Galadria's Choice: Part One

"Cryotek, are you busy?" Galadria called as she walked through the halls of New Valarak. "I need to talk to you." It had always been important for herself and Cryotek to have no secrets from each other and, now that they were married, that seemed more important than ever. Their feelings for each other, while largely unspoken, had always been clear for everyone to see and, shortly after the Spectral Knights returned home following their adventure in the Lost Shrine, they had finally "made it official".

Presently, she found him in the courtyard, an oily rag in his hand and the Lancer Cycle parked nearby. It reminded her that he had promised to help Ectar with the Lancer Cycle, but that wasn't what concerned her right now. She had important news, news that concerned him above all others. "Thank Prysmos I've found you," she said as she stepped outside. "There's something I need to tell you - if you're not too busy."

Cryotek shrugged, still holding the rag. "It can wait," he told his young wife, wondering what she was going to say. "What's up?"

Galadria looked down at the flagstones beneath her feet. Why, she asked herself, was this so hard to put into words? She knew exactly what she wanted to say, but actually saying it was another matter. "I - I'm not sure," she said, stalling for time. "But it could have been up for a few weeks, possibly since the night after we escaped from the Lost Shrine . . ."

"What are you talking about? What's probably been up since that night?" Cryotek still shuddered when he thought of the ordeal Galadria, Arzon and Feryl had suffered as slaves in the Lost Shrine - and how she, the woman he loved, had almost died from the effects of the deadly Crystals of Power. It was only thanks to a string of good fortune (and some quick thinking on Leoric's part) that she had survived. Cryotek crossed the courtyard and rested his hand on Galadria's shoulder.

Galadria paused before deciding to tell him outright what she suspected. "Like I said, I'm not absolutely certain," she said. "But I think I'm pregnant."

The last word took a moment to register in Cryotek's mind and he spent another moment wondering if he had heard her correctly. A slight nod from Galadria told him he had and, if it was true, this would be the first child born into the Circle of Light. And probably not the last. Leoric had recently announced his engagement to Fletchen, while Feryl had lately been spending a lot of time with a pretty former slave named Casiusa.

In the end, never one for expressing feelings in words, he flung his arms round Galadria and drew her close to him. She laughed slightly as her feet left the floor for a moment. These "bear hugs", as she called them, were his way of showing affection. And, sometimes, when the two of them were alone together, they developed into something far more intimate; Cryotek, for all his brusqueness, was very fond of Galadria and, whenever he made love to her, he did so with a tenderness that belied his strength.

At length, she began to complain of feeling dizzy and he had to put her down. "What are you going to tell the others?"

Her only response was a smile. "They'll know soon enough," she replied.

Neither of them noticed the unusually large Beetle that was perched on a nearby ledge. Except it wasn't really a Beetle; it was Mortdredd in his Totem form. Darkstorm had sent him, as he often did with his followers, to eavesdrop on the Spectral Knights in the hope of learning something he could use against his enemies. And, when he heard what Galadria and Cryotek were talking about, he quickly scurried off the ledge and, changing back into his human form, headed back to where he had hidden the Sky-Claw. As he climbed aboard and started the vehicle's engine, he smirked to himself; this news would be of great interest to Darkstorm.

That night, Galadria had a bizarre dream. She found herself hovering above her home city of Androsia as it had looked on the day a great tidal wave engulfed it. She saw the people going about their business among the beautiful white buildings, unaware that the wave of death was about to wash over them. Galadria shuddered; there were few things on Prysmos she hated more than tidal waves, largely because of the great personal loss she had suffered as a result of the one which hit Androsia . . .

In a park near the beach, she spotted a young family sitting in the picnic area - a man and woman only a few years older than Galadria's current age and their two small daughters. She did a double take when she saw the woman; the latter looked so like Galadria that it was like looking into a mirror. But there were subtle differences too. The woman's hair was slightly shorter than Galadria's and her eyes were green instead of blue. In that moment, Galadria knew she was seeing her own family - her parents, Maron and Giara, her little sister, Yerin and herself at the age of six - as they had been on that fateful day. The younger Galadria and her sister, wearing simple summer dresses, were chasing each other round the park, giggling and shouting as their parents looked on. None of them seemed to be aware of the impending doom.

Suddenly, Giara glanced in the direction of the sea. "Waves are unusually high."

Maron looked, then did a double take. "That's not just a high wave!" he said with an edge of panic in his voice. "Galadria, Yerin, come! We've got to get to high ground!"

