The Erotic Mind-Control Story Archive


by “URN My Power


Amelie was waiting for Charlie as he exited his last class of the day—being Friday, the class was computer repair. Over his shoulder was the bag in which his compound bow was kept—he’d decided to take archery this semester for his phys. ed. elective. He hugged Amelie and placed his hand gently on her swollen abdomen.

“Are you ready for Spring Break, honey?” he asked.

“Mmm, nine whole days without having to be separated from you because of classes.” she cooed. They kissed lingeringly, and the hall was empty when they finally started on their way back home. She cast a long, lingering, nostalgic look at the dorm building as they passed it by—married students weren’t allowed to live at the dorms, because the college didn’t have the right do deny married students conjugal rights with their spouses, and the guard couldn’t tell which coital screams were coming from the married students and which ones were coming from an illicit liaison. Charlie looked both ways before they crossed the street to the off-campus apartment complex that now housed their gate to Spain—though Charlie had left the soundproofing spell as a gift to whoever got his room this semester. The new place represented an increase in freedom, but a decrease in standard of maintenance—the super seemed particularly offended when asked to actually do his job instead of just taking advantage of the privileges thereof, such as having a key to every apartment. The second day after they’d moved, Charlie had cast a spell around the building to stop pests from crawling under the door of the closet gate, which had resulted in the apparently spontaneous combustion of every rodent, reptile and arthropod brought into the building, whether it was a pest, someone’s pet, a biology specimen or even, on one occasion, an order of popcorn shrimp. Annemarie had come out the day after, cancelled Charlie’s spell and taught him a better one.

Charlie was learning. He had already mastered the basic elemental manipulations and several minor healing techniques. He could make things invisible, make them glow for a short time, alter gravity’s effect on them, reveal the magical nature of things, cast an illusion of almost anything, and in many cases dispel magic. Scrying and location spells were easy for him, and he was learning to identify some of the more common potions by scent—a useful skill, since potions and poisons were something of a tradition among magic-users, like pistols at ten paces.

The apartment door closed, shutting out the sounds of screaming children, arguments in English and Spanish, necessary repairs being done here and there (by the tenants), and the music someone was using to drown it all out.

“Welcome home, Master!” Hilda chimed from the apartment’s kitchenette.

“What’s cooking?” Charlie asked.

“Dumplings.” Hilda replied as he pulled her into his arms, being careful of her own swelling belly, hidden though it was behind her apron. He kissed her while Amelie scooped the dumplings out of the broth and into the large, metal bowl with the deboned chicken and set about thickening the broth into chicken gravy. Charlie wasn’t the only one who was learning. “Annemarie is waiting for you on the other side.” Hilda said once she’d gathered her wits after one of Charlie’s better kisses. He left the two to their tasks. Being adoring love-slaves of the same Master hadn’t made them friends, but at least they managed to get along—if only because they both knew he didn’t like it when they fought.

On the other side of the closet gate, Charlie found Annemarie glaring peevishly at Steve, who was standing in the middle of a magic circle along with Claudia. The Druidess was holding her pocket-dimension backpack in one hand.

“What’s going on?” Charlie asked.

“She’s totally overreacting!” Steve shouted.

“He was playing with my backpack.” Annemarie said, handing the item over. Charlie reached inside, becoming aware as he did so of the dimension’s contents. He came out with a TV dinner that burned his hand, so he threw it onto the counter and healed the burn.

“Why is Claudia in there too?” Charlie asked.

“She was the first thing I took out when I caught Steve stuffing the hat stand in here.” Annemarie sighed in frustration. “She immediately leapt to the defense of her love, Master and husband, of course.”

Charlie let a frown cross his face briefly. The lesson Steve had learned about playing with magical items apparently was limited only to leaving things alone until he had seen Charlie use them safely. “Why did you stuff Claudia in the pack?” he asked.

“I was gonna smuggle her into the movies.” Steve said.

“Along with a piping-hot TV dinner, a hat stand, and half the stuff in my house that can fit through the opening?” Charlie asked, pulling taut the drawstring and fastening the covering over the opening. The pack was, of course, still limp. If it could be stretched thin enough to fit through the circumference of the drawstring, the whole of the world could be stored inside without filling it up or increasing its mass in this dimension. It had quickly become Steve’s favorite toy—there were still several trays of food from a buffet place Steve had cleaned out last month, and they would still be hot when and if Charlie ever bothered to pull them out. He set his own book bag on the floor and pulled everything out of it, opening the pocket-dimension backpack again and transferring his own bag’s contents into the pocket dimension.

“Dude!” Steve protested.

“What? I was getting tired of lugging that heavy thing around anyway, so I’ll solve two problems at once.” Charlie said. He slid the bow and its carrying bag in as well. As an afterthought, he tossed the Grimoire of Tashi Myrdhynn inside as well. The timeless stasis of the pocket dimension would keep the slave-happy ghost in check, he thought. “Is there anything you need out of here, Annemarie?” he asked.

“No, Master, all my possessions were unpacked when I moved in, and he hasn’t gotten around to putting them back in.” Annemarie said.

“Good. Now, let Steve out of the circle, then help him get dinner in here from the apartment. I don’t want Amelie and Hilda carrying so much as a Harry Potter book.”

“Yes, Master.” Annemarie responded, and broke the circle. Chastened for the moment, Steve followed Annemarie through the closet. Claudia had turned away, her hand gently caressing her own baby bulge. She was just now starting to show, and was nowhere near as gravid as Amelie or Hilda, to say nothing of Chelsea Smithe, who it turned out was carrying quadruplets—possibly a side-effect of making her feline form permanent. Nevertheless, Steve was as conscientious about keeping her from moving heavy loads as Charlie. At least in that regard, he was beginning to show the first signs of responsible adulthood.

“I know it’s easier to just let him do all the thinking and tell you what to do, but you’d serve him better by reminding him of what’s right.”

“I cannot oppose Master, or disobey him.” Claudia said. “It’s hard enough just to keep from chewing you out for giving him limits.”

“I’m not asking you to.” Charlie said easily. “I just think you’re in an excellent position to help him have fewer regrets when he looks back on these days in the future.” The Chelseas came downstairs, arm in arm, Smith assisting Smithe in her delicate condition. “Hiya, Chelse, Kitten.” he said. The two grinned and increased their pace—not by much, but just enough that he noticed. He greeted each with a kiss, and scooped the purring Chelsea Smithe into his arms, carrying her with some difficulty into the kitchen. Chelsea Smith pulled out one of the cushioned chairs and Charlie set the cat-woman down.

“Welcome home, Master!” Sanna said cheerfully, turning off the heat beneath the pots she was tending. She embraced him and kissed him lustily. Kamilah sank to her knees and bowed her head, remaining that way until Charlie lifted her chin and kissed her. She moaned, her nipples dimpling the maid’s uniform she wore. The kitchen was soon filled with women, Steve taking his place across the table from Charlie as the only other male in the house, unless one counted the haunted book. Hato used chopsticks to eat her chicken and dumplings, though the stuffing and beans proved uncooperative.

“So, Steve, what are you planning on doing for Spring Break?” Charlie asked.

“I got two tickets to Cancun.” Steve said. “How ‘bout you?”

“I’m taking the harem camping.” Charlie responded. “The Black Forest.”

“That sounds really boring.” Steve responded. Charlie shrugged.

Far away, watching from a scrying pool, a figure smiled to himself. His body was covered with burn scars from the top of his head to the tips of his toes. He dismissed his spell and chanted a spell of transportation. There were preparations to make.

* * *

“What’s this?” Charlie asked, holding up a dusty sword in an equally-dusty scabbard. He’d decided to put all the magical artifacts into the backpack—at least the ones that would fit—to remove any temptation Steve might feel to bring one with him.

“Its name translates as ‘Sword of Judgment.’” Amelie said, sitting at the bottom of the basement stairs. “It’s said that it can only be drawn by those with just hearts, and that it only cuts those with unjust ones.”

“Does it work?” Charlie asked, unsheathing the sword as easily as unwrapping a straw.

“I honestly don’t know, Master, I could never draw it.” Amelie responded with a blush. “That’s why I put it down here.” Charlie tested the blade against his thumb, but it passed through his hand harmlessly, as if the blade was an illusion.

“Guess I’ve been judged.” he said, putting the sword back in its scabbard, which he then put in the backpack. “What about this one?” he asked, picking up a much larger two-handed greatsword.

“I’m afraid I can’t draw that one either, Master.” Amelie responded. “Nor can I read the writing on the sheath. I am given to understand that the writing is Atlantean.”

“Then maybe I should have Sanna bring it to the Myrdhynns later on to see if they can translate it—and if it’s too powerful, maybe I should let them keep it.” Charlie said, adding it to the collection. “Well, that’s it.” he said. The only magical artifacts left on the premises were a horse-cart that summoned ghostly, skeletal horses to pull it, the warded bookshelf with the now-amalgamated grimoire collection, and a cursed jukebox that forced all who heard it to dance. He headed up the stairs, drawing Amelie with him, and began the process of packing for their trip. The tent he’d bought fit easily through the opening into his pack, as did the inflatable air mattresses. The girls packed things in case they should become separated from the group and so they wouldn’t look like idiots going camping without provisions if they met anyone. Chelsea Smith carried the hibachi, and Hato had cleverly disguised her katanas as hiking poles strapped under her pack. Amelie cast the transportation spell to the city limits of a German town near the borders of the forest. They rented a car and drove it to the campsite.

“Are you sure you want to bring them here?” asked the park ranger, gesturing to the pregnant members of the harem.

“We’ll be careful.” Charlie assured the man.

“Remember to pack out your trash.” the man said as he handed Charlie his permit. Amelie stuck out her tongue at the man when his back was turned.

They arrived at the campsite without incident, but as they piled out of the car, Hilda gasped. “It’s him!” she exclaimed. Charlie whirled and barely avoided a knife which had been thrown by a walking burn scar.

“What the hell?” he said, rolling and returning to his feet. The charred man threw a flame-spell toward Hilda, but Charlie planted himself between the caster and the target. His body flashed as the flames reached him, and their direction changed.

“Shit!” the man exclaimed in a voice that sounded very much like Yao from Disney’s Mulan, as he dodged to the side, allowing a bush to be incinerated instead of himself. Sanna wasted a moment to put the flames out with an ice spell. “You’re every bit as clever as before, Charlie!” the man growled.

“I’m sorry, Crispy, but I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.” Charlie said. “And with a face like yours, I think I’d remember, no matter how plastered I was.”

“You insult me! How dare you suggest you don’t remember what you’ve done to me! Especially as I’ve lived every day for the last two thousand years and more with the mark of your actions!”

“You must be mistaken, my char-broiled friend.” Charlie said calmly. “I haven’t been alive that long.”

“Impossible!” the burned man said. “It was you, I know it! You, who are charmed against hostile magicks! You, who wear the pack of plenty! You, who smote my King centuries ago in Atlantis!”

“Now I know your brain’s fried, Scorch.” Charlie said, his eyes narrowing. “I’ve never killed anyone, and Atlantis disappeared millennia before I was born.”

“Liar!” the stranger shouted.

“You are the liar!” Amelie responded.

“See the truth of my words!” the stranger said, and he began to chant a spell. A strange, green cloud appeared over his head, opening out in a circular shape to show a vast island-continent dotted with great palaces and pyramidal temples, walled cities and palisaded villages, and lined with paved roads.

Amelie managed to tear her gaze away from the beauty of the illusion to note that the stranger was muttering another spell under his breath. She could feel the magic of banishment building, and could sense that it was directed at the ground under Charlie’s feet. Fearing that his charm wouldn’t protect him, she cast a spell of her own to scramble the spell.

Something went wrong. The vision of the past and the banishment spell mixed, and a swirling vortex appeared under Charlie’s feet. He cried out as he fell, and the portal closed. “No!” Amelie shrieked, clawing at the ground where the portal had been, then turned on the charred stranger with her eyes glowing crimson with rage. Red lightning lashed out from her eyes, wrapping around her hated enemy like bull-whips. He screamed with the pain of it, but Amelie vowed that this was only the beginning.

“No! Don’t kill him!” Sanna shouted. “We need him to bring Master back!”

Master... Amelie thought, the single word cutting through her wrath. The lightnings disappeared, and Amelie sank to her knees, wrapping her arms around her belly. “Where have you sent him?” she demanded, hot tears leaking down her cheeks.

“You mean, where have YOU sent him!” the man coughed. “I would have banished him to the Demon Plane, but you fouled my spell! Now there’s no telling where he could be!” He began to laugh. Sanna struck him with a lightning spell to stop his laughing, then a sleeping spell to keep him out of trouble. She put her hands on the place where their Master had stood. Amelie did the same, as did Annemarie.

“Where is Master?” Kamilah asked, her eyes brimming with tears.

“More important than ‘where’ is ‘when.’” Sanna said, maintaining her outer calm with difficulty. “The banishment spell mixed with the vision-spell he was using as a distraction. He’s been sent back to ancient Atlantis.”

“We have to get him back!” Amelie shrilled desperately. “He mustn’t share Atlantis’ destiny!”

“He won’t.” Annemarie said. “Sanna, he didn’t have your spell book in the pack, did he?”

“No, except for Tashi Myrdhynn’s, he left all the spell books on the shelf.” Sanna said, rising to her feet. “I shall return directly.” She disappeared then. Hato and Kamilah busied themselves binding and gagging the stranger. Amelie and Annemarie sealed him in a triple triad of wards to keep him from doing any more damage.

Please, be safe, my love, my Master. she thought, and the child within her squirmed.

* * *

“Hannity! There you are!” Princess Scheris quickly crossed the palace yard, her sandals slapping on the flagstones, her shift fluttering in the breeze of her passage. The old Mage and seer seemed not to have heard her. He was staring off into space, his skin as pale as parchment. “Hannity?” she asked, putting her hand on his stooped shoulder. He jumped and looked at her in surprise.

“Scheris! You startled me!”

“What troubles you, Old Uncle?” she asked, hoping to draw him out with childhood nicknames. He smiled, but it looked forced.

“It’s nothing I can help, nor you, so why bother?” he asked. “Run, play like it was going out of fashion!”

“Oh, Hannity, is it the lump again?” she asked. “I do wish I knew how to heal it.”

“No magic you or I know can mend a body that has turned against itself.” the seer said. “Anyway, it’s got nothing to do with that.”

“Then what is it?” Scheris asked.

“As I said, nothing we can help. You’ll be happier not knowing, and I wish I didn’t know.”

“Hannity, you know as well as I that the gods never let mortals glimpse the future without a reason.” Scheris said. “At least, that’s what you always taught me.” He hung his head and sighed—a sigh she couldn’t help echoing. Aside from her mother, Hannity was the only person in the palace she could talk to. Her father, King August, was all duty all the time, and had spent the five years since she had begun menstruating in negotiations for a politically-advantageous marriage. Her two older brothers had bullied her through much of her childhood, but now spent their days training to take the throne themselves or hunting, and her younger brothers emulated the older ones in their aloofness, leaving Scheris alone but for her mentor and her mother. Hannity grunted as he rose to his feet.

“Anyway, why aren’t you dressed?” he asked, gesturing at her sandals and shift.

“I am. You should have seen me yesterday afternoon in the fountain.” she responded with a wink.

“What if someone else had seen you?”

“It would be a nice change of pace.” Scheris responded. “I almost wish my brothers would pick on me again. The good news is, Scour says it’s going to be even hotter today, so I’ll bet that means the heat’s going to break.” Hannity laughed until the cancerous lump under his ribcage reminded him of its presence and made him wince. Scour was a combat Mage who had taken Hannity’s place at the King’s side since his ailment had rendered him unable to travel on long campaigns. The man had little talent or patience for any spell that didn’t produce immediate and deadly results, but the King’s Mage was expected to forecast important events, weather and tides—which, it seemed, he did, but in reverse.

“You should go, have some fun. Enjoy life.” Hannity said.

“You’ve seen something terrible, haven’t you?” Scheris asked. “Out with it!” Hannity sighed.

“I saw water, waves as tall as mountains, people being washed overboard, and the waves climbed higher still...” He shook his head.

“So you want me to go have fun like it’s my last day on earth?” Scheris asked. “Hannity, you and Mother are the only friends I have.”

“It’s probably just as well I don’t know exactly when.

