THE PRICE OF TERROR


PART THREE: THE EDGE OF THE BLADE


CHAPTER TWENTY


     "Missing? How can he be missing?" demanded Eya.
     "Just that. No one has seen him since shortly after dusk. The work at his station is complete, but he hasn't checked in with his commanding officer," explained Reg. Personally, he wasn't concerned about his son; Sor could take care of himself. His wife, on the other hand, had a different opinion on the matter. Bre had been angry enough at Reg for permitting Sor to enlist. Now, in addition to being sick with worry, she was furious. It was reason enough for Reg to spend a few extra hours at the palace.
     "Considering how chaotic things are at the moment, I wouldn't let it worry you. There's so much activity going on, it's hard to keep track of everything."
     "It's not me that's concerned. It's my wife."
     "Oh. Well, considering the problems you have with your daughter, wouldn't her efforts be better spent addressing that situation than wondering about a boy who's some place out there building a wall or digging a ditch?"
     Reg winced. "That's a sore point. Bre blames herself for Lor's 'failures' - most notably the unborn child. She blames me for Sor's."
     "I'll see what I can find out, but I doubt I'll have more success than you. Has it occurred to you that he may not want to be found?"
     "Of course it has. If I was his age, I'd find a pretty young girl for a roll in the hay before the battle, but that's not the sort of thing Bre is interested in hearing."
     "No, she never was one for rolls in the hay. Sometimes I wonder how you two managed to produce two children. I've never been married, but I'm sure I've spent a lot more sweaty nights in bed than you have."
     "Undoubtedly true. I love Bre - at least most of the time I think I do - but she's not the most imaginative woman around. This hasn't been an easy marriage, and I know what she's going to be like when I get home tonight."
     "There's certainly enough work to keep you here 'til long past dawn, if that's what you want. With all that has to be done, we could keep a thousand hands busy."
     Reg chuckled lightly. "I wouldn't mind staying out of the lion's den for a little longer. I suppose I'll have to face my wife sometime, but I can put it off."
     "Maybe if you wait long enough, your wayward son will show up. I think Lea may have sent someone looking for him too. She wasn't aware he was in the army, and now she wants to talk to him. She thinks he's too young to be fighting."
     "Sisterly concern, I suppose," mused Reg.
     "Probably. I've given up hoping for anything more. He may be devoted to her, but her feelings for him don't transcend affection. It's strange, considering how hard we tried to push them together. In the end, I guess we did Sor a disservice. Unrequited love is the most agonizing emotion."
     "Surely you don't speak from personal experience?" asked Reg, surprised.
     Eya chuckled. "Of course not. But I've seen enough of it. Mostly in Sor, and even a little in Lea where that bastard from Tsab is concerned."
     "So she's going to marry Guc?"
     Eya's expression became almost predatory. "Not a chance. With his city destroyed, he has nothing - and she feels betrayed by him. Thankfully, that union is just awaiting the proper moment for its dissolution. But we can leave the matter of looking for her husband until after the quatics have been eliminated."
     "So what's next?"
     "Gav's midnight elevation to Supreme Battle Commander. Lea is supposed to stand by his side to authenticate his stature as Sor's son. I'm not sure this is a good idea, but it seems necessary. We can worry about the ramifications later, I suppose. Hopefully, Gav will be able to infuse some energy into the current battle plan. As it stands, everything's a mess."
     "We're putting a lot off until 'later'," noted Reg.
     "Lea said something similar earlier tonight. But we don't have a choice. It used to be you could plan for the future - say with reasonable certainty what you might be doing a year from now. At this point, we don't know there will be a human race by the start of winter. There's something ominous about the way the quatics have rampaged across Devforth thus far."
     "Eya, tell me honestly: do you think we can stop them?"
     "I don't know. There are so many variables. How effective magic will be against them. Who or what the intelligence is behind this drive. How our army will react to fighting a legion of hideous giants on the battlefield."
     "But if you had to guess...?"
     Eya considered for a long moment. Then, looking her brother directly in the eyes, she spoke one word: "No."
     Reg felt his blood turn to ice.
     

