Explosion... (Short Story) (WIP)

Explosion... (Short Story) (WIP)

A Chapter by Tim Pearce
"

I'm only here,” it boomed now like a god as the magic seemed to peak, “to put it in motion. The turning of the vortex! The wheels of the world will begin to roll!

"



E X P L O S I O N . . .



When Rufus Rusinger was twelve, his father killed himself.

Afterward, his mother sent him on the long and arduous journey from his home in Ramas, the redrock country, to an unknown place called White Rock, far to the north in the Snowbound Reaches.

It was not his first or longest journey across countries.

Before the death of his father, before he was sent away to a better place, he had spent only the latter five years of his life in Ramas. His birthplace was Maras, the Long Desert. Country of nobles and wealth, where he and his parents had, in his father's words, escaped certain doom. Memories of the three of them fleeing the great desert were the only ones of any clarity Rufus had of his first home.

It was at least a three week journey, probably longer, and Rufus felt fonder for it than any other time in his life. He often sat and recalled all the scores of interesting, exquisitely dressed people he had met along the way, especially those decked turban to toe in silk of the most vivid teal or crimson pink, embroidered delicately with patterned strips and fine golden symbols; the many dazzling sights he had seen: the great Pink Lake, the group of tall industrial structures so modern made of glass and gleaming metal which towered hazily far away, and by far best of all, the Great Seat: View to the Gap.

Things were different in Maras, grander and more fantastic, and he had seen them all over those few weeks.

From when they left their far-West home at Golden Point in the twilight, Rufus bidding silent farewells as they ran through the lush courtyards, to the swaying palm trees and jewelled fountains and white and gold structures he knew so well - their finely gilded round roofs, their colourful stained glass windows, and all the texts which adorned them but that he yet wished himself able to read - to when they finally arrived at the Noblegate at the other side of the sand country, there was nary an uninteresting moment.

For those weeks he would soak in all the wonderful sights as they rushed eastward on horseback across the shimmering desert, from one end of Maras to the opposite, any time looking to his parents and seeing their faces too focused and concerned to also be having so much fun.

He always remembered one night in particular, the only night he had been upset the entire trip. It was toward the end of their journey, his last night in Maras. They had at last ridden far enough toward the country's east border that they could now lay eyes upon the massive dark Noblegate several miles away, stretching infinitely to the north and south, checkpoint into the desert.

This very country his father wished to escape. The moon shone bright over the dunes that night.

They had passed into the East weeks ago. Rufus had watched the land make its gradual change from wealthy to mediocre as they rode across the much longer, less wealthy section of the desert region. Now they had finally arrived at its capitol, Oasis. This was the city Rufus had waited to see the most. The one with by far the most tales, closest to the border of Ramas, the Desert's lesser brother. Although not as fine as the cities and towns in the West, especially at Golden Point, it was immensely bigger, the biggest in Overworld, and a place where anything could be found, where absolutely all manner of people congregated, and often to have a good time.

And there was magic. Rufus had to rub his eyes in disbelief once they had surrendered their horses to the guards and stepped through the city's back-entrance, the huge archway of sand-coloured stone, but there it was: people with fire and ice and colourful light on their hands and clothes, who demonstrated their basic releasing skills or caused the world to act strangely around them.

Before Rufus laid eyes on that wonderful scene in the crowded marketplace he was not sure he believed in magic. There were scarcely rumours in the West, let alone actual practise. No, for the most part in Maras, East or West, magic was something to be laughed at, that crazies wove unbelievable tales of when they had too much to drink or just all the damn time, which helped its case not.

And even if the Westerners believed in magic, most would but use it to turn the sand of their desert to metal and be done with it.

We cannot stay here,” Rickton Rusinger told his wife over the noise of the market.

Young Rufus looked up in sheer horror. “But, Dad...” he gasped.

Rickton was so focused on their escape he had almost forgotten his son's typically silent presence. Warmth filled his heart and he smiled proudly at the little boy. He had his mother's fair hair back then, but the stern dark eyes of a Rusinger were displeased. “I'm sorry, Rufus,” his father said kindly, kneeling down to his level, and then took proper notice of the magical scene around them. For the briefest moment even he looked on in mild amazement. He did not expect to see nearly as many magicians in the city. “I can see why you'd want to stay, and I am proud of you, but there is no time. We may be in danger here, Rufus.”

I don't care!” Rufus cried at short intervals, stamping his feet. “The magic, Dad, look at all the magic! You told me to find magic instead of metal and here it is! I've found it!”

