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Byron Keith Taylor: Short Stories

The Raven Trail :Chapter 2

Posted on April 7, 2015 with 0 comments
TWO
 
Twenty-two years after the Great War may seem like a long time, but it wasn't according to the United States Army. There was still much to be done in a country that was still trying to define itself. The Signal Corps building in Washington, DC was committed to unifying America's military might through technology instead of ideology. Men like General Douglas McCabe believed that progress was worth more than religion. He sat at his office desk, staring down at papers that almost seemed to move by themselves because of the life that emanated from each of them. He knew that he had to work fast if America were to stay safe.  What if there was another Southern uprising? Could there be a second Civil War that could be financed this time by the British who want to regain control of the United States? For that matter, could there be a second Revolutionary War?
 
McCabe liked to weigh all the options. He finally looked up from his papers and addressed the  slender soldier [...]
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The Mother and the Outlaw: A Bass Reeves Tale
Bass had been tracking him for days. The sun was squatting low on the horizon but his sepia brown face was still bathed in sweat. He didn’t even care about the reward money as much as catching the man who butchered a Black family of three in their own home and took whatever savings they had. Bass couldn’t get the image out of his head: the overturned chairs, the bed covers on the floor, the blood-stained mattresses, the smashed glasses, the brown bodies sprawled on the floor like broken play dolls…
He spurred his white mare on through a deep canyon before going up a rise ahead of him and smiled. He knew the Indian Territory like the back of his hand. Regardless, Edward “Little” Turner was a slippery devil who eluded Bass for at least two days, but he was close to finding the outlaw. Bass could see the muddied tracks on the new trail which proved that his guess was right:  Ed crossed the muddy river that and [...]
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The Raven Trail: Chapter 1

Posted on March 1, 2015 with 0 comments
Well, it's a new month and as promised, here is an excerpt from the novella I wrote based on the music called The Raven Trail. I hope you like it!BKT
On a lonely prairie rode a wagon and in it rode a family leaving behind the dark, blue-green mountains of Rocky Mount, North Carolina. A strong, morning sun shone upon all of their brown faces and the wind was steady. The wagon wheels creaked and crunched over soft, wet grass and bramble as they travelled on a forest path. Jeb, a broad-limbed man in his late forties, kept the reins in his burly hands that steered the mule team and turned to his son, Zachariah, who sat beside him.
“Fine day, ain’t it?”
“Sure is. A little too cold , though,” said Zachariah.
             “How y'all doin' back there?” asked Jeb, looking at his wife behind him who sat in the back of the wagon, cradling their newborn son blanketed in her arms.
Ravens cawed overhead. [...]
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The Flying Dutchman of Worldhaven

Posted on February 18, 2015 with 0 comments
FADE IN:
 
INT. A SMALL, DIMLY-LIT BEDROOM
 
CAPTAIN ABRAHAM VAN DER BERG, a handsome, bearded man in his late-twenties, is lying in bed with a beautiful, blond woman in her mid-thirties, BEATRICE, cradling her in his arms. Both are naked under the covers. BEATRICE shakes with a thunderclap.
 
VAN DER BERG
    Don’t worry, darlin’; it’s only lightnin’.
 
BEATRICE
    I’m not worried about that. It’s HIM...
 
VAN DER BERG (sighing)
  Oh, you mean your husband? I’m sure the storm’s gonna keep him occupied.
 
BEATRICE
 Are you sure about that? You don’t know him, Abe. When he’s determined, nothing stands in his way.
 
VAN DER BERG hugs her.
 
VAN DER BERG
 Are you afraid of him? Is that also why you’re leaving?
 
Beatrice looks up at him, smiling. She kisses him.
 
BEATRICE
   I guess that I have no reason to worry now.
You’re [...]
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The Trial of Virtue

Posted on February 10, 2015 with 0 comments

The Trial of Virtue

 

ONE

 

 

              Lomarr Xaltus was always an ambitious man and now that he had the chance to

 

join one of the most prestigious organization in the Colonies, the Lore Crafters Guild, he

 

was determined to make an impression. He hopped off the railway car that left him at the

 

Aberley Square stop, dusted himself off, straightened his white tie knot, and stroked his

 

dark, thick goatee before leaving the station in the colony known as Kheshem.

 

             The Lore Crafters Guild. It was founded by Father Vidante as a civil rights group

 

that would help LoreCrafters, as these sorcerers called themselves, fight for equal rights

 

in society. It was, in fact, Father Vidante whom Xaltus had to impress most of all.  But

 

what kind of priest would lead an order of the top sorcerers in the whole realm?

