For millennia mages have lived in peace- but now that peace is coming to an end.
Underneath the Rubble
That was the only thing five-year-old Carson Krot could feel as he lay trapped underneath the rubble of the destroyed home, his left eye the single patch of skin left uncovered by dirt and stone. Barely able to breathe, he could hardly have managed to cry out for help even if his mind were clear enough that he could think to do so. His sister Krystal lay beside him, face down, unconscious.
She was the lucky one.
Terrace Larsen’s heart beat fast as he looked down through the night on the ruined home from the window of the resistance cruiser. Flames still flickered, and Terrace could glimpse bodies crushed in the rubble.
The cruiser landed, the doors sliding open. The other resistance soldiers fanned out, looking for survivors. Terrace walked forward, dazed. Then something caught his eye. Kneeling beside the body of a fallen man, he saw a symbol engraved in steel on the man’s left pauldron: one he recognized all too well.
“The Darkness. Jadis Larsh,” he whispered. Despite having been defeated and driven into hiding by Terrace and the rest of the resistance at the Battle of Meridian seven years ago, the militant group had been unusually active as of late, attacking several leaders of the resistance… and now they had attacked Terrace’s best friends.
“Commander Larsen. We’ve found them.”
Terrace looked up to see a resistance officer standing beside him.
“Are they alright?”
The officer winced. “They… come and see.”
Terrace rose to his feet and walked over to where the other resistance soldiers stood. They were looking downward at the remains of Caroline Krot and David Grail, ripped apart, crushed, and utterly, completely dead.
Terrace breathed heavily, struggling to hold back tears. They'd been heroes. Instrumental to the downfall of Darkness. More than that, they were his best friends. He’d fought with them, laughed with them, cried with them. And now they were gone, yet another victim of the rage of war. He was so sick of this. So sick of giving everything he had to the cause, only to lose it.
“I’m sorry, Terrace.”
Terrace looked away.
“We want to give them a flame burial.”
“Can we not take their bodies back?”
“Sir, you know the tradition.”
“What of the children then? They have two. Twins.”
“We scanned the area as thoroughly as we could but could not find them, sir. The killers likely took them. Or they’re already dead.”
“Fine. Do it. Just don’t expect me to watch.”
The resistance soldiers pointed their staffs down at the bodies as they chanted the burial salute. “May the ashes of these heroes fly forever on the wind!” Flames leaped from their staffs and consumed the bodies as the resistance men stood in reverent silence. Then, slowly, they began to make their way back to the copter. But Terrace stayed still, staring into the distance.
“Terrace, it’s time to leave.”
“I’m not leaving.”
“Terrace, staying here won’t make them come back.”
“I’m not leaving.”
“You don’t understand. I’m not going back to Artensia, or Mage City, or anywhere else. I’ve had enough of this. I’m leaving for the non-magical world. To live out the rest of my days in peace.”
The resistance officer sighed.“Are you sure?”
“Then it’s been an honor serving with you, Commander Larsen.”
The soldier walked into the cruiser, and the doors slid closed as it took off, leaving Terrace behind. He continued to stare into the distance.
He didn’t want to leave. Not completely. There were good people in the resistance. They’d given him a new life when his life had been taken from him. But ultimately, they were a resistance, a war effort.
He’d had enough of war.
There was a non-mage town nearby. From there, he could start a new life. It wouldn’t be much, but it would have to do.
He began to walk off.
Carson lay still, terror only amplified by the sounds of soldiers rustling through the night. He heard the roar of an engine and bright light flashed in his one open eye.
He had been lying here for hours now, the claustrophobia and hyperventilation building. Finally, something inside him snapped, and he called out into the night.
It was the voice of a young boy- quiet but still audible. Terrace stopped looked back, then shook his head. It couldn’t be anything but a hallucination. The team had scanned the area. Everyone was dead.
“Enough. They’re gone.” He again began to walk away, but again came the cry:
“Dad! Help! Please.”
Terrace looked back again, then began striding back toward the rubble, searching for the source of the cries. Again and again, the cry rang out, Terrace searching desperately, but finding nothing. Several times he thought to give up, but every time the cry sounded again- the voice of the boy, though high and childlike, oh so similar to that of his lost friends. He continued to search. And then he found it: a single blue eye staring out of the rubble, utterly terrified.
Kneeling down, Terrace waved his hand and the rubble fell away, revealing a young boy and a young girl. The young girl was face down, completely unconscious, but the young boy was awake and shaking. Terrace’s heart sank. He knelt down and stretched his hand out to the boy. The boy shrank backward.
“It’s alright. I’m a friend. What’s your name?”