Galadria watched with horror as the scene unfolded. She saw the wave rear up out of the sea as her family fought desperately to outrun it. She heard the frightened screams of the two children as they caught the sense of panic around them; to them, the wave must have seemed like a giant monster out to get them. She watched as her family, along with many other citizens of Androsia reached the nearest safety tower (the tall structures designed to keep people safe in the event of a tidal wave) and watched as they ran up the long spiral staircase, shouting and jostling in the panic. In all the confusion, Maron became separated from his wife and daughters.

"Giara!" he called out helplessly as he found the path to his family blocked by a mob of people.

"Maron!" she called back, holding onto Yerin with one hand and reaching out to him with the other. "Hold on!"

But, seconds later, the wave struck the tower, instantly engulfing everyone who was less than halfway up the stairs. This included Maron, who was caught in the deluge and swept clear as he tried in vain to keep his balance. "No!" the young Galadria screamed, unable to do anything except watch helplessly as the wave took her father. The look on the child's face as the wave engulfed the man who represented safety and security in her life conveyed fear, pure primordal fear of the forces which caused this devastation . . .

As the scene faded, Galadria - the adult Galadria - found herself standing in the middle of a deserted field, one which looked like no place she had ever seen in her life. It was dark and eerie, with no sign of life as far as she could see; both the sky and the ground beneath her feet were grey, plain grey. What was this place? Why was it so . . . dark? And why couldn't she see anyone else? Her heart pounded as she started calling names at random, hoping someone would reply. "Cryotek?" she called, her voice sounding unusually small in the silence. "Arzon? Lexor?" She did not care who heard her; in this bleak landscape, she would even be glad to see one of the Darkling Lords.

Then, she did see someone, a man. But it wasn't one of her fellow Visionaries; it was . . . She could hardly believe what she was seeing. Maron stood beside her, looking just as he had when he died; he even wore exactly the same clothes. "Hello, Gladdie," he said, a smile etched on his face.

"F - Father?" Galadria stammered, too stunned to register the use of the nickname Maron had called her when she was small. "W - where am I?"

"It is a place where the dead and the living meet," replied Maron, not moving from where he stood. "Ever since the day my mortal life ended, I've watched over you in spirit, seen you grow into a beautiful woman . . ." He paused and sighed. "My only regret is that I was taken from you when you were so young, not much more than a baby, and that I'll never see my grandchild." He turned his eyes in the direction of Galadria's lower torso. "But that's not why I brought you here," he added.

"What . . . what is it?" Galadria felt confused and frightened; some deep instinct told her that whatever he was about to say was going to be bad.

Maron looked at his daughter gravely. "Galadria," he said, using her full name instead of the affectionate Gladdie, "There is trouble brewing for you and your friends. You will soon have to make a difficult choice."

"Why, Father?!" Galadria asked desperately. "What's happening?!"

At this point, Galadria opened her eyes to find that Cryotek had been shaking her awake. "You were talking in your sleep," he told her, embracing her as she broke down in tears. She felt tiny and fragile in his arms, her body shaking as she cried on his strong shoulder. But what could be wrong with her? Galadria wasn't the sort of person to start crying for no reason; she was normally a very courageous young woman. Yet something seemed to have upset her - and he suspected that it was more than just pregnancy hormones running riot.

"Cryotek," Galadria finally said between sobs, "I . . . I . . ." But, before she could the words she wanted to say out, the door opened with a click. Brushing at her eyes, she looked up to see Feryl standing in the doorway. "Doesn't anyone knock around here?"

Feryl, clearly still half-asleep, ignored her. "What's going on in here?"

"Nothing, Feryl," Cryotek replied shortly. He had little doubt as to what had brought Feryl in here, but he was not in the mood to discuss it with anyone right now. "She's feeling a little tense, that's all. You go back to bed; I'll handle this."

"But . . ." Feryl started to say. Then, realising Cryotek and Galadria clearly wanted to be alone, he hurriedly withdrew, frowning to himself as he headed back to his own quarters. Something told him that whatever Galadria's problem was, it was more than just tension . . . No sooner had Feryl left, forgetting to shut the door behind him, than Arzon appeared. He had been doing the late-night shift on guard duty and was still in his armour, although he was not carrying his weapon or his Power Staff. They had both been stashed in the armoury.

"Now what?" asked Cryotek, annoyed at having two intrusions in as many minutes. He groaned and sat up to look at the younger knight. Both Arzon and Feryl were inclined to be a little hot-headed at times, but Cryotek generally put that down to their youth; they were the only Spectral Knights younger than Galadria. And he still had to get to the bottom of Galadria's strange outburst, a task not made any easier by constant interruptions.

