I nervously pace while awaiting my pieces to fall together. I’m betting everything on that picture.
The doors to the stables fling open and Lance comes running in, his face red and covered in sweat and fear.
“Chelle!” he yells. “You’ve got to hide. They’re coming!”
“What?” I shout unhappily. “No, he’s supposed to wait there for us! Didn’t you tell him to wait?”
“’A course, Chelle, dearie. But The Wizard idna one to take commands from a peasant. Now come on, we’ve got ta hide ya.”
“No,” I say, running to the door. Lance pulls me back.
“What do you think you’re doing? They mean to kill you!”
“We’ve got to get to the cathedral before he leaves!”
“D’ya have a death wish, darlin’?”
“Not at all. I have a plan.” I kiss him on the cheek, turn, and step out the door.
He grabs me once again, pulls me into his arms, and holds me tightly, pressing his lips against mine. My world swims. For a brief moment I think of the image of me sharing a passionate kiss with the stable boy in the stables and I giggle. My head spins at his embrace.
He finally releases me and wraps an arm around my head, pulling me into his chest.
“I know that may be out of place, Chelle,” he says, “but I want you to know there is something here worth living for.”
“There’s plenty worth living for,” I say, regaining my composure as well as my dedication. “It’s a good thing I don’t intend on dying today.”
I turn from him again and look out to the horizon. It’s dark out now and on the bridge ahead of us, the only pathway I know to get to the cathedral, is a series of bright lights. Torches, held by what looks like a textbook example of a mob.
I look at my pitchfork and wonder if it might be enough to help me blend in. The sound of an angry chant hits my ears. I’m thinking I might have a hard time talking these folks into letting me go.
But maybe that’s the point. Maybe I just have to let them pass and then I’ll find The Wizard still waiting at the cathedral, all without his proper bodyguards or whatever. If only Griff would hurry up and get here with that necklace.
As the crowd nears, the chant becomes clearer. It’s melodic and, as best as I can guess, it’s in Latin. They keep repeating the same phrase over and over again, completely in unison. I don’t know Latin, but it sounds like they’re saying something like ‘the whore of mars is naughty’. I don’t know what The Wizard has been telling people about me, but I’m actually not too much against the nickname. It’s not accurate, considering my history with boys or interstellar travel, but it’s still pretty cool.
“The hour of death,” Lance says. He’s standing at my side, holding his shoulders high in the face of the impending storm.
“What?” I ask.
“Hora Mortis Nostrae,” he clarifies. “It’s Latin for The Hour of Death.”
“Sorry, I never learned Latin.”
“I managed to take in some training from Father Addy.”
“So, what’s the Hour of Death?”
“Something The Wizard has enacted on only a couple of previous occasions. Hora Mortis Nostrae, the hour where death is found to be righteous.”
“Awesome,” I say halfheartedly. “So, they’re all bloodthirsty and blindly following the maniac?”
“Guess he’s concerned for what you and your friend might be up to and have decided you’re to be offered up as a sacrifice.”
“So, is he coming too?”
“The Wizard. Is he coming out here to watch me die?”
“The Hour of Death is one of the special occasions where he actually does come out, as he performs these sacrifices himself.”
“What are the chances I could run right now and not get spotted?”
“I’d say pretty much zero, dearie.”
He’s right, the people are close enough now that I’m able to start making out faces in the crowd. The chant continues. They surround us, keeping a good five foot clearance around me, Lance, and the stables. The field fills quickly.
A loud whizzing comes from the midst of the group and I see what looks a lot like a bottle rocket rise into the air, making a loud pop as it hits the sky. The crowd in front of us separates and the evil man himself walks forward, pushing into the center of the circle with me and my new companion. His Igor of a minion, Wyllt, is at his side.
I look anxiously for Griff among the faces of the mob, but all I see are rage-filled faces of people I’ve never talked to before.
“Dorothy,” the artificially wizened man in front of me seethes.
“Myrddin,” I respond, attempting to sound as nonchalant as possible for a situation as dire as this.
“It appears my spies were correct, you did meet with the sage,” he grins darkly. “How is old Geoffrey doing nowadays?”
Mentioning Geoffrey’s name unsettles me. I want to lash out in anger at the man who made me watch my friend die. I take a deep breath before continuing.
“People of York,” I begin.
“We do not use that name here,” Wyllt says, creeping around me. “Just one of the many ills this girl would dare bring to our fair city,” he appeals to the mob.
