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The Tales of True Mythology: Discovery

The old Greek myths aren't so mythical. Logan has always had magic in his life, from his family's theatre to the piles of books he loves. But he never would have imagined that the magic in his life would be connected to a hidden world of myths in his own little town. To him, a horse was just a horse, and a tree was just a tree.

Stories shape lives. Tales sway hearts.

And Myths…

Well, Myths can change everything.

She crept up the tiny stairs, past a wall of pictures. Each one was a memory, an adventure. It was as if she passed her entire life by every time she climbed the little staircase. Her Moments in life watched as she carried the treasure, clutched tightly in her hands up to the cluttered rooms upstairs. The black-and-white faces were witnessing another Moment, one that would change everything. But in a way she would never be able to witness herself.

Upstairs, she turned into the room on the left and maneuvered through a mountain of belongings. Boxes were piled everywhere, mementos of the Moments she had lived. Past an alpenhorn and a didgeridoo propped up against a chicken egg incubator, she stopped at the spot she had been looking for. This old house was full of nooks and crannies that didn’t have a purpose, and she had discovered many uses for them over the years. In this room a thick chair-rail ran along the walls, and in this corner there was a special section of it. It didn’t look any different from the rest, but if she pushed in just the right way diagonally, it would slip off the wall. Behind the piece grinned a small hole and inside was a wooden box with ink stamped all over it like a wine crate.

Opening the crate, she caressed her treasure one more, hidden under a soft navy cloth. Before she could let herself rethink the decision, she gently settled the blue wrapped secret inside the box. She stared at it for a moment, and then she placed the lid back on.

“You mustn’t be found right now. There will be a time. But not now.”

She tucked the box back in its compartment and slipped the chair-rail back over the hole. Then she quietly made her way back downstairs, past the photos of her past, and back to life.

Chapter One

~ The Attic ~

The sky churned a turmoil gray, but it only dropped a quiet rain, one that asked a person to nap as it sang its hushed lullaby. The grass was turning bright green despite the approach of autumn, and the newly colored trees hung low over the street. Some were dropping the first of their leaves, and with the rain it all seemed very sad, as if the trees regretted letting them go. A great monolith of an oak stood near the corner of the house. It had neglected its leaves, dropping them early, and so stood sulking and gray. The more he looked at it though, the more it looked old and withered. Not sulking. It was more like sorrow — a deep sorrow for something lost. It all seemed very appropriate.

Logan leaned back from the low windowsill and stretched from his uncomfortable, cardboard box seat. They had been working for quite a while, searching box after endless box in the tiny attic room. The whole house was stuffed in the same way. Beyond the fact that every nook and cranny was piled high with boxes of books, brooches, china, linens, pictures, newspaper clippings, theatre props, and stemware, the house was tiny. Gingerbread house tiny. The mice felt cramped.

To find the front door was the first challenge, what with oddly placed bushes and decoy doors that were painted shut. Once a person did find it, the real trial began. The downstairs was a series of rooms that didn’t look like they ought to fit when Logan had seen the house from the outside. They twisted and turned in and out of each other, all stacked to the ceiling with antiques. Odd and useless corners sprang out nauseatingly. There were unnecessary slanted ceilings, built-in living room bookshelves with a pipe going through one end, and strange, windowed divots in the dining room wall; someone had said they were for plants. It could have been something beautiful, but it was all overshadowed by the sheer quantity of Logan’s great grandmother’s life savings. If a person did manage to find the stairs, they led to an even smaller upstairs. Most everyone had to navigate the upper floor bent over, for the ceilings were too low. Logan wondered if everyone from the past had been shorter. The undersized hallway led to a mirrored door, which opened to a tinier stairway leading to an equally tiny attic.

And here Logan sat, beside the only window which was hidden behind a tower of boxes labeled “knick-knacks.” He had chosen that side of the room in case he needed to make an escape from an almost certain avalanche. Dropping out the window seemed better than being crushed under his great grandmother’s things.

His uncle had not been so lucky. He had gotten stuck in the other corner, his head against the slanted ceiling, and the open drop down the attic stairway at his back. There he crouched, trapped amid the most teetering and dilapidated of all the towers. At the moment, Uncle Sterling was dragging a particularly corroded box that jingled with every pull. Once he got to the stool he had been working on, he plopped down with a grunt and took a deep breath. The stool was so short that his knees were bent up to his chest, but anything taller would cram his head against the ceiling.

“How far have you gotten over there?” he said in his low rumble.

Logan looked down at his progress. “I’m almost through with the war-time buttons and pocket watches.”

His uncle sighed, “Why in the world would this woman keep all this junk? She never even used half of it.”

“I don’t mind. This stuff is incredible.” They had been at it for hours and barely scratched the surface of what that one, little attic room held, but Logan knew his great grandmother… or at least he knew the stories about her. She was something of an enigma. The only stories that he’d heard about her were vague and adventurous. He knew she had traveled a bit and picked up some interesting souvenirs on the way, as proved by the didgeridoo and alpenhorn he had seen downstairs. But he also knew that she had once been arrested for refusing to move from a movie theatre seat for a whole day because she had loved the film so much she wanted to see it over and over. Of course, he knew that she loved theatre and had opened the only one in town. He may not have been close to her, but he knew enough to know that if he mined deep enough, a dazzling gem was bound to show up among all the debris.

“Good night! Would you look at how many teapots this woman owned? I’m pretty sure she didn’t even like tea!” Logan’s uncle pulled a particularly groovy teapot out of the box that resembled a hippie 60’s van. Mouthing a “Wow” he began covering it in bubble wrap in preparation for the auction.

His uncle was another enigma. Logan liked his Uncle Sterling, though Logan was the only one who used that name. The rest of the family called him Jack for some reason; the story was different with each person he asked. But Logan liked his given name Sterling better. And one time, his uncle secretly whispered to him that he preferred it as well. It was like a codename that Logan enjoyed having privilege to. But Sterling was known as Jack to the rest of the world and there was no changing that.

“Hand me that rag will you?”

Logan tossed him the one closest and continued to sort through a box of buttons, buckles and pocket watches.

“So, given any more thought to school?” Uncle Sterling asked.

It was the question that always seized Logan’s stomach up every time. “Uh…” It was the question he was most asked, and the one that he had very little idea of an answer.

“Logan? Was school still something you were considering?”

Logan swallowed, “You could say that.”

Uncle Sterling made his deep rumble, which Logan knew was his way of acknowledging what had been said. Not a no, not a yes, just an mmmm.

“Are you worried about making friends?”

“No,” Logan said, “Not really.”

Their clinking and scraping through the boxes continued. “Not nervous about leaving home, is it?”

He considered that for a moment. “No,” Logan answered again, “I’m sure that’ll be fine.”

The low rumble.

“Wary of your future?”

Logan stopped. He hated how four little words could make him tense so easily. “Yeah. I suppose so.”

The low rumble.

Logan was silent for a moment. He didn’t think he wanted to talk about next steps in his life, it hadn’t even been anywhere near the forefront of his mind. But all of a sudden his mouth started moving and he couldn’t stop it. “It’s all so confusing. Going to college is just the next step, right? That’s what people do. You go to high school, graduate, and go to college? But I didn’t just graduate high school, I mean… I’ve been out for three years. Is it smart to start late like that?” He took a breath. “And the only reason I would go to this school is because Dad went there. I don’t have any major planned out. I don’t know what I want to do with my life. I don’t even know why I’m doing all this!” He glanced over at his uncle to see if he had sounded crazy. Sterling just gazed back. “I’m not sure I’m good enough for college. I’m not sure I’m good at… anything…”

He took a deep breath. “I’m just so… uncertain.”

Uncle Sterling made his rumble, nodding. They were quiet for a few moments while he finished wrapping a flowery teapot.

“What does your heart tell you?”

“What?” Logan asked. He had unconsciously mentally preparing himself for the same barrage of questions he usually got when this topic came up: ‘A good education means a good future’, ‘Find a career path that is in demand like medicine or business’, ‘Once you’re at college, you’ll figure it out’. So he didn’t answer right away.

“What do you feel deep down, Logan? What do you wish for in life? Your heart knows that better than anything else.”

Logan sat and stared for a while, an old pocket watch ticking away in his palm. No one had asked him that before, and he didn’t know what to say. In all honesty, he’d never even asked himself the question before.

“It’s not that hard of a question really. You might think it’s embarrassing to admit to your uncle, but I assure you I won’t laugh.” He twisted around and stared Logan right in the face. “You know what I always wanted to be?”

Logan shook his head.

“A superhero.” He smiled and spun back around continuing to pull endless teapots out of the box. “So what does your heart tell you?”

Logan thought for a moment. The patter of rain on the roof above them increased a little. Uncle Sterling patiently waited for him to gather his thoughts together. Finally, Logan said, “I guess I want… an adventure. Um, you know, I want to… discover things. Find the wonders of the world. Climb mountains and explore jungles. I want to fly in the clouds and walk up to a volcano. I want… I want to see if there’s any magic left in the world before I have to admit that there isn’t any anymore.” Sterling made his rumble, urging him to continue. “I guess I feel like… if I go to college, and then get in a career… I won’t have a chance to.”

His uncle just nodded, popping a few bubbles as he placed a gravy boat in with the sorted teapots. Then he turned to Logan and said simply, “You will.”

“You think? I mean, college won’t… get in the way?”

“College is an adventure, but I know what you mean. You, Logan, have adventure in your blood. You are related to Elsie Mae Humphrey, only the most adventurous great-grandmother you ever had!” He smiled a smile that lit up his face, despite the perpetual dark circles under his eyes. She once parachuted out of a crashing plane! Another time, long ago, she traveled to South America in search of a hidden temple! And I even heard that she climbed to the top of a 200 foot tree just to pick a rare piece of fruit! Gave her a stomach ache if I recall.” They chuckled together. “I’m sure you’ll have your own grand adventure someday.”

He went back to the teapots, and Logan finished up with the knick-knacks in front of him. “Thanks Uncle Sterling.”

The low rumble.

Logan shuffled over and pulled a tremendous box toward his window spot. Prying back the lid he found such a tangle of dusty gibberish he didn’t know where to start. When he began to pull at the tangle a rubber ball fell out and started to roll away. It headed toward the attic stairs and bounced down them loudly. Uncle Sterling looked back as it clattered away, and said, “Better go get it.”

Logan got up quickly, banging his head on the low ceiling. He rushed down the steps holding his head, his uncle laughing deeply. The ball had just banged into a box in the hallway and bounced into the adjacent bedroom. He followed it in and found where it had lodged itself between a few rolled up rugs. He straightened up after retrieving it, and bumped into something behind him. A domino of crashes rang out from deep within the bedroom boxes. He had to struggle to see what happened but finally found a picture frame had toppled over and knocked down a hefty alpenhorn, banging against the wall in the corner. Logan squeezed his way over to see the damage.

The alpenhorn had put a large dent in the wall, even knocking part of the chair rail loose. When he looked closer though, something seemed strange. He ran his finger over the perfectly straight cuts in the chair rail segment.

“I didn’t do that.”

He pushed it every which way until suddenly the jarred section slipped off the wall. A hole was behind it, and inside it housed a very dusty box. He pulled it out, excitement growing with every second. He could see ink stamps behind the dust as he brushed off the time.

Holding his breath, he pulled the lid back, hoping secretly for some treasure to be staring back at him. All that was there was an old navy blue cloth.

He sighed. A little disappointed, he reached in and his hand knocked against something solid beneath. A tiny glimmer of hope sprang back in him. As he folded back the cloth it was as though the world had pulled away from him for a moment, leaving just him… and the book.

In his hand laid a grand old book with a scaly, gray-green cover. It was covered in rich leather that smelt of age and magic, and a glittering gold title was carved into it:

True Mythology

There was nothing else. No author, no date, just the gold words. He lifted it out of the box realizing how heavy and substantial it really was. The old leather cracked as he gently pulled back the cover. Turning to the first page, there was written in a beautiful old script:

He flipped to the next page and on it was a spectacular illumination, etched with such detail that he felt a shiver go down his spine. It depicted a great man, perfect in form and wearing a flowing robe, feet planted on the balcony of a grand columned palace. He pointed powerfully out over the horizon to a darkening sky filled with looming clouds. On the ground surrounding the palace walls were hundreds of men, all in scripted armor, brandishing spears, swords and bows. A look of stone etched each soldier’s face as they gazed out at the mass of creatures the perfect man seemed to be pointing at. Logan recognized the mythical creatures huddled together with panic on each face. Strong centaurs reared and cowered, satyrs ran from the army, elegant women with branches for hair screamed, and a great griffin tended to his broken wing. They looked awful. Not because the artist had depicted them in a horrid bug-eyed way most old books tended to. These had a very genuine look to them. It was the fear in their faces that looked so awful; complete and utter fear of the perfect man and his army. It was a picture Logan never would have dreamed up, yet as he looked at it, he could interpret each feeling on each face.

He stared at it for a few moments, and then the world returned back around him.

“Uncle Sterling, come look what I’ve found!”

Chapter Two

~ Strange Beginnings ~

The next day Logan headed out from home for town. There was nothing he had wanted to do more than sit and read every line and study every picture in the magical book he had discovered until his eyes permanently crossed. But today was a regular day and regular days called for work. Still, the book seemed to be burning a hole in his backpack, eager itself to be seen and read again. At least this close to opening night meant that work started in the evening, which had given him a good day’s worth of mining the old book’s secrets.

He walked across the street staring up at the striking Mirrorwind Theatre, standing tall among its more reserved neighbors. It stood very resolute and proud, much like one of those old statues that symbolize peace or wisdom. The Mirrorwind was undoubtedly the most imposing structure in the whole town. Even more dashing than the courthouse at the end of the teardrop-shaped “square” Logan was passing through. And though that wasn’t saying much, it really was a beautiful place. The little town of Farwell was quite modest, as all good small towns should be, but it did hold this one diamond.

Logan glanced up at the gargoyles perched on each corner of each floor; he never got tired of them. There was one small statue topping the lighted Mirrorwind sign in front depicting a bowing man with a top hat. Logan thought of him as the doorman, greeting him every time he arrived at the theatre, and that the gargoyles were his trained pets.

“Evening, Carmichael.” he said to the statue, as he passed through the giant glass doors. He quickly strode through the small mosaic-covered foyer where the ticket boxes sat and through the next doors into the grand stairway. It was everything a magical old theatre should be; floored with rich crimson carpets that muted every footstep, meandering their way up the two staircases curving regally up the walls. The pillars that held the ceiling were adorned with curls and gilded in gold, and in the center of the room, surrounded by the sweeping staircases hung a magnificent glass chandelier, with little painted branches running across the globe at the bottom.

There were a few people milling about taking no notice of the beautiful surroundings. Logan knew them all, of course, living in Farwell his whole life. Janet, older than sin and looking it, was over talking to Beebe, a rotund but flattering woman. Jerrick, an old farmer, was just coming from the theatre hall. He was always a surprise when it came to acting. A gruff, hardened old man on the farm, and a Julius Caesar on the stage. They nodded to each other as Logan passed through the double doors to one of his favorite places on Earth.

The theatre hall itself was just as grand as the stairway, although a bit subdued, so as not to distract from the magic onstage. It was never too bright so it always had a cozy lounge feel to it. There were dazzling wood trees scrawled across the walls leading down to the stage, half in the wall and half reaching out. They created a brim around the audience, like a secret courtyard. Above their branches stretched a speckled sky, thousands of stars smiling down from the ceiling, swimming in a sea of purplish blue. Above the stage, scrollwork of creatures crowned the curtains. It showed satyrs and lovely women prancing through a rushing stream frozen in its golden flow. And resting above them was the ancient face of a man, a giant seashell fanning out behind him.

It made for a spectacular sight. People always said the theatre was like a rich dessert you had first, and then went on to the entree. And it was here that Logan had grown up. Among the ruby red curtains and warm lights Logan had acted out many lives. The theatre had become a second home to him, its stage another world. He had loved it so much he had decided to forgo a college degree and stay in Farwell to keep the place going. And it was a decision he didn’t regret, for every time he stood amidst the magic of it all, a small piece inside of him came to life.

He didn’t even know it was inside him. But down, deep in his soul, far behind his heart and to the left of his fears, was a dream. It was in a shadowy corner, locked in a box and covered in responsibilities, looking sad and forgotten. But it had never been completely abandoned. On sunny days where the clouds looked like a painting and the wind rushed through the grass, and nothing could make a person more content, the box rattled. On winter nights when the snow fell quietly and the only light was coming from a crackling fire, the box lid had strained on its latches. Every small adventure Logan had ever had in his life had unwaveringly and punctually, awakened the dream. He never knew what was inside, he rarely noticed the box had even budged, but its existence never faded.

He swept backstage and headed for the makeup room. The noise grew as he pushed through the sound doors and into the mirrored room covered in round light bulbs. There was Uncle Sterling already standing in front of a mirror wearing blue velvet clothes and a shining silver cape. Next to him, praising the getup with

loud adoration was the theatre manager, Wayna. She wore a deep green skirt that resembled a saloon girl’s and a blouse with long flowing sleeves.

“Yes, yes, yes! Perfect. Oh, you look dashing in silver, Jack! I just love it. Oh, Logan!” she sang, “Perfect timing!”

She deftly swiped a maroon costume from beside her and tossed it to him. “I think you’ll love this one.”

As he headed to the dressing room, Sterling asked, “Did you bring it?” Logan smiled and nodded, but when his uncle made to follow him, Wayna’s fingers snatched his sleeve, “Ah, ah, ah, we need to hem a few things.”

Logan rushed in and pulled the clothes on. He grabbed True Mythology from his bag and rejoined the group. A couple of girls in dresses the size of beach umbrellas lumbered past, giggling all the way. When he got back to the two, still fussing with Sterling’s hem, he stopped and looked at himself in the mirror next to his uncle. Logan was a stout person, a bit more barrel than broom. Not fat, per se, but definitely stocky. He was a contrast next to his tall, solid uncle. Logan looked into his own eyes, which seemed even more forest green in his maroon costume. He glanced at his uncle’s eyes which were the lightest brown he’d ever seen on anyone. They seemed so different from each other. Well, they did have the same black hair, though Sterling’s was flecked in silver.

He dropped the book onto the counter.

“What’s that?” Wayna asked with needles in her mouth.

“It’s an old book we found at Great-grandma’s house.”

“Oh, Elsie! I miss her already.” Her eyes grew distant. “Tell me about it, I want to hear something happy about her.”

“We haven’t quite figured it out yet.” Sterling said.

“Yeah, we found it in the wall!”

“The wall? What do you mean?” she asked.

Logan explained, “There was a hidden compartment in the wall of one of her bedrooms. But that’s not the most interesting part.” He flipped open the pages revealing the elegant handwriting of a bygone age. “The entire thing is written by hand.”

Wayna peered at the paper, “But there’s more than one handwriting.”

“Exactly!” Sterling said.

For some reason, throughout every page he flipped through, the words changed back and forth, from one handwriting to the next, with no discernable pattern. A cracked and scrolling black ink ran through the majority of the book, and looked the oldest. Mixed about was a rich blue ink that passed seamlessly through the ebony script in a rounder, but still dignified hand.

“But that doesn’t make sense.” Wayna said, running a finger down a black paragraph with two lines of blue handwriting mixed in between.

“That’s what we thought. But it’s even more than that. I’ve been reading this since I found it. It’s like, Greek mythology. But not really. It’s hard to explain.”

“Sounds like it.” Wayna replied, pinning Sterling’s tunic.

“Here look at this.” He flipped to the beginning and began to read.

“My, that is strange.” Wayna said, accidentally poking Sterling with a needle.

“And the whole book is like that.” He flipped the pages through his fingers, revealing the full grandeur of True Mythology. Sketched illustrations of creatures and buildings were nestled among the words, and littered throughout the rest of the book were additional papers, maps, scraps of tapestries, and even old coins securely fixed to the old pages. Out of nowhere Wayna slapped the book so hard Logan almost dropped it.

“What is that?” She asked, and they all focused where her finger lay.

“I don’t know,” Logan said, peering closer, “It looks like some note scribbled on the side.”

In the margin of a page written opposite the old words, was a manicured, thin handwriting that looped in and out of itself, all in purple. It said,

“That’s not just some note, my boy. That is the handwriting of Elsie Mae Humphrey!” Wayna stated.

They leaned in a little closer, Sterling accidentally poking himself with a pin again. “Are you sure? She wrote in the book?”

“That means she actually read it, and used it.” Logan said.

“But wait,” Sterling tried again, “How do you know it is Grandma’s handwriting?”

“Jack, please!” Wayna stood and swept about indignant as if he had asked whether she could tell her right foot from her left. “The woman practically raised me. She’s the only reason I run the Mirrorwind now. I spent decades working with her, learning from her, you think I wouldn’t know her own handwriting!?” She picked up a pearl necklace and draped it over her neck, watching herself fiddle with it in the mirror.

“Alright, alright. It just seems strange that’s all. I don’t recall Grandma’s handwriting.”

She turned to him, pursed lips locked in place. “You want proof or something? Fine. I can prove it.” She stormed out of the room, calling, “Follow me,” from the other room. The two men rushed after her.

They followed her down the steps of the stage through the middle aisle like two dukes following their eccentric queen. When they entered the grand stairway, Wayna tromped over to the wall at the foot of the left stairs. They gathered around a glass case sunk in the wall. It housed a poster for the current performance, and surrounding it was a collage of old programs. Wayna searched them for a few moments then pointed her purple fingernail at one in the corner. It was a very old one, starting to yellow, near the bottom. It was from a Winter One Acts session decades ago, and three unknown plays were printed across the front, things like The Potman Spoke Sooth. But that wasn’t why she was pointing at it. In the corner was an autograph from one of the actors. It was a manicured, thin handwriting that looped in and out of itself.

“Elsie Mae Humphrey.” Sterling read quietly. “Well, I’ll be sugar-coated.”

Wayna displayed a triumphant smile.

“So it is hers. But…” Logan pulled out the book again, “what does it mean?” Here, Wayna’s smile disappeared but she motioned for him to read the note again.

“Balusters up the stairs…in the Mirrorwind? Is there some sort of secret on them?”

“Or a hollowed out one.” Sterling suggested.

“Maybe one’s a secret lever that opens the floor.” Wayna said wide-eyed. They looked at her for a second, and then she chuckled delightedly. “Oh, boys. I’m sure it’s nothing too exotic. This is Farwell after all!”

They didn’t say anything, but instinctively the group drifted over to the space between the stairs. All three began inspecting the balusters. Eventually, Sterling was crawling up the right side, shaking each one. Logan followed suit on the left. But when they met at the top and found they were all just regular wooden spindles, they finally descended empty handed. Wayna was near the theatre hall doors in a familiar corner of shining light focused on a single oil portrait. It was of Logan’s great-grandmother sitting in the theatre library, smiling in a very charming way. It was almost as if she were up to something, a twinge of mischief in her eyes.

“Nothing special about the stairs.” Logan reported.

“I’m not surprised. What was the other part of the message, dear?” She asked not taking her eyes off Elsie.

“Um… start with Lloyd’s middle.” He said recalling. “Who’s Lloyd?”

“That’s Grandpa’s name.” Uncle Sterling said.

“Mm-hmm,” Wayna confirmed, “Lloyd Erwin Humphrey.”

Logan felt silly. “I didn’t know that. He’s always been Great-grandpa to me.”

“No need for that, you knew him by a special name. The question is: why is his middle important?”

They all stared at Elsie Mae’s portrait, willing her to give some clue. But she just impassively sat, smiling mischievously. None of them knew what to do next, so they just waited.

Behind them the outer doors opened and shut, and Wayna turned to see who it was. Something went rigid about her and Logan followed her gaze to see what had entered.

He wore a suit, strangely cut but dashing, and wrapped around him was a knee length coat, the deepest of reds. The man was older, but solidly built, intimidating. He was snapping shut a silver cigarette case when he spotted them at the portrait. His face bewildered Logan. He wore a short gray beard and short hair, and his nose was slightly crooked. But his eyes…his eyes tore into him. They were orange, like fire, and inexpressively cold. They held Logan in their lock and he couldn’t take in anything else about the man, not even the few people who followed behind him.

Wayna jabbed a finger behind her, “Dressing room, boys. Got to finish the alterations. I’ll tend to this.” She gracefully tread over to the man, Logan unable to take his eyes from them. His uncle’s hand broke the spell.

“C’mon, Logan. Let’s go.” Logan looked up at him and he seemed calm, but his eyes showed the same concern as Logan felt. They finally ducked into the sanctuary of the theatre hall. But Logan could not push away a gnawing thought; a disconcerting thought he didn’t know how to handle.

“Wasn’t he at Great-grandma’s funeral?”

Chapter Three

~ Taking Things ~

The next morning, Logan woke to loud voices downstairs. He rose groggily, the image of an orange-eyed man fading with his dreams. Shaking it away, he headed downstairs to see what was so exciting. One glance around his room was all it took to determine what was dear to the heart of Logan Rhodotus. The room held more books than the town’s library. Cramped yet comfortable, every available space of wall held shelves, whose space could not yield one more inch of room. There were so many more books that the remainder of the room was guarded by stacks and stacks of volumes. It was difficult to maneuver through it all, a detail Logan enjoyed, since he had developed a path only he could truly traverse. It was like a security system; he knew someone had been there when a pile of books had toppled over.

Several boxes lay in the open space in front of his closet. Ready transport for his things if plans for college went through. He hadn’t even started packing, nor was he motivated to, for thoughts of college were ones he hoped to postpone as long as possible.

He found his parents and grandpa, Elsie Mae’s son, in the kitchen all chatting away like they had just gotten a deliciously juicy piece of gossip for breakfast. His grandpa was waving a newspaper around and pointing at it every so often.

“What’s going on?” he asked in a morning rasp.

All three noticed him and raced for the chance to be first.

“Logan you won’t believe!”

“It’s crazy!”

“Just happened this morning!”

They stumbled upon each other’s words until Logan finally said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa…yikes.”

His grandpa took command and shoved the paper in his hands. “Take a look at that.”

The picture on the front of the Farwell Scout showed the courthouse which sat at the wide end of the teardrop-shaped square in the center of town. It was a shot of the corner of the building which had been completely demolished; a huge dark maw disfigured the bricks and several policemen were standing around staring at it. Logan looked up.

“They have no idea how it happened.” his grandpa said with amazement.

“Yeah, and whoever it was broke their way all the way into the city records room. The place is a complete mess, like a tornado went through it!” his mother exclaimed.

“But, what were they looking for?” Logan asked, willing his brain to wake up so he could understand.

“That’s just it.” his dad said. “They don’t think they took anything. I mean, the records are all scattered around, it’ll take time to collect them and see if anything’s missing, but they’re not really sure they will even know if something is missing. The records go back a hundred years.”

Logan stared at the headline, ‘Farwell Courthouse Robbery: Farfetched?’ “So someone broke into the courthouse with a wrecking ball to steal… nothing?” They all nodded at him with big grins. “I can’t believe it.”

“Neither can we!” his grandpa said, and the chatter immediately began again. They debated whether it was a townsperson, or if explosives had been used, or if the courthouse had a secret room of gold bars in the basement.

At the thought of something being stolen Logan had a sinking feeling. He casually walked over to his bag near the table. Several bobby pins were laying on top of it, his mother’s calling card. She used bobby pins in her hair all the time, and left them scattered about the house. It felt like everyday Logan was picking them out of the couch, finding them on the floor, or shaking one out of his shoe. He removed the ones on his bag and looked inside, the sinking feeling he’d had immediately deepening. True Mythology wasn’t there.

“Mom, have you seen my book?” breaking into their ruckus.

“Uh, you’ll have to be more specific, honey, coming from you.”

“The old leather one, from Great-grandma’s? Have you seen it? I had it in my bag…” But he already knew where it was. He should have thought of it first. “Nevermind.”

He walked past them down the hall to the little office. Sure enough, right where he thought he’d be, nose pressed against the computer screen, was his younger brother James. AndTrue Mythology lay in his hands.

“Morning, Dodger. Taking things that aren’t ours again?” Logan said.

James jumped from his research and instantly went red in the cheeks. “Morning.” he said surprised.

“Yes, it is a beautiful morning.” Logan said overly pleasant. “I saw a bright sun so it shouldn’t be too chilly out and thought, why don’t you go out and read? Go enjoy the Autumn while it lasts. What a wonderful idea, I told myself. I’ll just grab my new book and head out.” He fixed his brother with a pointed stare.

James bit his lip and quietly handed the book up to him.

Logan took it, “James, you’ve got to stop taking my stuff. Everything keeps disappearing.” There were a few seconds of silence, as a tiny smile grew on both their faces. He rolled his eyes. “How much is it worth?”

His brother didn’t hesitate a second. “I have no idea! I’ve been looking all morning and nothing still. Apparently that book doesn’t exist.” He pointed at the screen, “See? There’s no record from this catalog, and it’s the definitive list. So I started looking up old journals, since it’s all handwritten…”

“Yeah, what did you think of the different colors and- ”

“…and these are all I could find.” His brother ignored him, “Mostly civil war stuff, very old, but yours looks older. I don’t know, maybe… at least three hundred years? It doesn’t sound like any of the journals I found.”

He whipped around in his chair and looked up at Logan with glee stretched from ear to ear. “These are listed at ten thousand. I’ll bet yours is worth at least thirty.”

Logan reached down and patted his brother’s head. “I don’t care.” And walked out.

“But Logan!” James ran after him.

“Spare me, James.” he said holding up his hand. “You know how I feel about this. Every time I bring something old into this house you immediately want to sell it. And now I have an heirloom from our great-grandmother, our great-grandmother, and the only thing you can think of is cash.” He walked away again, shaking his head.

“I’ll keep researching in case you change your mind, ok?” James called after him. “Ok?”

When Logan had reached the safety of his bedroom he placed the old tome on his cluttered desk. It seemed there were two types of people in his family. The practical folk, and the artsy folk. Logan sided with people like his great-grandmother and uncle who loved theatre and books, people who couldn’t help but see the creative side of the world. Their eyes were made for nature and art and color. But the others were more practical and had a cunning knack with money. They were in an eternal search for The Deal; that moment of finding a treasure for little to no cost. He supposed it came from his great-grandfather Lloyd, who had started the Four Fathers Bookstore downtown. He wasn’t a booklover like his wife Elsie Mae; he just knew how to persuade people to take the books off his shelves. James fell into that side of the family, and their father Eli was the same way. It was like a double genetic dose that Logan had somehow missed.

It hadn’t always been that way. Logan could easily conjure up memories of him and his brother running through the woods playing knights searching for the grail or archeologists being chased by mummies. At some point James had lost interest in the wonder he could imagine, and instead grew interested in the treasures he could gain.

Logan smiled while he changed his clothes thinking of a time when James had fallen into the creek during an extended game of cowboys and indians. James wasn’t going to give up on his quest to find the sweetest deal, and Logan didn’t have the energy to try and keep up. He just had to keep a sharp eye on his stuff or it might evaporate one day, and his brother would show up with his ‘cut’. He went back downstairs and shoved the book in his bag. Mira, his mother, came into the kitchen. “Oh, Logan. Do you want to go down to the courthouse with us? We’re going to go see the damage firsthand.”

“Yeah, I think I do.”

All of them walked down the street a few blocks until they reached the teardrop plot of grass at the center of town. There was already a fuss of people surrounding the yellow tape stretched around the right corner of the courthouse. When they got closer they all gasped in awe. It was much worse than the photo had revealed. Logan could see straight down the offices to the main hallway, the hole revealing a bit of the second floor. A few bricks were still dislodging and tumbling onto their kin piled below. The gossipy drivel around him was like the hum of a beehive. Everyone was shocked and overjoyed at the sudden arrival of excitement in Farwell.

He looked through the crowd to see who was there, and it seemed the whole town was out. A glare on a window of the grocery store caught his eye. He could just barely make out a woman leaning against the store, watching the crowd gab away. Her Asian features were pale and gossamer and she had long, straight flawless black hair that hung far down her shoulders. She was like moonlight in a sea of night sky. And he had never seen her around town before.

As he was thinking this she looked over at him. He knew that she saw him. In an instant it was as if she had never been there. She moved so quickly behind the building Logan thought he had blinked and missed it.

He looked back up at the giant hole in the courthouse and the construction men checking the stability of the walls.

“What’s going on around here?” he whispered.

Chapter Four

~ A Clue and  a Mystery ~

     Logan sat on the stairs in the Mirrorwind. The town gossip was relentless about the courthouse robbery. So far nothing had been discovered missing, and a temporary wall was quickly being put in place before Autumn really swept in. People couldn’t stop talking about the incident. Except Logan. He was more interested in his own personal mystery. So he hid in the Mirrorwind, his sanctuary, so he could have a few minutes away from the town’s hubbub.

He had been staring at the stairs for almost an hour, checking every possible inch of each baluster going up and down the stairs. They were solid, well-built pieces of decorative wood, and nothing more. He had read over the purple note too many times to mention. The balusters and his great-grandfather’s middle weren’t providing anything. He sighed and stretched grandly.

Glancing out the front doors he thought he saw someone looking in. The old lead glass doors between the ticket room and outside obscured what he could see but whoever it was looked big. He leaned back for a better view but the great mass disappeared. It must have just been a man walking by. Most people just walked into the Mirrorwind, it was like the library, open to all.

He looked back at the balusters and thought. A plain little idea popped in his head suddenly. He hadn’t considered it yet because his mind was still stuck on secret levers and compartments. “It couldn’t be that simple.” he assured himself. Nevertheless, he scanned up the stairs to the top and counted them all the way down to the foot of the other stairs.

“Twenty-seven. Twenty-seven balusters. Twenty-seven pointless balusters. Wonderful.”

He looked back at his book and read the second part of the note needlessly. “Middle. His middle.” He decided to go the simple route with this line of thought. “Ok, what does everyone have that’s a middle? Middle finger… middle….name?” He wracked his brain trying to recall what Wayna had said it was. “Ar… Arland? Arnold? No, it wasn’t an ‘a’… what was it?”

At that moment Wayna was passing through the foyer, a fake pheasant in her arms. He called out, “Hey, Wayna, what’d you say Great-grandpa’s middle name was?”

“Erwin.” she said without stopping.

“Erwin.” he repeated, memorizing it. “Twenty-seven Erwins….I do believe I’ve solved the mystery.” he said sarcastically to the empty room. Resigning himself to his defeat he picked himself up and headed for the theatre hall. He still had to finish hanging the ivy on the castle wall before the evening. Once into the auditorium the theatre’s embrace instantly soothed him. This was something he would hate to be away from if he went away to college. And the college was over four hours away, which meant he wouldn’t be able to come home whenever he wanted. He watched the rows file along as he passed them, their gleaming golden letters flashing in the stage lights. I… H… G…

He stopped dead in his tracks. His thoughts collided into one shining idea. What was a theatre known for despite its stage? The seats! He ran down the aisle until he reached row E. He looked down the right side checking the numbers. These ended in the teens. He sprinted to the other side of the aisle counting the numbers staring up at him. And then he was there.

“Twenty-seven balusters up the stairs. Start with Erwin. Erwin starts with an E. Seat E 27.” He thought for a few seconds longer. “That just can’t be it.”

He nonchalantly swept his head back and forth checking if anyone was around, then sat down on the chair. He gazed around the theatre to see if this spot gave him a particular view of something that no other seat did. Seeing nothing special, he checked the seat back in front of him for a word or map, but it matched all the others. Finally, he plopped down on the ground. Running his hands all over the cloth top and back, he realized he didn’t really know what he was feeling for. He closed the seat and started checking the bottom. Nothing came up there either, nothing carved or written or stuck there. He checked the sides, the right just presented a hinge, but when he glanced at the left something stood out. A very short purple ribbon was just barely sticking out of the back of the seat where the cloth met the wood base. If you weren’t looking for something it would have gone completely unnoticed. He fingered it, trying to get a hold. Finally he just tugged. With a good pull the cloth slightly separated from the seat. He quickly glanced around again, hoping no one would see him vandalizing theatre property. Another tug provided a sizable gap between the seat and base. He craned his neck to look inside. His heart began to race as a piece of paper came into view. Gently wiggling it from its hiding spot, Logan pulled out a small, folded paper.

He sat back and read the cover of a very old theatre program, The Tempest.

“A program?”

He looked over the front and then opened it and read down the list of players. Near the top, the name Prospero was circled and written beside it, in that manicured, thin handwriting was: From His Mouth

Logan couldn’t help laughing. “What?” he said, smiling to himself.

If it hadn’t been stuffed under a theatre seat Logan would have thought it was just some cheeky comment his great-grandma had written about the guy who had played Prospero. But it had to mean something. She wouldn’t have gone to all this trouble to hide it there. Whatever she was trying to keep secret, she wasn’t letting just anyone find it, and that seemed to fit her more than anything else he knew about her.

He checked his watch. “Oh, man! I’ve got to get to Uncle Sterling’s, and the ivy’s not up yet.” Shoving the seat back into place, he slipped the program in True Mythology. “I’ll just put this in the theatre office so I won’t be distracted.”

When he was back in the grand stairway, the large person seemed to be hanging around outside again. He walked quickly to the doors and tried to see who it was. All he caught sight of was a shoulder disappearing around the corner. He burst outside and trotted down the sidewalk in the direction the person had gone. But there was nothing there. He warily began to head back inside. The shoulder had looked like it belonged to a very big person.

It wasn’t long before he was on the road headed to his uncle’s house. He was driving down a road flanked by trees, a rural tunnel. He loved passing through this area, especially with the sun shooting through the gold and red leaves. He let the moment ease his mind, breathing deeply. He looked out the side window as the car left the shade of the trees. The land opened up to a fallow field with a bristle of wild grass growing over it. His eyes were immediately drawn to a figure shining in the falling light. With the glare it took him a second to discern its lines. When he finally recognized the distinct shape of a deer, his car began to rumble as the right wheel left the road. He swerved back onto the lane, grateful he was on a back road. Searching for the doe again, it was steadily negotiating the field traveling the same direction as him. He couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. It was a stunning, completely white creature. Logan had never seen anything like it before. In fact, Logan wasn’t even sure he knew deer could be that white. He matched its pace, watching it move gracefully along. Suddenly, it noticed him and stopped. And for some reason, Logan did as well.

It watched him, staring straight into his startled eyes. Their gaze held for a few moments, and then the white doe bounded off, away from the road. Logan’s body tensed as logic fought his heart. Finally the heart won, and he rushed out of the car.

“What are you doing?” he hummed to himself as he followed along.

The doe leapt lightly from spot to spot, nearing the woods that bordered the field. Logan’s head swam with thoughts. He had no goal, no plan had crossed his mind; he had just been overwhelmed with the urge to follow the white doe. It was leading him to something, something he needed to know.

He lost sight of the deer after it disappeared beyond the trees, and once he passed under their shade he quickly searched over the trunks and branches, glancing all around for any glimpse of white among the browns and yellows. But nothing could be found. There was no path in these woods so he hopped from place to place, avoiding the thorns and thickets. He ended up next to a fallen tree, climbing onto it for a better view. The white doe was no where in sight. He stood defeated, wondering all over again why he had chased a deer into the woods. Embarrassment began to creep up inside of him.

Taking a moment to breathe in the early autumn woods, he closed his eyes. Autumn was his favorite time of year. It seemed the most magical with the vibrant display the trees put on and sudden change to cold; everything changed. Some of his best memories took place during harvest festivals with giant pumpkins everywhere, and bonfires and cider. Summer was losing its grasp on the world, and magic was beginning to stir in the earth.

He opened his eyes and realized he was still on the tree trunk, and that he had abandoned his car on the side of the road. In a town where everyone knew him, the assumption of his ditched car meaning he was dead would spread before dinner time. He started to make his way off the tree trunk, but just before he dismounted, a small sound caught his ear in the otherwise silent woods.

A gentle rustle ran through the trees, and a low groan as if a grand tree were rocking in the breeze, drifted over him. The moan continued soft, and grew into what he could only believe, was a song. It creaked with a soulful, slow ballad; a song that flowed from the bark like amber sap, with deliberate and thoughtful notes. It started to rumble in deep tones, and Logan could feel more than one presence in the music. Then like the first edge of the sun rising over the horizon, a high clear tone blossomed over the groans. It rose and fell with angelic sways and Logan couldn’t help the shiver that ran down his spine. He listened, frozen, as other voices joined the first creating haunting harmonies flowing in and out of each other with lilting ease.

The music was something beyond the woods, something that spoke to the woods and told of its past. He had no idea what it sang of or even what the voices said, but he had no desire to move ever again. It continued to rise and fall as if the forest were breathing in and out its melodies. And just as suddenly as it had come, it disappeared on the wind, leaving Logan grasping desperately at the last line as it drifted past him, “…they shall not linger there…”

Logan stood breathless, unsure what to do. He realized that the music had hushed all the birds of the woods, leaving the world empty and still. It felt wrong for it to be gone and he wished for anything that might bring it back. After a while more, to be sure he didn’t miss its return, he reluctantly gave up and turned around back towards the car. There on the ground before him was the orange-eyed man, his face set like stone.

Logan yelled and stepped back, slipping off the tree trunk and landing heavily on the ground. Despite the pain he sat up instantly pushing himself away. When he peered around the trunk… there was nothing there.

He spun around searching the woods, but it was still again. The man had disappeared, just like the white doe, almost as if he hadn’t been there at all. Logan took off for the car at a sprint. The curiosity had completely fled from him, and nothing could keep him in those woods.

Chapter Five

~ The Back Woods ~

     “But why would that creepy orange-eyed man be in the woods?”

“I don’t know! But weird stuff has been going on. More than just the courthouse robbery. I keep seeing these people around town, strangers. And the white doe, have you ever heard of anything like that?”

“No, but now that you mention it, I did see an eagle a couple days ago that was absolutely huge.”

“Call me crazy, Uncle Sterling, but… I can’t help feeling this is related to True Mythology.”

“What? The book? How’d you come to that conclusion?”

“It’s just… I’ve been reading this nonstop since the day at Great-grandma’s. It’s all about Dryads and Centaurs and Olympians. Greek Mythology… sort of. Then tonight I follow a deer into the woods and hear… a song. A song from the woods. On the way here I couldn’t stop thinking about it, something was familiar; it itched at my brain. And then I pulled out the book and flipped to the section on Dryad songs.”

“Dryad… songs? Let me see that.”

“I had been reading them yesterday. Read the last line of this song.”

’…they shall not linger there.’”

“That’s exactly what I heard in the woods. But the weirdest part was… I hadn’t read that song yet.”

“What? Yes, you did.”

“I didn’t, I swear. And then that orange-eyed man showed up. Scared the life out of me.”

Logan recalled the scene between his uncle and him from the night before. He had thought over it a hundred times already. It had been such a typical movie night at his house, albeit with a conversation about mysteries around town. Logan had brought up his thoughts because he knew he could trust his uncle. He knew he was just as curious about the whole thing as he was. But it was the end of the conversation that had really puzzled him. His uncle had just stared at the book for a few minutes, silent. And then he had said,

“Logan… you might have something. I wonder if you’ll let me look over the book. See what I can find. To be sure.”

It had seemed like a harmless request, but there were dark clouds behind it. Sterling had been just as excited as Logan about the book the day they pried it from the wall. An adventure always intrigued Sterling Humphrey. He had a long list of foolish and reckless endeavors he’d been involved in over the years. But now things seemed different.

For the most part his uncle was a cheerful person, at least around Logan; almost sickeningly optimistic. Though uncommonly handsome for his age, with ceaseless talents and enough charm to down an elephant, Sterling had traveled a fairly lonely and complicated path in life. But despite that, every time Logan looked into his light brown eyes, he saw something there. Far behind them was something… odd. He may have been imagining it, but without fail every time their eyes met, he saw the Something. He couldn’t tell if it was good or bad, hope or regret. He just knew there was meaning there, something deeper.

When his uncle had asked for the book, he looked Logan in the eye. On cue, the Something in his eyes sparkled at their edges. But this time, it wasn’t so elusive. This time it seemed different. Not a menacing thing, but still not good either. Logan couldn’t interpret it. The only thing he knew deep in his heart was that he couldn’t let his uncle have the book.

Which didn’t make any sense to him.

But…

“Uh, actually I was hoping to read it tomorrow… if you don’t mind.”

It was then the Something went just a shade darker, and for the first time in his life, Logan had felt uncomfortable with his uncle.

He couldn’t get the conversation out of his head. It was so strange. He couldn’t pinpoint any of it. It was strange enough that there were odd visitors showing up around town when the courthouse was broken in to, but Logan couldn’t handle having his uncle acting strange as well. That actually worried him.

So he was walking through his backyard toward the towering wall of maples and oaks that bordered their property. He needed to clear his head, alone. He passed by the hearty vegetable garden behind the barn that his mother so tenderly tended. The pumpkins slept on straw, the green beans were tied up with stockings, and the last bits of strawberries slumbered away under blankets of cheesecloth.

Today he was headed for one of his favorite spots in the world. He passed through the tree line and into the chilly shade. He stopped there for a second in the familiar grove. Was it wise to go out in the woods alone with the things he had been seeing lately? He looked back at his house from behind the leaves. This was his home; he had grown up among these trees. It wouldn’t be a problem. Following the wide trail that winded away to the right, he began his hike down the familiar and well-worn path. He had traveled it too many times to remember. It twisted through the low bushes and maples, up and down rocky hills, climbing tree root steps and crossing ditches over fallen trunks. This was the way to the creek. It wasn’t much, a bit of rustling water over muddy rocks; the rains had already come and washed the basin out. It had trickled all summer but soon the autumn rains would return and fill it to the banks once again. But that wasn’t why he was going to it.

Walking a little longer, taking in the autumn smells of leaves and wood smoke, he reached the edge of the water. Here the bank rose up much higher than the water with a sheer drop into the creek. Straddling the high bank a ways off was an enormous tree that dominated the whole area: Logan’s destination. What once were two trees was now one large willow, bending low over the bank with a curving arch, its drooping branches curtaining off the world. Where the second tree once stood, jutted up against the first, sat a flat and comfortable stump. Logan never knew what had happened to the other tree, but the whole thing created a sort of natural lounge chair that he had discovered when he was in middle school. He loved this spot, it was a place where no one could find him and the outside world drifted away. A slight breeze twisted through the hanging branches, inviting him in.

He gladly settled into his spot and shifted back and forth till he was just right, leaning against the trunk. The birds chirped, the sun sparkled through the tree, the creek bubbled at him. It was a perfect moment, and he soaked it in, letting all the odd moments of the week drift away.

Rifling through his bag he pulled out a blanket that he quickly wrapped around his shoulders, and then retrieved True Mythology. He cracked open the old book, its spine crinkling. He looked at the grand illustration at the front once more before turning the page to the beginning. He had read it several times already but he enjoyed the ancient feel of it. Like he was being told a fairy tale from an old mountain.

“Katalon.” He let the word roll off his lips. The wind stirred a bit at the sound of the word. The peculiarity it held was not in its sound but what it created. When he read the book, the story had just been a story, strange as it was. But that word made it more substantial. The name was like a lantern in a dark room, illuminating what he knew was there but could not see.

Another gust of wind blew through the branch curtains, this time a little stronger. The pages sped past on the breeze landing near the back of the book. Amid the blue and black shone a purple note that rested in the margins of the page.

It was a manicured, thin handwriting that looped in and out of itself.

“I suppose it’s clearer than the first one.” Logan muttered. “A second message? What is this all about?”

The wind had blown some specks onto the page, some of it sparkling in the sunlight. He dusted it off, then twisted the book and began to read out loud, squinting down at the smudged print.

“What was that, my boy?” A shrill, old voice called out from behind him. His bones nearly jumped from his skin. An extremely short man peeking from behind the willow’s trunk met his eyes when he swiveled around. He wore baggy pants and had a loop of rope at his waist. His chin was covered in a pointy beard, and his long nose mimicked it.

It took Logan a second to realize that he was actually there before he could respond. “What did I what?”

The man just smirked a cherry medicine smile. “What did you say? I was just meandering by, thought you said my name.” He stared.

“Oh,” He looked from the book back to the man, “I was just reading from this book.” A second trudged by. “What’s your name?”

“It’s Arbacle,” the old man answered. Logan didn’t recall saying anything like that but the old man just smacked his lips and an awkward silence stood between them. Finally the man continued, “These your woods, son?”

“Um, yes, sir. My family’s.” For some reason Logan didn’t want to continue talking to the man. But he spoke before Logan could dismiss him politely.

“Mmhm, you come out here often?” His eyes sparked with suspicion.

“Uh, yes, occasionally. I’m sorry, I don’t know you. We’re pretty close with all the neighbors around our woods and I don’t think I’ve ever seen you before.” It wasn’t entirely true; he knew them but not well. But strangers weren’t allowed in the woods, Dad’s rules, and he didn’t like the feeling this man gave him.

“Ah well, I’m a grandpa to the one across the creek over there.” His old bones cracked as he pointed down the opposite way Logan had come. “Just thought I’d take a walk.”

“Oh. Well, these woods are pretty dangerous. There are a few patches of quicksand around. You might not want to go walking too far.”

“That’s an old book you got there.” he said, ignoring him.

“Yeah…” He didn’t know what to say, or really want to say anything. This old man was reminding him too much of the night before, with his uncle.

“Where’d ya get it?” He set his feet very resolute.

“I found it.” A long pause.

“You like it?”

Logan took in a deep sigh, “So far.” Then he stared right back into the mischievous eyes of the stranger. The man just bobbed his head, staring past Logan across the creek.

“Well- ” Logan began.

“Well, I’ll be seeing you.” The man interrupted, “Be careful out here, sonny.” And with that he headed back the way he came.

Logan watched him go; sure he would come back and recall some story about limes or some such. But it wasn’t long until he disappeared in the bushes. There was something strange about the little old man, something very familiar. He tossed the thought away as he reclaimed his spot and shifted to get comfortable.

“Weird. Ok, where was I?” He cracked the cover again, but noticed something out of the corner of his eye. The wind pushed the hanging willow branches back and forth, revealing glimpses of another figure. Standing on the other side of the creek was a horse, staring straight at him. It was completely brown and huge. Its tail swished idly but its head never moved. Logan’s first thought was that it had gotten loose from the farm up to the west. But for a second, Logan could see the same suspicion from the old man lingering in the horse’s eyes. At first the thought made him laugh, but that same feeling permeated the air. He’d felt it over the past few days, every time something strange had happened. It felt like water rising up around his neck.

Their gaze remained unbroken for an uncomfortable amount of time, the horse standing completely still, almost statuesque. Finally, it turned away, bored and walked into the brush. In a minute it was lost to sight.

Logan just stared at the spot where it had stood. Then he twisted back around to where the man had been standing. He was all alone again, but it felt eerie now that he knew there were other things moving around. “What is with this place?” he said. He looked back down at his great-grandmother’s clue. “There’d better not be a clown popping out next.”

Chapter Six

~ Another Try ~

     “You’re sure?” the man asked.

“That’s what he said. I heard it with these ears. ‘Katalon.’” The little man from the woods replied.

“Fine. Go help the girls.”

“Yes, sir.” The little man clopped away noisily.

