THE PRICE OF MAGIC


PART THREE: MANIPULATING MAGIC


CHAPTER FIFTEEN


     The good weather of the spring persisted into the summer and Falnora's crop yields were reaching record proportions. There was just enough rain to keep the fields moist and the plants growing, but not so much as to cause floods. The days were warm and often sunny and the nights pleasantly cool. All-in-all, few long-term inhabitants of the Halcyon Meadows could remember a better season.
     The two newest arrivals in Falnora passed the summer in different ways. Ebb, a gregarious man, quickly found favor with his new neighbors and was accepted as a fellow hard-working farmer. He did not disappoint; his fields were among the most productive in the village. He was also an talented storyteller, especially when plied with several mugs of ale. Each night, the crowds surrounding him at the community hall grew as his reputation for weaving good tales spread. On those occasions when Ebb was not farming or recounting a story, he was helping to put right the many ills of his new house.
     Bre, on the other hand, did little work and made few friends. When Wil realized that she was an accomplished writer, he offered her the job of village scribe, which she accepted. She soon learned, however, that it was more of a title than a duty, since Falnora rarely had contact with the outside world and word-of-mouth was good enough for messages within the settlement. There was also little need to record for posterity; the village was a static place. Other than farming and enjoying the outdoor life, little happened in Falnora.
     An excellent knitter, Bre spent much of her time sitting on a bench outside of her house with her needles clicking away. Occasionally, she would go on long, solo walks, but she never lifted a hoe to help her father in the fields, nor was she willing to do more than insignificant work in making the house liveable. While her father never rebuked her for refusing to lend her aid, many gossips in the village were not so understanding and her reputation tarnished.
     The only friendship Bre established was with a shy, blind girl five years her junior. The two developed an unusual but sincere relationship. During their time together, they rarely talked, but spent hours in companionable silence. Words, they both learned, were often less meaningful than quiet. Often, holding young Rea's hand, Bre would guide the girl on excursions beyond the ambiguous borders of Falnora. Rea's parents often worried during these journeys, but Bre always brought their daughter home safely and in good spirits.
     Ebb was friendly with everyone. He received numerous dinner invitations, and would have gotten more if he didn't insist on bringing the dour Bre with him to every one. Men and women alike were charmed by his easy manner and good nature, but, as time passed, he developed a special relationship with Lora.
     Many evenings, the two of them would sit outside Wil's house, occasionally talking, but mostly enjoying each other's company as the stars emerged in the darkening sky. Whenever Ebb came to eat with Wil and his family, Lora did the cooking, and, on those occasions when Ebb was home alone, Lora would travel the short distance to his hut to help with whatever repairs he was currently engaged in.
     On the evening before Midsummer's Day, they were together as usual on a bench in the flower garden that Lora had become accustomed to cultivating each summer. The sun hung above the horizon, fat and crimson, but with the anticipation of the upcoming festival in the air, most of the farmers had stopped working early. Besides, food was so plentiful this year that a strict sunrise-to-sunset regimen of labor was not necessary.
     "You will like Midsummer's Day here," Lora assured Ebb. They sat close to each other, perhaps closer than human propriety required.
     "I like all Midsummer's Days. It's fun in the city, but different. Everyone gets falling down drunk."
     "It is not so different from here, then. There is much gaiety, and alcohol to supplement it. Three years ago, I drank so much that I could not see straight. Since then, I have been careful to modify my intake."
     "I thought elves couldn't get drunk."
     "It is a common myth. Our tolerance to strong spirits is related to our age. The younger we are, the more susceptible. Elvish elders can drink barrels of ale before feeling its effects, but a few mugfulls will render me senseless."
     "I'm sure there's lots of dancing," said Ebb.
     "There is."
     "And lovemaking."
     "That too. In the houses, in the fields. Just about everywhere. There are several engagements celebrated each Midsummer's Day."