 

Maybe because he’s rich? There were only a few LoreCrafters permitted to join

 

the Guild and Xaltus swore that he would not disappoint his family, notably his uncle;

 

after all, Xaltus' own brother, Mednar, would be a king or even an emperor someday. He

 

looked up to see a sky overcast with big, gray, and somber clouds and hoped he would

 

make it to his destination before it would rain.

 

             Lomarr Xaltus was careful not to accidentally come in close contact with too

 

many Kheshemites on his way to Brinshire Cathedral where the Guild was located.

 

 Xaltus sneered at the many children that posed a threat to the sanctity of his newly-

 

laundered suit.  He walked faster.

 

             Streets were littered with horse-drawn carriages; food carts were fully-laden and

 

reeked with the smell of overcooked vlenlon (a black-antlered stag meat); street

 

musicians  played on stringed instruments that sweetened he air, and beggars made

 

walking on sidewalks difficult.

 

After crossing the wide expanse of Aberley Square with an octagon-shaped

 

marble fountain in its center, Xaltus arrived at Brinshire Cathedral.  Before he

 

could ring the bell, the large entrance door opened. A tall, aquiline-faced man dressed in

 

a black business suit greeted him. “I am Father Jespers. Please come in.”     

 

             Xaltus saw and heard a crowd of people discussing politics in the foyer as

 

Father Jespers led him down the left staircase, through a few doors, and down a winding

 

staircase into near-darkness.

 

TWO

 

            “So your train ride was not too long, I hope. Quite often, there are delays in

 

service,” said Father Vidante, seated at the middle of a long table along with six other

 

priests in dark suits and white cravats who were colleagues of almost equal distinction;

 

only the large Black Cravat with white runes that the Arch Priest wore around his neck

 

betrayed his superior rank of GrandMaster.

 

            “It was...pleasant,” said Xaltus.

 

            Father Vidante grinned. “So why did you take the train in the first place? You

 

could have merely transported here. Every LoreCrafter has that ability.”

 

            “I wanted to show the regulars that we can contribute to their economy as well.

 

 Train tickets to Kheshem are pretty cheap, anyway.”

 

            “Ah, so you figured that Regulars, non-magical people, would be able to

 

recognize that you’re a LoreCrafter because of that white Cravat with runes you wear.”

 

             “You showed prudence,” said Father Kendric, a heavy-set man who seemed stuck

 

in his chair.  Everyone laughed except Xaltus.  

 

             Xaltus smiled. “Is it prudent to ask what comes next?”

 

            Vidante lifted his chin, threw back his long, dark hair that had glistened under the

 

few ceiling lights of the large, underground chamber. “You’ll find out soon enough,” the

 

Father said and the other six Lore Crafters nodded, mumbling to each other.

 

            “Do you think you’re ready for what may lay ahead?” asked Father Remdal,

 

cracking his brown face with a smile.

 

             “I’m ready to face any challenge,” said Lomarr Xaltus.

 

              Vidante  rose from his chair, his clean-shaven face of forty-two years taut with

 

suspicion. “Be careful what you say now; you may regret it later.”

 

            “I doubt it,” said Xaltus, carefully extracted a strand of hair from his ruffled

 

sleeve.

 

             “Follow me,” Vidante commanded, motioned the Lore Crafter from Borvinia

 

away from the table, darted a glance at his men who followed quickly. Xaltus tried to get

 

a better look at this almost barren chamber that was apparently huge but sparsely lit.H is

 

nose wrinkled at its slightly musky odor. 

 

Soon, they all reached the center of the almost dark room, stood abreast of each

 

other with Father Vidante near Lomarr Xaltus, who stood in the middle.

 

            The Arch Priest placed a heavy hand on his shoulder. “Look at everyone in this

 

line. These men whom you would call Brothers of the Sacred Lore of Sorcery are the

 

only ones who ever passed the Trial of Virtue.”

 

             “The Trial of Virtue?” said Lomarr Xaltus.

 

            “Yes. Look ahead,” said Vidante, taking out a large white key, and turning it in

 

the air before him as if he were inserting it in an invisible lock.

 

             Three loud clicks shot through the room.

 

              Xaltus saw ahead of him three distinct shapes that materialized from a blinding

 

light into doors that were side by side: the left one was made of wood; the center one was

 

made of metal, and the last, of shiny, fractured glass. A loud, buzzing hum that came

 

from the Doors almost shook the room. The tall Borvinian shot a wide-eyed look at

 

Vidante and the other Fathers.

 

            “Choose,” said Vidante.

 

            “You want me to actually walk through one of those doors?” asked Xaltus.

 

            “Are you afraid, Lomarr Xaltus?”  asked Vidante.

