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All the Heavens - Title

Chapter 45

Talk to stop the fighting. Fight to stop the talking.
– The Proverbs of Shedey’uwr

The tiny cabin of the Wanderer was quiet for a long time, each of them lost in their own thoughts.

Horace and Jon, despite their generally opposing outlooks on life, shared much the same views on their current situation. They thought Marak and Taanen should be killed and Illene left to her fate. It was unfortunate she had to die, but they didn’t feel they had an obligation to go charging into a trap on her behalf. Their viewpoint was straightforward and simple but their friend’s viewpoints were more obscure and convoluted.

Katrina was finally getting to see distant and foreign lands for the first time in her life. Their time spent drifting in the void, while interesting in terms of being onboard a flying ship, was boring because after the thrill of being in space had worn off, there wasn’t much to see or experience that satisfied her thirst for something new. Getting attacked by mind flayers didn’t count either as that could happen anywhere. Their time on the caravan hadn’t done much for her; life on the trail was mostly dust and boredom. Even the bandit attacks hadn’t done much except test her fighting prowess.

That wasn’t why she wanted to travel. She wanted to see new things, places she’d never seen before, things she’d only heard about in songs and tales told around the fire late into the night. It wasn’t until they reached Heraup that she’d found what she was looking for. Their brief sojourn there had stimulated her beyond anything she’d ever imagined possible. Learning new skills as a navigator, meeting the sauroids, and seeing a whole new culture, meeting Ryal, fighting pirates, in space and under the mountain, even the miserable time spent slogging their way through the swamp and fighting the hydra; all these things were like water poured on her parched soul. She’d nearly died in the fight with Altman and it had given her a new, stronger appreciation for the preciousness of life. She wanted hers to mean something!

She felt at long last she was getting to experience all the things her parents had told her about when she was a child. And now, those two idiots, Horace and Jon, wanted to turn around and go home! It wasn’t fair, she thought fiercely, it just wasn’t fair! Tightening her grip on her sword hilt, she resolved not to give up without a fight, a fight those two wouldn’t soon forget.

Elric’s mood was more somber.

Although Marak’s treachery angered him, it was understandable after a fashion. Carrzulmans weren’t popular outside their jungle empire and often kept their home a secret when they went abroad. Many of them disliked the empire but were forced back to it by the harsh treatment they received elsewhere whenever they revealed their origins. So if Marak kept that knowledge from them, he had reason to do so. As for being a spy, well, every kingdom in the world used spies to keep track of what their enemies were up to. Plus, Ryal had said he’d protected his daughter from the evils of the empire. If he could do that, he couldn’t be all bad, the young mage reasoned.

It was Altman that bothered him. The bizarre navigator troubled him to no end. There was something unsettling about the man, something unpredictable and irrational. The idea that the strange man had joined their enemies on Harpel tied his stomach into painful knots. On the other hand (one of his favorite expressions), there was the possibility of gaining new spells if Blanrus were defeated. The spells he’d acquired so far only served to whet his appetite for more spells. He was gaining confidence in his magical talents as he used them under the pressure of the life-and-death struggles they’d been subjected to. He wanted to see how much further he could advance.

Unfortunately, Blanrus probably felt the same way, and he was allied with a military brotherhood. Were new spells worth the risk of facing that kind of danger, that kind of challenge? And what if Blanrus’ spellbook was destroyed in the battle? Then it all would have been for nothing. So what was the answer, he wondered? He sat huddled over the captured spellbook from the lock box, pondering and calculating.

Mira was equally thoughtful but her attitude varied from one moment to the next. One minute she was all in favor of storming The Sword’s hideout and rescuing Illene, the next, she only wanted to kick Marak’s butt and go home. Why risk life and limb when she’d finally found love with Aaren? His temporary disappearance on Lizard Rock had given her a shattering preview of what life would like without him. She would never have believed such anguish and sorrow as she experienced while he was gone was possible. His death in battle would be a nightmare from which she’d never be able to awaken.

Underneath it though, there was an insistent something that said, ‘do the right thing’. And she had a sneaking suspicion that the right thing was to rescue Illene regardless of her father’s affiliations or the dangers it posed to them. They’d made a promise. Honor demanded they keep their word even if the other party didn’t. Contradictory forces swayed her back and forth, and her mood could only be described as volatile.

Sitting undisturbed for a change in the pilot’s chair, Aaren wrestled with his own demons in the silence of the little cabin. The Lord of Light demanded that his people keep their word, trusting Him to pull them through hard situations. So even though the odds were heavily stacked against them, he felt an obligation to proceed.

