Torn By War

Torn By War

Jim Melvin

September 2013 $15.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-363-4

Book 4 in The Death Wizard Chronicles

Our PriceUS$15.95
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Everyone they love may be doomed. Everything they cherish may be destroyed. There is no turning back.

Torg and Layla’s world is in chaos; their life together, in jeopardy. Even a powerful Death Wizard such as Torg may not triumph as three terrible wars are unleashed upon the land. The evil druids of the forest Dhutanga—giant, insect-like monsters—swarm to attack the white horsemen of Jivita. The druids are superior both in strength and numbers, but the forces of good are not without hope. Torg and his Tugars stand by the horsemen’s sides.

Several hundred leagues to the east, an army of zombies invades Tējo, the great desert. Most of the Tugars have left to aid their allies, and only a few warriors remain to defend the Tugars’ homeland against this horrendous assault.

The most devastating force of all is led by Mala, the ruined snow giant, who has marched with his massive army of cretins and golden soldiers to assail the black fortress of Nissaya.

Triken is on fire

Jim Melvin is the author of the six-book epic fantasy The Death Wizard Chronicles. He was an award-winning journalist at the St. Petersburg Times for twenty-five years. As a reporter, he specialized in science, nature, health and fitness, and he wrote about everything from childhood drowning to erupting volcanoes. Jim is a student of Eastern philosophy and mindfulness meditation, both of which he weaves extensively into his work. Jim lives in Upstate South Carolina in the foothills of the mountains. He is married and has five daughters.

Visit him at: and


Coming soon!



Brush with Death


"The noble ones say that it is a sin to kill a human being, that in doing so, you are dooming yourself to the endless cycle of rebirth. Sister Tathagata once told me that she thought it was wrong to kill a fish. I have to admit that, well, I don’t agree. It is not a sin to kill an evil person. And to be honest, I love the taste of fish.”

—Asēkha-Tāseti, in the middle of a night of heavy drinking around a desert campfire

THOUGH TORG KNEW it naught, Laylah woke soon after he peeled himself off her naked body. She lay still as a fawn and watched through the slits of her eyes as the wizard wandered a few paces away and then sat down in a cross-legged position on the grass. She had witnessed him in meditation one other time, in the rock hollow near Duccarita, and had been curious then too. Everything he did pleased her, but this was especially fascinating.

Immediately his body became motionless—except for the rise and fall of his chest. Soon after, even that steady movement ceased, and when his head fell forward she became puzzled and then frightened. It dawned on her how little she knew about his abilities. He was a Death-Knower; she could surmise what that meant. But to consider it psychologically and to view it physically were two different things. Suddenly her heart pounded, and her breath came in gasps. Beyond belief, Torg was dead. The reality of it struck her like a blow from a war hammer.

Laylah didn’t know what to do. Should she cry for help? Or rush to Torg and shake him? Even as she sat up, the great stallion she had named Izumo came up silently behind her and nuzzled her on the ear, startling her so much she nearly joined the wizard in death. Her scream caused the horse to bolt, spin around, and snort. It took Laylah what felt like a very long time to regain her composure.

When she again could breathe semi-normally, she crawled toward Torg on hands and knees, her arms and legs trembling so she could barely support her own weight. The night was so quiet she could hear herself shuffling through the scorched grass, which was carpeted with wilted petals. She also heard a strange thudding sound—and finally realized it was her own heavy tears striking the ground. Her beloved was dead! She could see it, sense it, feel it.

Laylah crept within an arm’s length of her lover’s lifeless body. She wanted to grab him and hold him. Sob and shout. But she was afraid to touch him. If his death became that real to her, she might go mad.

Without warning, Torg’s head jerked up, his eyes sprang open, and his mouth opened so wide she could see the back of his throat. Blue-green energy roared from his body and battered her face, lifting her off the ground and casting her several hundred cubits. She landed on her naked rump in a cushiony patch of wildflowers just beyond the scorched circle. Obhasa came to rest beside her, but she noticed in her daze that the Silver Sword remained where she had left it. The blast would have killed almost any creature on Triken. But other than feeling dizzy and stunned, Laylah was unharmed. As if concerned for her welfare, Izumo trotted forward bravely and nuzzled her cheek; this time, she didn’t shout, which regained his trust. The stallion backed a few paces away, lay down, and rested his muzzle on the ground like a loyal dog.

Soon after, Torg came over and took her in his arms. "My love. What have I done? Are you hurt? Tell me you’re all right!”

"I’m... fine.” Then she looked into his eyes, where she again saw life. "In fact, I’m better than fine.”

Torg squeezed her so hard she grunted. Then he released her, sat back, and leaned against his hands. "I’m sorry, Laylah. You appeared to be sleeping so deeply...”

"You frightened me.”

Torg chuckled ruefully. Then he took a deep breath and sighed. "With all the running we’ve done since Kamupadana, we’ve never had a chance to fully discuss Maranapavisana, my visits to death. They are brief in duration but appear unnatural to those unprepared. I apologize again. I made a severe mistake in judgment. But when the mood comes upon me, it’s safer and easier for me if I succumb to it quickly.”

"Succumb to what?”

"To the desire. My magic comes from Marana-Viriya (Death Energy). I have lived a thousand years—and died a thousand deaths. Only a Death-Knower is able to fall—and rise. When I return from death, I am renewed.”

The wizard leaned close to her face, speaking now in a whisper. "At this moment, I am greater than I have ever been. But the trials that lie ahead will require all my strength. Will it be enough?” Then Torg lowered his head.

Though Laylah had been with him for just a few weeks, she already knew him well enough to sense that he was holding something back. "This time was... different?” she said.

The wizard appeared surprised. "I will never be able to deceive you. In our future together, that should work to your advantage.”

It was Laylah’s turn to chuckle. "You don’t strike me as the lying type.”

"I have weaknesses, but lack of truthfulness is not among them,” Torg agreed.

Then he described to Laylah what it felt like to die and what he witnessed while in the Realm of Death. He also told her about seeing the green energy for the first time—and hearing the disturbing voices. By the time he finished, it was almost dawn.