The orange-eyed man turned back to another of his companions, a veritable wall of flesh. Though he had to look up to the giant man, it did not diminish his command. It was clear who was the bigger of the two.

“Should we be doing this, Master? What about the plan?   We should move on and keep searching.” the boulder asked.

“I’m well aware of our situation, Bo. You needn’t think so much.” He stared through the trees at the little town, watching the building that stood taller than all its neighbors. “This is important. I know it is.   It’s not what I had expected, but something is there. Something we may be able to use. I believe the boy is the answer.”

“How do you know?” Bo asked.

The orange-eyed man mused with the idea, “Elsie Mae Humphrey. She is the key, I just know she is.”

“But how? She’s dead.”

“Don’t concern yourself with the specifics. Just believe me that if the boy is connected to her, and knows about Katalon… this is more important than our obligation.” he sneered the last word.

“Should we get him?” the goliath asked.

“No, don’t touch him. He will end up with us in the end.”

He turned back to Bo, and held out his hand. The giant man complied by moving closer and allowing his master to rest that hand on his chest, over his heart. The orange-eyed man closed his eyes and concentrated for a moment. Bo watched intently, hardly breathing, waiting for some new feeling to emanate from that strong hand.

After a moment, the orange-eyed man opened his eyes again and turned away, his mood no better.

“Nothing?” Bo asked.

“Obviously. You’d be in a great deal of pain, otherwise.”

The giant man swallowed hard, compulsively covering his heart with his own hand.

The orange-eyed man stared at the theatre, thinking carefully. Finally he said, “We go this route. It can’t get any worse than what it already is.”

Bo nodded automatically, and began to walk away. His master called to him before he left.

“And Bo… find the girl.”

Chapter Seven

~ Practice Makes Perfect ~

     He stared at her portrait, searching her eyes for anything. A hint, a whisper. His great-grandmother’s portrait just smiled back wryly, keeping her secrets. It was almost as if she enjoyed his confusion. He loved and hated that.

“What are you up to?” he muttered.

She continued to stare pleasantly back, so Logan rolled his eyes and headed for the theatre. The stage was full of twirling fabric and giggles. The Stage never ceased to amaze Logan; grown adults turned to giddy children, shy people grew as bold as kings, and things you would never expect a person to do, happen before a crowd of people. He flopped down in one of the seats and watched his friends spin in their capes and eye each other from behind ornate masks. Capes always brought out the Phantom in people.

He pulled True Mythology out and flipped to the second clue. A moment later his uncle flopped down next to him.

“How is it? Did you figure anything out?” Sterling asked. Logan looked at him, glancing immediately into his eyes. The Something stood very resolute in his eyes. Logan tried to ignore it. He fought the uncomfortable feeling and handed the book over, pointing to his great-grandmother’s handwriting.

Sterling read it aloud: “’Before you ascend to look down on the night, check the wall at the base second… something on the right’. There’s a smudged word. What do you think the riddle means?”

Logan shrugged, “I only found it yesterday. What do you think?”

Sterling read over it several more times then leaned his head back to think. A smile crept over his face. He pointed up at the ceiling.

Logan looked up, “Yeah, the stars, that’s what I thought too. But what is that word?” He pointed to the obscured text.

Sterling squinted at it, scratching the blotch. “Sung? Lung…. dung?” They looked at each with disgust.

“Boy, I hope not.”

“Did you find anything on the first clue?”

Logan took a deep breath. He filled him in on the theatre seat and showed him the program.

“That’s incredible! Did you read the Tempest to find what Prospero said?”

“Oh, c’mon Uncle Sterling, you know me and Shakespeare…” he said sticking his tongue out.

“We can figure this out, I’ll read the Tempest.” He started flipping through the pages, looking from one illustration to the next, tracing his fingers lovingly along a woman’s arm that was turning into a tree branch. “What do you think so far? How much have you read?”

He shook his head, “I’m wondering what this map is. Does all of this even lead to a map? And why would Great-grandma go to all this trouble? And why have so many weird things been happening lately…” he muttered the last part.

“It could be anything.” Sterling offered, excitedly. “Just think what she may have found on her travels. What if it’s a map to the hidden temple in South America!?”

Logan was staring at the people on stage, still flapping their capes like wings. But he wasn’t smiling. He wasn’t even listening.

“Logan? Is something wrong?”

He bit his lip. “Just… thinking about Shakespeare reminded me of school.” He sighed.

Sterling looked back down at the book in his hands, then at his nephew. Slowly he closed the book, and sighed too.

“Still unsure, are we?”

“Yeah. I guess that’s the only thing I am. I thought I was ready. I mean, I don’t really have any other plans. It’s just… it’s such a big decision. Life Stuff.”

“Well, you’re right there.” his uncle agreed.

“Can you just give me an answer? I just need an answer.” He turned to him, almost desperate, “What should I do?”

Sterling laughed, and it boomed into the decorative branches reaching out of the walls. “Oh, Logan… there is no one who can answer that, besides yourself. You wouldn’t want someone to anyway, trust me.”

Logan dropped his head on the back of the seat, staring straight up at the swirling night sky ceiling. “I just don’t know if I’m making the right choice.”

Sterling made his rumble. “Do you know the stories of your grandfathers?”

He stared at him, skeptically. “No. But I’m curious where that came from all of a sudden.”

“Well, you see… your grandfather, and your great-grandfather, both had bigger dreams than Farwell. I know for sure that my dad always wanted to be a bush pilot, flying people and supplies over the Canadian wilderness.”

Logan lifted his head up. “Really?”

“Yeah, he loves the outdoors. Always has. And from what I hear, your great-grandpa wanted to be a professor. Teach literature or woodworking, I can’t remember. But something happened in their lives; something that took those dreams away.”

Logan waited, “What?”

“The Wars. Your great-grandfather was the first in the family to go to college. Halfway through, World War I started. When he got back he didn’t have any money for school, so he worked in a factory binding books, until he finally opened up his shop.”

“I really knew nothing about that man…” Logan sighed.

Sterling chuckled, “It was a very long time ago. For Dad it was the same thing, I’m afraid. World War II started right when he was about to begin his first year of university. Dad was quite the soldier. Did his duty, and was highly decorated for it. And when he returned home what did he get for all his honor?” His tone turned dark, a resentment lacing each word. “He was broke, without a home or a wife, and everyone conveniently forgot him. A lot of good it did him.”

Logan could feel that uncomfortable feeling rising again, so he said nothing.

Sterling made his rumble. “Anyway, the whole reason I’m telling you this is because… this family was made for greater things. I can see that you want that. It’s always been a desire in our blood for greater things. But so far the world has denied it to most of us.” He laughed, “Not your great-grandmother. She had enough adventure for everyone. He grabbed Logan’s shoulder then. “I’m the first person in this family to go through college. Your mom the second. We got what they couldn’t have. I understand you may be a little scared to start out on this new life, but hey, what adventure isn’t a little scary at first, right?” He smiled again, and it lightened the mood.

Logan slowly nodded. He felt something deep in him get pushed back a little farther into the corners, but he knew his uncle was right. College wouldn’t hurt, and he owed his grandfathers for their sacrifice. “Ok. Thanks, Uncle Sterling.”

He made his rumble, and began to open True Mythology again.

“Jack! Logan! Up on stage!”

Sterling reluctantly passed the book back to Logan. He gratefully shoved it back into his bag.

Practice was going well. Uncle Sterling was fencing a man in a lion faced mask and trying to rehearse his lines at the same time. Logan nodded, impressed. He sat side stage on a crate he was sure was full of beards. He had had to drag it out of storage that afternoon. His heavy cloak for the next scene was draped on the ladder next to him while Logan buried his nose in the script, trying to memorize his lines.

Wayna swooped to his side from no where, her peacock feather earrings waggling back and forth. “Logan! What have I told you about the ladders!”

The script slipped from his hand as he tried to bat the swinging feathers from his face. “What?”

“This.” She indicated by yanking his maroon cloak off the ladder. “I have told you countless times to keep the ladder RUNGS clear of anything LEST an actor injure themselves and THUS make themselves useless for performances!” She shook the fabric in his face with every exclamation.

“I’m sorry, I forgot. I was sitting right next to- ” She raised hand.

“No excuses. Just stop it.” He took the cloak from her bejeweled hand. “Thank you.” She took something from her pocket and shoved it into his mouth. “A sweet. Wets your mouth. It’ll help with your enunciation.” And with a couple pats to his cheek she was off to harass some woman in a lopsided wig.

He took a deep breath. He loved her, but no one got used to Wayna. “The ladder RUNGS clear of anything LEST…” He began to recite. “Wait… rungs.” He reached down and grabbed his bag and the old tome inside. When he got to the page with the second clue he read it again. “Check the wall at the base, second rung to the right! That’s what the smudged word is. It’s a ladder!” He let out a breath, “I’m so glad it’s not dung.” He looked up the ladder to the catwalks above. “That’s it! The Night! I look down on the ceiling so I have to be above it!” He did a little jig around the crate. Glancing around, he quickly snuck up the ladder.

Halfway up he tensed, gripping the rungs tighter. Heights weren’t his favorite thing. They were probably his least favorite thing. He focused on the next few rungs above him and steadily, slowly navigated them. At the top, he walked with both hands firmly on the rails down the proscenium catwalk to the one that hung over the center of the stage, never looking down. Following the center catwalk downstage, he quickly found the old ladder that led to above the theatre hall’s starry ceiling. It was pressed up against a brick wall and he began to climb, but stopped.

“Oh wait, before I ascend to look down. So that must mean this ladder.” He scrambled back down. Kneeling at the base he began to run his hands up and down the sides checking for anything. There was nothing written on any of the wood or secret holes.

“The second rung at the right.”

His finger traveled down the sides of the ladder where it jutted up against the wall. Right at the level of the second rung his finger brushed against something between the wall and the back of the ladder. Something very small. Very carefully he pried the little piece of paper from where it was wedged. It turned out to be a ticket. An old Mirrorwind ticket to the showChicago. It was a little beat up even though it had been hidden all that time. Two black silhouettes of flapper girls standing next to a seated man were printed on it, and in one corner was written in a purple half circle “When in doubt” with a squiggle underneath. He flipped it over and again that mischievous purple handwriting met his eyes.

Amos Hart’s Weakness

          “Amos Hart, Amos Hart…” Logan said trying to remember. “Mr. Cellophane. Ok, so people didn’t see him. That’s it, no one noticed him. That was his weakness. So the thing I’m after is… invisible.” He sighed as big as he could. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

Wayna’s voice rang out through the rafters, his name among the bellowed words. He pocketed the ticket and made his way a little unsteadily back down the catwalk and ladder.  He was so focused on not seeing the amount of space between his feet and the ground below, he didn’t notice anyone else up in the catwalks.  From the shadows a figure slipped soundlessly from the opposite corner. A girl’s face, pale with long black hair peered down at him with black, calculating eyes.

Chapter Eight

~ More Trouble ~

     He writhed on the table, coughing as if his chest were on fire. He flailed around looking for help, knocking things off the table and sending them flying into the people around him. They did nothing but watch. His face turned purple, but still he couldn’t get air through his lungs. Finally, he flopped onto the floor and as the room grew blurry he felt his head drop to the floorboards.

There was a great commotion, everyone was yelling, the girls screaming and running like disturbed pheasants. The men nearby drew their swords and began to fight, spitting well-enunciated quips in British accents. Logan just stayed on the floor, completely motionless.

“Very good! VERY good!” Wayna yelled. “Ok, STOP.” The men paused their duels and the girls instantly calmed. Logan opened his eyes and got up from the stage floor.

“Oh, Logan, masterful death. I love the flailing, very awful.” She clapped her hands for everyone to look and began instructing several actors on where they should be moving after Logan died. Logan just leaned against the table, righting the goblet holding the imaginary poison that had done him in. What a way to go out. His last play at Mirrorwind if he went to school, and he died in the end. It seemed perfectly appropriate.

“And that’s why men should never wear tights in public.” Wayna was telling a fairly large man. Before she could continue, a loud sound invaded the building, screaming outside the front doors. Everyone stopped and listened as the police sirens wailed by, but instead of getting quieter as they raced off to some emergency, they stayed loud. Wayna waited a minute so she could resume, but when it looked like they weren’t going to end, Logan could see the impatience bubbling up on her face. Finally she yelled out, “Jack! Logan! Go see what that’s about!”

The two men hopped off the stage and quickly did as they were told. When they burst through the front doors of the theatre, they immediately saw two police cars outside the bank a few buildings down. Two officers were running into the bank, while a few more had their guns drawn, shielded by their cars. Logan noticed a black plume of smoke beginning to barrel out of the roof.

“Jumpin’ Catfish! The bank’s on fire!” Sterling exclaimed.

Logan heard one of the officers yell into his radio to dispatch the fire department. Sterling and Logan just looked at each other wide-eyed.

Another police car pulled up next to them, and the officer jumped out. It was Joe, a family friend, and Sterling quickly seized the opportunity.

“Joe! What’s going on?”

“You’re going to need to stay back, there’s been a bank robbery.”

“A bank robbery!?” Logan said, surprised.

“But we thought it was on fire.” Sterling added.

“That too, I guess. It looks like they set the place on fire on their way out. No one knows where the crooks went.”
“Are the surrounding buildings in danger?” Sterling asked as he watched Joe pull out his gun.

“It looks pretty small right now, Jack. You’d better get inside. They’re calling me to check out the alleys around here for any sign of the robbers.”

At this, Sterling nodded quickly and began walking back to the Mirrorwind, but he stopped when Logan didn’t follow.

Logan was staring at a girl. Coal black hair, as straight as glass, pale ivory skin. It was the same girl he’d seen after arriving at the courthouse a few days ago.

“Joe!” he yelled. “Over there!” Joe turned to look where Logan was pointing but in that split second between Logan’s warning and looking, the girl had disappeared. The officer ran off toward the alley anyway.

“What are you doing, Logan?”

“Uncle Sterling, it was that girl, the one I told you about, the one I saw at the courthouse. I told you weird people have been lurking around. I don’t like this, what if they’re causing all this damage?”

Sterling just looked around unable to answer. “C’mon, let’s go inside.”

Back inside, his uncle explained everything to Wayna and the terrified cast. Logan couldn’t put the girl’s face out of his mind. She had seen him. She had smirked.

He grabbed his bag and headed out the door. Sterling called out to him, but all Logan could do was utter over his shoulder, “I’ve gotta get home, make sure everything’s alright.”

No one was home. After a few calls Logan determined everyone was out, but far away from the bank. He breathed a sigh of relief, but immediately felt agitated again.

What was going on?

He was in his room, standing before his desk with True Mythology laying on it. He stared at the book, trying to reason out the events of the past week. Something was happening; these mysterious people weren’t just here by accident. And they were looking for something, something valuable enough to destroy a courthouse and a bank. And it had all started when this book had shone up.

He knew people would think he was crazy, but True Mythology was a part of this. The deer in the woods with the Dryad song, and the orange-eyed man. That was not just some strange coincidence. And the clues he was following from his great-grandmother. Was he not the only one searching for what they led to? Something was going on.

He rubbed the scaly cover. “You are special, aren’t you?”

Picking it up, he pulled back the cover and felt something jingle and hit the floor next to his foot. He kneeled down and glimpsed a beautiful copper medallion, in the shape of a circle, with a stunning oak leaf carved into its face. The stem of the leaf rose out of the circle, allowing a chain to be threaded through it. He picked it up and ran his thumb over the picture. It was striking and old, and full of meaning somehow. He could feel importance emanating from it and he couldn’t help the instant desire to keep it. For a brief moment he wondered how it had arrived in his book, how maybe someone in the cast had slipped it into his bag while he was outside, but the thought was quickly swept away.   He turned it over as he stood back up and realized there was also a carving on the other side. This depicted a setting sun with oak leaves strewn on the ground before it. His heart immediately latched onto the medallion, as if he had owned it his whole life.

He looked up and out the window over his desk, where at that very moment a figure was sidling through the trees at the edge of the woods. He peered closer assuming it was the nosey old man again, but this person seemed much larger. He was built like a boulder with legs and walked like one. Lumbering along, he made his way to the path that began at Logan’s backyard. Logan could imagine the ground shaking with each step he took. And then it hit him. He finally recognized the familiar tromping and huge shoulders. He could remember now, those mountain wide shoulders; so much so even if he were fat he wouldn’t look it because his waist would still be thinner. It was one of the orange-eyed man’s companions. He had seen him following along at the funeral and in the theatre, but the command the orange-eyed man demanded had left this character blurry in the background.

Right as the man reached the path he scanned around him for unwanted eyes and looking up at the house, met Logan’s. There was a clear and distinct moment when they connected, both knew the other was watching, and both didn’t want to be seen. The man’s face was awash with irritation, and he lumbered away into the woods, moving with surprising speed. Logan had half a second to decide if he wanted to stay where he was, or find out what had been going on lately. He dropped the book on his desk and threw the medallion over his head, slipping it under his shirt. He set off down the steps, two at a time, heading outback and for the edge of the woods.

His curiosity burned as his feet moved him on. Seeing the giant man also brought back memories of the rest of the orange-eyed man’s entourage. That woman, the pale, pretty one he’d seen in the shadows, she had been there too. There was a reason these people were slinking through town, showing up time and again near his family. He needed to know. But he was also struck with anxiety as he chased a huge man who could be any kind of dangerous, into the woods, alone. Alarms went off in his head. What if these people weredangerous and they were lurking around his town for some diabolical reason?

But the thing that resounded in him most was his desire to follow these strange signs, to follow them and see where they led. His heart jumped at the idea of real adventure, and in his own little town too!

When he broke the edge of the woods, he stooped over and walked in a more calculated way, judging each step to avoid making his presence known. He peered through the trees to find the man, just making out the outline of a moving boulder quite a ways away. Logan again admired the speed of such a large guy. Moving from tree to tree, Logan hid himself as much as possible in case the man looked back again. But it seemed he was intent on getting away. Logan picked up his pace, careful still not to ignore his footing. He hopped along on his toes, gaining on the prey. ‘Prey’ was probably the wrong idea. As if a mouse would hunt a lion.

After five minutes of pursuit he had gained considerable ground on the man. He began his flight from tree to tree again, the close quarters daunting him. Moving to the next tree, he focused entirely on the giant, searching him for some sign of who he was, or where he came from. With his gaze so fixed, he neglected his feet. Everything in him froze with the crack of a brittle twig snapping. A second was all it took for him to realize his folly and dart behind a nearby rock, but he knew the man had seen him. He could tell he had stopped, for the man had no concern of his own feet and had been making a ruckus through the underbrush. Now it was dead quiet. Logan held his breath waiting to see what the next move was. It dawned on him that he hadn’t considered what a man that size could do if he found him.

The seconds drifted away, and still there was silence. Logan, finally allowing himself to quietly breathe again, stopped short as the swishing sound of feet through leaves started up again. His eyes darted back and forth searching for a way to escape as the man neared, but he couldn’t see any way out. The man’s unusual speed would surely catch Logan the second he made a run for it.

Then in a moment of pure relief, he realized the steps were getting quieter. The man was walking away from him. Finally, Logan took a deep breath, and relaxed. He waited a few more moments before peeking over the rock, just in case the brute was keeping a suspicious eye behind him. When the steps were sufficiently quieter, he twisted around and peered over his hiding place.

He could see just the hint of the man’s back, disappearing through the brush. Logan slowly rose, and took a few steps out from behind the rock. Then he set off again after the man.

“Don’t.” It was a distinct and unsettling voice, and it came from behind him. “Don’t… follow.” A prickling sensation crawled up Logan’s back as he realized the man had somehow snuck up on him. He felt scared, foolish and a little dizzy. Slowly, he turned to face his predator and saw why the voice was really so unsettling. There before him was the most enormous horse he had ever seen. It was chocolate brown; it’s back coming up to a normal man’s height. The majestic head towered over him, with a flowing mane that matched the rest of his hair. Its legs were slightly bushy like a Clydesdale and its eyes stared very intently. It just stood there, dipping its head a few times, unmoving, watching Logan.

Logan stood just as still staring back. He didn’t know where it had come from or how it had just appeared behind him. He could have sworn that there hadn’t been anything around him as he pursued the man. But here the horse stood. And there was no one else around. He took a second to relax, free from the danger of the orange-eyed man’s companion. And then he realized, after his initial shock of seeing it, that this was the same horse that had been watching him from across the creek. From that distance it hadn’t looked that big, but now that he was up close the sheer size of the massive beast had completely taken him off guard. Logan took a nervous step forward, putting his hand out. The horse took an equal step back. Logan again advanced on the animal, but still it preferred to keep its distance.

It snorted, and Logan suddenly had overwhelming anxiety pervade him. He was working under the assumption this was a kind horse. He took a nervous step backwards and it lowered its head. Like a rocket, the giant horse screeched and shot up on its hind legs. Logan gaped at how high the animal stood. He saw it knocking against the high branches above him. When it landed again with a mighty thud, the giant man became the least of Logan’s worries.

As fast as he could, he ran past the horse and headed back towards home, glancing behind him to see the horse racing after. Logan rushed over the path, dodging large roots and low hanging braches. He could hear the thumping hooves close behind him, pushing him out of the woods. The edge of the trees came into sight, and Logan picked up the pace, the unfamiliar medallion beating on his chest. He ran all out, passing into his yard at a dead sprint. When he stopped at the back fence and looked back behind him… nothing was there. The woods were calm and empty, not even the birds made a sound. Logan caught his breath, wondering if any of that had actually happened.

Things were getting much stranger, and all of his questions were being answered with more questions. But most of all, he wondered, did that horse really… talk?

Chapter Nine

~ Distractions ~

His thumb went back and forth over the carved leaf. He couldn’t take his eyes off the copper treasure. It seemed to be helping him concentrate, as the voices around him babbled on and on.

“A fire? In the bank? But why?”

“I don’t know, but you can imagine how surprised I was when the police chief told me it was my mother’s safe deposit box that was ruined.” Logan’s grandfather said.

“But that doesn’t make sense, what was in it?” his mother asked.

“Weren’t any of the other boxes damaged? Did they steal any money?” asked his dad.

His grandfather sighed, but said excitedly, “I don’t know what was in it, I don’t know what they took, I hadn’t gotten around to cleaning it out since she passed. All I know is that the fire was centered around Elsie Mae’s box, and they did a number to the vault.”

As Logan continued to trace the edges of the copper leaf with his finger, he tried in vain to put all the puzzle pieces together. He knew who the culprits were, but he didn’t know who they were. They were after something, but he didn’t know what. He knew it had something to do with his family, especially his great-grandmother, but that’s where it stopped.

What was so special about Farwell?

The kitchen door of his house burst open and Wayna and his Aunt Maxine, his mother Mira’s sister, tromped in. Both had distraught expressions that sent the room into silence.

Maxine looked to her father and said, “I’m afraid there’s more bad news than just the deposit box, Dad. It’s the Four Fathers.”

It was a short drive to the bookstore that his grandpa owned, just down the street from the Mirrorwind. When they pulled up on the corner to the old three-story store made completely of black brick, everyone piled out of the car. Maxine and Logan’s grandpa were first through the front door, a big black beast of a gate, with a large window ringed in stained glass at its heart. Two great bay windows flanked the entrance showcasing the newest releases and a tasteful smattering of fall decorations. He pushed open the heavy door and followed them in.

And immediately stopped dead from the horrible smell.

The place was a sight to behold. The first two floors were open, the second floor being just a balcony ringing the walls, with a rickety iron spiral staircase its only access. Shelves covered every inch of space from floor to ceiling. There really was only room for books in the place. But something terrible had happened.

With absolutely no warning over the night, one of book’s natural enemies attacked the Four Fathers Bookstore: water. A very old pipe that ran behind the shelves of the travel section gave its last breath and finally let go of everything in its possession. The pipe burst with such force that it broke a small hole into the wall. With an opening, it proceeded to spray that entire side of the store down like a greenhouse, constantly flowing all day long. It wasn’t until the next day, when Aunt Maxine went in to do her manager duties that the devastation was discovered.

The water had finally given up, and been turned off, but the floor was covered in a good two inches of water. All the sections around and below the pipe were completely drenched, and everything else was covered in a light mist. But because they had been sitting there for a whole day rotting, the smell was the worst part.

“Ok, now hurry up! Jack, grab a mop! Eli, I want you to start mopping up the cash registers, make sure they still work! While your father’s doing that, Logan, James, help me with these books! We need to get the drenched ones out of here before the smell gets any worse. Mira, go get buckets and garbage bags! Let’s get a move on! We’ve got to save what we can!” Logan could see the military in his grandfather now. He delegated precisely and quickly, and then joined in on the worst work. He felt a little prouder to be his grandson.

But that was quickly shoved aside the moment they set to work. For some reason the wet pages were already turning green, and the closer he got the worse the smell. At first they were careful as they went through; checking to see if any books had survived. But after a little while it was discovered that nothing in the entire section under the pipe had made it. At this point, they started to shovel everything in great armloads to the waiting garbage bags.

It was probably one of the most painful things Logan had ever had to do. These were his love, his greatest companion, and he was throwing the carcasses away like vile road kill. If it weren’t for the stench moving him on, he may not have been able to do it.

It took a couple hours to bag up the dead books and get them out. Eli thankfully had found that the registers were fine, and Uncle Sterling was on his sixth bucket of mopped up water, the floors still wet, but finally completely uncovered. Mira and Wayna had proceeded into the misted sections. Here the work slowed down because Grandpa Humphrey wanted every book inspected. If it was still sellable, a cart waited to take them away from the disaster; if it wasn’t, it was chucked.

This went on for the rest of the day, and even Wayna called off practice, despite how close they were to opening night. The plumber had arrived and set up shop on the balcony where the offender had struck, and everyone else had moved on to join the inspection process, save for Maxine who had been on the phone the whole time, calling insurance agents and book distributors.

By now it had become a mechanical motion to Logan. Pull, flip, toss. Pull, flip, cart. Pull, flip, cart. Pull, flip, toss. He didn’t even have to think about it anymore, and so his mind wandered. He started thinking about what his uncle had said, about college and his grandparents. He looked over at this grandpa, checking books in the Mystery section. He looked different somehow. A little stronger despite his old bones, a little sharper despite his wrinkles.

He looked down at the book in his hand. It was a tattered old paperback that wasn’t good enough for the cart. Turning it over, he found it was a copy of Peter Pan. The title was still visible, but other than that there was just a shooting star across the wrinkled cover. He loved this book. It made him think of when he was younger and his dad would read to him. He had a wonderful copy at home, and this one was not worth saving in the least. He flipped it through his fingers creating that distinct buzzing sound and saw that most of the words were obscured or warped, but a few sections remained intact. He looked from page to page vaguely skimming over the readable parts. Near the end of the book he stopped. He always hated the end of Peter Pan. Everyone grew up, and some people died. It was so far and contrary to the rest of the story, and sad, that Logan had refused to ever read the end again. It killed the magic. In the tattered copy he held, there was only one part he could make out. It read:

“Why can’t you fly now, mother?”

“Because I am grown up, dearest. When people grow up they forget the way.”

He stared at the words. They dug deep into him and pulled the dread back up again. He looked over at his grandpa, sniffing a copy of And Then There Were None, and placing it carefully on a cart. A bush pilot. Soaring over the Canadian mountains to secluded lakes and bear-filled forests. He thought of his great-grandpa coming home from war with no money, and taking a factory job. A professor. Their dreams taken from them.   He glanced at his mother, his father. Had they ever dreamed? Did they want lives greater than a small farmhouse? And then he looked at his uncle, flipping through a large art book, scanning the pages.

Had they settled? Did they grow up and just, accept what life had given them? Had they forgotten how to fly?

He had to get out. He stood up, still holding the warped book and headed for the door.

“Where are you going, Logan?” his mother called.

He turned around at the door and didn’t know what to say. “I… I just have to go. I’ll see you at home. Sorry… I just… I need to go.” And then he was out the door.

He wasn’t home. He had gone to the sanctuary of the Mirrorwind instead. His thumb was back doing its circuit around the shining copper medallion, his mind whirling right along with it. He didn’t know what to think anymore.

The theatre hall doors opened and soft footsteps came up behind him. A flowing skirt covered in paisleys dropped into the seat next to him. “I thought I’d find you here.”

“You know we’d both rather be here than anywhere else, Wayna.” he replied.

“Too true.” she said as she fiddled with a bracelet on her arm that resembled a vine wrapping around her wrist. “This is my haven.”

Logan looked up at the golden creatures frozen above the stage. He had been in this building so many times in his life it was almost more home than the one he slept in at night.

Wayna continued, “That was quite an abrupt exit back in the Four Fathers. Is anything wrong?”

He sighed, “I’m not sure. Uncle Sterling’s been asking the same question, and all I can tell him is… I don’t know.”

“Aha!” she exclaimed, pointing, “A very common issue among people. The Unknown.” She smiled at him dramatically, “Do you know why people rarely achieve the dreams they have, hm? It is the Unknown. Some people see it as terrifying as a monster, to others it is a prison guard blocking their way forward. And so,” she gestured sadly, “they stay where they are.”

“Scared of the future.” Logan said.

“Exactly, my dear! They let the Unknown push them around, dictate their life. But you know what’s most ridiculous about that?” Logan shook his head. “They don’t even know what the Unknown is! Why, it could be a little kitten for all they know, or even a big pile of money, but still the fact that they don’t know is the deciding factor.”

Logan mulled this around in his head. “Does anyone ever reach their dreams?”

“Oh, my, yes.” She breathed deeply. “I reached mine. I’m running a beautiful theatre that I wouldn’t trade for anything. But other than my remarkable self… yes, others do too.”

“It seems like most of my family didn’t.” he muttered.

There was silence for a moment, and she continued quietly. “Your family is a wonderful group of people. Without them… I wouldn’t know where I’d be now. They may not be famous or heroes… well, they’re my heroes.” She turned to face him. “Make the most ofyour, Logan. Your family has chosen their own way, and you can choose your own.”

“And I want to,” he said, tired. “I want more in life, I want… adventure. But this place… it’s my home. It’s all I’ve ever known. And I love it. I feel so torn. To see what the world has to offer, but I don’t want to leave this place. I love the Mirrorwind, and my family and you…” he took a deep breath. “But if I stay I can’t help feeling like I’m missing something, something greater. I don’t want to just settle.”

She nodded, knowingly, “You’ve crossed the inevitable line of Growing Up, Logan. Probably the most confusing step a person has to take in life. Sadly, we can’t have it all. But it might not hurt to give it a try!” she smiled.

He couldn’t help smiling at her goofy grin.

“The key to living a good life is not being afraid of the future. The future is going to happen whether you want it to or not. You are also going to make mistakes, it’s completely inevitable. So if that’s true… what’s to be scared of? I am assured that my life will continue and at times I will mess it up. If that’s the case, then why not jump head first, eh? You can’t make it any worse if you follow your dream. Say you never actually achieve that dream… you may just find something even better.”

He looked at her as she stared up at the starry ceiling, a small smile resting on her lips. Wayna had always been theatrical to him, but this was the first time he had seen the wisdom pouring out of her.

“So you’re saying go after your dreams whether you get them or not.”

She looked back at him and placed a pink fingernail on the copy of Peter Pan sitting in his lap, “I’m saying, give Neverland a chance. Home will always be here waiting for you.”

He smiled, and looked back to the stage. Somewhere, deep down, deep in his soul, far behind his heart and to the left of his fears, a chain wrapped around the Box fell off. The small tear forming in the corner of his eye was pushed back, covered by a cough and some shifting in his seat.

“Thanks, Wayna.”

“My pleasure, my dear boy.”

There was a clanking noise up in the catwalks. They both looked up at it. “I didn’t know someone was here.” Wayna said.

Footsteps thumped in the distance and the front doors could be heard opening. The two got up to see who was running around. When they passed into the grand stairway both of them stopped cold. The orange-eyed man stood outside the front doors, his arms behind his back, the red overcoat shifting in the autumn wind. After a brief moment he turned and walked away.

“The orange-eyed man! What’s he doing here?”

Wayna peered at Logan, “How do you know him?” He quickly caught her up on his appearance at the funeral and the woods, and his companions floating around town.

When he had finished Wayna looked troubled. “What?” he asked.

She sat on a stair. “That first day he showed up, he called himself an art dealer. He was asking about the Mirrorwind, interested in putting a show through here. I didn’t like the feel of him. Those eyes…”

“What did you tell him?”

“I told him we were full up for the rest of the season and next, which is technically true, and sent him on his way. It’s just…”

Logan waited, “Just…?”

“I don’t want to alarm you, dear. It’s just he’s been showing up more and more, but never to talk. It’s things like that, creeping around when everyone is gone. I don’t like the feel of any of it.”

The first thought that popped into Logan’s head was the courthouse and bank in shambles. Could his grandfather’s bookstore have been some sort of… diversion? Everyone had been in the bookstore leaving the theatre completely empty. Logan looked back down at the tattered book in his hand. All he could think of was what his uncle had said to him the day before; ‘what adventure isn’t a little scary in the beginning, right?’

Suddenly, Wayna’s wisdom wasn’t so simple.

Chapter Ten

~ The Performance ~

He was usually so excited for Opening Night. All the hard work finally culminated in a night full of electricity and nerves. It was always the most fun because no one knew what was going to happen. Practice gave them a fairly good roadmap, but once the magic of the stage came to life, there was no telling what could go on.

Tonight, though, Logan was very distracted. Wayna’s words had pushed something inside him to move. The lurking strangers had gotten the ball rolling. Elsie’s clues meant something, they led to something; some sorts of map? His great-grandmother hadn’t gone to all the trouble of hiding them for nothing. Now, it wasn’t just a game. He was determined to figure them out.

“Don’t you agree, Sir?” a man said, with a little impatience. Logan looked over at him, the man’s one eyebrow raised. And then Logan looked back at the audience. He had missed his cue. He sniffed loudly, “Indeed, Count. This ball should be quite the night! I fear a young lady has already caught your eye?” He loved talking with a British accent. The other player continued in his long lines, leaving Logan alone with his thoughts again. He had no other lines, he died next scene.

And so he pondered the riddle again. Something out of Prospero’s mouth… goes unnoticed. Uncle Sterling had read the play and had given him a list of important things that Prospero had said. The list was completely useless, nothing seemed to fit together. Still, Logan was grateful he hadn’t had to read any Shakespeare.

When the next scene came, Logan went to a table and drank deeply from a goblet. He then began to die, mercilessly, right onto the table. He had figured out a way of turning his face purple by holding his breath and pushing down with his jaw. He felt a shimmer of satisfaction as the audience gasped. Then the rest of the cast screamed and continued into the panic and threats scripted out for the rest of the scene. When the lights finally went off, Logan slipped offstage and headed towards the make-up room.

“That was a disturbing death there, Logan.” One of his friends said with thumbs up.

“Thanks, Biff!”

“Excellent job, Logan, excellent.” Wayna said.

Logan stopped and stared at her for a moment. She was in her usual wild array of satin and fringe, but something seemed different. “Wayna, did you change your hair color? Again?”

She looked at him, slightly surprised, and then patted her new dark red locks. “Just trying something new, dear.”

“Looks good.” He smiled to himself as he headed through the wing. It seemed like Wayna was changing her hair color every time he turned around.

When he reached the mirrors he slumped down and stared at his ridiculous face. The stage make-up was exceedingly heavy for this period piece and made him look like a mime. He grabbed a cloth and began to take it off. As he worked he stared into his own eyes. “What are you really looking for?”

He slipped out of his costume and into his normal clothes, although a little dressier for the cast party after the show. Then he wandered through the halls leading around the theatre, and into the grand stairway. He gazed at the chandelier as he meandered past, trying to see it as if for the first time.

And then he was at his great-grandmother’s portrait again. Her mischievous and very subtle smirk annoyed him this time. “What are you trying to tell me? Or did you want no one to find it?”

She continued to smirk at him, unfazed. He put his hands on each side of the portrait and leaned forward, till his lowered head was almost touching the canvas. “C’mon, Grandma. Don’t leave me hanging.”

He sighed, thinking how strange she looked from this perspective: so short and fat. He looked at the intricate brushstrokes that made up her dress, her arm, her hand…

And then he saw it. Her hand. From this angle it looked a little like she was… pointing. He backed up again and bent down so he was level with the hands lying in her lap. They were very relaxed, just resting on her legs. But one finger was slightly farther apart from the rest. It looked like it was pointing. He looked in the direction she was pointing, but it was just to a wall. And the painting had to have been moved once or twice. So he looked harder. She was seated in the theatre library, and Logan leaned in very close to see what was behind her. And there he saw it. Just barely visible beside her sneakily outstretched finger, was a book entitled The Little Mermaid.

“I knew it! Oh, I knew you wouldn’t leave me hanging, Grandma! I knew there had to be more!” He jumped up and ran flat out for the library. It was just down the hall behind two big wooden doors. He blew through them and oriented himself. Picturing where she had been sitting, he faced the main bookcase, the one that took up the whole wall. He ran over to it and started searching. Row after row he scoured for the old book. It took him almost ten minutes before finally, a little lower than what had been in the portrait, was the little novel. It was very small, more cover than story, but he whipped open the hardback. Flipping through each page he scanned every inch for any trace of purple. He went through half the book until right in the middle he found the name Sea King circled. Scribbled small next to the name were two notes:

Act 1, Scene 2, V. 442

Act 5, Scene 1, V. 2054

He went through the rest looking for anything more, but he already knew this was as much as he was going to get. He tossed it onto the table. This was something, he could feel it. It was small, but it was something.

It took him just a few seconds to realize there was only one play the Sea King could be referring to: The Tempest.

“From Prospero’s mouth!” He grabbed the little book and ran out.

Back in the dressing room he grabbed his bag and pulled out True Mythology. Inside he had tucked the program, the ticket, and Uncle Sterling’s findings on Prospero. Thankfully, his uncle had given him a line by line list for the character, along with what act, scene and verse it had been said. Slipping down to scene two in act one, he found the first line:

Go make thyself like a nymph o’ the sea: be subject, To no sight but thine and mine, invisible

“It’s the same stuff!” he said excitedly. “Nymph of the sea, that’s the Sea King. ‘No sight but thine and mine, invisible! Mr. Cellophane!” He laughed. “It… I mean it doesn’t help that much, but it’s connected!”

He flipped the paper over and looked to act five. Prospero’s line there read:

Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes and groves, And ye that on the sands with printless foot

This verse was much less helpful. “Elves? With printless foot?” He pushed the paper aside.

Leaning back against the makeup chair, he sighed. Everything kept leading to a dead end. This was obviously all connected, and his great-grandmother had definitely left meaning in all of it, but what it all led to felt even farther out of reach than when he’d started.

He looked down and saw a few bobby pins laying on the counter, probably from one of the girls’ costumes. He fiddled with them, sticking them through each other. It made him smile, thinking of his mother and her constant trail of pins. It made something in him rebel. No, this was not going to beat him. So he was stumped again? What was he hoping for, a map with a big red X on it? He was Elsie Mae’s descendant; this secret was meant for him.

He picked up the ticket and scrutinized it again, looking at each feature. There was the purple message about Amos Hart, but also the little half circle of words in the corner. Something about the little ‘When in doubt’ section… like it didn’t have anything to do with the play. And if the ticket had an extra message…

He moved on to the program. He scoured up and down the pages, reading every word. The edges had intricate scrollwork printed on them, with little seashells and waves. When he flipped to the back, his eye finally stopped at the bottom left edge where the scrollwork was just a smidge different. Peering at it closely, he saw words in the design. The same handwriting, the same half circle shape, ‘look to the’.

“Now that’s what I’m talking about!” He grabbed the ticket and held it up to the program. “When in doubt, look to the…what?” The two messages fit perfectly together creating an almost complete circle of words. The squiggle picture that was drawn under the words continued seamlessly from the ticket to the program.

“Ok.” He picked up The Little Mermaid and flipped it to the page where the Sea King was circled. But there was nothing else on there. He went through the whole thing once more and finally on the first page, before the story, was a little message in the corner saying “Happy Birthday, love. 1922”. It was a very scratchy note, which is why Logan missed the tiny word written upside down at the paper’s corner. He flipped it over and positioned the three clues together on the counter so that the little circle became whole. It said this:

“When in doubt, look to the stars.” He had to smile. It was a beautiful little secret. His great-grandmother had put all of this together for one message, for one reason, and he had found it. It was like winning Christmas. But he still didn’t know what it meant. “Ok, look to the stars. The stars in the theatre? Alright, but what’s there? Something invisible… or just something you never really look at? And what does the tree in the middle mean? There are trees everywhere here. Ok, ok. Look to the stars for an answer. An answer to the riddle from the clues. The clues told me about the balusters and the seats, and the ladder leading up to the attic…”

It fit. “Maybe I just had to find the ticket, before I actually did ascend to look down on the night. If I look down on the ‘night’ from above the ceiling, then I’m looking to the stars, right?” He waited a minute. “It can’t hurt.” And so he piled everything under his arm and headed for the stage. Once he was in the wings, he quietly sidled up the same ladder from the day before. The play was still on, and he tried very hard to quiet his heavy breathing, as the floor got further and further away under his feet.

He sidled as quickly and quietly as he could through the catwalks, eyes half-closed, and at the ladder to the attic he took a deep breath and hurried up. This area was a little more difficult to manage. There was nothing up above the theatre hall roof and the attic ceiling was low, reminding him of his great-grandmother’s house. He had grabbed a flashlight on his way to the stage and clicked it on. Cobwebs shone everywhere. As he swung it around the only things visible were support beams and the wires running everywhere that lit the lights to the stars below. He looked around watching every step since this was one of the oldest and least used parts of the theatre. After a long while he plopped down on a beam and thought. Something had to be up here. “C’mon Great-grandma. I’ve come this far.” He tried to rummage the clues from the pile in his arms but the flashlight slipped out of his hand in the process. It clattered a little ways away pointing away from him. Thankfully, this was far enough from the stage that people couldn’t hear him banging around. He crawled over to it and was about to pick it up when he saw what it illuminated.

There was a little circular protrusion popping up from the floor amid the tangle of wires and blanket of dust. It was about the size of a half dollar. On its top was etched a tree. He whipped out the clues again and pieced them together. The tree in the middle of the circle message matched exactly to the tree on the floor. He was almost giddy with excitement! He grabbed the floor tree and pulled it a little, and to his amazement it gave a smidge. He pulled again, and the entire thing came out of the floor. It was a cork! And now there was a perfect hole peering down into the theatre below. He bent down and looked, now being able to hear the action on stage as someone said, “Knave!” The hole was slanted and pointed directly toward the stage, but as Logan looked, he couldn’t see the stage at all. All that was visible was the ornamentation flowing across the top of the stage. Try as he might, he couldn’t angle himself to see anything below or above it. Really all he could see was the giant man’s head in the middle with the sea shell behind it.

Logan went through the clues again. Prospero’s quotes, Amos Hart was never noticed, and a Sea King. And then like a clean strike from a hammer on the very top of his head, the answer hit him. “Oh my gosh! A sea king that no one ever notices, they just walk right by it. And Prospero’s lines!” He pulled them out and read by the flashlight. “Nymph o’ the sea… invisible, elves of hills and brooks, printless foot! The statues above the stage! There’s something hidden in the statues above the stage!” He let out a goofy sort of triumphant laugh at how clever he could be. And then noticed that everything had gone quiet below. He froze. After a few seconds someone cleared their throat and continued with lavish sounding lines. “Whoops…” he whispered.

Wayna pushed a countess fiddling with her wig onto stage just in time for her to say, “This wine is divine!” and have all onstage appropriately laugh in haughty little titters. She sighed. It never got easier, just more fun. She turned back to the wing and took a quick sip of water. They were almost up to intermission and she really needed to have a talk with Beebe about her enunciation.

After a few more minutes the audience started clapping as the curtains silently swished shut. The theatre grew very loud and all the actors started chatting about how great they were doing as they filed offstage.

“Wonderful job, dears! Let’s not let those accents slip! And don’t forget your postures; like a rod is down your back! Beebe, I need to see you in a minute.” Beebe just rolled her eyes as she picked off her beauty mark and scratched her lip.

Wayna walked onstage and made a quick sweep of the set to see if everything was ready for the next act. Several crew members were bringing in new furniture and hanging a chandelier. She nodded unconsciously and swept off to the wing again. One of the actors was just finishing a joke when she came near and the group burst out laughing. She smiled to herself, marveling at how much joy her friends pulled from the theatre. It filled her up.

And then her eyes shifted past them, where the crew members were jostling a large set piece through a small door. A few court actresses were skipping in their big dresses watching them bounce up and down. And a man stood watching it all, just like she was. He was dressed very formally which is why Wayna didn’t notice him among all the Victorian ruffles, and he wore one of the ball masks for the next act, the ones that everyone else was beginning to put on. But she could still see through it. The brutish figure, the short cropped gray beard, the long red coat… and behind the mask… those piercing orange eyes.

Her throat practically rolled itself up. She couldn’t move or think. And then he saw her. With just the slyest nod he acknowledged her and then disappeared behind the giant set piece which had found its way through the door. She stood dazed for a second then headed off through the back hall to the make-up room to cut him off. She had to be sure.

Bursting through the doors she glanced wildly at everyone, then rushed to the set storage in the next room. There were the crew members wheeling the stubborn set piece into its storage spot, but the man was gone.

She wondered if she had really seen him. But she didn’t wonder long, because a thick dread settled itself down in her gut. Why was he here?

He had waited until the audience had comfortably settled back into the artificial world onstage before he made his move. Using a little used catwalk, and shuffling some hidden panels aside, Logan inched himself out onto the small ledge that lay in front of the golden ornamentation adorning the top of the stage. It was dark now, very dark up here, and he hoped that the Sea King statue at the center of the stage was really as unnoticed as his great-grandmother’s clues suggested. He made his way very slowly, calculating every step so as not to slip and make any sudden movements. He didn’t want anyone looking up here, especially during the play. Wayna would kill him if he distracted from the show. He also didn’t want to look down. In his head he had convinced himself he was only a few feet up.

Grabbing legs and arms of the satyrs and nymph girls that paraded through the golden river, he checked every side and back, getting closer and closer to the Sea King. Wayna had showed him how to get up here when he was eight. She wanted to decorate the satyrs with reindeer antlers and green wreaths one Christmas show. He had never really wanted to sneak up here any other time because the ledge was so small. Now, years later it seemed even smaller. He held his breath when he snuck a glance down at the stage, the actors dancing below looking miles away.

Finally, he reached the ancient face. The Sea King had to be the answer, it was the only thing he could see through the hole in the ceiling. The huge statue’s beard poured out around him much like the waves of the stream underneath. Logan held onto the giant shell resting behind him and peered around at his face. It occurred to him then: From Prospero’s Mouth. It must be hidden in the Sea King’s mouth!

He reached around and poked and prodded, but couldn’t see anything distinct about the mouth. It seemed almost solid, as if the entire face was one piece. But running his finger across the lips he felt the slightest hair of separation. He pushed down hoping it would slide open but it stayed firm. Prying up on it as well didn’t budge it.

Getting a better grip on the nearest nymph arms, he examined the whole head more closely. There was nothing special at the top, and the face was whole. So he began to search the sprawling beard. After a minute his fingertips fell on something that dipped a little below the rest of the sculpture. Peering down he saw a tiny tree etched into the gold beard. With a smile he pushed down on it.

There was a soft click and the Sea King’s mouth slid silently open. He leaned around and saw that it had swung on perfectly hidden hinges in the beard, almost as if the sculpture were alive and had just opened its mouth. He reached in, and there it was; a solid treasure waiting for him.

This time he kept his cool and stayed quiet. He pushed the mouth closed again and made his slow retreat to the catwalks. Back in the darkness of the catwalks, he marveled at the object in his hand. It appeared to be a scroll, but there was no way to open it. It felt like a solid piece of ivory, with tiny intricate carvings cut all over it. On each end were two pronged handles made of dark cherry wood. He looked at one end. In the wood capping the ivory was carved the same beautiful tree, but this time three of its roots curved down into a little symbol of concentric circles, much like a target but a little different.

He tried pulling on the ends to open the scroll, but they wouldn’t budge at all. He studied the carvings on the outside of the ivory, but they made no sense at all. He didn’t know how to get to the map, but he was so excited about finding it that it didn’t really bother him.

He gingerly descended back to the stage, relieved when his feet hit solid ground. Everyone was bustling around trying to get into position for the big group dance number coming up. Wayna was near the stage manager, looking a little troubled. He thought she might like to know about his discovery.

“Wayna,” he whispered, “Are you ok?”

“Fine, dear, fine.” she whispered back, not looking at him.

“I wanted to show you something.” He put the scroll in her hands. She looked at it absentmindedly. “You won’t believe it, Wayna! You remember that little riddle Great-grandma wrote in my book? Well, I figured it out!”

She continued to turn the scroll over in her hands uninterested, but raised her eyebrows at the mention of Elsie.

“You see this was actually hidden in the mouth of the Sea King statue up above the stage.” At this she gasped. “Yeah, I know! It’s crazy isn’t it?” He was getting a little too loud in the excitement. The stage manager shh’d him.

Wayna pulled him aside a little farther from the stage. It was then that Logan realized she wasn’t surprised at where he had found the object. She pointed mutely at the end where the tree carving peered up at them.

“What? The tree? I know it was part of the clues! There’s one up in the attic as well!”

Finally, she managed her voice, “Do you know what this is?”

“No.”

“My goodness, Logan this is… this is the… but it just can’t be.” And her face went pale, her eyes darkened. “The balusters…” she whispered. Out of nowhere her hand clutched his arm and he was dragged down the hall and past the lighted mirrors of the make-up room and thrown into a small closet. She clicked on the light.

“Where did you find this?” Her eyes held nothing but task.

“Um,” he stammered, “in… in the mouth. Of the Sea King statue.”

“This is part of that riddle, the one in your old book from Elsie Mae?”

“Yes, yes. You see the three clues together- ”

“This is the one with the balusters? It led you to this?”

“Yes, Wayna. What is the big deal?” He was getting concerned. “What is that?”

She rubbed her hand across her face and Logan could see sweat starting to form. “I don’t have time to tell you all of it. Nor would you believe me. Oh, goodness.” She stared at the scroll again. Then took a deep breath. “This is very important.”

He stared at the ivory in her hands, “Why? What is it?”

“I’m not even sure, but if I’m right it will be dangerous to have it here.”

“But what is it?” he said, dictating each word.

“It would be too hard for you to believe; really it wouldn’t make any sense. I’m sorry that I can’t go into this right now, but there is something very … wrong happening right now. That orange-eyed man, you remember him? I just saw him lurking around backstage, with a Victorian mask on!”

“Wait, wait! He’s here?”

“Yes, and I know this sounds paranoid, but I think we’re in danger. This,” she held up the scroll, “changes everything.”

He stared at her. “Why are so many weird things happening lately?”

“You’ve been seeing strange things?” He nodded. “Other than the people you told me about?”

“Yes! Like a white deer and I heard someone singing in the forest one day… I thought I heard a …” He glanced at her, “you know, a horse… talk.”

A tiny smile tried to creep up her lips, but she suppressed it. “Logan, these things are more real than you know.”

