “What are you talking about, the worlds won’t merge, they can’t the magicians of old separated them and nothing will bring them back together.” Fiona answered. “Where did you get the idea they were merging?”
         “The people I met over there seemed to think they were going to be merging back with this world.” Niall answered.
         “Well they were mistaken, there isn’t a way of merging the worlds.” Fiona said.
         A women appeared at the end of the bridge walking toward them. Niall was about to ask who it was when Fiona said, “Its the headmistress, remember your manners Niall.”
         Niall bowed before the headmistress.
         “Good Afternoon, Fiona. Is this your hero?”
         “Yes he is. Lady Frega, can I postpone the evening training with the masters for an hour?” Fiona asked.
         “Yes, I think that will be alright.” Frega responded. “But you can’t shorten the training period.”
         “Of course, Lady Frega.” Fiona answered.
         The headmistress continued walking and Niall began walking again with Fiona.
         “So why do you need to postpone training?” Asked Niall.
         “That’s not your concern. Worry about settling in.” Fiona said.
         They walked off the bridge and down a slope between pine trees toward a flat space where a wooden stadium stood. Pennants flew high above the bleachers, but everything was silent. Niall and Fiona pushed through the wooden gates into a sandy arena where three boys were fighting with wooden swords. Three girls were huddled together talking.
         Fiona led Niall over to the girls.
         “Where’s Abby?” Fiona asked.
         “We don’t know, she disappeared after lunch.” Said the dark haired girl.
         “Okay. This is Niall.” Fiona said. “I’m going to find Abby, watch Niall for me.”
         Fiona vanished.
         Great, now what do I say?
         “Hello Niall, I’m Zoe.” The dark haired girl said. “And these are Sophia and Dana.”
         Niall greeted each of them and then they introduced him to the three boys. There was Alec, Dylan, and Owen, and they seemed happy to have another boy, probably because they needed even teams for there war game.

                                                                               Chapter 10
          Thunder crashed in the distance and the wind was moaning in the pines. Niall was standing in the great hall with Alec and Dylan listening to the storm. It was after dinner and Fiona had returned without Abby. Fiona had rushed through dinner and had excused herself to her room.
         Niall was curious, remembering that Fiona had postponed training with the masters for an hour, but why?”
         “Why did Fiona ask to have an extra hour before training?” Niall asked Alec.
         “She does that sometimes,” Alec said. “But I don’t know why.”
         “Maybe its none of our business,” Dylan said.
         “We could ask her,” Niall suggested.
         “Or we could follow her,” Alec said.
         “I like the asking her idea better,” Dylan said. “Besides I thought you tried that already Alec?”
         “Yes, and if it hadn’t been for the boundary I would have found what she was up too,” Alec said.
         “Then we would just lose her at the boundary again.” Dylan pointed out.
         “What do you mean by boundary?” Niall asked.
         The thunder rumbled again drawing closer.
         “The boundary is set to keep us in, so we can’t go wandering off,” Dylan explained. “It prevents us from setting foot outside the castle grounds without our masters.”
         “Oh, I see. Well, I guess that’s that.” Niall said.
         I’ll just have to investigate on my own.
         Thunder shook the windows and the sound of the trees cracking in the wind filled the hall.
         “The storm is getting really bad,” Dylan commented.
         Niall was curious about the storm, so he said goodbye to Dylan and Alec, and went outside. Darkness had descended on the castle long before its time and when Niall looked toward Falling Tears he could see lightning flashing around its peak and there was a purple hue to the clouds about the mountain. This didn’t seem like a normal storm, and Niall guessed that the two worlds were merging despite what Fiona had said. Falling Tears was the crossover point of the two worlds it wasn’t a coincidence that the storm seemed to be originating from the mountain.
         “The worlds are close now, it won’t be long.”
         Niall turned and found Death standing behind him with one of her large red hats.
         “Is that what is causing this storm?” Niall asked. “Wait, where did you come from?”
         “Abby!”
         They both looked back at the castle and saw Fiona standing there looking rather unhappy.
         “Your Abby?” Niall whispered. “But how?”
         “I’ll explain later,” Abby whispered back.
         Fiona came storming down toward them.
         “Niall go inside,” Fiona ordered.
         Niall glanced at Abby before walking back toward the castle. Dylan and Alec met him at the door.
         “The Headmistress has just forbidden anyone from leaving the castle until the storm passes,” Dylan said.
         “That means Fiona isn’t going anywhere,” Alec said sounding satisfied.

         Everyone went to bed early and Niall lay awake listening to the thunder and the wind. No rain was coming down, which Niall thought was strange, but eventually, he fell asleep. Suddenly Niall awoke with his whole room filled with purple light. The whole castle began to shake, Niall heard crashes and the cracking of trees on the slopes. Then suddenly it all went silent and the light vanished.
         Niall crept to the window and looked out, but the night was silent and dark.
         “It’s done.”
         Niall spun around to find Abby standing in his room.
         “How did you get in here?” He asked.
         “How long have you lived in a land filled with magic?” Abby asked. “You're going to have to stop being so...stupid. This is when everything begins.”
         “That’s dramatic, but really how bad could this be? I already survived Illvania.” Niall pointed out.
         “You survived because you had help. Now no one has help and no one knows what has happened yet. There also is the problem that no knows how to deal with the people and creatures of Illvania.” Abby said.
         “How long until we start seeing strange things?” Niall asked. “Is there time to prepare everyone?”
         “No time,” Abby said. “Besides no one will believe you until things become obvious because no one believes it’s possible for the worlds to reunite.”
         “So what am I suppose to do?” Niall asked.
         “Train, work with Fiona and the others,” Abby said. “Also don’t let anyone know that we’ve met before.”
         “How long have you been here?” Niall asked.
         “A long time now, almost eight years,” Abby said. “I’m going to start working on protection seals to keep magical creatures out of the castle grounds.”
         “What are protection seals?” Niall asked.
         “They’re magic spells,” Abby said. “They’re nothing you need to worry about.”
         “Were you setting up spells earlier, is that why you weren’t around?” Niall asked.
         “No, I was doing something else,” Abby said. “I’ll try to keep up informed about whats going on. I’ve got to go.”
         “Okay, goodnight Abby.”