"Did you understand anything the voices said?”

"Whoever, or whatever, it was spoke in no language in which I am fluent,” Torg admitted. "I sensed neither friendship nor hostility. But I was stunned, nonetheless. After more than a thousand visits, I was arrogant enough to believe that I knew everything about death and its accoutrements. Apparently, I could not have been more wrong. I have been humbled.”

As if in response, Izumo nickered. They both laughed.

"Maybe Rathburt is speaking through the horse,” Laylah said.

They laughed even louder, though afterward they fell into mournful silence that lasted until the first fingers of dawn crept across the plains.

Afterward, Torg and Laylah put on the clothes that they had worn to the banquet the night before and then climbed onto Izumo’s bare back, carrying Obhasa and the Silver Sword with them. By the time they approached the great white bridge that spanned Cariya, a squadron of Jivitans already had crossed to the far side of the river. The horsemen cheered as the couple passed, waving their swords and crossbows in salute and tossing in a few good-natured hoots and whistles. The wizard shook his fist, but he laughed as well.

Several dozen foot soldiers guarded the bridge, but their lackadaisical attitude made it clear that the White City did not yet fear attack. Squadrons and scouts were spread out for leagues in all directions, making it nearly impossible for Jivita to be assaulted unawares.

Even before the wizard and Laylah passed through the eastern gate, she could see the roofs, chimneys, and church spires of the main business district looming behind the wall. Izumo trotted proudly between the double-leaf iron gates, which were flanked by a pair of modest watchtowers. There was more cheering, and Laylah waved to the guards above.

Just then, the dawn bells rang out from every church and cathedral in Jivita. Even from the outskirts of the city, the harmonic sound was deafening.

"How marvelous!” Laylah said, squeezing Torg’s waist from behind.

"Yes, I’ve always loved the bells—though these remind me that we haven’t eaten in quite some time. Are you hungry?”

"Famished. But I’m not sure I can stomach another meal at the queen’s palace.”

Torg nodded. "I know a place that is out of the way.”

"Do we have time? Captain Julich said there would be an important meeting of the Privy Council this morning.”

"The queen and her advisors can wait a little longer... or start without us, if they prefer. I’m tired of rushing everywhere we go. War is on the horizon, but it won’t begin today. Let me show you where the common folk of the White City break their fast. The décor isn’t nearly as grand as the queen’s palace, but it’s gentler on the eyes and stomach.”

Izumo carried them along the main thoroughfare that led to the business district. Parallel to the road was a manmade canal, one of several that spun off the Cariya River and supplied Jivita with drinking water. At this point, open field still surrounded them, but a mountainous cluster of buildings loomed in front of them, broader and denser even than the inner ward contained within the fortress of Nissaya. Though no single structure in Jivita approached the height of Nissaya’s central keep, Jivita did contain great cathedrals and numerous other tall buildings. All told, more than one hundred and fifty thousand had dwelled in this area of Jivita before the evacuations, and many who lived farther away had come there to perform some form of business.

Where it pierced the crowded conglomeration of stone structures, the main thoroughfare was thirty paces wide. Shops and houses framed the street, their corbelled upper stories looming over passersby. All the buildings were either painted white or sheathed with white marble, but an array of colorful wooden signboards hung over the doors of shops, taverns, inns, and other businesses. Even in the early morning, the street swarmed with people, most on foot or in horse-drawn carriages. Torg and Laylah were the only people on horseback, other than a few mounted sheriffs on patrol.

Among the throngs were housewives wearing gowns and mantles, merchants adorned in fur-trimmed coats, and clergymen in long white albs. Almost everyone was pale-skinned with white hair and gray eyes, but Laylah noticed a few who did not match that description, though they appeared to be treated no differently than the others. If it’s this crowded now, Laylah wondered, how must it have been before some of the Jivitans fled to the havens?

Delectable aromas from hundreds of cookshops blended oddly with the pungent smell of trampled horse dung. Hundreds of narrow side streets fed off the main road, leading to a variety of businesses: blacksmiths, butchers, doctors, fish merchants, laundresses, shoemakers, tailors, tanners, and wine sellers, to name a few. The congestion reminded Laylah of Avici, though there was an antiquation to it that felt less threatening. Not every Jivitan was a member of the royal class or military, but each one was free to come and go as he or she pleased. Laylah envied them.

Torg brought Izumo to a halt, and he and Laylah dismounted. Several dozen people gathered around them, some out of adoration and others sensing a potential customer. The wizard whispered in the ear of a groomsman, who nodded and led Izumo away to be watered, fed, and brushed. Then the wizard took Laylah’s hand and led her down an alleyway almost as claustrophobically narrow as the ones they had traversed in Duccarita, the City of Thieves. As they walked, small dogs nipped playfully at their ankles. Finally they stopped at a wooden door that barely came up to Torg’s chin. Outside was a sign with painted red lettering that read Boulogne’s. Torg rapped his tough knuckles on the splintered wood.

While they waited for a response, he gave Laylah a rascally look. "I only take you to the finest establishments.”

"I can seethat.”

"Don’t worry... as I said before, the décor isn’t much, but the food and drink make up for it.”

"If you like it, I’ll like it.”

The door swung inward, and a man less than half the size of Elu, the diminutive Svakaran warrior, squinted up at them. Other than being tiny, he looked a bit like Bard the woodsman, with the same black beard and piercing blue eyes.

"Lord Torgon, how wonderful to see you again!” he said in a squeaky voice. "It’s about time you showed up. I had hoped you might stop by last night. And I see you have brought your lady with you. She is even more beautiful than my informants described.”

Torg laughed—and the tiny man did the same. "Laylah, allow me to introduce you to Master Baldwin Boulogne, the owner of this establishment and a longtime acquaintance. As you can see, he is not a pureblooded Jivitan.”

"Damn right! And proud of it! But where are my manners? Come in! No offense, but you both look like you’ve had a rough night. Did you stay up late to watch the fireworks?” Then he winked at Laylah and scampered off.

