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The Walk Alones
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ISBN-10: 1-55404-383-2
Genre: Fantasy/SF/Medieval
eBook Length: 95 Pages
Published: August 2006

From inside the flap

Katya is faced with a life changing decision: she can continue in her safe half-life of obscurity as a servant in the College of Magic; or she can embrace her magic talent and Ghentian heritage. Telmus is the college’s youngest and most powerful mage, and he needs Katya’s help to defeat the unnamed enemy who massacred Katya’s people and who now threatens the entire kingdom of Davia.
Although doubting her ability, Katya can?t ignore the evil. She witnesses their enemy’s attempt to introduce an amulet of control into the warded home of Telmus. The amulet is carried in by an emaciated street boy named Lee, who also becomes part of the household?proof that Telmus is kinder than his reputation reports.
Together, Katya and Telmus discover scrolls that direct them to the Ghentian Mountains and the power they will need to defeat their enemy. Telmus has his own ghosts, but between these two walk-alones, there develops trust and respect. Katya and Telmus gain power, however, their triumph is cut short by a message from the College President: the royal heir has been kidnapped.
Fate favors them as Lee’s presence helps them in determining what happened during the kidnapping. Katya and Telmus locate the prince, but their enemy’s identity eludes them. The answer to defeating their enemy lies in Katya’s Ghentian heritage. By accepting her past, Katya finds the answer and trusts it to Telmus. Together, they can destroy the wizard’s magic, returning the power of the life force to its source. The risk is, will the disruption of elemental magic damage the ensorcelled King? They have to try.

The Walk Alones (Excerpt)

Chapter One

"Deep the silence round us spreading," Katya sang, as she shifted her ladder to the next statue.

The mage walk at the College of Magic had an impressive line of 12-foot presidential statues, their marble grandeur dwarfed by high gothic windows, a shadowy, vaulted ceiling and a gleaming, golden, zodiac mosaic underfoot, and it was all Katya’s to keep clean. She climbed the ladder, duster at the ready.

"All through the night ? Eek!" Katya recoiled, as the statue extended an arm and caught her neatly.

"Ah, Katya."

The statue waited until Katya was safely on the ground and then shrank itself to human proportions. Clothes lost their dusty hue and flesh regained its living tone. Katya wasn?t reassured. She eyed the mage with misgiving and bobbed a hasty curtsey.

"Master Telmus, I didn?t realize?"

The College’s most powerful mage interrupted. He looked tall and stern, his level brows were drawn together in a frown, giving his young face a forbidding quality. "Only a magic user would have seen me and not the statue." It was an accusation, and Katya didn?t mistake it. She sidled backwards, her hands twisting the duster behind her back.

"I?ve been here a long time?" Katya suggested. She wished she thought escape was possible.

"Have you? And that’s another thing. There is no record of you beginning employment in the College’s domestic service and yet, here you are."

"Yes. Here I am." Katya didn?t sound happy about it.

"Perhaps you could explain it to me." The door to Telmus? room swung open. "After you."

Brushing past Telmus, Katya was aware that even at normal height, he loomed. Katya controlled a shiver. The College of Magic had been safe for so long. Any stray magic was attributed to experimental overflow, and in Davia, females weren?t expected to have magic anyway. Discovery was unexpected and terrifying.

The door swung shut behind Telmus and the room surrounded them: A place of secrets, of contained raw magic and of the accumulated knowledge of centuries. It smelt musty, as old libraries do, but on the edge of that comforting smell was the tang of magic.

"How old are you?" Telmus asked abruptly.

"Nineteen," Katya answered. "Sir."

Telmus blinked. He scanned Katya’s slight figure, obscured by the ugly fall of her gray dress. She didn?t look 19, only eight years younger than himself.

"Sit down."

