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Joseph R. Lallo was born in Bayonne, NJ. For most of his life, writing was an interest that he used to fill those spare moments when he should have been studying or doing other more productive activities. This continued all the way through college, graduate school (where he earned a masters of computer engineering), and nearly a decade as an IT specialist. On January 28th 2010, after several dozen failed attempts to have his stories traditionally published, his friends convinced him to self-publish. A year later he had earned $19, so he decided to make the first book in his series free. The following month he made $1900 and was well on his way to a career in self-publishing.

Primarily known for his Book of Deacon fantasy series, Joseph R. Lallo has completed more than a dozen books in five different settings. These include the main Deacon setting and its spinoffs, five science fiction novels in the Big Sigma series, five steampunk novels called the Free-Wrench series, and the new Urban Fantasy series, Shards of Shadow.

The Book of Deacon Book 3: The Battle of Verril - StoryBundle Edition by Joseph R. Lallo

The Battle of Verril: StoryBundle Edition is an updated release created specifically for StoryBundle. It contains chapter breaks not present in the initial release.

In this, the third story in the Book of Deacon saga, Myranda and the Chosen face their greatest challenges yet. Time is running out, and the Generals are growing desperate. Through victory and defeat, reunion and betrayal, neither the heroes nor their foes will rest until they have seen their task through to the end. The only question is, will it be the end of a war, or the end of times?

CURATOR'S NOTE

As I've stated elsewhere, the first three books of The Book of Deacon Series were composed as a single imposing tome. This is the third book in that saga, and as such, makes up the third act of the original story. If you're familiar with story structure, that means this thing is pretty much entirely climax. It was a blast to write. Like the first two stories in the trilogy, I took the time to make a special "StoryBundle Edition" of The Battle of Verril. Unlike the widely available version, this story has chapter breaks rather than forming a continuous, unbroken lump of words like the initial release. Never let it be said I don't learn from my mistakes. – Joseph R. Lallo

 

REVIEWS

  • "It is a great read, so difficult to put down. It is purely fantasy dealing with dragons magic and a group of five trying to save the world from evil diabolical magical creatures from another world. It is honestly something I thought I would never enjoy reading, but found myself relating to the main character, Myranda and sympathizing with the band of wary travelers through out the whole of the first three books I've read."

    – Megan Williams (Amazon Customer)
  • "…you are so bonded with the characters and their goals that you are straining right along with them to win each and every battle, to kill each and every villain, to attain each goal, to escape each prison, to meet each challenge and to learn each scrap of information that will help them fight the good fight."

    – Melinda (Goodreads Reviewer)
 

BOOK PREVIEW

Excerpt

Chapter 1

Chronicling the tale of the Chosen is a monumental task, and one that cannot and must not remain half done. If you have read the volumes already written, then you know well the trials that heroes must face. Already, there have been triumphs and there have been tragedies. Friends and allies have been pulled from the jaws of doom, while others have not been so fortunate. Despite these adventures, the truest tests of the Chosen still remain to be told. With these final pages, I shall set that right.

To do so, I must begin where my last account ended. Myranda, a young and dedicated wizard, had returned. Believed dead by the other Chosen, she swept in to snatch her friends from defeat. When all had been brought to safety, and for a moment things seemed calm, she agreed to share the events of her absence. They began where the others believed that Myranda's life had ended, in the lowest level of the personal menagerie of Demont, a general of the Northern Alliance. The devilish structure, filled with nightmarish creatures, was quickly consuming itself in out of control flames. She held the burning fort together with the strength of her will until she felt her friends escape, then relented, ready for the whole of the structure to collapse upon her, ready for fate to claim her. Fate, it seemed, had other plans.

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The boards beneath Myranda's feet gave way just as the remaining ceiling over her head did the same. She dropped down into some sort of recess into the floor. Scrambling backward away from the very fort that was coming down on top of her, Myranda's desperate hands found their way to a metal handle. It was attached to a low door, seemingly carved into the stone of the ground. With only moments to spare, she pulled it open and dragged herself into the blackness beyond. The roar of the structure collapsing on itself rumbled all around her as she clawed her way down the pitch-black tunnel. As she did, the rumble became more muffled, debris settling in above her. She pushed aside the thought that it was burying her alive. So too she ignored the concerns of what this place was and what she might find here.

