R .  Mac Wheeler Multi - Genre Author Suspense Urban Fantasy Dystopian SCI FI Fantasy
The Purge T he   four   abbots   a   dozen   paces   in   front   of   them   were   cut down   by   swords   that   whistled   in   the   dank   air.   Hidden   from the    flickering    sconces,    the    brother    and    sister    huddling deeper   in   the   gloom   could   still   see   the   blood   splattering   the granite walls. Lords   Corr   had   known   the   priests   their   entire   lives. Now   lost,   good   people,   dedicated   to   those   they   served,   and their religion, which was on the brink of ruin. Corr,    the    name    of    clarity    both    siblings    were    known together,    stared    blankly    as    they    edged    deeper    into    the gloom.   The   two   warriors   continued   to   hack   at   the   priest’s bodies,   to   ensure   no   healers   like   them   could   ever   use   their   arcane   powers   to   bring them back. Corrise   reached   out   mentally   to   his   sister,   as   they   backed   down   the   corridor silently. “Be strong, Corrase. We must get away from the castle.” He   pulled   her   back   and   turned   her   so   she   would   not   watch   the   horror   taking place    in    the    shadows    before    them.    The    physical    touch    bridged    their    tightly connected   minds.   Corrise   willed   up   all   the   strength   he   could   and   it   flowed   into   his sister, fortifying her. “If we make it to the keep’s prayer chamber we will be safe,”  she said. “We can’t stay there indefinitely. All they’d have to do is starve us out.” She   acknowledged   him   with   a   mental   nod.   To   the   new   chamber   then,”   she said. They   backed   into   an   alcove   and   listened.   The   insanity   could   be   heard   in   every direction.   The   rebellion,   what   was   being   called   across   the   five   continents   as   the Purge,   had   taken   longer   to   reach   the   Kircher   realm,   but   sanity   collapsed   around them so suddenly the ruling class had no chance to catch a breath. Equestrians   did   all   they   could   to   control   their   warriors   at   first,   but   the   flood proved    unstoppable.    Everything    imploded.    The    highborn    fell    quickly,    brought down by the warriors assigned to protect them. The   warrior   caste   succumbed   to   a   paranoia   as   though   it   was   a   plague,   feasted on the bloodletting with glee, it seemed. The   mentally   superior   race,   anyone   known   to   have   strong   clarity,   was   being wiped out. “None   of   the   stairwells   or   halls   leading   outside   will   be   safe,”   Corrase   told   her brother. “Do   you   think   the   kings’   private   stairs   will   have   been   discovered?”    Corrise asked. “I imagine it has, otherwise they would still be alive.” It’s only rumor that they’re dead,” Corrise whispered. Corrase   looked   down   the   hall.   For   the   time   being   it   was   empty,   except   for   the eviscerated   bodies   of   their   peers   strewn   about   like   trash.   Corrise   felt   his   sister’s emotion begin to peak again. “The kings’ chamber is the only option I can think of,” he said. Though   her   nod   was   invisible   in   the   dark,   her   brother   felt   her   acknowledgment in his mind. She   turned   and   led   him   down   the   blackened   hall,   toward   the   less   populated bowels   of   the   castle.   They   needed   to   find   a   safe   stairway   to   make   it   to   the   heights, and then still traverse what would be well watched corridors. They   made   it   up   dark   stairs   without   incident   and   turned   east.   They   passed piles   of   bodies   at   every   turn,   hacked   highborn,   low   castes   caught   in   the   way   of enraged warriors. “Can there be a highborn left alive in the castle?” Corrase’s stomach twisted. “Besides us?” She mentally nodded . They    ducked    within    an    alcove    as    a    troop    of    warriors    marched    down    an intersecting hall. “Suppose there are any warriors left loyal to the realm?”  Corrase asked. “Look   at   the   corpses,”   he   said.   I’ve   seen   no   warriors   dropped   by   another warrior’s   blade.   I   think   they   were   all   waiting   for   an   excuse   to   turn   against   us.” They had always hated the ruling class. It   was   quiet   behind   them.   But   their   destination   led   another   fifty   yards   in   front of them. Corrase took a deep breath and rushed forward, her brother on her heel. Ten   steps   down   the   hall   a   chamber   door   opened   in   front   of   them.   Corr   froze.   