     Ebb reached down and took her hand, marvelling at how tiny and perfect it was. Just like a child's. She enchanted him, this elf girl. She was like no one he had ever met. Even his late wife had not beguiled him so.
     Lora favored her companion with a kind smile and made no attempt to pull away from him. For elves, intimacies such as touching and kissing were common even in casual relationships. She was aware that more importance was placed on those things for humans, but she was not concerned that Ebb would misinterpret her reaction. He had always been understanding.
     They sat in silence for many minutes, enjoying the end of the day. The noise level in Falnora was already elevated, with children laughing and yelling to each other, and music emerging from the meeting hall, where a dance was being held. At midnight, everyone would gather in the center of town, where a huge bonfire was to be lit to celebrate the beginning of the festival. There would be little sleep for anyone tonight.
     "If I were to ask you to spend some time with me tomorrow, would you?" asked Ebb.
     "Of course."
     "Would you dance with me around the bonfire, and during the Evening's Dance?"
     "Yes."
     Ebb swallowed hard. "And, after that dance, if I were to ask you to accompany me into my fields..."
     Lora knew what he was going to ask and didn't let him finish. "I cannot."
     He nodded. "I understand. We've only known each other for a short while."
     "It is not that," said Lora. "Sexuality for elves is different than for humans. The one that we give our virginity to becomes bonded to us for life. It is a bond that not even death can break. We experience intense physical pain if we attempt to mate with another."
     "And you don't want that kind of bond with me." It was difficult for Lora, inexperienced at reading emotion, to tell from his tone and features whether he was relieved or disappointed.
     "No. What I want is irrelevant. I have already been bonded to another, although he died before I came to Falnora. His name was Dav and he was the father of Reg and Eya - and of my lost daughter, Mora."
     It was the first time in fifteen years that Lora had spoken of those two. For short-lived humans such as the twins, they were no more than dim, painful memories, but for Lora, the mention of Dav and Mora triggered a tide of anguish. Time moved differently for elves, a decade passing more rapidly than for other races. Events of years ago were still fresh, their impact clear and precise.
     "I'm sorry," said Ebb, sensing more than seeing her pain in the gathering darkness. He did not possess her elf's ability to see at night, but could tell by the clasp of her hand in his and the rigidity of her posture that something was wrong. "I didn't mean to hurt you."
     "Perhaps sometimes pain is beneficial. It helps us to remember that life is not all mornings and Midsummer's Days."
     "Father," said an unexpected voice from several feet away. Startled, both Lora and Ebb turned. Where Ebb's human eyes discern only the shape of a woman, Lora saw Bre standing there, her face set in a grim mask of disapproval.
     "Bre, what are you doing here?" asked her father.
     "I was sent for. To write a missive. That's my duty, in case you've forgotten."
     "There are no duties in Falnora," began Ebb, reciting the settlement's unwritten creed.
     Bre didn't let him finish. "I know, I know. I've heard it enough times. But I was asked to come here to write something, so here I am."
     "Why didn't you bring a torch or lantern?"
     "I know my way, Father. The stars are bright enough to travel by for such a short distance."
     "And you like the darkness," added Lora. Bre's penchant for embracing the nighttime was well-known. With some people, it had become a running joke.
     "Yes." She liked it, a lifeless force of nature, better than most of the people in Falnora, including this elf with whom her father was nfatuated. From the beginning, Bre had been wary of Lora because she was not human. It wasn't just her features that were different, but her entire culture. No matter how much a part of the settlement she might seem to be, the differences were obvious. However, what had started out as mistrust grew into dislike as Ebb fell deeper into the elf's thrall.
     Yet there was little she could do. On those occasions when she had tried to broach the subject with her father, he had stated that he was unwilling to hear "a fine girl like Lora" slandered. He had accused Bre of prejudice. Perhaps he was right, but it was her belief that men and women should look to their own kind for sexual partners. Elf/human pairings were doomed to failure. There were enough examples of that in history.
