The Living Must Pass

“The Living Must Pass”

by Tom Howard


The first time, the king sent an eagle with a message saying Prince Georj had been taken and asking for the wizard’s help. Kragen, alone on his mountaintop, felt sorry for Prince Georj, but he didn’t know the boy and was too busy to help. He returned to documenting the four hundred seven uses of hollyleaf used in levitation spells. He gave the eagle a fish before sending him back down the mountain.

Next, they sent a human messenger with an added note saying the prince had been kidnapped by Darius the Dark. Surprised that the evil sorcerer still lived but unsure of why he should care, he continued consolidating Ferrini out-of body experiences. They were difficult to document as the three-headed Ferrini had been extinct for centuries. Kragen fed the messenger and sent him back down the mountain with the same negative response. His days of joining brave heroes on quests and rescuing royal offspring were long past. Let a younger wizard save the day. Kragen had sacrificed enough.

The noise of clanking armor and weapons rattling drew Kragen from his desk to the window. He couldn’t believe the parade of overdressed folk standing outside his door.

The third time, the king had climbed to the top of the mountain, but the old wizard had no intention of feeding the gaggle of guards, footmen, scribes, and court magicians who accompanied him.

“What is going on?” he asked Nong, his cane, after Nong answered the door.

“King Ballow wishes to speak to you,” Nong said. “If you’re not too busy, great and powerful wizard.”

“Ballow?” Kragen ignored his cane’s sarcasm, unable to recall when he’d last talked to a member of royalty. He spent his time putting together a lifetime of notes on the supernatural. He’d finished the fifty-sixth volume of his scholarly scribblings and wasn’t half finished.

He opened the door to an anxious looking servant. “Good afternoon,” Kragen said. “Can I help you?”

“Yes, King Ballow would like to speak to you. His son—”

“Has been kidnapped,” Kragen said. “Yes, I’ve heard. Several times. I’m afraid I’m out of the saving-princes business.”

The servant stood silent.

Kragen considered sending the entourage back down the mountain, but he couldn’t antagonize the sovereign. “Show in the king,” Kragen said, “but no one else. The cleaner hasn’t been in for a couple decades. Does he drink tea?”

“Yes, sir. Just the king.” The man scurried off to speak to the man in the heavy crown and the purple robes.

Kragen didn’t dust the caves he called home for the occasional friend who came by every decade or so, and he couldn’t be bothered to for someone he’d never met.

He cleared a path to a table in the middle of the room and conjured a pot of hot tea. He’d left the door open, and the king entered, looking haggard and irritated at making the trek.

He didn’t waste time. “What will it take for you to save my son?”

“Please sit and have some tea.” Kragen waved his hands, and the chairs emptied themselves of assorted scrolls and paraphernalia.

The king sagged into a seat and ignored the tea.

Kragen poured a cup. “If you’ve come all the way up here to see me, Your Excellency, you must be desperate. I’m surprised anyone remembered me.”

“My father’s chamberlain recalled you and Darius the Dark had battled in the past,” the king said. “Everyone I’ve sent into the wastelands has been vanquished, my strongest warriors and most powerful wizards.”

Kragen shook his head. “Darius has always been a threat. I’m surprised the kingdoms haven’t banded together and destroyed him by now.” He offered the king a cookie and took one from the plate he’d created when the king shook his head. “But I’m retired and was defeated when I challenged him.”

“My son is all I have,” the king said. “He’s always been headstrong, but he doesn’t deserve this.”

“Ah,” Kragen said. “My memories may be fuzzy, but I recall Darius likes to entrap his victims. He didn’t kidnap your son, did he? Georj went willingly with the dark one, tricked by his promises.”

The king sighed. “Yes. He’s an idiot. But only someone who has fought Darius and survived can hope to defeat him and bring my son home. How much gold do you require?”

“You don’t understand,” Kragen said. “I am too old to be anyone’s savior.”

