“Mike!” Callie cried out, and knelt by the body of her fallen brother.
“Wait!” Sparo shouted, “I might still be able to bring him back!”
“What?” Callie said, “You can?”
“Yes,” said Sparo, rubbing his hands together, “He’s not as far gone as the others. He’s just within the grasp of my power. I just hope I have enough strength left in me.”
Sparo knelt beside Callie and placed a hand on Mike’s forehead, and the other on his chest. He closed his eyes and furrowed his brow in intense concentration.
Edward and Jon crouched around Callie and watched along with her, as a healthy glow steadily crept back into Mike’s face.
Mike gasped back to life like a man awakening from a nightmare; startling the hell out of the four around him. He sat up.
“SHIG!! What the---! What happened just now?” he asked.
“He’s back!” cried Callie, embracing him.
Mike’s bewildered face looked at the people around him. “Did I go somewhere?”
“You were dead, again.” Edward said, “And you were brought back from the dead; again.”
“This is becoming a habit with you, it seems.” Jon added.
“Dead? How---?” Mike asked.
“Zedda’s final spell was broken.” Callie explained, “All who were kept alive by it, including you, fell dead when she was killed. This guy, Nurrek---”
“Sparo.” Sparo corrected.
“He was able to bring you back.”
“Why only me?” Mike asked.
“You still had some life force in you,” Sparo said, “Not having died multiple times, like the others.”
Mike turned his head and looked over at the bodies of Egann and Ray. “I feel so sorry for those guys,” he said, “Without their help I don’t know how much of this victory would have been possible.”
“At least it’s over for them.” Edward said, “I mean, I wish they could have lived to enjoy life without Zedda, but…at least their nightmare is over. They can finally rest in peace.”
“That’ll have to do, I guess.” Mike said.
He got up to his feet, the others did as well.
“What now?” Edward asked.
“I don’t know about you guys,” Sparo said, “But I’m hungry.”
They went down the red and sticky stairs, to the kitchen.
It appeared to be empty, but they found two dead kids in the lower cupboards, where they had hidden themselves during the night’s noisy and chaotic battles.
“Oh, poor things.” Callie said with regret.
They respectfully removed the bodies to another room. They cleared out all the trays on the preparation table, and then scrounged around for chairs to set around said table, until they found the necessary five.
They prepared for themselves a quick supper, and then sat down to eat, and talk.
They began by comparing notes. What each had done and gone through since they were separated. Mike, Callie, Jon, and Edward each told their tale; when they were done, they turned at last to Sparo.
“So what’s your story?” Callie asked.
“MY story,” Sparo said, “Is a bit long and involved.”
“Just give us the hits, then.” Edward said.
“Okay,” Sparo said. He organized his thoughts for a moment, and then jumped straight into it: “Up until three months ago, I was just another ordinary kid from an average family. Or so I thought. I had not the slightest inkling that I was, in fact, a Ma’jai.”
“How could you not know such a thing?” Callie asked.
“It’s complicated.” Sparo said, “Ma’jai powers are hereditary, but they don’t tend to appear until one is in his or her late teens, thereabouts. Now, unless one or both parents are Ma’jai themselves, most don’t know what they are until their powers begin to arrive. That’s how it was in my case; both of my parents were ordinary.
“It turns out magic doesn’t always follow hereditary rules; it’ll disappear from families for generations, for no apparent reason, then reappear just as mysteriously. Or, one child in a family will be one, while the others will not. And then there are many different types of Ma’jai. Not just variations in strength, but variations in abilities. There are powers common to all, powers only some have, and powers that are very rare. There are Ma’jai who specialize in only one or two, and some who have a smidgen of everything.”
“What kind are you?” Jon asked.
“I’m an Icarin.” Sparo answered, “The most powerful and rarest of the Ma’jai. The rule of thumb on Icarins is, that one appears maybe once every hundred years or so; although there have been some notable exceptions to that rule. Most of my powers are still dormant, though; Zedda was right about that. And I am much too young to have developed what little I have, but I’ll get to that.”
“I doubt your powers seemed ‘little’ to either Zedda, or her Morrtogs.” Mike said.
“True enough.” Sparo replied, “Anyway, as I was saying, three months ago I was ignorant of all this. My parents and I were visiting relatives in Briston, and on our way back home, we missed a crucial turn or something, and got way off course. We ended up in Murgent.”
“Rotten luck, man.” Jon said.
“Zedda knew I was coming, and what I was; she also knew that my powers were as yet latent. She and her Morrtogs built a special box to contain me. Once in the box, I would be encased within its spells; even after my powers developed. That way, when the time came, she could drain me at her leisure; without a worry.”
“Why didn’t she just drain you right off the bat?” Edward asked.