MASTER BALDWIN Boulogne had always liked to flirt, especially with women several times larger than he. This amused Torg immensely, and it never ceased to charm him. As the tiny innkeeper trotted off, Torg found himself thinking back to the first time he had met Boulogne many years ago.

The known land contained three great forests: Dhutanga, the largest; Java, the smallest; and Kincara, which lay south of Jivita and west of the Kolankold Mountains. Kincara was the least explored of the three; few enemies emerged from its borders, so the White City found little need to pay it much heed. Even the trees seemed to mind their own business.

In his long lifetime Torg had entered Kincara several times, but only once did he travel to its interior. What he discovered amazed him. Rather than being dark and spooky like the inner sanctums of its two sister forests, Kincara was sparkly and playful, with a feathery canopy that permitted plenty of sunlight to reach the floor. Torg enjoyed his visit, learning a good deal about the magical inhabitants.

A race of enchanters and enchantresses called Gillygaloos dwelled deep within Kincara, but they were little known to most of Triken’s people. Their diminutive size enabled them to conceal their whereabouts from intruders, and they made their homes underground in tunnels that wove within the tree roots. The Gillygaloos were related to the Mugwumps of Kolankold, though the latter did not have any magic of which Torg was aware, while their cousins to the west wielded impressive power.

Torg’s first encounter with the Gillygaloos occurred unexpectedly. When Torg was five hundred years old, he delved alone into Kincara’s interior. On a dreary day in late winter, he smelled smoke in the air, and in silent Asēkha fashion he came upon a dozen Gillygaloos gathered around a campfire. Each of the creatures was little more than a cubit tall but otherwise very humanlike in appearance. The males wore beards that hung past their waists, and the females had pretty faces with red lips. When Torg stepped into view, they scattered like frightened mice.

Torg felt guilty for startling them, and he called out, first in the common tongue, then the ancient, and finally in various forms of Mahaggatan. He even tried the coarse language of the wild men of Kolankold, but to no avail. Eventually he began to question his own sanity, wondering if he had been hallucinating.

At least he hadn’t imagined the fire. Torg sat down, broke out his cooking gear, and began to prepare a vegetable stew with wild potatoes, greens, and fresh herbs he had gathered nearby. When he was finished eating, he replenished the fire with deadwood, then sat cross-legged and began to meditate. Soon after, he heard the slightest of sounds: the crackle of a dried leaf, the snap of a twig, even a miniature sneeze. When he opened his eyes, a tiny man and woman were standing a dozen paces away, pointing wooden wands at his face.

"Naaham te santajjaami, vaa te sahaaye,” Torg said in the ancient tongue, and then repeated in the common tongue: "I do not threaten you or your friends.”

The male surprised Torg by responding in the common tongue.

"Who are you? And why are you here?” he said in a high-pitched voice.

"I am The Torgon, a king from the desert far to the east. I am exploring the world, for my own pleasure, and came innocently upon your gathering.”

The male stepped forward and bowed low.

"I am Baldwin Boulogne of the Gillygaloos,” he said, "though I am no king. My friends call me Burly.” Then he came close enough to touch Obhasa with a finger as small as a baby’s. A blue spark erupted, causing Burly to gasp. "Such a wondrous wand. Are you an enchanter too?”

"I am a wizard of great renown,” Torg said in a booming voice. Then he added softly, "At least, in my own mind.”

Burly’s laugh sounded like a tangle of squeaks, but it made Torg laugh too. Soon, the rest of the Gillygaloos joined him by the fire, and they ended up spending several days together, "showing off” to each other, as Rathburt would have described it. As it turned out there were hundreds of Gillygaloos serving as stewards of Kincara, and they wielded magic wands capable of healing or harming, though they rarely used them to destroy unless under direct attack.

Baldwin "Burly” Boulogne took a liking to Torg, plying him with countless questions about the goings-on outside Kincara. Burly desired to see other parts of the world, and eventually the good-natured Gillygaloo ended up in Jivita, where he was welcomed with open arms, partly because of his pleasant personality and partly because he brought with him an impressive chest of gold nuggets, some as large as a grown man’s fist. After paying sizable fees to some well-connected Jivitan burghers, the enchanter was permitted to purchase and operate a small tavern and inn, which he promptly named Boulogne’s.

Several centuries later, he still operated the same business, closing only during winter so that he could visit his family and friends in Kincara. Due to his long lifespan, Burly became ensconced in all matters concerning the White City, including its political and economic underpinnings. It was widely known that if you were in need of inside information, you went to Boulogne’s.

His lofty reputation in the White City made Burly proud, and it included a well-earned reputation for serving some of the best food and ale in the business district. Most nights it was standing-room only at Boulogne’s, but breakfast time was another matter; a person usually could find a seat on one of the long benches, especially in the early morning.

On this particular day, there were a dozen patrons. When they saw Torg, they hurriedly opened a space at the end of a bench. As soon as he and Laylah sat, an obese man with rosy cheeks and swollen eyes shambled forward and presented them with pewter cups and a pot of black tea. Then he turned and waddled toward the kitchen, but apparently not quick enough to suit Burly’s tastes. The enchanter zapped the server behind the knee with his wand, causing the fat man to yelp and shuffle at a slightly faster pace toward the back room. Then Burly came over, leapt up on the table as deftly as a cat, and stared directly into Laylah’s face.

"How do you manage to hold it?” he said to the sorceress.

"Excuse me?” Laylah said, her face reddening.

"How do you manage to hold it?” Burly repeated, gesturing toward Obhasa, which Laylah still gripped with her left hand.

"How do I hold it? I don’t understand.”

Burly timidly reached out his right index finger, which was about the length of one of Laylah’s fingernails, and touched Torg’s ivory staff. There was a jolt of blue fire, causing Burly to yelp.

"Aaaaah, I see,” Laylah said. "Well, it doesn’t do that to me.”

Burly grunted with annoyance, causing Torg to laugh.

"It likes her,” Torg said.

Burly stomped a tiny boot on the tabletop. "Well, it doesn’t like me! Never has. Hmmph!”

