The furrows marring Uirebon's brow reflected his own sense of impending doom as he watched relentless strain diminish the High King of all Faerie. The light of fourteen centuries of just rule dimming with every flicker of the inner sanctum’s deep purple wards.
In the time, less than an hour, while Maynor's massed strength battered for ascendancy, the High King had sacrificed resource after resource to fight the inevitable.
Centuries old structures throughout his Gateway Realm crumbled to ruin as the power behind their strength and beauty withdrew.
Nexus energy allotted to the maintenance of every Realm flowed perilously low till the outer defences of the High Castle collapsed.
The path to the Human world disintegrated along with a vast accumulation of power supporting the Faerie wide portal structure, a sacrifice helping maintain the Outer Wards till a short time ago.
In the Great Hall Uirebon's own contribution, an unprecedented triad of a triad of triads, was on the verge of collapse.
"My Lord, we cannot hold. It is time to concede."
"I will hold to the last, Uirebon."
Sadness welled in Uirebon. If the High King committed himself to stand against such power when all else had failed, his mind would inevitably be damaged beyond repair.
"I will hold, Uirebon. There is a factor which I do not understand and which Maynor cannot see. Ride my view of energy flows while I still have the strength."
For the second time that morning Uirebon accessed the High King’s unique ability, as Steward of the Nexus, to view energy flows anywhere in Faerie, and for a brief moment the collapse of a Kingdom went from his mind. Manifesting in three distinct torrents, power was flooding to the Lost Realm. One flow, coming from the Nexus, looked almost identical in nature to the basic maintenance flow for his own Realm but the other two shouldn't be possible.
"What does it mean? Where is the hope in this, My Lord ... Can you gain access?"
"If only I could, Uirebon. Even a portion would render Maynor's offence pointless but I daren't. Look at the focus directing the energy. A short time ago it began to speed towards the Realm Boundary."
Focus? Uirebon followed where Aglaron directed and took in enough to recognise yet another puzzle.
"I don't understand the apparent speed. Even one of Ranevargar's flying Guardians couldn't come close to matching that rate."
"Neither do I, Uirebon, but the rate does suggest purpose."
Uirebon's heart sank at this vain hope. High King Aglaron’s defences were at an end.
"My Lord, any such purpose could well be directed against us."
"Indeed, Uirebon, but hope will sustain longer than despair."
A purple glow surrounded the Stone of Power Aglaron now raised, and Uirebon fleetingly wondered if some final unknown resource was being summoned. Fleeting because at that moment the great offence battering the Inner Wards disappeared.
Uirebon stared uncomprehendingly at his liege.
"What did you do?"
The purple glow faded, vast strain smoothed from the High King’s features and the Stone of Power returned to rest against his chest.
"Nothing, Uirebon. I did nothing except prepare for the end. Unaccountably Maynor has redirected his power. Look!"
For the third time Uirebon joined the High King’s unique view of energy flow and once again found it hard to understand.
"Against his own Castle?"
"No, against one specific location in his Castle. He has turned everything against Ranevargar."
Ranevargar, his thoughts racing close to overload, closed the monumental link with Kieran and Maurice and constructed a deep and secret compartment in his mind where he could consider the range of actions now open to him.
The absolute priority was information, reliable, first-hand information to inform and rank every action so, calling on knowledge and ability unavailable for six hundred years, he bypassed the restraints of the golden helmet, quested for Maynor, then studied the links directing power against the High Castle.
So much! Thirteen lines from the Power Masters, all Maynor’s personal resources, and an inordinate amount of Nexus energy. How was it possible for Aglaron to resist? A new questing brought understanding and dismay. The Gateway Realm so drained of resources it faced centuries of recovery, and the High Realm itself on the verge of ruin.
Vastly grateful for Kieran's latest gift of energy waiting within his Realm Trees, Ranevargar strengthened the link with his Pearl and made an overt and clumsy attempt at influencing the mind of one of the attendants currently bathing his leg. A damp cloth dropped to the floor, hesitant hands moved to fumble with the helmet fastenings and a startled cry rang out as the second attendant leapt to interfere.