A pair of equestrians stepped into the hall and glared at the siblings. A   day   past,   the   two   equestrians   would   have   laid   down   their   lives   to   protect   the highborn healers without a second consideration. That was an era ago. The male equestrian looked up and down the hall. “Is   he   looking   for   witnesses   or   judging   if   it’s   safe   to   aid   us?”   Corrase   asked   her brother. “I’m   surprised   any   of   you   have   survived,”   the   man   said,   caressing   the   hilt   of   his sword   nervously.   “My   lords,   you   must   get   into   the   mountains   and   wait   for   all   of this insanity to pass.” “You   speak   the   obvious,”   Corrase   hissed.   “Do   you   have   any   suggestions   how   to get there?” “We   can’t   protect   you.   The   warriors   are   acting   on   their   own,   as   hard   as   that   is to believe. Sheep with blood lust.” “Then help us get to the kings’ chamber,” Corrase demanded. The   equestrian   bowed   his   head,   habit   dead   one   day.   His   expression   in   the   faint light   showed   he   believed   they   had   little   chance.   He   looked   again   to   the   right,   and led   the   way,   his   sister   a   step   behind   him.   The   heels   of   their   boots   clashed   on   the granite like a call to warriors to investigate. Corr gained little protection while they lost what concealment they had. They   proceeded   less   than   twenty   steps   before   four   warriors   rushed   around   a corner.   The   four   first   took   in   the   equestrians   impassively,   but   when   they   spied   Corr huddled behind them, they shifted, making room to wield their swords. The   equestrians   drew   their   swords   and   the   six   stood   without   moving   for   a moment.   The   much   taller,   highly   skilled   equestrians   were   a   match   even   if   the   odds were two-to-one. After a moment the warriors backed up. Corr   followed   the   equestrians   forward.   When   the   warriors   reached   another intersection they paused. The   clamor   of   new   boots   echoed.   A   moment   later   ten   additional   warriors   stood before   them.   They   didn’t   attack   though.   They   appeared   to   be   giving   the   equestrians time to decide if they were prepared to die for the lives of highborn. Corrase   took   her   brother’s   hand.   Through   the   bond   they   willed   forth   all   the arcane   power   they   could.   Their   aura   grew,   brightening   the   corridor.   That   alone wouldn’t intimidate the warriors, but they had few options. The   equestrians   slowly   sleeved   their   swords.   Their   hands   at   their   sides,   they strode   forward.   The   warriors   separated   to   give   them   room   to   walk   by.   The   sound   of their boots faded into the dark. The   warriors   turned   back   to   the   healers   and   glared.   The   grating   sound   of   metal against   metal   echoed   against   the   granite,   swords   being   drawn.   Corr   frantically considered what of their healing skills could help them. They   could   easily   overpower   one   at   a   time,   if   they   were   able   to   touch   them,   but that wasn’t going to help. Very   powerful   highborn   could   draw   power   from   the   clouds,   strike   their   foe with the supercharged static. Corr didn’t have that skill, but they could bluff. They   concentrated   to   conjure   an   illuminating   orb   they   could   wield   as   though   it were   lightning.   Manipulating   the   harmless   magic   would   take   every   ounce   of   energy they had. The warriors neared. Corrase   raised   a   hand   to   project   a   point   of   threat.   Though   grimaces   replaced grins,   the   warriors   continued   forward.   Corrise   doubled   over   from   the   exertion   of providing   his   sister   all   the   power   of   his   soul.   Corrase   jabbed   her   hand   downward, formed the bright specter and flung it down the corridor. The   warriors   all   lurched.   Those   in   the   rear   unsure   of   what   took   place   perhaps, turned and fled. The others were prompted by their flight, and followed. Corrase    pulled    her    brother    with    her,    after    the    warriors,    to    maximize    the bluster of the moment. They   reached   the   end   of   the   long   hall.   The   warriors   turned   left.   Corr   raced right, down the broad, main corridor toward the kings’ chamber. They   made   it   to   the   ornate   entrance   and   peered   inside.   The   outer   chamber   was empty,   though   blood   smeared   the   marble   tiles.   