 

             “To where do they lead?” Xaltus asked, scrutinizing the three very different

 

doors that were three-dimensional. He stroked his goatee, his mind heavy with thought.

 

             “By the time you find out, you’ll see the door reappear to lead you safely back to

 

this room. Now choose,” Vidante said.

 

            Wide-eyed, Xaltus walked slowly to the center door, looking back at the seven

 

men in dark suits and mostly white cravats which bore the rank of Master. Then, he

 

turned his attention back to the fractured Mirror Door and saw something miraculous: he

 

saw his reflection wearing an elaborate crown on his head!

 

             Quickly, he stepped away from the Door, but he grinned at Vidante.

 

             “Remember that I’m an Arch Priest of the LoreCrafter Order, Xaltus. I won’t

 

let anything happen to you. I’ll know when you’ve returned. “Lore Crafting has a great

 

deal of responsibility attached to it. It can hurt, even kill if not used in the right way. By

 

choosing a door, it gives the Guild members an idea of how a candidate would deal with

 

 

that responsibility.”  Vidante held out his right hand. Xaltus shook it but was a little

 

startled that Vidante did not let go right away. Was Vidante somehow mocking him?

 

             And the Lore Crafter from Borvinia, Lomarr Xaltus, strode back to the three

 

glimmering doors, took a deep breath, grasped the glass knob of the fractured glass door

 

on the right that still showed the crown on his head, and walked through it. First, it faded,

 

followed by the metal door, then the wooden one and they all vanished into the Planes

 

from where they came.

 

             “So what now?” asked Ulbarec, Head Deacon of the Lorecrafter Guild, his age-

 

splintered face frowning.

 

             Vidante turned to his immediate left and answered the auburn-haired man. “I’ve

 

secured a psychic link with that handshake.  At least, I’ll be able to see anything that

 

Xaltus does.”

 

Vidante paused. “Now we wait.”

 

And the seven Lore Crafter Priests climbed back up the winding staircase at the

 

end of the cellar. 

  

 

THREE

 

            For a while, Xaltus floated as a shower of mirrors pelted him, flashed all around

 

him, passed through him, and dominated him. Yet, he was uncut by the glass. There was

 

no discernible ground upon which he could stand.  However, he could see reflections of

 

his face that showed some trepidation . Could Uncle Pervadin ever have prepared him for

 

this?

 

And then, his feet had found solid ground again. The glass door creaked open.

 

Xaltus slowly walked out after seeing a pastiche of green and yellow through the

 

opening. He was surrounded by trees. Young trees with green and yellow leaves that had

 

barely sprouted from slender branches. They were small, yet Xaltus could not easily tear

 

one away from a branch; they were unusually strong. No matter.  It was good to be able

 

to use his legs again.

 

             Then, he reached a clearing where a stone-paved road started as if the pagan gods

 

had forgotten to lengthen it backwards. But Xaltus' patron god, Xeldemon, probably did

 

not exist here. Xeldemon believed in fancy roads and highways because they were

 

symbolic to His openness for anyone to follow Him.  Xaltus walked down the road. He

 

could not hear the slightest hint of birds or any other sign of life. No insects. No sound of

 

animals running in the woods from where he had emerged.

 

             It was as if Xaltus had discovered the virginity of the world...but this was not his

 

world anymore.  He couldn’t smell the usual scents of vegetation, even though he could

 

see it all around him; his LoreCrafter instincts told him that this was definitely a new

 

dimension. Most likely, there was no Borvinia, no Kheshem, no other colony for that

 

matter, and no Nimodecean Empire in the eastern hemisphere. The Snow Empire was just

 

a dream. In fact, the whole realm of WorldHaven was now a distant dream.

 

            Soon, he noticed something at the crest of a hill where the road had climbed; he

 

saw a simple, glass building. Xaltus quickened his pace up the hill, wiped his sweat-

 

plastered face, and noticed a peculiarity—no goatee! It appeared to him that this new

 

dimension he inhabited made him younger. What a turn of events! What had happened to

 

him? Did Father Vidante and company send him to a realm where he needed to be even

 

younger? Was the Trial of Virtue simply a test of how he could cope with it? 

 

Xaltus laughed at the prospect and reached the top of the hill. The glass building

 

was an architectural beauty. Winged figures with swords that opposed each other framed

 

the doorway. Vaulted windows sparkled in the sunlight everywhere he turned. Glass

 

battlements were like jagged teeth that appeared to want to take a bite out of the clouds

 

overhead. Glass turrets glistened in the cloudless, topaz sky. And many carvings of

 

apparently great battles adorned the whole castle-like edifice.

