Simon eased down on the hard wooden seat, and sat for a brief moment studying the comatose woman. He gently reached out and took the cold gray hand. He leaned forward and grasped her hand in both of his, and then held it to his forehead, and with a long sigh, closed his eyes.
He gazed around in the gray nothing-colorless haze that had become so familiar to him. He no longer sat in the dimly lit guardroom holding Cassandra’s clammy hand. He could hear a whimpering child-like cry close by. With a single thought, Simon could feel a great gust of air, and to him, in what seemed only seconds, he could see an illumination ahead. The sobs were coming from within the light. Again, with a single idea, Simon found himself outside the boundary. He could see a castle in a beautiful garden, full of lush grass and an abundance of brilliantly colored flowers, a solitary cobblestone path led from the shadow boundary to the castle gate. A thought later and Simon stood in the sun-filled garden under a clear warm sky. He was puzzled at the sudden assault on his senses, the rich vibrant smell of the flowers, even the buzz of an erratic bee in flight about the blooms, and then there was the warm sensuous heat from the sun. This was totally unexpected. The crying wafted gently to him through the open portcullis of the elaborate, multi-towered castle. Long intricately designed pennants and flags flew from the roof of each tower. As he approached, Simon could hear the fervent, urgent beat of a drum and then the thud of marching. However, this sound wasn’t the sure steady clump of booted feet on stone, rather the noise of wood being banged on a stone fence. This was more and more bewildering. None of this should be here in the ShadowLand. Everything should be pale, a toned down elusive image of the real world.
Simon’s attention was jerked back to the gatehouse. Ranks of six-foot tall wooden soldiers marched awkwardly through the open entrance; their stiff-legged walk comical to see. The cheerfully colorfully painted uniforms, contrasted starkly with the sharp metal weapons they carried. Even the officer rode a carved horse. The rasp of steel as the weapons were unsheathed sent shivers down his back. For an instant Simon almost panicked; he looked to the edge of this place, thinking that discretion might be the better option. Then, he remembered his promise to Bolinor. Suddenly he knew that Cassandra had created all this.
“Oooh,” was all he could say, staggered by the implication.
“Lady Cassandra.” He cupped his hands to his mouth and called louder, “Cassandra, I need to see you!”
The crying stopped, as did the timbered men. A short time later, a small child, maybe five years old, dressed in a white nightdress came out and carefully maneuvered herself around the legs of her protectors, so as not to knock them off balance.
“I want to go home. Simon will you take me?” she asked, drawing in a big quivering breath, as she knuckled her red and swollen eyes.
The man knelt down and held out his arms. “Cassandra, it’s safe.”
She threw herself across the distance and fell gratefully into his comforting arms. However, he didn’t smell right and she pulled back at arm’s length, puzzled.
“Cassandra, I need you to grow up.”
She looked perplexed at him.
“For some reason, you have come here as a little girl. Look deep into your mind, you will see yourself as an adult.”
“Don’t be silly, I’m five,” she said holding up her hand with her fingers wide spread. Even as she said it, little Cassandra looked at her small pudgy hand in puzzlement.
Simon knew he had her thinking, so he pressed again, “Your Grace, your husband, Bolinor wants me to take you back to him. Emily did this to you.”
She screwed her face up, as a child would do when they are deep in thought. Suddenly her voice deepened, “What happened Simon, where is Bolinor?”
“Can you grow up now?”
“I’m not sure how?” Cassandra’s grown-up voice coming from a small blond curly haired little girl was edged with panic.
“Use your mind. Have your mind tell your body to grow up.”
“I’m not sure I understand.” A single tear ran down her rounded face, a face a few years older. She was taller now.
“Look at yourself, your mind controls all this. Already you have aged four or five years.”
She thought harder and suddenly Simon cried, “Stop. Cassandra you need to dress yourself in clothes as you grow.”
She looked down at herself and found her teen-age body already straining, splitting the seams of her five-year-old clothing, to the point of embarrassing her.
Cassandra quickly turned and covered her chest with her arms, and an equally perturbed Simon, turned quickly away.
Simon jumped as the woman touched him on the shoulder. “It’s okay now,” she said the relief in her voice was profound.