“What of your children?” King Ballow asked. “Would you save them if Darius had them?”

Kragen avoided memories of the dark sorcerer and his children. “I tried defeating him. He killed my children in front of me when I failed.”

“They’re not dead,” the king said. “My men have seen them. Your children are alive in the wastelands.”

“My children?” The king must be wrong. “That’s impossible.”

“My men have seen both of them. They’ve helped my people escape. No one dies in the wastelands.”

“My children are dead,” Kragen said. “They died trying to save me years ago. Darius bested me in battle, and when my children came to my rescue, he killed them while I watched. He released me as a final act of vengeance, so I’d return to my empty life, broken heart and soul.”

The king stood. “The opportunity to see two of your children for the return of one of mine. I’ll give you whatever you ask.”

Kragen remained seated. Would he risk his life to save the king’s spoiled son? No. To see his children again? Yes.

“The wasteland is far away,” Kragen mused. “When I arrive, Darius may kill me out of spite.”

“Then you’ll go?”

“Not for you or your son but for a chance to see my children.” Let Darius kill him this time.

“I’ll send guards with you,” the king said.

“No.” Kragen stood. “It’s best if I travel alone through the wastelands. A retinue of guards will only be a target. I’ll need a carriage to the border.”

The king nodded. “Good luck.” Then he walked to the door.

Kragen ignored him and sighed. His fifty-seventh volume dealing with psychic parasites might never be finished.


Kragen stood at the border of the chilly wastelands. The road to this point had been well marked, but it disappeared among the crags of the black landscape ahead. He pulled his thick robes tight and adjusted his pack. He had no doubts his children were long dead. He’d seen them lying lifeless at the foot of the Black Tower. The king’s ramblings about no one dying in the wasteland seemed nonsense, but years ago, Wilk and Adana had taken this dark and cold road to save him. If he hoped to see them again, he must be brave and forge ahead, whatever the result.

“If we’re going on this death march,” his cane said, “let’s get it over with.”

“Shut up, Nong. Don’t think you can chatter this entire trip. I only brought you because my knees aren’t what they used to be.”

“Me? You’re the one who needs someone to talk to.”

Kragen stepped into the nighttime of the wastelands, and the temperature dropped twenty degrees. He didn’t recall it being so cold when he’d crossed it as a younger wizard. “Okay,” he said. “Off we go.”

“Are you speaking to me?” Nong asked. “I wouldn’t want to be a chatterer.”

Kragen kept a watchful eye as he walked. The wastelands housed a number of unsavory creatures. He’d need more than a cane for protection. Fortunately, Nong was more than a cane.

The old wizard feared this trip would be his last. Ironic that someone who had lived through dragonfire and brimstone feared being swallowed by a hungry frogmonster in the wastelands.

Something with leathery wings flew overhead, and Kragen ducked.

“Bloodbat,” Nong said. “Not dangerous.”

“I knew that. Quiet.”

“You’re a fool if you think your children are still alive,” Nong said. “You saw Darius shove them off the top of the Black Tower.”

Darius had allowed Kragen to live, part of his revenge. “Strange things are said of the wastelands. Do you think there’s a chance—”

“Yes, definitely,” Nong said. “They jumped up the minute we left, did a little dance, and lived happily ever after.”


“No. There’s a grayscale slithering across the path. Very dangerous. If you insist on believing people can’t die here, you’ll fall for any illusion Darius sends your way.”

Nong was right. Kragen paused to let the large snake cross the path. It flicked its tongue at Kragen before zipping into the withered underbrush.

A rumbling in the distance heralded a group of horsemen, wearing black and riding black stallions.

“Darius’ men?” Kragen asked Nong.

“What am I? Psychic?”

Expecting the worst, Kragen braced himself as a half-dozen men pulled up. Two of them slid off their horses with their swords drawn.

“Yes, they’re Darius’ men,” Nong said.

