A few days later Billy, Drake and Nexus were sitting in the wizard’s lounge of Minas Nimgul. He had learned about the sacking of the guild building and was expecting to see damage.
“It looks the same to me,” Billy said.
“Yes, the repairs were done quite well,” said Nexus. “There is nothing to show the carnage of last week, except the scars in the minds and hearts of the survivors.”
“And not too many of those,” said Drake. “Only five Lords remain, right?”
Nexus nodded. “It will be a long process trying to rebuild the full Circle.” He stared at Billy. “Shorter if you would join us.”
Billy shook his head. “I’m no wizard Lord.”
“You’re wrong, Billy. Your magic is powerful and effective. You learn quickly, and have grown in wisdom and compassion.”
“No,” said Billy.
“What will you do?” asked Nexus.
“I don’t know yet. Maybe explore.”
“What about you, Drake?” asked Nexus. “What will you do?”
“Shame the Elves decided to leave to wherever it is they went,” said Drake. “They could have at least stayed around long enough to send us home.”
“They wanted to leave immediately,” said Billy. “They told me this was no longer their home. I think they remember things more intensely than us, and everything in Salmineria reminded them of the pain of their captivity.”
“Yes, that’s true,” said Crow, perched on Nexus shoulder.
“You gonna keep that ugly bird?” asked Drake.
Crow shot him an angry look. “I’ll peck your eyes out,” he said.
Drake laughed, then grew serious. “If I can’t go home, I might see if the new united kingdom needs a military advisor,” he said. “But it looks like there are no more enemies left to give advice on.”
“You both would return to Earth if you could,” said Nexus.
Billy and Drake nodded.
“But it takes a tenth level spell,” said Billy. “I should have changed that when I had the chance.”
“No, you did right by not changing it. If it were easy to bridge the dimensions or other universes, Salmineria would not be safe or stable for long.” Nexus stood. “Let’s go up to the Circle Chamber.”
The three of them walked into the Library, nodding at Minserio, the new Chief Librarian. Then they entered the central hollow shaft that served as an elevator of sorts for wizards. Nexus cast the spell and the three of them rose rapidly to the fifty-eighth level, where they exited and took the stairs for the remaining two levels. Nexus pushed open the double doors that barred the way to the chamber and the three of them entered. The remaining four Lords were gathered there.
“Hello Billy, Drake,” said Nasan, newly elected Center of the Circle of Lords.
“Hi,” said Drake.
“Nasan, what’s going on?” said Billy.
“We want to thank you for your services to the Circle,” he said. “And give you payment. And send you home.”
Billy and Drake stared at the assembled Lords.
“I thought you were a few wizards short of sending us home,” said Drake.
“Yes,” added Billy. “There are only five of you.”
“Well,” said Nexus. “It seems that you have a few additional friends that want to thank you personally, and they happen to be magic users.”
Tome Qam and Desna entered the room, followed by Mandus and Staggar.
Mandus nodded to Drake, and Billy introduced the others. Then Billy turned to the Elves.
“I thought you had left.”
“We are the last,” said Tome Qam. “My son Desna and I decided that you might yet need our help, and we have a such a huge debt to repay to you. Delaying our departure was an easy choice.”
Billy nodded, eyes beginning to moisten. He turned to the Rauders. “What of you, Mandus? And you, Staggar? You owe no debts to me or to Drake.”
“The other tribal leaders are fools,” said Mandus. “We recognized the Taka Shema, and pledged him our help. Our pledge still stands.”
Staggar nodded. “And I will feel better once you are gone, so that I can again boast that no one in this world has bested me in battle.”
Billy smiled, slapping them on the back, then returning to the Elves and grasping their hands. “I am truly grateful,” he said.
Drake looked worried. “Hey guys,” he said. “I still count only nine wizards. We are one short.”
Billy looked at Nexus, then at Nasan. “Drake’s right. We are one short.”
“No, there is one more wizard in the room with the right skills and personality to join this circle of ten,” said Nexus, staring at Billy.
Billy shook his head.
Nexus smiled and nodded. “Yes, Billy. It’s you. In fact, you can have the honor of centering this circle. After all, you already centered a circle of fifty.”
“But I don’t know the spell!”
“Yes you do. Just concentrate. You touched the matrix of the Blue Crystal. All of its knowledge is now in you, ready to be called up when needed.”
Billy looked around, and saw that all the others had taken up positions along the vertices of the enneagon on the floor. Drake was smiling at him.
“It’s your show, Billy boy. Take us home.”
Billy and Drake walked to the center of the room. Billy closed his eyes, focusing on finding the right spell. His eyes flew open as unexpected knowledge poured into his consciousness. He felt the minds of the other wizards merge then open fully to him. He felt the energy reserves of the entire Guild open up. He channeled it into the spell that came to his mind.
The vertex formed in front of him, a dark sphere ten feet in diameter that exerted a mild pull on everything in the room. He felt its tug as it sucked in the air around him.
Billy turned to look at Nexus. The steel gray eyes were certainly an improvement over the milky white cataracts, but somehow it made goodbyes more difficult.
“You do not have to leave,” Crow said for Nexus.
“This is not my world.”
“It could be. Times are changing. The Palanost is now destroyed; its ruins to be a reminder of the triumph of good over evil.” The crow’s black eyes seemed to penetrate the depths of Billy’s mind. “There has been so much destruction, and there are far too few of us to rebuild in any reasonable time.”
“Don’t try to guilt trip me. I want to go home.”
Crow nodded. “You have done well, apprentice. And you, Drake, are a brave an honorable warrior. Nexus is proud to have known you, though the time was too short. Good-bye, from all of us here.”
“Good bye, Taka Shema,” said the Elves, the wizards, and the Rauders in his mind.
Crow fluttered off, and returned with a small leather bag clutched in his beak. He flew over to Billy, wings beating rapidly to keep aloft with the weight of the bag and the pull of the dimensional maelstrom. He dropped the bag into Billy’s hands.
“Don’t open it until you get home!” squawked Crow. “I mean it, too! No peeking!”
Billy smiled. “Okay, Crow. No peeking. Good-bye, Nexus. Good-bye, everyone.” He glanced back at Drake. “I’ll look you up back home, Drake. Go on.”
Drake marched to the portal. He was dressed in his combat fatigues, which had been cleaned and pressed. The MP-5 was slung over his shoulder, and the Colt was in his holster.
“Brave men, intelligent men, are always in demand,” said Crow. “And I have heard that you would be welcome in any Rauder tribe on the planet.”
“Tempting, but no,” answered Drake cheerfully. “I like the idea, and the Rauders are like heaven to a mercenary like me, but the truth is I don’t like magic nor magicians. No offense, but wizards are too damn devious. There’s no chance for a fair fight.”
Crow laughed, and Drake stepped into the swirling energy lines of the portal. Billy followed.