Part II of Return of the Vinslings. See Part I on my portfolio.
|After being nearly killed by Darkness soldiers, Krystal and Carson are now aware of the world of mages. But the war has only begun...
I didn’t sleep that whole night. Frankly, I didn’t want to. With all that had happened that night, there was a lot to think about.
Ever since I could remember, I’d had magic. And though it drained me, it had always been exhilarating, a burst of euphoria in my tedious everyday life. I’d only kept it a secret for fear others would think of me as a freak because of it. Trust me, I got enough of that.
My whole life I had wondered if maybe, just maybe, there were others like me out there. Eventually, though, after years of hoping, I’d given up. But now, I knew there were more like me, a whole society even. And my father was one of them. It was amazing. A dream come true. For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel alone.
I didn’t know how I felt about the training. On the one hand, it would mean more power. On the other hand, that power came with a price. I couldn’t push angry thoughts away as images of the shooting reeled through my mind. I felt guilty, too: all of the people who had died had died almost purely because of our powers.
We’d almost died, too. Had my father not arrived in the nick of time we would both be dead. And, from what I understood, yesterday was only the beginning.
Yet, despite all this, I couldn’t help feeling excited.
After hours of pondering, my alarm clock finally went off. I slid out of bed and walked to the living room. Carson had already plopped down on one of the couches, red circles underneath his eyes from lack of rest. The TV was on, tuned to the news. Gruesome images of town square crossed the screen and a reporter began jabbering away:
“Breaking news: a shooting has been reported in Lewisville, Oregon’s town square. According to the police, multiple gunmen opened fire at eight forty last night, killing at least two dozen and injuring many more. Most fled the scene, leaving the square empty until officials arrived. However, when they got there they found the two gunmen dead, lying next to the fountain, one of them with what appears to be a sword wound, the other literally burnt to a crisp. Authorities have yet to run an autopsy to explain exactly how the two shooters died. Meanwhile, some victims claim to have seen the use of what they call ‘magic’ during the shooting…”
Carson turned off the TV, curled up, and groaned.
Just then, our father walked into the room, looking so different I almost didn’t recognize him. Robes flowed over him, blue with gray trim. Embroidered into the collar was a symbol, four triangles with a line
In his hands was a large wooden staff, with a glowing orange crystal at the top. He wore a belt containing more weapons: two daggers and a long, sheathed broadsword. Even though I knew it was still him, I couldn’t help but be a little intimidated.
“Good morning,” he said, as if nothing had changed. “I have something for you.” The two daggers on his belt unsheathed themselves, flying over to us. We took them hesitantly.
“What good are these against magic?” I asked.
“More than you would think,” my father responded. “Now come outside. It’s time to begin.”
We followed him out to the backyard. Completely redone, it had been made into what I imagined was a dueling field: metal poles protruded from the ground at various angles, trip wires extended between the poles and several spots on the grass marked with glowing red X’s. My father led us out to one of the few clear pockets.
“First off, we need to lay some ground rules,” he said. “The number one rule is not to harm anyone. The training I’m about to give you will grant you the ability to hurt, maim, or even kill people. That power is not to be taken lightly. You are not to use anything I am about to teach you except in a combat situation or other emergency.
“The second rule is not to use magic in front of non-mages. As I have stated, magic is a very dangerous tool, and it’s especially deadly to non-mages. There are mages out there who would exploit this weakness, and in order to prevent this, the magical community has always forbidden interactions with nonmages, whom, like most mages, I will hence refer to as mortals. I expect you to do the same.
“Third, and finally, don’t use magic outside of my presence or without my permission. Magic isn’t a playtoy. As beginners you could easily overstretch, hurt, and potentially even kill yourselves. The only exception to this rule, again, is in an emergency situation. Is this clear?”
We both nodded, though I was somewhat disappointed. What fun was magic is we were only allowed to use it with permission?
“So,” Dad continued. “The understand combat magic, you must first understand magic in general.”
“It all starts with what we call pure energy. This is the most basic form of energy in the universe. All other energies-heat, electricity, even matter itself are a product of it in some way.”
“In a mage, the body acquires pure energy by absorbing it from his or her surroundings. The body then stores this energy, and when a mage chooses to use it, it is conducted through channels running through you until it manifests itself in the desired location. During the process, the energy is usually converted into a single form, meaning that most mages can only use one form of energy, referred to as your specialty. Krystal is a hydromage. Carson is a geomage. And I,” he snapped and there was loud rush of flames, “am a pyromage.”
Dad stepped back. “Now for your first combat lesson.” Suddenly he lunged forward, pointing his staff directly at Carson. A ball of fire burst forward, flying past just inches away from my brother.
“Had I aimed true, Carson would be dead right now,” my father said. “As mages, you have a higher resistance to energy, but it is still incredibly deadly.” He raised his free hand and a brilliant blue sheen of energy burst from it. “That is where shrouds come in.”
“Shrouds, put simply, are magical shields. They block energy from coming in as well as coming out. The harder a shroud is hit the more energy is needed to maintain it, but they are your only way of defending against other mage’s attacks except for dodging, so you will need to get used to maintaining them. Thus, I want you two to practice summoning them.”
My father paced between us as we both spent several minutes producing the blue shields. I found they were relatively easy to conjure, it simply required exerting a slightly different mental force. Carson, to my surprise, also mastered them easily.