“Thanks.” Kragen prepared a disarming spell and stepped back.

The first man, heavily armored and towering over the wizard, stomped forward. A twang came from nowhere, and an arrow pierced the man’s chest-plate. Kragen didn’t know who was more surprised, him or the dying man. The others shouted, but they too received arrows in their chests. The riderless horses ran down the path the way they had come, dropping bodies along the trail.

Kragen disarmed his disarming spell.

A hooded figure, tall and broad-shouldered, stepped from between two boulders. Behind him, a dozen cloaked archers appeared. More of Darius’ men? Some appeared to be women, and all wore hooded cloaks of brown or green.

“Sorry I’m late, Father,” the tallest said. He pulled back his hood.

“Wilk!” Kragen rushed forward and wrapped his arms about his elder child. “How is this possible?”

His son bent to hug him. “It’s a long story, Father. Things are different here in the wastelands.”

“Even death?”

Wilk smiled. “Even death. We’d better retreat before Darius’ highwaymen revive. Short encounters make them angry because they don’t have an opportunity to draw blood. We have a camp at the edge of the wastelands.”

“Ah,” Kragen said, “you want to go away from the Black Tower? Nong is right. I am susceptible to Darius’ illusions. You’re not really here, are you?”

Wilk smiled the same lopsided smile he’d been born with. “I’m really here, Father. How long has it been? You’re much older than I recall.”

“While you haven’t changed a day.”

“The curse of the wastelands, I’m afraid.”

The group moved through standing stones toward the camp, and Kragen and Wilk trailed behind. He smelled like Wilk. Smells were difficult to imitate. This wasn’t an illusion.

“So you’re not dead?” Kragen asked. “Are you a ghost?”

“No, I’m alive,” Wilk said. “I can’t leave the wastelands, and I don’t seem to age.” He pulled a faceted sapphire from his pocket. “I thought it might be because of this, but no one else stays dead even without one.”

“Your soul stone!” Kragen exclaimed. “You still have it after all this time?”

Wilk laughed, and the sound filled the cobwebbed chambers of Kragen’s heart.

“For me, it’s only been a yesterday,” Wilk said. “I’m sorry we left you.”

“Left me? You were stolen from me. No need to apologize for dying and leaving me alone. You’ve always thought it your job to take care of everyone.”

“I learned it from you, Father.”

“And what of Adana? Do you see her?” Kragen asked.

“Occasionally we wave at each other across the White River. She never liked the cold, remember? And it’s always Winter here.”

“You can’t visit her?”

Wilk shook his head. “The heat bothers me more than when I was alive.”

The camp looked like a city rather than a group of tents. People sat around campfires, cooking and laughing.

“Where are we?” Kragen asked.

“Somewhere the dead can forget their situation,” Wilk said.

“Can I return to visit you here again?”

“No, Father. The living must pass through the wasteland. Only Darius stays. We don’t know how.” He showed Kragen to a seat beside a fire. “Can you defeat him this time?”

“I haven’t lost touch with reality in my old age.” Kragen grunted as he sat on a stump, grateful Nong hadn’t commented on his popping bones. “No. I can’t defeat him and save the boy. Darius destroyed me totally when he killed you. The only reason I agreed to come back here was the chance I’d see you and Adana. We didn’t have an opportunity to say good-bye.”

Wilk sat beside his father.

“You don’t hate me for getting you killed?” Kragen couldn’t believe he was talking with his son.

Wilk sighed. “As I recall, Adana and I tried to rescue you when Darius sent a messenger saying he’d captured you. The warrior and the sorceress saving the old man. We didn’t realize we’d been tricked until he killed us.”

Kragen nodded. “Bastard.”

“I’ll take you to Adana,” Wilk said. “She’ll escort you to the Black Tower.”

“I’ll enjoy seeing your sister again. Shouldn’t we wait for the morning?”

