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Story #2: When Troubles Follow You Home

The second installment of the Tuesday Night Stories series. When Braydon returns home after half a lifetime of adventure, he unwittingly places his hometown into great danger. The surviving members of a powerful group of wizards target them all in a plot for revenge. Braydon must protect his people and confront an enemy he thought long dead. This story consisted of seven parts.

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Part One, June 16, 2009

"Home," even as he whispered the word it didn�t feel right. How long had it been since he left, thirty years, forty? Braydon's leather boots made no sound as he crossed the north bridge. After this long, his memory of every creak brought a smile to his lips. He walked with the stealth of a seasoned warrior. The fine blade hanging comfortably at his waist matched those steps.

It had been thirty-five years ago, crossing this same bridge, when the appeal of the outside world took over him. He wondered if any stories had made their way here over the years. When he left it had been night and nobody knew of his plans. Not even his closest friends, then again even they were never very close.

The Brookwine Inn was smaller than any he'd seen in a long time. Next to it was the Four Oaks Brewery, packed surely by the sounds traveling all the way to him, still hundreds of paces away. He thought again about the day of week, remembering to be Sunday, the day of rebirth. Of course, every Sunday would give the place great business. What was the last village he noted with only one main brewery? The thought brought a smile to his lips, a remembrance of simpler times.

As he approached the village it really came into view. He noticed the real changes then. Since the village only had one easy way to it there had been no way to tell before now. A large mountain loomed over the city from the north, and the river blocked any way to come from the east. It would be possible to arrive from the west, but not easily. The trees were cluttered so close that an average sized man would be shoulder to shoulder against them. That left the only logical path from the south, where the long, sturdy wooden bridge crossed the river at its slimmest width.

The new buildings stood far taller than any standing when he left. Some were even three stories tall! It was nothing to the cities he had seen with tall stone structures up to six stories or more, but this was far more than he expected here. It brought another large smile to the his lips. With everything that had happened to the world, the cities that had fallen to the various wars, the kingdom�s overtaken, this very stretch of land trading hands more than once, his hometown had thrived. It was such a proud thought.

Braydon noted the multiple towers scattered within the city. Archers were the heart of this village's protection. He then noticed the passages carved into the mountain. Tall wooden platforms led to and between them, complete with rope pulleys for transport. It was a truly amazing sight. Mining made sense, but it was nice to see such technology coming this far from any major cities.

He tied his horse to one of the stands in front of the Four Oaks, still surprised by the fact that it seemed bigger than before. With a start he realized that it had been rebuilt, both buildings had. They were far larger than before, but appeared to be to scale with the originals. He noted twice the horse stands out front while tying up his mustang.

With each step more and more faces brought back distant memories of friends and family. Braydon scoured the crowds for the face of his father, wondering if he was still alive. He had just turned thirty when his little boy of only twelve vanished during the night. He laughed when he met his old man�s inquiring gaze. In an instant he saw the recognition. Tears filled the man�s weathered eyes.

With a firm voice Braydon spoke over the crowd. "Hello father," was all he said. The room went silent for a time. Then at once the room seemed to burst with offers of drinks, people yelling his name, laughing about his strange clothes, tears, cheers and everything in between.

"Home," the swordsman said quietly. It really didn�t feel so strange after all.

Part Two, July 7, 2009

Darren nearly choked on his drink when the man walked through the door. For three years he�d waited for it, but even so, he couldn't begin to believe it was really happening. The Lord Braydon Suleth casually walking in was enjoyably awkward to him. The whole room stared in startled silence without recognition. It brought Darren great pleasure to see the man get such an ill welcome. Even as his lips twisted into a wicked smile, the room erupted in cheers. Instead, he snarled.

Without a word to his companions, he rose and walked to the door. All around him was warm welcomes and calls for stories of Lord Braydon�s great deeds. It made him sick to his stomach just thinking about it. The fake hero gave him a quick glance as he passed, but the man obviously wrote him off as unimportant. The fool, he would soon learn different.