“Yes, that would take all the fun out of it, wouldn’t it?” Scheris remarked wryly. She sighed. “I do wish I had some friends closer to my own age, though.” Just then, the sky opened up and a young man tumbled out with a cry. He grabbed hold of a branch of a nearby tree, where he hung for several moments before it gave way, dropping him the rest of the way to the ground. He muttered and cursed in a language that was unfamiliar to the young princess, sat up, wiggled his feet and started rubbing at the sore spots on his body.

Actually, she realized, he was healing himself, a healing spell equally unfamiliar to Scheris’ ears as the young man’s language spilling off his lips, the beneficent magic tingling her senses pleasantly. When he could do so, he stood up and brushed the dirt off his strange, exotic clothes. Strangest of all, at least to Scheris’ eyes, was the empty pack that hung on his back. The strange young man opened his mouth and spoke, but the words made no sense.

“What are you saying?” she asked. “Can you understand me?”

“Allow me, Scheris.” Hannity said, placing one hand on the stranger’s shoulder. An ancient teaching spell flowed from the Mage’s lips, the young man touched fingers to temples, and when it was over, he spoke understandably.

“Whoa! Head rush!” he exclaimed.

“Hannity, you did it!”

“Hey, I understand you now!” the young man said.

“A simple teaching spell which was ancient when my master was an apprentice.” Hannity said. “I am Hannity, former court Mage to King August, and this is Princess Scheris.”

“This may sound a little weird, but where am I?”

“You’re in the palace of my father, King August, in the city of Leone, capital of the North Kingdom of Atlantis.” Scheris said. “What is your name?”

“Charlie.” the young man said. Scheris was about to go on when she noticed Jaxor, a particularly officious oaf among the palace guards, appear from behind the broken tree. On his back was an amphora nickel-cadmium battery connected by insulated copper wire to a two-pronged prod whose handle was also insulated. Scheris opened her mouth to warn Charlie, but Jaxor was faster. Charlie cried out as he was zapped by the prod.

“I’ve got you, you spy!” Jaxor said.

“He is not a spy!” Scheris exclaimed, stamping her foot to emphasize the “not.” Charlie took advantage of the distraction to heal himself.

“If he’s not a spy, then what’s he doing in the palace?” Jaxor challenged.

“I wished him here!” Scheris insisted.

“We’ll just see what the questioner can get out of him.” Jaxor said with a malicious grin. Charlie rose to his feet, his eyes burning with rage and his hands crackling with power.

“See how you like it, bastard!” Charlie snarled, electricity arcing from his hands to strike at Jaxor, who screamed and fell to the ground in a twitching heap. Charlie relieved the guard of his amphora and prod, stuffing both into his pack, where they disappeared without a trace.

“A pocket dimension!” Hannity exclaimed. “It takes a very skilled wizard to make one of those!”

“It was a gift.” Charlie said, shouldering the limp pack. The sound of footfalls indicated that Jaxor’s scream hadn’t gone unheard. Charlie cast a quick spell and vanished right before the Princess’ eyes.

“I think we’d better get out of here.” his voice whispered in her ear. She nodded and led Hannity out of the garden. She could hear the Charlie’s footsteps behind her as they made their way into the palace. They went to Scheris’ chambers, where Charlie dismissed his spell and settled on a footstool a respectful distance from the bed to tell his story.

* * *

While Scheris smoothed things over with her father, a battle-hardened warrior-king with steel-gray hair and eyes who wore a sword on one hip and a hammer on the other, Charlie took the time to sort things out. The first thing he figured out was the fact that the spell the burned man had used had worked because it hadn’t been used directly on him—it had merely opened a portal under his feet. Now here he was, in ancient Atlantis—northern Atlantis, for whatever good that information did him.

An olive in a straw with an unpainted Beavis bobble-head on top walked in—or such was Charlie’s initial impression. The newcomer was tall and lanky except for his protruding belly and a head that looked decidedly oversized on his frame, swaddled in a toga and cape that were if anything more ornate than those of the king and carrying a white, wooden staff in his hand. Scheris repeated her story to the newcomer, who regarded Charlie the same way his neighbor’s chihuahua once had when he’d reached down to pick up its bone.

Definitely someone to watch. Charlie thought to himself.

“The fact that he showed up when you made a wish is mere coincidence!” the weirdo exclaimed. “He is a spy who tried to use magic to enter the palace and must be executed!”

“See the truth of my words!” an illusory voice cried, changed only to make them understandable to the audience. Every eye in the room turned to watch as an illusion of the events leading up to Charlie’s banishment played out.

“I see!” exclaimed King August.

“It’s just an illusion, Your Majesty.” the weird little man said. “Those can show anything the caster wants.”

“I will have the truth of this matter.” the king said, drawing his sword and laying the flat of the blade on Charlie’s shoulder. “Was that a true vision of what happened?”

“Yes, Sire, I only changed the words from English to Atlantean.” Charlie said.

“The sword gives no response; he speaks the truth, Scour.”

“As you say, Your Majesty.” Scour said grudgingly. “If he had no choice in coming here, then we should grant him safe passage out.”

“Do you have a way to get me back home?” Charlie asked.

“No, but I can get you out of the palace easily enough.” Scour replied with a grin.

“I am king, not you, Scour. You would do well to remember that.” August said, in a voice well-accustomed to making himself heard over the din of battle.

He told you. Charlie thought with delight. Scour made his apologies and departed, having supposedly just remembered that he left a potion boiling. “With all due respect, Your Majesty, why do you put up with him?” Charlie asked.

“Because Hannity is no longer fit enough to travel, and with King Sade entertaining dreams of empire, leaving the palace without a Mage at my side is tantamount to suicide.”

“If I may ask...” Charlie began.

“King Sade rules the West Kingdom, as is his birthright according to the rules laid down by the first High King.” King August said.

“Father, he may not understand our system of government.” suggested Scheris. She turned back to Charlie. “In Atlantis, we have four kingdoms as close to equal in size as was possible at the time of their founding. Each of those kingdoms is ruled by a king, and each of the colonies outside the island is ruled by a viceroy. Kings and viceroys rule within their assigned provinces, but there is also the High King, who decides matters affecting more than one kingdom or colony and mediates disputes between them. According to accounts, the first High King was the son of Atlas, and the other four kings were the husbands of his daughters.”

“Thanks, I believe I understand now.” Charlie said. “This King Sade has a magician as well?”

“Has one and is one.” Scheris said sourly. “The High King prohibits any King from participating in Duels Arcane, so each one employs a Mage to act as his champion in such cases—except Sade. He dares keep a warlock in his court.”

“And he’s also skilled in magic?” Charlie asked.

“Black magic of the worst kind.” King August said, seating himself on his throne with a huff. “He turns his enemies into slaves without minds of their own, unthinking brutes unaware of pain or fear, which make themselves known by their white, pupilless eyes. As shock-troops, they are diabolically effective; they attack and keep right on attacking until they no longer have limbs to attack with or teeth to bite with. The High King has even had to ward the city against such creatures so they cannot enter, and the spell to create them cannot be cast within its walls.”

“What of his warlock?” Charlie asked, conjuring the illusion of the burned man. “Could this have been him once, before I supposedly burned him?”

“Perhaps.” the king said. “He seems about the right size. The warlock’s name is Pict.”

“Pict.” Charlie sighed, thinking about the similarity of the name to the Picts, which he remembered from a Discovery Channel special. Not nice people, if he recalled correctly.

“Father, can Charlie stay until he finds a spell to take him back to his own time?” Scheris asked.

“Very well.” the king said. “Charlie, avail yourself of our library while you are here. If the spell you seek isn’t there, it will be in the Great Library of Atlas City. If it isn’t there, it doesn’t exist.”

* * *

With help from Hannity and Scheris, Charlie searched the Library of the North Kingdom. Early on, Charlie discovered an easy spell that let him charm a quill to copy a parchment. Filing that away for later, he continued his search. Between the three of them, they eliminated every scroll in the section of the library devoted to magic spells within two weeks. Charlie did find a copy of the teaching spell Hannity had used to enable him to understand Atlantean. He memorized this and used it to teach English to Hannity and Scheris, though they spoke with a slight Atlantean accent.

“Such a strange language!” Hannity remarked after he had assimilated the concepts associated with many of the words. “And such a strange society! Automobiles, computers, airplanes!”

“Yeah, I guess I sort of take them for granted.” Charlie sighed. While his friends were in another area gathering scrolls, Charlie cast illusions of his harem. “I will see you again.” he promised the images, fighting back tears. He reached out to touch the Amelie image, but his fingers passed through the illusory cheek. He banished the illusions and buried himself in his work for the rest of that afternoon.

The night they concluded their search, Charlie withdrew some chocolate ice cream from his pack, which the three of them ate in Hannity’s chambers. “Don’t despair, Charlie. I’m sure there will be something in the Great Library.” Scheris said. “It’s bigger than our entire palace and library combined!”

“There is a Great Council soon.” Hannity said. “We leave for Atlas City next week, if you can wait that long.”

“Considering I won’t even be born for another two millennia, I have all the time in the world...barring disasters, of course.”

“I’m sure the disaster you told us about won’t happen at least until you’ve killed a king and burned a Mage.” Scheris said.

“It is a shame, though, is it not?” Hannity asked. “All that we’ve worked for, gathering the knowledge from the greatest civilizations the world over, combining it, improving upon it—to disappear in ‘a single day and night of misfortune.’”

“Well, at least you have modern dental hygiene.” Charlie said with a smile, for he had seen the Atlantean analogues of toothbrush and toothpaste in Scheris’ chambers, as well as a spool of thread she used for floss.

“There’s a bull-dance tomorrow if you’d like to see it.” Scheris offered.

“Thanks.” he said, setting his bowl on the only empty place he could find. Rising to his feet, he bid Hannity and Scheris good-night.

“Charlie!” she called as he walked out. She wrapped her arms around him as he turned around. “It’ll be okay.” she whispered in English. “You’ll see your family again.”

“Thank you.” he responded in the same language. The strength of her conviction gave him strength, and he gave her a smile more genuine than he’d managed in almost a week. She walked with him back to his room, and he watched her until she was gone.

“She’s a sweet girl, but lonely.” said King August’s voice from somewhere nearby. Charlie turned and found the king stepping out from behind another door. “Perhaps it’s the life of a princess; she has few friends—in fact, you and Hannity are the only ones I could name off-hand.”

“Your Majesty, you look ill-rested.” Charlie said frankly.

“I hear rumors.” the king said. “Rumors of a prophecy that says our days are numbered. There was a comet which brought with it many falling stars a week ago, and every seer I’ve spoken with has had the same visions; great waves taller than the highest mountain, waves which toss and shatter ships, some even claiming the waves to be so huge that they saw the floor of the ocean in one trough just before the ship plunged down the side.”

“I wish I could reassure you, Your Majesty.” Charlie responded. “The first resort of the dogmatic mind is to destroy knowledge which is contrary to its worldview, and there have been many, many dogmatic minds in human history between now and my time, and few records of Atlantis survive, except for a tale by a man called Plato. Your daughter believes we have at least until circumstances force me to kill a king and burn a Mage.”

“Based on the belief that it was your actions here which prompted the burned Mage to seek you out, which in turn caused you to be sent here?” The king sighed. “A perplexing paradox. One wonders how you got here the first time.”

“That question is a little beyond me, Sire.” Charlie said. The king nodded and bid Charlie good-night. Charlie closed his door and lay on the rushes of his bed. He stared at the ceiling until the first changing of the guard, but decided he wasn’t getting any sleep. His head was full of time-travel paradoxes, his heart full of longing for home and harem. Casting a spell of invisibility over himself, he slipped out the window, jumped to a nearby tree and dropped to the ground. He slipped easily past the guards and down the cobblestone street to the library, where he found guards posted, but the door standing halfway open. Slipping inside, he found scribes working by candlelight to copy parchments. He banished his spell and walked into the spell-scroll section, where he found as many Mages as there were scribes, all copying scrolls with the spell he had read earlier.

“Sir Charlie?” the librarian asked.

“I couldn’t sleep.” Charlie said. He took up a piece of parchment and added his own efforts. The work went faster when Charlie cast an illusion of a stereo that played instrumental music from his own memory.

Someone woke him around mid-morning to inform him that the princess was looking for him. He found that the Mages, with his help, had copied at least half the magic section. There was an impressive pile of crisp, new scrolls in a rolling bin off to the side. He yawned and stretched, then followed the page back to the palace.

Soon enough, he was seated with the royal party in a giant, sand-filled arena. Despite himself, Charlie found himself fascinated with the ritual. This, he decided, was what bull-fighting would be like with ninjas. Rather than killing the beasts—and there were some rather impressive specimens sent out—the dancers taunted them, leaping over the animals until, exhausted, the beasts shuffled back out the way they’d come. The first team was Phoenician, all male except for one girl, marked with gold-colored ribbons that streamed from their arms like wing feathers as they dodged, capered and somersaulted around and over their beasts. When they had danced their third bull, the people tossed coins and other valuables to the team, who bowed humbly before gathering up the booty. The second team was an all-male Minoan team, with painted bodies and red streamers at wrists and ankles, who managed impressive feats of acrobatics and agility, often landing right on the head or shoulders of the charging bulls. The third was an Atlantean team from the South Kingdom, divided equally between males and females. Three more teams danced, including another Minoan team that managed a double somersault almost every other time they leaped over a bull, before the drummers announced the home team.

The star of the North Kingdom team was a dark-haired beauty who seemed to vanish just as the first bull was about to trample her. Her signature seemed to be a triple somersault that brought the crowd to its feet with every landing she stuck, and she stuck them all. The last one to come out was a froth-mouthed white, which she danced alone. This thing was a monster, half again as tall at the shoulder as any bull that had been danced yet, with murder in its eyes. Charlie thought the thing must surely be rabid, for he sensed something not quite right about it. Even the girl seemed worried for a moment here and there. They charged one another, the bull and the girl shouting defiantly at one another. She leaped into the air, springing off the animal’s head between the horns and launching into an astounding quadruple somersault. The crowd cheered wildly as she stuck the landing, but the bull gave an unexpected backwards kick that sent her sprawling. The crowd gasped in shock as the bull turned, ignoring the other dancers that tried to distract it from its target. It charged, hooking one horn under the girl and sending her flying. Charlie heard her collarbone snap when she hit the ground, but the bull wasn’t done yet. It bowled over half the team on its way to the girl.

Charlie acted without thinking, conjuring a ring of fire around the prone girl. The primal fear of fire broke the bull’s charge. Charlie leaped into the arena, then with another bound landed in the ring of fire and began to work his best healing spells. The girl spat blood onto the sand as Charlie set to work, healing each injury in descending order of its severity, beginning with her punctured lung. The fire petered out as his energy flagged, but before he had to stop, he made sure she would live. The bull was gone when he looked again—and good thing too. He wasn’t sure he could have survived the bull’s wrath.

Actually, on further reflection, he was sure he couldn’t. The girl’s teammates came and carried her out of the arena. He wasn’t sure why, but they all avoided his eyes. Two dour-faced Mages came and escorted him out through the same door.

“How dare you interfere with the ritual!” snarled one once they were alone. “You call yourself a Mage?”

“What are you talking about?” Charlie snapped back, grumpy with exhaustion and in no mood to be chastised for saving someone’s life.

“Don’t act ignorant! Everyone knows the bull dancers are a sacrifice to the gods, and life or death in the arena is in THEIR hands!” Charlie’s scowl matched the Mage’s.

“Charlie is a stranger to Atlantis,” said Hannity, huffing his way around a corner, “he didn’t know! I made the same mistake in my youth. I was raised in a small village, and had never seen a bull dance. I struck the bull with lightning bolts until it left, and I healed the dancer’s wounds in full view of the audience. They were nowhere near what hers were, but serious enough he would doubtless have died if untreated.”

“And you remember what happened that year, too! A drought struck that nearly halved our population! It is clearly recorded in the library!”

“We must make amends to the gods.” said the other Mage Charlie didn’t know. “We will sacrifice them both.” Charlie punched the man hard in the crotch, doubling him over.

“What are two lives compared to the lives of every man, woman and child of Atlantis?” demanded the Mage who was still standing.

“Sacrifice us instead!” interjected a voice. Four of the girl’s teammates stood in the doorway. “Four lives instead of two!”

“But...” Charlie began.

“We offer ourselves freely.” the young man said. “Would you deny us our choice?” Charlie sighed and hung his head.

