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WolfSinger Publications

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Gate of Souls
- Verna McKinnon

Magical animal companions of sorcerers.
Keepers of spells and secrets.
Most important, devoted friends for life.

When one such familiar, Mellypip, bonds with the young sorceress Runa,  he shares in the wonders of magic. Together, Mellypip and Runa train  under the tutelage of Runa's grandfather, Cathal, and his cantankerous  mountain owl familiar, Belwyn. But secrets and spells do not make for  good sorcery. Old friends begin to vanish even as enemies from Cathal's  past return, threatening to reveal the truth of Runa's parents; a truth  from which Cathal must protect his granddaughter at any cost. When  Cathal is kidnapped, Runa and Mellypip rush against time to save their  family and friends from dark sorcery that will not only destroy them,  but shatter the Gate of Souls and release demonic creatures of The  Otherworld unto the mortal realms.


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Belwyn  was agitated by the dry heat and sand. A gray mountain owl, Belwyn was  bred for cooler climates, and the constant grit and hot sun of arid  deserts made him cranky. His magical nature as a sorcerer’s familiar  broadened his adaptability, but that didn’t mean he liked it.

“My feathers itch,” Belwyn groused.

The  shrill whistling wind outside their tent only added to his  frustration—one born of helplessness as he watched over his sor­cerer,  Cathal. Cathal sat in mute misery on the dusty rug, dark hair sweaty and  matted, gray eyes cast in a blank stare. Not even his rage remained,  only a sorrow that devoured his heart.

The oil lamps smoked and sputtered out, casting more gloom in the shelter.

“Bloody hell,” Belwyn grumbled.

Caliste  entered the tent. “The storm is finally abating. We should be able to  leave tomorrow,” she said in a weary voice, shaking red dust from her  hair and clothes.

“Good. I hate being blasted by sand,” Belwyn said.

“Why is it so dark in here?”

“It reflects my mood,” Belwyn said.

“How’s Cathal?” she asked. “Any change at all?”

“You needn’t whisper, my dear. He’s a statue of flesh, closed off to everything…including me.”

Caliste  sparked the lamps to flame with a nimble turn of her hand. “That’s  better. There has been enough darkness.” She sat next to Belwyn; her  beautiful black face pinched with concern. “I wish we could do  something. He can’t go on like this.”

“The  Sorcerer War is over,” Belwyn said. “But for some of us, it will never  be finished. The death of his family was the final blow that broke his  spirit.” Belwyn fought down raging emotions that threatened to erupt.  Nothing could excise this pain, but Belwyn would not retreat into his  own mourning until Cathal could at least weep for his loss.

“Cathal  once called Ashur son, when he married his daughter,” Caliste said with  bitterness. “I still can’t fathom how he became such a monster. How he  could—”

“I know,” Belwyn whispered. “None of us will ever understand why.”

Belwyn  winced as memories of Cathal’s wife and daughter rose like ghosts. “So  many lost. Yllia, Rualla, even Rualla’s familiar, Striker, all dead,  along with so many others, because of a sorcerer’s madness. The worst  blow was Runa.”

The  thought of Ashur murdering his own daughter tormented Belwyn. Talons  dug deeper into the ragged carpet as more memories were unleashed. The  fateful meeting on the battlefield in Thill and Ashur’s gruesome gift—a  silver urn filled with the ashes of Cathal’s wife and daughter—and his  granddaughter, Runa. Tied to the urn were the women’s silver and amber  wedding rings, and Runa’s tiny rattle.

That  confrontation led to a mad chase across the continent and several  battles, ending here in Mowad, in the middle of this damned desert. The  forbidden magic they used to defeat Ashur would give Belwyn nightmares  for years to come. There wasn’t enough ale in the world to make him  forget, but he learned a long time ago that to fight evil you had to get  your talons bloody.

Ashur was dead. The fight for Cathal’s salvation would be harder.

“Any word on Ashur’s forces?” he asked.

“Fled  or surrendered, all over the continent. Even Ashur’s demons are  vanishing like phantoms, or crawling back into the foul pits they  slithered out of. It’s like they know Ashur is dead.”

“What of Koll?” Belwyn asked with grim interest.

“That evil sorcerer has disappeared,” Caliste replied. Her voice was sharp with anger. “He’s not among the dead or captured.”

Belwyn’s feathers bristled. “Pity. I wanted to stain my claws with the blood of Ashur’s Chief Warlord.”

“Don’t  upset yourself further. You should rest. It’s been two days, and you  haven’t slept or eaten. If I bring some fresh food and water, would you  at least pretend to eat?” Caliste asked.

“Maybe  later. For now, just tell the others Cathal is resting,” Belwyn  suggested. “Let’s not add to their concern. They’ve all been through  enough already.”

“Very well,” she agreed. She kissed Belwyn, then Cathal, on the head, and departed.

