Lilly, Warrior Princess

She came to us after a long journey. Twice she had been cast out, twice driven into exile. She wanted a place to rest her weary bones, a place where she could huddle in a chair and conserve what little warmth was left to her.

She had been separated from her own kind from youth. And she had been housebound. She was no street person, no far wanderer. But she liked to sit by the window and look out at the world she did not know. When it was warm, we raised the window, and let her feel the breeze of the wind on her face. And she was happy, just with that. She made no move to cross the windowsill, push through the screen, and escape into the outer world.

And then, one evening, after darkness had fallen, she espied one of her own kind, a trespasser in our yard, a trespasser in her domain. She was offended. And when the other did not heed her warning signals, she was enraged. In a single bound, she crashed through the window screen. Heedless of the odds, she tackled the trespasser. No matter that he outweighed her, that he was street smart and an inveterate fighter. No, shrieking her battle cry, she pounced on him, astonishing him with her fury, and drove him back. He sought to turn, to escape, but she pursued, and drove him under a nearby car.

My partner went to call her back, to rescue her if need be. But she was still full of the battle fury, and resisted being pulled away from the scene of her triumph.

Even now, she often looks out that window, waiting for the next trespasser. That is Lilly, our recently-acquired fourteen-year-old cat.

Lilly on her favorite chair

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Responding to Crimson’s Creative Challenge #90

My friend Crispina Kemp does a weekly “challenge” to her readers, to respond to a photograph she has posted.

This week, she posted the following photo:

Copyright 2020 Crispina Kemp

In response, I offer this photo, of my own composition:

Copyright Brian Bixby

It’s from Angla, on the island of Saaremaa, Estonia, taken in 2003. Count ’em: five windmills.


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My thanks to my readers (and a pat on the back for myself, I admit)

My thanks to the readers who started, attempted, perused, slogged through, sampled, read end-to-end, or otherwise spent time on Tollon and Magician’s Apprentice these last three months. I hope you were entertained at least some of the time.

Me, I’m happy to have been able to sustain a chapter-a-day rate (with two short two-day breaks) for ninety chapters. (Yes, you read 90 chapters! If you did, that is.) It’s time to take a longer break and figure out what story comes next.

There’s a rule a writer should follow: don’t tell the same story twice. Which is an amazingly difficult rule to follow. As a writer, I find myself attracted to the same themes, character types, narrative tricks, and such, making it far too easy to pour the same old contents into what should be a new story. Good writers either find many important things to say, or they become talented at recasting their ideas in boldly innovative ways. For the rest of us, that’s a work in progress.

Which is why what comes next for me is a work in progress. Until I can put it up here on the blog, see you around, and I hope to stop by your blogs.

Me after a rough day trying to write a story

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Magician’s Apprentice – Epilogue

Seventeen years after the events of chapter LXXXIX . . .

I get a summons from the palace. It’s from my half-sister, the younger Lady Gwella. It’s a surprise. We’ve never been close, even though we’re almost the same age. No one was ever close to Gwella. She was just so reserved, growing up, always mature beyond her years. She never played the usual childhood games.

The summons doesn’t say what it’s about. Maybe it’s about my mother. She’s been pilloried and thrown into the dungeon again. It’s happened so often now I’m told one of the cells is named after her. Not that it bothers her. She’ll be out in a week. You don’t keep a pregnant woman in the dungeon. Just whom she’s pregnant by is a question. For once, she’s not telling. The answer must be a whopper.

Gwella receives me in her quarters, the Court Magician’s workshop. She’s lived here since taking the role over from Chypa the Stranger last year, at age sixteen. To my surprise, she greets me with a hug and calls me brother. She invites me to sit in her parlor, has a servant bring in drinks, and then dismisses him.