Rufus, you will come back one day,” his father said. “Remember how much you love this place and I promise one day you will be back here. You will be one of them showing their magic,” the urgency was rising in his voice.

Rufus scrunched his face in consideration for a moment before screaming, “No! I want to stay - now!”

There is bound to be someone who can get us into Ramas from inside the city, then,” Rickton told his wife, sweeping up his crying son and slinging him over his shoulder.

What do you mean?” Pyrcella asked her husband as she kept up with his rushed pace, swimming through the dense crowd.

A type of magician. I heard about them back at the company. The company uses them. They can make holes in the air, and then you step out the other side somewhere entirely different. We will never even have to approach the Gate.”

His son groaned disappointedly in response to that behind him and began pounding on his back. Though if he better understood what his father said, he would probably find it most agreeable.

A portal-master,” Rickton remembered. “We need to find a portal-master.”

They had found their portal-master soon after, by great luck unknown to them, in a dark and cosy tavern where they had gone to ask for directions.

Rickton was quite non-disclosing with what they were searching for, but luckily the bartender, a black haired and bearded bear of a man, boasted skills of speech evolved to such a standard over his many years of drunken conversation that he swiftly gleaned the distraught far-Western couple, whom were clearly of wealth and, judging by the man's dark eyes and hair of the richest brown, possibly even nobility. And truly it was lucky for them that he did, because had he not known they were searching for a portal-master, a particularly rare type of magician - magicians who, as it was, were already scarce to be found in the Long Desert - he would not have directed them to the one sitting alone at the round centre table.

Light from the chandelier shone down like a spotlight on his mirthless, elderly form, illuminating brightly him and his plain brown wood table, and little else in the dim. Rickton looked upon him with hope, bathed there in the warm yellow light. “Good sir,” he said as he approached the old magician. “My family and I are in dire need of your assistance.”

Portals for coins,” he responded without hesitation, not looking up from the empty table. “Portals for coins is good for you and me.” He looked to Rickton for the first time, dressed in fine silks of maroon and gold, and widened his eyes. “You look like you have a lot of coin.”

Then perhaps I should have not mentioned our need is dire,” Rickton said flatly. “Nonetheless I must say it is urgent. We must go now, please.”

Fine, fine, then,” the old man said casually, and pressed himself up from his chair. “Now, later,” he said as slid the chair noisily across the cement floor and under the table. “Here, there. These are not terms that make much sense with the portals. If you would follow me, up the stairs...”

“I'm a true magician you know. Not like those fakes outside. These things take time, I tell you.”

A cloud of foreboding began brewing in Rickton. “Fakes?” At first he was becoming increasingly annoyed with the old portal-master, sitting casually in his cushioned cane chair at the single, curtained window, leaning on the little table and watching for long periods the bustling scene one storey below, outside the sandstone inn, the magic-ridden marketplace. But now he was intrigued enough to momentarily put on hold his weeks long escape, which truly said something.

Though there was little choice to be had in waiting if the magician was telling the truth, and not employing some kind of bargaining technique.

Oh, yes. They haven't been around for long.” He adjusted his head as if for a change of view through the glass, following some event outside, watching it for awhile...“Wretches.” Then he turned away from the window.They're mad with power, I tell you,” he said to the far-Western man and woman, seated on a couch too regal to suit the rest of the room.

But it suited them. The old magician thought about how this family was trying to escape Maras, but it seemed Maras would follow this man wherever he went. Oh, yes. It was him: the fine couch of maroon and gold matched his clothes so perfectly that they almost seemed as one. He was a part of it, the majesty, a noble.

And just how long exactly have they been around?” the nobleman asked gravely.

The magician was taken aback by his dark demeanour to the matter. “Um,” the portal-master said thoughtfully. “Well now that I think about it, it's hard to say exactly. I mean, who knows exactly when they got their hands on it if that's what you're driving at...”

Rickton noticed with sudden shock the magician was looking directly at him, smiling devilishly, which then broke into good-humoured laughter at his response.

Oh, that look on your face! No, I don't know exactly when these fake magicians came about, but I would now be willing to bet it times up well with your escape.”

Rickton looked dizzy and grim, leaning forward on the couch.

The old magician picked up a packed pipe from the little table and took a candle to it, and began to toke at the strong herb. “Er, but don't fret, sir. Look, like I keep saying, these things aren't so straightforward. I can't just portal you out of here at your whim.” He chuckled at the irony, windswept gray waterfalls poured from his mouth. “I don't think you realise how lucky you already are. It's actually quite absurd. Besides your chances of finding me here, the moon is full outside. And, oh yes, I know, it's stronger when the moon is bright, and blah, blah, blah and all that kind of stuff... But it is though,” he added, leaning back in his chair, he had found himself at the window again. “And I won't even bother telling you any of the other stuff. If you're interested in that, go to White Rock.”

