Caidan let Edwin button his cuffs. Caidan was not to be trusted with anything that could be used as a weapon so all the brushes and pins were held by Edwin until they were needed for ceromonies. Tonight’s dinner was also a royal event.
“Make sure you put them away proberly,” Braudin demanded, ordering the young servent with a crisp voice.
“Is all of this really neccessary?” Caidan asked.
“The king has demanded it,” Braudin answered.
“I’m not to be trusted with a pin but a room full of dignitaries and ambasadors is fine,” Caidan said with sarcasm.
“I would advise against trying anything. Those dignataries and ambassadors will not hesitate to restrain you. Your father has things well in hand. I doubt you’ll even have the opertunity. Put the idea out of your mind,” Braudin warned.
“Why invite me to dinner at all? Shouldn’t I be in a dungeon or something?”
“Do you want to be in the dungeon?” Braudin’s anger was evident.
“I want to be back at home,” Caidan answered in a whisper.
“This is your home.” Caidan had heared that sentence more times than he wanted to think about. He knew that it would never be true anyway. This place would never be his home.
Braudin’s large hands gripped Caidan’s arm and shoulder, leading him through the halls; pulling him this way and that. The halls were deserted but floral murals and thick carpets lined the halls. Caidan tried to keep his eyes open for a possible escape. He fidgeted with his clothes as he walked, trying to slow their progress.
“Keep moving, Caidan. You don’t want to be late,” Braudin adviced.
“I’m surprised that you’re not using the air to pull me around. Your hands might get dirty this way.”
“If you don’t get moving I’ll have to,” Braudin growled, not bothering to hide his anger. “Your father thinks that he can trust you but I advise caution. You have proven that you can’t be trusted. One day, you will be king but you must accept that you’re a prince first.”
“I don’t want to be a king or a prince. I will never help you destroy worlds,” Caidan promised.
“You’re already helping us destroy earth,” Braudin explained as he marched Caidan through the halls. “The king sent you there when you were still a baby so that we could come back one day.”
“I don’t think he expected a seer or a wolf-brother to appear at the same time. Sending me to earth back fired on your king,” Caidan said in anger. “This is far from over!”
“You have a lot to learn yet,” Braudin said with a cruel laugh. “Just try to make it through dinner.”
Braudin flung open the doors to the dinning chamber. The room was lined in tall windows. Gilded chairs surrounded a table that could fit more than fifty people. The room looked even more empty because of the table’s large size. Only one man sat at the table.
The king himself sat at the head of the table with his hands folded. His hands slowly uncurled as he said, “I wanted to have a word with you before our guests arrive.”
“If you want to warn me not to try to cause any trouble you needn’t bother. Braudin already told me that it’s useless.” Caidan tried to keep the hoplessness from his voice.
“I know that I am asked more of you than you think you can give. You think you have given up everything because you do not know this world as your home. You will learn the truth of it soon,” the king declared. “I am sure that knowing more about our guests and their jobs here will help.”
“Unless one of them can take me back to earth I don’t see how knowing can help. I don’t want to know more about your kingdom, I want to get out of it! This place will never be my home.” Caidan tried to explain further but the air around him solified. Caidan could no longer speak.
“I need you to listen. You’ve had your chance to talk but now it is my turn. Many of the people joining us for dinner will be dangerous,” the king explained, his voice changing as he spoke. “There are people coming who may try to kill you.”
“Why would they want to kill me? How do they even know I exist?” Caidan asked in shock.
“There is always a balance, good and evil, light and shadow. We could not be what we are if there was not a balance.”
“Will you talk since? Balance has nothing to do with this!” Caidan could not hide his frustration.
“Are you sure about that?” The king asked. Caidan could see that the king was trying to be mysterious and would not tell him anything else.
“Can you give me any advice or are you going to let me die,” Caidan asked, getting frustraited.
“Oh, I can’t let you die. Your mother’s spirit would haunt me forever. I’m going to teach you how to defend yourself” The king lead Caidan into a small side room and began.
Pete ran deeper and deeper into the mist. He was not sure where he was going but anywhere away from Ornree sounded good. Plum and Dancer had told him about an old enemy called Ornree. There had been days and weeks of travel while they ran to save Caidan in the Mist Mountains.
Pete had a thousand questions to ask. Pete wanted to know as much as he could about the dream world but the wolves seemed to think that was like explaining that water was wet. The wolves had other ideas. They had their own stories to tell.