I look Gwella over. Seeing her is oddly like looking into a warped mirror. We could be twins. We have the same coloring and the same short, slight build we got from our father, Tollon the Wanderer. At least so I’m told, as neither of us has ever seen the man; he left Auspulia before we were born. Gwella’s filled out nicely on her narrow frame these last two years. Me? I do sword practice every day, and I still couldn’t intimidate five-year-olds.

“Your mother, Lady Evana, has really done it this time,” Gwella tells me. “Do you know who the father is?”

I shake my head. “My mother’s her own woman, Gwella. I imagine she’s had an affair with some titled fool who now doesn’t want to explain to his wife what he was doing.”

Evana is one woman who takes the initiative

“Close,” she replies. “The king.”

Stefano? I shake my head. “Can’t be. He’d have told me. Besides, he’s fourteen.”

“Old enough to get a lady pregnant, and I doubt he wants to confess to his friend that he’s been bedding his friend’s mother. Particularly since, knowing your mother, she seduced him.” Gwella takes a sip from her drink. “The dowager queen will have a fit when she finds out. The last thing she wants is another succession crisis. And the thought of her son cavorting with a political subversive just is not going to help at all.”

I have to admit that Gwella’s probably right about my mother and King Stefano. Rather that deal with that thorny topic, I seize on the implication of the rest of what she said. “The queen doesn’t know yet?”

“Inacha has her hands full with the usual politics of the regency. But let’s just say she’ll figure it out sooner or later.”

Since Gwella’s telling me this, I figure she has something in mind. “And you’re talking to me about this because?”

“Let’s just say I’m willing to smooth over this little affair, for a price.” Gwella gives me her “I have you over a barrel” look.

“And the price is?” I know I’m not going to like this.

“I’ve decided I need an apprentice.” She grins at me.

“No. No way, Gwella.” Apprentice to Gwella? She for whom “I told you so,” is the start of every conversation? I desperately try to think of reasons why this won’t work that I can offer her. “The queen will never allow the son of a political subversive to hold a position at Court.”

Gwella leans back in her chair and laughs. It’s one of the few times she ever seems as young as she is, when she laughs. “On the contrary, Effran, it’s perfect. I’ll tell Inacha your being my apprentice will bind your mother to the Court.”

“You know that won’t work. My mother’s her own woman.” How many times do I have to say this?

“It doesn’t have to work,” Gwella answers me. “It just has to sound good, long enough for Inacha to accept that her first grandchild will come from . . . ah . . . that ‘arrant strumpet,’ I believe is the phrase she uses these days. Inacha dotes on kids. Once that child is born, problem solved.”

“And your price for this is that I become your apprentice?” I hope she’s not serious.

“Exactly. Not negotiable, Effran.” All traces of her youth vanish from Gwella as she gives me one of her serious looks.

“Why me?” I ask.

Gwella smiles a remarkably quirky smile, and that youth comes back into her. It’s disconcerting how quickly her appearance shifts as much as it does. “I could say I want to keep it in the family. I could say it would be hard to recruit a good apprentice when I’m so young myself. Truth is, Effran, you’re not cut out to be a warrior or a revolutionary. You don’t have the temperament or the physique. While you could win respect as a magician. So?”

I throw up my hands. “I don’t think I’m being given much choice here.”


Trust Gwella to be to the point. So I give in, for now. “What do I have to do?”

Gwella gives me a girlish smile again. “Well, I’d like you to go to the market and get me some dragon’s teeth.”

THE END of Magician’s Apprentice

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Magician’s Apprentice Chapter LXXXIX

The story so far: Tollon is trying to figure out how to be a good demigod, while he’s still trying to figure out how to be a good human. Now read on . . .

What does it mean to help someone who has suffered horribly, to the point she’s forgotten most of her past? I have stood in the temple, out of the way, for an hour now, watching Paviara at her duties. I look at her hurts. I see how they were done. I see how Lady Gwella manipulated Paviara into hating me. I see how Lady Gwella forced Paviara into loving me again by wrenching her emotions out of any natural development. And I see how Lady Vorana simply forced Paviara to throw herself to the soldiers, because she was kin to Earl Haulloran. That broke Paviara’s mind. She can’t live with what she was made to do, because she doesn’t understand that she was made to do it.