“C...Carson,” the boy stuttered. “C...Carson Krot.”
Terrace nodded. “That’s what I thought.”
“What happened to… what happened to Mom and Dad?”
Terrace hesitated. “They’re gone,” he said finally.
“But I am here.”
And slowly, the boy reached out and took his hand.
12 Years Later…..
“It’s beautiful,” Jadis Larsh whispered.
Out the window, legions of masked Darkness soldiers stood at attention, each in full red and black body armor and equipped with a powerful array of weapons. Squadrons of fighters roared through the skies, with dozens more in hangars on the ground. In the center of it all sat the Apocalypse, a massive battleship, its hull armored with a bright blue energy shield, its deck bristling with the sheer firepower of a hundred cannons.
Larsh smiled. For years now she had been waiting, biding her time, rising higher and higher in the ranks of the Darkness. And now the time had come. With her new army, she would crush the city of Artensia, end the resistance they harbored, and take control of magedom, like her father before her. All she needed now was the scroll...
The door to Larsh’s office burst open, and two guards stormed in, dragging a third, unmasked guard in between them.
“What’s this?” Jadis asked.
“A resistance spy, my lord,” one of the masked guards replied. “We caught him attempting to make communication with Artensia.”
“Sir,” the spy interrupted, his accent thick but his voice persistent. “I was on General Vorcix’s orders; he wanted to misinform the resistance…”
“That’s not true,” the guard said, slapping the spy. “We intercepted his message, my lord. He sent both the numbers of our army and the date of the attack, all correctly.”
“Do you have the message?” Larsh asked.
“Yes, my lord,” the second guard replied, pulling out a small metal tube and handing it to Larsh. Larsh took it and pulled it apart, a screen bursting into existence between the two halves. On the screen, the spy’s face appeared.
“This is Havier to Artensia. We’ve infiltrated Larsh’s base. She’s planning an attack on Artensia, Daridin. Her army is massive, she’s got ten thousand soldiers, at least ninety patrol boats, several hundred fighters ...if we can’t muster all our forces, we don’t stand a chance. And worst of all,” Havier said, lowering his voice, “she’s going after the scroll. It’s in Lewisville, right under our noses. Terrace Larsen is there guarding it, but he can’t stop them alone. We have to act, we have to stop them…”
Larsh snapped the screen closed. “So they know we’re after the scroll. Good. I enjoy a challenge. Alert Vorcix to begin mobilizing the army. And send scouts ahead. I think it’s time we pay Terrace Larsen a visit.”
“It will be done, my lord. But what of the spy?”
Larsh kneeled beside Havier, slowly drawing a knife from her belt.
“He is of no use to me now.”
They say your life flashes before your eyes before you die. I used to wonder if, in all that I would see, there would be something worthwhile, something people would remember me by. I used to think, and sometimes hope, that the answer was no, that I would simply live out a normal life.
I was wrong.
Beep! Beep! Beep!
I jerked awake to the sound of my alarm clock. Cold sweat ran down my face, my breathing loud and heavy. The night terror was quickly fading from my memory, but I could still remember a few, key, vivid details: the heat of flames, a crushing weight falling atop me, and the pale, dead face of my mother. The same as it always was.
Gradually, my breathing slowed. Realizing my alarm clock was still on, I reached over and switched it off. The time read 7:30; I was already running late. Krystal was going to kill me.
Sliding out of bed, I headed to the shower, my hands still shaking as I jumped in. Most of the time, the major details of a dream fade from one’s mind only minutes after waking up. But this one always seemed to linger in my mind for days.
The thing was, though I’d always associated that dream with the night of the house fire where my parents had died, the details my adopted father had given me didn’t match. I was in the house for almost no time at all before getting out. I wouldn’t have seen my parents die. And I definitely wouldn’t have felt myself trapped underneath the rubble, screaming for help.
With those thoughts still in the back of my mind, I turned off the shower, got dressed, and headed up for breakfast. My father was waiting for me, sipping a cup of coffee. Behind him was Krystal, arms folded.
“You’re late,” Krystal said.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“Sorry doesn’t cut it, if I’m late again, Ms. Zaidi’s going to give me a U for attendance…”
“Krystal, Ms. Zaidi doesn’t have an attendance policy,” my father said. “I read the syllabus, I’m not stupid. Please don’t bug your brother over the fact that you want to sluff.”
Krystal turned red, huffed and walked away. I sat down and began eating breakfast, but found that my hands were shaking too badly to feed myself.
“Are you alright?” my father asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I said.
“Are you sure? You were screaming in your sleep.”
“I’m fine. I just… had the nightmare again.”