“Good,” my father said, walking between us. “Next, let’s try maintaining them.” He snapped, and a bolt of lightning shot from his hands to each of our shrouds. Instantly I felt a mental weight pushing on the shroud, which began to collapse. I pushed back, and the shroud held, blocking the bolt of lightning completely.
“Excellent!” my father praised.
“What next?” Carson asked.
“The only real teacher is experience,” he responded. His staff began to glow and he pointed it straight at me. “Now, prepare for a practice duel.”
My father fired, a bolt of lightning bursting from the staff.
Instinctively I ducked, and the bolt passed over my head. Then, dagger in hand, I charged. My father drew his sword and casually batted me away. I crumpled to the ground several yards away.
As I stumbled to my feet, my father whipped around towards Carson, who hastily summoned a large shroud. My father leveled his staff and began pummeling the shroud with fireball after fireball. Somehow, Carson’s shroud held for several seconds, but inevitably it collapsed, and Carson, too, was knocked to the ground.
My father walked over and touched him the tip of his sword. “Dead.” Then he swiveled to face me, dropping his staff and striding towards me with his sword bared.
I took a deep breath. Shrouds wouldn’t be any use against that sword. And I wouldn’t be able to get off a shot without my father blocking it.
Or could I?
My father picked up speed, gripping his sword with both hands. I stood my ground, waiting. Closer and closer he came until he was right in front of me, the flat of his sword swinging directly at my chest….
Then, at the last possible second, I collapsed to the ground. My father swung out of control, leaving his back open to me as he struggled to get his footing. I raised my hand and let a bolt of ice fly towards him.
My father swung his sword around his back, blocking the blast and leaving the sword covered in ice. He then stretched out his hand and fried the piece of ground directly in front of me.
“But a good run for a first duel. If I was a lesser swordsman you would have taken me out. And Carson held that shroud for an extraordinary amount of time.”
“Thanks,” Carson said, rising to his feet.
“There’s still a lot to improve on though,” my father continued. “The charge at the beginning wasn’t a good move, Krystal you could easily have died if I hadn’t been distracted by Carson. Carson, you could have easily dodged most of those fireballs.” My father opened his mouth to continue, but a sudden roar from above stopped him.
I looked up.
A massive helicopter was descending from the sky. And it was going to land right on top of us.
“Move!” I yelled, grabbing Carson and yanking him out of the way. The helicopter continued to descend. Wind roared, and my hair blew violently as the copter came to land directly in front of us. It was painted blue with black and gray trim, and its body was covered in heavy armor. Two forward cannons adorned the sides, and a rear cannon pointed straight at my face. Three hatches were embedded in the hull, one on each side and one in the back. The back hatch swung open, and a gray-bearded mage strode out, staff in hand. Behind him was a younger mage, who looked to be Hispanic, though his skin had a strange tint to it that I couldn’t quite place with any sort of race I knew.
“Terrace Larsen!” the man said, rushing forward and shaking my father’s hand. “Name’s Crelang di Onto, head general, Artensian Army.”
“So you took my job?” my father said.
“Well, technically, yes….” Crelang said. “But I’m so pleased to meet you, I’ve heard so much about you…”
The gray-bearded mage remained silent, arms folded. My father brushed Crelang aside softly and stepped forward toward him.
“Terrace Larsen. The man in hiding. I didn’t think you of all people would be so cowardly to shy away from the Darkness,” the mage said.
“I had my reasons, Daridin,” my father responded.
“I’m sure you did,” Daridin growled.
Daridin raised his eyebrows. “I’ll believe that when the scroll is safe. Now get in the copter.”
“Time is of the essence. You know the importance of this mission.”
“Still I thought there would be more thought put into this.”
“The plan is simple: recover the scroll, then get the rest of you to
Artensia. A racer of all people should be able to understand the idea of a simple plan.”
A resentful look flashed across my father’s eyes, but he nodded. “What about my children?”
Daridin gestured, and another mage stepped out of the dark pit of
the copter. About two years younger, he had bright red hair, freckles, and burning orange eyes.
“This is Raubin Rix, my son.” Raubin nodded to us quietly. “He will man the house while we are gone. In the meantime, your children should get to their mortal school. The protection of a crowd is likely more protection than our force could bring.”
“The Dark Mage showed no restraint in the presence of mortals last night,” my father retorted. “What makes you think she’ll show it today?”
“The Dark Mage cares about the scroll much more than she cares about two young mages, Terrace, vinslings or not. Nevertheless, I will have my operatives watching over them at all times.”
My father turned to us. “Are you both ok if I leave?”
“Is this the resistance?” Carson asked.
“Daridin is the leader of the resistance, yes. They want me to recover the scroll. It will be dangerous.”
“Then go,” I said. “We’ll be fine.”
My father nodded, then embraced us, tears welling up in his eyes. “Listen,” he said. “If I don’t come back…” he choked on his words. “Just...just promise me you’ll be strong. That you’ll stick together.”
I gave my affirmation, as did Carson. My father walked over into the helicopter. “Get to school,” he yelled as the copter’s engines started up. “You’ll be safer there. I expect to come back to find both of you alive and well.”
The copter began to pull away, and the hatch closed. With a sudden burst of speed, the vehicle flew off towards the distant forest around the town, leaving us in a crushed obstacle course with the Raubin kid standing next to us.
