Authors: Michael G. Manning
Tags: #fantasy, #magic, #wizard, #mage, #sorcery
He gave her a warm smile, “There’s no
time. My way is faster.”
Kate looked away, unnerved by his bizarre
expression, “This isn’t right.”
Tyrion was counting the youths he had
winnowed away from their parents…
He should have fifteen. Their tally
earlier had been sixteen, counting Haley who was in Sabortrea. There was one
missing. “Who isn’t here?” he asked.
“Gabriel Evans,” said Kate. “We were
sorting that out before you got here. He and his mother hadn’t shown up yet.
The name seemed vaguely familiar, but he couldn’t remember the
Kate sighed, “Mona Evans. She lives at
the end of the road, past the Price house. Her husband left her after he found
out she was pregnant. She’s been raising Gabriel by herself.”
The name “Mona” he remembered, but he
still couldn’t think of what she had looked like. “Well, we had best send
someone to fetch him then.” He looked over the crowd of upset men and women he
had separated from the teens. Pointing at five men he called out, “You, you,
you, you, and you… go find Gabriel Evans and bring him here. I don’t really
care if Mona comes along or not.”
They looked at him uncertainly, then one
of them spoke up. “She won’t listen to us.”
“I’m not asking you to talk to her, Mr.
Baker,” said Tyrion.
One of the others, Gary Carter, protested,
“You don’t expect us to drag him from his home?”
Tyrion gave him a cold stare before
gesturing at Wilma Carter, “Do you like your wife, Mr. Carter? If you do, I
suggest you make certain you return with Gabriel as swiftly as possible. That
goes for the rest of you as well.” He opened the shield behind them.
They shuffled for a moment until he
shouted at them, “Go!”
The men began running, and he looked at
the others, “The rest of you can leave.”
The crying of the teens left behind grew
louder. The sound annoyed him, and his stomach was rumbling. “I’m going
inside to eat,” he told Kate. “Shut them up, so they don’t disturb my
Her anger flared again, “Or what?!”
Leaning in close to her ear he whispered,
“Or I’ll burn their tongues out.” He turned away and ushered Alice and Tom
Hayes back into the store, leaving Kate and the children in the street. He
enclosed them in a new shield to make sure none of them ran.
Kate spat into the dirt behind him as he
left, and he heard her mutter something almost inaudibly.
It sounded as if she had said, “Liar”, but
he let it go. “Alice, I’ll expect a better lunch. No more of that pig-swill
you called porridge this morning…”
The men returned while he was still eating
the ham Alice Hayes had brought out. They brought Gabriel Evans in through the
front door of the store while his mother, Mona, screamed at them from the
It was enough to ruin his appetite.
He kept eating, hoping none of them would
realize his heart was no longer in it. His hold over them would be weakened if
they knew his stomach was churning. Years among the She’Har had taught him the
deepest secrets of intimidation. They must never suspect that anything
remained of the person he had once been.
I feel nothing.
“Leave the boy and escort his mother
home,” he commanded without looking up from his plate.
He made a point of taking his time with
the rest of the food. When he had finished, he addressed Tom Hayes who sat
awkwardly at one end of the table, “I’ll need a wagon, a sturdy mule, and
provisions to last at least a week. Make sure you include blankets, water,
food, and the rest of that delicious ham.”
Tom’s eyes bugged a little, “I only have
the one mule. I need it for the store or else…”
“Seth Tolburn has a new mare,” suggested
Tyrion, interrupting. “He might trade it to you if you need a replacement.”
“But the wagon, and the rest, I can’t…”
“Have it ready within an hour. Those kids
out there will need it. Make sure they aren’t left wanting. Understand?”
Tom Hayes closed his mouth, unhappy but
afraid to protest further.
Tyrion smiled. “I
again. If I feel that your packing and provisions were lackluster, I will make
certain to visit you.”
The store owner left, and Alice spoke up,
“Is there anything else you…?”
“Pack up the rest of this pig and go help
him. Make sure the cheap bastard doesn’t let his stingy nature get the best of
him,” he ordered.
Gabriel Evans still stood in the corner,
watching him silently with wide eyes. The boy was afraid, but he kept his fear
under control. Tyrion couldn’t help but be impressed with the teen’s
composure. Rising from the table, he walked over to inspect the youth.
Long limbs and wild hair were the first
things that stood out. Gabriel’s hair was brown, a gift from his mother no
doubt, most of Tyrion’s other children had dark hair. He was still thin, but
he would probably fill out with time. His bones indicated he might be quite
tall when he had finished growing.