The only thought on her mind was survival—get away from the fire, from the collapse. The rest could wait.

The fire had taken a greater toll on her legs than she had realized, as several attempts to stand failed. The sound of buckling stone behind her convinced her that it was better to crawl now than to die trying to walk. The smoke from the smoldering debris that had tumbled in behind her continued to burn at her lungs. She crept every inch of distance her body could offer before collapsing. The rumble and roar drifted away as Myranda's body finally reached its limit.

Perhaps hours, perhaps days later, Myranda's eyes opened to the blackness. The smoke no longer stung at her, but the air was stifling and stale. She coughed and sputtered as she rolled to her back. A sharp pain prompted her to pull something free that was jabbing her in the shoulder blade. As wakefulness fully returned to her, the stillness permitted the concerns she'd brushed away to rush back in. What was this place? If the monstrous creations she'd seen inside the fort were any indication, she shuddered to think of what kind of beasts might be kept in the catacombs beneath. In darkness such as this, her eyes may as well have been closed. Desperate for some form of information, she listened. Nothing. The silence was eerie, oppressive, and complete. Her nose and tongue told only of the acrid residue left from the burning wood, so she was left with touch alone. What it told her confused her.

The floor was . . . tile. A complex pattern of it, she felt, and skillfully made. She rolled to her stomach again and felt for the wall. It too was of the same intricate tile. Then her fingers came to something smooth, like a strip of metal or glass along the wall. As she ran her fingers against it, there was a white-blue ember of light that silently faded in, terrifying her at first. But as the soft glow of it spread along the strip, splitting and winding across what revealed itself to be an arched ceiling, she realized that she sensed nothing powerful, threatening, or purposeful behind the light. It must have been added simply to illuminate the walkway. Bathed in the glow of the curling ribbon of light that swept and wound its way down the tunnel, she caught her first glimpse of what she'd been feeling.

It was a mosaic, one that sprawled across every surface of the tunnel, spreading backward as far as the caved-in ceiling behind her, and onward into the depths of the tunnel, further than her dry red eyes could see. Irregularly-shaped pieces of white and black tile gathered together into forms. Some forms seemed to be composed of the black tiles, others of the white, such that every inch of the masterpiece was some part of a creature, interlocked and entwined like pieces of a puzzle, locked in some struggle or dance. The beasts depicted varied greatly, from horses, birds, dragons, and other creatures she knew, to beasts that had no eyes, no legs, nothing that she knew a creature should have. Yet, she knew it was a beast, that somewhere this completely alien form lived.

With considerable effort, she raised herself to her badly burned legs. Next to where she had been laying, the object that had jabbed her in the back was revealed to be the broken head of her staff. The rest was nowhere in sight. She scooped it up, immediately wishing it was whole again, as she badly needed something to lean on—for now, the wall would have to suffice.

As she moved painfully down the tunnel, the images of the mosaic began to seem more familiar. The creatures that had been borrowed for Demont's purposes appeared again and again, changing slightly each time. The dragon she had seen where she awoke began as white and, as she moved on, it appeared again and again—each time with more black mixed in, each time more twisted. Finally, the dragoyle was all that remained. Worse, the shape of a man began to recur, slowly making its way toward the nearmen that she had fought so often. The images chilled her to the bone. To see something she knew corrupted so was one thing; the truly disturbing thing about it was that each successive form was so subtly changed, she might not have noticed the shift at all if she hadn't seen them so close together.

Dark concerns about the same thing happening in the world around her began to emerge in her mind. There were so many nearmen, fiendish creations that masqueraded as humans. By now, surely the bulk of the army was composed of them. Yet she had only learned of their existence so recently. Did the other soldiers not realize? Did they not care? What other parts of her world were being twisted before her eyes so gradually that she was blind to the change? What were these other creatures?

Before long the burning in her mind was as unbearable as the burning in her legs. Ahead was a door; she hurried as best she could toward it.

When she reached the door, Myranda paused. It bore no lock, no markings. Nothing secured it at all. It was not the way of the D'karon, her enemy, to be so careless. Something was on the other side of the door, something secret enough to bury it deep underground. Surely there was some measure in place to protect it. Of course, none of that mattered. The way behind was blocked. The only choice was to go forward.