“Ah. I see.”
We were silent for a few minutes as I ate breakfast, though my father continued to look quite concerned.
“Dad?” I finally asked. “Can I ask a question?”
“That, of course, depends on the question, but generally, yes.”
“Did you know my parents? You know, before the fire?”
My father paused. “Yes. Yes, I did.”
“What were they like?”
“They were good people, I suppose. Your father was a good friend of mine, he was kind, empathetic, had a good sense of humor. And your mother was one of the bravest people I have ever met.”
“What happened to me that night? The night of the house fire?”
“Your mother got you and Krystal out of the house. Then she went back in to get your father. Neither of them ever came out.”
“But... in my dreams, I always remember being crushed underneath a pile of rubble, crying for help, no one coming…. always. Are you sure that’s what happened?”
“Yes. End of story,” Dad said, suddenly apprehensive. “Now let’s get you to school. You’ve got a long day ahead of you, after all.”
I opened my mouth to continue pressing the matter, then shut it. I’d learned that when my dad chose to be quiet about something, it meant he wasn’t going to share no matter how I tried to persuade him.
We loaded into the car and drove to school. I sat in front, silent, unable to think of anything besides the dream. Krystal sat in back, playing on her phone. After a few minutes of awkward silence, she looked up.
“Carson’s quiet today,” she said. “Rather strange, don’t you think?”
I cleared my throat. “Anyone got any tests today?” I asked, trying to start a conversation. I instantly realized afterward that I already knew the answer to the question- no one did.
“Hey, I didn’t say I was opposed,” Krystal said. “The longer you keep that mouth shut, the farther I get on BTD6.”
“Krystal,” my father interjected sternly.
“It’s fine,” I said.
We pulled up the school just as the bell rang. “Crap,” I said. We quickly snatched up our bags and hopped out of the car.
“Have a good day,” my father called out as we walked off.
“I will,” I said confidently back.
I didn’t know how wrong I was.
I steadied my breathing.
Normal looking clothing? Check.
Calm demeanor? Well… I needed to work on that. Though my anxiety level had mostly gone down, my hands still trembled slightly from this morning. Not an excellent image for this.
“Stop it,” I muttered, shaking them under the desk. Needless to say, that did not work. I bit my lip. This was not what I needed today.
I’d been putting it off for a good week now. We’d talked plenty, and it shouldn’t have scared me, but for some reason it did. But I’d resolved to ask the girl I liked out today during lunch. No ifs ands or buts about it.
The lunch bell rang, and I packed my things and headed for the lunchroom. On the way, Krystal swung in beside me.
“You ready for the lunch D&D session?” she asked. “We still have to resolve you falling down that giant corn stock.”
I sighed. Recently Krystal had become obsessed with the game Dungeons and Dragons, and consequently I’d been spending my lunch playing as Liam Tarik, heir to the lost kingdom, just so she’d have someone to game master for.
“Not today, Krystal,” I said. “I’m sitting with my friends today.”
“We were just getting to the good part!”
“Tomorrow. But not today.”
Krystal sighed. “You know that means I have no one to sit with again.”
“I told you you can sit with us,” I said. “Offer still stands.”
“I’m good,” Krystal said, breaking off. I frowned. One of these days Krystal would find the right group of friends. Unfortunately, it hadn’t happened yet.
I sat down at our usual table.
“Carsoooone!” my friend Houston said. “Welcome back! You done playing that nerd game yet?”
I smiled nervously. “Not yet. But I’m taking a break today.”
At that moment, she sat down in front of me- Ashley Armstrong, captain of the gymnastics team, straight-A student, and, if you ask me, beauty extraordinaire. “Hey Carson,” she said.
“Hey,” I said.
“How’d the tennis tournament go?”
“It went alright,” I said. “We lost, but not badly.”
We spent the rest of lunch chatting aimlessly until the lunch bell rang again. Ashley sprung to her feet, threw away her lunch tray, and headed for class. I ran after her.
“Wait,” I said. She turned around. “Hey, me and Houston were doing a group date this week? You know, going to see the new Star Wars? And I was wondering if you wanted to go with me?”
She hesitated. “I think I’m busy this weekend…”
“We can do it another weekend, this weekend was just the first weekend we were both available.”
She sighed. “I think I’m good, Carson.”
“Oh,” I said. I honestly hadn’t expected this. “Well, maybe next time, then.”
She shook her head. “Carson, I’m going to be frank here… I just… I just don’t like you that way ok? So please don’t ask me out again. I’m not going to say yes.”
My shoulders slumped. “Ok. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be,” she said. “It’s just… I mean….”
