Turrell hugged the wall, peering cautiously around the corner. “Can you see him?” Sharyl asked.
“Shhhh!” Turrell cautioned. He stepped back from the corner, looking pensive.
Sharyl felt a thrill of fear. “Well?” she prompted.
“He’s stopped just around the corner. I think he saw me.” At any other time, Turrell’s expression would have made her laugh. He looked so afraid. She felt afraid too — afraid, but also more alive somehow. It was as though her fear was feeding her strength.
Someone stepped into the street. He was coming around the same corner Turrell had peered around moments before. He was a tall man. Sharyl had to squint against the glare of the sun before she could see him clearly. It was the man they were following. Gastrin, a soldier dressed in chain mail, was wearing a helmet and carrying a long sword strapped to his side.
“Why are you following me?” Gastrin demanded, glancing from one to the other. His gaze was firm. He looked unafraid, but then again why should he fear them? Two civilians, one a small woman and the other an unarmed man. Sharyl felt a growing sense of excitement.
“Because you stole from us!” she spat.
“You calling me a thief?” the soldier said, a hand going to the hilt of his sword. “I know you. You are from his special school. Go back before you get into trouble!”
Sharyl looked to Turrell for support but he was looking away, too afraid to meet the soldier’s gaze. Sharyl was angry and she wasn’t going to let this rest. A thud of wood on stone from above sounded as someone opened the shutter. It was flung wider by a sudden gust. She saw a face peering down on them, wondering, no doubt, what the noise was all about.
Sharyl felt alive. She giggled. “We’re not leaving until you give us the gold, and yes, I am calling you a thief!” Sharyl shouted, moving away from Turrell.
“Sharyl… ” Turrell started, “it’s not worth it. Let’s go back.” He held his arm out to her as though imploring her to come with him.
“I’m not leaving without the gold!” she insisted. ”This pretty boy soldier had better give it back.”
“Listen to the little man,” the soldier advised, his manner confident as he shrugged his head towards Turrell. “Go back to the school before I get annoyed.” He turned away. To be dismissed so lightly made Sharyl doubly angry. At that moment she hated this conceited man with a passion.
Before she could do anything Turrell finally overcame his cowardice. “Little man!” he blared. He shoved the soldier in the back, catching him off balance. Gastrin took a couple of long strides before bringing himself to a halt. “I am not a little man and you should show some respect, Gastrin. Thief! I saw how you looked when Drachar gave the gold to me. I saw your eyes and they betrayed you,” Turrell shouted.
Gastrin spun around, whipping out his sword, his eyes blazing furiously. Others were coming to the windows of the buildings overlooking the narrow street to see what the commotion was about. Gastrin looked up and seeing the watching faces, he lowered his blade, clearly aware that there were witnesses watching.
“Go back to school,” he sneered, “and I will pretend this didn’t happen.” He backed up several paces, sheathing his sword.
“We want our gold!” Sharyl shouted, following him.
“Sharyl, watch out!” Terrell warned, reaching out to grab her arm. She shrugged out of reach and stormed towards Gastrin who backed farther away, glancing up at the watchers. Turning the corner, he started walking away from the pair.
Sharyl ran after him, stooped and picked up a stone, which she hurled with all her strength. It hit Gastrin in the back. Once again, he spun around to confront them, drawing his sword more slowly this time.
“I am warning you two,” he said through gritted teeth, pointing the sword at them and jabbing it in their direction. His face was crimson with fury.
“Sharyl,” Turrell said. Sharyl glanced back at him, seeing in his look that he wanted to leave.
“I want our gold,” she insisted.
“Sharyl. No!” Turrell cried out as she started to trace a rune in the air. Turrell copied her. Sharyl guessed that he was casting a spell of protection, a wise precaution.
Gastrin laughed at them, fingers painting in the air. He turned to leave and that infuriated Sharyl all the more. With a final flourish, she finished her casting and roared aloud, “Gastrin!”
The other man glanced over his shoulder in time to see a green glow emanating from a tear in the fabric between the worlds. His face darkened as a creature bounded forth. He spun around, his sword drawn. His eyes were wide with fear as he sought an escape.
An imp hovered in the air between Sharyl and Gastrin. It didn’t look too menacing. It was no bigger than a fox, but the smell and green glow were telltale signs of what it was. A demon.
“Kill him,” Sharyl commanded, pointing at Gastrin who raised his sword, clearly not wanting to turn his back on the imp.
The imp was fast. It threw itself at Gastrin who thrust his sword outwards. His blow was ill timed and clearly made in a panic. The imp simply dodged the weapon and was on him in an instant. Its claws raked his throat. Then it was past him, landing, cat-like, on its talons.