Katya perched on the edge of a comfortably stuffed armchair. The remoteness of Telmus? forbidding expression eased as he looked down at Katya. Her hair was strained away from her face and hidden beneath an over-sized mobcap. She looked young and scared; her face, beneath the ridiculous cap, had the delicate lines of a D?rer etching. She had dropped her duster, and it half covered her left boot, hiding the cracked and scuffed toe. Telmus crouched in front of Katya’s chair.

"Katya, I need you to listen to me carefully. I need your help." Telmus leant forward and captured Katya’s hands firmly in his.

For Katya, the human contact was startling after years of self-imposed isolation. Telmus? hands were large and warm, calloused from gardening and magic experiments. Katya shut her eyes against the closeness, and so, missed the momentary flicker in Telmus? light brown eyes.

With her eyes shut, the sounds of the room seemed magnified. Papers rustled in a breeze from the window. In the far corner a gentle burble indicated an ongoing experiment. A muffled purring suggested Telmus? cat was resting comfortably somewhere in the room. Closer at hand, Katya could hear Telmus? breathing mixed with hers. As he held her hands, she could feel the insistent beat of his life force. Katya opened her eyes.

"Do you know who I am?"

"No," Telmus said.

He waited, his expression wary. Katya pulled her hands free from his grasp. Telmus rocked back on his heels, standing up smoothly.

"All I know is that when I cast the Verat at dawn today it gave me your name."

Katya gaped. Whatever problem Telmus was facing it had to be serious for him to use that method of divination. The least of the Verat’s preparations was a three day fast. And the result, in this instance, was her name. Katya closed her mouth, swallowing hard.

"Does it matter who you are, Katya?" Telmus prompted.

"I don?t know."

Katya sighed, and stirred a little on her chair. Peripherally, she was aware of Telmus sending out a casual loop of magic and calling a chair to himself. He sat on the hard, wooden seat without taking his eyes from Katya.

"Once up on a time?" Katya mocked herself gently. She had taken off her mobcap and was twisting its dingy whiteness with nervous movements. "I was brought up with stories that always began that way. They were told around a roaring fire with night and all its demons locked outside; kept away by laughter and love." Katya straightened in her chair and looked directly at Telmus. "I?m a Ghentian." Katya watched Telmus? pupils widen with shock. "Seven years ago when the Vinlanders massacred my people I was away. As simple as that." Katya gave a short, unamused laugh. "The Vinlanders arrive to kill all Ghentians and I?m saved, because Father had sent me to the Myars to learn healing. Healing. They brought the news on my thirteenth birthday, but I already knew. Legend says that some Ghentians can converse with the recently dead. It’s true."

The words came violently; building in force, resonating with buried grief.

"My whole family, as they died, visited me. Each one had a message. They wanted to tell me they loved me, but they brought their wounds with them. I saw how each had died, even my baby cousin."

Katya read her own horror in Telmus? face, but she couldn?t stop. This was the first time she had told her story and it had to be told in full.

"I couldn?t stay with the Myars. I couldn?t bring the danger of my identity to them or risk discovery. I had to run to where no one knew me," Katya took a sobbing breath. "And then I discovered I had a magical talent and that too would betray me. It took me months to reach this place. A place with so much magic that a little more would never be noticed. I?ve been safe here."

"I?m sorry, Katya. I?m so sorry."

Telmus studied Katya with uncharacteristic helplessness. Katya’s mouth tightened. Tears, unshed for years, gathered. Katya ducked her head to hide them, but too late. Telmus passed her a handkerchief, resting a hand sympathetically on her shoulder, and the tears came.

Awkwardly, Telmus went on his knees and gathered the sobbing girl to him. She resisted a moment and then collapsed, her body weighing lightly against his. Telmus hadn?t realized an adult could be so slight. He gathered Katya closer, trying to counteract the convulsive shivers which shook her frame.

The storm of grief eased. Worn out, Katya remained leaning against Telmus, listening to the steady beat of his heart. Telmus sighed. Katya’s Ghentian identity explained so much.