     "Go inside," said Ebb. "They won't wait all night for you to write the missive. I'm sure they'll want to participate in the bonfire lighting."
     Bre let out a snort of derision. She didn't know what was worse, standing out here watching her father and the elf, or going into the house to face whoever needed her services. She didn't like any of the members of Wil's family. She found the Apath and his wife to be condescending, always willing to give advice that she neither wanted to hear nor was willing to accept. Their son Gav was a pompous ass, believing himself to be a serious thinker and forcing everyone to endure his pretentious diatribes. Then there were the twins. Eya was a cool bitch who liked to look down her nose at everyone. Perhaps she had the right, because she was an Apath, but her brother Reg acted with the arrogance of a wizard even though he possessed none of the power.
     "Hurry up!" prompted Ebb, making a shooing gesture with his free hand.
     Without enthusiasm, Bre went to do her duty.

* * *

     "What do you mean, you asked her to come here??" demanded Reg.
     Eya, who hadn't been expecting such an intense reaction, did her best to soothe her brother. She knew that Reg didn't like Bre, but the depth of that dislike hadn't been apparent until now. "Well, it has to get written, doesn't it? Sooner or later, it would have been necessary to summon her."
     "I'm capable of writing my own letters."
     "Not in this case. You've tried twice nd the results have been unacceptable. Besides, Bre is supposed to be Falnora's scribe."
     "Not by my choice."
     "I can't understand why you hate her so much. Sure, she gave you a hard time when she got here, but can't you put that behind? It's months ago and it seems pointless now."
     "It's not just that. There have been other incidents since then."
     "Like when? You two haven't spoken more than a few words to each other since that day. I think the only thing that bothers you is that she hasn't come to you on bent knees to offer her sincerest apologies."
     "You think I don't deserve an apology? After the way she treated me??"
     "I didn't say that," conceded Eya. "As a matter of fact, I think you are owed an apology, but the fact that you haven't gotten one is not an excuse for this bitterness. You can at least be civil to her. Maybe the reason she hasn't apologized is because your attitude has made it difficult, if not impossible, to approach you."
     "So what are you suggesting?"
     "That you start treating her like another citizen of Falnora, not a spot of mold on the straw of your bedding. Who knows, you may find that she's not so bad."
     "Not likely," muttered Reg.
     At that moment, their discussion was cut short by a knock at the front door. Eya answered it while Reg settled in Wil's chair, the largest and most comfortable of the four in the common room.
     "I was told there's work for me," said Bre from outside. She appeared unwilling to step across the threshold even though Eya had moved to one side to let her pass.
     "My brother has four letters he needs written. Two to Vorti and two to Fels."
     Bre nodded, then followed Eya inside. She was directed to a small writing table, on top of which were arrayed several clean sheets of parchment, a stylus and ink well, and two lit tallow candles. Deliberately ignoring Reg, she sat at the table, turning her chair so her back was to him.
     Eya had trouble suppressing a giggle and had to move away from the blazing fireplace to conceal her features from Reg, who would not have appreciated her reaction. The way these two were treating each other was so childish that it was difficult to believe they were well into adulthood. It wouldn't have surprised Eya if one of them had stuck out a tongue at the other.
     "What do you want me to write?" asked Bre as soon as she'd settled herself at the table.
     "One letter to the administrator of the Royal Library of Vorti inquiring about the availability of books on magic and what might be accepted in trade for them. Another to King Sor requesting information about the training of Apaths in Vorti. Then make copies of those for Fels, with the appropriate changes."
     "Why would King Yax know anything about how Apaths are trained?" asked Bre.
     Coming from anyone else, Reg might have accepted the question as innocent, but, considering its source, he found it contentious. Bre was here to write letters, not question what he wanted written.
     "He's in charge of Fels, isn't he? Wouldn't you expect the leader of a city that size to have some idea how the most valued class of his populace is trained??"
     "The school of Apaths does that."