 

            There was no sign on the glass building's doorway, but Xaltus could see patrons

 

seated at tables, and at the bar from where workers, richly garbed in ornate, emerald

 

tunics,would bring food and drink on glass trays.  Xaltus prayed to his god Xeldemon for

 

safety and entered the place.

 

            Xaltus was almost alarmed at the immediate onslaught of sounds: laughter,

 

pleasant conversation, shouts, orchestral music in the air. Cinnamon cigar smoke caught

 

his nostrils and snuck in his throat. He coughed after deciding to head straight for the bar.

 

If this were indeed a new dimension that he visited, at least a drink would be in order.

 

Xaltus sat down and asked one of the bartenders for a recommendation. After he

 

received a pint of a crimson-looking beverage, he sipped it. The drink had a spicy, yet

 

malty taste as if it were a mixture of  sweet chili and amber bock beer.

 

Xaltus nodded his head in approval.

 

             “Now that’s a good choice,” remarked a voice that came from his left; it came

 

from a long-haired  woman who appeared to be in her mid-twenties and had  rum-colored

 

skin and hair like the chocolates he enjoyed back in his own realm of Worldhaven. 

 

            After he glanced at the bar mirror in front of him—it was certain now; indeed, he

 

looked at least five years younger—Xaltus said, “I should’ve asked him what this is

 

called.” He lifted the glass in the dining room's natural light as if he were expecting it to

 

tell him.

 

 “That's a Laughing Dragon,” said Ramala.

 

 

“Now what in Xeldemon's name is a dragon?” he asked, downing more of the

 

beverage. “I almost forgot!” Xaltus cried, reached into his jacket pocket, found

 

his wallet— “How am I supposed to pay?”—opened it, found foreign bill notes

 

that replaced his former Colonial currency.

 

             “What’s the matter?” asked the brown woman, her small face pleading for an

 

answer.

 

            The Borvinian Lore Crafter shook his head. “Never mind.” Xaltus held out his

 

right hand.“Lomarr Xaltus. And you are—?”

 

             “Ramala Klingser. A distinct pleasure,” she said, grabbing his hand.

 

             “Why doesn’t this place have a sign outside?” asked Xaltus.

 

            “It’s just a restaurant bar. It doesn’t really need a name. It’s easily distinguishable

 

for obvious reasons. People in this town can easily find it no matter where they live,”

 

Ramala said.

 

             “And what is this town called?” Xaltus asked.

 

“We’re in the province of Ainovarl, southeast of  Kadetz,” Ramala said..

 

 “What is Kadetz?” Xaltus asked.

 

Ramala laughed, her coffee-hued eyes widening. “You mean you have never

 

heard of Kadetz?”

 

             Xaltus frowned.

 

             “Are you some kind of amnesiac?” Ramala leaned forward. “Do you remember

 

where you come from?”

 

            Xaltus  put up his right hand to touch his chin, but in mid thought, decided to rest

 

it on the bar, figuring that if he told the truth that he came from another Plane, the

 

conversation  would have probably ended.

 

             And he didn’t want it to end. Ramala was too beautiful, too intelligent to lose.

 

            “I know a medical facility not far from here that also treats patients like you.

 

Perhaps you thought a few drinks would miraculously jar your memory?” joked

 

Ramala.

 

            Xaltus laughed. “So what brings you here? Is this your normal spot? How’s the

 

food?”

 

             “You ask so many questions!” said Ramala, “and Kadetz is the name of the

 

country we’re in, as a reminder.” She winked at him. “Would you like to see more of it?

 

Maybe it would help you. I’d be a perfect guide.”

 

            Xaltus chose not to answer because he was too busy marveling at how her

 

beautiful lips pursed after taking another sip, and how her smile seemed to take away any

 

other thoughts about this strange, new realm in which he found himself.

 

            Ramala drained her glass of Kadetzian Red, and asked her new friend to peer into

 

the empty glass which showed a panorama of sights hitherto unseen by him: cities,

 

jungles, vistas, and all that Kadetz  had to offer.

 

            Xaltus leaned backwards, his jaw dropping, falling off his chair on his back.

 

            “Yes/ I’m a Lore Crafter, too,” she said, helping him back up, tugging at

 

his white Cravat that gave away his rank of Master. “I thought you knew.”

 

 

FOUR

 

            Three months had passed according to the  Kadetzian calender that  Lomarr

 

Xaltus saw hanging on one of Ramala's bedroom walls whenever he visited her chamber.

 

That would probably mean that three months had also passed in his own realm if it

 

followed the same scientific rules as Kadetz. At least, he hoped so.

 

What took Vidante so long to contact him? Did the stupid Arch Priest forget that

 

he marooned his best candidate in some foreign Plane?

