The Talisman of Odan
By Vic James
Copyright 2013 by Vic James
All Rights Reserved
Please donate to nifty.
Sani could smell her next meal. She was excited. The scent was delicious and intense. She had had a steady stream of meals, but unfortunately, she hadn't been able to identify any victims to help. There were no spiritual visitors waiting for her meals to die. She had no idea what that meant. There weren't any living people to ask. She had traveled quite a bit, and come across evil men. But not many others. She remembered the village of Crested. It was empty. There were four delicious men in one of the buildings, but except for one woman, the rest of the village was deserted. Sani touched the woman and said, "Confess." The woman started to speak, clutched her throat and died. She smelled like Lurinda, though so Sani was certain she was evil.
They had come across many, many naked corpses with patterns burned into the skin, both before and after Crested. They found men, women, and children. Even a few babies. That angered them the most. Oddly, they were always in groups of twenty-eight. The patterns on their skin weren't words. They looked more like magical symbols to her. Some of the corpses had been missing heads or hands. Sani had never seen anything like it. After they passed through Crested, on the other side of the village, they past a field with two hundred and twenty-four of the corpses, ranging from the very young to the very old. She assumed the four men she had eaten killed them, but with no spiritual visitors, she had no way of knowing. If they were victims of the four, why hadn't they been eager for their deaths?
An amazing thing was that in every case, the bodies with those patterns had been completely unmolested, and none seemed to be rotting. She would have thought they had just been murdered, if they hadn't seen grass had grown over many of them. No animals had tried to eat them. That was unbelievable. But in fact, neither she nor Driggor had seen very few animals of any kind for weeks. Not even many insects. The fields with the victims should have been swarming with insects. She assumed some kind of magic was at work, but neither she nor Driggor knew much about magic. Driggor had felt they should bury the corpses. They were victims, although it was too late to help them. She understood that, and agreed to a certain extent. But she felt driven. She needed to stop their killers. Driggor agreed that burials could come later. Both of them knew they would need help; there were so many corpses. The intensity of the scent grew. She was convinced there must be an enormous number of evil men in the direction they were headed. She flew over Driggor, who rode his horse and led hers. She wanted to get practice flying.
She heard shouts ahead of them and flew faster towards them. She saw the cause of the commotion. A group of men surrounded a man who was tied to a stake. There was brush around his feet. She assumed they were going to burn him alive. Not nice, she thought. That was just the kind of thing that would get you eaten, if she had anything to say about it. She landed near them and began singing. All of the men except two came to her. She looked around and saw a few other burned corpses lying at the bases of other burned stakes. Someone was making a practice of this.
Driggor rode into the clearing.
"Free the man at the stake," she told him.
These men smelled pretty good to her. Not nearly as delicious as Elgath had smelled, but better than Elgath's men. She could tell that what she smelled to the west was more delicious than the men who crowded around her, although one of them smelled very good. These were followers, as Elgath's men had been. Which meant they were appetizers, not the main course.
She walked over to one of the men who wasn't under her spell.
"Who are you and what are you doing?"
The men looked like they couldn't decide whether to stop Driggor who was freeing their prisoner or not. They turned to her.
"This monk spoke out against our, um, master. That is what we are supposed to call him. That isn't allowed. He was sentenced to death," one of the men said.
Sani smiled. Perhaps they would finally get some anwers.
"Who sentenced him?"
"A follower of our master."
"And what gives him the authority to do that?"
The men looked at each other.
"His master's power and influence," the other man said.
"And a demon."
"I take it you two are not evil."
"I am afraid that is so, but why do you say that?" the first man asked.
Driggor didn't understand why he was afraid he wasn't evil.
"Because evil men fall under my spell and you have not."
"It is true. This is a test of our loyalty to him. Neither of us have any desire to serve him. The others are his followers."
"Your families are hostage?" she asked, guessing why they were working for the man.
"Yes. Although it is only a matter of time before he kills us all, anyway."
"Twenty-eight at a time," the other man said.
Twenty-eight, like the corpses. Sani knew it must mean something.
"We came across groups of corpses. There were always twenty-eight to a group."
Then men nodded.
"Sacrifices. It is what he does to anyone who isn't evil enough."
Then Driggor understood why he was afraid he wasn't evil. Being good would get you killed.
"What is your master's name?" she asked.
"We passed through Crested," Driggor said.
"There was no one there," Sani said.
"No one?" one of the men asked.
"Just corpses with patterns on the skin. Over two hundred of them."
One of the men broke down and cried.
The other one said, "Our village will be like that in a few months. I will be just another corpse in a field."
The group of six evil men crowded around her.
Driggor rode up to the man tied to the stake. He jumped off his horse to free him. The two men who were not attracted to Sani, didn't seem particularly eager to stop him. Driggor cut the man's ropes and kicked away the brush. He stared at the man's face and swallowed hard. He thought the man extremely attractive.
"Are you all right?" Driggor asked.
"Yes. Who is that woman?"