“Have you forgotten, Father? The sun never rises on this side of the wastelands. But, before you continue, you should take this.” He held out his soul stone.

“No,” Kragen said. “I made it to protect you.”

“It didn’t work against Darius,” Wilk said, “but I’ve always wondered if you hadn’t made them for us, would you have had the power you needed to defeat him? They were part of you.”

“No. I couldn’t.”

Wilk shrugged. “I have friends and a life here, Father. I will be all right. Take it, please. Another father’s son needs it more than I do.”

Kragen’s eyes stung. He stood and hugged his son. “Thank you for everything, Wilk. Is there nothing I can do for you?”

“Pay the bastard back,” Wilk said, “for what he did to us.” He handed his father the sapphire.

The moment it touched Kragen’s palm, it dissolved into his skin, and a cascade of blue light energized him. He felt younger than he had in years.

“Good-bye, son,” Kragen said. “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” Wilk said. “Adana will be glad to see us.”

“You’re a stupid fool.” Adana wore layers of beige homespun to protect her from the brutal sun. The wrought-iron bridge Kragen had traveled to reach her creaked over the White River. Wilk waved from one ice-encrusted end, and Adana met him where the hot iron burned anyone foolish enough to touch it.

No hugs. No kisses. Only an angry young woman swaddled in desert robes. White and yellow dunes stretched before them. The only greenery existed at the foot of the cliffs on the banks of the river.

The air burned Kragen’s lungs when he inhaled. “I’m sorry I didn’t return for you sooner, Adana. I didn’t know the wasteland resurrected the dead.” Had he even considered it?

She whirled about, taller than her father. “I’m not angry because you didn’t come looking for us. I’m mad because you came back at all. Darius will kill you this time and grind your bones to dust so fine even the wastelands won’t resurrect you.”

“Where are we going?” He followed her into the dunes.

“To the caves,” she said. “Darius won’t find us there. Although it might be over quicker if he did.”

“Don’t worry about me,” Kragen said. “I only came for a chance to see you and Wilk again.”

“Is that all?” she asked.

“Well, and to save a stupid prince if I can.”

“Always the hero, Father. Saving everyone. Watch your step.” Adana disappeared at the base of a dune.

Kragen entered a cleft in the bedrock and descended into blessed coolness.

“Yep,” Nong said. “Some family reunion.”

“Shut up.” Kragen thumped Nong against the stone steps.

Adana ignored them and took an unlit torch from the wall at the bottom of the stairs. It lit without her making a gesture.

Kragen had forgotten how good she was. “I’m surprised Darius allows another wizard to remain in the wastelands.”

Adana stopped in a spacious underground chamber and removed layers of clothing. “I don’t possess enough magic to be a serving wench in the Black Tower. What you taught me is beneath his notice.”

The chamber contained large carvings and several stone tables. An underground river cut through the middle of the room, and footbridges provided access for the hooded people who traveled from one side to another.

“You live here?” Kragen asked Adana. “It’s beautiful.”

She nodded, and her blonde hair tumbled below her shoulders. She looked like her mother, making Kragen doubly sad.

“Because of the heat, we live underground,” Adana said. “Your King Ballow has increased our numbers as Darius kills his wizards.”

“Odd,” Kragen said. “Where Wilk lives, the sun never rises and here, in your desert, the sun never sets. He keeps the warriors, and you keep the wizards. I’ve heard you returned some of the king’s men.”

“Those still living. Would you like a drink?”

“Yes, thank you. And to rest my weary bones. May I sit?”

She nodded to a stone bench. “You’ve grown older since you left us here.”

“I swear I didn’t know I’d left a part of you behind. After Darius made sure I saw your bodies, I never thought of the wastelands again.” Perhaps he should have.

Adana sighed and sat with him. With the wave of her hand, bread, cheese, and a pitcher of water appeared on the stone table. She poured him a glass, and he took it.

