Legacies - Part III

The missive that he had received while taking a spot of tea with Clover had been vague, but urgent. All that his Highness, Prince Phil of Whales, had been able to deduce was that something drastic had happened to Macaban earlier that afternoon, and his presence was required. Apparently, Wessex was there waiting for him and needed to speak with him about what had transpired. From the scratchiness and the tone of the letter, the lapine knew that Captain Hargrove was not pleased with either the boy or what had happened.

Apologizing to his love, the rabbit had Rupert prepare his carriage and deliver him to Lorland. The trip was pleasant, as he gazed at the leaves, some of which were beginning to change colors. A few bright yellows could be seen dangling from the oaks and aspen. In another few months, the sound of the crunching leaves would be heard beneath the carriage wheels, and not just the mud.

He was met under the porte cochère by the collie, Captain Hargrove, who wore a miffed expression, an angry moue typical of the canine. "Your Highness," Hargrove inclined his head respectfully - no more bowing and scraping from Loriod's people, a fact that the rabbit liked.

"What happened to Macaban? Your letter wasn't very clear," Phil said as Rupert, the great ape, helped him down to the ground. Digging his claws in the dry earth, Phil hopped over to the blue-liveried soldier, while an ostler tended to the horse.

"I'm not sure yet what caused the incident, Wessex has not been very forthcoming."

"Where is he?"


"Wessex," Phil asked, as Rupert came to stand behind him.

"He's in Alvarez's studio. I'll take you up to him in a moment." Hargrove's eyes trailed after the ostler who had led the carriage around towards one side of the castle.

"And Macaban? Is he well?"

Taking a deep breath, the collie's tail could not help but wag in agitation. "It is simpler if you just follow me and see him for yourself. This way." Hargrove led them into the castle, but instead of taking the main corridor towards the more elegant wing, he led them by the kitchens which smelled of delicious pastries and fresh carrots, towards the servants quarters and the stables. Phil hopped along after him, with Rupert ambling right behind.

The stables were only half full, many of the animals would be out in the fields helping the Lorlanders harvest the crops. Tack and harness hung from the rafters, while the ever present equine scent drowned out all others. Flies buzzed and flew from back to back, though Rupert swatted at any that dared come near Phil. Two of the blue-liveried guards were standing next to one of the stalls, inside of which could be seen the head of a donkey. The Prince immediately recognized the skunk and bull.

"Deller, Gary!" Phil called in greeting, hopping over to the Lorlanders. Ever since he had been given dominion over the late Altera's land, he had done his best to learn the names of every one of his subjects. By now he knew almost all of the guards and even something about them. "What happened to your snout, Gary?"

"Your highness." they both inclined their heads, and then the bull indicated with his three fingered hand. "Macaban here kicked me while I tried to hold him down."

Phil's eyes went wide, and his ears erect. He'd been told his look of surprise made him even cuter than normal, hardly befitting a grizzled sea captain! "That's Macaban?"

"Unfortunately," Hargrove murmured as he ran his paw through the donkey's mane. Macaban was currently eating some grain from a feedbag, totally oblivious to the animal-men standing about him.

"Is he feral?" Phil had quite a bit of familiarity with being feral himself. Having to sleep in a cage at night was simply one aspect of it. Rarely did he have a chance to see the animal side overcome another of his fellow Metamorians.

"Completely, he doesn't recognize anything or anybody," Deller pointed out. Phil found his nose twitching involuntarily, his stomach turning. It was readily obvious that skunk had sprayed somebody recently, though it appeared to have been dampened somehow. As he leaned in closer on his fore-paws, he could tell that sombody had been the donkey. "It's like he never was a man."

Rupert shifted uncomfortably on his feet behind him, and Phil had to admit he shared the ape's discomfort. "When did it happen?"

