The voice was taut and strained yet had the resonant ring of authority. Joe suddenly felt aware that whatever was on the other side of the door was something more than a man. He looked to Davy who, for once, seemed quite perplexed.

"Now, Joe. The fates of thousands depend on it."

It seemed to Joe that in that moment something must have reached through the door and used his hands to unbolt the locks for later when he thought back to it, he was sure he never did make up his mind to let the wizard in.


"It would surprise me to find any this far out that know it to see me but I am your king, Joe", the visitor's voice had a mellower quality now that he was warming in the fire's glow. Joe could see the words at play behind his thoughtful brown eyes each time he was about to speak, "A wizard king, no less."

"My - my king?", Joe didn't doubt it for a second. That gaze was such that if the wizard were only to ask, he might gladly have thrown himself into the forge headfirst.

"Indeed. King Nickb the First... and quite possibly the last."

At this the flicker dwindled in those luminescent eyes - but briefly. From the hearth, Davy held their gaze and gave the softest of quacks. When at last his king cast those eyes on Joe again, he saw at once the storm that had been forming behind them.

"There is a great force of Darkness speading even as we speak, Joe. Many hundreds of creatures, hell-bent on controlling us all - the Consortium they call themselves. Already they have laid claim to much of my kingdom and forced me from my throne and, worst of all, I am powerless to stop them."

"But you are a wizard! A wizard-king! Surely you can do something?"

"When I founded this kingdom, Joe, I did so in the spirit of unity. I wanted to create a utopia where all could co-exist at peace and in harmony. To this end I invoked an ancient and irreversible white magic at the creation, one which prevented all who lived within the kingdom from willfully causing harm to each other... but the Consortium - they are from outside and they have used an unspeakable magic that spreads like a toxic fog through the kingdom, corrupting the minds of my people."

Joe glanced uneasily through a gap in the drawn curtains. The sun streamed lazily through the boughs and canopies of the trees around the village square, dappling the warm earth with fingers of shadow.

"For most who are affected, the Darkness compels them to fight and kill each other - but the white magic of the creation prevents them from being able to land a single blow. I have seen many driven to madness with it. Then there are those who seem to have been sent purposely to kill me. The Dark magic used on them was of a pitch I have yet to hear incanted. When the creation magic stopped their hands, they killed themselves trying to overcome it. Some of these were my closest advisors, Joe."

King Nickb's gaze was now fixed on the fire as it consumed and blackened the last of the untouched wood.

"Needless to say, I cannot harm them - even if I could bring myself to strike those I once knew, that same magic would stay my hand. I have tried to find those responsible - this Consortium - and their leader, the one they call Eloosive, the Great One, but his power has grown so great now that I fear I would fall and with me would die the knowledge of the vision."

"The... vision?"

Davy's eyes were on Joe in a flash, alive with electricity.

"Yes, Joe. You see I have had many visions of the end of this Darkness. Almost every one has shown me my own death and the dawning of a new Dark Age."

Joe turned away as the colour drained from his face and found himself gazing again through the curtains. A cloud had passed in front of the sun; a chill breeze was tugging now at the gnarled boughs.

"All but one."



The End

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