Light tore apart, great strands of magic unfurled. The Driechtnacht crowed in triumph as the barrier came down. It had taken him nine years but finally he had only a single barrier left between him and that which he sought. He capered for joy, relishing his moment of triumph.
Mirren woke, drenched in sweat. She put her hands up to her wet face, pushing back the damp tendrils from her face.
Her door crashed open and Kimi ran into the room, her small face white. "Mirren, Mirren, what was that?" She clambered onto Mirren's bed, reaching for her hand.
Mirren took her sister's hand. It was clammy. "Did you dream of the Driechtnacht?"
"Did he rip the light?"
"Yes, yes, he did," Mirren said, stroking Kimi's damp hand. Only the twins had ever shared the dreams before. "We should check on the others."
Mirren pulled herself out of the bed and Kimi padded after her into the passage. It was dark. The family room wasn't far but half-way to it, Mirren stumbled over a form, crouched in the darkness.
"Who's there?" James' asked, sounding panicked.
"It's me, James," Mirren said, hauling the boy to his feet.
"Is that you, Mirren?" Darren called down the passage. His voice sounded steady.
"Yes," she called back. "Go into the family room."
Once they were all gathered, Mirren asked, "Did you all dream it?"
They nodded. They'd all shared the dream of their triumphant enemy.
"What was that, Mirren?" James asked.
Mirren was standing at the window. Her face was drawn and pale. "That was the second-last barrier falling. It's taken three years but it's down."
"Where's Uncle Newen?" asked Darren.
"Oh no! I totally forgot!" said Mirren, turning sharply. "He probably contributed to that barrier. Quickly, Wendy, wake one of the priestesses to get the Abbess. We'll need help for Newen and someone needs to call Irwin. Kimi go with her."
Mirren pushed her younger sister, still clinging to her hand, towards Wendy. The two girls left the room at a job.
"Come, James, we better go to Newen. Darren stay here with Kyle and see if you can sense anything more from the Isle," Mirren said.
"Mirren, you have the best sense of the Isle. I'll go with James," Darren said.
"Alright, fine," Mirren said. She sat down. She knew so little of what to do. Uncle Newen had always guided them through their few forays into the island's magic. She knew that after each of these dreams, he had them reach out to the Isle. What sense he made of the images they saw she didn't know. But she knew it was important.
And having had a few proper lessons in island magic, she had a better idea of how to do it, if not why. Kyle drew up a chair opposite her and the two began the sequence to reach for the Isle.
Olga woke to the sounds of thudding on her door. She jumped to her feet and hurried across her room. Outside it, she found two pale-faced Mirelli girls.
"Another barrier's been broken. We think Uncle Newen is in trouble. We need to call Master Irwin," Wendy said.
Olga took a deep breath. "I'll go for the Abbess. You and Wendy go up to the Sending Tower. I'll have Verone meet you there."
The two girls nodded. Then they made their way off to the other side of the Abbey where the Tower was. Priestess Olga set off in the opposite direction.
Tortura moaned in her sleep and then slowly she opened her eyes. Someone was shaking her.
"Tortura, I need you go to the Sending Tower and summon Master Irwin," the Abbess said.
Tortura jolted into wakefulness. "Abbess, that's not my job. That's Verone's," she said.
"This is an emergency and in his state of health, it takes too long for him to climb the tower," the Abbess said.
Tortura's mind tumbled. Calling Irwin? Touching his mind? She'd known it well, too well. "Please Abbess, don't make me do this."
"Tortura, you have to. Another barrier on the Mirelli island has fallen – one that Newen helped build."
"Oh, my goodness." Tortura skipped a breath. To have magic broken is painful but for magic that old to be broken could be torturous to the point of death. She wouldn't wish such an end on her worst enemy. "Of course, of course, I will."
"Good. Wendy and Kimi have already gone up the Tower."
The Driechtnacht felt her presence seeking its way through the fabric of the island. His jubilation fell swiftly from him and he flung up his dread barriers, scurrying away from the island's Heart. As her magic, tainted by another's, joined with the island's in groping after him, urgency coursed through him. Shedding his true form, he took up again that in which he had come to the island. Soaring upwards, he fled to the safety of those parts of the island where he had the mastery.
