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Willy Levant and the Vampire Elf By A. A. Castro
I - Breakfast “Willy, breakfast is ready! Better get up and come down before it gets cold!” The words were barely out of his mother’s mouth when she saw Willy come flying down the stairs. “Hi, Mom! Hi, Dad! I’mgoingexploringintheforestagain,OK? Seeyouguyslater!” The words tumbled out of Willy in an unbroken stream as his hand reached for the front door. He felt his father’s hand on his shoulder. “Not before you eat your breakfast, buddy! What’s the rush, anyway?”
“Nothing…I just think the forest is really neat, is all, Dad. What’s for breakfast, Mom?” Willy stood at the kitchen door, trying not to shake from the excitement. His Dad looked at him and smiled. “Sit down, buddy…the forest isn’t going anywhere!” Willy tried to not roll his eyes as he sat at the kitchen counter. He’d overheard his parents arguing the night before – he didn’t quite get all of it, but he’d heard his name a lot. He didn’t get it. First his parents had been all worried about him growing up in a big city with all its dangers, and now they were all worried about him wanting to spend his summer exploring the forest in their backyard. Jeez, he thought to himself, don’t they ever stop worrying about stuff and junk? He gulped down his breakfast and raced out the back door, making his mother smile. All that energy and not a single drop of coffee, she thought, to be eleven years old again. His dad yelled out for him to be careful out there as he grabbed his third cup of the morning. Willy was long gone from the path when they both heard the newscast on the radio about the disappearances of two young boys over the last few weeks in the forest and the fruitless searches for them. II – The Forest Willy had his backpack slung over one shoulder as he ran down the garden path to the fence door that led to the forest. It was a big forest, and a little scary. Being a city kid, Willy had never really seen a forest. There were a lot of places to see and explore,
trees and creeks, animals and birds. But that wasn’t why Willy was so eager to get out there that morning. He wanted to find out if what he’d seen the day before was real. It looked real enough…Willy checked one of the side pockets. The camera was still there. He took a deep breath and went deeper into the forest. He’d seen it by the big creek, where one of the really old trees had fallen and made a natural bridge to cross it. Willy had frozen when he saw it, a small thing that looked like a little man with wings. The little man with wings was slender, the sunlight shining thru his wings and making them shimmer like oil over water; it was beautiful. The wings, the face, the body…slender and beautiful. That’s a weird idea, thought Willy. He’d never thought of any other male as beautiful before and this thing was definitely male. It wasn’t wearing pants, he thought to himself as he giggled. Maybe he forgot them, his mind continued, or maybe he didn’t have any. That last thought made Willy a little sad. Poor little guy must get really cold. The little man had turned then and smiled at Willy. Willy smiled back. The little man, who had been hovering about a foot off the ground, stopped moving his wings and dropped softly to the ground. “Hello” it said in a voice that was high-pitched but still pleasant, the wings on its back moving slowly. Willy knelt down. “Hello” he said, not knowing what to say next.
The little man stared at Willy. Its eyes were a dark purple, like a grape. “Are you…are you the Levantine?” Willy was sitting on the forest floor. “No…what’s a Levantine?” The little man turned away and sighed. He looked sad, his little shoulders sagging. “Strange…the prophecy was very clear on both time and place…still, it might be possible…” He looked sharply at Willy. “But you’re a human, aren’t you?” Willy laughed. “Of course I’m human! My whole family is human…except for my dog Max.” He leaned forward. “Are you human? You’re awful little to be one!” The little man stood a little straighter and lifted his head. “Of course I’m not a human! I’m an elf!” “Whoa! No kidding? Wait…you’re not supposed to exist!” “Typical human…am I not standing here before you? Do you not trust your own eyes? I am an elf and my name is Terzon, son of King Tergaen II. What is your name?” Willy thought for a moment. Remember the rule, he thought, don’t talk to strangers. But it would be impolite if he didn’t answer the question. Besides I’m a lot bigger than him, Willy said to himself. “My name is Willy Levant, pleased to meet you.” Willy stuck out his right hand and smiled. Terzon looked at the hand, up at Willy’s face, and back at the hand. Willy’s smile got a little forced…why wasn’t the elf shaking his hand? “Levant? Your family name is Levant?”
“Uh, yeah…that’s my dad’s name.” “And yet you say you’re not the Levantine…interesting. The prophecy could still be correct…tell me, Willy Levant, do you have strange dreams?” This whole thing was starting to feel like a strange dream to Willy. Strange, and more than a little scary. He got up quickly, almost banging his head on a low branch. “I’m not supposed to talk to strangers…” His head felt weird, empty, like a balloon; his voice didn’t even sound like him. “I…I gotta go…” The little elf stared at him, not saying a word. Willy got up and ran back home, stumbling over branches. He heard Terzon’s voice, calling him to come back but Willy kept running. He didn’t stop running until he was back in his room with the door closed. It had to be a dream, he thought, I must’ve hit my head or something. Willy felt the top of his head with his fingertips, gingerly running them over his blonde hair…no bumps, nothing sore at all. It took him a long time to go to sleep that night. Willy tossed and turned for hours, trying to make sense of what he’d seen in the forest. There was just no such thing as an elf…they were stuff from the movies and the books his dad gave him for Christmas. So, what had he seen in the forest, who had he been talking to? Only one way to find out, Willy thought, gotta go back to the forest tomorrow and see if he’s still there. He drifted off to sleep thinking that he really ought to bring a camera also.
III – Encounter by the Creek But that was all yesterday. Today, he was running by the banks of the creek towards the spot where the old tree formed a bridge. Willy’s backpack bounced on his back as he raced along, hair flying and glasses threatening to fly off the bridge of his nose. Maybe it really was just a dream, he thought… His foot got caught on an upturned root, sending Willy sprawling to the ground. The backpack hit the back of his head and his glasses fell off as he fell heavily to the ground. He fell right on top of another root, knocking the wind out of him and making him cough and gasp helplessly for a few minutes. Slowly, he got to his knees. He looked at his elbow, squinting…he’d skinned it, not too badly, but there was blood. It didn’t even hurt. He started to feel the ground around him, searching for his glasses. Willy hated wearing them, mostly because the other kids at school teased him so hard about them. Problem was, he couldn’t see too well without them. His fingertips hit something hard, thin and smooth. Willy let out a big sigh of relief as he put his glasses back on – his dad would have really been mad if he’d lost them. He blinked twice. He still felt a little woozy, but he could breathe now. He looked around for any more of his stuff but discovered that everything was snug and safe in his backpack.
Willy got up slowly, brushing off the dirt and leaves that had stuck to him. He saw the big green grass stain on his knees – Mom’s gonna kill me, he thought. He turned around and stepped on another root, almost losing his balance and falling into the creek. Arms windmilling like crazy, Willy managed to almost keep his balance…he didn’t fall into the creek but landed instead on his butt. At least he landed on soft green grass. It still knocked the wind out of him again, but at least he wasn’t all wet. Wincing and rubbing his backside, Willy got back up again. That’s when he heard something that sounded like laughter. Willy looked around, trying to figure out where the sound was coming from. There didn’t seem to be anyone around him. He heard that high, tinkling laugh again, somewhere close by. Willy started to get a little mad. Whoever it was, they were laughing at him and Willy didn’t like it one bit. It was also a little scary that he couldn’t see who was laughing. “I don’t know who’s laughing but you better cut it out!” He tried to make his voice sound strong and deep but the last word came out in a high-pitched squeak that made the laughter even louder. Finally, it occurred to Willy to look down. Sure enough, there was Ter…Ter… Terzon, he suddenly remembered. The elf prince, as he’d called himself, was standing on a rock and looking up at him. Terzon bent at the waist, one hand on his chest and the other sweeping behind him. “Welcome, Willy Levant, welcome to the forest. I see that some of my more playful brethren have been having a bit of fun at your expense…”
Willy stared at the little manlike form there, the deep purple eyes of Terzon almost hypnotizing him. He tore his eyes away with some effort. “I – I wanted to find out if yesterday was just a dream or not…” “Thank you for returning to the forest, Willy Levant. Yesterday was not a dream…if it is your wish, I can take you to my father’s kingdom. He is a very wise king, and can explain things to you much better than I ever could.” “Explain…what?” “Why, the prophecy, of course! I asked you yesterday if you were the Levantine…there is a prophecy that a human child will come from the East and aid the House of Ter in their hour of need. My father and I both believe that you are that one, but there is a test. If it is your wish to know more, follow me because I can say no more.” Terzon’s voice was very soothing. Willy was feeling pretty relaxed…he stifled a yawn, not because Terzon was boring him but just because he was feeling sleepy. “How far is it?” “Child, the journey to reach my father’s kingdom follows no road except the road of dreams. Do not be afraid, young Willy, there is nothing in the forest that will harm you. Close your eyes, young Willy, and let the forest cradle you in its branches. As your body sleeps, we shall make our way to the hall of my father…” Willy closed his eyes. His eyelids felt so heavy, like the weights in his Uncle Danny’s garage. It was weird because he hadn’t been feeling tired until he ran into Terzon…
Willy’s knees buckled, but he didn’t collapse. Terzon made a sweeping motion towards him with both hands and hundreds of winged forms emerged from the forest. They gathered around Willy and slowly lowered his sleeping form to the forest floor. Willy’s eyes shot open. He sat up and looked around. He was surrounded by hundreds of elves, winged men and women who hovered all around him, all looking at him… He let out a surprised yelp when he stood up and saw his body lying on the ground. Willy extended his right hand and tried to poke the form on the ground. His finger went through the arm as if he didn’t even exist. Willy was getting scared now. He turned and saw Terzon still looking at him. “Wha-whatcha do to me? You’d better stop it before I get mad!” Terzon’s wings began beating rhythmically as he ascended. He stopped when he was eye-level with Willy. “Young Willy, I have done nothing to you. I told you we would have to travel the road of dreams to reach my father’s kingdom. You sleep, nothing more. You’ve taken the first step in the journey, young Willy…you are dreaming, and we dream with you. Is it your wish to continue?” There was something in Terzon’s voice that soothed and calmed Willy. He wasn’t feeling scared anymore, not really. Instead, he started to feel restless, like he couldn’t wait to get going. Funny, he thought, a second ago I was really scared and now it feels like the coolest adventure ever… “I’m dreaming? Really? But this feels so…real!”