“No.” he said. “And...I will force myself to watch as punishment for my interference.”

“Done!” agreed the Mage.

“As will I.” added another voice. Charlie turned and found an old man standing behind him. “I didn’t notice the animal’s sickness until it bit one of the handlers. I had to...euthanize them both. The original fault is mine.” The two strange Mages left with the four bull dancers.

“I’m sorry, Charlie, I should have warned you.” Hannity said, leaning heavily on his staff.

“I think I’ve just lost my liking for bull dancing.” Charlie murmured.

“You should see war.”

“At least in war you’re not punished for saving someone’s life.” Charlie responded. “Except perhaps by the enemy.”

“Point taken.” Hannity sighed.

* * *

“Charlie, are you okay?” Scheris asked in English, peeking into his room.

“Just tired.” he said. “I haven’t been sleeping well since the bull dance.” She entered the rest of the way and seated herself on a stool.

“Hannity’s examined the remains of the bull.” Scheris said. “He wasn’t rabid, he was cursed.”

“Cursed?” Charlie asked, sitting up.

“Yes, cursed.” added another voice, also speaking English, though it wasn’t familiar to him. An old crone came and bobbed once in greeting. “Allow me to introduce myself. I am the oracle Nyramani, the Voice of Truth. It is my gift, my title and my curse, to answer questions—one per person. The Mage, Scour, asked me what your greatest weakness was, and I was compelled to answer him.”

“My greatest weakness?” he wondered softly. He sighed. “How long does Atlantis have?”

“Six weeks from now, this isle will be no more, though you may be surprised at how such a disappearance is accomplished.” the oracle responded. “In case you wondered, the answer I gave Scour But it is also your strength. That, I left out. After all, he only asked about your weakness. He will try again and again until one of you is dead.”

Charlie’s fists clenched, and the nightstand caught fire. As Scheris cried out in alarm, Charlie canceled his fire spell and put out the flames with an ice one. “Damn that Scour!” he growled.

“Have no fear on that score, just worry about how much damage he will cause in the interim.” the oracle said with a sigh. She bowed once and walked away. The girl from the arena took her place.

“Oh, hello.” he said in Atlantean. “Uh, sorry my room’s a bit of a mess at the moment.”

“Do you always start fires when you’re angry?” she asked.

“That’s part of the spell. You imagine the hottest thing you can think of, then conjure the heat of passion. Righteous wrath works best.”

“I wish I’d understood what you’d been saying just now.” the girl said.

“No, you don’t.” Scheris said with a shiver. “Six weeks.” she muttered in English. “Charlie, I’m scared.”

“I wish you wouldn’t do that. I can’t understand that language!” the girl said. “Oh, I’m Lita, by the way.”

“I’m Charlie, and I’m sure you’ve heard of Princess Scheris.” Charlie said. He put his hand on Lita’s arm and cast the teaching spell so she could understand English as well.

“You’re not from around here, are you?” she asked once her mind had assimilated the new knowledge. “Six weeks? That’s all we have? Okay, you were right, I wish I didn’t know!”

“It’s okay.” Charlie said, drawing the girls into his embrace.

“How is it okay?” Lita asked, looking up at him. Charlie stood over every Atlantean he’d met so far (except King August) by at least a nose.

“I’ll make it okay.” Charlie said.

“Now that’s the Charlie I know!” Scheris enthused.

“Scheris, there you are!” called the Queen. Queen Gwendolyn had a quiet and dignified beauty despite her forty-odd years and five children. “Come on, it’s time for bed!”

“I don’t want to sleep alone tonight, Mother!” Scheris said.

“Why? What’s wrong?”

“I think your parents have a right to know, Scheris.” Charlie said. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

“All right.” she said, and kissed him on the cheek. She drew Lita out with her, and Charlie closed the panel with a sigh. Tired from sleepless nights and now minus the impediment of his guilt, he flopped face-first into the bed and slept through the night.

* * *

“You’re looking better, Charlie.” King August said.

“Thank you, Your Majesty.” Charlie replied.

“I can’t find Scour.” the king said. “It’s probably just as well, I’d have to execute him for sabotaging the bull ritual if I did. I’m curious as to the extent of your magical education.”

“Formally, I’ve been educated in basic elemental magic, healing, wards, illusions, scrying and dispelling magic.” Charlie said. “Informally, I’ve memorized several random spells I’ve come across. Also, I’ve got a nifty tattoo that wards off hostile magic, bad luck and possession, so if we come under magical attack, I can step in front of you and bounce whatever it is back.”

“Excellent.” the king said. “I’ve just received a message from the High King. He’s called the council early because of the ill omens. We leave today, and with Scour a traitor and Hannity unable to travel, I shall need you at my side. None of the other Mages are very skilled in offensive magic.” Charlie bowed and joined the royal party. Scheris persuaded her mother to let Lita join the Princess’ maidservants. He reached into his pack and pulled out his cell phone, taking several pictures of the city as the party passed through it. He took another picture of it from a height before they descended again. Checking his status, he found he had enough room for ten more pictures. He had a feeling he’d be wishing for more when they got to Atlas City.

The party camped at nightfall. Charlie pulled out his tent and removed it from its carrying case. It sprang into shape almost instantly, so all he had to do was stake it down. Some of the soldiers looked at him jealously.

“Hail, King August!” called a voice from the other side of the camp.

“Hail and welcome, Prince Clement!” King August called back, opening his arms invitingly.

“Sounds like my brothers are back from their inspection tour.” Scheris remarked. Charlie finished pounding in the last stake and then followed her to the royal tent.

“Well, there’s a heart-breaker if I ever saw one.” remarked a younger clone of King August.

“This is Charlie, my Mage for this trip.” the king said. “Charlie, these are my sons: Crown Prince Clement, Prince Just, Prince Julien and Prince Orel.” The king had introduced the princes in descending order of age. Clement and Orel looked like younger versions of their father, while Just and Julien looked like male versions of their mother. “My sons have been on an inspection tour of the kingdom, assessing the borders and the needs of the people. So, Clement, what news?”

“The western border is suspiciously quiet. Even Sade’s lookouts are behaving themselves.” Clement said. “I suppose that’s fortunate; our Mage had a nightmare and threw himself off a cliff, screaming something about a watery grave.”

“So now it’s come to suicide.” August sighed. He led everyone into the tent. Charlie cast Amelie’s soundproofing spell on the canvas, silencing the sounds of the camp. Just snapped his fingers next to his ear to make sure he hadn’t gone deaf. “Thank you, Charlie.” the king said. “My children, the omens are mounting. That is why the High King has called the council early.”

“Not that I’m complaining, Father, but where is that sour old weasel, Scour?” Julien asked.

“He cursed one of the bulls at the bull dance, and has not been seen since.” August replied angrily.

“How do you know it was Scour?” asked Julien.

“An oracle told us.” Charlie said.

“Show them, Charlie.” the king said. Charlie nodded, and conjured a miniature scene of his own room during the oracle’s visit, translated into Atlantean.

“Six weeks?!” exclaimed Orel.

“We must keep this quiet, or we’ll have mass panic.” the king insisted. “Clement, send any of your men with loved ones back home. I want them to have some time with their families, but don’t tell them why.” Clement nodded. The royal males made further arrangements and seemed to have forgotten that Charlie and Scheris were there. She led him out of the tent, and they got some roast beef from the cook fire. Charlie sliced open a bread roll and put his meat on it—an action which Scheris emulated with a smile.

“Come on, make him wake up, I want some music!” shouted a gruff voice. Charlie looked in the noise’s direction and found four guys shaking a passed-out minstrel—well, at least he HOPED the man was passed out. He walked over and checked the minstrel’s pulse. Reassured that the musician wasn’t dead, he picked up the guitar at the man’s feet and strummed a few chords.

“Do you play?” Scheris asked.

“It’s been about five years since I picked up a guitar, but I think I remember how it works.” he said. He seated himself on a log and began to play a solo version of Green Day’s “Good Riddance.”

“What language was that?” asked one of his listeners—for Charlie had of course sung the song in English. Instead of answering, Charlie cast an illusion of himself with a banjo and began to play “Dueling Banjos” with it. The wordless instrumental seemed to meet with the audience’s approval, so when it was finished, he conjured some fiddlers and launched into “Cotton Eye Joe.” Groggily, the minstrel woke, wondering what all the noise was. Charlie’s hand was starting to hurt—the past five years had erased all the calluses from his fingertips—so he laid the guitar beside the musician, banished his illusions and disappeared along with them. He banished his invisibility spell when he reached his tent, and zippered himself inside. He healed his throbbing hand and pulled out Tashi Myrdhynn’s grimoire, which he read for an hour or so, memorizing spells until he was able to get to sleep. He knew there was more to being a mage than memorizing spells, but it would have to suffice until he had a proper instructor again.

* * *

King August decided Charlie should ride beside him on a horse instead of in the carriage with the women. His inexperience as an equestrian began to tell quickly. They were almost to Atlas City when they came across an armed contingent arrayed against them. “King Sade.” King August whispered to Charlie as the young man rode up beside the king’s horse, glad for the pause if not the reason. Charlie reached into his pack and pulled out his bow. Someone rode halfway between the two parties, outside of bowshot—at least, out of range of the bows the normal archers carried.

“His Majesty King Sade offers King August one chance for an honorable surrender!” called the messenger.

“Does Sade defy the summons of the High King Avallan?” August demanded.

“You will give your answer now and without question!” the messenger said. Charlie drew back the bowstring and loosed an arrow, intending to put it in the messenger’s shoulder. It sliced the feather off the messenger’s helmet and landed at the hooves of King Sade’s horse, which caused the animal to rear up, sending Sade to the ground.

“Whoops.” Charlie said. Sade got up, looked at the arrow in the ground and at the messenger riding back with his missing feather, saw Charlie grinning sheepishly and waving, and came to a decision. In no time flat, the army was retreating in the direction of Atlas city.

“’Whoops?’” King August laughed. “That is the best damn ‘whoops’ I’ve ever seen!”

“I was aiming for the messenger’s shoulder.” Charlie replied.

“So the gods guided your arrow somewhere far more impressive-looking. Just take it for what it is, a blessing!”

“Yes, Sire.” Charlie said. King August ordered the party to march on. Charlie picked up his arrow from the ground, but didn’t put his bow away until they reached the city.

The city was impressive, to make the understatement of two millennia. The outer gates were made of bronze, with bronze statues of some winged goddess who reminded Charlie of Amelie, except for the chaste robes she wore—or maybe he was starting to see similarities where none existed. He could sense the wards around the city, protecting it against Sade’s mindless warriors just as August had said. The common people’s residences were here, judging by the size and condition of the houses and shops. They came to a second set of gates, which were closed until the party approached and were recognized by the gatemen. These gates were made of silver, or at least plated in it, and were flanked by silver statues of the same goddess. Beyond them were the homes of nobles or wealthy businessmen. The third set were made of gold, also with goddesses, and beyond them were temples, observatories with man-sized optical telescopes on the roofs, and the library. The gates of the palace—itself larger than the entire capital city of the North Kingdom—were made of a metal Charlie couldn’t identify.

“Orichalcum.” August replied when Charlie asked about it. “It’s a metal that’s sacred to the king of the gods, and our holiest artifacts are made out of it.” The palace was designed differently than August’s; six layers of stairs hugged the palace walls leading up to the roof, and there were no windows that Charlie could see. Archers were stationed all along these stairs—more than lived in the dorms at his college, each station having a sizeable bin of arrows, thus making a forcible capture of the palace difficult at best. The stairs were steep and had no railing; Charlie was out of breath by the time they reached the top.

Three kings awaited them at the palace entrance. Charlie could tell which one was the High King because he had a set of legs that indicated he climbed these steps on a regular basis, though he was dressed no more regally than the others.

“August, I’m relieved to see you!” King Avallan said, embracing August like a brother. “I was told you had been captured!”

“By whom?” August asked.

“A wicked mage called Charlie who cursed one of the bulls at your bull dance ceremony.” Avallan said, as if surprised that August didn’t know.

“And who, may I ask, was the bearer of these ill tidings?” August asked.

“Why, your own battle Mage, Scour, of course!” Avallan said.

“Speak of the devil.” Charlie muttered in English, causing rings of fire to appear around Scour, who was trying to make himself scarce. “Working with Sade for some purpose, Scour?” he asked in Atlantean. He caused the rings to contract until it almost looked like he was tied up with a flaming Slinky.

“Sade?” the High King asked.

“King Sade tried to take us not far from the city, Sire.” August said. “And it was Scour who cursed the bull.”

“Lies!” Scour shouted.

“Perhaps you’d care to say that while King August has his Sword of Truth on your shoulder?” Charlie challenged. Scour grumbled, and vanished. Charlie put his hand through the heated air where Scour’s head had been. “He’s really gone, not just invisible.” he said with a sigh.

“His flight shall be his confession.” the High King said as Charlie dismissed his fire rings, which contracted on themselves first before fizzling out. “Come, come, you must tell me all about it.”

“What about the council or whatever?” Charlie asked as they all were led inside the palace. He noticed that the palace guards disarmed everyone, even August. With nothing on his person but an empty-looking backpack, Charlie was passed up.

“That starts tomorrow.” Queen Gwendolyn said. “You can’t expect these men to discuss such serious business as what lies before them with cool heads when they’re all tired and hungry and saddle-sore.” They were shown to rooms that were more sumptuous than anything Charlie had seen in the North palace. Even Charlie’s room was bigger than his apartment and his old dorm room combined. Servants in silk shifts poured hot water into a sunken pool. Snacks were floating on a silver platter with a cork bottom—fruits, cheeses, some sort of pastry, rolls stuffed with minced meat, chilled wines and so on. Charlie disrobed and gratefully lowered his sore caboose into the steaming-hot water. He let the heat aid his own healing-spells, though he guessed he’d never get used to riding if he healed his saddle sores with magic every time. He reached into his pack and pulled out the book again.

A little close to the water, don’t you think? asked Tashi Myrdhynn’s spirit.

“Too bad you don’t have a real body, this feels great, kind of like an Atlantean Jacuzzi.” Charlie said.

You didn’t have to stuff me back in that pocket dimension when your royal girlfriend showed up.

“Sorry, but every time you’ve been in the presence of nubile womanflesh recently, you’ve enslaved the mind inside that flesh—even when she was no longer a threat to home and harem.” The spirit manifested itself, dipping spectral feet in the water.

As a ghost, I have a limited amount of foresight; not as much as an oracle, but just enough to know when action must be taken. I am sorry if it appears that a pattern is developing. If I promise to behave, or at least warn you if I sense someone needs to be added to your collection, will you let me stay in this dimension? Charlie couldn’t help but smile at the spirit’s tone.

“I’ll even take you with me to the Great Library of Atlantis when I get the chance.” Charlie said. The spirit grinned like a child who had just learned he was going to Disneyland. “Have you ever visited Atlantis before?”

Before my time. Tashi Myrdhynn responded ruefully.

“Speaking of time, you don’t happen to know any spells that can get me back to my own century, do you? I wish I’d thought to ask you earlier.”

Sorry. the spirit said. I do know a spell to bring a person through time, but not to send one’s self. Ah, that takes me back to the days when I was studying with an old Druid...

“Druid?” Charlie asked.

Yes. Maybe...maybe that’s why I was moved to claim Annemarie for you! The pangs of destiny are more vague than those of hunger, I’m afraid.

“Well, that makes me feel better.” Charlie said. “Just remember to warn me next time, all right?”

Done and done! the spirit enthused. A woman’s shriek interrupted the conversation, and Charlie’s attention was drawn to one of the female servants, who quickly fled the room.

“Whoa, she looked like she’d seen a ghost.” Charlie remarked. Tashi Myrdhynn’s spirit faded from view, suitably chastened. Charlie ate and soaked until another servant—peering cautiously into the room first, informed him that Princess Scheris was asking for him. Charlie pulled some fresh clothes and a towel out of the backpack, dried off and dressed. He withdrew a hat stand and hung the pack on one of the hooks.

Is there anything your roommate DIDN’T put in there? the spirit asked.

“Yeah, the stuff I put in it.” Charlie responded. He placed the stand next to the bed and set the grimoire nearby, then followed the servant to Scheris’ room.

“Charlie!” Scheris said cheerfully. “Are you feeling all right?”

“Much better now.” he said, though he put a cushion in the chair before he seated himself. Lita patted his shoulder sympathetically.