I turned and walked away, not wanting to hear anymore. I spent the rest of the school day staring vacantly at the wall, putting in as little effort as I could.
I should have just played D&D.
I thought I was alone. That I was the only one who had magic.
Because when I willed it, the water listened. And though it was amazing, even euphoric, it was also terrifying.
I was wrong. I wasn’t alone. Not even close.
But being alone can be a good thing sometimes.
“Krystal Krot,” Principal Jane’s voice was airy and annoyed as I walked into her office and sat down calmly, picking at my nails. “This is the third time you’ve been sent here this month.”
I smiled. The unlucky kid behind me in the hall had made a particularly nasty remark about how I’d been sitting alone at lunch again. So I’d tripped him and shoved him to the ground. Poor thing had started crying. It had actually been mildly entertaining.
“It’s also the third time someone called me an antisocial psychopath this month. Means I’m three for three. I consider that a win.”
The principal looked at me, raised her eyebrows, then switched subjects. “You still haven’t hung your banner for college choosing day. You made a choice yet? Or at least close?”
“Nope.” Truth to be told, I didn’t really have a plan for after I turned eighteen. College was where everybody suggested going, but the idea of going to school for four more painful years just didn’t appeal to me. What else I would do, I didn’t know, but not that.
The principal raised her eyebrows further. “Do you want to be stuck flipping hamburgers for the rest of your life?”
“Not really,” I said. “But honestly, nothing sounds much more appealing.”
“Nothing? Not being a doctor?”
Principal Jane threw her hands in the air. “Well, when you finally decide to do something worthwhile with your life, you’ll realize that your behavior and grades in school do matter. One last time, I’m going to give you some leeway, Krot. Don’t disappoint me. Now off with you.”
I rose and exited without another word. Man, I hated school. Too much memorization, homework, and testing for me. Not to mention having to pretend that you liked your fellow students. I couldn’t wait until I graduated.
The bell rang. I sighed. Another awful day.
“How was your day?” my father asked as we loaded in the car right after school.
“Eh,” Krystal said.
“Pretty good,” I said, even though it was a lie. We closed the doors and Dad began driving toward work. It was a relatively short drive; we arrived within the next few minutes. I was about to hop out of the car when a loud shriek pierced the sky. Both my father and I glanced out the window. A strange plane roared through the sky at an incredible speed, leaving no contrail but a dark,red, lingering light behind it.
“Larsh,” my father whispered.
“That’s an odd plane,” I said.
“That’s no plane,” my father said. “That’s a fighter. Get out of the car, both of you.”
We both hesitated. It wasn’t like my father to give such a sudden command.
“Now,” my father said emphatically. “You both need to stay as low as
“What do you mean stay low?” Krystal asked incredulously.
“Like I said, that’s no normal plane, that’s danger incarnate. Blend in as much as you can. If anyone looks out of place, avoid them. Assuming I’m still alive, I’ll meet you after you’re done with work.”
My father started the engine back up. I grabbed his shoulder.
“Assuming you’re still alive? Where do you think you’re going?”
“Someplace you should not follow,” my father said. “Please get out of the car.”
“Dad, what’s going on?” Panic began to rise in my chest.
“I wish I could tell you. But I worry that if I do, something even worse than what happened to your parents will happen to you. Last time: get out of the car, or I’ll make you.”
Dazed, I unbuckled my seatbelt and hopped out. Krystal followed. My father sped off.
“What was that all about?” Krystal asked.
“I don’t know,” I said.
But I couldn’t shake the feeling that, once again, things were crumbling around me….
As quietly as he could, Terrace seared his way through the closed emergency door of the Darkness fighter, then ducked in carefully. Looking around, he realized no one was there, only a claustrophobic, cluttered cabin.
“All right, we’re clear,” he muttered to himself. “Now I’ve just got to figure out why they’re here.”
Fiddling with the cockpit controls, he found it: the message log. Looking down at it, he stopped as one caught his eye.
“Jadis Larsh,” he whispered, opening it.
An image of Larsh appeared on the screen, blonde-haired, sharp-nosed, and with burning red eyes.
“Your orders are simple, captain. The scroll is in Lewisville, as is Terrace Larsen. You are to capture Larsen and bring him to me. But do not kill him. I wish to destroy that lying piece of scum myself, just as I did with the Krots.”