Many   loyal   to   the   realm   had   stood to the end. The   din   of   boots   behind   them   pressed   them   to   step   inside   without   worrying   if worse   dangers   lay   within.   They   closed   the   double   doors.   The   jamb   was   intact.   The kings, if they were taken here, were fallen by traitors. Corr   made   their   way   through   the   sitting   room   and   office   locking   both   doors behind them. Corrase gasped when they stepped inside the kings’ main living area. There   wasn’t   a   stick   of   furniture   remaining   upright.   Their   kings   had   fought   to the   end   as   well.   Blood   soaked   the   carpets,   everything.   They   both   gagged   a   moment, before pulling emotional strength from their aura. Dozens    of    siblings    died    here.    The    gore    sickened    them.    Something    moved Corrase   to   stride   to   the   balcony.   They   peeked   out   the   broad   doors,   across   the   bailey to the far battlements. The death within the castle didn’t prepare either of them. Propped   atop   poles   where   pennants   used   to   fly,   alternated   with   torches   to   light them,   were   the   heads   of   countless   highborn,   their   braided   hair   lopped   in   a   final insult. Corrase   felt   she   would   collapse.   Her   brother   took   her   hand.   The   comfort   that passed through the touch maintained her. “We must go ,” he urged. They    found    the    hidden    stairway    with    some    effort.    Corrase    formed    an illuminating   orb   to   follow   down   the   steep   steps.   Gratefully,   there   were   no   signs   of conflict,   just   the   dank,   musty   air   they   expected.   Their   first   encouragement.   So perhaps the exit below remained safe and unknown. Corr   followed   the   winding   course,   past   an   alcove   landing,   on   to   the   ground floor, and solid granite. “What?”  they both gasped. Corrise   reached   out   to   search   for   the   presence   of   shielding.   It   took   little   energy to   draw   it   aside.   It   hid   a   doorway   to   their   left   and   a   stairwell   continuing   to   their right. “I didn’t expect that,”  Corrase said. “So which way?” he asked. Corrise   pointed   to   the   door.   “This   is   as   likely   to   empty   into   the   bailey   as   a   quiet lobby.” “Occupied   with   blood-drunk   warriors,”   he   offered.   “Where   do   you   suppose that will take us?” “Nowhere if we stand here blathering.” Corrise   gave   her   a   mental   poke   for   her   caustic   remark,   which   she   ignored   as she followed the stairs. The   stairway   sank   deeper   into   the   earth   than   they   expected,   emptying   into   a narrow   hall   they   couldn’t   walk   abreast.   Neither   had   a   guess   what   direction   they walked, other than downward. After   following   the   corridor   twenty   yards   they   could   hear   an   unnatural,   low roar. They walked on. Their nerves pricked at their skin. Corrise placed his hand against the granite, which was hot. “It’s the aquifer for the baths,” he said. Corrase   ignored   him   though,   because   she   was   discovering   their   path   had   come to   an   end.   The   wall   circled   around   them   giving   them   room   to   stand   side-by-side, but   there   was   no   obvious   exit.   They   examined   the   black   granite   for   the   shield which must hide their escape. “This is more sophisticated than the other,” Corrise said softly. Obviously,  his sister snapped. He   looked   at   her   in   the   dim   light.   After   a   moment   he   sensed   her   apology,   but she   didn’t   speak    it.   He   returned   to   the   task   of   exposing   the   conjuring   that   hid   the exit. “The shield shouldn’t be so subtle,” Corrase murmured. “Maybe there is no shield,” he said. “No shield? Of course there’s a shield. Why else can’t we see the doorway?” “Is there a door?” Corrise   removed   his   ornate   dagger   and   tapped   against   the   granite.   It   took   little time   to   find   an   area   that   didn’t   have   quite   the   same   resonance.   They   scratched   at the   surface   looking   for   something   out   of   place.   A   latch   nearly   fell   into   Corrises hand. “Aha.” He   pulled   but   nothing   happened,   at   first.   With   continued   heaves   a   thin   fissure formed   in   the   wall,   perhaps   naturally   tightened   over   the   ages   of   non-use.   They were both soaked in sweat by the time it swung open enough to squeeze through. The   dry   air   outside   felt   like   freedom   already   won.   