“Must you face him again?” she asked. “You know it won’t turn out differently. And this time, we can’t try to save you.”

“That may be for the best. I’m so sorry, Adana. I never wanted you and Wilk to come after me.”

“And what happens when Darius kills you this time? He’ll enjoy killing you over and over.”

“He hasn’t hurt you, has he?”

She laughed, but it sounded hollow. “As I said, I’m beneath his notice. My friends and I live like moles and fear the day when the shadow of the Black Tower touches us. I wish you could kill him.”

“I couldn’t do it years ago, and I doubt I’ll have any better luck now. Wilk thinks I lost the battle with Darius because I’d made you soul stones and given away a piece of myself.”

Adana poured herself a drink. “Interesting.” She pulled her own soul stone, a flawless ruby, from her pocket and placed it on the table. “Do you think reabsorbing it will help?”

He shrugged. “It may have made a difference when I was younger, but it won’t help me now. Wilk gave me his anyway.”

“You’re still a stupid old man, but it may help you live long enough to ensure Darius can’t use your body.” She pushed her soul stone across the table to him.

“Thank you, Adana.” The instant he touched the stone, it dissolved into him. He felt the sparks of ruby energy crackle across his skin. Like with Wilk’s, the stone made him feel younger. “I’m too old to be saving anyone, but I suppose I should see Darius before I return to my books and journals and abandon you again.”

Adana smiled. “Still trying to be a scholar, Father?”

“I prefer it to being an actual wizard. Wilk said you could escort me to the Black Tower.”

“Yes, Father. These tunnels will take us there. But I’m afraid I can’t help against Darius. He’s already killed me once.”

“I understand. I wouldn’t put you or Wilk through it again. Let’s get started before Nong fills you in on the numerous mistakes I’ve made since I lost you and Wilk.”

Adana touched the cane leaning against the table. “Hello, Nong. Good to see you again.”

“And you, mistress. Perhaps I could stay here with you until your father returns.”

“Coward,” Kragen said, and Adana laughed, sounding like her old self.

“He hasn’t changed,” she said.

“Unfortunately.” Kragen stood.

“You don’t think I’m weak for not going with you?” she asked.

Kragen smiled. “My children, always thinking they let me down when it’s I who have never been good enough.”

She stood and hugged him. “I’m sorry I called you a stupid old man.”

“I can’t argue with you,” Kragen said. “I didn’t realize my children still existed in the wastelands. Father of the year.”

She pulled away. “You came here to die. You want to be with us.”

“No. I came to tell you I love you. Everything else is pudding after the feast. Thank you. Wilk says I can’t visit you again if I survive.”

“The living must pass through,” Adana said. “Follow me.”

He picked up Nong. “Good-bye, daughter. Thank you for everything.”

She hugged him for the last time and led him to the Black Tower, both of them furtively wiping away tears.

Kragen trudged to the front door. Unlike the parts of the wasteland that he’d visited today, the Black Tower sat in eternal twilight. Here, the cold night met the steaming day. The air dried his tears, and although he’d seen his children, he still mourned their deaths.

He wasn’t surprised to find the door unlocked. What had Darius to fear in the heart of his domain? If Kragen was smart, he’d turn around and leave the wastelands. He’d seen his children and said his farewells. Was he still trying to prove something after all these years? Or had he returned to be destroyed to pay for his hubris?

The front hall looked as Kragen remembered, ostentatious in black and white. Onyx floor tiles supported chairs of ebony and milk-glass vases taller than Kragen.

“Need I tell you how many dangerous things are in this room?” Nong asked. “Touch nothing.”

Kragen stood at the foot of the stairs. “I’m old, but I haven’t forgotten what defeated me last time. This tower is one deadly enchantment.”

“That’s very wise of you to realize,” a young man said from the stairway. “So many guests succumb upon entry.”

“Prince Georj?” Kragen asked.

