The Midwest Wanderer: The Revelations of Oriceran (Midwest Magic Chronicles Book 2)
By Flint Maxwell & Martha Carr
Chapter 2 Cont.
They walked through the gates without a problem. The underlying smell of war and death was thick in the air, but they did their best to ignore it. Even Sherlock had known how deep seeing his former home in ruins had affected Gramps, and he’d kept his telepathic mouth shut.
As they got deeper into the village and Maria saw the destroyed buildings, which, had they been in better shape and been untouched by war, would’ve reminded Maria of townhouses in the better parts of Akron, Maria began to feel that same sort of dread she’d felt when she saw the Silver Griffin change into Malakai outside of Salem’s Ice Cream. Not to mention the music box was practically vibrating its way out of her bag, as if it didn’t want to be here. She had almost asked Gramps what that was about, but thought better of it.
Whatever it was, she could handle it.
Gramps stopped at a fork in the road. There was an upturned wagon on the right side of the fork, one wheel was leaning against the rubble of a large building and another was in the overgrown brush to the left.
“There it is,” Gramps whispered to himself. He was looking at the tallest building in the village, the Royal Hall. It was the least ruined part of the entire village. For some reason, it had given Maria hope. Why? She already knew what had happened here, what had made Gramps flee to Earth.
“Wow,” Tabby said. “It’s beautiful.”
“Truly fit for a king and a queen,” Gramps said. Now his smile was genuine. “Ah, so many good memories there.” His features darkened. “And so many bad ones…”
Imagine how many chew toys I could fit in there! Sherlock said.
Maria chuckled. “A hell of a lot.”
“You must see it,” Gramps said to Maria. “You all must see it.”
“Do you think that’s safe?” Maria asked.
Tabby and Claire looked back and forth at each other, shifting on their heels.
Gramps pointed to Maria’s sword, reminding her of what she had said earlier.
“Right,” Maria said.
If Maria’s breath was taken when she first stepped into the world of Oriceran, it was nonexistent now that she was in the royal throne room of Dominion.
It was a vast place, the ceiling so high up that it seemed there were dark clouds hanging above them. Two great pillars rose in the middle of the room, a singed banner hung from one. The other pillar was bare, but Maria knew it had held its own banner many years ago—she had seen it in Duke, the dead boy’s, vision he showed her. The one banner left looked oddly like a domino. Maria thought about asking, but saw Gramps was too emotionally drained to even talk. He walked slowly up the long, red carpet to the throne.
Sherlock was sniffing around. He hit a spot that caused him to turn his head.
“What?” Maria whispered.
Dead bodies were here, Sherlock answered.
Maria felt her face drain of color, and Claire instantly noticed. “What is it?” she asked.
Tabby caught interest of the conversation. “I don’t think I want to know.”
“You don’t,” Maria assured.
Now, at the end of the carpet, Gramps used what looked like a stand that had once held a torch to lower himself to the floor. He got on one knee and bowed his head. The room was huge, but very quiet. Gramps’s voice drifted back toward them. “My king,” he whispered and clapped a fist to his heart.
He got up slowly.
Maria walked toward him. “This is where my father sat?”
Maria looked over the throne. It was modest in comparison to the rest of the hall. Just a chair, high-backed with a plush seat of faded-red. She then looked at the area in front of the throne. In Duke’s memory, Maria had seen the king splayed out on the floor, dead. Of course, she didn’t know that was her father at the time.
At least the Arachnids had the good grace to dispose of the bodies, she thought bitterly. But a deeper, darker part of her mind knew they had probably not disposed of the bodies at all; they had probably eaten them, bones and all. The thought was enough to make her stomach churn.
“I’ve never met a more honorable man,” Gramps was saying.
Sherlock suddenly bounded past them both and jumped onto the throne. As his weight settled on the cushion, a puff of dust exploded out of both sides.
“Down, Sherlock!” Gramps ordered.
“The throne doesn’t belong to you, my canine friend.”
Maria raised her eyebrows at Sherlock. He came down reluctantly.
Man, you guys never let me have any fun. First it was the Raffin and now the throne…what’s next, I can’t even pee on a Gnome?
“No, you can’t!” Maria said.
“Why is Maria talking to herself?” Tabby said. “Oh, right, I forgot she can talk to Sherlock. Wow, I’ll never get used to that.”
“Think about how I feel,” Maria said.
“Could be worse,” Claire replied.
Once Sherlock moved out of the way, she followed in Gramps’s footsteps and got on one knee, and put a clenched fist over her heart. “For the king,” she said. My father.
Gramps looked at her, tears gleaming in his eyes, and he smiled.
Claire and Tabby followed suit, getting on one knee, putting their fists over their hearts.
“Sherlock,” Maria said. “Sit.”
Sherlock rolled his droopy eyes, but he did sit and moved his right front leg as far as he could to the left in an attempt to look like the rest of them. It wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough.
The tears in Gramps’s eyes spilled down his cheek. “I’m so lucky,” he said. “So lucky to have all of you in my life.” He stood up. Maria rose after him. “Thank you. I needed this.”
Maria hugged him.
