Here's a rough draft of a story I've been working on... The formatting doesn't transfer over and I'm too lazy to go input it, so you'll have to forgive the lack of italics for the Ethermen talking... But either way... if you feel like a bit of a read, here's 8000 or so words. (feel free to offer me title suggestions...)
Waylon Westman had three Ethermen living inside his body. Their unique talents allowed him to live a life an ordinary seventeen year old could only imagine. Today, that meant blackmailing the local magistrate, or trying to anyway.
Waylon paused in the shade of a stunted cedar. The dry desert heat twisted everything outside of the Magistrate’s grounds into watery lines over the cracked and barren earth. He rubbed his eyes. “Am I imagining things, or are there ponds beside the manor?”
Why would you be imagining things? Etherman Booka asked, his words just a voice inside Waylon’s mind.
“The heat… sometimes it makes mortal’s brains go a little… funny.”
Really? Truly, people are so fragile. I’m quite glad I’m not one. But no, you are imagining nothing. There is indeed a pond, and trees and vines, and potted plants hanging from the precipices of the towers.
Waylon smiled. If the Magistrate could afford to keep a pond filled and plants watered when the ground outside his estate baked into cracked clay, they would take a good haul.
“Are you ready?” he asked his Ethermen. He reluctantly stepped from the shade of the cedar and walked towards the Magistrate’s estate. The cedar he’d stopped under was close enough for the guards to see him speaking. They probably thought he was talking to himself, made crazy by the sun. Sharing his body with his Ethermen created some unusual problems. He’d lost count of the embarrassing situations he’d been in because he’d spoken to his Ethermen where people could hear.
We were ready some time ago, Etherman Booka said. You’re the one who wanted to wait.
“It’s hot out here!” Waylon motioned the surrounding desert. “I don’t expect you to understand. You don’t have to feel my skin cooking in the sun!”
Yes, yes, Booka said. We understand. You have such a hard life. At least you get to feel something. I’m relegated to entertaining myself through sheer mental exertion.
Waylon restrained himself from reminding Booka that he’d mentioned being glad he wasn’t a mortal only moments before. Doing so would only lead to a useless argument, and he had enough of those going on between his Ethermen every day.
Etherman Zeekoo grumbled. At least you have that! I don't get to do anything! Why does Booka get to play when I have to watch? It was my idea!
“Because Booka can control people's minds and you can't,” Waylon said, and then added, “Now shut up, you two.”
What about me? Etherman Woko said. Waylon tended to leave Woko out of such statements, Woko was the tamest of his three Etherman, probably because he could only change the appearance of Waylon’s clothes while Booka could control minds and Zeekoo was telekinetic.
You won’t say anything unless Waylon ruins his clothes! Zeekoo shouted at Woko.
“Shut up,” Waylon said again, this time he was close enough to the guards that he could see their muscles tense and the confusion on their faces when he spoke only a portion of a conversation, seemingly to himself.
“Zeekoo, just in case Booka can’t handle things, I give you permission to do whatever it takes to make sure we don’t get into trouble.”
Zeekoo cackled. So I can smash guards together? Send them flying into the air? Anything?
“Only if Booka fails!” He put on his best smile. “Well, no point in wasting any more time.” He threw his shoulders back and walked up to the black, wrought-iron gate. A guard stood to either side, each dressed in a pristine red uniform.
The guards glanced to each other, their hands going to swords hanging at their waists. “What business do you have with the Magistrate?” the older of the pair asked.
Waylon smiled and bowed with a flourish of his robes. “I’m here to alleviate the Magistrate of a few hefty sacks of gold and horses to carry them. Then, I intend to ride out of this gate and be on my merry way. Now, Booka, if you wouldn’t mind, please wipe their memories before they run me through.”
The guards’ eyes glazed over for an instant as Booka worked his magic. They blinked in unison. “Of course, sir,” the older guard said. “Follow the path to the front of the manor then take the stairs to the walkway, one of the servants will escort you from there. And may I add that it’s a pleasure to meet you. Always wondered what it’d have been like to brave the breech at Haren.”
“I’m sure.” Waylon gave a brief nod and held in a laugh as he paraded onto the Magistrate’s private estate. Yes, sharing his body with Ethermen came with some definite perks. He brushed his frazzled brown hair out of his eyes and whistled a merry tune.
Too easy, Booka said. Let’s hope the Magistrate presents a greater challenge. I could have made those guards do anything the moment I touched their minds.
“The guards aren't important. It's the Magistrate we need to concentrate on. Don't forget why we’re here,” Waylon said, and then added, “What did you make them think I was here for?”
I made them believe you were the High Lord of Terrilon, here to negotiate the use of some of Garion’s troops, Booka said.
Waylon laughed at the thought of someone thinking he was a lord, but put his mind back to business, or more accurately, to the bright purple robes he was wearing. “Woko, can't you think of something more appropriate? I look like a peacock; I need to look like a noble.”