“What is that supposed to mean!? Why is this scroll so important that a scary arts director would prowl around the Mirrorwind?”

She sighed. “I just… I can’t explain right now. You’re just going to have to believe me, honey. Do you?”

And something inside him, just like that, did. “Yeah… I think I do.”

“Sweet boy and that imagination of yours!” She swept him up in a hug. “It’s going to be your golden key to places other people can’t go, darling.” When she released him, her face was serious. “This scroll…is a map. The riddle in your book confirms that. This map is very, very special and will lead you to something very, very secret. I shouldn’t say anything right now because I don’t know how close he is or if he’s listening.”

“The orange-eyed man?” She nodded. “Who is he?”

“I don’t know,” she whined a little, “but I don’t trust him.”

“One day I walked into the stairway and saw him shaking the balusters, almost like he was kicking the tires on the theatre. But now it makes sense. He was looking for what you were looking for. That’s why you need to take it. I want you to go home right now. No questions.”

“But why?”

She slapped his arm, “I just said!” She took the scroll and shoved it up his shirt and made him hold it there, then slowly cracked the door. No one was in the make-up room. She crept out and shoved him toward the dressing rooms. “Go get your bag, put it in there, and guard it with your life!” He obeyed and was back in a few seconds. She hugged him again and said, “Now go home immediately. Don’t stop for anything, and stay there, make sure it’s hidden. You’ll be safe.”

“But what if he follows me?”

“I’ll make sure you’re safe, just trust me. She led him to the side door and peered around the street outside. All was quiet. “Go, honey. Don’t stop for anything!”

She watched him rush across the street and down through the dark, praying every second that the man wouldn’t spring out from an alley like a horror movie. When he was gone, she ran the opposite direction down the alley to the back of the theatre. A few trees were nestled there, looming up the back wall of the Mirrorwind.

“I hope he hears this.” she said. And she began to sing.

Chapter Eleven

~ Surprises ~

All he wanted to do was reach back in his bag and look at the scroll again. He was almost home, hurrying past the pumpkin farm before his house, the field dotted in orange even in the dark. But Wayna had sent a chill so far down his spine that he could only look directly at the road in front of him. He dared not look around at the encroaching darkness for fear his imagination take over. This man, a man no one knew, had set a fear down on his town with barely any effort.

Logan wondered why Wayna was so sure everything was centered around the man. She didn’t know if the scroll was what he was really looking for or not. All she had seen him do was creep around the theatre. Yes, he was intimidating, but maybe she was overreacting. How could this little piece of ivory be so important? But her face… he hadn’t ever seen her that agitated. He picked up his pace, trying to push the thought of his bag sitting so tantalizingly close out of his mind.

It landed on something else she had said. This is more real than you know. What was that supposed to mean? He thought of the horse talking again, and tried to imagine how that could be real. He wanted it to be. Everything in him wanted all of this to be some sort of story, just like the fantasies he loved to read. But now that it was in front of him, it seemed… awkward to believe it. “More real than I know….”

It wasn’t long before his driveway came into view and he was in the house. Once inside, he stopped cold. Everyone should have been over at the theatre watching the new show, but Logan heard something moving around upstairs. He crept toward the stairs, his bag clutched in his fist. He quietly debated going up to check or not. All Logan could think of was the orange-eyed man walking out of one of the bedrooms and just… he couldn’t imagine what he would do.

He eventually decided that it was worth the risk since he was on familiar territory. He could get out of the house in seconds and make for a hidden spot in the woods before an attacker could be down the stairs. Slowly, he ascended the stairs. When he got near the top he heard the noise coming from his room. Muffled voices were talking too quiet for him to hear. And then Logan thought of something that could be worse than the orange-eyed man: his companions. What if the giant man was searching through his house? He was about to slink back down the stairs when someone walked out into the hall.

“Logan!”

He realized he’d been holding his breath. “James! What are you doing here? I thought you were at the play with everyone else?”

“What are you doing here? I thought you were in the play?”

They stared at each other for a moment. “What were you doing in my room?” James looked away and remained quiet. Logan took a step up the stairs. “Who were you talking to?”

He still remained quiet for a few seconds, and then finally Uncle Sterling walked out of Logan’s room too.

“Uncle Sterling? You’re supposed to be in the play too! What are you guys doing?”

“Well, I’ve been banished from the king’s court at this point.” his uncle said. He cleared his throat. “Let’s go downstairs.”

Reluctantly, they all made their way to the living room. Sterling spoke first, “I’ll come clean. I’m sorry, Logan. I was searching your room for True Mythology. I just… wanted it.”

“What? But why?”

“I don’t… really know. I just need it. I need to see it.”

“Why wouldn’t you just ask?” Logan asked.

His uncle raised his head a little, “Would you have given it to me?”

Logan couldn’t answer that question. He remembered the feeling he had every time he saw that mysterious Something in his uncle’s eyes. It still felt odd.

“That’s what I thought.”

Logan switched gears, “So what were you doing in my room, James?”

James looked down and shuffled his feet. “I was looking for the book, too. I was the one who got Uncle Jack involved.” He put on his salesman voice, “It’s just that book, Logan! It’s been on my mind for days! It’s gotta be worth so much money, and I just needed to figure it out.” He glanced back and forth between his uncle and brother. “I thought Uncle Jack might know something about it since you two found it together.”

“And so you snuck into my room while you knew everyone would be away. An opportunity arose to get the book without me knowing and you took it. So now you feel bad about it, because I caught you in the act?”

“Logan, it’s not like that,” his uncle began.

“Listen, I don’t care why you were here. A lot of weird things have been happening lately and I’m weirded out about it. I wasn’t expecting … this; that you would just steal something like that. If it’s been nagging you so much, James, you could have come to me. And Uncle Sterling…” He stared into his light brown eyes, trying not to focus on the Something, “I would have let you read it… I would…”

He reached into his bag and pulled out the worn book. Now that he could see it’s beautiful leather cover again, he realized he hated the idea of anyone else having it. Like the medallion round his neck, he had almost instantly linked with the thing, and it felt more apart of him than in his possession. But his hand stretched out of its own volition, hanging in between his brother and uncle. Sterling pursed his lips a little, eyes fixed on the leather. James looked like he would start drooling.

“Take it. Find out how much it is. But know this, James… your greediness is gonna get you into a lot of trouble.”

And then in the span of a second, a blaring flash of light and deafening roar overtook the entire room. Logan didn’t realize what had actually happened until he was painfully sitting up off the floor. His skin burned and he couldn’t breathe with the murky fog of black smoke filling the room. Chunks of the roof were lying across the couch and floor, a shelf of his mom’s books burned brightly, which panged his heart for a second. Uncle Sterling and James were nowhere to be seen, and a shock of fright ran up his spine. He scrambled up to his feet fighting the daze swirling through his head. He still couldn’t see them through the smoke. A torrent of fire rained down through the hole in the ceiling and Logan dove out of the way. The fire quickly jumped from bits to debris lighting the whole room up in sickening flames. He heard coughing and saw his uncle bathed in the fire’s glow, struggling to his feet. Sterling gained his bearings and quickly, “Are you ok?”

Logan nodded, making his head ache. “I don’t see James.”

As they both glanced around trying to simultaneously find James and their escape, Logan spotted True Mythology on the ground next to him. He snatched it up, amazed it was unscathed. Another blast of fire from above illuminated Uncle Sterling dashing around a mangled hutch. It was then that Logan caught sight of a dark heap in the corner, laying too close to the spreading flames.

“James!” The room exploded again. But this time wasn’t from above or with fire. One whole wall burst into the room as if pushed by rhinos. Lumber and plaster went flying and a few pieces scraped across his shielding arms. But the cuts didn’t matter. What he witnessed standing in the ruins of the wall was something he would never forget. Its mere presence froze him so still that the fires dancing around phased out from his view, despite the night air fueling them higher.

Almost as large as an elephant, dominating the room stood a creature so daunting and terrifying Logan couldn’t even recognize it. All he could see was that it was huge, and it was looking at him. The smoke and flames rushed back into his awareness and everything became obscured. In a rush of noise that shook the ground, he heard a grunt, a thunderous stampede of hooves and something giant and green reach out to grab him. He was thrust against the creature’s side, which hurt quite a bit, as the thing hurdled on through the next wall and out into the yard. It’s arms or legs, Logan wasn’t sure which, grated against him as it ran. He was so overwhelmed by the noise, fire and being abducted that he could think of nothing but one sickening thought. It hit him painfully as he glimpsed his home in an inferno, boiling up into one word.

“JAMES!”

Chapter Twelve

~ Behind a Boulder ~

At some point during the escape, between the pain of what gripped him and the shock from the explosion, Logan had passed out. He didn’t know how much time had gone by, but when he woke the darkness was so thick it tricked him into thinking he hadn’t opened his eyes. He was sitting on the ground, leaning up against a rock. He felt his bag amazingly still hung on his shoulder. It took a few seconds for his mind to catch up with his eyes. He saw huge trees overhead and several more boulders surrounding him, his feet popping out of a sea of fallen leaves. It was cold and the air was heavy with the smell of the woods.

As his eyes adjusted to the dim light of a cloudy moon, he noticed a large shape sitting in front of him. When it shifted he realized that it was the graceful form of a horse lying on the ground, its back to him. It seemed to be sleeping, its head down and motionless. The figure of a man sat right in front of the horse, crouching behind a boulder. He was huge as far as Logan could see, his broad shoulders as wide as the sleeping horse. The only movement he made was his steady gaze slowly moving back and forth, scanning the woods.

Logan sat up, holding his side as the bruises in his ribs awoke. The shuffling leaves alerted the man, and he slowly turned. He had long brown hair that spilled down the back of his head and a thick neck that went straight from his ears to his shoulders. He was dressed in a hunter green leather coat that made him look even bigger. He looked like a fighter, with a broken nose and solid jaw. But his eyes were the deepest black, and somehow it softened his appearance.

“Where am I?” Logan rasped out.

The man held up his hand, “Quiet.” He slowly scanned the woods again, his head moving like a searching hawk. When he was satisfied he turned back around. The horse rustled in its sleep.

“Who are you?” Logan asked.

“My name is Priam. You must keep your voice down.” His face was expressionless.

“What?” Logan asked.

The man’s hand went to his mouth, silencing him. Despite the dark, Logan could sense an authority in him, and he couldn’t help doing what he was told.

Trying to recall what would have brought him to the woods in the dark, he stumbled back upon the memory of his crumbling home.

“My brother! My uncle! The fire!”

“Quiet!” the man ordered. The horse’s tail swished in annoyance at the noise. “We are not safe here. There are dangers lurking about.” His face remained locked in solidity, his voice as steady as a wave.

“But my brother and uncle!” Logan protested, “Are they alright? Did you see them?” He could barely contain the emotions jostling up in him.

“Please.” There was a note in his voice that Logan couldn’t help obey. It calmed him enough for Priam to speak. “There is a man behind you. I grabbed him as we escaped. I did not see another person. Be calm or you may see more of that fire.”

“What?” Logan didn’t understand what that meant, but he quickly shuffled around the boulder he had been leaning against to find Uncle Sterling lying in a pile of leaves. Logan shook him gently but Sterling stayed motionless. He bent down and heard his heart beating, which in turn comforted his own. He tilted his uncle’s head so it faced up, finding an oozing burn on the side of his face. A small gasp left his mouth, which Priam responded to.

“He’s alright. Once at my village my sister will tend to him. Do not be concerned with him right now. I need you stay quiet.”

Again, his voice was imposing yet not harsh, and Logan was swayed to listen to him. He took one more look at his uncle, and then scurried back to his spot behind the horse.

Logan waited for what felt like years, his head screaming with questions and bruises. He couldn’t help himself.

“Who attacked my house? Did you see him?”

“Shh.” the man ordered.

Logan lasted about a minute. “Who are you? How were you nearby to help? Why did you help?”

He grunted, his horse’s tail swishing in copy impatience.

“Why is all of this happening? Is my brother… is he ok!?” Logan’s voice began to rise.

The man twisted around and stared into Logan with coal black eyes. Logan’s voice didn’t seem to work under his gaze.

“Calm. You need to be… calm. And quiet,” he added. He glanced down at what was next to Logan. “Why don’t you tell me about that book? Quietly.”

The book lying at his side was the least of his concerns at the moment. What was really important rushed to the front of his mind. All he could think about was James and all the terrible fates he could have met with. The man could sense this and said gently, “Focus. Calm. Tell me about the book.”

Logan couldn’t see how that would help the situation at all, but he slowly ordered his thoughts enough to oblige the man. “It’s a book I got from my Great-grandma’s. I think it’s based on Greek Mythology but the stories are all different.” The man stared at him intently so Logan continued. “They have stories about Dryads but also their songs. As if Dryad have songs. And it talks about the Olympians like they were alive. There’s stories but more like legends and history than myths. I think I read what Aphrodite’s favorite color was.”

The man just nodded. It kept Logan soothed for about ten more seconds until all the panic rushed back in him. “Why do you want to know? How did the fire start? What happened to my brother?”

Priam sighed, “I see I need to explain some, though it would be better to wait.” He looked around the dark woods again. “We need to stay quiet, they may still be close.”

Logan began to ask, but he raised his hand, “Someone very powerful caused the fire. If I’m correct, we are not safe at the moment. Until I know they are not following us we must hide here, I do not want them finding my village. Once it is clear, we will take your uncle to care.” He paused for a moment, to make another sweep of the area. “I don’t know much about why your home was attacked, or of your brother’s fate.”

He couldn’t quite take it in, but the resoluteness as Priam spoke kept Logan’s head balanced. He took a few seconds to breathe in the idea of someone not only setting fire to his house, but also chasing after him. He also tried to piece in why this stranger would be helping him. But he couldn’t see why not to trust this man; he had saved both him and his uncle.

“Tell me more about your book.”

“What do you want to know about it?”

He looked away, staring intently at a thick bramble nearby. “Does it have history in it?”

Logan squinted at him, “I…suppose you could say that. It’s myths though. Or at least I thought they were. There were times when…” he fumbled over his feelings, “I don’t know.”

“When it seemed real?”

Logan wasn’t expecting that reply, but the steady conviction in the man’s voice made him believe it wasn’t so crazy after all. Nothing in the man lent itself to distrust.

“Sometimes.” Logan answered.

The stranger was quiet for a time, until the horse at his back began to wake up. It shuffled its legs as it struggled to rise, and as it did, Priam began to rise as well. It was this moment that Logan would never forget. It was the strangest sight he had ever seen in all his life, stripping every word from his lips as it unfolded before him. When the horse got to its feet, Priam sat atop it. But instead of riding it, like a man would, he was, as far as Logan could fathom, a part of it. The majestic horse body stood high above him, its hooves stamping, and there, at the head, was half the man. Priam’s giant form melded into horse with the most graceful line, his coat draping down over the chocolate brown body. He stood, towering, with a power Logan had never seen before.

“Holy!” he whispered. He had instinctively pushed himself back against the boulder as far as he could. He saw what was before him, but his mind was having trouble deciphering it. He probably would have thought himself delusional from a bump on his head, if not for a tiny tug deep down inside. It beckoned him to see what he saw as real. But more than that it told him he would not regret it.

Logan collected himself and managed to find his voice. “You’re a Centaur.”

“Yes.” His stony face glanced around again, and then shuffled his way back down onto the ground, lowering himself behind the boulders as best he could.

“Now you see what you’ve known was there. I had a feeling you would see. You seemed to have noticed before. But there will be time for that when we are in a safer place. Tell me more about the book.”

Chapter Thirteen

~ Greetings ~

     Logan did as best he could, telling the Centaur how he found the book, of his uncle’s strange reactions, and the song he had heard in the wood. The steady process of recounting everything to Priam helped him stay calm in the anxious dark. He kept the clues and scroll out though. Though he didn’t distrust the creature, deep down he felt the scroll should stay secret. He wasn’t sure why, he was just sure he should.

It wasn’t much but Priam listened to him the whole time, never saying a word. He never asked to see the book, not even to hold it. Then Logan mentioned Wayna and her reactions that sent him running home.

“She thought I was in danger.”

“It seems she was correct.”

“But why would someone do this… and how?”

He shook his head. “All she told me was to watch over you tonight.”

Logan gaped at him. “Wait…you know… Wayna?   How do you know her? She talked to you tonight?”

He shook his head again. “There is too much to explain.”

Logan held the book on his lap, nervously rubbing the scaly gray-green cover with his thumb while Priam thought over the story and continued to survey the trees. Logan waited for a while, then crept over to check on his uncle again. Nothing had changed since he last saw him. He wouldn’t wake, and the burn seemed to be scabbing over. He sat with him in silence as the Centaur watched the woods. After what seemed hours, when the moon had staked its claim high in the sky, Priam rose quietly to his full height.

“It’s time to go.” He bent down and grabbed Sterling around the waist. It was as if he were lifting an empty box. He effortlessly placed him on his back, in what Logan didn’t consider a terribly comfortable position, and then scanned the woods once more.

“We must be very quiet,” he whispered, looking ahead, “Never take your eyes off the ground. Watch every step, and stay close.”

Logan did as he was told, partly because it was so dark he couldn’t see anything anyway. And when he did glance around the woods, it felt as if every moving branch, every rustle of leaves was the dark lurker that he could only assume was the orange-eyed man. If Wayna was right about how dangerous the man could be then he was the only one Logan could imagine destroying his house. So he kept his eyes on his feet.

They didn’t talk. Logan didn’t want to anymore now that they were in the open. Nothing but trees obscured them now. And the dark. But for some reason Logan felt as if the dark were no cover at all. The emptiness it created made him feel as though he were on display, even though the Centaur walking next to him was scarcely a shadow.

That was another strange thing. Of what he could see, Priam was a stunning creature. The horse part of him moved like any other horse, gracefully clopping hoof after hoof. But the man part…it was surreal. The long coat obscured the connection of man and horse so it still seemed like a trick, but he knew it wasn’t. The man portion bobbed and swung his arms as if each hoofstep were his own. The most convincing thing was how Priam’s gaze never left the trees. It was as if he were completely unaware that his legs were equine.

But what surprised him the most was the creature’s size. Logan hadn’t seen someone so big before in his life. He supposed that when he had imagined a Centaur he had pictured it more of a man-sized horse. Priam, though, was a horse-sized man. His equestrian half was roughly the size of a Clydesdale workhorse, and his man half seamlessly sat in the same gigantic proportions. When Priam had lifted his uncle off the ground, his hand had covered Sterling’s entire chest. It was like walking the woods with a living tank.

He couldn’t tell, again, how long it had been, but they had traveled a long path over and around hills and boulders. Logan didn’t think he had ever been this far into the woods. Finally, they started to climb a small summit, and at the top Logan saw something he wasn’t expecting at all. There at the bottom of the hill were torches. Many torches, scattered throughout the trees, and moving between them he could see several Centaurs. He and Priam started to descend, and Logan saw that the hill they were on curved away on each side like a circle, completely obscuring the lights from the other side. It was genius, even people wandering lost through the woods would never see the light.

When they reached the bottom and drew nearer the torches Logan could make out what Priam had called his village. Dotting the area were giant trees, but they were like no tree Logan had ever seen. As the trunk headed down to the ground it grew instead of staying slender. The bottom of each of these “trees” was like the bulb of a flower. The trunks looked like they had been inflated. As he got closer he could see that it wasn’t an illusion; the rough bark continued from the braches to the roots with no seams or line. They were bulbous trees, everywhere.

He was quickly distracted from the trees. A couple Centaurs who had been walking by stopped dead in their tracks. One was a giant male, smaller than Priam but still huge to Logan. He was wearing a short jacket and a hat that resembled a newsboy’s cap. The other was a female, shorter and with sandy hair down her back, several braids intertwining throughout it. They both stared at Priam and Logan as if they were fish floating through the woods. As they passed, Logan could hardly keep his eyes off of them, and they in turn, did the same.

Finally, they reached a bulbous tree and stopped at it. Priam was reaching around to retrieve Sterling when Logan saw the tree open. A door, where there hadn’t been a door before, swung out from the trunk and in its frame stood another Centaur. She was beautiful. She had dark brown hair that looked like liquid chocolate spilling down in shining curls across her shoulders. All the other Centaurs he’d seen had had their hair back down their heads, like manes on a horse. But hers was pulled over her ears and each curl was like a twirled ribbon. Her eyes were a soothing blue and she smiled a wry smile when she saw them.

“Priam! You’re back. I was worried.”

He had Sterling in his arms now and was walking toward the door.

“Oh, more visitors? Are we starting a hotel?” Her smile was like sunshine.

“Another who needs your hand, Chara.” At this she grew more serious and let Priam take Sterling into the tree. Logan stood there watching, not knowing whether he should follow or stay. But Chara gave him that same sweet smile and motioned him in.

Once inside it was amazing how big the space was. It didn’t look very big from the outside, but the hollow interior was very tall and very spacious; perfect for a Centaur. In the center of the house grew the real trunk of the tree, slender and circular, revealing they were actually constructed houses. He marveled at the craftsmanship, remembering the delicate flow of tree to house as if it had grown that way. The center trunk was covered in drying herbs and baskets of nuts and roots, all hung on little pegs that looked like the stubs of cut branches. He walked around the trunk to where the Centaurs were stooping over his uncle’s body. Priam was talking quickly and in quiet tones to her about the fire and a danger, and Logan heard him mention someone named Bo. But Logan was watching Chara, her hands moving like a musician’s over the oozing burn. She was applying some sort of paste, which made Uncle Sterling moan a little. She never took her eyes off her work, but she would react in all the right places to Priam’s story and ask a question occasionally. When she had finished working with the paste, she gently laid her hands over Sterling’s face and did something extraordinary. Under her palm, Sterling’s face rippled with a shimmering blue light. It looked as if light itself were raining from under her hand. And in a moment it was done. She took her hand away and there was nothing there, no paste, no burn. Uncle Sterling’s skin was perfectly healed.

Logan’s eyes strained from his head, trying to comprehend what he had just seen. Both Centaurs took no note of the act, and Chara continued to feel around at Uncle Sterling’s head and ribs. When Priam finished, Chara said, “I think you’re right. It’s better to be safe than sorry.” And that was when Logan realized he hadn’t been hearing anything at all. His eyes stayed fixed on his uncle’s face.

“You should check him too. I think he’s alright though.” And with that Priam left the house. Chara pulled a blanket over Sterling’s chest.

“Now let’s have a look at you.”

“What did you do to him?” Logan asked, finding his voice.

“Just a bit of healing. Let me see if you’re alright.”

Logan hesitated, but could see no threat from all of this. Priam had saved them, and now Chara had healed his uncle. He moved over to her. She quickly swept her hands over his head, checked his eyes and asked if he hurt anywhere. Logan felt fine. Then for a few moments she just stared at him. It would have been uncomfortable except her eyes were so peaceful.

“I can’t believe it.”

“What?” he asked.

“I’m sorry. I just never thought I would meet, two even… it’s just so strange.”

“What is?”

She smiled that wry smile again. “I never thought I’d meet a Man.” Logan stared at her, confused. “Priam has always told me that the walls would come down in our lifetime; that we would be the first generation to have contact again. But still… it is very strange to actually have you here.” She shook her head slightly, and then moved around the trunk to a massive flat bed that Logan hadn’t noticed when he came in.

“You… you think this is strange? I’m talking to a Centaur, you healed my uncle with your hand, and … we’re sitting in a bulbous tree!”

She laughed a little, and started to mix a bowl of brown paste that looked like mud. “I forget our appearance sometimes; it could be a little intimidating. And you’ve had a rough day from what I heard. I’m sorry about your home.”

“Thank you.” He had forgotten the fire with all the wonders he had been walking into. He went and sat down on the other side of the bed. That was when he saw the figure lying under the covers. He could see only her face, but it was exquisite. She had light brown skin, and strong cheekbones. Her hair was splayed all over the pillow, shimmering a brown so deep it seemed red. There were several burns and scraps over her face, but even so she was beautiful. He gawked a little.

“It’s been a busy day,” Chara said, watching him without looking up from the bowl, “We usually don’t have visitors in the village. A few stallions found her in the woods in a worse situation. I’ve been working on her most of the day, but… her legs are still broken. That’s what this is for.” She bent down and gave a great sniff of the muck. “Mmm… lilac….”

“Will she be alright?” And then he remembered, “Will my uncle be alright?”

“He’s fine, just a hard bump to the head as far as I can tell. Her… she’ll be good in a day or two. Bones are much more difficult than skin.”

Logan watched as the girl breathed slowly, mulling his thoughts over. All of this was happening so fast that he was amazed at how well he was accepting it. It was just like one of his books, but it was here in front of him. It was almost like his desire to read books of fantasy and adventure had been preparing him for this time, readying his mind to be open to the fantastic.

Chara hummed a little as she sprinkled some powder into the muck. Logan asked, “How do you do it?”

She continued to work, but a smile crossed her lips. “I don’t know how much of the stories you know.”

“What do you mean,” Logan asked, “like the myths?” It felt weird saying that now, with a myth creature sitting in front of him. “I know some, actually.”

“Have you heard of the one called Chiron?”

“Yeah, the Centaur who trained heroes.”

She looked up then, studying him, “Yes. He was also very skilled in healing. When he died, some of his children found that they had his healing ability as well. As the generations passed, certain foals would have it and others not.”

He watched her rip up leaves. “You’re related to Chiron then?”

She nodded, “Priam and I both. But I was found to be an heir of his.”

“Priam and you? You’re related?”

She chuckled a little, “There really wasn’t very much time to talk between you two, was there? Yes, he’s my brother.”

“Things have been going fast.” He thought of his brother again, and a pang went through his chest. He stared down at the girl, thinking of his brother in a similar fate…or worse. She looked uncomfortable at the moment, her brow sprinkled with sweat. He reached over and tried to brush the hair from her forehead, when the brown eyes snapped open. They startled him for a second and he just stared back, frozen. A wild look overcame the girl’s face. And then her fist met his nose.

It happened so fast that Logan found himself lying on his back, nose throbbing. The girl was screaming, yelling to be let go. He leaned up just in time to see Chara calmly throwing a small cloth ball that puffed when it hit the girl’s face. A cloud of light blue dust exploded around her head, and her wild eyes started to droop. Chara eased her back onto the bed as she passed out again.

“What was that!? What did I do?”

Chara laughed again, a hearty laugh for one so pretty. “She’s a bit feisty.” She held up the little ball. “Stupor powder. My own concoction. We have to keep her asleep or else she might make her legs worse. She doesn’t exactly want to be here.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Logan said as he clutched his bleeding nose.

“Come here. I’ll tend to that.” He slowly leaned over to her and removed his hand, only to have hers take its place. The stinging started to fade. A cool trickle, like cold water flowing down his face replaced the pain, and then that was it. She moved back to where she was and threw him a rag to wipe away the blood. “All done.”

He felt his nose. The wet blood was still there, but it felt as normal as it always had. “Wow… thanks.”

“Noses are easy.” she explained plainly.

Logan cleaned his face and then looked back at the girl, sleeping peacefully again. “What did you mean she doesn’t want to be here?”

Chara was quiet for a while. She continued to sprinkle various things off the trunk into the muck. She sighed and said, “Centaurs aren’t … a beloved race. We’re considered… dangerous by most.” Logan could feel the hairs on his neck prickle. He recalled reading about the Centaurs and their fondness for fighting.

“Why do they think that?” he asked slowly.

“Because most of us are. Apart from us, the Allegiant, most Centaurs are Wild. They kill and take what they want, with no second thought. They’re very ruthless, and would have trampled this girl where they found her.”

Logan shuddered a little, “But you’re not. Who’s the Allegiant?”

“We’re a group of Centaurs that want to convince Katalon that not all Centaurs are aggressive killers. We’re trying to prove that we can rejoin the world, be productive members of the clans and cities. We’re trying to show them, we’re not all monsters.”

She seemed a little sad at this, but continued to work. Logan looked at her, toiling away for a stranger, then thought of Priam, rushing into a burning house to save him. “You mean… you’re outcasts?”

She looked up with her normally soothing eyes, but they were like a chilly rain. She nodded forlornly.

Priam walked in at that moment, “Is everyone alright, then?” Chara nodded again, but much more lightly. “Good. Logan, I wish to speak with you.”

And so Logan stood, casting one last glance over the three people in the tree house, and followed the massive Centaur out the door.

Chapter Fourteen

~ More Questions, More Surprises ~

     He could barely see anything as they walked, for Priam had doused all the torches in the village when he left him with Chara. It was very dark now, but the moon had crept out from behind the clouds. It wasn’t full, but there was enough to allow Logan a better idea of where he was going than the trek to the village. The edges of their path rustled and moved with the other Centaurs of the village. Even though he couldn’t see their faces clearly, he could feel the unease. He heard them stomp in agitation, a few snorts of frustration. He didn’t know if it was his presence that had upset them or the apprehension Priam had brought by extinguishing the lights. It made him nervous too. The dark left no warning.

Priam had taken him to a part of the woods that opened up, at the end of the tree houses. He rounded on him allowing the clearing to be at his back, giving Logan a clear view of the shadows that streaked across the ground.

“I’m sure you find this all a little overwhelming.”

“Little” felt too underwhelming of a word. “To say the least.”

He could see him nodding. “I’m sorry I can’t explain fully. There’s not a lot of time.” He paused here. “And I don’t know what to think of you, yet.”

Logan squinted at him. “Excuse me?”

“It is difficult for you to understand. It has always been taught that Man… is evil. The fact alone that I am here talking with you is looked down upon. My herd will not appreciate bringing you here.”

“Evil?” Logan hadn’t even seen that coming. “Why would I be evil? For that matter, why would you save me if you thought I was?”

Priam was silent for a moment, then said, “I am not certain my actions were wise. I… couldn’t just watch….not when it was burning.” Logan wished he could see his face, to know if he was angry or disappointed. But it was too dark. “Wayna was certain this was for the best. She has not guided me wrong before. I am just unclear what will happen next. If the one who started that fire is the one I think it is, then I may have placed my herd in danger.”

The hairs on Logan’s neck bristled. He glanced around him and scoured the clearing for a minute, making sure none of the shadows were moving. “Who is it? Is it the orange-eyed man? I need to know why someone would blow up my house.”

Priam was delicate, but not for Logan’s sake. He seemed more concerned at saying the wrong name, as if by saying the wrong name it would invite more danger. “A nymph named Bo has been in the area. Even in these very woods. You saw him, the day we came face to face.”

“Nymph?” Logan was trying to recall when Priam and he had ever met when it hit like a gust of wind. It was so obvious now he felt stupid not realizing the second Priam had stood up behind the boulders. The horse that had chased him out of the woods, the one that had talked… it hadn’t been a horse at all. “No way… that was you! You were a horse! But… but how can you -”

“It is too long to explain. I will… explain later.” Logan felt like the Centaur didn’t believe that would happen. “It would have been very foolish of you to continue following him. I’m sure he knew you were there.”

Logan shivered at the idea of that. Despite his excitement of chasing someone through the woods like a spy, the man had been huge and scary. If he had caught up to him, or worse, followed him so deep into the woods… he didn’t want to think about it. “Is that why you chased me?”

“Yes. I have met Bo before, and he is very dangerous. But worse is the company he keeps. His master can do more damage than Bo ever could.”

“Who is his mast? Who is that’s following me? You’re making me anxious.”

Priam drew in a deep breath, then let it out. “I believe he is a servant of an Olympian. A dangerous one. Ares, the Olympian of Chaos; I think he’s after you.”

The name made him feel too many things at once. Terrified, because of what Logan had read in the myths; Ares was the god of war, a ruthless god who followed carnage with joy, and who left blood in his path wherever he went. And the pain he still felt from the explosions back at the house… it was too much. But at the same moment he felt calm. A serenity that shouldn’t have been there. He couldn’t explain it, and by all rights it shouldn’t be there. But there was something about all of it, something that seemed familiar. All he really knew was that things would work out. And he wasn’t exactly sure why he believed that.

Priam watched him, waiting for a reaction. “Have you met him before?” Logan asked.

Priam shuffled in the dark, and Logan guessed he was surprised. “No. I haven’t. I’ve only heard stories.”

“Me too. Only the myths I mean. But why would he be after me?” Logan couldn’t think of anything that he would have done to upset an Olympian. His mind kept going back to the scroll, the one Wayna had practically had a conniption over. The one that sat in the bag on his back.

Priam was silent for a moment. “Your reaction… puzzles me. Do you know the Olympian I’m speaking of?”

“Yes,” Logan said, absently, “The god of war.”

“But you’re not, “Priam hesitated, “scared?”

Why wasn’t he scared? It didn’t make sense. A man had destroyed his home and hurt his uncle. That had been scary. He didn’t know the fate of his brother, or what his family would think when they came home to a burning house and missing family. And yet…that peace. There was no reason for it, but in that moment, he wasn’t afraid.

“I don’t know… I guess not.”

There was stillness between them, a moment when the dark felt even heavier. Then Priam said, “Men are far more interesting than I had thought.”

Logan couldn’t help smiling at that. “But what does Ares want? I have nothing to offer him.” He wasn’t ready to divulge the scroll to anyone yet, nor did he want to believe that was what caused the trouble at home. Plus, it was secret, wasn’t it? No one had known it even existed until Logan had found just a few hours before.

“It might have to do with that book of yours.”

The book! That had never occurred to him. It was a special book, but only to him. A family heirloom about a world he’d never heard of. Being special to anyone else, that had never even crossed his mind. Especially now, as he spoke to one of the myth creatures from his book, he never thought that they would want a book on themselves.

“But… don’t you know it? I mean it’s your history.”

As he was about to speak, an ear-splitting noise ripped through the dark. They both whipped around toward the sound. Priam quickly scanned the area, tense and alert. The piercing scream had made the darkness feel even blacker. Unsure what to do Logan gladly stepped back putting himself out of the way. The shrieking continued but more coherently. It was a female voice, really two voices. Their words mixed together and Logan only caught stray words, like “get her”, and “alone”.

“Wait here.” Priam ordered and he was off into the village.

Logan obeyed, but as he waited the voices seemed to get louder. The commotion grew, the sound of hooves striking the ground. The faint shadows of moonlight seeping through the trees shifted in a breeze obscuring his surroundings. The blackness enveloping everything only offered fuel for his racing imagination. He glanced back behind him again into the stillness of clearing.

As he turned back he heard another yell and saw the brief outline of a girl’s face before she barreled into him. They plowed into the ground, knocking all the air from his lungs and his head against the dirt. The girl struggled on top of him, punching him in the gut as she tried to get up. He heard her gasp in pain and fall back on top of him. Then with a sound of hooves, a blaring light shone above them. Logan could see Priam in torchlight and Chara standing at his side. Priam was stoic but Chara looked somewhere between amusement and irritation. She was half covered in the brown muck she had been mixing, but it didn’t seem to bother her.

He could see the girl more clearly now as she pushed herself off of him again. She was at least a few years older than him, and the scars on her face had disappeared. But her healed face was twisted in a horrible grimace as she rolled off of him.

“Well, you’ve probably gone and broken your legs again.” Chara said with exasperation. She bent down to help the girl, and Logan tried to pull himself up. At that moment, everything froze.

The girl sat stock still staring at him, Chara had paused in bending down, and Priam was, as usual, still. They were all staring at him, and he didn’t know why. He heard a tinkling sound under his chin, and glanced down to see the medallion, swinging from its chain. The carved oak leaf glinted from the torchlight in Priam’s hand. The girl’s eyes were fixed on the medallion as though her life depended on it. When they finally rose up to his own, there was something like hope in them… or desperation.

“How… how did you get that?” Her voice was lyrical. Her accent lilted from one crisp word to the next. He was so fascinated by her words that their meaning didn’t register with him.

“Where did you get that crest?” she repeated.

Logan looked down at the medallion. “It was in my book. I don’t know where it came from. One day it was just shoved under the cover of my book.”

“What do you mean ‘your book’?” she asked, confused, “Aren’t you a Dryad?”

“A Dryad?” he said, confused. He glanced up at Chara and Priam, but both were just as interested in his answer as the girl.

“Yes, you fool. That’s a Dryad family crest. Are you of the Oak Clan or not?” She grimaced in pain as she impatiently tried to right herself.

“I’m,” he stammered, “I’m not, I guess. I just found it in my book.” Again he glanced at the Centaurs, and Chara decided the conversation was over. Priam just stared down at him, and murmured quietly, “…far more interesting.”

When Logan looked back to the girl, he saw her face was not disappointed. She had had so much hope when she’d seen the medallion that his answer was not going to discourage her. There was still a determination in her eyes. She looked from the medallion to his eyes, as if comparing them. He could see she was deciding something then and there.

Chara bent down and the girl protested, but a slight twist of her legs sent her rigid in pain, and she allowed the Centaur to lift her. “I don’t know why you have captured me, but I will not be held by a pack of beasts!” The Centaurs didn’t seem to notice the insult and Chara slowly turned back to the tree house, the girl in her arms.

Just as they were walking away, a huge ball of fire swooped down over their heads and exploded on a nearby tree. The sheer contrast from the darkness to the blazing firelight froze Logan in a blind stupor. He turned away, his eyes watering and heard an instant uproar from the village. Priam’s strong arms were on him in a second pulling him to his feet as if he weighed nothing. Logan squinted around at the chaos. The fire had consumed the entire tree it had hit, and it was quickly spreading to the next, making its way to the first of the bulbous tree houses. He was stricken with a sickening tug of fear in that heartbeat as he relived the explosion at his home. He had brought this here.

He was staring up at the bottom of something metal floating in the air. Gaping at it in complete awe he heard a voice echo over the trees.

“Ah, Tora. There you are.”

Chapter Fifteen

~ Fire ~

Chaos took over in seconds. The machine floating above them was beyond anything Logan had ever seen. In the growing firelight, he could see it was like a silver boat hanging in the air, the underside flat and the top open. The front curved up taller than the back, with the shape of a shield and three intersecting swords etched on it. The front fanned out like short wings on a stingray, narrowing out at the back in the rough shape of an arrowhead, its polished silver hull glinting against the dancing flames. At the helm stood a man who blazed brighter than the fire around him. He was tall and broad and intimidating, and wore a deep red overcoat that swished in an absent wind. His hair was gray, his beard cut short on his chin, and he had penetrating orange eyes.

So this was Ares. An Olympian, a god. The other times Logan had seen him his presence had been intimidating. But now, seeing him stare down at them from his floating perch, fire at his feet… it was terrifying. And then he spoke like a deep thunder, each word laced with as much posh as a British accent.

“I’ve been looking for you, Tora. I’m disappointed to find you relied on the aid of beasts.” He spoke with the utmost refinement, as if he were a gentleman caller arriving in a flying carriage.

There was a cackle of laughter from behind the Olympian, and Logan could see ominous shadows draw about his shoulders, a large one on the left and two slender ones on the right.

Ares continued, “I was quite sure our last encounter would have been our last. When Hazen informed me you were no longer lying in a heap in the forest, I was most disgruntled. You truly are as tough as a bear.”

The herd was panicking and racing around in every direction, but Logan could not take his eyes off the man. He knew he should run, he knew that he was not safe, but his feet would not listen. Logan was one of those people who yelled at movie characters who stood paralyzed in the face of a speeding car or rampaging dinosaur, and he would kick himself later for turning into one of those very characters.

“Where shall we go from here?” Ares smirked. He turned back to the shadows behind him. There, giddy at the prospect of doing damage, were Ares’ Men-at-War. In front was a short man, a very short

man. He had a pointed beard and was clutching a coil of rope. To the right were a striking pair of twins, each as beautiful as polished ivory. They looked like something from a Japanese cartoon. And last, hulking behind the little man, was a giant. The giant from the woods; Bo, as Priam had called him. He held an iron staff in his massive left hand, which despite its name, resembled a baseball bat with spikes. Shock overtook Logan as he recognized each one of them from the past couple weeks, the two girls, not one, surprising him the most. They really had been up to something in his little hometown.

The mischief in their eyes was intoxicating to Ares. This was why they were here, the only reason in his mind that he needed followers. They heated his blood, and stoked the urge to create bedlam. He swept his arm behind him, reaching for the base of his back, and pulled the mighty sword from its cradle there. It gleamed in the firelight, its char-black hilt revealing three cut stones set in the metal. He smiled reverently at the old blade and watched as one stone shined red, then said to his men, “Give me chaos.”

He swiped the blade neatly across the air in front of the craft. From the sword was born a wave of flame that rushed over Logan’s head like a tide hitting the beach. It passed through several trees, igniting them, and pressed on through the woods to set the entire village aflame. The sound by itself shocked Logan back to his instincts, and he quickly looked to Priam who had woken from a daze himself. Immediately, he said, “Logan, go with Chara and get to safety. I will gather the herd.” Chara looked at him frantically and reached out her arms. She grabbed him and threw him up lightly onto her back behind Tora who sat straddled awkwardly. She glance at him with disapproving eyes, but dismissed him to call out to Chara, who had already begun moving.

“We must go back to where you found me.” She winced with each gallop, “I need my weapon.”

“You can get a new one! We need to get away!”

“No, horse!” she barked with such authority that Chara actually slowed and looked back at the wounded girl. Logan was holding on for dear life but he listened quietly as well. “I can fend him off if we find it. It’s near a tree that has a large boulder jutted up against the trunk. You must listen to me.” Logan couldn’t see Tora’s face but the understanding in Chara’s eyes was like someone who had solved a puzzle. She quickly nodded, and set off in a direction opposite the way Logan suspected his home was. And then it hit him.

“Wait! What about my uncle? He’s still in your house!”

Chara slowed but did not turn back. “I can’t carry you all.”

“But he’ll die!”

“I won’t let him die, Logan. I just need help.” Just then a colt ran past them frantically kicking his legs out behind him. “Atlee! Atlee!! I need you!” It took a few seconds but the colt shook off its fright and ran to her.

“A burning branch landed on me!”

“Are you alright? Can you go back for me?” The colt looked behind her to the two creatures on her back and then nodded resolutely. “Good, I need you to go to my house and get the man there, he may still be asleep. Grab him and follow me into the woods, to where the creek bends and leaves a long gravel bank. Hurry now! Don’t forget to secure him somehow, he’s already hit his head!” She called out as he galloped away.

Then she raced off again straight out of the village and growing heat, and into the darkness of the woods.

Ares surveyed the carnage with a growing pleasure. His skills had not diminished. Even though it had been some years since he had been able to unleash a wave of flame of that magnitude, his power was still intact. He turned back to the Men-at-War to find them greedily soaking in the sight. They were a motley bunch, orphans and outcasts. He despised them, and yet he never could muster ample desire to dispose of them. They did their part anyway, and in a way that left his reputation something to fear. They would have to do.

He turned to the little one, his nose as sharp as the pointed beard jutting from his knobby chin, and said, “Go to your work, Strom. Fan the flames.” One of the twins pointed behind him and muttered, “Master!” Ares turned gracefully and saw one of the Centaurs run off with Tora and the boy on her back. He smiled at the challenge; it wouldn’t be at all enjoyable if they immediately surrendered. He looked back at the girls and said, “To your starboards, my dears. You know what to do. And this time bring the girl to me, I’ll make sure there is no question this time.” The twins rushed down from the open cockpit at the front of the machine to the center of the ship.   Ares added, “And bring the boy. I think it’s time we talked with him directly.”

They nodded in sync, and pressed two flat panels. On the wings of the ship, seamlessly ingrained in the hull, burst out two silver planks like feathers off a bird. They were roughly the size of surfboards, but remarkably they floated unaided above the ship. The little man joined them, summoning a similar plank from the other side of the machine. All three climbed onto the boards and without any apparent means of steering, drifted off into the mayhem below in silent arcs.

Ares turned back to the last, great hulking man still in his ship and asked him, “These beasts will surely surrender if their leader is caught, don’t you believe?” The big man nodded slowly, although he didn’t really know.

“What will we do then, Master?” His voice as rough as gravel.

“Well, we’ll kill them, of course, Bo. I don’t want Tora coming back. If these animals will help her, then they must go as well.”

Bo nodded slightly and then turned to the back like the others. A board popped out of the side, and he mounted it. Surprisingly, it hung in the air just like the others, despite his great weight. He took one sweep of the burning village, lit up with fire, and drifted off in the direction opposite his comrades.

Ares turned again to watch over his work. He could see the horses were gathering their wits and heading in groups out of the fire. But there was Strom, flinging his meteor hammer around with the accuracy of a viper. He had two Centaurs down on the ground and had managed to topple a huge burning tree over one of the outlets of the village. The panic was rising like the smoke around him, and he breathed in the turmoil like perfume. Raising up his massive gleaming sword he said, “And now… a bit more heat.” He pointed his sword directly below him at the ground. A torrent of fire poured from the tip of the blade like a waterfall. Hitting the ground with hissing sparks, the fire spread out in a circle as though it truly were burning water. It spread quickly and cut the village in two, so the Centaurs were divided.

Ares just smiled and took it all in.

white

Chapter Sixteen

~ Escape ~

The coolness was what he first noticed, like walking away from a bonfire. The cold seemed to intensify the growing darkness. The fire was getting so big behind him that even as they raced away from it, the light cast eerie shadows over the looming trunks. They were heading in a direction unknown to Logan, yet Chara seemed completely confident to steer herself through the dark. Tora let out a muffled groan every so often, and Logan silently commiserated with each uncomfortable trot.

“What’s that thing he’s flying in?” Logan asked, trying to grasp it all.

“His Chariot…” Tora breathed. “His airship…”

Soon they came to the creek and Chara veered to the left of it. The trail, which was much more like a cow path, continued to get blacker and blacker as they fled the outskirts of the village. The moon gleamed with a surprisingly pathetic glow despite how bright it looked in the sky. No other Centaurs were around, and the quiet was worse than any screaming could have been. Logan was genuinely frightened. Finally, Chara started to slow and they rounded a corner of bushes.

Chara stopped in a small clearing, and Logan could make out the quiet trickle of the creek. “Tora, where is this tree you spoke of?”

Tora glanced around the area gaining her bearings, and said weakly, “There’s the boulder over there.”

The Centaur made her way a little farther to a pointed boulder thrust up beside an unassuming tree, whose roots wrapped around the boulder neighbor.

“This is it. What are we looking for?” Logan needlessly whispered.

She groaned a little and leaned against Chara’s back, with an uninhibited sign of distaste, but managed to say, “A bow. It’s a black-streaked wood… look near the… base.”

“Logan, can you get down and look?”

He silently complied, grateful for the flat ground. The boulder blocked out most of the moon’s dim light so that the tree’s base was completely black. He shuffled around using his hands as eyes, feeling the bark and grass, cutting his hand on a broken limb.

“Do you see it?” Chara asked, whispering as well.

Logan rummaged around some more until finally his hand connected with an unfamiliar smoothness. He pulled on it until the tall grasses tangled around it released their hold. It was a long bow, almost as tall as Logan himself. He stood up, holding it like a baby. He didn’t know why, he couldn’t even see it very well, but it felt…old; like it was something to be respected. When he came back to the others Chara was facing away from him and she was holding a couple of arrows in her hand. It looked like Tora was out cold.

“Chara? I found it -”

“Shh.”

“What is i-”

Her hand silenced him, though she remained rigidly staring towards the fire. He waited for a long time, as still as she. Finally, Chara relaxed and turned to him. “I thought I heard something. Oh, wonderful job, Logan.”

“Thanks… but I think Tora passed out. How will it help now?”

“Mmmm, maybe we should just keep going. Priam set a place that we should retreat to in case of danger.” She glanced back at her glowing home. “I never thought it would be like this.”

She got close enough to the boulder for Logan to hop back onto her back. As he scrambled again into position he asked, “Where’d you find the arrows?”

“They were just lying over -”

But her statement was cut short as a thunder arose. It came from nowhere and roared up next to them. Logan registered only one thing before whatever it was came upon them. Tora’s eyes, as they snapped open.

In one clean, poetic motion she nimbly snatched the bow from Logan’s hand, swiped an arrow from Chara’s, and shot it into the dark, creating a sharp scream directly where the thunder was coming from.

About a mile away, Priam raced through the burning trees trying to herd his herd away from the airship. The Olympian had stopped blazing the village, and now Priam could see his Men-at-War were gliding from the machine on silver boards, one heading for the stragglers left behind, and the identical women for the dark forest.

“Hurry! Head north for the caves!” Priam barked, “Separate into groups of three! Take different routes! Don’t let them catch you!” He heard a steady sound like a high wind blowing through the leaves behind him and turned just in time to duck the larger nymph swinging his massive bat.

“An iron staff. So he’s strong.…”

Priam sped the other direction, toward the clearing where he and Logan had been talking, and glanced behind to see the massive brute arcing in a circle to come back after him. He galloped through a small bushfire and dodged a fiery limb falling from what had once been a nice elder mare’s home. He continued on toward the gap between two trees, one of which was ablaze, as the high whooshing sound grew louder behind him.

A cracking noise signaled that the burning tree he was heading for was losing its battle against the flames. He hurried on trying to outrun the fire, every muscle straining. Just as he passed between the trees into the clearing, a limb split. Priam raced underneath and heard a thump and a grunt behind him. He didn’t stop, but glanced back quickly to see the man on the ground trying to push the burning log off him. Priam rejoiced grimly a moment, but then something silver shot past him. He veered a little and grabbed the flying board that had darted out from under its owner’s feet after the log had come crashing down on him. It was a split second reaction, Priam barely had time to think. He headed to the end of the clearing that was farthest from the fire and raced in between the trunks. An explosion sounded from the village and Priam whipped around to witness a torrent of light pouring down from the treetops in the center of the village. He hoped his herd was safe. He reluctantly turned back into the woods. At least his pursuer was slow to his feet, perhaps giving him enough time.

He turned at a great boulder and followed down a slope to another bulbous tree, standing alone amongst its slender counterparts. He nearly ran into the side in his haste as he wrenched the hidden door open. Inside laid all the weapons the herd possessed. He grabbed as many as he could, spears, staffs, swords, and a few bows and quivers. Piling them on the floating board he reached for a coil of rope and lashed them to the board.

Peering cautiously out the door, he checked all around for a massive shape. The fire was spreading and the light cast shadow figures on the ground and trees. It obscured everything which worried Priam. He slowly crept out, one hand on the floating board next to him. There was no sign of Ares’ thug, but Priam knew he would be close by now, and though the giant was slow he knew better than to underestimate him. There were plenty of tales of Bo, and his “skills”. Heading back toward the village, he decided to avoid the clearing by sneaking through the woods.

He looped back around the village, making as little noise as possible, his eyes glued to the clearing and the fires, turning every bulky shape into the pursuing nymph. At last, he came up to the first of the houses and saw that the entire village was empty. A huge scorched patch had cut the village in two, probably dividing the herd, but Priam knew they would know where to go. Living so close to Men offered easier access to trade with the nymphs, but it also posed a feasible danger of discovery. It was a risk they had lived with, but his herd had thrived here.

