Fifth Lost Winter’s Line Chapter


     Evelyn whispered to Goblinque, Fitzroy has been captured…

     Goblinque said, “Yes, he called out to you?”

     “He called out to both of us,” Derek said.

     “I have advised everyone not to help him. I told Fitzroy long ago, ‘Men will come for you with evil intent. Every time you scar and rape a girl, you create a lifelong enemy. Simply slit their throats when you’re finished with them.'”

     Evelyn yelled, “Goblinque!”

     “I can’t believe he got away with it as long as he has…” William said.

     Goblinque said, “Jericho finally caught up with him…”

     “How did Jericho find him?” Evelyn asked. “Fitzroy has outwitted posses for generations.”

     Goblinque said, “I don’t know.”

     “We have been teaching Cheryl to write her name!” Evelyn said.

     Derek said, “We? What is this we business? I’ve been teaching her.”

     Evelyn glared.

     “She can only write the C-h-e,” William said.

     “She is getting good at shifting too,” Evelyn said. “If she’s a wolf, I can say, ‘Shift,’ and she’ll shift back into a human promptly.”

     “Jericho walked right into the pub Fitzroy was drinking in. Walked right up behind him and challenged him to duel. It was uncanny,” Goblinque whispered.

     “It’s the perfect opportunity to strike at Jericho and kill him for once and all,” William said. “Fitzroy could lead us directly to Jericho.”

     Derek said, “William makes a strong point…”

     “He has two archers with him that command the wicked bow. Not one, but two,” Goblinque said.

     “How did he find a second archer?” Evelyn asked.

     “Has to be his old pal, Roger,” William said.

     Derek said, “I thought Roger was dead.”

     “Different Roger,” Evelyn said. “The Roger who hunted for a time with Jericho simply retired.”

     Derek asked, “How do you know these things?”

     Evelyn smiled. “I have my ways.”

     Goblinque said, “Do tell?”

     “He retired over a girl, and it happened to be a girl I hexed…”

     “You never send girls to me!” William howled.

     “You don’t command the wicked bow and hunt our kind as if there is nothing better to do across the generations.”

     William sighed. “I could never master the wicked bow or the wicked sword.”

     Evelyn smiled. “Because you have no patience.”

     “I practiced for months!”

     Derek said. “It takes years, old man, and you never bothered to teach me the techniques.”

     William said, “How can I teach that which I have not mastered?”

     Goblinque smiled. “You’ve taught girls how to use their mouth on your manhood; have you not?”

     William nodded thinking back to the many times he had done just that.

     Evelyn smiled.

     Derek said, “We can’t simply leave Fitzroy to whatever fate they have planned for him.”

     Evelyn said, “Jericho is not to be trifled with, and if he has two archers, we would have to send an army.”

     “So we send an army…” William said.

     “Most of our forces near them have been wiped out,” Goblinque said. “I don’t know how close to their final destination they are, but it would be a week at least before a large enough force could reach them.”

     William sighed. “Oh.”

     Evelyn said, “We need music for Cheryl. I want to teach her how to dance.”

     “I’ve played the flute before, but I need a drummer to keep a melody.”

     “I can play a drum: it’s quite simple,” Derek said.

     Evelyn nodded. “I’ve been thinking of acquiring a harp.”

     “A harp would suit you well,” Goblinque said.

     “I could learn to play…”

     “I have a harp made from the finest oak and tightly bound steel strings. I’ll send it to you, Evelyn.”

     “Does it make a good sound?” Evelyn asked. “I want something that carries. I want to be able to put the harp in one room, and for Cheryl to hear it in her bedroom.”

     “It’ll serve you well, my dear. I’ll send it via wagon.”

     “Thank you, Goblinque.”

     “When will you bring Cheryl to my fortress, so I can meet her?”

     “She’s far too young to travel,” Evelyn said.

     Derek said, “She’s tough. She could travel to the fortress.”

     “No, she would change into a bird or something and be lost forever.”

     William said, “Has she done a bird yet?”

     “Well, no… But she does a snake quite often, and I wouldn’t want some peasant cutting her head off.”

     Goblinque said, “I can wait…”

Fourth Lost Winter’s Line Chapter


     Goblinque called out to Derek, Evelyn, and William, Were you watching?

     Aye… Derek said.

     Why won’t Cheryl sleep at night? Evelyn asked. I put her in the crib and leave her alone, and she just cries…

     “This is important, Evelyn. Were you watching the competition?” Goblinque asked.

     “Yes, I saw. The only way I can get Cheryl to sleep is if I cuddle with her!”

     William asked, “What did I miss?”

     “You weren’t watching the competition?” Derek asked.

     “Hell no, I couldn’t care less.”

     Goblinque said, “This Eriq Winter threw blue fire…”

     “What?”

     Derek said, “Blue fire, old man.”

     “I hate sleeping with Cheryl,” Evelyn said. “She drools all over everything. A couple of times, she’s turned into a python in the middle of the night and wrapped herself around my leg and squeezed.”

     “She’s got a death grip,” Derek said with a smile.

     Goblinque howled, “Blue fire!”

     William nodded. “What about Byron? He said he was going to attend this year.”

     “Yes, Byron can pass for a warlock, and he did attend.”

     “Well, what did he say?” Evelyn asked.

     Goblinque whispered, “This Eriq Winter is going to save this blue fire for me especially. For me!”

     Derek smiled. “Perhaps Evelyn and my goblins will get to him first.”

     “We need to assert ourselves,” Goblinque said. “We need to start a war. A big enough war to draw the warlocks out of their stinking towers.”

     William said, “Agreed.”

     Evelyn sighed. “You know it means slaughtering peasants.”

     “So we slaughter peasants,” Derek said.

     Evelyn barked. “Derek!”

     Goblinque said, “There’s no other way to draw them out…”

     “If we torture just a few badly enough, it’ll draw them out,” William said. “We don’t have to slaughter hundreds or thousands.”

     Evelyn let out a low grumble. “I would rather torture a few than slaughter by the village.”

     “Agreed. We send them to Hell then we send them to whatever afterlife they’re due,” Derek said.

     Evelyn shook her head.

     Derek said, “Cheryl said, ‘Papa,’ a few days ago.”

     Evelyn’s eyes open wide. “She did not!”

     “She did. I was going to tell you…”

     Evelyn shook her head. “Well, she said, ‘Mama,’ five days ago.”

     William said, “You lie! You would have said something!”

     “She said, ‘Mama.’ She’s said it twice now.”

     William smiled. “Oh, yes, she’s said, ‘Unkie William,’ three times.”

     Goblinque laughed.

     Evelyn glared.

     “What’s the plan, Goblinque?” Derek asked.

     “I imagine small roving bands will be best. Invade small villages one by one. Force them to pay taxes to me, or we kill a few of their firstborn. We shall have to hit farms too.”

     Derek nodded. “Small roving bands is best. Apply a two-tiered methodology: small bands with minor wards to draw out small forces of warlocks with a second tier of larger groups to engage the warlocks we do draw out.”

     Evelyn said, “What?”

     Goblinque said, “He’s right.”

