October 31, 2006
How could I have missed this? Myrrdn thought as he stared into the gateway wellspring, now polluted by residual red magic. Only one creature in all Samhuinn possessed the strength to cross the ley lines from the blighted kingdom into Annwn’s sacred garden groves. The Morrigan—the queen of Samhuinn—would literally bring her hell to Earth.
I have to stop her, somehow…
Despite his resolve, until the wellspring purified itself the gatekeeper wizard knew he had no option other than to wait. Myrrdn stood beside the gateway wellspring, leaning against a hazel tree, and traced the various sigils carved into his staff with the index finger of his right hand. Annwn’s cool, pure breeze struck his long, white beard, causing it to flutter in the wind. The spring bubbled as five salmon swam clockwise within. The residue of red magic, the kind that originated from the Samhuinn’s Wayward Tree, swirled among the fish. With each inhale, the salmon took in the tainted water through their gills, then returned it to the spring clear of any tainted magic. How could he have allowed this to happen?
Myrrdn tapped his foot furiously against the grassy ground, staring intently at the bubbling waters as the wellspring’s guardians ever so slowly purged their watery home of the cursed red magic. For someone not used to having to wait on much of anything, the minutes that passed felt like hours. The salmon simply couldn’t work as quickly as Myrrdn needed them to. Who knew what kind of havoc the queen of Samhuinn could be wreaking on the Earth as each second passed?
Once he saw that the wellspring had resumed its crystal-clear condition, which made nearly fifteen feet of deep water appear like mere inches, Myrrdn dove in and swam to the bottom, plunging himself through the gateway.
His arms and legs churned against the water as he swam his way through the other side and pushed himself toward the surface of Earth’s twin wellspring. The familiar sound of droplets falling from stalactites echoed through the cave. He pulled himself upon the rocks at the edge of the pool. With soaked beard and robes, he dashed down a long corridor toward the sunlight.
Emerging from the cave’s opening, he took a deep breath. Achoo! Inhaling Earth’s air for the first time in months was bound to force a sneeze or two. He removed his long white robe, draping it across a boulder, and kicked off his shoes. The wizard shivered as the cool October breeze struck his exposed flesh. Myrrdn gripped his staff firmly with both hands and reached out with his will, channeling the magic from the Tree of Life into his frame. His body shifted shape, his arms and shoulders tucking behind him, forming into wings. His legs shortened and narrowed into talons. Feathers sprang forth from his skin—dark ones on his body, and white ones atop his head and down his neck. His nose hardened and turned a shade of mustard yellow, forming into a beak. After grabbing his robe and staff with his talons, Myrrdn flapped his wings and took off into the skies, soaring northward toward St. Louis. He was thankful, at this time of year, the snakes and field rodents were less abundant than in the spring or summer. It was always a struggle to fight his predatory instincts in this form, and he had no extra time for distractions.
From a distance, a pillar of black smoke filled the skies near his destination. By the trees, he thought, pray it not be so. Drawing nearer to the house, though, his fears were realized. The Wadsworth home was consumed in flames, smoke pouring from around its windows. Myrrdn dove toward one of the windows, and crashing through the glass, he landed in the master bedroom.
Releasing the magic that held him in eagle form, he resumed his natural condition and quickly redressed himself. He covered his face with his white robe and, struggling to breathe through the smoke-filled air, gripped his staff with his other hand. “Mereflod!”
A torrent of water poured from the end of his staff, extinguishing the flames around the room, but filling it at the same time with steam and more smoke. Myrrdn coughed, struggling to breathe through his thick cotton sleeve.
Myrrdn passed through the bedroom, extinguishing the flames with Mereflod as he saw them. Down the hallway he saw a body collapsed, lying face-down at the foot of the stairs. He recognized his old friend, who lay there as if he had fallen in his struggle to make his way toward the twins’ room before the smoke overtook him. Myrrdn turned his friend over onto his back and entered into spirit gaze. He was looking for life, trying to sense if any of the Druid’s magic still coursed within him… but he saw nothing. Only a single object, still gripped by the rigor mortis of his hand, reflected green magic back at Myrrdn’s gaze. Myrrdn pried the object from the dead Druid’s grip. It was a smooth stone, marked by the sigil of the Druid Order, embossed in amber on its porous surface. He knew what this was—it was meant for one of the Druid’s children, if either of the twins had survived.