When external power flowed to strengthen the attendant’s mind Ranevargar reached to make another interference. This time to the nearest Power Master, and with enough strength to wrench at the energy flowing from his Ruby. His own shields flared while the two attendants ran from the room. Yes, he had Maynor's attention and a personal and private confrontation would now occur. Skills lost for six hundred years stirred, flexed, and with a touch of energy called from the Grove, Ranevargar interrupted Maynor's control of the free Nexus energy. The response was instantaneous and Ranevargar watched the amazing shield he'd been gifted firm and hold as every resource under Maynor's control lashed against it. Bolstering energy flowed through the Pearl link with enough in reserve to last for ... Weeks?
Maynor arrived, his anger and disbelief an almost physical force radiating through the room while he examined the function of the golden helmet, the helmet which should prevent the projection of any power or ability.
"Where is your Stone of Power, Ranevargar? Somehow you are calling on it with this attempt to interfere, and if you don't give me immediate access my every effort will stay directed to crush that infernal shield and take it by force."
"My Pearl is not here, Lord Maynor. Its proper wielding is beyond you, and this malignant challenge for the High Throne is finished."
Maynor's anger lifted to a new level and scorn was clear in his short laugh.
"The High Castle falls as soon as I finish with you here, Ranevargar. With your body paralysed, your mind bound and all but helpless, how can you refuse to see?"
"What we see is not always what is, Lord Maynor."
This brought an even more scornful laugh followed momentarily by a measured look.
"Why waste time with foolish riddles, Ranevargar? I am the uncrowned High King and I see with a Realm Lord’s vision."
"Show me everything you know of the visitors from the Human World."
Taken aback by both the irrelevance and the authoritative tone of address, Maynor regarded the strange old elf Lord, who was surely losing his touch with reality.
"Show? ... Ranevargar, you..."
The old elf Lord sat up, and through his shock and confusion Maynor realised the significance of the intricate hand gestures now directed at him. His Ruby flared red with warding ... then unaccountably quietened.
"Hold still while you pass the information I seek."
Maynor stood quietly for several minutes and information flowed till a new set of instructions settled in place.
Determination surged anew as Lord Maynor brushed from his mind what must be momentary cobwebs arising from the prolonged efforts of his challenge.
"Ranevargar, you will give me access to your Pearl and end these futile attempts at interference. Your submission is inevitable."
Resplendent in full ceremonial dress, Lord Maynor left his helpless captive and strode from the room, his Ruby shedding a glowing aura of confidence. The moment the old fool’s shields caved from unrelenting pressure the High Castle would follow.
Ranevargar, with mind shields firm against unprecedented pressure, reached with the facility of his newly restored abilities through his strengthened Pearl link and communicated a direct message of well-being to every Realm Guardian. Through the resounding joy, an imperative called Kan and a host of other Griffins to fly at full speed to join him.
Rhys linked arms just before the giant protective barrier of skin settled in place and the gesture was a happy moment interrupting all the other things Kieran was thinking about.
"I can feel Maurice moving, Kieran. We’re going to ride a Dragon and we can't see."
Kieran mind-spoke to everyone.
"Maurice is preoccupied with getting his body ready to fly and I don't want to distract him till he’s in the air. We’ll watch through Krol's eyes for a while."
Vision of Maurice’s huge form moving through the cavern entrance filled the group’s minds and Kieran smiled at the sheer amazement.
"Sorry. We didn't think about practising that."
"Unreal, Kieran ... Isn't Krol meant to be getting a piggyback ride?"
"When we’re outside, Tan. The entrance would scrape him off."
"Of course it would. I’m too amazed to think properly. Everything is sort of extra clear?"
"That’s Krol’s different eye structure. Just wait till we switch to Maurice. His eyes are even more interesting."