* * *

     Eventually, Tui was going to get Eli into bed. It might take all night, but he was making progress, slowly wearing down her resistance. Sor had to admire his new friend's dedication. It seemed that once he had set his mind on something, he carried it through to the end.
     For his part, Sor wanted to go home. Or, failing that, at least find a dry, reasonably warm place to curl up and go to sleep. Not that he could do either, since he was still officially on-duty.
     "Don't you think we should be getting back? Someone might have noticed our absence by now," said Sor, glancing toward the door to the Drunk Doxy as if he expected a platoon of guards to arrive to haul the pair of them off in irons.
     "Relax. No one's going to look for us, and if someone finds us in here, all they'll do is tell us to get back to work. We've busted our asses for this army, and we've got a big battle coming up; we deserve a rest. Not that what I'm planning is going to be all that restful..."
     "But we've been here for over two hours. Frankly, I've had about all of this watered-down ale I can take, and I'm ready to get out and do something."
     "Go ahead," said Tui. "I'm not stopping you. Just don't expect me to leave until I've had a little time alone with Eli." So saying, he glanced over to where three or four barmaids were gathered around a table, gossiping. With Sor and Tui as the tavern's lone two customers, there was little opportunity for them to do much else.
     "Oh-ho!" exclaimed Tui. "Look who's here!"
     Sor followed his companion's gaze, but saw no one surprising - just four girls huddled close together. "So?"
     "Don't you recognize her?"
     "Who?" Sor looked again, this time paying more attention to faces and features. Almost immediately, he noticed who Tui meant. One of the barmaids was the girl who had brought him wine out at the wall. Only, dressed in a serving costume and with a bonnet covering her short, fair hair, she looked older than she had outside. Rather than hiding her developing figure, her present outfit enhanced it.
     "Stay here," commanded Tui, getting up and heading over to where the girls had congregated. Eli, seeing him coming, rose to intercept him, a frown very much in evidence. After a few moments of animated conversation, Eli went back to the table, spoke briefly with the younger girl then, with Tui a step behind her, headed for Sor's table. Her expression remained bleak.
     "The answer's no," she said.
     Sor, who had been watching the exchanges bemusedly, noted, "That's nice, but I don't know the question."
     "She's not a whore, you know, despite what happened on Midsummer's Day."
     Sor shrugged. "I don't know what happened on Midsummer's Day, but I never assumed she was." Then, seeing Tui almost doubled over with silent laughter, he asked, "What exactly did Tui say to you?"
     Eli glanced at her lover, who was unable to regain his composure in time to deflect suspicion. Turning back to Sor, she said, "It doesn't matter - obviously nothing you wanted him to say. I'll sort him out. Why don't you go over and talk to her - she's attracted to you, even if she doesn't want to sleep with you. Her name's Mika."
     "Mika? Is she part-elf?" To Sor, she didn't look part-elf, at least not the way Lea did.
     "No," said Eli. "But her family's not from around here. Ask her about it, not me."
     Sor was on his way to Mika's table when Eli rounded on Tui and suggested some rather painful ways in which he could be made to remember his manners. Meanwhile, the other two serving girls, noting Sor's approach, headed for the kitchen, one favoring him with a nod of approval and the other with a salacious wink.
     Mika remained seated, watching him almost warily, her arms folded beneath her breasts and her expression guarded. In these surroundings, she looked considerably more mature than she had out amidst the rocks and mud.
     "Do you mind if I sit?" asked Sor, indicating one of the recently-vacated chairs.
     Mika shrugged. "As long as that's all you intend to do. I trust Eli set you straight about my profession."
     "She did. Not that I made the request she came to you with. My friend Tui has a warped sense of humor." Sor remained standing, uncertain.
     "Then you didn't ask whether I charge by the hour or the night?"
     "Certainly not!" exclaimed Sor, feeling his cheeks color.
     "Do you know anything about my reputation? About Midsummer's Day?"
     "No."
     Mika's glacial expression relaxed, and her lips curled into an inviting smile. "Sit down, then," she said.
     Accepting her offer, Sor pulled the chair away from the table. Behind him, Eli's outraged outburst had risen to audible levels. A glance in that direction revealed Tui appearing suitably cowed and chastened.
     Mika noted, "Eli can be quick tempered. She really likes him, though, although you wouldn't know it by the way she's treating him. Those two can never be together without arguing."
     "Sounds like my mother and father," said Sor. It had been like that for as long as he could remember. He knew his parents loved each other, but they rarely seemed to agree about anything. He could remember times when one of them, usually his father, had left home for weeks on end, just to get some "space." Sor had grown up thinking of that sort of love as a kind of imprisonment - two people who needed each other yet were always at odds. According to his aunt Eya, their relationship had been more stormy before their marriage. Now, in observing Tui and Eli, he saw echoes of that sort of interaction.
     "When I get married, I want something more harmonious," he said aloud, thinking of Lea. He was sure they could get along together. For his part, he couldn't imagine arguing with her, if for no other reason than she was the queen and her word was law.
     "Well, a little anger isn't all bad," said Mika. "I wouldn't want a boring marriage, but that kind of arguing all the time must take a lot of energy. Not much left for the bedroom."
