Prologue

Life is so fragile, yet the will to live is indestructible. The notion had never occurred to Maebus before. Not until now, as he felt his own life fading away.

His mind flooded with random thoughts he had no control over. Trying to hold on to one for more than a moment was like sand loosely straining through the fingers of his clenched fist.

All his life, Maebus viewed death as the elusive peace he’d always wanted. But now, bleeding, losing consciousness, tethering so close to the end of his own existence, he suddenly realized that he wanted to live … desperately. But now, just like the sands of time, life was slipping from his grasp.

Chapter One

The kingdom of the Realm was cursed. There was no other explanation for why they suffered. An emotional argument, Grand Wizard Kelm conceded to himself, but after the surprise attack upon King Maebus and their kingdom, he allowed himself a brief indulgence into the irrational.

Kelm stood over the bleeding, broken body of his friend—his brother-from-another-mother, as he often jokingly tagged him. And now, their bond would die if the Wizard was unable to find some way to save him. So far, Kelm had been able to sustain his friend with a healing spell. In addition to minimally repairing flesh wounds, it filled Maebus’ mind with random thoughts that prevented him from comprehending the extent of his injuries. Such a comprehension would prove fatal.

Kelm’s own mind was equally confused, filled with both loathing and sadness over the recent events. “Who could do such a thing?” he whispered. Their situation made no sense. True, the Realm’s magic made it a constant target. There had perhaps never been a time when the kingdom wasn’t defending itself from Magicals who wanted their abilities, and from Laymen whose collective fear coerced them to refute any use of magic.

The thought of ceaseless conflict pulsed a heated wave of anger through Kelm’s temples. He paused mid-stride in his pacing as the door of King Maebus’ chamber creaked open. Fable cautiously peeked her head in before entering. Her presence came as no surprise to Kelm. He’d sensed the Archivist’s movements through the Realmsic Castle as she anxiously navigated its corridors towards them. His usual sense-perception was undoubtedly being heightened by his emotional state.

Fable, locking her focus onto Maebus, stepped into the room. Gently, she backed into the door, closing it. There she stayed, leaning against its flat vertical surface, absorbing the image of the King and the two caretakers at his bedside. Kelm didn’t need to see the grief in her face. The pain he sensed kindling like tinder in her mind amplified his own. He fought against the sudden wave of sorrow as if it had come to steal his joy forever.

“So … much … blood,” Fable gasped. Her lower lip trembled. Even with Maebus’ wounds tightly bandaged, the thick crimson liquid trickled into a collection of stains on the bed sheets. Fable stood as if paralyzed. She squeezed her eyes tightly and twitched her head away from the scene.

Kelm approached her. The long, heavy ceremonial Wizard robe he still wore restricted his movement. He delicately palmed her cheek and thumbed away her tears. Her green eyes seemed as weighted as her silver hair and hunched shoulders. Her usual smile had succumbed to frown lines.

Unexpectedly, Fable wrapped her arms around him and buried her face in his chest. She squeezed him. Kelm, looking up towards the ceiling, released a long sigh and forced back his own tears. He patted her back consolingly. From the destruction of Fable’s home in the Ancient Lands, to the discovery of the Hero of Legend, they’d certainly endured much together in a relatively short time. And now, as Kelm’s closest friend lie dying, he realized Fable was all he had left.

After a moment, the Archivist pulled away and re-directed her attention to Maebus. “This is bad,” she said to Kelm, her eyes never leaving the King.

“This is grave,” Kelm replied. Following her gaze towards the bed, he observed the caretakers using cloths to blot the blood leaking from his wounds.

Realmsic… Kelm focused on the word many used to describe magic. It alone had caused the Realm endless war.

“I thought these days were supposed to be behind us now,” Kelm began. “Wasn’t the defeat of the Warlord Damian supposed to finally bring peace to the Realm? For only a fleeting moment … had we not known peace? Was it not glorious? Was it so precious that it could never be ours?”

Fable slowly shook her head, unable to answer his questions. “What type of weapon could inflict such bodily damage?” she asked instead.