No one said anything because Maurice was now gone from view and Krol himself was approaching the entrance. He wasn't happy with all the rain but understood he’d be out of it soon.
"Sheba, Kieran. It's still a downpour."
"Yes, but nothing compared to ten minutes ago, Rhys. Wow! Look at Maurice!"
"Look at us you mean, Kieran. My mind’s flipping because I know we’re there, but here feels like from where Krol’s seeing ... What’s he doing?"
"His body’s too heavy to leave the ground by itself and he’s activating energy to help ... I’ll make the energy glow so you can see for yourself."
With his wings quivering strangely and flexed to the maximum, Maurice was already an unbelievable sight. The sudden appearance of a blue glow illuminating every part of his body brought mental gasps of astonishment.
"Holy cow! ... I mean dragon. Is that the way you see the energy in him, Kieran?"
"Sort of ... He’s moving his wings around to adjust to the feel of his new size."
"Here we go everyone. It’s take off time."
"Krol’s not piggybacking."
"Not till Maurice is in the air, Tan. That’s a lot easier for both of them."
The energy suffusing Maurice’s body changed in some strange way and to Kieran's perception disappeared. For everyone else Maurice rose vertically before making his first massive wing beat.
"Holy moly! Vertical takeoff. Is he doing that with the energy you showed us, Kieran?"
Another powerful beat changed the sense of lift to forward motion and the vision relayed from Krol confirmed Maurice was securely airborne.
Kieran, linked in his special way, saw the rush of achievement and success momentarily eclipse Maurice’s every other thought.
"Yes, Kieran. I revel in the moment. We are on our way and when my flying awareness is rebuilt we race. We race to help the Maker."
"Do you need any more energy? I was shocked at how much your launch used."
"Not for flying, but as soon as Krol is with us I will renew the storm building."
"Maurice has disappeared, Kieran."
"Not for long, Rhys. Krol will catch him soon."
Krol launched and, in a coordinated moment while Maurice travelled in a smooth glide, was soon grasping a protruding ridge with his powerful talons.
Maurice worked to rise through the cloud and rain and, with breathtaking suddenness, Krol's view showed clear blue sky. With a change of aspect they looked down on a dazzling white bank of cloud.
It was breathtaking and Kieran interrupted his complicated juggle of thinking to take it in, swapped to Maurice’s vision because Krol's view was mostly either clear sky or the ridged back he was gripping, and smiled at the collective mental grasp as the prospect below broadened with extra life and clarity.
"Oh my! Is this how Dragons normally see, Kieran?"
"It’s normal for Maurice, Mr B, and as far as I know he's the only Dragon in existence. He’s definitely the only one ever for the Realms."
"Well, yes of course. I framed my question without thinking ... There’s the edge of the storm."
Kieran saw Maurice’s intention and sent a mental warning.
"Whoo! Wild ride for the next few minutes everyone, while Maurice tests his manoeuvrability and flying skills."
"Wild? Will Krol be able to stay on?"
Kieran didn't answer because the whole world revolved with a body roll, lost gravity with a short vertical dive, then lurched frighteningly sideways with a powerful bank and return to level flying.
"Holy hell! The rollercoaster left the tracks."
Again Rhys got no answer because Maurice’s call for directions was suddenly strong in Keiran’s mind. He started to look for landmarks below and realised his ground-hugger perspective wasn't the best help.
"Check Krol's aerial memories and retrace the journey we made, Maurice. His viewpoint will suit you better than mine."
"Yes, of course. Thank you, Kieran."
A few moments later Maurice veered slightly, the power and rate of his wing beats increased with determined purpose, and his vision blurred.
"Why can't we see properly, Kieran? Is anything wrong?"
Kieran, as puzzled as Rhys and everyone else, switched to Krol's perception and saw absolutely nothing. His eyes were tightly closed.
"Wow, Rhys. Maurice is protecting himself with a special membrane and the only way Krol's eyes can cope with the speed is to keep them closed tight."