And just telling her that she was manipulated against her will? It would not help. She needs security. She needs love. She needs time.

I can’t give her any of those things. She already has security, working there in the temple. Time comes as it comes. And Chypa, damn her, is right: I can’t love Paviara, because I can so easily see through her.

But I did love her, once. Or at least shared passion with her. I can give her back that.

Mother Alesca has given me written permission to order the priests as I think necessary. I go to the acting high priestess, and have her summon Paviara to a private meeting with me. We sit down together. Paviara senses there is something familiar about me, but doesn’t know what, and asks what I want.

I tell her, “My name is Tollon. Yours is Paviara. And we were once lovers.” And I dig the happy memories out of the depths of her mind, where they have been repressed, and let her see them. Just them. None of the bad ones.

She looks at me. Tears form in her eyes. Her hand, shaking, reaches out to touch my face. She smiles, she cries.

We talk for hours. I tell her the truth, that we aren’t lovers anymore, that it’s not her fault, that she has had many bad experiences since then which she can’t remember. And yet we talk over a lot of good times, as well.

When I leave, I know I’ve done one good thing this day. I’ve been a demigod, and done it right. I helped someone be herself.

Now is the time to go talk to Chypa.

Who listens to what I say with a faint smile on her face. “Still playing the hero, I see.”

I disagree. “Not the hero. I’m not looking for credit or applause. I just wanted to help someone who couldn’t help herself.”

Although Tollon doesn’t realize it, Chypa’s playing the role of the wise court jester.

Chypa won’t let up on her mocking smile. “So now you’re a hidden avenger, a secret hero. Is that it?”

“Is that any different from what you did, that so many legends grew up about you doing this and doing that?” And then I just gesture as to wave her aside. “Forget it. I don’t need your approval, and I don’t need to follow your example.”

“But you will,” Chypa rejoins. “So now what, wander the world for a while, all alone?”

“With your kind permission,” I give a mock bow.

“It’s lonely out there,” she points out.

“I’ll manage.”

“But suppose you could find someone compatible? Wouldn’t it be more fun to go wander with someone else?”

Well, yes, but . . . “You want to come with me, Chypa?” Such an idea never crossed my mind. And I thought she told me she was not in love with me. Well, she wasn’t, but that was when I was human. Maybe now that I’m a demigod I’m lovable?

I don’t expect what comes next. Chypa neither laughs nor appeals to me. Instead, she becomes serious. “We’re not compatible, Tollon, not before, not now. I have far more experience in being a demigod. You’d quickly come to resent me. No, what you need is someone of comparable power who’s also trying to figure out where in the world she fits.”

I think. I come up empty. “You have someone in mind?”

“I gather she’s not told you: Mia’s been exiled from Faery. Her fellow fairies were horrified at how easily Vorana was able to brainwash her. They think she’s unworthy to be a fairy, now.” Chypa sighs and gives me a meaningful look. “I imagine she’s debating what to do with her life now. Pity there isn’t someone she loves who’s in much the same boat.”

“Mia’s not in love with me,” I insists. “She’s a fairy. I’m human.”

“Neither one of which are properly true right now,” Chypa points out. “And who is it who spent virtually every moment from when she recovered from Vorana’s treatment taking care of you?”

I’m stunned at the thought. Mia. I know I’ve been carrying a torch for her, but I knew it was never going to happen, never going to work out. And, you know, maybe it still won’t. But we are different now, her and me. We can try. We can help each other. At the very least, I can pay her back for her care of me.

Now that I look at it, this sounds wonderful. This sounds better than anything I could imagine. So, of course, it can’t be true. I say to Chypa, “You’re sure?”

Chypa laughs. “Of course not. You’ll have to go talk to Mia yourself, silly.” And then she leans forward and in a softer voice, says, “Do it soon, Tollon. Do it soon.”