They   found   themselves   on the   far   northern   side   of   the   keep,   opposite   the   village,   and   the   hills   they   needed   to reach, where the prayer chamber had been recently constructed in secret. They   navigated   the   bank   of   rock   around   the   base   of   the   keep   without   a   hint   of anyone   noticing   them   from   the   ramparts   above.   They   skirted   the   village   and   tread up   the   deep   sand   of   the   gully,   into   the   well-hidden   cavern   that   formed   the   entrance to the chamber. Twenty terrified faces stared. Corr   studied   them.   To   a   one   they   were   low-level   administrators,   not   a   high lord   among   them.   Corr   were   shocked   they   were   even   aware   of   the   new   sanctum. One   explained   his   dying   masters   placed   the   location   of   it   in   their   minds,   before they succumbed. “This   is   it?”   Corrase   cried.   She   faced   her   brother,   her   fists   gripped   tightly   at her hips. “This is what is left of our kind? What are we going to do?” Corrise   held   the   amulet   their   mother’s   brother   passed   down   to   him.   “We   will wait   until   this   horrid   business   is   over,   and   blend   back   into   the   fold   when   we   can. Until the persecution ends, we will do whatever it takes to survive.” “What? Live among the peasants in the village?” she challenged him. “We will do whatever it takes.” “But we are highborn,” she shouted at him, pounding her hips with her fists. “It’s   a   new   era,”   Corrise   said   softly.   “We’ve   heard   all   were   wiped   out   in   Nacelle. At least there are a handful of us to continue forward, someday.” “Someday?” she shouted. Her   energy   seemed   to   escape.   She   slumped   to   the   rock   floor,   covering   her   face with her hands. © R. Mac Wheeler 2017
R .  Mac Wheeler Multi - Genre Author
The Purge T he   four   abbots   a   dozen   paces   in   front   of them    were    cut    down    by    swords    that whistled    in    the    dank    air.    Hidden    from the    flickering    sconces,    the    brother    and sister     huddling     deeper     in     the     gloom could   still   see   the   blood   splattering   the granite walls. Lords    Corr    had    known    the    priests their   entire   lives.   Now   lost,   good   people, dedicated   to   those   they   served,   and   their religion, which was on the brink of ruin. Corr,   the   name   of   clarity   both   siblings were   known   together,   stared   blankly   as they   edged   deeper   into   the   gloom.   The two    warriors    continued    to    hack    at    the priest’s   bodies,   to   ensure   no   healers   like them   could   ever   use   their   arcane   powers to bring them back. Corrise    reached    out    mentally    to    his sister,   as   they   backed   down   the   corridor silently. “Be    strong,    Corrase.    We    must    get away from the castle.” He   pulled   her   back   and   turned   her   so she   would   not   watch   the   horror   taking place   in   the   shadows   before   them.   The physical     touch     bridged     their     tightly connected    minds.    Corrise    willed    up    all the   strength   he   could   and   it   flowed   into his sister, fortifying her. “If   we   make   it   to   the   keep’s   prayer chamber we will be safe,”  she said. “We   can’t   stay   there   indefinitely.   All they’d have to do is starve us out.” She   acknowledged   him   with   a   mental nod.    To    the    new    chamber    then,”    she said. They     backed     into     an     alcove     and listened.   The   insanity   could   be   heard   in every   direction.   The   rebellion,   what   was being   called   across   the   five   continents   as the   Purge,   had   taken   longer   to   reach   the Kircher     realm,     but     sanity     collapsed around   them   so   suddenly   the   ruling   class had no chance to catch a breath. Equestrians     did     all     they     could     to control    their    warriors    at    first,    but    the flood     proved     unstoppable.     Everything imploded.     The     highborn     fell     quickly, brought   down   by   the   warriors   assigned to protect them. The    warrior    caste    succumbed    to    a paranoia    as    though    it    was    a    plague, feasted   on   the   bloodletting   with   glee,   it seemed. The    mentally    superior    race,    anyone known   to   have   strong   clarity,   was   being wiped out. “None     of     the     stairwells     or     halls leading    outside    will    be    safe,”    Corrase told her brother. “Do     you     think     the     kings’     private stairs      will      have      been      discovered?”   