     “You spent too much time in school the last few years, Derek,” William said.

     “I don’t even know what he’s saying half the time lately,” Evelyn said.

     Derek laughed. “That’s because I’ve been trying to teach you Mandarin.”

     “Is that what that is? Where did you learn it?”

     “Hsin Lee.”

     “What?”

     “A traveling monk,” Derek said. “His name is Hsin Lee. He decided he wanted to explore the world, and over a great many mugs of ale, I convinced him to take up residence locally.”

     William said, “You met a traveling monk, and you didn’t tell us?”

     “He claims to be a grand master of some unarmed combat. He said he could teach me, for the right fee. He cracked a wooden table in half with the butt of his hand.”

     William said, “Well, that’s useful. Did you tell him tables don’t fight back?”

     “It was a very thick table. And he mostly only speaks Mandarin. He sort of projects when he talks, so I can understand him in my mind. He talks; I listen.”

     Evelyn said, “Why haven’t I met him? Invite him over for dinner!”

     “I was going to… He and I haven’t made an arrangement for his fee yet to teach me.”

     Goblinque said, “You have offered him gold?”

     “Well, he said he wanted a virgin, and I tried to explain to him that he had to find his own virgin. I showed him some gold, and he just said, ‘a virgin!'”

     William laughed. “I must meet him!”

     Evelyn said, “Christy is still a virgin I think.”

     Derek nodded his head and opened his eyes wider. “She might be. She turned, what 17, last week?”

     “She turned 18!” William exclaimed.

     Goblinque smiled. “Perhaps instead of offering the gold to Hsin, you could offer the gold to Christy.”

     “Yes, I was just thinking the exact same thing,” Derek said.

     William said, “If she’s still a virgin, I can fix that.”

     “No, old man! I shall offer her the gold and introduce the two of them.”

     “Just don’t hex her,” Evelyn said with a cold, hard stare.

     “I would never think of such a thing.”

     Goblinque said, “No, of course not, Derek.”

     “I wouldn’t!”

Third Winter’s Line Lost Chapter


     Goblinque reached out to Evelyn and Derek and whispered, “This Jericho must be dealt with once and for all.”

     “Cheryl’s crawling now,” Evelyn said. “If I put her in her crib and she doesn’t wish to sleep, she transforms into a squirrel and escapes her crib.”

     “Jericho has been a thorn in our side for countless generations,” Derek said. “His ward is unbreakable.”

     “No ward is unbreakable,” Goblinque said. “You simply need to try harder. He must be using layered white granite.”

     “Layered white granite is a myth!”

     Evelyn asked, “How many of our people did he kill this time?”

     “They, Evelyn, there are two of them now,” Goblinque said.

     Derek closed his eyes and let out a slow breath. “Who did they kill?”

     “They killed Henry of Loxley,” Goblinque said. “And Michael of Heathrow.”

     Evelyn moved to the stove and started tossing logs in on the fire. “They had no minions with them?”

     “They had five minions.”

     Evelyn looked into the fire. “Two warlocks did not kill seven vampires.”

     “This Eriq Winter commands the wicked bow.”

     “And you want us to go and face him?” Evelyn asked. “I’ve been shot with arrows before, and I don’t enjoy it.”

     Derek rubbed his hands over the newly lit fire. “Now is not the time, Goblinque. If we leave Cheryl alone for a minute, she tries to escape the house.”

     “The other day I found her by the back door in wolf form clawing at the door and barking to be let out!” Evelyn sniped.

     Derek said, “Did you scold her?”

     “No, I didn’t scold her. She’s only two.”

     Goblinque laughed. “Derek, you must find a way to defeat the layered white granite.”

     “You can’t possibly be certain that’s what he’s using,” Derek said. “What if he is using white granite layered with obsidian sheets?”

     “Only a strong dark knight can maintain such a ward for any length of time.”

     Evelyn said, “These two warlocks are strong.”

     “The time to go to war is at hand,” Goblinque said.

     “You say that every time we talk,” Derek said. “You know how Evelyn and I feel about war.”

     Goblinque smiled. “Yes, and I keep hoping you’ll change your minds.”

     “These two, Jericho and Eriq Winter,” Evelyn said. “Sooner or later they’ll find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, and Derek and I will strike.”

     “Yes,” Derek said, “when they are within a days ride I’ll sense them, and we shall strike.”

     “Anyone carrying around that much white granite in their heart will be easily detected, if they come near here.”

     “We should take a more direct approach: strike at them before they can return to Oxford,” Goblinque said.

     “And leave Cheryl with William?” Evelyn asked. “He hardly knows how to hold a baby.”

     William howled, “I heard that!”

     “It’s true!” Evelyn said.

     “Goblinque, have you ever faced masters of the wicked sword and the wicked bow at the same time?” Derek asekd.

     Goblinque said, “Once. I can defeat them.”

     “Then you don’t need us.”

     “We haven’t had a war in a long time,” William said. “It seems everywhere I turn there are warlocks and priests.”

     Goblinque said, “Move east.”

     “We’ve been to the east,” Evelyn said. “The food is tasty, but it’s very different being Caucasian among all those strangers.”

     William said, “They’re not strangers to the east. We’re the strangers.”

     “Yes, that’s exactly what bothers me.”

     Goblinque let out a little whimper almost like a small child. “I don’t want to go to England alone and engage these warlocks. I could scour the isle for them and never find them.”

     William let out a low thunderous growl. “I’ll go with you.”

     “Of course, my friend. By the time the two of us could get there, they would be back in Oxford, and we’d need an army.”

     “So, we raise an army!”

     “The high council is in Oxford,” Goblinque said. “And it’ll upset the balance too much, if we slaughter them. The warlocks have a purpose in our world.”

     “They’re growing too numerous,” William said. “We must act.”

     “Who have you been talking to? I must meet them.”

     William laughed. “I’ve just been thinking, my liege. War might not be a bad thing. I’ve a bad feeling the longer we wait the more muskets we’ll have to face.”

     Goblinque nodded. “Yes, I have to agree.”

     Derek said, “That is no excuse to go to war.”

     Evelyn said, “It’s a reasonable excuse, Derek.”

     “What?” asked Derek.

     “The time may be now,” Evelyn said.

     Goblinque said, “Then we’re going to war?”

     “Well, no. I just agree the time may be right.”

     William said, “If the time is right, we should march!”

     “The time may be right for you and Goblinque, but it isn’t right for Derek and me.”

     William sighed.

     Goblinque whispered, “I have seen a vision in a dream, and war is looming.”

     William shuddered. “I have been dreaming of young men without pants lately. I wake up shivering with a queasy feeling in my gut.”

     Evelyn said, “What a tragedy it is to dream of young men without pants.”

     “It’s a bad thing, Evelyn,” William said.

     “The question is: are your pants staying on in the dream?”

     William said, “I don’t think that’s terribly important.”

     “How long have you been having these dreams?” Goblinque asked.

     “It’s important,” Derek said. “We must know. Do you keep your pants on in these dreams?”

     William yelled, “Bugger off!”

     “How young are these boys that you dream of?” Goblinque asked.