“Your guess is as good as mine. During the victory ceremony, I never got a good look at our attackers nor their weapons.” His eyes narrowed with anger as he revisited the memory. “I remember standing on the victory platform with Maebus and feeling a high-speed object whiz past my face. It was quicker than the eyes could see, quicker perhaps than the mind could think.”

Fable placed a startled hand over her mouth as she listened.

“Within seconds of that,” he continued, “I heard it ping against one of the stone pillars supporting the stage. I tell you Fable, those projectiles shattered solid stone as if it were glass! By that time, the crowd was frantic. I looked to Maebus. One second, he stood over the crowd, trying to maintain order. Another second, he was down.”

Kelm moved towards his friend’s bedside and leaned over him, just as he had upon the stage.

“Maebus was shot by those things,” Kelm affirmed. “General Normandy led the Realmsic troops to stave off the attackers, while several of us got Maebus back into the castle. The caretakers were able to remove the metal objects from his body, and I’ve been sustaining him with a healing spell ever since. But his condition is still critical.”

Kelm placed a gentle hand upon Maebus’ arm, being sure not to press too firmly.

“Fable,” he said, “as a Grand Wizard, I’ve mastered most of the Realmsic disciplines taught to young Disciples of Magic. At one point or another, I’ve either performed or have at least seen just about every form of magic permitted by law. But never have I seen a projectile move so quickly, or penetrate with such force as I have today.”

“Perhaps it wasn’t magic?”

Fable’s words made Kelm’s heart jolt. He took a breath to calm himself.

“Regardless, our situation’s the same. And, most frightfully, with the King now incapacitated, a recent law now dictates that I, being the Realmsic Advisor and second in command, am now the kingdom’s leader.”

The sudden realization of it gripped Kelm’s guts with the force of an invisible hand. Reaching for his stomach, he took two heavy steps away from the bedside. The numb achiness of his neck and back muscles converted into soreness that refused to relieve itself. The muscles yanking on the base of his skull assured him that it would indeed develop into a headache. Kelm shut his eyes tightly and tried to massage the pain away.

“Fable …” he turned his head to glance at her from the corner of his eye. He felt his throat constrict against a hard swallow as he tried to utter his next words. “This … this is all my fault.”

“What do you mean?” She rested her hand flatly upon his back.

Kelm’s shoulders fell in resignation to his emotional burden. “Do people really hate us because we live in the only magical kingdom on earth?”

“If not that, then what else could it be?”

“It’s just … for centuries, people falsely perceived our Realmsic Crystal to be the source of all magic.”

He felt Fable’s hand slip away and fall to her sides. “What are you saying?” She waited a moment for him to collect his thoughts.

“I … I thought that perhaps magic itself was never really the issue. Perhaps the crystal was the problem all along, as it provided a physical entity for people to rally against.”

“That’s why you decided to bond the energy of the crystal to Maebus?”

“Yes. Therefore, the hollowed gem could be destroyed, and no one would feel threatened, or lust for its power ever again.”

Kelm paused, watching the caretakers redress Maebus’ wounds and dispose of the blood-soaked bandages. “I knew there would be risks associated with the transference, and that Maebus would be vulnerable. Yet I justified it by telling myself it was only a temporary solution. Eventually, I would find a way to stabilize the Realm’s energy and, in the meantime, I would protect the King. But now look at him.”

Fable reached for Kelm’s hands, but he quickly yanked them away.

“Kelm,” she began, “given the situation with the Warlord, you did what you felt was right. As the Realmsic Advisor, it was your duty to protect the King and this kingdom as best you could. It seemed as if peace was finally upon us. No one could have anticipated another attack so soon. This is not your fault! Do not allow yourself to wallow in self-pity!”

Fable’s words propelled him back to a past moment when he’d uttered similar words to Maebus after the kingdom had fallen to the Warlord. Kelm pressed his lips tightly together as he nodded his head. “You’re right. Now is not the time for self-deprecation. We currently have a serious problem. If Maebus were to succumb to his wounds, the resulting influx of Realmsic energy would be catastrophic.”

“This is true,” Fable said.