Terrace closed his eyes. So it was as he had feared. After the fall of the Darkness, he’d taken on Jadis Larsh, the daughter of the Darkness leader, hoping to drive out the hatred her father had ingrained in her so deeply. He’d tried so hard to recondition her, to teach her to love, to love her himself… but he had failed. Driven by a raging desire to avenge her father, Jadis had escaped one night. No one had seen her since. But with this message, Terrace could assume what had happened: like her father, she had assumed the title of Dark Mage and now led the Darkness in their bloody acts of terrorism. It was almost more than he could bear.
The message continued. “And speaking of the Krots, Larsen is harboring the two Krot twins, Carson and Krystal. Your orders regarding them are simple: extract what information you can- and kill them.”
Terrace’s eyes widened. He’d thought he’d kept their existence a secret… but evidently not. Rushing to his car, he started the engine as quickly as he could, only hoping he wasn’t too late……
“One hamburger, no cheese, no onion, no pickle, no ketchup, no mayo, no mustard, just bun and meat, coming right up. Please don’t tell me you want fries with that,” I said, handing the last customer in line his cup and calling out the order back to the cooks. Finally, a pause in the nonstop stream of people.
“You sure you don’t want to switch places?” I yelled back to Carson.
“I already told you, no. I’ve got homework to do. And we still need to get through to Dad.”
I shook my head. Despite the fact that nothing had happened to us the whole shift, Carson had still been trying to contact Dad-the whole shift. Part of me wondered if the spectacle this morning had all just been a clever ruse in order to hog the drive-thru.
Just as I managed to slip my phone out of my pocket (out of sight of the manager, of course), a man got out of his seat. Obese and balding, it was almost painful to glance at him; I mean, I don’t like to judge but this guy legitimately looked like a cross between a whale and a human. I knew him, though, all too well. Every worker here did. He complained about something every time he came here- he didn’t get enough french fries, his chicken tasted more like turkey, why did I get charged for cheese- you name it, this guy could complain about it. And the worst part? Despite his constant whining, this guy still came in here every single day.
The man walked up to the counter. Here we go again, I thought.
“Yes, “ I asked, restraining myself from making a comment about his size and the consequent inadvisability of having seconds.
“I want my money back,” he stated in a high pitched voice.
“I found a black hair in my food.”
I looked up at his greasy, thin black hair. “None of our employees have black hair, and you do, so I’m going to assume that hair is yours. Have a nice day.”
“I want my money back,” he repeated.
“Well, sorry, but all the evidence points to..”
“I found a hair in my food. I want my money back.”
“You’ve said that twice already!”
The man turned beet red. “Now, you see here,” he began to rant. “You need to learn to respect your superiors.”
At this point, all the eyes in the store were on us. But that didn’t stop me from leaning right into the man’s face, his hot breath blowing against me.
“Stupid people are stupid no matter how old they are. Now get out.”
The man scowled and left, slamming the door behind him. I sat back in my chair, a satisfied grin on my face.
Then I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to see my manager, Jason, looking down at me.
Most towns have a mall or a super grocer. Lewisville has Town Square. A block of solid cement surrounded by a single circular street, stores, and restaurants of all sorts lined its perimeters, and people bustled through the middle. In the center of the square was a fountain, complete with a statue of Meriwether Lewis, water spewing from his bronze sword.
I stood near the edge of the square, playing with a glowing ball of ice in my hand, but when I saw Carson I quickly extinguished it.
“It’s about time you got here,” I said. It had been an hour since Jason had kicked me out of the restaurant.
“Dad’s going to be pissed,” Carson said.
“I know,” I replied vaguely, not looking him in the eye.
“You think you’re going to get another job soon? I mean, to pay for college?”
“Maybe. Is the sun really setting already?”
“Yeah. It’s cool, isn’t it?” Carson replied. We started to walk away from the fountain and towards the car.
Not really, I thought. All those colors really just hide something darker- another day gone. Another day wasted.
Truth is, Lewisville had never felt like home for me. I mean, my father’s fantastic. And my brother… well he’s a good person too, but he’s also a reminder of everything I’m not.
Carson has friends. I sit alone at lunch. Carson’s teachers and bosses love him. Mine, to say the least, do not. Carson goes on dates. There’s a running joke at my school that “it’s suicide to ask out Krystal Krot”.
We walked along aimlessly, silent. Then, suddenly a crack split the air behind us. Carson jumped.
“What was that?” he said, turning around to look behind us.
“Probably nothing,” I said.
Then two more cracks rang out. And two more after that. I saw Carson freeze in my peripheral. “Oh, no.”
I whipped around. The sharp cracks continued to ring out, but I couldn’t spot the source.
Carson pointed.”There,” he whispered, finger shaking.
I followed his finger to see two men in black jackets. Their hair was shaved, in its place, a shining symbol covered their scalps like two barbed shurikens placed one on top of the other.