"A few hours ago, I sent the letter shortly after we'd restrained him. He'd been alone with Wessex and then suddenly we heard a terrible braying, and there he was, kicking and cantering about the lounge, destroying everything. The mage cast some sort of spell on him, and he's calmed down since," Gary explained, rubbing his tender snout.

Phil turned his head back, gazing up at his protector. Rupert's face was grim, and quite unsettled. "I believe that I should go speak with Wessex now. I'm sure he has some notion of what has caused this."

"I hope he can fix him," Deller muttered, his whiskers drooping.

"As do I!" Phil assured him, taking one last look at the donkey before following Hargrove back towards the kitchens and the other wing of the castle. Those dark brown eyes gazed at them contemptuously as if to say that the feed bag was all his. The rabbit wondered if that was how his eyes looked when he was feral too. The very notion of it sent a shudder down his spine and into his fluffy tail.

The studio was mostly unadorned. Aside from the easel and untouched canvas in one corner, there was very little artistic about this little used room in the Lorland castle. Altera probably had little interest in trying to create anything, only to subjugate that which already existed, and to give himself pleasure at any instance.

Captain Hargrove led Phil and Rupert into the confined chamber, where damask curtains stood open to let the afternoon sun shine across the tiled floor and single couch set opposite the canvas and writing desk. Sitting upon the stool before the desk, which was really too large for him, was Wessex, who was reading over a few slips of parchment in his hands. Phil hopped in and settled onto the couch, while Rupert stood just behind it. Hargrove stood in the doorway, tapping one boot anxiously.

"Wine," Wessex called out in a strained voice. Phil's eyes narrowed as he peered at the boy. He was dressed in a simple white smock, with chalk stains along his forearms. His hair was disheveled, and there was a fresh scar lining his cheek. There was a torn piece of cloth sitting next to his arm that had been stained red by the wound.

Hargrove grimaced, then turned on his paws and walked out the door. Phil waited a few minutes, as the boy had yet to even glance in his direction, only at the door, waiting for the collie's return. The Captain was prompt, carrying a pitcher and a few tumblers. He poured Wessex a glass, and the boy grinned in appreciation before taking a long drought.

"Can I interest either of you in the wine?" Hargrove offered, holding out the carafe in one paw.

"No, thank you," Phil declined, waving one paw modestly.

The Captain nodded, and poured himself a glass, and then set the pitcher down upon a shelf next to a collection of paints long since dried out. He dipped his muzzle into the tumbler, lapping at the warm liquid as his paw began tapping the floor again.

The boy mage took a few long breaths, closing his eyes, and composed himself. Then, he returned to his papers, shuffled them about a moment, and offered them to the rabbit. Rupert reached out, and plucked the parchment from Wessex's tiny hand, and then held it for Phil to examine. "Do you want me to read this?"

The mage nodded, taking another drink from his glass. "I'd tell you myself, but I can... barely speak." In fact, he nearly coughed up all of the wine after finishing such a long sentence. After a tense moment, he caught his breath, and took another drink. "I'm all right," he assured them in a very weak voice.

Phil wished that he could help his friend, but Wessex had always been the type to do things on his own. That he requested the Prince's presence was indication enough that something more than just Macaban's loss of intellect was amiss. Turning his attention to the papers that Rupert held for him, he began to read.

"Phil, I wish that I could be telling you this in my own voice, but alas, it is too weak from a night of chanting to say much of anything as you probably know by now. I couldn't wait for it to return either, so I've written this to inform you that Loriod's Legacy is still with us. I thought that I had removed all of his taint from the Keep in my fervor this last Spring. You know I gave it my best effort to eliminate every last one of his spells that he'd hidden upon others and places and things. Unfortunately for Macaban, it appears that I missed one.

"You do of course remember that wizard who I told you was controlling Loriod? The one I found by the censer when Dorson died, and the one who was in the tower when Loriod died as well. And I am sure that you remember the name that I extracted from him before he was able to escape me. Zagrosek. I've been able to find out more of him since then, as I've kept you and the others informed. He is of a Southern mage clan known as the Sondeckis. I thought that my breaking of his legs and hips would keep him out of our hair for a while. I now believe that I was wrong. I believe that Zagrosek is still exerting his influence to harm our way of life at the Keep.