Then the enchanter smiled. "You have chosen well, Maranavidu. This woman is special, beyond even a Tugarian female. And I should know... your warriors have been eating here night and day since they arrived. I’m surprised there are none here now. Boulogne’s is the only place in Jivita that serves the nectar of Tējo. And can they ever drink it! I’ve only been able to maintain a steady supply because I’ve learned how to make a passable version of it myself.”

While they spoke, the fat server arrived with two trenchers filled with stirred eggs, salted pork, and fried potatoes. He also brought two bowls of raspberries in sweetened cream and two cups of desert nectar.

"More tea!” the enchanter said. "And hurry it up—or I’ll give you another jolt!”

The server groaned and attempted to quicken his pace, but it was obvious he was no sprinter. Torg and Laylah grabbed their spoons and ate ravenously. Burly stood between the trenchers like a spoiled pet dog allowed on the table. Then he sat down, his legs dangling off the edge, and spoke in a whisper to both of them.

"How bad is it, Torgon? And I don’t mean the food.”

"It’s bad,” Torg whispered, with no humor in his voice. "The druids alone will be difficult to defeat. But even if that dreadful deed is performed, there is still the matter of Mala’s army, which approaches the black fortress from the east.”

"Nissaya will fall?”

Torg sighed. "I fear the worst...”

Burly seemed surprised. "I don’t believe the populace is fully aware of the danger. As you must have noticed on your way here, fewer civilians have evacuated than you might think. There is a feeling of... overconfidence. What say you? Should I flee to Kincara?”

"The selfish part of me is glad you’re still here,” Torg said. "But I recommend against your staying much longer. Two weeks, at most. Besides, it would lighten my heart to know that you’ve returned safely to Kincara to warn your people. Mala’s eye is not yet on the Gillygaloos, but if Nissaya and Jivita fall, then none in the known lands will be safe forever.”

"We aren’t helpless, as you know,” Burly said, "but we don’t have the might to stand against such evil. I will consider your advice.”

Suddenly Burly leapt off the table and waved for Torg and Laylah to go with him. They stood and followed the enchanter into the kitchen and then into a compact storage room with no windows. Burly lit a candle. Torg and Laylah sat down cross-legged in front of him on the floor.

"I assume it’s safe to speak in front of your lady?”

"Without question,” Torg said, squeezing one of her lovely knees and causing Laylah to smile.

But Burly now was all business. "Queen Rajinii’s behavior of late has been even more erratic than usual,” he said. "Her highness continues to refuse all suitors, claiming she has no desire to remarry. Rumors abound as to why—but I believe that it is because of her obsession with you.”

Laylah’s cheeks flushed. "Is there something you need to tell me, beloved?”

"Nothing that you don’t already suspect. You’ve seen Rajinii’s jealousy firsthand. But this has been going on for quite some time. Five years ago, she proposed to me, arguing that a marital merging of Jivita and Anna would create unprecedented strength among the free peoples of Triken. I believed such a merging to be unnecessary. My answer was ‘no’ then and it remains so. But the queen is stubborn.”

Burly listened to this exchange with fascination. "I knew nothing of a proposal.”

"This was a secret between the queen and me. Apparently, she kept it, for once.”

"Still!” Burly complained.

Torg chuckled and turned back to Laylah. "Do not despair. My destiny lies with you.”

Laylah smiled and kissed the corner of his mouth. "I know...”

"Well, well, well... how interesting,” Burly said excitedly. "But allow me to continue. Queen Rajinii’s reign is unchallenged—while she lives. But for the first time in many centuries, Jivita is without a direct heir. There are concerns among the high members of the Privy Council over who will lead if the queen were to fall.”

"Concerns?” Torg said.

"Yes, Torgon—especially among two powerful men with quite different viewpoints.”

As if in response to Burly’s words, there was a vicious knock on the door of the storage room. The enchanter shouted in annoyance, but another wave of pounding almost tore the door off its hinges.

"LordTorgon? Are you in there? I am Fulcher Grousset, high commander of General William Navarese’s personal guard. The general insists that you speak to him before the Privy Council commences. Come with me immediately!”

"Navarese is one of the men I was referring to,” Burly whispered. "You’ll find out the other soon enough.”

Torg shoved the door from inside. The high commander backed away just enough for it to swing all the way open. He and five armored associates stood in the cramped kitchen, while a female cook cowered in the corner. The server was nowhere to be seen.

Like the banner guards who had met them at the palace, Fulcher Grousset wore white plate armor and a skirt of mail with a green cloak reaching almost to the floor. Grousset was tall for a Jivitan and very thick in the chest; even so, he was two spans shorter than Torg and not as muscular.

"Her royal highness and the general have been searching everywhere for you, Lord Torgon,” Grousset said, his gray eyes wide with indignation. "The last thing we expected was to find you fraternizing with a gossip-monger.”

"I fraternizewith whom I choose, when I choose. Regardless, I will not tolerate your tone. If you and your men desire to challenge me, you will do so at your peril. Now back away and let us through. As for a meeting with the general, I am not subject to his commands or any others.”

Obhasa, though still held by Laylah, began to glow, causing the kitchen to become even hotter than before. Grousset’s eyes widened, this time in fear instead of anger. Torg and Laylah strode past the white knights in a rush, but not before Torg issued one last threat.

"If Baldwin Boulogne is accosted in any way, a Tugar will pay you a silent visit in the dark of night.”

Grousset’s face grew pale.

WHEN TORG AND Laylah returned to the main thoroughfare, a luxurious covered carriage waited there to take them back to the palace. After being assured that Izumo had been properly attended, Torg agreed to be chauffeured. Two dozen mounted guards escorted them, including Grousset, while a pair of Tugars trotted alongside on foot. Once inside the carriage, Laylah appeared especially pale.

"What just happened?” she said. "I thought you and the Tugars were friendly with the Jivitans.”

"We have common enemies. If the druids were to attack at this moment, we would fight alongside each other like family. But in other ways, we are not so similar. Tugars bow to my rule out of simple loyalty. And our numbers are much smaller: barely twenty thousand purebloods with only ten thousand warriors. Jivita houses more than a quarter-million people, necessitating that its governance is more complicated. Its people are free, but rules and regulations are abundant. When the Sovereign is strong, the lesser members of the Privy Council tend to behave themselves. When not...”

