Authors: Joshua Cook
The Echo Worlds, Book 2
By: Joshua C. Cook
To my Wife: Always
To my Friends and Family, Thank you for all your support and encouragement.
Cover Art by:
Table of Contents
Cendan Key is a man with a plan, a plan for everything. A plan for living, a plan for sleeping. He likes control, and knowing what is going to happen, and when. His life is thrown out of his plan when his well-organized life intersects with a creature from outside our World, Grellnot. Grellnot is the prime hunter of people with magical talent, it eats their power, absorbing it. And often eats the people as well.
For Cendan Key is far more than he appears, or even he knows. Cendan Key is born to be a Bridgefinder, an ancient organization fighting to defend our world from the Echo. The Echo world is ruled by a creature known only as the Slyph, and there she wields ultimate power, and can create life itself.
The Slyph wants to merge her world with ours, to control not only the magic of the Echo, but the barely used but strong magic of ours. Cendan finds himself thrown into the Bridgefinders, only to discover that they are a dying group, clinging to remnants of power, desperate to turn the tide of the war. Cendan gets an even greater shock when he discovers that not only is he a Bridgefinder, he’s a Maker. Born with the special skills and talents needed to create incredible objects that bind magic into physical form.
The Bridgefinders down to three members, plus Cendan. Marcus, the erstwhile leader of the group. Jasmine, a woman with a surprising connection to Cendan, and Sal, a recent recruit himself. They have lost knowledge, and lost EVA, an intelligent machine. EVA was created by the last Bridgefinder Maker, known only as Oakheart. Eva can work near miracles in their war, but only a Maker can fix her.
Cendan tries to understand this world he’s been thrown into, but wants to return to his old life. Only an outright attack by Grellnot causes him to rethink walking away. Grellnot discovers that it can’t harm Cendan because of his Maker status, returns to the Slyph, angry and in pain. Meanwhile, Cendan knows he needs to understand what being a Maker truly means, decides that the only way to get information is going to be to travel to the Echo World himself, and find Oakheart. The last Maker of the Bridgefinders was captured by the Slyph over a millennium ago, but is somehow still alive.
Traveling there, he is intercepted by the Elves, who have fallen out of favor with the Slyph. They force Cendan into a bargain, a bargain that he will find a way for them to visit our world again, in exchange for their help getting to Oakheart. Cendan regrets this choice once he realizes that the Elves only want access to kidnap humans. Human women.
Cendan finds Oakheart, turned into a huge tree. The Slyph had been keeping him alive, using him as a conduit to draw what magic out of our world she could. Oakheart and Cendan find a way to communicate, and he shares what knowledge he still retains. Oakheart then stops fighting, and allows himself to die, robbing the Slyph of access to our world’s power.
Grellnot finds Cendan on the Echo world, but Cendan is able to talk Grellnot into letting him go. The Slyph discovering this, having no more patience with Grellnot attempts to unmake him, and fails. Shaken, she banishes him to a deep dark cave, the same cave she was born into.
Grellnot however, having absorbed the power of multiple Bridgefinders is stronger than the Slyph knows. Its new powers allow it to start to eat the raw magic of the Echo world itself, something that had been denied to it before now.
The Slyph knowing that she is under threat from Grellnot launches her final attack, in an attempt to force the merge of the worlds now. The Bridgefinders work to repel her. Cendan and Sal stay behind, working to fix EVA before it’s too late. The Slyph sends two special creatures through into the Bridgefinders headquarters to hunt and kill them both.
Sal sacrifices himself to give Cendan time to finish the repairs. Cendan is successful, and EVA is reborn. The tide turns quickly as the Slyphs’ creatures are banished and bridges between their worlds are closed.
The Slyph and Grellnot now face off as enemies on the Echo World, while the rest of the Bridgefinders heal their wounds and rest, unsure of the what to do now, or where the Slyph will strike next.