He had half a mind to take the man's horse when he left. There was no mistake guessing which it was. The enormous creature made all the other horses pale in comparison. The war horse moved threateningly upon approach. Well, it was just a thought anyway. Darren untied his own horse and took off at a full gallop away from the village.

Over the years Darren had grown to like the people of Malorn. What did the return of the war hero mean for the people there? Surely Zydala wouldn�t wait long. It made him even angrier at the man, his selfishness in putting all those people in danger. What did it matter if he was aware of it or not?

Many miles later, Darren saw the wooden mansion amidst the trees ahead of him. It was a pathetic sight. Ten years ago, the Order of Tykaron had a home in every major city from sea to sea. Each was an awe inspiring structure of stone, marveled at by the world, worshipers and not alike. Now they were reduced to this, this crumbling wooden ruin of a home.

The structure was all that remained of an old motte-and-bailey castle. The thing had been deserted a long time ago. It was a work in progress for those of the faith unwilling to give up their beliefs, as it had been for the last four years. Few of them were architects, so the progress went slowly.

It was Darren's opinion they should recruit, to show the world that the Order was not afraid of their false accusations. It was Lord Braydon that begun the campaign that spread those rumors and eradicated Darren's people. Every ruler in this part of the world believed when the man said the Order was using top members to influence control of them through sorcery. By the end of it, every official of their Order had been tortured and executed, except for Zydala. Tortured yes, but she was not executed. No others escaped to tell the horrors of what had been done, but Zydala told stories. She was the head of their Order now. The only official left to them. That was to say she escaped in body at least, something had happened to her mind none-the-less. Darren felt she had become increasingly unpredictable as of late.

Darren walked through the door and was immediately cornered. Caroline spoke first, "Zydala demands your presence, Acolyte. You know you had no right to leave the grounds tonight." There was a satisfaction in her voice that he assumed to be from getting the first word.

"She�s not happy, Darren. You shouldn�t have left again. You go too far sometimes." Amery had a look of compassion unseen in the other two.

"Do not be weak with him, Amery," Peter snapped. "This is his mistake and he should both feel bad about it and accept whatever punishment goes with it."

"Very well, then, take me to her." He said with all the confidence he could muster. Amery smiled proudly, making it all the more worth it. She was the most beautiful girl he�d ever seen. He was an acolyte, one of the youngest members of the Order, and Amery had three years on him. Some said he was already more powerful than many in much higher standing. Including all three standing before him, he noted. Among them, only Amery didn�t hold that fact against him.

In other ways, being different was good. Despite the trouble he got into constantly, they were reluctant to get rid of someone of his ability. So he let them take him to Zydala with as much pride as his fear would allow. He even managed to smile on the way. After the news he had today, she would forever hold him in her favor. He was sure of it.

The three fell behind as he approached the door; even they were weary of Zydala�s behavior lately. He opened it quietly and slipped inside so his followers would not be able to see anything. The door clicked shut behind him.

The room was a dull blue from the various glowing spheres spread around. A writing table had various papers, but there was little else out of place. A shrill voice broke the silence. "You did once again what I have forbidden!" A powerful and unseen blow lifted him completely off his feet and knocked him hard against the wall. Small specs of darkness floated in his vision as he tried to regain his senses. It was all he could do to not pass out from the pain.

Darren fell to his knees in subservience. "Forgive me, Mistress! I did it only for you!"

"For me, you say," the voice mused mockingly, "you expect me to believe such a tale?"

"It is no tale. Tonight Lord Braydon Suleth arrived in Malorn. I wished to be the one to bring you such wonderful news." It wasn�t exactly the truth, but it was close enough. He hoped.

His body lifted off the ground and flew across the room until he was standing in front of Zydala. She never moved a muscle, but she could sweep him around the room like a child throwing a rag doll. It was unnerving to say the least.

"What danger have you put us in, my sweet little Darren? He saw you this night? Did you bring him down upon us all?" Her screech was deafening as he flew backwards again, this time smashing through the door to her study. He tried to scream out that he did not do what she accused, that he had not been noticed at all, but there was no chance for it.