Carefully, cautiously, Myranda pushed the door open. The instant that she did, all of the light behind her vanished. A warmer, orange-yellow light, like that of a torch, took its place. The room before her became illuminated. It took no more than a glance to guess who owned this place. Just as in the laboratory that had fallen behind her, the room was immaculately kept. Thin, leather-bound books lined shelves along the wall in neat little rows. Sketches of this creature and that were pinned to boards and hung with care. A cabinet stood, filled with vials labeled in a placeless language. Everywhere, sheets of paper, neatly lettered with the same unnatural runes, sat in meticulous piles or organized files. If the fort above had been the laboratory of General Demont, craftsman of the horrid creatures, then this must have been his study.

If it were another time, she might have been fascinated by it all, but she was weary, wounded, and certain that if she remained in this place, she would be discovered. The room was not a large one, and there was but one other door. Best of all, a telltale draft whistling beneath it told her that beyond it lie the outside. Without the wall to support her, Myranda had difficulty navigating the room. She paused briefly to attempt a spell to heal at least some of her injuries. It was a futile gesture. The strength she'd spent holding the fort together long enough for her friends to escape would take days, perhaps weeks to recover, and this was no place to rest. The best she could hope for was to reach her friends. With them by her side, she could at least rest knowing that she would not face the next threat alone. If she was to join them again, she would have to hurry.

When she reached the door, again she found no security to speak of. She sensed no magic protecting it, though her recent ordeal had dulled her mind at least as much as it had her other senses. She pulled open the door and stepped outside, into the icy wind and biting cold of the north. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a flash of light as she crossed the threshold. The door jerked shut behind her. She threw herself against it, hoping to stop it from shutting tight, but the force of the slam threw her to the ground. She placed her hands on the frozen ground and tried to stand.

A clicking sound on either side of the door that had ejected her drew her attention. Two alcoves, one on each side of the door, slid open. From each recess strode a beast that could only have come from Demont's twisted mind.

The creatures were long and lithe, their bodies not unlike that of a panther. The head, though, looked at best like a collection of cutlery grafted onto the beast. Two pairs of great serrated mandibles clacked together menacingly in the place where a face should have been. A jagged, blade-like horn jutted from the "forehead" of the creature, though the lack of eyes, ears, or anything else that a creature should have robbed the area of any resemblance to a head. Cutting edges ran like stripes along the creature's hide. The beasts could not truly look at her, but each most certainly had its formidable weaponry pointed in her direction.

Desperation and fear momentarily allowed her to ignore the state of her legs, and she lunged aside as the first beast dove at her. The second galloped off, away from the door. As Myranda rolled to her knees and tried to stand once more, the beast quickly recovered from its missed attack. The two creatures moved as quickly and surely as the cats their form had been cruelly adapted from, and it was mere moments before the first creature was ready for a second attack. The second creature had put a fair amount of distance between them, and now turned, bursting quickly into a full sprint.

Myranda gathered together the frayed remains of her mind and threw up a meager defense. A pulse of mystic energy fazed the nearest creature only slightly as she sidled over to the door and heaved herself against it. It would not budge. She turned her eyes to the nameless beast that faced her. Jagged, unnatural blades clacked expectantly. She raised her broken staff, but it was a futile gesture. Her spirit was drained. Defeat was at hand. What little strength her aching body could offer was poised to make the victory a costly one. The hair on the back of her neck stood up. Her heart pounded in her ears. As it had so often before in the heat of battle, time seemed to slow to a crawl. Her mind was burning with fear. Her skin tingled. With each passing heartbeat, the sensation grew. This was not fear. This was not anticipation. This was something more.

With a sound like the very fabric of reality tearing, a slash of light split the air above her, like a bolt of lightning that stopped in midair. Then another, and another. The slashes widened as feathery cracks began to spread out from them, each splitting into finer and finer cracks. In mere moments, what hung above her was like a thorny wreath of pure white light. She closed her eyes against the brightness. A distant cry grew suddenly louder. Even with her eyes shut tight, Myranda could see the brilliant pattern in the air.