"Her name is Sani. She is a siren. She is about to make a meal out of those six men. My name is Driggor."
"I am Edward."
"I am glad we got here in time to save you."
"Believe me, I am far gladder!"
Driggor smiled. "I suppose you are."
"Are you really going to eat them?" one of the men who had overheard Driggor asked Sani.
"Yes, I am. I will eat Podicus, as well, if I can. Driggor, will you tie the six up? I wish to learn more before I eat."
"What about us?"
"I have no quarrel with you. I—or I should say we—" Sani said, indicating Driggor. "Fight evil. Neither of you are evil enough to interest me. You smell pretty awful, so I would guess you aren't evil at all."
"And how do they smell?" one of the men asked, pointing at the men Driggor was tying up.
"We are in desperate need of you! If there is anything you can do, we beg you!" one of the men said. "My name is Rudulfus and this is Teggaster. Podicus is a monster. You can see for yourself what he does to people he doesn't like. He does this to anyone who displeases him in the slightest. His power has spread to our village only recently. But still, you will find burned corpses and the sacrifices everywhere. There have been one hundred and twelve sacrifices in our village so far. Unless someone helps us, our village will be like Crested. Then Podicus will move on to the next village."
"Tell me about him."
"Most of this we heard from people fleeing through our village from other areas he has taken over. I am sure these people were eventually killed. He has followers who do nothing but hunt down those who try to escape. There have been many attempts to kill him. All have failed. Everyone thinks he is immortal. He offers blood sacrifices to his personal demon who protects him. There are always twenty-eight or fifty-six sacrifices at a time. We think the demon's name is Eteligus. When Podicus enters a new area, first he kills off any who oppose him in any way. And he isn't pleasant about it. They are never clean, quick deaths. Burning alive is the most common. I have heard he laughs at the screams. Sometimes they are burned at stakes, like the monk. If they are less important, his followers pour some kind of liquid on them and set them on fire, while they watch them run around screaming."
"And take bets," Teggaster said.
"What do you mean?" Dreggor asked him.
"Sometimes they bet each other how long the victim will stay on their feet."
"We've seen dozens of people killed that way, right in the middle of our village. If you try to stop them, they set fire to you."
Driggor closed his eyes. If ever Sani was needed anywhere, it was here.
"He slowly takes control until his followers have complete control of everyone and everything. They then determine who is virtuous and who is not."
"How do they do that?"
"We think the demon tells him, but we aren't sure."
"Why does he need to know who is virtuous?"
"He sacrifices them to his demon."
Sani smiled. She was looking forward to a challenge. Just eating these six men and then eating Podicus, was too easy. They weren't even struggling to get away.
"Oh, he sounds especially delicious!"
Driggor chuckled. The three new men's eyes widened.
"Those who are the most virtuous are sacrificed first. He sacrifices every virtuous person to his demon until there are none left. As I said, there are twenty-eight or fifty-six sacrifices at a time. If there aren't enough, he waits until he has twenty-eight. Non-humans—goblins, sprites, dwarves—all die of old age in his presence, sometimes in a matter of hours. Then he travels to a new area. He plans to control the whole world."
Driggor shook his head.
Sani thought for a moment.
"He sounds like the reverse of me."
Driggor looked at her. "You are right. He is eliminating those who are virtuous and you are eliminating those who are evil."
"What does he do with those who are neither virtuous nor evil?"
"His men kill them with some sort of metal pole that spits out a ball. We have heard he hates those people because they are of no use to him. He doesn't torture them, though."
"I wonder how the demon will react when Podicus falls under my spell," Sani said.
"I think we can assume he will be unhappy. The demon's protection might make him invulnerable to you. If not, the demon might be able to simply move him far enough away to be safe," Driggor said.
"Do you know anything about demons?" she asked him.
"No. Just that they have powers and hate reading."
"You are a monk. Do you know anything?" Driggor asked Edward.
"I'm not a monk. I asked for books and they told me I was a monk."
"Why did you want books if you aren't a monk?" Driggor asked.
Edward shook his head.
"This is a screwy world!"
"I have heard wizards read books," Sani said.
"Well, they can protect themselves against demons, too," Driggor said.
"If you are a wizard, you aren't particularly good, are you?" Sani said to Edward.
"I'm not a wizard, either." He paused. "Demons don't like books?" Edward asked.
"Not since Ritair."
Edward shook his head. Nothing he knew was of any use on this strange world.
"What is Ritair?" he asked.
"He made a book on how to banish demons. Naturally, they didn't like it. Since then, they destroy any books they find and punish the possessor. Monks can use religion to protect themselves against demons and wizards can use magic," Rudulfus told him. "Ordinary people avoid books, if they have any sense."
"Well, acting without enough information is a good way to be killed—or worse than killed, in this case. We can't just walk up to the man or demon. We need more information. Unfortunately, the only person I know to ask is Triesse."
"Who is Triesse?" Edward asked.