"You’re saying Rajinii isn’t strong? Most of the soldiers and servants seem terrified of her.”

"Her lack of an heir is seen as weakness.”

"Ah, I see. Well then, what do you know of the general?”

"When I was last in Jivita five years ago, William Navarese was a young captain with lofty ambitions. But he also is Rajinii’s closest blood relative, being the eldest son of her only brother, who died several years ago.”

"It sounds like Navarese has a rightful claim to the throne.”

"Perhaps he does. But if I understand Jivitan law correctly, the Privy Council has the authority to choose who will succeed the Sovereign when the king and queen have no living son or daughter.” Then Torg yawned deeply. "To be honest, I find these matters tedious.”

Laylah chuckled. "One more question, and then I promise to drop the subject. Burly said that there were two conflicting powers on the council. The general is one. Who is the other?”

"I could guess, but what would it matter? Whoever it is will be sure to put on a show today.”

"I take it you’re not looking forward to the assembly.”

"Quite right, my love. As my Vasi master used to say, ‘Wake me when it’s over.’ But I suppose I have no choice but to take all this nonsense seriously.”

After briefly refreshing themselves in their bedrooms at the palace, they finally arrived at the assemblage of the Privy Council. Torg was not surprised to find that the Throne Room was filled to capacity. A dozen anxious counselors sat in chairs arranged in a curved row facing the queen’s dais. When Torg and Laylah entered, a hush came over the gathering. But Elu rushed forward and hugged one of Torg’s legs, causing a spate of laughter that didn’t seem to bother the Svakaran one bit.

"The queen has anointed Elu as a member of her personal guard!” he said proudly.

Torg arched an eyebrow.

"Elu!” said Rajinii from her white-crystal throne. "I had hoped to make an official announcement during the assembly. Of course, I can’t blame you for blurting it out. We have been forced to wait an excruciatingly long time for our esteemed guests to arrive. Thank you so much, Torgon, for finally deigning to make an appearance.”

"Keeping you waiting was my pleasure,” Torg said, causing more laughter—though none from the queen.

"I, for one, am not amused,” came a loud voice from up front. A Jivitan officer, resplendent in a short doublet of white silk with a jeweled belt and green hose, faced Torg and Laylah. "When guests are invited to such important events, they should show good manners and arrive promptly. Either that, or mind their own business.”

This elicited several audible gasps. Deep silence followed.

Torg responded, his voice low but menacing. "After you’ve lived a thousand years, your definition of promptness will change, General Navarese.”

Navarese started to protest, but the queen interrupted. "Enough, general! You will all be given opportunities to speak, as is your right, but it must be done in orderly fashion.”

Navarese sat down in a huff.

"Come forward, Torgon... two seats have been held for you up front,” Queen Rajinii said. "And Sir Elu, return to your post.”

The Svakaran trotted up the stairs and positioned himself on the queen’s right. On her left stood Manta, the Jivitan necromancer.

Torg and Laylah approached the base of the staircase, bowed, and sat down in two cushioned chairs. The sorceress was on Torg’s left, and the general sat on her other side. To Torg’s right was a barrel-chested clergyman who looked old enough to be Navarese’s grandfather. Torg had met him before.

The queen stood. All rose in unison. Then she pounded the tail of her staff on the marble floor three times. "Do all members of this Privy Council swear by the glory of the One God to be true and faithful servants to the queen?”

"We do,” they spoke in unison, except for Torg and Laylah.

"The meeting will hereby commence,” Rajinii said.

Everyone sat.

"Worthy counselors, the reasons for this unscheduled assemblage are known to all. Yesterday’s arrival of King Torgon was a boon to our cause. He and his companions endured grave perils during their journey to the White City. It would behoove us to take heed of whatever they can tell us of the workings of the enemy.”

There were several loud "yays” and "hear! hears!”

Without further prompting, Torg stood and strode to the second step. He bore no weapon—both Obhasa and the Silver Sword had been left with a Tugar outside the door—but he was formidable nonetheless, dressed all in black with blue eyes that smoldered. The room hushed.

"Thank you, one and all, for the privilege of your company,” he said in a deep, steady voice. "I wish I could proclaim that the news I bear will lighten your hearts, but it will not. In less than a year, I have journeyed more than five hundred leagues. During that time, I stood face to face with Bhayatupa the Great. I was imprisoned by Invictus—and escaped. I took part in the destruction of Duccarita. And I did battle with the druids in the heart of Dhutanga.”

Torg stopped for a moment to gauge their reactions. The general’s leg was tapping, but the large clergyman sat perfectly still. Most of the others bore worried expressions.

"Please continue, Torgon,” the queen said. "We await your tale with bated breath.”

"As you wish. I will start with Invictus and the ruined snow giant we now know as Mala. The army of Avici already has begun its march and will assail Nissaya, I believe, before the onset of the next full moon. I am sure you have heard rumors of the size and strength of the Chain Man’s army, but I have seen it firsthand and believe it to be greater than any army that has ever existed. In numbers alone, it is at least four times larger than your queen’s army.

"However, this in itself is not the major concern. The majority of Mala’s forces are composed of golden soldiers who appear to be no match for your proud white horsemen. But tens of thousands of monsters also march with Mala. If you met his army with all your strength, I do not believe you would prevail.”

This was too much for Navarese to bear. He leapt up and stomped over to Torg. "Who are youto decide whether we would win or lose? Do you command the Jivitans? Do you command our God?”

"General!” the queen said.

But this time, Navarese dared to override her. "With all due respect, your highness, I demanda response from this intruder.”

There was a collective gasp, then Torg said, "Only Invictus has the might to demand something from me. You should sit down, before I become angry.”

The large clergyman snorted, but Rajinii did not appreciate the humor. She stood up and held her staff high. "This is a sacred assembly, blessed by God Almighty,” she said to Torg and Navarese. "There will be no violence within these chambers—though I must say, general, you deserve to be threatened.”