"I have been having dreams, horrid nightmares in which I am forced to relive the moment when I stumbled upon him after he'd killed Dorson. At first, I thought it was just trauma at having been responsible for my student's death. Then, shortly after the Summer Solstice, a new element came into my dreams. My research into the mysterious Zagrosek, his name and heraldic symbol being all that I had to go on, led me to some rather disturbing conclusions. I have not voiced them to anyone, though I foolishly confronted the individual that I suspected of playing a role in this scheme. I must ask that you keep this secret to yourself for now, as I do not know who else I can turn to for trust.

"The reason I suspect this individual of collusion with Zagrosek is very simple. It all started the day I first mentioned his name in one of our secret meetings. I noticed one of our number flinch. So I sought out to test him repeatedly, by inviting him to my room, after papering it with that Sondeckis symbol, you know the shield with hand and sword. It was obvious to anyone that he knew it. He was rather glib though, so I suspected even more. When Habakkuk supplied me with a tome that discussed many of the southern magic groups, I discovered that they were the Sondeckis, and I learned of their power.

"The Sondeckis channel force, plain and simple. They can strike you with a hundredfold their own strength if they are sufficiently powerful. For example, they could bite through petrified wood if they so desired. That bountifruit wood that your adoptive father, King Tenomides sends you? A Sondeckis could snap that in half with their bare hands."

Phil pushed the papers away with one paw, his mind racing. He did not need to read further to know where Wessex was taking this. He remembered describing what he'd seen his friend Matthias do in the cellars on his first visit to Wessex one day when the mage had inquired about him. Turning on his haunches, he peered over at Hargrove who was now pacing idly, his eyes intent. "Captain, I think I would like something to drink now."

"Of course," he snapped out of his reverie and brought the rabbit a tumbler full of the sweet-smelling wine. Phil took it between his paws, and drank half of it at once. His eyes could not help but return to the page.

"I know that you realize who I am referring to now. Yes, you have already guessed it. Your friend, Charles Matthias, is a Sondeckis, just the same as Zagrosek. The day before the Summer Solstice, you were here at Lorland then, I confronted him about it, and he admitted to me that our mysterious wizard and he had been very good friends. Barely a week later, the rat is in my dreams taunting me alongside that murderer.

"I know this is hard for you to accept, since you to are such good friends. I earnestly hope that Charles is not involved. But he is a Sondeckis. And he is dangerous, and we cannot risk letting him know that we suspect him of misdeed. If he is in alliance with his old friend, then he is a terrible danger to us all. What I have told you is the sum total of my evidence against him, but it is not enough to prove that he is a pariah. But it is terribly suspicious and I would not chance assuming otherwise than I have.

"There is only one other person who knows my suspicions about the ex-writer. Forgive me if I do not tell you who; I cannot risk endangering anyone else with this knowledge. But I still have not told you the full truth to why I am here, and to what I think has happened to Macaban. Forgive my long-windedness, but there is just so much that needs to be said. I have kept it to myself for far too long now, and I do not believe that I am capable of handling it on my own anymore.

"Even after Matthias joined the ghoulish cast of my nightmares, little else occurred to bother me except my sudden somnambulism. I have been walking in my sleep to the wall that I sealed. The room that had existed beyond was where the censer had been placed after your servant Rupert stole it from Loriod. Zagrosek tore a hole to the Underworld with that device, a small hole, but a hole nonetheless. Until this very morning, I was not sure quite what he had done, but after last night, there can no longer be a doubt.