But purple suits you, Woko said.
“Calm it down for now, please.”
Waylon blinked as his clothes morphed from bright purple robes into a midnight blue formal tunic which clung to his lanky frame and restricted his movement.
“Thanks, Woko.” He nearly tripped as his loping strides were cut short by the confinement of his new outfit.
I'm going to make you look like a rainbow once we finish.
Waylon sighed and continued toward the manor. Sometimes he wished he could have the benefits that came with his Ethermen without having to constantly appease them.
The white cobbled path to the Magistrate's home wound between lush grasses and under sprawling golden oaks. The smell of sun blossoms floated on a cool breeze. The manor proper was as immaculate as the grounds on which it resided. White marble columns held up a lofty walkway over a series of sparkling blue ponds. The mansion was formed of the same gleaming stone, set in a series of domes successively reaching higher and higher, like a giant set of steps. The last dome stood nearly a hundred feet in the air, a monument to the Magistrate's wealth.
Waylon strode up the steps to the elevated walkway and walked along in its shade until a servant in a long black coat came into view. Waylon slowed down and tried to calm his breathing before the servant came close enough to speak.
“May I help you sir?” the man said with a bow.
Another dim one, Booka complained.
Waylon couldn't see Booka work his magic –he never could– but the servant's eyes glazed over for an instant and then he turned on heel and motioned for Waylon to follow. “I am so sorry, sir. I didn’t recognize you at first. The Magistrate will be most pleased that you’ve arrived.”
“Who did you make him think I am?” Waylon murmured.
The Magistrate's father. Booka laughed dryly.
Waylon followed the servant through sparkling corridors of marble. Colorful tapestries of every sort spotted the walls and the occasional bust of a figure long dead sat upon a golden pedestal, Waylon could probably fence one and buy a dozen homes. As they walked, they passed several servants in sleek black and crimson livery who barely glanced Waylon’s way, likely Booka’s work.
This is boring, Zeekoo said. One of the tapestries came off the wall and stretched taut on its side. Hop on.
In no mood to argue, Waylon stepped onto the tapestry and sat down. As soon as he was seated it floated down the walkway behind the servant.
Do you know how much work you are making for me? Booka said. Now I have to go inside every servant's head and convince them they didn't just see Waylon floating by.
Zeekoo sniggered. Didn't you just complain about your part being too easy?
“Shush you two. I can't think with you jabbering in my head like that,” Waylon said.
The servant turned around. “What was that, sir-” he turned back to the path and continued walking at one of Booka's mental promptings.
After some pleading, Zeekoo let the tapestry down and Waylon hopped off just before they reached the study where the Magistrate sat behind a large oak desk.
“Excuse me sir,” the servant said to the Magistrate, “I have not made accommodations for your guest. If you please, I will take my leave to do so now.”
The Magistrate waved the servant away without looking up. “Now Nicolas...” His eyes widened and then his brow furrowed at the sight of Waylon. “Who are you and why are you here?”
I can't do anything. Something is wrong. I can't even sense his mind! Booka squealed.
The Magistrate rose to his feet in a flash, sending the desk toppling and the papers on it scattering across the room. “You dare to enter my home with those creatures?” he roared.
Eep! Zeekoo exclaimed. He knows about us? How does he know about us?
“I...” Waylon fumbled. “Zeekoo do something!”
I tried! I can't! Run Waylon!
“You impetuous fool. Why are you here? Speak quickly!”
Waylon tried to turn to run, but it was as if his legs were cast of lead. His lanky body snapped erect with his face straight toward the Magistrate as if his whole body were being held by invisible ropes.
“I-I-” Waylon stammered and beads of sweat rolled down his face. “I thought you might be i-i-interested in m-m-my abilities as a p-purveyor of m-mystical a-a-amusements.”
The Magistrate strode forward. He was an average, un-extraordinary man in every way but one. His eyes. He was of middle age with short brown hair, sprinkled with gray. He wore a deep crimson cloak over a white shirt and black pants. But his eyes lit up as with an inner flame.
“Do not lie to me, boy. Do not think me so ignorant as the mass of miscreants which wander the streets. I know what you bring into my home: creatures of the Ether realm! Why are you here?” his voice did not come out as a yell so much as a loud, crisp command.
“N-nothing more than that, my lord,” Waylon said. His eyes burned as sweat rolled into them. “I live a simple life as a traveling magician. It's true what you say; I have brought these creatures, but only for the purpose of plying my trade. I didn't know you... I didn’t mean to offend.”
Lie better you dummy! He will never believe that! Zeekoo said.
“Is that so?” The Magistrate was suddenly perfectly calm and composed. He closed the distance between them and took Waylon's chin in his hand, moving the boy’s head back and forth in examination. “I do not believe you. But you are no threat, only a fool playing with forces he does not understand.” He turned around and went to sort his papers. “I’ll keep you locked up, of course, just in case I am mistaken.”