"We shall see by dawn, foolish child! Leave my sight this instant." She screamed the words at him. Surely anyone close by heard the altercation. Tears were streaming down his face as he got up, bleeding and bruised.

He turned to go as her screeches became maniacal laughter. Faintly he heard her say, almost in a whisper, "So, I may get my revenge yet." He ran to his room, confused and hurt. After all this time, surely this was about more than just her revenge� wasn�t it?

Part Three, July 14, 2009

"Who was that boy last night? He had red hair and sat with three other men at a table by the bar." Braydon asked. It had been some time since he performed menial chores around a house, but his father made it quite clear he didn�t need, or want, any of his servants.

"I�m not sure; I don�t remember him among the festivities."

"No, he left just as I was coming in."

His father looked confused. "You remember all that about someone you saw for less than a minute?"

"Yes, old habits die hard I suppose." He shrugged.

"I can only imagine. Well, there is that boy that comes in from the north from time to time. Darren I think his name is. A strange lad, but he�s always seemed nice enough. If you are really curious you would do better to ask some of the others. Mitchell or Pereval, both friends of yours as a child weren�t they?"

The connection made him even more curious. "Yes, I remember them. Does the boy ever bring people with him when he comes to town?"

"Not that I know of, wait, there was a pretty young girl with him once now that I think back. It was quite obvious that he was smitten with her. Why are you so curious about him, anyway?"

Braydon saw no reason to lie to his father. "I felt something inside him that I haven�t felt in a very long time." A very long time indeed, he thought. "How long has he been coming to town?"

His father thought for some time before answering, "I would say about three or four years, I guess." An old familiar knot formed between his shoulders. Braydon didn�t believe in coincidences.

"You mentioned he was strange, what did you mean?" The question made his father stop what he was doing, lost in what Braydon assumed to be a memory. "Is everything all right, Father?"

"Yes, everything is fine. It was just a bit over a year ago I suppose. There was a northerner visiting, said he knew you in fact. The man called himself Victor. Well, not long after his arrival, the boy showed up with an old woman. The next thing we knew the inn was on fire and nobody could find the three of them."

"I thought you said nobody else had come to town with him?"

"I�m sorry, my boy, I�m sorry, I suppose I had blocked out the thought. Three people died in that fire. We don�t see much death in these parts. Darren told everyone he had never seen the woman before, that she asked him to help her in getting to town. The story seemed likely enough."

"What did this woman look like?"

His father thought about it for some time while they worked in silence. "I�m sorry; I just can�t seem to remember. She wore a hooded cloak mostly. It�s her voice that I remember though." Braydon stopped sweeping and looked up at the man. He had an intense expression. "I�ll never forget that raspy voice so long as I live."

That solidified the thought in his head. After all these years, Zydalla was here, waiting for him. Braydon closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "The man was Captain Victor Dunnis. He served with me in a great many battles. He was made Lord Protector of these parts, but we never heard from him again. After an investigation, it was assumed he was killed by brigands, but now I think he met a different end, one much worse."

His father gave him a fearful look. "Do you think we are in danger?"

"Yes, I do, and I�m afraid it would do no good for me to leave at this point." Pain filled him as he said the words. Had he doomed his own people by coming home?

Many hours later, Braydon left the town hall grumbling. He blamed himself as much as the villagers, if not more so. After all, why should they listen to someone they�ve hardly known?

At least they had listened to some reason. Tripling the guard would help to give them advance notice. There was something in that. Braydon hadn�t realized that the village had been attacked a number of times. Many of the men even seemed to be proficient with their defensive strategies. Maybe it wouldn�t go as bad as he thought. Still, they were grossly underestimating what he knew must be was coming.

It was up to him, then, to protect them from the danger. Braydon just hoped that it would be enough.