     "It doesn't look like they'll get that far tonight."
     "Are you kidding? This is foreplay. They do it all the time. Of course they'll get to the bedroom, and pretty soon. What about you?"
     "What about me, what?" asked Sor, confused.
     Mika's smile broadened. "What if I had answered your friend's question, by the night or by the hour?"
     "I didn't know he asked it, so it wouldn't have made any difference."
     "What if I told you now that you could have tonight for free?"
     Because of her smile and the teasing way she asked the question, he didn't think she was serious. But, to be safe, he changed the subject.
     "Mika. That's an unusual name. I thought it might be elf, but Eli said no."
     "It's strange, you know - that's the first question everyone asks me. As if elves are the only ones with names like that. Frankly, I've never met any elves, nor has anyone else in my family."
     "So why do you have an elf name?"
     "I don't. Mika's a family name. Every female in my family is named Mika. Every male is named Akim. It's been that way for generations. It's the same for everyone where I come from. That way you identify clans."
     "What do you mean, 'Where I come from'?"
     "Just that. I'm from across the ocean. Or at least my family is. My parents' parents were among a small group of survivors who lived to see the end of the voyage."
     "That's impossible," asserted Sor. "No one can make that journey. What about World's End?"
     "I didn't say it was easy, just that it could be done. Of the seventy who started, less than a dozen made it through. The boat they were on was smashed to pieces, but once they crossed World's End, they managed to float to Devforth on bits of debris."
     Sor shook his head. Of all the facts established in childhood, one of the most sure was that it was impossible to cross the ocean. World's End claimed anyone who tried.
     "You think I'm lying?" challenged Mika, her eyes flashing dangerously.
     Sor was not good at diplomacy, but he made an attempt. "No," he said, "But maybe whoever told you these stories didn't mean for them to be taken seriously."
     "Oh, so it's my parents who are the liars. I suppose that makes me stupid or naive to repeat what they told me?"
     "Naive, perhaps."
     "And what makes you an expert on how possible or impossible it is to cross World's End? I suppose you've made the attempt yourself." Her words dripped with sarcasm. Sor was beginning to get the feeling he had insulted her deeply.
     "Of course not. No one in Devforth is stupid enough to try."
     "If no one tries, how do they know it can't be done?"
     Sor shrugged. "Centuries ago, there were explorers. None of them ever came back."
     "If they didn't come back, how do you know they didn't make it through?"
     In addition to becoming more difficult to answer, the questions were disturbing Sor. He didn't like having such a basic fact of life being questioned. "Wreckage from the ships usually washed ashore," he said.
     "Bodies?"
     "I don't know! If I'd known you were going to quiz me like this, I would have studied the matter!"
     "So now who's being naive? You don't believe my family crossed World's End because you say it hasn't been done. But all you have to back up that belief are suppositions and guesses. What if I told you that people on the other side don't believe in magic because there aren't any Apaths there?"
     "All right, if you did cross World's End, then those in your family's group can't be the only ones. There have to be others, right?"
     Mika nodded. "There are. Not many, but there are some. Most are either here or in the Twin Cities."
     "If there are that many of you, how come you don't make yourselves known?"
     "Do you think of yourself as reasonably open-minded, Sor?"
     "Of course."
     "Then if somebody as progressive as you doesn't believe what I'm saying, what chance would we have with the general populace? We're not idiots. My family and those like us know exactly the kind of ridicule we'd be subjected to if we freely discussed our origins. In fact, I'm not sure why I bothered telling you. When people ask me about my name, I typically come up with a suitable lie."
     Sor nodded, silently acknowledging that he had been something of a boor. What did it really matter if there were lands beyond World's End? Was that going to change his life? It was another childhood myth being dispelled. And why would Mika defend the story so vociferously if it weren't true, or at least if she didn't believe it? His father had once told him never to ignore anything that was possible, no matter how hard it was to believe, and with an aunt who was an Apath, the validity of that advice had been obvious.
     "So, do you want to go upstairs?" asked Mika, her serious expression suddenly replaced by something more mischievous.
     "Upstairs? To bed?" stammered Sor, more surprised than flustered.
     "No, to count watchfires from the roof," said Mika. "Of course to go to bed."
     "What happened on Midsummer's Day?" asked Sor.
     "Do you really want to know?"
     "Yes."
     Mika appeared to consider the request, but before she could answer, the door to the inn crashed open and two armored members of the queen's personal guard sauntered in. Two pairs of eyes scanned the nearly empty common room until they locked on Sor. Then, nodding to his companion, the older one stepped forward.
     "Sor son of Reg and Bre, you are commanded by Her Majesty's order to attend her at the palace. You may consider yourself under arrest. If you resist, we are authorized to use any and all means to detain you."
     With a resigned sigh, Sor got to his feet. "I guess I'll have to wait to find out, " he said to a startled Mika. Then, wondering what his punishment would be for abandoning his post, he walked forward and offered the guards his sword. Taking it, they flanked him, and the three left the inn in an uneasy silence that persisted long after they doors had shut behind them.
     