 

            Regardless, Xaltus had learned much in this new world. Ramala taught him how

 

to drive one of those strange, horseless vehicles called cars that were powered by steam

 

engines not unlike the ones used in trains back home, showed him many wonderfully

 

shiny castles that he grew to love, and even instructed him on how to use the computer on

 

the table in her room. In fact, Xaltus' favorite possession became the paperback book that

 

he patted in his right jacket pocket: How to Build your Own Computer by Valsaj

 

Vilnomin. Often, he would read many chapters over and over again so that he would not

 

forget  key points to share back home with Father Vidante, who would surely be

 

impressed.

 

            Xaltus dismissed these musings once he saw his lovely Ramala in a gown of red

 

samite on her way to where he sat at a table practicing his new computer skills.    

 

            “Do you like this color on me?” Ramala asked.

 

            Xaltus sat up straight, sporting a huge grin.

 

            “Or would you prefer this? With a seductive swipe of her right hand over her

 

body, she was now adorned in purple.

 

            “Definitely red,” Xaltus said.

 

            Once again, Ramala slowly caressed her entire body again now adorned with the

 

scarlet gown that she had on before.

 

            “I just love when you do that,” Xaltus said. Ramala kissed him until she felt that

 

something came between them like one of those deep moats that guarded many shiny

 

castles to which they teleported daily. Often, Xaltus would hesitate crossing a moat

 

bridge to a new castle.

 

             “Still thinking about Father Vidante? Forget him! He has certainly forgotten

 

you,” said Ramala, snuggling with Xaltus.

 

            “I'm not too sure; he didn’t seem like the kind of man that would easily forget

 

things...or people, “Are you alright?” asked Xaltus, noticing Ramala stumble to a nearby

 

dresser  where she placed a hand to keep herself steady.

 

            “You’re having another one of those headaches, aren’t you?” asked Xaltus.

 

            Ramala smiled, and kissed him on the cheek. “Like I said before, it’s nothing.

 

This’ll pass soon just like all the others.”

 

            “Sure you want to go out? We could just stay here so that you can rest. I don’t

 

mind, really.”

 

            “You’re sweet,” said Ramala. “Let me just sit down for a moment. I’ll be okay.”

 

             After Ramala sat down, she began to shake. “Ramala!”said Xaltus, sitting next to

 

her on the bed while her lithe body convulsed with a number of spasms; her breathing

 

was labored. She went limp in his arm, shutting her eyes. Xaltus picked up Ramala's

 

unconscious body and teleported both of them to Ainovarl's local hospital without delay.

 

            As he carried her in his arms, Xaltus rushed Ramala to the first available

 

physician who did not seem to be startled at the abrupt appearance of two sophisticated

 

strangers out of nothingness; apparently, he had treated Lore Crafters before.

 

            The doctor  took Ramala from Xaltus' arms and carried her to the nearby

 

emergency room.

 

 

Xaltus waited outside in the reception area. While the burly physician and his

 

nurse tended to her on a gurney, a few thoughts slithered into Lomarr Xaltus' head: was

 

this, indeed, the Trial of Virtue? How did Ramala know that he was a Lorecrafter? Did

 

Vidante tip her off? If she is truly sick, how did Vidante know? If she is saved, would he

 

be rewarded back in his own Dimension?

 

            Xaltus saw two more men with clipboards and metal objects in their hands rush

 

into the emergency ward. He paced around the reception area like a panther ready to

 

spring on its prey.

 

Shortly afterwards, a short, bespectacled man in a white frock came back out,

 

introduced himself as Dr. Bruchner, and shook Xaltus' hand, but took his own away

 

immediately. Did this doctor hate LoreCrafters for some reason? If that’s the case, then

 

why did he rush to help Ramala?

 

             “Are you related to her?” asked Dr. Bruchner.

 

            Xaltus cleared his throat: “Ah, no...we’re just friends.” 

 

             “Well then, I'll just have to take a sample of your blood to determine if you can

 

give her some; your friend is very sick...in fact, we haven’t seen her in months. She

 

stopped coming in for treatments.”

 

             Xaltus almost choked on the doctor's revelation and felt the words paralyze him;

 

yet somehow, he found his voice  again. “What’s wrong with her? Whatever it is, maybe

 

I can help. Obviously, I’m a Lore Crafter, but my expertise is not in spells that can help

 

human physiology.”

 

            Before the doctor could reply, Xaltus turned in his bare feet, and cried out:

 

 

“Vidante, I know that you can see us! Save her!” Then, he grabbed the doctor by his shirt

 

collar.

 

“What’s wrong with her?”

