The Jekyll Legacy
Victorian alchemy meets modern science and magic.
What could possibly go wrong?
He who has a thousand friends has not a friend to spare,
And he who has one enemy will meet him everywhere.
— Ali ibn-Abi-Talib
Emerging from out of the deep shade of the forest proper, the path became wider as the trees grew sparse and then vanished into low rolling hills which overlooked the green valley of Ede with its areas of cultivated land covering much of the far side of a broad river, and grazing land on the near side, through which they were traveling now. The pastoral scene was marred, though, by a battle raging in the center of the valley where a score or two of centaurs were encircled by at least twice that many humans on horseback and an equal number on foot. Although the centaurs were unarmed, their flashing hooves struck their opponents like lightning, and few of those who went down went on to rise again. They also had a trick of leaning down and grabbing an opponent in a sort of wrestling move, except instead of taking them down, as a human wrestler might, they’d take them up in the air and then hurl them back down to the rocky ground below from high above their heads. Few rose from this injury either, and the humans found it difficult to defend themselves against an assault from the centaur’s human half, because the innate centaur glamour made the actual attack invisible until the man was suddenly snatched into the air by unseen hands, and then thrown down again.
Akcuanrut was flabbergasted. He had just finished describing how Ede had a long tradition of peaceful coexistence between man and centaur, being one of the few places outside the capital where the centaurs were not hunted down for their magic.
Dr. Lanyon, ever the teacher, began to relate it to the human equivalent of hunting the tiger to near extinction for the perceived power of its various body parts, but Selene never heard the end of the lecture. Sword drawn, she went charging down the hill, screaming a battle cry, with Rhea less than a single step behind her.
After Emily and Herbert shared that classic parental perplexed look of “what are we going to do with them,” they called for Akcuanrut and Phil to jump on their backs and follow. The tiny D’lon-Ra turned into a ball and began rolling down the hill, building speed as he went, and catching up to the still screaming barbarian women at the bottom of the slope.
The rabble on foot scattered to allow the three sword-wielders through to the skirmish within, presumably thinking they were coming to help the other humans, but they closed ranks again before the two centaurs could reach the battle lines. Swords, staffs and rocks were raised menacingly, until the horde realized that there were humans riding, and apparently directing, the centaurs.
By the time the centaurs reached the circle of humans surrounding the battle, Selene, Rhea and D’lon-Ra were in the center of the conflict, laughing and joking back and forth as they stood back to back, their swords flashing in a deadly pattern which cowed their many opponents, or in the case of D’lon-Ra, a single dagger. They were being careful to incapacitate rather than maim or kill anyone amongst the warring parties as they indiscriminately traded blows with centaur and human alike, turning what was formerly a pitched battle into a morass of confusion in which the participant’s former enthusiasm was gradually waning.
Stopping a couple of yards from the line of spears, Akcuanrut stood on the male centaur’s shoulders, balancing himself with the aid of a hand from Emily. From his higher vantage point he could see that, while D’lon-Ra and the barbarian women were making a significant and growing dent in the number of participants, there were still enough participants to keep the battle going for a while longer.
“Apprentice. Do the spell for Levitation.”
“But, Master Akcuanrut, I’ve never done that spell for more than one or two small objects.” Phil stared worriedly at the battlefield.
“Then you need practice, and this is an ideal opportunity.”
“The whole battlefield, Master?” Phil seemed nervous.
Akcuanrut nodded and waited, patiently standing atop Mrs. Lanyon. Phil closed his eyes and pursed his lips as he muttered and gestured in a seemingly random fashion. Suddenly his eyes opened long enough for a single blink and then slammed shut. The strain became even more evident from the tightened muscles in his neck and the reddish cast of his face.
Slowly, so slowly that some failed to even notice it as they hacked and slashed away, the entire group edged upward into the air. When they were high enough that the centaurs could walk beneath the combatants, they did so at an easy stroll.
Roughly at the center of the melée, Akcuanrut tapped Emily gently with his foot and he stopped. By then, all the combatants had realized something was up and had ceased hostilities, uncertain of who and what their enemies were. While they still glanced warily at each other, their main focus was now on the wizard below, whom at least some of the gathered humans obviously recognized, since several paled and dropped their arms immediately, whispering quietly to anyone near enough to whisper to, and trying very earnestly to be invisible otherwise.
Rhea gave a huge smile and waved down at them, calling out “Hi, Mom. Hi, Pop. Hi, Phil. Hey, Acky, why’d you stop our fun?”
Mr. Lanyon gave her daughter a tentative wave in return, but Emily Lanyon merely frowned and waited for Akcuanrut to proceed.
