"I'm lookin' for my favorite Heath!"
He stared at the image in the crystal with eyes that were not his own. The tiny girl with her blond curls stirred something in his chained soul.
"Heath?" The voice of the Master was masked, just as his face was. Heath could not read the emotion in the Master's voice, but he was obliged to answer.
"Yes, Master?" His voice sounded hollow, even to his own ears.
"Your resolve is failing?"
"Then all is well."
Deep within him, Heath knew these words were lies, but that part of him was silent, broken. A place the Master had maimed, but not yet paralyzed, for he was unable to understand it to cripple it. Something about the girl, as she danced along with the big beast-boy, brought that part of Heath to roost. It was good fortune that the Master was not watching, either in mind or in body, for he would surely have seen Heath's eyes flash a brilliant sapphire blue before returning to their enforced crimson. When the Master left, Heath sat down beside the crystal and continued to watch.
"Slave, what are you doing?" The insane voice of the Deathjester pierced Heath's remembrance, and the image in the crystal vanished.
"Observing the targets." He stood up, and tried to walk around his captor, but the wall of darkness around his mind suddenly contracted, and he was forced back into the stone cushion.
"I don't believe you, slave. What were you really doing?" The jester's mouth curled into an evil grin that was a twisted parody of a clown's smile. Heath's stomach churned dangerously.
"Exactly as I said." He let his own hatred of his captor rise up to cloak the emotions that had suddenly resurfaced. The jester frowned, but seemed to be satisfied with the condition of the thrall.
"I think it would be best if you left this chamber unless the Master is within, slave."
The shadows clustered around his thoughts lifted, but only very slightly. He was able to stand again, so he fled the chamber as quickly as his feet could take him.
* * *
Shreds of thought hung in his mind, but refused to congeal. The work of the Masked Mage was complete, as it always was. This effort with the trio of would-be heroes would be his finest working yet, if he had his way. Heath did not know why, but he knew that the Master must not get his way. He also knew that the Master must not learn of his feelings. Thus, he had immersed himself in the endless rounds of practice and testing that the sadistic, so-called “Death Eating Man” laid upon him. Today, he was manipulating light, forcing it to bend in exactly the way it did not want to go. Deathjester had told him that accomplishing this feat would grant him effective invisibility, but that was not why he was dutifully practicing. The one memory that he had left to himself was that of the tiny girl with the blond curls, but he could not even think of her. In this citadel of trickery and illusion, no thought was safe, no secret unknown.
* * *
"Heath, you do not know now, but you are quite essential to my preparations." The Master had come to his rooms late one evening. It was very similar to the way the Priest of Light had come to his bedside in the boys' dormitory at the temple, and he found himself relaxing unconsciously. He hated it, but could not seem to resist.
"My plans involve much more than merely destroying those annoying upstarts. They have meddled too much and too often to simply die. Now, I wish to destroy their minds and hearts. That girl, you are the key to her heart. The source of her...happiness. You know that, don't you?"
Heath nodded, not seeing any reason to lie. The Master was stroking his hair now, exactly the way the Priest had, once, long ago.
"Yes, boy...she will suffer. She will suffer greatly. She will suffer, for it will be your hands that slay her and her compatriots. Even the Goddess will be unable to save her soul when she lies maimed in a pool of her own blood, staring up into your scarlet eyes!"
The laugh that followed, a high, piercing shriek, reminded Heath of the Priest not at all.
* * *
No, not now, please don't come here. Turn back, turn back.
The image in the crystal was irrefutable. Charlotte and her companions, the beast-boy and a tall young woman in leather armor, had made it successfully past the specter Heath had placed as a guardian on the portal that led to his chamber. Now, he could only watch, a silent observer in his own body, as his beloved Carlie approached the portal inexorably. As they crossed the threshold between the spirit dimension they were in out to the solid world where Heath existed, he charged at the barriers around his mind. But the shadows held. When the three children stood before him, his eyes blinked rapidly from blue to red and back again.
"Heath? Heath!" Horrified, he could only watch as his Carlie, his noble little Carlie, soared through the air, backhanded by his own fist. His eyes blinked once more, and remained crimson.
:You cannot fight me, boy.: taunted the powerful mental voice of the Master. :This is a fate of My choosing, and if the Goddess could not alter it, neither can you!:
"Heath? Why did you do that? Heath doesn't like Carlie anymore?"
The tears that shone in her eyes broke his heart. He could not say anything, but he'd be damned before he let the persona the Masked Mage had created inside him injure her spirit!
"Heath? Speak to Carlie! Heath!" She began to approach again, but the big beast-boy, beast-man, now, reached out and snared her by the collar.
"Carlie, he not safe now."
"He not Heath?"
The beast-man nodded, and Heath wanted to cheer.
:No you don't! Kill her!:
His hand whipped back, and a silvered ball of light coalesced at his palm.
"You not Heath! Give Carlie back her Heath!"