But were the odds stacked too heavily against them? There came a time when prudence was the wiser course of action when the enemy forces were too overwhelming to reasonably contend with. Had they reached that point? Now that they were actually approaching the point when they would be facing their enemies in battle, it was time to weigh their choices and make some decisions.

He slowed the Wanderer then brought it to a dead stop in space. The others looked up in surprise.

“What’s wrong?” asked Jon. “Why are we stopping?”

Aaren got up from the helm, took the key out of the engine built into the pilot’s chair, and stuffed it in his boot. He turned around to face them. “We need to discuss our options,” he said with deceptive mildness. “We should figure out what we’re going to do.” He leaned against the back of the pilot’s chair.

Eyebrows went up around the cabin.

“What kind of options did you have in mind?” Elric asked cautiously.

“We’ve got enough gold to pay for the Sky Hawk’s repairs and then some,” the priest told them. “In fact, we’ve got enough to pay the wages for the whole crew for several months.”


“So we don’t need Marak’s reward money anymore. So what do we do? Leave him at Beorn’s and go looking for adventure somewhere else? Do we rescue his daughter anyway? Is there something in-between we can do? Or, maybe something else altogether?” He shrugged. “We don’t get many chances to sit and talk before plunging in. We should take this opportunity to make some smart decisions.”

Horace and Jon’s response was immediate. “Kill Marak and Taanen.”

Katrina’s eyes glinted. “And then what? Head home?” she said, not quite hiding a sneer.

“We didn’t say that!” Jon flared at her.

“No, but that was next on the list,” she shot back. “If it had been up to you we’d have never left Thorginbelt!”

Horace was on his feet. “Hey! Don’t lump us together like that, I always wanted to go adventuring and you know it!”

“Then what do you want to do after Marak and Taanen are dead?” she challenged him.

“Go adventuring!” he replied swiftly.

“Rescue Illene,” Jon snapped at the same time.



Their simultaneous, but different responses. threw them into confusion. They stared at each other suspiciously.

Katrina jumped into the breach before either of them could recover. “If we rescue Illene that’ll be an adventure,” she said quickly, trying to unite them to her cause. “That would satisfy both of you wouldn’t it?”

They frowned, thinking it over.

“Wouldn’t it?” she pressed them.

“I . . . I guess so,” Jon said hesitantly. He looked at Horace.

The big fighter sat down, obviously thinking it over. “I guess.”

She clapped her hands gleefully. “Great! That’s three in favor of going to Harpel, who else wants to go?”

Elric chuckled lightly at her transparent manipulation of the two men. He’d been increasingly aware lately that Katrina wanted to go places, do things, and see new sights. Her attempt to ram through her own decision amused him.

She glared at him as if sensing his thoughts. “What about you? Are you going to be a stick in the mud or are you going to join the fun?” She was increasingly fond of the slight mage but she wasn’t going to let her feelings for him stop her.

“Fun, eh? Is that what they’re calling it these days?”

She stamped her foot. “Which is it?” she pouted.

“Has it ever occurred to you we’re going to be slightly outnumbered?” he asked her, a grim expression replacing his smile.

“It occurred to me,” Aaren interjected. “Several times.”

Katrina flipped her hair back out of her eyes. “Oh, so now the wild space jockey is turning cautious all of the sudden,” she said with a brittle laugh. “When did this miracle happen?”

He tilted his head and regarded her closely. “When I found out a vampire was involved,” he said slowly.

Her eyebrows drew together in puzzlement. “What’s that got to do with whether or not to rescue Illene?”

“Quite a bit,” Elric said, recapturing her attention. “What if that monster joins forces with Blanrus and Altman? The way our luck is running, it’s a distinct possibility. If that happened, we’d have the devil’s own time trying to outfight them.”

“Just the vampire alone is going to be a problem,” Aaren added. “Even if he doesn’t join the others. If he does, our problems are going to double or triple.”

Horace had been listening to this with an uncomprehending expression on his face. “But why can’t you just drive him away? You’re a priest aren’t you?”

Aaren laughed shortly. “Sure, but I’m not strong enough to deal with a creature as powerful as a vampire. Later maybe, but not now.”

“How much later?”

“That’s for the Lord of Light to decide but I assure you, however long it is, it’s usually measured in months or years, not days.”

“Then we’ll fight him together,” Horace assured him. “No problem.”