Dancer had told Pete all he could about the wolves and their history. Men had helped them in the past and both Plum and Dancer wanted to Pete to know the most famous stories. All wolves were told of Ornree’s defeat as pupps. When the pupps grew older they learned that Ornree could come back.
“Ornree wanted wolves and trapped them, trying to take over the dream world. Human magicians locked Ornree in a world of shadows using long forgotten magic,” Dancer had told him.
“Ornree wants out of the shadow world; he wants out more than he wants anything else. The only way out is to kill wolves. We are taught as pupps to run if we see him,” Plum told him later on.
Pete shivered at the memory. He took Plum’s advice and he ran as fast as he could away from this thing that called it a man. He was not a man! His skin melted and his eyes were empty. This was not a thing to be reasoned with... it was a thing out of nightmares. Fighting it would only make it stronger. Running was the only option.
Pete ran as fast as his screaming leggs would carry him. He stopped cold when Ornree appeared out of the mist in front of him.
“How did you get here?” Pete asked with shaking breath.
“I have lived here for lifetimes... for centuries. I know a trick or two,” Ornree answered with that mysterious voice. “I know how to make you call to those wolves of yours.”
“You are not the first enemy I have delt with.,” Pete said in a growl. “You can threaten my friends and my home but I will not help you. Why would I help with my own self destruction? You and I both know that you will not stop at destroying a wolf pack. You will destroy everything!”
“You think that makes you any better than me? You destroy pests when they go after your crops. I am doing the world a favor by ridding the universe of another pest,” Ornree said with a sickening smile.
The melting thing that was Ornree reached his hand towards Pete. Pete jumped back with a scream, “Don’t touch me! I know what your touch does, you monster!”
“The wolves have taught you well,” Ornree said.
“I know what you and what you want me to do. I won’t do it,” Pete swore.
“I think you might want to rethink that answer. I can make you do as I ask but you will not like the outcome. I hear it can be very painful,” Ornree warned.
“I’ve known men like you my whole life. You enjoy causing others pain. You’ll make me hurt either way,” Pete said with finality. “I won’t play your game.”
“You’re already in the center. The only way to get out is to make a move.”
“I’ll just have to change the game then. Do you know how to win a chess game against a person who is smarter than you and a more experianced player?” Pete asked suddenly.
Ornree paused to think. “I’m afraid I don’t play chess much.”
“You punch the other player in the face and knock over the board,” Pete said while Ornree looked at him in shock. Pete went on to expain, “This person is a more experianced player. They already have advantage. You may get lucky and catch a few good moves but this person is smarter than you. They can react to any surprises quicker than you can. The only way to beat them is to turn a game of brains into a game of brawn.”
“Your plan to punch me may fail. I am stronger than I look,” Ornree warned again.
“I’ll change your game, Ornree. You’ve forced me to play but I won’t play by your rules!”
Ornree laughed. It took a moment for him to get a hold of himself before he could answer, “I made this game. I am the one who makes the rules.”
“Things change,” Pete said stubbornly.
He got up and walked away. He wanted Ornree to know that the fight was over. He needed to be alone. He needed to think. He needed quiet. Ornree’s words were making his head spin. He needed to get away! Pete began to walk faster but he did not get far. Ornree appeared in front of him suddenly yet again.
“Can you change for me?” Ornree asked with an ominus hiss.
“What are you talking about? I’m not changing my mind.”
“Can you become a wolf? Can you howl your saddness to the night?”
“I won’t help you destroy them,” Pete swore again and again.
“What has to be done will be done,” Ornree said in minace.
“There is another way to free your people. There is always a choice,” Pete said in desperation.
“Not this time. There is no other optioin and I grow tired of waiting.” There was a dangerous tone in Ornree’s voice but Pete could do nothing other than ignore it. He started to turn away but the ground shook and Pete was forced to his hands and knees.
“Be indignant if you want but you won’t be leaving.” Ornree bent closer to Pete and gave a sad siegh before continuing, “I wish it had not come to this, boy. Giving proper incentive may damage you beyond repair. My plan will never be successful with a broken tool. I do not want to risk leaving you in a mindless stuppor.”
“I don’t suppose that I get a vote in this?” Pete asked dryly.
“There is nothing for it,” Ornree went on, ignoring Pete. “You leave me no choice.”
“I’m leaving now. You can do whatever you want.” Pete tried to get up but Ornree gave him a swift kick that sent him spralling to the ground. He tried to get up again but quickly found Ornree’s knee in the small of his back. Pete reached out for anything but had to hold in a grunt when Ornree’s foot slammed down on his wrist. He continued to struggle but it was useless.