One of them must have, Myrrdn thought, otherwise the wellspring gateway would have closed. Still in his spirit gaze, Myrrdn searched the Wadsworth home, looking for signs of life. There was nothing. Kicking through the front door, Myrrdn removed his clothes again, channeled his will, and returned to eagle form. He heard fire engines approaching as he took off into the skies. Maintaining eagle form while still in spirit gaze took all his focus, but he managed to retain both spells as he searched the area. He prayed that the rest of them had made it out and escaped the flames, but he sensed only a single spirit whose soul retained its connection to the Tree of Life. Three blocks over, he sensed the boy’s presence. Thank the trees, he was still alive. A tear fell from Myrrdn’s eagle eye. The boy’s life was about to be turned upside down. He’d lost everything and didn’t even realize it yet.
There was no time to worry or mourn. Myrrdn expanded his spirit gaze again, surveying everything in several miles’ radius. The Morrigan couldn’t have gotten too far. Then he saw a subtle, red glow from deep within Forest Park. Pushing a mass of air beneath his wings, he dove through a canopy of orange and red leaves, zeroing in on the source of the magic. The Morrigan was gone, but a magical residue consumed a single, hundred-year-old oak in the middle of the park. The wizard hesitated a moment. Engaging red magic was never pleasant. When he touched it, it burned more than his skin. It felt like a thousand torments all descending upon his soul.
A tornado of green and gold energies swirled rapidly around the oak’s trunk. It was a portal, a gateway. Forming a portal wasn’t a challenge—any adept Druid could do it. Making one that could pierce through the veil on the other side, however, required the consent of a gatekeeper… and the Morrigan ruled Samhuinn. Myrrdn know where this portal led.
Myrrdn took a deep breath. He’d only been to Samhuinn once before and vowed never to subject himself to that torture again. But he had no choice. After what the Morrigan had done, he had to stop her before she could carry out any more of whatever insidious plan she had made. He gripped his staff and dove into the gateway. It felt like his body was being ripped apart as he pierced the veil between earth and Samhuinn. A violent heat struck him as he fell through the other side, face-planting in the dry, blighted soil. Looking up, he saw a dark, flowering branch adorned with a red, bulbous fruit casting a grim shadow over him. As he struggled to get to his feet, something hard struck him abruptly under the jaw, sending him flying into the Wayward Tree’s massive trunk.
Through his dazed vision he saw her—shrouded in black from head to toe, gripping her white, crooked staff as her eyes burned like red embers.
“Morrigan!” Myrrdn shouted as he gripped his staff. “Cadwini!”
A chain of jade shot out from his staff and wrapped itself around the queen of Samhuinn, but she feigned no resistance. She simply stood still as the gatekeeper’s bindings squeezed her body. Getting to his feet, Myrrdn swung his staff, yanking at the magical bindings and sending the Morrigan flying into the Wayward Tree. As she struck the tree, the trunk opened up, exposing a dark hole, and swallowed her whole. Releasing the spell, Myrrdn shouted again, “Cadwini!” This time he ran circles around the tree, tying it shut. He had trapped the Morrigan within the cursed Wayward Tree. His eyes radiated like emeralds in the sun as he stared at the wicked tree.
That shouldn’t have been so easy, he thought. It was almost like she wanted to be trapped within…
The sound of rapid footsteps diverted his attention. Myrrdn turned his head to look, but he saw no one. Sweat poured from his brow and down his beard. “Who’s there?” he asked.
Casting in Samhuinn took a lot out of him—more than usual. He wasn’t sure he’d have the stamina to fight off a Loa, or whatever other insidious creature might be lurking about. Samhuinn was full of vile beasts, some of them not visible to human eyes—not even to a wizard in spirit gaze. He had to get out of here. Myrrdn lifted his staff overhead, twirling it in a circle. A tornado of green and gold enveloped his frame as Myrrdn disappeared, returning safely to Annwn’s garden groves.