"So I continued to walk to this wall, and I'd find myself there early each morning, before sunrise usually. But last night, something else happened. I woke up in the middle of casting a spell on that wall. I won't bore you with the details of the magic that you probably wouldn't understand anyway, so I will just tell you what it would have accomplished had I completed the incantation. That dweomer would have undone my seal on that doorway, and let the hell-spawn that had leaked through the hole free to run amuck in Metamor. I do not believe I have to stress how apocalyptic the consequences of that would be.

"It has become clear to me now that my nightmares are a form of possession. Somehow, Zagrosek and his ilk have gained a foothold in my mind. I do not know to what extent, but I believe that they can only influence me while I am asleep. I do know to what purpose they mean to use me. I was the one who sealed that wall. Only I can undo my own spell. They are trying to coerce me into opening that wall.

"There are only two solutions that I can see. The more drastic and hopeless of the two is for me to die. I do not want to die, but if I am dead, that wall cannot be opened. The alternative is less sure, but is the road I intend to follow. Magic has its own form of scent. Being a rabbit now, I am sure you can appreciate how people leave their scent to mark their path. I am going to find the magical scent of the ones plaguing my mind, and I am going to use that to keep them out, and to possibly expose them and destroy them.

"That is the reason why I am here at Lorland. Aside from that room, we cannot be certain if Zagrosek has ever set foot anywhere else in Metamor. And that room is not fit to be examined. But I know for certain that he was here at Lorland, or at least, he was with Loriod while he was here. It is entirely possible he only was in that tower now destroyed, but due to Macaban's current state, I highly doubt it. But he was with Loriod, and so the scent will be on anything that Loriod had with him whenever they met. I need all of Loriod's clothes. It will be time consuming, quite possibly it could take several months, but I will find him, if it is still there.

"This is the only hope I have left. I am too frightened to let myself sleep now. I cannot trust myself to slumber unless I know I am being watched. I think it would be better for me to remain here at Lorland until my voice returns, just to be safe.

"As for Macaban, there was a trigger spell still upon him. Somehow, somebody knew enough to plunge him into his feral state if shown the Sondeck heraldry. Not only that, but it enraged him to the point that he very likely would have killed me, or at least gravely wounded me. I am not sure what I can do for him at present. I have considered using the same sort of incantation that I prepared for you after Loriod's deviltry left you mindless. It will take a few weeks before I have enough energy to attempt such a casting though.

"There is one reason more why I requested that you come. I needed somebody I could trust to stay by my side for now. I know it is childish, but sometimes this body's needs get the better of me. Will you please stay at my side these next few days? I am frightened and do not wish to face it alone."

Phil drained the last of his wine, and carefully handed the tumbler back to Hargrove. There was nothing else on the parchments, and so he leaned back in his chair and gazed at the child who was staring forlornly at the ground. Turning to his aide, he said, "Rupert, please take these pages and burn them. Do not read a single word on them, just burn them, and scatter the ashes when you are done."

Rupert nodded calmly, removing the unsettling script and quietly leaving the room.

Turning to the collie, Phil added, "Captain, Wessex and I will be staying a few days, would you kindly make the arrangements. I want guards to be inside the mage's quarters at all times while he is asleep. I want two sets of guards outside his door during the night as well. And Hargrove, do not give him a room with a window."

Hargrove wagged his tail in agitation, but nodded his head in compliance. "I shall see to it immediately."

As soon as they were alone in the studio together, Phil hopped from the couch, and drew close to the boy who was wearing a thin smile across his lips. The Prince put one paw on the boys shoulder. "Wessex, I cannot say I believe everything you have confessed to me. I will not believe that Matthias is involved in this until I have definite proof. I have worked with him for too many years for our trust to disappear like that. But I will stay with you these next few days and help you find what you need to stop these nightmares. I cannot be with you forever, but I will try and assist you as best I am able."

Wessex leaned his head down into the rabbit's fur, as the afternoon sun cascaded down over their shoulders. Breathing heavily, a tear finally creasing the boy's cheek, he managed to say in his raspy voice, "Thank you."

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