“His condition is very much beyond the skill of the caretakers, and beyond my own. My healing spell won’t last for too long, and he’s too weak for me to transfer the energy to someone else. Fable, I have no clue what to do.”

The Archivist reached into her pocket and presented him with a folded sheet of paper. She tilted her head toward it. “We need to acquire the Icon of Earth.”

Chapter Two

Kelm held the folded sheet of paper at eye level and examined it. Its plain appearance was reminiscent to the written instructions he and Maebus distributed to the Council before the Warlord’s attack.

“The Icon may be our only hope,” Fable stated.

Kelm could feel his fingernails digging into his palms from him tightly gripping the sheet.

“Come with me,” he said, trying to disguise his annoyance. The Icon of Earth was something he didn’t feel comfortable discussing publicly.

He stood to the side of the chamber door and held it open for Fable.

“Lorza,” he called to one of the caretakers “I’ll still be sustaining Maebus’ health telepathically and won’t be too far away in case I’m needed.”

The woman nodded. “Yes, Advisor. We will continue treating his wounds.”

Kelm exited the chamber behind Fable and shut the door. He then proceeded down the long, empty corridor, which would eventually connect to the public side of the castle. But it wasn’t necessary to walk that far to find the privacy they needed.

Even through his ceremonial robe, the chill of the open hall raised goose bumps along Kelm’s arms and legs. He trudged along the dingy, stone interior. He could scarce believe that only days before, the castle thrummed with exuberance as people began feeling hopeful about the future for the first time. Kelm’s heart quickened from the surge of hurt the thought provoked. Still, his eyes remained focused down the corridor while trying to manage the feelings. Except for the occasional flickering torch mounted upon the walls, the dim space served only to plunge him deeper into despair.

Once out of earshot of anyone, Kelm paused and pressed his back against the cold stones. He could feel the sensation of dread fighting to manipulate his senses as he stared at the Archivist. He had to quickly remind himself that he was frustrated with the situation, not with her.

“Fable, the Icon of Earth—the Candle of Crest? Are you serious?” His tone was perhaps harsher than he intended.

“You’ve never heard of it?” she calmly inquired, as if perceiving his irritation.

“The allegedly powerful gift created by the First Wizards? Of course I have. But I don’t think it’s relevant to our situation.” His words were slow and measured, yet still he was quickly losing patience.

“Really? That doesn’t sound like the Kelm I know.”

The Wizard jerked from the wall and straightened. “And what’s that supposed to mean?” he snapped.

Fable laid her hand on his chest. Through his robe, he could feel her calming warmth.

“You’re desperately trying to keep Maebus alive, yet at the same time, you’re grieving. I understand that. But as difficult as this is, I’ve never known you to not consider every available option.”

Kelm afforded himself a moment to avoid replying with an emotion. He sighed. It was perhaps a trait he’d recently acquired from Maebus. As much as he wanted to deny it, Fable was right. He needed to remain open-minded, just as he had expected Maebus to back when he first suggested visiting her after the kingdom fell. Had the Wizard been in a better mood, he would have found the parallels humorous.

“Okay,” Kelm resigned, leaning back against the wall. “However, I’ll need you to explain to me how the Icon is an option in this situation.”

“Well,” Fable began, “you said yourself that Maebus’ injuries are beyond our skill. Therefore, the Icon may be our only hope of saving him. Legend says that in the ancient land of Crest, the First Wizards fused a candlestick with pure Realmsical energy. When lit, its light possessed the ability to instantly heal, just as when nature eventually regenerates destroyed areas of land.”

“Yes, yes. That I understand. What I mean is that the Icon has been missing for centuries. How can we even consider a lost item?”

Fable leaned forward slyly smirking. “What if I told you it wasn’t lost?”

“What?” Kelm spoke softly.

“You heard me correctly.” Fable pointed at the folded sheet of paper still in his hand. Realizing he’d never actually opened it, he carefully pinched back a corner of the page to reveal the hand-written words within.

Fable continued, “For two months, the Warlord Damian used this very castle as his fortress, and he took meticulous notes regarding his conquest. After the Realmsic Army reclaimed the castle, much of his war notes were still lying untouched within the Great Hall. That’s where he apparently spent most of his time.”