“Grellnot hungry,” muttered Grellnot as it sniffed the air, searching for another meal. Pain shot through its stomach as it searched. Sniff-sniff; the air carried different scents to it, fire and smoke, old now, from the area where Oakheart once stood. The Slyph had not been happy when she had found out that human Maker had been there. Grellnot still wondered if it would have been better to have just eaten the stupid human. Grellnot had let it go.
Stupid Slyph had made Grellnot stronger, however. A wide smile broke out across Grellnot’s face. Grellnot was far more now than he had ever been. Grellnot concentrated, and could see the weave of magic around him, the threads underlying everything nearby. These threads connected everything too, strong and thick to the rest of the world. Grellnot was different however; mixed with the weave were dots, points of bright light that only it could see. Grellnot knew that this was the magic of the human world, magic that was part of his creation, and the magic that he had absorbed from countless Finders and their shiny treasures.
One gnarled and clawed finger ran through the treasures around its neck, the musical chiming sound soothing to Grellnot. A fresh shot of pain arced across his stomach and Grellnot growled. Hungry; always hungry. Grellnot knew he could eat the magic raw, eat it and leave a hole in the very fabric of the world. Grellnot wanted blood though, blood and bone, magic and flesh. There, on the edge of his senses; goblins. Moving fast. Goblins were good eating to Grellnot. Tasty, not too tough, and more than willing to throw one of their number to appease his appetite.
Grellnot launched itself down the steep embankment that it had been perched on, moving in great leaps and bounds towards the roving band of goblins. A Stonemal, small and young, dove into the rocks to avoid Grellnot. It had no interest, however, in the small creature. Stonemals, while edible, were not to Grellnot’s way of thinking very juicy. He could sense the goblin band getting closer when they suddenly changed direction, moving very decidedly away from Grellnot’s approach.
With a low gurgle, Grellnot leaped into the air and forced itself to translate to where the Goblins were. One strange side-effect of its new power was that its old trick of translating to a new location had gotten harder. Grellnot was not sure why, but found it used more energy, which just made him even hungrier. Grellnot popped into existence directly in the path of the goblin band, exactly as it had planned.
The goblins were led by a larger than normal member of their race, who once it realized that Grellnot was there, immediately fell to the ground, prostrating in front of Grellnot.
“Do not eat us, Grellnot master. Scragin sorry Grellnot bothered by us.” The goblin’s voice was a cracking mess that set Grellnot’s teeth on edge.
“Grellnot is hungry, goblin. Very hungry. There are nine goblins here. Grellnot will leave when there are eight.” Grellnot eyed the band of goblin raiders. Dirty, but all decently sized, all good to eat. Their arms were bloody, at least some of them were; the iron rich smell of Baruz blood. “Been hunting Baruz?” Grellnot asked clicking his teeth. Which goblin to eat? The tall one there? Not much fat on it, but those long arms would have good bones to crunch. Or that end one, fatter than the rest, and the most scared to Grellnot’s senses.
Yes, the one on the end stank of fear strongly. Delicious fear.
“Yes mighty Grellnot, the Baruz had struck at us so we attacked them back.” Grellnot ignored him, eyeing that fat goblin more. Baruz and Goblins hated each other, anyway. Baruz were like goblins but were dark grey-blue, and usually smarter. They were also good eating, and for a second Grellnot thought about going to the Baruz camp and eating the dead and wounded. But they wouldn’t be alive and afraid, and Grellnot wanted that fresh fear.
“That one; give Grellnot that one and the rest of you can live, stupid goblins.” Grellnot pointed a finger at the fat goblin.
“Scumridge? You want Scumridge?” the lead goblin asked, hopeful that he wouldn’t get eaten.
“Grellnot not care what its name is. It’s tasty.” Grellnot shot back, never taking its eyes off the fat goblin that was now quaking in fear. The other goblins moved away from it, the smell of relief rising off them.
