Authors: Mark Tuson
He found the remains of the Army’s base, and darted straight through the ground and rolled through the door as Rechsdhoubnom entered the room too.
He was on Knifestone, but Rechsdhoubnom’s hand was as well. Without stopping to think, Peter set the doorway on fire, breaking the connection to the dying world, and causing the hand to fall off, severed from its owner. He smashed the door and threw lightning and flames at it, not stopping until it was nothing more than a clump of black dust on the ground.
It was over. Behind him, Atlosreg stepped up and caught him just as he was about to fall. He took away all of the protective spellwork from Peter, which he could only do because Peter trusted him – another feature they had designed into the spell, for in case Peter needed assistance upon his return that could only be provided without the armour – and placed him slowly on the ground.
Peter passed out. When he awoke, he was in his bed, in the Hovel. Atlosreg and Eddie were there, talking.
They stopped talking, and Atlosreg looked proudly at Peter. ‘Peter,’ he said, ‘you did it.’
Peter sat up slowly, trying to ignore the headache that was threatening to crack his skull open. ‘No,’ he shook his head. ‘I didn’t. I still have to put the flame out.’
Atlosreg nodded very slowly. ‘I know. But you removed Rechsdhoubnom’s power. I caught a look at what was happening before you came back through. You destroyed the world, even if you have still to end its reality.’
Eddie looked humbled. ‘I didn’t think you could do that,’ he said. ‘I didn’t think anyone could.’
‘Neither did I,’ said Peter slowly. ‘But then, I can’t do anything more than anyone else here. The only difference is I learned the things I did – which anyone can.’
Eddie raised an eyebrow.
‘I need to get back to the Guild as soon as I can though, so I can put the flame out.’
‘Yes,’ Atlosreg agreed. ‘We should attend to that as soon as possible.’
Peter stood up. ‘I’m ready when you are. We don’t have to make a big ceremony out of it, we’ll just go.’
‘Okay,’ said Atlosreg and Eddie together.
There was no preparation to do, other than for Peter to retrieve his satchel. Given what it and he had been through on Werosain, Peter was more than a little surprised that it was still intact, even if there was so much magic protecting it.
They went, as they were, to the Guild’s temporarily vacant premises, with Eddie leading the way. As they went, winding along the great spiral corridor, he explained that he and Atlosreg had instructed all the other members of the Guild to assist the Werosaian innocents in settling down and establishing their new colony under Knifestone.
‘How long will they be there then, do you think?’ Peter said.
‘About three months,’ Eddie replied. ‘We’re going to stay about three months, just make sure everything’s stable before we set about re-establishing ourselves. It might give those of us who don’t see any point any more something to focus on.’
‘Makes sense. What will happen now there’s no threat from Rechsdhoubnom or his Militia?’
‘Good question. It could be a chance for us to start working more out about magic, pushing forward the boundaries, so to speak. There’s a lot of people who are very interested in learning how you’ve become so powerful, maybe you could teach from time to time?’
That could be an interesting possibility, Peter thought. It was ironic; he had gone from neophyte to adept in only seven years, when there were magicians among the Guild’s membership who had been practicing for decades, and yet not come as far as he had. There was a lot he could teach those who might be prepared to learn from him. He was particularly curious about how Caroline might react to some of the things he had learned.
‘How long was I out?’ Peter said suddenly: he had been wondering since waking up.
‘Two days,’ Atlosreg said.
‘You were exhausted, must have worn yourself pretty thin,’ Eddie said.
‘Bloody hell.’ He had been exhausted, but he didn’t think he had been exhausted enough to sleep for two solid days.
They walked in silence for the last hundred or so yards, before reaching the tomb. When they got there, Peter took the lead, descending into the chamber and then drawing his flute.
This time, as he approached the tomb itself, he not only unsealed the tomb, but he completely removed every trace of its protection: none of it would have a use any more. The stone door crumbled away into non-existence as it had before, and inside was tomb, everything was exactly as it had been on Werosain, except that the skeleton had turned to ash.
‘Rechsdhoubnom must have been pretty forceful when he appeared,’ Peter said.
He didn’t step inside: he knew now that, were he to cross the threshold, he would be as much in Werosain as on Earth, and the flame would end the existence of Werosain itself – which would take with it half of the reality contained by the stone walls, possibly including him. Instead, he pointed the shaman’s drumstick, which had been placed – probably by Atlosreg – into his satchel, and simply willed the flame to stop burning.
The flame roared like the flame of a Bunsen burner, issuing forth Werosain’s death cry, and then it was no more. Werosain, finally, was not only dead, but its body had decayed into nothing.
Inside the tomb, now, there was only the mound of earth on which, twenty thousand years ago, an angry young man had created his own world.
Atlosreg had a tear in his eye, and Peter did too. Those two men had known better than any of the Guild how desperately the people of Werosain had wanted a good life. Not a world to dominate, not riches, just a good world, and a good life. Eddie quietly retreated out of the chamber, allowing Atlosreg and Peter to silently mourn what had been lost, what might have been.
Together, the three returned to Knifestone. Under the island, in the cavern that Atlosreg and Peter had prepared, the Guild and the remaining Werosaians were settling in. Peter decided to stay above ground, in the Hovel, along with Atlosreg. They invited Eddie in for some food and a drink, which he accepted.
In Peter’s eyes, they had all come a long way. They three, different kinds of people, friends and equals at last. With Werosain gone, there was a hell of a lot of work left to do, but getting rid of Werosain had been the most tremendous effort of Peter’s entire life.
He was pretty sure that he and the Guild would be able to sort out the rest of what needed sorting out readily enough.
They were in their circle, as often they had been for the durations of entire universes. One of them spoke.
‘The Foundation Stone has made his first move.’
‘Yes. His time creeps, as stands ours.’
‘Should the Ages be sent for his aid?’
They considered together for an unquantifiable interval.
‘No. He will need to construct his own tool for this job.’
They considered again.
‘True. He needs a tool, not power. He needs something of this universe, not merely contained within its walls.’
An image projected before Them from the mind of one of Them. It showed a bald, bearded man – the Foundation Stone – holding a wand made from metal and glass.
‘He must succeed.’
‘The Ages will be at hand. It may be found to be of some help.’