“What?” I gasped, unable to believe what I had just heard. The benevolent-seeming dragyon that we were riding had helped the sorcerers. A statement made even worse by the fact that we were so far up in the air. All of our lives were in Neyolc’s hands – well, wings.
She sighed again. “I do not share this with you lightly,” she warned. “Knowing the type of people you are traveling with, I know you will not instantly despise any being who was ever aligned with, no matter how briefly, your enemy.”
I assumed she was referring to Kaolin. He had been our enemy for a while, but I believed that he was on our side.
“But yes, I was. It all started years ago, a few hundred. I don’t remember exactly how long it’s been. I trust you haven’t heard of the kingdom of Waqatort?”
“No,” we responded.
“I did not expect that you would. However, that kingdom was once a prosperous and beautiful kingdom, much like Rhellens is right now. But then the sorcerers living in that area decided that they liked the idea of running a kingdom and hatched a devious plan to take over it.
“However, the plan required many supplies and quite a bit of power that they didn’t have. So they asked for help, claiming that whatever magykal creatures helped them would get a section of the kingdom to have to themselves.
“I was young then, and reckless. Only about 75 years old, which is very young for a dragyon. I did not know what I was getting myself into.”
She sighed heavily again before going on. By then we were all entranced by the story, pulling us back hundreds of years. Unfortunately, I could picture what she was talking about all too well. Sorcerers convincing magykal creatures to help them? Yep.
“There was one of them…the leader. She may have been like your main enemy, Lymlock, but she was different, too. At first, I did not meet with her. However, the sorcerers spoke. They convinced me, that if I was not sure, if I had questions, their leader would meet with me. I decided to try.”
She spat a word in a different language, one I don’t know how to put into English letters. I suspected it was in the dragyon language. She used it as profanity, presumably cursing her years-ago self.
“That was the worst mistake I had ever made. That sorcerer” – she spat out this word, too, as if it tasted awful – “had the gift of charmspeak. Persuasion. With just a few words, she got me to join her cause.”
I peeked at Maybelle, knowing that she had the same gift. She looked shocked.
The dragyon continued. She didn’t look like she was telling it to us for our benefit anymore. No, she seemed to need to get the words out, no matter how furious her voice got. And she was pretty furious by that point.
“And so I fought. I fought as hard as I could, against my will. Although technically it was my decision, I had no choice in the matter.”
Her voice was livid. I was really glad I wasn’t a sorcerer right then.
“What happened?” Maybelle asked in a quiet voice.
“What do you think? My – no, it was not mine. Her side won. The sorcerers controlled the castle. All of the wizards were killed, and the king and queen as well. None of the wizards escaped, probably because there were no sorcerers who betrayed their side.”
I felt Kaolin momentarily tense in front of me, then relax, letting out a harsh breath.
“None of the magykal creatures who helped the leader got part of the land at all. No, what we got for our trouble and injuries – I have a scar, across my wing – was imprisonment. She didn’t care. She killed most of us. I was lucky to escape when I did.
“The kingdom, in a matter of months, fell. Most were killed and, eventually, the leader died of old age, after a long and happy life.” Her hatred was evident.
“Who was the leader?” Kaolin asked in the same kind of quiet voice Maybelle had used earlier.
“No,” Neyolc responded. “I will not tell you. I have sworn never again to speak her name. And I have told you enough already. You must promise never to speak of or about this to anybody, with the possible exception of among yourselves where no one else can hear.”
“I won’t,” I said quickly.
“Neither will I,” said Kaolin.
“Of course not,” confirmed Maybelle.
“Good,” she said, some of the anger leaving her voice. “Now please, be silent. I must think.”
We didn’t talk for a while, not wanting to disturb Neyolc. And I don’t know about the others, but I had some thoughts of my own that I wanted to sort through.
This thing, what was happening to our kingdom, wasn’t the first time this had happened. But before, at least once, the kingdom fell.
They did have dragyons on their side, though, which helped tremendously, I assume. They also had the gift of persuasion on their side, which was also on our side this time around.
My mind drifted, and I started wondering what would happen if Maybelle came up against another magykan with the gift of persuasion. If it were exactly as strong as hers, and they both tried to persuade each other, what would happen?