"Merklynn wants to see both of you in the Conference Chamber," Arzon replied.

"What does he want?" Galadria asked, her mind filled with forebodings. After her strange vision of Maron and his warning about her having to make a "difficult choice", she felt afraid both for herself and for her unborn child. And the news that Merklynn was actually in New Valarak, especially at this late hour, added to her concerns.

Arzon shrugged. "I don't know. But whatever it is has to be important; you know he doesn't call on us for the sake of it. You two go on. I'll wake Leoric for his shift."

"You wanted to see us?" asked Galadria, taking a seat at the table in the Conference Chamber. Cryotek stood behind her as Merklynn looked the two knights full in the face.

"I did," the wizard replied. "On a matter of some urgency. Are either of you familiar with the Fellowship?" Cryotek and Galadria shook their heads. "They're a religious order," Merklynn explained. "They believe they - and only they - have the power to restore the Age of Technology. Which, as you both know, is a foolish notion. The Age of Technology will return in time, but not in the lifetime of any mortal now living."

"That's all well and good," Cryotek cut in. "But what does it have to do with us?"

"There is trouble stirring within the Fellowship." Merklynn pointed to the table top and a scene appeared on the wood, a scene showing several men and women in plain grey robes. They were all kneeling before a vast structure which Cryotek and Galadria immediately recognised as a former power plant, its generators permanently idle, its structure decaying. "And . . ."

"Let me guess. Darkstorm, right?" filled in Galadria. It was just like the leader of the Darkling Lords to deliberately stir up trouble and try to get others to do his dirty work for him. On more than more occasion, he had tricked people into siding with him against the Spectral Knights, his usual approach being to convince them that he was saving them from an "evil" enemy. Darkstorm was a master manipulator; it was mainly thanks to the bungling of his minions that he had been kept in check for so long. And, if he fell in with a religious order, there was no telling how much trouble he could cause.

"I fear it is so," Merklynn said in reply to Galadria's question. "The Darkling Lords entered the Fellowship yesterday, claiming that they had foreseen the birth of a child who will destroy all. Your child," he added with a pointed look at the young woman. "Your conversation in the courtyard was overheard - and by one who would seek to use it against you."

Galadria was confused - and frightened. Maron's words, his warning about the choice she would have to make, echoed in her head as she stared down at her hands. But surely even Darkstorm wouldn't wilfully condemn an unborn child, even if its parents were his enemies. On the other hand, he was the sort who would try just about anything to rid himself of the Spectral Knights . . . "What do you mean?" she asked at length, trying to keep her voice even. "Merklynn, why are you telling us this?"

Merklynn furrowed his brow. "I am telling you this because the Fellowship are dangerous, especially with the Darkling Lords on their side. They will try to capture you so that both you and your child may be slain. And that means your presence in New Valarak will endanger all the Spectral Knights."

Galadria looked at the wizard, aghast. Just hours ago, she had broken the news of her pregnancy to Cryotek and everything had seemed so perfect then. Now, however, she faced an uncertain future; no matter where she went on Prysmos, the Fellowship would seek her out. The only answer seemed to be for her to leave New Valarak, as Feryl had once done, and put as much distance as possible between herself and her friends. But how long could she last on her own, especially given her current circumstances?

Merklynn clearly saw the despair on her face for he quickly added: "I shall send word to the people of Androsia, tell them you will be visiting for a while - alone. While there, you will be protected by an ancient magic which will conceal you from all enemies, but only if you agree to leave your child behind once it is born."

Galadria, seeing the wisdom in his words, nodded reluctantly. She hated the thought of giving up her own child, but, from what she had heard about the Fellowship, they would not rest until they had disposed of both it and her. It was safer for her to follow Merklynn's plan, even if it broke her heart to do so. "All right," she said, her voice barely audible. "I'll leave as soon as I can."

But little did she know that the Darkling Lords and the Fellowship were already several steps ahead of her.

They made their move the following day, a day which began pretty much like any other. Ectar and Witterquick were out in the Lancer Cycle, leaving the other Spectral Knights to deal with the day-to-day running of the city. The morning passed peacefully, with no sign of any serious trouble, and the only time Leoric was called out was to mediate in an argument between two elderly spinsters, one of whom accused the other of failing to return several borrowed items. On the whole, it seemed as though today would a relatively ordinary day - or as ordinary as a day could be on a planet where magic was more powerful than science.

