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“I’m getting rid of these damn water golems,” Roger Pill said as he climbed out of his brother’s brand new, red Corvette.
They were parked in a seasonally vacant lot in Old Orchard Beach, Maine. Wind whipped at him as he slammed the door. As Ned popped up on the other side of the car, he once again realized how different they were. His younger brother had a full head of hair, wide shoulders and a physique like a bodybuilder. Roger, on the other hand, had always been short and wiry with thinning hair. Of course, Ned had augmented his appearance with magic which was even better than steroids if done right.
Roger strode purposefully toward the ocean. He had closed half the distance to the dune grass by the time Ned caught up and tried to grab the cloth bag from his hand. Roger whipped around and caught his brother’s bigger wrist with his own and squeezed. When it came to actual strength, there was no question which one had the upper hand.
Ned yanked his arm back.
“This is crazy, Roger!” he said, rubbing his wrist.
Roger ignored him and resumed his trek toward the dunes and the beach beyond. The cold ocean wind came at them in gusts, making him wish he’d brought a jacket. October in Maine was far from beach weather. Ned’s sport jacket fluttered like a flag in the wind beside him. He wore garish rings on each finger and two large gold chains draped across the open V of his low-buttoned dress shirt.
Roger smiled. His brother looked more like a Hollywood leading man than a wizard in hiding from another world. But even with all their differences, he and Ned had always been surprisingly close. That’s why it was important he do this, one of the reasons anyway.
“If I’d known why you wanted to come here, I wouldn’t have driven you,” Ned said.
“I would just have taken my own car.”
“If Merlin ever does shows up—and someday he will—he’s going to be pissed. And even without him, the magistrates are going to have flames shooting out of their little red behinds if they find out you let those golems loose here on Earth.”
“Ned, you said yourself that Krage is getting stronger. Every little bit of magic that we keep use gives him a way to track us. I can’t take the chance he could find me and Zachary. That’s why I figured I’d let them go up here in Maine. I know they need to get in the water soon or they’ll die. It’s been thirty years.”
“So your idea is to let a hundred water golems just mingle with people here on Earth…just like that.” Ned waved at a young girl jogging up the boardwalk from the beach.
She scowled and made a wide arc around them.
Roger shook the bag of golems which clinked like a sack of coins.
“I can’t keep them, but I can’t let them die either.”
“So, why don’t we find someone traveling off world. No one will care if they get loose on say the third or seventh worlds.”
Roger paused when they reached the wooden walkway that would carry them over the dune grass and onto the beach. Choppy waves slapped at the sandy expanse. To the north the Old Orchard Beach pier jutted out into the ocean, and beyond it skyscraping condos stood like sentinels against the gray skyline. Turning to their right to the south, however, there were only squat motels and single family homes. Apparently, Maine hadn’t yet been entirely strangled with the same commercialism that covered most coastal states.
For a brief moment, Roger allowed himself to think of Pandemone. Though he and Ned had been smuggled off world at ages twelve and ten respectively, he could still remember his home world’s purple forests and crystal clear lakes, where the closest thing to a skyscraper had been his grandfather’s castle which, though amazing, still had only been ten stories tall at its highest turret. It saddened him to think that he and Ned could never go back and that his son Zachary would never even know it existed.
The price of keeping him safe.
Ned took advantage of his moment of reflection.
“Roger, you can’t let those golems loose. You know what kind of mischief they could cause here. With Merlin gone, we might be the last two wizards in the United States, and you know damn well that school of wizards overseas isn’t likely to send anyone to help us clean up any mess the golems make.”
Roger glanced to the dark clouds that scurried overhead. He didn’t sense any magic up there. Sometimes clouds were just clouds. He pressed his free palm to his forehead then spoke slowly so that his brother could understand.
“Flora’s gone, Ned, and I’m all that Zachary has left. I can’t take the chance that Krage will find either of us because I’m keeping the golems in our apartment.”
“Then give the damn things to me,” Ned said. “I don’t have a family, and I’m not scared of Krage.”
“That’s the problem, Ned. You should be frightened of him. Most of our family is gone because of him, and who knows why Merlin is missing. Did you ever think of that?”
Ned stared out at the ocean and shook his head.
“No way, bro. We’ve been hiding ever since dad brought us here, and I’m done with that. When dad and the other wizards escaped Pandemone, they thought they had imprisoned Krage when they left, but obviously he figured something out. Now I think we should find him and kill him.”
Roger gritted his teeth and started walking again.