I was so tired. We had stayed up the whole night, after all, so I needed sleep. Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to sleep either during the day or while traveling, so there was no way that I would be able to get some sleep before we got there. And besides, it was nearly midday.
Time passed. I worried about almost everything that could be worried about, which was a lot, especially now with that story from the past to mull over. You know the saying, ‘History repeats itself.’ I knew all of us hoped that that wouldn’t come true.
“How close are we?” I asked Maybelle, breaking the silence when the sun was almost exactly above us in the sky.
“We’re really close. Like, I can see them on my map,” she assured me. She sounded excited, and I remembered again that these wizards were some of her best friends.
“I’ll take your word for it,” I said. I had no idea what that meant, but I assumed that it meant we were, like she said, really close.
“That’s great!” Kaolin put in. “We’ll be there in a few moments, Akeelay.”
“All right. I’ll just be glad if we can convince them to come with us and attack the castle.”
“I believe they are just on the other side of this mountain,” Neyolc said.
The land below us had been getting increasingly hilly, and we were now above a mountain range.
And sure enough, as we crossed over the mountain, a ragtag bunch of people came into view. Still wearing their castle uniforms, which were old and dirty by this point, the wizards seemed to be arguing about what to do, even from that high up.
“There they are,” Maybelle whispered joyfully.
“Fighting as usual,” I pointed out.
“I don’t care,” she said. “Land just in front of them, please, Neyolc.”
The dragyon swooped low over them. They looked up, some in terror, some in irritation, at the shadow that had fallen over them.
Neyolc landed right in front of them, stopping so suddenly that we almost pitched off of her.
“Go,” she said quietly to us, presumably trying not to let the wizards hear.
I carefully slid down the back of the huge lavender dragyon, stumbling as I hit the ground.
“It’s me, guys,” Maybelle said, reacting to the wands pointing our way.
“Maybelle?” a woman who I knew to be called Rita said in disbelief. She dropped her wand and walked toward us. “You’re alive?”
“Of course I am,” she said. “I went in the back way, so I wasn’t captured. Until later, of course, but that’s another story.”
“Why do you have a dragyon with you?” a wizard from the middle asked.
“That’s that sorcerer who let us go!” somebody in the back of the crowd said.
Whispers started all throughout the bunch of wizards.
Maybelle raised her hands in a “quiet down” kind of way. When the crowd hushed enough to let her speak, she said, “It’s been an eventful month, and it’s a very long story, trust me.”
“Tell us,” somebody shouted, and everybody voiced agreement.
“No,” Maybelle said firmly. “What we need to do right now is go back to the castle and get it back. We have to attack the castle. Lymlock will probably be expecting us, but we have to do this.”
“What if we do get the castle back? So what?” the same person demanded.
“Then we wake up the king and queen.”
“How? It’ll take at least 3 months to make the antidote to their potion, if we even knew what the potion was, and we can’t have nobody running the kingdom during that time.”
I pulled the feather out of my bag. “With this,” I spoke for the first time. “It’s the last remaining griffon feather, and it’s going to wake up the king and queen. All we have to do is get to them.”
“We can do this,” Maybelle urged. “As long as we all work together – I know, it’s a foreign concept – but as long as we can work together, we can and will beat the sorcerers.”
“Honestly,” I added. “I don’t think it’ll be that hard. Even if we’re fighting sorcerers left and right, Maybelle can – ” I stopped, not knowing if Maybelle would want me to reveal her gift or not. The wizards might claim that she was influencing their decision.
Maybelle nodded, urging me to go on.
“Maybelle can convince them not to fight,” I finished. “She has a gift of persuasion.”
Before the sorcerers could even say anything, there was a loud hiss from behind us. I jumped and spun around to see Neyolc glaring at us.
“You have the gift of persuasion, of charmspeak?” she demanded, angry. “I will not help you now. You know my past, so you will understand.”
“It’s not her fault!” Kaolin defended Maybelle quickly. “She can’t help the gift she was born with.”