         Niall couldn’t sleep now, he sat up in the dark wondering how his life could have changed so quickly. Eventually, Niall lay back down, but he still didn’t fall asleep. Daylight began to creep through his windows and Niall got up feeling exhausted. He dragged himself down to the main hall where food was served like a buffet and you could get as much as you wanted for one hour from seven to eight. Niall was the last to come down and only Dylan was still sitting at one of the tables.
         Niall threw a couple sausages on to his plate and grabbed two muffins. He sat opposite of Dylan and began eating as quickly as possible.
         “So what is going to happen today, should I prepare myself somehow?” Niall asked, between mouth fulls of food.
         “There is no way to prepare for this, you just go with it, but I wouldn’t eat to much your first day, you might feel sick after you see what you have to go through,” Dylan said. “This will probably the worst day of your life.”
         “Great. I hope I don’t die.” Niall said.
         “That is a real possibility.” Said Dylan. “But no one has died here for a long time, so I wouldn’t worry about it.”
         “What kind of things am I going to do?” Niall asked.
         “Well they will start with physical training, then you will have to take classes on magic and your place in the future world. After you finish those two courses you will do battle training and team exercises. After that you will begin espionage training, you’ll study how to fight against the technology of our enemies, and then you will begin your first missions under the supervision of Fiona and one other high-level magician.” Dylan said.
         “How far along are you?” Niall asked.
          “I’m working on team exercises right now,” Dylan said. “You should hurry, Fiona likes to start early, and you’re already later then she wants.”
         “Thanks,” Niall said. He quickly finished eating. “Where is Fiona?”
         The doors of the hall burst open and Fiona came storming in.
         “Hurry up Niall, you're already behind and now you're taking your sweet time about eating!” Fiona said. “Come on.”
         Niall got up and began following Fiona out of the hall.
         “What am I doing today?” Niall asked. “Learning to throw fireballs?”
         “No, you can’t throw fireballs even if I wanted to teach you that,” Fiona said. “Firstly you need to work on your physical strength. So your going to run the obstacle course.”
         Fiona led Niall to a narrow path that led down the slope between pine trees.
         “Okay, I’m going to time you, so try to finish as quickly as possible.” Fiona said. “Now go!”
         Niall took off running down the trail he past a sign that said ‘Death’s Course’ which didn’t sound good. Niall wondered if Abby had named the course, but he stumbled and began to watch where he was putting his feet. Niall came skidding to a halt at the edge of a gorge that was spanned by a structure that supported a single metal pole. Niall knew what he had to do. He began climbing across do hand over hand. Half way across Niall could feel his hands burning and sweat was making the bare slippery, but Niall knew he had to keep moving, if he stopped he would fall. He used every ounce of his strength to make it to the other side.
         I can’t believe I made it. I hope there no more of those.
         Niall looked around at where he was there was a trail running through a field. He remember that Fiona was timing him. He began running again following the trail until he came to a long bridge that led up to the top of a spire that had been naturally carved out by a river over the centuries. Niall began running up the bridge but he felt it sway violently and he looked ahead and he saw a dwarf with a heavy steal helmet and red beard.
         “I’m Brandon, the guardian of this bridge, and I shall not let you pass until you have beaten me in combat.” The dwarf said brandishing an ax.
         “Your not part of this course are you?” Niall asked. This must be because of the worlds colliding. I’m glad I lied to Fiona about my weapons.
         “Come on boy, fight me, or should I just kill you?” Brandon asked.
         “Von, Ven, Vi-den!” Niall called. The helmet appeared and the shield with the spear came into his hands. Niall disappeared using the power of the helmet.
         “Wait, your the boy, the boy who made this possible. Your the one who brought the worlds together!” Brandon said. “I didn’t know it was you, I’m sorry.”
         Niall pulled the helmet off. “What do you mean I brought the worlds together?” He asked. “I thought I prevented the worlds destroying themselves.”
         “No you brought the worlds together, you are the cause of this reuniting.” Brandon said. “The magical creatures have spent a long seeking away to reunite the worlds, and when the magicians wanted to make you the greatest hero they were tricked by Nix into sending you to Illvania. Now the magical creatures have got we wanted, but the magicians don’t know what has happened and that is part of the plan.”
         “Why do the magical creatures what to be here?” Niall asked.
         “Well some of them feed on humans or their emotions, others seek the riches of this world and others seek revenge on the magicians for splitting the worlds.” Brandon said.
         “So what are you after?” Niall asked.
         “Me? Dwarfs are guardians of places or knowledge, so what I want is to guard my bridge.” Brandon said.
         “Okay, but not this bridge, unless you want the worlds uniting to be common knowledge.” Niall said.
         “You should want to make it common knowledge, leaving it hidden will cause many problems for your people.” Brandon warned.
         “Right, but how do I convince everyone that it’s true?” Niall asked.
         “No idea, but you need to do it.” Brandon said. “Someones coming.”
         Brandon disappeared and Niall turned looking down the bridge where Fiona was running toward him.
         “What are you doing, your suppose to be running the course?” Fiona said angrily. “Wait, I thought you couldn’t use your weapons?”
         Niall looked down at the spear and shield which he was still holding.
         “Alright you got me, I know how to summon my weapons.” Niall said. “So what are you going to do?”
         “Give them to me.” Fiona said.
         “I think I should hang onto them.” Niall said.
         “I’ll make you give them to me.” Fiona answered. “Now give them up.”
         “No.” Said Niall.
         “Niall, I, Fiona take your weapons from you.” Fiona said.
         Niall felt the tug on the weapons like they wanted to fly from him, but he held them. Fiona glared at him.
         “Surrender your weapons!” She yelled. “I’m your master, give them up!”
         “Okay, there is no reason to get emotional, but I’m still holding onto my weapons.” Niall said. “The next time you send someone to a magical land you should make sure you can control them when they come back.”
         “You can’t tell me what I should do, I’ll get those weapons from you.” Fiona threatened.
         Niall let both weapons go and they vanished.
         “How are you going to do that?” He asked, spreading his hands.
         “I’m going to the headmistress.” Fiona said turning to stomp away.
         “Does she have the power to take these from me?” Niall asked. “I mean you can’t and your suppose to be some kind of super powerful magician or something. Oh, and aren’t we suppose to be heading in the other direction to get to the castle?”
         Fiona stopped and turned around walking back the other way.
         “Hurry up!” She snapped.