“No powers mean nothing worth draining.” Sparo said, “She had to be patient, for once.”
Callie nodded silently, in understanding. How enticing it must have been for Zedda, she thought, At the prospect of draining a Ma’jai! How much power, I wonder, could be had from such a transaction?
Sparo continued: “Upon entry into Murgent, my parents were struck mad by Zedda’s insanity spell. Then, Blessure and Balooda descended upon our car, tore the roof off, and plucked me out. The car kept going until it hit a tree. I was thrown screaming into a crate of some sort, and taken to the hotel, the basement, and finally the magic box of illusion that would become my cage for the next three months. Zedda drew the circles of containment, and I was left there in the dark; in shock, and alone.”
“That’s awful.” Callie said.
“My first week down there was hell. I was terrified, and when Balooda started sending kids down there as punishment, it was worse. I tried to talk to them, plead with them, but never got any reply other than screams and whimpers. I didn’t know that the box translated my appearance to something monstrous, and my pleas to terrifying roars.”
“Why did Zedda allow Balooda to lock kids down there?” Jon asked.
“She had faith that the illusion was fearsome enough to prevent anybody from tampering with either the box, or the circles drawn on the floor around it. That’s what the illusion was created to do, and it worked. Most kids were too terrified by the sounds to even come down the stairs and have a look at me. As a plus, for Zedda, the experience added a new level of torment to their despair…and mine.
“With nothing to do, nothing to see or hear, I turned inward; and the first faint whispers of my power arrived, much earlier than they should have. I didn’t know where these powers came from, or why I had them; but I had all the time necessary to study them. Very soon I was able to see the movement of time itself. I saw many great events of the past, accumulated much knowledge, and thus came to know the history of my kind.
“What I was…what I was born to do.”
“What were you born to do?” Callie asked.
“To fight against a coming darkness. That’s what all Icarins are born for; why the birth of one is considered a bad omen.” Sparo said, “It is a sign of a terrible struggle yet to be fought.”
Sparo visibly shuddered.
He continued: “I had at last found myself, but too late. I could not break through Zedda’s magic circles. Nor could I communicate with anyone. I was, however, able to set my mind free and explore beyond the confines of Zedda’s sphere of influence. I saw you guys coming, and knew you’d be instrumental in getting me out.”
“Why us?” Callie asked, “And what was so different about Mike that you were able to get him to fall asleep and take over his body, and not any of the others who had been brought down there in the past?”
Mike groaned inward. This was the subject he had been dreading.
“In order for me to influence a mind through all of Zedda’s magical encumbrances, it had to be a mind on the same wavelength, if you will, as mine.” Sparo replied, “It had to be the mind of a fellow Ma’jai.”
Callie, Edward, and Jon’s mouths hit the floor.
Mike shook his head.
“Yes, Mike, you.” Sparo insisted, “I made contact with you upon your entrance into Murgent, though you did not know it consciously. It was I who influenced you into spitting in Balooda’s face, because I knew it would get you thrown in the basement.”
“It was I who decided to spit in Balooda’s face!”
“Yes, but it was I who suggested it to your conscious mind.” Sparo retorted, “Like a whisper from the back of your head. I regret what you had to undergo, but it was necessary; plus I knew you’d come back to life. What I didn’t foresee was that your death would kickstart some of your powers, as my imprisonment kickstarted mine. You know what I’m talking about, though you glossed over it in your recounting. How you fought me tooth and nail, when I started taking over your body. Your strength was impressive, but not enough to stop me.”
Callie, Edward, and Jon, meanwhile; were still reeling over the initial revelation.
“Did I hear you right?” Callie asked, “Did you just say---?”
“You heard me.” Sparo said, “Why are you so surprised that your brother is magically-inclined, Conjuura?”
“That’s different,” Callie said, “Zedda had to teach me---“
“Please!” Sparo interrupted her again, “How many would-be Conjuuras do you suppose could levitate on their first day of training? Or intuitively figure out how to reverse a mind-link, for that matter?”
Mike cut in. “Look, whatever I saw or did after you put me to sleep had to have been a fluke, no doubt caused by all the weird magical crap in this place. Besides, how could it be true? In all my life, I’ve never done any of these things before. Not once.”
“That’s why they’re called dormant powers.” Sparo said.
“Why are we having such a hard time believing this?” Jon asked, “Sparo’s clearly a Ma’jai, and if he says Mike’s one too, why don’t we take him at his word? Callie levitated before our eyes, and we took it in stride. Sparo says Mike’s a Ma’jai, and we freak out! Why?”
“Because I’m nobody.” Mike said, “I can easily believe Callie is something special. But me? Besides, if I was a Ma’jai, Zedda would have known it, like she knew about you, Sparo. But she didn’t, did she?”