He stopped and looked at his home for a moment. The sight scooped out his insides. The fire had engulfed the tops of all the homes, their blaze lighting up the night. The uncaught trees surrounding them glowed, every red and golden autumn leaf reflecting the fire’s light like a terrifying mirror. Although his face betrayed no emotion, Priam’s heart ached for the ruins. It had been his sanctuary, the only place that took him in when he had wandered the world with just his sister at his side. And now it was being consumed before his eyes; all to ash. He forced his hooves forward, he had to find his herd and make sure they were safe. It was they who were most important; it was they who had taken him in, not the trees.

He snuck a few yards further and when he was sure he was in the dark, started to run. Just as he picked up his pace a heavy object smacked his back hooves and sent him sprawling. He scrambled back upright, feeling around behind him for the board and its weapons. Standing silhouetted against the firelight was the hulking figure of the nymph, looking much bigger than before. Priam glanced down and saw that he had tossed his iron staff at his hooves. It must have come short just enough to bounce into his legs, because the weapon was like stone. If it had hit his legs full on, he probably wouldn’t be standing.

“Don’t run away just yet, horsey,” rumbled the man’s voice. “Don’t you want to talk?”

“Talk means nothing to a Man-at-War.” Priam said.

“Well, I see our reputation precedes us.” Priam couldn’t make out his face, but he heard no emotion in his words.

“You have no weapon. There’s nothing you can do.” Priam said, taking a step back, his arm still outstretched behind him.

“I don’t need a weapon.” The man said, and took a step forward.

“Why are you doing this?” Priam said as he slowly continued backward, “We have done you no harm. Our herd does not deserve this attack. Or are you still just the vulture I knew, Bo?”

“Ah,” he mused, “So it’s more than reputation? How have we met? Did I hurt someone you love?” The absence of any passion in the creature’s voice was like a cold finger down Priam’s back. “It doesn’t matter what you deserve. Ares has made his decision, and you will pay the consequences. Now, hold still so I can carry them out.” He lumbered forward and Priam finally reached his stash. He grabbed the first weapon he could, a spear, and thrust it over his shoulder with pinpoint precision. The brute twisted just in time for the spear to strike his back right between the shoulder blades. But instead of it driving into the man’s flesh, it bounced off with a clinking sound, like an arrow on stone. Bo twisted back around and now Priam could see a smile.

“An Oread.” he said, almost in wonder. “I should have known by your size.”

“I’m surprised you even know what that is, beasty.” He opened his arms wide. “Do you want to try tossing one of your sticks again?”

Priam knew that none of the weapons he had on the board would be a match against the mountain nymph’s rock-like skin. By the way the nymph had turned so quickly despite his bulk he knew that this Oread in particular was skilled in using it as a defense. That left him only one option.

He bolted. A small part of him wanted to grab the nymph’s iron staff before he ran, but the sheer weight of it would have slowed him down. So he turned and ran, steadying the loaded starboard next to him. He could feel the pounding tremors of the nymph following behind, but this was his advantage. There was no way a rock could keep up with a Centaur.

Chapter Seventeen

~ Regroup in the Caves ~

“Ow.”

“No need to whine. I’m almost done.” Chara said as a blue glow grew beneath her hand. After a few seconds she removed it from the shoulder of Atlee, completely healed. “That’s better.”

“I can’t believe she shot me.” the colt said indignantly.

“I can’t believe she missed.” Chara said. “I know she’s in blinding pain and was shooting into the dark, but Dryads are known for their archery. You should be dead. Well, not dead. Even if she got you in the heart I bet I could have healed you in time.” She said this nonchalantly, as though she were chatting about breakfast.

Atlee’s face turned from sulky to slightly wide-eyed, and he didn’t say any more on the matter.

Logan was on the ground, sitting with his uncle sprawled next to him. Atlee had inadvertently tossed him from his back the second Tora’s arrow had pierced him, and if Sterling didn’t have a concussion before, there was no doubt of it now. “Um, I don’t mean to push,” he said, whispering again, “but shouldn’t we be hurrying away? Ares is still back there.”

“Very right.” Chara said, “Atlee, grab the Man again. Logan, help me with Tora.”

It had seemed the very second the arrow had left Tora’s bow she had passed out again. Chara had left her leaning against the boulder while she had mended Atlee. They hefted and heaved, but she never woke up. Once securely on Chara’s back again, Logan began to ascend to his spot behind the nymph.

But again a noise from the dark stopped them. It was a relatively calmer noise than before, and they were expecting more Centaurs on the run. But what met them instead was far more frightening.

Out of the shadows, as if they were made from them, stepped two girls of distressing form. Each was as pale as the moon beating down on them, with the blackest, silkiest long hair imaginable. Their eyes were coal black, their forms svelte and slender. Each held an identical Japanese sword that glinted in what dim light the moon could muster, and each was utterly indistinguishable from the other. Wry smiles played on their lips.

“Won’t you stay?” said one.

No one spoke, or moved. Logan was mid-jump to Chara’s back and Atlee was still twisted around, securing Sterling. The twins stood like statues, waiting.

Finally, Chara said, “I’m afraid we have to go.” She twisted her hind legs around knocking Logan all the way up onto her back. Atlee took off towards the trees but it was all in vain. In an instant, twin 1 appeared before Atlee. He slid to a halt, rearing up slightly before he remembered his cargo.   She merely shook her head and neatly slashed at his chest. The colt screeched at the pain, a whinny invading his scream. This time he did rear back and sent Sterling tumbling to the ground yet again.

Chara had Tora’s bow in her hand and quickly sent an arrow flying off toward twin 2. With a clean stroke she flicked the arrow from the air. Logan marveled at her terrifying skill. Atlee tried to run again, forgetting Sterling, but twin 1 disappeared through the shadows in an instant and impossibly appeared in his path. She tried the same attack but the colt reacted faster this time.

Chara charged at twin 2 and twisted with her back legs kicking, but that girl sank into the shadows just as smoothly as her sister, resurfacing at Chara’s shoulder and quickly dealing her a slice to the flank. Chara screamed like Atlee and raced off toward him. He had bolted the other direction and they passed each other. But the girls just switched prey. Chara realized she was heading straight towards another twin, and before she could react the waiting attacker got in a delicate swipe at Logan’s arm. He cried out in pain, and grabbed the bleeding spot.

Though it burned like nothing in his life ever had, the pain wasn’t his biggest fear at that moment, because it dawned on him what was going on. They were toying with them. This wasn’t an attack, they were rounding them up. He knew without having to know that if these girls wanted them dead, they wouldn’t have even seen them coming.

“Chara! Get Atlee to go near Uncle Sterling! Stay together!” She did what he said, running to the colt and pulling him over to the crumpled man on the ground. They stood flanking his limp body, strange bodyguards for an unconscious man. The twins appeared in a spot directly before them, side by side. They smiled as one, perfectly symmetrical.

Then the smiles faded, as a thunder arose yet again from behind them. Just as they whipped around they were knocked back against the trees. Priam darted from the dark between the girls nearly colliding with his fellow Centaurs. “Hurry!” he snapped.

Priam’s presence was like a calming splash of water. Atlee reached down and whipped Sterling onto his back, as Priam reached down and grabbed two rocks. He threw one at each girl so that when they dodged them, they ended up side by side again.

Logan finally heard it then. A deep thumping was coming from the direction of the village, and just as the girls sprang next to each other, the lumbering form of the mountain nymph burst from the trees completely steamrolling the twins into the ground. He rolled overtop them, landing face first in the dirt. Before the giant nymph even hit the ground the Centaurs were off into the dark, racing for safety.

The first thing he felt was pain. Throbbing, unrelenting pain, centered almost entirely on his head. So even though he was awake, it took him several minutes to sit up, or even dare open his eyes. He could hear noises around him, above him. There were voices, all talking at once, arguing. The sounds seemed to echo. He went through his memory, searching for some explanation as to what had happened last. He remembered James, and their plan to steal Logan’s book. He couldn’t believe he had stooped that low. But it wasn’t Logan’s book. It should be his.

Ever since the day Logan had unearthed it, Sterling had been wracking his brain as to why the book seemed so familiar. There was a mystique about it, almost a spell. It itched at his mind incessantly, never letting him forget it. He had tried several times to get at the book by himself, to study it, but his nephew had been so reluctant. It had almost felt as if Logan had trusted him anymore.

And then James had asked Sterling to help get it, that thing he had been obsessing over for the past couple weeks. It would have been simple, and they wouldn’t have kept it from him. James just wanted to have it appraised, and Sterling just wanted… he just wanted to see it.

He realized had failed when it came to being the mature adult. Sterling had always had trouble accepting the reality of adulthood, and people had always rebuked him for it. But he had always dreamed there was something more to life than the ordinary.

It had played out in his life as job after failed job, nothing ever seeming to satisfy. He had never even been close to marriage, had never found the ability to stick with anything for very long. There was always something missing. He liked to think that he had a lingering spirit… a young spirit that still dreamed of daring adventures to far off lands, and wishes on stars coming true. That lingering wonder always seemed to bubble up in him with a pure and fresh torrent. And the book had seemed like the key to finally reaching a real piece of it.

So in that moment, when James had asked him to help get the book without Logan knowing, he had jumped to help. He saw now that his “lingering spirit” was a fraud, that he has just a greedy old man. He had finally grown up, but he hadn’t really grown. He’d just gotten older. And more foolish.

Then he remembered: the fire. He cracked his eyes open, fueling the pain in his head with the shock of so much light. The voices slowly became more distinct, separating themselves from each other. He could hear big, gruff voices arguing over something, but his brain couldn’t catch up. Slowly, he pushed himself up onto his bruised elbows and looked around.

“We should never have allowed the Men to even come near our village! We would have been safe without them!”

“But Ares wasn’t after the Men, he said ‘Tora’. The Dryad!”

“Yes, the Dryad was the one he wanted! We should send her out!”

“She has done us no harm! We mustn’t blame her because she was injured.”

The last voice was Chara who was seated on the ground right next to him, bringing him finally back to his sensibilities.

“Oh, my giddy aunt,” he whispered in awe, “…you’re a Centaur!”

“Uncle Sterling!” The voices calmed then as Logan ran to his uncle lying in the corner of a dark cave, light seeping in from one end. “How are you? Is your head alright?”

Sterling just stared in wonder. “Either I hit it pretty hard…or I’m seeing the most magnificent thing in all my life.” He looked back to Logan to confirm his eyes. Logan just smiled a little.

“Blimey… it’s true then? It’s really true… you’re really a real Centaur!?” Chara offered him a small smile but they went back to the argument.

“Be quiet, Man! You have caused my herd enough trouble for one day!” It was Rakish who spoke, the Centaur who had most vehemently incited the argument. He was almost as big as Priam, but completely bald. “We want no part of you!”

Sterling lay back down a little on the ground, completely shocked.

“Be still, Rakish!” Priam snapped, “He is not the source of our misfortune. Now listen, and do not speak. I understand everyone is upset from the attack. Nothing said now will bring the village back. We also cannot go back, for Ares may be watching, and that great of a fire will most certainly attract the attention of Men. All that is left is to continue on. We shall meet the Allegiant herd that lives in the mountains.”

“I will not go anywhere with these Men… or that Dryad! They will only bring disaster with them!” Rakish insisted.

“We cannot leave them, nor will I. They can be of great use to us.”

Rakish and others began yelling again. Chara started defending her brother but it all turned into noise, as Logan knew arguments most often did. After a few seconds a steady thumping was heard over the voices. They all quieted and looked to an elder mare that was plodding the ground with a hoof. Once it was silent she calmly asked, “Why does the boy interest you, Priam? Katalon is forbidden to associate with the World of Men.”

There was silence as they waited on Priam, and he answered plainly, “He is a friend of Wayna’s, and I was asked by her to watch over him last night. For good reason, it seems.”

“So we are to put our lives on the line because some Citified commands it?” someone demanded.

Priam looked down at Logan, studying him.

“The boy possesses a book,” he continued, “It is a book that may hold the histories of our people. He could tell us of our past.” This caused a great murmur through the herd. It was not a disapproving sound, but only slightly above indifferent.

Logan stepped up. He felt a little twinge of pride that he could be of help to a Centaur herd. But he was confused. Logan asked, “Why do you need me? You could just read the book yourself.”

Instantly the murmur died, and every eye turned to him, even Tora’s. Surprise was etched on every face. “We…cannot read.” Chara said. “It is not our place.”

Embarrassment slid up his cheeks making the top of his head tingle. “I didn’t know…”

Priam turned back to his herd, “They will go with us to the mountains. It is too dangerous for anyone to go back. The Dryad will be healed by the time we meet with the other herd.”

“Wait,” Logan interrupted, “Go with you? But we have to go back. My parents will think I’m dead!” He felt fear creeping up on him again. “My brother might be dead! I can’t go running off into the woods knowing that! I need, I need–”

“Logan.” Priam’s deep voice stopped him. “Ares is still out there. He will go back and see if you have returned. If you do return, he would likely harm your family to get whatever he’s looking for.” His black eyes bore into Logan’s. “It would not be wise.” And like that, Logan had no choice. He bent his head thinking of his brother, and then slowly nodded.

Then Sterling said, “Wait, did you say Ares? What-”

“Listen!” They turned to Tora, who was seated at the other side of Chara, still pale in the dim light of the cave. “I think it’s all very… odd of you, to tend to me like this. But I will not go to another herd. I can’t stay with Centaurs.”

“I have to finish healing your legs. You’re in no shape to continue on by yourself.” Chara tried to reason.

“It won’t matter if Ares is out there.” She paused a moment deliberating. “I have to find my friend, Luke. He will be able to help with Ares.”

“No more outsiders! We will all be doomed!” Rakish roared.

“The whole point of the Allegiant is to rejoin the nymphs of Katalon!” Chara yelled.

“How will we get all the way to the mountains? There are Men’s villages all through the way!” cried a desperate mare.

“What are we supposed to do about Ares? He is an Olympian. An Olympian!” cried another.

“I’m hungry!” whined the colt next to her.

“Wait!” Logan yelled. The herd quieted, unused to a Man’s voice among them. “Priam, where is the mountain herd?”

“Three days from here. Directly north until we reach the river, then we travel up along the west ridge.”

“And Tora, where is this friend of yours?”

She glared slightly at him, probably still suspicious of the medallion under his shirt, but said, “North, along the eastern ridge.”

“Well, then that should work, right? We could all go together until the river. Then Tora can meet her friend, and the herd can meet the others.”

“But what of the villages?” Rakish asked.

“Logan and I could help with that. We’ll… I don’t know, help sneak you through.” His uncle winked at him. It was bewildering at how well Sterling was accepting his first encounter with these myth creatures. For that matter, Logan was a little impressed with himself. He smiled weakly to confirm the offer, though the thought of sneaking a herd of Centaurs through towns was a little overwhelming.

There was a brief silence, then Priam said, “It could work. At the river, Chara will lead the herd to the mountain herd. Then I will go with Tora.” There was another uproar, including Tora.

“I’m not leaving you, Priam! I’m going with the nymph.” Chara argued.

“You cannot leave your herd, Priam. We need you!” a brown stallion yelled.

“I don’t need a horse escort. Just let me heal and I’ll be on my way.” Tora said.

Chara turned on her, “It’ll take weeks to heal naturally, and I’m not going to quit on something I haven’t finished.” Tora folded her arms and scowled but didn’t say anything, helpless as she was.

“Listen, everyone.” Priam said in his authority voice. “Chara and I… along with the Men…” He looked to Logan, who slowly nodded, “…will go with Tora when we reach the river. Then Rakish will take the herd up the west mountain.”

“Rakish? But he-” Logan started to say, but surprisingly Priam fixed him with such a look that it stayed his tongue mid-word. He subconsciously took a step back.

“Rakish will lead while I’m away, until you reach the Allegiant. Then you will heed the words of that leader.” Rakish dipped his head slightly to acknowledge, but he showed no happiness in it.

“Then it is decided. Now, we must make up some food for today. Tonight we begin our journey.” The herd began to move this way and that gathering what little they had escaped with, and what little was outside the caves.

Chara shifted so she could look at Sterling. She put her hand on his head checking his eyes and forehead.

“Hi,” he said, “And who might you be?”

white

Chapter Eighteen

~ Sulking and Skulking ~

The waiting was getting to him. Priam had decided it best to travel by night, and everyone agreed. The journey through towns with a herd of Centaurs was going to be tricky enough, not to mention a raging god on a flying machine in search of them. Until then he sat waiting. The best thing they could all do right now was hide, making it as hard as possible on their pursuers to find them.

But in the standstill, Logan’s mind began to race. All his life he had wanted an adventure, something just as fantastic as what he found himself in now. But the fear that had accompanied it had completely surprised him. In all the books he had read, the heroes had easily picked up their mantle and continued through the deserts and fire swamps that lay ahead of them. He had thought that it would be the same for himself. He, so accustomed to idea of the unordinary, should have been able to join the Centaurs like a knight leading the charge, not with the fear that now held him at bay.

He couldn’t stop thinking about his brother. Dead, or injured? He blamed himself. There was no reason for Ares to be there, except for Logan. He had invited all this on him and his family by finding the book, by finding the scroll. His brother’s fate was completely his fault.

Sterling achingly sat down next to him. “Doing alright, nephew?”

Logan just stared at the rock floor.

“Logan? What’s on your mind?” his uncle asked again.

“James.” Logan said quietly.

Sterling made his low rumble.

“I should go back. It’s my fault.” Logan said.

“No.” Sterling said, forcefully. “It’s this Ares’ fault.”
“But if I hadn’t found the book-” he started but his uncle’s hand stopped him.

“Did you set fire to the house?”

“Practically.” Logan answered dismally.

“Did you physically catch the house on fire?” his uncle reiterated.

Logan looked at his shoes. “No.”

“Then James’s condition is not your fault. It’s Ares’.”

Logan was silent a minute, feeling all the fear bubble up in him. “Uncle Sterling? I’m scared.”

His uncle smiled and made his low rumble. He wrapped his arm around his shoulder and pulled him close. “So am I.”

“But I never thought it would be this way. We’re running for our lives. I heard Priam say some of the Centaurs didn’t make it… what if that happens to us? What if that already happened to James? I just…” he trailed off.

His uncle never let go. Logan felt comforted by that strong arm. “There comes a time in a man’s life when life becomes more real. Suddenly, the world isn’t so black and white. That’s usually when he realizes how weak he really he is.”

Logan wasn’t feeling very comforted by this.

“But,” Sterling continued, “It’s also a time when a man can realize how strong he really is.” He turned to face his nephew. “It’s good to know what you’re capable of. And scary things, though unpleasant at the time, do give you great insight into your own character. And when you rise above those scary things, it can show you how strong you can really be.”

“You have a choice now, Logan. Fear is a real obstacle. And from what Chara has told me, what we’re in now is really dangerous. But you have to decide. Are you going to let that fear win… or are you going to stand up to it?”

Logan stared into the intensity of his uncle’s light brown eyes. The strange Something that always lingered there stood front and center, glaring directly down at him. There was a certainty in it. When Sterling meant there was a time to make a choice, he meant right at that moment.

Logan looked away. “I don’t know.”

“Look at me, Logan.” He slowly did. “You’ll be putting yourself in danger by going back. I love James too, but if we lead Ares back there, we could be putting the family in more jeopardy than they already are. If we go along with the Centaurs, we could help. We could make a difference.”

“But wouldn’t we be putting the herd in jeopardy too if we stayed? What if more Centaurs die because of us?”

He shook his head. “The Centaurs are the only ones of the two that invited us to stay with them. And they know the danger much more than our family ever could.” He sighed, “Sometimes the right decision is the most difficult one to make.”

Logan wrestled with the feelings inside him. To keep his family safe, he would have to give up knowing what had happened. The idea made his heart ache. But Ares wanted what Logan had, or so he thought, and to leave would take the danger away from Farwell. It would also follow him, though. It was either risk him and his family, or just himself. “You have to make a decision now.” Sterling said. “Does fear win… or do you?”

Logan could feel it deep inside him. Down, deep in his soul, far behind his heart and left of his fears… away from them… he could feel the box rattle. He wouldn’t let those fears lock his dream away. He couldn’t let villains hurt his loved ones. He didn’t care what the cost anymore.

Looking back at his uncle he said, “Ok. We go on. For James. I don’t want Ares hurting more people like he did my brother.”

His uncle stared back in wonder. “That’s my boy.”

“I guess I don’t follow.” Logan mused. Night had finally fallen and they had started their long trek through the moonlit woods. He felt considerably lighter since his talk with his uncle.

“How is it that we couldn’t see Centaurs before, and now we can? I mean, this whole plan to travel north hinges on the fact that if people do see us, all they’ll see is a bunch of horses being led by a couple guys and a girl with broken legs. Even the most dull-witted person will be suspicious of that.”

Priam walked beside Chara who was following behind Atlee, carefully working on Tora’s legs from the colt’s back. Logan could see Chara concentrating very hard with the rhythmic sway of Atlee’s gait. “Men see what they expect to see.” Priam explained.

They all waited for more, but the Centaur didn’t elaborate, keeping his face forward. Sterling, never taking his eyes off the Centaurs, ventured, “I think it has to do with… belief. Most people don’t believe in Centaurs and Dryads, so if they do see one, their minds construct it in a way that they can comprehend. Like if you’re walking down a dark alley at night and you see someone coming, you might expect them to be dangerous whether they are or not.”

“So you’re saying since I didn’t expect to see a Centaur that day near the creek my mind convinced itself I just saw a horse? But what’s changed? Is it because I’ve been reading True Mythology and… now I expect to see Centaurs?”

Sterling shrugged, “I suppose so. We did almost die back at the house. Coming close to losing your life definitely makes you see life differently.”

Logan digested that for second. “How can belief be strong enough to hide something so obvious?”

“What a Man sees is not as though he were looking out a window. It is more like putting a puzzle together, from what he can recognize.”

They all looked at Tora, sitting on Atlee’s back. It was the first time she had spoken since the debate in the caves, and the first time she had acknowledged anyone’s existence. Chara had worked on her legs for hours, darting out of the cave as stealthily as she could to find what herbs lay nearby. The supply was poor and so she had relied almost completely on her healing ability to mend the Dryad’s legs. What had resulted were half healed legs and an exhausted Centaur. Priam had tried to convince her to wait until they stopped in the morning before continuing, but Chara was not to be dismayed. She diligently worked, oblivious Tora had spoken.

The Dryad leaned back again, resuming her silence, that continual look of disgust stretching her face. She watched Logan steadily, wary of him at all times.

“Do,” he cleared his throat, “Do all Katalonians… Kata-…Katalonites…”

“Katalanders.” Chara said over her shoulder.

“Katalanders, thank you. Do all Katalanders just go unseen? No humans ever see them as they truly are?”

“Have you seen one before today?” Priam asked dryly.

Neither of the men answered.

Logan went back to his uncle, “You seem to be accepting this fairly easily. I mean, I don’t really know what the standard reaction is to all of this but… you act like you’ve seen it all before.”

“I think that’s just it, Logan.” his uncle replied slowly. “I think I have seen this before.”

Logan gasped in surprise and began coughing. “Excuse me?”

Sterling slapped him a couple times on the back, getting a few odd glances from the Centaurs nearby. “I don’t know what to tell you, Logan. All of this seems really familiar. And it all started with that book. It was a stick of dynamite on my memories. It awakened all these old feelings I couldn’t quite name. I’m afraid… that’s the reason I was so stubborn to get the book from you. I’m sorry about that, by the way.”

Logan dismissed it, “That’s not important. Tell me why a world of Centaurs and Dryads is familiar.”

His uncle took a deep breath. “It’s like an old memory that I can’t recall. Like when you see someone and you’re certain you know them, but you can’t remember from where. Or when someone tells you about a memory when you were very little, and even though you were there you don’t remember a thing about it. It’s been bugging me for weeks.”

They walked a little further through the tree-scattered moonlight in silence. Then Logan came to a realization. “Great-grandma. It was her book, wasn’t it?”

“Well, she wrote in it.”

“Then she must have known about Katalon too! Maybe that’s why Wayna and her were so close!”

“What does Wayna have to do with it?” Sterling asked. His nephew quickly filled him in on the last moments before leaving the Mirrorwind, and Wayna’s uncanny knowledge. “Priam said she had asked him to watch out for me. That’s why he was there when the house exploded.”

“You must be joking. Wayna?” He spoke up to Priam a few yards ahead. “Priam? Can I inquire how you and Wayna are… acquainted?”

The Centaur pulled up a little to join them. “We mustn’t speak too much. The noise will easily draw whoever is searching.” He scanned the dark trees again. “Wayna is a Citified Dryad, she has helped the herd get supplies we would not have access to on our own. She is… an old friend.”

Both men were in shock now. “Wayna’s a what?”

“A Dryad?

“But we’ve known her all our lives!”

“That would make sense how she knew about the–” Logan stopped himself, still feeling an uncomfortable urge to keep the scroll in his bag a secret, for now. “…how she knew so much…”

“She sent a song telling me to go to your house and check to see if things were alright. When I did, Ares arrived and attacked. I had little choice, I knew you were inside.”

“A song?” Logan muttered.

Sterling chuckled to himself, “What will you tell us next? There’s a kraken living in the sewer system?” Priam ignored him, and continued back up to his sister, silently ending their conversation.

“Well, alright then…”

“So,” Logan backtracked, “Great-grandma knew about Katalon, and you feel like this is familiar, does that mean you’ve been in Katalon too?”

Logan could see his uncle thinking intently. Finally he murmured quietly, “But why would I forget?”

The line he had read from Peter Pan raced back to his thoughts. It was a cruel taunt that danced in front of him. He spoke just as quietly, “Was it because you grew up?”

Sterling looked at him suddenly as if Logan had breached his mind. They continued on in silence for a long time. Logan could tell his uncle was deep in thought, every so often making his deep rumble. Was this the thing that grown-ups forgot? Had there always existed this world of magic that age stole from people? Logan prayed it wasn’t true, to lose something so fantastic. To lose sight of a miraculous world hidden around their own home, becoming blind to a true reality. He felt that same dread rise in him that he had felt at the Four Fathers bookstore. His uncle spoke suddenly, breaking his thoughts.

“I guess I didn’t expect to see magic around every corner anymore.”

Logan sighed, realizing once again why he liked to be with his uncle so much.

On a whim, he reached around into his bag and searched for something. Slowly he pulled the tattered old copy of Peter Pan from his pack. He couldn’t believe it was there. He had completely forgotten it the moment he had slipped it into his bag, but there it lay in his hands. He had kept it for some reason, as if the book were a reminder for him to remember that… thing he shouldn’t forget. There was just enough moonlight where they were, the trees giving way to a fuller moon, that if he held the pages ridiculously close to his face he could make out any un-smeared sections. Out of curiosity, he started flipping through to see if there was anything else the paperback might divulge.

After a few seconds of searching he landed on a legible section that said this, Of course the Neverland had been make-believe in those days; but it was real now, and there were no night-lights, and it was getting darker every moment.

Logan nearly dropped the book. He looked around himself at the herd of Centaurs all plodding away as quietly as they could through a dark wood. Each one was as unique as any person. They all wore distinctive clothes, none were dressed alike. They wore jackets and shirts, caps and shawls, some mares even wore garments that could almost be called dresses. The fabrics merged with their human torsos and horsebacks in cunning fashion, in a way that would impress any tailor. He never could have imagined it. And here it all stood before him. Each with a story, each with a life all their own. His brain almost collapsed at the sheer weight of the idea.

And then there was Ares. He was the terror that made Logan wish he wasn’t walking through this dark forest. The unprovoked destruction, the terrifying minions, the unknown reason he pursued them. He was clueless as to who this menace was or what he really wanted. And yet Logan ran, his only goal to outrun the Olympian. He shook his head, wondering if he was making the right decision.

When he pulled his eyes back to the book he saw another sentence salvaged from the water-stained paper, Thus sharply did the terrified three learn the difference between an island of make-believe and the same island come true.

He mechanically handed it up to his uncle, who still had his eyes glued on their mythic company. Taking the book with a confused glance he performed the same nose dive method that Logan had used to read what little the book could offer. After a second he smiled and looked back to Logan.

“Ain’t that the truth.”

Chapter Nineteen

~ Through Man’s World ~

     Despite Priam’s warning to travel quietly, Sterling had spent the last hour peppering him with questions. The sun had slowly begun to stain the horizon, and the first birds were clearing their throats.

“And your herd has been a part of the Allegiant for ten years, you say? So does that mean you’ve always been the leader?”

“No.” the Centaur grunted.

“If there was a leader before you, what happened to him? Is there some sort of ritual of passing the role on, like a knighting, or…a fight?”

Priam snorted and stopped. “He died.” Logan and his uncle stopped too. There was a sharpness to Priam’s voice. “A bay of Naiads attacked the herd when we were passing by. They thought us Wild, and the leader was killed.” Priam gruffly walked off leaving the Men behind.

Chara sidled up behind them. “You must be careful when speaking about Joshua. Priam and he were very close. It’s why Joshua asked Priam to take his place as leader if he were killed, even though he was too young, and not in line to do so.”

They all watched the stallion continue on alone, not joining one of the other groups of Centaurs trudging along. Sterling ventured, “Who was in line to be leader?”

Chara continued past them saying over her shoulder, “Rakish.”

They traveled on in silence from then on. Logan pondered over their mythical company as they traveled, still wondering if he had made a right choice in following a group of strangers into an unknown woods. Wayna’s words kept floating around in his head, Give Neverland a chance…

After a long trek, night had finally drained away and the sky shone a bright blue. They had been walking most of the night, with only one stop along a creek to drink and eat some food. The pickings had been slim, but thankfully it was fall and they had snuck through an apple orchard. At the time, the fruit had been delicious, but Logan’s immense hunger from almost a day of not eating had led to too many apples, and now stomach full of regret.

The light was just enough for him to see the words in his book again. And so he took this opportunity to approach Priam with the little use he thought he could be to him. There was only one way to understand how trustworthy these Centaurs truly were, and that was getting to know them. Except, now that Logan had seen what was really at stake in the adventure, and how much authority Priam held over his herd, he had grown unusually intimidated by him. So he had to bolster himself to even make an approach.

They were still in a large wood, and Priam had thought that the trees would be enough cover for them for a little while until they reached a better place to hide for the day. He scuttled up next to the Centaur, and Priam merely glanced down, and then back to the woods. “Logan.”

“Hi, Priam. Um, I was just thinking about what you said yesterday, about how you wanted to know,” Logan hesitated, “your histories. And I thought, since you’ve done so much for me and my uncle so far, and …you know we, kind of caused your village to be burnt down, that I could read you some of it. Now, if you like.”

When Priam looked at him again, the faintest twitch of a smile tipped his lips. But Logan thought he must have been squinting from the morning light. “That sounds agreeable.”

“Oh, ok. Good, no, good. Alright, well, let’s see.”

Logan cracked the old book open, and Priam continued to crane his neck around like a lighthouse scouring the area. He gave Logan a nod when he thought it acceptable enough to start. Most of the night had been whispers and hooves, but the birds were in full orchestra now and a wind was picking up, creating a nice ruckus to hide under.

He started flipping, clumsily as he walked, searching for an appropriate section. Finally a passage presented itself with the simple title: Centaurs.

He cleared his throat unnecessarily and began to read.

Logan stopped here, unsure if he should continue with a such a miserable tale. Priam’s giant hands had become tight fists at his side.

“It doesn’t make sense why nymphs were banished from society. They didn’t do anything wrong…” Logan muttered, mostly to himself.

Priam spoke shortly, “It is said that Man took truth upon himself. That Man had reached a pinnacle no other race could ever reach. And in that height, all below would need to be banished from their presence.” He glanced down. “And so we were.”

He couldn’t put it past mankind to do such a thing. His history lessons in school were one story after another of one group of people conquering another. But to have an entire realm of creatures disappear from existence… he couldn’t wrap his head around it.

They walked on for a little while longer until Logan gained the courage to continue.

There was One who from the Remnant was accepted, a Centaur so noble–

“HEY!” someone yelled.

They stopped dead, turning toward the voice like it had been a gunshot. Logan saw a man, dressed in camouflage coming down from a tree stand. When he dropped to the ground, he rested the gun in his hand on his shoulder.

“A hunter.” Sterling said, as he walked up next to Logan. At least a dozen or more Centaurs were behind them, completely in the open.

“What in the Sam Hill are you doing with all these horses in the woods?”

Logan smiled to himself. It amazed him how the hunter could not see the clearly mythic creatures right in front him. And just a few days before, he was the same way.

“Uh, we’re ranchers. Just… moving the herd to a … new pasture.” Uncle Sterling improvised.

“A new pasture? I don’t know of any horse farms in this area. Especially with this many horses.”

“We just moved here,” Logan added, “from… South Dakota. Didn’t want to make a ruckus in town since we’re new.”

“Yeah, well, this is a private woods, son. You can’t have all these horses running around, defiling the place with their piles.” He stressed the last word. “Why aren’t you riding them, anyway?”

“Um,” Logan looked up to Priam, but he merely motioned his head toward the hunter, reminding Logan he couldn’t talk at the moment. “Oh, yeah. I mean, we’re sorry, sir. We’re almost to the field anyway, so we’ll be out of your hair in no time.”

“Son, this is trespassing. My cousin owns these woods and I can’t just let you -” at that moment a little ball smacked him in the face, a cloud of light blue dust exploding from it. The hunter teetered and finally collapsed onto a pile of leaves. They all looked over to Chara, who had a very satisfied look on her face as she retrieved the little ball of stupor powder that she had used to subdue Tora back at the Centaur village.

“If we move him back next to the tree he’ll think he fell out and hit his head.” Everyone just stared at her. “He wasn’t going to let us go.”

Sterling laughed and elbowed his nephew, “That was a close one!”

Logan chuckled too, mostly from nerves. Even Priam managed to relax a bit. Then he said, “We have to find a place for the day. Everyone cover your tracks. Make sure this hunter really did have a dream.”

The next two days were just as nerve-wracking as the first. Three more towns stood in their path on the way to the river. The first was fairly easy to traverse. A state park lay to the west of it and they were able to sidle through late in the night. The travelers were only concerned once, when they saw a campfire through the trees.

The next town was much bigger and more heavily populated. Crossing it took the majority of the day, though it would have only taken a half hour down Main Street. It felt as if they were on the Underground Railroad, sneaking through fields and yards under the cover of darkness. Several dogs gave them troubles, like living alarms alerting the neighborhood to a Centaur in the backyard. Food was also a challenge. The herd got so hungry that night that Logan and Sterling headed into town. In all the secrecy they had forgotten that they weren’t mythical and could easily stroll down the sidewalk. They found an all-night convenient store and Sterling had enough money in his pockets to get some food. He gave Logan the last few coins in his pocket for the rickety old payphone. Logan didn’t breath when he tried calling home, and after ringing for a while he realized no one was going to pick up. Were they not home because they were at the hospital? Or were they out looking for Logan and his uncle? He pushed back the disappointment in him as Sterling handed him several bags full of bread and peanut butter, and some jugs of water. It wasn’t the grandest meal, but everyone seemed to enjoy it. Logan took a moment to relish the sight of Centaurs munching happily on PB and J.

After a long trek through some winding foothills, they reached the last town. It was smaller than the previous two, and much more compact. Sitting between two very steep hills the town was positioned so that going around it would have taken days longer and left them even more exhausted. Priam and the Men stood on the hill leading into town for the better part of an hour trying to figure out the best way. And that’s when Sterling had an idea.

“Ok, I don’t know if this will work, but if that hunter is any proof… it should.”

It wasn’t long before the residents of that little burg streamed out to the Main Street and lined the sidewalks to see the strangest thing that had ever passed through before. Two perfect lines of horses, big grand horses, filed down the street with their heads held high, swinging back and forth in perfect synchronization. Each clop of their hooves was like a military march, in step and together. At the front of the line were two men, wearing clothes much too long for them, high stepping like drum majors. One had a long spear in his hand which he thrust up and down with each step.

The townsfolk gaped in amazement as the horses paraded by, in such perfect unison, passing through without an introduction or even a word. They laughed and pointed, little children brimming with grins. When the last two horses passed by and the lines disappeared up the road leading out of town, the townsfolk cheered and applauded. Gathering together they talked well into the night of their strange visitors.

When they had found some secluded woods to stop in, several Centaurs shared a laugh with the Men. They made little whinny noises amidst the laughter as Logan and Sterling returned the Centaur-sized clothes they had borrowed. “I bet that town will never forget that!” Sterling said.

“I bet they’ll have an annual festival from now on!” Logan added.

“The Parade of Horses Festival!” Sterling chimed.

“I can’t believe that worked.” Tora said. The two Men stopped removing the Centaur clothes and stared at her.

Sterling looked at his nephew, “She speaks. I had forgotten she could.” The Dryad pursed her lips but couldn’t dismiss a very small smile.

“What I meant was that I didn’t realize that Men were that oblivious.” She folded her arms and lay back on Atlee’s neck.

“Ah ha, there’s the grump we know. Well I can’t really say that, can I? We don’t know you at all.”

She rolled her eyes and looked away.

“It was very risky and foolish.” Rakish added, his bald head looking very cold to Logan. “I am just glad we made it through.” He skulked away without another word.

The next day they heard the water. After twenty minutes of following the sound the river came into view. It was a well-received sight. When they reached the banks, every Centaur rushed to the waters and knelt to drink. There was a great slurping as they all had their fill. It had been a whole day since they had eaten or drunk anything. Logan was not embarrassed to join them. He drank until his belly felt like a stone. After that they gathered together.

“This is it, family. It is time for us to part ways.”

“Are you sure you want to do this, Priam?” Rakish asked. “It does not seem worth it.   What do you have to gain by following this Dryad to her friend? He could be dangerous.”

Priam thought for a moment. Chara came up to his side and grabbed his hand. Her smile sparked something in him. “There is more to this world than just our herd. There is more to this world than just the Allegiant. The Allegiant’s goal is to prove to Katalon that we are not all Wild and can rejoin the nymphs. This Dryad needs us, and we may learn much about ourselves if we help her.”

“I wouldn’t say ‘needs’.” They looked back from where Chara had been to see Tora standing, all on her own. “I’m quite capable of going on my own now.” There was still that defiance in her voice, but something betrayed it.

“Yes,” Priam turned to her, “capable now. Thanks to my sister.”

“That doesn’t change anything.”

“Yes, it does. You may not physically need us anymore, but she did save your life. You owe her.”

The Dryad crossed her arms again. Chara stepped forward, “Our village was destroyed for no reason we can fathom… other than your presence. And perhaps the Men.” Tora glared at her. “You heard that monster as plainly as I did; he called out your name. Ares was looking for you.”

“I still don’t see any point to all of this. You’re… Centaurs.” she said exasperated, “I appreciate your help with my legs, but that’s it.”

“Tora,” Chara walked closer to her, “You’re right, you don’t need us. In essence, we need you now. Do you think your friend could help us with Ares? All of us?”

Tora finally looked at Chara then, in the face. It was clear that Tora hadn’t realized how beautiful her caregiver had been all this time. And it seemed the idea of someone needing her was much more to her liking.

She sighed heavily. “I suppose he could help you. And…I’m sure your presence wouldn’t interfere too much with the rest of the trip.”

“Fantastic!” Uncle Sterling cheered.

Logan was excited too. Tomorrow, he and his uncle, two Centaurs and a Dryad would travel up into the mountains together. It was like a real life fairy tale. Until he saw Tora staring at him with a severe frown. She walked over to him pointing at his chest.

“You and I have some talking to do.”

Chapter Twenty

~ Fireside ~

     “But where did it come from?”

“I don’t know.” he said for the fiftieth time.

“But medallions don’t just appear.”

“I don’t see why not. I’ve seen a lot of strange things I didn’t think could happen in the last few days.”

“Things don’t work that way in Katalon.”

Logan just shook his head and poked at the fire. Tora had been so reluctant before to speak while she was still healing, but now that they were separated from the herd and she was on her own two legs again, she didn’t seem to shut up.

“Why is it so important?” Uncle Sterling asked.

She sighed, “Because it’s more than just metal. That medallion he’s wearing is… personal. It’s a family crest, an heirloom. Only nymphs of the Oak Clan would have one. And only members of that family, etched on the back, would have a medallion like the one he has. It’s wrong for him to have it. It’s as if it were stolen.”

Logan grabbed the metal from outside his shirt. Turning it over, he rubbed the image of the sun over the scattered leaves. A family symbol, Tora had called it. He liked it. He didn’t want to give it away. “But it could have been a gift.” Logan persisted. He looked to his uncle. “Somebody could have snuck it under the cover when I was away.” Sterling just shrugged in reply.

Tora stared at him. “Is it really that offensive?” he asked.

She tapped her thumbs together for a while. “I think a Dryad who saw you with it, and knew you weren’t Dryad would be offended, yes.”

His heart sank a little. It was beginning to grow on him. It made him think of his family, the book, his great-grandmother. But his insides churned a little at the thought of wearing something considered sacred to a foreigner. He reluctantly pulled the chain over his head and looked at it gleaming in the firelight. Then he handed it out to Tora.

She looked at him puzzled for a few seconds, staring at his hand. Then her brow rose slightly, and she gently took it from him. After a few minutes of silence, while Tora gazed at the medallion, they heard the chain clink as she tucked it away.

Things were very different now. Since Tora had regained her legs, she now carried the handsome bow and a sturdy leather quiver Priam had provided from the silver board full of weapons he had rescued the night of the fire. Priam had taken a sword, but Chara had refused anything, and nothing had been offered to the Men. Logan knew they wouldn’t know what to do with weapons even if they did have some.

Atlee had seemed a little disappointed to see Tora go, but she didn’t seem to notice. Without the rustle and hushed voices that usually accompanied them with the herd, the night seemed much darker. With fewer people around, the dark grew bigger, more confident. Logan was glad of the fire.

“Are you sure the fire is wise?” Priam asked.

“Yes,” Tora said, pulling out the quiver and a small rock, “We’re in a Man’s Forest, one of their parks. Many people are camping here, there will be several fires about. Too many for Ares to go searching through. Besides, he does not know which direction we went.”

“Well, that’s reassuring.” Uncle Sterling said. “And how far is it to your friend, Luke’s?”

“We’ll be there tomorrow.”

“Good, good.” Silence reclaimed its spot over them, and reigned for what seemed a long time. Tora gently scratched into the leather of the quiver, digging what looked like a moon shape into its skin.

There was a snap in the woods, which twirled Sterling around in alarm. He searched the trees, uneasily returning his gaze back to the fire when nothing appeared. The others hadn’t even noticed.

“Are you ok? You seem a little skittish.” Logan commented.

His uncle dismissed it, “I don’t really like the woods. It wasn’t so bad with all those Centaurs around, but now with just the few of us…” he shook his head.

“Why don’t you like the woods?” Logan asked incredulously, it being his favorite place.

Taking a quick glance around at the all the others who were now listening intently, he said, “I had a bad experience as a kid.”

He didn’t continue, but Logan’s face urged him to continue.

“I remember being deep in the woods one time, and I was really lost. It was hours of wandering around trying to figure out where I was. And it felt like something sinister was lurking in the trees. Every little movement and sound was a monster to me. To top it off, a storm had cropped up and was making these awful shadows every time lightning struck. I was seven or eight. It wasn’t good.”

“What happened?” Chara insisted, “How did get home?”

He smirked a little at his captive audience, “I found this pocket in between some big trees. The rain couldn’t get through. I felt safe enough to fall asleep. The next day, I heard someone calling my name. I ran toward it and found a ranger who’d been looking for me. He took me back home. Apparently, everyone had been really worried me.”

“Huh. I never knew that.” Logan said.

“Yeah, well, the woods at night has never really been that appealing to me since.”

“It’s understandable.” Chara sympathized.

Sterling chuckled to himself. “Golly, I haven’t thought about that memory in a long time. I almost forgot it even happened.”

His uncle leaned back, staring at the fire and the nymphs around him. It occurred to Logan that despite his uncle’s strange behavior before over True Mythology, it seemed now Sterling didn’t even care about it. Maybe this was what he was really looking for. It wasn’t the book that drove him, but the familiar feeling. Maybe his uncle really had been in Katalon before, and his great-grandmother too. There was no telling how much of his family had set foot in this mythical world. Except no one ever said a word about it…

Logan thought about getting the book out for himself, but something inside him told him to just relax and soak in the moment. He looked at Priam. He was so big. And Chara, so beautiful. As he stared at them staring at the fire, he noticed something. Hidden in their flowing hair, Chara’s mess of curls and Priam’s pulled back down his head, were very subtle braids. They ran in parallel pairs and intertwined, some grouped together, and others stood alone. As he stared at them, his lips moved faster than his brain.

“Why do you have braids?” Embarrassment crept up his cheeks when everyone looked at him, but Chara broke into a smile. Tora and Sterling turned to the Centaurs.

“Oh, you do have braids.” Uncle Sterling said.

“I never would have noticed them.” Tora agreed.

Priam cleared his throat and looked back to the fire. But Chara spoke.

“They signify our places, in society.” Their silence encouraged her to go on. “Each braid means something. A double braid means you are wedded, and three parallel braids mean warrior,” Logan could see one of those above Priam’s right ear. “And this,” she pulled an intricate one from behind her ear, “means I’m an heir of Chiron.”

“That’s brilliant.” Sterling almost whispered.

“One look and you know someone’s job, their heritage… it’s very… clever.” Tora said. She had absentmindedly grabbed one of her own braids and twisted it in her fingers. They all quietly admired the braids of the Centaurs, Priam never looking from the fire. Logan was still a little intimidated by him. He felt as though he would say the wrong thing if he spoke to him. But he was also strangely drawn to the creature. There was an honor, a regal strength that Priam possessed that Logan had never witnessed before. He admired that.

Tentatively, he asked, “What’s that one, the strange one coming from your temple, Priam?”

Priam slowly looked into his eyes, and grabbed the braid. “It means I’m leader of my herd.” They were quiet again. Logan didn’t know what to say to that. Congratulations? He chose to remain quiet.

“I like it.” Tora was still stroking her own braids. “I actually know a few braids, of my own.” she said.

“The Dryads have storybraids? I never knew that.” Chara said.

“No,” Tora said, casting a quick glance up at the Men, “not the Dryads.” She looked to the Centaurs and said very nonchalantly, “I could… show you some, if you like.”

There was an immediate response among the two. Logan recognized the utter surprise on their faces. They looked at each other for a moment, then Chara said, “I’d love one.”

Tora, with an uncommonly shy smile, walked over to her. She kneeled and hesitantly began tying a very deft braid from Chara’s left brow. It was tight near the head, but broke out into an interesting little design. When she finished, Chara felt it for few seconds and declared it perfect.

Tora then turned to Priam. They looked at each other with what seemed to be defiance and apprehension. Finally Tora asked, “Would you like one?”

Priam stared at her for few more seconds then nodded his head once. She carefully positioned herself on his right and began to tie a very intricate braid. It started next to his leader braid and pulled back along his head. Near the end she tied it to a single braid that hung loose. Logan took pleasure in seeing the look of disgust she had always worn the last few days while riding Atlee had disappeared while her fingers worked nimbly through Priam’s hair.

Running the braid through his fingers when she had finished, Priam asked, “What does it mean?”

Tora shook her head and said, “Nothing.” Then went back to her spot.

There was something about how she said that, Logan felt it wasn’t true.

It was beautiful. Almost hauntingly so. He realized he was still asleep, he could even remember curling up on the ground when his eyes wouldn’t work anymore. The ground was solid underneath him, the warmth of the fire penetrating the dirt. The light flickered through his eyelids, but slowly, as if time were falling asleep as well.

It was so beautiful… the sound. A voice, singing what Logan imagined an angel would sound like. The voice rose and fell like bits of light, clear and golden. He didn’t recognize what it was saying, only that it was speaking. He listened for what felt like an age, and never wanted it to stop.

But then it did, and the air became a little colder without its presence. When he tried to open his eyes they opposed him, until finally they cracked open. Through the dim light of the fire Logan thought he saw Tora emerging from the woods, then his eyes drooped and he fell back to sleep.

The world seemed to vibrate. It started thumping against his head, harder until the sound caught up with it.

“Logan! Wake up!”

He felt hands pulling him up, but his eyes were much too slow to comprehend what was going on. He was being shaken violently. “Wake! Up! Now!”

Finally he could see the fire and his companions around it. But everything was different. The Centaurs were circling around agitated. Tora had her bow strung with an arrow, its tip pointing out into the dark trees. And his uncle was shaking him.

“Ok, ok! What’s going on?”

“We have to go.” Priam said.

“Something bad is coming.” Tora agreed.

The thundering underfoot grew stronger, and now Logan could hear grunts and bellows from the dark. He saw fear creeping up in his uncle’s eyes.

“Ares?” Logan asked.

“Something else.” Tora stated.

And then the first of the creatures burst into the firelight. Several barreled past with no regard to the group, hulking black blurs that trampled the ground. Two of the animals suddenly broke from the stampede and charged for them.

They were bulls, all of them. But as the two rogues came closer to the firelight, Logan could see their shining skin. It was as if they were made of polished metal. Their eyes were glassy and angry, their horns like swords. The first ran right through the fire, as Logan and his uncle jumped out of the way.

“Cheese and crackers!” his uncle yelled.

The second was dealt a blow by Priam’s sword. It bounced off the bull’s head with a clang, barely slowing him down. The beast stomped into the fire, much angrier now.

“Bronze Bulls!” Tora yelled. “Run!”

The bull stood, indifferent to the fire climbing up its legs, the flames gleaming off its metal skin. It reared its giant head, and two jets of fire burst from its nostrils.

“Man alive!” Sterling yelled, taking off. “Run!” he yelled back. Logan took off.

It was like the Centaur village all over again. Fire behind him, darkness ahead. He had no idea where he was going, and he could barely see. Roots reached out to grab his feet and almost sent him face flat into the ground. The thundering grew all around him. Several bulls hurtled past. He could see jets of flame like pinpoints in the black around him. The hooves were so loud they shook the ground tripping him even more.

Suddenly he could feel a pounding coming up right behind him. He didn’t dare look back, but he could already sense the fire bubbling up inside the beast’s mouth. Just when he expected the bull’s flames to hit his back, a hand grabbed him from behind and threw him through the air like a wet towel, dropping him heavily on an animal’s back. He grabbed onto the first thing he could, and realized it was a man’s torso, one that was draped in a long green leather jacket.

Priam yelled back, “Hold on!” and veered off through a small clearing. The moonlight glistened off the backs of dozens of bulls. The ground lit up with sporadic streams of fire. Logan saw Chara’s form racing along with them, Uncle Sterling’s silhouette clinging to her back for dear life. The bulls didn’t seem to notice them among the stampede, but they stormed through the woods like an avalanche.

Just as he was getting used to the herd, an angry bull started kicking wildly. It veered left abruptly and gored Priam’s flank. He toppled over without a sound, and hit the ground so hard he sent Logan flying. The ground met him hard and unforgiving. Logan rose heavily to see the livid creature digging his metal hooves into the dirt, divots flying. It bellowed a furious roar, fire spitting from its maw. Priam struggled to rise.

The beast rushed toward the downed Centaur and panic overtook Logan. He reached down in the dark and grabbed a rock nearby, and with one lucky throw nailed the bull right between its shining horns. It bucked wildly, running away from Priam’s direction. With a burst of fire it caught sight of Logan’s shape. Another roar signaled its new target.