     “Damn you, Goblinque! They’re at least eighteen!” William shouted.

     “I mean, are they old enough to have hair growing down there?”

     “I try not to look down there in the dreams!”

     Goblinque laughed.

     “Perhaps you just need more female company,” Derek said.

     William hissed. “We live in this stupid little town, and there’s one slut and one whore. I have done the slut a dozen times and the whore fifteen times.”

     “You keep a steady count?” Evelyn asked.

     Derek said, “He marks his calendar.”

     William said, “You’re both scum!”

     Goblinque said, “It has been ages since you turned a girl, William.”

     “That’s not a bad idea…”

     Evelyn snarled. “William! You’ll not curse some young maiden with such a plague.”

     “The slut in town sleeps with so many men I expect to catch something when I do her, and the whore asks two copper pieces each time!”

     “Two copper pieces is cheap!” Derek said.

     Evelyn said, “How do you know?”

     Derek titled his head to the side. “I heard stories in my youth.”

     Evelyn nodded.

     Goblinque said, “Perhaps you need to travel, William.”

     “Hmmm, if it’ll drive away these nightmares, then perhaps it’s a good idea.”

Second Winter’s Line Lost Chapter


     Evelyn howled with her mind far enough that some of the neighbors heard, William! Derek!

     Derek snapped back, What?

     Evelyn growled. “One of you is to blame for this, I know it!”

     “What are you going on about, woman?” William asked.

     “There’s a puppy in Cheryl’s crib! And Cheryl is gone!”

     William laughed.

     Derek said, “What? I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

     “You did this, didn’t you, William. Where is Cheryl!”

     William laughed again. “I’m definitely not to blame!”

     Derek came running in, and he stared.

     “Where is Cheryl!” Evelyn said.

     Derek stared. He reached out his hand to touch the animal, and the pup started to nibble and lick at his fingers.

     “Damn you, William!” Evelyn yelled. “Get up here!”

     “It’s broad daylight, woman! Cheryl is right there,” William said.

     Derek said, “It’s more of a wolf pup than a dog, honey.”

     “What!” Evelyn howled.

     William scryed in on them, and spoke very quietly, “She’s a shapeshifter.”

     “Our daughter is a dog?”

     “Evelyn, that is clearly a wolf pup,” Derek said. “Look at the long legs and pointy ears. Her paws are bigger than a coin.”

     William said, “Be glad her first form wasn’t a poisonous snake.”

     “Of that, I’m surely glad,” Evelyn said.

     Derek asked, “Are you going to feed her? She seems hungry.”

     Evelyn stared wide eyed at Derek. She spoke very quietly, “William, how do we make her turn human again?”

     “You intend to make an infant do something? Will you threaten to take away her toys?”

     “Goblinque may know,” Derek said.

     Evelyn whispered, Goblinque

     Goblinque was silent for a moment. Finally he said, Are you finally prepared to go to war?

     “No, Goblinque,” Derek said, “I have, however, perfected a ward for stopping lead and silver bullets.”

     “Lead and silver? What difference does it make what the bullet is made of?”

     “I haven’t perfected an iron bullet yet, but I suspect an iron bullet will be key to penetrating the wards I’ve been using.”

     Evelyn cried out, “Our daughter is a dog!”

     Goblinque laughed then quickly replied, “What breed?”

     “She’s a grey wolf pup!” Derek said with a wide smile. “A timberland wolf I’d say.”

     “Make her change back, Goblinque!” Evelyn cried.

     “She’ll change back when she wants to,” he said. “Be glad her first form wasn’t a poisonous snake.”

     Evelyn asked, “How often does that happen?”

     “Depends on the baby. Shafeshifters born to mortals rarely see the end of their first year.”

     “She’ll live three hundred years easily, if not four hundred,” William said.

     Evelyn breathed a deep sigh of relief that bled from her heart into lungs with a pressing glee.

     Goblinque said, “The wards, Derek.”

     “Yes. You must first imagine flat strips of steel about a quarter inch across. Then the strips must be woven together with slight gaps like a basket is woven together. You need three layers, and they must be at least a foot by a foot of shield for the weave to hold together. The layers should be about an inch apart.”

     “When will she turn back, Goblinque?” Evelyn asked.

     “There’s no telling,” Goblinque replied. “Shapeshifters aren’t telepathic, but some travel with dark knights or master vampires. I’ll see if one is nearby and can journey there. A shapeshifter may be able to convince her to shift.”

     “How am I supposed to feed her?”

     All three men laughed.

     “I’m serious!” Evelyn yelled.

     Derek smiled at Evelyn. “Try it, Evelyn. It may work fine.”

     “That thing has teeth!”

     “They’re fairly sharp, too.”

     “You’re not helping!”

     “I’ll pass on your ward to all the dark knights and master vampires,” Goblinque said. “Many of them want war you know. It has been many generations of mortals since there has been a real war. The warlocks have been out breeding us over the centuries, and it’s time we culled the herd. They outnumber us, so it’s time for extinction.”

     Evelyn glared. “I’ll raise this child, Goblinque. I’ll not pawn her off on some surrogate. You have to wait.”

     “We can wait. Cheryl will grow strong, and she’ll join forces with us.”

     Derek said, “We don’t want her to go to war, Goblinque.”

     Goblinque smiled. “She’s a shape shifter. She can be extremely useful in war without ever getting near a sword or arrow. She’ll decide as all children do.”

     Evelyn sighed. “We’ve learned that lesson painfully enough over the years, Goblinque.”

     Cheryl barked and wagged her tail back and forth. Then she barked again and again. Derek said, “She’s hungry.”

     Evelyn rolled her eyes. “Then let her change back into a human.”

     “She may stay like that for weeks. You may be eternally cursed in that she may never learn to shift again,” Goblinque said. “She may be a wolf forever.”

     Evelyn said, “Don’t even say things like that!”

     “I’ve always wanted a wolf,” Derek said.

     “At the price of our daughter?”

     “Well, of course not, but it’s obvious there’s nothing we can do. Let’s make the best of it.”

     Goblinque nodded. “I shall beseech a shapeshifter to assist you.”

     Evelyn said, “Thank you, Goblinque.”

     William said, “Cheryl might be able to eat meat if you cut it thinly enough.”

     Evelyn looked the pup over again. She was a fine specimen of a canine. She had the biggest eyes you’d ever see on a pup, and her coat was well formed. Evelyn said, “I’ll feed her.”

     “Splendid,” Derek said. “Can I get you anything, Evelyn?”

     Evelyn said, “Yes. Go to the market and get broccoli and asparagus.”

     “We’re not having broccoli and asparagus for dinner!”

     “No, we’re having chicken, but I want broccoli and asparagus too,” Evelyn said.

     “You know how I feel about broccoli and asparagus!”

     “I don’t care, Derek. I want them!”

     He glared.

     William said, “Get some turnips too, Derek. I’ve a craving for turnips!”

     “Get your own damn turnips!” Derek screamed.

First Winter’s Line Lost Chapter


      Goblinque whispered, “Derek. Evelyn.”

      “We’ve heard his thunder,” Evelyn said.

