The creature stood in the ghost of his home. Thick layers of cobwebs covered the windows, ceiling and wall. He walked back to the bedroom. A heavy layer of dust sat on the bed, the cradle that he had built for their son had rotted since he’d left. He sat down on the bed, raising a cloud of dust.
“Darling?” he turned to see Columba sitting beside him on the bed. “Darling, what’s the matter?” She asked him. Oh, heaven and earth how good it was to hear her voice! Her sweet, clear, beautiful voice!
“Nothing, sweet one.” He assured her.
“You aren’t telling me the truth.” She said, smiling mischievously.
“I love you, Columba. Always. Please, don’t try to keep anything from me.” He begged. It may have been a dream, but he didn’t want the weight of their son’s death hanging on her here.
“I’m pregnant, darling.” She said, smiling gently. “Aren’t you happy?” Suddenly, her belly swelled, and he found himself resting his hand on the bump that was their unborn son.
“I’m very happy, dove.” He told her, kissing her cheek. Suddenly Columba screamed.
“The baby!” She gasped. “It’s coming! Please, please, please save him!”
This time, the baby came with no trouble. This time, the baby was a healthy little boy with large blue eyes.
“Do you want to hold your son?” Columba asked him, hair matted to her forehead with sweat. The creature took his son from her and cradled the boy to his chest.
He’d held Callen like this as she’d died. She was shivering.
Columba gave a terrible, angry scream. Her gentle blue-gray eyes turned black with fury. She ripped the child from his arms and dashed his head against the floor. Blood pooled around his son’s broken body, soaking his dark curls.
“You aren’t allowed to think of the other place while you’re here!” Columba hissed angrily. She picked the bloodied child up off the floor. The boy’s wounds disappeared, and he giggled. The creature closed his eyes, breathed out, and slowly backed out the door.
He leaned against the side of his house for a moment and tried to banish the vision of his wife and son. He let out a breath and stepped back into his house.
“Darling?” His wife asked. This time he had no doubt that it was her. Her face was all soft edges and glowing with happiness, unlike the creature that had been there a few seconds ago.
“Columba.” He said, tears filling his eyes. She took his hand.
“Listen, darling.” She whispered urgently. “I’m dead. Let me go. She’ll be back in a second, unless you run.”
“Columba, I love you so much!” He exclaimed, pulling her into an embrace.
“You have to run, darling!” Columba said, trying to pull away. He held her tightly. He didn’t ever want to lose her again. She crumbled to dust in his arms. The dust pulled away and reformed a few feet away.
“Don’t you want to be with me?” He asked her.
“I do, darling. But I’m dead. I want to come back to you, I want to be happy with you and our son. But I’m dead, and you’re changed.” Columba whispered, twisting her shawl through her hands.
“I will find a way for us, Columba!” He promised. “Don’t leave me again! Come with me, I can’t do this without you!”
“I will come.” Columba said. “Because I love you, and I don’t want to be parted from you again.”
The creature took her hand in his and led her out the door. She went transparent as she stepped into the sunlight. Her features twisted, her skin paled and her lips reddened to the color of blood.
“Columba?” He asked.
“I’m fine. We need to find people.” Columba said. “I need them. There are some just beyond the trees.”
The two ran in the direction that Columba had pointed. Sure enough, there were people beyond the trees. Three of them, all of them men.
“Kill them.” Columba ordered.
“Why?” he asked her.
“You want to bring me back, don’t you?” she asked sweetly.
“Yes, dearest. More than anything.” He whispered.
“Then do it.”
Columba watched proudly as he snapped the first man’s neck. The other two launched themselves at him, swords raised. He threw the second man at a tree, where he landed with a sickening crunch. His eyes stared at nothing. He reached his hand into the third man’s chest and pulled out his heart. He offered Columba the heart. She took it and pushed the bloody organ into her own chest.
The sun stopped shining through her. Color returned to her face.
“I’m back, for now.” Columba said, flexing her fingers. “Shall we go?”
Durazno watched the newlywed royal couple from his place by the curtains. Marisindin was gorgeous and actually smiling. Not one of her sad smiles that she usually gave him and everyone else, but a full smile that lit up her entire face.
“Oh! Look at me! I’m a brooding and sultry warrior guy that refuses to talk to anyone!” Dacia said mockingly. Durazno turned and rolled his eyes at her. Her green eyes glowed with laughter.
“Hello Dacia.” He sighed.
“Here.” She said saucily, handing him a glass of wine. He accepted it and took a sip. He promptly spat it out when he saw the frog swimming in the bottom of his cup. He handed the cup back to Dacia.
’You can keep this.” He said. He watched Marisindin leave the room. He excused himself and followed her. He caught up to her in the corridor of fallen kings.