Corrise asked. “I    imagine    it    has,    otherwise    they would still be alive.” It’s    only    rumor    that    they’re    dead,” Corrise whispered. Corrase   looked   down   the   hall.   For   the time   being   it   was   empty,   except   for   the eviscerated   bodies   of   their   peers   strewn about   like   trash.   Corrise   felt   his   sister’s emotion begin to peak again. “The     kings’     chamber     is     the     only option I can think of,” he said. Though   her   nod   was   invisible   in   the dark,          her          brother          felt          her acknowledgment in his mind. She    turned    and    led    him    down    the blackened   hall,   toward   the   less   populated bowels   of   the   castle.   They   needed   to   find a   safe   stairway   to   make   it   to   the   heights, and    then    still    traverse    what    would    be well watched corridors. They   made   it   up   dark   stairs   without incident    and    turned    east.    They    passed piles    of    bodies    at    every    turn,    hacked highborn,   low   castes   caught   in   the   way   of enraged warriors. “Can   there   be   a   highborn   left   alive   in the castle?” Corrase’s stomach twisted. “Besides us?” She mentally nodded . They    ducked    within    an    alcove    as    a troop     of     warriors     marched     down     an intersecting hall. “Suppose   there   are   any   warriors   left loyal to the realm?”  Corrase asked. “Look   at   the   corpses,”   he   said.   I’ve seen    no    warriors    dropped    by    another warrior’s    blade.    I    think    they    were    all waiting   for   an   excuse   to   turn   against   us.” They had always hated the ruling class. It   was   quiet   behind   them.   But   their destination    led    another    fifty    yards    in front   of   them.   Corrase   took   a   deep   breath and   rushed   forward,   her   brother   on   her heel. Ten   steps   down   the   hall   a   chamber door   opened   in   front   of   them.   Corr   froze. A    pair    of    equestrians    stepped    into    the hall and glared at the siblings. A   day   past,   the   two   equestrians   would have   laid   down   their   lives   to   protect   the highborn      healers      without      a      second consideration. That was an era ago. The   male   equestrian   looked   up   and down the hall. “Is     he     looking     for     witnesses     or judging    if    it’s    safe    to    aid    us?”    Corrase asked her brother. “I’m     surprised     any     of     you     have survived,”    the    man    said,    caressing    the hilt    of    his    sword    nervously.    “My    lords, you    must    get    into    the    mountains    and wait for all of this insanity to pass.” “You     speak     the     obvious,”     Corrase hissed.    “Do    you    have    any    suggestions how to get there?” “We   can’t   protect   you.   The   warriors are   acting   on   their   own,   as   hard   as   that   is to believe. Sheep with blood lust.” “Then     help     us     get     to     the     kings’ chamber,” Corrase demanded. The   equestrian   bowed   his   head,   habit dead   one   day.   His   expression   in   the   faint light   showed   he   believed   they   had   little chance.   He   looked   again   to   the   right,   and led   the   way,   his   sister   a   step   behind   him. The   heels   of   their   boots   clashed   on   the granite      like      a      call      to      warriors      to investigate. Corr    gained    little    protection    while they lost what concealment they had. They     proceeded     less     than     twenty steps   before   four   warriors   rushed   around a    corner.    The    four    first    took    in    the equestrians    impassively,    but    when    they spied    Corr    huddled    behind    them,    they shifted,     making     room     to     wield     their swords. The    equestrians    drew    their    swords and   the   six   stood   without   moving   for   a moment.   The   much   taller,   highly   skilled equestrians    were    a    match    even    if    the odds    were    two-to-one.    After    a    moment the warriors backed up. Corr        followed        the        equestrians forward.     When     the     warriors     reached another intersection they paused. The   clamor   of   new   boots   echoed.   A moment    later    ten    additional    warriors stood    before    them.    They    didn’t    attack though.   They   appeared   to   be   giving   the equestrians   time   to   decide   if   they   were prepared to die for the lives of highborn. Corrase     took     her     brother’s     hand. Through    the    bond    they    willed    forth    all the   arcane   power   they   could.   