“You seem calm,” he told the boy. “Are
you always so cool, child?”
“N—no, sir,” answered Gabriel.
“You’re worried, then,” said Tyrion,
nodding. “It must feel something like facing a mad dog, eh lad? Stand still,
don’t run, no sudden moves, otherwise the beast will be on you.” He leaned in,
until his face was only an inch from Gabriel’s nose. “Is that what you’re
The boy nodded, his head bobbing almost
imperceptibly. “Yes, sir,” he almost whispered.
Tyrion straightened up, “You could have
run. When they left, while I was eating. Nothing held you here. Your mother
was still calling for you outside, but you didn’t move. Were you too afraid to
Gabriel swallowed, “No, sir. I was
thinking about my mom. I didn’t want…” His words trailed off as the teen
realized his words might offend the man in front of him.
“You didn’t want me to hurt her, did you
boy? Is that right?”
“At least you’re honest,” said Tyrion
approvingly. “I can appreciate that, so I’ll give you some advice. Fear isn’t
always bad, but it isn’t always good either, it’s a tool. Master it and you
can use it to become stronger, faster—sharper. Let it rule you, and it will
make you a slave in a way that no chain could ever do. Do you hate me,
The teen shook his head, “N—no, sir.”
“Then you’re either a fool, or that was
your first lie. You should hate me; I expect you to. You can use that as well.”
Emboldened by Tyrion’s seeming
rationality, the boy spoke up, “What are you planning to do with me, with all
Tyrion started to answer but then paused,
“Let me get the others, so I don’t have to repeat myself.”
He went outside and released the shield
around the other teens, thinking to order them inside, but as soon as the invisible
wall vanished, one of the males started running.
“Damnitt all!” muttered Tyrion. He sent
his will outward, forming a long rope-like line of force to wrap itself firmly
around the youth’s ankles. The boy fell, slamming his chin on the hard packed
dirt surface of the road.
The boy screamed as his captor dragged him
back toward the others, flailing his arms and crying for someone to help him.
The few windows facing the main street that weren’t already closed were
shuttered as people sought to block out the view or perhaps the sound of the
scene in the street.
Tyrion grabbed the boy by the collar of
his shirt, causing the fabric to rip slightly as he hauled him to his feet.
Frantic the young man twisted in his
grasp, turning to face the man who held him. One arm half raised to strike at
Tyrion. He froze as he saw the look in his captor’s eyes.
“Time to calm down, boy. Let’s not do
anything you’ll regret.”
The teen stared at him, wild-eyed, but he
didn’t move. Blood dripped to the ground from the split skin on his chin.
Tyrion placed one finger under the boy’s
chin, lifting it, and then sealing the wound. “You’ll have a scar there. Next
time could be worse. I expect you’ll make better choices from here on.”
The kid nodded, still fearful.
“What’s your name, boy?” He knew the
names on the list they had come up with, but he couldn’t yet match the faces to
“Blake,” said the youth after a short
That meant he was Samantha Cruz’s son.
Tyrion remembered her, thick hair and dark eyes, Samantha had been one of the
more beautiful women he had wronged. She had been unmarried when he had
beguiled her, and the pregnancy had probably ruined her chances of finding a
“You don’t look much like your mother,”
noted Tyrion. The boy was a tangle of skinny arms and legs. He looked
healthy, but his bones were too prominent. Blake showed little of his mother’s
grace and poise.
“She said I look a lot like you did,”
admitted the youth.
Was I that ugly once?
Tyrion wondered. “Go stand with the others.”
Once they were all together again, Tyrion
raised his voice, “We’re going to be together for a long time, and there are
some things you need to understand, so you don’t make a similar mistake to
young Blake here.
“The first thing you should know, is that
I can see in the dark. I can even see through walls. There is no place you
can hide. I can reach you from great distances, whether to paralyze or to
punish. I have been tolerant so far, but my patience is in short supply.
“Most of you live here in town, so I
expect you should know it well. Who can tell me what lies behind the Brown’s
house over there?”
No one spoke.
Tyrion sighed, then picked out one of the
few he already knew on sight, “Thaddeus. What lies behind Mr. Brown’s house?”
Tad swallowed, then answered, “A small
Tyrion nodded, “That’s correct, but I’d
rather not destroy Mr. Brown’s shed. What else is back there?”
“They have an outhouse,” volunteered Tad.