Fable’s disembodied voice hovered in the background as Kelm scanned the lines of the document. He focused harder to hear her.

“For … historical purposes, I collected his notes to add them to the new archive King Maebus is allowing me to build here at the castle. And it was then I discovered Damian’s reference to the Icon.”

“Are you serious?” Kelm could feel his patience waning again.

“Very much so. Damian found the Icon of Earth!”

“And when did you discover this?” he asked.

“Just the other day. But it wasn’t relevant until now.”

Kelm’s chest heaved as anger fueled his rapid breaths. He wanted to argue, but quickly realized he couldn’t. Between Fable’s discovery the other day and the final preparations for the victory ceremony, there really was no opportunity for her to present this information until now.

Logic subsided emotion.

“Okay, I understand. Please, continue.”

Fable pressed her back to the wall and leaned against him so she could see the sheet. “Through studying Damian’s notes, I’ve learned much about his conquest, which was as much defensive as it was offensive.” With her finger, she traced the words along the paper. “See what it says here? Early in his campaign, he dedicated an enormous amount of resources to locating the Icon. I assumed he intended to use it in the event of his own injury during the war.”

“Hmmm,” Kelm stroked his smooth chin, which was recently shaven for the ceremony. “Knowing Damian, the opposite could also be true. Obtaining the power of the Realmsic Crystal was always in his plan. So, technically, he didn’t need the Icon of Earth. Yet, he probably didn’t want anyone else to have it either to use against him.”

Fable pointed to a few more lines in the document. “Either way, he found it! Read here.”

It took Kelm only a moment to process the information. “Unbelievable.”

“Absolutely! And I believe it may still be in his fortress in the Lands of the East.”

Kelm’s eyes darted eastward as he considered the idea. “It’s worth checking.” He handed the note back to her. “Fable, this is truly incredible! I’m going to head to the fortress immediately.”

“Great! I’m coming with you.”

“I think not,” Kelm sharply retorted.

“Why not? You can’t possibly be considering going there by yourself?”

“Stop,” Kelm demanded, stretching his arms out before her.

“I’m not arguing this with you. I’m going!”

“No, no, it’s not that. Something’s wrong.” He stood motionless, listening to the silence, sensing something beyond perception.

Before he could clearly focus on the disturbance, a muffled boom resonated through the castle. A stream of dust poured from the corridor ceiling.

“Get down!” Kelm warned, using his body to shield Fable from the larger stone debris. He stayed there, wrapped over top of her until the rubble settled enough for them to move forward.

“Come on.” He grabbed her hand to lead her back to Maebus’ chamber.

“Kelm, what’s going on?”

“I think the castle is being attacked!”

Chapter Three

 

“We’ve got to get back to Maebus!” Kelm shouted to Fable above the short, violent tremors that vibrated the floor beneath their feet. With one hand, he steadied himself against the wall, trying to imagine what massive object was striking the castle. Had Normandy’s counter assault not restrained the enemy? Were they now trying to breech the interior?

Once the tremors had subsided, he pushed himself off the wall. “Stay close to me,” he instructed Fable.

“I’m right behind you!” she exclaimed, sprinting alongside him. Kelm’s long, rustling robe tangled around his legs. In midstride, he gripped the garment from the bottom and tossed it over his head. Much better. The loose, cloth tunic and trousers he’d worn underneath was much less restrictive upon his thin frame. Within seconds they’d returned to Maebus’ chamber. With a wave of his hand, he blew open the entrance. Fixed within the doorway, a quick glance revealed an empty interior. Kelm stood, softly panting with his hands upon his hips. All that remained of Maebus were his blood-stained bed sheets and several empty medical vials.

“Where could he have been taken to?” Fable glanced around the room.

“I have no idea. I can’t even sense him anymore.” Kelm’s jaw slackened as he tried to normalize his breathing.

“Perhaps the caretakers took him to safety?”

“No. They wouldn’t have risked moving him in his condition. Unless they had to.”

With long strides, he stepped over to the bed. Lifting its covering, he placed a hand upon the cotton mattress. It was warm to the touch.