Navarese’s normally pale cheeks had become as red as one of Bhayatupa’s scales, but he returned to his chair. Torg remained standing on the stair, but the air around him sizzled.

"If anyone else interrupts before our guest is finished,” Rajinii said, "he or she will be removed from this chamber.”

The queen returned to the throne. "Torgon, please continue.”

Torg nodded. "As I was saying, Mala’s army is strong. But my statement, which the general found so offensive, must be clarified. You could not defeat Mala’s army as it now exists, but Jivita will not meet Mala at full strength. The Chain Man first must deal with Nissaya. At the least, there he will be weakened. And then he will have to march another hundred leagues to meet you on the Green Plains. Your true hope lies with how serious of a blow the black knights deal to your enemy.”

"These are wise words, Torgon, but you have said nothing we haven’t already surmised,” Rajinii countered. "We must learn what you know of the druids. Like Mala, we also will have to defeat a powerful enemy before we encounter the next one.”

Torg took another step toward the throne and spoke directly to the queen. "I have seen the druids—from the ground and the sky. They are at least twice your number, and the queen who drives them is angrier and more powerful than her predecessor. Plus, they have bred a special form of druid that appears larger and more dangerous than usual. Jivita will be hard-pressed, even if the enemy from Dhutanga is the only one you face.”

To Torg’s surprise, Laylah raised her hand. All eyes turned to her.

"Yes?” Rajinii purred.

The sorceress stood. In her bedroom at the palace she had changed her clothing and now wore a Tugarian warrior outfit: black jacket and breeches. It took Torg’s breath away.

"I apologize if I have broken protocol by interrupting. But there is something that I believe needs be said before anyone else continues.”

The large clergyman nodded vigorously, as if clairvoyantly hearing Laylah’s next words.

"And what might that be, dear?” the queen said.

"Mala’s army and even the druids are perilous enemies, no doubt,” Laylah said. "But neither is as deadly as my brother.”

Navarese stood and bowed to the queen. "May I speak now, your highness?”

Rajinii nodded. Then the general pointed to the clergyman. "It is obvious she has conversed with Bernard.”

Torg started to intervene, but Laylah waved him off. "Sir! I do not know the name or the man,” she said to Navarese. "What I have to say has nothing to do with schemes or intrigue. Invictus is my brother! And I was his prisoner for more than seventy years. I daresay I know him better than you. Compared to Invictus, your other enemies are trifles. What does it matter if you defeat the druids and then Mala, if my brother strolls in afterward and destroys us all?”

As if on cue, the clergyman stood. "For the sake of our esteemed guests, allow me to introduce myself. Proud lady,” he said, nodding to Laylah, "and mighty warriors,” he added, gesturing to Torg and Elu, "my name is indeed Bernard... Archbishop Bernard... and I have been preaching an almost identical warning for more than a year, much to the chagrin of my rivals on the council. Perhaps now my words will be given more credence.”

"No single being can stand against Jivita,” interrupted the general, his voice crude when compared to the wizened clergyman’s. "But I believe even Invictus can be defeated, if we are smart enough and bold enough. I fear one hundred thousand druids far more than a single man. And more so, I fear the dragon. The beast’s name has been mentioned, but we have not yet discussed the danger he represents.”

"Sir!” Laylah repeated. "I stood within a stone’s throw of the dragon as he was dragged through the streets of Avici. Invictus bested Bhayatupa as easily as a man of your stature could best a boy. Anyone who fears the dragon more than the sorcerer is deluded. In terms of puissance, Invictus is beyond your most dreadful nightmares. If your goal is to ensure the survival of Jivita, then you had better give the bulk of your consideration to how you might defeat the Sun God.”

"Do you hear her, your highness?” Bernard said to Rajinii. "Have I not said these exact words to you on many occasions?”

Rajinii rose from her throne and leaned against her staff. Suddenly she looked old and weary. Torg felt sorry for her.

"I hear her... and you,” the queen said to Bernard. "It is not your fear of Invictus that I disdain. Rather, it is your advice on how to counter him.”

Bernard stepped forward and threw himself at Torg’s feet, in a gesture of calculated drama. "Lord Torgon,” he said breathlessly, "the wisdom behind your bold sacrifice at Dibbu-Loka was not lost on me. You set in motion powers that are beyond us... and beyond even the horrendous evil that reigns over Avici. However, I would suggest—without intending any offense to one as courageous as you—that you have not comprehended the full extent of your selflessness. Your brave act will not go unrewarded, but fate or karma or whatever the Tugars choose to call it will have little to do with it. Your reward will come from Ekadeva, the living god! Even Invictus pales in comparison to He Who Is Almighty.”

Navarese joined Bernard on the stairs, focusing his full attention on Torg.

"Do you know what he proposes?” the general said. "He wants us to lay down our arms... now!... and pray. Forget about fighting the druids. Or Mala. Or Invictus. He believes if we pray—and do nothing else—Ekadeva will reach down his hand and sweep aside our enemies. I, for one, will not abide such madness. I am as much of a disciple ofEkadeva as any good citizen of the White City, but I believe that the One God demands more of his servants than cowardice. If I were king, Jivita would not be in peril—from any enemy! I would ride throughout the lands and force all to succumb to the will of God!”

"And if I were king, peace would reign over the lands, not war,” Bernard said as he rose to his feet. "We are God’s children, not the children of murderers. Besides, Invictus cannot be defeated by force... at least by the force of man. Only Ekadeva has the might. And such might he has aplenty. Do you doubt it, general?”

"I doubt only your sanity.”

"And I yours.”

The queen stumbled down the stairs and stood between them.

"Gentlemen,” Rajinii said, in almost a whisper. "Both of you want what is best for the White City. But am I not still your Sovereign? Listen to my counsel. I offer a third alternative.”

"Tell us,” Torg said, his voice wary.

"Death is the alternative... death in battle,” Rajinii said, her eyes glowing. "Jivita will fight until none among us lives—and afterward we will reunite in the Kingdom of Heaven. Not even Invictus can stop us from attaining glory, though he tear us limb from limb with his bare hands.”

Then she stumbled from the chamber—with her aide Manta and Elu skittering behind.