“Look at your feet, child…” Willy looked down. His eyes bulged out as he saw that his feet weren’t touching the ground and he was floating about six inches off it. He bent his knees and lifted his feet…he was still floating. It was cool and weird and exciting and scary but Willy knew in that moment he never wanted this to end. Terzon’s voice cut through his reverie. “You must now decide, young Willy, whether or not you truly wish to go to my father’s kingdom. Tell me, do you wish to go?” Willy’s smile was so broad he thought his teeth would fly out of his mouth. “Yeah, sure I do! Let’s go…but how do we get there?” His question was answered by hundreds of elves laughing. Terzon smiled. “Simply step forward, young Willy, and say it is your wish to go to my father’s kingdom…” “It is my wish…” Willy saw Terzon and the rest of the elves still hovering all around him, but they weren’t little anymore. They all started to grow, like seeing someone from far away get bigger as they get near you. They grew and grew until they surrounded him, beautiful and slender men and women with skin so fair it was almost transparent, their almondshaped eyes all a dark purple, their wings reflecting the sunlight that drifted down from the heavens in a riotous kaleidoscope of colors.
A beautiful female elf stepped forward. Terzon held her hand. “This, young Willy, is the Princess Terana, my sister. Take our hands and we will begin our journey.” Terana spoke, her voice cascading into Willy’s ears like the sweetest honey he’d ever tasted. “Welcome, child, to our world. We are grateful for your presence, you whose coming to our deliverance was foretold so long ago.” Willy couldn’t believe she was actually kneeling before him as she spoke. “Please…please get up, princess. Don’t kneel to me…” Willy had instinctively reached out to Terana, to stop her from kneeling. He was surprised that he could touch her as his hands found hers. “Look, I’m glad you’re all so happy that I’m here but what’s this prophecy stuff all about?” Terzon interrupted. “An excellent question, young Willy. It is high time we answered it. Let us make haste to our father, King Tergaen II, for he is the only one who can tell you this saddest and most terrible of stories…” IV – Journey to a New World Willy found his right hand being held by Terana while Terzon took his left. They drifted up into the air, but it wasn’t the blue sky Willy saw every day. He’d never seen anything like this – the entire sky above him was divided into light and dark sections slowly revolving around a central point, like a giant wheel. There was a word for it that his mom used, and Willy thought hard to remember…mandala, that was it. He didn’t know what the word meant, but he’d heard his mom use that word when she was looking at a yoga book with a picture that looked really similar.
It didn’t seem to affect the light, though. There was still sunlight, or something like sunlight, that illuminated them all. They all began to ascend into the sky, aiming directly at the center point where the sky was revolving. Willy felt the wind buffeting him as they went higher and higher, the cold starting to bite through his clothes and making his teeth chatter. The center point got bigger as they got nearer. It was a round black spot that looked deep and scary to Willy. He felt Terana squeeze his hand. Willy looked at her and she smiled at him as they entered the black spot in the sky. Willy felt himself stretching, getting longer and thinner, like a piece of taffy being pulled. He was still moving, but everything got slower and slower. The black spot turned into a tunnel, a long stretch of blackness that sucked Willy into it, pulling and stretching his body until it felt like his head was a million miles from his feet… And suddenly, their feet were on the ground. Willy yelped, stumbled and fell forward. But he didn’t hit the ground because Terzon and Terana were still holding his hands. Instead, he simply floated, his feet hovering a few inches from the soft green grass that stretched all around them to the limits of the horizon. “Thanks…that could’ve hurt!” Terzon responsed, his dark purple eyes boring into his. “You are under my protection, young Willy. Nothing in my father’s kingdom will hurt you.” Terana, a smile illuminating her face, squeezed Willy’s hand. “Come, Willy, this is the way to our father’s hall.” He smiled back – it felt nice to hold her hand. There was
a road that stretched ahead from where they stood. It led to a castle that looked big, even if it was far away. Willy started to walk but stopped when he heard Terana’s tinkling laughter. “We do not have to walk there…see, here is our transportation!” She clapped her hands and gestured towards the ground. Willy heard a deep rumbling sound as a crack appeared on the road, a crack that got progressively wider until it was big enough to swallow all three of them whole. From deep underground came the sound of thundering hooves, getting closer and closer until a carriage exploded out of the ground. Willy could only stare in wonder at the orange, pumpkin-shaped carriage and the six winged white horses that pulled it. “Wow…how did you do that?” “We have the ability to manipulate matter at the molecular level and reshape it into any form we desire with subcutaneous limbic implants that enhance our natural telekinetic abilities.” Terzon opened the door of the carriage and extended his hand to help his sister climb in. Willy stared at him. “Huh?” Terana laughed again as she took Willy’s hand and helped him into the carriage. “Just call it magic then, little one, and banish all doubts from your mind!” Terzon leaped to the driver’s seat and took the reins of the carriage. He leaned down as he continued to talk. “It is very close to magic, young Willy, and not all elves can do it. The power has always run strongest and deepest in the House of Ter…but there have been others with the same abilities.”
Willy leaned his head out the window so he could hear Terzon better. The elf prince was holding the reins lightly as the winged horses galloped down the road, their hooves barely touching the ground as they sped on towards the Castle of Ter. To Willy it seemed as if they were galloping in slow motion, their legs moving up and down at a stately pace, their wings methodically and rhythmically moving while the landscape around them streamed by the window in a smudged blur. Willy heard Terana gasp. She leaned out the other side. “Terzon, you must stop!” The elf prince pulled gently on the reins and the horses stopped almost immediately. Willy could see Terzon’s eyes becoming darker. “I felt it also, my sister. We must find the cause!” This didn’t sound good. Terana looks scared, thought Willy and that made him feel scared also. The carriage had stopped where the prairie ended and a forest began. Willy could see that the trees were tall and straight, with no branches until almost the very top. They reminded him of telephone poles. “Terana, what’s going on?” “My brother and I sense an evil presence in the forest…can you not feel it, young Willy?” He could. There was a sense of tension in the air, like it was charged with electricity, and it was quiet. Willy had never been in a place that was so quiet…even breathing or blinking seemed unnaturally loud.
The princess stood still and stretched her arms in front of her, eyes closed. She began to slowly sway back and forth, and a low humming chant came from her lips. “Sister, can you sense a direction? Can you?” She dropped her arms to her sides. Her eyes opened and she answered in a weary voice. “Yes, Terzon…evil has been close by but it is gone now. It is recent…we must walk to the east…” She pointed the way. Terzon reached into his tunic and pulled out a small object. Willy could see that it looked like a small golden cross with a loop at the top. The prince put his hand on Willy’s shoulder. “It was not my wish for you to see this, but perhaps it is for the best. Follow me.” Willy was feeling nervous about this. He didn’t want to follow Terzon into the forest, but the elf prince was looking at him and clearly expecting Willy to go with him. He felt a hand on his shoulder. “Go, child...I also do not wish you to see this but it is part of your destiny…” Terana’s voice sounded distant and a little sad to Willy. He turned to look at the elf princess. “Are you coming with us?” “No, Willy, she cannot. Terana’s visions are very draining to her. She will stay and rest until we return.” Terzon then turned around and walked into the forest. Willy could hear his footsteps crunching the fallen leaves as the elf prince advanced deeper into the woods. “Hey, wait up…I’m coming, Terzon!” He had to run to catch up with the elf prince.
The forest made Willy nervous. It was more than just the tall trees that threw a shade so deep that it almost seemed like nighttime. It was the complete silence that followed them as they went deeper into the woods. Other than the sound of their footsteps on the dry leaves and their breathing, the forest was as soundless as the vacuum of space. Willy stepped on a twig. It snapped, reverberating like a rifle shot in the silence. Terzon turned and crouched, his hand flying to the looped cross he was carrying. He sighed and stood up when he saw that it was only Willy behind him. The young boy was left wondering…who or what had Terzon expected to see? They walked for a few more minutes until Terzon put his left fist up. His voice came out in a slight whisper. “Stop…there’s something ahead.” Willy looked ahead. He didn’t see anything at first, not until he looked beyond the first few trees in front of them. Then he saw them, a pair of bare feet attached to stockinged legs on the ground. Terzon turned to Willy and placed his open hand on Willy’s chest. “Stay here while I examine it.” Terzon walked towards the body and knelt down. Willy saw him pull a small rod from his jacket and use it to lift something from the ground – a handkerchief, Willy thought. It was stained red. Suddenly, Willy’s chest constricted and he was overwhelmed with the feeling that he should never have followed the elves… “Young Willy, do not come any further. We must leave this place!”