Part Four, July 21, 2009

The first calls came at dusk. The pattern of the short chirps signified they were not from an actual bird. Men at the front were given specific orders to stay silent and still. With any luck none of them would lose their life today.

Braydon watched the men digging a trench in front of the bridge to town. It was a common action before a battle, but he didn�t have the heart to tell them it would do no good this time. This enemy didn�t use traditional weapons. Still, it calmed their nerves and that wasn�t a bad thing.

He turned back to the trail through the forest. The real weapons were out there. Things he had hidden over the last few days. There were some traps and snares, among other nasty surprises.

He wondered how many were out there this evening. All the Grand Master�s were dead, that he was sure of. But none had proven to be the biggest threat. No, they were all pawns of that damned fool, Zydala. How many were left now in her manipulative care?

"Sir, they approach." The man was pointing off in the distance and he saw the movement as well. He held a scope to his eye.

The men here started addressing him officially as the one in charge once preparations had begun. In front of a council meeting, it was hard for him to demand attention being an outsider for so many years. But out here, he was at home. Most of his life had been spent with men under his command. They saw it just as easily as he.

The man approaching to his left interested him first. If he just kept walking in that direction� The snap was loud enough to be heard all this distance away, and so was the man�s scream of agony as his leg was cleanly severed in the trap. The men around him looked uncomfortable. Luckily, none would have seen such detail without his instrument to make it clearer.

He panned the looking glass over in time to see an old woman scream and run to her fallen companion only to set off a trap of her own. She fell out of sight and would be as good as dead when she landed on the long spikes three feet below. So far so good, he thought.

A young woman, no a mere girl, was the third his sight fell upon. He ran as fast as he could when he saw where the girl was heading. She was too young to die for her atrocious master. He felt her intrusions as he ran, but he was no novice at fighting such people. His mind was much better protected than the average man.

With a heave he jumped over the trap that she was approaching and pushed her hard the other direction. The girl fell back against a tree and hit her head on one of the branches. She collapsed in a heap.

A guttural scream filled the air around him and he turned to see Zydala with the boy next to her. She was looking down at Darren, amused. Then Braydon felt the wave of fury that came hard from the boy; it was unlike anything he had ever felt before. Both he and Zydala lost their feet. The sheer force of the attack shook him to the core.

Alarm forced Braydon to search his mind for a place that he hadn�t tapped in many years. The power and control that it brought made him tremble. He hadn�t felt the surge of energy flowing through his body in a long, long time. A time back when he himself was among the Order, before he had seen the truth of what they were doing. It felt wonderful.

None-the-less, he�d hoped it wouldn�t come to this, people thought it was something evil and it got people into trouble more than any good it did. With a light step he danced around the delicate parts of his mind tapping them when necessary to give strength to the parts he needed most. Now he saw the waves of energy coming off his opponents like heat waves now as well. They, no doubt, could see the same coming from him.

The boy�s eyes widened in shock at the revelation that Braydon too had the power of the Goddess inside him, which meant Zydala didn�t tell them everything. Confusion wracked Darren�s face as he turned to his mentor. Perhaps he could use that distrust. It also supported the thought that she was controlling them with false news of the fall of their Order, and blaming Braydon for that fall.

Unable to find the strength for a full retaliation after the boy�s attack, Braydon felt around the forest for his other traps, one�s he wouldn�t have been able to use without freeing his mind for it, setting them off at his enemies. Rocks, branches, and other debris assaulted the two remaining Tykaron members. Zydala screamed for retreat and he heard the boy protest.

"We can�t leave Amery. I won�t leave her!"

"She is dead, you stupid boy. This fight is lost."

"She is not dead, we can-." Braydon saw the waves of the attack that knocked the boy off his feet.

She turned to Braydon then and called out, "You do well on your own turf, betrayer. You have three days or I will bring all my followers. We will kill everyone in the village and burn your home to the ground." With that, Zydala lifted the boy�s limp body and ran off through the forest. He had no choice but to let them go for now. Darren�s attack had greatly shaken him. He�d learned the harm in pushing his mind too hard without having complete control, it wasn�t pretty.