The prince had wavy dark hair and bright blue eyes. He smiled over the bannister, and his perfect teeth gleamed. “The great wizard Kragen, I presume? The master has been waiting for you. Please come up, but I wouldn’t touch the bannister.”

“Yet I see you touch it with impunity. I take it you’re not a prisoner of the dark one?”

Kragen followed the young man up the stairs, using Nong as more than support. The cane would alert him should Darius try anything devious, but why hadn’t Darius killed him already?

The prince escorted him to a ballroom lined with mirrors. Giant crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling. Darius used the room as an arena, crushing an opponent’s magic as easily as he’d crack an egg at breakfast. Kragen knew from experience.

He sighed and followed the prince. He should have conceived a clever plan, but he hadn’t. He felt less prepared this time than he had before. He was older and weaker. Had Adana been right? Had he come here to die?

“Kragen, my old friend.” A tall man rose from an obsidian throne in the center of the room. “How are you?”

Darius hadn’t changed. He used his powerful magics to keep himself the age he’d been when they’d last battled. He stood tall and straight, his pitch-black hair slicked back from a pronounced widow’s peak. High cheekbones and a long, thin nose sat below eyes as black as his throne.

“When they told me you approached,” Darius said, “I couldn’t believe you still lived.”

“I felt the same about you,” Kragen said. “The surrounding kingdoms should have cleaned out this cesspool long ago. Could I have a chair? These old bones aren’t what they’re used to be.”

“Georj, please bring my old friend a chair.”

“One that’s not cursed, please.” Kragen watched the young man scurry away. Definitely not a kidnap victim.

Darius took his seat, appearing unconcerned.

Georj brought the chair, and Nong made no comment on its deadliness, so Kragen sat. It felt good to be off his feet. The ballroom arena was long.

“So, what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?” Darius asked.

“I’ve come to return the prince to his father, but it appears he’s here of his own free will.”

“Yes, he is quite lovely, isn’t he? Would you like something to drink?”

Kragen smiled. “No. I don’t plan on staying long.” He didn’t know what he planned, but he hoped it was over quickly. “What are you up to, Darius? You could have killed me at any point along the trip.”

“I didn’t want to interrupt your family reunion. How are your lovely children?”

Kragen took a deep breath before unlocking his jaws. “They’re fine. They learned their lesson the first time and won’t try to save the old man again. Why did you bring me here?”

“Me? I didn’t summon you. You came of your own accord.” Darius steepled his fingers, and his gaze flicked to the prince.

Kragen snorted. “Not true. You knew the only reason I’d return to the wastelands was the promise of seeing my children again. But you needed a way to tell me they still lived, so you enticed the prince to join you. Does the king know of your plot?”

“You’re a fool to come,” Darius said. “I could kill you with a gesture.”

Kragen searched his memories for a spell that would help him. “Why don’t you? I’m here. I’m defenseless. You need me for something. What is it?”

“You’re still no match for me,” Daris said and traced an intricate pattern in the air.

Purple snakes, thicker than Kragen’s arms, appeared from behind him and pinned him to the chair.

“Constrictors,” Nong said. “They’ll crush you.”

“Thanks for the warning.” Kragen waved his right hand. Blue lines of power imprisoned the constrictors. Blue? Had Wilk been correct, and his children’s magic provided what he needed to defeat Darius?

The constrictors vanished.

The prince moved closer, licking his lips in anticipation.

What game was Darius playing? Kragen used the magic in his left hand to loosen a chandelier. Each of the sharp diamond crystals turned into rubies and hurled themselves at Darius. Adana magic.

The prince smiled with glee as he watched the conflict.

Darius clapped his hands, and the prince jumped when the crystals dropped to the floor. Magic rippled through the room, but the dark wizard held back for some reason.

“Medusa’s Revenge incoming,” Nong said. “Is that warning enough?”