Mirren groaned as she felt her quarry speed away from her. She felt Kyle's steadying arm come around her as she fought to keep her hold on the magic of the island far away.
"It's alright, sis," he said.
Mirren calmed herself, taking deep, ragged breaths. Her breathing slowed and steadied. Having lost her contact with the barriers around the Sacred Heart, she conjured images of the Citadel she had once known so well. She used these to twine her magic into seeking an entry back into the island's magic. There it was: the children's tower. She dove into the magic, dragging Kyle with her. With no uncle to guide her, she was for the first time exposed to the full force of the island's magic. Images and sounds swirled around her.
An old man was running, seeking shelter in a cave. A fire was being hastily stamped out. A baby was crying. A mother leaned over a crib. A watch-tower tolled a bell. And then a beach, somewhere on the Eastern shore.
The image swung into focus. There was a breeze blowing, lifting the sand into a haze. A man was walking along the beach. He was young but dressed in the cloak of the Elemental priests. All the focus of the magic seemed to come to rest on him. The wind was tossling his dark hair. His eyes bore into hers, almost as if he could see her.
And then she was rent from the beach and the deluge returned. She fought to sort out the images and sounds emanating from the island but she could no longer find traces of that dread presence. When the great bat took to the skies, she could trace the frenzied fear of the hiding villagers; but the panic had already abated. The Driechtnacht had left the inhabited parts of the island. Perhaps it had felt her scrutiny.
Darren and James hurtled into their uncle's room. All the adrenalin that had built up during that dreadful dream coursed through Darren. Their uncle lay straining on the bed. The light dragon scaling that normally danced lightly over his features stood out starkly like straining serpents seeking an exit from his body.
At the best of times, Darren could only dimly sense his uncle's magic. Now he could not even catch a glimpse of it. From his own experience from having magic broken, Darren knew great strands of his uncle's magic must be flailing in every corner of the room. But it was only from experience that he could say this. His mage-sense of his uncle was quite barren.
As James caught his uncle's writhing hand, his mage-sense caught afire. He could feel as the breaking of the spells fought to tear apart his uncle's magic and essence. The pain was too great and James fell beside the bed. His hand broke contact with his uncle's and the pain ebbed away. Now sensitised to it, James could still sense the chaos engulfing his uncle but he could achieve separation.
Watching his brother, Darren had surmised what had happened. He hurried to his younger brother's side and helped him up from the floor.
"Bad?" Darren asked, almost needlessly.
"Very," James answered, leaning on Darren for support.
Darren helped James into the closest chair. They both stared at their uncle's shaking, shivering form. James started to rise. Darren caught him and pushed him back into the chair.
"There's nothing you can do, James," Darren said.
James fought against Darren's restraining arm but he was far slighter than his brother. "We can't leave him like this!"
"I can barely feel his magic and you don't know the method," Darren said. "Perhaps... perhaps... Kimi! Wait here while I get her. Promise you won't try anything," Darren said. James nodded his agreement. Trusting his brother's word, Darren set off at a sprint to the Sending Tower.
Tortura pounded her way up the Tower. As she burst into the top-most room of the Tower, the two Mirrelli girls jumped.
Wendy rushed forward to explain. "Another barrier is broken. We need Irwin to come."
Kimi joined her sister. "We think Uncle Newen may have had magic broken."
Tortura nodded, shushing them with a hand. She knew what she had to do.
Still, as Tortura approached the Sending Stone, trepidation flooded through her. Even in a crisis, her own personal fears of the man she must summon remained paramount in her mind. By an act of will she set her hands to the stone, twining her magic into it and reaching for the stone she knew resided in Irwin's home. Knowing he would probably be asleep, she added a deep calling. Years ago, she had known his mind almost as well as her own and she twisted that knowledge into the call. It was a hard magic but she had conquered it years ago. She reached into herself, added what was necessary from the stone and called for Irwin.
Irwin was reading in his study. He felt the call before he saw his stone shining in his courtyard. Swiftly, he made his way through to place his hands on it. If Tortura was reaching out to him, something must be truly wrong.
Her message rang through his ears. She had lost some of her discipline over the years or she was greatly agitated. Considering the nature of the news, the latter was not unlikely. From his many years of handling crises both in the Academy and the wider Empire, Irwin was able to send a calm, steadying message across to the Priestess, adding comfort via the bond that she had severed years before and reforged with the call.