The townspeople killed three of the Order on their own. Arrows were responsible for all the kills. They suffered far more losses though, eight good men that died for him today. Braydon went to the fallen girl and woke her.

"You are too young to die for a lie, girl. Quiet, just listen. I don�t want to hear anything from you until we have the chance to talk in private, do you understand? You should realize that these people, with full justification, could kill you in whatever way they see fit. I don�t want that any more than you do, believe me, so you must heed my words and keep your mouth shut."

The girl had no reason to believe him, but she looked trapped�and caught. Her mouth closed slowly as she looked around, miserable. Seeing no other option, she nodded as if to say she didn�t trust him but saw no other way.

"Good girl, maybe you�ll live through this."

Part Five, July 28, 2009

Darren knocked on the door trying once again to hide his nervous shaking. Everything around him was falling apart. He thought his Amery dead, but then found a note from her in his pocket when dressing this morning. It made no sense, but he knew it must be, he�d never said such things to anyone else.

At her bidding he had raised questions to five of the Order today. Or almost five anyway, there was one left on the short list, one that was supposed to come last. Elder Hemmon was the oldest living member of the Order, of those that had been found at least. Nobody believed that all surviving members had found their way here yet.

The door opened only enough to permit a slice of the man�s face in the light of the hallway, he looked out suspiciously then looked down the hall. The suspicion had spread all over the house throughout the day. The surprise attack had failed miserably and many of them lost their lives to it. Darren felt responsible for that, but it seemed many of the others blamed Zydala. That she too blamed him had only fueled the fire.

Not only did they feel she should have been honest about what they were up against, but a lot of them took serious issue with the crippling attack she had directed at Darren out there, another member of the Order. Darren hadn�t woken for an entire day. He still felt weak.

"What is it you want, Boy?"

"I must speak with you, Elder Hemmon. It is important."

The old man looked behind Darren again, as if expecting a trap. Then he opened the door wider and motioned him to come in.

Hemmon�s room was an absolute wreck. Books by the dozens lay half opened and discarded. Darren had never seen an elder�s room look like this before. The windows all were drawn shut and only a single candle burning on the table near his chair gave light to the room.

"Excuse the mess. I have been looking for information and cannot seem to remember where it is written. It is something I haven�t thought of in some time, I�m afraid. Anyway, enough of that, what can I do for you?"

Darren took a deep breath to steady himself. "What do you know of Ambassador Sarrell?" Elder Hemmon lost his composure and stared in open shock at him.

"What do you know of him, Adept? How do you even know that name? I must admit it is suspicious that you mention the name of the very man I have searched through my notes to find."

"Here," Darren said, handing over the note from Amery. "I am supposed to show this to you."

Darren waited while the man read through the note just as he had waited four other times today. None reacted so strongly to it though. The man actually looked excited as his eyes moved down the page. Most of the other men had only looked more and more suspicious.

"So, he will come in two days. Good, good, I have many questions for him. There is the problem with Zydala. She will never let the man have his say before all of us. She will never let it go through." He paused in thought, Darren just waited patiently. "For so many years I have sat back quietly while she tore apart everything we once stood for." The old man turned to him before going on. "Of course, none of us have the strength to stand up to her. But you�" He let the thought hang in the air as he eyed him.

"Elder, you cannot be serious. There is no way that I could stand up to Zydala. And why should I? Since I came to this place she has been in charge, she has cared for us and watched over us. Everyone keeps saying that we should just turn on her. Well, why should I!" Darren collapsed onto a chair near the door having trouble finding his breath.

The man was on his feet and coming toward him in an instant. "Cared for you, has she? Watched over you, you say? Open your eyes, Adept. There is nothing she cares for beyond revenge on the man who ruined her plans. I have suspected it for some time, she told us that the man you asked about was dead, and, in a way, I suppose he is. That part of him, anyway."