“You make a good point, wizard,” she conceded, still scowling. “However, I will not assist you if you use your charmspeak at all while I am within range of hearing. Do not try to convince me to do something, or I will kill you on the spot. Use it or do not, make your decision. I will return.”
She took off into the air as she spoke the last syllable, flying much faster and more recklessly than she had been with us on her back.
“What was that about?” Rita asked. “And I’m glad you have that gift, Maybelle, and I’m sure it’s helped you a lot, but you cannot use it with us either.”
“Her points do make sense, though,” a tall redhead boy in the front said.
The crowd murmured vaguely and nodded in agreement.
“Don’t you see?” Rita asked. She seemed to have a clearer mind than the rest, and resisted Maybelle’s persuasion more than the other wizards. “She’s using her gift on you right now. Let Akeelay talk to us, or the boy. Who is he, anyway? I don’t recall who let us go, but he is obviously not a sorcerer.”
“I’m a traitor,” Kaolin said, just as he had to Camarin, “but not from your point of view.”
“What does that mean?” a wizard demanded.
“Are you saying…?” another one started.
Kaolin nodded and gave a quick explanation. “I was a sorcerer who worked for Lymlock, but I decided that I didn’t want to be a sorcerer anymore. So I sought out Akeelay, Maybelle, and Dossik, and a lot of stuff happened.”
“Kaolin has helped us a lot,” Akeelay assured them. “He’s definitely on the wizards’ side, if you were wondering.”
“Kaolin…do you have a sister?” one of the girls asked.
“Yes,” he responded warily, unsure where the wizard was going with that.
“Is she Argil? I don’t like her at all.”
“That’s an understatement,” Kaolin said, laughing, then frowning. “It’s worse when you’re family…trust me.” He shook his head, hard, as if to push away bad memories.
I couldn’t imagine growing up in a sorcerer family. I had never thought about it before, but Kaolin couldn’t have had a happy childhood. Of course, mine wasn’t exactly a picnic, but no parents are better than evil ones.
“Guys, come on. You have to help us. We’re going to go no matter what – you all know Maybelle – but if we can’t get past the sorcerers, we’re doomed. Like it or not, we’re the last hope for Rhellens, and we have to fight for it. Who’s going to come with us and do this?”
I didn’t know where the words came from, but I believed them with all of my heart.
There was nothing left. We were the last chance that the king and queen had.
“I will come,” Rita said. “What she says is true,” she added, turning to face the wizards. “We are the last hope of Rhellens. All else has failed. The sorcerers have taken over the castle. We have to get it back. It’s our job as the castle wizards, and our duty as citizens.”
I leaned over to Kaolin and muttered, “Imagine what Lymlock would say if he could hear this.”
Kaolin half-smiled. “He would just laugh. Laugh and try to kill all of us.”
“Yep,” I agreed.
Maybelle had walked a little ways off, but I could tell she was listening intently to the conversation.
“I’ll join,” another wizard said suddenly.
“As will I,” a second decided.
All of the wizards had been considering, evidently, but all of a sudden they made up their minds.
“I’ll come, I want to help,” they said one by one, coming over to us.
Eventually only one was left.
“Come on, Benjamin,” said one of the wizards standing next to me. “Why aren’t you coming?”
“I might,” he said. He seemed not really to be confused or torn about what to do, but calmly and rationally thinking it over. I didn’t understand why he didn’t care that much. After all, it was our kingdom that we were trying to defend.
“Why wouldn’t you come?” I asked, not demandingly, but honestly curious. What were his reasons?
“You don’t know what it’s like to be locked up by the sorcerers,” he said. “I do, and I never want to experience that again. And that’s the best thing they’ll do if we go there.”
“You’re wrong,” I told him. He looked like he was about to protest, but I went on before he could. “Not about the fact that that’s the least they’ll do. That’s true. But I have been locked up by the sorcerers, by Lymlock himself. And we probably had a worse experience than you did.”
“Trust me,” Kaolin added, nodding in agreement. “It was worse.”
“I’d like to hear that story sometime,” he commented. “But yes, because you have gone through that and understand the price we will pay if we lose, I’ll join you.”
“Thank you,” I said sincerely. “Because honestly, we’ll need all the help we can get.”