Feryl had promised to sort through a pile of paperwork, which mostly consisted of minutes from past Council meetings. Leoric had mentioned a few days ago that several papers still needed to be filed from before the adventure in the Lost Shrine and Feryl had quickly volunteered. He had nothing else to do today and this would at least help to pass the time. But he soon found that loose papers had a habit of getting into any order except the right one. As if to defy him . . . "Drat!" he cursed as he dropped a thick pile all over the floor. He quickly got down on his hands and knees and tried to gather up as many of the errant sheets as he could. "What was I thinking?" he muttered to himself as he picked up four more sheets and sat gazing at them for a few moments. But he was not reading what was written on them; his mind had drifted back to the strange situation which seemed to be developing with Cryotek and Galadria.

"Feryl?" It was Casiusa, the young woman he had befriended while they were prisoners together in the Lost Shrine.

Distracted from his thoughts, Feryl got to his feet, still holding the papers he had picked up. "Oh, Casiusa," he said, struggling to ignore the faint trace of embarrassment he could feel. He had been feeling that way a lot lately; just being near Casiusa made him awkward and unsure. Often, he would find himself wanting to talk to her but unable to put what he wanted to say in words. It was not shyness - that was not in Feryl's nature - but, rather, an uncertainty regarding how to behave around a female who was fast becoming more than just a friend.

But, on this occasion, he was saved from too much embarrassment by the loud blast of a bugle from out on the ramparts. The instant he heard it, he responded as he and all the Spectral Knights had been trained to. "That's the attack signal," he told Casiusa, grabbing his dagger from the table where he had left it. "I have to go - this lot'll have to wait." He nodded in the direction of the scattered papers and hurried out the door.

The Spectral Knights gathered on the ramparts, watching as the Darkling Lords approached New Valarak on foot and - seemingly - unarmed. But there was no telling with Darkstorm and his followers; they had tricked the Spectral Knights on more than one previous occasion, often leading to a great deal of trouble and inconvenience. And, for Galadria, their appearance was especially unwelcome after Merklynn's warning; she had hoped there would be at least a few days for her to make plans for her escape.

Leoric, unaware of Galadria's situation and thinking this was just another attempted invasion, called down his challenge. "Halt! State your business!"

If Darkstorm could be said to have any redeeming features, it was his ability to turn on the charm. It was a skill he often used when he wanted to trick people into attacking the Spectral Knights, even though the people concerned invariably saw through his lies and ended up turning on the Darkling Lords instead. But he was such a megalomaniac, so sure that his approach was the right one, that it never occured to him to try anything else. "Very amusing, Leoric," he said. "My "business" as you put it is . . ."

"Just say what you want and begone!" cut in Feryl, never one to mince his words when it came to the Darkling Lords.

Darkstorm ignored the interruption. " . . . has to do with Galadria," he went on as if Feryl hadn't spoken. "We have someone here who's very interested in meeting her. Cravex?" he added, turned to the quick-tempered Darkling Lord who grinned evilly as he understood what Darkstorm wanted him to do. Seconds later, a Phylot was flying towards the assembled Spectral Knights.

Mass confusion erupted. Arzon, realising Cravex (for that, of course, was what - who - the Phylot was) was flying straight at Galadria, acted instinctively. He quickly assumed his Eagle form and flew up to fend off the flying reptile. His intention was to buy his fellow Spectral Knights a few moments, enough time for them to get to the Capture Chariot, but Darkstorm was ready for such a move. Before anyone could stop him, he flashed a thumbs-up signal. It was completely unexpected. All seven Darkling Lords were present, so who could Darkstorm be signalling? Whoever it was, Leoric knew it could only mean trouble.

Seconds later, he was proved right. A stone hurtled through the air, catching Arzon on the head and knocking him flying, jolting him out of his Totem form in the process. In response, Leoric, Cryotek and Feryl leapt off the wall to make sure their friend was all right, leaving Galadria to fend Cravex off by herself. She slashed at the Phylot form of the volatile Darkling Lord with her trident head, driven by a deep instinct shared by nearly all females, the desire to protect the next generation. Her life and that of her unborn child depended on the outcome of this fight.

"Arzon, are you all right?" Feryl asked, kneeling beside his friend.

Arzon groaned but managed to sit up. "Yes," he replied with a slight smile. "But we'd better . . ." He was cut off abruptly as a cloud of smoke suddenly obscured everyone's view. Thick and black, there was no telling where it had come from, but it made it impossible for any of the four knights to see what was happening. Consequently, none of them saw the moment Cravex, still in his Phylot form, defeated Galadria and took off into the sky, carrying her in his talons like a prize.