With a tumultuous crash, the light suddenly vanished. Myranda opened her eyes. Before her, in a heap, was a young man with unkempt brown hair in a gray tunic. Beneath him were the twitching remains of a now-destroyed creature. The inexplicable newcomer groaned in pain, and slowly recognition forced its way through shock, fear, and confusion. She knew this man. He was a young wizard she'd met in a place called Entwell. It was a place of learning, tucked away on the other side of a treacherous cave. She'd spent time there, what seemed like a lifetime ago, learning the ways of magic. He had been her teacher, her mentor—and, above all, her friend—but she'd had to leave him behind in that paradise. His name was Deacon.

She'd reflected upon their time together more times than she could count in the eternity since she'd left. Now, with no explanation, he had returned, and his appearance had crushed the beast that had been threatening her.

A thousand questions and a dozen emotions fought for Myranda's attention, but one pressing matter defeated them all: the other creature. Before she could draw breath to shout a warning, a second gash in the sky opened and a small white bag came tumbling out. It landed with a force far too great for its size, directly atop the beast that was only steps away from bringing the unexpected reunion to an all-too-swift end. Thus, in the most unlikely of ways, the crisis was ended.

Myranda looked down upon her ailing friend. The fall, and more so what he had fallen upon, had taken a rather severe toll on him. He groaned again and rolled to the ground, rising to his hands and knees, then finally, unsteadily, to his feet. Suddenly, his clenched eyes shot open.

"Myranda!" he cried, as though he had just remembered the name.

The wizard's eyes darted around; finally, he found Myranda. He rushed to her.

"Myranda! Heavens above. It is a miracle! Are you well?" he asked, crouching at her side, his own injuries instantly forgotten. "No, no, you are not well at all! My crystal! Where is it?"

"Deacon . . . Deacon. Deacon!" Myranda called, finally with enough of her wits about her to appreciate the appearance of her old friend.

"Here, yes," Deacon said, scooping up his crystal and rushing to her side. "What requires healing most urgently!?"

His voice was insistent and desperate.

"Please, Deacon calm down. Thanks to you the danger is gone. Now, where did you come from? How did you get here?" Myranda asked.

"From Entwell, directly," he said, calling to mind his long neglected white magic teachings and beginning to restore Myranda's ailing legs.

"But how? It is so far. When did you leave? How did you find me?" she asked.

"I left a few moments ago. I've been watching you as best I could. It has been . . . well, part of a recent change in focus for me," he said.

"A few moments ago?" Myranda said, confused.

"Yes. Instantaneous travel. Transportation. It flirts with a number of techniques we have forbidden, but the principles were there. It just took some digging. Some innovation. A few weeks," he said, finishing up on the injuries he could see before beginning on his own.

In Entwell, Deacon had been the resident master of a field of the mystic arts known as gray magic. It was a catchall, dealing with anything that did not explicitly heal or hurt, and was not based on the elements. He'd devoted the whole of his life, since before he could speak, to mastering these arts, and thus they were second nature to him, an afterthought that he understood so thoroughly he often forgot that there were those who did not.

"How could you have been watching me?" she asked, trying to stand on her restored legs.

"Well, distance seeing is actually rather low magic. Penetrating the obscuring effect of the mountains required that you be exerting yourself mystically, but that was hardly a rarity for you. It took a bit of diligence, but I was able to pinpoint you rather frequently," he answered, his voice beginning to waver as he began trembling.

"Is something the matter?" she asked.

"Nothing at all . . . I am just . . . Is it always this cold?" he said.

Myranda realized that he was in no way dressed for the northern weather. The same light gray tunic he had worn in Entwell was all he wore now. It was scarcely enough to ward off the freezing wind.

"Good heavens! Why didn't you wear something warmer?" she asked.

"I-I haven't been thinking very clearly of late. Not s-since . . . Never mind. I have some things in my b-b-bag which might h-h-help," he said.

Shakily, he made his way to the crater that contained his bag and the remains of the second creature. When he spotted it, he jumped back.

"W-w-what is th-this?" he asked, clearly having just noticed the beasts he had saved Myranda from.

"I don't know, they just came out from the walls. Something Demont dreamed up, I'm sure," Myranda answered.

"Demont . . ." he mused, as though somehow he knew the name. "F-fascinating. I've not seen something crafted in s-s-such a way."

"You can study it later. You need to warm up," Myranda reminded him.

"Indeed," he said.