Navarese watched her leave and then picked up where he had left off. "As we all know, Queen Rajinii’s reign is unchallenged while she lives. But we also know that she is a warrior of high renown who fears no conflict and will insist on leading our charge. This puts her life in peril. If she were to die in the coming battle, Jivita would be without a Sovereign, and since she continues to refuse to appoint a successor, I demand a vote now among the council. It’s obvious the queen is in no mood or condition to play any role in this. Besides, the law is the law. A three-fourth’s majority will determine the outcome, even without the queen’s input.”

"So in other words,” Torg said, "you think so little of her that you would do such a thing behind her back.”

"This is not your business, Death-Knower. We don’t need your permission to enact our own laws, which are known by all Jivitans. We don’t tell the Tugars what to do, so extend us the same courtesy.”

"It will be our business, if you become king, triple your forces, and then make us all ‘succumb to the will of god.’”

"You and your warriors would be better off for it.”

"Your opinion.”

"For once I agree with Navarese,” Bernard interrupted. "Let’s get this over with.”

Navarese grunted, obviously even more impatient than Bernard. "I call the vote now,” the general said. "Ladies and gentlemen, you have heard our arguments ad nauseam, so there is no need for further debate. But keep in mind that if there is no majority, the next opportunity to decide this issue won’t occur until the wars are over. By then, the queen might already be dead. Would you have us be without a Sovereign at such a crucial period in our history? I think not. But enough talk. I vote for myself and Bernard for Bernard, so it starts out one-to-one. Please commence.”

"Not so fast,” the archbishop said. "I have had a change of heart and do notvote for myself. Instead, I choose Lord Torgon.

There were several gasps, including an especially startled one from Laylah.

"This is insanity,” Navarese shouted, his eyes bulging. "Only a pure-blooded Jivitan can be bestowed the honor of being her successor.”

"The law states only that it be a person of royal blood. Nowhere does it say Jivitanroyal blood.”

"We are speaking of the Jivitan charter! You’re playing with words, Bernard, and you know it.”


A woman stood, tall and beautiful. "I cast my vote for The Torgon.” Then she sat down quickly.

"Lady Margaret...” Navarese said, his voice puzzled.

"Two-to-one,” Bernard said a moment later.

Torg watched with interest as a short but muscular man stood next. He bore a scar on his cheek that obviously had been the work of a blade. "Navarese,” he said.

"That’s a surprise,” Bernard snorted. "Two-to-two.”

After that, there was a long silence in which no one said a thing.

"Counselors!” the general finally shouted. "Do you wish for your next king to be a Tugar? Where is your loyalty?”

An especially pale woman with dark circles under her eyes stood timidly and said, "Navarese.”

"Thank you!” the general said. "Three-to-two. Now it’s time for the rest of you to represent the White City like true Jivitans. Let’s end this charade quickly so that our fate will be in proper hands.”

The most elderly of the gathering, other than Torg, stood next. Torg knew him well—Baron Kentigern, the richest man in Jivita and perhaps the world, except for Invictus. But Torg had always found Kentigern to be open-minded, and he was one of the few Jivitans who had never attempted to lecture him about the One God.

"I vote for Lord Torgon,” the baron said. "I am a loyal Jivitan, and I dolove our people, but none of us are the wizard’s equal.”

"Three-to-three!” Bernard bellowed.

"Old man,” Navarese snapped at the baron. "Your vast holdings would be worthless if my army did not protect them.”

"Good one, general,” Bernard said. "If you keep talking like that, The Torgon will win with ease.”

Two more men stood, both dressed as clergymen, and cast their votes for Torg.

"Five-to-three!” Bernard said to Navarese. "You cannot prevail!”

"These proceedings are a sham,” the general said.

The final four who had not yet voted looked about nervously. Navarese walked over to an older man who bore a stern expression. Torg recognized him as the high justice of Jivita.

"Eadwig,” the general said, his voice now pleading. "I cannot win, but cast your vote for me so that at least a Tugar will not become our king.”

The high justice stood. "I abstain.”

Navarese sighed. "It is over. The Torgon cannot earn the required number of votes.” Then the general rushed out of the room.

WHEN NAVARESE WAS gone, Eadwig strode over to the archbishop. "What was that about, your grace?” he said with obvious irritation.

"He needed to be taught a lesson, my lord,” Bernard said. "With humbling comes wisdom.”

"He is young and brash, but his genius cannot be denied. He remains our greatest hope in the wars to come.”

"No, Eadwig, he does not. Ekadeva is our greatest hope... our only hope.”

"We’ve been through this before, Bernard. Faith is one thing, foolishness another.”

Finally Laylah had caught her breath. Almost everything she had witnessed since entering the Throne Room had confused her. While the remaining eleven members of the Privy Council gathered in a tight circle and continued their noisy debate, Laylah joined Torg on the stairs.

"Torg, what happened this time?”

The wizard chuckled, but there was little pleasure in it. "Apparently, the general was ‘cut down to size,’ as my Vasi master used to say. And I was the weapon used to do the cutting.”

"I don’t understand.”

"Despite Bernard’s fervor, I doubt he truly would have Jivita lay down its arms. Of all the people I have known, only Sister Tathagata would support such extremes. But it appears that the archbishop and his allies feared that Navarese was becomingtoo confident. After this, the general will move more slowly and with more respect for those who disagree with some of his viewpoints.”

Laylah sighed. "And this is a good thing?”

"It would seem so.”

"But the real problem wasn’t resolved. If the queen were to fall, Jivita would be without a leader.”

"In most ways, the White City runs itself. The queen is a powerful figure, but there is only so much she can do, especially when it comes to the minutiae of commanding such a large population. If Jivita were without a Sovereign for a short period, little harm would come of it, other than the loss of the inspiration she provides.”

"Which is not what it was,” came a voice from the side. Bernard stood there, wearing a sheepish grin. "I apologize, Lord Torgon, for my behavior here today. It is likely the general will eventually become our king. His support has outgrown mine. But he isn’t ready yet. For his benefit as well as ours, I had to put him in his place. I would have explained my plan to you beforehand, but you were... unavailable.”