      “He’s only eighteen.”

      Derek asked, “Was I that loud at eighteen?”

      Goblinque laughed. “No. The magic we taught you at eighteen had a more subtle ring to it.”

      Evelyn scratched at her left earlobe. “What’s this boy doing to make such a racket?”

      Goblinque sighed.

      Derek reached across the table rubbed Evelyn’s knee. “What is it, Goblinque?”

      “I’ve heard reports that he’s using red lightning. He has killed five dark knights, including Avenall.”

      “Avenall of Le Mans?”

      “Yes,” Goblinque answered.

      “No!” Derek howled.

      Evelyn shook her head. “No eighteen year old boy could kill Avenall. Who is your source for this information?”

      “A shapeshifter witnessed the slaughter,” Goblinque said. “As I said, the boy commands red lightning that etches across the landscape like a line of blood.”

      No one said anything for the longest time.

      “The three of us together should deal with this boy,” Goblinque said. “I’m quickly giving up hope of enlisting him. He must be killed.”

      Evelyn smiled. “We’re expecting again, Goblinque.”

      Goblinque let out a little giggle more fitting to a teenage girl. “You aren’t going to give up hope are you, Evelyn? No matter how poorly the children always turn out.”

      “Surely our luck can’t run dry forever.”

      “We can’t help you this time,” Derek said. “You know how she gets when she’s pregnant.”

      Evelyn glared at Derek and spoke very quietly, “What do you mean, Derek?”

      Derek glared right back at her. “You know exactly what I mean.”

      “We need to be concerned with this Eriq Winter,” Goblinque said. “He could be our undoing.”

      Derek smiled. “Do I sense fear in your voice, Goblinque?”

      “The world is changing, Derek. The musket is spreading, and now this red lightning: two ways of killing us that I know no ward for.”

      “I’ve ordered a shipment of muskets from the Ottomans. I expect to be practicing warding against a bullet within the month.”

      “Excellent.”

      “Is this Eriq Winter a holy warrior?” Evelyn asked.

      Goblinque did a little unhappy dance. “His aura is difficult to read. It surely isn’t pure white.”

      “He killed five dark knights,” Derek said. “Send ten.”

Lost Witch Chapter


       “Camping?”

       Charlie nodded like a pez dispenser on overdrive. He said, “I like to go camping each year.”

       “All weekend?”

       “We’ll leave Friday after I get out of work, and you get out of school. We’ll pack up before dusk on Sunday.”

       Ashley looked him in his face. He was a few years older than her and had high, wide eye brows. He stared back at her with a twinkle in his eyes and a toothy smile. She said, “Is this some rite of passage you make your girlfriends go through before you sleep with them?”

       “I met your parents, didn’t I?”

       “And that didn’t kill you, did it?”

       Charlie, who had been standing mostly in the doorway of Ashley’s apartment, stepped inside and grabbed her by the waist pulling her in close. He said, “Camping isn’t going to kill you.”

       Ashley slipped her hands around his back enjoying the twinkle in his deep brown eyes before planting a kiss directly on his lips. She said, “I sure hope camping isn’t going to kill me. Will there be showers?”

       For a second, the twinkle in his eyes died into a wince. “Well, no.” Ashley began to pull away. He said, “We’ll cook everything over an open fire. You’ve never really had eggs until you’ve had eggs cooked over hickory. I’ll make pancakes in the mornings. I might try my hand at some fishing. I’m going to take my sketch book. I was going to draw some pictures of you. I have to draw up a few proposals for a new medical building, too, and being in the woods alone with you will surely inspire me to genius.”

       Ashley showed off her best quirky grin, “Genius, you say?”

       “Your beauty alone inspires me. Put that together with the quiet solitude of the outdoors, and I’ll work wonders.”

       “No showers. Everything burned over an open fire, rain, snakes, bugs, and possums getting into the food.”

       “There’s a creek, a waterfall, and a pond. You can bring a swimsuit if you want.”

       “Is this one of those campsites where tourists go and park on square lots of grass like compartments?”

       “No, we’ll be the only ones around for miles and miles: no electricity or gas line hookups, no running water, just wilderness, and no people. It’ll be a chance for us to really spend some quality time together.”

       Ashley sighed, “What do I have to bring?”

       “It’ll be warm enough for shorts during the day, but you’ll want long pants at night when the sun goes down and the bugs come out. Towels, blankets, and bug spray, if you want, are good to bring. I’ll handle all the gear and food.”

       Ashley pushed herself away from her boyfriend of three weeks and said, “Will we share a tent?”

       Charlie nodded, “I have three tents. I could bring two along.”

       “Do you have one really big tent that has multiple rooms and a latrine already dug?”

       Charlie smiled, “Sure, and we’ll bring a power generator, so you can use your hairdryer.”

       “Perfect!”

       Charlie said, “So, you’re ok with it? This weekend is ok?”

       “Yes. Are we still having dinner?”

       “I planned on it.”

       “Were you hoping I would cook, or did you have something in mind?”

       “What would you cook?”

       “Spaghetti or peanut butter and jelly.”

       “Italian sounds good, but I’d rather go for a pizza than have spaghetti.”

       Ashley scowled, “Is there something wrong with my spaghetti?”

       Charlie smiled, “No, I love your spaghetti.”

       “And the peanut butter and jelly?”

       “I live for your peanut butter and jelly.”

       She pecked him once on the cheek and said, “I need food, brown eyes.”

       They went for pizza. Afterwards, they stood outside Ashley’s apartment embraced in a kiss. Ashley broke the kiss off and said, “Are you sure you don’t want to come in?”

       Charlie shook his head and said, “I have work early tomorrow. I’ll see you on Friday?”

       “I’ll be packed, and I’ll come straight home from school.”

       Charlie wandered home. Ashley studied for a while and then went to sleep. The next morning she called her mom, Alice, and said, “Hi.”

       Alice replied, “How are you?”

       “Good. I just wanted to tell you that Charlie and I are going away for the weekend. He wants to go camping.”

       “Go to a casino or a spa or something instead. Don’t go camping.”

       “Mom, he wants to go camping.”

       “He’s part of some Satan worshipping cult, and he wants to take you out in the woods, so it’ll be more convenient to hide your body. No sane man goes camping.”

       “He’s a little on the odd side. He’s an architect; what do you expect?”

       “Have you two even slept together?”

       “No. We’re sharing a tent this weekend, so I expect we’ll take care of all that.”

       Alice said, “Maybe the outdoors will bring out the animal in him, and he’ll be like a wild beast under the cover of the moon and stars.”

       Ashley thought back to her childhood and the countless times her mom would lock herself in her room with a new book, “You’ve been reading romance novels again, haven’t you?”

       “I was at the airport and had a four hour layover. What was I supposed to do? Take up smoking?”

       “You know it doesn’t matter to me as much as it matters to dad.”

       “No, he and I worked out a deal. I don’t read the silly things while I’m cooking his dinner.”

       “What’s his end of the deal?”

       “He lets me read them in peace.”

       “Well, I just wanted to let you know I’d be out of town this weekend.”