Logan turned tail and ran. Despite the moonlight he caught his foot in a hole and went tumbling through the grass. He had just enough time to raise his head and see the bull’s enraged glare. In the instant before it was upon him he felt the fear drain from him, and a quiet stillness fill his soul.

Crash! Without warning a second bigger bull charged Logan’s attacker, the deafening clang from their heads connecting echoing through the night air. They barreled over each other like two toppled tanks. Regaining their feet quickly they pawed at the ground, facing each other. Each sent up a fountain of flames, challenging the other. Finally the bigger bull, one of its horns broken, hurled itself with surprising speed at its competitor hitting it square in its bronze head, horns to horns. The smaller one crumpled under the blow, haphazardly scrambling back up to flee into the dark toward the larger stampede. The bigger bull raced after it, billowing flames in its path.

Logan finally remembered to breathe, gasping in the cold night air. Each breath pulled him back into the moment. He remembered Priam.

When he reached the Centaur, Priam had already pulled himself up and was alert. Only a few straggling bulls raced past, oblivious to them. He looked down at Logan and slowly nodded. “Thank you.”

Logan just stared at him unable to speak. Chara, unscathed, galloped over, Sterling still clutching onto her. She told him it was safe to come down but he didn’t move.

“I think I’ll stay…a little longer… ” he said quietly. Logan saw that his eyes were squeezed tightly shut.

Tora emerged from the darkness unhurt as well, the longbow on her back. They all took a moment to calm themselves.

Logan started to laugh from nerves, “Did you say, ‘cheese and rice’, Uncle Sterling?”

Chara laughed with him, and Sterling giggled a little himself. But Priam looked at Tora with concern.

“Maybe the campfire wasn’t a good idea.”

She rolled her eyes and began hiking into the woods.

Chapter Twenty-One

~ A Fresh Trail ~

     The daylight streaming through the trees energized him. The sun had always had that effect, its fire stoking the flame that smoldered inside him. Things were so different now though. He quested for things he did not desire, and sought after things he could not remember. It stifled him; it angered him. He gripped the side of his ship more tightly.

“Count?” Bo asked.

Ares looked down at his hands on the silver hull of his Chariot. The metal was red hot as a furnace. The Olympian lifted his hands taking a deep breath, motioning toward the scorching metal like he was beckoning it. The heat in the hull dissipated silently as if it had never been there. He reclaimed his spot surveying over the forest.

“Is everything alright, master?”

“You know full well it isn’t, Bo.” The mountain nymph came up beside him, trying not to look at the Olympian. His rage had been known to engulf even the ones he kept close.

“I have never been in this position before. It is… degrading. A person of my stature should never have to run all over creation searching for knick knacks under every stone. Walking among horses and stump-dwellers, it’s disgusting. And now we have lost the only lead we’ve had in weeks. All because of a few ponies.” He turned away, scoffing. Bo didn’t dare speak. After a few seconds, Ares hands unclenched and met each other behind his back very relaxed, his shoulders regaining their proud posture. “Let us try again, Bo.”

The Oread obeyed immediately. He stood before Ares with his arms to his side. Ares rested his hand over Bo’s heart. He closed his eyes and concentrated. Bo waited tensely, not breathing. He didn’t know what it would be like when it happened, and so he never truly knew if anything had happened. The few seconds that passed seemed to stretch on longer than their chase had. Finally, Ares removed his hand. His orange eyes swam with repugnance.

“Still nothing?”

“Yes, still nothing, Bo! Believe me you will know when it happens!” Ares stormed down the gangway of the Chariot, his hands leaving a trail of smoke behind him. “I don’t know why we even try anymore! We’ll never find him! This whole endeavor is hopeless! Why should I, a god, have to endure this…. indignity?” He spun around and stared at his Man-at-War. “Why should I try anymore?”

Bo dipped his head a little and said quietly, “Because you must. You know you must.”

Ares stared at him with eyes like coals, his lips twisting his mouth into an awful sneer. Bo waited for the punishment. He knew he had spoken too freely. But after a moment, the sneer faded, the eyes cooled. The Olympian stood straight again, rubbing his hand through his gray beard, remembering why there was no going back. He nodded and headed for the front of the Chariot again.

“Of course.” he said.

Just as he reached the consoles of the ship a high whooshing sound rushed through the trees. Eris, one of the dark twins, came speeding out of the woods on a starboard, soaring up to where brooding Count stood.

“I have news, master.” she said.

“It needs to be good news at this point, my dear.”

“It is. Last night there was a stampede of Bronze Bulls to the northwest!”

Ares allowed a smile to creep up his face. “Well, there are only a few things that could upset a herd of Bronze Bulls. An earthquake, a thunderstorm… or the haunting call of Dryad song.” Eris nodded wickedly. “And there are only a few Dryad groves up in that region.”

He clicked his tongue and shook his head, “Oh, Tora. You’ve given yourself away.”

Chapter Twenty-Two

~ Directions ~

     “I had the strangest dream last night.”

“About what?” Logan’s uncle asked.

Logan looked over at Tora, striding along with them. He recalled the music, the campfire, Tora seeping out of the woods… “I can’t really remember.”

“Well it can’t be as strange as what really happened last night.” Sterling offered.

They were in a large national park, and this last leg of the journey was much more relaxed than the beginning. They currently traveled during the day since hiking through these woods was so common.

Logan decided to pull out True Mythology and spend some time back between its pages. He flipped to a section he had already read several times.

As Logan read on, it didn’t get better. There was a story of him being injured during a battle long ago, and some peasants found him. They took him back to their home and nursed him to health. He showed his gratitude by leaving their home engulfed in flames, with them still in it.

There were others, one about him being trapped in a golden net made by Hephaestus for several days for trying to steal from him. Another told of a love he once had, and how she had died by the hand of a king Ares had sworn his allegiance to. That entire kingdom fell the next day.

It didn’t do anything to reassure Logan. But he found comfort studying this mysterious enemy who was following them. The thing that had been burning in his mind since the Centaur village was, why? Why would an Olympian be following them? Was he after Tora for some reason? Or was he after Logan? Priam’s suggestion that it was the very book in his hands Ares desired unnerved him. He would have liked to believe it was the book, everything had started the day he pried the wall open and discovered the book inside. But he couldn’t help thinking it was the one secret he hadn’t even told Sterling yet.

He decided to put the book away until they were in a more secure place instead of the open woods where who knows what could be watching them. He whipped his bag around to stuff it away, but the strap slipped off his shoulder. It hit the ground, splaying its contents through the leaves. He watched in alarm as the precious ivory scroll rolled away a few feet from him in the dirt.

“What is that?” Uncle Sterling asked.

The other three stopped and turned around. Sterling picked up the scroll and turned it in his hands.

“Uh, it’s just…” He didn’t know what to say. He wasn’t even sure he could trust anyone with it. It had been burning a hole in his back for days now, but the extent his great-grandmother had gone to secure it had put an trepidation in him unwilling him to share it with anyone. If she thought it needed to be secret, he had decided it should stay that way. Now it was in his uncle’s hands. In front of the others. “It’s just a bunch of bumps.” Sterling said.

Tora whisked over and grabbed it from him. “Hey!” he protested.

She looked at the edge where the tree symbol was etched into the wood handle. Her eyes widened in either horror or joy. She turned on Logan.

“Where did you get this?” she barked.

“I, I…”

“Tell me! How can you, a Man, have this?”

“Why is it so important?” Uncle Sterling intervened.

Why? This is… this is…important!”

A quiet fell on them. Logan could only hear Wayna’s words rolling around his head, her fright at the idea of Ares finding the little scroll. I know this sounds paranoid, but I think we’re in danger. This changes everything. Staring into their eyes at that moment though, he felt more inclined to trust. They had already done so much. Proved themselves more than most of his friends had done his whole life. Reluctantly, he explained, “I found it. It was hidden in my great-grandmother’s theatre.” Sterling looked at him in shock. “Yeah, this is what the clues in the book led to. I put them together and found it. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.”

“Where?” he breathed.

“Inside the mouth of the face… above the stage.”

“Above the …?”

“How did this get there?” Tora whispered to no one in particular. “What are you doing with something so sacred!?” she yelled at him.

“It was hidden! My great-grandmother must have stashed it away long ago. Wayna was so adamant that I keep it secret-“

“Wayna knew about it too?” Sterling asked.

“She was scared about Ares, thought he might-“ He stopped. He’d been foolish to hide it. He should have spoken up from the beginning. “She thought Ares might be after it. He and his goons had been sneaking around the theatre. She thought he was following me, following along the clues.”

Uncle Sterling just stared at him, incredulous. Tora looked like she was going to bust a vein.

“And you KEPT THIS FROM US? HID WHAT HE- WHAT… THIS!”

Chara sidled up to them and calmly asked, “What is this scroll, Tora?”

She stared at it for a time, then breathed out, “The Throne of Grace. This symbol is of the Throne… of Grace. Every Dryad in the world knows this symbol.”

“What throne is this?” Priam asked.

“It’s a Taproot.” she said quietly. She waited, and then realized none of them knew what that was.

Sterling began to say something but she stopped him, “Just let me think for a moment!”

She walked off a little ways staring at the ivory. Logan felt uncomfortable with it in her hands. He had a vision of her demanding it as well, just like the medallion, robbing him of everything his great-grandmother had left behind. Next she would want his book.

He bent down to pick up the rest of the things that had slipped from his bag. As he was picking up Peter Pan, he saw something in the dirt. Where the scroll had rolled onto the ground, there were strange designs. He crept over to them and looked carefully at the indentations. They looked like little bumps and lines, but it was all laid out so organically. He peered at it closely and started to see the bumps as mountains and the lines as … rivers or roads.

“It is a map.” he said.

“What Logan?” his uncle asked.

“The scroll, the clues said it was a map, remember? But I thought it was inside the scroll. Look, look at the designs. The scroll is the map.”

Tora was at his side on the ground in an instant. She studied the divots the ivory had made in the dirt. She wiped away the image on the ground, to which Logan protested, but then she gently rolled the scroll back over the clean area again. The image was clearly imprinted into the dirt. It was a full-fledged map. They all gaped at it.

After a few moments, Priam bent his head down and said, “Is that the river we just crossed?”

Tora traced the river with her finger, and a path parallel. “It is. There is the gorge where the last town we passed through sits.”

“So where is it taking us?” Logan asked.

Again Tora guided her finger over the terrain. “There is no end point. But this triangle in the corner, I think it’s the direction we’re supposed to go.” They all looked it over again, marveling at the detail. “A map… to the Throne of Grace… I never thought I’d see…”

She stood up, using her foot to brush the image away, kicking a little dirt into Logan’s face. “We must get to Luke.” she said. She looked down at Logan. “This changes everything.”

Chapter Twenty-Three

~ Luke ~

     She wouldn’t say much more than that.  They had continued on, Tora inspecting every inch of the ivory scroll, but not explaining anything else.  Just as Logan had resigned himself to her taking it as well as his medallion, she turned back to him.

“Keep it in your bag, don’t bring it out until we are hidden.” she told him.

“You’re letting me keep it?” he asked, surprised.

“Ares won’t believe you have it, if he does know about it.  He’ll think I’d have taken it.  Do not lose it.” she demanded.

He rolled his eyes, “I haven’t yet, have I?”  She left him with a glare, but Logan didn’t care, he had the scroll back.  It felt like an heirloom, something magical his great-grandmother had left him, the only one clever enough to find it.  After he tucked it away, his mind raced with all the possibilities as to why his great-grandmother would have such an object.

They had been walking for a couple more hours and were deep in unvisited territory.  The woods were thick and beautiful, the colors more vibrant the farther north they went.  The forest was overflowing with golden topped trees, coves of orange and explosions of deep red leaves intermixed all around.  The air was getting cooler, but it smelled cleaner too.

They came upon a rocky creek in a spot where the trees gathered on the banks, shielding the dry area from the autumn sun.  The water was much slower here than further down, strewn with colorful leaves that clogged up between the rocks.  One side of the creek bed had been practically washed away, revealing the immense tangle of roots from the trees that perched precariously on what land there was left.  He stared at the mess of grey roots amazed at the display of where a tree’s strength lies, and at the wonder that the trees didn’t tip right over into the creek that very moment.

Looking over the flat water as they crossed, he noticed strange designs all over the submerged rocks, the trails of little water creatures munching on the gunk gathered on the stones.  Several water strider bugs skimmed away as he peered closer.

“There.”  Tora pointed over the next hill at a sheer ridge wall towering over the surrounding trees.  Flush with the rock wall sat a squat log cabin that looked so old it almost blended in with the foliage.  Two huge ash trees roped in creeping ivy flanked its front door.  The ebbing sunlight splashed patches of color all over the place, and a wind started kicking up the red leaves.

“Oh, good,” Sterling said, exhausted.  “I didn’t know if we’d ever find it.  Although,” He stretched his back.  “I was expecting a bit more.”

They plodded up the last hill wearily, cutting across a ditch filled with damp leaves.  Everyone started to relax and cheer up with every step closer to their destination.  Even Tora had a smile on her face.  When they reached the old door, Tora walked right in like she owned the place.  Logan and Sterling followed her in, but the Centaurs waited at the short door, bending down to look in.

It was exactly what an old cabin would look like.  There was a well-worn table with some beat up wooden chairs around it, a wooden couch with southwestern cushions facing a blackened old fireplace.  The wall directly across from the door had a large bookcase on it that held pots, pans, plates, boxes, and of course, books.

“This is a private cabin, not a rest stop.”  A Scottish accent drifted from the corner.  They all looked over to a shape standing hunched over a small wooden desk.  He was rummaging through some papers, not even taking the time to turn around and see who was entering his home.

“Is that so?”  Tora asked, putting her hands on her hips.

Still stooped over, the man peered back at them from under his arm.  Two icy blues eyes pierced out from under a mess of matted blond hair.  “Tora?”

“I was hoping for a bit warmer welcome.”

“Tora!” he exclaimed, and ran over gathering her up in his arms.  He was very tall, pushing thirty or so in age, and wore wraparound sandals despite the cold. When they had finally let go, huge smiles on each others’ faces, Luke noticed the rest of the intruders.  “And who are these?  Are these your friends?”  Luke asked Tora.  She squinted at him.

He acted a little shocked, “You have friends?” Smirking, he walked over to them his hand extended.  “I’m Luke, Luke Thomas.”

Sterling grabbed it and introduced himself, and Logan did the same.

“Well I’ll be… Men.  You pallin’ with Men now, Tora?”

He then brushed past them and headed for the door.  “Well, well, well what have we here?”  Logan remembered Ares and Tora’s disgust at being among Centaurs, and silently cringed at what Luke would say next.

“I’ve never seen Centaurs out and about by themselves before.”  He extended his hand again.  “Name’s Luke.”  Chara and Priam looked at each other, then back at the smiling man.  He towered up close to Priam’s shoulder.  Slowly, Priam took his hand and shook, Chara following suit.

“Well, come in, don’t just stand at the door.  Any friend of Tora’s must have done something amazing to gain her trust.  Apologies about the door, didn’t expect to be receiving Centaurs.”

The two ducked their way into the small cabin, immediately making it even smaller.  When everyone was inside, Luke asked, “Anybody for tea?”

“Luke, it’s important.”  Tora motioned Logan to come to her.  He automatically reached into his bag and handed the ivory scroll to the Dryad.  “Do you know what that is?” she asked Luke, showing him the tree symbol on the handle.

He stared for a second, then his eyes widened.  “That I do.” he guffawed, “You must be joking.  I thought it was just a legend.”  He looked over his old friend’s companions and said, “Very interesting.”  Logan noticed him absentmindedly rubbing his wrist.

“I need to see a Druid about this.”  Her face was determined, and a little rushed.

He nodded, relaxed.  “I can help you there.  Let’s go into the Valley, shall we?”

He walked over to the bookcase and pulled a book off the shelf.  Behind it he pressed a knot in the wood paneling.  Something clicked and the whole bookcase slid to the left.  A dark hole gaped in its place.  Luke nonchalantly headed into the darkness raising his hands up.  Instantly, a row of lights on each wall sprang to life, the lights dominoing down a deep stone tunnel.  Tora glanced back at them a little concerned, but followed him in.

As they traversed down the tunnel, Logan realized they must be in the cliff that the cabin sat against.  It was all cut out from under the mountainside.  The old house was like an overgrown front.  Finally, the tunnel opened into a circular room cleanly cut from the stone.  Here, large shelves rose high on every wall, filled to the brim with old leather books and yellowing scrolls of parchment.  Logan’s heart leaped at the idea of getting his hands on all those volumes.  He tried to get a good look at all of them, but the books were stacked too tall and too many for him to even try.  From what titles he could glean as they passed were either in another language or decimated by age.  Reluctantly, he followed along with the group, fighting the desire to dive in.  The ceiling was carved with intricate designs and pictures of what Logan could only assume were Dryads dancing around their trees.  Several tables and comfy looking chairs were scattered among the room, as well as a canoe, skis, a mountain bike and several other contraptions he didn’t recognize.  Other tunnels journeyed out in several different directions from the circular room, a huge tapestry of mountains or trees hanging above each corridor.

Luke and Tora ignored it completely heading off toward the tunnel veering left.  They continued down the path, the lights on the walls never ending.  Logan saw they were like candelabras, but instead of candles they held glass domes.  The light inside didn’t flicker, but it didn’t seem electrical either.  They passed by several more tunnel entrances that branched off, curving out of sight.  A deep rumbling subtly began resonating through the rock.  After a while, they finally reached a great bright door framed in a huge stone doorway.  Passing through the entryway led back outside to the chilly woods.

Logan and the others had emerged on the other side of the mountain cliff.  The vista that spread out before him took his breath away.  A valley, a deep one, dipped sharply into the flat woodlands around it.  Enormous trees towered around, their canopies tickling the clouds.  Rope bridges ran from tree to tree, from one side of the valley to the other, all interconnecting like some intricate web.  Two massive stone buildings stood in the middle of the valley, ruggedly built and perfectly suited to their surroundings, like natural castles.  They faced each other on either side of the crevasse, a wide sturdy bridge connecting them over the gap.  Several other small structures littered the valley, some actually built into the valley wall itself, their roofs just peaking above ground level.  Logan looked back to the cliffside behind them where a gushing waterfall burst from the very rock wall down to the valley floor below.  He silently connected the dots between the waterfall and the rumbling in the cave.

Two people were up on the cliff near the waterfall.  With no warning, they jumped from the mountain, diving headfirst into the valley.  Logan grabbed his uncle and yelled, “Look!”

Just as the two divers dipped below ground level into the gorge they spread their arms, displaying skin-like wings that went from wrist to waist.  They soared through the valley, dodging bridges and platforms, expertly gliding down to the river, landing as gently as birds.

Sterling beamed at the spectacle with a wild smile on his face.  “Well, I’ll be picked off a vine and eaten grape by grape!”

Chapter Twenty-Four

~ The Dendron Valley ~

“Welcome to the Dendron Valley, lads!  And the bonnie lass.”  Luke dipped his head toward Chara.  “The only Dryad city in all of North America.”

“It’s amazing!” Logan said in wonder.

The group followed Tora and Luke along the valley’s edge leading toward the first of the few small stone buildings.  Logan could see that the forest, flat here at the valley, rose up into the mountain farther away from the village.  The entire valley was enclosed by cliffs circling the valley, hiding it away.  It was the perfect place for a mythical city.  Logan glanced into the trees and was startled by a grand buck standing tall, its antlers a shining silver.  It seemed to watch them as they neared the first building.

Logan began to notice the inhabitants as they drew closer.  They all wore clothes made of soft looking fabrics and furs, the colors earthy and subdued except for an occasional splash of brightness from a scarf or cloak.  They were a tall people, most were as tall as Luke or more.  Their hair varied from the deep red like Tora’s, to fiery orange, or platinum blond.  Intermittent brunettes stood out among all the others, with hair that lay perfectly straight unlike the curly oranges and yellows.  The Dryads stared at them as they walked into the village, their green eyes wide.  After a while, Logan noticed that the villagers weren’t staring at his uncle and him, but at the Centaurs behind them.  Several children fled to the stone buildings or out over the rope bridges to the other side of the valley.

No one approached them, or gave any sign of greeting.  They just watched.  Logan looked back to Luke certain it was only his presence that allowed their passage.

Some butterflies came fluttering around them, just out of reach.  Despite the autumn chill they danced merrily in the air.  One flurried near Logan and he put his hand out.  As it got closer Logan almost swallowed his tongue in astonishment.  It wasn’t a butterfly, but a little person.    The tiny people were dressed like the other Dryads of the Valley, but on their backs fluttered wispy little wings, like the maple key seeds that spin like helicopters as they fall.  If ever there were fairies, these were they.  Just as it was about to settle on his fingers, Chara pulled his hand away.

“Don’t touch.  Those are Saplings; infants.  Very fragile.” she warned.

Logan and his uncle stared at each other, both realizing how intricate this new world was they were walking into.

When the group finally reached the largest stone building on their side of the valley, a few giants emerged from the doorway.  They looked just like the rest of the Dryads but had to be at least eight feet tall.  The two enormous trees that flanked the doorway to the stone building actually looked proportional next to them.  Their movements were slow and assured, very solid.  He could imagine this was what it looked like to watch a tree walk.

Once the giants recognized who was among the little party, they surprisingly broke into smiles.  One of the female giants rushed up to Tora and embraced her, lifting her several feet up into the air.  The tallest of the giants spread his arms and announced in a booming voice, “My Dendron Grove, our beloved Tora has returned!”

As if the past few uncomfortable minutes hadn’t occurred, the crowd that had gathered raised up a cheer and drew in to greet Luke and his guests.

“This is your home?”  Logan asked.

Tora didn’t look at him.  “This is a home.  I am from nowhere…”

“Well, that sounds nice.”  Sterling said flatly.

She whirled around on them, her brown eyes fierce.  “You will behave yourselves while you are here.  This is a special place.  No Man has set foot in this city for a century.  I don’t want the Hama to think I brought in strays.”  She stormed off toward Luke who was talking with the giant Dryads on the other side of the grand room.  Logan and Sterling were left sitting next to a fountain bubbling up over three enormous stones, each carved with swirling designs.  They waited in the large stone building, admiring the huge hall that made up most of it.  It was called the Silva Pernum, while the slightly smaller one across the valley was called the Silva Clon.

In the Silva Pernum, there was a domed central room with open windows.  Red leaves drifted in floating on the cool winds.  Despite the ruggedness of the outside of the building, the inside was magnificent.  The floor was a masterful mosaic that swirled around a spiral staircase in the center of the room, descending into the floor.  The walls held words etched from floor to ceiling in a strange leafy looking script.

Logan pulled out his book, and began flipping through.  “I don’t know about you, Uncle Sterling, but I think I could use a crash course on Dryads right about now.”

“Agreed.”

He found the Dryad section and began reading aloud the portion that spoke of their culture.

“What’s a footprint?”  Sterling asked.  Logan scanned down the page and looked to the next.

“Um, it looks like when a Dryad dies, its tree is cut down leaving the stump, or what they call the Footprint.”

“So it’s like a tombstone?” his uncle asked.  They both looked around the Silva Pernum, eyeing the three massive stumps that surrounded the central stairwell.  “Must have been someone important.” he said jabbing his thumb at one.

“I’m just glad we found that out before one of us decided to sit on one.”  Sterling nodded with wide eyes.

“Hey,” he leaned in, “Look for the Hama, like Tora said.”  Logan started skimming through the next page until he came upon a section with a very large tree illustrated on the side, a face peering out from the trunk.

“The Hama are… the elders of a grove.  The oldest members, they have ‘retreated into the Depths of their Trees becoming one forever.  Highly revered, their Roots dig down to the very Foundations of the World bringing great wisdom.  The Druids tend to them, gathering what Wisdom is drawn up.‘”

“Druids, that’s what Tora was asking for.”  Sterling realized.

“Yeah, that’s probably what they’re talking about.”  Logan glanced toward Luke and Tora among the giant Dryads and noticed they’d been staring at him and his uncle.  The others quickly looked away and began murmuring to each other again.  “I think I’d like to go outside with Priam and Chara.”

“I’m with you.” Sterling agreed.

Once outside, it was easy to find the Centaurs, as everyone around them was giving a wide berth.  Logan noticed how uneasy Priam looked, stamping his hoof occasionally.  Chara was just gazing around happily.

“I’m sorry you couldn’t come in.”  Logan apologized.

“We’re accustomed to it, Logan.”  Chara replied.

“Doesn’t make it right.”  Sterling said.

“So, Priam, what do you think of the city?” Logan ventured.

Priam watched a particularly terrified Dryad scuttle past.  “Crowded.”  He turned away from the villagers and faced the Men.  “It is a strange mix.  I have seen a few Oreads among the Dryads.  And there seem to be many Napaea here as well.”

“What are those?”  Sterling asked.

The Centaur nodded to a large man lumbering a few yards away.  “Oreads are mountain nymphs, like Ares’ Man-at-War, Bo.”  The Oread had coal black hair and a gray stone skin seemed to be creeping up his neck from under his shirt.  “Their backs are covered in stone.”

“That’s a Napaea, there,” Chara pointed to one of the straight-haired brunettes.  “Valley nymphs, they have wings under their arms that let them glide.”

“Like the ones we saw dive off the cliff at the waterfall?”  Logan asked.  She nodded, smiling brightly.  “How do you two know so much about the other nymphs?  I thought the Centaurs didn’t, you know, mix with others much.”

Priam swished his tail back and forth.  “We traveled for some time” he hesitated “… before meeting the Allegiant.”  He didn’t elaborate, and surprisingly neither did Chara.

Suddenly, Luke was at their side.  “Sorry to interrupt, I just wanted to tell you they are taking your scroll to the Hama.  Care to join us?”

Logan looked up at the Centaurs, then back at Luke.  “Can they come?”

Luke thought for a moment, looking back to the Silva Pernum.  “We’ll have to take the long way.”

The shortest route to the Silva Clon was the bridge jutting out from the Silva Pernum.  Since the Centaurs were not allowed to enter the great building Luke happily led them further down the valley to another rope bridge with no buildings attached to it.  Logan watched him chat pleasantly with the two Centaurs, relying mainly on Chara’s agreeable disposition, but occasionally getting Priam to speak up as well.  Luke was the first person he’d met since his trek had begun that didn’t find Priam and Chara repulsive.  He almost acted like they were old friends.

The Clon resembled the Pernum, though its walls crept down the cliff side into the valley.  Several Napaea were gliding from platform to platform below, like diving hawks.  Logan looked out into the forest on his left.  He stumbled a little in surprise.  Pacing silently along with them was an oversized lynx, watching him closely.

“Uh, Luke.  There’s a lynx following us.”

Luke glanced over at it, but continued on, “Don’t worry about him, mate.”  When they reached the Clon, the lynx disappeared into the woods.  Luke stopped in front of the entrance to the building, its two carved pillars covered in creeping ivy.  “I’m afraid the rules of this house are the same as the one over the way, my friends.”  He bowed apologetically to the Centaurs.

They stood back, unfazed.  Luke motioned the two men in.  Sterling followed him, but something in Logan stayed him.  He looked back to the Centaurs, reluctant to go somewhere they couldn’t.  Chara shook her head, “It’s alright, Logan.  Go ahead.”

He hesitated just a moment longer before passing under the open entryway.

Inside the Silva Clon were four immense trees whose tops disappeared up through openings in the ceiling.  Their branches zigzagged throughout the entire room like solid bolts of lightning.  The dirt floor had eight more Footprints spread across the room, some with gleaming metal plaques on them, others with black detailed symbols burnt into the wood rings.  Torches sputtered on the walls, creating a quiet atmosphere.

“The last of the Hamadryads.”  Luke announced quietly to them.

Tora and several of the giant Dryads had already gathered inside near one of the trees in the corner.  Luke led them over to the group.  Logan noticed that there were two extra Dryads he hadn’t seen before.  They wore grand green robes embroidered with copper thread that traced stars and flowing leaves all over the sleeves and back.  Except for their clothes they looked like any of the other Dryads around them.

“These are the Druids of the Dendron Valley.”  Luke whispered to them.  “They will be asking the Matron about the scroll.”

Logan and Sterling pretended to know what that meant, finally taking their place near a Footprint about ten yards away.  The Dryads ignored them.  After a few more minutes, the giant Dryads stepped away leaving Tora with the Druids.  They faced the massive tree trunk, one of the Druids ambling up and stroking the trunk.  “Matron, we need your guidance.” he beseeched.

There was a long pause, during which Logan thought whatever was supposed to happen wouldn’t.  Then suddenly, a groaning noise and cracking like wood being split filled the room.  The bark of the tree trunk began to peel back like paper being rolled away, revealing the soft light wood beneath.  Etched into the light wood was a carving of a lovely woman, who looked mature, but not old.  There was a wise beauty about her, one that only came from age.  But then it began to speak, and Logan realized it wasn’t a carving at all.  It was the Matron herself, in the wood.

She smiled down at them, like a grandmother beaming at her precious children.  “Tora,” she said affectionately, “I’ve missed you.”  Her voice held the gravity of centuries of life, instantly comforting and trustworthy.

The other trees in the room began to move ever so softly, as though a breeze had drifted in.

“I’ve missed you too, Matron.  I’m afraid I haven’t much time.  A Man I’ve come upon has discovered a scroll.  I believe it is related to the Throne of Grace.”  At this, the Hama in the room stopped moving.  The Matron looked intrigued, but not shocked.

“Let me see this scroll.” she said.  Tora brought it to the wooden hand reaching out of the tree, the wood grain in its fingers and arm as perfect as a masterful statue.  The Matron held it in her hands, studying it.  Finally, she asked.  “Who is this Man?”

Tora scowled back at him suspiciously, then jerked her head for him to come forward.  Logan self-consciously stepped up beside her, not daring to look the Hama in the face.

He could feel her wooden eyes on him, studying him as she had the scroll.  Then she said, “Here, boy.”  He looked up to her, her hand extending the scroll out to him.  He shyly took it and took his place next to Tora again.

“You discovered it, Man.  I would like for you to show me how it works.”

“Oh, um.”  He looked to Tora who nodded vigorously, “Ok.”  Kneeling down on the ground he smoothed out a patch of the dirt floor, then gently rolled the ivory across it, printing out the bas-relief of the map.  “You see, it’s a map that–” he stopped, and leaned down closer to the lines in the dirt.  The river and gorge they had seen when they had first rolled out the map were no longer there.  Now, it had printed out a straggling blob that ran across the entire space.  “It’s different…” he whispered.

Tora again was at his side in an instant peering closely at the image.  She gasped and said, “It’s the Dendron Valley.”  They looked at each other, astonished.  “It changes.” Logan exclaimed.  He pointed to the triangle that used to be in the corner but now pointed truer north.  “It changes the closer you get to the Throne.”

They both looked up to see the Matron smiling at them.  “Then it is real, a real map to the Throne of Grace.”

Tora and Logan stood again, waiting for her to tell them what to do.  After a moment, she motioned from Logan to Tora, “Would you be kind enough to leave it with Tora for a moment?”  Logan nodded dumbly, handing it over.  “I am afraid that those not of the Dryad must be excused for our final words together.”

Logan continued to nod dumbly, looking from one Dryad to the next, then finally returning to his uncle.  They began to move toward the door, Luke following behind.  Sterling looked at him a little incredulous and asked, “Why aren’t you staying?”

Luke just chuckled a little and said, “I’m not a Dryad, mate.”

Chapter Twenty-Five

~ Lessons in Myth ~

     “So if you’re not a Dryad, what are you?” Sterling asked. “You look like all the others.”

They had joined the Centaurs and retired to a circle of stone benches farther away from the Silva Clon, nestled among a few ash trees whose little red leaves dripped down on them.

“I’m just tall and blond, that doesn’t make you Dryad.  I’m a Boread, if it need be known, but I’m sure you’d rather be asking me other questions, wouldn’t ya?.”  He had a wry smile, almost teasing them.

“What’s going on in there that we can’t be present?”  Logan asked.

“A better question.  I reckon the only reason they invited you in there at all is because you found the scroll, is that right?”  Logan nodded.  “An interesting discovery, for sure.  But honestly, Dryads are just very… communal.  The groves stick together as a family, very tight, very close.  The Hama in there are like their grandparents, and right now they are having an intimate family moment.  Best not to intrude on private family matters.”

“They revered her in there.  It was almost as if she were a… queen or something.  Is that what Druids do?  Like royal servants?”  Uncle Sterling asked confused.

Luke leaned back, smiling all the while.  “It’s truly amazing how little Men actually see.  I mean no offense, of course, you just rarely get things the way they truly are.  Mimics, though!  Men always have been.  See something interesting and they love to imitate it, especially things they don’t understand.”  He leaned forward, ” Druids are merely the caretakers of the elders, writing down what they say and learning from them.  They love their Hama, but they don’t idolize them.”

Sterling bit his lip, still looking confused.

“I know there’s something you’re more curious about.”  Luke said lightly.

There was a silent moment where everyone pondered their next guess in the impromptu game.

It was Chara who spoke first. “What does the scroll lead to?”

“What is the Throne of Grace?” Priam added.

Luke gazed happily at them, crossing his arms.  “Now those are good questions.”  He looked to Logan, “First you tell me how you found it.”

Logan started from the beginning, in his great-grandmother’s attic, following the clue trail until he was dangling from the stage rafters.  Luke seemed to enjoy that part.  He showed Luke the book, and the purple messages, noting how odd it was that he didn’t mind True Mythology laying in the lap of a stranger when it had unnerved him so much with his own uncle.  Maybe he just knew Luke wasn’t interested in stealing it.

For a moment, Luke looked over the old pages interested, slowly turning from page to page.  He looked up to Logan, his icy blue eyes penetrating into Logan’s green.  He glanced at the Centaurs both waiting patiently, then at Sterling, and back to Logan.

“Very interesting.”  Logan again noticed his hand subconsciously went to his wrist, rubbing something under the sleeve.  A bit of gold peaked out under the cloth.

“Not exactly what I would expect to hear coming from a Man.  I can only tell you what I know and that is very limited.  As legends go it’s a fairly vague one.”  He cleared his throat again.  “The Throne of Grace is supposed to be one of the Taproots, hidden and lost deep within the forests of America.  Those who find it receive help in their time of need.  I have heard tales of lost nymphs wandering the woods, wounded or pursued.  They stumbled upon the Throne and by some miracle were healed or rescued or whatever it was they needed in that desperate moment.  But once they left, they couldn’t find their way back.”  He told the story just as intrigued as Logan felt, as if Luke had never heard his own story before.

“What’s a Taproot?” Sterling asked.

“A place that touches the Wellspring.” he said matter-of-factly.  They all just stared blankly at him.  Luke looked up to the Centaurs, “Surely you know?” he asked them.

They shook their heads, Priam stamping his hoof again.

“The Wellspring of Life?  The Grand River of the Deep?  The Isthmus to Creation?  The Gift of the World?”  The others looked at him perplexed, exasperating Luke.  “Seriously?”

“Oh, for crying in the beer cheese soup, just tell us,” Sterling sputtered.

“You do not know what is right in front of you.  It’s as if you can’t see the sunlight, like you don’t realize the very air you breathe.”  He handed the book back to Logan.  “I’m sure it’s in there, you should read up on it.”

His hand again went to his wrist as he explained.  “The Wellspring is… it’s difficult to describe.  It would probably be easier to explain color to a blind person.” He took a deep breath. “Deep down in the earth, where no one can reach is, a source.  A layer, if you like, of power.  Some have called it the Grand River that flows through the Pillars of the World, others call it the Wellspring because life bubbles up from it making things flourish and grow.  The ancients in this area called it the Paytah, the fire that burns in all of us.  It’s  what makes the wind blow, and the tides rise and fall.  It calls birds to migrate and teaches trees when to drop their leaves.  It’s what turns the Earth, and keeps the moon at her side; it is the very essence of our world.”  They all stared in awe at him.  He nodded equally amazed, “Aye, and there are places scattered all over the globe that actually touch the Wellspring, where they tap the very heart of life on Earth.”

“So the Throne of Grace is like, a well that you can draw… power up from?”  Chara ventured.

“A little.  The spots are very hard to find, and very sacred; even the air around them is heavy with life.  But a Taproot, despite its name, cannot be tapped.  That’s why people call the Wellspring the Gift, because it can only be given.  Still, like the Throne, it affects those around it.”

“The people who found help when they were in trouble.” Logan guessed.

“Exactly.”

“So to have a map to one of these spots where the power that drives the world hangs in the air…” Sterling said.

“Would be very dangerous.” Priam finished.

Luke nodded slowly, eyeing them all.  “I think you’re beginning to get it now.”

“Pff!”  Logan laughed.  “I don’t know about that…”

Tora came around the corner, the scroll in her hand.  She did not look happy.  When she spoke she addressed only Luke.

“This has to be what Ares is after.  It makes sense why he would wreak so much havoc near a Man’s village.  He wants access to a Taproot.”

“Are you sure?”  Luke asked.

“The Hama are fairly certain.” she replied.  She glowered at Logan, “I can’t believe you didn’t tell us you had this.”

“How was I supposed to know what it was?”  Logan defended, “Besides, the second I found that thing my house burnt down.  I didn’t think it was smart to tell everyone I met about it.”

“What could Ares do with it?” Priam ventured.

She scoffed, “Do with it?  It’s unimaginable power!  If he knew the location, he might siphon off the forces, making himself an enormous threat to anyone around him, especially those he felt had wronged him.”  She glared at everyone, hinting at who that might be.  Pointing at Luke she said, “You know how he’s always yearned to be above the other Olympians.”

“Yes, and to be more god-like, despite being only an Olympian.  Lord, if he did somehow take the power, what would stop him from rampaging through the Men’s world?”

“He already has.” Logan reminded them.

Tora and Luke looked at each other, both serious.

“We have to keep this safe.” Luke said.

Tora nodded. “And never let it into Ares’ hands.”

Chapter Twenty-Six

~ A Night in the Valley ~

     The sun dipped below the hills faster than Logan had expected, plunging the Valley into an inky twilight. The giant Dryads, whom Luke had explained were the older members of the grove, had seen them to a stone building on the Clon side of the valley near the roaring waterfall. The little building’s entrance was actually a hole in the ground near a circle of boulders, which led down to the little rooms inside. Inside, looking out one of the windows, Logan realized the entire structure clung to the valley wall like a wasp hive.

He lay in a comfortable hammock tied between two formidable roots jutting from the ceiling. His uncle was nearby, snoring contentedly. Logan had forgotten how many more years Sterling had on him; he always seemed so able. The long treks through the woods and sleeping on the ground every night had definitely taken their toll. And the food they had eaten at dinner! Food had never tasted so good, compared to the meager rations they had had while traveling.

Logan rolled over and stared out the small window. The Valley was a veritable galaxy of torches speckling the dark night. In the quiet and comfort, Logan’s head finally caught up with the adventure so far. It seemed even crazier the more he thought about it. A few days before, Centaurs and fire-wielding gods were just a good fantasy novel. Now it felt like everything he had known about the world was slipping away.

He thought about his parents, picturing them back at his little farmhouse, the living room still charred and strewn with pieces of the home he had grown up in. He couldn’t imagine what they would be thinking. Would they think he was dead? Or kidnapped? James was probably their main priority right now. His heart tightened at where they might be. Were they huddled around a hospital bed, praying that he would heal… or were they somewhere much more despairing…. perhaps huddled around a stone Footprint? Wondering if they would have to have a second for their other lost son.

The growing darkness slowly began to steal his confidence. Had he made the right decision? He flipped himself back over, facing toward the room, his uncle’s form just discernable by the distant torchlight. He should have stayed. He should have gone back and reassured his mom. He should have let them know that Sterling and he were alive. He should have gone back to be with his brother; maybe for the last time.

A few stubborn tears forced themselves out of his eyes. Thoughts of the fantastic creatures around him pulled him deeper into the dark. His short, stocky frame couldn’t measure up to their beautiful forms and powers. It made him feel inferior and childish. He was just a child anyway, wasn’t he? Wandering the woods, following people on a confusing mission; people who could take care of themselves. Unlike himself, who had to be taken care of.

“What are you doing here?” he whispered to himself. “You don’t belong here.”

The underground room began to suffocate him. He had to get out for a while. Quietly slipping out of his hammock, he crept out of the room and up the stone staircase. Despite the cold he went barefoot, just like when he was a kid in his own woods, feeling each twig and leaf under his toes.

A lonely flute led him along, its music wafting through the night air. He wandered through the torches that led back toward the Silva houses. The moon had grown bigger and brighter, casting a cold blue over the endless silhouettes of trees spreading out to his right. The autumn air made him feel better… bigger; just like the moon. He continued on a path that veered closer to the valley’s edge.

Someone else was coming down the path. When he was closer, Logan saw it was a blond Dryad of the Valley. The Dryad nodded to him and left the path. A few feet farther on he stopped, standing perfectly still. Slowly, almost as if it were a trick of the dark and his eyes, Logan saw the Dryad turn into a tree. He grew taller, his arms stretching and growing slender, while his legs grew fatter and molded together. In a few seconds, there was no Dryad, only a fair sized tree with yellow leaves overlooking the valley.

Logan dragged himself on down the path, unsure what to even think. The dark thoughts he had run from earlier returned to jab at him. You don’t belong here.

He finally found an outcropping that jutted out over the edge of the cliff. He stumbled his way in the dark, perching near the end, but still a respectable distant from the edge. At first sight of the Valley’s expanse, all lit up in a starry fleck of torches, his head wobbled from the height. But it was beautiful; a night sky on Earth. He cautiously settled down to gaze at it.

His uncle’s words rose up out of the silent dark. His counsel on not letting his fears get the best of him seemed so simple, yet the further their journey went, the harder it was to do. They were practically walking deeper into fear each day. It shocked him how scared he was. Why was he letting his fears push him around so much? He was neck deep in a mythical world and couldn’t even take the time to enjoy it, to revel in its wonder. His worry kept seeping it away.

He contented himself to stop thinking for a moment, the moon his only company. The quiet soothed him. There was something about the silence, as if it made world realer. He drunk in the tiny sounds of wind through branches, sounds he could never hear during the day. Every so often a random Napaea would drift through the maze of bridges, like a shooting star. It almost felt better than sleep to just… rest.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?”

He twisted around, spotting Tora on a boulder behind him. After a few seconds he said, “One of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.”

She silently got up and joined him on the outcropping. They watched the night in peace. It felt like a long time, soaking in the cold firelight together. Logan finally asked, “How long had you been sitting there?”

“I’ve been sitting here for hours. I’m surprised you didn’t notice me.”

“I guess I’m a little distracted tonight.”

She didn’t inquire as to why, and silence rejoined them. Again, Logan broke the stillness by asking, “How do you know Luke?”

Taking a deep breath she sighed, “We’ve known each other for a long time.”

“Oh.” He felt an intimateness he shouldn’t intrude on. “He seems… great. Although I don’t know what he was talking about earlier, the Wellspring and Taproots. It’s over my head.”

“Listen, Logan, I’m glad you were out tonight.” she broke in, “I want you to take this.” The little ivory scroll appeared in her hands, extended to him. Surprised, he didn’t know what to do.

“Take it.”

“But…. why?” he asked, “You didn’t trust me with the medallion, why something this… important?”

Another deep breath, “The Matron. She thought it would be wiser for the one who discovered it to carry it. I disagreed,” she shot him a look, “but she can be very persuasive. Family has a way of doing that.”

“She’s your family?” He couldn’t help smiling.

“My great-grandmother. It’s been a while since I saw her.”

“I just lost my great-grandmother recently. I barely knew her…” he said.

They sat quietly again, a few more gliding nymphs dropping over the cliffedge into the starry valley.

Logan’s head tried to wrap itself around the idea of the Valley, a home for mythological nymphs. And hidden so close to his home, like the Centaur village.

“Hey, Tora. I have a question. I noticed that the Dryads here… you don’t really look like them. They’re all so tall. Is that a difference from grove to grove? Are Dryads all different from each other?”

She stood suddenly and shoved the scroll toward him. “The Matron advised that you keep the map. But I warn you, if you lose it I will make sure you never forget that you did.” He stared into her dark brown eyes like he was staring at a cobra. His hand slowly slipped the scroll away from her.

“We’ll need to leave soon, so don’t get comfortable.” And then she was marching down the path, kicking up dried leaves in her wake.

Logan looked down at the scroll in his lap. He traced the little bumps on its polished surface. He was pleased a little to have his great-grandmother’s secret back in his own possession, but at the same time he wondered, “Did I say something wrong?”

Chapter Twenty-Seven

~ A Gift and Chase ~

The next day, Luke asked the four newcomers of the Valley to join him back in the tunnels that led to the cabin. After following Tora’s friend down a maze of candelabra lit passageways, they finally arrived at a large wooden door covered in polished metal bolts.

Luke turned to them. “I have to say, for a couple of Men and Centaurs to be palling around with Tora… well, it’s unbelievable. She’s even allowing you to come find a sacred Dryad spot!” He chuckled. “That, my friends, deserves a little something.”

He swung the doors open revealing a long narrow room bathed in light. The ceiling was a slanted array of beautiful stained glass windows. Griffins soared through pink skies, beautiful nymphs splashed in crystal blue water, and ivory white towers extended out of the clouds.

“Aren’t we under a mountain?” Uncle Sterling said, voicing Logan’s thoughts.

Luke just smiled at them, “Light can be found in the darkest of places.”

One side of the room was lined from corner to corner with gleaming swords of every shape and color. Above them hung mighty axes like something straight out of a medieval castle. The opposite wall held bows from large to small, a dazzling strip of arrows aligned below them with fletching of every color. Luke waved the group in.

“If we are going to race Ares to the Throne of Grace, you will need some protection. Choose anything you like, it is my gift to you, as a thanks for what you did for Tora.”

They all looked around the room, taking the sight in. “Well, go ahead! Anything you want!”

Eventually they separated and began to peruse the shining weapons. Sterling headed over to the bows with Chara, and Priam immediately selected a giant sword, comparing it to the one he carried. Logan walked the line of blades admiring the workmanship that had gone into them. There were jeweled hilts, some wrapped in what looked like thin vine. A few curved like scimitars, others razor rigid. Their metals gleamed copper and platinum chrome. One even looked like it was made from black rock. Inscriptions ran up their blades, in languages Logan couldn’t even guess at. At the end of the room were a line of rapiers with huge gilded hilts, their blades as thin as grass.

Above them were shelves full of daggers. Logan’s eyes darted over the decorated sheaths depicting every myth creature he had ever heard of. Griffins, Sphinxes, Minotaurs… they were as varied as rest of the armory’s possessions. One held his eye longer than the others. It was very beautiful, far more ornate than he might have expected. The handle was a curved wistful rhino, its horn poking out at the end. A copper blade shone when he pulled it out of its sheath, intricate leaves carved into the metal. It was perfect, the blade curving to a point opposite the direction of the rhino horn. It felt like it had been crafted for his very hand.

He turned back to the rest of the stock. There were so many weapons and he had no experience with any of them, he didn’t even know where to start.

“Where did you get all this?” he asked Luke.

“Oh, I’ve just collected a few things over the years. This is sort of my,” he grinned, “attic.”

Chara was examining a handsome bow near the orange fletched arrows. His uncle was flicking the tip of a pure white arrow. He looked over at Luke, confused. “So you don’t have guns?”

Luke just shook his head, “Those are considered more a Man’s weapon. These are what we use in Katalon. More elegant choices if you ask me. Tora would say, ‘Personal, practical… up close’.” He laughed a little to himself.

Logan and his uncle switched sides. The bows were magnificent, the wood polished as brightly as the metal swords. He strolled along the tools of archery waiting for something to stand out. At the end of the wall the line of bows stopped, and stacked to the corner was an array of staffs. Most were straight and plain, but sturdy. He touched several in turn, weighing one against the other. Finally, his hand brushed against something a little different.

It was definitely unique. The wood was the darkest of woods, a twilight brown, knotty and rough. Wrapped around it, twisting back and forth from top to bottom, were two strands of metal, silver and copper. They aligned exactly, creating diamond shapes all around, like two vines growing up the staff. He lifted it and held it in his hands, feeling its weight. It felt…right. And he liked it. He did a few twirls around in the air testing it out.

“It suits you.” He turned and saw Chara watching him, with her usual smile.

“I like it.” he said, taking in its detail.

“You know they say the weapon a person uses says a lot about them.” she said.

Logan rolled the staff in his fingers. “What does this say?”

She smiled brighter, “That you are resourceful. You don’t need something fancy or intricate to be victorious, a mere stick will do.”

Logan pursed his lips a little, unsure if that was a compliment. “Here,” Chara said, grabbing a few straps of leather, “this is like a scabbard, it straps to your back so you don’t always have to carry it.” She helped him get it on as Sterling chose his weapon. It was a handsome sword, with a deep plum hilt. A clean open slit ran down the center of the blade.

“Interesting choice.” Luke noted.

Priam had chosen another sword similar to his own and strapped it to his opposite flank. But Chara stood empty handed.

“Did you not find anything to your liking, m’dear?” Luke asked.

“You are very kind, but I cannot take a weapon.”

He nodded, understanding. “Tora explained to me you were a healer, something I would love to see you do, by the way. Healers rarely prefer hurting others. But I must insist we are entering very dangerous territory. You’ve seen Ares’ handiwork.”

She looked around the armory, “Nothing here seems sensible, I’m afraid.”

Suddenly an idea came to him and he snapped his fingers. “I know! A defense instead of offense. So very poetic.” He walked to the back wall of the narrow room where hung a smattering of decorative shields. He chose one of a pewter color, etched with constellations spinning around its rim. She took it graciously, hefting from one hand to the next. A smile crept up her lips.

“I thought so! It’s a beauty, am I right? You could keep the hounds of Hades away from you with that bit of splendor.”

Sterling leaned over to Logan and whispered, “Those aren’t real, are they?”

Logan stepped up and asked, “I’m sure I speak for everyone when we say, thank you. This is incredibly generous of you. But I don’t really know how to use this.”

“Ah!” Luke slapped his hands together. “Then we must teach you!”

Back on the Clon side of the valley, they stood in a clearing near the waterfall. Priam was showing Sterling how to hold his sword, swinging it slowly in expert arcs. His uncle looked a little overly focused but matched the movements expertly. Logan just shook his head at his uncle’s never ending talents. Luke stood opposite Logan with a staff of his own. It was shorter than Logan’s, but a golden wonder nonetheless, practically a miniature pillar of carvings. Logan couldn’t see the detail of it from his distance, but he could tell it was a masterful piece. Luke spun it around easily, displaying a series of techniques and maneuvers.

“Wow.” Logan admired.

“Don’t expect it to come quickly, mate. I’m just going to give you some basics.”

“Yeah, and if that doesn’t work,” Tora said, suddenly appearing from the woods, “You can always just swing it around wildly hoping for a hit.”

She smiled, pleased with herself, but Luke just rolled his eyes. He spent the next hour going over positions and grips with Logan, whose palms and knuckles began to ache. To his dismay, Logan noticed a small crowd gathering. It had started with the buck he had seen when they first entered the Valley, his silver antlers gleaming in the sunlight. But now there were others. A large gray wolf, with a streak of black running down its back, had taken up a spot near Priam and Sterling. And then a huge brown bear had arrived, slumping down next to Tora. Logan remembered what he read about the Valley Warriors; apparently they had come for a show. They were extremely intimidating so close by, much larger than normal animals.