“Sir... I truly meant no offense.”
The Magistrate let out a chilling laugh which sent Waylon's teeth chattering. “And none has been given. You shall receive your reward for your actions.”
What do you suppose that means? Booka said.
“But sir-” Waylon cut off as the invisible bonds holding him up disappeared. The sudden release almost sent him to the ground, but he caught himself just in time to see the Magistrate flick a hand in his direction. The world spun for a moment and then everything went black.
When Waylon woke his wrists were chained together and he was in a dank cell in a set of filthy rags. “Woko...”
The rags blinked into a bright red conical hat, a sky blue vest, and baggy yellow pants.
The rags made more sense, Woko said in a small, squeaky voice.
A haze clouded Waylon's thoughts and his head pounded. He tried to grab at it, but the chains restricted his movement. “Zeekoo, can you do something about these chains?”
Nope, nope, nope. Can't break metal, can't undo locks. I can lift up some floor stones. Does that help?
You really ought to stop asking him questions. He is incapable of intelligent thought, Booka said.
Shut up! Zeekoo retorted.
Woko whimpered. Nobody cares about me. There’s no one to see the beautiful clothes I've made for you in here…
“Will you all please be quiet? I need to think.”
He examined the room around him. The floor and walls were made of solid brown blocks two feet across. The room was four paces by three paces with only an iron door. Slivers of faint light squeezed around the doorframe; otherwise, the room was black.
“None of you could do anything in the presence of the Magistrate... Can you now?”
It is hard to say, I don’t have anyone to test with but you three, Booka said, sounding as if he hoped to get permission to play with one of their minds.
I’ll try! Zeekoo said. A bit of dirt in the cracks between stones floated lazily into the air. That’s it? Something is still wrong. I can barely do anything!
I can, Woko said, for once sounding as happy as could be.
Of course their powers weren’t blocked. Woko had already changed his clothes, hadn’t he?
That’s only because what you do is easy! Zeekoo said.
Woko cried and Waylon did his best to shut them all out. To his surprise, the inside of his mind suddenly went completely silent, but the emptiness lasted only a moment.
I find a similar restriction upon my abilities as Zeekoo, Booka said.
“You played with my head?”
I thought, given the circumstances, you would not be opposed to me granting your request for silence, Booka said. Plus, I did have to find some way to see if my abilities were intact. I believe I can function at probably one-fiftieth of my usual power.
Waylon leaned against the cool stone wall and closed his eyes. For ten years he’d wandered through every major city in the Spire Kingdoms. And while he’d met a few people with minor abilities that neither he, nor his Ethermen could explain, he’d never run into abilities as strong as the Magistrate’s. “Could he have Ethermen of his own?”
The Magistrate? Booka said.
No. Not even the most powerful Ethermen could dampen or stop our abilities.
That’s not true, Woko said. His crying had died off during the talking and he was back to his usual timid voice. Wakoro can do that. But he couldn’t be here.
I wasn’t aware Wakoro had such abilities… Booka said, for the first time ever, with some level of deference in his voice. Are you sure?
“Who is Wakoro?”
He’s the Lord of the Ether Realm, Booka said, though it sounded as if he was stopping himself from saying more. Odd. Booka loved to talk, especially when he could make someone feel stupid for not knowing something, to hear him hold back was unusual. “Why couldn’t he be here, Woko?”
He’s bound to the Ether Realm…
“Well, if he’s bound to the Ether Realm, then it doesn’t matter.”
The Ethermen had never talked much about the Ether Realm. For some reason, Waylon hadn’t imagined there would be a lord of it. Why would there? They were just spirits. The idea was a curiosity, but Waylon needed to face the reality of being locked up. “Okay, well, we know it isn’t him. Do we have any ideas how the Magistrate stopped you?”
A voice came from the hallway. “Quite easily.” The door opened and the Magistrate stepped into the cell, wearing a satisfied smile; behind him stood one of the gate guards, staring blankly ahead. “Your Ethermen have quite… singular gifts. Mind control and telekinetic powers are quite rare, even among Ethermen. As for that,” he motioned to Waylon’s clothes. “I’m not sure what to call that trick. It is rather amusing though, isn’t it?” The Magistrate’s robes changed colors as he talked, from red to yellow, to black, and then back to red. But Waylon noted the Magistrate’s clothes did not change form, as Waylon’s clothes did when Woko used his ability.
My abilities have been nullified again, Booka said.
The amusement and joviality dropped from the Magistrate’s face, which made Waylon nervous, until the chains binding him suddenly and for no apparent reason unlocked themselves and fell to the floor. “Branen here will show you about the estate. You are free to do as you like under two conditions: you do not hurt anyone, and you do not try to escape. I assure you, either of these acts will end with your death.” With no more ado, the Magistrate turned and left.