       “I’ll keep my fingers crossed that Charlie isn’t some crazed murdering psychopath.”

       Ashley paused, “Dad didn’t notice anything strange about him…”

       “Your father has been wrong many times.”

       “Bye, mom.”

       The phone clicked off, and Ashley went about her schoolwork.

       Charlie arrived about four in the afternoon knocking cheerfully on Ashley’s door with his trademark knock. She grabbed her bag and opened the door. Charlie wore a red and black flannel shirt, blue jeans, a knife on his belt, steel-toed work boots, and a fishing hat which would have fit perfectly on Captain Ahab. Ashley laughed.

       Charlie said, “Come on, I look good.”

       “Where did you get the hat?”

       “I paid a dollar twenty-five for it at a thrift store when I was seventeen!”

       “What was that, two decades ago?”

       “No, it was only seven years ago.”

       Ashley gave him a quick kiss on the lips and said, “Let’s go.”

       She locked up her apartment, and they made their way to Charlie’s truck. She went to put her bag in the back, and a tarp covered the cargo bay of the truck. Charlie said, “We might be able to squeeze it in back there, but I’d rather you just put it up front with us.”

       “If it’s between us, we can’t snuggle!”

       “We can’t snuggle and wear our seat belts either.”

       Ashley glared, “Fine.”

       They hit the road. Once they reached a country road and wilderness, Ashley started watching for a gas station or fast food joint. She made Charlie stop, so she could use a civilized bathroom one last time for the weekend.

       Charlie turned the truck down a dirt road past a state park sign nailed to a tree. He seemed to know where he was going and didn’t drive overly fast on the bumpy trail. They passed a rusty, old, bullet hole ridden sign saying, “Campsite,” and they drove into a clearing. Charlie pulled to a stop and said, “We have arrived, my lady.”

       “Splendid. What do we do first?”

       “Pitch our tent and look for firewood. Dig a latrine. We’ve got about two hours of daylight left.”

       Ashley smiled, “You’re digging the latrine. I’ll look for deadwood. I better not see any snakes.”

       “I’ll pitch the tent, too. I can do it on my own. If you see a snake just back away slowly, it’s more afraid of you than you are of it.”

       Ashley nodded. She climbed out of the truck and headed into the woods. She picked up branch after branch until her hands were full. She dropped the load off by the tent and went for more. After her fourth trip for wood, she stopped and just took in her surroundings. The sun slowly set and a full moon sat a third way up in the heavens. The latrine was dug, and the tent was pitched. Charlie was unloading things from the truck.

       Charlie said, “Some friends of mine might join us. They like to play games in these woods.”

       Ashley said, “What kind of games? I thought you said this was our weekend together, alone, away from people.”

       “It’s just a few buddies of mine. They used to play paintball. These days they use Nerf guns and run around in the woods.”

       “Arrooo!” echoed through the woods.

       She jumped a bit and looked at Charlie. He said, “Probably just a coyote.”

       “Great, a hungry, likely rabid, coyote and it sounded close.”

       Ashley started walking back into the woods in the twilight when she heard an animal howl. Out of instinct, she turned towards the sound. A canine head poked its way past a shrubbery, and Ashley stared in awe. The beast of a wolf stood taller than any dog she’d ever seen with huge paws and a vicious mouth. She looked at Charlie and called out his name.

       Charlie turned and looked. Then he scrambled to the truck and pulled out a rifle. The wolf dodged back into the woods on seeing the rifle. Ashley sighed and started walking back to Charlie when he said, “Wait!”

       Ashley froze and turned to look back at the woods. A pack of wolves eyed her with malicious intent. Charlie’s rifle went “KRACK!” and one of the wolves went down. Charlie worked the lever on the rifle, but instead of the wolves running away from the sound of the rifle, they ran towards it. Charlie gunned down another one of them as it tried to leap on him. He shouted, “Run, Ashley, run!”

       A wolf tackled Charlie and, as Ashley watched, ripped into his stomach with his brutish jaws. On seeing all that blood, Ashley’s vision tightened, and she had but one primal thought. She darted like the wind across the clearing away from the wolves.

Lucas


       Lucas let himself into his home at 3:30pm and turned on his computer. He started researching Mesopotamian agriculture when his computer flashed a message from his cousin Jessie.


       “Lucas!” It said.


       He typed, “No, this is George.”


       “Well, I need Lucas.”


       “Lucas is dead. I buried him in the back yard.”


       He could hear her snarl from across town.


       “I have something I want to show you,” she types. “Can I come over?”


       “Sure.”


       Lucas went back to his research, and after a while, the doorbell rang. He went downstairs and peeped through the peep hole. Jessie stood there with three men Lucas didn’t know. He paused.


       He opened the door. “Who are your friends?”


       Jessie was dressed in a turtle neck sweater and blue jeans. “This is Michael, Joshua, and Larry. They’re good people.”


       Michael said, “Aren’t you going to invite us in?”


       A tiny little voice spoke in Lucas’s mind, Don’t do it.


       He pushed the door open wide. “Come in.”


       As they walked past, he smelled a certain stench like the dead. He once picked up a dead squirrel and smelled it, and that’s what those men smelled like. They walked into the living room, and everyone took a seat.


       Joshua said, “Do you believe in magic, Lucas?”


       “Oh of course, I do magic all the time.”


       The three men laughed, but Jessie frowned.


       Michael held out his hand palm upward and a clean red flame erupted out of his palm. A sound like a piano hitting three notes over and over filled the room. Lucas jumped out of his chair.


       Jessie said, “Relax, Lucas, you’re among friends.”


       Lucas peered into his own soul, and the same tiny voice in his head said, Enemies.


       He sat back down and got a better look at the people surrounding him. The foremost thing he noticed was, even though they reeked of death, their clothes were new and fit well enough to be tailor made.


       A loud ping echoed through the room in Lucas’s ears, and he had an insane urge to whip out his penis and start stroking it. He shook his head back and forth to clear his thoughts. Michael whispered, “He’s strong. He resisted.”


       “It’s called hexing. You should have felt an urge,” Larry said.


       Lucas rubbed his palms up and down the tops of his thighs. “I felt an urge.”


       “Hell, it worked on me when they did it!” Jessie exclaimed.


       Joshua said, “Teach him how to do it.”


       “In your mind, focus on a blood red triangle inside of a scorched black metal circle. Think a dire thought, and throw the triangle in a circle at one of our hearts. Joshua is the weakest. Do it to him. When you focus on the triangle in a circle, a flexing of power should well up inside you.”


       Lucas imagined it. He thought to himself: they tried to get me to masturbate, and I’ll try something different. He threw the red triangle in a black circle at Joshua’s heart and thought back like a dog.


       Joshua’s eyes opened wide. He stood up and howled like mad adn wouldn’t stop. Jessie laughed.


       Larry yelled, “Get a hold of yourself, man!”


       Lucas reached into his sense of power and threw more triangles in circles at Joshua’s heart thinking the same thing over and over. Joshua howled louder.


       “Cast truesight on him,” Larry shouted as he pointed a clawed index finger at Lucas.