Deacon grasped the cinched-closed end of the bag and tugged at it, but it barely moved.

"B-b-b-blast it. I was afraid something like this would happen. The transportation damaged the enchantments," he said. "Won't t-t-t-take a moment to fix."

He held his crystal unsteadily over the bag. A pulse of light and a flex of will later, and the bag seemed to rise up, as though it was no longer heavy enough to compress the broken creature beneath it. Sure enough, Deacon grasped the bag once more, this time lifting it as though it were empty, which it indeed seemed to be. He began to paw through it clumsily. As he did, the sound of much clinking and jostling could be heard from within.

"Sh-sh-sh-should have organized this better," he said, suddenly beginning to cough a dry, hollow cough as the bite of the cold finally got the better of his lungs. When the fit subsided, he cast a harried eye to the door behind them. "Is it warmer inside, p-p-perhaps?"

"I wouldn't risk it. There was some spell on the door that released those creatures," she said.

"If it was placed there, it can be removed," he said, gathering the bag closed and rushing to the door.

Myranda watched anxiously as he inspected the door. He looked it over, even without his crystal at work, seeming to follow lines and patterns that weren't there, until his eyes settled upon the door sill.

"Here. R-r-runes. I don't recognize them . . . but . . . it would seem they are spent. If we can manage to p-p-p-pry the door, the spell will not activate again," he stated with certainty.

With that he heaved a shoulder at the door, bouncing off painfully. He then raised his crystal. Another pulse of light and the door burst open so forcefully that it was nearly torn from its hinges. He rushed inside. When the door did not slam shut again, and no more creatures appeared, Myranda followed, shutting the door behind her. Deacon was beating his arms and looking desperately for some source of heat. Finding none, he raised his crystal once more and released it. The immaculately clear, egg-shaped focus stone took on a warm orange glow, and almost immediately the room's temperature rose to a comfortable one. He settled against the wall, sighed with relief, and slid to the floor.

"We need to move on from here as quickly as possible. This is Demont's workshop, I believe. I do not wish to be here if he returns," Myranda warned, nervously scanning the room once more.

"Duly noted. A wise decision," he agreed, as he rummaged through his bag once more.

The satchel was by no means large. Stuffed to capacity, it looked as though it might be able to hold a tightly-balled blanket, and it was hanging quite loose. Yet he pulled one full-length white cloak, and then another from it. Dropping the bag on the ground, he hurriedly put the cloak on. It was not ideally suited for the northern cold either, but perhaps in addition to the tunic he wore it would be enough. He then presented the other cloak to Myranda and helped her to put it on.

"How did you fit those inside that small bag?" she asked.

"It is quite large inside. A little trick traveling wizards use. I could make one for you, if you like, but it would take a bit of time," he said, showing her the bag.

When he opened the top of the bag wide, the inside looked to be mounded with vials, books, tools—indeed, the entire contents of Deacon's hut. They had not become any smaller, either. Looking into the bag was like staring into the mouth of a deep pit.

"That is quite all right. Deacon . . . I . . ." Myranda began, fumbling for the right words. "How long will you be out of Entwell?"

She wanted desperately to tell him how often her thoughts had turned to him, to tell him how much she valued their time together, but the words wouldn't come. It was as though it had been so long since she'd had someone like him in her life that she had simply lost her ability to express herself adequately.

"For quite a while . . . quite a while," he said. "My actions prior to my escape have soured attitudes toward me. I'm not certain I would be welcome."

"What did you do?" she asked.

"It doesn't matter," he said, his eyes beginning to wander to the contents of the workshop. "The important thing is that I managed to reach you in time. You say that this workshop belongs to Demont. He is . . . one of the generals, yes?"

"He is," Myranda said.

"Then . . . I think anything we might do to delay him is useful to the cause," Deacon remarked distractedly.

"I suppose," Myranda replied.

"To that end . . . I think it prudent that I take samples . . . remove pieces of his puzzle, as it were," he said, beginning to pour over the shelves and tables.

"If you must, but do it quickly. We need to rejoin the others. And be careful," she relented.

Like a child given permission to raid the shelves of a candy store, Deacon began greedily plucking up artifacts, sheets, and vials. After a cursory glance that somehow assured him that it was safe to do so, each was dropped into his seemingly bottomless bag. There was a case filled with crystals that he dropped in its entirety inside, and book after book followed it. Finally, he pulled down a large map that had been affixed to one wall, folded it, and tucked it inside.