The four practiced for a while longer, the sun rising directly above them. Logan bent over catching his breath.

“Not bad, really.” Luke commended. “I think you chose the right weapon.”

“Good.” Logan huffed, “I’d hate to think this was all in waste.” He put his arms over his head, taking deep breaths. Despite the pain and fatigue, he was loving it. Learning to use a weapon, to be able to take care of himself, was bolstering something inside of him. His fears from the night before started drifting away the moment he had first touched his staff.

He watched Sterling lightly spar with Priam, almost as if they were dancing in slow motion. His uncle mimicked Priam’s attacks and defends, the huge wolf following every move with its dangerous eyes. Everyone watched them go through the motions, clanging their weapons together as softly as they could. Sterling was picking it up really quickly.

Logan allowed his gaze to drift off into the woods behind the wolf, the colored leaves bouncing in a gentle breeze. Something caught his eye. Then it moved. It was slight, and very low to the ground, but Logan had seen it. When it moved again, he saw a face. It was the short man, with the pointed nose and beard.

“The one with Ares.” Logan whispered. It had taken him a minute to link the mischievous face with the one in a silver flying machine, but the two were the same. “He’s here.” he said.

Logan pointed straight at the spot and yelled, “He’s here! That’s one of Ares’ men!”

Everyone stopped, heads snapping towards the woods. In an instant the buck had dashed off toward the Silva houses. The wolf sent up a chilling howl. Logan looked over to Luke, and then to Tora. “Ares!” he gasped.

Everything happened at once. Luke cried out to the wolf, “Lupé! Head him off! Don’t let him get away!” The wolf disappeared without hesitation. Tora and the bear exchanged a look, and both went sprinting off to the Silva Clon. Priam and Chara were at Logan’s side, Sterling already on Chara’s back hanging tightly.

“Time to go!” Luke said. “We’ll need to go out through the cabin, it’s the fastest way.”

“Do we cross the bridge between the Silvas?” Priam asked bluntly.

“No,” Luke said, calculating, “There will be too much traffic. In danger, the Dendron Valley retreats to the Silva houses and into the roots below. We’ll have to take some side paths.” He pointed down into the valley. “If we take the root tunnels to that bridge there,” his finger tracing an invisible route to the Pernum valley side, “then we’ll come out of that building, close to the mountain entrance.”

“What about Tora?” Chara asked.

“She’ll know what to do.”

“Let’s go!” he yelled, and they were off. Logan ran after him, dodging rocks and trees. The Centaurs thundered behind. Low bells began to chime, and Logan could hear a few cries rising up from far away. When they got close to the buildings, Dryads began appearing out of nowhere running for the center of the valley. A crowd began pushing and shoving as everyone rushed to safety. The Centaurs’ presence opened up a gap as the panicked Valley residents ducked out of the way.

Luke led them to a stone building about the size of a shed. “This isn’t going to be easy for you!” he yelled to the Centaurs. There were stairs inside leading into the root tunnels. Priam and Chara stumbled and skidded down them as if they were covered in ice. They snorted and stomped the whole way down. Then the maze of tunnels began.

If it hadn’t been for Luke, Logan would have had no idea where he was going, but they twisted left and right and down more stairs as if the path were obvious. At last, a bright light broke the darkness at the end of a tunnel. Luke burst through the opening, but Logan skidded to a stop right when his foot left solid ground.

Luke was already halfway down the rope bridge, making it sway with every step he took. Logan’s hands gripped the sides like clamps as he watched the valley swing below him. Yesterday hadn’t been so bad, they had taken the big sturdy bridges up above, and he had kept his eyes firmly upward. But the swaying path before him instantly made his head spin.

“Logan,” Priam implored behind him, “We have to keep going!”

Luke had noticed he was alone on the bridge, and turned back to see why. He was yelling something, but all Logan could hear was a high whooshing noise growing louder. All of a sudden, Bo the giant Oread, dove past on a silver starboard swinging his iron staff out at Luke and missing him by just inches. Luke looked back and yelled, “Hurry!”

Priam put his hands on Logan’s back and began pushing him out onto the rope bridge, his great bulk making it jump around even more violently. A few Dryads had emerged from the other side of the valley and were running toward them. Logan held fast to the ropes as if the bridge were going to flip over. Halfway across the bridge the Dryads realized the Centaurs were blocking their way. They began to retreat when Bo made another dive on his starboard, missing them but striking the bridge and sending it rocking. People screamed, and Logan felt the planks under his feet buckle. “Go, Logan!” Chara yelled behind him.

He pulled himself along, grabbing the side of the bridge hand over hand as if he were climbing a mountain horizontally. The Dryads had begun to make their way back towards Luke as well. Soon the two groups had merged and surfed the pitch and sway of the little bridge. Logan looked over into the valley, fearing another pass by Bo. Instead, he saw the little man with the pointed beard, coming straight at them on a starboard and swinging something on the end of a rope.

Time felt slower as Logan watched the little man release the rope, its pointed end shooting straight toward him with perfect accuracy. He jumped back just in time to see the grappling hook wrap itself on the rope bridge. Logan stumbled backwards, flailing his arms, knowing he was going to fall. The little man zoomed overhead and pulled the rope taught, jerking the whole bridge sideways. Logan tried to get a grip on something, anything, but in vain. Then he smacked up against one of the others and felt them give way. He twisted just in time to see one of the Dryads tumble over the edge of the bridge and slowly bend in the wind, falling into the valley. Logan cast his arms out futilely trying to grab him, but all he could do was stare in frozen shock as the Dryad plummeted toward the bottom. It took days in Logan’s mind, the horror of watching him fall. Sudden, big hands grabbed his face and pulled him away, so he never saw when the Dryad reached the ground.

Priam pushed him along, urging everyone onward. Before the Men-at-War could make another pass, the group had passed through the other side of the valley and begun racing up the stairs and tunnels. Logan followed them blankly, unaware of anything that was going on. All he could see was the Dryad’s green eyes, fixed in complete terror.

The tunnels were bustling now with Dryads and Oreads all heading for safety. When they reached the surface, Priam grabbed Logan around the waist and unceremoniously dropped him onto his back. They raced for the mountainside entrance as the Valley erupted in screams. Logan held onto Priam’s jacket, watching the chaos behind them. It was then that the first fireball soared into the valley. It exploded on a large tree on the Clon side, sending hot coals spraying everywhere. Several more fireballs catapulted into the Dendron Valley, striking trees and buildings randomly.

They passed through the opening into the candelabra-lit tunnels, the screams piercing through the rock.

Chapter Twenty-Eight

~ Leap of Faith ~

The Centaurs’ hooves were deafening in the tunnel. They careened down the main path without stopping. Luke was still in front, leading. Every time he passed a side tunnel, Luke would wave his hand and the lights would go out. Logan looked behind him, the line of candelabras snuffing out as they passed by.

When they reached the central round room with the towering bookshelves, they found the twins standing amidst their handiwork. The chairs and tables were overturned, books torn in two and cabinets split open. The samurai sisters had an old wooden chest between them ready to be hauled off. When twin 1 noticed the group burst into the room, she retrieved her sword with a wicked smile.

“They’re burgling me!” Luke yelled.

He chucked his golden staff at her like a javelin without hesitation. In her surprise, she stumbled back a few steps, still managing to deflect it away with a nimble swipe of her sword. But Luke had gained the time he needed.

While she was distracted, he dove into an undamaged cabinet and pulled out a short, gleaming golden bow bent so acutely it almost looked like a harp. In the span of a breath, an arrow was notched and soaring toward the nymph. She knocked it away as well, but her footing was gone. She stumbled with every new arrow sent her way.

Priam drew one of his swords and advanced with a mighty rear, Logan holding on for dear life. In an instant, twin 2 was upon them. She fought with speed and precision, Priam just barely keeping up. Logan took his staff and dumbly swung it out at her, making no difference in her stride.

All of a sudden, Chara joined the fray by ramming into the dark-haired nymph with her pewter shield, sending the twin crashing into a bookshelf right next to Luke. The instant was all twin 1 needed to turn the tables.

She sprang toward the archer, who had stopped to dodge the load of books that came raining down on his head. With no staff he used his bow to block her flashing blade. Chara circled around to help Luke, but twin 2 recovered quickly and jumped back into the skirmish. The sisters ended up back to back, their razor blades easily separating Luke and the two Centaurs. The girls moved like water, their swords never touching, each swipe and swing so perfectly timed and complementary it looked like a practiced dance.

One disarmed Luke, sending him toppling back. And the other managed a neat slice across Priam’s knuckles. They were gaining control of the fight, and Logan knew he would be no match for them.

But then a shuddering snarl echoed down the dark tunnel leading to the Valley. Two shining eyes bobbed down the corridor growing larger every second. Like a missile, the giant lynx Warrior burst into the library pinning twin 1 on the ground. She fought fearlessly, but the lynx’s claws found her shoulder. Both girls let out a scream.

Logan looked at the unharmed one, holding her shoulder gingerly, as she raced toward the tunnel back to the cabin. With a lightning fast swipe, she slashed the closest bookshelf. It groaned while the top began to tip forward.

“Look out!” Logan yelled.

In a shower of books and scrolls, the shelf thundered down on them, rupturing into shards of wood when it hit the ground. Logan threw his arms up to shield himself, but the books still bit and stung as they piled up on him. It took a few moments for the group to unbury themselves.

When the dust had settled, the twins were nowhere to be found. The giant lynx shook itself of loose dusty pages and torn covers. Luke barked, “Go get them! Stop ‘em!” It obediently raced off down the tunnel where they’d disappeared.

“Are you alright?” Luke asked the others. It seemed they all were, though they had to check Sterling who was unable to say anything.

“Oh…” Logan moaned, “The books…” He picked up one gingerly as he would an injured puppy.

“We have to hurry!” Chara said, “If they tell Ares where we are -”

“Exactly.” Luke finished. He recovered his golden weapons as everyone else gathered themselves. Then down the tunnel they bolted.

The lights behind them continued to go black while a vibrant light in front of them grew brighter. The little cabin looked completely untouched when they entered back in; a surreal moment after the mess of the room they’d just left. Once outside, the group came face to face with their tormentor again.

The silver Chariot hung low in the air. The twins were heaving the wooden chest they had stolen into the back. Ares stood imperiously at the front, staring up the cliff face. And the giant lynx lay nearby, a black smear smoking on its side.

Ares noticed them and smiled. “I’ve been looking for you.”

Luke stepped forward, “Leave them alone, Ares! The Valley has done nothing to deserve this! You’re only hurting innocent nymphs!”

The Olympian crossed his arms, “And who might you be?”

Luke boldly stretched his arms apart and said, “Your equal.”

The air around him seemed to darken, or he became brighter, Logan couldn’t tell which. His blond hair glowed like hot metal, his hands turning to brilliant blurs of light. In a moment of panic, Ares lost his rigid stature, and took a step back. “Apollo.” he whispered.

And then the light from Luke’s hands shot out at the Chariot. With a thrust from the heel of his hand a stream of dazzling light poured out, striking the silver hull as if it were a meteor. He struck again and again, the light stream shimmering like streams of sparkling pure water, exploding on the Chariot and leaving black scars behind.

The Chariot rocked with each blow, unsteadying its passengers. It didn’t take Ares long to regain his composure, though, and he sent an arc of fire their way with one swipe of his hand. Luke waved his hands above his head, sending an equal arc of light into the coming flame, the two colliding into an explosion of light and then nothing. Luke began concentrating on Ares himself.

The Men and Centaurs shuffled behind the man who was Olympian. They found a spot behind some trees and boulders. Priam got the Men to dismount them, pulling both his swords out. He waited for a few seconds as ray and flame exchanged in increasing ferocity. Then he charged for the bottom of the Chariot, rearing up to strike its keel.

Chara put herself between the Men and the fight, her new shield held out. Logan just clutched his staff, unsure what to do. He looked over to his uncle who had his back up against Chara’s side, his eyes closed and sword still in its sheath. “What are we supposed to do?” Logan called out to him.

Sterling just shook his head, never opening his eyes. Logan peered around Chara and saw the twins drop down to meet Priam. He was holding his ground, but it looked like he was struggling.

“They need our help!” he yelled out again. Nothing from this uncle this time.

He looked around desperately. He felt completely helpless, like he didn’t belong amidst a god fight.

A ball of fire shot over his head and exploded into the roof of the cabin. The flames quickly lapped up its old, dry wood. Chara tried to move them away from the growing inferno, but another explosion of fire headed them off. Logan looked back at Ares. While simultaneously fighting off Luke, he would glance over to them, and send a rogue burst of fire their direction.

“He’s trying to hit us!” Chara said.

“But what are we supposed to do?” Logan yelled back.

The cabin was more bonfire than building now, just about to collapse. But then the entire front door exploded in flaming debris. The giant bear from the Valley burst out into the assault, Tora riding on its back. With surprising speed it tore through the firefight between the Olympians and lunged at the side of the Chariot. Its huge bulk clung to the hull, pulling it slowly down on its side. Ares onboard began to lose his balance and topple forward.

Luke put his hands together and sent a beam of light straight at Ares. It blasted the console next to him. The huge craft shuddered and then dropped to the ground hard, shaking the dirt beneath their feet. Tora looked behind and yelled, “Go! Get away!” She had her bow out, delivering well aimed arrows at the twins.

Chara motioned the Men forward, taking off into the woods, away from where they had been traveling from; away from home.

Luke spun his hands around each other, creating little globes of light; he sent them in all different directions then ran into the woods after them. An explosion of light like noisy fireworks thundered behind them.

They ran brutally with no goal but farther. Luke easily caught up to them, and Chara called out, “What about Priam? And Tora!?”

“They should be behind us. Trust me!” Another firework explosion cracked and rumbled in the distance behind.

The trees rushed by. After a few minutes another bout of thunder behind them came rumbling up to them, but this time it continued steadily. Logan glanced behind him and saw the bear racing after, its mouth open and panting. He let out a little yelp. It may have fought against Ares, but he was still surprised to see the giant beast chasing after him. Tora popped her head above the bear’s, still on its back. And Priam charged out from behind.

They were safe. “Stop!” Logan called out.

The three with him slowed down as the others caught up.

“Why are we stopping!?” Tora barked.

“We’re ok now, aren’t we?” Logan asked.

“NO! We only delayed them, the Chariot was already in the air when we got away.” She glanced over all of them. “Logan, is the scroll safe?”

He patted his bag, nodding.

“Then we need to continue!”

An explosion of fire engulfed the ground between them. Everyone bolted into the woods again, the Centaurs easily charging along, Logan and his uncle following behind. Logan could hear a dull rush of air far behind them.

He was almost completely sure he couldn’t run any faster. Even if it had been a race for reward he would have surely been in the back. But it was a race for his life, and he was running at the absolute limit of his muscles… and yet, he was still in the back. He realized how truly out of shape he was at that moment. He strained from merely hauling his own body weight. He realized how much stronger his companions were at that moment. They sprinted like gazelles in front of him, even Uncle Sterling managing to find a burst of speed.

Another meteor of fire blazed overhead, crashing into a dead tree just to the right of where they were headed. It exploded into flames, the dry autumn leaves coaxing it hotter. Sterling let out a yelp, and Logan remembered this was truly the first encounter he had had with the Olympian of Chaos. The Centaurs were flanking the giant bear, as if they were some unnatural escort, and Luke had joined Tora, nimbly leaping onto the bear’s back, landing gently with the rhythm of its gallop. Tora was standing as high as she could on the bear’s back, her eyes fixed ahead like a watch guard. She turned around, determined in the face, but frantic in her voice.

“Everyone! Grab onto Samara! NOW!!”

The two Centaurs scrunched in closer and grabbed onto all the fur they could muster. Tora gave them one look and whipped the bow from her back, unstringing it, and resting it across the bear’s shoulders like a makeshift yoke. Logan said a silent thanks that Tora didn’t have a tiny bow like Luke. It was just enough for them to get a good hold, but still a little too short for comfort.

That left the Men. Sterling was gaining on Samara, the bear. He sent a few furtive glances back at his nephew. Logan pushed with everything in him to catch up. Another ball of fire exploded just behind Logan and the impact shook the ground beneath his feet. Dirt sprayed against his back and tripped him up a little, slowing him even further. It had the opposite effect on his uncle sending him up a little faster and a little farther, giving him the chance to jump onto the bear and into Luke’s waiting hands. He pulled him up in a single heave. Then Sterling looked back to his nephew.

There Logan was, struggling to keep up with a giant bear racing through the woods, and behind him soared the Chariot, looming up over Logan and gaining with every second. The pursuers couldn’t go as fast as their prey, what with the size of the Chariot and the closeness of the tree limbs, but they were catching up.

Uncle Sterling yelled to him, his voice frantic. “Hurry, Logan! You’ve got to run faster!” His uncle reached out his hand as if that would help things.

Logan pushed and pushed but could not seem to make up any of the distance to the charging bear. And then he saw something far up ahead that made him wonder why they were running so hard at all. He could see where the trees ended, and the sky took over. It would have been a beautiful sight, were their present company not behind them. But the end of the trees meant only disaster now. Instead of a blank field stretching out after the tree line, there was just the sky. The trees were resting at the edge of a cliff.

Tora had gone completely mad, that was the only explanation. She had gathered everyone together to cling to a two ton bear monster as they did a nose dive off a cliff. He looked at Tora but she was focused on the horizon. Only Luke and Sterling were watching him now, and neither of them had seen the cliff. Several emotions rushed through Logan in those few seconds of realization. He wanted to warn Sterling, he wanted to yell at Tora, he wanted to give up with the hopelessness he found between a fiery tormentor and a deep drop. But there was also a peace; a small ease in his soul that made him think things would be alright. This surprised him the most, and as he focused on it his speed lessened.

“No, Logan! Hurry!” His uncle’s voice snapped him back to the situation, pushing him on. And that was when everything began to make sense… sort of.

It was a moment that would stay with him forever. A moment that sunk deep into his soul and would continue to remind him that he knew so little. His little world became immeasurably bigger.

In a fluid, almost natural way, two forms started to rise from the hide of the bear.   They began as large flaps of skin beginning at the shoulder blades and curving down her sides, back to her flanks. Slowly, they rippled off her body like flags in the wind, and with a stunning sweep rose up off her back in dual banners. As they rose, the bristly brown fur seamlessly transformed into long, slender cream-colored feathers. Feathers. It was unbelievable, but for some reason it made him run faster. There was a way, even if it was completely insane.

Sterling and Luke looked back as it happened, the Centaurs gazing dumbfounded at the wings raising above their heads. They all looked like Logan felt, except who Luke acted like a bear sprouting wings was something he encountered all the time. His gaze fixed on the horizon, quickly coming to the same conclusion Logan had. He shoved his weapons into Sterling’s arm, Sterling seeing the drop off for the first time as well. “Holy Houdini…” he muttered.

Logan was very close now and his hopes rose with each stride. It was then that the last fireball hit. It wasn’t direct, but it glanced off his shoulder, lightly burning him and completely throwing him off balance. He twisted and started to fall knowing for sure that there was no way he was going to make it. His friends would fly off the mountain riding a magic bear, and he would be left with a psychotic fire deity.

At that very moment, as if he needed yet another life-changing moment, Logan witnessed a second stunning sight. Luke leapt from the back of Samara, soaring through the sky. While in air, reminiscent of the bear, two protrusions rose from his back. In a clean motion that ripped the back of his shirt to shreds, Luke’s skin sprouted elegant, monstrous-sized wings of the deepest black. They shimmered in the light and spread out to their full span, casting a huge shadow over him. In an instant, Luke had swooped down and caught Logan before he hit the ground, rising back up into the air with Logan in his arms.

Even though he was flying for the first time in his life, and the sensation was one that was so overwhelmingly amazing he would be unable to ever describe it, there was only one thing he could say, “Does everyone have wings!?” Luke just chuckled.

Then the cliff’s edge met them. Samara leapt into the air and dipped slightly, her mighty wings fanning out and catching the wind, gliding easily in the vast open. Luke and Logan were right behind, and Logan’s stomach caught somewhere near his molars when the trees disappeared. With the ground so far below him he felt like a helpless leaf at the mercy of the breeze. Heights weren’t his specialty, and the nauseating lurch in his stomach took his wits from him.

“Oh, ahhhh!” he screamed. Luke was right with him yelling, “Woooo!” in pure delight. Logan started squirming in Luke’s arms, sure he was going to fall any second. Luke tried to hold on saying, “I’m not going to drop you, mate! You have to trust me!” He stopped struggling taking a few breaths, then slowly looked down again. It was true, though he was gliding over a couple hundred feet up Luke’s arms were steady. He was holding onto him length wise, their bodies both lying flat parallel to the ground, flying effortlessly. As Logan grew accustomed to the wind, he peered down at the bear and her load. They seemed to be doing alright, for the situation. The Centaurs were holding strong and Tora was still at her perch. Sterling clutched the bear with all four limbs. Then the Chariot broke from the top of the forest, making a beeline for the bear.

Its shining hull above them, Logan could just barely see Ares’ ship past Luke’s shoulder. The bottom was black as if it had been burnt and a faint trail of smoke trailed behind it. A shot of fire exploded from the front. Luke effortlessly banked right and the ball of fire sank harmlessly between them and the bear.

Luke glanced back and then said, “Hold tight!”

He flipped completely on his back so that Logan was laying on him, and then let go with one hand. They started to dip fast, reminding Logan what it felt like to be on a roller coaster. He watched Luke’s hand as it reached out, like he was going to grab the Chariot. A perfect stream of light, like a strong gold fountain, pulsed out of the Olympian’s palm. It shot out as fast as a bullet and hit the hull of the Chariot, its belly perfectly exposed to them now. But this time the stream of light continued from Luke’s hand to the airship. It was like a rope connecting the two of them. Finally something on the Chariot exploded. The airship started to careen down while Luke flipped over gracefully, reclaimed his grip on Logan. Logan about wet himself.

They were almost level with the bear now, her wings flapping like giant sails. The Chariot, smoking profusely, plummeted to their height. Tora reached down and grabbed Luke’s bow from Sterling. She strung it with a graceful motion, despite her precarious perch, and aimed for the craft. As it fell close to them Logan could see the utter rage in Ares’ face, his sword drawn and completely engulfed in flames.

Tora let the arrow fly. With a quick motion Ares batted it away with the flaming blade, returning fire with a wave of flame. It didn’t even get near them, but it also hid Tora as she let fly another arrow. The Olympian didn’t see the assault, and the arrow penetrated his shoulder, pulling from him an enraged wail. He tried to send another bout of fire their way, but cringed at the pain. Then the craft slipped past them, heading towards the forest below.

Tora yelled something to the bear and it veered off to the right away from the Chariot’s crash course. Luke followed them, Logan watching as the trail of smoke headed for a particularly hilly part of the woods.

“Do you think they’ll be ok?” Logan asked, a little surprised he cared.

After a second Luke replied, “That’ll only slow them down, trust me.”

Chapter Twenty-Nine

~ Revelations ~

The bear and her cargo had already landed by the time Luke and Logan reached the ground. The bear’s furry brown pelt was completely whole again, the wings a mere memory. The instant Logan’s feet touched down, Sterling was there pulling him into a rough embrace, practically smothering him.

“I’m so glad you’re alright.” he whispered.

“Yeah, me too.” Logan said, a little surprised by his uncle’s show of emotion. After a few seconds he let him go, not looking Logan in the eye. The Centaurs seemed fine, despite rubbing their arms. Tora was already urging them along away from the smoke trail streaking the sky in the distance.

When he looked back to Luke, the gossamer black wings had also disappeared. A tattered shirt was the only evidence of their appearance, at least until he turned around. Stretched down his back were enormous black tattoos. Two primal looking wings were etched into his skin.

“Where in the world did those wings come from?” Logan asked, “And where’d they go for that matter?”

Luke just smiled. “That would be the Boread part of me.”

“You mean Boreads can hide their wings when they want to?”

Here he chuckled, “That would be the Olympian part of me.”

“There is no time to talk right now!” Tora bellowed, despite her small size. “Ares is down but angry. We won’t be safe unless we put a few hours between him and us.”

Luke raised his eyebrows and said to Logan, “I’ll explain later, pal, I promise.”

Logan checked over his bag and staff, relieved everything was there, and began to follow the misfit entourage. He stopped when he realized his uncle wasn’t with them. He found Sterling still staring up at the line of smoke in the sky.

“Uncle Sterling? Are you alright?”

He slowly looked over at his nephew. Logan asked, “Are you alright? You didn’t seem well during all that back there.”

Sterling sighed heavily. “I’m not cut out for this.” His light brown eyes were dim and rimmed in sorrow. “I’m afraid I haven’t told you everything, Logan.”

“What do you mean?” Logan asked. They began walking steadily along behind the Centaurs, a fair distance away.

“You remember what I was telling you about your grandfathers?”

“Yeah, how Great-grandpa wanted to be a professor and Grandpa a bush pilot?”

He nodded, “Exactly. And because of the war they were taken away from all of that, and put in combat.”

They continued to walk silently for a while. Finally Logan asked, “What is it, Uncle Sterling?”

“I was so afraid, Logan. Afraid of having to live a life like them. Of being dragged into the same fate as them. Never having the life I wanted…” He couldn’t meet Logan’s eye. “I was afraid of war. Afraid of fighting.” They continued to walk in silence, climbing over fallen logs. “I… I was drafted too. For the Vietnam War.”

Logan was shocked, “I didn’t know you were in the military.”

He hung his head. “That’s just it, Logan…. I wasn’t.” He sighed again. “I was a draft dodger. When the military came calling for me serve my country, I ran the other way. I lived in Canada for a whole year before the troops began to withdraw.” He glanced quickly up at his nephew. “I was never meant for this, for combat. I knew I would be a wreck in the army. And here I’ve just confirmed all my worst fears. At the first sign of a fight I turn into a cowering mess. I’m no warrior. I’m a coward. I’m nothing, Logan.”

Logan was completely dry of words. Nothing in his uncle’s life had ever hinted at this side of him. Logan had barely known him to be upset or nervous, much less scared. Finally, he asked, “Does the family know?”

Sterling laughed a sad laugh, “Most, yes. They don’t talk about it. Dad, well, I’m pretty sure he’s still ashamed of me… for not following in the family footsteps.”

For years, Logan had watched his family look at Sterling differently. His uncle’s inability to hold a lasting job, his single life, everything sprang from what he was seeing right at this moment. This wasn’t just a regret in his uncle’s life, it was all he saw of himself. That single act of fear decades ago had built Sterling’s entire image of himself. And now after a real-life battle, he felt he had just proved himself right.

Logan couldn’t imagine what that felt like. He had no idea what to say to him. They traveled quietly together as the path opened up into a meadow, the sun shining bright on the changing leaves. Tall grass barred their way, but the bear and two Centaurs plodded on through it, the grass barely reaching past their legs. They left wide trails allowing the rest to follow. A few young maples were scattered through the meadow, their leaves much brighter than those in the surrounding woods. It was quieter there. Logan would have thought the open space would be louder, but here the sky drained the sound.

“I don’t think I care about that.” Logan said, quietly. His uncle looked at him. “I don’t think of you any different, now that I know. And I don’t think you’re a coward.”

Sterling smiled, biting his lip. He put his hand on his nephew’s shoulder, and turned away. Logan did too when he heard Sterling snuffle.

The path ran along like this for a while, rolling over gentle hills and shallow valleys. When the woods loomed up over the trail again it felt like a great dark gate of twisted branches, almost a solid wall. Under the canopy, hundreds of thin saplings lined the path like a massive fence. They spread out in all directions, light coming in from above, but everything off the trail obscured. Here and there strong vines grew, clawing their way up and around trees, spinning out into the space between them like thick solid ribbons. Some vines gathered together draping down into wiry huts dotting the woods. Pockets of these huts gave the impression of a cozy village.

It was an old path they traveled, blazed long ago and left neglected. Windstorms had cracked trees in half and their remains lay over the trail. Large areas were overgrown with tall weeds that chirped with crickets. The tree branches began to hang low making for a difficult hike. Logan couldn’t imagine how the Centaurs were managing, having to push through the tangle of branches. Their arms were probably as scratched up as cutting boards. But they continued in silence without complaint.

Finally, after a fair amount of processing Logan said plainly, “I know how you feel, Uncle Sterling.” He cleared his throat. “I mean, not exactly. But that was the probably the most terrifying thing I’ve ever been through. And I don’t feel like,” he swallowed, “I belong here, you know? I mean, look at them. They’re powerful, and magical. What are we? We’re just a couple of normal guys.” They scrambled under a fallen tree trunk. “I can’t his face out of my mind, that Dryad. The one on the bridge. I see him falling. It’s my fault he’s gone; because I can’t help here in all of this.”

Sterling’s head snapped up. “No! No, Logan, that wasn’t your fault.”

“I fell into him, Uncle Sterling. I was the one who pushed him.” Logan protested.

“No.”

“If I hadn’t stopped. If I hadn’t stopped at the rope bridge, and just run along with Luke. He would be alive. If I hadn’t been afraid of the height, if I hadn’t hesitated…” Logan willed the tears in his eyes not to fall. “I do know how you feel. I don’t think I’m cut out for adventure like I thought I was.”

Sterling stopped and said, “Logan, look at me.” He slowly faced him.

“That was not your fault. He fell, yes, but not because you pushed him. If it’s anyone’s fault, it’s those Men-at-War that were attacking us. They were the ones rocking the bridge. It’s Ares who’s to blame. All of this started with him.” He put his hands on his nephew’s shoulders. “You have to promise me that you won’t blame yourself. That Dryad falling was not your fault.”

Logan looked into his uncle’s eyes, an intensity there. The Something in them agreed with what his words said, though his face still drooped in shame. “It’s hard to believe.”

“But you have to, Logan.” Sterling insisted.

His uncle’s words could not outweigh the dread weighing down on his heart. He understood that it was the Men-at-War’s attack that had caused the chaos. He knew that he had lost his balance. But that Dryad’s face still shone clear and terrifying in his mind. It was a face he feared he would never be able to forget.

“Can you get over dodging the war?” Logan said. “Do you feel like you can ever forget what you felt when you ran?”

Sterling stared at him, his mouth open like he was about to speak, but no words came out. His gaze dropped to the ground.

“That’s different.” Sterling said, quietly.

“It’s hard to believe you were as cowardly as you say,” Logan countered, “That’s not my uncle. All I’ve ever known was a strong, fun, adventure-lover like me. And if you think I can get over what just happened back there… then you should be able to get over what happened years and year ago.”

Sterling tried his best, but he couldn’t even manage a smile. “That’s hard to believe, Logan.”

“But you have to.” he said, quietly.

Their eyes met. Each one fought to believe the strong words of the other. Logan tried to accept that it had been an accident on the bridge back at the Valley. Sterling attempted to see himself through his nephew’s eyes, tough and confident. It seemed so much easier to see the good in others than the good in themselves.

But the grief that remained in their eyes said it all. They couldn’t believe that.

“Life isn’t easy, is it, Uncle Sterling?”

He laughed, “I’m afraid not.”

Sterling put his arm around his nephew as they continued on into the woods after their companions, burdens still in hand.

Chapter Thirty

~ Around the Fire ~

     “Are you sure a fire is alright? Remember last time?” Sterling asked.

“It didn’t end well.” Priam added.

“We’ve put plenty of trees between us and Ares. He won’t leave the Chariot behind, it’s too important to him.” Tora replied.

“And I have a few tricks up my sleeve.” Luke promised. They had found a rocky outcropping and settled underneath for shelter and cover from prying eyes.

“Yes, we noticed that.” Sterling said.

“I think you owe us a little explanation, Luke, if that is your real name.” Logan insisted.

He chuckled stacking the firewood in a neat pyramid. “My name is Luke, I guarantee. But I also have another name.”

“Apollo.” Chara whispered.

He nodded still working. “It’s a very old name, but mine.”

“So, you are a god.” Priam said; it wasn’t a question.

“No.” He looked up then, almost stern, “I am not a god. And neither is Ares, despite how much he wants to be. The Olympians are just… different.”

“Alright,” Logan said, settling down in front of the cold woodpile, “So let’s start back at the beginning, because I don’t think I understand. If you’re not a god, how does the magic work?”

He chuckled again, “I wouldn’t call it magic.” He pointed his finger at the wood and a thin stream of light shot from it. After a few seconds the dry wood ignited and a warm fire roared to life.

Sterling guffawed, “Well, what do you call that?”

“That is simply a bit of the Wellspring, rising up in me.”

They just shook their heads, “I’m afraid I don’t understand that, either.” Chara said, gracefully sitting down on her side, her top half sitting up like a person.

Luke watched the growing fire, lining up his thoughts. His hand immediately went to his wrist. Logan could see now that he wore great golden cuffs on his wrist, decorated the same as his staff and bow, and gleaming just as bright. He twisted one subconsciously and took a deep breath, “The world is alive. It is not some dead rock that we spin on. The Wellspring makes life… thrive. Makes it happen. It’s a lot like it’s namesake; a fountain that feeds the world, like a steam would a forest. It drives the very elements of nature. It’s a raw, mighty source of power.” He leaned back tilting his head. “But at the same time, it’s delicate and tender. It teaches the ants how to build their hills, it coaxes the caterpillar into her chrysalis.”

“A long time ago, the Wellspring let twelve men and women draw from its power. They were given amazing abilities, to bend the very fabric of nature, in any way they wanted.” The fire was roaring now, sending shadows dancing on the trees around them. Luke raised his hands and motioned towards himself. All the light that was scattered from the firelight drained away the leaves, leaving the forest black as ink. The fire roared on, its light bound to their small circle. It was a dizzying sight, that felt almost wrong, the bright light of the fire up against a pitch black background.

“The Olympians.” Logan guessed.

“At first it was good,” Luke continued, “they did great things and helped many people. But then it changed, and some of them began to believe what others were saying of them, that they were gods. They forgot it was a Gift the Wellspring had given them.”

“But Olympians aren’t the only ones with connections to the Wellspring. Many others have been allowed to draw from its depths, like your abilities Chara.” He nodded to the Centaur. “Chiron’s inheritance to his heirs springs from the Wellspring.” She glanced at her brother, with awe in her eyes. “But none were never given as much as the Olympians.”

“I have the ability to manipulate light. Concentrate it and bend it. Ares, was given the ability to create and bend fire. Zeus mastery over the skies, Poseidon the waters, it goes on…”

He shifted on the log he sat, “But the Wellspring is not something a person can take from, its favor can only be given, which is why some call it the Gift. Many believe the world was created with an oath in every living thing’s heart, that it would never take from the Wellspring forcefully. But there are those who try to take it anyway. They are known as Oathbreakers.” He tilted his head, “Some call them Warlocks.”

“They were jealous of the power, especially when the Olympians showed up. They found ways, dark ways, to steal it. Sorcery is what it becomes, a dark magic. Powerful in its means, but deadly in its casting. Many of them gained the powers they sought, but at a cost. It’s a tainted and corrupted power, and so corrupted them.”

“So the Olympians,” Logan asked, “have survived all these years because their powers were given to them, and it was … purer?”

He took a breath, “In a way, aye.”

“In a way?” Sterling asked.

“Listen,” Tora broke in, “the main concern here is Ares. Now that you understand the Wellspring, understand that a Taproot like the Throne of Grace is a very dangerous place to have someone like Ares.”

“Could he really become a god,” Priam asked, “like you said before?”

“No, there is no way to become a god,” Luke said. “But I fear he may become something much worse.”

There was a pause and then Chara gasped, “A Warlock?”

Luke nodded studying the fire. “Think about it: He goes to steal the power with the intention to make himself greater, but what if it corrupts him? What if his desire to wipe out his enemies taints his very soul? What could be worse than an Olympian as a Warlock?

The little circle of companions sat quietly, digesting such a thought.

“But hasn’t he already corrupted his Gift?” Chara asked.

“No, the Wellspring was given to him. It is a pure Gift. What he chooses to do with that power, though, is up to him.” Luke explained.

“So what would an Olympian as a Warlock be like?” Logan asked.

Tora and Luke exchanged a heavy glance. “Any trace of a heart he has now would be lost. It would make the Ares you’ve seen look docile by comparison.”

Logan swallowed hard.

“Then we must keep it out of his hands.” Priam said.

“Wanting the Throne would fit his recent behavior,” Tora added, “it’s all so intentional, and planned and… unlike him.”

“Yes,” Sterling said suspiciously, “you seem to know a lot about Ares…” He leaned forward, “How do you know him? Just what were you doing that would make him want to kill you?”

She pursed her lips, “My business is my own.”

“Tora…” Luke cautioned.

Chara placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. Their eyes met for a moment, and Tora seemed to relax.

“I’ve been following him.”

“Why?” Uncle Sterling asked, and Logan could feel he was holding back, ‘Are you crazy?’

“He’s up to something. Something… different. It all seems too calculated, too organized. He’s always been so chaotic, just doing whatever pleases him. Now, I don’t know…”

“How do you know so much about him?” Sterling asked.

The giant bear flopped down next her, and she placed a hand on its head. “Ares and I have, a past…”

There was an uncomfortable silence that descended on them.

“There were a few of us, ones that he has hurt in the past, that decided to figure out a way to stop him… once and for all.” She snuck a glance at all of them. “Except no one has been able to stop him. Not in hundreds of years. So we decided to start by keeping tabs on him. Seeing what he was up to, figure out if he had any weaknesses. But I wasn’t subtle enough. He figured out I was tailing him… wanted to have me die slowly…”

She looked up at the Centaurs across the fire. Her lips wrestled with the words, as if they pained her, but finally she whispered, “I never did… thank you, for what you did.”

Priam just dipped his head in a small bow, but Chara smiled a smile that twinkled in the firelight. “We could never have left you like that.”

They all grew quiet then, unfamiliar to sharing emotion with Tora. The crackling mutters of the fire were enough to satisfy them all in the waning hours of the night.

After a while, Logan cleared his throat, “So that bear, she’s really something else. Wings! I can’t even see them on her now.” He laughed, trying to sound like he understood the wild world of myth. “I read in True Mythology that they were once Dryads, the Warriors, but they were transformed.”

Tora pet Samara’s head lovingly, “The Warriors are still Dryads.” The fire crackled and spit embers into the air. Luke deftly snuffed their light out before they rose too high. “The Dendron Valley was once a home to Artemis, the Olympian. She changed a few warriors into mighty beasts to protect the city. Samara and I were friends, a long time ago.”

“Why would someone want to be transformed into an animal?” Priam asked.

She was quiet for a moment. “Samara had no choice.” She sighed, “She was ill; dying. We had been traveling around and she became sick. She… she was my friend. I had to do something. So I asked Artemis to change her into one of the warriors.”

“How did that save her?” Chara asked.

“The disease didn’t register in a bear.” Luke answered.

“She would be safe as long as she never returned to her Dryad form.” Tora explained.

Silence descended again for a few minutes, thinking of the sad fate of Samara, though Logan was secretly more focused on the hunger in his belly. He wished there was something cooking on contained fire.

Halfway through these thoughts someone said, “Does this mean I can talk now?” All their heads snapped toward the bear who just stared back.

“Well, does it?” Samara asked.

Logan was off a little ways from the fire, staring at the stars. They were so much brighter here away from civilization. It seemed appropriate. The farther he got from home, the bolder things became. Out in the wild Logan was unsure of anything anymore. The deeper he went into the woods, the farther from reality he felt. But it was all real. Flying off the cliff, the talking bear, fire springing from a man’s hand; he’d seen it all. As the stars got brighter, the world became vaster.

After years of reading books about spaceships and castles, dragons and treasure hunts, he stood staring into the sky wondering if it was all real. Wondering if it was all just a wishful dream, or devious trick. Adventure had always been the one thing he had desired, and now he wondered if it was really what he’d wanted in the first place. He silently kicked himself for following this same train of thought again. He seemed to keep returning to this swamp of doubt despite how much he hated it.

“What’s wrong with you?” he said to no one.

“Well, I’m an awful cook, for one.” He turned and saw Luke coming up to him. His short bow was in his hands, an arrow notched in it. “Having a bit of a think?”

“Yeah… just, trying to take it all in.”

“Aye, the stars are a vast wonder, aren’t they?”

“Oh…yeah. I was talking about,” he gestured about, “all this.”

They stood side by side staring up at the universe. “I always like to think,” Luke stated, “if we could figure out the world and how it works, what kind of a world would that be? Would it even be worth it?”

He stared at the stars. “That’s a good point.” Logan conceded.

“The bigger the world, Logan, the more adventure you can have trying to figure it out. A world of never-ending wonder is one I would always choose. This all may be dangerous, aye. But don’t forget the most important thing of a journey.”

“What’s that?”

“To have a little fun! You’ve only got one life.” He smiled a cheeky smile and then pointed the bow straight up in the air. The notched arrow glowed for a second and then sprang from his grip, up above the trees.

Logan asked, “What was that for?”

“Hopefully, you’ll find out soon. We should get some rest. Have to start early tomorrow.” So he followed him back into the firelight, getting more accustomed to not understanding what was going on.

Chapter Thirty-One

~ Questions Asked ~

     He had a terrible nightmare. The darkness around him became alive, it shifted and scurried. He couldn’t see the fire anymore, or his friends. His thoughts lingered on that notion… thinking of them as friends…. but it was quickly snatched away. The shadows fought him, their grip on his arms and legs hurting him. The more he struggled, the worse they fought. One of them crashed down on top of him, filling the world with swirls and shifting everything into a blurry black. He felt himself flying through the black woods, occasionally seeing the stars peek out of the fog. He hurt, but it seemed numb, almost cold. He couldn’t move or speak; he just flew through the woods with the shadows jostling him all around. And in the dark, he saw a face. The face of the Dryad, eternally plummeting down to the valley floor.

He woke before the Dryad hit the bottom, jerking so hard awake he smacked his head against something hard. He felt awful. The ground was a lot harder and colder. His arms ached. He tried to rub them, but realized his hands were tied together behind his back. He tried to sit up but his legs were bound as well. When his eyes focused, he realized he wasn’t anywhere like the campfire under the overhang. He was lying on a smooth silver surface.

His eyes ached in the morning light, the reds and golds of the trees reflecting off the shiny contours of the Chariot. Panic rose in him as he struggled to sit up. How had he gotten here? Where were the others? Were they captured too?

He had to scrunch into a ball using his elbows to finally right himself. He sat in the back of the Chariot, in the narrow end at the back of the craft. There was no one around. He began to try to get to his feet to make a run for it.

When he was on his knees, a small man climbed up over the side of the craft. He was the little one with the pointed beard, much shorter than the twins, a playful little smile on his lips. “Good morning, son! Rest well?”

Logan just stared at him. He looked him up and down, and then noticed that he had no legs. Not human ones, at least. Instead, his pants covered two bent limbs that ended in hairy hooves. He looked back up at the man’s face and saw that out of his hair were poking two small horns, pointing toward his nose.

“You’re… you’re a Satyr.”

He cocked his head. “Well done, Man! You’re very astute. But can you pass the other test?”

Logan shook his head, “What other test?”

He turned his head, showing his profile. “Don’t you recognize me, sonny?” he said in a high voice.

Logan stared at him for a few seconds until it finally clicked in his mind. This Satyr was the old man he had seen in the woods; the one with the funny shoes and pointy beard. He had seen him the day he had seen Priam as a horse for the first time.

“The old man… in the woods. A-Aber-something.”

The Satyr laughed. “Oh, good job! You do have a good memory. Men always see me as a little old man. Play it up fairly well if I do say so.”

“But you’re with Ares. How did I get here?”

“Probably the more important question right now, you’re right. The girls are particularly good at sneaking through the shadows, being Lampedes. You were easy pickings. A little potion they whipped up under your nose and you were like a drunken puppy! Though, Bo had to put a fist to your gut to get you so settle down.” He giggled, “Got a lot of spirit in you, kid!”

Logan understood why his stomach hurt so much. The Satyr leaned in close. “If I were you, son, I’d be very careful what I said. The Master has a short fuse. And he can tell when you’re lying.” He stood up straight, keeping his eyes locked. Then he turned and punched a panel on the side of the craft. Nothing happened and he called out, “Still nothing, Bo. We’ll need to cross the stones back the other way.” He spared a second to shoot Logan a wink, and then hopped back over the side of the Chariot, disappearing from sight.

There were some clunking sounds below him. He straightened up, realizing that the Chariot was higher than the ground. They must have been underneath trying to repair the damage Luke had done the day before. He took a little satisfaction knowing that.

Nothing happened for a while. He debated trying to make a break for it, but his tied limbs and the drop he would need to make to get out of the craft didn’t help in his odds of outrunning the Men-at-War right below him. He called out to the Satyr, “Why am I here?” The clunking noises continued no one answering him. “What do you want with me?” Still nothing. He started to get a little louder. “Why-”

“They aren’t going to answer you.” His head snapped over to the front of the Chariot, where Ares, his long red coat floating behind him, hopped into the craft. He seemed even more intimidating than before, the orange eyes boring into his face. Slipping a silver cigarette case into his jacket, he walked toward him with a regal prowl, but Logan noticed he was favoring his left arm.

“They do as I say. And I am the only one who is going to be speaking with you now.” He flipped down a panel in the side of the craft and sat on it, intertwining his fingers on his lap. “So, good morning…Logan Rhodotus.”

Logan tried to hold back his fear. The way he said his name, almost mockingly, unsettled him. “How do you know me?”

“I’ve been watching you,” he said candidly, “at your home, your theatre… it’s a wonderful little act.” He smiled, as comforting as a wolf.

Logan crinkled his forehead, “What act? The play?”

Ares let out a kingly snort. “That’s adorable.” He leaned over. “Why are you playing this game? I know what you are.”

“What are you talking about?” Logan said, afraid of the Olympian’s sanity. “I’m just a kid from Farwell. I found a book and it talked about real myths and then I started seeing Centaurs and Dryads and, and I don’t know why you’ve been chasing us or why you’ve kidnapped me, but-”

“Stop it.” he said calmly. “Stop it right now. I won’t have you berating me like this.” His eyes bore deeper into Logan. “Just admit to me who you are, and we can carry on simply.”

Logan just stared at him. “I’m Logan Rhodotus; from Farwell.”

Ares stood and turned away from him, displaying a leather holster on his back. It contained his sheathed sword strapped in upside-down, the hilt at his right hip and the point at his left shoulder.

“Be reasonable.”

“Reasonable with what? I’m just a kid-”

He stopped short as Ares grabbed the hilt of his sword. He squeezed it and four metal clamps arranged along the blade clicked back. With a flourish he pulled it from his back and held it up, looking at the shining metal, his eyes reflecting back at Logan. “I’ll only ask one more time.”

Logan just watched him, terrified of what would come next. He knew anything he would say would just anger the tyrant.

Ares turned and looked down on him. “So be it.” Striding forward he leveled the sword to Logan’s chest. Logan was too afraid to cry out or plead, he could only stare at the blade, resting between his ribs. Ares lifted the point to Logan’s neck. It was then, looking down the sword to the charred hilt that Logan knew his life was over. It didn’t scare him as much as he thought it would, though it still scared him.

Ares took the point and started running it over Logan’s collar pulling down his shirt. With a smile and a quick jerk, he sliced the fabric apart. The skin over Logan’s heart was exposed. Ares just stared at it blankly. There were several moments that pounded with each beat of his heart. He could almost imagine what it would be like when the sword pierced it.

But Ares just continued to stand there. He stared at the skin as if it were a puzzle he couldn’t solve. Then his eyes snapped back onto Logan’s, full of anger.

“What is this?”

“What’s what?” Logan whispered.

“What’s… this!” he said, cleanly cutting the exposed skin.

Logan cried out. “Why are you doing this to me?” He tried to cover the cut but couldn’t budge his bound hands. It stung more than he could bear.

Ares turned away, oblivious to Logan’s pain. He stared at the trees, their leaves rustling gently in the wind. When he turned back, he wasn’t angry, but his face held a cold, calculating determination. “Why are you in Katalon?”

“I don’t understand. I’m running from you. You set my house on fire. You… my brother…the Centuar village…”

“But you knew of Katalon before that. Strom heard you say ‘Katalon’ in the woods. No Men know of our world.” He walked back to his seat and sat gracefully. “Why are you in Katalon? How do you know of it?”

Logan was cringing. Every breath made the torn skin pull further apart. “I’m running from you. You tried to kill me.”

“Oh, yes, I’m to believe a Man just happens to be in Katalon. It’s so common an occurrence.”

He leaned down closer to him, “You can’t be here. Men don’t belong in Katalon. They would never be a part of it. How did you learn of it?”

“I don’t know anything!”

“You don’t lie very well.” He reached down past the curve in the hull of the Chariot and pulled Logan’s bag up. He reached in and pulled out the book. Logan stared at his entrance ticket into the myth world. The thing that had started all his troubles. Ares flipped through it lazily, “This would be the book you mentioned, that got you believing in the myths?” Logan nodded, dumbly.

Ares tossed it carelessly onto the floor.

He then pulled out the scroll. Holding it up he asked, “What is this, Logan Rhodotus?”

His mind raced. All of Tora and Luke’s ideas, all their conjecture about Ares’ delusions of godhood and the dangers of a Warlock, all the speculation that Ares had been chasing an entrance to a sacred Taproot came crumbling down. Ares didn’t know what the scroll was. He hadn’t known the whole time. Logan vied for time to think. “Why?”

“Because, dear boy. I know that you found this in that beloved theatre of yours. I know that that book of yours helped you find this, and I know that someone went to great lengths to hide it there. A… lady, you were close to. Now… tell me what it is.”

Ares’ calmness was soothing, as if he were lulling Logan into a sense of confidence. If he hadn’t been chased by the fiend for the last couple weeks, Logan may have been tempted to trust him. But a tug came from his gut, telling him trust was not an option. It could never be an option.

“I thought you knew. I thought it was what you were after. I thought it was… what all of this was about.”

The Olympian tilted his head. “Why would I know what this is?”

“Because you were chasing me for it.”

“I was chasing you, you ignorant boy! I thought you were- ” he caught himself, “…important.” he spat. “You knew the name of our world, you were cavorting with Centaurs! You were the proper age! It made sense! I thought you were someone who was actually worth my time. A wild goose chase!” He sighed, “But not in vain, I believe. Not wasted completely… possibly.” He stared deeply into Logan’s eyes, and asked gently, “Now tell me, what is this?”

Logan bit his lip, trying to forget the pain, to forget the fear, to think of anything but the burning wound on his chest. “I don’t think you appreciate the situation.” Ares warned, “It’s not just your life I hold. I can make your friends suffer.”

Logan did his best to concentrate. “You haven’t been able to catch them yet. And Luke did enough damage to this thing that you’re stuck here.” He shocked himself at his own boldness.

A smile crept across the Olympians strong jaw. “Brash. Do you even know who you travel with?”

Logan squinted up to him. “What do you mean?”

“You have wild beasts among you. And Olympians… they can be so… untrustworthy.”