(To be concluded . . .)

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Magician’s Apprentice Chapter LXXXVIII

The story so far: Tollon came out of his confrontation with the gods as a demigod himself. The role doesn’t come with an instruction manual. Now read on . . .

Two days later, I am all but ready to admit defeat. Chypa is right. I look at people, and I know all about them. I want to do something, and if I’m not careful, it happens without the usual labor involved. I spent last night flying through the air, just to see if I could. I could.

Inacha, whom I respect? She’s terrified of her own sexuality, which is how she can freeze that of any man she encounters. I could fix that.

The king? He is so ordinary, but for his office. In thanks for what I’ve done, he wants to shower me with titles and rewards. I realize I could just take over Auspulia from him if I wanted to.

Evana? Seeing her hurt. She’s still a girl, still growing up.  I could “fix” that, and then I realize I shouldn’t.

I walk around the palace, and it all looks so trivial. I could change it all. Chypa is right. Everyone and everything looks diminished. There are moments I want to tear out my eyeballs and make it stop.

Rather than go talk to Chypa again, I track down Mother Alesca for a private audience. She’s busy helping the king reorganize the kingdom’s nobility and bureaucracy after the mess Vorana made of it, but she readily takes the time to meet with me.

I ask her the obvious question. “You were a demigod for a while. How did you handle it?”

Apart from Chypa and Mia, Mother Alesca is the only complicated person I’ve run into since I became a demigod. She’s Mother Alesca. But she’s also clearly Honorable Alencar, the learned lady. And it’s the latter that answers me. “I didn’t want to be a demigod, Tollon. I’m really a scholar at heart. I don’t want power. So I didn’t take it. I was a demigod, but I never acted as one. Apparently, most people can’t or won’t give up the possibilities of being a demigod if they have the chance.”

“I’d like to,” I say.

Another learned lady: Laura Bassi, Ph.D. 1732, professor 1732 – 1788 (her death)

The learned lady, for that is what she is right now, shakes her head. “If that’s what you really want, then you’d not have reached for the power. You have, Tollon. Realistically, you’re not going to give it up.”

I never thought I’d be in a position to say something like this. “Then I’m doomed to wander the world alone, Tollon the Stranger.”

“I don’t know about that,” she replies, “either about being doomed or being alone. And that’s all I can tell you from my own experience. But I wonder if your problem is that you haven’t figured out what a demigod should do.”

“Fix the unfixable,” I flippantly reply. Fix the broken. The thought echoes in my head, and I realize there is something I can do.

You see, my problem is I don’t want to tamper with people. Vorana and Gwella taught me that. They did nothing but damage when they tampered with people. Besides, most people can deal with their own problems, or not. But what about someone who’s so broken they cannot cope with their own problems?

Mother Alesca sits there, patiently waiting for me to finish. So I ask her, “What happened to Paviara?”

She looks thoughtful before she replies. “The encounter with you shook her up, but she doesn’t know why. She repeats your name every so often as if it’s something meaningful, but she can’t tell us why. Why? What do you plan to do?”

“See her. Cure her, if I can. Make her life a bit happier, if I can’t.” It sounds good.

“There are things you can’t do, Tollon?” She’s being priestess and scholar, both.

“Apparently, I can do anything, Mother Alesca. The question is, can I do it right?”

(To be continued . . .)

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Magician’s Apprentice Chapter LXXXVII

The story so far: Tollon wakes up to find himself a demigod. But this has been only the start of the surprises he encounters. Now read on . . .

Chypa isn’t human.

“You’ve got that half-right, Tollon,” she tells me. She closes the door, walks in, and takes a chair. “Like you, I’m a demigod. Been one for a long time. You don’t think just any wizard could stand off Mrokitar as long as I did?” She looks over to Mia. “Go wash up, Mia. We demigods have to have a conversation.”