The elf prince stood up and placed the handkerchief in a small wooden box. He lifted his right hand and swept back the lock of hair that had fallen over his eyes. Willy could see the tenseness in Terzon’s movements and it reminded him of how he felt right before the bullies in school came after him. Something bad was coming and they had to get out of there. The wind started to pick up. It was getting stronger by the second. Willy looked up and saw the treetops swaying crazily as the wind picked up more speed. But he also saw one solitary dark cloud against the electric-blue sky that seemed to move with a will of its own…a will that was moving the cloud directly towards him and Terzon. Terzon had seen it also. Swiftly, he grabbed Willy’s hand, turned him around and pushed him back towards the carriage where Terana waited for them. “Quickly, Willy, run to the carriage! We must flee from here!” They ran through the silent forest back to the carriage. Terzon jumped and grabbed the reins while Willy hastily climbed in. With a mighty yell, the elf prince sent the winged horses down the road and away from the corpse in the forest. Terana hugged Willy, whispering something in her language that relaxed him and allayed his fears. Even though the castle had seemed distant, the carriage was crossing the drawbridge and entering the courtyard after what seemed like only a few minutes. Terzon jumped down from the top of carriage, yelling “Mystics to the battlements! Defensive incantations now!”
The guardsmen who had approached the carriage took up Terzon’s cry immediately. Willy could see from the inside of the carriage that a group of robed and hooded men were running up the stairs to the battlements and spreading themselves out. The robes were white with red trim and they all had wands in their hands. Willy tried to get out of the carriage but found a restraining hand on his shoulder. “Wait, young Willy. We must first prepare our defenses. My brother and I sense the evil that is approaching…” “You mean the cloud?” “Yes, Willy, it is the black cloud I speak of. Rather, what is contained inside the black cloud…yes, it is He, the Lord of Blood himself!” Terana brought out her wand and started to chant in a low voice as she moved the wand in small circles around her and Willy. Up in the battlements, the mystics were chanting the same protective spell that Terana was using in the carriage, her psychic power joining with theirs. The black cloud was closer now, and the elves in the courtyard were pointing at it and speaking in loud and frightened voices. The main doors of the courtyard opened, and a tall elf who looked like an older Terzon stepped out into the courtyard. He wore a slender crown of gold on his head and carried a wand in his hands. Behind him came a procession of elves, one of them carrying a massive leather-bound book that he placed at the feet of the elf that Willy realized was King Tergaen II.
While the mystics raised their wands and continued their chant, the King raised his wand with his right hand and started to make gestures with his left. The book opened and floated upwards until it was at chest-level. King Tergaen began to read from the book, his words coming out as a smoky mist that rose in a column towards the sky. Willy could see that the mystics had spread themselves all around the main battlement wall of the castle. They were all standing with their arms outstretched and their heads hanging back. What was really weird for Willy was seeing the smoky mist that came from their mouths and combined with the mist coming from the King. All the streams of mist joined high above the center of the castle and were forming a kind of opalescent, almost translucent dome that stretched all the way to the grounds outside the castle. Everyone could now see the black cloud. It had finally reached the castle and it hovered over the pearly dome like a malignant raven eying a meal. Willy could see little lightning strikes that played all over the cloud…then they combined into a single, monstrous bolt of lightning that smashed into the top of the dome. King Tergaen staggered for a second while some of the mystics fell to the ground, groaning in pain. The top of the dome was bending down. Willy and Terana were still inside the carriage. He wanted to help the princess, who was still chanting the defensive spell started by her father, but he didn’t know how. The black cloud was sending down more and more bolts of lightning. The top of the dome began to crack. It was a loud, splintering groan that was echoed by the screams of fear in the courtyard as elves started to flee into the castle.
Terzon ran to his father’s side. He placed his right hand on the King’s shoulder, steadying him. Tergaen seemed to get renewed strength and stood up straighter, his voice loudly chanting the spell of protection and filling the courtyard with a booming echo. Willy couldn’t tear his eyes away from the top of the dome. He felt Terana’s grip on his arm grow tighter…the top of the dome was bending back out again. The lightning strikes from the black cloud kept coming, their fury and strength increasing as the dome inexorably regained its shape. It almost looked like there was a giant hand outlined under the dome, holding it up and pushing it back against the black cloud that continued to attack. After a few seconds, the dome was back to its normal shape and the black cloud was hovering over the castle. It stopped sending down lightning strikes but it didn’t leave or dissipate either. The black cloud simply hung there in threatening silence. Suddenly a wind started to pick up inside the courtyard. Within seconds, it had formed a small cyclone in front of Tergaen and Terzon. The black cyclone started to grow taller, reaching almost to the top of the dome when it collapsed to the ground with a loud bang… Willy could see a tall elf, dressed in black from head to toe and standing where the cyclone had been just an instant before. Through a misty, flame-colored fog he saw a face with a long, rat-like nose and ragged pointed ears. He stood ramrod straight with his arms held straight and stiff at his sides, holding his hands with palms facing the ground. He was thin and pale but his eyes were red and they blazed…it was as if there was a
beam of scarlet light that came from them. He looked at the King and smiled, his lips drawing back and exposing serrated teeth. “Hello, brother…has your children’s quest succeeded or have they failed you yet again?” “Begone, foul thing! You are no brother of mine, murderer!” The cadaverously thin elf chuckled. It was a dusty croak, with no mirth behind it. “Sticks and stones, brother, sticks and stones. I couldn’t help but notice that you haven’t answered my question…have my arrogant nephew and incompetent niece found your savior?” “Mortus, you shall learn that soon enough! Now I command you to leave this place!” Mortus’ laugh was louder this time. “You command me? Tergaen, my brother, you’ve become even more foolish in your old age! Have you forgotten that you have no power over me and that none here do? I come and go as I please, and none of your tedious spells can stop me!” He wrapped his dark cloak imperiously around his emaciated body and seemed to stand even taller as he addressed the King. “I am Baron Mortus, Lord of Blood. You can do nothing against me and it shall remain that way for all eternity because none of you dare even touch me! As I feasted on your Queen, so shall I feast on your children and your children’s children! I shall continue as the eternal nightmare of your people long after you’re dead and buried!”
The Baron’s shadow seemed to grow, tendrils reaching out towards the King. Willy felt helpless, out of his depth, as the shadow advanced like an oil slick and tried to wrap itself around Tergaen. Eyes wide, he looked at Terana who was staring at Mortus with her fists clenched. “Princess, we’ve gotta do something!” “Take my hand, Willy, quickly! There is still a way!” Willy grabbed the Princess’ right hand as she bowed her head and began chanting in a low, musical language. The white amulet on her chest began to shine, brighter and brighter… A shaft of white light sprang from inside the carriage and smote Mortus in the chest, forcing a grunt from him. Willy and Princess Terana emerged from the carriage, her hair billowing around her head, framing it in a blonde halo. “You are nothing, Mortus! You think you can frighten us by simply projecting your image here and spouting your threats? By the Sacred Light of Amarna, leave this place now!” The light sprang, pure and strong, from the amulet on Terana’s chest. Mortus seemed to turn into himself and diminish, the very color of him fading into nothingness. He was fading away, but not before pointing at Terana. “Such a profligate use of power, dear niece, just to destroy an illusion? Have a care, my dear…you may need it in the future!” Willy could see the almost unchained fury in Terana’s eyes. She stood tall and proud, facing down the greatest enemy of her people. The light that came from the amulet became a blinding incandescence and Willy had to shield his eyes. “Be silent, worm! Your words and your presence hold no fear for us! BEGONE!” Terana raised
her arms and clapped her hands over head, generating a loud booming sound that reminded Willy of old jets breaking the sound barrier. The shock wave blew Willy to the ground, and he saw the figure of Baron Mortus wither away and wail in frustrated anger as he become almost like a flat picture and disappeared. The black cloud over the castle sped away, east towards the mountains. Terana was lying on the ground, a small trickle of blood coming from her nose. Terzon cried out her name as he knelt beside her and cradled her head. King Tergaen turned and called out for a healer as he dropped to his knees next to his daughter and held her hand. “What have you done, my daughter, what have you done…” Willy stood there, not knowing what to do or even where to start. He knelt next to Terzon and placed a hand on his arm. Terana was even paler, her other-worldly beauty stained by her own blood. Willy felt his eyes water. His heart felt like it was getting smaller and tighter, his breath caught in his throat as he watched the unconscious elf princess. Then, like a flashlight suddenly illuminating the darkness, Willy’s resolve hardened and he faced the King. “Excuse me…Your Highness, I want to help…tell me what I can do, please…” King Tergaen II’s eyes fell on Willy. It was like the King hadn’t even noticed his being there. He looked in wonder at this blonde-haired and bespectacled human child who held his daughter’s hand. “Terzon, my son, is he the one?” “I am convinced of that, father. Willy Levant, allow me to present you to his Royal Majesty King Tergaen II of the House of Ter, Lord of the Elven Tribes and Holder
of the Divine Seal. Father, this child is Willy Levant, descendant of Gaius Ambrosius Levantinus. He is The Levantine!” Tergaen stared into Willy’s eyes, frowning, trying to read the child’s mind. “Welcome, Willy Levant, to my kingdom. I hope my son is correct in his assessment of you…” An elf dressed in a blue robe stepped forward at that moment. He bore a staff tipped with a blazing blue crystal. He stamped it into the ground. “My Lord Tergaen, the test has not been given!” Tergaen turned and nodded at the elderly mystic. “You’re correct as usual, Dalglish. The test must be administered immediately. Are you ready, old friend?” Dalglish nodded at the King. “I always stand ready to serve my King. I will speak with the boy now.” He turned to Terzon then. “Three of you left on this quest, Terzon. Tell me, where is my son? Where is Dalveer?” Willy could see Terzon’s eyes watering as he lowered his head before replying to Dalglish. “We were separated when we crossed the Sighing Desert, before we could cross over to the human world. Terana and I searched for him, but we could find no trace of Dalveer…” The blue crystal on Dalglish’s staff blazed and sent a shaft of blue light to the sky. “Terzon, tell me what has happened to my son!”