“I had the same problem when I was learning to ride a horse.” she said. “You get the hang of it eventually. I saw that you don’t need any help learning to shoot a bow and arrow.” She mimed the action of the arrow slicing the feather off the messenger’s helmet and laughed heartily.

“I was aiming for the guy’s shoulder.” Charlie said.

“I’ve never seen a bow like that before. I mean, metal and wheels and what-all else? Seems a little heavy.”

“Actually, it’s a lightweight alloy, not very heavy at all. I could show you later, if you want.” Charlie replied. A servant appeared and poured two glasses of wine, patently ignoring Charlie. As Scheris and Lita drank deeply from their cups, Scour dismissed his illusion with a chuckle. Charlie rose quickly, knocking over his chair, and decked the Mage before he could disappear again. The girls moaned and wobbled in their chairs. Charlie grabbed Scheris’ cup and sniffed the contents. Almost overwhelming the smell of the strong vintage was Eros powder, one of the more powerful love-potions he knew. “Uh-oh.”

“Charlie...” Scheris moaned. She opened her eyes and latched onto him. “Charlie, my darling!”

“Oh, Charlie, my love, I need you inside me bad!” Lita exclaimed. The two women wrestled him to the ground, tearing off his clothes. Charlie needed to take control of the situation quickly.

“Now, now, ladies, let’s not fight!” he managed to say, pushing himself to his feet. “Now, we can’t have anyone interrupting our fun, can we?” Both women responded resoundingly negative. “That’s right. Now, you girls go over to the bed and get yourselves ready. I’ll get rid of Scour so he can’t sour our games, and ward the door so nobody else can either.”

“Oh, darling, that’s a wonderful idea!” enthused Scheris.

“My love, you’re such a genius!” added Lita. They went to the bed, which Charlie concealed with an illusion screen, before he cast an illusion of clothes over his own body. He called for August’s guards.

“What’s happened?” asked the guard captain.

“Scour made the mistake of coming back.” Charlie said, lifting his unconscious victim by the shoulders. “Here. Take him to the bull pens, and when he comes to, give him the rest of this bottle.”

“Did he try to poison the princess?” the captain asked in shock.

“Not poison.” Charlie said. “Just go, and be ready to bring the book from my room when I call for it.” The guards left, and Charlie barred the door. This had to be handled delicately. As more of the potion absorbed into their systems, their lust would grow until it was a painful yearning that would drive them mad. Scour obviously hadn’t known how strong this stuff was, or he wouldn’t have used so much.

“Oh, my darling, we thought they’d never leave!” Scheris called as he passed through the screen. She and Lita were both naked. He kissed each of them in turn, and lay Scheris back on the bed, repositioning Lita so her dripping slit was over the princess’ mouth.

“Okay, I know how I’m going to make sure neither of you has to be left out.” he said. “Scheris, I want you to lick our friend until she screams for mercy.” Obediently, Scheris began to use her tongue on Lita’s dripping snatch, drawing moans of pleasure from the former bull dancer. Charlie, in turn, slipped his hard pecker into the royal pussy. There was a brief moment of pain as Scheris lost her virginity, but when it was over, only pleasure remained. Scheris moaned passionately into Lita’s pussy even as she probed and explored with her tongue. Lita let out a long, low moan as she shuddered and gushed all over Scheris’ face. Scheris stiffened and screamed into the pussy above her as she came as well. Charlie let himself go, firing his seed into her body with a grunt. He muttered a quick spell to help himself recover. This was just getting started. “All right, time to switch.” he said. Charlie was the one who made Lita scream for mercy, though her screams were muffled by the cream-filled pussy she was licking. He knew he would pay for it later, but he tapped into his magical reserves to keep himself going until both women finally slipped into exhausted slumber, though it was almost dawn by that time. He tied the remains of his clothes around his waist and unwarded the door, snatching the spell book from the fingers of the shocked guards.

What happened in here? Tashi Myrdhynn asked.

“Eros powder.” Charlie said. Obediently, the spirit guided him to the proper page in the book. “Shit, I don’t have any of this!”

What about the local Mages?

“Um...I have it! Show me a spell to teleport back to King August’s palace!” The pages flipped and the relevant passages glowed. Charlie cast the spell, picturing Hannity’s workshop in his mind. The old Mage jumped as Charlie appeared. “Sorry, buddy, but I need an antidote for heavy doses of Eros powder.”

“The princess?” Hannity asked.

“And the bull dancer I saved.” Charlie said.

“And yet you LIVE?” Hannity asked. “Anyone else would be a smiling corpse by now!”

“Less chat, more antidote.” Charlie said, looking around at the powders and liquids around him. Hannity mixed up enough antidote to counteract ten pounds of powder. Charlie thanked the Mage and returned to Atlas City. He woke up his exhausted girls and easily persuaded them to take their medicine by making a toast to love. They both made sour faces—to make another understatement—as they swallowed the antidote, for the cure was as bitter as the potion had been sweet. He gave them untainted wine from August’s private stores to wash it all down, and they drank until they passed out in a drunken stupor.

His good deed done, Charlie sank first to his knees, then tipped over on his side and let exhaustion wash over him.

* * *

Scheris groaned as sunlight stabbed at her eyes, setting off a burning agony somewhere inside her skull. Her eyes popped open as something even worse made itself known to her, and she ran to the chamber pot and emptied her stomach into it. Someone else did the same over the balcony railing. The nausea abated once she was empty, thankfully, but the headache remained. She found something warm and opened her eyes again, though the light was an agony. Charlie lay passed out on the floor, with tatters of cloth around his waist. Though it didn’t hold a candle to what was going on in her head, Scheris was aware that her crotch was sore. She reached up and pulled the covers off the bed and over her head. She curled up with Charlie and sank back into blissful unconsciousness.

Her next awakening wasn’t quite as painful, but every bit as irritating. Someone was calling her name. She poked her head out of the covers and gazed blearily into her father’s eyes.

Father?! she thought with alarm, suddenly aware that she was naked.

With a man.

And a woman.

She winced as her headache reasserted itself. Trying to hold her head and keep covered was a losing proposition, but she tried. “Scheris, are you all right?” her father asked with his deep, rumbling voice stabbing lances of agony into her brain with every syllable. She slowly shook her head, and groaned at the pain the action caused.

“With the dose of Eros powder she got from Scour, Sire, I imagine she’s in agony.” another voice, blessedly soft but still a torture, informed the king.

“Mm-hmm.” she squeaked, which caused Lita to wince and try to use the entire blanket to cover her face. Someone touched her head, and liquid-soft syllables from an ancient language washed over her. The pain ebbed in her head until she could bear to hear her father’s voice without pleading for a dagger to end her suffering. The healer did the same for Lita.

“Ah, here are the cups that held the antidote.” said a second healer. “I’m sorry about the boy, though. He won’t be worth much for a while—though I couldn’t say how he survived at all. There was enough Eros powder in each of those cups to make an adoring love-slave out of every female in the palace.” Scheris touched Charlie’s throat, feeling his pulse. He was alive at least. Someone gave her clothes, which she put on quickly.

“Scour...he wore a magic disguise.” Scheris said. “But I saw Charlie first.”

“Ohh.” Lita groaned. “I think we made up for a life of chastity last night.”

“How much do you remember?” the king asked.

“It’s all a blur.” Scheris said. “Pleasure, joy, happiness, more pleasure, and a burning need that wouldn’t be quenched. Even when I passed out, I wanted more. I hope he’s okay.” She caressed Charlie’s reposed face.

He’ll be fine, he just needs rest. said a voice in her head.

“Who said that?” she asked.

I did. A spectral image appeared, floating slightly over the thick, brick-like collection of paper leaves bound in leather that lay near Charlie’s open hand. Letters were written on it in a strange dialect of English, which made Scheris think of a scroll, but folded instead of rolled. You’re the first one who’s been able to understand me since Charlie passed out. The image spoke without moving its lips, which gave Scheris the creeps. Go on, put him in the bed. the spirit urged. Scheris obeyed, with a little help from Lita. Scheris put the strange leather-bound, folded scroll on Charlie’s chest and folded his hands over it.

“Is it an angry ghost?” asked one of the Mages.

“I don’t think it...he...means any harm.” Scheris said. “Let’s just give Charlie some rest.” Everyone left the room, but Scheris took a hot bath and returned with the pack and stand, which she set up beside the bed. When she did, she saw that Charlie was surrounded by a glowing barrier. She settled into a large chair and watched him sleep.

* * *

“You’re losing your touch, boy!” said a man who looked like a cross between Ali Myrdhynn and the Dark Sage from Yu-Gi-Oh. “I’ve seen you satisfy an entire harem, but here you had trouble with two virgins! Pathetic!”

“Hey, they were O.D.’d on Eros powder, old man!” Charlie shouted back.

“Pah! Excuses, excuses! I think you’re ready for the rocking chair, you has-been!”

“Look who’s talking!” Charlie responded.

“Look behind you!” the old man countered. Charlie turned around and found himself face-to-face with a two-story monster with red-tipped, curving claws half as long as Charlie was tall, a head like a lynx with too many teeth and eyes like molten pus, and a body that was all rippling muscle in front and pointy protrusions in back. The creature pounced. Charlie leaped into the air, only to be struck by a fireball from the creature’s mouth.

The fireball didn’t bounce, it burned. The creature roared, and Charlie was paralyzed with fright. He hit the ground hard and felt his left arm snap. He cried out in pain, the creature roared in triumph and pounced again.

“Nyah!” Charlie cried, sitting up so quickly that the Grimoire of Tashi Myrdhynn was sent spine-first to the floor.

“Charlie! You’re awake!” Scheris exclaimed.

“That was a hell of a dream!” Charlie panted.

“Are you hungry?” she asked. “I could have something brought up. You’ve been asleep almost two days.” Charlie reached out and grabbed the backpack off its stand. Stretching out the drawstring all the way, he pulled out a pizza Steve had stuffed there and forgotten about. The smell woke Lita, who was napping in a chair nearby, so Charlie gave each of the girls a slice. He brought a six-pack of soda out of the bag as well—he’d once had a bad experience mixing pizza and beer—and showed them how to open the cans. There were only two slices left when they finished, so after dressing in some clean clothes Lita gave him—he wondered where his modern clothes were, as the toga and cloak were a bit breezy—he gave the remaining slices to the two guards he found posted outside the door. With his pack on his shoulder, Tashi Myrdhynn’s grimoire under one arm, and Scheris and Lita following in his wake, he made his way back to the palace entrance. Scheris got them into the library, and the semi-transparent image of Tashi Myrdhynn appeared, looking like a kid in a candy store.

The library was swarming with scribes frantically copying parchments by the light of glowing crystals hanging around their necks or stuck into headbands. Priests checked over the scribes’ work before rolling up the copies and stacking them in a rolling bin with thousands of others—one for age-yellowed originals, two for copies. There were dozens of other, similar bins being rolled somewhere else.

“Has anybody run across a time-travel spell yet?” he asked one of the priests.

“Only if there’s someone in another time you wish to bring to this one, which I don’t recommend.” the priest responded. “King August told us you might be asking, so we’ve been checking to see what each spell is supposed to do, in addition to checking for errors, despite the frantic pace to copy these records and get them safely away from Atlantis.”

“You don’t mind if we help, do you?” Charlie asked.

“Every extra hand helps.” the priest said, handing them each a six-inch shard of crystal.

“Charlie, I can’t read.” Lita whispered. Charlie put his hand on her shoulder and used the teaching-spell again. He took an armload of parchments and moved to a table where several other Mages were copying scrolls in triplicate with magic. Listening closely to Charlie as he cast it, Scheris was eventually able to cast the spell herself.

“Excuse me, but how much can that pocket dimension hold?” a soft, female voice asked. Charlie turned around and found himself locked in the gaze of a stunning creature in white silk, wearing an orichalcum circlet with sparkling jewels around its circumference and one softly-glowing amber bead at her forehead. Pulling himself away from those eyes with difficulty, he demonstrated by pulling out the metal ladder Steve had stuffed into it during his games.

“I’m told the storage capacity is infinite, just as long as everything you put in it fits through here.” he said. He set up the ladder, which a Mage used to get at more of the records on the upper shelves.

“It must have been made by someone very skilled.” the woman said with a smile.

“It was a gift.” Charlie responded.

“Would you consent to store copies of our records?” she asked.

“Of course!” he said instantly. The woman smiled even more dazzlingly and called a priest over, who began stuffing scrolls into Charlie’s pack. Lita, who had only managed to copy two scrolls in four hours, decided that she could be more profitably put to use helping with the sack-stuffing.

“What are you going to do with the other copies?” Charlie asked.

“There is another Great Library safely away from Atlantis in the east. One copy of everything will be sent there, there are plans to build two more, and the originals will be taken to a secret vault in the west.”

They continued working throughout the day and long into the night. It was only when Scheris shook him awake that he realized he’d fallen asleep. “Come on, you can’t possibly not be hungry.” she whispered. Her stomach growled to emphasize her point. Gathering up the snoozing Lita, he walked with Scheris out of the library, still wearing the glowing crystal around his neck. He was not looking forward to climbing all those stairs.

Realizing he didn’t have to, he had Scheris hook her arm in his elbow, and cast the spell to reduce gravity’s effect on them. They pushed off on a three count and made it to the palace in three bounds, much to the shock of the archers stationed there. He dismissed his spell and they walked the rest of the way to the throne room of the High King, where Avallan was holding court. At his side sat the woman from the library.

“Ah, Charlie, I wondered where you were! I haven’t had a chance to introduce my wife, Ina.” Avallan said.

“We’ve met.” the High Queen said with a tired smile. “He spent most of yesterday helping me in the library.” Lita roused, so Charlie put her down.

“Well, come along and we’ll break our fast together.” the High King said. As he walked with Avallan and the other kings (except for Sade, who still had not deigned make an appearance), Charlie noticed that the sword the High King was wearing looked strangely familiar. It was a moment later that he realized he had found the same sword in Amelie’s basement—somewhat dustier, but the very same sword. Now that he could read Atlantean, he could see that the letters on the scabbard read “None but a man of the Blood may draw this blade.”

Charlie sniffed the wine for Scheris and Lita when it was served, explaining to the High King that Scour had served the tainted wine in the guise of a servant. “Your caution is understandable, but I am no stranger to danger. This dining room is warded against poisons, assassins, illusion and hostile magicks. Anyone so much as having treasonous thoughts here will be revealed by the crimson flame which sprouts on their body even as they are consumed by it. And speaking of Scour, that was a very fitting punishment you devised for him. He almost didn’t survive, but my healers got to him before the bull he attempted to violate could finish him off. He’s in the dungeon, pining away for his,” he chuckled, “lost love, and restrained so he can’t commit suicide. We gave him a cell with a view on the bull pens, but it’s blocked, so he can only see the bull when he gives us the information we want.”

“The dungeon is warded as well?” Charlie asked.

“We have imprisoned sorcerers before, young Charlie.” the High King said with a smile.

“Sorry, but where I come from, magic isn’t as common as it is here.” Charlie said. Prince Clement joined them soon, dressed in common clothes and escorting a little girl who clung to the hem of his tunic and gazed wide-eyed at the royalty arrayed around the table.

“Glad you’ve decided to join us, Prince Clement.” the High King said. “And who is your adorable female companion?”

“Her name is Felice.” the prince said. “I found her while searching for my brothers, who had become separated from me while we were hunting.”

“Did you eventually find them?” Avallan asked. Clement nodded. “Well, that’s good. I was about to ask for you all.”

“They encountered a party of King Sade’s dragoons.” Clement said. “I arrived just as they were dispatching the last of them.”

“What of the girl?” Scheris asked.

“She was hiding under the ruins of her family’s roof. Her village had been sacked by others of Sade’s troops.” He knelt down beside the girl, who had sniffled and was starting to cry. “Felice, honey, would you please describe what you saw when the bad men came?” The child wiped off her face with the palms of her hands and stood up straight, making an awkward little curtsey to the High King.

“I was gathering herbs for Mommy when I heard screaming.” the girl said. “I ran back home and everything was on fire. I looked for Mommy, but all I found was her head. The house was flat on the ground, but I hid under it with Mommy’s head so they wouldn’t find it. There was a hole that the dogs had made. The bad men came, cutting people on purpose. They walked funny and their eyes were all white. It was scary.”