"I?m sorry, Katya." He rubbed her back, as one would comfort a baby. "I?m sorrier than I can say, but I still need your help; maybe now more than ever." Telmus paused at the instinctive, negating movement of Katya’s head against his shoulder. "You don?t know why I?m asking. I wish I didn?t have to." Sincerity and pity rawed his voice. "Please, this isn?t something you can walk away from."

Katya drew back, away from human contact. "I can walk away from anything."

"Not this." Telmus crossed to a far corner of the room. "Come here. Come and see."Katya approached slowly. Maverick, Telmus? gray cat, lay on a large wooden table. Beside Maverick was a rock bowl, just wider than the double span of a man’s hand. Katya caught her breath. Darth rock was legendary. Rarer than phoenix feathers, it was said to choose its own master, returning to inanimate clay in the eyes of the unchosen. For the chosen, it provided glimpses of different times and lands, and twice in history it had provided a warning.When she was close to the rock, Katya could understand the cat’s choice of sleeping place. The rock gave out a discernible warmth, and to magic-sensitive ears, hummed a healing vibration. Katya looked uncertainly at Telmus. He was concentrating on the Darth rock, one hand absent-mindedly scratching Maverick’s ears. A faint tingle of magic brushed passed Katya, and Telmus relaxed.

"Look," he invited.

The inside of the bowl was a shallow basin of smooth quartz. Its color shimmered amethyst. Katya caught hold of the table edge. A scene, finely etched, had appeared in the blink of an eye within the bowl.

A griffin and King Farain with his baby son, Prince Jared. Behind them, the royal castle lay a blackened ruin. A raven, beady eye toward Katya, stood in the foreground. Abruptly, the raven took flight; soaring into the distance behind the castle. A battlefield appeared, strewn with the bodies of men, and there was the raven: Feasting.

The vision disappeared, but Katya stayed staring at the bowl. The sounds of College life drifted in through the open window: the shrill, eager voices of young boys, the urgent shouts of a Master conducting an outside class on shape changing and, on the wind, the bells of the village church, marking the hour.

"What does the vision mean?" The habits of servitude and keeping to the shadows were falling from Katya. She looked Telmus directly in the eye, her own eyes reddened with weeping but alert.

"You recognized the king and Prince Jared?" Katya nodded, and Telmus continued. "And the royal castle?"

"The ruin?"

"Yes," the assent was terse. "The griffin and the raven are puzzling. The griffin used to be the sign of the House of Orion. No other explanation seems to fit it, but the House of Orion died out a century ago.

"The raven." Telmus paused. "The raven has no explanation, not even a weak one. No families or societies have the raven as their emblem. I believe it represents an unknown enemy. The vision has been discussed, analyzed, pulled apart and put back together by all the senior masters, yet we know little more about it now than we did when I first saw it, four months ago. Even then, it wasn?t our first intimation of trouble." Telmus indicated that Katya resume her seat, and sat down opposite. "The College investigates the nature of magic, a full time occupation since there’s always more to learn, but our main purpose is to keep the kingdom safe. Davia has been peaceful and prosperous for the last few centuries simply because we haven?t had to rely on warfare, with all the devastation that entails.

"The attack on your people." Telmus shook his head. "Apart from anything else, it shouldn?t have been able to happen. Ghentian wizards were famous for their powers. And even if they were somehow prevented from using their magic, we, here at the College, should have sensed what was happening and stopped it. Between us, we could have at least sent a hailstorm. I could have done so on my own, but we only heard about it later." Telmus studied Katya, his eyes dark with memories, and remembered frustration. "I visited Ghent a week after the massacre, as soon as we heard of it."

Katya clutched his arm.