"She is the fairy who changed me from a miserable human man into a siren. She is the one who commanded me to eat evil men."
"Is she far away?" Rudulfus asked. "Because Podicus will soon know that he has been thwarted here. He has powers, or his demon does. He will retaliate quickly and horribly. If she is here when he arrives, she may not survive."
"Yes. We have travelled far. But Triesse is very powerful."
"If he comes, will you kill me? Please?" Teggaster asked Driggor.
"I don't want to be burned alive!"
Driggor stared at the man. This was going to be bad. He knew it.
Sani decided to try calling her. "Triesse?"
Triesse heard the call from Sani. She was very curious about what was happening and she immediately left the farmhouse.
Triesse appeared a moment later, hovering in mid-air. In her natural body, she was about a foot tall, with translucent wings that were as long as her body, and a slight glow around her.
Edward fell back against Driggor, who put his arms around him. Driggor liked that.
"Are you all right?" Driggor asked softly in his ear.
"I am now," Edward said, boldly.
Driggor tightened his arms around him and was pleased when Edward relaxed against him.
"What is it, Sani?" Triesse asked. She glanced over at Driggor and saw him holding a man. She watched a small cloud of lust form in the air around the two. She wondered how Sani felt about it. Did she love Driggor?
Triesse changed to her human shape.
"I am sorry to trouble you, but I need advice. In a battle between me and a demon, who would win?"
"The demon. Easily. Any demon could destroy you in a second."
"That's what I feared."
"Even though you are immortal, you have a body. It won't age, but your body can be destroyed. A demon could rip your head off and crush it with its foot. With your brain destroyed, your spirit would leave. Any demon would know that, too."
Sani nodded. She assumed she wasn't invulnerable. She wasn't a god.
"There is a man by the name of Podicus under the protection of a demon we think is named Eteligus. The man is doing horrible things, killing hundreds, if not thousands. But if I attack him, the demon will almost certainly attack me. I hate the idea of leaving him to continue murdering people, but I don't know what I can do about it. He takes over areas and kills all the virtuous."
All the virtuous. Triesse was deeply troubled. Something about that was familiar to her, but she couldn't think why. A man and a demon. A team. Team. She thought, but still couldn't remember what was familiar. It explained what was happening, at least. The demon had stolen Tizelle's powers, and her friends had departed the area to get away from the demon. She wished she had actually gone to visit one of them—her friends who had fled the area, but with Lars and the babies, she had put off any investigations of her own. Lars hated it when she left for even short visits.
"Hmm. Let me think."
It was obvious which men among them were evil and which were not. Two stood and waited eagerly for her to speak.
"You are the ones who told her of the demon?"
"Yes. There have been many attempts to kill the human—Podicus, but the demon has always protected him. Podicus offers up human sacrifices to it—anyone who is virtuous. He stays in an area until he eliminates all the good people and then travels on to the next. His followers remain to rule in his name, possessing everything that belonged to Podicus' victims. There are never many people left after he conquers an area. The two of us estimate there will be no more than thirteen or fourteen people left in our village by the time Podicus moves to the next village. The rest aren't evil enough."
"How often do the sacrifices occur?"
"Each new moon."
Triesse knew that meant something.
"So tonight," Triesse said.
"He said he offers twenty-eight or fifty-six sacrifices at a time," Sani added. "We came across corpses in groups of twenty-eight. They had patterns burned into their skin. There were men, women, children, and babies in the groups. Some of the bodies had been there a long time, but they weren't rotting."
It all sounded terribly familiar, but she still couldn't remember why. It sounded right to her. As if everything was perfect, when it was far from that. She shook her head. Such a monster must be stopped, whatever the cost. Whatever the cost. And suddenly, she knew in her heart the cost would be very high. She went into a trance to see the lines of her own various futures—something she has always avoided doing. There was only one future and it ended soon. Very, very soon! There was only one possible outcome for what was about to happen—she would die. She sighed. Lars would be heartbroken by her death. But he would have Erin, Tig, and his grandchildren. Triesse would get to see Erin's grandmother—her friend, Eskella, not to mention all the other members of that family she had befriended over the centuries. She quickly checked Erin and Tig's futures and found they were fine. But his family? She would no longer protect them. Then she remembered Erin had the Talisman. It would protect them. Odan had assured her that there was enough residual magic in it to last for many generations, although it would have to be removed from Erin once he died. Plus Odan and Galen were practically part of the family now. They could protect them. That was a comfort to her. Sani and Driggor would survive, too. She had checked Sani's futures right after she last spoke to Tizelle. It was a comfort to know that Sani would continue to fight evil. It was also another comfort to know what she now knew about the Afterlife when she was about to die. She realized it was extremely odd that she should be so comforted from every direction when she was about to die, but she put it out of her head.
Triesse thought for a moment of what she could do. The thing was, she didn't think she actually had that much time to live. There wasn't time to do anything.
"Who does the actual killing—the sacrifices?" she asked.
"I have never witnessed it," Teggaster said.