Darren hadn�t the strength to retort, nor did he have anything to say even if he could. Besides, the man had Amery and she seemed to trust him after only a day. Even if they had talked for a number of hours, it felt too quick to judge. Everyone seemed so ready to betray Zydala. He tried to stand and couldn�t, maybe they weren�t wrong about their mistrust.

"Very well, then." He said, defeated. "I still don�t see how I can stand up to her."

"Yes, well we have some time for me to teach you. Two more days that note said?" Darren nodded. "It should be time enough. There are many lessons Zydala has forbidden. I worry much has been forgotten or lost to time. It pains me to see how much knowledge can be lost in less than a decade. Some knowledge is not lost though, things that might just turn things in our favor."

"What sort of attack are you talking about?" The man paused and pursed his lips.

"The things I have to show you are not any sort of attack; think of it more as ways to protect your mind from the attacks of others."

Darren couldn�t deny that he was excited. He had a thirst for knowledge that he felt the Order was lacking. The idea that there was more to learn, things that may have been lost in the last few years, well it was exciting to say the least. Perhaps he could take Amery, and they could travel about, looking for remnants of hidden powers. He noticed that Elder Hemmon was talking again and left his excitement for the time being.

"The great Ambassador Sarrell, I still cannot believe it. One of the greatest philosopher�s of our Order is coming here in only two days." He stared off to the window as if talking to himself. "It has been so long since I last saw a chance of hope for us on the horizon."

Part Six, August 4, 2009

Braydon looked up from his glass of tea into his father�s eyes. All his plans for coming home were on the verge of collapse. There was so much to say to the man, but he knew that he may never return to say it. He looked down again in shame.

"No matter what happens today, they won�t bother you again. I promise." He said.

"I�m sorry that I never came to find you, my boy." The change in topic caught him by surprise. "I�m sorry that I made you leave. Your mother�s death was hard on me and I wasn�t there for you as I should have been."

He looked up in shock to see tears on his father�s face. "You didn�t make me leave, it was never you. Her death made me sad for her; she never escaped this place, she never saw the world." He frowned at the pain he�d unknowingly caused his father for all this time. "It was never you, father. I just didn�t want to die like that.

His father laughed softly. "Well I suppose you saw it, my boy, the world I mean. Was it everything you hoped it would be?"

The question lingered in the air. He wouldn�t change the life he�d led for anything in the world. But it was that life that had brought death home with him; it was that life that might mean his own death later today. How was he supposed to answer that question?

"It was worth it, father. I�ve saved the lives of tens of thousands of men. I�ve lead armies and advised Kings and Queens. I lived as honest as I was able."

His father looked up, smiling. "To think, my boy advising royalty, there is so much that I want to know. Too much to ask. We have good, trained men. You don�t need to do this by yourself." Braydon shook his head sadly and the old man nodded. "Well, I had to try one last time didn�t I?"

He smiled back at his father. The door opening interrupted what he was going to say. It was the girl he had caught in the forest, Amery. He�d learned a great deal about the state of the Order from her. She was a perceptive and idealistic girl. It reminded him of how he felt before the truth came out.

"It�s time to go, Ambassador." He winced at the words. It was a title he hadn�t used in a very long time. At least he had gotten her past using his other name. It should have tipped him off as a boy that they required all followers to make a new name for themselves. Despite what reason they claimed, it was only to create a split between new recruits and their families. It was a form of control.

He turned back to his father, but was at a loss for words. "I know, Son, I know. You better get going. For all these years I thought I had driven you away. You have put my soul at rest by coming here and I am eternally grateful for it. I feel that we will see each other again, this isn�t the end. I know it. No, don�t say anything." Tears flowed freely from the old man�s eyes now. "Just go, my boy. Go be a hero one last time."

Braydon rose from his chair and embraced the man. Then he left with Amery without another word. She looked up at him sadly as he approached her. She too didn�t think this their final goodbye, she�d said so more than once.

They mostly rode in silence on the way to the mansion. So much of what was going to happen today was still up in the air. With any luck, the note his scout had taken reached its target. Braydon was sure he headed to his death if not.