Just us demigods chatting

Mia meekly does as she’s bidden. As she closes the door behind her, Chypa remarks, “She’s been with you the whole time you’ve been changing. Wouldn’t dream of any of the rest of us taking a turn. Of course, where else is she going to go?”

I don’t know what that quite means, so I pull over the chair and sit down facing Chypa. I begin with an accusation. “Why didn’t you ever tell us you were a demigod?”

Chypa purses her lips. “For the same reason you’ll probably not want to tell most people about it. Get yourself dressed and go out among them, Tollon. You’re going to realize you’re not the same as them anymore. You’re probably going to look down on them at first. It’s an incredibly uncomfortable feeling. You are going to find it all but impossible to have any sort of real relationship with normal humans for years to come.”

“You . . . ah . . .” I don’t know quite how to put this.

“Bedded you?” Chypa laughs. “True. But I wasn’t in love with you, Tollon. I couldn’t be. I couldn’t share much of what I am with you, when you were merely human.” She gets a sad look on her face. “And it took me decades to be able to do even that. Becoming a demigod cost me my marriage to Sarton. It’s the real reason I left Auspulia. It was too painful to stay here and see him so . . . diminished.”

I don’t like the sound of this. “Maybe my experience will be different. I don’t feel any different.”

Chypa snorts in disbelief. “Nothing at all?”

I almost say so, and then I remember how I could tell Mia was a fairy by sight. Same with Chypa being a demigod.

Chypa sees she’s scored a point. “And speaking of people not mentioning important things, what’s the story with Lady Gwella’s pregnancy?”

She scored another point. I confess, “It’s my child, and it’s the reincarnation of my sister Jallia.”

“Ah, that explains some idiotic remarks Lady Gwella has made.” Chypa shakes her head. “That’s a pity. That means you’ll want to stay around, when the best thing you can do is leave as soon as possible.”

“You mean like you, Chypa the Stranger?” I make it an accusation.

Chypa is not put out at all. “Exactly.”

“I don’t think so,” I insist. “We’re not the same.”

“No, we’re not,” Chypa admits. “You’re going through what I went through eighty years ago. I didn’t enjoy it then. You’re not going to enjoy it now.  But I’ll leave it up to you to figure out the right thing. Go out there and see for yourself. Just warning you, Tollon, don’t fight it when it becomes obvious. And then, when you reach the inevitable conclusion, come back to me, and I’ll give you the most valuable advice you’ll ever get.” She chuckles. “I’d give it to you now, but you’re not ready for it.”

(To be continued . . .)

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Magician’s Apprentice Chapter LXXXVI

The story so far: Tollon won his confrontation with the gods, only to find he’s turned into a demigod himself. This is going to rearrange his life. Now read on . . .

I emerge into consciousness every so often. It’s always painful. It’s like staring into a bright light. Mia is always there. She’s taking care of me. I know there are things that need to be done. Haulloran’s army needs to be dealt with. Someone has to stop Vorana. What’s happened to Mia? Mia wants to kill me. Mia’s taking care of me. I’m in love with Mia. Mia’s a fairy. I’m in love with Vorana. Vorana’s a nightmare. I’m having nightmares.

I wake up. My head is clear. I sit up in bed. My body reeks of sweat. I look down at my abdomen. There is no scar there from where the sword ran me through. In fact, none of the scars I’ve picked up in the last two years are there. Or on my back. Or anywhere else. I know this. How do I know this?’

I look up. Mia’s sitting on a chair beside me, looking expectantly at me. She’s wondering if I’m in my right mind, which implies I haven’t been. I say to her, “I think I’m sane, but I remember getting run through with a sword.”

She smiles. “You were.”

“How long have I been out of it, Mia?”

“Three days. The worst was a day ago. You were raving and having some sort of nightmare.”

That I was. I ask, “Mrokitar?”

