Damon watched, fascinated, as the two forward lines glided toward each other. There was no sound until leathery claw met sharp horn and silver lance glanced off dull blackness of armor. The battle seemed strange to Damon, all the fighting taking place at the center of the arena, with only the front line of each force engaging in combat, at once violent and ritualistic. When a warrior or mount from either side was skewered or sliced by an enemy, he vanished and was replaced by another fighter from the rear ranks. Damon heard no shouting or crying out by the warriors, the only sounds those made by clashing weapons or bodies.
As the battle, quick and savage, continued, Damon felt the atmosphere in the arena become charged with the power of the two opponents. He closed his eyes and reached out with his mind, directing his thoughts into the rear ranks of the white-robed warriors. One of them separated himself from the rest as two minds met, and Damon felt his thought.
“Your aid will be welcome to me and my comrades,” the white warrior said. “Our cause is just, and with your help this battle can be won and the destruction halted.”
Damon searched for any hint of hostility or threat in the warrior’s thoughts but found none.
I haven’t decided yet whom I’ll help. I have to be sure you’re the right one.
“I’m sure you will determine that we are. You need but look at us to know we are the benevolent forces the world needs.”
I have to talk with the others now.
The blonde warrior inclined his head toward Damon, wheeled his mount, and rejoined the ranks. None of his fellow fighters even looked at him as he returned.
Damon turned his attention to the black-armored beast-riders, felt a tentative thought reach out for him, and moved his mind to meet it.
“Help us, young warrior. Without your strength, our cause is in the gravest jeopardy. A defeat now would weaken us for ages to come.
The tone of the thought felt the same as the rest: smooth, calm, unhurried, but something else also lay there that Damon had not noticed with the fair-haired warrior—a mental wall within that mind, the kind that Damon himself used to keep out extraneous thoughts.
He must be hiding something. Maybe just his true feelings. Did that other guy have a block? Did I just miss it?
What are you hiding from me behind that block? Will you lower it?
“I cannot. There are ideas there your mind would be unable to withstand.”
You’re sure making my decision a lot harder.
“It wasn’t meant to be easy for you. You will do what you must.”
Damon disengaged from the mind of the fierce-looking fighter and again sought the pale warrior’s mind.
Damon probed and felt no resistance.
Wait! There. The same type of wall.
Will you lower your block?
I must know what’s behind that block!
The boy pushed harder, meeting resistance this time. The block yielded but did not break.
Damon felt his mind possessed more strength. He pushed with more intensity until the block did fall.
Damon recoiled in horror and disgust.
All the filth, corruption, and misery that plagued the world spewed forth from a pit of blackness and evil. In the depths of the pit Damon sensed the presence of a dominating malevolence so foul with the lust of hate he had to pull his mind away before its taint touched him.
They attacked him now, trying to destroy him, to blast his mind out of existence. Damon projected the strongest block he could muster and succeeded in temporarily warding off the attack but still felt as if the life were being squeezed from him. Standing rigid, the sweat poured down his face, muscles cramping with the intensity of his effort.
The structure had gone out of the battle now as all the fighters from both sides joined the fray. Black leathery claws raked across silvery hide and knocked white warriors from their saddles while spiked unicorn horns impaled the hideous beasts. Pike and halberd clashed with silver lances, and gouts of crimson splattered the smooth floor. Damon no longer felt repulsed by the appearance of the dark warriors and their fighting beasts but wanted to lend them his strength to ensure victory.
He sensed the power attacking him now did not come from those fair warriors on the field, but the powerful evil he’d sensed. The malignant onslaught continued, and Damon staggered backward under the impact. His brain screamed for help and the answer came in a soothing thought from the one he thought of as Death.
“I am here, Damon. I will help you now. Together, I believe we can stop them but not defeat them.”
Desperate, Damon yelled aloud, “We’ve got to beat them! We need more help!”
Mark, heretofore forgotten and not involved in the psychic struggles, heard his brother’s cry for help. Soul called to soul, and blood to blood. The dark man had loosened his hold on Mark when he went to Damon’s aid. Though Mark had seen the battle raging in the arena, he had been unable to move or speak, but now he grabbed his brother by the shoulders from behind.
“I’m here, Damon. I’m with you now. I’m not afraid any more.”
Behind his defensive shield, Damon reached out to his twin’s mind. He felt the reality there, the down-to-earthness, and a strength that comforted him. Mark’s mind didn’t possess the sensitivity of Damon’s, but it held something else that had always made the two different, the factor that made Mark the more adventurous, the bolder. Mark had a driving, dynamic energy, a power different from Damon’s, but a crucial one at this moment.
Mark, I’m going to show you how to link your mind with mine, okay?
Hey! I can hear you in my head and talk to you without opening my mouth!
No shit, Sherlock. Just listen. When I tell you, I want you to concentrate the force of your thoughts in the direction I point out. Got it?
Are you there? Damon directed this thought to the dark man.
“I am here.”
You aren’t Death, are you?
“No, quite the opposite, but let us not chatter. We must not lose this battle or humankind will face evils untold.”
We won’t lose it! Can you feel my brother’s strength—the kind I don’t have?
“I feel it. We must strike now, before the combined force against us attacks again. I will hold the block. You must outline, then pinpoint the area for our own attack and direct all our strengths against the target. I will be ready and drop the block when you say.”
Damon sent out a delicate, questing thought and encountered a wall of hostility backed by the strength of the ancient evil he’d sensed before. He tested the wall, and strong though it was, he felt a small area not as strong as the rest.
I have the point of attack. Ready, Mark?
Okay, now! Hit it!
A ravening bolt of pure thought lashed out against the force of evil and hate, struck the weak point of the wall, and burst through, annihilating the combined minds that were bent on destruction and corrupt power.
Every white-robed warrior and unicorn on the plain collapsed, and then disappeared.
The battle was over.
We did it! We won!
The two brothers embraced, tears streaming down their cheeks, pounding on each other’s back.
The dark warriors on the plain clashed their weapons against their shields in salute, and then they too, disappeared.
Damon and Mark turned to their mysterious companion, so frightening not very long ago.
“You have done well, both of you. Extend your right hands.”
The boys did, and he touched their hands. Golden rings, each in the shape of a sunburst, appeared on their ring fingers.
Damon woke up in his bunk, threw off the covers, and jumped down.
“Mark, wake up! I just had the craziest dream!”
Already awake, Mark said, “I bet mine was crazier than yours.”
Awareness grew. “Look! Our hands!”
The twins extended matching sunbursts of gold.