Pyrcella had heeded all these words, though the name White Rock was unfamiliar. But to her husband they were fleeting, growing increasingly muffled, for more than the smoke in old man's throat. The cloud inside Rickton had become a storm. Its terrible waters washed over him, a heavy wave of foreboding.

Suddenly, he noticed Rufus was gone.

The sprawling alleys and rooftops formed by the thin sandstone structures of Oasis were like a playground for adventurous children. It was like a maze for a rat where the maze itself would serve as treat enough, and there was yet another treat waiting round every corner.

Rufus thought his parents might have noticed his absence by now. At seven he already understood himself quite well, and also that people forgot his presence easily. Even his parents, though he knew they loved him no less. It was a curious thing, how forgettable the silent boy was. Though it had worked out gloriously for him this night, he thought, as he made his was across the sandstone rooftops, all bathed in white moonlight.

It had been so easy reaching the roof. The nice barman had shown him the way, after Rufus thought for sure he'd been caught, walking back down the stairs to the tavern. But the barman had laughed cheerfully and approached the boy, turned him back around and lead him in-arm up the stone stairs and round the corner at the top, along a short, brightly lit hallway and past the single dark wooden door where Rufus heard the muffled voices of his parents and the funny old man, round another corner at the end and up another, longer flight of spiral stairs, passing a few windows all the way.

Here they stopped, at the top of the second and final flight, in a flat space no wider than the staircase, to one side an open window and a closed wooden door to the other, with mere metres ahead a plain sandstone wall and tropical potplant placed in front, all lit up blue by moonlight through the window.

I think,” the barman said going for the round brass doorhandle, “you will like this, young sir.” He showily swung open the door, revealing the sprawling sandstone rooftops of the city, the largest playground Rufus had ever seen. Crisp air blew in through the open doorway.

A tiny excited squeak escaped the boy.

Sometimes I forget how high this building goes,” the barman said, looking out over the moonlit city of beige and green and orange, of sandstone and palms and lanterns on the walls, and then, in places, the bright rainbow overlay of magic. “Hunh. How about that. Anyway,” he urged, “you have little time to waste!” He ushered the boy out onto the roof, into the night air. “I will leave this open for your return, young sir,” he said, and disappeared down the stairs, leaving Rufus alone in the fantastic night.

Rufus leaned comfortably against the short raised rim which surrounded the roof's edge, atop the large sandstone restaurant, watching in awe the bright and bustling courtyard two storeys below. The smell of pork was strong in the air here, ever-present from the huge, shadowed chimney near the back of the roof. He'd travelled barely two-hundred metres from the inn and had already seen so much from the high rooftops. The city was a seemingly endless supply of stalls, each adorned with its own unique and imaginative banners woven of various material, which stocked things of such nature he hardly understood. But they were nonetheless beautiful. Colourful and fantastic to behold. Down in this very courtyard, a glorious fountain, an alligator-man carved of stone; he was Rufus's new favourite thing. He already knew his name: Razz, the Old King of Ramas, it was hard to miss, especially in the courtyard. And just now he watched a man with curly brown hair at one of the decorated stalls inspect a small glass vial of bright red liquid, and upon its purchase swiftly ingest the delicious looking contents.

He was not sure what exactly happened then, but it did not bode well for the buyer, almost as though he was bathed in invisible flames. From behind Rufus, a burst of smoke and stronger stench of roasted pigs rose from the kitchen below, followed by a small change of light in his peripherals...

The muscular man stepped out in shadow from behind the chimney.

Rufus turned and knew immediately the man was intending to block any escape, the way he stood before him, his overpowering stance. He looked down on him with consideration. Then smiled darkly, his dull teeth flashing in the night. “So the robot wasn't lying, after all.” He gave the boy one more brief consideration, his worried stare. “Looks like you still have your mother's hair, but I'll be damned if those aren't the eyes of a Rusinger.”

Now another one, shorter and lankier, revealed himself hunched over deviously from the chimney's other side; and a third man after, hooded by a coarse cowl and even more ragged than the other two. “Can robots lie?” the lanky man said in the darkness. Rufus could scarcely make out any faces in the dim.

Of course they can lie!” the muscular one yelled with wrath. “Seize the boy!”