When he was done, the shelves were near bare, and the bag did not even bulge. Myranda smiled at the utter enthusiasm in Deacon's face as he shuffled the things inside his bag, reaching down into it nearly to his shoulder to pull up things he was interested in looking at first and positioning them at the top. When he was satisfied, he cinched the bag shut and hung it effortlessly from the tie of the tunic beneath the robe.

"Well, I suppose that I am prepared to brave the weather again. Are you certain you are well? It has been some time since I last practiced the healer's art. I may have missed an injury," he said, suddenly realizing he had been ignoring her.

"I am well enough. Let us go, quickly. There is no telling how far the others have gone," she said.

"Then by all means," he said, bracing himself for the cold before opening the door.

The instant that the harsh wind touched him, he knew that the thin cloak was not nearly enough. After briefly considering coping with the cold, he decided that further action was required.

"Just a moment more," he said, shedding the cloak and clutching it in one hand as he held his crystal in the other.

He closed his eyes briefly, as if remembering, and then cast a spell. In addition to the swift, clean pulse of light from the crystal that signified his spells, a wave of light swept up the cloak from bottom to top. A glow trailed behind it, lingering briefly before fading. He stepped into the wind again, this time seemingly unaffected by it.

"What did you do?" Myranda asked.

"I imbued the fabric of the cloak with an enchantment that counteracts the cold by preventing any of my own heat from—" he began.

"An enchantment against the cold. That was answer enough for me," she said.

"Of course," he replied, clearly a bit disappointed at his explanation being cut short.

"Is it really so simple to cast an enchantment?" she asked as she stepped out into the cold, her layers of protection and years of experience making a similar treatment unnecessary.

"Well, normally no. The strength and complexity of an enchantment that a garment or other object will hold is . . . We make our cloaks specifically to ease enchantment," he said, catching himself.

"Thank you," Myranda said with a chuckle.

The pair stepped outside. The terror of Myranda's previous venture through the doors had been so overwhelming, she'd scarcely noticed where the door had led her. They were on the edge of a steep, icy slope. The weak glow of the morning sky cast light on a sparsely-treed countryside. The memory of their trip was faded by her ordeal, but she was certain that she was nowhere near where she had entered the fort with the other Chosen.

Nothing her eyes told her gave her any indication of where she might be. After a few moments of straining her eyes, trying to find something unique about the countryside, all she knew for certain was that the fort was somewhere to the southwest. An endless column of black smoke stretching high into the gray sky betrayed that.

"Where do we go?" Deacon asked, marveling at the sheer size of the countryside. He had no memories of any place but Entwell. Tiny and perfect as it was, it was his world. The rolling hills and mountains of white, the scattered, snow-capped trees, the tiny flickering hints of far-off fires . . . it all had a scope that was dizzying and disorienting to him.

"We have to find the others. They were headed south, for the Tressor. I . . . I don't know which way they are, or how far they've gone. Can you find them?" she asked.

"I can't, but I can help you to do so. Of the group, I've only met Lain. I certainly do not know enough of his soul to pinpoint it, but I could empower your own search," he explained.

"Very well," she said, immediately closing her eyes and raising her broken staff, weakly spreading her mind.

A moment later, she felt Deacon's warm fingers close about her hand. Instantly a cool, steady clarity swept over her mind, like that brought by a focusing stone, but far more substantial. She began to reach out, but as she did, his hands left hers and the steadiness withdrew from her mind as quickly as it had come. She opened her eyes to see a nervousness on Deacon's face.

"You must never do that. At a time like this, it is the worst thing you could do," Deacon warned.

"What?" she asked.

"Cast your mind far and wide," he said.

Myranda blinked. "I know of no other way that I might find them. What danger is there?"

"To do so is to send up a beacon for all to see. You may find who you seek, but those who seek you will most certainly find you," he explained.

"Then what shall I do?" she asked.

"I will demonstrate," he said.

He took her hand and both returned to their concentration. Deacon spoke, his voice as clear in her mind as in her ears. He told of the very same means he had used to find her. It was more direct, more targeted, and virtually undetectable. Before long, she felt the presence of the minds of the others, as clearly and as strongly as if she were standing beside them.

