Chapter 10
Lost Sheep

Between Dragova and Falko, Byrn; Anno Regis 1275

"Something to protect... That is enough to keep a man going. When he loses that precious something, he can do one of two things: give up or find something else to protect. I've always fought my hardest when I'm protecting something and I know that I'm not the only one."
--Excerpt from the assorted writings of Mark the Guardian

Fearing a heated pursuit by the Dragon Guard, Mark, Ignatiy and the mysterious girl kept going throughout the day and well into the night, until Dragova had disappeared into the horizon. Overcome by exhaustion, the three companions took cover in the tall grass of a fallow field for some well-earned rest. As he was catching his breath, Mark looked at the girl, who was obviously unused to such exertion. It finally occurred to him that he did not even have the slightest idea of who she was.
"My name is Catherine," she replied, "the daughter of the Lord of Fiora."
"I-I haven't even asked the question yet!" Mark sputtered.
"I already know your questions, Mark. You want to know what has happened to this kingdom and why I am involved. To put it briefly, the King has fallen prey to a powerful mage calling himself Kyrios, a master of the lost art of Omnimancy. Nearly every single man of the Dragon Guard is under his control and he is using them to root out any potential threat to him, such as your uncle the swordmaster. He seeks to complete his power to make his reign incontestable."
As Mark opened his mouth to speak, Catherine continued.
"Where do I fit in? Have you ever heard of the Tryphonic Principle?" She shook her head. "No, you have not. The Tryphonic Principle states that humans consist of three parts: body, mind and spirit. The power of the body is exhibited in the fighting arts, the power of the spirit in magic and the power of the mind in psi.
"'What is psi?' you ask. Well, I sense you have been touched by magic before. Think of it like this: the way magic touches something deep in your heart, psi does the same thing to your mind." She paused and looked at him blankly. "You do not understand."
Mark heard her voice resonating in his head even though her lips did not move.
Do you feel it now? This is the power of psi. You are more receptive than most. It must be why you heard me before.
Catherine smiled. "I can see you do not like me answering your questions before you can ask them. I will try to be more accommodating from now on."
Taking the cue to speak, Mark asked, "How does concentration affect your powers? You said those censers kept you from concentrating."
"The full range of my abilities can only be wielded through the most intense focus. By burning that incense and depriving me of food and water to weaken my body, it took all I had to send those few messages."
With a start, Mark reached for his waterskin and food pouch and offered them to her.
"I'm so sorry," he said. "I was so wrapped up in escaping that I didn't even think of your condition. I had no idea. Please take what you need to regain your strength."
Catherine nodded, taking a few slow sips from the waterskin and nibbling on some hardtack.
"The three parts are interconnected," she continued, hardly skipping a beat in her explanation. "When I regained power over my mind, I could drive my body as needed. However, it is not without danger. The strain on my body could easily exceed my mind's capacity to compensate if I am not mindful."
Mark quietly absorbed all the new information. Catherine left him to his thoughts. She continued to eat and drink for a few minutes until Mark spoke up again.
"This Kyrios... How do you know about him? Why does he need you?"
"I am no expert in magic," she said. "I do not know what spell he used to subdue the Dragon Guard, but his name is deeply imprinted in their minds and I was able to follow that mark to its source. I touched his mind only briefly before I was taken. That is how I know what I do about him.
"He seeks to rule according to the Tryphonic Principle. The Dragon Guard serves as his power of the body, his own magic is his power of the spirit, and I was to be his power of the mind. Had I remained in that prison much longer, I probably would have also fallen under his spell."
"You're making my head hurt," Ignatiy whined. "I haven't the foggiest idea what you're talking about. All I wanna know is what are we going to do now?"
"We are going to put an end to Kyrios ourselves," Catherine replied.
"'We'?" Ignatiy balked. "Whaddya mean 'we'?"
"It was no mere coincidence that brought us together," the psychic insisted. "I have foreseen our first steps toward victory."
Ignatiy held up his hands to stop her. "Whoa, wait. You can see the future?"
"A little, yes. The power is not yet fully developed."
Ignatiy did not seem too convinced. "Not yet developed, huh? Then what are these 'first steps' you've foreseen?"
"To find the key to defeating Kyrios, we must go to Sagia, the city of scholars. Kyrios has already dispatched soldiers to hunt us down, but we will continue southward and lose our pursuers in the forest. His influence is much weaker along the borders, so we will travel along the western edge of the kingdom. It is the long way around and it will take more time, but haste will count for nothing if we--"
Stopping abruptly, Catherine closed her eyes and put a hand to her forehead. For someone who did not know any better, it looked like she was having a headache. Mark remembered her doing the same thing back at Dragova.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"A friend is waiting for us..." she said distantly. Opening her eyes, she looked to the distance. "He needs our help."
Catherine rose and darted off. Without even calling for her to wait, Mark grabbed his things and ran after her. A confused Ignatiy followed behind at a much slower pace. Unable to match her speed, Mark was amazed at how quickly Catherine had recovered her strength. He wagered it was her power more than anything else.
After a considerable distance, they came into the hill country. Catherine did not go much farther when she came to a stop. As Mark caught up to her, he saw large patches of grass soaked in blood.