"Neither have I," Rudulfus said.
"I need to think. Why don't you eat those men while I do it?"
Triesse saw Sani glance at Driggor and Edward. Driggor's arms were around Edward, who clearly liked it. She didn't know what a thwarted Siren would do. Despite her worries about bigger things, she was worried about Sani. Sani was very important. Sani could kill, while Triesse could not. She touched Sani and said directly in her mind, "Sani, are you in love with Driggor?"
"Is it obvious?"
"Not really. But he seems to like men."
"Yes. Not only that, but he also smells disgusting. If we ever had sex, and I took him into my body, I would taste him."
"That is true."
"I have put aside thoughts of romance with any man. I won't have sex with an evil man and I can't have sex with a good one. I more fear Driggor leaving. He is an excellent companion. I was going to say friend, but I'm not sure he sees me as one." She sighed, again. "I am trying to be someone he can see as a friend. I've tasted love and friendship and I like them. I want them. I will miss him terribly, if he leaves."
For some reason, Triesse agreed that Driggor needed to remain with Sani. They were a team. A team.
"Is impressing him the only reason for your desire to help people?"
"No." Sani tried to think it through. "When you created me, the hunger was terrible."
"I ate and was still hungry. But when I agreed to help the victims, the hunger dissipated. What's more, I felt better. Not just less hungry—I felt happy. I must admit I was shocked to discover that being kind was its own reward, but I found that out quickly. Seeing the evil things men do made me—I suppose it made me want to do the opposite. It is difficult to explain. I feel completely different inside, and I am not sure why."
"Something turned you to evil. Something happened in your life that set you on the wrong path. Now you have turned away from that path. Can you tell me what it is?"
"I suppose it was my father. He was a terrible person. When I was nine, he cut off one of my toes for lying."
"He accused my mother of having sex with another man. It wasn't true. I was with her. I told him that. He strangled her to death. I tried to stop him."
Triesse shook her head.
"You killed him."
"Yes. Right after he killed my mother. I was eleven. I killed him slowly. Very slowly. I started with his toes and cut bits off him. I hated him so much, I enjoyed it very much."
She shook her head again. She thought for a moment.
"Edward, with his knowledge of machines from the other realm, might be of assistance to you and your mission," Triesse suggested.
Sani smiled. "Thank you, Triesse. I don't know why you are so kind to me, but I am grateful."
Triesse paused. "Sani, I have seen my own future, and it ends very soon. And by soon I mean any minute."
"Oh, Triesse! I have endangered you."
Triesse was touched by the grief Sani was displaying.
"Don't feel bad about that, Sani. If I die, it won't be your fault. Remember that! It will only be the fault of the person who kills me. I won't be around to offer advice, or help. I think that if you use your knowledge, your heart, and those of your companions, you will do fine. Your team is very important. I know this. I have seen your future and it extends quite a ways."
Triesse watched tears run down Sani's cheeks. She was very confused. There seemed to be nothing of Sanit in Sani.
"I don't know if you want to watch her eat them," Driggor told Edward, Rudulfus, and Teggaster.
"I am rather curious. Also, I want to see them die. One of them killed my sister," Rudulfus said.
"Which one?" Sani asked.
"The one with the black hair on the left. He poured oil on her and set her on fire because she refused to kiss him."
Sani beckoned to him.
He walked up to her and she pulled his right arm inside her. The men heard the crack of bone and then the man screamed. They were amazed that he didn't try to get away. He remained there facing her. After she swallowed, she pulled his left arm in. He screamed again.
They all had seen enough and turned away.
"She can eat all of them?" Edward asked.
"Yes. It's magic. I have no idea where the bodies end up. She ate fourteen men once."
"That's incredible! I still have trouble believing in magic," Edward said.
Edward was still in Driggor's arms. Driggor turned him around.
"Can you believe you drink water or breathe air?" Driggor asked him.
"Where I come from, there is no magic."
"You mean there is no one magical around there?"
Edward frowned. "No. It is a different world. There is simply no magic."
Triesse overheard. She realized he must have traveled from the realm Odan described to her.
"Did men go to the moon?" she asked.
"Yes! They had!"
"He comes from a different realm where magic is replaced by machines. I suppose there is no aura left in that realm." She closed her eyes. Podicus and the demon were destroying virtuous humans.
"Tizelle?" Triesse called.
There was no response. Magical folk were disappearing. Their team was eliminating aura. All aura.
"You know of it? Can you help me get back?"
She sighed. "One impossible problem at a time, please."
She was more convinced by the moment that Sani was essential. More essential than she herself was. She touched Driggor. She spoke directly to his mind.
"Sani needs you."
"Yes. Very much. She needs a friend. Who better? You are the only person who will ever truly understand her. What she was. What she is trying to be. Why she is driven to atone. Even why she is a siren."
As she said it, she knew she was avoiding the real problem, but Sani's team had to succeed.
Driggor nodded. "I can see that."
"I can tell you like Edward."