* * *

     As Lea ascended the dais, she noted how empty the throne room looked. Able to accommodate hundreds, the vast hall was now at less than a quarter of capacity, but that was because this was not an open audience. Only her battle commanders, generals, and lieutenants has been invited. They were about to receive their new leader, and learn his connection to the late King Sor.
     The queen was dressed in full regalia - lighter-weight, feminine versions of the turquoise robes favored by her father and grandfather. Upon her head rested the latest incarnation of the crown of Vorti: a simple platinum circlet with a single diamond above the brow. Standing by Lea's side was Gav. While his wardrobe was less ostentatious, it was still worthy of a ruler. Instead of his customary green, Falnora's color, he too wore turquoise, and topping off his "costume" was the bulky cloak once worn by Kan and Sor. Most didn't recognize this, but a few stifled gasps testified that its presence didn't go entirely unnoticed.
     Conspicuous by their absence were a number of highly placed dignitaries. Chancellor Wil was not present, having been sent on a mission away from the city. Eya, normally never far from the queen's side, was absent as well, sequestered in her quarters attempting to make mental contact with her fellow Apath. And Guc, King of Tsab, had elected to remain with Meg rather than appearing at Court, telling Lea he was convinced his presence would be more of a hindrance than a help.
     Rumors had been flying for the past hour, since Lea had announced the unprecedented midnight gathering. Some said she was about to announce a radical new tactic, such as taking the battle to the quatics. Others insisted that Vorti's full army would be marching to the aid of another city under attack. Still others wondered whether bloodshed might be closer than was generally believed. And most acknowledged there was likely to be some kind of shakeup in the military's upper echelon. Now, the absence of both Court Apaths and King of Tsab, fueled a brief, furious round of whispered speculation.
     After taking her seat on the throne with Gav standing to her right and just behind her, Lea began without preamble. "I'll make this as brief as possible, considering the immediacy of the crisis we face. While it is still unclear what the quatics' next move will be or where they're heading, one opinion - which I find plausible - is that they're on their way to Vorti, and the apparent splitting of the army is a ruse. If this is the case, battle will likely commence before dusk tomorrow night, or at the latest, early the day after that. As a result, our preparations must, of necessity, be expedited, and we must have men at the top who are both familiar with the officers of Vorti's army and capable of devising strategies that, while perhaps not regarded as militarily sound, may offer a better chance of victory.
     "To this end, I have elected to relieve Battle Commander Dus of a portion of his responsibilities. He will still be in direct charge of all the men under him, and his opinions will continue to be greatly valued in my council. This act should not be seen as a demotion, but the necessity of the situation demands that someone be appointed at the head of the militia whose mind can approach the impending struggle from a fresh perspective. I have chosen to appoint the man beside me, Gav, as Supreme Battle Commander. While his position is designed primarily for the formulation of tactics and finalization of a strategy for the war, any orders given by him are final. Even Battle Commander Dus cannot countermand them."