“You can’t go by that.” Sparo countered, “Divination is an art, not a science. It’s possible Zedda mistook Callie to be the ‘person of interest’ her readings perhaps foresaw.”
“He’s got you there, Mike.” Edward said.
“Alright already,” Mike said, throwing his hands up in surrender, “Let’s say I AM a Ma’jai. Fine. What the hell does that entail? Do I get a pamphlet or something?”
“Just go on with your life, and don’t worry about it.” Sparo said, “These things unfold slowly. When they begin to show up, you’ll know how to use them.”
They had all finished eating by this point, and a feeling descended upon them that the time for talk was coming to an end.
“So, what will you do now, Sparo?” Callie asked, “Where will you go?”
“There are people I must find now, and join,” Sparo said, “Brave Ma’jai who guard against the coming dark.”
“Well, we have an extra vehicle now,” Mike said, “Since Jon brought us our wagon back. Can you drive?”
“If I sit on a thick enough pillow, I can.” Sparo answered, “For a little while, at least. Once I start hitting the towns, I’ll probably get funny looks.”
“Yeah, that might be a problem.” Mike said. He took the Macatto Insurance car keys out of his pocket, and handed them to Sparo. “I wouldn’t let the frain see you either. You don’t look a day over eleven.”
“I AM eleven.” Sparo said, “But don’t worry about me, I can take care of myself. After taking down two Morrtogs and a Conjuura, I doubt the frain will be much of a challenge for me.”
“Any further matters to discuss, before we take our leave of this hell-hole?” Mike asked.
“What about our dead friends?” Edward asked, “Are we just gonna leave them here to rot? Without Egann and Ray, we couldn’t have put a stop to Zedda’s reign.”
“Ed’s right,” Callie said, “We owe them big.”
“What can we do?” Jon asked, “We can’t bury them all. I don’t know how far behind your dad is, Callie; but I do know he will be showing up sooner or later, and we don’t want to be here when that happens.”
“Funeral pyre.” Callie replied, “We can set the hotel on fire. Burn it to the ground. What do you think?”
Mike shook his head. “This whole town is kindling. If we set the hotel ablaze, it’ll spread fast and consume all of Murgent.”
“Which is bad why?”
“Because Murgent is nestled right up against the same woods we intend to enter.”
“I’m afraid we can’t do anything for our dead friends, Ed.” Jon said, “Perhaps in time, the woods will retake this place. As for us, we have to keep moving.”
“I understand.” Edward said, “Let’s go.”
The five got to their feet.
“Can I ask you one last question, Sparo?” Callie asked.
“Sure.” Sparo replied.
“Why the hell did Zedda keep calling you ‘Nurrek’?”
Sparo smiled. “That was Zedda’s little joke at my expense. Well, less a joke than a jibe. In XaliXal, the language of the Morrtogs, ‘Nurrek’ means ‘Monster’.”
They raided the hotel’s pantry, and loaded up the vehicles.
Sparo finished first, and pulled Mike aside for a private conversation; the subject of which would come to importance…later.
When they were finished, they gathered between the vehicles, in front of the hotel.
“So Sparo, this is goodbye.” Callie said, giving him a hug, “Thanks for saving Mike’s life, as well as our collective asses.”
“Take care of yourselves.” he said.
“I noticed you never asked us where WE are going.”
“I know where the road you’re taking leads.” Sparo answered grimly, and left it at that.
Sparo got in his new car, while Mike, Callie, Jon, and Edward turned toward the station wagon. Edward dashed to stake his claim to the wagon’s front passenger seat.
“Mike can drive first.” Jon said, “After all, he spent most of his time here asleep.”
“Funny.” said Mike, but he was already getting in behind the wheel.
Callie and Jon got in the back seats, and snuggled.
Mike looked through the rearview mirror, and saw Sparo drive away in the direction they had entered Murgent from; back toward civilization.
“Something just occurred to me, Mike.” Callie said from behind him, “What if Dad and Sparo cross paths, and Dad recognizes the car? What if he tries something?”
“We should be so lucky.” Mike said, “If that happens, my money's on Sparo.”
He put the key into the ignition, turned it, and the wagon came to life. Mike gave the steering wheel a light kiss. “Glad to have you back, ol’ girl.” he said.
They drove through the now empty town, and reached the rickety bridge that led out of Murgent. They passed over the groaning bridge, reached the “YOU ARE LEAVING MURGENT. SEE YOU AGAIN SOON!” sign, and crossed it unobstructed.
“We’re through!” Callie said, with a sigh of relief.
Jon kissed her and held her tight.
Ahead of them, the road seemed to stretch forever, bracketed by a dense and dark wood.
“Here we go.” said Edward.