       Michael began to chant something in a language Lucas didn’t understand. The tiny voice in Lucas’s mind spoke, They’re vampires.


       Michael hissed and showed off his fangs. “He’s holy!”


       “What I need is a cross?” Lucas asked.


       White light burned out of Lucas’s right hand, and the others screamed and fell backwards. Lucas focused on a wooden crucifix in his mind hand carved from some hard wood. He pointed the light at Michael, and the creature burst into flames. Lucas did Larry and Joshua next. Sirens echoed in the distance. Jessie started backing away. “I’m your cousin.”


       Lucas paused. She barred her fangs and lunged at him. He burned her with the light. The sirens got louder. He stepped out of his house, and two unmarked cars and an ambulance pulled up to a stop. A man wearing tan pants, leather shoes, and a white shirt aimed a pistol at Lucas and pulled the trigger. A dart punched into Lucas’s leg, and his world began to spin. He fell to his knees. The paramedic raced to him and plunged a needle in his vein. His eyes fluttered closed.


       His dreams twisted and turned for what felt like an eternity. The first thing he noticed was he was sitting in a chair, and his arms and legs were strapped to the chair. He opened his eyes to a dimly lit room. A voice across the room said, “Lights.”


       The lights notched themselves up, and Lucas took note of his surroundings. A large desk sat across from him, and an ancient fellow with wild white hair and a white shirt sat across the desk from him. Lucas let out a low growl. “I want to be untied.”


       The elderly man nodded and began to speak in an incomprehensible language. The leather straps holding Lucas’s appendages in place swelled up and floated away from him. Lucas rubbed at his wrists. He focused on a golden crucifix and willed power to flow. The light encased the old man, but nothing happened.


       The old man tapped at his desk with his index finger. “Dear boy, that’s only going to work on a vampire. You’ve been in a medically induced coma for three days. You likely need to relieve your bowels, and you very likely need to eat some solid food.”


       That’s when Lucas noticed the distinct sound of music from far away. Like the speakers were in another room, and it wasn’t good music, but just a few notes on repeat in a separate harmony from another set of just a few notes repeating themselves. “Talk old man, and talk fast.”


       “I’ve ordered food brought. My name’s Jeffries, and I’m over seven hundred years old. Surely you need to relieve your bowels.” Jeffries pointed at a door.


       Lucas raced into the other room and took care of business. He looked in the mirror. He stepped back into the other room. Three carts greeted him loaded with fresh fruit, cooked meats, and breads. He feasted while Jeffries spoke.


       “You must understand. You’ll be the second most powerful spell caster on the face of the Earth, if you survive, and if the most powerful one finds out about you, he will come for you to kill you before you can realize your true potential.”


       Lucas paused between bites of chicken wing. “How do you know I’m the second strongest?”


       “Your aura is pure white. You’re a holy warrior. You’re the only holy warrior alive today.”


       The music in the distance changed. One set of notes stopped, then two more different sets started up, then the first remaining set of notes stopped. Lucas eyed a strawberry and chomped it in half. “What’s that music?”


       “We’re trying to hide you. You’re making an awful racket right now of your own. We’re staging an ongoing mage competition here at Raven’s Tower. The sound you hear is magic users doing battle to see who is the best. It was the only way I could think of hiding your sound other than keeping you on medicine. You must learn to quiet your mind, quickly!”


       Lucas peeled a banana and ate it. “What is this place?”


       “You’re on the top floor of a mage school. We’re both educators and protectors. We take in young magic users and teach them magic, so they can survive.”


       The voice in Lucas’s head whispered, They’re the good guys. They work for me.


       Lucas said, “Who are you?”


       God.


       Lucas shook his head and buttered a yeast roll. He chewed it slow like. “I want to go home.”


       “Your family was told you’re dead,” Jeffries said. “You must give up on them. Your future is with us now.”


       “Screw that!”


       “Young man. You’re 18. You can go back to your family, but you’ll be killed. You don’t understand how important you are. Every holy warrior for thousands of years has been murdered before they turned 18. You’ll die for sure, if you leave Raven’s Tower.


       “You must learn to control your magic. We’ll start with different methods right now, if you are finished eating.”


       Lucas looked at the food. “I didn’t poop before. Give me a minute.”


       He went into the bathroom and locked the door. Tears began to stream down his cheeks.


       Jeffries whispered in his mind, We can only maintain a facade of a mage competition for so long. If you can’t learn to control the sound coming from you, we’ll be overrun by an army, and everyone will be killed.


       Lucas took a paper towel and wiped his face off. He stepped out of the bathroom and looked into Jeffries’s eyes. “What do I do?”


       Jeffries rubbed at his chin. “Have a seat, and we’ll try something that works for most warlocks first. Have you ever seen white granite with gold veins in it?”


       Lucas sat cross-legged in the chair. “I have a good idea what that looks like.”


       “Imagine a cube of it.”


       “That’s it?” Lucas asked.


       Jeffries nodded.


       Lucas focused on a perfect cube of white granite. A tingling sensation started to build up in his extremities, and he started to shake a bit. The shakes and tingling got worse and worse until they became full on convulsions.


       Jeffries punched a button on his desk. “Medic!”


       A medic raced into the room and jabbed a needle in Lucas’s arm, and he drifted off to blackness. He woke up on a couch in Jeffries’s office. He rubbed at his temples. “You’re so loud. You think the competitors in the halls below us are loud. You’re like a damn symphony.”


       Lucas said, “What do we try next?”


       “Do you know what obsidian looks like?”


       “It’s black and shiny.”


       Jeffries clenched and unclenched his fists. “It’s dark magic. Try imagining a cube of it.”


       Lucas pushed out all thoughts from his mind. He imagined a solid black cube floating in space.


       Jeffries whistled.


       “Is it working?” Lucas asked.


       “A little. A long time ago in an ancient text I read of a witch who emblazened symbols on an obsidian cube to quiet her mind.”


       “What symbol should I use?”


       Jeffries shrugged. “I don’t recall what worked for the witch. I just know it has to be things from your life. Things you remember from your past. Things that were once important to you.”


       Lucas tried carving a jack-o-lantern on the sides of the obsidian cube. He looked to Jeffries. He shook his head no. Lucas tried putting roman numerals on each side. Jeffries shrugged.


       Lucas focused on a blood red triangle in a circle of scorched metal, and it felt good. He embedded the image on each side of the obsidian cube. A calm sense of warm and home spread out from his chest.


       Jeffries laughed. “Perfect! You’ve got it!”


       He started to chant again in that ancient language. “Your aura still shines a bright solid white. We must figure out a way to mask it. When you meet the other warlocks in Raven’s Tower, they might cast truesight on you.”


       “Teach it to me, this truesight,” Lucas said.


       Jeffries reached in his desk and withdrew a stiff parchment of some kind. “It’s easier to memorize, if you read it from a page.”


       Lucas reached for the page and started to read the words. Jeffries started to grow with a bright green shroud. Lucas read it over and over until it became second nature. He took the obsidian cube in his mind, and he started to spin it. “Try to read my aura now.”