And in their hands were two blazing guns.
For a moment everything seemed to hold still. Then screams and shouts filled the air.
I started to bolt away, then turned back around. Carson was standing there, still frozen in shock.
“C’mon you dolt!” I yelled, grabbing him by the collar and pulling him along.
Behind us, I could still hear gunshots splitting the air. Smoke began to fill my lungs, and the people ahead of us started to fall. Their earsplitting shrieks filled me with dread.
At the sight of death, Carson shook away and stumbled into a run beside me.
“We’ve got to get behind cover,” he said, voice trembling.
“I know!” I snapped. “Head to the fountain!”
Carson nodded and we dived behind the statue of Meriwether Lewis, still spitting out water as if nothing had happened. My heart pounded as the blaze continued, shot after shot ringing in a cruel rat a tat tat rhythm. We sat there for what felt like ages, Carson hyperventilating, me trying to slow my own breath.
Then the shooting stopped.
“Do you think?” Carson said hesitantly.
But at that moment the two men rounded the corner, pointing their guns directly at our chests.
“Alright,” the first gunman said. “No more running. We only have one question: where is Larsen?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “He ran off earlier this morning.”
“Don’t lie to me. We know he has the scroll. Now tell us where he is and you can live.”
“I told you, I don’t know,” I said.
The second gunman grabbed Carson, who was paralyzed in shock, and held his gun to my brother’s neck. Snapping out of it, Carson thrashed and kicked, but was unable to break free. He fell still as the gunman coiled his finger around the trigger.
Slowly I reached my hand back and dipped it into the fountain water.
“Let me put this into perspective,” the first gunman continued. “You
can either tell us where your father is, or your brother will never speak again. Understood?”
“For the last time, I don’t know where he is! Now let Carson go!”
“You heard the girl. Kill him,” said the first gunman.
“I don’t think so,” I yelled, and threw my hand forward. As I did, the water in the fountain lifted and crashed down on the two gunmen, dropping them to the ground and throwing Carson to the side. As they attempted to get to their feet, I willed the water back into two balls, then smashed those balls back into each of them. They sputtered and coughed. I walked over and kicked the first one in the gut.
“Never mess with me again.”
I raised my foot to kick him again, but as I did, the second gunman grabbed me from behind and threw me to the ground.
“We can play that way, vinsling scum.”
The gunman raised his hand and a bright fireball burst into existence above it. I barely managed to roll to the side as he threw it downwards, but the heat from the resultant explosion still singed my eyebrows. Rising, I turned to run, but as I did the other gunman snapped his fingers and I felt a wall of force shove me into the statue. My vision blurred as I tried to get to my feet once again, then collapsed. The gunmen approached, one of them drawing a knife.
“Maybe you really don’t know anything. Or maybe you’re a clever liar. Either way, you’re useless to us now.”
But just then, a knife sprouted in his neck, and he collapsed. I looked behind to see my father, the knife flying back to his hand. Turning away from me, the other gunman drew a sword, but my father snapped and flames flew from his fingers, killing the gunman instantly.
“Hallelujah,” I breathed, slowly rising to my feet, heart still pounding.
“Next time don’t pick a fight after you’ve already won it,” my father said sternly.
“What in the name of?” Carson sputtered. “They just… and she just...and then you just….”
“Yeah. That about describes it. Get in the car. We have a lot to talk about.”
“And that’s when you showed up,” Krystal said. I had stayed silent as she told Dad what had happened, my hands still shaking from the battle.
My father shook his head. “You made all the wrong choices. You need to be more careful, Krystal. You’re not nearly experienced enough yet to defeat another mage. Your choice to fight would have gotten the both of you killed if I hadn’t showed up.”
“Well, what else was I supposed to do?” Krystal exclaimed.
“Run,” my father said. “There are forces at work here that are not to be trifled with. You are not the only mage in this world, and most of them are far more powerful than either of you.”
“Mages?” I finally butted in. “What mages? There’s no such thing as magic!”
“Were you blind that entire fight?” my father said dryly. “You belong to a much bigger world than you think you do.”
“Then you have a lot to explain,” I said.
“Yes I do,” he said, pulling up to the driveway. “And I will. Inside.”
My father’s room was a simple place. A dresser sat in one corner, short and almost empty. A bed stood in another, covered in plain white sheets. There was no TV, no computers, no phones, nothing but an alarm clock on the dresser. The walls, too, were bare except for three pictures: One of me, one of Krystal, and a third of our parents that he kept for our sake. Me and Krystal sat on the bed. My father pulled in a chair, sipped a long drink of water, then spoke.