Terzon placed his right hand on Dalglish’s shoulder as he stood in front of the mystic. With his left hand, he reached into his pocket and pulled out the blood-stained handkerchief he’d found next to the nameless body in the woods. He gave it to Dalglish who stared at it. “We, Willy and I, found him in the forest…Mortus took him!” “No! No, it cannot be! Not my son, not my son!” The mystic’s shoulders shook as his voice broke, sobbing. Terzon placed his arms around him and held Dalglish as he cried. Willy and the King were still kneeling at Terana’s side. “Your Highness, you need to call a doctor for her.” The King turned and looked at Willy. “Yes, but not Dalglish. His grief is too deep right now.” He stood up and looked at the battlements where the rest of the mystics had battled Baron Mortus. “The Princess needs a healer! You and you, there, take her to the Medical Center…quickly, now!” Two mystics ran to the side of the Princess. Willy could finally see their faces under their hoods. They were young elves, and they looked scared. One of them pulled out a small boxlike object that beeped as he ran it along the Princess’ forehead while the other placed his right hand over her chest and chanted in a low voice. A low moan came from her mouth as her eyelids fluttered. Willy smiled in relief when he saw that Terana was awake and trying to get up. The two mystics stopped her and called out for a levichair to take her to the Medical
Center. A floating chair, shaped like an open egg, was brought out and the mystics helped Terana get inside. Willy started to follow them when he heard Terzon. “Young Willy, we have duties to attend to. My sister is in good hands – we will see her later. We must go with Dalglish now.” The elder mystic had left the courtyard already, accompanied by King Tergaen. The large portal that led to the interior of the castle stood wide open, but it was all still shrouded in darkness. Willy swallowed once and followed Terzon inside. The air felt cooler inside. Terzon and Willy were in a long hallway with tall ceilings and thin windows that sent shafts of sunlight stabbing into the gloom. Their footsteps echoed loudly as they walked. There was a tall and wide set of double doors at the end of the hallway, but it seemed impossibly far to Willy – they looked so small to his eyes that he thought it would take hours to reach them. Suddenly, like a snapping rubber band, Willy found himself in front of the doors. He blinked once and turned to look behind him. The hallway stretched out behind him, looking just as long and gloomy as before. He looked at Terzon who smiled at him. “I know this is hard for you to understand, Willy. The physics of our world are different from yours. Your experiences way seem a bit…strange at first, but you will get used to it.” “You mean like stuff that looks far but isn’t, or something that looks slow but is really moving fast?”
“That is part of it. Perspective is distorted, compared to your world, but it can also be manipulated.” “Wait a minute, you mean tha-“ “Later, young Willy. Dalglish must first administer the test.” Terzon opened the double doors and walked in, with Willy following. The room they were in was enormous…it was so large that Willy could barely see the gray stone walls and the ceiling seemed to be miles above his head. There was a carpet that ran from the doors to the foot of a small dais that held a throne. Willy could see King Tergaen was seated on the throne with Dalglish at his side. It should have taken hours to walk so far, thought Willy as he once again experienced the strange perspectives of this strange dimension. He and Terzon were standing in front of the throne after a scant half-dozen steps. The King looked at him with his deep purple eyes, small lines forming on their sides as he narrowed them. Willy felt a weird sensation in his head…it reminded him of when he was little and his dog Max would scratch the door of his bedroom. It felt like something scratching at his mind, trying to enter it and failing. It was something between a brain tickle and a headache, making him smile and frown at the same time. “He has the gift…I cannot see his thoughts!”
“Father, you know only a direct blood descendant of Gaius Ambrosius Levantinus could have the gift! It was given only to him and his children! This child is the Levantine!” Dalglish had been standing silently, leaning on his staff, listening and watching. His purple eyes, deep and sad, studied Willy’s face intently. It was a hard stare and Willy could feel his cheeks getting hot. The old mystic’s eyes kept studying him, almost as if he was trying to read beyond Willy’s skin all the way down to his genes. With a sigh, Dalglish lowered his head. “He has the face of Gaius and the gift of Gaius. Your Highness, I must administer the test so we may end all doubts.” “Then let us have no more delays!” Tergaen pressed a button on the throne’s arm-rest. A small metal cylinder with a slender cable at the end came out of the arm-rest and the King spoke into it. “Bring in the Levantine’s chair!” A pair of servants came from behind the curtains around the throne. They carried a very old wooden armchair that was upholstered by strips of leather made threadbare by the weight of centuries. There were strips with buckles on both armrests and on the two front legs of the chair – it reminded Willy of the old-fashioned electric chair he’d seen in those old horror movies his dad loved so much. It also smelled bad, like someone had done their business there. Dalglish struck the floor three times with his staff. “Young Willy, you must sit on the chair.” Willy gulped and stood there, looking at the chair. His hand reached out tentatively for it and his fingertips lightly caressed the armrest before he pulled back. He
could feel an attraction towards the chair, looking at the metal rivets that held the leather strips in place against the ancient wood and the curving back that looked like giant bat wings stretching behind the chair…but he could also see rust-colored markings under newer stains that looked too red to be simple rust. Willy’s eyes turned glassy, and he seemed to be staring far off into the distance. His mouth opened and he heard himself speak. “You’ve tested others before…and none of them passed…” He ground his knuckles into his temples and looked up at the elven king with a pained expression in his eyes. “Mortus took them, didn’t he?” Terzon started to speak but stopped at a gesture from his father. But even though the prince’s lips didn’t move, Willy could clearly hear Terzon’s question in his mind…”How could he know?” Willy stared at the king on his throne. Tergaen looked at him with a deep sadness in his eyes. That’s when Willy decided that enough was enough. He remembered what his dad had told him about meeting problems and challenges head on and not running away, about how he should never be afraid of asking questions. He squared his shoulders and spoke. “I won’t do anything more until you answer my questions and tell me what’s going on! Why am I here? What do you want me to do? Who is the Levantine and who is Mortus?”
Terzon and Dalglish looked apprehensively at Tergaen on his throne. The king nodded his head. Dalglish started to speak but fell silent when Tergaen waved his hand. “You are brave, young Willy. You deserve to know. Come and walk with me.” Tergaen stood up and offered his right hand to Willy. The young boy walked up to the king and took his hand. Tergaen turned to his son and the elderly mystic. “Willy and I have many things to discuss before the test can be administered. Look for us in the South Tower if necessary – I will call for you when we are finished.” V. The Well of Sorrows Tergaen and Willy left the throne room and entered a small alcove behind it. There was only one door, both entrance and exit, and the alcove was round. Tergaen smiled at Willy. “You may find this form of travel a bit…disconcerting. Take my hand if you feel the need – there is no shame in experiencing fear, only in denying it is there.” “I’ll be fine, sir…I want to know.” Tergaen smiled at him and slowly nodded. He bent his head down and chanted “aroukh balarium est” as he pressed three buttons by the door. A low hum started to build, a vibration in the floor that Willy could feel all the way to his teeth. The floor remained where it was, but the walls started to rotate around them, faster and faster. In less than ten seconds it was all over, though. The walls stopped moving and the vibration in the floor disappeared. The king opened the door and ushered Willy out. “We are now at the South Tower, Willy. Come, let us go in for there is much to show you and much to discuss.”
Willy stepped out of the alcove and into the South Tower. It was a medium-sized round room with open windows all around and a circle of stones in the middle of the floor. Two large armchairs faced each other across the stone circle. He could feel a cool breeze on his cheeks as he approached the windows and looked out – and then he immediately pulled back as he realized the room was a few hundred feet above the ground. He stumbled and almost fell as he felt a dizzying sensation looking down at the courtyard so far below them… He felt Tergaen’s hands on his shoulders. “Have a seat, young Willy, and look within the Well of Sorrows…” Willy sat in one of the armchairs, his feet dangling an inch from the ground. He was surprised that it didn’t make him feel like a little kid – instead, he felt like laughing as the soles of his shoes barely skimmed the floor. Tergaen sat on the armchair facing Willy and folded his hands on his lap. He stared intently at the loose circle of stones on the floor as he murmured something. Suddenly, Willy saw a small stream of water bubble forth from the center of the circle. Weird, thought Willy as he saw that the water filled the circle and was contained within it even though the stone circle was not sealed. Willy heard Tergaen’s voice. “Look into the water, Willy, and see the story of Baron Mortus…” The king’s voice was deep and soothing. Willy felt his head wobble and his eyelids became heavy but he didn’t fall asleep. Instead, the water in the circle began to boil and darken. It looked almost like molten metal until the water cleared and Willy saw a tall elf, handsome and dark-haired, striding across what looked like the parapets of the Castle of Ter.