Kragen’s legs tingled as the spell petrified his lower extremities. He muttered the counter-spell and thrust it back at Darius. The dark wizard rose and produced a violet shield, but it shattered as Kragen’s spell reached its target.

Patches of gray appeared on Darius’ face. He grunted, and the patches disappeared. “You are as annoying as I remember.”

Kragen stood and hefted Nong. He tossed the wooden cane at Darius like a spear. Nong became a javelin in midair, flying straight for Darius’ heart.

The dark wizard made no defensive movements. Instead, he stood with his chest out. Something wasn’t right.

The prince inhaled deeply, his eyes afire.

“Nong, stop!” The javelin froze in midair, almost touching Darius.

In the hundreds of scrolls of magic in Kragen’s mind, one floated to the forefront as Nong, again a cane, returned.

“You almost had me, Darius,” Kragen said. “How did you find the Ferrini Vessel enchantment? I thought I had the only copy.”

“What are you talking about?” Darius didn’t look him in the eye.

“Have you gone mad?” the prince asked. “Save me.”

“You’re the vessel,” Kragen told him. “I don’t know what Darius promised you, but he lied. After I kill him and he takes over your body, there will be nothing left of you.”

“Don’t believe him,” Darius said. “He’s mad.”

Kragen held up his cane. “Nong, would you recite the Ferrini Vessel enchantment please?”

“My pleasure. First, obtain a living vessel. Second, speak the spell, Third—”

“Enough!” Darius shouted.

“Third,” Nong continued, “be killed by a peer.”

“Simple but effective,” Kragen said. “But why are you invoking this spell? Oh! Don’t tell me, Darius the Dark, that you fell in the bath and died. Are you dead and trapped in wasteland?”

Darius scowled. “Don’t be ridiculous. I’m the most powerful wizard who ever lived.”

Kragen laughed. “You mean who ever died. You needed a peer to complete the spell. A living person to kill a undead one. If I’d killed you, your spirit would have transferred into our handsome prince, and you could leave the wastelands. I imagine King Ballow wouldn’t live long after you returned in your new body.”

“You meant to take my place?” the prince asked. “You’d kill me? But you said—”

Darius held up his hand. “How did you know, Kragen?”

“I translated this enchantment from the original Ferrini scrolls. Did you read about the blowback?”


“Oh yes. This spell destroyed the Ferrini. You see, if it isn’t completed, the caster is doomed to live an ever-devolving existence. In your greed, you’ve traded an immortal life as a human in the wastelands for coming back as an animal the next time you die.”

“What do you mean?” Darius asked.

“I suspect the Ferrini are now ants or mites if they exist at all,” Kragen said with a smile. Darius hadn’t known. “Each time you resurrect, you’ll be a lower life form. You’ll be the most powerful bedbug in the wastelands.”

Darius jumped to his feet. “You must help me!”

“I doubt my children will help,” Kragen said. “I certainly won’t. Since I’ll be taking the vessel with me, you won’t have another opportunity to use this enchantment. You are coming back with me, aren’t you, Georj? The wastelands are no place for the living.”

The young man nodded.

The Black Tower shook. “Darius’ magic is devolving, too,” Kragen said. “We’d better go.”

They left Darius sobbing on his crumbling throne. Kragen was eager to return home and update the Ferrini volume with proof that the spell’s blowback had worked.

“Maybe I should change Prince Georj into a mule?” Kragen said. “At least to the border. It’s a long walk.”

The young man frowned but walked with Kragen from the chamber.

“You could use the exercise,” Nong added. “Besides, the young man appears to be enough of a jackass already.”


Tom Howard is a fantasy and science fiction short story writer living in Little Rock, Arkansas. He thanks his family and friends for their inspiration and the Central Arkansas Speculative Fiction Writers’ Group for their perspiration.

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One Response to The Living Must Pass

  1. This story charmed me right out of the gate. I love this main character a lot, and the talking cane is the perfect cherry on top. Nice twist at the end too.

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