     Knowing Bre to be from Fels, Reg supposed she probably knew what she was talking about, but there was a part of him that wouldn't give in to her, especially when he suspected she had made that observation primarily for the satisfaction of proving him wrong.
     "The school of Apaths? I've never heard of such a thing."
     "You aren't from Fels. I can assure you it exists. If you have questions about the training of Apaths in Fels, that's the place to address them."
     "Wil mentioned something about this school to me, Reg," said Eya.
     His sister's defense of Bre was galling. "So you're claiming that King Yax is ignorant?"
     Bre shrugged. "Yax is not an Apath like Sor. I have no doubt you've addressed the right person in Vorti. I'm just telling you what I know of Fels. The Apath Muj at the school should be your contact there."
     "How would you know that? You're not an Apath."
     "It's common knowledge in Fels."
     "One letter to the library in Vorti, one to the library in Fels, one to King Sor, and one to King Yax," said Reg.
     "You can't admit when you're wrong, can you?"
     "Your position as scribe doesn't entitle you to opinions. You're here for one reason: to write what I tell you to write. If you can't do the job, get out of the house."
     Face flushed, Bre got to her feet. "You have the attitude and manners of a snake!"
     "Better a snake than what he slithers through," retorted Reg.
     Eya intercepted Bre before she could reach the door, grabbing her by the arm and spinning her around. Although the young Apath was less physically domineering than the scribe, the unexpectedness of her action put Bre at a disadvantage.
     "Sit back down and write those letters. I'm not going to have my future jeopardized because the two of you can't be civil to one another. Address the four that Reg mentioned plus a fifth to the head of the Apaths' school. And you..." She released Bre and rounded on her brother. "Keep your damn mouth shut! All you had to do tonight was be reasonable, but you couldn't manage that. You had to pick a fight, even when you had no idea what you were talking about.
     "Grow up, both of you. You're acting more childish than the little ones that play in the haystacks. Their age at least gives them an excuse."
     As a result of Eya's outburst, the letters were duly written, with no further objections from Reg. In fact, not another word was spoken until the task was completed.
     Shortly after Bre left, Eya sat down opposite her brother. "Why did you have to do that, Reg? Why couldn't you just accept what she said? It didn't have to go that way."
     "Because she was enjoying proving me wrong. She was too smug and I couldn't stand it."
     ''But she was correct. Doesn't that mean anything to you?"
     "Not when she acts that way."
     Eya shook her head. She had seen a little more deeply into Bre than Reg was capable of. "She's doing what's necessary to survive. You intimidate her. It's only natural that she's trying to find ground where she's more secure."
     "I thought you didn't like her," said Reg.
     "I didn't, but that feeling was biased by you, and, after tonight, I'm beginning to wonder if maybe I haven't been trusting the wrong person when it comes to her character. You acted like a bastard, Reg. Don't blame Bre for this. If she owed you an apology before tonight, you've more than evened the score. Now you're the one in debt. And I for one expect to see that you pay it off."
* * *

     By dawn the next morning, the Midsummer's Day festival was in full swing. Even the more taciturn of Falnora's residents had allowed themselves to be swept away by the tide of festivity. Drink flowed freely and there were few in the village who had not danced with at least one partner around the giant bonfire.
     Eya kept a watchful eye on her brother. Her pronouncement the previous evening had been in earnest, and she didn't expect Reg to delay his apology for long. Her suggestion to him had been that he ask Bre to dance. Initially, he had regarded the possibility as ludicrous, but Eya wondered if the general atmosphere of gaiety, coupled with the mugfulls of ale he had consumed, might have changed his outlook on circumstances.
     The interaction between Bre's father and Lora had not escaped her notice, either. It had been apparent over the past few weeks that some sort of relationship was developing, and their closeness during the festival reinforced the impression. There was nothing overt - no kisses or hugs - but they never ventured far from each other nor did they share dances with anyone else, and their fingers often touched in the most innocent seeming gestures of affection.
     "Not dancing?" asked Wil, coming up from behind.