 

             Dr. Bruchner waved away the security guards. “Didn't Miss Klingser tell you that

 

she has the LoreCrafter blood disease?”

 

            Xaltus released him. “She has Hemotomia?”

 

            “Yes. When will you LoreCrafters ever learn that too much teleporting causes

 

serious medical problems? She could die!”

 

            Is it possible that Dr. Bruchner has seen too many LoreCrafters with this

 

disease and it annoyed him?

 

“Then, what are we waiting for? If she needs blood, let me give it to her!”

 

             Doctor Bruchner nodded, leading him into the emergency room. Now all three

 

doctors assigned themselves to certain duties: wound-dressing, computer graph reading,

 

pulse-reading. The nurse asked Xaltus to roll up his sleeve, and jabbed his left arm with a

 

small, white cube which sucked in a sample of his blood like a miniature vacuum cleaner

 

tube. What amazed Xaltus was that there was no pain in the procedure whatsoever; it felt

 

as if someone gave him a slight pinch. Xaltus looked at his arm and saw that the cube

 

also cauterized the puncture point, so no sterilizer was needed.  The nurse left after giving

 

Dr. Bruchner the cube which was now half-red and he inserted it into the bio-computer

 

on the nearby table. Within five minutes after scrutinizing the computer screen, Dr.

 

Bruchner turned, approached Xaltus, with a face as cold as stone.

 

            “ Are sure you’re not related?” asked Dr. Bruchner.

 

            Xaltus rolled his big eyes. “Of course we’re not. Why do you ask?”

 

            Because your blood matches with hers almost perfectly.”

 

            “So what does that mean?” asked Xaltus

 

            “We can start a blood transfusion right away,” the doctor said.

 

            “Blood transfusion?”

 

            “Yes, Mr. Xaltus. The last time I talked to Miss Klingser, I told her that if she had

 

the right donor, another LoreCrafter without the disease, I could perform a blood

 

transfusion that could cure her.”

 

            “But wouldn’t I get the disease as well with our exchange of blood?” asked Xaltus.

 

             Dr. Bruchner took Xaltus by his shoulders. “Not at all. Your healthy LoreCrafter

 

blood would,shall we say, cast a spell on all of Miss Klingser’s contaminated blood cells

 

and at the same time, protect you from any kind of contamination.” 

 

             “Let's get on with it, then” Xaltus said,  and submitted himself to the procedure.

 

He held Ramala's cold, slender right hand the whole time.

 

 

 FIVE

 

             Before he went back to Ramala's apartment, Xaltus decided to visit the beach that

 

bordered the hospital.   Sand chafed his bare feet as he shuffled through it. Salt air lined

 

his nostrils. His heart was as bright as the glassy moon above him. Xaltus kept smiling

 

because he knew that the blood transfusion had successfully counteracted the disease that

 

tried to take Ramala’s life. He made up his mind that as soon as he had a good night’s

 

sleep, he would visit her again in the morning. At this point, he didn’t care what that

 

 doctor said. He would still teleport back to Ramala’s apartment.

 

            Lomarr Xaltus strode towards the shore and saw a peculiar sight: a schooner

 

seemed to sail backwards on the horizon; perhaps it was the loss of blood he suffered

 

earlier that made him hallucinate.

 

            When he had first arrived in Kadetz, there were no birds to be seen or heard; now

 

he was startled by the songs of sandpipers that emerged around him; multicolored

 

feathers shook off miles of sand and grime that gathered on them from underground.

 

Then, the birds flew up into the winds that blew lightly on his face. Xaltus watched the

 

unusual flock of black, red and brown birds with their  long beaks and pearl-like eyes

 

until they were out of sight completely. What kind of birds actually lived underground?

 

Surely, there were no bird species like these back in WorldHaven.

 

             He turned to make his way back to his new home when something shimmered

 

before him.

 

             An outline of a door appeared.

 

            When it fully materialized, Xaltus stood in front of a fractured glass door.

 

            Laughing, he turned its glass knob, gazed once more at the hospital further away

 

on the boardwalk, and stepped through. As the glass door slammed behind him, his heart

 

accelerated; he couldn’t wait to tell his master, Father Vidante, that he had succeeded,

 

that he had surely passed the Trial of Virtue, and his new Brethren can congratulate him

 

now. They would bestow upon him countless praises and accolades; nothing could stop

 

him now from becoming the most celebrated Lore Crafter to ever join the Guild. Perhaps

 

he would become the most celebrated LoreCrafter ever. After all, he had a special gift to

 

bring back to WorldHaven! The instructional book on building computers would

 

certainly make him a billionaire. He would even be gratious enough to share

 

some of his future wealth with the LoreCrafter community. They have suffered too long

 

under the economic and societal suppression of the Regulars just because they were born

 

different. And one more thing: he would become his uncle's favorite nephew! After all,

 

he had a special gift to bring back to WorldHaven! The instructional book on building

 

computers would certainly make him a billionaire. He would even share some of his

 

future wealth with the LoreCrafter community who has suffered so long under the

 

economic and political suppression of the Regulars just because they were born different.