“You’re both very brave,” Raubin said. “If I had a say, I would never let somebody I loved do something like that.” His voice was quiet and childlike.
“You came here, “ I said. “That’s plenty brave.”
“That’s one type of bravery. Letting someone you love go is a whole different type.” He gave us a long look, then walked into the house.
“Do you think he’s right?” Carson said. “Do you think he’ll come back?”
“He’ll come back,” I said. “He always does.”
But inside I wasn’t so sure.
Have you ever studied for a test for hours on end, done everything you possibly can, and then still felt anxious about it? That’s about how I felt at school as I walked through the halls of Lewisville High. My father had just been sent on a life-threatening mission. I might never see him again. Furthermore, our lives were in danger; the Darkness could strike any minute. Still, worst of all, was the scroll, a weapon so powerful it could mean the end of everyone and everything I loved.
Yet here I was, wandering around as if it were a normal day.
I walked into Geography class and sat down. The teacher, Mrs. Yardley, pulled up a Powerpoint presentation- something about a civil war in Canada. I glanced down at my pocket as she began to talk. Mrs. Yardley was an excellent teacher, but she had a tendency to get so caught up in her lessons that she noticed virtually nothing. I hadn’t talked with Krystal since morning, and the temptation was too strong. I pulled out my phone and began to text.
What do we do if the Darkness come?
The response came swiftly.
Do you think we can trust Raubin?
He doesn’t seem to have any bad intentions ... of course, he said all of about two words, so I don’t really know.
I mean can we trust him to defend the house?
I don’t see any other alternative, Krystal texted back. If Dad’s willing to trust him with it so am I. And it’s not like we’re going to be in Lewisville for long after this.
Leaving Lewisville. I still wasn’t sure how I felt about that. On the one hand, it would get us to the resistance and away from the reach of the Darkness. But on the other hand, I’d lived in Lewisville my whole life. It was my home, and leaving it would be more than hard.
I’m just not sure about any of this, I texted.
Neither am I. We just need to wing it until all this is over.
Assuming it ever is over.
There was no response.
I waited for several minutes. Still nothing.
She must have gotten her phone taken away, I realized with a smirk. But as I thought deeper, I realized it really wasn’t that funny. Our two phones were our only link to our father, and with him the resistance. If Krystal had lost her phone, that meant half of that communication line was down.
All of a sudden, the class went silent. I looked up to see Mrs.Yardley staring right at me.
“Carson, please hand over your phone.”
I gulped, but stayed silent, fingering the phone.
“Carson, hand it over.”
I remained quiet.
Fuming, Mrs. Yardley stormed over to my desk, yanked the phone out of my hand, and placed it back on her desk.
I stood up. “You can’t take that.”
She raised her eyebrows. “Can’t I?”
I froze, unsure how to tell a geography teacher that evil mages might kill me and everyone in the room if she didn’t give me my phone so I could contact another group of said mages.
For a long time, there was tension between us.
And then the explosions began.
The room shuddered, and I almost lost my footing. The sound was loud and crisp, leaving my ears ringing for several seconds afterward.
“What in tarnation?” Mrs. Yardley muttered. Around me, there was a flurry of activity as kids covered their ears, stood up, and rustled in their seats.
Ka-thump. Ka-thump. The crashes came again, even louder this time. The room shook and books, binders, and electronics fell to the floor.
“Earthquake!” one student shouted.
Immediately the room became a blaze of chaos. People ducked under chairs, more rushed out the door, and others just crouched and shrieked.
“All of you, shut up!” Mrs. Yardley screamed. “ I don’t know exactly what’s going on, but…”
Her voice was drowned out by the noise as the thunks continued in perfect rhythm. I alone stood silent, collecting myself.
“That’s no earthquake,” I said, lunging for the window.
Outside, explosions of violent red flashed throughout the parking lot, annihilating cars and throwing people tens of feet into the air. Those who weren’t dead were running for the building, screaming a word I could barely make out. I looked up. Sure enough, three shrieking planes, each identical to the one we had seen yesterday morning, flew through the sky.
And their cannons were blazing.
“It’s a bombing!” I yelled.
For a moment everyone in the room froze, the terrifying truth setting in. Then they all began to sprint for the door.
Mrs. Yardley stood still, eyes scanning the room, hands shaking. I ran across the room for my phone, reaching out to grab it.
Then suddenly I was flying through the air, spinning in a wild roll. Red swarmed my eyes, refusing to clear even when I smashed into the ground. I could feel the sharp throbbing if bruises, cuts, and burns all over my body, but somehow I was still conscious.
When the red finally gave way, I found myself staring up at the sun, the roof above my head completely destroyed. I rolled to see Mrs. Yardley and her desk gone. In their place was a smoking crater.
Gritting my teeth, I stumbled back to my feet, mind whirring. The Darkness was here. My phone was in cinders. Lewisville’s only hope of survival was contacting the resistance, and that meant I needed Krystal.
Legs flaring, I walked outside.
It was a living nightmare.
Cars jammed the entire parking lot as everyone in the vicinity tried to drive away. Others attempted to run, only to be hit by bombshells. Still more stood shocked until falling victim to the explosions. I watched in horror as people I had known my whole life- Houston, Ashley, and others- began to die.
“No,” I muttered. “No!” Adrenaline pumping, I scrambled across the lawn, desperately trying to find Krystal so I could end this. Unless she was one of the corpses littered on the ground…
I shook the thought away. I couldn’t afford to think that way.