The hooded man drew his dagger, much too fine for him, and slowly made toward Rufus. “Easy now, lad.” His voice was soft and grave. He never raised his face from the shadow of his cowl.

Rufus had no intention of resisting.

A wide grin broke across the muscular man's face. “Making this easy for us, are you?” he growled so loud to yell. He began bellowing, deep and louder still, as the ragged man closed in. “A true Rusinger,” he shouted for all would be to hear, and some in the crowded courtyard swear they did, “the boy has no spine.”

The ragged man disagreed.

Rickton and Pyrcella Rusinger were making their way swift through the winding alleys of Oasis by lead of the portal-master, along with the grizzly barman who was feeling somewhat responsible for the turn of events. According to the magician, they were headed for the closest of the two great courtyards. Although it would take them considerably more time than Rufus to arrive there, bound by the city's lucrative design, its many changing directions, they must have passed over five-hundred stalls on the way.

This is it,” the portal-master said as they came out of the alley, passing between two tall, thin palms which marked each of the four entrances into the brightly lit round courtyard. He escorted them about twenty metres from there to the centre, to a large gray stone fountain which finely depicted a godly figure the like of man and alligator, standing at least thrice as tall as any mortal human and wielding a sword one could never hope lift. “Razz's Courtyard.”

Where is my son, man?” Rickton cried.

The magician had taken seat on the fountain's rim, under the shade of the alligator god's great, extended sword-arm. “He is here somewhere, I assure you. I feel he is in no real danger.”

You feel--” he choked on his words and raised his hand to his forehead woefully. “Damn it, have you lost your mind, old man?” They looked at each other, and Rickton started laughing bitterly, shaking his head as if the answer to his own question was obvious. “To hell with this.”

Go if you must, really.”

What we must do is something, at least!” He turned and made hastily for one of the other exits. Pyrcella made no move to follow.

No, really,” the magician said loudly over the crowd, after too long. Rickton stopped in his tracks. “If you must - go.”

Rickton turned and stared at the old man with pure rage.

Then it came, distant and loud over the din: “Rusinger!”

All three of them looked around for its source. The deep voice had come from the side they entered, to where the statue pointed its great sword. The largest building around the courtyard was there, a two-storey restaurant, a plain rectangular structure with many openings to serve as doors and windows from where escaped the soft yellow glow within.

The large, muscular man stood atop it, with their son draped over his arm at waist height.

Missing something are you, Rusingers?” he called loudly.

The courtyard was falling silent, save the shouting from the roof. A cool, long breeze blew. Rickton had found the centre of the floor again, and there they all stood at the fountain, in line with the monster and their son above.

I don't suppose you could do anything to help?” Rickton asked the portal-master sourly.

Actually, there might be,” the magician mused quietly. “Although, I think there's no need. Something's definitely about to happen.”

Rickton was furious with the old man, but he spoke quietly, “What do y--?”

Just do watch,” he said, looking to the commotion on the roof.

Rickton looked on gravely, as was his wife.

The muscular man was still shouting obscenities at long intervals from atop the restaurant, standing at the middle with Rufus in-arm. The boy was not moving. Pyrcella hoped to God... The man's rousing words of indignance rang throughout the stone courtyard. Though they were no longer directed at them but to the rest of the crowd, which had now fallen almost completely silent in anticipation.

Pyrcella broke her worried gaze from her hostage son for the first time as a few people in the crowded courtyard raised their fists in agreement, shouting angry concurrences here and there to the clean thug on the roof; and then at the back, one fist glowing red, the man it belonged to perfectly still, as if his very soul was suspended in his body, a vessel.

Then it came briefly over a hush, the quiet sound of a hundred fluttering sheets...

And a devastating explosion from the roof.

The small fireball had arced unseen by most in the courtyard, leaving its trail from somewhere at the back of the crowd to the top of the restaurant, but Pyrcella had seen it; seen the many torches of the courtyard extinguished by the strange blast and then taken something flying hard to the head.

Rickton regained his vision soon after the shockwave, but the loud ringing in his ears would not subside. The courtyard was no longer bathed in any light but that of the bright desert moon. At first he saw his wife, unconscious on the tiles near the fountain; sandstone debris, large and small, scattered all over the courtyard, and scores more splayed unconscious on the ground; and then, finally, the huge gaping hole blown out the restaurant where the muscular man had been standing with Rufus, and from within, a hazy glow no longer of yellow but the deepest orange.

Rufus...

He had surely perished at the heart of the explosion.