Tergaen’s voice reached Willy’s ears faintly, as if he were speaking across an immense gulf. “His name was Terdano. He was my twin brother, although I was born first. We grew up together in this castle, and we loved each other as only twin brothers can. I was happy, we were all happy, when he announced that the Lady Morella of the House of Mor had consented to marry him. He changed his name to Mordano and became a great warrior and general who led our armies time and again to repel invaders and attackers. He led the decisive charge against the Moonriders of Ghanesh and broke them on the Plains of Tingol. Singlehandedly he held the northern mountain pass against the Ice Hordes while I gathered our forces to defend our kingdom. He was brave and noble but he carried within him the seeds of his own destruction…” Willy listened to the king in silence, his eyes never wavering from the small pool of water. The images changed; he saw Mordano galloping into battle with a beautiful elf woman beside him… “Lady Morella was also a brave and fearless warrior. They fought together many times, emerging always victorious and always in love. But they had no children. She fell in the Plains of Tingol and died in his arms. That’s when he changed…” Tergaen’s head was lowered, his chin almost touching his breast. Willy thought for a moment that the king had fallen asleep but the deep voice rumbled on and the story continued. In the water, he saw Mordano cradling his wife’s body in his arms and screaming wordlessly towards the heavens… “He became reckless and headstrong, forcing battles and confrontations where none was needed, like one who courts death. We argued over everything and anything –
it was as if he blamed me for Morella’s death. He was discovered plotting with Osorix, the King of the Ice Hordes, to attack the Castle of Ter and take the throne.” “It was Queen Shandu, my wife, who overheard his plans. Mordano had tried to become close to the Queen after Morella died, but she and I could sense the depth and darkness of his feelings. It was a lust, a passion for Shandu that festered unfulfilled within him. When he found her in the alcove where she’d overheard him and Osorix, he…” Willy heard a deep sigh come from Tergaen. His voice carried on… “He broke the oldest and most sacred of our laws. An elf cannot kill another elf – there is absolutely nothing that can justify or excuse such an act. Breaking that law comes with the most terrible of penalties. He plunged his dagger into her heart and in that moment…he changed.” “An elf that kills another elf is transformed into a monstrous creature that can only live by night, casts no reflection and can only subsist by drinking the blood of other elves. The instant that his dagger bit into her flesh and took her life he was damned to this half-life for all eternity. No elf can touch him because the elf that kills him is doomed to become like him.” “Once, many centuries ago when I was a younger elf, my father faced a similar problem. The Blood Lord, he called himself, a monster who almost destroyed our kingdom. There were none who could help until he appeared among us. He was Gaius Ambrosius Levantinus, a Roman centurion who became the greatest hero of our people.
But I can tell you no more of this – to learn the rest, you will have to take and pass the test, young Willy.” Willy’s expression was serious, his brow furrowed as he digested what Tergaen had told him. “Your Highness, I want to ask you…what does this all have to do with me?” Tergaen nodded to himself. “I must parse my words carefully but I can tell you this: Mortus can only be killed by impaling him in the chest with cold iron. No elf can touch cold iron – it’s nothing mystical, but a severe physical allergy that can even result in death. That is why Gaius was so important to us, because only men can use cold iron. If you are truly the direct blood descendant of The Levantine, then you are the only being who can help us, Willy.” Willy sat in silence for a few minutes. There was another question gnawing at his mind, but he wasn’t sure he really wanted to ask it. He cleared his throat. “Your Highness, I have to ask you this…what happens when a person who isn’t The Levantine sits in the chair? I know I’m not the first you’ve tested even if I can’t figure out how I know this. It’s like I can smell them on the chair…what happened to them?” Tergaen pursed his lips and looked away. He debated with himself for a few silent minutes while Willy waited for his answer. He sighed and looked back at the boy sitting across from him. “Willy…I wish you had not asked me that. I am, however, bound by my oath as King to answer your questions truthfully. Look once more into the Well of Sorrows, Willy, and learn their fate…”
For the next few minutes Willy sat frozen in the armchair as he looked into the stone circle, wishing he had never asked that last question. A single tear coursed down the King’s cheek as he saw the mounting fear in the boy’s eyes. The scene that was playing itself out in the waters of the Well of Sorrows was a cavalcade of horrors, a blur of blood-smeared faces screaming and eight-legged monstrosities tearing someone apart…and Tergaen wondered once again if they truly had the right to put this child’s life in such mortal danger. Willy and Tergaen sat in silence for a long time, each alone in his thoughts, before the King stood up and led Willy back down to the throne room. VI. The Levantine’s Chair The sun had set during the time they’d spent looking into the Well of Sorrows. Terzon was pacing impatiently when Willy and Tergaen returned. Dalglish turned to the King. “Sire, the hour is late! We must proceed with the test before it is too late!” Tergaen looked at Willy. “I have shown you all I can, young Willy. The decision is yours…do you want to take the test?” Willy looked up at the King, his eyes wide but clouded with a mix of doubt and fear. He could still see in his mind the images from the Well of Sorrows, but there was one in particular he just couldn’t shake…a small hand, trembling and smeared with blood, reaching out for help one last time and finding none. They were all staring at him, waiting for his decision. Part of Willy wanted to take off and run, to escape the suffocating miasma of danger he could feel all around him
and bury himself in the safety and security of his own world…but Willy could also hear his dad, reminding him that being brave wasn’t about being fearless but about not giving in to the fear that everyone carried inside. Willy blinked once, twice, as he stood there. His guts were roiling inside him and he could barely keep his legs from shaking uncontrollably. The thought of sitting on that chair was frightening enough to freeze him where he stood. He could feel the sweat on his upper lip, in his armpits, a drop running down the side of his face from his forehead. The three elves were still staring at him, waiting for his move. Willy could feel the pressure of their combined wills bearing down on his, pushing him to decide and decide now. He ground his knuckles against his temples, almost as if he were fighting against something within him. He opened his mouth to speak, then snapped it shut. With a determined frown on his face, Willy jumped on to the chair. Immediately the straps wound themselves around his wrists and ankles, holding him tightly against the leather seat and back. His eyes screwed tightly shut, Willy fought against the temptation to bolt from the chair – he didn’t know how he knew but he suddenly had the certainty that trying to get up would mean an instant death. He felt the rustle of small things moving around and over him, their almost feathery touch as they covered his arms, legs and parts of his face. The urge to get out and run was almost overwhelming – until he remembered what he’d seen in the Well of Sorrows. Willy gritted his teeth and hung on as the spiders covered him.
Willy heard the voice of Dalglish, faint and distant. “Willy Levant, open your mind to me. You have passed the first part of the test, now we come to the crucial part of it. Open your mind, Willy, open your mind…” He could feel it again, that faint scrabbling feeling inside his head. This time he relaxed and imagined a small door in his head opening slowly, slowly… “Tell me what you see, Willy…” It was the same weird dream he’d been having for weeks now. His mouth didn’t open but he could hear himself answering. “I see…a white horse running along the top of a cliff…” “What is the horse doing now?” “I’m raising my hand…I’m calling the horse over. He’s beautiful…he’s lowering his head as I pet him…” Willy shifted in the chair. “He’s kneeling…I’m getting on the horse and we’re galloping away…” “Where are you galloping, Willy?” Willy frowned for an instant. “East…we’re galloping east along the top of the cliff…” Terzon leaned and whispered into his father’s ear. “He’s survived the spiders and he’s seen two of the signs! He is the one!” Tergaen waved him into silence. “Patience, Terzon. Remember the last candidate…he also saw the first two signs but failed the third.”
Dalglish leaned forward, his fingers brushing off a spider on his sleeve. “Where is the horse taking you, Willy?” Willy’s eyelids fluttered but didn’t open. “We’re in a forest…it’s a clearing and there’s a giant oak tree in the middle…there’s stuff hanging from the branches…” Dalglish could see Willy’s fingers clenching and unclenching, as if he were trying to reach for something. “What is hanging from the branches of the oak tree, Willy? Can you reach them?” In his dream, Willy could see the oak tree stretching far away into the sky. There were three things hanging from the lowest branch. They were a sword-belt, a helmet, and a shield. “I’m getting off the horse…there’s a belt with a sword, a big helmet and a shield…the shield is shiny like a mirror…” Dalglish’s voice grew insistent. “Take the shield, Willy, and tell me what you see!” Willy’s legs began to move, as if he were walking. In the dream, he reached up and took the heavy shield from the branch. As he brought it down, he saw his reflection on it. His voice sounded surprised. “It’s me, but it’s not…it’s like an older version of me!”