                                                                               Chapter 11
         The headmistress was standing by one the windows in her office watching clouds scuttle across the sky when Niall and Fiona came into the office.
         “Headmistress,” Fiona said. “ Niall has lied to me about his weapons and now he won’t give them to me.”
         “Fiona,” The headmistress said. “You are his master you don’t need his permission.”
         “She tried taking them.” Niall said. “It didn’t work.”
         Fiona was standing with a sour look on her face.
         “Well that is interesting.” Frega said. “Niall is perhaps the first hero who has resisted the power of his master. He will be valuable to us.”
         “But what about the rules, he needs to give them up.” Fiona pointed out.
         “I might be able to take them from him, but he would need to summon them again.” Frega said. “I don’t think he would.”
         Niall was beginning to form a plan, he would summon the weapons again and let them take them, but he wouldn’t summon the helmet, being invisible was an invaluable tool.
         “I don’t think you can take them even if I do summon them.” Niall said. “Here, Ven, Vi-den!” The spear and shield appeared in his hands.
         Fiona and Frega both looked shocked for a moment, before Frega regained some composer.
         “Are those. . .” Fiona began.
         “Yes. Ah Niall could you wait outside for a moment, please?” Frega asked.
         Niall went out into the hall and waited for awhile, until Frega opened the door and invited him back in.
         “Niall, I want you to tell me everything that happened in Illvania.” Frega said.
         “What was suppose to happen to me?” Niall countered.
         “You were suppose to read a book and come under my command, then you were suppose to be give weapons and then you were to be sent back.” Fiona said.
         “Well that’s not really what happened.” Said Niall. He proceeded to tell them the story, dropping the parts about the helmet and the First Lord.
         Frega got up and began looking out the window again and Fiona was looking sick.
         “This is not good.” Said Fiona. “That was not the arrangement.”
         “There’s something else too.” Said Niall. “They used me to reunite the worlds.”
         “That’s not possible.” Said Fiona.
         “It couldn’t be done.” Agreed Frega. “The real matter is your power. Fiona doesn’t have the power to control you, in fact I don’t think any magician could control you.”
         “So what does that mean?” Niall asked.
         “It means I’m going to tell you something we’re not suppose too.” Frega said. “Also I’m going to offer you something.”
         “Wait, you can’t tell him what’s going on, he’s a hero, and he is a boy.” Fiona said. “Its not right.”
         “I think this is a special circumstance.” Frega said. “Now Niall I don’t know how much you know about Kuzbendel, but they are one of our neighbors and they wish to destroy are way of living. They use what they term technology to destroy magic. War, Niall, a war for our existence, that’s what we are preparing for, so I want to ask you, will you fight for your people, we only want whats best for our country. You can keep your weapons, I just need to know you won’t run away from here, I need you to commit to restoring peace to the world and insuring the survival of magic.”
         “Did you think I would betray my people in the first place?” Niall asked. “Of course I will do what I can for my country.”
         “Excellent, now both of you have work to do.” Frega said. “And don’t tell anyone about this.”
         Fiona and Niall went out of the castle again.
         “I think we can skip some of the training, sense you already know something.” Fiona said,
         “Thank you for saying that, it makes me feel great that I know something.” Niall said.
         “Can you just stop?” Fiona said.
         “Okay. So what are we going to do?” Niall asked.
         “You and I have to work together on becoming a team.” Fiona said.
         “Sounds great.” Niall answered.
         “Lets go down to the arena and I’ll see what you can do.” Fiona said. “I’ll meet you down there.”
         Niall walked down to the arena which was unoccupied. A moment later Fiona appeared in the arena with two wooden swords.
         “Alright, were going to use these.” Fiona said. “No magic.”
         “Are you reminding yourself, cause I don’t know any helpful magic.” Niall said.
         Fiona tossed him a sword which he caught just in time to block her first blow. She came on fast and she hit hard. Nialls hands were vibrating and they started to feel like they were burning. He started to get the feeling that Fiona wasn’t training him, but was using him to release stress and frustration. The question was, was she angry that she had been tricked by the creatures of Illvania or was she angry that Niall got to keep his weapons?
         Fiona didn’t let up until her sword splintered apart. Niall was glad, he had taken a couple good wacks and hoped she was not going to get a new sword. Fiona didn’t seem keen to start in again.
         “So where did you learn to fight, and use magic?” Niall asked.
         “My family had strong connections to magic, and fighting is something I do.” Fiona said. “I prefer if you left my past alone.”
         “Okay.” Niall agreed.

         They spent the afternoon after lunch, down by a lake on the castles grounds. Fiona was demonstrating magical spells that would help them with their team work. Niall was more interested in the lake which was clear blue with a sandy bottom, much like the pool in Illvania, he hoped that creatures could not enter the grounds through this lake. Then again if one were to come through at least then everyone would believe him. He began thinking about Abby and her protection spells, he wondered if she would think of doing something in case some creature came up through the lake.
         “Are you paying attention?” Fiona said.
         “Sure.” Niall said.
         “I know your not.” Fiona retorted. “This is important!”
         “I don’t need to know how you use your magic, I need to learn more about Kuzbendel.” Niall said.
         “You will, it’s just that, there is not much we know about Kuzbendel. We are forbidden to touch or talk about their technology, so there really isn’t much to know.” Fiona said. “It’s best if you focus on magic.”