"I feel them. I know where they are," she said. "Ivy . . . she is . . . I can feel her sorrow. She thinks I am dead."

"She will know the truth soon enough," Deacon said.

"No . . . you do not understand. Her sadness is as much a hardship for the others as it is for her. I need to let her know I am alive," Myranda explained.

"It would not be possible with the others—they have minds far too strong to permit a message to be delivered against their will—but at the moment it would seem that . . . Ivy . . . is susceptible. I will link you," Deacon said.

She felt a flex of his will and suddenly the physical form of Ivy seemed to manifest itself in Myranda's mind. The malthrope, a half-human/half-fox creature, stood before her, seemingly real enough to touch. Her stark white fur and muzzle, her inquisitive pink eyes, her pointed ears and tail—they all seemed vivid as life.

"M . . . Myranda!?" Ivy cried joyfully.

"Ivy, I am glad to know that you are all right," Myranda said.

"You are glad!? I thought you died. The fort fell! You were inside!" Ivy gushed tearfully.

With their minds linked, the emotion was like an earthquake. Myranda had to fight to remain connected.

"Listen, Ivy. I just want you to know that I will be with you soon. Tell the others. And be careful," Myranda said.

"I will, Myranda," Ivy said, another surge of joy finally shaking the bond that connected them.

Slowly, Myranda allowed her concentration to wane, the cold whistling of the wind returning to her ears. Deacon's grasp lingered for a moment before he lowered his crystal.

"That was remarkable," Myranda said. "Is that how you searched for me?"

"Each and every moment of my waking days. With those blasted mountains between us, it took a measure more effort, but I found you, so it was all worth it," he said, his eyes staring at the hand that had touched hers. As his gaze wandered up and locked briefly with her own, he tried to continue. "I-I knew that I had to help you. Your cause, it—it is far too important. Are you confident that you know where the others are? Can we reach them soon?"

"I know where they are, but I still am not certain where we are," she said.

"Navigation . . . navigation spells. I . . . never truly pursued them. They exist, but in a place like Entwell, there is just no need. Foolish of me. All spells have importance. One moment; I will turn one up," he said, scolding himself under his breath as he rummaged through the bag again.

"The map," Myranda reminded him.

"Yes, yes. I am certain I can create a map, I just require a few words to refresh my memory. The primer. Where is my primer?" he replied.

"No, Deacon, you took a map from inside. We can use that," Myranda explained.

"Oh . . . oh, yes, yes. Of course. Where is my head?" the wizard replied, quickly drawing the neatly folded sheet from the bag.

The instant it was removed, the wind tried to tear it from his grasp, but with a gesture, the wind parted around them. Myranda marveled for a moment at the effortless, casual way in which Deacon incorporated magic into everything he did. He used it as one might use one's hand to brush away a hair or tighten a knot while the mind was busy with other things.

She turned to the map. It was drawn with the same exacting detail as everything that Demont had put his hand to. The labels were in the mysterious language that she had seen throughout his laboratory and workshop. Not a word or symbol of it had any meaning for her, but that was of little concern. Here was the place she knew the fort to be. There was the thin line of the tunnel she'd trudged through. And here was the workshop they'd just left. The place that she'd felt the others to be was a considerable distance away. Either Lain and the others had moved very quickly, or she'd been unconscious for some time. Likely both. Regardless, they would not be able to catch up on foot.

"They are here. Heading toward the mountains, or there already. I don't know why they are going there. They had been heading south before," she said.

"What is our course of action?" Deacon asked eagerly.

"They are much faster than us, and there is much distance between us," Myranda mused out loud. "Is it possible for you to bring us to him in the same way that you brought yourself here?"

"No. No, certainly not. The spell is too rough. Too dangerous. I have neither the strength nor the focus necessary to transport even one of us safely," he stated firmly.

"Then how did you come here?" she asked.

"I required a great deal of aid from Azriel, as well as more than a little manipulation of likelihood," he said.

"Then we shall have to reach this town. With any luck, there will be horses there. While we walk, you must explain to me what you mean by 'manipulation of likelihood,'" she said.

When the map was folded and stowed, and the wind was permitted to resume its preferred course, the pair headed off toward the town indicated on the map.