Maybelle came back over. “Now all we need to do is wait for Neyolc to come back. Of course, I’ll accept her deal. I won’t try to get any of you guys, or any of the sorcerers, to do anything.”
At that moment, Neyolc returned.
“What a coincidence,” I said. “We were just talking about you.”
“In a good way, or in a bad way?” she asked, and laughed. Apparently, she was in a better mood, for which I was glad. I didn’t like it when she was angry at Maybelle. Dragyon fire is impossible to affect with magyk or without, so she would have been dead had Neyolc gotten angry enough to start flaming.
“In a good way,” Kaolin assured her. “Maybelle was saying – well, you can tell her, May.”
“I won’t try to convince you, or anybody of anything,” she assured the dragyon.
“Good,” she responded after a long moment. “I believe you. Now we ought to be going, for we still have a great need to hurry.”
“How are you going to carry all of us?” The thought had just hit me that the three of us had fit on the dragyon’s back, but how were almost a hundred wizards going to fit as well?
“I do not know,” she responded, indignant. “That is not mine to figure out. I only will ferry you there, and help you with the attack. I have the strength to carry all of you, but not the size to have you ride on my back.”
“Just – here,” a wizard said, and spoke the “create” spell.
A sort of large open-topped box, big enough to carry all of us, but still not as long as Neyolc, appeared next to a huge boulder.
“Oh – sorry,” the same wizard said. “Bieb u l-Katina!”
This time, a door swung outward from the large box and a huge, strong chain materialized. There were actually two chains. One was attached to two corners and ended in a hook. The other was exactly the same, but on the other side.
“Do you think you could carry all of us in it?” he asked Neyolc, not seeming intimidated by her size at all, unlike the other wizards.
“Of course,” she responded lightly.
“Let’s go, then,” Kaolin said.
I was the fourth one into the box, which was actually like a room. It had plenty of chairs and cushions around to sit on.
In your measurements, it was about 15 feet wide by 15 feet long, just to give you an image. Neyolc, by comparison, was about 25 feet long.
“Nice place,” Maybelle commented as she entered. I was just sitting down on a beautifully furnished leather sofa, and gestured her over.
Kaolin was one of the last in, and he was pulled away into a corner chair by the dark-skinned Benjamin, evidently wanting to hear about our capture.
Maybelle followed my gaze and shook her head, sighing.
“He was always kind of sexist,” she said. “He would never talk to any of the female wizards if he could avoid it. It’s why, even though Kaolin used to be a sorcerer, Benjamin would rather talk to him than us.”
We all felt the takeoff, but the flying was smooth from there, and there was no danger off falling from turbulence.
There were more quickly forming groups, dividing up amongst themselves. I had never thought about the dynamics between the wizards, always assuming they worked together no matter what. But there were plenty of little cliques and groups, and the outsiders were evident.
“Hi, Maybelle!” one of the wizards said from behind us, and Maybelle turned around to talk to her. I sighed and got up.
I walked over to one of the outsiders, who looked bored and about my age.
“Hi,” I said, sitting down next to her. “I’m Akeelay.”
“I know,” the girl said automatically, glancing up. “I’m Trixie.”
“Nice to meet you.” She seemed a lot like me. I was always on the outside at the castle too.
“So, you got the feather? I’ve heard about that…can I see it?”
“Sure,” I said, pulling it out.
“It’s so pretty,” she said, reaching for it automatically. “I don’t know if we can do this, you know? I hope that we’ll make it. With this many people, we’ve got to at least get in there.”
“That’s what we’re counting on,” I agreed. “I – well, whoever has the feather – will have to get to the throne room.”
“Are the king and queen still in the throne room, then?” she asked. “I had assumed that Lymlock would have moved them. It doesn’t seem very convenient to just have them sitting in there for days.”
“Good point,” I said, suddenly worried. “I hope we can find them. If we can’t, there’s no point. The sorcerers will defeat us eventually.”
“They will.” She seemed to have the same understanding of her own abilities as Maybelle did. Most wizards would overestimate their talents.