                                                                                         Chapter 12
         A week past slowly with Niall and Fiona training and working together. Niall hadn’t seen any more magical creatures sense the dwarf at the bridge. Abby had completed her protection spells and Niall felt much safer now. He just wished he could find away to convince Fiona and Frega about the worlds reuniting.
         It was on a cool night when Niall had just climbed in bed, when a strange sound came in through the window. It was like something scrabbling in the ivy that hung upon the castles outer wall. Niall would have liked to ignore the sound, but the noise grew steadily louder until Niall got up and crept to the window. Looking down he saw two eyes glowing in the dark, they were definitely not human eyes more like a small animals.
         Is it a cat? Niall wondered.
         The creature began climbing again coming closer to the window. Niall backed into the room, wondering if he should summon his weapons, but it would be stupid if it was just a cat. The creature climbed onto the window sill and Niall knew it wasn’t a cat. He was sure it was a raccoon. The raccoon jumped down into the room, but before it hit the floor it changed into a boy.
         “Your Niall?” He asked.
         “Ah, yes.” Niall answered.
         “Nokomic sent me to thank you for your help in returning us to this world.” The boy said.
         “Well she kind of tricked me into bring you here, but she is welcome, I guess.” Niall said. “What are you exactly?”
         “I’m called an Azeban, but my name is Kleet.” The boy said.
         “That’s an interesting name.” Niall said. “Nokomic didn’t send you all this way just to thank me. So what else are you here for?”
         “A deal.” Kleet said. “Nokomic will make you a deal. She offers you safety, and three other people of your choosing.”
         “Safety, why would I need safety?” Niall asked.
         “The magicians must suffer for what they did to us, but Nokomic doesn’t wish you to come to harm.” Kleet said. “She will give you and three people protection, all you have to do is give up your weapons, and the helmet.”
         “Is that all?” Niall asked. “How long do I get to think it over?”
         “Before dawn.” Kleet said.
         “So are you going to come back?”Niall asked.
         “No, I’m going to wait right here until you decided.” Kleet said.
         Niall sat on the edge of his bed. There was only one option, if Nokomic wanted him to surrender his weapons, she must be worried about him. But if he said no, he would need to get his mom and brothers to the castle which meant he would need to convince Frega that the worlds had reunited.
         “I won’t except this deal.” Niall said. “I can’t.”
         “You would give up those you love for your power?” Kleet asked. “Well you are a cruel boy. Alright, prepare to suffer.”
         Kleet turned back into a raccoon and jumped up on the window sill and began climbing down the ivy. Niall waited until the ivy stopped rustling before putting his helmet on and becoming invisible. Then he left his room, he knew where Abby slept and he need to talk to her about this. He went up a flight of stairs and crept along the passage until he came to the last room. He raised his hand to knock, but the door was wrenched open.
         “Come in Niall.” Abby said.
         Niall did and Abby closed the door softly. Niall noticed that she was fully dressed and the bed was still neatly made.
         “So you can’t sleep?” Niall asked.
         “I don’t need sleep.” Abby said. “Now why are you here?”
         “An Azeban came to see me.” Niall said. “Nokomic wanted me to give up my weapons in exchange for protection for me and three others.”
         “What did you say?”
         “No. What did you expect me to say, but I was wondering if you could somehow get my family somewhere safe?” Niall said.
         “I already did, that’s what I was doing the day you got here. Father told me to protect you and your family, so I have.” Abby said.
         “Okay.” Niall sighed with relief. “ What about the protection spells on the castle?”
         “All set.” Abby said.
         “I think the lake is how the Azeban got in.” Niall said. “It looks just like the pools in Illvania.”
         “Its possible that he came through the lake, but I can’t put a spell on the lake, maybe around the lake, but even that might not work.” Abby said.
         “Why not?” Niall asked.
         “Because I used the spells that already existed around the castle, but to make whole new spells could take a long time.” Abby said. “And Nokomic knows perfectly well what we will try to do.”
         “So what are we going to do?”
         “I’m not sure yet, but nothing tonight.” Abby said. “You need to sleep. I’ll keep a watch on the lake.”
         “Okay.”
         Niall went back to his room and tried to get some sleep, but he was worried. It was his fault for uniting the worlds, but he wasn’t sure if he could fix it.

         A few days past and Niall was beginning to relax a little as he continued his training with Fiona. Abby was preparing spells for the lake. Everything seemed normal and Niall started to wonder what was happening beyond the castle grounds.
         Niall during one of his free periods was walking down near the training arena when Abby popped up next to him.
         “I need you to meet me tonight by the lake, I’ll need your help setting up the spells.” Abby said.
         “Okay, what time?” Niall asked.
         “Midnight.” Abby responded. “Now I should go, I don’t need anyone get suspicious.”
         Abby vanished again and Niall continued walking.