Shells exploded beside me, one spraying sparks into my eyes and temporarily blinding me. I shook my head until my vision finally cleared.
“Krystal!” I yelled. She was nowhere to be found.
And then a strong hand gripped my shoulder. I jerked around to see my sister.
“Thank heavens,” I breathed. “My phone got destroyed in the fight, you’ve got to get ahold of Dad.”
“I already tried, I think they blew the cell towers as they came in. We’re going to have to get to the car and make a break for it.”
“No. We’ve got to save Lewisville, I’ll try the school phone..,”
“Do you think the resistance doesn’t know about this?” Krystal cut me off. “You’re not a hero, Carson! We’ve got to save ourselves before we end up dead too.”
I paused, torn. I couldn’t just leave.
But she was right. I was no hero.
“You’re right.” We raced towards the car, dodging through a hail of explosions as we went. “Do you know where we’re going?”
“No idea. But I’m not staying here.” We arrived at our car, but just as we were about to get in, there was a bright flash of red, reducing the vehicle to ashes.
“You have a backup plan, right?” I asked.
Krystal just stared, dumbfounded. Another explosion sounded not more than a hundred feet away. They’re aiming for us, I realized.
“I’ll take that as a no,” I said.
Another explosion, this time even closer.
“We could hotwire a car,” Krystal suggested.
“Do you have any idea how?”
A third flash, right by us. “We need to get under cover!” I shouted.
We made for the school but quickly stopped. A dozen or more Darkness soldiers were advancing across the grounds, armed with swords and staffs. For now, they seemed not to have noticed us- though I knew that wouldn’t last for long. We both froze, unsure which way to run.
Suddenly a force behind us threw me and Krystal to the cement. Heat enveloped me. I could feel flak entering my body at several different angles. When I finally skidded to a stop, the pain was so intense I could hardly move. I looked up to see the plane that had hit us swinging around for another run, no doubt to finish us off. I closed my eyes and prepared myself for death.
“Need a hand?” a voice behind me said. I checked behind me. A boy, maybe in his late teens, was standing behind us, black-haired and thin. In sunglasses and a mechanics smock, he didn’t seem panicked or frightened, in fact, he almost looked comfortable. One hand stretched out to help me up, the other held a shining black pistol. Around his body was a metal exoskeleton, motors whirring whenever he moved.
“Name’s Jack. Jack McKay. Special operations, Artensian Air Force.”
“What?” Krystal asked.
“I’m with the resistance,” Jack clarified.
I hesitated still.
“Your father sent me.”
I probably shouldn’t have trusted him. There was no proof he was with the resistance. And to top it all off, he was holding a gun.
But when bombs are dropping and your life is in danger, trust goes out the window.
So I reached out and took his hand.
Jack pulled me and then Krystal up to our feet. The plane finished circling around and flew towards us. Jack’s eyes followed it intently as he pulled us backward.
“On my mark, run for the nearest car. Three.”
The plane continued to fly closer.
I could see the guns heating up now.
We bolted towards the parked vehicles, explosions ringing out behind us. Jack fell to the back, urging us forward. Then, without warning, he shoved us to the ground. As he did, a bolt of red flew over our heads smashing the pavement in front of us and burning it to cinders. I stared at it, dazed.
“C’mon, before he come around again,” Jack yelled. We followed him to the nearest van. It was locked. I pounded on the windows, failing to break the glass.
Jack raised his finger to stop me, pulling out a paperclip from his pocket and inserting it into the lock. Eyes still on the sky, he carefully twisted it until the door popped open.
“Hop on in,” he said, sliding to the driver's seat and opening the other doors. I jumped into shotgun and Krystal jumped in one of the middle passenger seats.
“Jump in back,” Jack told Krystal. “I need you to spot.”
“Spot?” I asked.
“Look for enemies, planes, hot women, anything I need to know about,” Jack replied. Krystal moved to the back and scanned as Jack started the engine. Looking back myself, I saw that the fighter had broken off and was bombing another area, but two of the mages in the area had noticed us and were moving in.
“We’ve got company.”
“I see them. Let’s give them a proper greeting, shall we?” Jack said.
He shifted the car into reverse and slammed on the gas. We hurtled backward towards the enemy mages. One of them jumped away to the side. The other, less fortunate mage got smacked by our rear bumper and went flying into the wall. He slid to the ground and didn’t get up.
The surviving mage shouted, and more of the Darkness surrounded our car in a circle, blasting out our windows with bolts of red. One of these bolts nicked Jack across the face, leaving an ugly black mark.
“You wanna play?” Jack growled, aiming his gun out the driver seat window. Then, he jerked the steering wheel and pulled the trigger, spinning the car around and creating a ring of fire as the gun let loose. After three or four rotations, Jack stopped, leaving all of the enemy mages dead or incapacitated.
“Dang,” Krystal whistled.
Jack lowered the pistol and shoved it in a holster on his belt.
Shoving down on the gas, he pulled us out and onto the road.
“Listen up,” he said. “I’ve contacted Raubin, and your father's house is clear. We’ll meet up there and prepare defenses. We’re going to have to hold out until the resistance arrives and bails us out of here.”
“So you’ve sent a signal to my father?” I asked.