“You were at the tower that night.” She said. It wasn’t a question.
"Yes. You handled the situation well." Durazno said.
"I suppose so." She sighed.
"It was very risky though." He said.
“I’m leaving today. Tell your father that.” Durazno said. “There are some people that I need to find before it’s too late. I’m also taking a horse from your stable.”
“That’s fine.” Marisindin said.
Durazno nodded at her and walked out the door into the bright sunlight. He walked into the stable and chose a medium sized chestnut male. None of the grooms said a word as he swung himself up onto the beast and galloped away. The guards at the city gate opened it for him without a word.
He enjoyed the cool breeze on his face as he galloped across the countryside. To the west, he saw a column of smoke rising. He turned his horse to the west and dug his heels in. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. And where there’s fire, there are probably dragons.
He arrived on a field full of screaming dragons and humans. He heard a shout and recognized Naranja’s voice. He drew his sword and charged down the slope. He sliced through a Dragonfriend and leapt onto her dragon’s wing. He stabbed his sword down into the dragon’s neck, slicing through it’s veins and muscles.
A second dragon came at him, snarling with rage. He punched it in one eye and rammed a dagger through the second. It’s Dragonfriend screamed with rage and hurled himself at Durazno. He impaled himself on Durazno’s sword and fell to the ground in a pile of spilled intestines.
All around him, the battle stopped. Durazno looked up and saw the creature from the clearing ripping the heart out of a young pale blue dragon. He ran as fast as he could to Naranja and her warriors. They parted ranks for him, allowing him to stand next to his sister.
“You’re back.” She said, wiping a splatter of blood off her cheek.
“Yeah, I am. Just in time for a monster to kill me.” Durazno said pessimistically.
“Fun times.” Naranja said, smiling at him. Durazno smiled back at her. “Shall we charge it?”
“Why not?” Durazno asked, shrugging. He and Naranja raised their swords and ran towards the creature.
“Did that thing just eat a heart?” Naranja asked disgustedly.
“It did.” Durazno said.
Naranja yelled a battle cry and stabbed at the creature. It swiped at her with a branch-like hand. Durazno hacked at its hand, the hand fell to the ground and wriggled in the mud for a moment. Another hand grew out of the stump and the creature scratched Durazno deeply down one arm. He barely dodged the second time. Naranja seemed to be having a hard time, too.
The creature kicked Durazno’s legs out from under him and bent to finish him off. Naranja screamed and jumped on the creature’s back, trying to choke the life out of him. He pried her off and threw her to the ground, hard.
The creature turned slowly towards the Durazno. “Bloody hell.” Durazno cursed.
An enormous boulder shot out of the soil and nailed the creature in the face at the same time that a column of blue light hit the creature. He fell to the ground, struggling with the boulder. Before he had time to wonder where Tansy was, something that looked suspiciously like a tree root grabbed Durazno by the ankle and pulled him away. He saw a second tendril grab Naranja.
The tendril pulled him upright next to the pretty dark-skinned girl from the clearing. The other tendril gently set Naranja beside him.
“Thanks.” He coughed. The girl nodded, sweeping her silky hair into a bun and kneeling next to Naranja. She stuck her hand into Naranja’s skull. As soon as she had removed her hand, Naranja’s eyes opened.
A large orange dragon landed beside him. Durazno reached for his sword, but it wasn’t there. He drew his dagger and started a charge at the dragon.
“Stop!” the girl ordered. “Ember is a friend!”
Durazno was so shocked that he actually did stop. The girl changed into a medium sized brown dragon and flew towards the creature. The creature took one look at the female dragon and the two males that had joined her and ran.
The three dragons landed on a tall rock up the slope from the fight. She turned back into a human, the other two dragons following suite. He recognized one of them as the man from the clearing where Callen had died. The other was a round faced young man with short brown hair and moss colored eyes that Durazno had never seen before.
“There is a force more powerful than human or dragon!” She shouted. “It has taken form as that creature that just fled! We need to stand united against this monster! We stand no chance without each other, put aside your war and join us to stop this monster! I am your Geomancer, stand with me here if you wish to join me!”
“Help me get over there.” Naranja ordered.
“We’re joining?” Durazno asked.
“Yes. You saw how easily that thing beat both of us.” Naranja answered. Naranja’s archers and Castana’s healers followed them to the rock. Durazno saw the faces of Timmons and Petunia in the crowd.
“Why should we abandon a war that we’ve been fighting for thirty years just because some oddity wandered out of the woods and killed a few people?” A grizzled burgundy colored dragon shouted.
“That creature is impervious to dragon fire and can regrow its limbs! We don’t know if it can even be killed!” The man from the clearing called.