“Alright. I’m going to do my best to explain what happened tonight, but first I have some questions for you. What do you know about what happened?”
“All I know is that two men showed up with guns and tried to kill us, and darn well near succeeded. I have no idea why they did or what you have to do with it. Now can you explain?” I said.
“Patience, Carson. Second question: Krystal, how long have you known?”
“A long time. Longer than I can remember. I always hid them from others, though. I was afraid of what people would do if they found out. Do you think my powers are why…”
“Partially,” my father said. “There was more to it than your powers, but that was part of it. What did the men say they were there for?”
“They said they wanted to know where you were,” I said. “Quite badly, apparently.”
“And a scroll. They said you had a scroll,” Krystal added.
My father closed his eyes and let out a long breath.
“I had hoped they wouldn’t know about that. Though I expected they would.”
“What are you talking about? Do you really have a scroll?” I asked.
“I don’t have it. But I know where it is, and that’s dangerous enough.”
“How is a scroll dangerous?” I exclaimed. “They’re ancient. They belong in museums.”
“Not this one. This one needs to be locked away somewhere it will never be found. You know so little. I thought your lack of knowledge would protect you. Evidently I was wrong.” He opened his eyes. “What do you know about magic? “
I snorted. “Magic doesn’t exist. It’s just a happy little thing wizards use in fairytales.”
“Whether for good or for ill, that is not true,” Terrace said. “The ability to generate energy and control that energy within one’s body is not common, but it does exist. I am a mage. Krystal is a mage. And you, too, are a mage.”
I stood up, angry, frustrated, and tired. I’d had enough of this nightmare, and I’d certainly had enough of my fake father claiming he was a wizard.
“I’m not dealing with this nonsense. This is all just a bad dream.” I turned and made my way to the door. Maybe if I got hit by a car, the dream would end.
“Carson!” my father exclaimed.
“Get out of my head,” I yelled back.
“I know you don’t want to believe me, Carson. I know the very thought that this might be real brings you back to the night your parents died. But it is real, and I cannot change that.” As he spoke, images of the nightmare I’d had the night before flowed through my mind, and fear began to build up in my stomach….
I shook my head, pushing out the memories. “Well, I don’t believe you,” I said.
But I couldn’t convince my feet to move any farther.
“Close your eyes, Carson. Find the energy, and will it to obey your command.”
I closed my eyes and stretched out my hand, hesitantly searching myself for some unseen power, throwing all my anger, frustration and fear into it. And then, suddenly, I felt it: energy, flowing through me, breathing life throughout my entire body….
Yet as I exerted my will upon it, it became volatile, wild and uncontrollable, Screams flowed through my head. The ground began to shake beneath me, growing in intensity. Dishes crashed to the ground. The wood floor split beneath my feet. Krystal shrieked. I felt heat building up in my chest, and my heartbeat began to slow, giving me the all too familiar feeling of suffocating as if stuck underneath a crushing weight…
And then my father’s hand grabbed me, shaking me back to reality.
“You can’t control it,” he whispered, speaking as if I weren’t there. He raised his voice. “Consider yourself lucky. Had I not stopped you, you would have destroyed yourself. But you felt it, didn’t you?”
“This is real, isn’t it?” I asked.
“I know you’re afraid, Carson,” my father said. “But this is reality, and we have to face it. Together.”
“Alright,” I said. “Ok.”
We cautiously sat down in the now chaotic room.
“Soooooooo,” Krystal said, glancing at me with an annoyed look.
“Back to the gunmen, and why they were here.”
“That is a long story,” my father said. “I suppose I might as well begin. Most mages live away from the rest of humankind, in an advanced society hidden from their view. For millennia, they have lived this way in peace. But twenty-one years ago, peace was broken.
“A man named John Larsh, commander of a military group named the Darkness, assembled an army of antimages, mages who harness the destructive powers of anti-energy. He seized control of mage society and began squeezing the freedom from our lives. I tried to resist him. As a result, my friends and family were all slaughtered.
“Fortunately, I was not the only one who wanted him stopped. Together, we formed a resistance, and, thanks to the heroism of a man named Daridin Rix, as well as your own parents, we were able to defeat him.
“But the conflict was not over as quickly as we thought. The Darkness slipped under our radar, appointing a new Dark Mage by the name of Jadis Larsh. Most of mage kind, too weary to fight, chose to ignore it. And now the Darkness are almost ready to invade once again.”
“What does a scroll have to do with any of this mess?” I asked.
“The scroll contains the plans for a terrible weapon. If the Dark Mage gets ahold of it, she will be unstoppable. And, whether for good or ill, I know its location. Thus, I must protect it.”