He�d contemplated for days before deciding against wearing his ceremonial garb, which he kept for all these years. It just wasn�t him anymore. Instead, he wore his nicest clothes. Beside him, Amery was wearing the shawl of the Order proudly. Braydon hoped letting her wear it would be noticed at the mansion. The blue stitching all along the inside was not technically allowed by someone of her rank, but he didn�t suppose it mattered anymore. There were no more Ambassadors. Zydala had made sure of that, it showed the contempt that she still felt for him.

Amery informed him of some of the numerous changes over the years. Rules and regulations Zydala set in place. Magic that had been forbidden and lost. The ranks and stations had been completely eradicated; now there were students and there were masters, and then there was Zydala, of course. None could stand beside her, or anywhere near by the sound of it.

The stories brought about a sense of guilt Braydon thought long gone. Zydala should have been dealt with. She should have paid for her crimes and been unable to warp so many minds.

His heart began to beat faster, but Braydon kept full control of his emotions. The moment of truth had arrived. Would they be expecting him, or had his plan worked?

He opened his mind and felt the comforting strength that flowed into his muscles. Amery had already opened her own mind. This close, he could feel the waves of energy she emitted.

"There is nobody waiting, it seems your plan worked, Ambassador."

"Please, call me Braydon. I tell you again and again, I haven�t used that name in a long, long time."

"I could not, Sir. You deserve my respect."

Braydon sighed; she hadn�t even known he existed three days ago. At the same time he hoped the others would believe what he came to say as easily as she. It hadn�t been hard. Apparently Zydala had done a decent job of building a natural distrust on her own.

With a focus of strength to his vocal muscles, Braydon�s voice boomed. "I have come, Zydala. I await you outside." One-by-one he felt people embracing magic inside the mansion. He wondered again if he would live through the day.

Part Seven, August 11, 2009

The door opened and Darren, with half a dozen men following behind, walked out onto the porch and down the steps. Braydon took a deep breath in relief. It didn�t mean that everything would go well today, but it meant he probably wouldn�t be killed before having a chance to speak. That was something.

Darren gave Amery a wide smile as he walked. Braydon could see the strain that kept the boy from running to her. It reminded him of the importance that today had. The lives of all these people were potentially at stake.

Inside the house was a bustle of movement. There was one magic source that he tracked more closely than all the others. It could only be Zydala. Nobody else held such power. Well, almost nobody.

As the porch filled, people began to move forward. He could tell that they were nervous about getting too close despite him being outnumbered dozens to one. Amery had warned him of the number of people living here, but even still the crowd surprised him. Most were younger, but some he still recognized after all this time.

Zydala emerged, dressed fully in the official robes of her position. Every inch of her was showing regal confidence. As she walked, followers moved to get out of her way. The woman wore a dangerous expression, so Braydon understood their desire to be clear of the path between them.

"So, Ambassador," she was eyeing Amery�s shawl, voice rich with sarcasm, "you have finally come to pay for your crimes against Tykaron. He will welcome you to the afterlife!"

All eyes turned on him, but he held his tongue. His hopes found a voice in Elder Hemmon. It would be better to hear from one of their own first. "The Ambassador deserves more than threats. For years I have awaited validation for the fall of our Order. For years we have had only one voice to offer an explanation for what took place."

Zydala tried to interrupt but Elder Hemmon talked right over her. "Ambassador Sarrell, it has been accused that you betrayed all that we stand for. I bring you to question under rule of Tykaron himself, who demands the truth of what brought down the Order."

The entire clearing fell to silence. Braydon understood what he was doing, but Zydala apparently did not. Her smug attitude said she trusted in her years of manipulation.

"I deny none of your claims, Elder." Zydala lit up at his words as the entire crowd gasped.

"You see, I-!" Zydala began, but Braydon spoke right over her.

"However, while I make no excuses for what I did, you should be aware that I would do it again in an instant. Tykaron is a lie, a false God created by the Master�s of your Order."