Why do you think he came down here just to tell us someone else was going to show us around? Zeekoo asked.
He’s afraid of us, Woko said, matter of fact-like.
He couldn’t possibly fear us, Booka said. We can’t hurt him with our abilities. We are no threat.
I don’t think he’s afraid because we could hurt him, Woko said.
Woko, you don’t know what you’re talking about¸ Zeekoo said. He could squash Waylon and we couldn’t do anything. He probably just gets pleasure out of capturing people and making them work for him. I know I would.
We’re not all as evil as you, Booka said.
Zeekoo started to retort, but suddenly the blank faced guard named Branen stopped staring blankly and finished walking into the room.
“Hi, I’m Branen. I’ll be showing you around. What’s your name?”
“Waylon.” Then, figuring if he was going to find a way out of the mess he’d best start gather whatever information he could, he asked, “Does the Magistrate always show up like that before letting a prisoner out?”
“The Magistrate?” Branen stuck his head out the door and looked up and down the hall in a panic. “Did you see him? I just know he’s been looking for a reason to finish me. Ever since his medallion went missing he’s been out for us guards.”
There’s another interesting development, Booka said. Apparently, the Magistrate can do a bit of mind control of his own. Which leads me to believe he didn’t want Branen to hear about our abilities. Oh, and I can use my abilities fully again. Perhaps we were only partly limited in what we could do so he could safely observe our powers?
“Why don’t you leave, if you’re so scared?” Waylon asked, trying to focus while Booka mused.
Branen gave a nervous laugh. “Right, as if that’s a choice. You didn’t figure it out when you got thrown in here? Service to the Magistrate is a life sentence; ain’t a one of us here by our own choice. Far as I can tell, we all did something to set him off. Me, I tried robbing him.” He gave a sad laugh. “Stupidest choice I ever made. What did you do to fall on his bad side?”
Waylon couldn’t help but laugh. “The same thing.” He’d never had any real friends outside the Ethermen, having voices in his head made that a bit difficult. But Branen seemed like the type of guy he could get along with.
Branen stuck out a hand and helped Waylon to his feet. “Well, Waylon, welcome to the darkest hell this side of the Spire, probably anywhere in the world. Well, that ain’t so, I guess. I heard they got some prisons that treat you real bad. Making you eat other people ‘n such. At least we get decent food. Just got to stay on your toes and out of his way. Course, if he wants you, best to do exactly what he wants, quick as you can. That’s how you avoid his… tricks.”
“What do you mean?”
The Magistrate’s abilities, you imbecile, Booka said.
Waylon had to stop himself from scolding Booka and telling him to shut up. For all of Booka’s self-proclaimed intelligence, he often lacked the ability to reason out what Waylon was trying t do. In this case, that meant fishing for information.
“He can do some things that isn’t natural. Weird things like making you see stuff that ain’t there. Sometimes, I think I can even hear him in my head. But Jimn says that’s just me imagining cuz I’m worried I done something wrong. One time I saw him make a fire in his hand with no strike stones. That’s why nobody tries to escape. Poor bastard tried when I first got here. I never seen someone take so long to die. The Magistrate tied him up, ten feet in the air, then made him sweat out his own blood for two weeks. He kept feeding him and making sure he had ‘nough to drink too, just so the bastard would stay alive to suffer longer.”
Branen shuddered and took a look around before he continued. “Like I said, best just keep your head low and be quick about doing what you’re to do. Speaking of, I’m supposed to show you to your room. You lucked out, got a nice one in the top tower. All fancy up there. Course, that’s where he sleeps, so maybe not so lucky. Guess you’re one of the smarter ones, huh? Never seen him ask for reports on his visitors before. Don’t know what you could possibly have to say that he couldn’t figure out his-self. Well, come on.”
He talks more than you do, Woko said to Booka, who went on at length explaining how that wasn’t so. Naturally this led to a fight between the Ethermen that gave Waylon a tremendous headache, and also made listening to Branen almost impossible, which was fine, since he seemed to be rambling anyway.
Branen led Waylon out of the little prison and into the fresh air beneath the elevated walkway he’d been on earlier. The door placement was a clever trick of angles, coming out at the edge of the pond so it looked like a stone instead of a door. Not that anyone who came calling could see it anyway, hidden from the path as it was.
They reached Waylon’s new room and Branen excused himself, reporting that he’d be killed if he took any longer getting back to his rounds.
Nice place, Zeekoo noted. Maybe this won’t be so bad.
The room was every bit as brilliant as the estate. The walls, floors, and ceiling were all the same gleaming white marble. One side of the room was colonnades opening to see the western side of the estate, and the muddy wash of sunset across the desert floor beyond. In the center of the room was a plush bed beneath a crimson silk canopy that held at least a dozen silk covered pillows. A writing desk sat in the corner with a stack of fresh parchment and a stoppered-ink-well.