Terzon and Tergaen looked on, their eyes widening. Dalglish continued. “Tell me the name of the one you see, Willy! Tell me now!” Unbelievably, Willy responded in the deep voice of a grown man. “Meum nomen Gaius Ambrosius Levantinus est…” The king and his son started to speak excitedly, but Dalglish waved them back. “The dream has to be completed!” Willy, in his dream, looked at the reflection on the shield with wide eyes. It really was him, but older. He looked about his cousin’s age, nineteen or twenty. He was big and muscular…he took down the sword-belt and the helmet. Willy Levant who was Gaius Ambrosius Levantinus, the Levantine, stood by his white horse and put on the sword-belt around his waist. His right hand went to the pommel of the sword and drew it out. It was a broadsword made of iron, big and heavy, but he lifted it and swung it easily. He grabbed the helmet and put it over his head – the fit was perfect, with the nose guard coming down to protect his face. From somewhere far away, he heard the voice of Dalglish. “Tell me what you see, Willy…” “I’m getting back on the horse…I’m wearing the belt and the helmet, the shield is slung over my back…two riders are approaching…” “What do you feel, Willy?” “I…I feel the wind begin to howl…I feel afraid…”
“Who are the riders, Willy?” Willy frowned again. It couldn’t be, it just couldn’t be…the riders were Tergaen and Dalglish, but much younger. They stopped in front of him, both of them lifting their right hand in greeting. “They’re you…you and the King, but you’re both a lot younger…they’re telling me the time is now and we must ride against the Blood Lord…” In the dream, they set off galloping down a narrow road that led out of the forest and towards dark and distant mountains. The greenery of the forest soon disappeared and was replaced by bare, black rock. Willy felt hot – the mountains, now closer, were wreathed in smoke and flame just like the pictures of volcanoes he’d seen in a geology book his Dad had. “Where are you now, Willy?” “We…we’re entering a pass in the mountains…it’s long and narrow and we have to go in single file…the pass is going up…we…we” “What do you see, Willy?” The pass came out to a narrow stone bridge that spanned a river of molten lava and led to a castle made of the same black rock as the mountains. There was no sunlight here; there was only the ruddy light that came from below. Willy took the lead as they crossed the bridge. It felt right to do that, and that was strange to him – he was always the kid who hung back when the teacher asked for
volunteers. But here, it was different. He felt strong and capable, and he laughed as they galloped across. They stopped before the huge gate of the castle, Willy’s horse rearing up and neighing furiously. In his dream, Dalglish and Tergaen drew their swords along with him. All three called out to the Blood Lord to come out and meet justice for his evil deeds. Willy could still hear Dalglish’s voice calling to him. “Tell me what is happening, Willy…what is happening to you, what do you see?” “I see…” Willy stopped short. The gate of the castle had swung open, disgorging a vast multitude of the vilest and most disgusting beings he’d ever seen. The things, diseased and deformed, were the servants of the Blood Lord – they crawled, hopped and dragged themselves forward towards them. They carried swords, lances and maces in their misshapen limbs as they roared their defiance. Above their braying and bleating, all three could hear a deep and menacing laugh. Willy looked up towards the battlements of the castle and saw him. The Blood Lord stood there, dressed in his scarlet armor and looking down on them with contempt. Willy saw the dream-Tergaen yell something at their enemy – it sounded like one last opportunity to surrender. The Blood Lord threw his head back and his whole body shook with laughter. Willy didn’t know the language, but somehow he still understood the Blood Lord’s reply…”Leave this place or die!”
The servants of the Blood Lord attacked. Their bloodthirsty roars were stopped when the dream-Dalglish yelled something and a shaft of bright light erupted from the amulet on his chest. The light burned and blinded the things that were coming at them and they fell back in fear. Willy heard himself yelling something in Latin. For a second he thought how weird that was because he’d never studied Latin, ever. He lifted his sword, pointed it at the Blood Lord and yelled it again. “Ex fortitudine victoria!” His dream-companions repeated it as all three charged the mass of monsters barring their way into the castle. But even though they were hideous things, they did not lack in courage. They formed a battle line and held the gate as the three riders fell on them. Willy could only see a wild series of flashes: swords cutting and hacking, limbs flying, green body fluids splashing in the air, screams of death and pain as the three warriors fought their way into the courtyard. A bolt of light from Dalglish’s amulet sent a number of the things flying in every direction as Tergaen jumped from his horse. With sword flashing and battle-mace swinging, he held the monstrosities at bay as he turned to Willy. “Get to the battlements, Gaius! Only you can stop him!” In the throne room, the three elves listened intently as Willy described the battle against the original Blood Lord. Terzon had read the accounts in the Royal Library but neither his father or Dalglish had ever spoken about it – this was the first time he’d ever
heard the story from one who was there. He was proud when he heard Willy talk about how his father fought on against impossible odds and, with Dalglish, destroyed the monsters created by the Blood Lord. In the dream, Willy kicked in his heels and spurred his horse up the stairs that led to the battlements where their enemy waited for him. His iron broadsword sliced and cut his way through the Blood Lord’s bodyguards until both finally faced each other. Willy stood there panting heavily as the Blood Lord drew his sword. The two opponents stared at each other for a few seconds, and the sounds of the battle in the courtyard faded and stopped as everyone turned to look up at the battlements. The Blood Lord’s voice was a harsh whisper. “Mortal man, you shall die by my hand…” “If that is so, then use your sword for words are a poor weapon…monster!” Willy brought his sword up and back down in one powerful move. The Blood Lord’s sword met his, and a fountain of sparks shot up into the air as they clashed. The undead monster pivoted and turned, his sword slashing towards Willy’s stomach. The Levantine parried and deflected the blow; his sword came up and across in a decapitating stroke that was barely stopped by the scarlet-armored being. The Blood Lord laughed. “You are weak and feeble, Levantine…” Gaius who was also Willy bared his teeth and snarled. “I am no child to fear your voice…best me not with words!”
The Levantine’s sword flew towards the Blood Lord, batting aside his desperate parry. Willy who was also Gaius saw the tip of it find a space and slice into his enemy’s chest. For a second, the Blood Lord stood motionless. His eyes looked down in disbelief at the sword that was slicing deeper and deeper into him, piercing his heart with cold iron. Realizing his fate, he roared in defiance at the Levantine. His left hand shot forward and grasped the blade. With one last gasp, the Blood Lord impaled himself on the Levantine’s sword. With his right hand, however, he brought his sword-tip up and plunged it into the stomach of Gaius Ambrosius Levantinus… Both stood there in the battlements, their life-blood spilling out and staining the black stone, as the monsters roared in unison and began to disappear. Their bodies turned into a dark mist that rose to the heavens and was blown away by the western wind. His companions ran up the stairs toward them. Tergaen and Dalglish saw them both collapse, still impaled on each other’s swords. Tergaen cradled the Levantine’s head as Dalglish stood and looked down at the Blood Lord. He reached into his robe and pulled a golden looped cross, making a small gesture with his hands. “Ex victoria ignoscentia...” He pulled a small white handkerchief from a pocket and laid it across the dead face of the Blood Lord.
In the throne room, Tergaen and Terzon embraced each other. The Levantine had at last been found again. Dalglish spoke to Willy, still seated in the Levantine’s chair with his eyes closed. “What do you see now, Willy?” There was a strange sense of separation that Willy felt at that moment. He felt like an observer now, and he could see the entire tableau spread before him. It almost felt like watching the biggest 3-D movie ever made. He saw Gaius Ambrosius Levantinus laying there, his head in Tergaen’s lap. The Levantine raised his right hand and beckoned to someone…Willy realized it was himself, even as Tergaen and Dalglish looked around in bewilderment as the Levantine said his last words to Willy. “May is mucro plumbum vos ut a melior fortuna quam mei…” In the throne room, Tergaen and Dalglish looked at each other in astonishment. “’ May this sword lead you to a better fate than mine.’ All these years and we never understood what he meant…he was speaking thru the gulf of time itself to the one who would take up his mantle!” Tergaen placed a hand on the mystic’s shoulder. “Wake him, Dalglish. He is the one we’ve waited for. His fate, and ours, are bound together until Mortus is destroyed!” ###### VII. The Levantine Prepares
It felt like days had passed but it had been barely a couple of hours. Willy was walking through the Royal Cemetery towards the Shrine of the Levantine. It was cold now, and he wished he had a jacket. Terzon walked with him, the elf prince consciously slowing down his pace to stay abreast of Willy. He looked at the young boy. “The hour grows chilly…would you like a cloak, Willy? You look cold.” Willy gritted his teeth and tried not to shiver. “Thanks, Terzon…yeah, it’s pretty cold.” They were outside the castle grounds. A light snowfall covered everything in a shining mantle of white. The prince took his woolen cloak off and draped it over Willy’s shoulders. Willy wrapped it close to him. The young boy’s mind was still filled with images from his dream that wasn’t really a dream. It was weird, how he’d felt like he was a part of it even while he felt like an observer. He still didn’t understand it all. Terzon looked at him. “You’re troubled, my friend.” Willy frowned. “I don’t understand everything that’s going on. I mean, I know that I’m this Levantine guy but I don’t know how. I guess what still bothers me is that I don’t get why it has to be me.” Terzon sighed and was silent for a few seconds. The only sound was their footsteps crunching the fresh snow. “Fate is a strange thing, Willy. We can spend a
lifetime fighting against it or we can surrender ourselves to it; neither choice seems to make things any easier. I do not know why this is your fate anymore than I know why it was your ancestor’s fate.” “What I do know is that nobody can avoid fate. You have been chosen by a higher power than you or I to do this thing, just as your ancestor was. The control we think we have over our lives is nothing but an illusion, Willy. But that does not mean that we are simply leaves blown hither and yon by the wind.” “There is one thing that every thinking being has complete control over, even if many refuse to see it. That one thing we can truly control is our own reaction to life’s circumstances. It is the reason why some sink under the storms of chance while others swim and even thrive. Remember that always, Willy.” Willy pondered Terzon’s words then, as he would ponder them for years after. They were cold comfort at best, but they were also a source of strength. They sounded like something his Dad would say. They walked silently for a few more minutes until they reached a massive stone monument. It took a few seconds for Willy to realize that the monument was actually a mausoleum. It had a door. Terzon took a large metal key out of his pocket and unlocked the door. He turned to Willy. “The door is heavy…help me push it open.” The two applied their muscles to the task. After straining for a few minutes, the door was open widely enough for both to enter.