“Yes, they do,” agreed Tyrion smiling as
he focused. He sent invisible streamers of force outward, guiding them around
the small home and past the shed. When they reached the outhouse he changed
their nature, and with a sudden pulse of energy the wooden outbuilding burst
into flames. Smoke rose from behind the Brown home. “Or I suppose we should
say, ‘they did’.”
Shock registered on some of their faces,
while others continued to stare dumbly at him. He supposed they’d had a lot of
surprises for one day. Tyrion knew from the past that there was a point at
which people simply couldn’t register any more fear or surprise. At some point
the mind would just go blank.
He glanced at Brigid, “Go look behind the
Brown home, and then come tell the others what you see there.”
She nodded and then began quick stepping
in that direction, uncertain whether she would be allowed to run or not. They
waited for a long minute until she returned. “The outhouse is on fire,” she
“Good,” said Tyrion. “I think all of you
should be able to learn from that. Now, let’s go inside the store. I’d like
to talk to you all a little further before we leave.”
Brigid piped up then, “What about the
“I’ve already suppressed it,” he reassured
her. Dalton and Fiona Brown would have to endure the smell of smoke for a long
while whenever they used it, but he had made sure the damage was mostly
cosmetic. “Move along, we don’t have all day.”
Once they were inside, he had them all
line up along one wall before asking them to name themselves. He did his
utmost to memorize their faces, and when they were done he repeated them back
to them. He forgot one or two, but after another repetition he was sure he had
them all firmly in his memory.
“Today we will be taking a trip, away from
Colne, away from your parents, away from everything you’ve ever known. We will
be entering the deep woods, treading upon the domain of the forest gods. Do
any of you know why?”
One of the girls raised her hand, “She
told us that the forest gods are bad, that you’re really trying to protect us
from them.” The girl’s name was Sarah Wilson, and she was indicating Kate as
Tyrion nodded once, “That’s partly true.
The reason they’re coming is because you may have inherited the same powers
that I have. That would make each of you very valuable to the She’Har, but not
in the way you might think. They don’t want you for a higher purpose. There
are several different groups of them, called ‘Groves’. They use humans with
abilities like mine in their games.
“Games isn’t really a good term either,”
he said, continuing. “They compete with one another, using human slaves as
their proxies in arena combat. When they discovered that I had produced
children before I was taken, it sparked a rush to find you. Each of the Groves
is sending teams of wardens to come and try to claim some of you before the
Sarah raised her hand again, and Tyrion
nodded at her. “If we don’t have any powers, like you do, can we go home?” she
Tyrion grimaced. None of the teens in
front of him showed any sign of special ability yet, but he suspected it was
only a matter of time before some of them began to manifest their gift.
Whether they would all develop magical ability, or whether none would, he had
no way of knowing. “Once they put the collar on you…” he shook his head. “I
don’t know. If some of you turn out to be normal—it’s just too hard to say.
It’s possible I could convince them to let you go, but I won’t lie, they may
just as well decide to keep you for breeding experiments.”
“Experiments?” That was from Kate.
He nodded. “I cannot keep them from
taking you, so instead I am claiming you for the one who owns me. What she
will do with you, is not for me to decide. My only consolation will be that if
you all share the same owner you won’t be forced to fight one another.”
Another boy, Ryan Carter, spoke up then,
forgetting to raise his hand, “We don’t have to fight, do we? I mean, those of
us who don’t want to—they can’t make us, right?”
Tyrion gave him a flat stare, “If you
manifest the same gift I have, then you will probably be forced to fight. If
you refuse, they will kill you. If you don’t manifest the gift, then you’ll be
used as a servant, unless I can somehow convince them to let you go.” He
glanced over them, studying their features. It was obvious that they still
hadn’t fully accepted the truth, but only time would help with that.
He lifted his hand to his throat,
indicating the spellwoven collar there, “This is what they will put on you. It
marks you as their property, it ensures your obedience. Once it is on, you
cannot remove it without dying, you cannot run. You will be their slaves, just
as surely as I already am.” There was more he could have added, more that he
wanted to say, but it would have only been false hope.
Whatever I plan, the reality
is that I will probably fail. It’s best they accept the truth sooner rather
than later. Hope will only get them killed.
Tyrion drove the wagon up the small road
from Colne, heading back toward the Tolburn house. They passed it after an
hour, but he didn’t stop there. The wagon was slow and, with so many walking
they were making poor time.
The provisions filled most of the bed of
the wagon, but there was still enough room for two or three of the teens to
ride in the back. Rather than decide on favorites, though, he had forced them
all to walk—including Kate. She had wanted to ride on the front seat beside