I hope he doesn’t expect you to write your reports, Booka said, apparently latching onto the parchment and connecting it with what Branen had explained of his duties.
“Might be I’ll finally get to learn.” He hoped he would. If he was going to be stuck in a bad situation, he might as well grab any good thing he could until he figured a way out.
Who needs to write? Zeekoo said. Waylon’s got us. Writing’s for people who can’t find a better way to make money.
Writing is for the educated, Booka said. Of course I wouldn’t expect you to understand. It seems to be regarded with high esteem. Indeed, from what I’ve gathered, the ability to read and write grants one status among mortals. Naturally, Waylon would want to learn.
I want to learn, Woko said quietly.
You? Zeekoo laughed. What for? You couldn’t do anything with it!
Could too! Woko insisted, but Zeekoo just kept laughing.
Another servant in black and crimson livery entered the room, silent as can be, and frightened Waylon since he hadn’t seen the man until he spoke. “The Magistrate is to meet with a friend in short order. He requires your attendance in the antechamber and gives instruction to: figure out what the old fool wants so I don’t have to listen to him drone on all night.”
Waylon nodded to the servant, but stood there, uncertain where to go.
A droll smile crept across the servant’s face and he said, “Follow me.”
They walked to the antechamber in silence, well, silence in the world around them, Waylon’s mind pounded from the arguing; Zeekoo was bragging about something and Woko was quietly insisting that Zeekoo bragged to compensate for being an idiot.
The antechamber was a small room, little more than a widening to the hallway, that Waylon had passed through when he’d first gone in to meet the Magistrate. The servant leading him nodded to a simple desk beside the wall then took his leave.
Waylon wondered what he was to do, when a man appeared around the corner. He was an older man, perhaps in his fifties, graying hair and all lines as if he spent much time smiling, and frowning.
“Well, who’s this? A new toy? Mofin is awfully fond of collecting servants. His personal retinue could easily match the King’s. But that is no matter. I take it you are here to inform your lord of the arrival of his guests. As it pleases you, my name is Nicholas Dunwall, and he’s been expecting me, and I daresay, letting himself become annoyed that I’ve taken so long to arrive. Will you take my name to him?”
Waylon sat dumbfounded for a moment. He wanted to talk to Booka, to ensure the Etherman was peeking around the man’s mind, but he hated doing that when eyes were focused on him. “Nicholas Dunwall… I will inform the Magistrate of your arrival.”
Waylon pushed the door open, and whispered under his breath to Booka, “Did you figure out why he’s here?”
Of course. He’s a strong-willed one. A decent challenge, for once.
Zeekoo laughed. You couldn’t do anything to the Magistrate and you still act as if you’ve had an easy time with every fool you encounter.
Waylon forced himself to concentrate and ignore the argument that was starting up as he gently closed the door behind him and stood before the Magistrate. He had his head down, a pen in hand and was scratching away at bleached parchment.
Without looking up he said, “Well? I assume you know what you’re to do or you wouldn’t be standing there. Out with it.”
Booka laid out, line by line, essentially what Nicholas was there for, and Waylon repeated the Ethermen as he went along. “First, he is hurt you did not attend the wedding feast for his daughter; he wishes to know if the gift you promised her will be forthcoming; the Magistrate of Forest Rise is hoping you’ll attend him and sort out a brigand issue, and lastly, he is wondering if you’ve found an answer to the problem he presented to you at his last visit.”
He also wants mutton with sautéed green tomatoes and leeks for dinner, Booka added.
Waylon repeated what Booka said and the Magistrate looked up and laughed. “Waylon, I wish you’d come here sooner. I would have been two hours getting all of that from Nicholas! Well done! You are excused. Let him in.” The Magistrate buried his face back in his papers and waved Waylon away.
Waylon returned to the antechamber and Nicholas asked, “Am I free to enter? Or has your master deigned to make me wait as I have made him?”
“You can go in,” Waylon confirmed. The old man disappeared into the room and Waylon was once again, left sitting and wondering what he was to do next.
You know the Magistrate will be busy, Zeekoo said after Waylon had voiced his thought. Let’s find something to steal and get out of here!
“Do you remember what Branen said? The Magistrate will catch us. You’ve already seen some of what he can do. I’d reckon he has a few tricks up his sleeve…”
Zeekoo cackled. The Magistrate’s a fool who’s forgotten to keep an eye on us. Even if he could track us, he’ll never keep up if you hop on another tapestry and I fly you away.
“That’s what we need, half the kingdom raving about me flying away on a tapestry. Think of the problems that would cause.”
He speaks sense, Booka said, a rare admission. I don’t know what capabilities the Magistrate has, but I think he’s overly confident and underestimating the fullness of our capabilities. Let’s find a storeroom, take what we can, and be gone. We can be careful about staying apart from roads and cities until we’re safely away.