“Gone.” Mia runs through a list, counting off with her fingers. “Vorana fled. The queen is dead. Vorana drove her to suicide. Sarton’s dead, but you already know that. Katrina and the rest of the dragon warriors died after a day, as expected. Mother Alesca and Inacha have temporarily taken charge of the government under the king. The king really admires Inacha.” Mia smiles. “Mother Alesca, on the other hand, I think terrifies him. She can be so stern. Earl Haulloran is in the dungeon. Lady Gwella is under close custody, but not in the dungeon, as she’s in the last stage of pregnancy. Your lover Evana and her father have been freed. They’d been in the dungeon, but not mistreated. The wall’s down around Gehulia, and most of its inhabitants have survived, but Zilla is dead. She sacrificed herself to keep the others alive.” She thinks a moment. “I think that accounts for the people you’d want to know about.”

She’s left out one person. “What about you, Mia?”

She tries to smile. “Someone had to watch over you. Demigods are dangerous.”

Mia.” I make it clear I’m not satisfied.

She gets up, walks to the small window in the opposite wall, and looks out. Without turning, she says, “Vorana was able to reduce me to her slave again. I would have killed you, Tollon.”

“Vorana needed Mrokitar’s help to do that,” I point out.

Mia shakes her head and lets it hang down. “No. Mrokitar brought me here, but Vorana was able to enslave me all by herself. She molded me, growing up. She knows exactly how to destroy me.  She could do it again.” She pauses. She sobs. She wails, “I wish I were dead.”

I get out of bed. I have no clothes on, but that doesn’t matter. I stand behind Mia, wrap my arms around her, lay my head against hers. I whisper in her ear. “Hey, I’m a demigod now. I’ll find Vorana and kill her for you.”

Mia’s sobs become louder. She turns and clings to me, her body shaking with her shame and sorrow. And I start crying, too. For Mia. For Paviara. For Sarton. It’s been a long, unhappy time.

We both sob ourselves out, mostly. And then a voice rings out from the doorway into my little apartment. “I must say, you two looked more cheerful when Tollon was out of his mind.”

I turn to see who’s speaking, but I already know from the voice. It’s Chypa. What takes me by surprise is what I see.

Chypa isn’t human.

(To be continued . . .)

If they can make a god out of Julius Caesar thanks to a comet, making a demigod out of Tollon isn’t such a reach!

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Magician’s Apprentice Chapter LXXXV

The story so far: Tollon’s won his confrontation with the god Mrokitar. But it comes with a price. Now read on . . .

“Rest, Tollon.” It’s Mia’s voice. This time I’m certain of it.

I open my eyes. I appear to be in the last quarters I occupied in the palace. Mia is looking at me with grave concern. When I try to sit up, she pushes me down. And slight though she is, she can easily do it. “Don’t get up. You don’t understand what’s happened to you.”

Mia’s been through this with Tollon before
(Credit: Wikipedia/Wellcome Images)

I stay still. Patiently, I say, “I was run through with a sword. I expect I suffered blood loss. So I should feel faint. What else?”

Mia doesn’t answer at first. Then she says it. “You died on the floor of the throne room, Tollon. You’re not really alive now, at least not in a human sense.”

I try to make sense out of that. I fail. “What does that mean?”

“Thessar kept you alive so you could help him and Frawkza to get Mrokitar to give up her intervention in human affairs. Once you succeeded, Thessar was willing to let you die.

“Frawkza was not, an unusual feeling which clearly disturbed her. War gods aren’t supposed to be caring of human lives, but Frawkza admired how you turned your back on Mrokitar. Said that demonstrated a true warrior’s temperament. So Frawkza and Thessar made a deal, with Mother Alesca’s participation. You’re now semi-divine, Tollon.”

Try again. “I hate to repeat myself, Mia, but what does that mean?”

Mia looks frustrated. “Isn’t it . . . oh, forget it. Your whole point with Mrokitar was that she didn’t fit in to human society, right?”

I nod.

“Neither do you, anymore.”