         Niall waited up with the lights out until midnight then he put his helmet on and crept from the castle. The night air was cool and the wind was blowing down from Falling Tears, when Niall slipped down to the lake. He spotted Abby standing by the edge of the water.
         She was holding a bunch of tall torches.
         “Here,” She said. “Take these and place one on the far side of the lake and another in between the first one and this spot.”
         “Okay.”
         Niall stuck the torch in the ground opposite from the starting point then a second one in between. Abby was placing the last torch on the other side of the lake. Once the torches were in place they met back at the starting point. Abby waved her hand and all the torches lit.
         Abby pulled a branch of some plant out and began breaking a few small twigs off. Niall heard a sound from up the hill and he looked up the hill. Abby also had heard the sound and turned around.
         “What are you two doing?” Fiona said appearing next to Niall.
         “Were trying to . . .” Niall didn’t have a good story to explain what they were doing.
         “Well?” Fiona asked turning to Abby.
         “We’re casting a protection spell.” Abby said.
         “Protection from what?” Fiona asked looking between them.
         Niall began to feel strange like something was lurking in the lake watching them. Abby and Fiona seemed unaware of this presence. Niall had felt this presence before, but not at the castle it was from Illvania, but he wasn’t sure of when he had encountered it there. Niall turned around and looked out over the lake. The water was rippling like a fish had just come to the surface for a moment before diving down again. Niall’s feeling began to get stronger.
         “I think we should get away from this lake.” He said.
         Abby and Fiona stopped talking.
         “Why is that?” Abby asked.
         “Its just a feeling, but I think there’s something down there watching us.” Niall said.
         “Its probably a fish.” Fiona said.
         “I don’t think its a fish, I had the same feeling in Illvania once.” Niall said. “I think its a creature I encountered while I was there.”
         “No creature could have gotten here from Illvania.” Fiona said. “Its impossible. I want both of you back in bed.”
         Fiona waved her hand and the torches went out. The air grew strangely colder then it should have been and there were loud splashes from the lake.
         “Those are some big fish.” Niall said sarcastically.
         “What is going on?” Fiona asked.
         Abby snapped her fingers and the torches blazed up again only much brighter then before revealing the lake’s writhing surface. Niall saw people beginning to appear in the water rising up above the surface.
         “Am I the only one who thinks we should run?” Niall asked turning around.
         Fiona and Abby were already running up the hill.
         “Wait for me!” Niall yelled taking off after them. He stopped half way to the castle.
         “What am I doing?”Niall said turning around. “Von, ven, Vi-den!”
         Niall crouched by a tree invisible waiting for the creatures to come up. He hoped that Abby and Fiona would get everyone ready. The first thing Niall saw coming up from the lake was a pale horse mounted by an old man with long narrow arms and a head of frizzy hair. Niall’s feeling of dread grew as he watched the man. He was sure it was the Vodyanoi that had attacked him in Illvania.
         Niall balanced his spear ready to take the Vodyanoi’s life, but he heard a noise from the direction of the castle. He hoped it was reinforcements. Niall hurled the spear which appeared the moment it left his hand, and tore through the Vodyanoi throwing him to the ground where he dissolved into water becoming no more then a puddle. Niall summoned his spear back to his hand. Turning around he expected to see his friends, but instead he saw Nix standing there watching the goings on. Niall knew she had guess where he was, she might even be able to sense him. Niall turned toward Nix, but a noise made him turn back toward the horse. The creatures eyes were glowing red and water was pouring out of its hooves and creating trenches flowing down toward the lake. Niall wondered who he should fight, if he attacked Nix then the horse would kill him and if he attacked the horse Nix would. Retreat was the best option, but he would have to go by Nix to get to the castle.
         Niall was about to make a dash for the castle when he felt a strong pull in his stomach and suddenly he was standing in the great hall of the castle with Fiona and Abby along with all the others. He pulled the helmet off.
         “What were you thinking?” Fiona said. “You could have gotten yourself killed.”
         “I was invisible and there were only three of them.” Niall said.
         “The doors are sealed, but they won’t hold them out for long, they could be in here before long.” Lady Frega said.
         “Or maybe they are already here.” Said Nix walking down the stairs that led from the upper floors. Water was cascading down and running over the floor. A tall girl in white was following Nix and water was bubbling around her feet which Niall concluded was the cause of the flood that was tumbling down the steps and flooding the hall.
         Lady Frega raised both her hands and the water on the floor turned to ice and great spikes of ice shot up to pierce Nix and her follower, but Nix turned them back to water before they splashed harmlessly against her.
         “The water queen, is what your pathetic humans call you, Frega.” Nix said. “Unfortunately for you that is in fact my rightful title. Your more of a frog queen.”
         Lady Frega vanished and turned into a large greenish brown amphibian. Fiona and the rest, except Abby, looked horrified and shocked. Niall was gripped his spear, but he realized he couldn’t use the spear there was no way it would be effective against Nix. He need to find out what she wanted. If she was only here to destroy them she would have already have turned them all to frogs already.
         “What do you want, Nix?” Niall asked.
         “Nokomic offered you a deal, but you didn’t take it, so now I get to enact my plan.” Nix said.
         “Which is what?” Niall asked. “Wait, does it have something to do with your daughter?”
         “Yes. Now I’m willing to offer you a deal.” Nix said. “You come with me and I will leave this place alone.”
         “No.” Fiona said.
         “Wait Fiona.” Niall said. “I’ll need time to discuss this with my friends.”
         “You can have until dawn. I’ll be down by the lake when you have made up your mind you can find me there.” Nix said.
         Nix and the girl vanished in a cloud of smoke. Abby picked up Lady Frega and put her on the table.
         “Your not seriously considering this deal, who knows what they want you for.” Fiona said. “Besides I’m your master I can stop you.”
         “No you can’t, besides neither of us will get a say. If we refuse then Nix will destroy you all and take me anyway. I think we should agree to the deal then pick the pieces up afterwards.” Niall said.
         “Niall,” Abby said. “Shut up. This is what were going to do . . .”

                                                                               Chapter 13
         Nix was standing beside the lake, she could sense Niall approaching his power made him easy to sense, but something seemed different about him.
         “Here he comes mother.” The girl said.
         “Yes Siomha, I know.” Nix said.
         Niall approached them.
         “I’m here.” He said.
         “So you’ve made the right choice.” Nix said. “We should be going.”
         “There is one problem.” Niall said. “Fiona ordered me not to leave. I don’t think she is happy with my decision.”
         “Oh, well I can fix that.” Nix said.
         Suddenly Nix was standing right in front of Niall and grabbed his hand. She pulled a knife out and without pausing cut a narrow line in Niall’s hand. Niall tried not to scream or cry, that would be embarrassing.
         “Siomha come here.” Nix said.
         Siomha came up and stood next to Niall holding her hand out. Nix cut her daughter’s hand and Siomha placed her hand on Niall’s. Red light began glowing between their hands and Nix grabbed both their hands. Nix looked up to the sky and her eyes turned to pools of blue. Niall could sense the power flooding from Nix and Siomha, they were working hard to undue Fiona’s hold on him. He hoped Abby knew what she was doing.
         There was a burst of light and then Nix and Siomha let go of Niall. They both seemed exhausted. Niall heard a thunderous bark, Abby had brought Bruno with her.
         “That hound!” Nix exclaimed angrily. “Come on!”
         Nix grabbed Niall’s hand and dragged him toward the water, but the moment they entered the water it changed and a strong smell of iron filled the air.
         “Mother, its blood!” Siomha screamed scrambling back to shore. Nix was starring down into the dark blood.
         “What is the meaning of this. This was a trick.” Nix said.
         “Yes it was.” Said someone from the shore.
         Nix looked up and saw Niall standing on the shore. She looked at the Niall she was holding. He was smiling. Nix let go of his hand.
         “Is this some kind of cheap trick?” Nix said.
         The blood around the Niall in the lake moved away forming a clear path to shore. Slowly the lake Niall changed form into a young lady with a broad hat.
         “It was wonderful to see you again Nix.” Abby said smiling. “To bad blood binding doesn’t work on me. Now run along, we both no your water magic is not powerful enough to defeat me.”
         “Death, you will pay for this!” Nix threatened.
         “I’m afraid I’m not in the mood for paying, goodbye.” Abby said.
         Nix and her daughter entered the lake of blood and Abby sent them away.
         “Now no one can enter the grounds without my permission.” Abby said. “Now come Niall we need to figure something out. This place is protected for now, but Nokomic will find away of getting in eventually.”
         They came back to the castle where everyone was waiting anxiously. They entered the hall and there was a sigh of relief.
         “Well, what happened?” Dylan asked.
         “Nix and her daughter have left.” Abby reported. “Any luck getting lady Frega back to normal?”
         “No.” Said Fiona. “Nothing seems to be working.”
         “Okay, we need someone versed in water magic, I don’t suppose any of you know anything about water magic?” Abby asked.
         They all shook their heads.
         “I might be able to do something.” Niall said.
         “Why do you think that?” Fiona asked.
         “Because one of the trials I completed was the trial of water.” Niall said.
         “Unfortunately that isn’t enough.” said Abby. “We need an expert. Someone who is close to Nix’s level.”
         “I don’t think there is anyone who would qualify around here, and we can’t leave to find anyone.” Fiona said.
         “Right.” Abby said. “Well there is nothing we can do about it right now so lets eat breakfast and then I think you all should continue training. Niall and Fiona meet me in lady Frega’s office after you finish eating.”