We should help the others he’s trapped here, Woko said, meek and quiet as ever.
Too much work, Booka said, noble as it would be. That’s not why we came, and Waylon would end up dead or worse if he tried helping others escape.
We should at least help Branen, he’s nice.
You take to liking people too easily, Zeekoo said to Woko.
People are better than you think, Woko said.
“Enough,” Waylon said. “Argue later. First we need to find something to steal and get out of here. If we can, we’ll try to bring Branen along. Will the extra weight cause problems for you moving us, Zeekoo?”
Zeekoo snorted, or made a sound as if he had, since Ethermen couldn’t actually snort. You’ve moved boulders as large as wagons. What do you think? It’s not that much extra work to hold the tapestry taut and move it around with an extra person.
Waylon nodded to himself. He could see this working. The blackmailing hadn’t gone anywhere near expected, but if he could get away at all, even if he didn’t manage to steal something, he’d be happy. And maybe afterwards he could find a way to get the people the Magistrate had enslaved freed…
“Let’s find Branen.”
He’s making a walk of the wall, Booka said.
“How can you tell?”
Look out the window.
Sure enough Branen was outside the window, in plain sight. Waylon rushed down the hallway, and down the sets of stairs that led to the elevated walkway. The light chopping of water against stones echoed off the marble around them and the sun beat down in the distance, but was oddly gentle on the grounds themselves.
“Branen!” Waylon called out.
The guard turned towards him, and drew his blade uncertainly. “What’s wrong, Waylon?”
“Put the blade away. I need your help.”
“With wha-” he cut off and his eyes glazed over for a second and instantly he was nodding.
You’re welcome, Booka said. He knows our plans and he wants to do it. Or I should say, I’ve made him believe he wants to come along. If it’s too out of his nature that might not hold for very long.
“Okay, let’s go,” Branen said. “He’s got a small storeroom with a few valuables at the base of the tall tower. It won’t be locked. We couldn’t get into his strong-room even if we had the tools and a week, but there should be something worth taking. Will we need food?”
He’s not so dumb as he looks, Booka said.
“I’ll show you the way to the storeroom. You round up what you can while I grab some provisions.”
Branen rushed across the green yard and into the shadow of the tower. On the backside of the building there was a small trap door, he produced a key and crawled inside. “I’ll meet you back here in a few minutes.”
Waylon nodded and Branen took off.
Adjusting to the weak light of the storeroom took a few moments, but soon Waylon was looking over a smattering of valuable odds and ends. A gem encrusted dagger sat upon a shelf next to a moldy tome. A gilded mirror sat dusty in the corner. Pieces of fine armor, blades, and books were sat scattered about with old linens, used writing desks, and a cart axle.
I’ve got it.
The mirror and gem studded dagger floated over and set down upon a sheet which unfolded itself. Bits of armor and some of the finer blades whipped across the room to settle down on the sheet as well, one of the nicer looking books, and an unopened, but obviously full pouch which Waylon hadn’t seen, soon joined the pile. It was only a minute before the sheet held what looked to be the best of the rooms belonging and Waylon was tying it into a pack that would be easier to carry.
“You made short work of it,” Branen noted as he came back into the room carrying his own little pack of supplies. “You said we’d be able to escape. I’m ready, what do we do now?”
We need to go back and find a tapestry, Zeekoo said.
Does it have to be a tapestry? Booka asked. Couldn’t you use a sheet?
A tapestry would work better; it’s stiffer, and would take less work to keep it taut and move around at the same time than a sheet would.
Waylon nodded and left the room, heading for the hallway lined with tapestries. Branen followed.
“Are you going to tell me what’s next?”
“You’ll see,” Waylon said.
Branen mumbled something about being strung up and foolish notions. “Wait, what about Jimn?”
“Who’s Jimn?” Waylon asked.
“He’s one of the guards. I can’t leave him behind. Or Dosen, or Jak. We can’t leave everyone behind!”
“Do you want to escape or not?” Waylon asked.
“Of course, but-”
“No buts. It’s just you. I can’t help anyone else. Either you come now or I leave without you.”
“Okay…” but there was serious hesitation behind his words now.
They found the hallway with the tapestries and one floated off the wall, stretched taut and Waylon hopped on. He turned to see Branen’s eyes go wide.
“You’re like him…” he stepped back, his eyes clouded over for an instant, but the moment they saw the tapestry again he began to yell for help.
“Go!” Waylon screamed.
They zoomed out of the hallway on the tapestry. His hair flapped in the sudden burst of wind and he nearly fell backwards off his flying ride.
I knew bringing him was stupid! Woko, you always get us into trouble! Zeekoo said.
“Right,” Waylon said. “It’s Woko that causes the problems. Shut up and go, now!”