 

            And just like before, when he traveled in the portal that was headed towards

 

Ainovarl, he drifted in what appeared to be a sea of mirrors that rushed at him, encircled

 

him, and engulfed him; the only difference was that not only did he know where he was

 

going, but his future seemed assured. Fractured light hurt his eyes for a moment; then he

 

stopped floating, finding a steady surface upon which to place his sandy feet.

 

             Xaltus walked through the glass door that opened by some invisible force. He

 

could smell the familiar muskiness that pervaded through the dimly lit, long chamber that

 

was underneath the main level of Brinshire Cathedral, could hear the mumbling of older

 

voices, could see the same table up ahead where he was interviewed three months ago by

 

Father Vidante and the other six Brethren, and could recognize the Arch Priest centered

 

there.

 

Something told Xaltus to touch his face. His goatee had returned.

 

            “Welcome back, Xaltus! I trust that you found your new journey to be more than

 

just pleasant this time around,” Father Vidante said.

 

            Xaltus bowed. “And I trust that you know everything that I’ve experienced for the

 

past three months.”

 

            “Three months? You were only gone for three hours,” Vidante said.

 

 

 “So the country of Ainovarl has a significantly different time zone than ours, to

 

say the least. Oh, and thank you for the money; that was thoughtful of you,” Xaltus said,

 

saluting Vidante.

 

             “You’re most welcome,” Vidante said. “So I assume you want to know our

 

decision regarding your Trial of Virtue.”

 

            “Of course, sir,” Xaltus said.

 

            Vidante looked at his colleagues, then fixed a hard gaze upon his Trial Virtue

 

candidate. “You failed.”

 

             Xaltus' face crumbled under the weight of the Arch Priest's words; then, his dark

 

brows knitted together like a taut, black rope; his whole body began to shake as if it were

 

trying to escape from its bonds. “For Xeldemon's sake, why? I saved the girl while I was

 

in Ainovarl!”

 

             Vidante stood up and shouted, “But you still made love to her! True, you saved

 

her but that’s not enough! I didn’t cause Ramala to be ill. It’s not in my power to control

 

your test, Xaltus!”

 

            “But it was your test! How could you not be in control of it?” asked Xaltus.

 

            Vidante’s face flushed with anger. “Mind your tongue, Borvinian! You have no

 

right to question my motives.”

 

The six other Fathers nodded in agreement.

 

Vidante made his way around the table, stuck his face close to Xaltus'. “Don't you

 

understand why you failed? Because you were that girl!”

 

            Xaltus backed away from Vidante, laughing. “You’ve truly lost your wits, Priest!

 

How could I be her? That doesn’t make any sense.” Father Kendric started to say

 

something, but was interrupted by  Ulbarec, Head Deacon of the Guild, who slowly

 

joined them. “But it does, young Xaltus. Because you were in the Fractured Mirror

 

Dimension.”

 

             Xaltus doubled over with more laughter. “Fractured Mirror Dimension, oh that’s

 

rich! All of a sudden, I feel like I made a huge mistake coming here!” the Borvinian Lore

 

Crafter said between guffaws. “If that’s true, why didn’t I see everything backwards like

 

a reflection of a mirror then, fractured or not?” he asked.

 

             “You saw everything that was reflected from your nature,” said Vidante. 

 

Xaltus laughed again.

 

            “This is no laughing matter, Xaltus!” Vidante said. “I think I'd better explain.”

 

            “Yes, I think you'd better considering everything that’s happened to me!” said

 

Xaltus.

 

              Father Vidante walked closer to Xaltus who had moved far away from the

 

ArchPriest. “When I asked you to choose one of the three Doors, I knew, as did all the

 

other Fathers in this room, that they all led to different dimensions, to different planes

 

that are parallel to our world. The left wooden Door was the entrance to the Primal

 

Dimension, the World of Temperance and Order.”

 

            Father Kendric continued. “The middle Door made of metal was the portal to the

 

Silver Dimension, the World of Science and Industry.”

 

             Father Jespers took over. “And the glass door that you chose opened up to the

 

Mirror Dimension, the World of Opposites...and Youthful Vanity. You saw what you

 

wanted to see that was missing in this world. What man doesn't want a woman who is a

 

mirror version of himself?” Jespers smiled.