"Have him join you on your mission. He has knowledge from his realm that could be useful."
Driggor smiled. "Thank you, Triesse. I will try to convince him to do just that."
"If he is happy, maybe he will not wish to travel back to his original realm. It will be a strange family—the three of you—but a family, I believe," she said.
"The strangest family that ever was."
"No. I once knew a fairy who married a demon." She laughed. "Believe me, that was stranger!"
"Was she evil?"
"No! Not a bit! Of course, the demon had been a fairy who had been forced to—"
Triesse closed her eyes. The pieces fell into place. Every inexplicable thing. She suddenly realized why she had thought of that fairy. A feeling of cold encompassed her. She remembered and she shivered. She remembered why the fairy Estev became a demon and she realized who Eteligus must be. She knew why she had acquired so much aura that it was almost painful without putting any personal effort into it. She knew why they had machines in the other realm. She knew why she could not bear to use any aura conjuring wealth for her own rather poor husband or his grandchildren. She knew why she cursed Sani, when she had never spoken a curse before, and why she gave Sani her mission. She realized now that the mission was actually to undo Podicus' work. She was certain his path extended far beyond their lands. She thought she created Sani to battle people like Elgath. But he was a mosquito compared to Podicus. That was why Sani's mission and team was so vital. Sani's team was the inverse of Podicus' team, and a three person team, including Edward might accomplish more. Just stopping Podicus and his pet would not be enough. Aura had to be restored, if this realm was not to take the same horrible path as Edward's. She knew why Sani changed completely to a good person—she had to. Otherwise the work she did would not generate aura to reverse what Podicus had done and give Triesse enough to do what she now knew she had to do. Sani's work would continue generating aura long after Triesse's death. The excess would reside in the realm, returning to the areas in Podicus' path. She could picture Sani's aura pouring out of her and being absorbed by the soil, the plants, the water, and the air—restoring all the aura Podicus had stolen and tried to destroy. Poor Sanit had been manipulated his entire life. Possibly his father, as well. She knew why Erin had the Talisman. To replace her. Whoever planned all—this—knew how important that was to her. She had taken an oath to protect that family. Now Erin and his descendants would be protected by the Talisman, not her. Even though she was a pawn, manipulated for what must have been centuries, as Estev and Sanit had been, she could see that—whoever—had tried to offer her consolation. All of that comfort she felt about dying was quite deliberate. Estev got a bride as a reward after his work, despite becoming a demon. She already had a spouse. She wanted Lars. A tear dropped from her cheek to the ground. Triesse watched alarmed as it caused a plant to bloom and grow large. The aura from her teardrop would be detected by Podicus instantly. He despised aura. She was certain he would be there very, very soon.
"Sani, eat that man now! He must die this instant! It's important!" she said.
Triesse changed back to her true shape.
Triesse needed the aura. She needed as much as she could possibly hold. She watched Sani pull his head inside her and she bit. Triesse's aura grew. It burned. She pulled a little aura back from Odan, as well.
Sani pulled another man's head into her and bit. Triesse's aura flared. Sani pulled yet another head inside her and bit.
Triesse spotted a willow tree and was grateful. She flew to it and breathed deeply. The scent of the tree calmed her enough to do what had to be done. Her aura continued to increase. Sani was doing exactly what needed to be done. Soon all Podicus' men, except one were dead and her aura was so intense, it was lighting up the tree.
A clap of sound louder than thunder had the others cowering.
Suddenly, two figures appeared. One a man, the other a demon. The demon appeared to be on fire. The demon spun around until it faced her. And it was not just any demon. It was the worst. But the man was even worse. He wanted to remake the world in his image. The man was far more evil than Lurinda—who was simply another mosquito, like Elgath. Podicus was far older, as well. Older even than Triesse. And he radiated power. But not aura. Definitely not aura. Sani didn't have a chance against the man, much less the demon. Triesse herself had only a slight chance. As the demon roared again and approached her, Triesse acted. She poured all her aura, and every scrap of her being into a hateful, stabbing thrust and curse. All of that evil originated in one place. She eliminated it. The man's head blew away into dust. The demon howled and that was the last thing she knew.