What did you I tell you,” the portal-master shouted over the chaos. “Mad with power. The nerve of that!” he said, looking to the glowing, gaping hole. “Oh, but it works out for you. Come. Pick up your wife and let's go.”

The muscular man was no more.

Rufus was still at loss the true nature of what happened but he knew that much. The horrifying man who seconds ago had him in a strong, merciless hold at his waist, whose terrible voice so loud and deep and unnerving filled the stone courtyard, had been lost forever in the white flash, now less than ashes on the wind. He had not nearly reached the opportunity to properly become ashes, travelling by it so fast to scarcely know it was there. It was all over in an instant. The very instant Rufus henceforth possessed to work in his mind. To recall, to ponder, to figure...

What just happened?

Whatever it was that had come, it was leaving him now, slumped there naked against the wall on the dark timber floor, seeping from his pores and filling the air around him, like dark orange vapour made of light.

One moment the pressure of the man's strong clasp was tight on his ribs as it had been for what seemed so long, and then suddenly not. Rufus couldn't see but the blinding white light, and what he heard was loud and strange. When he felt the ground, it disappeared beneath him, and he fell hard to the floor of the room beneath. His body did ache from all that, but not at all from the magic which had caused the devastation. They were eldritch waters of light in which he swam, as he then crawled by touch alone to a near wall, and found his place of rest.

Though the magic had caused him no harm, his energy was heavily sapped. He could move no longer once he leaned back against the sandstone wall, near the gaping hole which revealed a wide view of the devastated courtyard below and sky above, starry and clear beyond the orange haze. The spew of fluorescent gas from his skin was diminishing, and the cloud was thinning without its supply as it wafted out into the night.

When he regained sight, he saw the many violently scattered tables and chairs of the evacuated second storey dining room, their cloths and napkins swept to the side walls as if by some great force. He saw at the opposite end of the room where the dark timber gave way to stairs, their winding rails which lead to ground level, and the ragged lanky figure struggling to keep himself up against the black metal as he climbed.

He was bruised and beaten, his sunken face covered in ash, his clothes tainted and bloodstained to match his lustreless brown hair and torn in places to reveal deep wounds beneath. “What'd you do?” he growled. He stumbled as he came off the top step, and then charged across to Rufus much swifter than he expected, shambling like an unnaturally fast ghoul. He dug deep into the skin of the naked boy's shoulders and neck and heaved him well off the ground, hard against the wall.

His breath was hard on Rufus's face as his loud voice filled the ruined dining room.What'd you do?” he repeated stupidly.

When Rufus remained silent he angrily struck him against the wall again and threw him into one of the fallen tables. He crashed painfully over the solid, unmoving wood and broke a chair on the other side with his fall.

As he lay with his head to the hard floor he wished for it to finally end, and the boots on the timber grew only louder and closer in his ear. Then there was the sound of something being quickly drank. He saw the glass vial briefly through air before it shattered on the floor.

And then quiet.

Something hummed softly close behind his wooden barrier.

The heavy dining table was suddenly moved loudly across the wood floor from behind him, he saw clearly the blue-tinged hands. They belonged to the lanky man, who now stood before him, his eyes ablaze with blue fury. “How'd you like this, then?” he said with bitter rage, closing in on him, and then clasped his warm, dull glowing hands around Rufus's tiny throat. But he did not squeeze yet. He seemed to focus intensely, and the magic hue on his skin grew more vivid. Rufus felt a strong tingling sensation throughout his body, particularly near the source of input, the stiff, bloody hands, and then an overwhelming wave of something flow through him. It did not depart him for some time.

Then the lanky man's face relaxed and he stayed stupidly as he was, knelt there in the dining room which smelled of pork and ash, staring confoundedly at Rufus with his hands closed lightly around his throat.

What are you?” he said, repulsed, with fear in his voice. The blue in his eyes faded. This boy never screamed. “Try survive, roach,” he growled now, soft and long, “without breathing.”

Rufus, limp against a broken chair with the wretched man closed around him, thought he saw then through the clutter, through the stair rails, the hooded man with the fine dagger, now the cleaner one.

And then the grip tightened around his throat.

Wake up, little one.”

The underlying voice was male, but when it spoke it sounded as if it had been recorded a few times with slight variations to his expression, each time with an additional female or male voice overlayed, emotional and tormented, and then played back all at once through fine metal which resonated with the overall tone that was never too high or low. It could be hypnotic and soothing and terrible all the same, it knew what to say, a voice you would hear quietly in your ear but deeper than any other, which could convince an angry man to drop a knife, or pick it up...

But in this instance it was only the words that pierced Rufus.