“Luke saved my life when you were trying to kill me! I think I know who to trust!”

The Olympian leaned down revealing the fire in his orange eyes. “How well do you know him?” Logan stayed silent. “You just met him. Either you’re very trusting… or very gullible. From our talk so far, though, I would favor the notion that you’re just ignorant. ”

“Tora trusts him.” he reasoned.

“Ah yes… Tora. A troubled sort. A thorn in my side. Do you know her?”

“She saved us too.”

“So you don’t know her?”

Logan wracked his mind for something smart to say.

Ares smiled at him, as if he knew how dim Logan was. His eyes were searching. “I think you’d find Tora to be…more than meets the eye.”

He strolled leisurely around the craft. “I’m not worried about them, in any case. And you shouldn’t be either. They have proven very nimble, but I was thinking of finding some other friends of yours to help convince you.” It was like a punch in the stomach. “Your family for starters… or what’s left of them. You know I know where they are.”

“You would go all the way back to Farwell… just to torture me?” Logan tried.

“Correction: torture them.” Logan could tell Ares was enjoying himself. “But fair point, it is quite a ways back, and you have that nasty cut.”

He cringed from a sharp pain in his wound, as if on cue.

“Maybe a little demonstration first? We could use someone closer by.” He sat down again with such a proud posture, it almost made the wound on Logan’s chest ache further. “I know where the rest of that disgusting herd of horses went. If you like, I could have a couple heads brought back to show you I’m serious.”

He stayed completely calm through the threat, as if he had been asking what Logan wanted for lunch.

“You wouldn’t do that.” Logan said.

“Why do you say that? You don’t know me either.” he said slowly.

“My dears,” Simultaneously, the dark twins popped up from the side of the Chariot. “I need you to visit that herd of horses. Bring me back some souvenirs, won’t you?” They both smiled and started to slink away.

“Wait! You can’t hurt them! They didn’t do anything to you!”

“I’m confused as to why that’s important.” Ares said.

Logan just stared at him. “Please… don’t hurt anyone.”

“It is entirely up to you, Logan. Your choices now could mean many lives lost. Or, you could just do what I ask. It’s not a very difficult problem.” He smiled. “Maybe you are important. So many people depend on your next decision.”

Logan looked from the twins to the Olympian. They all looked serious.

“You wouldn’t.”

Ares leisurely rose and crouched down in front of Logan. He held up his thumb which ignited with a blue flame. “Wouldn’t I?” He pressed his thumb onto Logan’s open cut, sending an agonizing fire through him. The pain was so fierce he felt his heart would stop. It lasted so long, never relenting, coaxing his screams out louder and louder.

Finally, Ares relented. “There, that will stop the bleeding.” He stood and turned back to the twins, who were watching excitedly. “Eris, Hazen, those horse heads I asked for, if you please.”

“No.” Logan croaked from the Chariot floor, “Please, no. I’ll tell… don’t hurt…”

Ares smiled. “Ladies, thank you.” He lifted the scroll up again and said, “What is this, Logan Rhodotus?”

He sighed, and put his head down. “It’s… a map. A map to something called… the Throne of Grace.”

Ares stood and walked to the front of the Chariot. He tapped the scroll against his chin thinking. “The Throne of Grace, the Throne of Grace…” He turned back. “A Taproot?”

Logan, head still down, nodded.

“A map to a Taproot. Oh my, that is worth hiding.” He paced for about a minute and then said, “Well, this changes everything.”

“I thought you knew all of this. Tora said it was the reason you were chasing us.”

“Yes, Tora,” he said with a sneer, “She is so very trustworthy.”

He hurdled over the side of the craft and landed on the ground. Logan heard him tell the others, “I will be in the woods thinking. Do not disturb me unless it is very important.”

For the next hour Logan sat on the floor of the Chariot. There were a few broken pieces of glass or mirror scattered in the corners of the floor. He stared at his reflection in them for a time. He could make out the cut on his chest in the bigger pieces, but it sickened him too much to look at. And the smell of burnt flesh nauseated him. The pain never stopped. He crunched the glass pieces with his shoe over and over to pass the time and occupy his mind. He felt sick. He had told Ares the one thing that Tora and Luke had been trying to avoid. They had been wrong about why he was pursuing them. And Logan had no idea what ‘act’ the crazy tyrant thought he was playing. He shuddered at the memory. Ares had spoken to him as if he had known him for a long time.

The clunking continued below, and sometimes he heard Bo and the Satyr, Strom, talking. The Chariot was a lot bigger up close, so he couldn’t hear what they were saying. After another half hour of soaking in his blood and guilt he heard something above him. It sounded like the leaves rustling but it was more substantial. He could hear it moving. He looked around but couldn’t see anything in the leaves.

Something landed on the Chariot right behind him with a gentle flapping noise. Twisting around, he found a gray bird perched on the hull. It was about the size of a pheasant with a long tail with feathers like a peacock. Its head snapped back and forth, the tiny black eyes looking all around.

“Don’t make any noise. We’re going to get you out of here.” it said, calmly.

Chapter Thirty-Two

~ Rescue ~

     Logan laid still, listening to the dull clanks that still resounded below him. His heart was pounding, the anticipation growing. He couldn’t do anything at the moment. He had to wait. Everything in him wanted to run, to hop over the edge of the Chariot and dart into the woods. His feet were loose, the bird had seen to the ropes. But it had insisted that he stay put, until everything was in place.

Logan’s knee couldn’t stop bouncing up and down. No one had come to see him since the bird had arrived. The bird had surprised him, but not as much as it would have a few days ago. There hadn’t been a lot of time, so all the bird told him was to stay put, and not to speak.

So there he sat, like a tense spring just waiting for the moment he could make his escape. What really unnerved him the most was that Ares had not come back yet. What was he thinking about? And what had Logan done by telling him about the scroll?

After several more minutes of pretending his leg was a sewing machine, something finally happened. And it wasn’t what he was hoping for.

“Men-at-War!” Ares’ voice boomed. He couldn’t quite tell where it was coming from, but he heard the clanking stop and scuffling from below him.

“Yes, Master, what is it?” Strom called.

“There has been a change of plans. I need to find something. I need to go alone. But you have a mission.”

“What, Master?” one of the twins asked, “Where are you?”

“I need you to get the rest. Go find the others that were with the boy. And make sure you bring me the Olympian, intact.”

“What of the Chariot, Count?” Bo called. “It’s not fixed yet.”
“Leave it; go on foot if you have to. They have set out already, I am sure. You must hurry! I will meet you back here. Make sure you bring all of them.”

“What of the boy?” Bo asked. “Shouldn’t someone watch him?”

“He’s worthless!” The Olympian snapped. “He won’t be going anywhere. And if he does, we’ll capture him again, and we won’t leave him alive. Now go!”

“Yes, Count.” a twin said, Logan couldn’t tell if it was the same one or not.

“Well, let’s get going. If they’ve started already, we’ll be hours behind.” Strom popped over the side, his hooves clicking on the metal floor. He winked at Logan, and then punched a panel on the side, like before. This time, a smooth silver board popped off the hull. “Haha! The starboards are working again! Maybe they won’t be so difficult to catch, after all!”

The twins lithely floated over the side, their feet barely making a sound on the floor. Each punched a panel on the side of the craft opposite of Strom and two more silver starboards gracefully disconnected from the Chariot. The three mounted them like surfboards and with just a slight sound, like a soft wind, they flew off into the woods.

The whole Chariot shook when Bo leapt aboard. He looked down from way above Logan and smiled. “You won’t be lonely for very long. We’re bringing your friends back.”

“So I heard.” Logan dared to say.

“Yes…” the giant looked out into the woods. “Then maybe we’ll get some answers.” He punched a panel and mounted his own starboard. Amazingly, it didn’t fall straight to the ground. Logan watched, fascinated as the huge mass lightly floated off after his comrades.

His mind was racing. Now what? His friends were trying to rescue him, and now Ares’ goons were after them. He got up and crouched so he could see the panorama of the woods. Everyone was gone, it was just him in a flying saucer in the woods. After a few seconds he heard a flapping sound behind him. When he twirled around the bird was landing on the back of the Chariot again.

“What’s going on?” Logan asked, “Ares sent the Men-at-War to go get the others! How are we going to help them?”

The bird cocked his head. “Don’t worry about them.” It was strange to watch him talk. His beak didn’t open and close with each word like a mouth would, it seemed most of the sound was coming from back in his throat, articulation and all. “They’re not in danger.”
“But Ares just said-”

“Ares didn’t say anything. That was me.” And then he smiled, if a bird can smile.

“What do you mean? I heard him.”
The bird opened his mouth and out came, “Men-at-War! Go find the scoundrels!” in a perfect rendition of Ares’ voice.

“But how…?”

“No time now. The real Ares is still in the woods and he’s going to be very upset when he finds his people gone, and his hostage!” It flapped its wings and said, “Look behind you.”

Logan whipped around expecting to see Ares towering over him. But it was another Olympian leaping into the craft. “A’right? See you’ve met my mate, Phoenix.” Luke said crouching over to him. “Exciting, this!” He started cutting the bonds on Logan’s wrist.

“Luke! How did you find me? Where is everybody?”

“I’m sorry I didn’t realize it. The twins, they’re Lampades; underworld nymphs. They can slip in and out of shadows like water. When I reined in the firelight last night, it was like opening an ocean for them. I never dreamed they’d kidnap you. Silent devils.” He paused. “I had a feeling the Chariot wouldn’t be working yet, otherwise he would have come to us in style instead of stealth.” The rope snapped.

“I called Phoenix here last night, sent him on ahead.”

Logan looked up at the bird whose head kept snapping back and forth watching the woods.

“The arrow you shot.” Logan remembered.

Luke nodded staring at the bloody cut on Logan’s chest, his shirt soaked through. “That’s a nasty bit, isn’t it? I’d feel sorry for you, but it’s a good thing we have Chara with us.”

“Where are they?”

“I’m the one who’s more … stealthy. Can you see a bear or Centaur sneaking in to get you?” He laughed, and Logan felt a little calmer. “They’re over in the woods, behind a boulder.”

Luke started creeping back to the front where the controls were. “Luke, wait!” Logan called.

He joined him in the front, “I messed up, Luke. He has the scroll. He knows where the Throne is. I – I broke. I told him about it. He was going to – he threatened to hurt my family and – the herd was…”

Luke put his hand on Logan’s shoulder. “That gash speaks for itself. You did what you had to. We can still stop him. I remember what the map said when we checked it last night. We’ll just head that direction. Even if he does get there first, I’m sure he won’t know how to use it right off.”

“But Luke, he didn’t know anything about it. He acted like it was all new to him. What about all the stuff you said? Tora said it was why he was chasing us! He didn’t know, Luke!” Logan tried to keep his voice down. “He said he was after me. Not the scroll or Tora… me!”

That troubled the Olympian, to where he had no words.

“Luke,” Logan urged, “what’s going on?”

He thought for a second. “I’m not sure. But knowing Ares, it can only be bad.”

Sterling had him in a bear hug, trying with all his might to squeeze the life out of him. “Logan, you have to stop scaring me. I don’t think I can take much more of this. If your mother knew…”

When released, Logan grabbed at his wound, hurting more after the bear hug. Chara looked very pleased to see him and came over and hugged him as well, which was a little odd considering her height. She had to get down on her front knees. “Oh, no. That’s looks terrible.” she said and placed her hand over the drying blood. Logan felt the familiar cool trickle, like water, the blue glow shimmering under her fingers. He looked over at Tora next to Samara who had the gray bird perched on her back. Ares’ words flitted through his mind. Was he lying, or was Tora really hiding something?

He looked over to Priam watching his sister work. Priam nodded solemnly.

“There we go.” Chara said as she finished. “We’ll have to get a new shirt for you.”

“I’m afraid there’s no time for that.” Luke said.

“I thought you guys were in trouble. When I heard Ares tell the Men-at-War to go after you… but then the bird… how can that bird talk?”

“That’s my mate, Phoenix.” Luke said. “His story is similar to Samara’s, but… different. There’s really not time for that, either.”

“How did he imitate Ares’ voice?”

Luke smiled. “He’s a lyrebird; they can copy any sound they hear.” He laughed, and Phoenix mimicked it perfectly.

They all chuckled a little. Samara’s growl rumbled through them. “He’s coming back, I can smell him.”

Tora jumped up onto the bear’s back and Phoenix flew to Luke’s arm. “Scout ahead, will you?” Luke requested, “Head directly north from the campfire last night.”

“Righto.” It replied and then took off, its long tail streaking through the air like a banner.

Luke went over to the Centaurs and bowed his head a little. “I know you’ve been gracious with us in the tense moments so far but… would you be willing to carry us? You are the fastest here.”

The two Centaurs looked at each other. Chara smiled a bit and Priam nodded. “It would be an honor.” he said solemnly.

“Brilliant, thank you. Logan and Sterling, up on Priam, I’ll be with you, bonnie.” Chara blushed a little as she helped him up onto her back. And then they were off.

Chapter Thirty-Three

~ Questions Answered ~

     The next half hour mainly consisted of desperately attempting to stay on Priam’s back. Every time he had been on one of the Centaurs’ backs it had been short. Now it was, in essence, like riding a horse bareback while simultaneously trying to hold onto someone while they ran. Logan couldn’t think much past the pain for several minutes.

He finally began to find a rhythm, though it wasn’t any more comfortable when they were pitching back and forth around trees and over hills. It hardly felt like he was holding onto a person. It was more like hanging onto a train engine going full speed. Still, he felt very awkward grasping Priam so tight. The Centaur intimidated him so much that he had become very self-conscious of touching him. But the steed thundered on oblivious as if the two Men weren’t even there. He led the group with Chara just behind, and Samara padding silently behind.

Logan breathed a sigh of relief when Tora called out that they could slow down. Unfortunately, they only slowed to a canter, which was really no improvement at all. Through the bobbing Logan could think a little more clearly. The events of his haphazard adventure started replaying themselves in his mind. As he mulled them over staring at the back of Priam’s head, studying the array of braids tangled in his hair, several questions rose up concerning the Centaur. He took a couple minutes bolstering the courage to speak up.

“Um… Priam?”

He spoke through heavy breaths, but was clear. “Yes, Logan.”

“Um… I, I was wondering something; about you.”

“Yes?”

“Why are you still here with us?”

The Centaur was quiet for a moment. “Do you not want me here with you anymore?”

“No! No, I didn’t mean it like that. I meant, why are you still… you, you were going to help Tora find Luke.”

“Yes.”

“And now you have.”

“Yes.”

“So I was wondering why you were still, putting yourself in danger? You could have gone back to the herd.”

“Why are you still here?” he asked back.

It surprised Logan. He thought for a moment. “I’m not sure. I guess because of the map. My great-grandmother hid that scroll in our theatre. I’d like to know what it leads to, and maybe where she got it.”

Priam nodded his head. “That Olympian attacked my herd and destroyed our home. Two of my own were killed. I can’t let this go unanswered.”

“Oh,” Logan said, “So you’re … avenging them?”

Priam slowed to a walk. The others stopped around him. “We should slow down for a while.” he said, and Luke agreed. Everyone but Tora dismounted and began walking along. As Logan followed suit Priam stopped him. “Wait. Logan, stay for a minute.”

He cringed, knowing with a numb sense that he’d offended him. “Ok…” He relaxed his grip on Priam and leaned back a little.

They were quiet for a time, as Priam plodded along. Then he calmly said, “I am not some brute out for revenge.”

“Oh! I didn’t-”

“That monster killed them, without grounds. I cannot let it go unanswered.”

“I unders-”

“It is my duty to take care of the herd. I am there to protect them. Just like they protected me.”

“Priam, I’m-”

“I am not a monster.”

Silence overtook them as they continued on. Logan felt completely flustered and embarrassed. It was the very thing he had been trying to avoid with Priam since they met. He was glad he couldn’t look the Centaur in the face right then.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you.” Logan finally squeaked out.

The Centaur sighed through his nose. “Wayna said you were kind.”

“I miss her.” Logan said, quietly.

“As do I.”

They continued to walk along in silence. Logan could hear Sterling and Luke talking about their next plans. Finally, Priam stopped and twisted back so that Logan could only see one eye. “I am glad you have come along, Logan.”

He sat completely speechless. If one thing had not crossed his mind the entire journey, it was that Priam, giant, mighty Priam, was glad he was here.

“Me too.” Logan squeaked out.

Priam helped him down, and they continued on their way.

Something was itching at his mind. Ares had sent a root of doubt wheedling down into his thoughts. There was something that didn’t add up, he just couldn’t tag it.

He went back to True Mythology. There had to be some answer in its pages. He read the section on Ares over again, and looked over Apollo as well. It was odd reading about the ancient person, with him only a few feet further ahead. The True Mythology Apollo seemed oceans different from the one in the woods.

Flipping a couple pages further he landed on the portion about Artemis.

It continued on about a strange exploit involving Orion. Flipping past a few pages, he found a blue section that stopped him dead.

Instantly, he was back at the cliff. He could see the woods flashing by. He saw his uncle and Luke staked out on the flanks of the bear. The giant bear transformed by Artemis. And then he remembered, with sharp detail, the moment two enormous wings sprouted from the bear’s back.

will only transfigure in the Presence of She

He was in the Silva Pernum when they first arrived….

“So this is your home?”

“This is a home.”

He was around the campfire….

“The Dendron Valley was once a home to Artemis the Olympian.”

And then he was in the Chariot…

“…I think you’d find Tora to be…more than meets the eye…”

He slowly brought his gaze up to rest on her. She with the exotic brown hair and eyes, and face that dwelled more in a scowl. She who had been there since the start of the journey. Who had seemed most familiar with all the strange doings of Katalon, was friend of an Olympian, and shadowing another.

The group continued on ahead of him. He couldn’t move. All he could do was stare… at her.

Automatically, his feet began moving under him. The book was still open in his hands. Trotting past the others, he stopped in front of Samara, barring her way. He just stared at Tora. Unable to believe what his mind had pieced together.

“What is it, Logan?” Tora asked.

“It’s you.” he said quietly, “Why didn’t you tell us?”

“Tell you what?” she asked.

“That… you’re Artemis.”

Everything stopped. No hooves, no wind, not even a breath. Every eye was on the Dryad, and she stared blankly down at the boy. After what seemed a lifetime, she quietly spoke.

“How dare you.”

“What?” Logan asked.

“How dare you speak it so candidly!” she yelled. “I am not Apollo, I do not give up my secret so freely! HOW DARE YOU SPEAK IT IN THE OPEN LIKE THIS!” The speed in whipping out her longbow was uncanny. Logan stood before a drawn arrow before he even realized she had finished speaking. Samara growled deeply.

Logan debated whether he should reach for the unfamiliar staff on his back, but there was no time, nor did he want to fight the Dryad. So he just stood, mute.

Luke appeared between them, casually pushing her bow out of the way. He leaned against the bear and scratched her head. “Frankly, I’m surprised it took you this long.” he said.

Sterling walked from around Samara, “Wait, are you saying that it’s true?” He looked at Tora, “You’re… Artemis?”

“Stop saying it!” she yelled, turning the loaded bow on Sterling. Luke calmly pushed it away again.

“She’s right, despite all the crazy. It’s best we don’t say it anymore. We are in an open woods where anyone could hear, but besides that I think dear Tora may disembowel the next person who speaks.”

He turned to Logan, “So how did you figure it out, mate?”

Logan numbly raised True Mythology, “It said that animals would only transform when Artemis was there to do it. Samara’s wings here gave that away.” He lowered the book. “Among other things.”

She continued to glare at him in a way that he could only suspect was her imagining the suggested disemboweling. “It’s a very special book, that.” Luke said.

“Jiminy Christmas! All this time, you’ve had powers and you didn’t use them? We could have been killed! Lots of times!” Sterling said.

“Not use them?” she growled, “I stopped a Bronze Bull from trampling that boy! Although, I’m not sure that was wise decision now…”

Logan stood mouth agape, “That big bull, with the broken horn… that was you?”

“And I got us off that cliff before we were charred bits. It was not safe to divulge my Gift openly, nor would it ever, especially among horses and Men.” she spat.

“Why do you keep treating us like vermin?” Sterling yelled back. “You think because you have super powers you’re better than us? We know you’re not a god, Luke already admitted that. You could have turned Ares’ thugs into squirrels! Or given them flippers for hands! But you didn’t! I’m curious how holding back cosmic abilities, even in the face of death, makes you so superior.”

“I am one of the Twelve! Of course, I’m superior to you!” she yelled, a deep snarl resonating in her words.

“She’s not.” Luke said, nonchalantly, “Trust me.”

“You could have trusted us, Tora. We would never share your secret.” Chara offered.

“So I was just supposed to believe that a couple of people from a race that banished my kind centuries ago, and some tame horse siblings were suitable to entrust my greatest secret, though I’d spent all of a week with them!?”

“You know us now…” Chara continued.

“You don’t know us at all, do you?” Sterling tried.

“And neither do you, me!” she yelled.

They stood quietly for a time. The tension made Logan’s heart beat into his lungs, stifling his breath. Finally, Priam asked, “What happens now?”

“Well,” Luke said, “I don’t see why anything needs to change. Tora was just keeping a secret, one she has every reason to keep hidden. Don’t you all have secrets you wouldn’t tell us right now?”

Silence again overtook them.

“A’right, then.”

Logan bolstered his courage. “But there was something else though. Something Ares said. Well there’s a lot he said that didn’t make sense but…”

“Yes, I know he knows who I am.” Tora said coldly, “When he realized I was following him he attacked. I had to defend myself, the only way I could.”

Logan waited a second before speaking again. “It was more than that though. He… acted like he knew me. Knew me well, like we were old friends. It was so creepy, the way he… taunted me. He wanted to me to tell him who I really was.” His hand subconsciously found its way to his chest, to the bit of exposed skin newly healed.

Luke and Tora stared at it. They exchanged a quick glance.

“What did he mean? The book meant nothing to him, the scroll was only mildly interesting; he didn’t even know what it was.” Logan said. “It’s like he’s been looking for something else this whole time. Something we weren’t even considering.”

Luke stood staring at the ground, thinking hard. He fiddled with the gold braces on his wrist, the sun catching in its gleam. After several minutes, he looked back to Logan and stared into his eyes, bore into them. Logan nearly cringed from his gaze, the blue eyes almost as intense as Ares’ orange ones. At last, he closed them tight. He turned to Samara and asked, “Is there anyone nearby?”

She sniffed lazily into the air, moving her giant head back and forth. “No.”

He looked into Tora’s face, and whatever she saw in his expression gave her a look of horror.

“Luke…” she warned.

He sighed and turned to Logan. “There is a secret… among the Olympians.”

“Luke.” she threatened.

“One that you can never speak of to anyone.”

“Luke!”

“We call it our Prodigy Link.”

“LUKE! You cannot tell them that! They have no right to know!”

“He was looking for it, Tora!” He whirled around. “Don’t you think it’s strange that Ares captures a human boy and is looking for the tattoo?”

“You don’t even know them!”

“I trust them.” It shut them both up. They stared at each other.

“What is this, Prodigy Link?” Chara asked.

“This is a bad idea…” Tora said flatly.

“Duly noted, love.” Luke retorted. He cleared his throat. “Do you believe that I am the Apollo from the old stories? Way back when Perseus and Hercules were alive?”

The men exchanged a look. “Yeah, I assumed so.” Sterling said. Logan nodded.

“Most people do. It is our greatest glory, the one thing that people are always awed at; our immortality. But… I am not the original Apollo.”

“What?” Chara said.

“To be honest, I can’t even remember how many Apollos there have been.”

“You can’t be serious.” Sterling said. “So you’re not really Apollo? You’re just playing him?”

“No, I am he. It’s difficult to understand. The Wellspring did gift us with powers and long lives, but not eternal. We… ” he looked up to Tora, “…feared death. So we discovered a way to cheat it… in a way.”

“The Prodigy link is our immortality. We choose someone we think worthy enough to take over the Olympian role, when we die. If they consent, we link to them. When our lives do finally end, all our memories and Gifts transfer over to them. A new Olympian is essentially born, while at the same time saving the ones of the past.”

A soft wind tossed the trees around as it all sank in. “That just can’t be.” Sterling stated.

Logan asked tentatively, “But, why did Ares want to see my chest? I don’t know why you’re telling us this.”

“As you can see, being an Olympian is a fairly dangerous lot in life. We had to blend in. Hephaestus created a tattoo that would transfer along the link. It would hide us; mask us from being detected as an Olympian. It’s how I can hide my wings, makes me less distinctive. But it also marks us. It’s the definitive proof, if need be, of who we really are.”

“But what were you hiding from?” Chara asked.

“Each other, mostly.” Tora said morosely.

“Aye, we Olympians don’t like each other very much.”

“So, wait. Are you saying that Ares was looking for the Olympian tattoo, on me? He thinks I’m a Prodigy?”

“No, that’s just it, Logan. Prodigies aren’t marked. As powerless as they would be, anyone could hunt them down, and the Olympian wouldn’t know. Without a Prodigy, they could die a Final Death, never to have that Olympian walk the earth again.”

“Has that ever happened?” Priam asked.

He barely nodded, “Twice.”

“But if he didn’t think I was a Prodigy, what… did…”

“Aye, mate. I believe he thought you were an Olympian.”

No one spoke for a minute, only the trees spoke in creaks and rustles.

The next second they heard a screeching alarm like someone viciously stomping on ducks. Phoenix swooped down through the trees and screaming, “Hurry! They’re coming!”

And right behind him the sound grew slowly louder, a high rushing sound like the wind, heading straight for them.

Chapter Thirty-Four

~ Clash ~

“Stay together!”

Luke drew his golden bow and immediately fired an arrow into the sky. At the same moment an enemy arrow flew past his ear and embedded itself in Phoenix. In a wrenching shriek and tangle of flapping wings he dropped to the ground.

“NO!” Luke yelled. He whipped around and fired off another shot, pulsing with light.

All of this happened in the time it took Logan to wrangle the staff off his back and face the Men-at-War rushing at them. All five were racing towards them on starboards, with Ares in the back looking like a great red bat, his coat flapping wildly.

He glanced back to see Priam guarding his sister, his giant swords drawn. Chara was slowly drawing the arrow from the bird, blue light from under her fingers where the shaft met the feathers. Samara reared up on her back legs and bellowed a deafening roar.

And then the rays started blazing past him. Apollo shone in radiant splendor, glowing like a furnace, his bow tossed aside. His hair streaked with pulses of light and from his hands came solid-looking gushes of light, a wispy ring of brilliance bursting from his fingers with each shot.

The Lampades twins were the first to whip past the little group, their identical blades slashing down at them. One just narrowly missed the bear standing so tall, but Priam managed to nick the back of a starboard sending it teetering. The nymph wobbled back and forth, and Logan saw her twin do the same, though she was untouched.

Ares then rushed overhead. Logan had enough time to see a torrent of fire raining down on them as he passed, only to have a bright golden light overwhelm everything. The manic Olympian flew on, his sword still engulfed. When Logan looked around, he saw Apollo dimming down from a blurring brightness, his shield of light fading away from around them.

And then the ground shook. Bo landed mere feet away.

He stalked over menacingly, the iron staff hanging in the beefy hand at his side. There was a joy in his eyes that froze Logan to the spot. Logan fumbled with his staff, trying to remember the few moves Luke had shown him, what felt like weeks ago. Bo hefted the iron staff up, poising himself for a quick, heavy swing down on Logan’s head.

Ferociously, teeth and snout snapping, Samara charged by. She reared up at the mountain nymph and ground him into the dead leaves. They both roared in the heat of battle, Bo barely able to hold onto his weapon, Samara barely able to keep him pinned on the ground. Their slashing and scratching entranced Logan, like he was watching a lion take down a zebra. Then he felt his arm being pulled.

He twirled on the spot, swinging his silver lashed staff at his “attacker”. Uncle Sterling cursed, “Blast it to Florida, boy!” and pushed the staff away. He had the plum-hilted sword out, but handled it uneasily. “C’mon we have to get away from here!” They started to run toward Chara, Phoenix up in her arms alive and well. Luke had clambered up onto the abandoned starboard Bo had left, his right hand pulsing with a fiery glow. “Close your eyes!”

Logan saw him toss the light like a ball into the air and then he squeezed his eyes shut. Through his eyelids he could see the burning flare. Red lightning streaked behind his eyelids, and then it faded. When he opened his eyes again everything seemed darker in contrast. He looked up to Apollo again who had drawn his gold short staff. The second it was out Ares’ sword met it. The fiery Olympian swung wildly, squinting his eyes in a blind stupor, not making any connections on his foe, but not losing ground either. The two shot up higher on their starboards, bursts of fire and light dancing through the treetops.

Tora was at their side in an instant. “I’m going to lead the others away! Head north, go as fast as you can! Do not wait for us!”
“But they could catch you!” Sterling yelled.

“Just go!” She pushed them away from where Bo and Samara clashed. Gracefully, like in a dream, Artemis’ body shifted down into the perfect form of a deer. A white doe, whose intelligent black eyes shone. Logan was instantly back in the woods in Farwell, on a unlikely chase after a white doe. “Go quickly!” It said and then leapt from root to stone as lithely as if it didn’t touch the ground at all. At once, one of the twins set off for her, the air rushing by them.

Logan looked over to the bear and Oread, Priam entering the skirmish with both swords in hand. Sterling seized his arm again.

They raced over to Chara with Phoenix sitting on her back. Logan couldn’t believe he’d just been shot in the chest moments ago. When they reached them, Logan could hear the bird saying, “I’m fine! I really am!”

“We have to go!” Logan said.

“Tora is leading them away!”

Without a word, Phoenix soared up into the air allowing Chara to quickly twist herself around and pull them up onto her back. “I’ll go see where the other Men-at-War are.” Phoenix called, soaring up into the trees.

Then Chara set off, blazing through the tree branches with her pewter shield. They pounded away from the snarling bear and the firefight in the sky, into the woods. After a few seconds Chara yelled back, “Where are we going?”

Before Logan could answer something hit him in the shoulder, hard. He tried to grab at the spot but it yanked him backwards before he could turn around. The next second he was flying through the air watching Chara gallop away. Every ounce of breath shot from his lungs when he hit the ground.

His hips had been the first to connect with the dirt, snapping his head back onto a tree root. He laid in a daze looking up at the sky. The two Olympians flying above continued to weave in and out of the air, as radiant as a fireworks show. Then the thing yanked on his arm again.

He sat up achingly slow, feeling like every bone in his back was shattered. Attached to his shirt was a strange metal ball with some dull spikes. He tossed it away, following the rope tied to it to Strom standing at its end, a mischievous smile on his lips. He winked at him. Logan could see Chara veering around trying to run back to him.

As she gained her footing the twin that hadn’t followed Tora dove out of the trees. She landed in front of the Centaur and slashed down her blade. Sterling, with a split second reaction, and partly from being thrust forward by Chara’s sudden stop, stretched out his sword and blocked the dark girl’s attack. They quickly dissolved into a blur of swipes and kicks.

Strom strolled forward, pulling his meteor hammer back to him with intricate wraps around his arms and legs. Logan forced himself to his knees and searched desperately for anything around. His staff lay in the leaves nearby. He crawled over and grabbed it.

The second he twirled around, the metal ball at the end of the meteor hammer rang as it collided with the sturdy staff. Logan stared at the stick in amazement, but Strom was quickly swinging the rope back and had it spinning. Logan stuttered up to his feet and held the staff out in front of him, knuckles white, clueless as to what to do next. He watched the end of the rope spinning around, having the sickening thought of a dangerous game of dodge ball.

“C’mon, Logan. Don’t be scared. Help us out.” the Satyr cooed.

“I don’t know what you want!” Logan said through his teeth. The ball kept spinning. Finally, Strom whipped it from his hand.

Logan instinctively raised the staff to block, half closing his eyes for the impact. The meteor hammer struck his staff with a staggering clang, and Logan’s eyes shot open. The ball had knocked against his staff and wrapped itself around the wood a few times. Logan’s hand was tied beneath the rope, bounding him to his weapon.

He looked up, dumbfounded. The Satyr seemed equally surprised. He pulled the rope, and Logan was pulled forward a step. Strom pulled again, and Logan realized he was pretty strong for such a small nymph. He pulled back, digging in his heels, until he remembered his other gift from Luke. Retrieving it from his pocket with his free hand, Logan took the copper rhino dagger, and slashed down on the rope. It snapped easily in two.

“Wow, that is really sharp.” he muttered.

Strom glared at him with the limp rope in his hands. “That was my favorite weapon.”

Logan ripped his half of the meteor hammer off his wrist. The Satyr began stomping toward him pulling out a dagger of his own, “You little –“

There was a flapping noise behind the nymph and Ares’ voice screamed out, “STROM!” The Satyr went white and spun on the spot only to meet a mess of flapping feathers in his face. Phoenix squawked and scratched, and Logan took the advantage. He ran up to the Satyr, aimed and smacked him squarely on the side of his head with his staff. Strom hit the ground heavily, his goat’s legs twitching, and didn’t move. Phoenix was yelling over him, “Quickly! This way!”

He scooped up the end of the meteor hammer and ran after the bird through the darkening trees. The woods seemed empty in every direction, his uncle and the Centaurs no where in sight. The bird darted through limbs and yellow leaves. They followed alongside a bank in a dry creek bed for a ways. Logan quickly chucked the meteor hammer into the dense leaves lying at the bottom. He had no idea how to use the thing but didn’t want it back in Strom’s hands.

An enormous explosion above him brightened everything around, casting painted black shadows all over the ground. A peal of thunder roared through the air. He looked up and saw the two starboards appear, moving in out of each other, only now a huge eagle was swooping in, talons extended, attacking the red coat. Something black fell away from the figure and slowly wobbled as it fell to the earth. It landed with a dull thud in a pile of leaves a short distance away. Logan ran to it and dug through the leaves. There at the bottom lay the ivory scroll, bits of the white smoldering with black.

“The map!” Logan cried. Phoenix landed by and looked up at him. “The only way to stop this is to get to the Throne first. Luke said people find help there…”

“We could use some help.” Phoenix agreed.

Logan moved to a dusty spot and smoothed the dirt out. Carefully rolling the scroll over it, an image appeared. He looked at the bumps and grooves and saw something that made his heart leap. An X. A beautifully ornate X was dug into the ground right above a bean-shaped blob, a small curving line snaking away underneath it.

“That’s the creek bed!” Phoenix said, pecking the s-shaped line on the map. “I remember seeing it like this from the sky.”

Logan looked back and traced his finger along. “Then we should be somewhere along here. Which means the Throne of Grace is just up along the creek… that way!”

He jumped to his feet and started running. Phoenix soared right beside him like his own personal kite. He yelled over, “We have to signal to the others to come this way!”

“I’m on it!” The bird said and swerved upward.

“Look out!” she screamed.

Sterling threw himself to the ground. Chara swung her pewter shield, surprising the twin with a clean knock to the head. The Lampade dropped to the ground limp. An instant later a scream rang out from a distance away. Sterling, clutching the cut in his arm, searched but saw no one else around.

“Where’s Logan?” he asked. Chara shook her head, rubbing her shoulder.

“Where’s Priam?” she asked. Sterling hadn’t realized the Centaur had disappeared. Or the bear or anybody. No one was in the area save for the two unconscious Men-at-War on the ground. He walked over to Chara, panic creeping up on him.

“We have to find them!”

They headed back to where Bo had been. The closer they got the louder it became. The snarling was horrifying, and the ground shook. As they crested a small hill they saw the clash. Bo was looking beaten, his clothes torn revealing an amazing display of dark brown stone on his back that seamlessly melded with his skin. Samara, with patches of matted red fur streaking her hide, was crouching back and growling, ready to attack. They waited for the other to move. The bear relaxed a little and stood straight up, reaching well into the branches. The two on the hill could see the triumphant smile slip over the Oread’s lips as he charged the beast.

Right before they met, Samara pounced down directly onto the Oread’s weapon. Her weight was too much and Bo’s attack went straight to the ground. With her feet holding the iron staff down, she bit the arm still holding on. Bo yelled, and let go of the weapon. Samara went back to her standing position, ready.

A thundering stampede came up from behind Bo. He turned to see Priam charging from behind, when Samara pounced down on his shoulders, pinning him a few feet from her. He struggled to push her away clawing at her paws, but she stood solid. Priam ran straight at the mountain nymph, his giant sword leveled under his arm like a joust. He rammed into him hard, the sword piercing through his belly and exiting through the soft skin on the small of the Oread’s back where the rock hide didn’t spread.

The giant looked down at it quizzically. He looked back up at Priam, smacking him in the chest with weak blows. Then Samara swatted him aside. Priam held his sword tight, and it slipped out soundlessly as the nymph fell into the dirt. The blade glistened with a watery brown. Bo lay still in the dead leaves.

The Centaur and bear saw the others on the hill and quickly made for them. As they neared, Chara could see that Priam was also battered, his face bruised.

“What happened?” she asked.

“I tried to help Samara. They flailed around too much; I couldn’t get him and miss her. So I pretended to run away.”

“Thank you.” the bear said, wheezy. “I don’t know how much longer I could have held out.”

The noble Centaur nodded. Then Chara gasped. They all turned back to where Bo had been, but no one was there. The woods were completely empty.

An explosion from above gathered their attention. Ares and Apollo and now the giant eagle, Artemis, fought regally in the sky. Although fire spat out in great arcing waves, and light shot in every direction, the explosion had been thunder. The paling blue sky behind the Olympians alluded to no storm. Another flash of light, only jagged and white, ripped across the sky. A deafening roar rained down on them.

“Lightning?” the bear asked, confused.

“Where is Logan?” Priam asked.

“We don’t know, but we have to find him. Things are getting really dangerous.” Sterling yelled.

Priam grabbed Sterling’s hand and pulled him up neatly onto his back. “We’ll keep heading north. It was where we were going, maybe he continued on.”

They pounded through the trees, the hooves and paws ripping across the wild land. Before they had even gotten any distance, a huge fireball exploded into the ground in front of them. The ground rose up in a torrent of dirt and flame. Chara was thrown to the ground, her legs kicking.

Something screeched behind them. Sterling looked up and saw Phoenix flapping frantically, and right behind him, another fireball.

“Look out!” the bird screamed. It hit closer to Priam this time, and he was tossed into the air, landing heavily on a tangle of roots. Sterling flew farther, ramming into the trunk of a tree.

A deep yell rang out above them, where Apollo had gained a hit. Ares dismissed the ones on the ground and turned his attention back to his luminous opponent. Sterling silently cheered his companions on, wondering at the arrogance of trying to attack them and fend off two Olympians.

After a brief respite, they all picked themselves groggily out of the leaves. No one seemed terribly hurt, although Sterling was fairly sure his shoulder had compressed back into his spine. Only the bear remained motionless. Chara managed to pick herself up and reach Samara.

“She’s unconscious. But I think she’s ok.”

Phoenix landed on the ground near them, ruffling his feathers over and over, his head snapping around almost crazily. “We gotta go! I’ve warned the Olympians! Logan is on his way to the Throne!”

Chapter Thirty-Five

~ The Throne of Grace ~

Logan had been running for what seemed a lifetime. His lungs burned, his head hurt, his legs begged him to stop. While he was running a bolt of lightning had blasted the top of a tree nearby to bits. He felt like his ears would never recover from the crash. Now nothing his legs told him could stop him. He jumped over fallen trees and dodged thorny bush after thorny bush. He was sure he was heading in the right direction, but he was worried about the others.

Then he saw a pond. Its water lay lazily, growing green next to the dry creek.

“The bean shape on the map! It must be right past that pond!”

He climbed up a small hill and dashed down the other side. Boulders lay strewn over the whole area, closing him in. He ran around a few and curved to the left, avoiding a huge slide of rocks, fused together over time. Another incline and the trees started to part a little. The sun was starting to set, setting the autumn trees ablaze. The wind whispered subtly through the branches. The trees were taller here, and farther apart. Abruptly, he stopped.

In front of him was something he had not been expecting. Three of the biggest trees he had ever seen in his life loomed before him. Each one was thick with rough bark, as wide as houses. Their branches pronged out in all directions, weaving in and out of each other. Their roots did the same, meshing from one to the next, making it impossible to know where one tree started and the other began.

But most magnificent of all was that these three stalwart towers were curved, bowing to each other, their tops leaning in, the gold leaves of one mixing dazzlingly with the scarlet of the other, mixing with the deep orange of the last. They stood in a circle, their roots creating a sort of courtyard, their canopies a roof. This was it. He knew it deep down inside, that this was the Throne of Grace.

He walked up to it slowly, almost reverently, for its beauty demanded it. The wind and fading sunlight caressed the Throne, treating it like a king. He had wondered what Luke had meant about a place having life in the very air around. He could see now, he could feel what he was talking about. Here, he felt safe.

Something whistled in the air past him. He turned and saw an arrow twanging in the bark of a tree. When he twisted back around, one of the twins slashed down her blade. He jumped back in time but stumbled, the staff falling from his hand. The blade came swishing through the air again, but again missed. He staggered backwards as fast as he could until he bumped up against a tree. He could see twin 2 behind her sister, holding a bow in her hand, smiling wickedly.   There was no where to go. He suddenly remembered the copper dagger at his waist and fumbled it out. The second it was out twin 1 flicked it from his hand. He couldn’t move anywhere and now the twin edged up closer. She smiled. Logan couldn’t believe such a pretty face would be so heartless. In a nimble thrust, her sword came straight for his heart.

And then everything slowed down. He could see the shining metal coming toward him, feel the gritty bark on his back. And without any warning, Logan’s legs were swept out from under him. He fell sharply straight to the ground, the sword burying itself into the tree. The blade danced above him, the twin tugging uselessly on it. He glanced around to see who had pushed him but there was no one. The Lampade gave up on the stuck sword, retrieving Logan’s dagger. But before she had time to make another move, a huge figure bowled her over.

The girl went skidding through the dirt, stopping very close to the roots of the Throne. Priam stood over Logan, panting heavily. Behind him twin 2 raised her bow and aimed for the Centaur. Out of nowhere a bronze bull with a broken horn appeared, and tossed her up into the air. Before she even landed the bull shifted into a speckled panther and pounced, slashing at her back. She screamed, and her twin did the same. Logan looked over at twin 1, the one Priam had charged into, and saw three slashes in her back. Looking back over at the one under Artemis’ claws he saw the identical wound.

“Are you alright?” Priam asked.

“I think so…” Logan guessed.

Priam peered down at him squinting. “What’s on you?”

Logan looked down at his chest and hands to find tiny flakes of gold speckled on his clothes. He brushed them away, but they only clung to his fingers. He looked back up at his friend and shook his head, “I… I don’t know what to say.”

Priam began to help him up, then cried out. Strom had leapt onto his back and buried a dagger right above his shoulder blade. The Centaur grunted and swung his flanks around. The Satyr began to slip from his back, and right when he lost his grip Priam pounded him mid-air, driving him hard into the ground. He reached for his shoulder but winced at the attempt to twist. Logan quickly clambered onto a rock and reached up. Holding his breath, yanked the dagger from Priam’s flesh. The Centaur didn’t make a sound, “Thank you.”

“No problem.” Logan said, staring at the red covered blade.

Another scream and Logan saw Chara sailing from the woods, her horse legs kicking in such a pitiable way, tossing Sterling through the air.

Twin 2 scrambled away from the Tora panther before the Olympian disappeared underneath Chara’s bulk with a crashing thud. A few seconds later a small armadillo squeezed out from under the Centaur’s back. Sterling sailed through the air and met the ground with an equally cringing smack, still clinging to his sword.

Priam ran over to his sister and reached her just as her assailant strolled out of the woods. Bo looked bruised and trodden, and a dark brown smear dripped from his belly, but he was as fierce as ever.

Logan got up and fumbled for his staff. Strom, nearby, was blearily starting to sit up. In a moment of panic, Logan quickly smacked the Satyr in the head again sending him back to the ground. But the other Men-at-War were beginning to rouse and surround the beaten group. He ran to his uncle, who was pushing himself up on an elbow. He had nasty scratches running from his shoulder down his arm. Priam was down on his knees by Chara who seemed dazed.

“Got anything left in ya, Olympian?” Bo sneered at Tora.

The armadillo instantly morphed from hide to hair, a hissing panther, completely black this time.

There was a whooshing sound with a glint of silver in the falling light. Ares landed right in front of the Throne, his feet shaking the ground. He looked entirely different. His coat was gone, and he was covered in a thin, black, rock-like hide that pulsed at the edges with fiery heat. It was like molten armor, each piece separated with fire itself. His orange eyes burned past it all, hotter than any fire he could conjure.

“No, no, no, Tora. No more playing. You are beaten, surrounded, and our dear Apollo, taken care of. What more can you do? Scratch me with your claws?”

He took a deep breath and breathed a torrent of fire. A ring of flames erupted around them, cutting off any escape in every direction. The Dragon of Olympus smiled and turned to the giant trees.

Tora was not deterred. She instantly turned back into the bronze bull and ran through the fire as if it weren’t there. The bull charged the armored Olympian, but just before it could reach him, Ares swished around with his sword pointed right between the bull’s eyes. In a blinding crack, a bolt of lightning threw the bull back into the ring of flames.

Logan ran over to Tora, twitching on the ground. She was switching from bull to raccoon to white doe to alligator, involuntarily transforming with each spasm from the shock. He tried to help, but every time he tried to get close she would change again.

Ares smugly returned to his prize. “So this is the Throne of Grace. One of the ancient Seven. I wondered if I’d ever see one again.” He gazed up to where the red, orange and gold leaves stewed. “What secrets do you hold, I wonder?”

He walked through the gateway the trees created into the courtyard between. Slowly strolling amidst them, he peered at each monolith, studying them. Finally, he stopped near the red leafed one and asked, “What can you tell me? Tell me of… my past. Help me remember…” he whispered.

“This place,” Sterling grunted, gaping at the area. “This place…” he whispered, staring at the trees with such confusion Logan wondered if he had hit his head.

Ares held a hand against the mighty tree, and closed his eyes. Nothing happened and the flames surrounding them seemed to get hotter. Gently, Ares lifted his blazing blade and leaned it near the trunk. “Must I take it from you?” He slowly etched a burn down the bark, leaving a trail of black.

A deep groan rose from somewhere, coming from no direction and every direction. It sounded like the wind picked up. All the trees around started to rustle and shake, though Logan felt no breeze on his skin. He looked out into the forest and his eye lit on a small flashing figure. It looked like a fairy, its tiny leaf wings flapping wildly. The little face smiled at him before flying away.

There was help.

“Tora.” he said, trying to get the attention of the black bear in front of him. It twitched, writhing a little. Chara, gaining enough clarity to help, reached out her hand and touched the bear next to her. It instantly relaxed and slid back gently into the stunning form of a black panther. The panther turned its yellow eyes on Logan.

“The trees. It’s the trees.” he said trying to explain. She stared at him. “The Throne of Grace is where someone receives help when they need it.”

“Yes.” she rasped.

“So, it’s the trees. They are the help!”

She shook her head, “I don’t…”

“Trees, Tora! That’s your expertise. Ask for help!”

She looked around. “How?”

“I don’t know… you’re a Dryad! Sing! Sing help like a Dryad would! Ask the trees!”

She cocked her head a little, but finally turned back to the Throne. Lifting her head into the air and closing her eyes, she began to sing. The notes lifted and dropped from one to the other like leaves in a breeze. Her voice was golden in the sunset, and the trees began to settle. Logan was so bound by the beautiful sound that he couldn’t tell what she sang. But the forest responded.

Low and rumbling, a drone nestled under her. Then other voices began to join. They mixed and paralleled each other, entrancing everyone. Everyone except Ares.

He looked around, searching for the music, growing furious. He scuttled in a circle, raising his flaming sword above his head. The music grew louder and louder. In a terrible moment, Tora’s song reached a haunting crescendo, almost like a scream. At the same moment, Ares brought his burning sword down furiously on the red tree’s trunk.

What happened the next moment was unclear. It seemed to Logan like the trees near the Throne began to bend and group together, their branches gripping each other into rough shapes. The trunks began to creak and snap, bursting out of the dirt with explosions of sod. Everyone gaped at the twisting trees, frozen under impossible movement.

The trees dipped and shifted until a new shape towered before them. It was a golden buck, its four legs the trunks of trees, its lithe body entangled with the meshed braches. It looked down slowly at them from its lofty head adorned with majestic branch antlers.

“A Forest Guardian.” Logan gaped.

“They still exist…” Tora whispered, her eyes sparkling.

The Guardian lifted its leg and stamped the ground like an earthquake.

Suddenly, dozens of people appeared out of nowhere. They sprang from the trunks of nearby trees as if they had been inside them. Several of the trees actually transformed from bark to flesh. There were so many of them and they were so tall that Logan wasn’t even sure they were real.

With their appearance, the towering Guardian attacked. It charged for the Men-at-War giving them no time to react. One massive swing of its head sent Bo flying away into the woods. The other Men-at-War dodged the massive tree legs as it loped by, but the onslaught of Dryads quickly overwhelmed them.

“Dryads!” Tora gasped.

Inside the Throne, Ares fought boldly. His mind was so focused on the surge of Dryads piling on him that the fires surrounding Logan and his friends sputtered out. He swung his sword with expert motions fending off almost every challenging Dryad blade and club that crossed him. The fire immersing his sword caught several Dryads aflame and sent them darting off into the darkening woods, only to have waves more take their place. Despite his ferocity, he came to the realization that there were too many. When the

Guardian buck spun around and started its charge toward the Olympian, Ares held up his sword, the blade pointing at his feet. The Dryads stopped and surrounded him. For a few breaths everything was still and silent.

“Look out!” Tora yelled. The Dryads did not know all of Ares’ powers. He slammed the point of his sword into the ground.

A huge shock and rumble shook the ground and everyone around the Olympian was blasted away, as if they had been at the center of an earthquake. The Guardian stumbled and slipped, ramming hard into the trunk of the orange topped Throne tree.

Only Ares remained in the Throne’s courtyard. He strode out with confidence. What Men-at-War were still around had been thrown from the shock as well, freed from the Dryads in the confusion. They scrambled up and skirted into the woods, a few Dryads rushing after them.

“Men-at-War!” he bellowed to them, but they weren’t coming back.

A hail of arrows started streaming out from the woods, each glancing off the volcanic rock that covered Ares’ skin. He bolstered himself, and strode confidently out, on his own. He stopped in front of the Throne and leaned on his fiery sword, as if he were master of the monument.

The Forest Guardian regained its balance and darted toward him. With a graceful sweep, he dodged the charge and struck the nearest leg. The Guardian kicked out, sending him flying back into one of the Throne’s huge trunks. The Dryads who had recovered resumed their attack, trying to overwhelm him again, but he swung his sword expertly fending them off, his feet scorching the grass and dead leaves, his hands smoking. The sea of nymphs would soon overtake him despite his brutal efforts.

“You think you can fight me?” he roared, “I am a god!”

With a flashing swipe, and a crack of lightning, the Dryads were blasted back from him. They fell to the ground, twitching and smoking. Ares sword still sparked, bolts shooting between the blade and the dirt.

“I am a GOD!” he roared.