“Black magic of the worst kind!” grumbled one of the other kings. “We’ve enacted sanctions on King Sade before for making mindless soldiers out of war prisoners and his own villagers.”

“Where is your village, little one?” asked the remaining king.

“In the woods.” Felice responded innocently.

“Two hours southwest of here.” Clement filled in.

“That’s in my kingdom!” gasped the king who had spoken of the sanctions.

“I fear sanctions are no longer sufficient, King Samson.” Avallan said.

“Whatever you decide, the East Kingdom will support you, King Avallan.” said the other king.

“My gratitude, King Maximus.” Avallan said.

“South Kingdom supports you as well.” Samson said.

“The North Kingdom supports you as always, Majesty.” August said. Felice’s stomach grumbled. Avallan smiled and called for a stool for the girl. Charlie reached into his pack and pulled out a padded barstool, explaining to the High King about his pack and how he had taken it away from his roommate for playing with it.

“Wise. Magical items are not toys.” the High King said. Felice and Clement were served, and breakfast continued. The girl was given goat’s milk and fruit juice to drink with her food. When the meal concluded, Avallan suggested they go seek guidance in this matter.

* * *

Concealed by his hooded cloak, King Sade approached his contact, who was likewise concealed not only by his hood but by the shade of a tree that grew only here, in the foothills of Mount Atlas. “Good morrow, Your Highness.”

“Don’t call me that!” his contact whispered harshly, glancing around to see if anyone had overheard.

“I made sure no one was around before I approached you.” Sade said. “You gave a convincing performance with my dragoons.”

“Your dragoons gave a convincing performance with me.” his contact corrected, opening his cloak to display one of the wounds he’d received.

“Okay, let’s just say we each gave a convincing performance and leave it at that.” Sade said. “No one suspects you, not even your brothers, that’s the important thing.”

“On the bright side, I was able to get out of dining with the High King today, but it won’t keep; I won’t be able to make excuses for the whole visit, or they’ll get suspicious.”

“Oh, yes, that warded dining room.” King Sade said, as if only just remembering its existence. “Yes, it does present a bit of a problem, doesn’t it?”

“If you call spontaneous human combustion ‘a bit of a problem.’” Sade laughed.

“We’ll just have to move before you run out of excuses, then, won’t we?” the king asked. He held out a bottle of potion. “Get Scour out of prison and make him drink this. I didn’t go through all the trouble of getting him into your father’s court to have him pine away for a bull. Then, I want you to eliminate that nuisance, Charlie. But...bring me his bow, I kind of like it.”

“I imagine.” his contact remarked. “I saw the feathers fly when he shot them off your messenger’s helmet.”

“You just do your part. I will need someone to administer the North Kingdom when I am High King.”

“Of course. Have I given you any reason to mistrust me?”

“I mistrust everyone, why should you be any different?” King Sade said, and took his leave.

* * *

Deep in the bowels of the palace, they came to a mammoth chamber which was brightly lit by a crystal the size of a redwood tree, which hung a hundred feet in the air with no visible means of support. Even from way down here, it looked chewed-up, as if it had been knapped at for arrowheads.

“Whoa.” Charlie whispered. The crystal around his neck pulsed in time with this crystal’s pulsing. Servants picked up crystals from the floor.

“The Crystal of Atlantis.” Avallan said to those who had never seen the Crystal before. “It lights our lives in more ways than one. Occasionally, it drops shards of itself, which we use to bring light to places where torches and candles should not go. The power of the Crystal is as much in the smallest sliver as in the whole.” The Crystal shimmered, its light dimming, and it projected an image of giant waves, a view from a ship’s deck as it tipped helplessly into the trough of a wave so massive that the floor of the ocean was exposed—but that didn’t make much sense to Charlie, who remembered the wave-machine at the museum years ago. Actually, it wasn’t so much ocean floor as a pool of molten magma, but it was far too calm to be there as a result of an eruption.

“This is Hannity’s nightmare!” Scheris gasped, grasping Charlie’s arm painfully. Lita buried her face in Charlie’s chest, shrieking in fright. The illusion dissipated, and the Crystal resumed its previous brightness.

“You can let go now.” he whispered to Scheris, who released her grip on Charlie’s arm. He pulled her into his embrace next to Lita so he could comfort both of them at once. Clement was holding Felice in a very paternal manner while she cried on his shoulder.

“What does it mean?” Samson asked.

“The end of Atlantis.” Scheris sobbed.

“But not the end of the world.” Charlie said. “There will still be people after Atlantis is gone, and it will be remembered in legend as an advanced civilization.”

“You know this?” Avallan asked.

“Charlie was accidentally sent here from the distant future.”

“How far into the future?” asked Maximus.

“I couldn’t tell you exactly.” Charlie confessed. “Where I come from, we measure time by an event that hasn’t happened yet. The birth of a man, in fact. Most of what we know about Atlantis comes from the writings of a man called Plato, who lived three hundred years before then.”

“Do you know if anyone survives the cataclysm?” King Avallan asked, worry creeping into his voice. Charlie took off his backpack and pulled out the Atlantean sword—the older version of King Avallan’s sword.

“Well somebody had to take this from here for me to find it in my basement like I did.” Charlie said.

“The Sword of the Blood.” Avallan said, stroking his own.

“It could be a duplicate, made to look like the Sword.” suggested Samson. Charlie tried—and failed—to draw the blade. He passed it around to the others, but only Samson, Maximus, Clement, August and Avallan managed to draw the ancient blade. Most tellingly, the Crystal vibrated whenever the blade was drawn.

“This is the genuine Sword of the Blood, aged over two thousand years from my own, but genuine.” Avallan said, handing it back to Charlie, who put it away. “It means that there may still be time to save our race if not our home.” Charlie told of the oracle’s visit and what she had said. The discussion continued until the captain of the guards thumped the butt of his spear on the floor.

“Forgive the intrusion, Sires, but Scour is loose!” the captain said, wiping at blood as it ran out from under his helmet.

“Loose? How?” Avallan asked.

“Someone broke into the dungeon.” he slurred. Charlie took the man’s helmet off and began healing the wounds he found. “I didn’t see his face, but he took us down like an expert. By his fighting style, I would surmise he had received royal training.”

“Royal?” Avallan exclaimed. “That would be King Sade, then! The bastard!”

“What’s he after, anyway?” Charlie asked.

“Nothing short of the title of High King and the power of the Crystal of Atlantis, the Sword of the Blood and the other symbols of my office.” Avallan said.

“Avallan, please be careful!” urged Ina.

“Aren’t I always, my love?” Avallan asked affectionately. The Crystal pulsed, drawing everyone’s attention upwards. It glowed brightly, causing everyone, Charlie included, to shield their eyes. Charlie’s palm faced outwards as he did, and an arc of energy lanced down from the Crystal, striking his palm and shocking him a bit but leaving him unharmed.

“What the...?” he asked once the light had subsided. The energy bolt had left a mark in the palm of Charlie’s right hand like a stylized silver fire. There was no raised scar tissue, only discolored skin that glowed faintly when he moved his hand into shadow. No one seemed to know what the mark meant, but all agreed that if the Crystal had bestowed it upon him, it was sure to be potent and beneficent. The kings began to discuss the matters at hand, so involved in their discussion that everyone but Clement was ignored. Clement held Felice as if she were his own child. August, remembering everyone else’s presence, dismissed them with a wave before returning his full attention to the discussion. Charlie led the exodus out from the Crystal chamber, and managed to find his way back to his room. He invited the guard captain inside and inquired about any other injuries.

“Only bruises, sir, but thank you for your concern, and for healing the head injuries.” the captain said. Charlie reached into his pack and produced a bottle of Scotch labeled 1997, pouring two glasses and handing one to the captain. Servants appeared and laid out a tray of nibbles.

“What’s your name, Captain?” Charlie asked.

“Paxton, sir.” the captain responded.

“Call me Charlie.” Charlie said, tapping glasses with Paxton. “Do you have any children?”

“Yes, indeed.” Paxton replied cheerfully. He tasted his drink and, deciding he liked it, finished it off in his second draught. “Ahhh. Yes, I have a daughter with my first wife, two sons with my second wife, and a daughter and a son with my third wife.”

“What happened to the first two wives?” Charlie asked, concerned.

“Hmm? I’m still married to them. Are you from one of those countries that only allows a man to marry one woman at a time?”

“Yes, but I’m sort of bound to other women besides the one I married.” Charlie said. “Or, I guess it would be more accurate to say they’re bound to me. Well, both ways, actually.”

“There’s magic involved?” Paxton asked.

“Yeah.” Charlie responded. Paxton nodded.

“I don’t fully understand magic myself.” he said. “Some of the foreigners who have been brought to Atlantis for some reason or another claim that magic is itself inherently evil. But there are people like you, Charlie, who use magic to heal, and that can’t be evil, can it? Do you have any children?”

“A few on the way, but none born yet.” Charlie admitted. “I do have an enchanting niece and a little nephew thanks to my older brother, but I don’t spend enough time with them to consider it training.”

“The important thing is to be organized and work as a team.” Paxton said. “Don’t be afraid to get dirty, and don’t bite off your partners’ heads when they let you know you’re being a horse’s ass.” Charlie laughed.

* * *

Lita and Scheris walked the streets of the city in common guise—well, a guise for Scheris, anyway. Fresh fruit and information were the primary things they were after—a sense of the people’s mindset in the wake of growing rumors of doom and disaster. By and large, the people trusted King Avallan, a mark of a good ruler, but there were doubts that even he could come up with a solution to the end of the world. Lita and Scheris took every opportunity to spread the notion that it was just Atlantis that was in trouble, not the entire world. Scheris even dropped hints that a man from the future had come bearing the Sword of the Blood as a sign that there would be survivors. They were among the crowd when one of Avallan’s viziers made the formal announcement that something was being done to safeguard the people and knowledge of Atlantis in light of the “overwhelming weight of omens” being shown to its leaders.

“Portents and omens of disaster, they call it?” a voice asked. “Only for those who oppose me. Ha!” Scheris turned just in time to catch a glimpse of King Sade’s face before he joined three cloaked companions—his warlock, Pict, the Mage, Scour, and a third whose face was concealed entirely, not only by his hood but by a dust scarf across his mouth and nose—and the four of them departed. Together with Lita, Scheris followed them to the outskirts of the city. The quartet mounted a litter borne by four of Sade’s white-eyed shock troops. Lita stopped her before she could step outside the city walls.

“Out there, he can turn us into white-eyed slaves like them, and there’s no magic that can restore our minds if that happens.” Lita said. “I wouldn’t want to have to tell Charlie that you’re worse than dead, but a mindless slave of King Sade.”

“What about my father?” Scheris asked.

“Your father wouldn’t risk himself to save your unknowing husk or drive himself to exhaustion trying to find a way to restore your soul to it.” Lita said in English. “Come on.” She led Scheris back toward the center of the city. Someone came at them from an alley, but Lita jumped to his shoulders as if he were one of the bulls she used to dance, and popped him on top of the head with her fist. She shook her hand in pain, for the head was hard as a rock. Growling angrily, the man tried to strike her with the club he held, but Lita backflipped off his shoulders, and he ended up hitting himself with his own club. Someone else emerged from the alley, but Lita danced out of his way and grabbed his ear. Pulling hard, she forced him to run with her until he slammed into a wall. Her lighter frame was able to stop in time, but his was not. Someone grabbed Scheris from behind. The princess shrieked in fear. Lita ran, jumped, performed a triple somersault, and planted both of her feet in the face of Scheris’ assailant with a grunt of effort. There was a snapping sound, and the man crumpled, his limp arms releasing Scheris, who decided a hasty retreat was the sensible option and called out for Lita. Lita was at her side within a double handful of strides, and they made all possible speed back to the palace.

“Okay, maybe we should have brought a few disguised guards with us.” Scheris admitted as they ascended the palace steps, being sure to show their faces and especially Scheris’ circlet to the archers, whose number had tripled since Scour’s escape.

“Scheris, where have you been?” King August asked.

“Borrowing a scroll from Clement’s library, father.” Scheris responded. “There was a little trouble, but I had Lita with me, so it turned out all right.”

“Lita?” the king asked.

“Anyway, we had good reason to be in the copper zone of the city.” Scheris said. “I saw King Sade in disguise among the people. He scoffed at the announcement of the omens, saying they only spelled disaster for those who opposed him, and then he left with Pict and Scour and one other person whose face I didn’t see, and once they were outside the city, they got into a litter with four white-eyed slaves as bearers.”

“You didn’t step outside the gates, did you?” August asked, going pale under his sun tan.

“No, Father, I listened to the voice of reason this time.” Scheris said, patting Lita on the shoulder. August sighed with relief.

“With Sade involved, being outside the city gates alone is not safe.” August said. “I need you to promise to stay near the palace until the time comes to return home and prepare our own people for the coming exodus.”

“Do we have enough ships to get everyone away?” Scheris asked.

“Everyone?” August asked. “No, but we will build more. As many as we can in the time left. I want to save as many as possible, Scheris, but it may not be possible to save everyone.”

“Even with Charlie’s help?” Scheris asked.

“By his own admission, he is a novice.” August said. “A useful and talented novice with a versatile bag of tricks, but still a novice. You have to understand that.” Scheris sighed and retired to her room.

She couldn’t sleep. Every time she tried to close her eyes, she saw herself on the deck of a ship plunging into the trough of the biggest wave in the world, with molten rock at the bottom where water should be. She stared out at the moonlit city, her heart heavy with the thought that it all could end. She could almost see the waves rising above the horizon. She sighed and padded out of her room, down the hall and into Charlie’s room. The wards parted invitingly before her. Charlie slept in his bed, the “book” as he called it sitting on a nearby chair. Roused by her presence, Charlie opened one eye to see who had come, then scooted aside to give her room. She smiled as she crawled into bed with him, laying her head on his chest and allowing his slow and steady heartbeat to lull her to sleep at last.

* * *

The shriek of the High Queen woke everyone within hearing. Spell book in hand, Charlie charged in just behind Paxton. The High King’s bedchamber was full of guardsmen. Queen Ina’s klaxon call had altered to a wail of grief. Paxton pointed out the two puncture marks on the High King’s leg, and there was much speculation as to the cause. Charlie pulled Paxton away from the bed just in time, as a spider scampered out of the bedclothes toward the captain’s thigh. The taint of malicious magic roiled off the creature like fog from a block of dry ice. Charlie put a jar on top of the spider and slid it forward onto a piece of parchment from the king’s desk. Carefully, he inverted the jar and covered it, putting holes in the lid with Paxton’s belt dagger.

“What kind is this?” he asked, for his one summer working in a pet store and his experience with houses in less-than-perfect repair was of no help in identifying the creature.

“A yellow devil.” Paxton said. “It is not least not to this world.”

“A wizard, then?” Charlie asked.

“A warlock.” Paxton said. “But the wards in this area are set to admit only those of royal blood except in case of mortal danger within. With the recent events, Avallan...” Paxton paused, pain written very clearly on his face, “the High King would have had it further warded against entry by King Sade.”

“Captain Paxton, the Sword of the Blood is missing!” one of the other guards said. Sure enough, the two hooks over the bed where the sheathed Sword was usually kept stood empty. Charlie caught sight of the High King’s face, twisted in a rictus of agony, swollen and purple so that his whole body looked like a giant bruise. Charlie swore under his breath in English.

“Everyone, keep clear of the bedding, there may be more devil spiders.” Charlie said. “Look where you reach and where you step, keep your hands out of dark places, and keep a careful watch. I’ll be right back.” He opened the spell book and cast the transport spell. He found Hannity in the library, copying texts. “Hannity, we need your help.” Charlie said. “I’m going to take you to the High King’s rooms, okay?”

“What’s happened?” Hannity asked, picking himself up from his seat with difficulty. Charlie held up the spider, which was throwing itself against the glass boundaries of its enclosure. “Oh, gods! Who...the High King? And they managed to get into the High King’s chambers?” He gripped the edges of the table, his arms trembling.

“Hannity?” Charlie asked.

“Gods!” the old Mage sobbed. “Bad enough to lose the High King at this juncture, but in such a fashion!”

“This is way out of my experience, Hannity. We need...”

“I know. I know. I’m fine, now.” Hannity said, wiping his face. “What of his wife?”

“When I left her, she was fine...physically.” Charlie said.

“We have to get there. Can you take me?”

“That’s why I came.” Charlie responded.