"No, Katya. I won?t describe it for you." Telmus took her hand in his. "We buried your people quietly but with the full rites of the Church. I spent a month in Ghent tracing the magic, which had blocked us from seeing. The Vinlanders certainly didn?t act alone. Someone, a magic user, employed them to sweep into Davia and attack Ghent. The Vinlanders? protection was a net of magic the likes of which I?d never encountered, though I?ve seen it since." Telmus? hand tightened around Katya’s. "Two years after Ghent, I found the beginnings of the same net being cast over the Myars. We stopped that net, but we couldn?t trace it to its author. Like a spider, he hid himself when we destroyed his web.

"There’s been no attempt to build such a web again, but it’s always ?but?, Katya. Each time we track and stop one outbreak, another starts. For the last five years we?ve been sensing subtle testings of our defenses. As far as we know, they haven?t yet found a weakness they-he-can break through. That’s part of the problem." Telmus? frustration spilled into his voice. "We don?t know who we?re dealing with-an individual or a conspiracy; an internal threat or an outside attack."

Katya flinched away from Telmus? growing anger. Instantly, Telmus stopped. His eyes went curiously blank, as if Katya’s fear had hurt him. He released her hand and sat back, his tone becoming detached.

"In March, the Darth rock showed me the vision. It’s a warning, but we haven?t been able to decipher it so, this morning, I undertook the Verat."

For the first time Katya considered Telmus? vitality. From her childhood she remembered her father’s one attempt of the Verat and his exhaustion. Only faint lines of weariness hinted at Telmus? experience.

"This was my first Verat. I?d read that the answers come from inside you and I thought it couldn?t be true. How can an external truth-truths of people you don?t know-be inside you?" Telmus stared at Katya. "I saw you Katya. You looked nothing like you look sitting here now, but I knew you. That was the truth the Verat gave me: Whatever the kingdom is facing, you and I must face it, together."

Katya turned her head, breaking the mesmerism of his eyes. The conviction in Telmus? voice had quickened her breathing. She recognized that with every fiber of his being, Telmus was preparing for a fight, and he saw her as part of it. A shiver caught Katya-a grave chill, her grandmother would have called it. Katya tightened her hold on Telmus? hand, which still clasped hers.

"Do you know why my people were killed?" Katya stared at Telmus, demanding the truth. She needed to know.

"Maybe." Telmus shifted restlessly. "Learning that you are Ghentian, and Myar trained, means an explanation suggested by one of the old books of prophecy may be right." His trained memory recalled the lines:

Only ?ware the meeting of those who walk alone.

You who fear no other, by them thou art undone.

"The President was skeptical of the prophecies and any explanation involving them." Telmus shrugged. As he continued it was obvious he agreed with the President of the College. "People believe what they want to believe when they read prophecies. But if the Blasted Prophecies did play a part, then whoever orchestrated the Ghentian massacre did so because they interpreted ?the walk alones? to mean the Ghentians and Myars."

"Oh." Katya breathed the syllable of enlightenment.

Telmus nodded. "Ghentians and Myars were often called the walk-alones because of their insularity, but of the two, the Ghentians were the easier to attack."

"Because all Ghentians voluntarily gathered together on St Hilda’s Day." Katya recalled how she had wept at the many circumstances which conspired to prevent her from returning home for the festival. She had been the only Ghentian that year to fail in fulfilling the duty. She banished memory and clung to understanding. "By killing all Ghentians, the walk alones couldn?t possibly meet."

"That would be the logic," agreed Telmus.

For the first time, Katya felt rage instead of fear rise as she thought of the massacre.

"And you think whoever killed my family is now threatening the whole of Davia?"

"I do." Telmus considered her gravely. "I don?t know if the Blasted Prophecies are right or not-although it would explain your importance-but there is no avoiding the fact that the Verat brought forth your name."

Katya nodded. Her brain was working busily, more than it had in years. Despite Telmus? belief as to her importance, Katya suspected he wouldn?t force her involvement. The decision was hers, but Telmus was right: Knowing that the evil which had taken her family now threatened the whole of Davia meant she couldn?t walk away.

"I will help," Katya said. "I don?t know how, but if I can help, I will."