Mountains of ice rose up around two gray-clad figures. There was nothing but snow for miles around. The ice gleamed white but a streak of red fire marked one area. The locals called the wizards and the police. They called everyone they could think to call. They could see that they needed all the help they could get! The fiery-red could be seen for miles around. The two men in gray wizards’ uniforms had miles of ground to cover on their own.
They had been called to the mountain to investigate the phenomenon. Villagers were desperate and the wizards were out of time.
“It’s cold enough to freeze an egg.”
“Talking isn’t making it warmer, Bran. Let’s just find the cause of this phenomenon and get out of here.”
“Sounds like a good plan to me, Cal, but I don’t think those mages agree. They have crossbows.”
“Halt right there!” The man was over seven feet tall and shrouded in black.
“We don’t want any trouble!” Bran shouted.
“We’re just here to help the village,” Cal backed him up. “There’s no reason we can’t all work together.”
“I’m afraid we can’t do that.” Cal and Bran each found a steel tip pointed at their throats. “Place your hands behind your head and touch your forehead to the ground. Don’t move until my men give you leave.”
“What men?” Bran asked. “I don’t see anyone here but the four of us.” Bran turned and whispered to Cal. “This man is nuts... and not the good nuts with an N but the crazy nuts with a K.”
“You don’t spell nuts with a K,” Cal told his friend.
“You would if you were crazy.”
“Enough talking! Follow my orders or I will have no choice but to use force. Consider your circumstances.”
“You’re in the same circumstance, mate.” Bran have a spear of light in his hands now. Cal held a sword of fire. “We’re armed too.”
“Your weapons are made of magic. They’ll disappear long before my arm gets tired,” the mage warned.
“I’m willing to wait it out,” Cal said with more confidence than he felt. He knew that he was reaching a dead end. “But there is no reason that we can’t leave here as friends. I have no shortage of funds.”
“You don’t need to bribe them.” Bran’s voice was different than Cal remembered. “Cal, you need to disable your weapon and go with these men.” Bran’s weapon was pointed at Cal now.
“What are you doing, Bran?”
“They won’t hurt us. They have orders to bring us alive.”
“They would say that. You know better than to believe them.”
“You trust me, mate. Disable the weapon.”
Three weapons were pointed at Cal now. He had no choice but to obey. The weapon disappeared. Three sets of hands gripped Cal’s arms.
“I trusted you, Bran. Is this how you repay your friends?”
“I’m saving your life, mate. That light isn’t from a spell. It’s from a person.”
Bran showed his friend the source of the light. It was a young woman with dark hair. Light and magic flew from her. She was barely conscience.
“What is this?” Cal asked in awe.
“This magic is property of the Eratian empire!” The guard with the bow proclaimed.
“You can’t own a person!” Cal shouted.
“Stand aside, Cal,” Bran said firmly. “These men know what they are doing.”
“Do you know what they’re doing?” Cal could not hide the anger from his voice. “Why are you helping them, Bran?”
“This is for the greater good.”
“Can you answer a simple question with a simple answer?”
“There are no simple answers.”
More armed men seemed to appear from the shadows. Cal’s hands itched to do something. The magic in him roiled. Apprehension, fear and anger could not overshadow the feeling of utter betrayal. Bran had been more than a friend. They were like brothers. Now they were enemies...
“What did they offer you, Bran?”
“I don’t get why most people want the things that they want. I don’t want money or titles.” Bran looked betrayed now. “You know me better than that.”
“Why did you betray us?”
“I’m saving your life. You’ll understand one day.”
“I hope I never do.” Bran squeezed Cal’s shoulder in a familiar way that sent shivers up his spine.
“You know me. You know that I have your best interest at heart.”
“I thought I knew you...”
“The empress wants to see you,” Bran tried to explain. “You’ll serve the empire one way or another.”
“The empress has all the woman she needs. She would never bind a man until the prophesy is fulfilled.”
Bran’s voice took on a gentle tone before he said, “A man has been found. The rest of us are no longer safe.”
“You gave yourself to her!” A spear came into Cal’s hands. The steel of the arrows were quickly raised but Bran put a hand up to them in warning.
“You know what has to be done, Cal.” Bran moved closer to Cal until his arm could reach out and touch the other man. Bran’s hand closed tight around Cal’s wrist. Cal felt a burn where the fingers brushed against his skin.
Realization hit him like a tone of bricks. “No,” he whispered. “No! You can’t lock away my magic! You know I’ll run either way.”
“Hiding won’t do no good now.”
Despair and hopelessness pressed in around Cal. Bran’s eyes bore into him asking questions. Cal could not answer. Words were beyond him. Bran waited, as if he was hoping for an answer to an important question. Cal could not give him an answer and Bran could wait no longer.
“There’s no need to fear. He can’t reach his magic now.”
The men with crossbows nodded to Bran and motioned even more men out of the shadows. “These two are ready for transport.” Cal felt firm hands grip his shoulders and haul him to his feet. Men pushed him forward. Cal tried to watch Bran but men in Eratian uniforms quickly blocked his view. “The empress has ordered that they are not to be harmed any more than is necessary.”
“Was any of this necessary?” Was all Cal could ask before he forced into the hull of a ship.
“We’re going to meet the empress?” Cal asked as soon as he and Bran were alone. “We’re not the answer to any prophecies!”
“The empress wants to hire us. She heard about the Hanalon job.” Bran gave him a rare smile. “We have a reputation to up hold.”
“She wants us to steal for her? Surely she has people to do that for her.”
“No one as good as us!” Bran made it sound like they should be honored that the empress had asked for them. Cal felt anything but honored. He felt terrified!
“You can’t really believe that! Armed guards didn’t just appear to give us a job.”
“You’ll understand when she tells you the job. I know why you’re nervous now but you don’t need to be.”
“Tell me the job,” Cal ordered. “You already made the deal.”
“I told them that I’d do anything to save you.”
Cal felt the breath leave his body. “What? What did you agree to?”
“You heard what I said. I couldn’t let them kill you.”
Cal bent down and sat next to Bran. “What makes you think that they want to kill me?”
“They said that you would not take another breath if you refused them.” Bran spoke in a quick voice.
“Who said that? The guards outside? The mage?”
“Someone even more powerful than guards!”
“Are people threatening you?”
“It’s you I’m worried about.”