As he turned, he could see the beautiful Cassandra, this time dressed in her adventuring clothes, her shining auburn hair tied up in a ponytail.
“I need to tell you something, and this is as good a place as any. Is there a place to sit?”
“I don’t know. I’m not sure what this place is.”
Suddenly, Cassandra gasped and involuntarily cried out as a vine-covered, trellised gazebo appeared with five small steps leading up to the timber flooring. There was a wooden swing bench hanging from a support, She swayed; Simon quickly reached out to steady her.
“That is amazing. This whole place is absolutely amazing,” he said in awe.
Cassandra detected the envy in his voice. She looked at him shrewdly, he was almost jealous about all this.
“Come, let’s sit for a bit.”
She nodded and the two walked to the wooden swing.
“What were you thinking just before your confrontation with Emily?”
She shook her head slightly. “Not much. I had been with Sara, and we had been talking about the baby. I was remembering a book my mother used to read to me about a mystical kingdom with wooden soldiers and things.”
“Have you heard of Shadow Magic?” Simon asked.
“As a matter of fact, I have. My old Master had come across a reference in an extremely ancient tome. After he retired from the Circle, he pottered around trying to find out more.”
Simon waved his hand grandly, encompassing the whole view before them, “This is made from Shadow Magic. This little gem of reality is in the Shadow Lands.”
Cassandra stared. Shadow Magic doesn’t exist she thought, but then, hard on the heels of that thought, she knew he was right.
“When Emily attacked, she used Shadow Magic on you. In defense, your mind took you somewhere that was safe: this book from your childhood.”
Cassandra sat for a long while taking it in, just swinging back and forth gently. Then she looked at the castle and in the blink of an eye it was gone, and the hunting lodge near the hot springs appeared. Then Cassandra changed it to the Castle at Amberwine.”
“You should not be able to do this,” Simon’s voice quivered in fear. “I beg you m’Lady, please be careful of what you are doing. You might pull Bolinor in.” His tone sobered, “I have spent literally thousands of years here and I have not been able to influence anything in this realm. The only interaction I have been able to achieve is if there is someone else in the Shadow Fringe; a place bordering the real world, where you can meet someone who also has the Shadow Magic.”
Cassandra was quick. “Who have you seen in the Fringe?”
Hastily Simon explained about the Lich and the Banshee. Again Cassandra sat deep in thought.
“Have you used the magic to travel back in time?”
Simon gasped, momentarily caught out.
Cassandra turned on the bench and grabbed his arm. “Tell me all you have seen.”
Simon grew quickly excited and burbled, “Ohhh, you wouldn’t believe the wonders I have seen. I have witnessed the birth of this world and the death of an old one. I saw big metal ships traveling the oceans and big monstrous metal birds flying in the sky.”
Cassandra stood, pulling Simon up after her. “Show me!”
Then her reasoning took over, as anther idea came to her, “When you disappeared after the traps went off in the flying ship, you came here. Didn’t you?”
Simon nodded. “Yes.”
“Does that mean that you brought my body here as well?”
Again Simon nodded.
“Will I age like you did, when you returned?”
“I am not sure about you. I age every time. So I have to be careful how many times I step out somewhere. If I do it too many times, I will die and the consequences will be disastrous.”
“I thought about going back and killing Devron before he led the attack on Justine’s people, before he traded his mortality for the strength of the undead.”
Cassandra nodded. “I was thinking of the same thing.”
Simon shuddered. “I did that already. When I returned to this time, the world didn’t exist as we know it.”
“What happened, Simon?” she grabbed his arm urgently.
He sank back down on the swing, “In the world without Devron, the Koldorians die in their realm, eventually getting over run by the slavers in that land. Bolinor dies in the attack on Albert’s Keep. Hayden survives your attack on him, and you die as he repeatedly rapes and beats you. Jasper is overthrown in the Brotherhood attack, and Justine’s descendants are engaged in a decade’s long war with the Southern Empire.”
Cassandra sank to the wooden floor stunned. Neither said a word for a long time as each pondered what Simon had said.
“I went back again, and I had to literally kill the first me before he killed Devron. That is a mistake I do not want to make again. The other thing I was able to see was the forging of the Swords of Power.”