Willy’s eyes widened as he saw the interior of the Shrine of the Levantine. It was a large circular chamber with alcoves at the four cardinal points. In each alcove was a statue of a Roman centurion in full armor. The figures were kneeling and had their swords in their hands, offering them towards the large raised catafalque in the center of the room. On the catafalque was a carved stone statue of Gaius Ambrosius Levantinus. He was laying there in his complete regalia – he was wearing his helmet on his head, his waist was girdled by the sword belt with his hands resting on the pommel of his broadsword. The shield lay at his feet. “I’ve been in this room many times, Willy, wondering if we would ever find his equal again…” The chamber was dark. The domed leaded-glass ceiling was covered with snow. In the twilight of that mausoleum, Willy stepped towards the tomb of his ancestor. His legs trembled a bit. This is the man I descend from, he thought, this is the man they need me to be. “You must take the weapons of the Levantine, Willy. They are yours now by right.” Terzon’s words seemed to come from far away. Willy stood by the tomb and looked down on the stony form laying there. His palms felt hot and damp; he wiped them on his pants. His eyes swam and his vision doubled; he tried to lift his hands and take the
weapons but they felt like lead weights at the end of his arms. He couldn’t do it; the strange thing was that most of him wanted to do what had to be done. He felt… “Willy, what’s wrong?” His answer came thru gritted teeth. “I…can’t move. I feel…restrained. Help… me!” Terzon’s voice had that weird distant feeling he’d noticed before. “I…I cannot, Willy. You must find the strength within you to do this; I cannot give it to you. I…I’m sorry, my friend…” Willy’s innate stubbornness, the source of such frustration for his mother, surged at that moment. He gritted his teeth; a vein was faintly starting to pop on his forehead. Damp patches appeared on his back and underarms. Slowly, slowly his arms came up. He was panting; to Terzon’s eyes it looked as if the boy physically struggled against an invisible opponent. Terzon’s fists balled in frustration as he saw Willy’s struggle. “Remember what I told you as we walked here, Willy! Remember!” Terzon’s voice reached him from what seemed a million miles away. Willy realized at that moment what he was in the grip of: he was in the grip of fear, fear that took his own uncertainty as its fuel, a blind and unreasoning force that would control him forever after unless he took control of it. “Terzon” he cried out, “I’m afraid…but I’m not going to let it control me!”
His hands came up. He placed them on the sword belt and it suddenly felt as if a gigantic dam had given way within him; yes, he was afraid but the fear did not, and would never, control him. Willy felt Terzon’s hand on his shoulder. “Well done, my friend. You are as brave as Gaius ever was. Come now; take the weapons as they belong to you now. We ride to face Mortus at dawn.” VIII. Confrontations The sun was beginning to peek out over the far mountains, struggling to banish the darkness of the night. The light dusting of snow that had fallen during the night was beginning to fade and melt, even as the new day clung to the chill. Three riders sat in their saddles in the courtyard. One was a tall elf, clad in golden mail armor; Prince Terzon was ready to ride towards his destiny. The second was a slender and beautiful elf, dressed in a gown of blue crushed velvet; Princess Terana was ready to ride towards her fate. The third was a human boy, dressed in steel-gray armor. He carried the helmet, the sword, and the shield of the Levantine; Willy Levant was ready to ride towards his place in history. King Tergaen II and Dalglish stood at the main entrance to the Castle of Ter. The King raised his right hand. “May deae lux lucis vestri via…may the goddess light your way. My son, my daughter, it is your duty to accompany and assist the Levantine in his
holy mission to the bitterest end if need be. William Levant, also known as the Levantine, you have a great weight to bear but know that the hopes and hearts of our people ride with you…” He seemed to choke for a second, then composed himself. “I look upon all three of you as my children. Go, ride now and save our people! But remember this: do not go with vengeance and bitterness within you. You do not ride to avenge the death of anyone; you go to liberate a soul that is trapped in torment and lashes out towards all who come near!” Dalglish, dressed in white, stepped forward at that point. He raised his right hand, which contained a larger version of the amulet that Terana wore. It began to shine, brighter and brighter, until a shaft of white light emerged and bathed all three riders. “May the Sacred Light of Amarna guide and protect you, today and for all the tomorrows that may come!” Something stirred in Willy’s chest. Something in him compelled him to speak. His horse reared as he drew his sword. “Ex fortitudine victoria!” It wasn’t until then that Willy realized their audience was much larger than he realized. The sides of the courtyard were lined with elves…mystics, soldiers, courtiers and others. The very stones of the castle seemed to shake as they all kneeled and repeated the battle cry of the Levantine. From outside the walls, the cry was taken up. Louder and louder, the sound rained down on their ears and lifted their spirits. With a loud cry, the three riders turned
their mounts and galloped over the drawbridge. The streets of the city were lined with elves, all chanting in unison. Willy smiled; he didn’t know what would happen but getting all that support sure felt nice. The three riders galloped out of the city until they hit a crossroads. Terzon called out “We must head east!” and turned to his right, heading towards a far-off mountain range. Terana and Willy followed him, the hooves of their horses tapping a symphony of speed. They rode for what seemed like hours. To Willy, it seemed the mountains were impossibly far – but he knew the tricks that perspective could play in this strange world he found himself in. Still, at the end of the first day they didn’t seem any closer. Willy and Terzon gathered wood for a campfire. The night was cold and the heat from the fire was a welcome companion. They dined on dried meat and tubers roasted over the fire. All three ate silently, intent on their own thoughts. There were three moons in the sky, but their light was weak. Beyond their campfire, darkness reigned over the entire world. “Terzon…” “Yes, Willy?” “How long will it take us to get to the mountains?” “We should be there my mid-morning.”
Willy chewed thoughtfully. An idea had sprung in his mind, and it made him worry. He’d gone into the woods two days ago…what were his parents feeling right now? Were they worried, frantically organizing search parties to scour the forest? In his mind he saw his mother, sitting on the edge of his bed, crying as his father tried to console her. Then a darker thought intruded; what if they were so busy with their lives that they hadn’t noticed he’d disappeared? What if they just didn’t care? He bowed his head. Willy fought to hold back his tears – he suddenly felt incredibly depressed, that nothing mattered because he didn’t matter…not even to his parents. Terana got up, walked around the campfire and sat next to Willy. She put her arm around his shoulders. Without thinking, he rested his head on her shoulder. He took a deep breath, trying not to cry. Terana sighed and stroked his hair. “Do not let your thoughts become such heavy burdens, Willy. Share your mind with me and I will show you that a burden shared is easier to bear.” “Princess…I miss my mom and dad, my dog…I came here two days ago…are they all right, are they worried about me, is my little Max OK?” Terzon threw another log in the campfire. “I told you before, Willy, that this dimension is different from yours. Just like perspectives and distances are different, so is the passage of time. What you have experienced as two days here is only a few scant hours in your world.”
Terana tilted Willy’s head up so she could look into his eyes. “It is barely the noon hour of the day you left in your world, Willy. If the Goddess is willing, you will be home before night falls in your world.” Willy smiled up at the Princess. Her voice soothed him and made him feel sleepy…until he heard a twig snap and saw Terzon’s hand leap to his sword. “Brother! It’s-“ “I know. I hear them also. Willy! Grab your sword, quickly!” That’s when Willy saw them, great long-legged shadows circling just beyond the light. His right hand reached for the sword at his side. The things paced in the darkness, growling and making strange gurgling noises that sounded like laughter. “They’re blood hyenas!” “I know, sister. Arm yourself!” Suddenly, a flaming object like a star came streaking thru the heavens from the east. It hit the ground with a deafening explosion and a pillar of flame that seemed to tower for miles in the air…then they heard him. Incredibly, there was no crater or sign of impact where the flaming star had fallen. The monstrous shapes moving thru the shadows were still there. A tall, manlike form stepped out from the flame. It shook itself and laughed at them. “What prattle have you been filling your hero’s ears with, niece?”
Mortus stood at the edge of the campfire, surrounded by strange hairless beasts whose fangs drooled in anticipation of the feast that awaited them. Terzon had his sword in his hand, the tip at the chest of the Blood Lord. He started to say something, but was stopped by the laughter of the Baron. “Spare me your mock heroics, boy, and put that metal stick away! We all know you don’t dare touch me…” Terana held a slim dagger as her other hand stroked the amulet on her chest. “State your business then, monster, but do it quickly. You will not live to see another night!” He laughed again. “My business? Very well…I weary of this game. Frankly, I find it most boring to have to wait for you three to reach my castle. I’ve come to dispose of you all right now!” As soon as the words had left his fanged mouth, the creatures around him leaped to the attack. Terzon’s sword leaped up and around, decapitating two of the beasts. Terana threw her dagger and skewered another thru the throat as Willy impaled one of them with his sword. More came. It seemed that Mortus had summoned every one of the foul things. Willy could feel his food coming up when he got a good look at them. Hairless, sexless and huge, the beasts had no skin, the red rawness of their flesh shining in the light of the campfire…the Levantine wielded his sword with a deadly efficiency that astonished the Willy part of him.