Their   aura grew,     brightening     the     corridor.     That alone    wouldn’t    intimidate    the    warriors, but they had few options. The   equestrians   slowly   sleeved   their swords.   Their   hands   at   their   sides,   they strode    forward.    The    warriors    separated to   give   them   room   to   walk   by.   The   sound of their boots faded into the dark. The     warriors     turned     back     to     the healers   and   glared.   The   grating   sound   of metal   against   metal   echoed   against   the granite,      swords      being      drawn.      Corr frantically     considered     what     of     their healing skills could help them. They   could   easily   overpower   one   at   a time,   if   they   were   able   to   touch   them,   but that wasn’t going to help. Very    powerful    highborn    could    draw power   from   the   clouds,   strike   their   foe with   the   supercharged   static.   Corr   didn’t have that skill, but they could bluff. They     concentrated     to     conjure     an illuminating     orb     they     could     wield     as though    it    were    lightning.    Manipulating the    harmless    magic    would    take    every ounce of energy they had. The warriors neared. Corrase    raised    a    hand    to    project    a point      of      threat.      Though      grimaces replaced    grins,    the    warriors    continued forward.   Corrise   doubled   over   from   the exertion    of    providing    his    sister    all    the power    of    his    soul.    Corrase    jabbed    her hand     downward,     formed     the     bright specter and flung it down the corridor. The   warriors   all   lurched.   Those   in   the rear   unsure   of   what   took   place   perhaps, turned      and      fled.      The      others      were prompted by their flight, and followed. Corrase   pulled   her   brother   with   her, after     the     warriors,     to     maximize     the bluster of the moment. They   reached   the   end   of   the   long   hall. The     warriors     turned     left.     Corr     raced right,    down    the    broad,    main    corridor toward the kings’ chamber. They   made   it   to   the   ornate   entrance and    peered    inside.    The    outer    chamber was    empty,    though    blood    smeared    the marble   tiles.   Many   loyal   to   the   realm   had stood to the end. The   din   of   boots   behind   them   pressed them   to   step   inside   without   worrying   if worse    dangers    lay    within.    They    closed the   double   doors.   The   jamb   was   intact. The   kings,   if   they   were   taken   here,   were fallen by traitors. Corr    made    their    way    through    the sitting     room     and     office     locking     both doors   behind   them.   Corrase   gasped   when they   stepped   inside   the   kings’   main   living area. There     wasn’t     a     stick     of     furniture remaining     upright.     Their     kings     had fought   to   the   end   as   well.   Blood   soaked the      carpets,      everything.      They      both gagged      a      moment,      before      pulling emotional strength from their aura. Dozens    of    siblings    died    here.    The gore    sickened    them.    Something    moved Corrase    to    stride    to    the    balcony.    They peeked   out   the   broad   doors,   across   the bailey   to   the   far   battlements.   The   death within   the   castle   didn’t   prepare   either   of them. Propped   atop   poles   where   pennants used    to    fly,    alternated    with    torches    to light   them,   were   the   heads   of   countless highborn,   their   braided   hair   lopped   in   a final insult. Corrase   felt   she   would   collapse.   Her brother   took   her   hand.   The   comfort   that passed    through    the    touch    maintained her. “We must go ,” he urged. They   found   the   hidden   stairway   with some       effort.       Corrase       formed       an illuminating   orb   to   follow   down   the   steep steps.   Gratefully,   there   were   no   signs   of conflict,    just    the    dank,    musty    air    they expected.   Their   first   encouragement.   So perhaps    the    exit    below    remained    safe and unknown. Corr    followed    the    winding    course, past   an   alcove   landing,   on   to   the   ground floor, and solid granite. “What?”  they both gasped. Corrise   reached   out   to   search   for   the presence   of   shielding.   It   took   little   energy to   draw   it   aside.   It   hid   a   doorway   to   their left    and    a    stairwell    continuing    to    their right. “I didn’t expect that,”  Corrase said. “So which way?” he asked. Corrise   pointed   to   the   door.   “This   is as    likely    to    empty    into    the    bailey    as    a quiet lobby.” “Occupied           with           blood-drunk warriors,”    he    offered.    “Where    do    you suppose that will take us?” “Nowhere        if        we        stand        here blathering.” Corrise    gave    her    a    mental    poke    for her   caustic   remark,   which   she   ignored   as she followed the stairs. The    stairway    sank    deeper    into    the earth   than   they   expected,   emptying   into a   narrow   hall   they   couldn’t   walk   abreast. Neither   had   a   guess   what   direction   they walked, other than downward. After    following    the    corridor    twenty yards   they   could   hear   an   unnatural,   low roar.     They     walked     on.     Their     nerves pricked at their skin. Corrise    placed    his    hand    against    the granite, which was hot. “It’s    the    aquifer    for    the    baths,”    he said. Corrase   ignored   him   though,   because she   was   discovering   their   path   had   come to   an   end.   The   wall   circled   around   them giving   them   room   to   stand   side-by-side, but    there    was    no    obvious    exit.    They examined   the   black   granite   for   the   shield which must hide their escape. “This   is   more   sophisticated   than   the other,” Corrise said softly. Obviously,  his sister snapped. He    looked    at    her    in    the    dim    light. After   a   moment   he   sensed   her   apology, but   she   didn’t   speak    it.   He   returned   to the   task   of   exposing   the   conjuring   that hid the exit. “The    shield    shouldn’t    be    so    subtle,” Corrase murmured. “Maybe there is no shield,” he said. “No   shield?   Of   course   there’s   a   shield. Why else can’t we see the doorway?” “Is there a door?” Corrise    removed    his    ornate    dagger and   tapped   against   the   granite.   It   took little   time   to   find   an   area   that   didn’t   have quite       the       same       resonance.       They scratched     at     the     surface     looking     for something   out   of   place.   A   latch   nearly   fell into Corrises hand. “Aha.” He   pulled   but   nothing   happened,   at first.     With     continued     heaves     a     thin fissure     formed     in     the     wall,     perhaps naturally   tightened   over   the   ages   of   non- use.   They   were   both   soaked   in   sweat   by the     time     it     swung     open     enough     to squeeze through. The   dry   air   outside   felt   like   freedom already   won.   They   found   themselves   on the     far     northern     side     of     the     keep, opposite    the    village,    and    the    hills    they needed     to     reach,     where     the     prayer chamber   had   been   recently   constructed in secret. They     navigated     the     bank     of     rock around    the    base    of    the    keep    without    a hint    of    anyone    noticing    them    from    the ramparts   above.   They   skirted   the   village and   tread   up   the   deep   sand   of   the   gully, into   the   well-hidden   cavern   that   formed the entrance to the chamber. Twenty terrified faces stared. Corr    studied    them.    To    a    one    they were   low-level   administrators,   not   a   high lord    among    them.    Corr    were    shocked they     were     even     aware     of     the     new sanctum.      One      explained      his      dying masters   placed   the   location   of   it   in   their minds, before they succumbed. “This   is   it?”   Corrase   cried.   She   faced her   brother,   her   fists   gripped   tightly   at her   hips.   “This   is   what   is   left   of   our   kind? What are we going to do?” Corrise       held       the       amulet       their mother’s    brother    passed    down    to    him. “We   will   wait   until   this   horrid   business   is over,   and   blend   back   into   the   fold   when we   can.   Until   the   persecution   ends,   we will do whatever it takes to survive.” “What?   Live   among   the   peasants   in the village?” she challenged him. “We will do whatever it takes.” “But   we   are   highborn,”   she   shouted   at him, pounding her hips with her fists. “It’s   a   new   era,”   Corrise   said   softly. “We’ve     heard     all     were     wiped     out     in Nacelle.   At   least   there   are   a   handful   of   us to continue forward, someday.” “Someday?” she shouted. Her    energy    seemed    to    escape.    She slumped   to   the   rock   floor,   covering   her face with her hands. © R. Mac Wheeler 2017