         Niall and Fiona went up to Lady Frega’s office and found Abby looking out the window.

         “So what is our plan?” Niall asked.
         “We need to find out what they need you for.” Fiona said.
         “I already know.” Abby said. “They need Niall to help them destroy the magician’s magic.”
         “How will they do that?” Niall asked.
         “Well there are several ways, I’m not sure which Nokomic will deploy, but none of them will be pleasant for any of us.” Abby said.
         “Particularly not for me.” Niall said.
         “That’s true, except you would be the one making it unpleasant for the rest of us.” Abby said. “They will control you.”
         “You mean like Fiona was?” Niall asked.
         “Most certainly not!” Fiona exclaimed. “I wasn’t forcing you to do my every bidding.”
         “Look we need to prevent them from ever taking Niall.” Abby said. “We need a plan, and tricks won’t work this time.”
         “We don’t have much, I don’t think their going to send such a small party again.” Fiona said. “They will probably send an army and crush us.”
         “Magical creatures don’t work to well together. So an army is unlikely.” Abby said.
         “I don’t know about that they seemed to be working well together in Illvania.” Niall said.
         “They are united by Nokomic, but they would not work in large groups together.” Abby said. “So we need a way to protect Niall.”
         “What we really need is a way of destroying Nokomic.” Niall said.
         “That doesn’t sound like a good idea.” Fiona said. “We aren’t powerful enough to beat them all.”
         “Oh please we have enough power, plus we could try recruiting some people to help us.” Niall said.
         “Like who?” Asked Fiona.
         “I know someone who might help us.” Said Abby. “But he won’t be happy to see me. His name is Thaddeus.”
         “Okay so how do we find him?” Niall asked.
         “I’ll need to go alone.” Abby said. “He doesn’t live in this world.”
         “Okay. But what are we going to do about protecting Niall?” Fiona asked.
         “I’m hoping that the protection around the castle will hold for a little while, but we might need to hide somewhere once the protection is gone.” Abby said. “I’ll come and find you when I get Thaddeus.”
         “Okay. Be careful.” Niall said.
         “I’m not the one you need to worry about.” Abby retorted. “You both might want to get some rest. You were up all night.”

         Abby vanished. Niall and Fiona looked at each other briefly.
         “I don’t think this has gone the way you imagined when you brought me here.” Niall commented.
         “Thanks for reminding me.” Fiona responded. “Lets get some rest.”
         Niall went up to his room and flopped onto the bed. He was tired but he didn’t fall asleep right away instead he lay looking at the ceiling and worrying about this whole situation. He wished he had seen through Nokomic, but they had offered him what he wanted, so he hadn’t worried about what they wanted. His life before all this had been boring, but now worrying about never seeing his family again and destroying the world, well he would trade it for his boring life if he could.