Cassandra looked at him intently. “Really?”
“They were refugees from that distant time. Death fell from the sky. I saw the rock as it crashed into the ocean and watched the earth as it went wild. It was as big as the valley in which Amberwine was built. The seas rose hundreds of feet and swept miles inland. The great and wondrous cities fell beneath the earth’s fury. Then the winter came. It lasted thousands of years. The survivors retreated south, trying to keep ahead of the glaciers. Soon they could run no more. They build great domed cities, and ships on wooden runners plied the frozen land. Over the time, the young born to this group began to show deformities. Some groups left again.”
Cassandra whispered, “Winter Elves.”
Simon nodded. “Yes, and the Orcs, Goblins, all the humanoid tribes came from the ones who wouldn’t, or couldn’t stay. For the next countless generations they survived and grew, both in strength and their hatred at what had been done to them. In time they blamed the humans and what became the elves. Then the planet began to thaw, so explorers went out. They found and settled what became the GreyElvesKingdom.”
Cassandra was like a little girl, first starting her apprenticeship all those years ago. The more Simon talked, the more she craved.
“One of the groups that left early had been touched by Shadow Magic. It didn’t take long for an accident to happen and sucked in the whole group. But they managed to survive and live outside time. They were the ones who forged the swords. They hoped that when the time was ripe, and the world had repaired itself, they would be able to return.”
Here Simon went quiet; as he sat there, tears ran down his face. Cassandra didn’t dare move; she was as one be-spelled. She didn’t know whether to soothe him, or leave him.
Before she could make up her mind he continued, “There are creatures that live in the Shadow World. They hate the living and will hunt you if you stay in one place too long, or, as in my case, if you return to the same location over and over. It was during one such visit that they attacked. It was vicious and methodical. The slaughter was complete, except for two of the members. We gathered the swords and I was able to get us away. When we emerged into the real world, we found that the elven world had split into three camps, the noble Grey, the aerial Drow and the desert dwelling Wild Elves. So we gave the swords to their leaders. It didn’t take much to convince them that the two mutants were servants of the gods. So the swords have been handed down ever since.”
“What happened to the two men?” Cassandra asked, her voice reverent.
“They both went looking for redemption in their own way. One fell into the service of the Dark Lord, and one went to serve the one true God. The Dark Lord has been trying for years to destroy the elven nations. He opened the Chaos Gate that allowed a Chaos Army into that realm. That is where your nephew Brendan went on his ship called Fool’s Quest. It was the same messenger that poisoned Matthew’s mind to make him try and kill Bolinor. In the end that failed, so he used Matthew’s twisted, toxic mind on Emily, so she had no control of her actions and she remembers nothing. That is why she went to the tavern in that city. It was the messenger who magically seduced and then raped her, so she would carry the Dark Lord’s version of Shadow Magic. The other mutant was the one who gathered the crew that Brendan needed. Up to this moment in time, the return of the one true God and the evil Dark One hasn’t been right. Now that man has progressed back from primitives, they are returning. Even now, the one true God is spreading his message of peace, while the Dark One is using the Chaos Lord and Devron to conquer this world.”
It seemed that once Simon started talking, he couldn’t stop.
“You have seen all this?” Cassandra asked amazed.
Simon nodded, greatly subdued. “I’m not sure of the religious part. That took me some time to unravel. It seems that as man descended into savagery, after the death from the sky; they were an archaic superstitious lot. So the first guardian came, or the Ancient God, took the form of dragons. The guardians were called Dracons, they had the ability to shape change into a dragon. Then later, as man developed, the Dracons weren’t enough, so the Old Gods came forth. They were like guardians, or angels as some call them, the current gods of today, Manera, and the multitude of others. However, now that the time of the one true God is here, the power of the Old Gods is fading. Some of the High Cardinals in the HolyCity do not want to give up what they have.”
“What does this all have to do with what we are doing here?” Cassandra asked.
“I am not sure. Cassandra, how would the swords have been delivered if I hadn’t led the Shadow creatures to the enclave?”
“I don’t know, Simon. Maybe it was meant to be.”
“What if the swords were never meant for us, and I have caused all this by trying to kill Devron.”
Cassandra sobered at the thought.
* * *