Hands appeared from the mist and pulled at him. Pete twisted adn writhed in their grip. They pulled Pete this way and that until he felt like he would burst! Pain errupted in his chest and ran up and down Pete’s back. Flashes of light appeared in his vision and flashed before his eyes. Pete went still as white light surrounded him. Pete fell into the light and a greater pain came up to meet him.
His heart beat faster and faster until his chest felt like it would burst. His head felt like it would explode. His lungs expanded to howl against his will. Pete bit his lip to fight the instinct while he pulled at the hands. The hands clamped down and the pain doubled.
Pete tried to grit his teeth but his lungs seemed to be banging against his ribbs. He pulled against the hands, trying to get away from the pain. Finally, he coudl not fight it any more.
Pete threw back his head and howled.
Will and Sargento were pulled along by the guards. The pallace was lushly decorated but Will was too busy falling into the carpets to notice the lush pattern. Their leggs were shackled and keeping up with the guards was difficult to say the leaste. The guards still pulled them and pushed them along, making both Will and Sargento stumble and fall.
“I wanted to work with willing allies but I can see that you two are going to be nothing but trouble,” the empress said with clear annoyance. “I have made arrangements for you.”
“We already made a deal. You broke it when you attacked the Nemph,” Will reminded her. “We were keeping our end of the deal.”
“Now you refuse to give me any information at all! Your attitude will change soon enough,” the empress promised.
The empressed guestered for the guards to push them into study. The room was lined with shelves and books. The books did not hold Will’s attention or Sargento’s. The four people in the middle of the room held all eyes.
A young woman in her early teens and an older man in a farmer’s coat sat under the watch of two Eratian guards. Sargento did not recognise either of them but he could see that Will did. Shiver went up and down his spine.
“Alona?” Will breathed in shock. “Master Tallon? How did the two of you get here?”
Sargento saw it now. These people were Will’s sister and Caidan’s father! The Nemph could not get everyone but Sargento had assumed that he and Will were the only two left. Sargento felt hopelessness weigh down his heart. It only got heavier when Annesta and a velvet woman came into the room from another entrance.
“Now that we are all here, we can begin,” the empress declared. “The only way to get any co-operation from you villiagers is to force you.” The empress turned to Sargento. “You will go into the dream world to retreave the net that young Will made with the wolves.”
“You cannot use the net without information from the Nemph. Why would I go to get it?” Sargento asked in confusion.
“If you refuse to bring me the net than Annesta will be collared and forced to hurt Donal Tallon. I’m sure Caidan will be most disappointed that you allowed his father to be harmed. Annesta may not be too happy with you either,” the empress mocked with a steel-edged voice.
She turned to Will then and continued, “You have yourown job to do while Sargento is away, Will.” Sargento could see Will shiver in responce. “You will have a vision while Sargento is dreaming. My men will be sure to bring on a vision for you. If you refuse to tell me the vision, your sister will suffer. I want every detail and I will scurge and flail your sister to get it!”
Alona began to sob and Will shook with anger. Master Tallon looked like he was ready to jump up and charge the empress. Sargento could not form more than a thought or two without getting lost in a stream of conscieness. He was overwhelmed and lost.
“We got away from you last time and we can get away again!” Will yelled out. Guards moved foreward to surround the empress. Each of them pointed a weapon at Will. He knew when he had lost but he continued all the same, “We’ll play your game. I’ll tell you any visions I see for now but I’ll get away.”
The empress gave him a cold smile. “You make your plans and I’ll make mine.”
“I owe Caidan a debt but so do you,” Sargento pointed out. “You need Caidan to work with you. He will never help you if you hurt his father. You can’t follow through with your threat.”
“You doubt my word?” the empress asked with a hiss. Both Will and Sargento were too scared to answer. The empress motioned to a guard.
“No!” Alona screamed as a collar was forced on her neck.
“Gahh!” Master Tallon cried out as the velvet woman forced Alona to send waves of pain to him. Master Tallon fell to his knees, crinched his head and moaned.
“Please make it stop!” Alona begged over Master Tallon’s moans.
“It’s going to be alright,” Will promised.
He obviously thought his words would comfort his sister but she only cried more. Master Tallon moaned louder.
Sargento could feel the moans and the pain and the fear seeping into him. He tried to push all the emoations away. He tried to burn them up in an imaginary fire but nothing could make them go away. Eventually, he could not bare the feelings any longer. The pain and fear seemed to destroy a part of him.