If there had been gasps before, there were cries of blasphemy now. Once again Zydala tried to speak but was silenced by the enhanced voice of Elder Hemmon. The man played a dangerous game. He was among the very few that looked relieved at his comment. A lifetime of suspicion revealed in a sentence.

"I call you all to silence!" The sheer volume of his voice quieted the crowd. Zydala was enraged now. Hemmon eyed her without any hint of fear. He was looking death in the eyes and had accepted it long before now.

Her scream brought the crowd to their knees as she launched her attack. Every member of the order was cowering except for Zydala, Elder Hemmon, and of all people, Darren.

His calm demeanor turned to open shock as Darren�s power inverted, drawing in strength from those around him. The boy�s face twisted with concentration and Zydala�s attack was caught in the energy field that was growing around him. Her eyes rose in surprise even as he reversed the flow once again and launched it right back at her.

It all lasted less than a minute, but Braydon knew that everything had changed. This was not what he�d expected. Zydala tried to deflect the attack but she was nowhere near powerful enough to do so. There was nobody that could. Hemmon sighed in relief that he was still alive.

One-by-one the crowd stirred and got to their feet. They looked at him suspiciously despite knowing he had nothing to do with that. Elder Hemmon stepped forward in front of the line of people.

"Ambassador Sarrel I thank you for what you have done." I have sought this truth for many years without anything more than hints and ideas, many of which I found in your books, hard as they were to find. Speaking those words here today was what gave me strength. How did you first know?" The man had tears in his eyes as he looked to him, somewhere between the loss of his faith and the peace of the truth. Braydon had been there himself.

His eyes panned the crowd and took in the faces looking back at him. Some looked happy, others looks confused. They all seemed to look to him as if expecting guidance. It was his fault they were gathered here, responsibility was something he had given up to go home. Perhaps he just wasn�t meant to have peace in this life.

"There will be time for that, Elder. It took many years of searching. What is important now is the truth that I found. You do not need false God�s to guide your path; Tykaron was no more than a method of control." His voice rose to an all-too-familiar tone of command once he got into it. "I am no longer Ambassador Sarrel, Servant of Tykaron. No, I am who I was born, Braydon Sulleth. All of you are the same as me. We cast off our names in the name of our God, but understand this is no more than a manipulation that was forced upon you. Your new name was to alienate you from people in your life outside the Order."

"You are in control of your own life, everyone must cast off the names given to them and become yourselves once more." Gasps filled the silence and he paused to let them come to terms with what he said. "The world is weary of your Order, even after all these years. Those of you who wish to return to your lives will not be stopped. You should understand that your power is dangerous in this world. There will be those that will fear it and there will be those that try to destroy anyone who wields it."

He paused again while they considered that life. "However," he went on, "if you wish to remain here then you will be welcomed. This mansion will become an Academy for people who are like us. Elder Hemmon," Braydon looked down at the man, "will be the headmaster." Slowly people began to clap, thankful that he was not taking the job for himself. Hemmon was shaking his head.

"I could not. It should be you that leads us. You are wiser than I." He bowed a little more with every word.

"Rise my good man, you need not bow to me. After everything you have done today it is me that you bow to, when it should be the other way around. I owe you my very life. That takes a humble heart, which I have never had. These people know you, they trust in your word or things would have gone very different today. No, it is you that must lead them."

Amery dismounted and ran to embrace Darren and the crowd took the distraction as an opportunity to talk amongst themselves. Braydon smiled down at the two of them. He thought back on his father�s question and wondered if he did have regrets about leaving home after all. A lifetime of adventure, yes, but was it worth a lifetime of loneliness?

(*******)

Over the weeks the broken down mansion became a beautiful place once more. Villagers from all over the area agreed to work to help rebuild the place. Despite the animosity felt for members of the Order everywhere, they were willing to look past it and see that these weren�t dangerous people, just lost. Once that had been decided they were treated as any other neighbor that needed a friend. It was good to be home.