The three charged at him while the Master howled his rage, and Heath just stood there, waiting, unable to stop his own body from fighting the one he loved. Carlie stopped a bit back away from him, but she was swaying and chanting in an odd manner. The familiar ball of light materialized at his hand and severed into countless other missiles. They scattered into two interlocking rings that swirled about his three attackers, searing their skin and lashing screams from their throats. But they did not die, Heath knew that they would not die, and the screams of the Master in his mind was testament enough to the fact. The beast-man had transformed into his full werewolf alter ego, a form that incorporated more features of the wolf than the man. He leapt into the air, and suddenly reality seemed to split. To Heath, it felt like his body was being torn three ways, and he lost control over the whirling spheres of molten light. Then, it was over, as suddenly as it had started. However, Heath murmured a few carefully chosen words, and his wounds closed s if they had never been there in the first place. But they were not done yet.
"Wings of justice, bind the lies that enter here! Marduk, I summon thee!" The regal woman with the spear had raised the shaft high in the air and called out the name of a god. Out of nowhere, a radiant figure with white wings burst into being. Marduk raised his great sword, and wicked beams of light whipped out from its point, and Heath felt the hot fingers of silence wrap around his throat, preventing him from speaking. That would also keep him from using his magic, healing or otherwise. Before he could recover from the attack, the werewolf rushed him, and he was hard-pressed to get out of the way of the fury of punches and kicks that the warrior unleashed. He rolled, but when he came up out of it, he met the blazing eyes of the amazon princess. She stabbed at him with her spear, and its point pierced his gut. Pain like he had never felt before exploded in his midsection, and he could not even summon the strength to resist.
Lances of pure darkness slammed into him as he heard his little Carlie speak those two words. The pain deepened, but he did not lapse into unconsciousness.
:No! I will not let this happen! Insolent brats, I will destroy you!: Then, the Masked Mage rammed Heath aside in the priest's own mind and took total control of the his broken and battered body. The seal on his voice was wrenched away violently, and the Master used it.
"You have come far, whelps! But you will go no further! Now, you die!"
Using the unique paths of light magic in Heath's body, the terrible Mage unleashed a storm of holy lightning on the hapless warriors. They screamed again, and Heath shuddered at the way the Mage reveled in their pain.
"Give Heath back..."
Amazed and elated at the same time, Heath watched Carlie get up stolidly and heal her friends.
"You not Heath, and Carlie want her Heath back! Give Heath back his body, you bad mage!" She whirled the flail that was far too large for her around her head, and a diagram etched with black magic exploded on the floor around her.
"Demon! Get back my Heathie!" The last thing Heath remembered was the deep roar of the demon, and the Master fleeing his body in terror.
* * *
"Heath? Are you okay Heath? Say something to Carlie Heath!"
Uhn...what? Heath cracked open one eye; the other was sealed shut by blood. Carlie? Is that you?
I'm so sorry, little one. I can't be with you now. I’ll tell your parents you loved them...
"Heal Light!" The warmth of healing magic ran down his body, but it could not heal his terrible wounds. Those big blue eyes were the last thing Heath saw before his eyes closed once again, and he ceased to breathe.
* * *
Heath opened his eyes, both of them, at the sound of a voice in his mind once again. But this time, instead of the Masked Mage, a beautiful woman stood before him.
:Listen, I do not have much time before I must go.:
:Who are you?: He asked, but he knew.
:The Goddess of Mana, of course! I snatched your soul up before it could leave your body completely.:
:But why? I don't deserve to live, not after the things I've done.:
:I'm afraid that it's not your decision to make, my child.: She turned her laughing eyes on him, and, in the face of such reassurance, he could not help but laugh himself.
:What do you mean?:
:A certain young blond whirlwind asked to have you back. Her wish will be granted. Go, and live without looking back. Forget the time when your mind was not your own, priest, and both of you will be happy.:
And then She was gone.
* * *
When he woke, he wished that he had not. He ached everywhere, and did not have the slightest idea where he was.
"You are in the infirmary of the Temple of Light, Heath." The deep voice was familiar, and reassuring. The Priest of Light stood up from his seat at Heath's bedside, and walked over to the window. "I think that you have someone you need to meet." He pointed at the image beyond the glass, a little girl chasing butterflies with a young man at least four times her size. A bit off to the side, the young woman with the spear was standing, laughing at her friends' antics.
"Yes, I think I do."
Later, when he tried to remember what had happened, he got only a vague feeling of something evil, so he did not think of it often. Most of the time, the energetic little girl was enough to make him forget.
"Heath!" She called when she saw him, standing on the balcony. "Is it you, Heath?"
He nodded, letting her see his eyes, now as blue as the sapphire sky that loomed above him. "Yes, it's really me, Carlie."
With a whoop and a cry, the tiny girl clambered up the vines that hung from the balcony like a young monkey, and charged at him before he could even blink.
"Heath! Carlie so glad to see you, Heath!"
"I'm glad to see you, too."
As he swung her around through the air, scattering the butterflies, he realized that it was the tiny creature in his arms that had worked against all the odds to get him back, and he would never leave her again. He looked at her friends, and they nodded their approval.
"You know, Carlie. Your Grampa is going to be very angry that you left without asking." He said, smiling at the worry that appeared in her eyes.
"Has Carlie been a bad girl?"
"No, Carlie's been a very, very good girl. I think your Grampa will make an exception this time."
As he carried her in to see the Priest, he banished all of the dark thoughts and concentrated on the present. Even after all the things he had done, the little miracle maker had actually managed to work his redemption when he had thought himself lost beyond recovery. Perhaps it was only his imagination, but he thought he heard a soft chuckle as he walked into the hallowed halls, the laughter of the Goddess.