“Take him!” the lead goblin yelled and hid its head. Grellnot leaped upon the poor creature, its hunger overpowering now. The fat goblin, Scumridge, gave one slight gurgling scream before the crunch of broken bones and the soft rip of flesh ended any sound it could make. The rest of the goblins turned and ran away as fast as they could. Grellnot, even while feasting, made a note of which way they went. Then it turned its attention to the task at hand; eating.
The Slyph paced in a circle, deep in thought. Her hounds followed her at a distance. For the first time in her long existence, she felt threatened. Firstly, the Bridgefinders had managed to not only find a new Maker, who against all odds had come here – here! – to her world, find Oakheart and somehow take him away from her. Not only that, but this new Maker, Cendan Key, had also been able to repair that damned machine, the EVA.
She had been so close to winning, to finally forcing a merger of the two worlds where she, the Slyph, would control both worlds and all the magic. She had been on the edge of winning her long war. But then the EVA had come back online, and nearly instantly everything had reversed. Her Bridges closed, and her creatures and creations were banished. Worse, the long years of work to carefully and slowly weaken the barriers between the two worlds had been tossed out the window since the EVA could now constantly strengthen it.
And to make matters worse, Grellnot, her one-time favorite hunter of Finders, had turned against her. Grellnot had absorbed enough magic, enough raw power, to put itself outside of her control. But the vile thing had done one worse too; it had learned how to eat the raw magic of this world, to rip it out and use it to slake its all-consuming hunger.
The hole left by the thing when it had eaten its way out of the cavern still felt like an open wound to the Slyph. She was part of the very fabric of the magic here, and the hole was just that a ripped hole in her mind. Damn that creature. It had been nearly two weeks now, earth weeks, and no sign of the creature, but she knew he was out there still.
Grellnot was the more immediate threat. The Bridgefinders were in fact just standing in her way; protecting their own. In a way she understood that, even as misguided and foolish as it was. Magic, all magic was hers by right, regardless of which world it was on or from. But at least the Finders weren’t attacking her. Nor were they a threat to the very world she had built and shaped.
But how to stop the beast that Grellnot had become? She couldn’t unmake it. She had tried, and her failure to do so had shaken her to the core at the time. It was something she had never expected, to be stymied by one of her own creations. Grellnot was too powerful even then, but now things were worse. He was strong, infused with the power of two worlds, and as always very hungry. Sooner or later it would try to feed on her once it occurred to it to try.
Maybe that was the main edge she had, that Grellnot, for all its raw power and anger, wasn’t very smart. Could she find a way to separate it from its power someway? Barring that, could a creature or creatures physically overpower and destroy the thing? Grellnot wasn’t a large creature. Tough and strong, but not large.
A hound stuck its large head under her hand, and she scratched it absentmindedly, her fingers ruffling its loose and patchy fur. Her hounds were created the same way as Grellnot: partially of her world’s magic and partially of the human world’s magic; pulled through the now dead and gone Oakheart. She knew that to human eyes her hounds were abominations. Large four legged things, patchy fur and loose skin, with three large tentacles, one from each front shoulder and one in between the other two. Each of those tentacles had a large sharp bone ridge running down the middle of the last third.
Her hounds were loyal, strong, and unthinking. She should have used them from the start. They couldn’t talk back, and wouldn’t get ideas the way Grellnot had. Her hounds… The Slyph paused and looked at them. They weren’t strong enough to take on Grellnot, at least not like this, but maybe with some changes... She was smiling, a smile of pure malice.
Cendan paused and stretched. He couldn’t read another damn line in this book. The book, large and heavy, sat in front of him. The personal journal of the last Maker before him, encoded but deciphered with the knowledge that that same former Maker had somehow placed into Cendan’s focus. It covered so many topics, and none of them in an organized way.