“We have to warn them to stay away from the bedding, there could be more.”

“I did that.” Charlie said. “I have some experience with some of the aggressive spiders...of this world.” The yellow devil bunched up against the back of the jar and jumped forward, shaking its enclosure. Charlie steadied it with his other hand on the upper part of the jar—but on the sides, not the thin lid.

“Good boy, good boy.” Hannity said. Charlie muttered the transport-spell, and the library at Leone was replaced by the High King’s chambers, which had been cleared of everyone but Queen Ina and Captain Paxton, both of whom were sitting on long-legged chairs with their feet up in the seats.

“I don’t suppose there’s an antidote for this.” Charlie murmured.

“There is, but it has to be taken before you’re bitten, and it doesn’t last long, so you basically have to see it coming and down the potion while the thing’s jumping at you. Even then, you’re left with chronic pain for the rest of your life.” Hannity said. Charlie floated the bedspread into the air, followed by the sheet. The forelegs of a second spider poked out from under the pillow. Charlie picked up a clay jar as Hannity used a long stick to move the pillow, and together they captured the creature. Hannity covered the opening with a bronze shield which he affixed to the jar with a spell. He also reinforced Charlie’s jar. Charlie continued to search, but found no more spiders.

“Hell of a way to go.” Paxton said, tears streaming unashamedly down his face. Hannity began to search the rooms, examining the wards to see how the intruder might have gotten in. He cast an illusion, which showed the still-living High King slumbering soundly while a blurry, dark shape crept inside, taking the lid off a jar and hurling the two spiders to the bed like a frat boy throwing water on a freshman, before fleeing with all possible haste.

“Clever.” Hannity said. “Clever and utterly despicable. The wards are intact, which means that whoever did this was of the Blood and had no knowledge of the warlock arts. That eliminates both Sade and Pict.” He banished his illusion, not having the heart to watch the High King’s final moments. “Whoever did it was himself warded against precisely this kind of spell. All we know is that it was an adult male of royal blood.”

“All the other kings ate breakfast with the High King in his warded dining room.” Charlie said. “Crown Prince Clement showed up as well.”

“Thank you, Charlie, that narrows our list considerably.” Hannity said. Prince Clement burst into the room.

“My brothers are gone!” he exclaimed. “Oh, Hannity! I am glad you’re here, if not for the reason.”

“Back up, Your Highness, what do you mean your brothers are gone?” Charlie asked. Clement handed over a parchment with a conspicuous knife-hole.

King August

If you or the other kings wish to see your sons alive, suspend all plans to leave Atlantis and dispel ALL magical wards in and around Atlas City. Furthermore, I demand the head of the boy-Mage known as Charlie on a silver platter or gilded pike. Your choice. Your sons will be returned to you after my coronation as High King. If ALL of these demands are not met by tomorrow night, or if any sort of rescue is attempted, your sons will join the ranks of my mindless soldiers.

Seriously, Soon to be High King Sade

“How did you escape?” Hannity asked.

“I was with Father all day.” Clement said. “He’s checking on Scheris and Mother right now.” Charlie handed Clement the clear jar with the spider in it and left the room. Back in his own room, he found Scheris sobbing into his pillow. He picked up the chamber pot and grabbed some toilet paper from his backpack, then kissed Scheris on the shoulder before going behind the screen.

“Charlie, what are we going to do?” she asked.

“We’re not going to let Sade win, that’s for damn sure.” Charlie responded.

“What about Ina?” she asked. “She married Avallan even though they both knew he couldn’t give her children, because she loved him. What must she be going through right now?”

“In a word: hell.” Charlie replied. “I’ll do whatever I can, you know that. Resurrecting the dead is a little beyond my skill, though.”

“I know.” Scheris said. Charlie cleaned up, putting the used paper in the pot, whose contents he simply banished. He cleansed the inside with fire and put it back in its place, then washed his hands.

“Where’s your mother?” he asked.

“She and Father cried a while, then went back to their own room.” Scheris said. Lita came in, crying.

“I don’t want them to take you away!” the former bull-dancer sobbed, throwing herself into Charlie’s arms.

“Are they planning on giving in to Sade’s demands?” Charlie asked.

“I don’t know, but...” she began, but choked up and cried on his shoulder, which started Scheris crying again. Charlie held them both close until they stopped crying, then closed and warded the door. Scheris was already undressing in anticipation. When Charlie smiled, Lita began to do the same. Charlie’s clothes formed a pile on the floor, and he leaned Scheris back on the bed, positioning Lita over the princess’ mouth. Scheris obligingly began to lick at her friend’s snatch, drawing moans from the dancer’s throat. Charlie slid inside of Scheris, which made her moan and gasp, the vibrations of the sound transferring to Lita’s clit, which brought her her first orgasm. Scheris wasn’t too far behind, as Charlie’s cock pistoned into her with increasing speed. He varied the angle of his thrusts to hit her favorite spots, and her back arched as she tried to take all of him inside her during a fierce orgasm. He switched the girls’ places and inserted himself into Lita, who shivered and moaned, playing with her nipples as Charlie fed her the full length of his shaft.

Lita came twice more, her legs wrapping around Charlie’s hips in an effort to keep him inside her, before he fired a hot load of semen deep into her womb. She screamed into Scheris’ snatch, setting the princess off in turn. Scheris lay down beside Lita, her head lying next to the other girl’s right hip.

“Are you going to miss us when you go back to your time, Charlie?” Lita asked.

“I’m bringing the both of you forward with me.” Charlie said seriously, caressing them both. Scheris took his hand and moved it to her breast. He rubbed his thumb over her nipple and massaged the warm, soft mound. Lita sighed and drifted toward sleep. Just as she was slipping into slumber, an insistent knock sounded from the door. Charlie sighed and grabbed his clothes, putting them on before answering.

“If you break my sister’s heart, I’m going to have to kill you.” Clement said as soon as the door was open.

“No worries, Highness.” Charlie said with a salute.

“My father wants you to come with us.” Clement continued. “I’m going to try to rescue the other princes. Your job will be to distract him with a Duel Arcane.”

“Right.” Charlie said. He turned to the girls, who had dressed quickly and were making up the bed. “How long before we leave?”

“As soon as you’re ready.” Clement said.

“Give me some time to lay protection spells. It might be safest if the queens join Scheris and Lita here.”

“Don’t you have enough women already?” Clement asked. Charlie looked up and caught a slight teasing look in the Crown Prince’s eye, masking the hurt that lay deeper within.

“I have it on good authority that love is both my greatest strength and weakness.” Charlie replied with a wry smile. “I’ll finish quickly, and then we’ll go get your brothers back.” His smile vanished. “And make Sade wish he’d never been born.” Clement smiled at that, nodded once, then left, closing the door behind him. Charlie made a triple circle of protection around the room, including his original ward around the apartment, in case Sade should try any more evil animal tricks. He also reached into the backpack and pulled out four enchanted action-figures, setting a conditional activation on them the way Amelie had taught him. Golems weren’t easy to create, and the ones that changed sizes when activated required a lot of magical energy to recharge, but they were a useful tool when wards alone weren’t enough. Queen Ina entered, looking fragile and tired, followed by Queen Gwendolyn and little Felice.

“The other queens have elected to trust in the protection of their house Mages.” Clement said, his tone leaving no doubt as to his opinion of that idea. Hannity came in as well, settling himself into a chair. He examined one of the golemized action figures quizzically.

Fiat lux!“ Charlie said, and the wards flared to life.

“What were those strange figures in the circle?” the prince asked as they headed down the corridor.

“Heroes from my culture’s mythology.” Charlie responded. “Just an extra little bit of protection in case the wards I set aren’t enough.”

“I hope they’re not needed.” Clement said. “I hate to think of my sister’s well-being in the hands of painted idols.” While Charlie agreed with Clement in that he hoped the golems wouldn’t be necessary, there was no one he’d rather have protecting them than Wolverine, Superman, Super Saiyan 4 Gogeta and the Terminator.

They reached the base of the palace steps, and each climbed aboard a chariot. Clement gave him basic instructions; the horses were well-trained and even an inept driver (such as Charlie) could manage them without unreasonable difficulty. King August led on, and Charlie’s team just had to play follow the leader. Clement’s team circled around, leaving by another gate. One of the kings’ Mages had conjured a light rain to settle the dust and aid in Clement’s stealth. They met Sade’s army ten minutes out of the city.

“His head’s still attached!” Sade snarled accusingly.

“Under the Law of Bel, I challenge you to a Duel Arcane between our chosen champions, Sade!” August shouted so those of Sade’s army with wills of their own could hear. “If your champion wins, the other kings have agreed to capitulate to your wishes. If mine wins, you will return our sons alive and with their minds, bodies and souls intact!”

“What’s to stop me from having my mindless soldiers merely rip the both of you limb-from-limb?” Sade demanded.

“The fact that we have an army of our own, you sadistic bastard!” Charlie answered. He pulled a bag out of his backpack and handed it to August, whispering instructions on how to activate the golems inside. Since golems took so long to recharge, a large number was sometimes required, just in case.

“An army in a bag?” Sade asked. “Humph. Under the rules of Duel Arcane, you are not allowed to bring any weapons into the circle—and that includes your bag of plenty!”

“Fine.” Charlie said, handing the backpack to August. He stepped forward, halfway between the two kings. Sade called for a warlock named Helmut, whose close-cropped blonde hair, blue eyes and bulging muscles reminded Charlie of a Nazi propaganda poster he’d seen in history class.

“My Lord...” another person said.

“Silence, Pict! I chose my champion and you will abide by my decision!” Sade shouted. He whispered something to Pict, which seemed to placate him. He stood back, and Helmut stepped forward.

“I will destroy you.” the man said, his Atlantean heavily accented. “For the pride of my Aryan brothers, I will destroy your mind, then your soul, then your body.”

“You’re all talk, no magic.” Charlie responded. He began the incantation to cast the Dueling Ward—a magic circle to protect witnesses against the fearsome energies that could sometimes be unleashed. Duels Arcane were formal affairs, but he wasn’t going to count on his foe to play fair. Sure enough, no sooner had Helmut finished casting his half of the Ward than he conjured a flaming skull, completely bypassing the traditional granting or waiving of first-blow rights. Charlie leapt into the air, reducing gravity’s effect on himself. Helmut tried again, this time with a lightning spell, but Charlie made himself heavier—not enough to hurt himself when he landed, but enough to make the spell miss. Evasion wasn’t going to win this for him, however, and both combatants knew it. Charlie murmured his illusion spell, keeping his lips as still as possible, for if his enemy heard what words he was using, his cover would be blown. Closing his eyes, he brought forth the illusion of the monster from his dream—the hellcat.

“AAAAH! A THERZATHJE!!” Helmut shrieked, his voice rising two octaves. Charlie’s illusion pulled back its lips to reveal its awful teeth. Helmut gibbered, trying to work a spell to banish the nightmare. Charlie was already preparing his next attack.

“You fool! It’s a trick!” King Sade shouted from outside the ward. Charlie launched a blast of magical cold which struck Helmut like liquid nitrogen. He fell to the ground and shattered, and the Dueling Ward dissipated. Charlie frowned. Killing wasn’t his style.

“The duel is won!” King August declared.

“Kill him!” Sade roared, and his army began to lurch forward.

“August, the bag!” Charlie called. King August upended the sack Charlie had given him, and plastic dinosaurs and soldiers scattered onto the field. August spoke the words to activate the magic, and Amelie’s carefully-enchanted golems glowed brightly, growing to life-size and rising to their feet.

“Defend us!” August commanded, and the golems sprang into action. Anyone with an ounce of magical talent could command a golem if they were the ones who activated them, so they obeyed August just as readily as they would have obeyed Charlie or Amelie had they spoken the golems’ activation word.

Charlie reclaimed his backpack and pulled out the Sword of Judgment. He quickly found, however, that Sade’s mindless minions had nothing to judge. Those who served King Sade willingly, however, fell easily enough. There were far more zombies than servants, however, and Charlie put the sword away, relying on his magic, limited though it was by his training, rather than waste time looking into the eyes of his enemies to see which ones the sword would work on. This was going to be a long fight.

* * *

Since the army was occupied with August and Charlie, Prince Clement was free to approach the prison-wagon unmolested save for a few token guards who fell before his sword like wheat before the scythe. He was relieved to find that his brothers still had pupils.

Except that there was one missing. Just and Julien were tied up with the sons of the other kings. Clement unbound them with precise motions of his sword, letting them remove their own gags.

“We’ve got to warn Father!” Just said.

“Where’s Orel?” Clement asked.

“On Sade’s side.” Julien spat bitterly.

“Was he ensorcelled?” Clement asked.

“It would be easier to take if he were.” Just replied. “We have to warn Father!”

* * *

Pict’s transport spell had put him and his small squad of soldiers exactly where they needed to be. He cast a seeming of maidservants over them and made their swords look like baskets of laundry so they wouldn’t have to keep them sheathed. Thus disguised, they slipped past the palace guards and into the guest apartments, where the soldiers took the other kings and queens hostage.

In one room, the soldiers were confounded by a powerful ward. Pict confessed himself impressed. Whoever had set this ward was powerful indeed, if not very skilled. Within the wards, Pict found the High Queen, the women of August’s family and two females he didn’t recognize, along with that old fart, Hannity. Pict deftly unmade the wards, but a bright light made him cover his eyes. When he was able to look again, the women and the old man had been joined by four very strange-looking strangers. One of them balled his hands into fists, and metal blades emerged from between the knuckles. Two of the figures floated up into the air—one a strange half-ape being whose hair was arranged into triangular formations, and the other a man in tight-fitting blue clothes with something red around his pelvis and a red cape who wore an unfamiliar crest on his torso. The final figure, whose flesh had been partially peeled away to reveal a metal skull underneath and whose eyes were covered by something dark, drew an unfamiliar weapon and leveled it at Pict, who had the sense to get out of the way. There was a horrendously loud noise, and a hole appeared in the chest of the soldier who had been standing behind him.

Who the hell would create such disgustingly over-powered and strange-looking golems? Pict wondered as he rolled out of the way of a second blast. The blue one with the red cape picked up two soldiers and smashed their heads together like overripe fruit. The ape-man moved like lightning, swatting soldiers about like flies while. Hannity cackled like a madman. The one with the knives in his knuckles tore into the rest like a rabid weasel. Pict tried to get away, but Hannity would have none of it. Pict’s legs were quickly entangled with magic. In the time it took the warlock to unmake the binding, Hannity had prepared a new spell, opening a gate between dimensions and calling forth an Anu, a jackal-headed, upright-walking eater of demons and dark mages. The Anu howled as it allowed Hannity to ward it against spells of banishment, the only magic which could end the threat it posed. The golems were turning their attention to Pict, Hannity was protected by a much more clever warding than the ones that had been in place before, and the Anu would soon be free to consume him body and soul. Deciding that cowardice was the only course of survival open to him, he cast his spell of transportation again, reappearing near the field of battle.

* * *

King August paused to catch his breath, with no enemies in his immediate vicinity for the moment. His sharp warrior’s eyes caught sight of a familiar figure topping the rise. Joy flooded his heart as he recognized the familiar features of his family line, though at this distance it was hard to tell which of his sons it was. The figure caught sight of him and ran forward, calling out “Father! Father!” at the top of his lungs. August knew the timbre of the voice, and identification was made in an instant.

“Orel, my son!” August cried, running to meet him in the middle. Father and son embraced. “Oh, my dear youngest boy! How glad I am to embrace you in my arms!”

“And I as well, Father.” Orel said. His right hand patted August’s back, and then...

Something wasn’t right. Orel reached behind himself, pulling out a dagger, which was quickly plunged into August’s heart. Orel smiled a cruel smile, holding August up just long enough to relieve him of his Sword of Truth. Shock paralyzed the King as he fell to the blood-stained grass. There was no stink of dark magic on his son, which he had learned to recognize in his early training for self-defense, and there was no sign of regret in Orel’s eyes. He had done this of his own will? Why? There were sounds of battle—the crackle of lightning, the roar of fire and wind, the clash of steel—and then footfalls fleeing. There was a hand at his throat, and an ear at his mouth.

“Charlie?” he asked weakly.

“Yes, Your Majesty.” the young one said.

“Take care of my daughter, I beg you.” The words rattled as they left his mouth. Then, he was distracted by a light.