Before Tortura could convey the message to the girls, Darren came tearing into the room. He grabbed Kimi from Wendy's side and began dragging her to the stairs.
What did the boy think he was doing? Tortura ran after him, grabbing his shoulder and wrenching Kimi free from his grip
Darren jerked the Priestess' hands away from himself and groped for Kimi. Tortura toughened her hold physically and magically. "Don't burn the child out needlessly. Master Irwin will be here soon," Tortura said, as firmly as she could.
Darren stared at her. He took a deep breath. She could read the anxiety in his eyes.
"Listen to me, Darren. Your uncle will be alright. You must remain calm." As she spoke, she added warmth, comfort and peace to her staying magic.
Olga paused at the threshold to Newen's room. Then she pushed the door open. James was huddled in the corner. Olga looked at the straining man on the bed and made her way quickly to his side. Olga had no magic; she knew she could make no intervention of that sort. She placed her hands on the man's chest and began her prayers.
James watched in consternation as the Priestess' prayers brought a measure of peace into the chaos surrounding his uncle. Still the strands of magic twined and twisted themselves around Newen but the strands of the man's essence had been removed from the fray. Newen may lose his magic, even his sanity, but he would not lose his life.
Darren waited with the girls in the entrance foyer of the abbey. He didn't think he could face James' anxiety before a solution was at hand.
The abbey doors flew open in a flurry of wind and Irwin appeared in the foyer. He crossed the foyer.
Tortura was looking away to avoid Irwin's gaze and Darren was already leading the way to his uncle's room but Kimi saw it. The look that passed between her sister and the master was not one of a student and a teacher. A cold shiver slithered down Kimi's back. Something was not right here.
"Let's go," Irwin called to the girls, as he followed Darren up the stairs.
The room that greeted Irwin was not at all what he expected. The room felt calmer than it ought. The High Priestess Olga knelt by the bed, her hands spread over Newen's chest, her head bowed. The Abbess was in the corner, also with her head bent in prayer.
Irwin hastened to Newen's side. He sent his magic out and caught at the swirls of uncontrolled magic. Their movement was not as agitated as he would have expected. Nor was there any trace of the man's essence. Perhaps it was a dragon trait.
Gently, Irwin began knitting the trails of magic together, soon losing himself in the task. The dragon nature of the magic made it arduous work. Occasionally, he felt someone hand him food and water and he ate and drank mechanically. He felt the warmth on his back as the sun rose and the coolness descend as the blinds were let down. Every now and then he heard a step in the chamber or the corridor outside but mostly he was unaware of anything but his magic and Newen's. Although the situation had not been as life-threatening as he expected, it was more complicated than any restoration that he had ever attempted. The depth and age and dragon-like nature of the magic increased its complexity, calling for great concentration and steadiness of mind and magic.
Mirren had barely touched the food Darren had dished up for her. The priestesses had kindly brought breakfast and then lunch up to the family common room for them but she for one could not eat. Tortura had said that if anyone could save their uncle's sanity and magic it was Irwin. Apparently he was known for his ability to control the raw magic of others.
Wendy didn't appear to have eaten either, lazing by the towers board, her hand straying across it every so often. Her expression was faraway; Mirren could not read it.
But she could read Kimi's. Kimi sat on the other side of the fireplace, watching Wendy. Mirren knew that look. Something had disturbed Kimi and Wendy seemed to be the origin. At a time like this, what more had her foolish sister done?
James was white but shovelling food at a rate of knots. Kyle was helpfully filling his plate every time he got up to fill his own. Mirren noticed that even as he ate, his hands shook. It seemed James had a clearer sense than any of them of what had been happening to Newen.
Kyle ate steadily. Darren sat next to him, brooding.
Their heads turned in unison as the door opened. The Abbess entered. Paula looked at them, her expression encouraging. They waited.
"Your uncle is out of danger. Irwin seems to have been able to save him. He's resting now in one of the guest rooms and my two High Priestesses are keeping an eye on your uncle," she told them.
Mirren sighed and glanced round at her assembled siblings. Wan smiles managed to make their way into the sunlight.