They were almost to the wall when the tapestry simply stopped in mid-air, as if they’d hit a wall, and then it fell. Waylon smashed into the ground and had the wind knocked out of him and his senses raddled.
“So soon to test me?” the Magistrate called from across the yard.
Even through the pain of trying to suck in another breath Waylon recognized the Magistrate’s voice and panic set in. He rolled to his feet, clutching his chest and trying vainly to get a scrap of air. His head ached and it felt as if he’d sprained a wrist when he’d landed.
The Magistrate was walking calmly across the estate grounds and Waylon couldn’t even whisper to his Ethermen for help, not that he thought they could do anything now.
And then he was clad in gleaming armor with a sword in his hand, though neither seemed to weigh anything. “Woko?” he grunted. Breath started pouring back into his lungs, but it ached and stung and was labored.
We won’t go back into a cell! Woko said, in his confidence he sounded nothing like the timid Etherman Waylon had always known him to be. The Magistrate can’t stop what I can do!
“I don’t understand…” But questions for Woko would have to wait, at the moment his blood thumped through his veins and all he could think to do run the Magistrate through with the blade Woko had created. He charged forward, blade held clumsily before him. In the back of his mind he could hear Booka and Zeekoo frantically asking what was going on, but he was only dimly aware of their words.
No sooner had he begun running than he stopped much as the tapestry had. Like his first encounter with the Magistrate he felt invisible ropes coil around his body and snap him erect and immobile.
“That,” the Magistrate said, pointing to Waylon’s armor and blade, “Is no ordinary trick. How have you done that? You shouldn’t be able to do that.” There was a brief flash of hesitation in his eyes before the confidence and gloating crept back. “It is the third Etherman, isn’t it? Tell me little Etherman, what is your trick? I find it intriguing, though hardly of use when the boy can’t move, don’t you think?”
He doesn’t know what I’ve done. I can stop him, Woko said. Keep him talking, Waylon. I just need a few moments…
“You won’t stop me this time. I’m leaving,” Waylon said.
The Magistrate laughed a chilling laugh, but it sounded forced and lacking his usual coolness. “Truly? Well I shall stand and await your efforts.”
When Waylon didn’t move the Magistrate laughed once more before growing somber. “I could give you a better life than the one you seek, boy. You came to rob me? You came to make your fortune? I have more than I could need.” He motioned to the growing number of servants looking on. “I have people to attend my every need. I have everything. A part of that could be yours. I won’t deny you your usefulness. Those Ethermen are a gift, and you’ve wasted them. You’ve squandered them. Now, when I’ve given you a fine room and a chance to make a real life you decide to run? Run to what? What do you have that is better than this?” Once again he gestured, but this time to the grounds around him. “It is never cold on my estate. It is never hot. You will not go hungry or need to worry about being caught when you try to pull another one of your stunts…” His words trailed off and the fire behind his red eyes went out, and he looked… certainly not terrified or worried… confused?
I’ve created a barrier about him; he’s cut off from his power. Go! It won’t hold long, Woko said.
As Woko spoke the invisible bonds holding Waylon simply went away. He swung the weightless sword in his hand and rushed forward, ignoring the aches and pains caused by the fall with the tapestry.
Zeekoo cackled more fiercely than Waylon had ever heard, it was almost frightening, and the blade leapt out of Waylon’s hand and zipped forward like an arrow to the Magistrate’s heart.
The moment the blade would have touched skin the Magistrate reached forward with inhuman speed, grasped the blade and it evaporated into silvery dust. He looked for an instant as if he wanted to speak, to offer some retort, but the fire behind his eyes was gaining strength again, and instead his brow narrowed and he held forth both hands.
Waylon was raised into the air and flung against the wall, the armor took most of the impact, but he still felt as if he’d fallen all over again. A warm trickle ran through his hair and down his neck and the coppery tang or blood filled his nostrils.
He’s trying to stop us again, Booka said. I have an idea…
Waylon blinked and realized Booka had made five of the guards rush the Magistrate. It was enough for whatever block the man was putting in place to drop away completely. Zeekoo used the opportunity to send the Magistrate flying, and smashed him against the wall, not a pace from Waylon.
In the din of things, Waylon forgot about his Ethermen, forgot about everything but wanting to finish the man before him. He dove with his arms stretched out and put his hands around the Magistrates neck, but his sprained wrist blossomed with pain and he pulled back.
But the Magistrate’s focus was not so lost. He pushed Waylon away with an invisible force, stood erect and the air about him began to glitter and grow cold.
Ice crystals formed in Waylon’s nose, clogging them and making his breathing labored. His lungs felt as if they were being stabbed from the inside. Needles pricked every part of his body and all he could do was scream.
Beneath his screams he could hear Woko yelling something and then just above the Magistrate’s head a boulder three times the size of a man appeared, and fell. There was a loud cracking of bone and squishing of flesh as the boulder crushed the Magistrate, but there was no time for reaction, no time for screams. He was simply there, and then gone but for a small pool of blood that leaked out and quickly soaked into the ground.