For Cendan, someone who found comfort and peace in a strict organization stand point, the book was maddening. It jumped around topics, and sometimes, even pages would be out of order. He had caught himself more than once wondering if he should find a way to transcribe the whole thing. Then he thought about how long that would take and thought better of it.
Reaching across the table, he slammed the book shut, listening to the echoes of the slap the book made as its heavy cover came down. Echoes. As in more than one echo. Jolting upright in his seat, Cendan knew he needed to find Marcus, and now.
Cendan quick-walked down the hallway, finally used to the semi random nature of the place. Part of it still bothered him, but when he got claustrophobic, he went to the Garden to unwind. He’d even started studying the Echo World plants there and making notes. Everything he’d seen when he had actually been there had looked the same as our world, minus some of the foodstuffs that the Elves had been eating.
Elves. Rubbing his head with his palms, Cendan still didn’t know what to do about his deal with the Elves. Even more so after he realized what they were actually after. Could he actually ignore them? They were locked away on the Echo World after all. And since EVA came back online there hadn’t been a single Bridge appear anywhere; at least according to the map.
, Cendan thought in his head. They had quickly worked out a deal, him and EVA. She wouldn’t talk into his head without him asking her to. He found it too strange and kind of creepy to have her there otherwise. He wasn’t sure if she could see what he was thinking regardless of whether he wanted to talk, but he didn’t want to find out.
?” EVA’s voice echoed in his head still. “
What do you need?”
Her tone was one of amusement to his mind.
“What makes you think I need something? Can’t I just say Hi?”
EVA came back quickly, “
Cendan. We’ve been merged for a little over two weeks, and if there’s one thing I already know about you, you’re not one to ever just say hi.
” There was a pause. “
If you’re looking for the others, Jasmine is out and Marcus is in the barrier room as usual.
Still beating himself up over Sal’s death probably, Cendan knew. Sal had died trying to stop those damn dog-like creatures of the Slyph’s. They had been fixing the damage done to EVA, or at least working around it, when the Slyph had made her move. A full out invasion of the human world. Marcus and Jasmine had gone out to stop what they could while he and Sal worked to being EVA back online. What they hadn’t known was that she had sent two new creatures after them, hound like things, and gotten them here into the headquarters.
Cendan quickly found his way to the barrier room to find Marcus once again sitting in his favorite chair, staring at the board in front of him. The board held spaces for hundreds of foci, if not a thousand, but now only two were in use; his and Marcus’s. Jasmine’s was with Jasmine, wherever she was at the moment. Rule of thumb; if you leave the lair, bring your focus.
“Marcus, got a moment? I have a question; something occurred to me and you of anyone here might know the answer.” Cendan awaited Marcus’s response. Since Sal’s death, Marcus had retreated to this room every day. Earth was safer now than it had been in over a thousand years, with EVA back on the job. But still, Marcus was the leader of a pitiful band of what once was thousands.
“What is it Cendan.” Marcus didn’t turn to look at him.
“Well, I was wondering. Are there any other echo worlds? I mean, a sound has more than one echo, so if our world has an echo, wouldn’t there be more than one?” Cendan asked.
Marcus shifted in his seat and Cendan winced. Always touchy about certain subjects, Marcus took being a Bridgefinder deadly seriously.
However, Marcus refused to believe that what they did was magic, in any sense of the word. He rejected the thought. Sal had been more open to the idea, but he was not here anymore. Jasmine had also rejected the idea, at least at first. Both she and Marcus had healed somewhat from their injuries during the Slyph’s assault, and during that time Jasmine had asked him some quiet questions about magic.
Marcus, however, clung to his prejudice. What made it all the more galling to Cendan was that the refusal to accept what they did as magic, or even the far greater things they could do, was all borne of a fringe belief of a small faction of Bridgefinders long ago. Somehow the idea had taken over, though, and the Bridgefinders had turned their backs on a large amount of their power.
“Why do you ask? Still looking for proof of your magic idea?” Marcus asked in return, his voice low and tired.