“Yes. We’ve told him to keep after the scroll. His lone transport won’t stand a chance against the Darkness.” My face must have fallen, because he continued, “but take heart. A legion of our best men is on its way, and if anyone can fight off the Dark Mage, it’s Artensia.
“What?” Krystal said.
“One of the fighters has pulled off after us. Hold on to your horses, this is gonna get messy.”
I looked out back. Sure enough, a plane was tailing us, flying low and aiming directly at the car. As it drew closer, its cannons came alive, causing Jack to swerve to avoid being blasted into oblivion. Out the window, I could see pavement flying into the air. I thought we were dead, but at the last second, Jack managed to turn onto a side street, forcing the plane to loop around to continue pursuing us.
Jack’s eyes darted around for a moment, then fixed on me. “Take the wheel.”
“What?” Krystal and I both said simultaneously. Me at the wheel was the last thing we needed right now.
“Take the wheel,” Jack repeated, retrieving his pistol. “I’ve got to take down that fighter if we have any hope of making it out of this alive.”
“But how am I supposed to…”
“It’s simple. Swerve if there’s an explosion, turn around as much as possible to screw with the fighter, and sure as heckfire don’t mess up.” Jack swung through the broken window and onto the roof. I just sat in my seat, panicked.
“Get in the driver’s seat!” Krystal yelled. I obeyed, though only because my driving was better than no one driving.
“All right,” Jack yelled down to the cab. “I need you to hold this thing as steady as possible so I can get a good scope on the pilot. Got it?”
“All right. Prepare for some incoming fire in three, two, one…”
The plane attacked again, explosions flinging cement and pavement all around us. Shrieking, I yanked the steering wheel, skidding the car onto a side street.
“Hold it steady!” Jack yelled. Out the back, I could see fireballs fly towards the fighter as Jack pulled the trigger. Several struck the plane’s armored hull, but none hit the cockpit.
“Thos,” Jack said, and though I couldn’t tell exactly what it meant he was clearly cursing. “I’m down to two shots, so you’re going to have to hold the car completely straight while I shoot. Let me emphasize that: completely straight. Clear?”
“Clear,” I said, taking a deep breath. We continued straight. The plane finished turning around and began another attack run.
Thunk. Thunk. Thunk. The explosions were even more accurate than usual, only feet away from a direct hit. Dust and gravel poured through the broken windows into the car.
“Hold it steady!”
A flash of red burst in front of us, shattering the windshield. I yelped and let go of the steering wheel to shield myself. Glass cut into my arms.
The plane lowered a little bit, it’s cannons pointing straight down at us as they heated up for another volley.
“Swerve!” Krystal yelled.
“Don’t!” Jack protested, but it was too late. I spun around, and Jack’s fireball went awry.
“Ok. Ok,” Jack breathed. “I’m down to one shot. That means you’ve got to hold the car straight this time, or we will die. Understood?”
I shakily affirmed, closing my eyes briefly. If I was going to die, I at least wanted to die ignorant.
I heard a shout from ahead. I opened my eyes to see that two mages had turned the corner, staffs ablaze and pointed upward at Jack.
“Hit them!” Jack cried.
I slammed on the gas, and sparks flew as the car tumbled over the two Darkness like a speed bump.
“Are you ok?” I asked Jack.
“Yes, but they got my arm,” Jack replied. “Doesn’t matter, we’ve got bigger problems.
I looked behind me. Nothing. Then I looked ahead.
While we had dealt with the Darkness mages, the plane had pulled a full three-sixty and now was racing directly towards us, so close I could see the pilot sitting in his cockpit.
This time the fighter was dead on, the bolts of energy crumpling the sides and front of the car.
“Steady!” Jack yelled as I swerved to avoid what would have been a direct hit. Instead, the bolt struck the roof, blowing a massive hole into it. Jack stumbled back and fell to his knees, but kept his pistol aimed.
“I have to pull off!”
I could again see the plane’s cannons heating up for the final blow.
“We’re going to die if I don’t…”
“Steady,” Jack repeated, voice growing quiet and calm.
I gritted my teeth, took my hands off the steering wheel, and closed my eyes once again.
And Jack fired.
I opened my eyes and looked back.
The firebolt seemed to move in slow motion, slowly soaring towards the fighter, the trajectory undeterminable with the naked eye….
Please, I thought.
The bolt struck its destination, burying itself right into the pilot’s head. The fighter careened out of control, spinning around and around until finally crashing in a brilliant spray of red.
“Yes!” I yelled, pumping my fist. Krystal let out a breath of relief.
“Don’t celebrate yet,” Jack said, sliding into the passenger seat. “We’ve still got a long battle ahead of us.”
But even he couldn’t suppress a grin.
Terrace stumbled his way through the trees, bloodied and bruised, but still standing. Daridin and Crelang stood waiting for him.
“Did you get it?” Crelang asked.
Terrace stretched out his hand to reveal a scroll clenched in his fist.
“How do we destroy it?” Daridin asked.
“We don’t,” Terrace said. “I’ve already tried. It’s magically reinforced. I have to admit you were right, though. The traps in that vault were more than any of you could handle unprepared. You did need me.”
“If only you could have done it a little faster,” Daridin said. “We have company.”
“What?” Terrace asked.
“Look,” Daridin said, pointing away from the forest and down towards Lewisville. Terrace shuffled his way to Daridin’s position and looked down.