Claire and Tabby moved over and joined in on the hug. Even Sherlock barked and sniffed around their ankles. For a split second, Maria thought he was going to lift his leg. Thankfully, he didn’t. Talk about ruining the moment. Instead, he weaseled his way into the middle of the group hug and barked until everyone reached down to pet him.
“Little attention whore,” Maria said.
I learned from the best, Sherlock answered with a wink.
They parted. Gramps took a deep breath. I think I’ve seen enough for now—”
But Sherlock cut him off. The Bloodhound started to growl—a low rumbling that carried far in the great hall.
“What is it?” Maria asked.
“Oh, shit,” Tabby said. “I knew it. I knew I should’ve stayed home.”
“Quiet,” Claire hissed and nudged Tabby. Gramps looked around the hall. The darkness was near complete in the corners, the only light coming from the window above them. The moon shone.
Maria thought of the glowing red eyes of Malakai, of the other Arachnids she had seen in Duke’s memory. She saw none of those eyes, but that didn’t mean other creatures could be lurking in the shadows, waiting for them.
She gripped the hilt of her sword and pulled it free. She found it was much easier to wield on Oriceran than it was on Earth. In fact, she had also found that the strange buzzing coming from the music box was now thrumming through her entire body.
Magic, she thought. This is a magical world and I’m a magical being.
It gave her confidence. She was ready to take on whatever Sherlock had sensed.
His growling hadn’t stopped.
“I think it’s best we leave. I fear we have overstayed our welcome,” Gramps whispered.
Sherlock stopped growling long enough to say, You don’t say, old man.
“What is it?” Maria asked the Bloodhound. “What did you hear?”
But he didn’t have to answer, because suddenly, Maria heard it, too.
It was the sound of many legs clicking across the stone floor.
The sound of Arachnids.
Maria was never one to run from confrontation, but with Tabby and Claire tagging along, it was the best option. She didn’t want her friends to get hurt because of her. They’d already come pretty close to it back at Salem’s Ice Cream when they ran Malakai over with Claire’s car. What if that hadn’t worked? What if Malakai had bounced right off of the Kia and wound up killing Claire and Tabby? Maria wouldn’t have been able to live with herself.
She was beginning to regret bringing them along.
“Go,” she whispered, ushering Claire and Tabby out of the hall first. She had drawn her sword and looked back toward the throne.
The Arachnids hadn’t appeared yet.
“Back the way we came,” Gramps said.
They went and got outside. The moonlight from the two moons seemed nonexistent, and the world seemed darker…too dark.
“Are they near?” Maria asked Sherlock once they were safely between two ruined buildings. The shadows would hide them. They could wait the Arachnids out.
Sherlock stopped, sniffed the air. No, but that damn Raffin is. His droopy, red-rimmed eyes opened wider. He let out a soft growl and said, Let me at ‘em.
“Not now, Sherlock,” Gramps said. He had pulled a wand out of his long cloak. Maria looked at it, confused.
“What—where did you get that?” she asked them.
“Questions for another time,” he answered.
Claire and Tabby were huddled close to each other, leaning up against the ruined brick of the building on their left. Tabby gasped, the noise sharp enough to make Maria tense up and hold her sword tighter. Then, Tabby brought up a shaky finger and pointed out to the main road.
The Arachnids were coming straight for them.
Maria held up a hand, telling them to stand their ground. No need for confrontation…yet.
“Man meat,” one of the Arachnids said. He wore a robe. They now walked on their two legs, and as this one talked, he moved his six arms, which came from his torso, in what resembled a windmill. “I smell man meat.” He tilted his head to the sky and inhaled deeply, much like Sherlock had done earlier.
Maria lunged forward, but Gramps caught her and held her back.
“You don’t smell nothing,” the other Arachnid said. “No one would dare set foot in this place. They know it belongs to us.”
The other Arachnid was shorter and more stout. He reminded Maria of the bodybuilders she frequently saw at the gym whenever she went kickboxing.
“I know what I smell,” the robed one said. “I smell man and they are scared.”
A quick look at Tabby and Claire would confirm this. They were practically holding each other.
Then the end of Gramps’s wand lit up with faint blue light, and Maria brought her sword up.
They won’t know about the music box, she thought. They’re just grunts. They probably haven’t ever even met the Widow.
They were now walking past the alley Maria and the rest were hiding in.
Gramps flattened himself up against the brick and the rest followed.
The Arachnids passed, their footsteps fading.
“That was close,” Tabby said. “Thought I’d never have to see one of those freaks again. Geesh.”
“Least they didn’t look as bad as our old friend Malakai,” Claire said. She brought a hand up to her chin as if to signify she was in deep thought. “You know what? I wonder if it’s too late to chase those bastards down and make them pay for my car.”
Tabby rolled her eyes.
Gramps brought a finger to his lips. The glowing at the end of his wand dimmed.
They were in the clear.
“C’mon,” Gramps said. “We have a Gnome to find.”
Sherlock’s ears perked up at that. Maria couldn’t help but smile as she looked at them.
But the smile was short-lived because Tabby let out a blood-curdling scream and Sherlock began barking like he was rabid.
Maria was about to yell how their noise would blow their cover, but their cover had already been blown.
The Arachnids had somehow flanked them.
And one of them had a clawed hand around Tabby.