     "No one's asked me." She assumed they were intimidated. No matter how hard she worked to cultivate the image of a normal young woman, the undeniable presence of her magical powers always intervened. As an Apath, she was respected, but with that respect came a measure of fear. There were few males in Falnora who would feel comfortable dancing with her.
     "Me neither," noted Wil. "Lis' leg isn't good enough to allow her to dance and everyone else..." His voice faded as his attention was captured by something past Eya's shoulder. She turned, following his gaze. "Now that's unexpected," he said.
     Eya couldn't hide a smile. Some fifty feet away, an uncomfortable looking Reg had approached Bre, and, with eyes fixed firmly on the ground, appeared to be asking her something.
     "Well, if those two are going to dance, I'm not going to stand around looking out of place. Care to join me?" offered Wil.
     "Sure."
     Together they wandered closer to the blazing bonfire, where an impromptu jig was being played by a number of the settlement's musically talented citizens, and two-dozen couples were already stepping to the lively beat.
* * *

     "Dance? With you?" demanded Bre, incredulity in her voice.
     Reg didn't meet her eyes. This was so humiliating. He wondered how many people were watching him. The ongoing din of laughter, music, and shouting convinced him that at least he wasn't the center of everyone's attention. There was only one person he wanted to see this and she had damned well better be looking. He wasn't going to repeat this later if she missed it.
     "That's what I asked," said Reg.
     "After the things you said to me last night?"
     "Look, we've both said things to each other that would have been better left unspoken. I thought maybe we could call a truce."
     "Was this your idea, or your sister's?"
     The question showed Reg that Bre was more perceptive than he'd given her credit for. "Does it matter?"
     "Look at me," she said.
     He hesitated, then raised his head. To his surprise, her face was not masked by the implacable demeanor he had anticipated. Instead, she looked quizzical and perhaps a little pleased.
     "Was this your idea, or Eya's?" she repeated.
     "Eya's."
     "At least you're honest. That's worth something, I suppose."
     "Thanks," he muttered, wanting this conversation to end. The situation was becoming uncomfortable.
     "Do you still want to dance?" asked Bre.
     "I wouldn't have asked you if I didn't."
     "Let's go, then." She turned and moved toward the bonfire. With a sigh of resignation, Reg followed in her wake.
* * *

     As luck would have it, neither Wil and Eya, nor Bre and Reg got a chance to join the dancers. As they were approaching the whirling, clapping group of merrymakers near the fire, someone sounded the general alarm. In a matter of seconds, the lively atmosphere of Midsummer's Day dissolved into a state of pandemonium. At the first reverberation of the warning gong, the music stopped. By the second, people were fleeing for their houses, none of them having any notion what the danger was.
     Wil, accompanied by Reg, Eya, Gav, Ebb, and a few of the more sober men of Falnora went in search of the cause of the panic. It didn't take them long to find it. Approaching from the west, less than a mile distant, was an army. The village appeared to be directly in its path.
     Had it been a normal day, the nearness of that many men would have been noticed long ago and an appropriate delegation would have been assembled to meet them. Today, however, the group of ten surrounding Wil would have to suffice. There was no time for anything more formal.
     "Eya, go back to the village with the others," said Reg.
     "Absolutely not. I have as much right as you to be here. I may be a woman, but I'm also an Apath."
     "You're not coming."
     "Try to stop me."
     Reg turned to Wil for support. "Wil, tell her it's not her place. She'll listen to you."
     Wil looked thoughtfully at them both before pronouncing his judgement. "If she's willing to take the risk, there's no reason she shouldn't come. If things get ugly, a second Apath might come in handy."
     Reg scowled, but didn't say anything further. He rarely questioned Wil's edicts, even when he didn't agree with them.
     By now, the nearing march of two-thousand feet had begun to sound like a rumble of distant thunder. While the men were still too far away to discern individually, it wasn't difficult to estimate their number or tell their allegiance.