       Jeffries chanted the truesight, and his eyes opened wide. “You now show as a normal warlock! Do you think you can keep up what you’re doing in your mind?”


       “I don’t have a clue how long I can stay focused on this. It isn’t hard.”


       Jeffries nodded and nodded. “If it’s the kind of ward I think it is, you can shrink it to make it easier to carry around with you, and the more you use it, the easier it will be to maintain. In time, it will be a simple matter of setting it up in the morning first thing and refreshing it first thing at night before bed.”


       Lucas rubbed at his tummy. “I need food.”


       “Breakfast is being served as we speak. I was about to have food sent up.”


       “I’d like to see more of this place.”


       Jeffries stood up. “Follow me.”


       He wandered out of the office to a wide hallway then to a set of elevators. He pushed the button, and the doors slid open. They stepped inside, and the elevators moved so fast it make Lucas wonder about the nature of where he was. They walked down another hallway and stepped through a double door. Lucas and Jeffries gathered up trays of food and walked into a massive hall filled with young men and a few male adults. Youngsters here and there threw truesight at Lucas, and he in turn cast it back at them in a wave of power. Every eye in the place turned on Lucas and stared. Countless voices asked in Lucas’s mind, What’s your name?


       Lucas called out with his mind, Lucas!


       The boys and men turned back to their food and ate. Lucas and Jeffries followed suit.


       An adult maybe thirty dressed in the same garb as everybody, tan pants and a white shirt, approached Lucas and Jeffries. This new man sat down and smiled at Lucas. The man held out his hand to shake, “I’m Johnathan Hinkle.”


       Lucas shook his hand.


       Johnathan kept on smiling. “Have you signed up for classes yet? I can squeeze you in some of my classes.”


       “He’s 18, and you teach senior level classes,” Jeffries said.


       “Still, he’s going to be a hunter, and that means he’ll be in my classes. He needs a mentor.”


       Jeffries shook his head. “He may not be a hunter. All of Raven’s Tower will mentor him, just like all the other students.”


       “He hits with truesight like gunpowder, but he doesn’t make a sound,” Johnathan said.


       Lucas took a sip of orange juice. “What’s a hunter?”


       “You know Rameus is on his way here, Jeffries?” Johnathan said. “Lucas is going to be a hunter.”


       “He has a choice, damnit!” Jeffries exclaimed.


       Johnathon reached out and squeezed Lucas’s shoulder. “Choose wisely young man, and I’ll see you in class.” On that note, Johnathan got up and left.


       “Who’s Rameus?” Lucas asked.


       “Rameus the Third leads the high council. He leads the hunters. He’ll be here by the time we finish our food.”


       “What does he want with me?”


       Jeffries ate an entire muffin and drank half a cup of coffee before answering. “He can explain that better than I can. Finish your food, and we’ll meet him in my office.”


       They ate and took the elevator back upstairs. A white haired man wearing a light blue blazer, just a tiny shade off from gray, sat in Jeffries’s chair. Jeffries took a seat on the couch. Lucas sat across from the white haired man in the chair in the center of the room.


       “I’m Rameus the Third, and I’m extremely happy to meet you, young man.”


       Lucas nodded.


       “If you can survive, you’ll be the first of your kind to reach adulthood,” Rameus said.


       The tiny voice in Lucas’s mind whispered, Cast truesight on him. Make sure you can trust him.


       Lucas chanted the words, and a blue shroud of mist-like color bled from Rameus.


       His eyes opened wide. “Dear lord.”


       “What do you want from me?” Lucas asked.


       Rameus rubbed the palms of his hands together and smiled. “I want your allegiance. I want you to come work for me. I want you to be trained in every art of combat that we’ve mastered. I want you to have the best teachers. I want you to have a happy life.”


       Lucas shook his head.


       Rameus reached in his pocket and withdrew a leather bag. He jingled it. He dumped the contents on the table. Gold coins. Ten of them. “This is the bounty on the master vampire you killed. Ten ounces of gold. Enough for the down payment on a house. Enough to buy a car.”


       Lucas reached for them, and Rameus pulled them away with magic. “You can only collect a bounty, if you swear allegiance to the high council. You’ll also receive a stipend while in school, and your tuition will be paid for. Study the ways of war, but study other things, too. Earn a degree.”


       Lucas looked to Jeffries.


       The ancient headmaster spoke. “It’s your choice, Lucas. The stipend and free schooling are yours for the taking. If you choose to be a hunter, the high council may call on you in times of need. Even if you don’t become a hunter, you may be called upon, but hunters are always called on first.”


       Lucas closed his eyes. “What do I do?”


       Rameus said, “Swear allegiance to the high council.”


       “So be it. I swear my allegiance to the high council.”

June 3rd, 1871


      “I dreamed about them,” Eriq said.

      “Were they naked?” Jericho asked as he poured himself a cup of coffee from the campfire.

      Eriq hissed.

      Simon placed slices of bacon in an iron pan strategically placed over the fire. “A dream, so what?”

      John had crow’s feet around his eyes, and a tan so deep it resembled bronze. “I have dreams all the time.”

      “Eriq’s can sometimes be called visions,” Jericho said.

      Eriq peered into the rising sunset with his blue-green eyes. Such a simple little dream, but so real. He knew it to be true. “Saturday. Church was in evening mass. The four of them road into Corydon and robbed the bank.”

      “Which four?” Simon asked. He wore rugged jeans and a brown shirt, with a revolver on his hip. All four men had six-guns, and John had a scattergun in a holster across his back. Eriq had a bow across his back, and Jericho has a two and a half foot long sword on the opposite hip from his pistol.

      “Jesse and Frank, plus Cole and Clell Miller,” Eriq said.

      Jericho took a long drink from his coffee, then he took out a glass bottle of whiskey and dropped three drops into his cup. “They possess a bloodstone.”

      “We’ve discussed this before,” John said. “The four of us can take them.”

      Simon turned the sizzling bacon. “You don’t know.”

      “Nothing is certain in life. Jesse is the worst of them, finish him first.”

      “No,” Jericho said, “we go after the weakest first. Clell must die first.”

      “All of them can stop a bullet,” Eriq said. “Chances are they can deflect my arrows, too.”

      John said, “How far is Corydon? I’m not familiar.”

      “Two days ride.”

      “Today is Tuesday. If we get there too early, they may sniff us out.”

      The sun was rising, and it was going to be a hot day. They took their time traveling to Corydon. Friday evening they knocked on the priest’s door in Corydon. He smiled at the troop. “Warlocks!”

      Jericho sighed.

      “Can we sleep in your barn?” Eriq asked.

      “We’re hunting a group of bushwackers who don’t seem to understand the war is over,” John said.

      “The James-Young gang?” The priest asked with wide eyes.

      “Aye.”

      “Just the four of you?”

      Jericho snarled. The priest nodded.

      There was a small restaurant in town, and the men ate Kansas City strip steaks with potatoes and green beans. The next morning the priest offered to heat up a bath for the four of them. John cracked his knuckles. “Better to be clean.”

      “Always,” Jericho said.

      “My last woman never bathed,” Simon said. “She claimed it was against her religion.”

      “Did you marry her?”