This one is strong...” they said, and then seemed to reply, adding to the conversation: “Perhaps, the strongest specialist child I've seen... Oh, but it remains no less true...” another laughed, and cried.

It will never see the Verge.”

For all his life, Rufus did not want to see the voice's source. He tucked his head between his arms and kept his eyes closed tight, and found himself almost wishing for the presence of the thug trio if it meant whatever made those tortured utterances would disappear forever. He wished to hear footfalls on the steps as his parents came running in and saved him from the voice, his mother would cradle him in her arms as they fled and he would never have to look. But somehow he knew he was to be alone with the other. The urge to scream swelled up inside him for the first time.

He let it out, loud and long in the ruined dining room.

And when he finally opened his eyes, it was gone.

Before Rickton and Pyrcella arrived at the restaurant, the old portal-master had temporarily departed them.

When Pyrcella still laid unconscious on the tiles at the fountain, the magician had told Rickton to carry her and follow him through one of the back exits of Razz's Courtyard, insisting that no harm would come his son. Rickton had simply ignored the old man, and when he knelt to fetch his wife she woke in a daze.

Behind her ear her hair was matted and bloody. She had raised her hand there wincingly, her arm trembling. Rickton had placed a steadying hand on hers and asked if she was okay. She had told him she would be, and that they had to find Rufus, because he was alive. Then they made for the restaurant.

The chaos in the courtyard was still ripe. From the restaurant poured shocked diners and waiters and kitchenhands, and from the two front alley-entrances, on the courtyard's north side with the restaurant, poured guards in steel ringmail and red leather which bore the green palm of the city's insignia.

Wait. What are you doing?” The voice was young and nervous.

Rickton and Pyrcella stopped in the restaurant's archway entrance and turned to face the speaker. It was a man of about twenty. His face was soft and scared and covered by brown curls. “Don't go in there,” he said. “It might be dangerous.”

Well our son also might be in there,” Rickton said, making hastily for the stairs. “Excuse us, please.”

The man went to call out for them again, standing there in the shadow of a pillar, his arm extended, but his voice was lost to him.

Rufus's parents rose the stairs, his mother's hand passing along the black metal rail as they went. About halfway she felt something thick and sticky, and she pulled away to find her palm covered in another's blood. She wiped it on her dress. And at the top, where opened the large dinging room, she saw two red handmarks on the floor where someone had tripped or fallen.

They did not immediately see anyone in the ruined dining hall. Only its many turned tables and chairs and things sent to the walls, and the dreadful gaping hole at the back. The crippling anxiety brooded within them as they paced the dark timber, peering behind the fallen tables as they went, dreading to see a small corpse far too familiar.

But when they arrived near the end they had yet found nothing.

He ran off scared,” the voice managed. It was low and raspy. Until he spoke, they did not notice the hooded, bloodstained man slumped against the wall, his head hung down. His injuries were obviously great though he bore no outside wounds. “I would've done the same... had the thing let its filthy... utterances onto me.”

Pyrcella's face went pale like her hair. She spoke with grave worry: “And this thing, it did this to you?”

The ragged man laughed as if it caused him pain, lifting his head. Blood poured from his mouth. His face was covered by a short, rough beard, and grim but with a kind glint in his shadowed eyes. “Fear not, good lady,” he said weakly. “The thing I speak... is not after your son. That's who did me. On the floor, there.”

Pyrcella and Rickton turned around to see a filthy, lanky man dead in a pool of blood, stabbed in the side and his throat sliced, his mousy brown hair drenched in his own blood and his lifeless, faded eyes frozen in terror from whatever occurred there in the dining room. A large table, which had been moved in a wide arc and left scratches on the timber floor, blocked view of his body from the stairs.

Where did he go?” Rickton said, turning back to the injured man.

Down the stairs is all I know. Out the back, perhaps. I entered through there. Go now. His magic was weakened, thankfully. I'll live. Not that you probably care,” he added.

When they turned for the stairs, they saw the curly-haired young man standing at the top, his face still a mask of fear. But Pyrcella saw something else there - guilt.

Boy, did you see our son in here?” Rickton said. “Did you see a little one flee this place?”

I...” His words were still lost. “I...”

Spit it out, man! Did you see him or not? A little boy.”

I... didn't.” His voice was almost too quiet to hear in the large dining room.

Where's that damn portal-master gotten to?” Rickton said to his wife.

Forget him for now,” Pyrcella replied. “Let's go out the back and find Rufus.”

You trust the assassin?”

Of course,” she said simply.