“You are a traitor to your kind!” A yellow female shouted at him. “Deserter! Coward!”
“We need your help!” The man that Durazno didn’t recognize pleaded.
In the end, none of the dragons stayed. Several Dragonfriends stayed. Two horses plowed through the crowd, sending everyone scattering. Durazno recognized the riders, a young man with honey colored hair and a girl with long black hair.
Tansy jumped down from her horse, closely followed by Sim. “You’re alive! It worked! I can’t believe it worked!” She exclaimed, throwing her arms around him.
“We couldn’t believe that you’d met your match in speed until he had you on the ground.” Sim said, laughing.
“Naranja and I are joining this dragon lady to get rid of the creature. Are you in?” He asked.
“We go where you go.” Sim said.
“Good. That thing is strong. We’ll need your power, Tansy. Sim, we could use you to annoy it to death.” Durazno said. The dark-skinned woman jumped off the rock and landed on the balls of her feet beside them.
“Which one of you caused the column of light?” she asked. “Don’t lie. I can sense that all of you have a lot of power.”
“Who are you?” Sim demanded.
“My name is Silt, or you can call me the Geomancer.” Silt said. Tansy tensed. The Geomancer turned her stare on Tansy. “So it was you? We’ll probably need your power in the near future.”
“My name is Durazno. He’s Sim, and she’s Tansy.” Durazno introduced.
“Durazno? As in Durazno the dragon killer?” The Geomancer asked. “If your as fast as the rumors say, you’ll be useful.”
“Maybe. I’m not as fast as that creature. Neither is my sister.” Durazno said.
“You want have to dance with him for long, if we can come up with a good plan.” The Geomancer promised.
“We have about fifty men. They can probably all fit in the clearing.” She mused. Without warning, tree roots yanked them all underground and pulled them along some kind of tunnel. Four minutes later, the earth spat them out in a sunny clearing occupied by a little stone cottage and a stream.
“Welcome to my home.” The Geomancer said. You’re welcome here as long as you don’t come inside my house. Any plans for stopping the creature are welcome.”
A woman who looked like her bottom half was made out of water rose up out of the stream. “I come in peace, dragon.” The woman said to Ember, who had been preparing to spray her with fire. “I seek the Geomancer.”
“Right here.” Silt said, stepping out from behind Ember.
“I am the Hydromancer.” The woman said. “I have come to help you with the threat of the creature.”
Durazno glanced at his friends. Sim had his eyebrows raised. Tansy was staring at the woman in shock.
“Tansy? You okay?” He asked.
“No.” She said, shaking her head. “No. This isn’t possible.”
“What isn’t? The water woman?” Sim asked.
“She’s dead.” Tansy said. “How is she here?”
“Do you know her?” Durazno asked worriedly.
“She’s my mother. And she’s been dead for eight years.” Tansy whispered. Durazno squinted at the woman. She had the same long black hair and dark gray eyes.
“Come on. We need to get out of sight and talk about this.” Durazno said, leading Tansy and Sim well behind Naranja’s archers.
“What exactly did you see the day she died?” Durazno pressed.
“I don’t remember most of it. I remember coming into the house, then there’s a gap in my memory. It was like I came out of a fog and saw her body on the floor.”
“Are you sure that that woman is your mother?” Durazno asked.
“My mother had a scar on her neck, in the same place as she does.” Tansy said.
“Do you want to confront her?” Durazno asked.
“Not yet. I don’t think that I’m ready for that yet.” Tansy said miserably.
“I’m going to see what I can do to help. Maybe get a closer look at this Hydromancer woman.” Sim said, pushing his way past the archers.
“Do you want to talk about it or something?” Durazno asked gently. Tansy stayed silent for a moment.
“I don’t understand why she would do this to me!” Tansy burst out. “We only had each other, she didn’t like me to go too far from home. She taught me everything I know. She always seemed fearful of something, losing me, maybe. Then I saw her body on the floor. Her hair was wet, and her skin was waxy. I had nightmares about it for months. I remember after we buried her I didn’t cry. I didn’t cry until late that night. I climbed out the window and into an oak tree. I held onto that tree trunk as tightly as I could, and I imagined myself becoming part of the moonlight and wind.”
Durazno took her hand. “Its hard to lose someone. It must be even harder to find out that they’re still alive and they’ve been letting you grieve them for years.” He said quietly.
“She used to say: No matter what, Tansy, I’ll always be here, I’ll always love you. That proved to be a lie.” Tansy said bitterly.
“I can’t keep a promise like that, no one really can. But I can try, if you want.” Durazno offered.
Tansy looked at him and smiled slightly. “Thank you, Durazno. It’s good to know that it wasn’t one sided. When we had to split up, I didn’t know whether I wanted my secret to die with you, or if I wanted you to be safe.” She whispered, leaning into him.