The demon's appearance and roars so terrified Sani that she peed. She could smell it on some of the others, too. She had fallen and she stood up. She looked around. The others were in shock. It all happened so fast. Triesse needed her to eat, Sani ate. Triesse disappeared. Two people appeared, a man and a burning demon. The demon turned to the willow tree where Triesse had flown, and the man stared at Sani. She could feel the hate in the man's eyes. He took a step towards her. She was certain then that she would die. And at that moment the most disgusting thing she ever smelled was mixed in with the most delicious. The man smelled even better than Elgath. That could only be Podicus. She somehow knew the disgusting smell was Triesse. That was odd, because Sani had never noticed a scent from Triesse before. She assumed Triesse would smell incredibly awful. She was a very good person, after all, and Driggor who wasn't a fiftieth as good smelled disgusting. Before the man took another step towards her, his head disappeared and his headless corpse collapsed. She heard voices, saw a bright light that seemed to consist of hundreds of strange faces. The faces were of some sort of being she had never seen before. They didn't seem to have noses. Then the demon roared. After its scream, the demon stopped burning, but the human's corpse began smoking. The demon grew larger and larger, but became less and less distinct. As it grew, things that looked like metal, with weird shapes—she suspected they were weapons—appeared and then melted into the ground. Dozens of people appeared, a few at a time, and then just as quickly disappeared. Sani wasn't sure whether they were victims who wanted to watch Podicus die, or not. Then an enormous crowd of spirits, all with patterns burned into their skin—Podicus' sacrifices—ran towards the bright light with the strange faces. They disappeared into it. There were hundreds of them. The demon quickly encompassed Sani and those around her as it grew, with no effect she could feel. She had looked at Driggor, and he was unaffected, as well. The demon continued to grow and become less visible. By the time the last spirit ran into the light, she could not see the demon anymore. She had no idea if she was inside the demon, or whether it evaporated, or what had happened! The whole thing was over in less than a minute. Despite that, she was certain she would remember it for a very long time.
"Triesse?" she called. Nothing.
Sani put her face in her hands and cried. Triesse was gone. She was certain that it was Triesse who dealt with the demon and Podicus. Driggor patted her back, and then hugged her. She was grateful.
Despite the fact that Triesse told her not to blame herself, Sani did.
"Sani, I don't think anyone else could have done it," Driggor said to her. "I think it had to be her. Someone very, very good and very, very powerful."
The bad smell (she refused to call it Triesse) dissipated and all that was left was the very delicious smell. She walked over to the headless corpse of Podicus, and actually drooled. It seemed to have stopped smoldering. She pulled an arm into her and groaned in pleasure at the taste. A hot meal! It was quite a bit hotter than her other meals had been. She loved it! She thought Elgath was delicious. Podicus was much, much better!
Nado had placed a tracer spell on Triesse. Agmathanist had told him he needed to assist her, in exchange for taking Galen and his own rule-breaking. He needed to know when she was in trouble. He sensed something was very wrong. He felt her take a little bit of aura from him. If she needed aura, he decided he would give her more.
"Galen, Triesse is in terrible trouble. I am going to give her all my aura."
"Nado! All of it?"
"Yes. Remember the waiver."
Concenta was in their house at the time.
"She needs aura?" she asked.
"Yes, I think she needs it badly."
Concenta ran to her house. There was nothing she could do for Nado, but she could help Triesse. Concenta had always loved fairies, and Triesse was the finest one she had ever met. She smiled at her tree as she ran into her wonderful home.
"Thank you, Triesse," Concenta said.
Triesse appeared on a dry, cracked plain that was empty in all directions. She looked down at her hands and cried when she saw claws. She was a demon. The worst part was knowing she was expected to become a demon. It was all part of a plan. She sat on the ground crying. There was no point in walking. The whole sphere looked the same. At least it was peaceful in that spot, she thought. She closed her eyes and remembered better places. Her tears slowed.
Nado transferred all his aura to her even though he knew she was already dead. She had died almost the instant he learned she was in trouble. He hoped it helped. He had a feeling it would. Since the aura left him, he assumed that meant she received it. She now had aura. That was bound to help in the Afterlife.
A moment later, Triesse appeared in a much less desolate place, with a few plants scattered among boulders. There was a plant trying to bloom in the rocky soil. It had a flower stalk that hung weakly. She realized she must have moved from sphere one to sphere two. That was a great relief to her. What's more, her hands looked more like her own. She looked at her body. She still had some demon characteristics. She had no sex, for one thing. The area between her legs was smooth skin. She looked at the plant and wished she could water it. She let some of her tears fall on it. Maybe they would help. They would have helped enormously when she was a fairy. She knew as a demon, she had no aura and no magic. Demons had other powers—powers she had no intention of ever using.
"Nado, give her my aura, too," Galen said.
"Are you sure?"
"We have our whole lives to rebuild ours. It might help her.
Suddenly the soil around the plant grew moist. The plant perked up before her eyes and grew much larger. She smiled.
A group of men on horses rode towards Sani.
"Who are they? Do you know?" Sani asked Rudulfus.
"The one in front is one of Podicus' executioners. The one in blue is one of the torturers. All of them are important followers."
Sani sang and they all got off their horses. She executed the executioner first. Sani was angry about what happened to Triesse. She killed every one of them quickly. Her sorrow over Triesse had ruined her appetite, but she wasn't about to let them live.
Triesse found herself sitting under a willow tree. She took a deep breath and smiled. She had no idea what was happening, but she wasn't about to complain!
Concenta said a prayer. "For Triesse." Then she burned the ghost tree seeds. They had an enormous amount of aura. She hoped it helped.
Tizelle lay dying. She finally understood what was happening. Triesse would make everything right. She always did. When Triesse called her, she was too weak to respond. She had very little aura left, but what was left, she offered to Triesse. Then she died with a smile on her face, thinking of her friend.