     Stunned silence greeted the pronouncement. Had Vorti's military officers been less disciplined, discontented grumbling would have begun. Lea could sense the current of outrage even if it had not yet been manifested in words and actions.
     Dus, who was privately informed of the change earlier, stood in stony silence. Only Lea's assurance that this was a temporary measure had kept him from resigning immediately. But neither he, nor anyone else present, was ready for the queen's next words.
     "Doubtless, many of you will argue that Gav, as the ruler of an independent community, should not be given such a high placing in Vorti's army. Indeed, the militia's charter states only citizens of this city may be enrolled. However, despite his position in Falnora, Gav is a citizen of Vorti by blood and birth.
     "As you are all aware, my father, the late King Sor, had three wives. His first queen, Joi, was murdered by a traitor whose name shall remain unspoken. His third, my mother, died during the dwarf war that also claimed his life. In between, however, there was a second queen. Her name was Lis, and my father divorced her after she left the city in the company of an Apath named Wil - the same Wil who is currently my chancellor and who, along with Lis, founded the community of Falnora. Wil and Lis had one child - Gav. Yet it is a well-established fact that Apaths are sterile. In the whole history of Devforth, only one wizard has been able to bear a child: King Sor. Wil is no different from others of his kind. The child Lis bore after leaving my father in Wil's company, is the son of Sor. Supreme Battle Commander Gav is my half-brother and a Prince of Vorti.
     "To allay any fears about power struggles, let it me state on the record that King Sor stated specifically he did not want his son to take the throne. I was officially and legally proclaimed as heir and, early this night, my brother took an oath that he and any offspring he might have will never make a claim on the throne, even in the event of my premature death. I am still your lawful queen with Eya as my first heir and Chancellor Wil as my second. No matter what happens, Gav will not take the throne. But he will lead the army when it goes into battle against the quatics.
     "Does anyone wish to voice an objection?"
     Even had there been those present daring enough to do so, the queen's announcement had momentarily stolen the capacity for coherent speech from everyone in attendance. As she had intended, no voices were raised against Gav's assumption of his new position. If nothing else, Guc's revelation had assured that much. Lea knew, however, that future consequences would, in reality, be more complicated than the ideal ones she had just outlined. Opponents to her rule would flock to Gav's banner, even though he had no designs on the throne. And, if he had children, the situation would become murkier, especially if Lea died before producing a legitimate heir. But those worries were for later... much later. The current, overriding concern was the quatics.
     Stepping forward, Gav gave a short, rehearsed speech. "It is with great reluctance that I have taken this position, knowing how many of you, who have worked hard all your lives to attain your current ranks, would be offended. But, as Queen Lea pointed out, this is a temporary measure. As soon as the struggle with the quatics is over, I will resign and return to Falnora. Until then, however, I am acting as a citizen of Vorti, with this city's best interests at heart. I invite all of you - not just the battle commanders and generals - to join me now in the palace courtyard as we begin to formulate a comprehensive plan by which we can defeat the quatics."
     