The room unexpectedly shook from another, much stronger, tremor. Kelm fell upon the bed, embracing its wooden frame until the rumbling subsided. A terrified scream echoed from the corridor, followed by the clanging of steel.

“That came from down the hall,” Fable said, pulling herself up from the desk she’d fell upon from the tremor.

Kelm’s stomach constricted like a vise. “We’ve been breeched,” he said, rolling up his sleeves as he typically did when preparing to fight with magic. Dashing to the doorframe, he peeked his head partially beyond the entrance. Several of the castle’s staff members were fleeing past the chamber. Their wide eyes were filled with fear. Though Kelm couldn’t see whom or what threatened them, their flight told him everything he needed to know.

“Get out of here. Get to safety!” he ordered as they passed. He craned his neck to peer further into the corridor.

“What do you see?” Fable’s voice cut through his concentration.

“Nothing yet … wait!” He heard the rattling of their armor before he’d seen the two pursuers down the hall. Both men brandished long, arched swords—definitely not Realmsic Army issued. Bladed gauntlets covered their hands. Their uniforms appeared to be of a tough, dark gray leather-like material that was covered with shiny steel plating to protect chest and limbs. Their sloped steel helmets covered the sides of their faces, giving them a ghastly appearance. Kelm didn’t recognize their uniforms, nor had he ever seen anyone like them before.

Invaders.

Swiftly, the Wizard pivoted fully into the corridor. He swung his hands forward, instantaneously releasing a hand-blast. The smack of the sparkling, yellow sphere upon their bodies echoed down the hall. The enemies probably hadn’t even seen what hit them.

“Kelm! What happened?” Fable pressed against the doorframe, trying to glimpse the intruders.

“Stay here,” he replied.

Kelm scanned the corridor behind him before tiptoeing towards the unconscious attackers. He enjoyed the satisfaction of standing over them. Invade my home, will you.

The two were out cold; their arms and legs splayed, like starfish washed up on the beach. Stooping between them, Kelm inspected their exposed skin for any markings that could identify who they were. But nothing stood out. Their appearance, from their shaved heads and darkened eye sockets to the color and texture of their skin, seemed completely foreign.

Kelm heard Fable approaching from behind. “Who are they?” she asked, peeking over his shoulder.

“I told you to stay put. You’re not a combat fighter.”

“Neither are you,” she countered sternly.

It was true. Yet, over the years, he’d learned how to become whatever a situation needed him to be. “I have no clue who they are. Is there anyone matching their description in your historical records?”

“Let me check.” Fable’s pupils faded and then illuminated white as she searched the contents of her mind. As a member of the Archival Order, she and those once of her kind, had been tasked with magically memorizing all aspects of Realmsic history. Kelm felt an achy pang of sadness for her as he recalled the tragic events that had brought her to reside in the castle.

After nearly a minute of the trance, the brightness in her eyes faded. “No, I don’t recognize these people at all,” she said, brushing aside the hair that partially covered her face.

“That’s not good,” Kelm said, rising to his feet. “These two will be knocked out for a while. I’m guessing there are more of them. Let’s try to find the Council.”

“But what about King Maebus?”

Kelm glanced back to the empty chamber. He felt the pressure upon his temples as he grinded his teeth together. “I don’t know. I still can’t sense him, yet I didn’t see any signs of a struggle in there. Nothing is making sense right now.”

Whatever his facial expression was, it must have looked quite concerning, for Fable grabbed his arm and gave it a reassuring squeeze. One that told him she was there for him, and together, they would somehow see this through. He tried his best to return her compassion with a smile. But his face wouldn’t work. Instead, he patted her hand. Although temporarily unable to express it, he was grateful to have her with him. Perhaps grateful wasn’t strong enough a word.

Together, they rushed headlong down the corridor towards the main structure. All the while, Kelm’s ears detected the faint bellows of struggle. Next, came the distinct ringing of clashing swords. His breath shortened. When he was several steps closer to the double-doors leading to the public side of the castle, his palms began sweating. The dry, fumes of smoke already burned his nostrils. He and Fable burst into the main structure. Anger. Struggle. Chaos. Castle sentries, who normally guarded the grounds, fought off enemy attackers as best they could—the two sides, swung swords, punched, and tore at each other’s clothing. Kelm was terrified for their safety and that of the staff. Though skilled, the sentries weren’t Realmsic soldiers. Fortunately, much of the castle’s staff appeared to have already fled.