     "White crest on a crimson background," noted Ebb, pointing to one of several standards raised high above the oncoming force. "They're from Tsab. Of course, that's the only city that could muster that many men for a long march."
     "Is there some kind of war going on that we don't know about?" demanded Gav.
     "Possibly," said Wil. "Why else would a thousand men be marching east? They have to be headed for Vorti. It's the only city out this way. If their destination was Fels or Llam, they would have turned south by now."
     "They wouldn't dare march on a city with an Apath king," said Reg.
     "You'd be surprised what some men in thrall to ambition are willing to do. To those who haven't seen a demonstration of our powers, we're like figures out of children's stories. There are a lot of fools who don't believe in us."
     A mounted contingent of seven men, one of whom was in charge, rode ahead to meet Wil's group. They were lightly armored, with vests of chain-linked mail, but no helmets or greaves. Their shields, swords, and other weapons were secured to the horses. The leader, whose horse was the finest of the mounts, wore an insignia of some sort which presumably indicated his rank. While none of the men was being openly hostile - indeed, with sheathed weapons, they were going out of their way to appear peaceable - their presence so close to Falnora was unsettling.
     "Good Midsummer's Day to you," greeted Wil.
     The leader, a man in his early twenties with fine golden hair and a pleasant face, inclined his head in response. "And to you." He didn't smile, but, at the same time, he was attempting to be cordial.
     "What can Falnora do for you?"
     "Are you allied or associated with any of the eastern cities?"
     "No. We are an independent and sovereign village. We owe allegiance to neither Fels, Vorti, nor Llam."
     "Do you speak for your village?"
     "I am the chief elder, Wil."
     "My name is Ula, commander of the eastern army of Tsab. We are marching on Vorti to resolve a diplomatic impasse. We are in need of food and other supplies, for which I am willing to pay generous prices."
     "I'm sorry, Commander, but Falnora is a small village, its full population equal to perhaps one-fifth of your army. Without jeopardizing our own future, we could not possibly meet your needs."
     "All we ask is enough for a few days. A village with this much farming land must have crops to spare."
     "Not nearly enough. I'm sorry, my Lord, but Falnora cannot be of help to you."
     "Let me make something plain to you. I don't like to make threats, but I am empowered to take whatever I need without paying. I choose to pay - and pay well - because I believe it is in Tsab's best interests to cultivate good relations with those many individual communities sprinkled across the continent. But I need those supplies, and, as you pointed out, with a population of two-hundred, many of whom are likely women and children, you are hardly in a position to deny an army of one-thousand."
     "I also do not like to make threats," began Wil, his tone deceptively mild. "But if you attempt to take anything from us by force, you will regret it. There are things about us of which you are unaware. Let me make this plain: money has no meaning to us. We have little trade with other settlements or cities, so its value is limited at best. But our crops are valuable. They are our lifeblood and are not for sale. Nor do we wish to be placed in a position where it could be said that we favored one city over another. Leave now - the detour around the village will not be a long one - or there will be trouble, and I fear that you will emerge the worst for it."
     The commander did not laugh or snicker as some of his fellows did. "I do not wish a conflict," he said, sounding sincere. "It will serve neither my army nor your community. I promise that our needs are reasonable."
     "I also do not desire a conflict. But any demands, no matter how modest, are unreasonable."
     "Is that your final word?"
     "It is."
     "Then I regret what must happen, Wil. Truly I do." With that, he spun his horse around, and, flanked by his escort, rode back toward the army whose approach had brought it to within a thousand feet of the fields of Falnora's westernmost farm.
     "Now we stop them," said Wil. "Eya, watch carefully. When you think you understand how it's done, join me. But be careful, not only about how you do it, but which emotions you siphon off. And remember, we're trying to drive them off, not slaughter them."
     Wil's eyes appeared to glass over as he concentrated. It had been a long time since he had attempted any major magical manipulation, but it came back to him in an instant, as if some part of him had been waiting for this moment. The transition of energy within him was smooth and satisfying, unnecessary emotion flowing into the raw power of magic, then being released in the way his imagination directed it.