* * *

     Thirty minutes later, Lea received her childhood playmate in the little throne room. Upon entering, Sor had intended to remain quiet until addressed, but the sight of his queen, looking worn and gaunt, provoked a reaction.
     "Your Majesty, you must get some rest!"
     Lea managed a wan smile. "A short sojourn in the military, and now you're giving the queen orders? You have changed, Sor. But you're probably right, and I intend to sleep before the battle is upon us. Finding the opportunity is the hard part. Enough about me, though. Perhaps you would care to explain yourself?"
     Sor looked sheepish. "I know it looks bad, but I wasn't really deserting. Me and a mate of mine, Tui, finished our section of the wall and decided to take a short break. So we went to a tavern, had a few drinks, and I met this girl..."
     "Much as I'd like to hear your tale of drunken debauchery, I think that can wait for another time. In fact, I was referring to the ill-advised action on your part of joining the militia in the first place. You're hardly old enough..."
     "I'm three seasons younger than you, Your Majesty. If you're running a city, don't you think I can handle being a member of its defense force?"
     "Point taken," said Lea. "Your father made much the same argument, but your mother demanded you be found and sent home immediately."
     "You said my father argued for me to stay in the army."
     "Privately. But he wasn't willing to publicly oppose your mother's wishes. And those were that you be found and brought home."
     Sor looked crestfallen, and Lea felt a pang of compassion for the young man. "Sor, why are you doing this? I mean why, really? Is it to impress me? To prove to me you're virile enough to be my husband?"
     "In part, I think. At least, that's what it was like when I joined. But since then, I've started to feel like I belong. For the first time in my life, I'm doing something that's worthwhile, and I'm doing it with people I enjoy being with."
     "If I agreed to marry you, would you leave the militia?" asked Lea. She knew the question was dangerous, and by asking it she might be committing to more than she really wanted to, but she needed to understand what Sor really wanted. And, as Eya had been saying repeatedly, was he really such a bad match? She had already tried to follow her heart once, and it had gotten her a disastrous betrothal to a king without a city. Perhaps now she should listen to her advisors.
     Sor's eyes brightened. "Is that a proposal?" he asked.
     "Just a question."
     "No," said Sor. "Not unless it was an absolute condition of the union."
     "Very well. At this time, I can't expend the manpower to place you under guard or send you back to your mother. You're free to go, hopefully home. But if you choose to rejoin your regiment, no one is going to stop you. I suggest you see your father first, though. He's here in the palace, at a mass battle convention in the courtyard."
     "And the wedding, Your Majesty?" Sor was smiling, and Lea couldn't tell if he was more amused or hopeful.
     "I haven't told anyone this yet, but I intend to break off my engagement with Guc. If no suitable suitor comes around in the next year, and you're still interested, I'll consider entertaining a formal proposal from you." If nothing else, that would give Sor a reason to be cautious in the upcoming campaign - or so she hoped. Not that the offer wasn't a genuine one.
     "One more thing, Your Majesty. Have you ever heard tales of people crossing World's End?"
     Lea shrugged. "Stories. Nothing more. I doubt it can be done, but I'm not one to dismiss anything out-of-hand. I'm the child of an Apath and have seen a ghost. Both of those things are supposed to be impossible. Why do you ask?"
     "The girl I met tonight - Mika's her name - claims her family came to Devforth from a land beyond World's End."
     "Perhaps, after all this is over, you could bring her to the palace. At the moment, however, I have more pressing concerns. Take care, Sor. I want to be pinning a medal on you, not giving it posthumously."
     
* * *

      It was dark and lonely in this ethereal place - the land of thoughts and dreams, where all minds came for a brief, flighty encounter, but where few remained for more than an instant's break. It was into this strange locale that Eya had come in search of Wil, with little real hope of locating him. Had he known she was looking, he could have sent a mental signal like a beacon, but, as it was, all she had to hope for was that she might by chance come across some telltale sign that he was near.
     Eya didn't like this place, which is one reason she had never spent much time exploring its vast near-emptiness. It reminded her too much of the nightmare village of Heltala, where she had spent the worst years of her childhood. There, she and Reg had lost their father in a dwarf attack, and their little sister, who was eventually to become the third wife of Sor of Vorti, had been kidnapped. Heltala, an elf and human settlement set up in the heart of dwarf territory, had been a place of unremitting blackness after sunset. No lights - neither lanterns nor torches - were permitted, and all the houses were windowless to prevent fire light from reaching the outside. It was the darkness and silence of Heltala that Eya recognized here.
     Abruptly, she became aware of something - some new presence. It was not someone merely skirting this land - a brief, bright flash of mental energy that died away as soon as it flared up - but a mind that had slipped at least partway in. Its glow was constant, if not overbright. the extraordinary thing was that it continued; Eya had never before "met" another here. She shot toward this new apparition, uncertain what she might find, but curious. Apaths were not the only ones who could consciously enter this place, but coming here required extraordinary concentration and mental acuity. Whoever it might be, the possibility existed of discovering a potential new ally in the war against the quatics.
     Time had little meaning here, so Eya reached the newcomer in a flash, passing by thousands of other minds making their transient stops here. It was night in Devforth, and more people journeyed here in sleep than in wakefulness. It was said the dead also came here on the way to their next life, but Eya had never investigated that possibility.
     From mere observation, there was no way to tell who the other mental presence was. To do so required a sort of melding of minds - something that could be dangerous if the recipient fought against the joining, or if a powerful dream had catapulted them here. Confident in her ability to maintain the continuity and independence of her own mind, however, Eya elected to make the attempt.
     Pain, blinding and unbearable, assailed her the moment she dove into the other mind. She felt her own identity fragmenting as she was sucked into the vortex. She barely had time to realize that her sanity was in danger when she recognized the source of the agony was the man she had been searching for: Wil, with both his mind and body shattered.


© 2006 James Berardinelli

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