"Believe me, Lord Torgon,” came a second voice, this time belonging to the high justice. "I was unaware of any of this. The archbishop took it upon himself to humiliate the general.”

Lady Margaret and Baron Kentigern joined them. Margaret slapped Torg on the back playfully. "I would love it if you were our king,” Margaret said cheerfully. "Iwasn’t pretending, at least.”

Kentigern chuckled. "Torg is too homely for such an honor.”

"Youshould know,” Margaret said.

Torg and Laylah laughed, but the archbishop grew serious.

"One disaster has been averted, at least for the time being,” he said in a low voice. "But the larger one remains. Some members of our esteemed council still fear for the queen’s sanity. Lord Torgon, we all know she listens more to you than anyone else. Is there something you can do?”

Then in an even more serious tone, he added, "Do you have the strength to heal her mind?”


PEERING THROUGH solid stone was one of the most difficult feats Invictus had ever attempted, causing his eyes to burn and water. The sensation was unfamiliar. Other than the horrendous agony of the solar eclipse, he had felt little discomfort in his entire lifetime. It was a distasteful but interesting experience.

Invictus was convinced that Bhayatupa again hid somewhere in the peaks of Mahaggata. The dragon wouldn’t be so careless as to return to the deep cavern where Invictus had originally discovered him, but the young king believed that the traitorous beast was somewhere in the snarl of mountains between the gaps. Invictus knew that the dragon would weave a spell at the mouth of his cave that would repel the most powerful of prying eyes. But would he think to put a veil over the stone itself?

"I’ll bet even you can’t do this, Grandmother,” Invictus had said to himself on the same morning Torg and Laylah ate breakfast at Boulogne’s. "One day, my scrying will surpass even yours.”

When he first caught sight of the crimson tail, he let out a yelp. Then he examined the tail from the sides, above, and below. But when he tried to search farther down its length toward the body and head, he met with too much resistance. The innate emanations of the dragon’s magic prevented Invictus from seeing more. To make sure he wasn’t imagining things, he ordered his servants to bring him one of the five dracools that had remained in Avici after the departure of Mala’s army.

A skinny but seemingly fearless female named Iriz entered his chambers in the upper reaches of Uccheda and eagerly peered into his basin of yellow glass.

"Yes, my liege, that is most definitely the end of a great dragon’s tail,” the dracool rasped. "But there is no guarantee that you are viewing Bhayatupa. Of the remaining dragons in the world, several are crimson. If you could somehow show me his head, I could tell you for certain.”

Invictus grunted. "If I could see the dragon’s head, then I wouldn’t need you.” Then, more calmly, he said, "I want to see for myself... in person. You will take me there.”

Rather than protest, Iriz seemed pleased by the challenge. "Can you show me the mountaintops above where the dragon sleeps? If so, I can find the lair.”

Invictus found this request to be an interesting challenge. He leaned over the basin and concentrated. The vision retreated through the stone and launched high into the air. At first, one peak was visible, then several—though all were shrouded in mist.

"To anyone but a dragon or dracool, the peaks would look the same,” Iriz said boldly. "But I know this place.”

"Take me there now.”

"With pleasure, my liege.”

Despite being able to fly almost as fast as a moutain eagle, it still took Iriz several hours to reach the peak of a remote mountain about forty leagues southwest of Avici. Despite the unseasonable heat, it remained chilly in the upper heights. It didn’t matter. Invictus was incapable of feeling cold.

Iriz perched outside the entrance of a tunnel that entered the mountain on a steep decline. For the first time, the dracool appeared frightened.

"Bhayatupa is no match for you, my liege, but if the two of you do battle, I will stand little chance of survival. If it pleases you, I will wait outside until you have concluded your business with Mahaasupanna (mightiest of all dragons).”

"A wise choice,” Invictus said. "I recommend that you go far away until I’m finished.”

"Yes, my liege.” Then Iriz sprang into the air and soared upward until she became just a speck in the firmament, even to Invictus’ eyes.

The passageway was colder and damper than the outside air, its floor as slick as ice. Invictus removed his slippers and left them near the entrance. Then he focused his mind on the soles of his feet, encasing them with magical fire. Each time he took a step, the golden energy sizzled on the stone, incinerating the oily coating and improving his footing. He walked for what seemed like a long time. The tunnel narrowed to the point that he began to doubt a dragon of Bhayatupa’s girth could have managed to slither inside.

After more than a thousand paces, the passageway finally opened into a large cavern. There were no torches, but the yellow glow emanating from Invictus’ flesh provided sufficient illumination. Within the cavern was a glittering treasure, and lying on the treasure was a great dragon in the throes of deep sleep.

Instantly, Invictus recognized this wasn’t Bhayatupa. This dragon was a female barely half his size. And from the looks of it, she had been sleeping for many millennia, the rise and fall of her ribcage barely perceptible.

Throughout his life, Invictus had been prone to temper tantrums. They had begun when he was a toddler on the day he nearly drowned. As he grew older, he’d gained better control, but occasional bouts of anger still overcame him. This was one of those times. He was incensed that he had discovered this female instead of Bhayatupa, causing his body to glow like a miniature sun. The interior of the cavern began to superheat, melting the mounds of gold and silver.

The dragon sensed the glowing menace from the depths of her sleep and attempted to rouse herself. But awakening from dragon sleep is a slow process, even in the midst of imminent peril. Her scales, though impervious to almost any other form of magic, succumbed to Invictus’ power—and liquefied, along with the treasure. Then her tender flesh caught fire, and she blew apart.

Invictus’ rage was all-consuming. Nothing could stand against such power: animal, plant, or even stone. The rooftop of the mountain erupted, casting wagon-sized chunks of debris into the sky. Afterward, a heavy wind swept the dust toward Gamana.

Despite the tumult, Invictus was unscathed.

When Iriz dared to return, she found Invictus standing barefoot on top of a smoldering boulder, his robes clean and unwrinkled. He held something between the palms of his hands, purposely preventing the dracool from seeing it.

Then he mounted Iriz back and ordered her to return to Avici... although first, there was a detour.



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