"Too fast for Krol? Gods! He doesn't even close them for power dives."
"The Maker is calling for great speed, Rhys. He needs us."
Wondering why he hadn't heard anything, Kieran rushed to check the Pearl link and was staggered by what he saw. His dismay registered with everyone before he could contain it and four concerned queries came at once.
"Sorry, everyone. Ranevargar's shields are fighting an unbelievable attack and I can't understand why I didn't feel it start."
"Will they hold, Kieran? Didn't you give him extra energy?"
"Um! ... Hang on ... The Pearl link’s different too. I see ... He’s done something to keep it hidden from Maynor while he uses it more strongly for himself. Wow! No worries about the shields, Mr B. He’s got them backed up with the new energy I sent to the Grove."
"Can you see what’s going on around him? If his shields are on there must be some other reason he called to Maurice for speed. Speak to him."
"I can't. He’s in that deep think he told us he needed."
"What's he thinking about?"
"It's too fast and way too complicated for me, Rhys. He’s using his Pearl link though and I can follow that ... Sheba! He’s called the Griffins to a rendezvous and they’re coming from everywhere."
"All of them?"
"... No, about fifty, Mr B."
"Then there really must be another big change because he needed them to look after the Realm when he was taken."
Tan spoke up.
"He must be properly reconnected with his Realm then, and that means he’s not worried about Maynor interfering. Can you see what's going through the Pearl besides the shield energy, Kieran?"
"You’re way ahead of me, Tan. Hang on ... Yes, the link’s busier every time I look at it."
"The Maker was strengthened by our contact and refreshes his mind with knowledge lost to my quietening. Kieran, I will need your assistance for the Boundary crossing. I am too occupied with storm generation to properly recall the way of it."
Rhys's explosion of incredulity expressed the group’s astonishment.
"The Boundary? You've got to be kidding, Maurice. We can't be near it yet."
"Ten minutes, Rhys. Our speed is considerable."
"Holy hell! Everything happens too quickly. That means Maynor's Castle is only a few minutes after that ... Kieran, we've got ten minutes to figure how to get to Ranevargar. Maurice is too big to fit through any doors and those Power Masters can stop Krol and the rest of us."
"Be calm, Rhys! The Maker will be with us to guide our every action as soon as we pass the Boundary. His knowledge of the High Lords and the tactics they can employ is unsurpassed."
Kieran's mind raced and he kicked himself for assuming the flight to the Boundary would allow far more time for thinking ahead. If only he'd accessed Maurice’s sense of progress. No, forget that. Think ahead.
"Ranevargar is paralysed and his abilities restrained by a golden helmet, Maurice. Will you be able to protect us while we do that? ... They point rod things that make us helpless. Could they affect you while you’re flying?"
Maurice’s mental snort of amusement was vastly reassuring.
"Kieran, I am a Realm Ruler and Protector. Let them try. It is time to close the storm channel of power and prepare for the Boundary crossing."
The inflow of pure white energy ceased instantly. That, at least, was straightforward. Kieran’s stomach lurched as Maurice slowed and headed downward. The protective eye membrane retreated and vision returned with a startling view of the Wall ahead. What?
"Maurice, we’ve always kept physical contact and walked through before. I don't know what will happen if we’re flying."
"Quickly! Show me! Landing will slow us and necessitate another accumulation of power."
Kieran filled his mind with his procedure for the previous crossing to Maynor's realm.
"Yes, I see. The physical bond is important for your interesting method of transition. It is maintained and strengthened and, along with Krol, now includes me. Call the protection of your Opal and impose the image of our destination on all our minds, Kieran. That way the crossing will be seamless."
The Wall loomed and Maurice’s flight slowed dramatically and swerved to a parallel course while the red protective shielding built to completion. Another swerve brought the familiar change of reality, a short blurt which quickly cleared.
"We’re through? What happened to all the disorientation?"
"This Boundary is no longer Unordered, Kieran."