“Who, exactly, is responsible for all this nonsense?” The wizard’s voice was calm and friendly, but with an air of authority that would accept nothing less than a complete and honest answer. He spoke in a normal conversational voice, yet everyone heard him as if they were right beside him, or as if he were inside their head.
“They broke the truce,” one man said. “They butchered Medgrid and hid his body somewhere.” It was a huge human close to the center of the conflict who spoke with venom.
“ ’Tis a lie,” an even larger male centaur — the only one there, Emily noticed, although he was much smaller than Emily, or even herself, who outweighed him by at least five hundred pounds, retorted with equal fervor. “ ’Tis Red Paint t’was killed and her body hidden by these wicked heathen humans.”
Before anything more could be said, given the potential that whatever was said would exacerbate the situation rather than serve to calm the waters, Akcuanrut raised his hand for silence. Thinking for a moment, he turned to the leader of the humans and asked, “How is it that you discovered Medgrid’s death, if there was no body?”
“Why from Red Paint. She came to us to gloat about her actions, saying she did it for the pure pleasure of the act.”
Turning to the male centaur, Akcuanrut asked, “And Red Paint’s death, you discovered it exactly how?”
“Why from Medgrid. He stood upon the hill by our favorite grazing field and called out in gory detail how he’d murdered Red Paint, cut her into small pieces and ate her raw.”
“I fear that you’ve been manipulated, both of you, by an accomplished liar. Doesn’t it seem even slightly incongruous that your friends appeared to you all after they’d been killed by the other? Further, if your friends wanted either to take advantage of their lies, or avenge their own pseudo-deaths, wouldn’t they be here now? Do you think they collaborated to sow dissension and hatred amongst you all, and are even now snickering together in some hidden corner?” Seeing no response other than the beginnings of confusion amongst the gathered fighters, he continued, “I must tell you a story about an evil monster named Na-Noc.”
“Unh, Master Akcuanrut?” Phil’s forehead was beaded with sweat and he was under visible strain.
“Yes, Apprentice?” Akcuanrut turned to Phil, irritated at the interruption.
“May I let them down now, please?”
“Unh, oh, sorry. One moment longer, please.” Turning to the two leaders, he asked, “Can you both promise to refrain from further hostilities while I explain this to you?”
They both nodded and each called out instructions to stand down to their followers, although most had already done so on their own, having recognized the wizard as an official of the Imperial Court. Akcuanrut gave Phil a brief nod. Immediately, everyone was lowered to the ground, albeit a bit shakily, as Phil struggled to encompass everyone safely within his fading sphere of magical power. The two leaders stalked over to Akcuanrut, stopping about ten feet from each other and the wizard.
“What is this story and why is it important that we hear it?” they both asked simultaneously and then glared at each other for having the temerity to speak at the same time as the other.
After the wizard had finished, he made a gesture toward the centaur stallion, who spoke first. “I’m Windflyer, stallion of this herd. So, you believe this Na-Noc ate them both and then set us up to fight for the sole purpose of slowing you and your troop down? Yet you have provided no evidence of the truth of this.”
“True, I have no proof, other than my office from the Imperial Crown, but I would ask each of you to consider one thing. What were Medgrid and Red Paint like as people? Were they evil? Did they like to hurt others? Was it common for them to gloat over any evil done to others?”
The silence was becoming oppressive when the centaur male looked back to the others and quietly said, “No, Red Paint was caring and compassionate. She would go out of her way to help others. Her special skill was healing and she took it very seriously. With all deference to what you saw, Iccles,” he addressed the other leader, “it just doesn’t sound like her.”
“Likewise Medgrid,” Iccles offered grudgingly. “He was a teacher, known for helping others, guiding them toward the ‘Light’. I can honestly say that I never once heard him, or had another report of hearing him, make a disparaging comment about another, whether human or centaur.”
“While proof positive it isn’t, this is all very suggestive,” Akcuanrut noted. “Neither seems at all likely to have acted as they might appear to have acted, and neither is with us now, even when their presence would be helpful, or even necessary, so it seems certain that both of your friends are dead, so they can’t have killed each other, as they both claimed, and then come back to life to assert that the other was dead, and then run away. Add to that the fact that these two beings are perhaps the most likely amongst you to fall victim to an evil monster who could take on a false seeming of someone innocuous, perhaps a child, and then falsely appeal to their kindly natures and treacherously plead for succor with implacable calculation and murderous intent. For such innocents, the evil Na-Noc would have no pity, and I can attest that Na-Noc has indeed passed this way, because I, as Dean of the Emperor’s College of Wizards, can smell his foul essence in the very air.”
Both Windflyer and Iccles were ashamed by then, and made no further comment.