* * *

A cry of anguish was torn from Clement’s throat as he beheld the scene ahead. As golems of every description ran out of power and returned to their inert states, Clement could see Charlie kneeling beside King August, his bloody hands pressed over the King’s chest, trying desperately to heal him. Clement arrived, touching his father’s throat, but he was already gone. He wept. Charlie was still mumbling spells. Clement put his hand over both of the boy’s.

“He’s gone.” the Prince said. “Orel?” Charlie nodded, swore, and punched the ground.

“He took your father’s sword.” Charlie said. “August...told me to take care of Scheris.”

“She loves you, you know.” August said.

“Clement, I know you’re the one with the most claim on Orel’s life, but if I meet him first, I can’t promise restraint.”

“As long as he dies—soon—I won’t quibble over whose hand makes the stroke.” Clement said. Charlie grabbed his bag, slinging it over his shoulder, and washed the blood off his hands as best he could with his water skin. He wobbled and sank to his knees. Clement could sense that Charlie’s physical and magical reserves were depleted. The Royal Blood of Atlantis was strong with magical potential, though most of its members spent too much time being taught statecraft to dabble much in magic. Clement touched Charlie and focused on transferring some of his magical energy to the surprisingly clever young lad. Charlie reached into his pack and pulled out a bag of something, opening it and unwrapping two sticks of nuts coating a sticky, chewy substance and giving one to Clement. Charlie ate his and four more, and Clement took a second before they put the bag back in Charlie’s pack. Just and Julien wept over their father’s body.

“I think I can get all of us to the palace.” Charlie said. “The others need to be checked on. I wouldn’t put it past the likes of Sade and Pict to use this whole thing as a distraction.”

“You and Clement go.” Just said. “Julien and I must see to Father.”

“Get Orel, Clement.” Julien sobbed. “Make him pay!” Charlie put his hand on Clement, and the battlefield was replaced by Charlie’s room. Clement caught him before he fell to the floor.

“Charlie!” Scheris cried, wrapping her arms around him and picking him up with Lita’s help. The two women carried him to the bed and lay him down.

“I’m glad your brothers insisted Clement and I come alone.” Charlie said weakly. “I was wrong about being able to transport five.”

“What news, brother?” Scheris asked. “Did the other princes get out all right?”

“Orel has betrayed us.” Clement said. “He...he even killed...”

“Don’t joke like that, it’s not funny!” Scheris shrilled.

“He’s not joking.” Charlie said. “I saw him do it.” Hannity fell to his knees, his body wracked by mournful sobbing. Tears burned in Clement’s eyes as well. Felice put her arms around his waist, and he sank down to embrace her properly. His mother put her arms around them both and sobbed on Clement’s shoulder. He picked up Felice and rose to his feet, wiping his eyes and steeling his composure. He’d dreaded this day all his life. He hadn’t thought it would come so soon, or in such a way. In hindsight, Orel had always been the one most fascinated by the power of kingship. No one had ever thought he would resort to murder, but now that he had, Clement knew that his remaining brothers were at risk. Maybe Orel would simply kill Clement—if he could—and be satisfied with Just and Julien’s oaths of loyalty, but somehow, that seemed doubtful.

“Charlie, can you teach Hannity your transport spell?” Clement asked.

“I’m afraid he can’t even pry his eyes open right now, Clement.” Scheris said. “But maybe someone else can.” She held out Charlie’s “book” and the pages opened of their own accord. A spectral image appeared and spoke softly to Hannity. The Mage rose, wiped his face and nodded. The specter helped Hannity until he could repeat the words properly, then faded away.

“I’m ready, Your High...Your Majesty.” Hannity said. Both men felt a stab of grief which cracked their composure briefly.

“I need you to carry a proclamation back home, then wait for us at Rivermouth Port, where most of the shipbuilding is taking place.” Clement said. He went to Charlie’s desk, picking up pen and parchment, and wrote out his first real proclamation, sealing it with his personal seal since his father still had the Royal one. He handed it to Hannity. “I’ll see you as soon as I can, Hannity. You may be resigned to your impending demise, but our list of allies grows short. Do try to stay alive until our people are safely off Atlantis.”

“If that is you command, Majesty.” Hannity said, and used his newly-learned spell to disappear.

* * *

Jaxor stood dutifully at the wizard’s side as he unsealed a princely proclamation bearing Prince Clement’s personal seal. The people of the North Kingdom were gathered below the balcony to hear what Mage Hannity had to say. From the wetness of the Mage’s cheeks, Jaxor felt he knew what Hannity was going to say. It was only the beginning.

“Hear now the words of Clement, son of our beloved King August!” the Mage cried, his voice cracking at the end. He cleared his throat and continued. “Loyal citizens of our fair continent Atlantis, and even those not so loyal but not yet moved to betrayal, know that the King is...dead. Murdered by treason of Prince Orel,” at this, Jaxor dropped his spear, but Hannity continued, “who has allied himself with King Sade, who in turn would seize absolute power over all Atlantis at the expense of our lives. For this reason and others, Orel has been duly disowned. Should anything unfortunate befall Clement, Just and Julien, the crown shall fall to Clement’s uncle Alistair. You may have heard rumors that Atlantis’ days are numbered. In light of the omens and portents, it is the judgment of the surviving Kings that Atlantis should be evacuated. Carpenters and craftsmen have been dispatched to the coast already to begin constructing the ships that will effect this exodus. Our civilization will continue, despite the efforts of traitors. The remaining citizens will relocate to the coast so the exodus may commence as soon as possible, and so that as many lives as possible may be saved—with the following exceptions: The traitors Orel and Sade are to be prevented from leaving Atlantis if at all possible.” Hannity lowered the parchment and seemed to deflate briefly, his shoulders shaking with sadness. The people took this as a cue to begin mourning their lost King, and mourn they did, for August had been a good and much-loved King. Even Jaxor, who had been demoted several times for overly officious behavior, abuse of authority, and most recently shock-rod abuse, hung his head in sadness.

* * *

The Anu followed the scent of its target’s magic. It had sucked a demon from a girl’s body, eaten an unjust dabbler and flushed a nest of Incubi, munching three of the slowest before the rest managed to escape on their little batty wings which sprouted from the small of their backs. They were only snacks. The Anu could smell the reek of malice from its intended prey, and it was drawn like a vulture to a carcass. It would feast on the evil of the warlock called Pict, then return to its own plane to lick its chops and relish the suffering of its prey as he was digested, body and soul, over a length of time directly proportionate to the suffering he had caused.

The Anu howled, increasing its pace.

* * *

Charlie awoke from a dream that faded as soon as his eyes were open, leaving behind a sense of grief. No more dead friends! Charlie thought angrily. Scheris was curled up at his left side, the wetness of her tears soaking the shoulder of his toga. He kissed her temple and rose. His stomach had figured out he was awake, and it was snarling at him. He found his modern clothes folded on a chair and changed into those. The grimoire was on the desk (or what he had been using for a desk when one was called for), but his backpack was gone.

“Oh, good, you’re awake.” Paxton said as Charlie emerged. “Queen Ina wants to see you as soon as you’re able.”

“How long was I out?” Charlie asked.

“You slept through the funeral. We sent the Kings to the Gods in the same ceremony. The princes and queens have been sent ahead to help direct the exodus—Prince Clement wants the ships to leave as soon as they’re full, rather than waiting until the last minute. Scheris refuses to leave you, and Felice is just as bad about Clement, who’s staying here with the other kings.”

“Where’s my backpack?” Charlie asked.

“Lita and Ina have been to the Library every day with it since you passed out almost three days ago. Scheris joins them when she can muster the spirit.” Paxton said. He steered Charlie into the warded dining room and planted him in a chair a little harder than was strictly necessary. Charlie was hungry enough that he didn’t really care that he was presented with what was basically haggis in cream gravy, with mushy green veggies, oat bread and goat’s milk. The thought of it did manage to keep him from over-eating, however. Fatigue returned as soon as the need for food had abated, and he fell asleep at the table.

He woke again, once more in his bed. This time, Lita was there as well. Charlie grabbed his toilet paper out of his pack and used the chamber pot. He sighed. He missed flush toilets almost as much as he missed his women back in his own time.

“Charlie!” Scheris called as Charlie returned from doing his business. He hugged her as her squeals of glee woke Lita, who joined the enthusiastic greetings. Paxton opened the door and smiled.

“Feeling more recovered now, friend Charlie?” he asked.

“Uh...Queen Ina still wants me, right?” Charlie asked. Paxton smiled and nodded. Charlie kissed the girls and promised to return. Paxton led him to the quarters the High Queen was using—not that Charlie could blame her for being unable to bear being in the suite she had shared with King Avallan. Ina warded the door once they were alone.

“You should take better care of yourself.” she said.

“I could say the same to you.” Charlie responded, gesturing to her gown, which hung more loosely on her body than it had last time he’d seen it. He led her to a table and reached into his pack, pulling out the trays Steve had smuggled out of a buffet restaurant and a package of paper plates. He served them both generous helpings of the stolen food, putting the trays back so they wouldn’t get cold, and began to coax and cajole Ina into eating. He poured Mountain Dew from a two-liter bottle into their goblets, which she sniffed curiously. He distracted her from her grief by talking about his own world, casting illusions where appropriate. The conversation drifted toward his harem, and she noted the longing in his voice.

“You are a strange man, Charlie, but in a good way.” she said. Charlie instinctively responded to her longing, and she responded affirmatively to his touch and his kiss. She moaned softly as he caressed her body. “Oh! Mmmm, you’re very good at this!” she whispered. He kissed her again, slowly sliding her gown off her shoulders until it puddled at her feet. She took off her headdress and lay it on the floor, then helped him undress. She gasped as his cock sprang into view. He could tell by the look in her eyes that she hadn’t seen one that big before. He guided her to her feet and kissed her again, stimulating her nipples with his thumbs as he eased her into the bed. She was tight, but well-lubed as he slid inside her. She thrust her hips up to meet him each time he thrust into her, screaming something into her hand as she came the first time. Charlie repositioned her so she was on top, his hands on her hips as he lifted her up and down on him. Her hands came up to grope her breasts as he continued his ministrations. She bit her lip, shuddering through another orgasm. Charlie pulled out briefly and positioned her on her hands and knees, re-inserting himself from behind, whispering encouragement in her ear as he led her toward number three. She screamed his name and clenched up on him as he fired his seed into her. She collapsed into an exhausted sleep. Charlie availed himself of her bath, heating the water with his magic, before he dressed and covered the still-sleeping High Queen. He examined her wards before he left, and found them more than satisfactory—at least, he didn’t feel he could improve upon them.

He stuffed the spent golems into his pack. They’d had just enough time to annihilate Sade’s soldiers and rescue the queens before running out of power. He had one golem left, a Predator action figure whose services he was hoping not to need. He checked to make sure everything was still in its place, including the sword Clement had given him, which would be more reliable in battle with Sade’s forces than the other one. Charlie had, in turn, given Clement the “old” Sword of the Blood. If Sade or Orel had the newer one, Clement would be needing it. He sat on the bed, settling the Predator nearby.

“Charlie?” Clement asked, opening the door slowly.

“Come on in.” Charlie said. Clement finished his entry.

“We leave tomorrow. You should rest as much as you can. We need all our Mages at top strength.”

“How’s your kid?” Charlie asked.

“My...?” Clement began, then smiled. “She seems to be coping. She slips into my room at night, though. It’s the only way she gets any sleep.” Charlie nodded.

“You’re good for each other, I think.” he said. Clement smiled.

“So does my sister.” he chuckled. “And so does Felice.” Charlie reached into his pack and brought out a quart of Rocky Road.

“Here. Take a break from kingly matters and claim some joy. God knows there’s little enough of it.”

“What is this?”

“Rocky Road ice cream. If either of you don’t like that, I have some chocolate, vanilla or strawberry ice cream in here too.” He tossed two metal spoons to the young King.

“’Rocky Road?’” Clement asked.

“Just try it. Go on, before it melts.” Clement left, his place taken quickly by Scheris and Lita, wheeling a bin of scrolls between them.

“This is the last of them.” Lita said. She and Scheris helped stuff the scrolls in Charlie’s pack. “Is Her Majesty all right?”

“She will be, I think.” Charlie said. “How about you?” He touched the girls’ hands, and they took his between theirs.

“I’m glad we have you.” Scheris said. Charlie kissed them and warded the door. They undressed quickly, eager for the joy he brought them. Charlie lay Lita back, positioning Scheris on her elbows and knees before her. The princess was already licking the dancer when Charlie slid into her from behind. Scheris ground back against him as best she could without disengaging from Lita, who was enjoying the vibrations of her friend’s voice as much as her tongue. The two came almost simultaneously. Charlie kept going, bringing Scheris two more orgasms before he came with a final thrust deep into her womb. The princess passed out, lying limply with her head on Lita’s leg. He gently repositioned her at the side of the bed so she could nap. Lita shivered with anticipation as Charlie prepared to give her the same treatment. If anything, the dancer was more appreciative, screaming into Charlie’s pillow several times, until she joined the princess in unconsciousness. Charlie didn’t have the same satisfaction of her reaction as he came inside her as he had had with Scheris, because she was beyond reaction when he did. Not in the least bit tired, Charlie grabbed his clothes and went to the kitchen, snacking on leftovers from the funeral feast—which was actually a convenient way to reduce the amount of food that had to be carted to the coast. The crystal shard hanging from his neck buzzed a warning that something bad was about to happen. Grabbing a shank of mutton, Charlie followed its directions up through the service corridors to the outside, where by the light of the moon, he could see Sade’s army swarming like ants outside the city walls.

“Damn.” he grumbled.

* * *

Hannity appeared in Charlie’s room, but found only Scheris and Lita snoozing happily, well-pleased with his carnal ministrations. I swear to all the gods, if that boy breaks the Princess’ heart, I’ll kill him myself. the Mage thought to himself. Charlie entered then, looking very serious for someone who had just screwed two very attractive women. He nodded once to Hannity and shook the girls awake. They rubbed their eyes tiredly and looked up at him with blissful smiles. Charlie’s expression told how much he didn’t want to interrupt that post-coital bliss, but something was very wrong.

“Sade’s at the gates with his whole army.” he said quietly. The women were instantly fully awake, sitting up straight.

“Not the whole army, I’m afraid.” Hannity said. “I could have sworn his whole army was outside Rivermouth Port the way they swarm. It’s lucky I thought to ward the city against his mindless minions and anyone who knew the spell to create them.” Charlie gaped at Hannity and showed him an illusion of what he’d seen from the top of the palace steps. Hannity showed an illusion of his own, and everyone gave a full-body shudder.

“How could he have such a vast army?” Scheris asked.

“My guess is he’s droned or drafted everyone in his kingdom and every unprotected mind he’s come across since then.” Charlie said. He was about to go on, when he sensed something amiss outside.

“Damn! He’s setting up wards against transportation magic!” Hannity swore.

“With that army outside, it won’t be easy to sneak out.” Charlie said.

“Do you have any golems left?” Hannity asked. Charlie held up his Predator figure.

“How about you, got any tricks?”

“A few, but I cant’ use my best ones with Sade’s wards in place.” the old Mage said. “My summonings are all transportation magic.”

“If I’m ever going home, I have to break those wards or get outside of them anyway.” Charlie said.

“Shouldn’t you warn the kings?” Hannity asked. “You’re faster.”

“I already did.” Charlie said.

“Good man.” Hannity responded. The girls rushed to get dressed. There was a commotion outside, and a green fog began to seep under the door. Charlie used a wind-spell to keep it at bay, but there was even more fog outside, and the spell only drew that in more quickly. Hannity recognized the smell immediately, and knew that fighting the sleepiness that stole over him was futile, but he tried anyway.

And failed.

* * *

Charlie awoke with the worst headache ever. He mumbled a healing spell out of habit before he sat up. When he opened his eyes, he found himself in a dungeon cell. Everything in his pockets and the sword he’d been wearing had been taken, and his pack was sitting next to a smirking guard, who was idly munching on a tray of fried chicken drumsticks he’d withdrawn therefrom. Charlie wasn’t alone. Clement, Scheris, Lita, Hannity, Ina, Felice, Paxton and several of the house guard were piled like so many bags of flour into the cell with him. He went to them one by one, using his healing spell to awaken them. Then, he turned his attention to the bars and walls, which were warded against any spell that could be used to escape.