     The soldiers of Tsab's army were less than three-hundred feet away when they realized that all was not as it should be. The sun, which was high in the cloudless sky, went black and a deep shadow fell over Falnora. An ill wind, blowing from the northeast and carrying the rotting stench of the fens, passed through the village to sweep over the army. Their forward progress faltered, even as exaggerated creatures of darkness began to caper in the air.
     They were indistinct monstrosities, beings carved from nightmare and shadow, dipping and soaring through the air like mad demons. They circled high above the army, occasionally diving for the ground, then pulling up only feet above the head of a frightened Tsabian. The creatures were featureless except for the twin pricks of blood red that glowed from deep within what approximated a head.
     Arrows loosed by the guards had no discernable effect. There were dozens of the shadow beings, ranging in size from a hawk to a small house. None had done any damage, at least not yet, nor was it Wil's intention that they should. His desire was to frighten the Tsabians. If that goal could be accomplished without bloodshed, it was preferable.
     Wil could sense when Eya lent her strength to his endeavor. She started out modestly, fashioning a timid creature from the darkness. Then, as her confidence increased, she embellished it, causing it to grow, and, as it expanded, to sprout deadly protrusions from its wings. Soon, she had several of the wheeling, whirling creatures circling in the sky, each as frightening as Wil's own monsters.
     Even the men from Falnora were terrified by the apparitions, and they knew who was creating them and why. Their fear was that the creatures would somehow break from the Apaths' control and begin attacking randomly. They were unaware that those things could exist only for as long as there was magical energy to sustain them.
     The Tsabian forces were on the verge of a full, disorderly retreat when one of the archers decided on a change of tactics. Either by reasoning or chance, he made a connection between the delegation from Falnora and the impervious creatures in the sky. So, instead of continuing to train his bow on the danger from above, he aimed it at the group of villagers. No sooner had he let fly the first arrow than many of his fellows followed suit.
     The men of Falnora found themselves in the midst of a storm of arrows. One man, protecting Wil, fell with a shaft embedded in his throat. Several others were dealt less serious wounds. Ebb took an arrow in his left forearm and another man, Dek by name, was hit in the lower abdomen. But the real damage was done when an arrow struck Eya.
     The shaft did little damage, embedding itself in the fleshy part of her left leg. But the shock and pain of the attack shattered her concentration. At that moment, even though she was still feeding the creatures with energy, she lost control. Their bonds released, the shadow monsters lashed out with lightning swiftness and devastating results.
     The creatures dove and where their talons touched, devastation blossomed. Bone, flesh, and armor disintegrated as if immersed in acid. Men screamed and fell as the half-dozen creations of Eya fed their limitless hunger for death and destruction on the helpless soldiers of Tsab.
     "Eya, let it go!" shouted Wil. Even though he was only feet away from the other Apath, he had to scream to be heard above the sounds of terror coming from the army. "Now, Eya!"
     It took a moment for her to comprehend what was wanted of her, and another to let go of the energy. Then, her leg feeling like it was on fire, she sank to the ground, a whimper escaping between clenched teeth. She was scarcely aware of her brother by her side, and completely oblivious that the Tsabian army had broken and was in full flight, leaving behind the bodies of nineteen dead.
     With Eya's creatures gone, only Wil's roamed the skies. Keeping a tight reign of them, the older Apath allowed them to drive the Tsabians back until they had fled out of sight. He then let the magic drain away. The sun returned to full brightness and the shadow creatures disintegrated in the light, dissipated into thousands of impotent motes of darkness.
     "Someone get a healer," Wil breathed. Then, much of his strength spent, he knelt beside the lifeless body of his friend Hex, before collapsing and losing consciousness. It was only then that the others realized his side sprouted a shaft out of a part of his tunic that was stained bright red.
     So ended the Midsummer's Day battle for Falnora.


© 2005 James Berardinelli

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