As Iccles and Windflyer wandered off separately to explain the situation to their people, Herbert, Emily and the others all sighed in relief. Emily, however, was agitated for some reason, and continued prancing from foot to foot as if in pain. Finally, he trotted off toward a small group of humans, several of whom were lying on the ground with what appeared to be serious injuries.
“Emily,” Herbert called out worriedly, seeing the humans eyeing her wife in a less than friendly manner, “Where are you going?”
“I’m not sure, dear,” he called back over his shoulder. “I feel this urge… no, a compulsion, to go help those wounded people.”
“But those people don’t look like they want your help, dear,” Herbert noted as she trotted off after her wife. There was no way she was going to let him be hurt just because he had a yen to be helpful. Although he had a medical degree back on Earth, he hadn’t practiced in many years, and he couldn’t know anything about the local infections and what medical supplies might be available, after all.
“I know. I… I… something is drawing me to them, making me. I can’t help myself.”
Herbert caught up to Emily about twenty feet from the cluster of humans, about the same time that they turned and formed a wall, swords drawn, between the centaurs and the wounded humans.
“Leave us to our wounded, centaurs, your kind are not wanted here.”
“I’m sorry. Those people, they hurt, they need help. Please. I need to help them.”
“We’ve lost enough friends to your kind. No more. Leave us.”
“You harmed each other through your own stupidity and anger, human. I don’t want to hurt them. I….”
“Those people are dying, aren’t they?” Herbert interrupted. “They’ll likely be dead by nightfall without care. Emily wants to help them. If you truly want no more deaths, what do you have to lose?”
It took a bit more persuasion, but eventually, the humans moved aside and Emily rushed to the closest wounded man. Without thinking, he carefully positioned himself on his front knees and placed his hands gently on the man’s chest. At first, nothing seemed to happen, but then the man’s wound, a deep cut to the waist, probably piercing his liver, began to bubble and ooze. Strange fluids bubbled out and jumped through the air to a matching spot on Emily’s side. Groaning in pain, but with a look of sheer bliss, Emily continued until the bubbling stopped and the wound healed itself into fresh new skin with only a trace of a scar.
This was repeated for each of the other men as the humans, and soon several of the centaurs watched. As the last man was healed, still kneeling, Emily tiredly sought out Herbert. “Help me up please, dear. I don’t think I can stand on my own at the moment.” Then, he fell over on his side unconscious.
“…can’t do that, can he?”
“Yes,” Akcuanrut replied, “he can….” He was about to continue when Herbert turned away.
“Emily’s awake,” she said as she immediately trotted over to her wife, who was in an upright position with a cloth sling underneath him, holding him suspended in the air, so that his hooves just barely touched the ground.
“Emily? Dear? How do you feel?” she asked as she gently rubbed his hair and back.
“I…I’m okaaaayyyy,” he slurred and struggled to stand on his own, struggling to find a purchase for his hooves.
“Don’t struggle, dear, you’re in a support sling to help keep you upright.”
“Whaa…?” he said blearily. “Why am I… tied up?”
“Because we’re so large, dear. If you’d remained lying down on your side for too long, your lungs and internal organs would have been crushed by your own weight and you might have died. Windflyer explained it to me. Evidently, we only need about ten minutes of really deep sleep, dreaming sleep, once or twice a night, but to do that we have to lie down for a short period. Large centaurs like us have to be even more careful, and we can go without REM sleep for longer, but we do need to dream or we’ll get groggy after a few days.”
“You saved them, all five of them. You’ve found your special magic; you’re a healer, my dear, and might think about taking up the practice of medicine again, assuming we get back home eventually.”
“Good. I’m glad. Can I get out of this contraption now? It’s not very comfortable.”
“Do you think you can stand on your own?”
“I think so. Let’s find out, why don’t we?”
As Herbert slowly released the tension on the sling, Emily braced his feet, rising up in several stages. Shortly, he had his full weight on his feet and was taking a few tentative steps.
“Is he ready to travel?” Akcuanrut asked nervously. He had just been instructing the others to prepare to move out as soon as possible.
“I guess so,” Emily answered, albeit without any confidence in his voice. “What’s the rush?”
“Unh, how about we get moving and I’ll explain as we walk,” Phil said.
Na-Noc was furious. He didn’t expect to be lucky enough to have Akcuanrut and all his hangers-on die in the little war he’d managed to engineer, but at the least it could have slowed them down for a while. Instead, it had taken longer to start things than it had taken for them to end it, so they were actually almost snapping at his heels now, closer than they’d been before, so he’d wasted his head start on them. He needed time, time to get where he needed to go, and more time once he got there. Well, the Ice Tower was the next obvious stop along the way. He’d have to stop them there.
Copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002 Jeffrey M. Mahr — All Rights Reserved
Copyright © 2012 Levanah Greene — All Rights Reserved
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