“I’ll come with you to talk to her if you need me.” He promised.
“We’ll talk to her later. If I need you to say something, I’ll poke you.” Tansy said. “We’ll talk to her later. Right now, let’s just rest.”
They sat back to back, leaning against each other. Tansy’s long hair tickled his neck and brushed his hands.
“I once fell off of a cow while trying to pick a pear.” Durazno said absentmindedly.
“What?” Tansy spluttered.
“I broke Castana’s doll when we were younger. She threatened to tell if I didn’t steal one of the man down the street’s pears. I couldn’t reach any of them, and I was about to tell her that she wasn’t getting a pear. She glared at me and stomped her little foot, and I thought better of it. I led one of his cows over to the pear tree and climbed on top of it. I stretched my hand up and grabbed the pear but lost my balance after the cow got bored and started to wander away. Castana got her pear, but I came home covered in cuts and bruises and had to come clean about it. I got into twice as much trouble for stealing a pear for her than I did for breaking her doll.” Durazno said, a smile coming to his face at the memory of his father’s disapproving face.
“Am I interrupting something?” He looked up to see Castana standing in front of him, eyebrows raised.
“Just my amazing rendition of when you blackmailed me into stealing a pear for you.” Durazno said.
“Oh, that story!” Castana said with a laugh. “That was one of the best pears that I’ve ever eaten.”
“Gotten at your brother’s expense.” Durazno said, voice full of mock disappointment.
“Anyone want to go eavesdrop on those two’s conversation?” Castana asked, smiling mischievously.
“Actually, I do.” Tansy said, rising. Durazno hopped up after her.
They followed Castana to a cluster of berry bushes and dropped to the ground behind them. They strained their ears and listened.
“Dropped by to see the Aeromancer.” The Hydromancer was saying. “He said that he and the Pyromancer would be joining the war to end things. He said that we’ve left the earth too vulnerable. He’s right, this war needs to end. The Aeromancer sent word to the king for help.”
“That’s good. Now we just need a plan.” The Geomancer said.
“You said that you had a girl with tremendous water talent earlier, no?” The Hydromancer said.
“I did.” The Geomancer said.
“She may be the key. If she and I combine our powers, we should be able to match him.” The Hydromancer said.
“But how are we going to get him to come to us? Stand on a field somewhere until he shows up?” The Geomancer puzzled.
“That, my friend, is precisely what we’re going to do. I just need a few days to practice with this girl first.” The Hydromancer said with a smile. Tansy had her eyes narrowed in a way that showed that she was regretting her decision to follow Durazno. Durazno squeezed her hand. Castana cocked an eyebrow at their clasped hands.
“I’ll send her to you later.” The Geomancer promised.
They backed out of the bushes and scampered back to the spot where they’d been sitting earlier.
“I’d better get back to supervising the healers.” Castana said, winking at them.
“I think I’m ready to talk to her now.” Tansy said nervously. She led him over to the Hydromancer.
She tapped the woman on the shoulder. The woman turned and stared at her in shock.
“Tansy?” She whispered.
“Mother.” Tansy said. “Tell me, how is a woman who has been dead for eight years here?”
The pain was clear on the Hydromancer’s face. “Tansy, you don’t understand!” She said desperately.
“Understand what? That you faked your death and then show back up almost nine years later?” Tansy said coldly.
“You don’t understand the reason why I did it.” The Hydromancer cringed.
“Tell me.” Tansy said.
“A spell went wrong. It slowly turned my body into water, there was nothing I could do to stop it.” The Hydromancer said.
“You could have at least taken me with you!” Tansy snarled. “You didn’t have to make me believe that you were dead! And when did you become Hydromancer? Before or after you faked your death?”
“Before.” The Hydromancer whispered.
“So you hid that from me, too?” Tansy glared. “I will work with you, but only out of necessity.”
“You’re the one with the power?” The Hydromancer gasped.
“Maybe if you hadn’t been so busy planning to fake your death, you would have noticed.” Tansy said icily, walking away. Durazno shrugged at the Hydromancer and followed Tansy.
Later that night, after Tansy’s training session with her mother, they sat around a campfire with Castana, Naranja and Timmons. Timmons was telling a wild story about the time that he and his childhood friend caught a squirrel and released it in a crowded schoolhouse when the Geomancer spoke.
“In two days, we attack the creature. We will be joined by the king’s army, as well as the forces of the Aeromancer and the Pyromancer. Your jobs will be to protect the Hydromancer and the woman called Tansy while they use their power to destroy the creature!” She called. “Use these days to sharpen your swords and repair your armor, to gather healing power and train!”
Their small army cheered.