The scene changed again, and Triesse was next to a stream. The grass was around her was lush, and she could see snow-capped mountains in the distance. There was a lush plain behind her filled with grazing animals. She saw a group of dogs playfully chasing each other. One ran up to her, sat, and wagged its tail while its tongue lolled out the side of its mouth. She patted it on the head, and it tried to lick her. She laughed. She thought it looked familiar.
The dog barked.
"Buster! How are you?"
Buster had belonged to Lars' grandfather. She hugged him and then he ran off.
She looked down and saw she had her original body. She wasn't sure what was happening, but she was grateful. She wished for clothes. Lars would be relieved when he joined her. Although, he might wish to spend most of his time with his first wife. Time was something they all had a lot of in the Afterlife. There was time enough for everything. She was completely at peace. She had died, but she was on sphere three, where almost everyone was. A squirrel ran up to her and sat up. She wished for a nut and one appeared in her hand. She held her hand with the nut out, and the squirrel politely took the nut and began eating it. She looked around. She could see a waterfall about a hundred yards away. She looked to her right and saw a patch of red poppies blooming. She had always been partial to poppies and bluebells. She looked at the water in the stream. It was crystal clear and she saw large fish swimming around. To her left was a group of bluebells in bloom. She smiled. It appeared she didn't even need to wish for her favorite things. It was really a beautiful place. Another squirrel joined her and she gave it a nut, as well. She watched a flock of large green birds fly overhead. A beautiful, enormous stag walked to the water's edge and drank. There were so many animals! That was something neither Erin, Galen, nor Odan had mentioned. Just swans, was all she could remember. Not that she was complaining. She loved animals. Another dog ran up to her.
"I remember you, but I don't remember your name." It was another one of Lars' ancestors' pets.
The dog wagged his tail. It didn't seem to bother him in the least. She petted him. He laid his head in her lap. Then she remembered. It was a her.
She petted Daisy's head. Daisy rested her head on Triesse's lap. They were both perfectly contented.
A while later, she decided to visit her mother. She wished to see her and nothing happened. She realized her mother must have been on sphere four. Her mother was a very good person. A smiling young man appeared before her. She stood up.
"If you wish to visit someone on sphere three, you must wish to be on sphere three first."
Triesse's mouth fell open.
"This is sphere four?"
"Yes, it is. I am Elgan. Welcome. If you want to meet anyone, just wish it. You can wish for just about anything, or anyone. Do you have any questions?"
She shook her head.
"Call for me, if you need me. I will be happy to help in any way I can. Goodbye."
"What is sphere five like? Do you know?"
"We have visitors from sphere five occasionally, but sphere one is where you can always find them. They are odd people. We don't think there are that many of them. To make it to sphere five, you must live your life entirely for others. In the Afterlife, these people get a chance to enjoy themselves, but from what I understand, they mostly try to convince people on sphere one to repent. That annoys the demons, which I am certain the sphere five residents enjoy." Triesse smiled. "Some of them work on sphere two, trying to get the people there to care about each other. If you want to meet any, wish to be on sphere one, and then wish to speak to one. They are of course nice people, but if you ask them what sphere five is like, they won't tell you, although they seem to try. It is as though they can't remember when they aren't there."
"No, I don't think I will go to sphere one. I just left it. I was a demon for a few minutes."
He smiled, broadly. "That must be an interesting story! Absolutely unique! When you have time, I would love to hear it. All of us would, I am certain."
"Very well. Hopefully I will figure out what happened by that time. Right now, it is a complete mystery to me. Thank you, Elgan."
He bowed and disappeared.
Triesse decided she needed to tell Lars what happened.
Nado walked up to the farmhouse. Tig was in the kitchen.
"I need to speak to you, Tig."
"Do you need Erin?"
"No. Just you."
They took a walk.
"I am not certain what happened, but she used up all her aura in one instant before she died. She died without aura. I transferred all my aura to her. Galen did as well."
"So you have no magic."
"No. None. I had planned to help protect Erin, but I am afraid that is entirely up to you now."
Nado was not very surprised at the huge smile on Tig's face.
"Is the—object doing anything at all?"
"Yes. There is residual magic. He will be difficult to kill."
"I don't know if there is enough for him to have more children. I doubt it."
"Two is perfect. One would have been fine. I'm glad we will have two, though."
"You are stuck in that shape now."
"That's fine, too. Both of us are happy with it. Really, Nado, this is good news. I felt fairly useless."
"Well, you are indispensable now. I can't even defend Galen or myself. I know nothing about physical weapons. I depended on magic for everything. I don't even know how to get a drink of water without magic."
"Move into the house. I am sure Erin and Lars will agree. You are pregnant. You shouldn't be worrying about defending yourself."
Tig shook his head.
"Lars will be heartbroken about Triesse. He loved her very much. He never has had much luck with love."
"He will see her again, Tig."