                                                                     Chapter 14
         Niall awoke sometime later and he didn’t feel refreshed at all. He felt sluggish and sat on the edge of his bed for sometime before getting to his feet. The morning was clear and the air was fresh when Niall threw open the windows looking down toward the lake. Nothing had changed sense earlier, which was a good sign.
         Niall opened his room door and found a large frog sitting there. At first he wondered how this frog had gotten inside, then he remembered Lady Frega.
         “Good morning.” Niall said. “I don’t know if you can still understand me, but a good morning all the same.”
         Frega turned and began hopping up the hall away from the rest of the castle. Niall thought it best if he followed her. He had never been into this part of the castle, the walls were made from a different stone, older and grayer then the rest of the castle. Eventually the hall ended at a blank wall. Niall was becoming certain that lady Frega was just a frog now with no knowledge of her past self, but then the wall began to change stone turned to wood and a door appeared. Niall pushed the door open and saw a flight of stairs. Lady Frega began jumping from step to step, Niall followed her up to a door that swung open of its own accord. Inside was a small round room where an old man sat at a desk.
         “Welcome Niall.” The man said. “I see you brought Lady Frega with you.”
         The man placed his quill on the desk and turned around.
         “Who are you?”
         “Eammon is my name and it appears you are in need of my help.” Eammon said looking down at the frog.
         “Yes, we do. I don’t suppose you know how to fix Lady Frega?” Niall asked.
         “Of course, but I’m going to need something in return.” Eammon said.
         “Like what?”
         “The key chain that holds the key for this room. I no longer wish to be held prisoner here.” Eammon said.
         “Well how hard can it be to break a spell like this?” Niall asked.
         “Not hard, but you need to know how.” Eammon said. “So do we have a deal?”
         “Deal.” Niall said. “I’ll get the key chain and be back in a moment.”
         Niall went back downstairs and went to Lady Frega’s office. He knew where the keys were kept and it only took him a moment to retrieve them. He was cautious coming out of the office he didn’t want to explain himself to anyone, especially Fiona. He returned to the tower where Eammon was waiting patiently, he had gone back to writing.”
         “I got them.” Niall said.
         “Good. I will change Lady Frega back in a moment.” Eammon said.
         “What are you working on anyway?” Niall asked.
         “Oh, I’m writing an essay on the Return Curse.” Eammon said.
         “Whats that?” Niall asked.
         “Its a curse you can cast on yourself that means anything someone does to you will rebound on them.” Eammon said. “It can come in handy, but can be hard to cast.”
         “Okay. Are you ready to turn Frega back into a human?” Niall asked.
         “First lets have the keys.”
         Niall put the key chain on the desk, but he had taken the tower key off the chain.
         “There you are the key chain.” Niall said.
         “But you have the key.”Eammon pointed out.
         “Yes so I have.” Niall said. “But you only asked for the chain, if you want the key I’m prepared to make a deal. The knowledge of the Return Curse for the key.”
         “I guess I chose my words poorly. Its a deal.” Eammon agreed. He handed an old book to Niall and Niall turned over the key. The moment the key touched his finger, Eammon vanished along with all his work. Lady Frega was restored and Niall hid the book beneath his shirt.
         “Welcome back.” Niall said.

         Awhile later Niall had slipped away from everybody else and was reading the book Eammon had given him. It was full of spells and curses, but the Return Curse was marked by an old feather.
         The only thing the curse required was a Mage Stone, but that was the problem Niall didn’t have a Mage Stone. Eammon probably knew it was impossible for Niall to cast the curse in the first place, which was why he agreed to the deal in the first place.
         Niall heard some knock at his door. He shoved the book under his pillow and answered the door. It was Fiona.
         “You should come down and eat something.” Fiona said. “Then I really think we should do something productive.”
         “Alright.” Niall agreed.
         Lunch was served in the great hall. It was some kind of stuffed pasta with red sauce. Niall piled a plate high, but when he went to put the sauce on he splashed a substantial amount onto his shirt. He looked around to make sure no one had noticed, and then began scrubbing his shirt with a napkin. He sat down and ate quickly, before slipping back upstairs to change before Fiona came looking for him. He pulled off his shirt and noticed the stone that had been hanging around his neck, the one the First Lord had given him.
         A thought occurred to him, could this be a Mage Stone? He pulled the book out and began flipping through it to find the Return Curse, of course he had forgotten to remark the page earlier. He passed a few other curses like the bronze curse and the soul ripping curse, which sounded awful, until he found the return curse. There was a drawing of the stone on the page and Niall studied the image. It looked the same, but there was only one way to be sure. He would wait until later and then he would perform the curse and see if it worked.
         Niall put the book back and pulled a shirt on, then he went downstairs to find Fiona. He hoped Abby was doing well.

                                                                               Chapter 15
         There was a quiet apprehensive mood over the great hall during dinner and no one cared about socializing, which was good for Niall. He slipped up to his room unnoticed and began setting up for his return curse. He placed the book on his desk and took the stone out laying next to the book. Then he closed his eyes and held his hands over the objects and said three times “Return,”.
         There was a noise that echoed across the castle grounds, like someone was pounding on a glass door. Niall looked out his window and he could see a shimmering in the sky. Vibrations were traveling through the protection spells causing rippling. Niall grabbed the stone and put it back around his neck, he closed the book and hid it back under his pillow.
         “Von, Ven, Vi-den!”
         Niall vanished with his armor and spear. He pulled the door open and began running down the hall toward the nearest exit. He could hear the others moving around and shouting through out the castle, but above it all he could here the ominous booms. He ran out of the castle and there was two people on the path he stopped. What were they doing here? Niall felt the stone around his neck twitch all on its own.

         Niall came to where the barrier began and found Fiona and Lady Frega already there. Niall pulled off his helmet and came to stand beside Fiona. Lady Frega noticed that Niall winked at Fiona and he seemed a little to cheerful.
         “What is it?” He asked.
         “We don’t know. It could be anything.” Lady Frega said. “You shouldn’t have come, Niall.”
         “I’m not leaving now.” Niall said.
         “No, I guess not.” Lady Frega said. “Has Abby sent any news?”
          “I don’t expect her to its along way.” Niall said.
         “Remember to get out of here if things go bad.” Fiona said.
         “ I don’t think it will come to fleeing.” Niall said. “In fact I don’t think we need to worry at all.”
         “Now don’t be stupid.” Lady Frega said. “Nokomic is very powerful.”
         “Well so am I.” Niall said, getting a strange glint in his eyes.

         The barrier shook and long cracks appeared running up into the night sky. There was a flash of purple light and the barrier dissolved, then something stirred in the dark and dark energy flowed into the castle grounds. There was more movement and the sounds of splashing coming from the lake. Slowly they were being surrounded.
         “Looks like I was wrong about Nokomic bringing an army.” Fiona said.
         “Abby said that actually.” Niall corrected with a huge grin on his face. “Your Fiona, remember?”
         “Both of you stop talking.” Lady Frega said.

