Derek had been awed when he had seen his hand, glowing with power – a solid beam of power synergically strengthening with the shield’s power. But he hadn’t been so awed when Hector had run toward him and pulled him away from the shield. He had had a look on his face that was both angry and scared. He then dragged him back to the house and gave him a stern warning about never touching any of his shields again. Then he went off to strengthen the shield.
Derek had been sitting in the house since then. Hector had returned a little while later. That had been an hour ago. Since then, Derek had been playing games with himself. Until he felt it. It felt like a huge wave of power, spreading from the – shield? The power rocked him to his core. It felt like it was burning him alive. He fought back, but the power was stronger. It overpowered him and broke his last reserves of energy, weakening him. Finally, the agony stopped. Hector seemed to have fared a bit better. Derek could feel a powerful magical presence approaching the hut. Hector readied his magic. Derek called up his strength, too, but the searing, burning, offensive spell had weakened him. He could, however, call up a basic shield. He began to move, but Hector told him to wait. He stepped outside and began moving toward his garden. Derek followed to the door of the hut. He watched as Hector walked to a purplish, smooth, round fruit. He plucked it, then cracked it open and ate one half. He returned and handed the other half to Derek. “Eat”, he said, “This fruit’s spell is such that as long as the seed is alive, we will be protected against life-threatening curses.” Derek tentatively took a bite. The fruit tasted like a mixture of apple and banana, with a wisp of honey. He quickly ate the half. Then Hector prepared his magic to attack whoever was coming. Derek’s magic was recovering quickly. He held up Earth Magic in both hands, preparing to attack.
Slowly, a figure emerged from the treeline. Hector nearly immediately fired at him. The figure was crouched in a fighting stance, with a white Mage shield, in a heartbeat. Hector fired a magic bolt straight at the intruder. The mage jumped forward over the bolt and fired a Magicball straight at Hector. It glanced off Hector’s shield. The figure moved in, Mage magic in both hands, and he darted from foot to foot to avoid Hector’s bolts. Just as he closed in with Hector, Derek screamed out, “No!” and shot his own Earth Magic at the intruder. His magic had inadvertently formed into a ball, and the Magicball struck the intruder on his stomach, shifting his balance and tossing him through the air. In an instant, Hector stood on top if the other Mage, tendrils of Ilhambra’s power at his fingertips. The intruder seemed to realise he was beat, so he sank back down. He then closed his eyes and said, “General Hector, you seem to have found a new apprentice.” Hector’s face hardened at the words. “Do not”, he said, fury mounting, “call me General ever again.” The Mage simply smiled and said, “Very well, Gherinmus Hector.” Derek was shocked. This was the famous Gherinmus Hector, a hero of the Catastrophe? Derek realised with a start that he had seen something on the lines of General before his name, in the book, crossed out. The Mage continued, “I never thought I would see another Earth Mage again, let alone two. I had all but forgotten Earth Magic exists.” Hector asked him, “Who are you? What do you want?” The Mage replied, “I am Kolkalis, prince of the Empire.” Hector stepped back and let Prince Kolkalis rise. Kolkalis continued, “I came here to find you, Gherinmus Hector. My uncle, Aetillius, made you next in line after his sons, their children, and my father. Assuming all of them dead, I was made king-in-waiting. But now, you must become king!” Hector smiled and said, “My dear child, I am too old now. You should take up the mantle of king and rule the Empire. Also… I am not worthy. I lost the fort of Jungar. I forced Emperor Aetillius to use the stone.” At this, Hector fell silent.
Kolkalis continued, “But it wasn’t your fault! There were too many Dark kynd. You couldn’t have fought them all!” Then he continued with a snort, “Besides, I will be Emperor only in name. The Water King is the real Emperor. He controls all my actions like a puppet master. What I should eat, what I should wear, which palace garden I should go through during a pleasure walk, even what I should drink! I can do nothing at all of my own free will. Once I am Emperor, I’m sure he’ll make me cede all control to him, secretly, of course. I will be the face of the Empire; he will be the Emperor. No, the task of Emperorship should go to a capable man – like you, sir.” Hector shook his head and said, “I simply do not have the capability to be a ruler. I never wished, even, to be named heir. If the Water King controls your actions, he will seek to control mine, too. When I refuse, he will have me killed. No, I cannot become Emperor.” “Then at least send your apprentice”, Kolkalis persisted, “He is powerful and young. He should be strong enough to be the regent Emperor, in place of you, even without a royal connection. That won’t matter anyway; no one can find the Emperor’s gem.” At this, Hector’s face hardened. “No”, he said, “Derek will remain right here with me.”
Derek was shocked. Prince Kolkalis had suggested that he be regent Emperor? And that he was powerful? Things were getting out of hand. Why would the Prince say something like that? Was he actually powerful, or was the Prince that desperate? All of these thoughts were interrupted, however, by Hector suddenly turning to him and asking him to fetch firewood. Derek knew exactly what this was about. He wanted to talk privately with Prince Kolkalis. He went in search of an axe before Hector reminded him of his magic.
Derek wandered through the woods in search of suitable trees. He quickly found a cluster of trees he could chop down. Next, he tried something he had seen Hector do just now. He tried shaping his magic into a sharp-ended bolt, then fired it at the tree. His first attempt was unsuccessful, since his magic reshaped into a ball and hit the tree, hard. The tree developed a crack on the outside, and shook really hard, but that was it. It didn’t break, however. Derek tried several more times, and after about a dozen trees in various stages of destruction, he succeeded in creating a cutting bolt. Soon, he had tons of firewood, but only then did he realise the problem of transportation. He decided to try the lifting again. He bonded with a bundle he had made, and gently lifted it. It worked, and he kept it back in a clear spot then, one by one, he gathered all the bundles. He figured out that the short lengths of rope he had brought wouldn’t be enough for the huge bundle. So, he decided to use his mage magic to create a white rope of magic. It held the firewood together. He then bonded with the bundle and tried to lift it. This time, the effort was more taxing. It took a lot of strength for him to lift the bundle, but he managed it, and finally began going back. It was night by the time he got back to the clearing. He saw Hector and the Prince sitting on a log and talking. He approached them with the huge bundle of firewood. As soon as he saw him, Hector extended his arm and Earth Magic spilled out. He took the bundle from Derek and set it down in front of himself and the Prince. The Prince looked at the bundle and nodded. “You are pretty powerful”, he said, “Not many could have lifted a bundle like that.” “Thank you, Prince Kolkalis”, Derek replied with a bow. The Prince stopped him and said, “Please, call me Kol. I’m planning on taking lessons with Master Hector again, so we would be working together.” Derek was a bit shocked at this. “But, your Majesty”, he said, “Won’t your people look for you?” “Oh, no.”, said Kol, “I’m going to be staying in the Air Realm, and use it as a temporary residence. We could have secret meetings with you, you know.” Hector nodded. “Yes, this is a workable solution. I will reenchant the shields to let you in. And I will put a confusion charm on anyone who leaves the path, except you, me and Derek. They shall forget our existence.”
Kol and Hector talked a little more, of the days before the fall of the Earth Realm. They talked about the palaces and castles of the Realm, and reminisced that their army had been beyond par. They chatted for a while more and then decided to go to bed. Kol would be staying with them. Hector used his Earth Magic to pull up a bed of vines, then surrounded it by a new dirt hut. Kol called his charioteer inside and they gave him a bed, too. Hector secretly enchanted it, so that he couldn’t escape.
As Derek went to sleep that night, he felt like a great adventure was beginning.