“By the way, how bad was it for you, getting captured by the wizards?” I asked. “Benjamin – that wizard who couldn’t decide, I think that was his name – seemed to imply that it had been really awful.”
“It really wasn’t that bad,” she confided. “Benjamin overreacts to everything. They locked us up, obviously, in caerthin cells. Since there weren’t enough for all of us, the sorcerers put roughly two of us in one cell. They didn’t do anything really awful to us or anything like that. The worst they did was come down and gloat, which they did a lot. The reason a lot of them were complaining is because they’ve never been imprisoned before, and it was the worst thing that had ever happened to them.”
“But not for you?” I asked, curious.
“I have…an interesting past.”
“What would that be?”
“You don’t want to know,” she said, shaking her head. “But it really wasn’t all that bad. You know wizards. But it was only three or four days before that other sorcerer came to free us. Why did he turn traitor?”
“He didn’t actually give us a reason” I admitted. “Maybe I’ll ask him.”
“Are you two…you know, together?” she asked, grinning.
“Is it that obvious?” I shook my head. “Yes, we are. Isn’t he cute, though?”
“Not my type. But he is.”
“Okay, well, bye,” I said awkwardly. I wanted to go talk to other people, but I’m bad at goodbyes.
“Bye. Nice talking to you,” she said politely. She really was a lot like me.
I walked over to where Kaolin and Benjamin were talking. “Hi,” Kaolin said, breaking off mid-sentence and turning to me. In a whisper, he confided, “This guy’s really annoying.”
I laughed. “I bet,” I responded quietly.
“What are you two talking about?” Benjamin asked rudely.
“Nothing,” I replied quickly. “What were you talking about before I got here?”
“Kaolin was telling me the story of how you were captured. It’s very interesting. Where were you again?”
“Um…right at the part where we were fighting off the hordes of unicorns,” he said.
I looked at him, trying to suppress a smile. “Yeah, that part was pretty hard. But it was fun.” It was obvious he was making all of this up on the spot, and not telling our true story. Good.
“So, after we fought off the unicorns, we could escape. Well, that’s the story.”
“That sounds really interesting. I’m not sure that that’s the truth, though.”
Benjamin was more observant than he appeared.
“Tell me the truth. I really want to know.” He seemed to be slightly irritated, but still was being civil.
“You really don’t,” I told him.
“You really don’t want to see me angry. Which I will be if you don’t tell me.”
“Why does it matter so much to you?” Kaolin asked. “It’s not like it’ll change the world if I tell you.”
That gave him pause. Obviously, he didn’t know why he cared that much.
“It just sounds interesting, and I like interesting stories,” he finally replied.
I gave a short laugh. “You should meet Lymlock.”
“I have,” he said, looking away. Finally he was showing some sense.
“When? And how bad was it?” Now I was interested. Really, everybody likes a good story, and that was how this one seemed. Plus, it was nice to know that we weren’t the only ones on our side who had experienced his…different personality.
“I won’t tell you, unless you tell me your story,” he bargained.
I shrugged and got up.
“Where are you going?” he asked in a surprised voice.
“If you won’t tell me until we tell you our story, fine then,” I responded calmly. “Let’s go talk to someone else, Kaolin.”
“All right,” he responded.
As we walked away, I could feel his gaze on our backs. It was obvious that he had expected us to tell him after he made that bargain. But I wasn’t as obsessive as he was. I suspected that he wasn’t really trying to be rude, he just hated not knowing things.
Not really knowing where I had meant to go, I was heading towards Maybelle when the floor and furniture suddenly moved sharply down.
“Whoa!” I shouted in reaction, grabbing a chair instinctively, and I wasn’t the only one. A bunch of the wizards had yelled out as well as we descended quickly.
I wondered if it was because we had arrived, or if something had happened to Neyolc. I hoped for the former, but was afraid it might be the latter.
I, along with many of the wizards, was knocked flat as we hit the ground. Rubbing my head where I had hit it on the arm of the chair, I sat up and looked up, to where the open sky was. The shadow of Neyolc’s body was gone, hopefully off to the side somewhere.
I went to the door, as most of the others were doing, and walked out.
What I saw delighted me.
I was home.