A rogue arrow unexpectedly flew through the trees, burying itself deep into Ares’ shoulder right between where the rock plates met. The Olympian cried out. He pulsed with a shining light.

Tora, who had found her way back to her feet, took the opportunity to transform into a rhino and drill into Ares. He soared back into the Throne’s courtyard, skidding to a stop. She tried to ram him again, but despite his wounds he sent her stumbling back to Logan and the Centaurs with one swipe of his sword.

Logan turned and saw Apollo floating down to where they were, bow in hand, his black wings flapping in a labored way. He looked terrible, burnt and cut, but he smiled when he landed among them. He looked to the heap of Ares on the ground.

“You are no god. And you have no where else to go.” He flicked his wrist, making the arrow in Ares’ shoulder glow. Ares cried out in pain. “Your Men-at-War have abandoned you, and you can only hold us off with your quakes for so long.”

Alone, Ares hunched on the ground as the Dryads surrounded him. The giant Guardian hovered over the group of Olympians, Men and Centaurs, lowering its antlers toward him. His orange eyes darted back and forth from the crowd of Dryads to the misfits who dared oppose him. Each glance was like a spark from a fire. Gripping the arrow in his skin, he held out his sword, his fists white with panic, the tip of the blade shaking. He shuffled to his feet, but there was no where he could go.

“Stop this, Ares!” Artemis yelled.

His nose wrinkled. He pulled his sword around until the tip faced behind him. His defiance was impressive.

“I need no help. I can face all of you.”

“You don’t change, do you?” Artemis said. In response, Ares spit on the ground, the spot where it landed catching fire.

“Why are you doing all of this, Ares?” Apollo asked, genuinely confused. “Why have hurt so many? What could possibly deserve all of this?”

“You deserve to know nothing.” he spat, stumbling a little.

Luke waved his hand again, illuminating the embedded arrow and making Ares howl.

“I won’t tell you anything. Face me!” he roared, his molten armor searing.

“You can’t be serious.” Tora taunted.

“Just stop this now. It’s gone far enough.” Luke coaxed.

But Ares was unrelenting. Logan racked his brain for anything that might stop Ares. Some way to fight him, maybe with water. Or a way to scare him… if that was even possible.

And then something from True Mythology sprang back to him. Something it had said about Ares.

In a moment of bizarre boldness he jumped forward. “You don’t know anything.” Logan accused.

The Olympian glared at him. “I know more than you can imagine, boy. I have civilizations rise and fall. How dare you accuse me.”

Luke looked back at Logan curiously.

“You were asking me the questions back in the Chariot.” He was grasping for anything now, and he went with the first thing that popped into his head. “If you’re so powerful, why do you need the Throne? You didn’t even know about it! You didn’t even know it existed! I thought you were a god!”

Ares’ shoulders caught on fire. Luke began to catch on. “A god wouldn’t need help, Ares,” Luke taunted, “What is this all about? Has someone put you up to this? Are you doing this for someone else?”

Something in that hit a nerve. In a fiery fit, the Olympian roared, the air around him exploding. A sphere of flame burst out around him, lightning arcing out in their direction. Logan covered his head and waited for it to engulf them all, certain they had gone too far. But the explosion dissolved to a golden glow. Apollo floated in the air between Ares and the group, his black wings flapping magnificently silhouetted against the golden wall of light before of him, shimmering like melting ice. It disappeared, and Luke let out a huge breath. He slowly sank back to the ground.

The shield had not been big enough, and the Forest Guardian stomped around them wildly above them, nearly trampling them. It loped away almost in slow motion, the leaves on its antlers aflame. The dry leaves still stuck on the surrounding trees also had caught fire. The Dryads darted back and forth trying to extinguish them, racing to the creek to get water. The Centaurs joined them, futilely smacking at the flames or tossing dirt on them.

The blaze of Ares had extinguished and dimmed, his rock armor crumbling away. Despite all the fire he stood on a frozen patch of ground, the frost crunching beneath his feet. He held himself proudly, but looked considerably weakened. Only the Olympians remained staring at each other in the chaos, and the Men. Logan looked over at his uncle, who in the midst of wildfires and earthquakes still gazed at the giant trees like they were home. “This place is so familiar…” he whispered.

Logan was going to ask Sterling what he meant but Ares spoke, his voice booming.

“I needed to know, Apollo. I needed to know who he was. Where he was.”

Tora stepped forward, “What are you talking about?”

A wash of dread flushed the warrior’s face. “I lost him. My… my….” he struggled with the word. Tora and Luke looked at each.

“Your…” Tora helped.

Genos…” he spat.

The word made him grimace.  It made him huff and snort.

Apollo and Artemis looked shocked.

He told me he would help me remember, if I helped him, he would find my…find my…” but Ares couldn’t say it. He snapped off the arrow in his shoulder in a fit of rage, “I NEED TO KNOW! HOW CAN I LIVE WITHOUT KNOWING!?” The Olympian shook his head, sidling back farther toward the Throne.

All Luke and Tora could do was shoot shocked, knowing glances at each other.

“He’s worse than before,” Ares mumbled, “I thought it would it would get me the knowledge I needed, I had no choice but to do what he asked.” He moved further back. “But he’s so terrible now…”

“You’re working for someone?” Apollo asked.

“You never work under others!” Artemis exclaimed.

Ares shook his head. Turning he began to move away. Luke conjured chains of light streaming through the air, latching Ares wrists to the ground. He yanked at the bonds.

Tora moved in closer as her Dryad self. “We could have helped you, Ares. Why wouldn’t you come to us? Is your pride so great?”

He sneered, the arrogance wafting from him. “You are no match for him. He has power far beyond our own.” A burst of fire dissolved the light chains. “I don’t know how, but he is greater…”

“Who is he? Who are you working for?” Apollo asked, calmly.

Ares bumped into one of the three bowing trees and glanced back at it. He stood poised, facing his enemies, and pointed his sword back and ready. Something in his posture showed of decision. There was a resolute calm amid his fiery anger.

“You should know. If only to prepare yourselves for the end.” Haughtily, he spat, “Zeus.”

He reveled in the knowledge, his last bit of pride stealing the understanding of his enemies.

No one spoke, the silence heavy. Logan could see shock in the two Olympian’s demeanor even though he could not see their faces. “No…” Tora whispered, “That can’t be…”

The Centaurs had rejoined them. The still moments grew stale, until Ares burst out, “I don’t need him anymore. I’ll remember. I’ll get the knowledge myself and be free! Even if I have to take it!”

In a swift, powerful jab he thrust his sword behind him, slicing into the trunk of the tree. There was a white crack, and then a deep hum began to grow

“No!” Sterling screamed. His face stretched in horror. “Don’t hurt it!” He bolted for the Throne.

“Uncle Sterling!” Logan cried, taking off after him.

Ares looked back at his blade, stuck in the bark watching a white hot light travel up the steel. The Dryads nearby moved away, the fires they’d been dousing unimportant now. Utter horror etched across all their faces from Ares’ unthinkable actions.

The light from the gash in the Throne grew brighter and the hum louder as it ran up Ares’ arms. Sterling was only a few strides away. Just before he could reach his uncle, Logan caught sight of the look of terror on Ares’ face; the revelation he’d made an enormous mistake. Then in a blinding flash, the light overtook everything. A breath later a bass force rumbled throughout the woods throwing Logan from his feet, landing hard on the ground.

Logan didn’t know how long he’d laid there or what had even happened. He could only really comprehend the pain running through his bones. When he finally sat up, the world was silent, though figures moved around him. One large shape rolled on the ground nearby. He recognized a rhino pushing itself up onto its feet. The thing shook its mighty head and pawed the ground. Slowly, it started slimming. The horns shrank back down into its nose, and the arms stretched with a feminine grace. When it stood on its back legs, Logan could see Tora’s face sprouting from the rough gray skin.

She looked at him when she was whole again, a reassuring smile on her face, and then rubbed her arm. Logan became acutely aware of his own aches from the explosion. He had landed on his right knee and his arm was scraped raw from skidding along the ground. Priam appeared behind him looking no worse than before, and helped him to his feet. He spoke to Logan, but Logan still couldn’t hear.

The explosion had been immense but everything around him was just as it had been before it all. Dryads were picking themselves up off the ground or exiting the trees they had managed to reach before the shockwave. The fires had been blown out, leaving the area eerily dark. Luke, now wingless, was looking at Tora’s shoulder. And Uncle Sterling…

It was then that he saw him. Chara was bent over the twitching mass, trying to pin the man down. Logan pushed past Priam and dropped to his uncle’s side. He was convulsing on the ground, right at the feet of the Throne, his eyes ground shut and teeth gnashing. He knew he must be crying out in pain but Logan’s ears still failed him. He tried to ask Chara what was wrong but she just shook her head, unable to hear as well. They struggled to pull his arms apart and restrain him but he was so strong they could barely stop him from lashing out. Luke raced over and slammed his hands down on Sterling’s shoulders, pinning him. Chara took the split second to fling her hand on Sterling’s forehead, and a rippling blue light cascaded over his features. His limbs relaxed, his face calmed and he laid flat on the ground.

Logan was panting, still holding his uncle’s hand down. As the scene finally sunk in, he felt something wet under his fingers. When he looked down he almost flung Sterling’s hand away, but his alarm froze him. Most of Uncle Sterling’s exposed skin was covered in oozing burns, and where he and Chara had tried to hold Sterling down was raw and bleeding. He looked back at Chara and she was already healing the injured arm, the blue glow under both her hands. Her eyes were squeezed shut with effort.

Luke pulled Logan from the dirt, using his shirt to wipe Logan’s hands off. He was saying something, trying to pull Logan away from Sterling, but all Logan could make out was ‘worry’ and ‘alright’. Logan couldn’t tear his eyes away from the body. The ooze of red, his uncle’s mouth agape like he was dead. He wondered if his brother James had looked like this, when he’d left him. When he’d abandoned him.

Luke continued to wipe the blood and water from Logan’s hands and the constant sensation steadied his mind. He finally looked away from his uncle, sweating and twitching, and stared at nothing. After a minute, he realized that Luke was still rubbing his hands, but they were already clean. When Logan looked him in the eye, Luke nodded and asked dimly, “You a’right?”

Logan feebly responded, and Luke let him go, rushing over to Chara to aid her. As Logan stood there alone, trying to organize everything that had happened within the last few minutes, his gaze drifted to the Throne of Grace. The Dryads were surrounding it, a few reverently inspecting the area where Ares had driven his sword into the trunk. But all that was left was a black line burnt in the bark, the only remnant of an Olympian. Sterling had been only a few feet away from Ares, only inches from the explosion. It was a wonder he was still alive. He slowly turned back to his uncle who was so still the panic seeped back into him. He rushed over and fell at Sterling’s feet. Chara quickly looked at him and nodded. Relieved, Logan let air back into his lungs and staggered at the clarity the breath brought. He waited by his uncle, praying he would be ok, watching Luke and Chara cover him in a paste that a Dryad had rushed over.

A glint of light caught his eye some yards away past his uncle. He saw Priam pulling the Olympian’s sword from a tree. It was embedded so deep he was struggling to wrest it free. Logan was amazed at how powerful the explosion had been, to fling a sword so far and drive it so deep, yet the trees around them remained unchanged. He looked back at his uncle, grateful he wasn’t dead.

Chapter Thirty-Six

~ A Moment’s Breath ~

Logan looked over the book to his sleeping uncle. He was lying on a blanket between two trees, completely still. Logan leaned against one of the trees, having sat beside him for hours. He hoped now that the Throne’s help would continue to come for his uncle.

The strange grove of Dryads that had sprung from the neighboring trees were treating them like honored guests. They had quickly helped tend to Uncle Sterling’s wounds, which were almost entirely healed now. It had driven Chara to utter exhaustion, but she insisted on seeing to Priam and Luke’s wounds once she had finished with Sterling. The Olympian had refused until she had had some rest. Reluctantly, she rested soundly nearby.

His uncle seemed much better, but his slumber wasn’t content. Thankfully, most everyone had been clear enough from the blast that only Sterling had received the worst of it. In fact, Logan realized that he was largely unhurt because Sterling had taken the brunt of the force, shielding Logan from a similar fate.

If Chara hadn’t been there… Logan couldn’t think about that. It reminded him of his brother, James. He wanted to scream not knowing if he was safe. He couldn’t stop imaging Sterling’s bloody wounds on his brother, the life draining out of them.

He smacked his head against the tree. That type of thinking wasn’t helping anything. He glanced back down at Sterling. What he couldn’t imagine was what had driven his uncle to run towards something so dangerous, especially after how scared he had been before. It didn’t make any sense.

He watched the Dryads walking around. They were very tall. Or most of them were. The taller the Dryad, the older they looked, and Logan guessed they were more tree than he had first thought. But several were Tora’s height and smaller. In fact, now that all the danger had passed, the littlest were running around. And the Saplings were buzzing about.

The grove had offered them food and he had eagerly accepted. He didn’t know what it was, but it had tasted so good, made even better by the ages it had been since he had sat down and ate a proper meal. He had posted himself next to his uncle since then, reading through True Mythology while he waited for Sterling to put his fears to rest and wake up. Any moment he wasn’t reading he was staring at the man, praying he’d open his eyes.

Or he was staring at the beautiful Throne. Even in the dark, it shone. He could still see the mingle of colors, the stretch of its mighty branches from tree to tree. The Dryads had built a large bonfire nearby, sending shadows and light flickering across the Throne. Logan had been curious why a people so deeply associated with trees would burn wood, but Tora had explained that dead branches and sticks were no more a part of the Dryads than the hair cut from Logan’s head was still a part of him.

A few Dryads played interesting looking flutes near the base of the Throne, the music calming, almost lingering in the air.

Luke appeared from the shadows carrying a black bundle. He slowly eased himself next to Logan on the ground, his cuts and burns still scarring his young face. “How’s he doing?” he needlessly whispered.

Logan looked at Sterling, still slumbering. “The same.”

They sat in silence for a while. Luke said, “You a’right?”

Logan nodded faintly. “Just trying to put it all together.” He sighed. “I’m guessing that’s what happens when you try to take from the Wellspring.”

Luke looked away to the bonfire, “I suppose. I can honestly say I’ve never seen it before.”

“What was the flash of light, the explosion?”

“I don’t know, Logan.” He rubbed the bridge of his nose. “We went walking, Tora and I.”

“Artemis.”

He nodded, “Aye, Artemis. She hid her bow when she first changed. Pretty fond of it, she is. I wanted to see if any of the Men-at-War had dropped anything of value, weapons and such. Or if they were even around anymore.”

“Is that what that is?”

Luke twisted around and pulled the heap of cloth over to him. “Aye. It’s Ares’ coat. Burnt and ripped, but the sheath on the back is still intact.” He pulled the leather straps from the coat. “To have Ares’ sword and sheath… it’s not something I ever imagined I’d have. But we mustn’t let anyone else have it. It’s much too dangerous.”

“Why? Wasn’t Ares just channeling his Gift through it?”

Luke smiled, always ready to teach. Jumping up he ran over to a tree, and ran back, the sword’s blade flickering in the firelight. When he sat again he held the hilt out to Logan. “It wasn’t Ares’ Gift that did it. You see these stones at the end? These are called augment stones.” The gems sparkled, glassy blue, red and yellow. “Very rare, I had a few. I believe the twins were making off with some when they attacked the Valley, at least, I saw the cabinet the stones were in smashed and empty.” He shrugged. “These three stones infuse the sword. They can with any weapon with an augment window, see here?” He traced the setting each sat in, perfect hexagons. “The stones have different… endowments, let’s say. Ares has had these three for as long as I can remember.” He pointed to each one, “Fire, Lightning, and Ice… I guess for if he gets too out of hand with the first two.” He chuckled at his own joke.

Logan just raised an eyebrow.

“Like the emblem on his Chariot. Three swords, three powers.” he guessed.

“That’s very deft of you.” Luke complimented.

“Trust me, it’s hard to forget the front of that Chariot when it’s barreling down on you.”

“Fair point.” Luke said. “Here, watch.” And he held the blade out. The red stone glowed and instantly, the metal burst into flames and burnt quietly on the steel. Then they went out. The next second, the blue stone lit up and Logan felt a chill blow across him, the blade cracking with fresh ice. He handed it to Logan, “You try.” A wry smile crossing his lips.

Logan took it and held it away from him. “What do I do?”

“Tell it to catch on fire. Just think it.”

Logan took a breath and thought as hard as he could about the blade catching fire. It was easy to imagine, having seen it try to take his life over and over. After a few seconds, a tiny flame spurted from the metal, near the charred hilt. Logan laughed, happy anything had happened at all. When he looked over at Luke again, the smile was gone. He cocked his head, a pensive look in his eyes. He twisted the gold bracelets.

“What is it?” Logan asked.

Luke looked at him, and paused. “Nothing, I suppose. It’s just, it takes a touch of the Wellspring to use an augment stone like that.” He looked at Logan, whose green eyes widened.

“Aye, mate.”

He numbly put the sword down between them. Logan unconsciously reached for his staff, and began to trace the silver and copper spiral. When he reached one end his fingers, he found something he had been hoping to find. In the knobby wood of the staff were two small indents, perfect hexagon shapes. He compared them to the three stones in Ares sword, perfect matches. His imagination lit up with what that might lead to.

Logan rubbed his face, trying to wipe the fatigue away. “So much has happened.” Luke nodded, running his hand down the shining blade. “So much still doesn’t make sense,” Logan continued, “Like what was Ares talking about before he… died? Did he die?”

“That one did.” Luke replied. “His prodigy… I wonder where he is, or if he even had one anymore…”

“That’s what he was looking for? His own prodigy? How could he lose someone like that?”

Luke shook his head equally puzzled, “I can’t fathom it’s true. It’s terribly foolish to lose track of them, you wouldn’t know if your life would continue if you were killed. Even if he did, the prodigy would come looking for him. The Link is not something one forgets. It’s burned into you…” He picked at a scabbing cut on his arm. “Everything he said and did was so baffling…”

“Maybe he was just crazy.” Logan offered. “He thought I was a…” he couldn’t even conjure the word, much less believe it.

“An Olympian.” Luke finished, surprised too. “Yeah, he was looking for the tattoo.” Logan’s face was so scrunched up in confusion that Luke cleared his throat and continued. “The tattoo. You mustn’t ever share this with anyone.”

He quickly glanced around to see who was nearby, then pulled his shirt collar down far enough for the skin over his heart to show. Inked into his skin was a design of an old lyre with elegant curves. Behind it were a palm leaf and three rays of light. Logan thought it an interesting tattoo but not something regal or Olympian. Luke could read his expression.

“Doesn’t look like much does it?” Logan shook his head. “That’s the point. Keep things definitive without being too distinctive. If I can recall, Ares’ was… three crossing swords? Like the front of the Chariot, like you said.”

“So how did it get there?” Logan asked.

“It appeared when the previous Apollo died.” Luke said solemnly. “I knew I was it then, I knew the moment it showed up.”

“Why would he think I was an Olympian?” Logan asked, perplexed.

“Well, it is a wee strange.”

Logan looked at him.

“A Man in Katalon? Very rare. It may have been centuries ago, but the banishment never really ended.” He glanced at the Dryads. “Sure, there’s one that slips in here and there, like you, but on the whole…” he shook his head.

“But still, for him to think you were an Olympian… when we haven’t used Men for centuries.”

“You haven’t? Why not?” Logan asked.

“They didn’t believe in us anymore, mate. There would be no considering it, much less offering it.” He coughed, “They also usually end up being very, uh… more trouble than they’re worth.”

Logan could understand that. It seemed a new dictator was cropping up the second you learned the name of the last one. Logan had a hard time believing elemental powers in the hands of a human would be a good idea as well.

They sat quietly together for a while, the firelight dancing on the sword between them. “What does it take to make a prodigy?” Logan asked.

Luke smiled, “Just a hand over a willing heart.”

There was a thumping sound nearby, and they looked up at Chara, stretching her back, her tail twitching. “Ready to get rid of those burns, Luke?”

“Absolutely.” He spared Logan one more look and then got up and followed the Centaur over to a few tall Dryads, the ones that had helped with Uncle Sterling.

Logan spent some time watching the healers rub different pastes and salves on Luke’s injuries. It seemed every second of the journey brought more questions to his mind. He put his staff away and picked up the beaten coat. It felt very odd holding a piece of clothing from someone so terrible. It was so… personal. And now it sat in his lap. He felt through it a little, and his hand knocked against something hard. Flipping it over and checking for pockets, he found one on the inside. Reaching in, he pulled out a silver cigarette case. He remembered seeing the Olympian pocketing it occasionally.

Clicking it open he held it up to the firelight. There were no cigarettes inside. Instead, one side was packed with small pieces of paper, and the other held an old looking key, and a picture. He pulled the picture out, a young red-headed girl staring back at him. She looked ornery, her smile lopsided. But she seemed friendly too. Logan shook his head at the idea of someone so callous carrying around a picture of a girl.

He pulled out the stack of papers and started to rifle through them. Most of them were just names, a town or location written underneath each one. Sometimes there was a picture on the back. He kept looking through them; Jasmine Toulaboy, Leto Ilsa, Leander, Tora Windlimb, they went on and on. And then he stopped.

Elsie Mae Humphrey.

He stared at the name, uncomprehending. It felt like someone holding a gun up to a loved one. Why? What would she possibly have to do with Ares? It couldn’t be about the scroll, Ares had appeared to have no real notion of what the scroll was. He flipped the piece of paper over. There was written, Sterling Humphrey, and in a different pen more hastily and underlined… Logan Rhodotus.

All he could do was stare, transfixed. It made the least sense, and scared him the most. It was ages before he finally wrenched his eyes away from his name written in a psychos hand. He stared over at the fire, trying to put any of the pieces together. Finally, he shoved the papers back into the little silver case, and put the key and picture back, snapping it shut. He shoved it into his pocket. He gazed dumbly at the ruined coat still in his lap.

Something came back to his mind then. Something Ares had said, right before he had blown himself up. It put a completely different light on the situation. Zeus. He had seemed both disgusted and almost proud at the revelation. But if Ares was indeed working for Zeus, then why was Logan’s family so important? How could his great-grandmother possibly be connected to all of this? He looked down at the coat once more, and felt a repulsion growing in him. Casting a quick glance at his uncle, he got up and headed over to the fire.

It was so big that he couldn’t get very close. The heat was wonderful, lightly searing his skin, reminding him he was alive, that he was here not just in thought. As his head cleared he looked over to Luke, the questions burning in him. He wanted to march over and demand to know what was going on, why an Olympian would have another Olympian find him, chase him, kidnap him, attack him. Why would he hurt his family?   Why would he even care about any of them? He wanted to know it at that very moment. But as he watched Luke flinch at some lumpy paste a Dryad was applying to his arm, Chara working on his knee, her rippling blue light odd against the orange of the fire, he realized he couldn’t do it. Not now. In a strange moment, he realized that he cared about Luke. He cared about them all. He turned around and saw Tora among her people, talking happily while lightly stroking Samara. Samara gingerly licked her wounds clean. He saw Priam a ways off, with a very tall Dryad, the nymph taking an oddly shaped stone across one of Priam’s big swords over and over.

It wasn’t their fault. He couldn’t demand anything of them. They had already saved him too many times to count in only a few days, and really he was just a stranger to them. He looked back at the red cloth.

He hurled the coat into the fire. It was consumed almost instantly. Ares would demand. He still wanted to know what was going on, but he vowed never to be like that tyrant.

He would figure things out in time.

Chapter Thirty-Seven

~ The End of a Beginning ~

When Logan woke the next day, the sky shone brightly. The warm colors against the rich blue sky warmed his soul. When he walked into the midst of the Throne, he saw a great group of the Dryads were gathered around.

Luke and Tora were speaking with a few of the taller Dryads. Priam and Chara were standing nearby listening carefully, and Samara with Phoenix perched on her back not too much farther. They reminded Logan of a very odd family portrait.

He cautiously approached the crowd. One of the Dryads saw him, which turned Luke around. He waved him closer. Logan took a deep breath.

When Logan stepped up to group Luke said, “This concerns you too.”

The tallest Dryad continued. “So we are very grateful for your help in fighting off the Warlock. But we are dismayed they were brought here at all. The Throne of Grace has been eternally scarred.”

“We are sorely regretful of that, Master Weald.” Luke said.

“It was never our intention.” Tora added.

He nodded his head, “Be that as it may, the deed was still done.” He spoke thoughtfully, each word considered before it was spoken. “We must ask how it was that you found the Throne. Many have stumbled upon this hidden grove in their time of need, but yours was deliberate. You were traveling here with purpose. There were too many of you.” He pointed at Logan. “This Man knew precisely where he was going.”

Luke turned to him and whispered, “Go get it.”

Logan quickly nodded and ran after the scroll. When he returned, he gingerly handed the map over to the Dryad, his face looking down on him from well above Priam’s height. Weald took the scroll and examined it closely. After several minutes of scrutiny he peered down at Logan, his green eyes questioning.

“Where did you get this, Man?”

Logan cleared his throat. “I found it. It was hidden in a theatre in my town. My great-grandmother hid it there. I don’t… I don’t know why.”

The Dryad nodded his head very slowly, like a tree branch bobbing in the wind. He looked to his fellow Dryads and spoke briefly with them in a very strange language. It was long and purposeful, like a drone or sigh. After they all nodded to each other the tallest spoke again.

“We remember these. This is very, very rare. Only three maps were made to the Throne. For of all the Taproots on Creation, the Throne is the one that has been known the longest.” He leaned down to them. “Only three Clans were given a map, and only one grove in that Clan. The Oaks were given one, and the Sequoias another. The last was left here for our grove, in case a Dryad ever need leave this place, but it was destroyed long ago. So tell me,” he leaned down even farther, “How did you, a Man, come to have this map?”

“My… my great-grandmother, she-”

“Yes,” he interrupted, “but how did she come upon it?”
Logan just stared at him. He had played with the idea since he first found it, even more so when he discovered what it actually was. Could a regular woman come upon something so special from a mythical world? Was it passed down to her? Dig she dig it up? Steal it? Buy it? She had to have known about Katalon, or else why would she have the book? All he could manage to say was, “I’m not sure.”

Master Weald leaned back, his head towering back into the air. He dipped it slowly, “Very well. But you should know that only a Dryad would have this. I wouldn’t be surprised if she were, in fact, Dryad.”

Logan snapped his head over to Tora, who was raising her eyebrow in equal surprise. Luke, beside her, smiled and shrugged. When Logan looked back to Weald he said weakly, “I hadn’t thought of that.”

A smile crept across old nymph’s face. “That being the case, this map was not entirely in the wrong hands. But I must ask you sincerely… would this scroll be secure in your possession?”

He looked around, every eye on him. He looked to Chara who winked. And then he saw Priam, staring at him intently. They locked eyes for a few moments and a rare, but modest, smile spread on Priam’s face. The Centaur looked to the tallest Dryad. “I believe the Man is capable of keeping it safe.”

Logan felt a flutter in his gut, around his stomach. Chara nodded and said, “I do, too.”

Luke joined in, “Absolutely!”

And then Logan and Tora’s eyes met. She examined him then. It felt like she was inside his head, scrutinizing him. At last, she looked up to Master Weald. “I can think of none better.” She didn’t smile but she was resolute.

The Dryad dipped his head again and reached down to Logan, the scroll extended. Logan glanced from it to the Dryad. “But… I lost it once. What if someone like Ares finds this place again? I don’t know if it would be smart to-”

“Your friends certainly think so. And the word of a Dryad seals it for us.” He smiled warmly. “Just be more diligent now that you know what it leads to.” Logan gently took it from his hand, the ivory heavy with a new weight.

“Besides,” he continued, rising up to his full height, “What good is a map at its destination? Someday you may need to the find the Throne of Grace again. It is not meant to be a hidden place, unused… just a protected one.”

The only thing he could say back was, “Thank you.”

“Ohhh…Mother Teresa had a baby…” he moaned.

“Are you sure you’re ok, Uncle Sterling?”

He nodded weakly, “Yes, I’m much better now.”

“And you can’t remember what happened?”

“No, it’s like I said. There was a bright light and I woke up this morning. I think I have a concussion.”

They walked through the woods once again. The Throne grove had been very kind to them, giving them food for the rest of the journey. And then they had set out, farther north. Away from home. Logan wasn’t sure where they were going, Luke would only say that he called a friend the night before. It was slow going, Sterling leaning against his nephew.

“I just don’t understand why you would run toward the evil, fire-breathing Olympian. What were you thinking?” Logan asked.

He sighed, “I knew that place, Logan. It was so familiar. You remember that story I told you of being lost in the woods as a kid?” Logan nodded. “I think I found the Throne of Grace back then.”

Logan shook his head, confused. “So you really have been here before.”

“I guess so. I just remember that feeling, that safe feeling I had when I was lost. I couldn’t let him hurt a place that was so … I guess I wasn’t really thinking clearly…”

So his family was tied to this world. His great-grandmother a Dryad and his uncle finding a Taproot as a child. Who else had traversed Katalon that he didn’t know?

Finally, Chara couldn’t stand watching Sterling shuffle along in pain any longer and convinced him to let her carry him. He was reluctant but then stumbled and stubbed his toe. Now he rode sidesaddle, leaning up against her back. Chara couldn’t stop smiling.

A time passed before Tora joined Logan. Her dark bow was back in its place on her back. They continued silently for a time until Logan said, “Thank you… for what you said.”

“Just don’t prove me wrong.”

Logan smiled despite himself. He was getting used to Tora’s harsh manner of care. After more silence she reached into a pocket and pulled out something jangling. She held out her hand, the bronze medallion swinging from her fingers. He checked her expression; she raised her eyebrows in return. Cautiously, he took it.

He rubbed the familiar oak leaf under his thumbs, realizing how much he had missed it. “Why now?”

She cleared her throat, “If Master Weald was correct, and you have Dryad heritage… then it only seems right for you to have it.” He looked for her expression but she kept her gaze forward. “I was considering giving it to you last night anyway. The way you knew to ask the Throne…”

“Thank you.” He slipped it over his head, pleased at the weight back on his neck. It thumped against his chest like a second heartbeat.

She cleared her throat, glancing around. “I was wrong before. I treated you unfairly. I’ve never had good experiences with Man.   But…”

He waited for her to continue. She cleared her throat again. “The Dryads are not my only people. The night you asked me why I looked different from the Valley Dryads. It’s because I’m only… half Dryad.”

She looked at him trying to gauge his reaction. Logan only looked eager for the rest of the story, nothing else. Surprised, she continued, “My father was a Native of America. His tribe held a high honor for the trees. He went to the woods once, to commune with it, learn from it. My mother fell in love.”

They continued to walk along, navigating the leaf strewn path in silence. “So I guess we’re not as different as you thought.” Logan said.

“Apparently not.” she said, watching the Centaur in front of her.

Phoenix flapped from Samara’s back up to Luke who was leading them. He perched lightly on the Olympian’s arm and began a conversation.

“So,” Logan began, “what did your father do? Did he, join the Valley or- ”

Tora’s hand smacked his chest, stopping him completely. “No one knows about him. And no one will.” He flinched at the intensity in her eyes. An intensity that betrayed a little fear. She almost seemed afraid that one of the others would overhear their conversation. He just nodded, and she let him go.

After walking for some time in silence he ventured a new topic. “Tora,” Logan remembered, “Last night, before Ares disappeared. He said something that shocked you, didn’t it?”

“Zeus.”

It felt odd hearing her say it. “Zeus.”

“That’s what we were speaking about before you woke this morning.”

“Oh. Well, would you, could you tell me what…”

“Luke trusts you. That’s enough for me. So I will tell you what we discussed. But know this, we are just as confused as you will be.”

“Alright…”

“For as long as I can remember, Zeus has been…dangerous. In the beginning he led us, mostly because he was the most powerful among us. But when the Pantheon finally ended, he was not willing to let it. Having the position of power for so long was no doubt difficult to part with. Since then he has been unpredictable and, a menace, at best.”

“So if Ares is working for him…”

“But Ares would never serve under someone.” she insisted.

“Ok, so that means he’s up to something really bad? Bad like what?”

“Like if Zeus is involved, everyone is in danger. And I mean, everyone, including Mankind. He never does anything small.”

She stopped. After a pause she turned to look in his eyes. Chara gently clopped by them, Sterling still napping on her back. “You remember what Luke told you, about us? How we have…” She glanced around, then whispered, “Prodigies?”

He nodded, holding back a smile. “The danger in our prodigies is if they are killed without us knowing. It leaves us vulnerable to a Final Death. Without our Prodigies, our Olympian selves would end, forever.”

He leaned back a little from her intense gaze. “Like a normal person.”

“Which we aren’t.” she said, jabbing his chest. “Over fifty years ago, there was an… incident. A heinous fight broke out among some of the Olympians. Zeus fought wildly, but he was unaware of one thing.”

Logan’s eyes widened. “His Prodigy…”

“Was gone. And then he was struck down.”

His mouth fell open a little, “You mean…”

“Yes, Zeus is supposed to be dead. For good.”

Logan walked in the back by himself for the rest of the way. His mind raced with everything that had happened. Even through all the mystery of Ares and Zeus and why they would be after Logan and his family, through the flights and fights and fears, Logan’s mind kept returning to one thing.

Home. He kept seeing Wayna in the theatre. He saw his grandpa and dad and mom all at home on the farm. He thought of his brother, maybe in the hospital, maybe… worse. He was struck at how badly it hurt to be away from home. He couldn’t understand it. Since he was little he had yearned for adventure. He’d yearned to see the farthest corners of the world. It was why books had captivated him, transporting him away to different lands. It was why the stage enticed him with its warm lights and curtains, and the thrill of acting out the lives of heroes and gangsters and kings. He had traversed the woods over and over growing up, hiking the artic tundra, outrunning natives in the jungle, searching for buried treasure. His imagination was the one thing that had really let him live.

And here he was at the end of a great adventure, greater than one he could ever have imagined, and his only thoughts were of home.

He remembered his uncle’s words way back in the caves. Was his fear getting the best of him? Or was it something else?

All he wanted to do was see if his family was alright.

Chapter Thirty-Eight

~ New Horizons ~

     About an hour later he passed through a huddle of trees, finally breaking out of the woods to enter into the cool sunlight. His rag-tag group of friends were already standing in a clearing, waiting for something. He walked up to Samara and stroked her shoulder. “What are we waiting for?”

“Luke here, says he has something to show us.” the bear replied.

They all looked around, “What are we looking for?” Chara asked.

“It’ll be here soon.” Luke said, smirking.

Logan gave up trying to figure it out. He was too tired to think about anything anymore. Leaning against the rough fur, he closed his eyes and perused the inside of his eyelids. The entire group stayed quiet. Some lonely birds chattered away above, a light breeze rustling the leaves. Without the sun and Samara he would have been cold, but he felt at peace, for the moment at least.

Several minutes went by of just the woods and light. Then Logan heard a few creaking noises, a little breeze clattering the leaves together. He furrowed his brow, but kept his eyes shut. Then out of the blue, an unfamiliar voice called out, “Anchor aloft!”

His eyes snapped open to gaze at the most dazzling and mystifying thing of the entire journey. There, descending out of the sky, slowly and silently, was a magnificent ship. It looked like a sleek pirate ship, the wooden keel making its way to the ground, the very bottom painted a sky blue. The hull was a deep, dark red wood, with intricate balusters lining the decks and a strange set of iron wrought legs where the rudder should be. The aft rose up like old sailing ships do, a round stained glass window punched into its side, surrounded by masterfully carved railings donning their age in blackened edges and fading paint, and a series of brass pipes running in and out of the hull. Logan’s eyes were drawn to what sat on top of the aft deck, though. A squat, bushy but large tree popped from the deck like a planter. Its green leaves rustled underneath two enormous masts waving in the wind. But the sails weren’t canvass, they were more like leaves. Or a solitary giant leaf for each mast, Logan couldn’t tell which as they constantly moved.

“It’s a flying ship…” Logan said, enraptured.

He looked over at his uncle who was as captivated as himself. Even Luke sat admiring the sturdy craft. It touched down then, balancing on the legs at the rudder and another small one at the front that had folded out from the keel. Several people were working frantically, tying ropes and cranking levers and gears. They were all shapes and sizes and different colors. One of them came to the side and waved. Luke waved back yelling, “Ahoy, Captain!”

The Captain waved back again, a wide smile plastered across his lips. He was a fairly big man, completely bald, with a graying goatee. He pulled on the banister, revealing a hinged door. Then he reached down and turned a crank until it clicked. A durable gangplank spat out the side of the hull and dropped with a thud into the dirt near them. The Captain descended it and Luke ran over to meet him. They embraced, laughing. A short exchange later they joined Logan and the others.

“This is who we were waiting for.” Luke said.

Up close the captain looked husky and strong despite his gray hair. Logan would bet that he could give Priam a challenge. He smiled and said, “I’m Captain Briar, welcome to the Gordian Knot!”

After a few introductions they learned that Briar was an old friend of Luke’s who sailed the cloudtops between the cities of Katalon. “The Gordian Knot is actually my airship.” Luke explained, “I’ve had it for… well, a very long time. Phoenix was aboard when I called him, the Knot has just now caught up. I think after all that has happened, there is still more to do. This journey is not over yet.”

They all trudged up onto the wooden deck. Several of the crew recognized Tora and greeted her, and she returned their greetings… warmly. Logan was a little surprised that she could be warm.

He looked around at the vessel. Two enormous masts sprang from the deck, twisted as tree trunks and covered in rough bark. The sails were actually many massive leaves tied together and stitched leaf to leaf. Other than that it was just as he would have imagined an old English trade ship. Except for the fact that he was in the woods, and a bear was curling up against one of the masts. His uncle came over to him.

“Have you ever seen anything like it?” remarked Sterling.

“It’s amazing!”

“I can’t believe that we’re actually on a flying ship!” his uncle said. His tired eyes began to brighten, and he stood a little straighter. Luke approached them.

“Priam, Chara, would you come here a minute?” he called.

The Centaurs clopped noisily over to them, the crew shooting tense looks at the pair. Logan had forgotten that they were considered dangerous by most of the world. He barely noticed their horse legs anymore.

When they were all gathered together Luke began to speak. “I know that this last week has been very hard on all of you. I’m sure you’d like to get back to your herd.” The Centaurs dropped their eyes. “And you, Men, you must be bewildered by all of this.”

“It’s been an adventure.” Sterling said. Logan nodded.

“Good. Because I was going to ask you… if you wanted to come with us.” They were quiet for a few moments. He turned to the siblings, “You Centaurs have acted admirably, something I never would have considered possible until I met you. Your strength and skills, and care for our group,” he smiled at Chara, “have been amazing to witness. And you Men….”

Logan waited to hear his compliments, but Luke said, “Something is going on. Katalon has been separated from the world of Men for centuries. It unnerves me that powerful members of Katalon would be so interested in you.”

“And Zeus.” Logan said, remembering the papers in Ares cigarette case.

“Especially Zeus.” Luke said. Logan couldn’t hold back any longer. He explained what he had found the night before. He pulled out the cigarette case and showed them his and Sterling’s names written on cards, among so many others. Luke was fascinated, but not alarmed. His uncle on the other hand, was.

“Why does he have our names? He really was looking for us?”

“I’m not sure,” Luke said, shuffling through them, “This one is Tora, Tora Windlimb. He really is up to something.” Facing them resolutely he said, “It means you simply must come with us. There is something going on that involves you. And you may not be safe back in your own world.”

“Absolutely,” Uncle Sterling said, “We need to see this through.” He put his arm around his nephew. “And I want to know why he has my name.”

“Wait, wait.” Logan said. “Where are you going?”

Luke looked over at Tora who was speaking with the Captain. “Tora and I discussed it. We both believe it is imperative that we warn the other Olympians, at least the ones that won’t try to kill us. If Zeus really is alive, then bad things are brewing.”

“So who would we go see?” Priam asked.

“The closest one would be Poseidon. He’s in Atlantis.”

Logan thought the air disappeared from his lungs. He got giddy over even the notion. “Atlantis!?”

“Atlantis?” his uncle said, overcome.

“Uncle Sterling, do you think we should? I mean, Mom and Dad…”
His uncle just stared at him, a little incredulous. “Logan, look where we are. This is the most remarkable adventure we could ever have been a part of, and we are a part of it.” He held up their names on the card. “I’ve been afraid all my life, and I’m tired of it. This kind of moment, this chance to change everything… it won’t ever come again. We survived, didn’t we? We can do this. Why would you want to just go back?”

“But home …” he put his head down. “Home, is all I’ve ever known.”

It was a revelation even to himself.

His uncle began to speak, but Luke interrupted. “Logan, mate, I know this all may be confounding and, a bit scary. But I need you to realize something. You can’t have one foot in two worlds. Katalon and the world of Men may be the same place, but they are worlds apart. If this danger is real, then it may spread throughout your entire world. You won’t be able to help us if you are home. And if you come with us, you won’t be able to go home for a while. You’ll have to choose one or the other.”

Priam nodded, “We’ve been given a great privilege. To be included with such knowledge, it comes with a great responsibility. That is not something to turn away from.”

“I… can… isn’t there any way?” Logan asked, futilely. Luke shook his head.

“We’ll stay docked for the night, to gather supplies and such.” he said, “but tomorrow we will ship out.”

The crew appreciated the chance to be on land, a chance to laugh and sing around campfires. With so much to do, everyone mingled and worked, running from the woods to the deck to the holds below. Sterling was already setting himself up in a cabin.

Logan went to the bow of the ship and sat for most of the day. The grand wooden griffin figurehead burst from the prow in front of him, its wings flaring back on the sides of the bow. It was smooth to the touch, old and weathered. He stared at the dancing trees, watched the crew bringing canisters of water onboard, and felt the sun pass across his face. He argued with himself, should he go home and comfort his family? Was he torturing them by keeping them in the dark?

Was his brother even alive?

His brother. That was the one thing he couldn’t handle not knowing. Everything else was manageable, even the threat of maniacal Olympians wanting him dead. But he couldn’t bear to go on not knowing if… if he had a brother anymore.

He tried to push the thoughts away. The journey had been fraught with danger, he’d bled more than he had his whole life. And there was the face. The face of the falling Dryad; the fear in his eyes as he’d plummeted into the Valley. The face he could never forget.

He shook the memory away, trying desperately to find the good things this adventure had brought. Could he handle the burden an adventure would put on him?

A bird chirped merrily; he took a deep breath. Although scary, it had been an incredible week. He had seen and done things he would have never guessed possible. It had been fun, at times. The journey had truly been a thrill.

And the new friends he’d made. He looked over at Chara and Priam talking intently. These creatures that had accepted him without even knowing who he was. They had risked their lives to save his, and he couldn’t wrap his mind around it. All he knew was that he had never known so warm a friendship, and he was reluctant to give it up.

He looked down at his bag. Maybe something in his book would give him an answer. When he opened his bag, he reached down for True Mythology, but his hand stopped. Instead, he reached behind it and pulled out the tattered Peter Pan. He flipped it across his thumb listening to the buzz of the paper. A couple little objects fell out onto the deck at his feet. He bent down and picked up two bobby pins. They must have fallen in his bag and stuck in the pages of the book. He thought of his mother who left bobby pins wherever she went, and of his father. Two bobby pins; his mom and his dad. He never would have imagined he would miss them this much, after dreaming his whole childhood of traveling to the secret places of the world. Now, home felt like the place he dreamed of. And being with his parents would be the greatest treasure.

He slipped the two bobby pins on the strap of his bag, their mere presence soothing. Then he cracked open the book near the beginning. His eyes skimmed over the waterlogged and stained paper. Most of it was so unreadable he wondered why he was trying at all. But then a clear section shone on one of the pages.

He read the few lines available and placed it in the story. Peter was in the nursery, trying to convince the Darling children that Neverland would be far more thrilling than their home ever could be. He was at the window beckoning, as Mr. and Mrs. Darling raced up the stairs to catch them before they could leave. And then he read these words:

Will they reach the nursery in time? If so, how delightful for them, and we shall all breathe a sigh of relief, but there will be no story. On the other hand, if they are not in time, I solemnly promise that it will all come right in the end.

He couldn’t help the tear that escaped his eye this time.

Chapter Thirty-Nine

~ Embarkation and Farewell ~

     When the sun had risen again, Sterling walked onto the deck of the Gordian Knot. He found his nephew leaning against a banister, staring in the direction of Farwell.

“What did you decide, Logan?” his uncle asked, “Are you going home?”

Logan sighed, and turned to him. “I’ve been wondering what to do next in life, and nothing seemed right. And as unexpected as this whole journey has been… it’s what’s felt most right all along.”

Sterling grabbed his shoulders, smiling, “Does that mean you’re coming?”

Logan nodded, “I’ll do all I can to help.”

Sterling made his low rumble in approval, patting him on the back. “I’m so proud of you, Logan. You will do great things. It’s in your blood.”

“Dryad blood, apparently.” Logan added.

Sterling laughed, nodding.

“So are you onboard, mate?” Luke asked, joining them, “Will you come with us? We could really use your help.”

Logan didn’t have his old aching fears swishing through his gut anymore. They had been replaced with something closer to purpose. He felt like things would work out in the end.

“I’m ready.”

“Glad to hear it! We should be off soon then, lads.” Logan slipped off the banister as the Centaurs joined them. They both looked very solemn. “Ready to go, mates?” Luke asked.

Priam looked to his sister and then said, “I’m afraid Chara will not be coming along.”

“What?” Luke said.

“Why not?” Logan asked.

“The herd must be warned. If what was said yesterday is true, then the Allegiant may be in danger. At least, they must be warned.” Priam said.

“I’m going to try to convince them to gather the other herds together so we can stay safe through all of this.” Chara said. Her usual joy dimmed.

They were all quiet for a few breaths. “I hate to say it, because I would prefer you come with us… but it sounds right.” Luke said. “This may be the beginning of something very precarious. Your herds would be safer together. And, they would be safer to have a healer with them.”

She offered him a sad smile, but said, “I’m not entirely sure how I will convince the herd of all this. Rakish can be very hard headed. They may not even believe I met an Olympian, much less believe a dead one is a threat.”

Luke got up, and searched around the deck until he found a glass jar sitting on a barrel. It was the kind that has a glass lid held in place by a metal ring. He opened the top and put his hand over the opening. Light shimmered as it started pouring in, splashing around the bottom of the jar as if it were pure, shining water. He handed the jar filled with clean, substantial light over to her.

“Go ahead, feel it.”

Chara tentatively reached in and touched the bright liquid. She gasped and pulled her hand back out, completely dry.

“If that doesn’t convince them, nothing will.”

“Thank you.” She looked at them all lovingly. “I will miss you, very much.”

Logan went over and hugged her. Sterling shook her hand, as did Luke, gripping it tight. “Thank you for saving Phoenix from that arrow. I didn’t want to forget to tell you.” She smiled again, unable to respond.

Chara looked over and saw Tora watching them from the other side of the deck. She raised her hand and nodded. Chara smiled back.

“Well, I must start. It is a long way back.”

“Stop back at the Throne again. Ask them for some company on the way to your herd.” Luke reminded.

“It would be better not to go alone.” her brother agreed.

“But how will I find it again?”

“Oh, here.” Logan rummaged through his bag, until he found the ivory scroll. “You’ll need this, won’t you?” Finding a bucket of water, he dipped the scroll into it, and shook the excess off. Then he went over to a crate and rolled the bumps and marks of the scroll across the dry wood. A rough map leading to an intricate ‘X’ lay in the grain.

“There. If I understand how the Throne works, which I doubt I do… that should get you back.”

“Thank you.” she said, touching his cheek.

She turned to Priam then. They stared at each other. “Be safe.”

“I will.” he assured her.

They embraced gently, and lingered there not wanting to part. When they separated, some tears shone in Chara’s eyes. She handed Priam a bracelet. He looked at the copper strips woven together and the pitch black river stone at its center, as smooth as glass. He looked back into her eyes and she smiled one last time. “For emergencies.”

He nodded, understanding. Then she started down the gangplank. Logan shot up suddenly, and called, “Wait! Chara!” She stopped and turned to him.

“I wrote this…” he pulled out a piece of paper. “It’s a letter to my parents, trying to explain what’s happened and where we’ve gone. I guess I figured we’d be near a post office sometime, but… if you could maybe…”

She took it smiling. “I will make sure they get it. And if there is any way I can get word to you, I will let you know how your brother is.”

He nodded, grateful, and little sad. “Thank you.”

She headed back into the dry leaves scattering the ground as Logan rejoined the crew. They all went to the railing, even Samara, to say goodbye.

“Anchor away!” Captain Briar called. The crew bustled around, pulling cranks and tying ropes. Then the great ship gave a shudder, swinging slightly like a Ferris wheel car. Slowly they rose up into the air. They waved at Chara growing smaller every second, her sad eyes watching them ascend. And then they were silently floating over the trees.

Logan unpacked his bag next to his bunk. His uncle, Luke, and he were going to stay in a small cabin just one deck down. Luke would sleep above him, and Uncle Sterling had a small bunk hanging up in the corner. They were still trying to figure out how to situate Priam, so for the time he would stay in a large hold at the bottom of the ship, with Samara.

He leaned his silver and copper twined staff in the corner and pulled the papers out of his bag. The program, ticket, and copy of Little Mermaid had all survived the ordeal, and he tucked them safely back between True Mythology’s covers. His uncle walked in then.

“Hey, Logan. Are you ready for this?”

“I think so, I still can’t believe we’re going.”

“I know. Atlantis! Who would have ever thought it’d be possible?”

“Won’t it be underwater?”

“We can worry about that when we get there. For now, let’s enjoy a cruise… through the clouds!” He was practically giddy, and Logan couldn’t help being too.

“Alright, I’m going up on deck.” Logan said.

“I’ll meet you there in a bit, just want to clean up first.” his uncle said.

“Ok.” After he left, Sterling walked over to the small washroom connected to their cabin. It was just a closet with a sink and small, round copper tub. As he walked up to the sink, a very subtle wash of dizziness swished through his head. He stumbled catching the doorjamb.

“Blasted concussion. It’s not mixing well with a swinging ship.”

He leaned over the sink and plugged the hole. Turning the spigot, a little flow of water started to fill the basin. He dipped his hands in and splashed it in his face. A chill ran down his back at the cold water. He rubbed his face for a second and looked at himself in the mirror.

He looked older. A little more gray on the temples, a few more wrinkles at his eyes. But somehow inside he felt more alive than he had in years. He stared into his own light brown eyes wondering at all the amazing things that were going to happen. He couldn’t help but grin. He finally felt like he was on the right track in life.

Another rush of dizziness washed over him again. He grabbed the basin waiting for it to pass. Shaking his head he looked back in the mirror, and something caught his eye. His shirt was slightly open at the neck, and a dark smudge of dirt was poking out beneath. He pulled his shirt open wider to wash it off. And then he froze. Slowly, he reached up and tried wiping the dark stain away but it stayed perfectly in place.

Staring back at him in the mirror, etched into the skin over his heart, was a tattoo. Three crossing swords crowned in flame staring back at him.

He looked back into his own eyes, and for a brief moment, the light brown flashed a fiery orange.

The End

~

For Now