I try to sit up, despite Mia. It feels like the world is turning beneath my feet. But I can. I look at Mia. And for the first time, I can truly see she is not human, that she is a fairy. How I can see that, I don’t know.

I’m semi-divine. That was what Mother Alesca said she was. Logically, “So Mother Alesca is no longer semi-divine?”

Mia brightens. “Exactly. She said she never wanted that status, and if it keeps you alive, at least it would do someone some good.”

I look at my hands. “I don’t feel any different.”

Mia sighs and gives me a sad look. “Remember how it took me time to understand that I was a fairy? You’re in a similar situation. It’s going to take time, Tollon. And the human body has to adjust when it becomes semi-divine. You need to take it easy, give yourself time to learn what you’ve become. And then you’ll need to figure out what that means.”

I’d explore this some more with Mia, but I start to feel very tired and confused. I feel Mia helping my lie down. I want to sleep.

Two thoughts nag at me, though. Mia says I don’t fit into human society anymore. And just what is going on while I’m lying here?

I try to wake up, to open my eyes. I feel Mia’s hand on me. Sleep. I stop struggling.

(To be continued . . .)

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Magician’s Apprentice Chapter LXXXIV

The story so far: Tollon confronts the god Mrokitar, but instead of using magic, he uses words to attack her. But will it work? Now read on . . .

I make it to seven before a blow knocks me over. I fall on my side. There is a sword blade sticking out of my stomach. How did it get there?

My head clears a bit. Mrokitar just ran me through with a sword. I hadn’t seen her with a sword, but she’s a god, so I suppose she can produce a sword at a moment’s notice. I am bleeding to death. I guess I’ve failed. Funny, I don’t feel any pain.

Someone’s standing over me. Whoever it is reaches down, and I feel something in my guts. A hand comes down to press on my stomach. There’s another one on my back.

This time, my head really clears. I look up. It’s Katrina of Moss, dragon warrior. She cracks a joke. “Too much iron in your stomach is bad for you.” She takes her hands away, grasps the sword than ran me through, and stands up. I turn and see Mrokitar standing there, utterly bewildered. Katrina throws the sword down at Mrokitar’s feet. She says, “Killing people is Frawkza’s job, Mrokitar. She says to tell you you’ve displeased her. She says you’re not worthy to be a god.”

“Thessar agrees.” It’s another voice, stern in tone, coming from behind us. I turn and see Mother Alesca standing there in her robes, looking like the schoolteacher I knew when I made a stupid mistake. She goes on, “Tollon is right, Mrokitar. You let yourself be used.”

Mrokitar won’t accept this. She argues, “All I did was learn about these creatures. I’ve done it before. I don’t recall either of you objecting.”

There are many myths of gods and demigods interacting with humans. Few of them turn out well.

Mother Alesca replies, “It is not for us to judge how you interfere in human affairs, Mrokitar. It is for the humans to judge you for that. We merely judge you by the standards of gods.” And she looks at me.

I can take the hint. “Among humans, there is good and evil as we understand it. Selfishness, if it leads to the harm of others, is evil. And that is Vorana.” And I see a way to drive home the point. “Would you expect Vorana to help you in maintaining order among the gods? Whereas you know from our past experience that I will do so.”

Mrokitar looks unhappy. She accuses me, “You’re the one who said I should keep learning what it means to be human.”

By now, I’m standing. Despite having lost quite a bit of blood, I’m feeling fine. Funny that. So I go for the truth. “I guess I was wrong. Or at least there are some people you shouldn’t deal with until you better understand the range of human nature.”

Mrokitar is on the verge of tears. She looks from me to Katrina and Mother Alesca. I can see now that both are possessed by the gods whom they serve. However gods communicate, they do.

And then Mrokitar is gone. Immediately, pain rips through my guts and I fall back on the floor. Fire blazes through my brain.

“Rest, Tollon.” It sounds like Mia’s voice. I guess I’m becoming delirious. I feel drunk, feverish, and sick. And everything just drops away.

(To be continued . . .)

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