“I’ll do it!” Sargento called out over the moans that he could stand no longer. “I’ll go into the dream world and bring you back the net.”
“I know that you ran into the dream world before and were able to escape there. Do not even think of trying such a thing now,” the empress warned. “Your friends will suffer for it.”
“I wouldn’t leave without them,” Sargento said with anger.
“Actions speak louder than words,” the empress declared. “Bring me the net to proove that you care for your friends.”
“I’ll be back,” Sargento promised them. “As quick as I can.”
He knelt down on the floor, leaning his back against the wall and closed his eyes. He ran to Juniper’s valley as soon as he entered the dream world.
“Juniper!” Sargento called. “Will, Caidan and the girls are all in trouble. I need to bring them the net you made to trap the Dark Elves.”
“It is dangerous to give the net to the Eratians,” Juniper warned. “They were use the weapons against us all when they are done with the Dark Elves.”
“The weapons can’t be used at all without the Nemph’s help. They have the books that explain how to use it,” Sargento tried to explain. “The Eratians made a deal with the Nemph but then double-crossed them. The Nemph will not give them information now!”
“Do what you think is right but be careful!”
“I wouldn’t take it at all if I could think of any other way to help Will and Caidan. I’ll be very careful with it and with the Eratians,” Sargento promised before returning to the real world.
Sargento fell into his body with a gasp. He flailed around, looking for purchase. He needed to feel something real to make himself believe that he was back. He felt the net on his left then. He sat up quickly to show the empress.
Her back was to him. She was busy motioning at the guards around Will. They were all striking him again and again with those lightning sticks. He was the one moaning now. He was clearly in pain and he had been for quiet some time.
“Please!” Alona called, unsure of who she was asking.
“Leave him alone,” Sargento ordered. “I’ve brought your net!”
“Be quiet, you fool. He’s about to have a vision,” the empress ordered.
“That’s what all this was about?”
“Do not presume to know my plans. You do not see the intricate details of politics.”
Will continued to raith on the floor. Sargento felt helpless. He wanted to help his friend. He thought he was going to help his friends by bringing the net! Now he was back to doing nothing. He could not help even with these new talents, all he could do was watch.
Will twisted this way and that, trying to get away from the pain. The guards had been beating him and he had lost all track of time. Lightning sticks sent agony bursting through him. He doubled over, clinching at his stomache. Suddenly, a vision hit.
He saw a valley, high over the land in the Nemph city. He saw that the Dark Elves waited on the other said. Will could not explain how but he knew that the only way to defeat to Dark Elves was to wait to ambush them at this entrance. The Eratians would not like to hear this news but the only way to keep his loved ones safe was to tell the Eratians exactly what happened.
He came back to himself and quickly searched the room for his friends. He was lying on the floor so seeing anything above ground level was difficult.
“Alona?” he croaked out. “Sargento? Is everyone alright?”
Will’s questions erned him a kick to an already bruised side. The others were already gagged and had a guard standing beside them.
“You know what will happen to your friends if you refuse to answer,” the empress said with a dangerous undertone to her voice. “I do hope that none of us have to waste time prooving to you how serious my threat is.”
“I know you’re serious. But I won’t tell you anything until I know they’re safe,” Will demanded.
The empress nodded to the guard behind Sargento and ordered, “Remove the gadge.”
The guard removed the cloth over Sargento’s mouth but took hair and skin along with it. Sargento gasped in pain and shook his head, trying to clear away the fog and the pain.
The empress was getting impatient. “Tell your friend that the no one has been harmed,” she ordered.
“They’re all alright, Will. I got the net and no one has been harmed.” Sargento tried to say more but the guard knocked him over the head before stuffing the cloth back into his mouth. The guard looked to the empress for guidance. She motioned for him to be taken away.
“No!” Will protested. “He needs to hear this. I had a vision. The Dark Elves have created an entrance to our world. They can come and go freely from this point. We have to ambush them from this point.”
“Why not simply block this hole. There is no need to fight them if they cannot enter,” the empress decided.
“Blocking one hole will only make them create a new hole. Ambushing them will scare them,” Will tried to explain. “We can take out their weapons.”
“Where is this entrace?” the empress said suspiciously. “You expect me to take you back to Winding?”
“The entrance is in the Nemph city. It’s floating in the sky.”
“The Creator has sent us a sign. We will conquer the Nemph. The seer has seen proof!” the empress declared!