         The ranks of creatures parted to let a wagon pulled by horses through, Nokomic sat next to a tall dark figure who held his head tucked under one arm. The cart stopped and Nokomic stood up.
         “Well Lady Frega, I thought to find you no more then a toad.” Nokomic said.
         “It was a frog not a toad.” Said Niall. “There is a big difference you know.”
         “The farm boy can be amusing sometimes.” Siomha said stepping out from beside the wagon.
         “Who you calling farm boy?” Niall said.
         “All of you shut up!” The head of the man said. “Give us the boy or die?”
         “How about this, go away or die.” Niall said.
         “You seem confident for someone in such a dire situation.” Nokomic said. “I promise no one will be hurt if you surrender to me now.”
         “Well Lady Frega, its time for you to go.” Niall said.
         “I’m not going anywhere.” Lady Frega responded.
         “I think they will need you at the castle, you have a rematch with Nix.” Niall said. “Nokomic of course sent Nix that way and I think you should have it out with her.”
         “But what about you?” Lady Frega said.
         “We don’t need your help to put these losers in the ground.” Niall said.
         Lady Frega nodded and vanished.
         “Well you are certainly are confident, is it because you have gain so much power, I can feel it, but you still aren’t strong enough to defeat all of us.” Nokomic said. “Kill the girl and then bring me Niall.”
         “Now?” Niall asked.
         “Yes.” Fiona responded.
         There was a gold light that surround Niall and Fiona for a second then they both changed. Fiona became Abby where a long black cloak and a wide brimmed hat. Niall changed and became a tall golden haired man with a shimmering robe.
         “Thaddeus.” Nokomic said. Then she started laughing. “You know I saw right through both of you.”
         “I told you mom would see through that disguise.” Abby said crossly.
         “It was worth a try.” Thaddeus said.
         They both tried to teleport themselves to the castle, but Nokomic had taken there magic.
         “I’m sorry your plan didn’t work out, but your father should never have sent children to do his work.” Nokomic said. “Now I have Niall, who you left under the bush by the castle, not a good hiding place. Soon I will rip all of the souls out of humanity and your going to be there to watch. When the last human dies you can go back and tell your father that you failed.”
         Nokomic transported them all into the great hall where Nix and many other creatures were waiting with Niall tied to a upturned table. Lady Frega was a frog again and the rest of the people had turned to stone.
         Nokomic began the soul ripping spell immediately, for her it was easy. She pulled the Flame Gem from beneath her cloak and began muttering in a strange language. The gem began to glow and Nokomic began chanting faster. Soon the whole hall was filled with red light, then Abby could hear the creatures outside chanting as well. The headless man was also doing his part by muttering as he broke human bones that he had been carrying around with him. The gem became so bright that Abby looked away.
         “Now all of humanities souls are trapped in this gem!” Nokomic said triumphantly.
         “I don’t feel any different.” Niall said.
         “You won’t until you smash the gem, then you will feel it.” Nokomic said.
         Niall was released and he stood up and his spear appeared in his hand.
         “Now smash the gem.” Nokomic said.
         Niall felt his arms beginning to work by themselves.
         “Why does it have to be me?”
         “Because your the only one with the power too, your the only one to survive Falling Tears and win the stone, so it is you.” Nokomic said.
         Niall felt his arms raise the spear over his head, and then he plunged it down and the Flame gem smashed to pieces. Then Niall turned to Nokomic and he were smiling.
         “You made a mistake.” Niall said.
         Nokomic and the headless man began turning to black ash right before there own eyes and then they were gone. Everything was silent and Niall looked around. Nix and the other magical creatures began to change back to there original forms. Nix turned into Lady Frega. Then Fiona and the other heroes and masters appeared as well.
         “I told you that would work.” Niall said.
         “Yes you did say that.” Fiona said smiling.
         Then she gave him a hug. Lady Frega cocked an eyebrow, and Dylan laughed.
         Abby and Thaddeus were standing completely confused when the doors of the hall opened and Eammon walked in.
         “Dad?” Abby said.
         Niall and the others came over.
         “What do you mean ‘Dad’ I thought the First Lord was your Dad?” Niall asked.
         “He is the First Lord, Eammon is his human name.” Thaddeus said. “I can’t stand humans.”
         “I’m glad to see the Return curse did its work well.” Eammon said.
         “Is that what happened?” Abby asked. “Why didn’t someone tell me, I was running around getting Thaddeus, and having to make deals with him. Now he gets Bruno!”
         “Niall was the one who needed to do it.” Eammon said. “I thought I told you that.”
         “A return curse. Why don’t you give me a return curse?” Thaddeus asked.
         “Because you would use it carelessly and to annoy your sister.” Eammon said. “Now no more we will leave the humans to there business. We have other things to do.”
         “Your leaving?” Niall asked.
         “Yes, I’m afraid there is much to do.” Eammon said.
         Eammon and Thaddeus both vanished, leaving Abby to say goodbye.
         She said goodbye to everyone and came to Niall last.
         “Becareful Niall, I won’t be around all the time to save you.” Abby said.
         “What makes you think I would need saving?” Niall responded.
         “Goodbye Niall.”
         “Goodbye, Abby.”
         Then Abby vanished.


                                                                     Epilogue
         Sometime later Niall was sitting next to Fiona at his parents dinner table, his brothers hadn’t made it back from Kuzbendel where the Archsummoner had gone to talk permanent peace.
         “So how did you decided to curse everyone with the return curse?” Rhona asked. “Why didn’t you just curse yourself, that is what most people would have done.”
         “Well I was at first, but I was only allowed one curse, but there was no restriction on the number of people I could curse.” Niall explained. “I also saw the soul ripping curse and its ingredients listed in the book. I realized that Nokomic had access to all of them, except one, the Flame Gem. But then I remembered the storm above Falling Tears, and I had to assume she had gotten the gem, so I couldn’t let everyone’s souls get ripped from their bodies.”
         “So the return curse caused all the souls of the magical creatures to enter the gem and then you destroyed them.” Rhona said. “I think you did a good job.”
         “Thank you. Can you pass the potatoes?” Niall said.

         After dinner Niall and Fiona went outside and sat on the porch to watch the last crimson rays of sunlight spill over the horizon.
         “I’m glad you could come.” Niall said. “When I asked I was afraid you would say you were too busy.”
         “I’m never too busy and besides if you hadn’t asked me, I would have asked you over too my house.” Fiona answered. “Speaking of which would you like to come over next weekend, my parents would like to meet you.”
         “Sounds fine to me, and I think mom won’t mind.” Niall said.
         “Alright.” Fiona said.
         They both lapsed into silence. Niall felt Fiona put her hand on top of his and they both looked at each other a moment and smiled. Then they looked back over the fields and saw the last rays of the sun disappearing beyond the dark line of the horizon.
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