Gastrin’s hand clutched his throat. Blood gushed through his fingers. Desperately, he tried to staunch the flow, his eyes bulging in their sockets. He tried to say something, but blood gurgled from his lips. He fell to his knees, a look of astonishment on his face. The imp was not yet finished. Gastrin knew it was behind him and he tried desperately to turn to face it. The creature leapt on his back, its claws tearing his mail as though it was nothing more than spider’s silk.
Gastrin’s head snapped back. A wail escaped his lips as the imp sought his soul. With a cry of victory, the imp snatched its talon from within Gastrin’s back. Sharyl cast a rune, sending it back to hell, a smile on her lips as she looked upon Gastrin’s corpse. A great hole had been ripped in his back.
“Sharyl, what have you done?” Turrell said. He looked at her in awe, his mouth agape.
“Get the gold,” Sharyl instructed, waving a hand dismissively.
Turrell smiled. “You were brilliant, summoning an imp so quickly.”
“Just get the gold,” she said, pointing at the body. She glanced up at the windows. Several slammed shut as the occupants withdrew, unwilling to get involved after witnessing the horror and violence just perpetrated. A few looked on still, their faces masked in terror.
When Turrell turned the body over, even Sharyl was taken aback. Gastrin’s face was frozen in a silent scream, a look of complete terror permanently etched on his face. Sharyl had never liked him, even though she had only met him a couple of weeks earlier. He was a typical soldier, thinking he was better than anyone else just because he had a sword.
She looked up, unafraid of anyone seeing her. She had power now and no one could touch her. Not ever again.
“I have it,” Turrell announced, excitedly, crouching over the body and staring at the nugget. He held it up for her to see. “I have it,” he repeated.
“Come on! We’d better get back,” Sharyl said. She felt incredible, vibrant. She couldn’t stop smiling.
“What will people do?” Turrell fretted. “We … you killed him.”
“Do? What can they do?” Sharyl said, smiling. “We are invincible.”
Humming, Drachar made his way to visit his apprentices. At a distance, two guards accompanied him. As he walked, he heard their mutterings. More often than not the word ‘demon’ was mentioned in hushed whispers.
Something was bothering Drachar, but at first he couldn’t put his finger on it. Then, he realised that he didn’t recognise either of the guards. For some reason, that bothered him. Turning a street corner, he entered one of the city’s more crowded streets. People parted, staring at him. Voices warned others of his coming. Figures scurried out of his way. He gave them little thought — other than being pleased with the effect he was having.
A short while later, he arrived at his destination. He was surprised by the number of people working on the buildings, repairing the roof, and plastering the walls. He noticed Turrell, his new apprentice, running towards him. He was a thin, gangly individual and his head bobbed up and down as he ran. This, combined with his hawk-like nose, made him look comical. He was not as competent as Salar; he had been special. Drachar looked around, searching for his old apprentice.
“Where could he have got to?” he muttered.
Behind him one of the guards spoke, “Sorry, what did you say?”
“Nothing,” Drachar said, as Turrell halted in front of him.
His eyes shone with passion. “Master, we are ready for today’s instruction,” he said, and then he bowed.
“Why are these people here?” Drachar asked as they made their way to the classroom.
Turrell grinned, “Repairing the buildings,” he offered, stating the obvious. To anyone else this might have been construed as being rude, but Drachar had already accepted that Turrell was a simple man, a man of few words. He liked that.
“Ah, the gold. It came in useful then?” Drachar asked.
Turrell mumbled something that Drachar didn’t catch. He glanced around at the guards, puzzling over the absence of the usual guards. Drachar liked daily routines and something was definitely amiss today. Every day he was met by the same guard and escorted here. Gastrin! That was the name of one of the guards who escorted him. Drachar stopped.
“Where is Gastrin?” he asked, turning to Turrell, who shrugged. Something in his look warned Drachar that Turrell knew something, but wasn’t talking. He turned to the two new guards who looked pale and uncomfortable. He repeated the question to these men, but they said they didn’t know where he was. Again, there was something in their eyes to suggest otherwise.
Drachar didn’t like mysteries. First Salar and now Gastrin! Using the link with his shaol he felt around the area for signs of danger. Nothing seemed out of place however and so he continued walking to the classroom. Turrell held the door open for him to enter, but his eyes kept darting this way and that and Drachar had the distinct impression that something was amiss.
The guards didn’t usually enter the building and today was no exception. As he swept through the doorway his eyes had to adjust to the gloom of the interior after the brightness of the summer’s day outside.