The city was on fire. Fighters weaved through buildings, destroying homes and businesses with incredible ease. A legion of Darkness soldiers marched toward the city square. Terrace looked behind him toward the ocean and in the distance, he could see Larsh’s battleship inching towards the shore.
“Krystal and Carson,” Terrace muttered. “They’re down there, we have to get them!” He broke out into a hobbled run towards the city, but Daridin stretched out his hand, magically halting him.
“Terrace! The scroll.”
Terrace turned back and tossed the scroll at Daridin’s feet.
“You take it. I’m headed to fight.”
“You’re in no condition for that, Mr. Larsen,” Crelang said.
“No, I’m not,” Terrace said. “But my kids are down there. And I’m not going to leave them.”
“Jack and Raubin can take care of it,” Daridin said. “The scroll is the more pressing problem. C’mon, Terrace, it’s a couple of kids or the world.”
“Those two kids are my world,” Terrace said calmly. “And I’m surprised your kid isn’t yours.”
Terrace began walking away, but as he did Daridin cried out:
“Wait. You’re right. We can’t leave a mortal city to burn. Crelang, call in fighter squadrons A, B, and C, and Legions 1 and 2 of the ground force. If Larsh wants a fight, let’s give it to her.”
“Gladly,” Crelang said, smiling.
Terrace smiled. “That’s the Daridin I know.”
“For the record,” Daridin said. “Raubin is my world. Everything I do, I
do to protect him. But I’m also the leader of Artensia, and because of that I have to protect the rest of the world, too.”
“Sentiment understood,” Terrace said. “But if we can’t protect two teens, how can we protect the world?”
Daridin shifted his gaze to the Darkness army ravaging the city.
“I’m going to be honest here, Terrace. I fear we may not end up protecting anything at all.”
Just minutes after the encounter with the fighter, we pulled up to our home, tired deflated, engine smoking, though the car somehow still running. Euphoria rippled through me. Survival had seemed impossible, yet somehow we had survived. Our doom had been inevitable, but here we stood. It didn’t matter to me that the car was wrecked or that Jack was injured or even that we were still in danger- all I felt was an intense liveliness.
Raubin darted down the front steps as we wearily hopped out. “What did you do?” he exclaimed.
“We thought we’d turn it into a convertible,” Jack said, gesturing to the gaping hole in the car’s roof.
“I can see that.”
“We had a scuffle with a fighter. We took it down. We’re not unscathed though. If you can’t tell.”
Raubin nodded. “If the fighter could find you so can the rest of them, right?” There was a tone of apprehension in his voice as if he were afraid of asking.
Jack nodded. “Of course.”
“Ok. I’ll go get the shield up.” He started walking towards the front door. Jack followed close behind, and we followed him.
“Where are the supplies? Larsen’s got to have something up his sleeve.”
“Everything I could salvage is in the kitchen. There’s probably more, but I don’t think we have time to look.”
“Amen to that,” Jack muttered. “Get the shield up, I’ll inspect the weapons.”
We all walked inside, Raubin rushing up the stairs to the upper floor while Jack escorted us to the kitchen. The entire room was covered in weapons. Staffs lay propped up against the windows, the crystals atop them glowing in radiant colors. Swords, knives, and other melee weapons of all kinds covered the dining room chairs, and the table had become an assortment of grenades, and rifles.
Jack inspected the table, then turned to us. “If we’re going to defend this house, I need to know everything about it- entrances, exits, weaknesses, anything an enemy could exploit.”
“They could get in through the front door, back door, and the garage,” I said.
Jack bit his lip. “Three entrances to cover with only four people. Anything else?”
“Nothing I can think of.”
Jack nodded. “Then Carson, you take the back door. Krystal, I’ll have you take the front door. Your objective is to make certain nobody gets inside the house. Ruabin and I will be on the roof guarding the garage door and generally trying to keep mages from entering the shield.”
There was a sudden buzz, and out the window, I could see a blue dome of energy envelop the yard. A second later, Raubin rushed down the stairs back into the room.
“Got the shield up.”
“Good. Get them equipped. I’m going up to the roof.” Jack grabbed a radio, a grenade, and a rifle, then left.
“I don’t like him,” Carson said after Jack was gone. “He’s arrogant.”
“Don’t judge him so harshly,” Raubin said. “Jack was born with a rare defect that inhibits him from using magic. That didn’t stop him from becoming one of Artensia’s finest soldiers. He’s a little hardcore, and, like you said, a tad arrogant, but he’s a good friend.’”
“What’s this?” I asked, picking up a metal vest. On the collar were strange diodes and slits almost like the ones in a CD player. The whole thing was made of strips that bent in when you grabbed it.
“That’s a PSG,” Raubin said. “Personal shield generator.”
I slid the vest on and turned up one of the diodes. Immediately a shroud appeared, fitting around my body almost perfectly.
“There are holes for your hands so you can still attack, but everything else is shielded. You can turn the knob to increase power, but it’s got a limited source, so be careful. You’ll need it.” Raubin handed one to Carson and put one on himself. Raubin considered the table for a moment before continuing.
“I think I’ll equip you with the basics- a staff, a wand, and a grenade. Do you know what you’re doing?”
“No,” Carson said.
“Staffs store energy in their crystals. If you’re feeling tired, focus on the staff and you’ll be able to use its energy rather than deplete yourself. You can also use it to conduct your energy and attack. And the grenade is fairly self-explanatory- pull the pin and huck it as far away from you as you can.” He handed each of us our equipment.