"Perhaps soon. To tell you the truth, I wouldn't be surprised if he tried to kill himself. Erin and I will have to keep him interested in our kids. Having you in the house will be a distraction for him. Can you cook?"
Nado laughed and kept laughing. There was an old saying about not knowing how to boil water. He knew there was a way to boil it without magic, but he was unaware of it. Pour it into a fire?
"No. Not at all. Neither can Galen, but Concenta had already volunteered to cook for us. We will have to take her up on her offer, now."
"Well, you should live here, then. We can all eat together."
"I will speak to Galen about it. It does seem best. The more of us are keeping our eyes on Lars, the better."
"Well, you have plenty of time!"
"True. I never pictured my life like this, but I am not unhappy. I will eventually regain some of my magic. Triesse told me growing plants can do it. Where better to do that, than on a farm? After the baby is older, we can travel and try to earn aura by helping others."
Nado walked slowly home. He looked down at his bulging belly. He didn't mention it to Tig, but he had no idea at all how he was going to get his baby out of him. With magic, it was a simple thing. But without? He hadn't thought of it when he transferred every bit of his aura to Triesse. He was very worried. He knew Galen would realize the danger very soon.
He walked into their house. He saw the panic-stricken look on Galen's face. Nado nodded at him.
They sat and Galen wrapped his arm around him.
"We will figure something out. We can pay a fairy to do it, Nado."
Sani ate the last of Podicus' men and Nado regained a little aura. He sighed with relief. He cast a simple spell and it worked.
"What happened?" Galen asked him.
"I don't know. I just got a little aura. I have no idea why."
Then it occurred to him.
"I know! It was Sani! Triesse cast a spell to have aura Sani generates transfer to me when she has as much as she can hold. That means I—we—will continue to receive aura." He thought for a minute. "Galen, we could be receiving a lot of aura! Sani is immortal!"
"Well, we won't get more than we can hold."
"Yes. That is true."
"Do you have enough to deliver the baby?" Galen asked.
"I think so. We have a while before I deliver. I expect I will have more by then, anyway."
"Well, we need to conserve it. You might not get more."
Not long after Triesse left him suddenly, Lars suddenly grew sleepy.
He lay down and fell asleep.
"Triesse, my love! You are back!"
"No. Lars. Something happened. I have died."
"No you haven't!"
"Lars, I do love you, but I was a lot older than you."
Lars mouth fell open.
"You said you were over two thousand years old, but I thought you would live much longer!"
"I know. I hoped to live longer as well. Maribeth is well and wishes to speak to you."
His first wife appeared next to Triesse.
"Lars, you will see both of us again. But you must not despair. Your grandchildren, my grandchildren need you. And they need a happy grandfather. You did a fair job raising Erin." Lars opened his mouth to complain, but decided she was probably right. "You could have shown him more love, especially when he was very young."
Lars sighed. His heart hardened after Maribeth died. He knew it wasn't right to blame Erin for his mother's death, but every time he looked at Erin, he was reminded of it, especially at first, when Erin was very young. He had tried to make it up to him, though.
"You need to be more loving to our grandchildren. Children need love. Be happy."
"How can I be happy, Maribeth?"
"By taking joy in all the love that surrounds you—and returning some of it. Lars, the Afterlife is a wonderful place, but make sure your grandchildren know you. You will be glad you did. I promise you that," Maribeth said. "Otherwise, you will long for them, but they will ignore you. When Erin dies, he will not feel like spending much time with me. He was even here for a little while and did not wish to see me. I am a stranger to him, despite the fact that I love him intensely. Don't let that happen to yourself. If the pain is too great, ask Nado to help. He will. He won't kill you, but he will lessen your grief."
"I will introduce Erin to you, Maribeth! We will be a family again, one day," Lars said.
She smiled at him.
"Goodbye, Lars. I will see you fairly soon. I will sleep until you arrive."
"Goodbye, Maribeth. I love you."
She smiled and disappeared.
"Lars, enjoy life. Be happy. Please."
"I will try, Triesse. I promise. It does help knowing both of you will be there when I see you in a few years."
"Good. And take good care of little Triesse."
Lars opened his eyes and saw Erin and Tig. He wondered who little Triesse was. He could tell Erin had been crying, although he was trying to be brave.
"Triesse died," Lars said.
"She just visited me in a dream. She told me to be happy. It's easy to say. Hard to do."
He got up and hugged his son.
"I love you, Erin."
Erin hugged his father back.
"I love you, father."
"I'm sorry if I didn't show it often enough."
"You did. I never doubted it for an instant."
"Father, I know for certain we will see them again," Erin said.
"I know that, Erin. I've always known that. It's just—"
"I know, Father."
Tig put his arm around Erin who leaned his head against him.
"I think I know now why I kept putting off naming them. We've decided to name the boy Lars and the girl Triesse. I hope mother doesn't mind," Erin said.
Concenta walked into the room carrying Lars, followed by Nado carrying Triesse.
Lars smiled and got out of bed.