“People of York,” I repeat, “hear my words. The man before me is a fraud. The man who would claim to provide you salvation is nothing more than a simple con—“
“Sorry, dear girl,” The Wizard says. He steps forward and expertly wraps his fingers around my neck. “I have no need to allow you to speak. Your death has already been commanded. And as you can see, your prophecy is not coming true.”
Lance pushes The Wizard off me, yelling, “Keep your damned hands away from her. If you must have a sacrifice today, take me.”
“Oh, I assure you that you shall not live out the night either.” The Wizard turns his evil stare upon Lance. “Your interruption has assured it, as well as the lies you used to get me out here today.” He gestures to Wyllt, who organizes four of the large men standing at the front of the crowd to corner Lance with the weapons in their hands.
“This will not stand,” Lance yells. “Our city was more than this!”
The Wizard simply nods his head and I see the largest of the four men club Lance over the head with the heavy shovel in his hand. Lance instantly crumples to the ground. I involuntarily let out a loud scream, which continues on as the four men move forward to beat Lance with what they have in their hands.
When they finally pull back, I see nothing more than a bloody heap. No movement, just a pile of broken bones and flesh.
I fall to my knees, tears streaming down my face as I realize that The Wizard has taken away everything I have come to love about this place in my short time here.
“To your feet,” The Wizard commands. “Arise and receive your punishment.”
“Chelle!” I hear shouted from somewhere in the crowd. “Chelle, I’m here!”
The Wizard turns at the voice of Griff and then looks back at me. “I had wondered where your cohort was hiding.”
“Griff!” I scream, suddenly feeling as though maybe there’s a chance not all is lost.
“Let him through!” The Wizard yells. “He must be destroyed along with this young witch. Here, now, at these stables.”
The crowd splits open once again and Griff is seen thirty feet away. He runs to my side, taking only a sideways glance at the body of Lance before he confronts The Wizard.
“Who the hell do you think you are, bub?” Griff screams. “If you dare touch a hair on Chelle’s head, I can promise you that you will not live to see the morning.”
“You are hardly one to make threats, terrorist. The Hour of Death is upon us. I have several thousand people here behind me who will decide which one of us will be the one to see the morning’s light.”
I stand to my feet, regaining my composure, using Lance’s lifeless body as a strengthening measure. I can’t give up now.
“Did you get it?” I ask Griff.
He looks at me with a knowing smile, somehow combined with a fearful grimace. “Who do you think I am? Of course I got it.”
He reaches into his tunic, pulls out the pendant, takes it from around his neck, and hands it to me.
“I don’t think so,” The Wizard commands. “The pendant is mine!” He makes another gesture at Wyllt. Wyllt leaps forward toward me and in an act of panic, I open the sphere and hold it out in front of me as though it were a weapon, dropping the pitchfork, my actual weapon, in the process.
“Stop!” The Wizard yells at his impish servant. Wyllt immediately complies.
“That’s right,” I smile, feeling the power of the moment. “You know what this means, don’t you?”
“You have no clue of the power you hold,” The Wizard states. “Besides, I have my own such sphere. There’s nowhere you could go that I would not be able to follow.”
“I have no doubt that’s true,” I answer. “I don’t believe you wish to follow me. With what I know about you, I’d guess you’d be happier if I were to completely disappear, even if it meant you lost access to this sphere.”
“That will never happen,” The Wizard says in hushed tones. “You shall die this night. It has been declared.”
I look down at the clock face of the sphere, still not certain how to set the destination on this device, but knowing that at this point I have nothing left to lose. I notice Griff lean over slowly and grab the pitchfork from where it had landed.
“Do not press your luck,” The Wizard says, fear filling his voice.
“Why are you so afraid?” I ask, knowing the answer to the question, asking only for the mob’s benefit.
“The Wizard is never afraid,” he answers. “To show I hold no fear toward you, I shall allow you to use your device, to free yourself from this. But do so quickly!”
“Oh, it’ll be quick alright,” Griff yells as he swiftly swings the pitchfork up and pierces The Wizard through the chest. “That’s for Aggie!” he shouts as the old man falls to the ground.
“What’d you do that for?” I scream in response. “You’re supposed to kill him at the cathedral!”
“He’s dead, ain’t he? Let’s get out of here before we join him.” Griff grabs my hand and pulls me into the stable.
Looking around at the still-angry faces of the crowd, I do the only thing I feel we have left. I press the clock face into the center of the space in the compass. The crowd looks at me in shock as the wind picks up around us.
The same thin cyclone as before appears above us and suddenly the world turns black.
Go to Chapter Thirty-Three