 

            “And the fact that the Mirror Door was fractured should have told you something,

 

Xaltus, about that idea!” joked Vidante. The six other Guild members laughed.

 

            Then it dawned on Xaltus that the Guild members spoke the truth because

 

everything he saw in that world, everyone he met, including Ramala, fit perfectly in that

 

Dimension. For example, the  birds that lived underground instead of on treetops, the ship

 

that sailed backwards,  and  were antithetical to what he was used to in Worldhaven. And 

 

her name! It was further proof because it is the phonetic opposite of his first

 

name.Lamarra  is the feminine form of Lomarr.  Ramala, Lamarra. Near perfect

 

opposites like just like the realm he visited.

 

            “Are you listening? Now you know why that doctor thought that you and the girl

 

were related, why you shared the same blood,” Vidante said, watching Xaltus sit on the

 

table where Guild members still sat and mumbled. “She is your female version in that

 

Dimension!”

 

             Xaltus stood up, shaking his head. “I was planning to go back and bring her here.

 

And the technology there!”—he took out the book, “How to Build your Own Computer,”

 

held it aloft, and returned it to his left jacket pocket—“We could bring it back to this

 

world and change Worldhaven forever! Ramala and I could make the Guild even more

 

powerful!”  

 

            “Didn't you hear what he has been saying all along?” Ulbarec asked, his heavy,

 

little body waddling towards him with age-worn legs. “Ramala is you in her dimension

 

and you’re her in this one! You’d both have a limited time together here before being

 

cancelled out by the laws of nature in both worlds! We had to pull you out to save you.

 

You couldn’t have lived there forever. ”

 

The old Deacon, with a cane in his left hand, placing his right one on Xaltus' right

 

shoulder.

 

             The Borvinian shrugged it away.

 

            “I don't need your sympathy! I still don’t understand why I failed your stupid

 

Virtue Trial!”

 

             “There’s no need to be impertinent, Xaltus!” said Father Kelley.

 

             “How dare you speak that way to us!” said Father Androth, his small, pink face

 

turning red.

 

            Vidante held up his hands to quell any further outbursts. “  You chose the glass

 

door because you merely liked how you looked in it.”

 

 Xaltus averted his light brown eyes from Vidante.

 

 “Yes, I saw the crown on your head as well. Do you really think that you can

 

become a king?”

 

The white runes on Xaltus’s Black Cravat glowed a little.

 

            Father Sarastro continued. “ My boy, you failed because you simply chose the

 

wrong door. We’re trying to show people that LoreCrafting can be used for good and

 

unselfish reasons. A vain Lore Crafter would not serve our purpose. Our lives are defined

 

by the choices we make, Xaltus, as well as our hearts. At least with the first two doors,

 

you may have had a chance, but no one has ever succeeded by going through the last one. 

 

It usually leads to excess and debauchery. The virtue that every good Lore Crafter must

 

 

have in this Guild is Humility. I'm sorry.”

 

            Xaltus stood up and looked at himself: he wore an ebony jacket, ruffled white

 

shirt ruined with sweat, black breeches, and sandy black boots. How could they claim

 

that he had no humility? 

 

     “ So what you’re telling me is that it doesn’t matter what I did in that dimension,

 

whether I saved Ramala or not.Going through that glass door was enough to fail me, am I

 

right?”

 

            All seven Fathers nodded.

 

            Xaltus walked towards Vidante. “You set me up. I was never meant to pass.You’re

 

jealous of my family. You’ve probably heard about my brother Mednar. He should be

 

Emperor by now. Do you know what you’ve lost today?”

 

            “I think I know, Xaltus,” said Vidante.

 

 Xaltus turned to the other Fathers.“And gentleman, what about compassion?”

 

“What about that girl who needs me? You let that pompous old man make me look like a

 

fool. Well, if you define virtue as something that can only show up in a test, then I guess

 

I have to accept my grade.” 

 

And Xaltus raised his hand that formed an eldritch glow, and threw a spell blast at

 

Deacon Ulbarec which hurled him several feet in the air before he crashed to the floor.

 

The old man never got back up. Before Vidante could retaliate, Xaltus smiled,

 

illuminated the entire chamber as he glowed like a devilish spirit, and teleported away

 

from the Lore Crafters whose glowing hands hummed  in LoreCrafter light ready

 

for defense.

 

 

“Of course, we must find him!” shouted Father Kelley, his bearded face dark with fury.

 

             “This won’t be the last we see of Xaltus. He’ll come back for my Key,”

 

Vidante said, leaning over Ulbarec's body.

 

 

 

 

 

The End

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

                                                                       

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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