Alone  with Cathal again, the owl pondered on how to reach his sorcerer. He  couldn’t remain like this. The dangers of his emotional retreat could be  permanent if he didn’t do something soon. He shouted, cursed, and  begged. He nudged Cathal with his beak again and again without response.  Desperate, he bit him on the shoulder, drawing blood. Nothing. Belwyn  finally used the bonding to telepathi­cally slip into his mind. He had  not intruded before, since he wanted to allow Cathal his private  mourning. But enough was enough.

Cathal…Cathal! Can you even hear me? It’s Belwyn. Remember me?

There was a stubborn wall shielding Cathal’s thoughts. At least it wasn’t an empty void.


Leave me alone, Belwyn.

His response was hollow, barely a whisper. But it was something.

Not a chance. You should know me better than that.

They’re dead. There’s nothing left.

I know, Belwyn answered. The sorcerers need your leadership. I need you.

I’m not strong enough…not anymore.

“I need you,” Belwyn wept aloud. “I will be strong…strong enough for both of us. Come back to me.”

Loud voices outside disrupted Belwyn’s concentration. “Damn it! Now what?” he snapped.

“Belwyn,” Caliste shouted, “you better come see this!”

He relented and poked his head out of the tent to see what the commotion was about. The glaring sun still scorched the earth. The people were still dirty and smelly from lack of water.

And above, in the hot, cloudless firmament of this unbearable desert, Belwyn spotted some new, unexpected arrivals.

In  the sky a cavalry of Ilyrran rangers riding perytons descended to earth  with powerful grace. Perytons, the magnificent, winged deer native only  to the lands of Ilyrra, were a rare sight in this bleak land. The  stunned soldiers and sorcerers gave them a respectful welcome as they  rode into the camp.

What the blazes are they doing here, Belwyn wondered.

Belwyn’s  feathers raised on his back when he recognized the lead ranger in the  dark green and black of his command. As he dismounted a silver peryton,  the desert gusts exposed a resolute wind-burned face, long black hair,  and the upswept ears that marked the Ilyrran race.

It was Ryen.

The gathering crowd parted with solemn silence at his deter­mined stride as he marched toward their tent.

Belwyn winged to Cathal’s side. “Our friend Ryen is here. Cathal please, this must be important!”

Caliste  lifted the flap and led Ryen into their small tent. Ryen looked weary  and filthy, but it lifted Belwyn’s heart to see him.

“Light’s Blessing, Belwyn,” Ryen bowed, giving the traditional Ilyrran greeting.

“No  blessings or light here. We’re a bit short on those now,” Belwyn said  with grim humor. “But I am glad you’re alive, Ryen. Is your family  safe?”

“Yes,  thank be the Gods,” Ryen replied. “I’ve been hunting you for days.” He  looked at Cathal, brow furrowed with worry. “How bad is he?”

“I wish I could say he’s been worse, but that would be a lie,” Belwyn confessed.

“Perhaps  I can lighten his burden,” Ryen said, kneeling before Cathal. Ryen  gazed into Cathal’s face “I’m sorry for your loss, my friend. Yllia was  of our people. We mourn her and Rualla. But I have someone you need to  see, Cathal. Someone who needs you.”

Ryen  opened his heavy cloak, revealing a small bundle wrapped in a blanket  that began to cry. Belwyn sucked in his breath when he saw the treasure  he held was Runa.

Cathal stirred and gasped in a weak voice, “Runa.”

“Yes—it’s Runa,” Ryen nodded. “Your granddaughter.”

Cathal  opened his arms and Ryen placed the weeping infant in them. In the span  of three breaths, Runa ceased crying and gazed with innocent trust at  the man who held her. “How?” he whispered.

“We  were fighting in the north, near Thill, where Ashur’s forces crossed  into our borders. While camped by the river, a red panther staggered  into our midst.”

“Striker?” Belwyn cried. “You found him!”

“Yes.”  Ryen nodded. “He was carrying a ragged cloth in his mouth. We  recognized Rualla’s familiar and ran to his aid. Striker’s wounds were  beyond our skill and he had lost a great deal of blood. Striker gazed at  me with relief and laid his precious prize at my feet. He collapsed,  and, in that fragile moment, he died in my arms. A cry issued from the  rags he protected. We opened the scraps of cloth and found Runa. She had  been content in the jaws of the panther and cried when we took her from  him. Striker died before he could tell us how he rescued Runa from  Ashur’s wrath. He paid for his last act of bravery with his life. I’m  sorry, old friends, for Striker. But I return Runa to your loving care,  Cathal.”

Runa’s  crystal green eyes, reminiscent of Rualla and Yllia, lit up the dim  shelter. Tenderness softened Cathal’s features as he cradled the baby.  Hope seemed possible again.

Weary  but relieved, Ryen stood. “We carried Striker’s body back to  Moonthorne. The Raven Wing honored him with the funeral of fallen heroes  and buried him in the sacred grove beneath an old willow oak. When word  reached us the war was over, and you were here, we came as fast as we  could.”

“Thank you, Ryen,” Cathal said, his voice choked with emotion.

Cathal rocked Runa in his arms, until finally, blessedly, he wept.

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