“So that’s what this is about, Ned. You’re looking for weapons to use against Krage. In case you didn’t know, golems make terrible soldiers.”
Their footsteps pounded hollowly across the boardwalk.
“Okay,” Ned said. “I admit I don’t want to see you waste the golems, but I’m thinking about it for both of us. For Zachary. Krage is coming for all of us. You know that.”
Roger stepped off the end of the boardwalk into the sand and stopped. Though he and Zachary could hear the ocean from their fourteenth floor Boston apartment, it was nothing like this, nothing like the crashing of waves without the sounds of the big city in the background. Maybe they should move to Maine. Maybe….”
Though he knew she was never coming back, Roger held out hope that someday Flora would be back. He and Zachary missed her so much. He fought back a tear.
“The golems have lasted thirty years,” Ned said, pointing at the cloth sack. “What makes you think they’re dying?”
“I don’t hear them crying as much anymore,” Roger said. He held up the bag. “I haven’t let one loose since dad’s sixtieth birthday party, what almost twenty years ago.”
“That was funny. Remember, half a dozen dads dancing around the room like a bunch of old fools.”
They both fell silent. He had died at the chocolate plant later that year.
Roger started walking again. He wished he’d thought to take his shoes off because the sand inside them already felt uncomfortable. He was just ten feet from the high water line when Roger yelled.
Suddenly there was a blood-curdling screech overhead.
Roger dove to the ground and snatched his wand from the hidden pocket in his pants. It burst into beautiful blue light as he pulled it out into the open air. He could see a huge shadow swooped down. There was another horrifying screech. He rolled onto his back in time to see the creature’s scaly belly and barbed tail pass within a few feet of him before it slithered and climbed back into the sky. Within moments it was a speck in the northern distance.
He hadn’t seen one of the immense flying snakes in years. Without Merlin, he thought they would have returned to their own world. He couldn’t help thinking all of this had something to do with Krage. Even separated by the corridors and ten separate worlds, Krage still found a way to get to them? Roger understood his brother’s desire to go after him.
“Help?” a squeaky voice said.
Roger turned to see a child-sized duplicate of him standing on the sand a few feet away. The small version of himself was similarly dressed in worn jeans and a blue polo shirt. Little Roger started to cough uncontrollably, which seemed to confirm Roger’s thought that the golems wouldn’t last much longer without water.
Roger’s eyes darted to the sand where the bag of golem marbles had fallen open. He scrambled forward to pick up the loose ones and deposit them back in the bag. Thankfully, only the one had rolled into a pool of seawater. He intended to use magic to throw them far from shore where they would have only fish and other sea creatures to mimic, not people. It seemed to him that a water golem could live for tens if not hundreds of years transforming from one fish to another. Maybe they could survive alone on Earth.
“I didn’t hear you absorb the water,” he said to the small version of himself when it paused in coughing.
The magical creature opened its mouth to speak but then fell to its knees and coughed up a mouthful of seawater.
Maybe I’m already too late.
“It must have sucked up the water when the vreel attacked,” Ned said. He walked up to the golem that seemed to have passed out on the sand.
“So what’s going to happen when a hundred of these things wash up on Maine beaches?” he asked.
Roger knew his brother was right, besides looking at the small, helpless version of himself reminded him too much of his son Zachary. He couldn’t just abandon the poor creatures. There had to be some other way.
Crawling over beside the golem, he knelt and gently shook it awake. Soon his own dark eyes were staring back at him. Golems had always given him the creeps, but at the moment he felt more pity than discomfort.
“Do you think you’ll be okay?” he asked his small self.
Little Roger sat up.
“I’m starting to feel better,” the golem said, “but I need more water to be the same as you.”
“Go ahead,” he said, pointing toward the waves. “Get what you need.”
“What about the rest of them?” Ned asked, a knowing grin on his face.
Roger glanced up and down the mostly deserted beach, save for a few odd strollers and joggers. Suddenly, there was a loud slurping sound. He looked over to see little Roger was now full size, an exact duplicate of him.
Smiling, the golem waved and started splashing around like a little kid.
“Give me your jacket so I don’t look so much like him,” Roger said. “Then go see if you can find a shop with a few changes of clothes. Maybe we can get back to Boston before midnight if we let two or three out at a time and give them a few minutes to play before popping them and putting them back in the bag.”
As his muscular brother turned to do as asked, he wondered if Ned might be right. Would a hundred copies of him and Ned give Krage something to think about if it came to an all-out battle?
He sat down to watch the water golem play in the cold Maine ocean.