“There!” Fable hollered, pointing to a massive opening that had been blown into one of the room’s sidewalls. Combatants flooded through its gaping cavity. They looked identical to the ones they’d encountered in the corridor. “That’s how they got in,” Fable proclaimed.

Through the opening, he could see the extent of the battle outside. Realmsic soldiers engaged in sword fights while others scattered to avoid ricocheting projectiles. Kelm rubbed his eyes. Was he seeing correctly? In the sky, he saw what looked like giant birds flying over the fields, dropping some form of exploding devices. He focused upon them. The birds were real, as were their explosions. It was likely that was how they breeched the castle.

“Kelm!” A voice blustered from above him. He forced his eyes away from the battle to scan the second-level balcony.

“Wyndam!” Kelm shouted as he spotted the Councilman, whose burgundy cape had been torn in several places. His pale face was smudged with blood—hopefully not his own. Kelm was at least thankful that Wyndam was an administrator of military and could fight. Otherwise, he may have been dead already.

“Where are the other Council members?” Kelm bellowed from below.

The Councilman leaned over the banister as far as he could. “Some of them fled to the security chamber, but Sheld and Mert are trapped upstairs in the Council’s wing and—” Wyndam’s sentence was cut short as an attacker appeared upon his left side.

“Look out!” Kelm blurted.

Swiftly, the Councilman grabbed the combatant’s helmet. Kelm raised his hand, trying to take aim, watching terrified as the two struggled, grunted, and flailed their arms striking whatever they could.

“Don’t hit Wyndam,” Fable warned.

The combatant raised his spiked gauntlet, the blades facing the Councilman. Kelm couldn’t get a clear shot. Wyndam, taking advantage of the attacker’s opened stance, pivoted sideways into the man’s chest and grabbed his arm with both hands. Using the banister for leverage, he hurled the attacker over the edge, crashing him into several others below.

“Yes!” Fable cheered.

Kelm pumped a celebratory fist.

Wyndam, panting heavily, leaned over the railing to address them. “I’m okay. But Normandy went upstairs to find the other Council members. You must help him!”

Kelm barely heard Wyndam’s last words. His attention was stolen by the sensation of approaching danger.

“To your left!” Fable gasped.

Precipitously, the Wizard fired a blast at a combatant attacking his side. The yellow sparks produced upon impact were nearly blinding. Kelm took a moment to make sure the man was down, then with his hand, signaled okay to Wyndam above.

“We’ll find Normandy. Get yourself to the security chamber immediately and stay there until we can secure the castle!”

Chapter Four

Kelm and Fable sprinted out of the main structure. The Wizard could feel his body being propelled by an explosion of energy within him. He was no longer scared. The situation no longer permitted it. Making it to the east stairwell, he and Fable bounded the steps, hopping several at once. Scaling its steep incline, passing many of the castle’s upper levels, his head filled with as many questions.

Why was Normandy here? Why had Sheld and Mert not made it to the security chamber with Elva and the others? Why wasn’t he able to sense Maebus anymore? Why did he leave the room to talk to Fable?

Stop it Kelm! Focus on the situation, the answers will come, he mentally scolded himself.

Nearly out of breath, the two had climbed six stories to the Council’s wing. He scanned the stairwell entrance to investigate the level. Several mounted torches had blown out, making the widened walkway darker than usual. Yet, he didn’t need light to hear the heavy footfalls converging upon their position.

Had they been spotted?

No, because the steps had suddenly stopped.

Quickly, he darted a glance into the walkway from the stairwell. Over there! He’d seen them: a pair of invaders. They stood apart, their backs facing one another.

Bang

Bang

Kelm jerked backwards. After a moment, he looked again. The two were kicking down doors.