Well, most of them, anyway. He gathered everyone to the back, gesturing for silence. With everyone out of the guard’s sight, he cast his spell of invisibility.

“Don’t even think about trying to escape, you half-trained halfwit!” the guard said, striding to the cell door. His jaw dropped as he gazed upon the apparently empty cell. He unlocked the door, peering up above before fully entering and poking his rapier into the straw. Clement clubbed him with both of his clenched fists, knocking him out. Charlie took the man’s keys and unlocked the rest of the cells, canceling his spell to avoid draining his reserves any further.

“My Predator golem, my swords, my bow and arrows, my book and my shard aren’t here.” Charlie said when he finished .

“Of course not.” Hannity said. “Sade wants them for himself.”

“Time to fulfill some destiny.” Charlie said. “We’re going to have to move pretty fast once we get started, though.”

“What destiny?” Scheris asked. Charlie held open his pack and lowered it so it could be stepped into.

“Step in, Felice. It’ll just feel like a moment, then I’ll pull you back out, OK?” he said in his most encouraging voice. Felice backed into Clement’s arms.

“Is there anything in there that can hurt me?” she asked.

“Nothing can hurt you in here, I promise.” Charlie said. Clement held the child, kissed her, and placed her gently within the dark circle of the bag’s drawstring. She sank quickly inside. Charlie did the same for his lovers, for Queen Gwendolyn and for Paxton’s family. The other guards and kings had sent their families ahead to Rivermouth. “You too, Hannity.”

“No, thanks.” Hannity said. “I don’t want to outlive my home, Charlie, and you’ll need my magic to defend against Sade’s.”

“I don’t have time to argue, old man.” Charlie said, throwing a quick punch that sent the Mage sprawling, unconscious. “Sorry.” he said, picking him up and putting him in the pack with the others. Clement, armed with the unconscious soldier’s rapier, led the way as Charlie shouldered his pack. Using the soldier’s mug of ale, Charlie scried for the book, finding it with Sade, Pict, Scour and Charlie’s confiscated property in the Crystal room. Charlie withdrew everything from his pack he thought could be used as a weapon, from a machete that glowed a different color according to the mood of its holder and a shotgun with only two shells to a brass hat rack (his wooden one was still in his room), a barbecue lighter and a can of hairspray, a crowbar and even a pepper shaker.

“What good is that?” Clement asked, gesturing to the shaker, which Charlie was pocketing when nobody else decided to claim it.

“Throw some in somebody’s face to blind them.” Charlie responded. “Come on, they’re in the Crystal room.”

“The power of the Crystal in Sade’s hands...” shivered one of the Mages.

“Not to mention two Swords of the Blood.” Charlie said. “What does that do, anyway?”

“It’s said to be able to slay a thousand foes with a single swing.” Clement said.

“Oh, peachy.” Charlie said. “Just, Julien, you two lead a group outside. Take half the Mages with you. Hopefully, they can break the wards and let us transport out of here.” He touched one of the Mages’ shoulder, muttering the teaching-spell and letting him learn all the magic Charlie knew so far. With that knowledge, he should be able to transport the party to Rivermouth once the wards were gone.

Armed with his pepper shaker, his hair spray and lighter and with his shotgun strapped over his shoulder, Charlie followed Clement to the Crystal chamber, skirmishing with Sade’s soldiers as they encountered them. Charlie flicked his lighter on and sprayed across it when they came to the chamber, setting two of the four guards posted there on fire. Clement stabbed another between the ribs and Paxton used the machete to slice the throat of the last one.

“So, our youngest King has come to die.” Sade said. “Scour, continue the incantation.” Scour didn’t acknowledge. His hands were raised to the Crystal, muttering harsh syllables under his breath. Sade began a spell of his own, black lightning crackling at his fingertips. Charlie stepped between the two kings as Sade loosed his spell. The black lightning bounced off Charlie’s chest, and Sade had just enough time to shit himself before he was struck by his own evil. The death of King Sade of the West Kingdom, would-be usurper of the High King’s throne, was as flashy and undeservedly cool-looking as Starscream’s had been in the Transformers movie in 1986. Pict stared in shock as King Sade crumbled to ashes, the Sword of the Blood he wore clattering loudly to the floor along with the compound bow.

“That’s the first time I’ve ever been glad somebody died.” Charlie said. “May it be the last.”

“Fourth from last.” Clement suggested. Pict glared at Charlie. Orel just smirked.

“My thanks for the promotion, Charlie.” Orel said. “Scour, can you change the spell so I become the beneficiary?” Scour merely nodded once, not once breaking his pacing. Charlie decided to change that, dropping his lighter and can and bringing the shotgun to bear from close range. The report of the firearm echoed loudly in the chamber, stopping Scour’s spell instantly and sending him sprawling to the floor. He looked down at the gaping hole in his chest and cast a particularly offended look at Charlie before going limp.

“You idiot!” Orel shouted as Charlie reclaimed his things. “With the spell unfinished, there’s no telling what’s going to happen!” The Crystal of Atlantis began pulsing in a way Charlie had never seen it pulse.

“Oh, no!” cried one of the Mages. “We must leave at once!” Charlie could sense danger from the growing pulses. He stuffed his shard into his bag along with the rest of his things, and handed the Sword of the Blood to Clement.

“The wards are shattered!” Pict reported, grabbing Orel’s shoulder. He cast a transportation spell and the two disappeared.

“Let’s get going, Your Majesty.” Charlie said. “I still owe Pict a roasting.” One of the Mages cast a spell, and the world lurched. Charlie, Clement and several of the other Mages threw up as the port of Rivermouth materialized around them. “Thanks.” Charlie said queasily.

“Oh, no!” Paxton said, his finger pointing to the harbor, where several ships bearing a flag Charlie guessed belonged to King Sade were attacking ships leaving the harbor. Meanwhile, at the city walls, Sade’s mindless warriors were overrunning the defenders.

“Your Majesty, your sword is going to be needed in that direction, I think.” Charlie said, pointing toward the walls. He nodded and rushed in that direction, drawing the old sword. Charlie led the rest toward the harbor, where they commandeered a ship. Charlie had one of the Mages cast a wind spell into the sails while he cast fire at all the ships bearing Sade’s flag.

* * *

Clement was amazed at the power of the Sword the first time he swung it. He wasn’t sure if it was actually a thousand, but a great many mindless soldiers were destroyed without a trace. A downward slash resulted in a ground-hugging blast-wave that left boiling, glowing earth in its wake. Several of Sade’s Mages brought demons to bear on the defenders, but they were all destroyed by the Sword. He was glad to be well in front of the rest of his men, who were probably feeling superfluous at the moment. Another blast, which annihilated many of the defenders, announced the arrival of Orel. The Sword’s scabbard cast a barrier to protect Clement himself, however.

“I don’t suppose if I wave this in your general direction you’ll be wiped out like the zombies, the demons and the other Mages, will you?” Clement asked dryly. Pict cowered behind the traitor, then, guessing that the immediate vicinity of a duel between two Swords of the Blood wasn’t the safest place, vanished with a hasty spell.

“Nor, I suppose, will you.” Orel responded. “It looks like it comes down to old-fashioned swordplay.”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way, traitor!” Clement yelled. “I want to feel you die!” He charged. Orel’s dodge was almost fast enough, but not quite, as the Sword nicked his cheek. Orel returned with a slash of his own, which notched Clement’s ear. The two Swords clashed together, power erupting around them, scarring the ground but leaving the combatants untouched. Concern for the surviving defenders cut through Clement’s anger, and he was able to clear his mind. He remembered their training. Orel had always been a sucker for a false opening. He put a frustrated look on his face and allowed Orel to parry several more blows. Seeing what he thought was an opening, Orel committed himself to a killing thrust. Clement whirled out of the way and slashed his foe through the belly and out the back while he was off-balance. His eyes and mouth were wide open when he fell in two pieces to the ground. Clement wiped the blade of his Sword on Orel’s pants and sheathed it, then sheathed the newer Sword, holding it in his hand with its future self as he relieved Orel of King August’s sword of Truth.

“You never...wanted...the’t...I...have it?” Orel croaked, and his eyes fluttered closed. Clement scowled and turned his back on the two halves of Orel. Just and Julien ran to meet him.

“What are you doing here?” he demanded of them. “Get on one of the remaining ships! Sade did something to the Crystal!”

“Oh, Gods!” Just gasped. Clement shoved the newer sword into Just’s hands.

“Go on, both of you!” he commanded. They sent two of their Mages with him, and both groups loaded a ship each with as many people as they could cram onto it, then launched them with the aid of magic. The Mages filled the sails with wind, pushing them forward against the tide. He stood at the stern, watching fair Atlantis recede from view.

“’Ware boarders!” came the cry as one of Sade’s ships pulled up alongside. Clement waved his sword at the ship, splitting it in two and sending it to the bottom of the harbor.

“It’s Pict!” cried one of the Mages. “I’d know the stink of his dark magic anywhere!”

“He’s going to ram the ship with Sir Charlie on it!” cried the other. Clement ran to the bow, watching miserably as the ship plunged through the water toward the ship that Charlie—with Scheris, Hannity, Queen Gwendolyn and Felice in his pack—was trying to get as far from the island-continent as possible.

“Mage, can you get me there?” he asked desperately.

“Brace yourself, Your Majesty!” the Mage said, first casting a spell that made Clement as light as a feather, and then another that made a gust of wind blow him across the intervening distance between the two ships. His weight came back to him, dropping him into the rigging. He disentangled himself and made it to the deck, at least.

* * *

The anu stood at the shore of the ocean, sighting its prey at last, on a ship far from land. The warlock had taken the helm of the ship and was trying to ram one of the escape vessels. Pulling back its lips from its teeth in what humans often mistook for a smile, the anu took a running start and leapt into the surf, swimming out of the harbor with powerful strokes of its limbs and salivating with anticipation. This prey was wily, but the anu bore the weight of inevitability like a sword.

* * *

Paxton warned Charlie of the would-be battering ram. Pict was at the helm, an evil gale at his back.

“Come get some.” Charlie said, conjuring a very large ball of flame in his upraised hands. Pict saw it and tried to steer away, but Charlie had had enough of warlocks and power-hungry rulers and anyone who served them willingly. The ball engulfed Pict’s ship, sending the screaming warlock into the sea. Charlie poured even more wind into the sails of the ship he was in, and the floating firebrand missed by inches.

“Nice work.” Clement said. “I was all set to help you, but it looks like you didn’t need it.” Charlie put his arm over Clement’s shoulders, and his other arm over Paxton’s.

“The important thing is we’re alive, and our families are safe.”

“I sent the young Sword with my brothers in another ship.” Clement said.

“Good.” Charlie said. “Looks like destiny’s just about on track.”

“Just one more thing, young Archmage-to-be.” said Nyramani, pointing back toward Atlantis. A dome of energy expanded from the center to engulf the whole island and the harbor. Charlie instinctively held tighter to his friends as the dome faded, revealing a gaping hole in the ocean. The ocean and winds moved to fill the gap, and several of the closer ships began to tip over the edge. Charlie could swear he even saw the Egyptian god Anubis trying to swim away from the maelstrom.

“Oh, shiiiiiiiiit!” exclaimed Charlie. The deck dropped out from under him, and he, Clement and Paxton were falling. Each grabbed a tree branch on their way down. Charlie’s branch gave way under the combination of his weight and momentum, but he grabbed another lower down that held.

“We did it!” Annemarie’s voice enthused. Charlie looked down and saw his jubilant harem dancing about the campsite. Pict, charred and two thousand plus years older, was tied up nearby, glowering up at him.

“Sanna, sweetie, remind me later to ask the Myrdhynns if any of them know a time-travel spell that doesn’t involve me ending up in a tree.” he called down.

“Anything you want, Master!” Sanna sobbed happily. She wiped her face and cast a spell, and Charlie felt himself becoming lighter. He let go, and the other two followed suit, floating down to the ground as gently as goose down.

“Damn you to a thousand hells, you bastard!” shrilled the bound warlock.

“My fate is not in your hands, Pict.” Charlie said in Atlantean. “Speaking of fate, it’s your fault I was in Atlantis in the first place, O Duke of Deep-Fried. It’s your fault I was there to oppose King Sade, your fault I was there to roast you. It’s thanks to you I was able to rescue certain members of the Atlantean race and bring them forward in time. So, you’ll understand if I take my time figuring out what to do with you.”

With a crash and a snarl, the Egyptian god of death (or a reasonable facsimile) shoved two of the trees aside. It reached into the wards as if they weren’t there and grabbed Pict like a bit of finger food, tossed him screaming into the air, and snapped its jaws on the leathery hide. Charlie’s harem gathered around him as the beast finished its snack and licked its chops, figuring that wouldn’t be enough to satisfy it. To their surprise, it faded away with what Charlie thought was a relieved look on its canine face.

“That...that!“ Amelie stuttered. “They eat dark mages!”

“Well, either you’re no longer dark enough to attract it, or it was summoned for the express purpose of eating that particular warlock.” Charlie said. “Relax.” She threw herself into his arms, sobbing on his shoulder.

“We were afraid we’d lost you, Master!” Kamilah sobbed, joining in the crying fest. He was awash in a sea of weeping women, all in need of comforting.

“How long was I gone?” he asked, wondering if he’d have to take the semester again.

“A few hours.” Hato said.

“It felt like a few eternities!” Amelie sobbed.

“Okay, I guess I can rough it for a while longer.” Charlie said. “Just let me unpack. By the way, Amelie, I’m afraid I used up most of the golems.”

“What?” Amelie gasped. “You must have had an interesting few hours, Master.”

“Actually, for me it was eight weeks, but I’ll be happy to tell you all about it after we’ve made camp.”

* * *

The shard of the Crystal of Atlantis glowed placidly as Charlie set it on his nightstand. His gaze fell upon the palm of his right hand, and the glowing mark thereon. He still didn’t know what it did—the Myrdhynns were as clueless on that score as he was—but he trusted the Atlantean kings’ judgment that it was a good thing. The trip to see the archmages hadn’t been a total loss, however. Ali Myrdhynn had, in his garden, plants whose roots could be made into a potion to shrink moles and tumors. Hannity would be back to his old self again in a few weeks. The price the head archmage had set on the service was reasonable—Charlie would have to devote some of Amelie’s land to growing more of the plants, to replace the ones used to treat Hannity. Clement had given Charlie his father’s Sword of Truth to help repay a debt he owed the Catholic Church—the theft and disposal of the sword Wizardsbane. Charlie had added his own Sword of Judgment to the payment—the Good Book did say to restore double, after all, and these swords were not designed with the express purpose of killing the sorcerous. The Pope, for his part, had seemed pleased that Charlie wanted to make recompense for his actions.

Ina wrapped her arms around him from behind, smelling of Chelsea Smith’s body wash. He disengaged her grip and brought her around to the front of him so he could kiss her.

“Love truly is your greatest power.” she said when her mouth was free to do so, as she molded her body against him. “I want to thank you for giving me the strength to live on.”

“Are you going somewhere?” Charlie asked. She shook her head.

“Barring misfortune, no. But...I’ve learned not to leave things unsaid.”

“We’re home!” called Claudia’s voice from downstairs. Charlie led Ina down. He stopped short at the sight of Steve, who was as red as the lobster on a restaurant sign.

“Holy shit, dude!” Charlie chuckled. He stepped forward and put his hands on Steve’s shoulders, already speaking the words of his favorite healing spell. The redness faded, and Steve sighed in relief. “Did you forget your sunscreen?” he asked. Steve nodded.

“And he got drunk and passed out on the beach.” Claudia added.

“I wasn’t drunk, I was drugged and robbed!” Steve said. “I’m just lucky I left my passport and tickets in the hotel room! I hate Mexico!”

“Well, maybe the present I brought you will make you feel better.” Charlie said, patting Steve’s shoulder. He went upstairs and got the amphora prod out of his pack, looping his arm in the shoulder straps and holding the prod carefully. “Here we are, one Atlantean tazer.” he said as he handed the artifact over. “Don’t touch the metal part.”

“Cool.” Steve said, looking it over. “Where’d you find this?”

“In Atlantis.” Charlie said.

“Okay, you’re gonna have to explain that part.” Steve responded.

“Sure thing, but first, I need to introduce you to our new houseguests. Some of them are just sticking around long enough to get used to this new era they’ve found themselves in before they move into one of Amelie’s other houses, so don’t worry if it seems a little crowded.”

To be continued...