Inside it was packed with people. Drachar paused to think. He had only recruited a handful of people two short weeks ago, but now there were quite a few more present. This was another mystery.
Turning to Turrell, he said, “Tell me what happened to Gastrin. The guards are not present, so you can tell me what is wrong.”
Again, Drachar saw guilt written on Turrell’s face. “Master, he stole from us.”
“The gold you summoned on your first visit,” Turrell licked his lips and Drachar felt his fear. He looked at Turrell’s shaol, which today was not very visible. Seeing another person’s shaol was always unreliable. Some days it was there and others not.
“What have you done with him?”
Drachar knew already — or he at least thought that he did — but Turrell was clearly at a loss as to what to say.
“I will not harm you, but you must tell me,” Drachar urged.
“It wasn’t just me. It was the others as well. When we found the gold missing, we spoke to our shaols — at least those with a strong enough links did.” Turrell was clearly having a problem admitting this. He paused in his tale.
“We found out that Gastrin had taken the gold that morning. When he left with you, he intended to sell it in the market, but we managed to intercept him.”
“And he had the gold on him?”
“So what did you do?”
“It wasn’t my idea. Sharyl, she did it. She summoned an imp. I watched — that was all.”
“The imp attacked him. It tore out his heart. I heard his soul screaming.”
“Were you scared?”
Turrell dropped his head and shook it. Drachar was starting to understand. The irony made him smile. The reason people were coming to join and the reason these people could summon imps was because of their shaol. Their shaols were evil; that was why they could summon imps. Drachar laughed aloud and Turrell looked up, alarmed.
Did that mean that his people, the Eldric, had evil shaols as well? Oh, this was delicious! Drachar laughed again. The people stopped what they were doing to watch. They could not see him, at least not very well. The shadow surrounding him obscured him from view. It must have seemed bizarre, watching a shadow and hearing laughter coming from it.
Drachar’s mirth gradually lessened. “Continue,” he instructed in a sombre voice. He went amongst the students, listening, but also to inspect the shoals of the newcomers. None of their shaols drew away from him as he approached. This was a good sign. Some students had extremely strong links with their shaol and these seemed to be the most apt pupils. Drachar paused in front on one girl who was drawing a rune for three others to learn.
“Good,” Drachar said. “A very serviceable rune. And what is your name?”
“Sharyl, Master,” she said. Her eyes pierced the shadow around Drachar, as though in challenge. Turrell stood by Drachar’s side and Drachar turned to him.
“You mentioned her, didn’t you? So you managed to summon an imp and I have only been teaching you for two weeks. What spell did you cast to protect yourself?”
Sharyl was using a piece of chalk to write on the floor. She drew a rune reasonably swiftly and Drachar scrutinised it. “You have a good memory, it would seem.”
Sharyl beamed with pride. Just at that moment, there was a commotion at the door. “Go and see what that is,” Drachar said. Turrell nodded before hastening away.
He returned shortly and said, “Master, there are soldiers here. They say they are looking for a murderer.” His voice betrayed his fear, no doubt because of his involvement.
Drachar walked to the door and many of the apprentices followed. Outside, there were five soldiers and one officer. Upon seeing Drachar, surrounded by shadow, the men turned pale. They glanced at each other as though seeking courage in their comrades. The officer said, “We have come to arrest a murderer.”
Drachar laughed, “There are no murderers here.”
“I am looking for a woman, long blond hair, as tall as my shoulder, slim build, and aged about twenty five.”
Drachar noticed the direction of his gaze. Turning, he saw Sharyl standing behind him. She looked remarkably unconcerned. Drachar liked that. He liked that a lot!
“I believe that is her,” the officer continued, pointing to Sharyl.
“You cannot take her,” Drachar said. “My apprentices are outside your laws. My apprentices are to be given respect and not disturbed. The man that was killed stole from us and that is not acceptable.”
The officer clearly didn’t know how to take this. “I have my orders and I must take her into custody.”
“You are a brave man,” Drachar said. “You are all brave,” he said, addressing the men behind the officer, “to stand there, knowing that any moment you could be dead. But that is not what makes you brave. Anyone can die for a cause. What makes you brave is standing up to me, knowing that your soul could be ripped from your body and sent screaming to hell.”
The officer had nothing to say to this. His eyes kept going to Sharyl. Suddenly, he seemed defeated. His shoulders sagged and he turned. “Follow me,” he said to his troops who were only too willing to leave.
Drachar laughed and turned to re-enter the classroom, with his apprentices leading the way. They were talking in excited tones. Drachar looked for Sharyl and saw her watching him. Yes, he thought, she would do nicely.
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