Katrina jumped to her feet, unable to contain herself. “That’s right, we’ll fight him together, he won’t have a chance. Come on Aaren, it’ll be alright,” she pressured him, well aware that Elric and the still silent Mira were taking their lead from him. If she could get him to go along, the others would too.

“Uh-huh,” he said noncommittally. “What about Marak and Taanen? We still haven’t decided what to do about them.”

“We’re going to kill them,” Jon said matter-of-factly. “Then go on to Harpel.”

Horace nodded his agreement. “Right.”

Mira’s eyes darkened at their casual attitude but she kept silent.

Elric was also upset. “That’s a little presumptuous don’t you think?” he said. “They haven’t done anything to warrant killing.”

“They’re planning to slaughter us when we’re done rescuing Marak’s daughter,” Horace shot back. “I’d say that warrants a little preventive killing, wouldn’t you?” He spread his hands.


“What? Why not?”

Elric leaned forward. “Since we know what they’re going to try, we can be ready for it and stop them. Forewarned is forearmed and all that,” the mage returned smoothly. “Or don’t you think we can survive an ambush?” He leaned back against the bulkhead as if he had all the time in the world.

Horace’s eyebrows drew together. “That’s not fair. Of course, we can survive, but that’s not the point. They’re planning treason!”

“Planning isn’t the same as doing,” Elric countered reasonably.

Aaren re-entered the discussion. “It sure isn’t. And let me remind you about something else; how do you think Illene is going to respond if she finds out the same people who rescued her also killed her father? How would you like to explain that one?”

Jon’s brow furrowed. “I hadn’t thought about that.”

“Me either,” Horace added slowly.

Katrina was dismayed by the sudden change in attitude of the two men. “That doesn’t mean we can’t go to Harpel though,” she said plaintively. “We can still go, we’ll just have to figure out something to do with Marak and Taanen. But we can still go.” She was so anxious she was practically vibrating in place.

“Of course we’re still going,” Horace reassured her. “It just makes it tougher, that’s all.”

Katrina sagged in relief. “Okay then, what are we waiting for? Let’s go!” She turned forward as if it were a foregone conclusion.

No one moved. They sat, staring thoughtfully at each other.

Her face fell. “Guys? Let’s go.” She waved her hands in a vague shooing gesture.

Aaren shook his head kindly. “We haven’t decided anything yet, Katrina. Slow down.”

She nodded slowly, but behind her crestfallen expression, she was thinking furiously. How could she persuade Aaren? The vampire and Marak seemed to be his main points of concern. They’d offered to gang up on the monster, was there any way they could do the same thing to Marak and Taanen? Was there some way of neutralizing them without killing them? She paced back and forth in the tiny area, mulling over her options.

Elric took advantage of her silence to voice his own concerns. “Assuming we can figure out a way of handling Marak and Taanen, there’s still the problem of Altman joining Blanrus’ operation. To say nothing of The Sword. I’m not real wild about taking on a military brotherhood.” He frowned at Katrina’s pacing. “Hey. Sit down. There’s not enough room in here for that.” She grimaced but did as he asked.

“It’s a tough nut to crack,” Horace acknowledged. “My dad used to take me around when I was a kid, to see mercenaries when they came to town. They can be pretty hard to deal with, especially if their leadership is any good. One halfway decent tactician or strategist could blow us out of the water, even if their soldiers were lousy.”

“Good planning is hard to beat,” agreed Aaren. “That’s why I thought we should stop and do some planning of our own for a change. So far we’ve pretty much just been blundering along, fighting whatever we came across. I think it’s time we try something different.”

“Did you have anything in mind?” Elric asked him curiously.

“Not really. I just thought we ought to stop and talk it over.”

Horace wanted to bang his head on the bulkhead. “Talk what over?” he wanted to know. “What to do about Marak and Taanen or how to rescue Illene?”

“Both,” he answered shortly. “If we’re not going on to Harpel, there’s no reason to worry about Marak and Taanen. We’ll just leave ‘em there and go on. The only reason we need to take any action against them is if we decide to rescue the girl.”

“So in other words,” Elric put in, “we first have to decide about the girl before we can do anything about Marak and Taanen?” He straightened his back to relieve it from sitting for too long.

Aaren shrugged. “You got any better ideas?”

“Hmph? No, no. I was just trying to get it straight in my own mind.”

Aaren shifted his stance against the back of his pilot’s chair from one foot to another. “In that case, it looks like we need to be talking about Harpel and whether or not we want to go there.”

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