Strangely, there were no bodies except one, a young man dressed in a coarse robe with a couple small daggers and a large pouch at his belt. Catherine knelt beside the body and touched the young man's forehead. As his eyes fluttered open, consciousness returned to him suddenly and he recoiled in startled confusion.
Placing a hand on the young man's shoulder, Catherine spoke to him in soothing tones. "You have taken a beating, but you will live. You are among friends. You are safe now."
"What happened here?" Mark asked.
"Olofer is a shepherd," Catherine replied. "His flock was slaughtered and carried off by the Dragon Guard."
The confusion in Olofer's expression multiplied. His mouth hung open, but he said nothing.
"I understand," Catherine said gently. "You want to know how I know your name. I will tell you quite simply. All that is in your heart and mind is known to me. Come with us and you can avenge what you have lost."
She extended her hand to him. After a moment of hesitation, the shepherd accepted it and she helped him to his feet. Mark hurried to his side to help him walk. Olofer pointed to his crook, which was lying on the ground a few feet from where he was lying. Catherine picked it up and handed it to him. He then shifted his weight from Mark to the crook.
While he limped along, Ignatiy stumbled toward them soaked in sweat and panting heavily. He looked at the new face.
"Who's this?"
Catherine waved her had as if to bat his question aside. "Explanations will come later. Now we must keep moving."
Without any real justification for complaint, they obediently followed Catherine until nightfall. After they had set up camp, they were able to exchange proper introductions.
"I apologize for treating you all so curtly," Catherine said, "but time works against us. Kyrios' grip on this kingdom tightens with every moment that passes. I have pushed you all very hard and I apologize. We will move out again at sunrise, so rest while you can." She paused for a moment. "But first, I suppose introductions are in order." Motioning to the shepherd, she said, "Mark, Ignatiy, this is Olofer." Facing Olofer, she pointed to Mark and Ignatiy. "Olofer, the swordsman is Mark, son of Luther, and the redhead is Ignatiy."
"How do you do?" Mark said, extending his hand to Olofer.
Olofer nodded and shook Mark's hand. The shepherd's silence struck Mark as somewhat curious, but he did not get to think on it long when Catherine intervened.
"You will have to forgive Olofer," she said. "He is a deaf-mute. He can understand what you say if you face him while you talk, but can only respond with hand signs and facial expressions."
Ignatiy crossed his arms. "So he can't hear and he can't speak, right? Wouldn't he just hold us back?"
Giving him a highly critical look, Catherine replied, "A little butterball like yourself with no stamina, no fighting ability and a dangerous obsession with fire has no place to speak about anyone holding us back."
Ignatiy scowled at her, earning a feline grin from his accuser.
"That was rude of me," Catherine said, not sounding too terribly repentant. "I was making a point. We all have our own strengths and weaknesses. Olofer's other senses are keen, including..." She touched Olofer's head. "...his sixth sense. He has a touch of psi himself, you see. His powers are weaker than my own, crude and untrained, but they serve him well. I can communicate with him directly, so allow me to relay messages."
Olofer looked at Catherine, his eyes revealing his concern. She answered aloud for the benefit of Mark and Ignatiy.
"You think there is nothing you can do because you are only a shepherd. You all doubt your ability to meet the task before us. My ability to see the future is far from perfect, but I have no doubt in my mind that each one of you will play a critical role in Kyrios' downfall. Trust in that."
"Trust in what?" Ignatiy scoffed. "Your witchery? You think you've witched us enough to get us killed fighting this Kyrios? Count me out."
"Oh, but I do not count you out," Catherine said. "You think about how easily Mark caught you. You are terrified of what would happen on your own. You need him to protect you and even though your do not understand my powers, even though I frighten you, you count on me to protect you, too."
Thrown into a frenzy, Ignatiy thrashed about, beating the sides of his head with his fists and screaming, "Get out of my head! Get out of my head!"
Mark and Olofer acted together to restrain Ignatiy. The swordsman shot Catherine an angry look, but she did not seem to pay any attention. Although Ignatiy tried to jerk away, Catherine reached out and rested her hand on his forehead. Within moments, Ignatiy was calm.
Although Catherine had proven herself to be a calculating and somewhat inconsiderate young woman, she looked genuinely apologetic as she turned to Mark.
"I am sorry, Mark. I know I went too far. I was trying to teach him something, but my methods clearly leave much to be desired." She sighed. "I may be able to read minds, but it does not make me good at dealing with people. I will try to practice more consideration from now on."
"It's okay," Mark said, not finding it in him to stay angry with her. "Let's just get some rest."
Putting the dispute aside, they settled in for the evening. Mark did not go to sleep right away. He thought on how much the situation had changed since he left his uncle's farmstead. Matters were far worse than he could have possibly imagined.
He had no real grounds to doubt Catherine's story, but she did not have his whole trust. There was a disturbing dichotomy to her. From the first time he heard her voice, saw her face, he felt a stirring deep within him. It was a feeling of ease unlike anything he had ever known before, but it was tempered by fear, a fear of her strangeness. Her powers made her something other than human. It was evident from the way she treated people. She might try to adapt her behavior, but it would make little difference.
Mark did not like the thought of giving Catherine control over his path, but he was willing to follow along for a while longer. Even though he barely knew them, he felt an obligation to his companions. He would use what strength he had to protect them. For the time being, it was all he could do.