“Do you really think they’ll attack us?” Carson asked.
Raubin was about to answer when we heard a vibration on the table. Jack’s voice emitted from one of the radios.
Raubin turned to us. “Well, there’s your answer. Let’s get to our posts. We’ve got a long day ahead of us.”
“They’re coming in the shield.” Jack’s voice buzzed through the communicator.
“I see them,” I responded, staff pointed out an open window near the front door. The house was surrounded by Darkness, each dressed in black and red armor, with a helmet and visor hiding their faces. For a while now they had been probing the shield rather than trying to enter; now it appeared that time was over.
The enemy began flooding through the shield. I raised my staff and blasted. The shot missed.
“Hold your fire,” Jack said. “Wait until my signal.”
Flickers of red began to dart across the yard toward us as the antimages fired back. Most weren’t even near their target, but a few nicked the edge of the window, the brick sizzling as they did.
“They’re getting awful close,” Carson said.
“Keep holding your fire, I don’t want any wasted energy on desperate attacks,” Jack responded. “We don’t want to get tired on the warm-up round.”
The enemy fire continued, getting more accurate as the Darkness antimages got closer to the house. One bolt flew straight at me, causing me to jump out of the window and duck behind the door
“Now,” Jack said.
Swinging to kneel back in front of the window, I let loose a flurry of ice bolts. Most missed their target or were stopped against shrouds, but one struck home, encasing an unsuspecting soldier in ice. Fireballs rained down as Jack and Raubin assailed the enemy, lighting up mage after mage. The attackers fell back, sliding behind the shield for protection.
“That wasn’t too bad,” I said.
“That wasn’t a full-on attack,” Jack said. “They were just probing, testing out our defenses for weaknesses or unseen traps. Now that they know it’s just the four of us they’ll be much more aggressive.”
“One of them made it the door,” Carson said. “I locked it, but he’s searing his way through. Can you get him?”
“I can hear him but can’t see him. You’re going to have to take care of this one yourself. Use your grenade on him before he gets through.”
“What if he gets me first?”
“He won’t. Just open the door, drop the payload and run fast.”
I heard Carson gulp, then swing open the door. There was a shriek of anti-energy, and then silence.
“Carson?” I asked, heart pounding.
Ka-boom! The house shook as the grenade exploded.
“I got him.” Carson’s voice rang through the radio. “It blew off the door, though.”
I let out a long breath.
“Good work,” Jack praised. “We’ll have to defend that door more closely. Everyone back to your posts. They’ll be reforming and attacking again soon.”
I waited anxiously at the window, adrenaline pumping. The mages outside formed up, staffs and swords at the ready.
But no attack came.
“What are they waiting for?” I heard Jack mutter to himself.
Then, three helicopters descended out of the sky, landing behind the shield and the antimages. More soldiers poured out of two of the transports. However, out of the third emerged only one figure, wearing a spiked mask and flowing metal armor. The other mages seemed to freeze in her presence.
“Oh no,” Raubin said, his next words confirming my worst fears. “It’s the Dark Mage.”
The Dark Mage
The Dark Mage advanced through the ranks of the Darkness mages, then passed through the shield. The eyes of her mask radiated black. As she advanced, she drew a long, sleek sword, and as she pulled it from its sheath, red energy flickered across the blade. She spun the sword in an arc, and it emitted a terrible shriek.
Jack cleared his throat. “All right, “ he said. “Raubin, get in the house. You and the others need to make a break for it. I’ll hold her for as long as I can.”
I got up to leave, then stopped. I could run, and leave Jack behind. That was the logical thing to do. But I knew that against the Dark Mage and her army alone, he would die, and the Dark Mage would take over Lewisville.
But maybe if I joined Jack, together we could take the dark lord down. Lewisville would be saved and the war would be ended as swiftly as it had begun.
I kneeled down and aimed my staff back at the Dark Mage.
Jack leaped down from the roof, landing deftly on the concrete. “Well hello there,” he yelled. “You know, you’re a little bit more..” he motioned horizontally at his waist. “I mean, is it just the suit, or have you been eating too many carbs?”
“Fat jokes,” the Dark Mage snorted. “You know, my men told me you were intelligent, Jack McKay. But evidently you’re as stupid as any mortal.” She continued to advance.
“Well if we’re playing that game,” Jack said. “They tell me you’re just as reckless as your father.”
The Dark Mage reacted to this insult, swinging her sword in an arc to point directly at Jack. “Don’t insult my father, mortal scum.”
“Well, sorry,” Jack replied. “Frankly, there’s a lot to insult.”
The Dark Mage growled and charged. Jack raised his gun and fired repeatedly, forcing the Dark Mage to stop and summon a shroud.
“Krystal,” I heard a voice behind me and turned to see Carson. “What are you doing? We have to go.”
I looked at him in the eye. “Jack can’t fight him alone. I’m staying.”
Carson sighed, but responded, “then I’m staying too.”
I shifted my gaze back outside. Jack continued his stream of fireballs until suddenly it stopped, the pistol still pointed but nothing emerging from the barrel.
“Thos,” Jack cursed. “I’m out.”
The Dark Mage snickered, then snapped. A bolt of red lightning flew from her hand, striking Jack straight in the chest. He crumpled to the ground.