“You can’t attack them!” Will yelled. “Caidan and Pete are up there. Raederle and Morgan are in that city! You still need them. You can’t kill them. Besides, the city is floating in the sky. None of your weapons can reach them!”
“My velvet women can send lightnings,” the empress said stubbornly.
Arcadia cleared her throat at that. “My empress, none of the silken are strong enough to send lightnings so high.”
“I’ve seen our silken send lightnings so high myself,” the empress said with open anger.
“Raederle had enough power to send them into the sky but none of the others have her strength,” Arcadia reminded her.
“The Nemphs will be conquered! My seer saw it in a vision!” The empress said her words with finality.
“That’s not how it works,” Will began but a guard kept him from finishing. His hands were forced behind his back and bound while a rag was forced into his mouth. “MMm!” Will screamed through the rag, trying to shake it loose.
“Escort them to the wing that was prepared,” the empress ordered.
Evan followed the shadow in front of him with unease. “Where are you taking me?” Evan asked the shadow again.
“I am taking you to your answers. That is what you asked.”
“Are answers always so far away?” Evan asked in frustraition.
“Truth deserves the work. Good things only come to those who work,” the shadow reminded the Nemph.
“This hall never seemes to end,” Evan complained. “The view never changes but my leggs tell me that we’ve walked far. Are you trying to avoid something? Going the long way around?”
“I am taking you to answers. There are bargains yet to be made,” the shadow promised again.
“Is there something special about the room we are going to?”
“Enough questions!” the shadow screamed out. “You’ll get your answers, this way.”
The shadow motioned Evan into a room full of thick pillars. Other shadows wraithed and hid under the pillars. They all came into the open once Evan stepped into the room.
“Ask your questions and recieve the answers you seek,” the largest shadow ordered.
None of the other shadows spoke. They were all too busy sniffing the air as if searching for a scent.
Evan looked around him and could not help a shudder of fear. Life would be easier if he could trust these shadows but he just could not bring himself to it.
“My guide tells me that you answer questions and answer them truthfully. I have so many questions but all the remaining questions depend on the first answer.” Evan took a deep breath before continuing, “Why have you brought me here?”
“You must know something of our history before the answer makes since. I will do my best to summarize it for you. We shadows were once rulers of the dream world. We were the only ones who could get there for centuries and all its secrets were ours to keep. We kept those secrets close to our hearts and we assumed that the dream world was closely guarding the entrances to its world. We were wrong to assume...
“The Nemph had found the entrance to the dream world and the world itself let them in. Our people, the shadows, tried to ignore these Nemph and continue doing what they had always done -- create nightmares, fear and chaos. The dream world itself gave us this job but the Nemph tried to stop us. Eventually, the Nemph masons found a way to lock us out of the dream world. We have been trying to get home ever since!”
“That explains why you’re here but not why you brought me here!” Evan accused.
“I’m getting to that. There’s more to the story, you see. The Dark Elves are bluring the lines between the deminsions now. Your Nemphs’ lock still keeps us out of the dream world but the bluring allows my people to have power on earth. We know the Nemph hold earth precious. Destroying earth will destroy them!”
“Am I here so you can destroy me?” Evan asked in fear.
“You are here because you are a direct decentent to the mason who banished us. You will watch two worlds suffer and the Nemph die off before my people allow you to die,” the largest shadow said with a hiss of anger in his voice.
“You can’t honestly think that I’ll stand here and let you do this,” Evan growled himself.
“I don’t think that you have much choice in the matter” the larg shadow with a wave to the shadows and pillars around him.
The shadows dove at Evan, trying to force him to one of the pillars. Evan went to the ground and rolled. He moved with surprising agility. The shadows were not ready for him to roll into the light of the hall. No one was waiting out there to stop him.
Evan jumped to his feet and ran seconds after reaching the light. Nemphs were known for their running speed and stamina. The Nemphs could not only run quickly but run quickly all day long. Evan used all the stamina and agility his race possesed and made his way along the halls ahead of the shadows. The problem was that Evan was not sure where each hall lead.
He took two quick lefts and then a right, desperatly searching for a way out. If there was an in than there had to be an out! Evan tried to take another quick turn when a shadow tackled him from behind.
“That was a good try,” the larg shadow commended in a condescending voice. “It might have acctually worked on earth but here my people and I have the power. Only we can say who stays and who goes.”
The large shadow nodded his head at the mass of shadows behind him. “Bring friend Nemph here to one of my guest rooms. There’s no need to tie him. I doubt he’ll cause much trouble.”