Rickton did not feel the same, initially. But he did trust his wife. They passed the catatonic youth without a word and descended the steps, but when they reached the bottom and made for the back exit, a small wooden door behind the stairs, the curly-haired man called out again.

Wait!” He ran up behind them. He had found his voice. “Please. You must let me help you. It was... It was--”

You!”

Only the stranger had seen the portal-master open the backdoor. Rickton and Pyrcella turned to face the magician, standing with his head round the ajar door.

I've been looking for you,” he said to the youth. “Remnants everywhere. This chaos makes it a bit hard. I thought for sure you went out the back alley.”

What is the meaning of this?” Rickton demanded.

This is the one,” the magician said, stepping full into the room and gesturing to the young man. “He threw the fireball.”

They all looked to the curly-haired man expectantly. He began to laugh and rub the back of his neck. “I didn't mean for it to happen like that, I swear,” he said with a nervous smile. He laughed again. “I was just trying to burn up that big man with your son, not make a bloody bomb.”

Maybe next time you'll think twice about having some respect for magic,” the portal-master said sourly.

I did go out the back alley,” he said, trying to appease.

Rickton was clenching his fists. He resisted the urge to grab this fool by his collar. “Damn firebrand,” he roared. “You could've killed our son!”

I know, trust me, I felt terrible. When I saw just now up there he was gone I can't tell you the relief I felt!”

Well, let's find him now,” the portal-master told the dreading parents. “Everything's ready for our departure now. And he's close. I can feel it.”

And then, summoned by the sound of his father's roaring, another much shorter head, its face longing for nurture, poked itself through the ajar door.

Rufus!” Pyrcella cried and went to embrace him, followed by Rickton. The boy was completely naked, shaking and covered in bruises and cuts as if he had been terribly beaten. “Where are your clothes, my love?”

Rufus seemed to think about it for a second and began to weep. “I don't know!”

He began to wipe his tears but Pyrcella took his hand with love, and proceeded to do it herself. “It's all fine, Rufus,” she said soothingly. “We're finished here. We're ready to go.”

This is nice,” said the firebrand.

Pyrcella looked to the portal-master.

We are indeed ready to go,” he said. “You,” he addressed the curly-haired man. “You will come with us.”

The firebrand shrugged. “Sounds fun,” he said. “My name's Son. Nice to meet you all.”

I'm not even going to question your motives,” Rickton said to both of them, but more the portal-master who was already kneeling and drawing invisible things on the ground with his finger.

If nothing else he could be good for protection,” the magician said absently.

He was almost good for exploding my son.”

But he was good for saving his life.”

Rickton had to consider this. “Very well,” he said and faced Son. “In the chaos I forgot myself. I should thank you for saving Rufus. My name is Rickton Rusinger.”

Pyrcella,” she said and bowed gracefully. “And our son Rufus.”

Rufus was buried in his mother's dress and did not look out.

Nice to meet you,” Son said and grinned. “Don't mention it. And I'm sorry for nearly blowing up your son. I'm good for this too still.” He went about placing a burning hand to lanterns on the walls, and the room became bright.

The portal-master spoke with authority. “When this portal opens you will have plenty of time to make it through but don't take your time. Just line up and go through one by one. And by the way--” his voice disappeared as the space he was occupying became a perfect black circle.

It was large enough for a man to walk comfortably through at full height. Around its edges the world wavered uncertainly as light became completely lost on its surface, like the moon eclipsing the sun. There was little time to take in its beauty, yet after gazing into the perfect blackness for a few seconds Rickton felt as he'd been watching it his entire life. By that time, Son had already disappeared into the void, making the world around it waver even more as he did. Once the portal settled, Pyrcella went next. Again the world wobbled, light around the edges shone bright and long like a star. Then he sent through Rufus. Finally, he stepped through himself...

And stepped out into a giant open room of gray stone. There was a chill in here, and it was empty like a warehouse. At one end of the room the floor was raised a few metres from the wall. Stairs carved out of that stone lead to the platform, and up there was but a single door. There was little else in the hall.

Where is this?” Rickton asked suspiciously.

Like I've been telling you the whole time, there are certain prerequisites for a portal. Not just on one side, either, conditions have to be appropriate over here as well.” He brushed himself off. “Portal-masters develop a natural talent for scoping the world, you understand...”

Rickton gave him a look colder than the chilling stone room. “I'm starting to feel like it was you who found us at the tavern.”

I apologize for deceiving you, but it was due. I need your son. Don't fret, we're not going to keep him for long at all.”

Are you with the company?” Rickton said darkly.