“How do we do that?” I asked.
“That is a good question, and one that I cannot yet answer. I do not have the means to hide or protect it myself. I will have to contact our allies.”
“Can we use it against her?” Krystal asked.
My father shook his head. “No. The kind of power that scroll contains is not to be had by mortals.”
“But we could use it for just long enough to…”
“No. We’re not using it, Krystal. Period. But I will need to start preparing you for combat. I wanted to keep you out of this, but I fear you may be involved whether I like it or not. Seven am sharp tomorrow we begin training. In the meantime, get to bed. I’m sure you have a long list of questions, but it’s been a long night for all of us. Best we get some rest.“
I gladly rose and began to walk towards my bed; however, as I did, a sudden thought struck me.
“Wait. One last thing.”
“The man who tried to kill me, he called me a...vinsling. What is that?”
“A long time ago, there were mages far more powerful than others. We called them vinslings. Together, they used their powers to
protect the world. But that was not to last, and they were hunted near unto extinction.” He hesitated before adding, “you are the last of their kind.”
With that he shut the door. Krystal walked off to her bed, stepping carefully over the new cracks in the floor. I looked down at my hand.
It was still shaking.
I Will Finish What You Started
Jadis Larsh sat in her throne room on the Apocalypse, fingering a small pocket watch with the name “John Larsh” inscribed on its face, whispering unintelligibly. General Nathzar Vorcix, her second in command, slowly approached and kneeled before the spiked throne.
“What? Do you finally have a report?” Jadis snapped.
“My lord, we’re not certain what happened to them, but we haven’t received any transmission in twelve hours. As far as we are concerned, they are dead.”
Jadis snorted. “By the hand of Terrace Larsen, no doubt. Incompetent scum. We must act quickly and decisively before he vanishes. Prepare the fleet. We will attack Lewisville and apprehend him before he can make his move.”
“My lord, would it not be best to learn from the past?” Vorcix exclaimed. “After all, your father’s fatal mistake was invading the mortal world…”
Larsh lunged forward, snapping her fingers. Red lightning leapt from them, burning Vorcix and knocking him to the ground with a gasp.
“Do not speak ill of my father! He was a great man, a visionary man, the proper ruler of magedom. It is not his fault he was murdered by the filthy Daridin Rix. And I, the new Dark Mage, am his heir, and I will have my revenge!”
“I am sorry, my lord. I did not intend to insult your father.”
“Then do not do it again. I will be far less merciful next time.”
“Understood. I will prepare the fleet immediately.” Vorcix left, rubbing the raw burns and grimacing. Larsh’s eyes followed him as he left, then turned back to the watch.
“Don’t worry, father. I will avenge you. And then I will finish what you started.”
Taking a deep breath, Terrace opened his tablet, clicking on his old resistance messenger. Hesitantly he reached out and tapped the ‘video message button’, then tapped the “Tyler McKay” contact. The screen went black for a few moments as the device called, then changed to show the face of an old woman, grey-haired and holding a cane, face weathered from the strain of a thousand battles, but still, somehow, smiling.
“After all these years, you finally called back.”
“It was not without reason,” Terrace said.
“That’s for sure. Why didn’t you contact us sooner? Things haven’t been going well, Terrace. The Darkness are rising. They’ve appointed a new Dark Mage. They grow stronger by the day. I fear if we do not stop them, the apocalypse is nigh.”
“I’ve had problems of my own.”
“Raising the Krot children hardly counts as a problem.”
“I think you’d be surprised how much trouble children can be.”
Tyler laughed. “Fair enough. Fair enough. But still. You knew the scroll was right under our noses this whole time, and you didn’t tell us?”
“So it’s common knowledge now?”
“Common enough. Daridin wants to retrieve it, Terrace. He’s put together a team already. They’re heading to Lewisville as we speak. He wants you to lead it.”
“Retrieve it? Why? You know what power it holds, it needs to stay locked up forever. That was the ancient agreement.”
“We don’t have the means to defend it, Terrace. You know that.”
“Even if we have to retrieve it, Tyler, I… I can’t. My two kids got attacked today. They’re already in enough danger. I can’t put them in more.”
“You know everyone’s in danger if we don’t stop her, right?”
“Yes, but… I can’t. I can’t consciously throw them into this.”
“I know how it feels. You want to protect them. But we only get them for an instant, Terrace. After that, they’re on their own. The best thing we can do for them is to prepare them for that. I’m not asking this of you for me, Terrace. I’m asking it for the world.”
Terrace hesitated for a moment, then made his decision.
“Fine. I’ll do it.”