“You killed him,” Branen said, his voice hollow with wonder. “You killed him!” He ripped off his crimson tunic and threw it to the ground and spat on it. Many others did as well, and soon the grounds were filled with shirtless men grinning like fools.
Waylon stared at them dumbly then collapsed from the exhaustion and pain. His insides burned and the feeling of needles had only lessened, not gone away.
“What do we do now?” an elderly servant asked, still fully dressed and wringing his hands.
Waylon cursed and rolled to his side, grabbing his gut and emptying to contents of his stomach. The sour taste of bile coated his mouth and its stench filled his nose. “I don’t care,” he mumbled. “Go away. Do whatever you want.”
Get up, Waylon, Booka said. They’re looking to you.
“They should look somewhere else,” he said under his breath. “What do they care what I think?”
Branen’s hand was on his shoulder. The young guard smiled down at him, offered a hand and pulled Waylon to his feet. “You’ve set us free, Waylon.” He smiled broadly. “I can’t remember the last time I didn’t have a worry eating me inside… now…” he looked around the estate and the smiling and nervous servants that stood about. “I’m sorry about earlier… I shouldn’t have called the Magistrate; I was just frightened is all. But this is good -you’re a good man. Even if you ain’t natural.”
Waylon managed a weak smile, but even that was more than he felt. “I came to rob him, Branen. I’m not a good man. He’s dead because I wanted to escape. I didn’t do this to free anyone.”
“Aye. But you tried to free me. And he’s gone nonetheless. ‘Sides, you’re not the only one who came here looking to fill their pockets. Ain’t a man of us here wouldn’t be in jail somewhere. Least now we have a chance.”
Waylon nodded. “Best take your chance and get going then,” he said loud enough for all to hear.
Everyone in the yard hesitated.
They’ve been stuck here too long. They don’t know what to do with freedom, Booka said.
“Will you stay, my lord?” one of the shirtless men asked.
“Aye, stay, my lord,” said another man.
“The coffers are full!” another exclaimed. “We’ll stay on. It won’t be so bad with him gone.”
Waylon looked on in shock. “I’m no lord. I don’t want to stay. I wouldn’t even know what to do!”
You can’t stay, Booka said. The Magistrate was an important man; the King will send men to investigate when they realize he’s gone missing. You need to leave. Everyone here needs to leave. Tell them.
Waylon related what Booka had said, and many faces in the crowd looked dismayed. Then Waylon spotted Nicholas, the elderly guest he’d let into visit the Magistrate just before trying to escape. The man met his eyes and held them with a look.
“You can come to my estate, those who wish it,” he said. “I’ve no illusions about why you are all here. Magistrate Mofin was never a good man. He had treachery in his heart and enslaved you all. I don’t care the cause; no man should ever have done such things.” His eyes never left Waylon’s and behind his words Waylon could tell the man was speaking to everyone but him.
“I’ll be on my way,” Waylon said.
We could stay, Zeekoo said. Booka could wipe the minds of everyone who comes to investigate. He could make everyone think you’re the Magistrate. All this could be ours!
For an instant Waylon considered it, but he shook his head. “There are lines we shouldn’t cross. Lines we shouldn’t have been crossing. We’ll find another way to make a living. One that doesn’t involve messing with people’s heads and stealing from them… Something that won’t end with us in a cell if we mess up.” He felt as if he ought to have known that all along, but somehow, seeing all these people, all these men and women who had been slaves because the paths they chose to follow, it set something in his mind straight. “We could do something good for once. Like we did helping these people.”
You want to be a hero now? Booka said, exasperated. Should we get you a sword and you can charge in on a horse to save the day?
“Oh, it doesn’t have to be like that,” Waylon said, aware that many confused eyes were on him for what appeared to be a one-sided conversation. “There’re a lot of ways we can help. We can do something.”
Yeah, Zeekoo said, not sounding all that thrilled about Waylon’s notion. But if we’re going can we get going? We still need to get far away, ahead of the rumors so people don’t think it was you who killed the Magistrate.
We should go, Woko agreed. He sounded timid and quiet again.
“Aye,” Waylon mumbled.
Every eye on the grounds was on his, wondering, curious, some even looked a bit afraid. Nicholas stared at him the most intently, but the elderly man didn’t say anything more.
“Good luck,” Waylon said to them all, and then he hopped onto the tapestry and with Zeekoo’s help, zoomed over the estate walls and across the cracked desert floor. “Woko, you’ve got some explaining to do…”
Zeekoo laughed loudly inside of Waylon’s head. What do you figure everything we got is worth?
Waylon looked at the tied up bundle of sheet with the gem encrusted dagger and gilded mirror inside. “Who knows? Enough to give us a start, whatever we do.”