Bang, their boots smashed in another set of solid wood doors on both sides of the hall. They appeared too focused to be conducting typical invasion looting. Were they looking for something specifically? Or perhaps someone? The Wizard could contemplate it no further, for he’d accidentally caught the attention of one of them.

“Hey!” an invader shouted, pointing his arched sword.

Kelm had but a second to react. Like a rampaging bull, he hurled himself towards the enemies. With his head tilted down, he bounded forward, feeling the inner energy once again feeding his courage. He’d outstretched his arms, preparing to strike, when something suddenly grabbed his ankle. Had he not been so triggered by anger, he would have heard the device slicing through the air, whipping after him, instead of now being violently yanked backwards by his feet. He thudded flat onto his stomach. The force of the pull was similar to Kelm’s own extractor, the device he often used to grapple himself to and from locations.

As he was dragged across the floor, Fable tried to reach for the hook that had ensnared him. Hunched over, she scampered after him, her hands missing the metal clamps each time.

“Crap!” Kelm exclaimed. The two invaders, his original targets, were now bounding towards them. Kelm had to free himself. Flopping onto his back, he crunched his abs as tightly as he could. He needed to lift his upper torso off the ground. He saw the hook mechanism that had ensnared him, and the steel lure that connected to its clamps. He followed the lure to a pulley device held by a third invader at the opposite end of the corridor. The Wizard took aim and fired, hitting the combatant square in the chest. The hit, he calculated, wasn’t fatal. But it was enough for the assailant to disengage the hook and withdraw. Rolling onto his stomach, he next intended to blast the invaders pursuing Fable. But there were more now. He counted three … maybe four. Too many to take down at once.

A warm breeze suddenly landed upon his face. From the corner of his eye, Kelm thought he saw a flicker of lightening. Its brightness momentarily disoriented Fable and the attackers as it increased behind them. From a distance, the light completely filled the walkway. Kelm shielded his eyes as he peered into the brightness of the disruption. Between the light and the attackers, he spotted a massively tall figure running towards them. Only then did Kelm realize that the disturbance was a wall of flames consuming everything in its path. Briefly, the flickering blaze blew out, allowing him to see the source of the flames—an enemy soldier gripping a fire-dripping nozzle, which was attached to a metal tank strapped upon his back.

A whooshing flame exploded from the nozzle.

“General Normandy, behind you!” Kelm shouted, squinting against the glowing embers.

The tall man grunted, baring his teeth. His face was strained. Veins protruded from his neck as he sprinted towards them. “Run, you fools!” Normandy’s deep, commanding voice hit Kelm just before the intense heat of the flames. The Wizard bounced himself off the floor and reached down to remove the hook from his ankle.

“Fable, come on,” Kelm shouted. His mind blazed, his eyes absorbed everything, processing the danger. His surroundings appeared to move in slow motion. He saw Fable, the sweat on her forehead, the hair blowing into her face. He saw the silhouetted outline of Normandy against the fire, bashing past the invaders, shouting something unintelligible to them. Within seconds, the tall man was upon them, scooping up Fable and him in one fluid motion and tucking them under each of his arms. Kelm could feel the heat tingling the back of his neck, and the damp perspiration of Normandy’s thick arms pressing upon his torso. The General’s jerky movements nauseated Kelm. From his angle, he could no longer see the invaders chasing behind them, nor the flames. And only scarcely did he see the open window at the end of the hall that Normandy seemed to be dashing towards.

“Normandy,” Kelm screamed. “Don’t do it! We’re too far up!”

Without breaking stride, the General propelled himself through the window’s wide gap while still clutching him and Fable.

Free falling, Kelm’s stomach receded into his chest. He heard something crack through the air. He couldn’t identify the source. Fable was suddenly whipped backwards.

“Faaaaable!” Kelm screamed as he and Normandy plummeted over the rock ledge that supported the Realmsic Castle. A hook had ensnared her leg. The lure reeled her in, dangling her upside down from the window.

Desperately, she reached her hands for Kelm’s, her eyes wide with terror. Her horrified scream filled Kelm’s ears louder than the forceful wind of his free fall. He stretched his arms towards her, but the window she dangled from grew smaller and smaller as he fell towards the rushing currents of the Northwest River.