The portal-master looked confused. “What? No, of course not.”

Are we even in Ramas, man?” he said, annoyed.

The magician gestured ahead of him, behind the family of three. Rickton noticed the snowy draft before they turned to see that the huge, open stone room they stood in was missing an entire wall. The large space looked out onto vast snowy mountains from one of the ranges highest peaks. Snow was blowing hard out there, twisting and twirling in the currents. “We're in the Snowbound Reaches,” the old man said. “But I couldn't have even got you to Ramas in time to get out of that disaster anyway. The only reason why we could come here so soon is because we were highly prepared on this end. I don't know why I have to keep telling you how long and particular these things are. I have no counterpart in Ramas, do you know what that means? It means I have to scope for specific conditions to occur without planning, someone going about their daily business that happens to be in a way that I can link with them. Do you have any idea how long that can take? And even then the portal is weak. Now, what will you do?”

I seem to have little choice in the matter save venturing out into freezing death.” He looked to Pyrcella. She had at some point after the explosion clearly tried to fix up her long fair hair to some extent, tied back in a bunch. Her fine green silks tattered and torn and wiped with blood made him think how strange it was for them to be in such dire straits, so little options open to him besides surrendering their son or taking his family out into unassailable mountains and blizzards. This was far from the life they lead at Golden Point. When his gaze met hers, he saw she was giving him a concerned look. Her emerald eyes matched her attire. “There is little choice,” he repeated, and turned back to the magician. “It is clear you may know more about Rufus than us in some regard. Let us see what you have planned, then. But on one condition. Tell us your name, portal-master.”

The old man laughed through his nose and nodded slowly. “My name is Father. Father Whitestrike.”



© 2015 Tim Pearce


Author's Note

Tim Pearce
Criticism please. :)

My Review

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Featured Review

Hi. I'm a fan of sci fi/ fantasy and I think this story has great potential but I found the sheer volume of information quite difficult to focus on. You have a very vivid imagination and you paint the scenes really well but I think the density of it needs to be broken up by constantly focusing on to the immediate happenings of that scene to make it easier to follow.

Other than that I am intrigued to learn more about the place where this takespace and events that precipitated this ritual.

Could you please have a look at my work for me?

Posted 7 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Tim Pearce

7 Years Ago

Thanks for the feedback. :)
Could you give me some examples of irrelevant info I've put?
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Reviews

Hi,

I had another look at it and I'm finding it easier to read this time. I was quite tired when I was reading and maybe found it harder to concentrate. Your descriptions are extremely vivid and I like the way you have character interaction that leaves you wanted to know more about them. That's a great hook. This may sound a bit silly but double-line spacing or leaving lines between paragraphs might make it easier to read.

Thanks for messaging me back as it gave me another chance to look at this story and appreciate the positive aspects of it.

Posted 7 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

This was really good, personally i enjoyed the plot of your story and it has a very strong foundation. But i would advise giving more a back story to the characters because the image of the story seemed a little but vague. But if you could please check out some of my work :)


Posted 7 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Tim Pearce

7 Years Ago

Thank you so much. :) Another person has told me the same thing so I think I will paint the characte.. read more
Augminished

7 Years Ago

which ever catches you eye :) and alright cool can't wait to read the updated version
Hi i'm not really into Sci fi/fantasy but I think your story has changed my mind I liked it but just one small thing remember paragraphs in places.

Posted 7 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Tim Pearce

7 Years Ago

Thank you. :) Yeah I used to make paragraphs too short but now it seems I'm not breaking them up eno.. read more
Hi. I'm a fan of sci fi/ fantasy and I think this story has great potential but I found the sheer volume of information quite difficult to focus on. You have a very vivid imagination and you paint the scenes really well but I think the density of it needs to be broken up by constantly focusing on to the immediate happenings of that scene to make it easier to follow.

Other than that I am intrigued to learn more about the place where this takespace and events that precipitated this ritual.

Could you please have a look at my work for me?

Posted 7 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Tim Pearce

7 Years Ago

Thanks for the feedback. :)
Could you give me some examples of irrelevant info I've put?
read more

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Added on May 26, 2015
Last Updated on June 14, 2015
Tags: Fantasy, Science, Scifi, Science Fiction, Sword, Sorcery, Magic, Cybernetics, Cyborgs


Author

Tim Pearce
Tim Pearce

Adelaide, South Australia, Australia



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Love and Fantasy Currently my main project is a large collection of chapter-like short stories in a scifantasy setting, which I will post here for legendary readers. It is called White Rock, and sha.. more..

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