Fighting for his life, Willy saw Terzon fall to one knee. The elf prince was bleeding from the side. The blood hyenas circled him, licking their lips, but they stepped aside at a word from their master. “Look, Levantine! Look and see how your hopes die!” It was all happening in slow motion. Willy saw Mortus lift his sword above his head, ready to bring it down on Terzon. He heard Terana yell something, a shaft of bright light flying like an arrow towards Mortus. The light hit Mortus and his killing stroke went wide, but not wide enough. The sword bit into Terzon’s side… With a wild yell, Willy ran to the aid of his friend. His sword, the Sword of the Levantine, was the only weapon that could stop the Blood Lord. He swept it in a vicious arc and caught the Blood Lord in the stomach. The monster screamed and staggered back. Black blood stained the ground and Willy’s sword. Mortus stumbled and almost fell. He looked at the Levantine with savage hatred and fear in his bloodshot eyes. “You…you…” was all he said, one hand clutching his stomach while another drew a sigil in the air. With a loud bang, a cloud of green smoke and a hideous stench, the Blood Lord was gone. “Terzon!” With that single cry, Terana ran to her brother’s side. Gingerly, she pulled aside his shirt and saw his wound. It was a deep, wide gash on his side. His blood oozed from it. “Don’t…don’t cry, sister. Willy, come here, quickly…” Terzon’s eyes started to close but he fought to remain conscious. “I…I cannot help you anymore, my friend…”
Willy knelt by Terzon’s side. Terzon grabbed his hand and squeezed it tight. “I think…I think I will stay here and rest for a time. You…both of you…must continue…” “No! I won’t leave you here!” Terana’s voice came out thickly, choking thru her tears. Willy held his friend’s hand. “She’s right, Terzon. We’re not leaving you behind.” Terzon’s hand, stained with his blood, patted his sister’s cheek. “My dear Terana…there is nothing more you can do for me. No, listen…you must listen!” He coughed violently, a stream of blood coming from his mouth. “I…I am proud to call you friend, Willy…you fought bravely. He’s wounded, Willy, badly. He is hurt and is returning to his castle but he cannot move quickly. You…you must get to him before he reaches his castle…you must…stop him…” “No, brother, no…I’ll heal you, I’ll take you back home…Terzon, don’t leave me!” Terana held her brother’s head on her lap, her tears drenching her face. “No…listen…don’t let Mortus reach his castle! If he reaches it and gets to the dungeons, you will lose him…he will hide there and heal…this will all be in vain… please, Terana, Willy…you must go…” The elf prince slumped down. Terana screamed his name. Willy sat on the dirt, his tears coming hard and fast. He looked at the princess. “Terana, is he…?” She wiped her tears and checked Terzon’s pulse. “No, he still lives but barely.” She looked at Willy. “What…what should we do?”
Willy’s resolve hardened. His friend was wounded and bleeding, possibly dying. Mortus had to pay. He stood up and looked down at Terana. “I will ride alone, Terana. You will stay and care for Terzon.” “But…” “No, it must be done this way. You heard Terzon; if Mortus gets to his dungeons he’ll hide until he’s healed. We’ll never find him…he’ll never pay for what he’s done! If Terzon dies…” The princess sighed as she stroked her brother’s hair. “Thank you, Willy. My brother is right about you; you are brave. Mortus must be destroyed, we cannot allow him to find shelter…listen to me. His dungeons are a maze where he can hide forever. You must ride east, as hard and as fast as you can. You must go, and go now.” She reached behind her neck and unclasped the chain that held her amulet. “Take this, Willy…you will need it.” Terana gave the chain and amulet to Willy, who put it in his pocket. “Princess…I promise I’ll be back for you, no matter what it takes.” A few minutes later, Terana looked at a diminishing dust cloud, the only sign of Willy’s departure. She sighed and stroked her brother’s hair. Willy Levant, the Levantine, rode on through the night. He spurred his horse on through a desolate land where nothing lived. In the distance, he could see the battlements
of a black castle. Closer, he could see a black shape slowly flying towards it. It’s going to be close, he thought. He dug his spurs into the side of his horse. He looked up again; the black shape seemed to falter, dip and almost fall. He was also gaining on it. Willy urged his horse on; he was going to reach the castle before Baron Mortus… Suddenly, Willy felt and heard a deep rumble above him. He was almost at the castle, only minutes away from his destination. It was a high mountain pass and he was almost clear when the side of the mountain cracked and slipped. Within seconds, it felt like tons of earth and rock were about to fall on his head… He heard laughter, high off and far away…Mortus. Willy spurred his horse one more time, desperately trying to eke out just the little bit of extra speed he needed to outrun the avalanche. The rocks were falling all around him, getting bigger and heavier. Any second one of them was going to blast the path away and him with it. With a leap, his horse cleared the landslide just as the mountain pass was blocked by the falling mountain. Willy patted his horse’s neck but kept galloping on, down the road, over the drawbridge and into the courtyard of the castle. He was too late. The Baron had used those precious few seconds that he’d delayed Willy to beat him to the castle. Willy looked at the open castle door for a second before jumping off the horse and running towards it.
He burst into the castle. It was a cold, gloomy place that was falling apart and covered with cobwebs. From somewhere up ahead, he heard someone running. No, not someone…Mortus, trying to make his last getaway. Willy ran after him. He ran down a long hallway and saw a black shape turning a corner just ahead of him. Willy kept running, around the corner and into a large round room. Mortus was in front of the huge fireplace, holding a trap door open. He looked at Willy and, snarling, let the door close. They looked at each other; they both knew only one of them would leave this room alive. The Levantine and Baron Mortus slowly circled each other. With a growl, the Baron grabbed a heavy candleholder and hurled it at the Levantine. The Levantine ducked to avoid the heavy missile but the Baron took the opportunity to jump at him. For a few grunting and sweating seconds they were locked in combat. Suddenly, the Levantine tripped and fell. The Baron immediately fell on him and wrapped his hands around his neck, trying to choke the life out of him. The Levantine’s struggle grew weaker, his eyes rolled up, his tongue was hanging out…the Baron laughed as he sensed the nearness of his victory. It was that moment of arrogance that allowed the Levantine to act. The Baron had relaxed his grip around his neck, thinking him defeated. The Levantine’s mailed fist smashed into the Baron’s cheek, sending him staggering backwards. Both opponents stood up slowly, the Levantine rubbing his neck as the Baron touched his cheek gingerly.
The Levantine looked around the room. His sword was a few feet away on the floor and there was nothing else he could use as a weapon. That’s when he saw the long and narrow window; he remembered something he’d read about vampires not being able to stand sunlight… Before the Baron could stop him, the Levantine ran towards the window. He jumped on a table and launched himself towards the heavy curtains that kept the room shrouded in darkness. With a savage yank, he tore them down… The Baron screamed, a long wavering scream of pain. The sunlight had struck his arm, withering it to the bone. Making small whimpering noises, he tried to scramble back and away from the cursed light. The Levantine would have none of that. While the Baron screamed, he’d run back and grabbed his sword. He now stood over the Baron, trapping him between the Sword of the Levantine and the cleansing sunlight. He held his sword up, the tip at the Baron’s neck. With a savage thrust, the Levantine impaled the Baron through the neck and cut his head off. He kicked the body towards the light and stood there, watching it completely dissolve in the sunlight and become nothing more than a pile of dust. The Levantine crossed the room and opened the window. A cool morning breeze came in, blowing away what little was left of the Baron… Willy blinked twice. He couldn’t believe that he had really done what he had just done. The only thing left of the Baron was a ring on the floor. His legs trembled, his stomach convulsed and he vomited. He took a long ragged breath and left the room but
not before picking up the ring and throwing it out the window. He heard the pinging sound as it hit the courtyard, fell into a crack in the ground and was lost forever. It didn’t hit him until he was outside. He felt dizzy, he stumbled…he fell. IX. Epilogue Willy woke up. He tried to sit up, but his head hurt too much. He looked around – he was back in the forest, but it was night. He touched the side of his head and felt a large sticky lump there. He drew his hand back and looked at it. It was wet and sticky – he gingerly touched it with the tip of his tongue and tasted the saltiness of blood. He heard voices in the distance. From far off, he could see beams of light stabbing into the darkness of the night like searchlights. Was that his name he heard being called? Willy shook his head and groaned. What’s happened to me, he thought. His left hand felt something rough and tall next to him. It was a large oak tree. Slowly, he used it to haul himself to his feet. The effort made him dizzy again and he had to lean against the tree, breathing heavily and moaning. The lights were getting closer and the voices were louder. There was a feminine voice that sounded familiar…it was his Mom’s voice. Willy tried to speak but all that came out was a raspy croak that became a racking cough. In the stillness of the forest, though, it reverberated like a rifle shot.
As one, the lights turned in the direction of the cough. Willy heard his name again, repeated by many voices. They’ve been looking for me, he thought. He stumbled away from the tree, almost falling, and called out. “I’m here…I’m here!” The search party found him. His mother, almost hysterical, hugged and kissed him repeatedly, refusing to let him go. Eventually, the paramedics peeled them apart and took Willy to the hospital. He didn’t tell them what had happened. Willy invented a story about falling down the embankment, hitting his head and passing out. He did have a large lump and a mild concussion, and there were no signs that anybody else had been there. He convinced everybody, including himself, until he felt the small lump in the pocket of his jeans. It was a silver chain that held a round amulet of white gold with a sapphire embedded in the middle. Willy never told the story to anyone. He took the secret to his grave, but many times he wondered what had happened to the people he’d called friends in that strange world…what became of King Tergaen II, Terana, or Terzon. But he never found out. William Levant grew up and moved away, away from the forest and into the comforting concrete forest of the big city. William Levant never set foot in a forest ever again. THE END