      “She was nuts. I gave her a son, and she disappeared with the boy.”

      Eriq said, “You couldn’t scry her?”

      Simon shrugged, then let out a little whimper. “Like I said, she was nuts. Not worth going after her, even if she had my son.”

      “Some women just want a warlock’s seed,” John said as he clenched his fists. “Give them a son who is a magic user.”

      Jericho grinned wide. “And it’s fine by me. Hell, if I’d thought of it, I would have started that rumor years ago.”

      “We should take turns scrying on town center,” Eriq said.

      “Easy for you to say,” Simon said. “The three of us will be tired as hell, and you’ll be lollygagging about.”

      “Just a thought.”

      “Dream said they’d be here during mass. Is the dream accurate or not?”

      Eriq sat down in a comfortable chair in the priest’s living room.

      “Sometimes they’re so dead on it’s uncanny,” Jericho said, “and other times they’re illusion. It’s hit or miss, but it won’t be half right.”

      “I dream of other things, too,” Eriq said. “Terrible nightmares of the dead and dying. Some of the dreams I’ve had hundreds of times.” He seemed to have good dreams less and less as each year passed.

      John reached in a pouch and pulled out a rolling paper and some tobacco. He twisted it into a tube and lit it. He flicked ash on the wooden floor and ultimately put the noxious thing out on the tray the priest provided.

      Jericho pulled out a telescope and walked over to the window. A perfect view of the Obocock Bank filled his vision. “We should take turns,” he said.

      “We should wait in the bank for them,” Simon said.

      “In the past, if we interfered with the events in the dream, things always go bad. Real bad.”

      Simon said, “You guys have been doing this a long time.”

      “Too long.”

      “Four hundred and fifty years,” Eriq said.

      Simon whistled. “I thought I was old when I reached 100.”

      “You’re still a boy,” John said. “Eriq is still a boy.”

      Jericho kept his eye trained on the bank. “All three of you are boys compared to me.”

      “I was born in 603 A.D.,” John said.

      “I’ve been around since before they first invented calendars.”

      “Damn.”

      Jericho held out the telescope to Eriq. “Take a turn.”

      Eriq took the telescope and peered through it. A man walked into the bank, but Eriq was expecting four, so he stared and waited. The man came out again. Eriq waited and watched. Sometimes he glanced up and down the street.

      Simon said, “My turn.”

      “I’m fine,” Eriq whispered.

      An hour or so passed in silence with all four men watching out the window. Jericho whispered, “There they are.”

      John pulled his scattergun off his back. “Let’s go.”

      All four warlocks raced out of the house. The four men on horses walked into the bank. The lawmen waited outside. A tense few moments passed with Eriq holding an arrow back all the way. Simon had a six-gun in each hand. John had the shotgun by his hip. Jericho stood with one hand on his sword hilt.

      Jesse James stepped out of the bank first. He was a lean figure dressed in riding leathers with a clean shaven face and neatly combed hair. He didn’t notice the warlocks at first. The next three robbers stepped out. Clell sported a full beard and mustache. Frank and Cole followed, and that’s when all four dark knights noticed the warlocks.

      The sounds of thunder and cannon echoed off the houses as both sides of the law summoned magic and began casting. Simon fired right-left, right-left aiming true at Jesse’s heart, but a simple ward flashed around him like a bright light. John’s scattergun went boom, but this time a green ward danced around the troop of men, and shotgun pellets dropped to the ground.

      Jesse opened fire with his six gun aiming at Eriq. At the same time, a wave of darkness bled out of the bloodstone around Jesse’s neck. The darkness flowed along the ground until it reached the warlock’s feet.

      Eriq let loose his arrow with a great cracking of thunder, but the shaft splintered into a thousand pieces before it could reach Jesse. Frank and Cole threw blazing tunnels of red and yellow fire at Eriq, and he threw up a thick water ward. Simon fired more rounds from his revolvers with little effect. White lightning etched out of Clell’s hands and blasted Simon in the chest.

      Jericho drew his sword and advanced. “Face me with cold steel, Jesse!”

      Jesse laughed loud and bright. “I didn’t even bring a saber.” The bloodstone around his neck let out a great bellowing cackle. Lightning blazed out of Jesse’s hands into Jericho. He pushed himself off the ground and threw up a double layer copper ward to disperse the electrical jolts.

      Eriq fired another arrow, this time at Clell. The arrow went far astray from its target, deflected by the bloodstone. Simon began to twitch as Clell’s lightning ate through his layered ward. Frank and Cole switched to lightning and added their strength in with Clell’s.

      John bolstered Simon’s ward with a ward of his own. Eriq fired another arrow with no effect.

      Jesse shouted, “Now!”

      Clell nodded, and Eriq’s world melted. At first, he was falling into darkness as if drifting off to dream land. Silence encased him. He knew in his heart that he was dreaming. Jericho echoed in his mind, Do something.

      Eriq didn’t have anything to do. He had an arrow nocked, but he was alone in a quiet forest. Part of him knew it was a dream, but part of him knew something was wrong. It was Autumn, and the tree leaves were beautiful shades of red and orange. There was a great creature almost human in form, but twelve feet tall and covered in green scales. It was feasting on a corpse of a deer or something. It was too mangled to tell what it was. The creature saw Eriq and smiled. Then charged. Jericho shouted, “Do something!”

      Eriq raised his bow and launched an arrow at the beast. Jericho screamed. Eriq’s world melted back to Corydon, Iowa. Simon was on the ground, maybe dead. Jericho had an arrow clear through his body just above the hip.

      The four dark knights were raining Lightning on John.

      Pushing himself off the ground, John smiled at them. “I’ve lived over a thousand years, and damn if I’m going to let the likes of you finish me.” His eyes turned black as coal, and black lightning began to dance along his fingertips.

      Jesse said, “Shit.”

      All four dark knights jumped on their horses and took off.

      Jericho groaned. Simon lay perfectly still. Eriq dropped his bow.

      John reached down to feel Simon’s pulse. John shook his head. “He’s gone.”

      Eriq approached Jericho.

      John said, “You’re hurt bad.”

      “Not as bad as Eriq is going to be hurt after I’m healed,” Jericho said between clenched teeth.

      “It wasn’t my fault,” Eriq said.

      “Whose fault was it!”

      Jericho grabbed at the arrow and tried to pull it through. The arrow didn’t budge. There was a lot of blood. “Pull it through.”

      John grabbed it and wrenched it out of him. White light coursed through the wound as Jericho healed it. He passed out.

      “It wasn’t my fault,” Eriq said.

      They buried Simon. Jericho woke up the next day. He didn’t say a word to Eriq about it, but the look in his eyes made it clear he’d never forget.

      Jericho whispered to John, “Black lightning?”

      John laughed.

      “I’ve never seen anything like it,” Eriq said.

      “It’s a secret,” John said.

      “Fair enough.”

      “I’ve never actually used it on anybody. I don’t know what it’ll do. Just summoning it always makes the dark knights flee.”

      Jericho laughed with a huge on grin on his face.

      Eriq smiled.

      “I’m still pissed at you,” Jericho said.