“No!” I yelled. Pulling the grenade from my pocket I hurled it at the Dark Mage. Landing directly in front of her feet, it beeped once, twice, three times, and exploded.
“Yes!” I yelled.
But my celebration was premature. The Dark Mage emerged from the smoke, unharmed, mask’s midnight eyes boring into us.
“Krystal and Carson Krot. I hoped I’d find you here.” She raised her hand and more red lightning flew towards the window. I ducked away, pulling Carson down with me. The window did not shatter, but instead, a burning hole opened in it, and sparks rained down on us.
“So you think you can hide,” the Dark Mage chimed. “You will soon find there is no hiding from me.”
I heard a shriek above me, growing louder and louder. And then suddenly I was thrown back as a wall of flames engulfed me, the heat swarming my PSG. I hit the ground and skidded to a stop as the explosion ended.
The house had been completely destroyed, reduced to a pile of rubble, the shield around it gone. The collar of my PSG lay beside me, fried and smoking. I was completely unharmed.
Adrenaline and anger pumping through me, I rose to my feet and attacked the Dark Mage, throwing all my energy into a single blast of ice. She blocked it easily, then snapped her fingers. I found myself frozen, an invisible force pushing my limbs back into place each time I tried to move.
“You have spunk,” the Dark Mage said. “Come closer.” I slid towards her, shoes grinding against the ground. As I did, the Dark Mage reached up and removed her mask, revealing the face of Jadis Larsh, a face much like my own: sharp features, blonde hair, thin lips. But there was one stark difference: her burning red eyes.
“Your father hasn’t told you everything,” Larsh said. “You are a vinsling, Krystal Krot. You have the potential to become more powerful than any other mage in the last millennia. I could unlock that potential, teach you how to control your powers. All it takes is a word.”
“I’m not joining you, you murdering piece of scum,” I spat. “My father might not have told me everything, but he told me enough.”
Larsh snorted. “We’ll see about that.” She turned to the army of antimages behind him. “Take them away. I will deal with them after I…”
She was interrupted by a sudden burst of blue, throwing the enemy soldiers in all directions. More explosions continued, ripping apart the ranks of the antimages. Larsh bared her sword with a growl and turned away from me, and suddenly I was free. I looked back to see the three helicopters land behind us. Immediately more mages spilled out, each dressed in red, patched together armor. Rushing forward, they engaged Larsh and her minions in a violent charge. Leading them was a man clad only in loose robes, yelling commands as he too fought the enemy with a bright orange staff.
My father had arrived.
I crouched behind a chunk of rubble, unsure what to do. The battle raged around me, the resistance soldiers and transports ripping apart the antimages as the Darkness desperately tried to form up. Energy balls flew in every direction, heating up the air around us to an almost intolerable level.
Krystal moved behind the rock with me, dragging Jack’s unconscious body with her. “We need to get to the transports!” she yelled.
“With him?” I asked incredulously. I looked over my shoulder towards the helicopters. The entire way was blocked by shrieking bolts of red anti-energy. We wouldn’t last a second before we were torn to pieces.
“Well?” Krystal said. “What are we waiting for?” Still dragging Jack, she darted out into the open.
“Wait!” I cried. But it was too late. I grabbed Jack’s feet, lifted them off the ground, and ran for the helicopter. Energy flew all around us. One antimage spotted us and fired into my arm. Gasping, I managed to hold onto Jack. In my peripheral I could see the mage aim again, this time at my head….
A flash of flames suddenly struck the antimage, killing him instantly. I looked towards its source to see my father running towards us, summoning a large shroud. Darting behind it, we followed him back into one of the empty transports. He shut the door.
“Stay in here,” he said. “The resistance is setting up base to the west of Lewisville, in the forest. The helicopter will take you to them.”
“What about the scroll?” I asked.
“It’s with Daridin Rix. If all goes well, it will be taken back to Artensia soon. It’ll be safe there.”
“So we won?” Krystal asked.
My father smiled sadly. “I love you two. Whatever happens out there, always remember that.”
My father opened the door and leapt out. “Fall back!” he yelled, ducking behind a large chunk of rubble.“Fall back!”
The soldiers obeyed without hesitation, each sprinting from their hiding spots back into the copters. We opened the door as Raubin and several others climbed inside.
Others, however, weren’t so lucky. With half of their forces in the helicopters, the resistance soldiers were heavily outnumbered, and their element of surprise was gone. Seizing the opportunity, Larsh and her men began picking off the mages as they attempted to dart to the transport. Soon there were no more than a dozen, each one of them pinned down by the heavy fire. I could see my father’s eyes look around him, looking at the fallen soldiers, then at the ones still pinned. Then, finally, he snapped.
“Stop!” my father shouted, swinging out from his hiding spot. “Stop.” To my surprise, the entire battle seemed to pause, every eye swiveling to turn on my father.
The antimages pointed their staffs at him, but Larsh gestured for them to be lowered. They hesitantly obeyed.
“Terrace Larsen. I’ve been waiting for this day for a long, long time.” Swinging her sword, Larsh began striding confidently towards Terrace.
“You don’t have to do this, Jadis. I know your father drove it into you, but you can drive his madness out. You don’t have to avenge him to prove your own worth.”
“Don’t even speak of my father!” Larsh yelled.
“I can and I will,” my father said. “He was evil. He lied, he killed, he oppressed. I didn’t know you for long, Jadis, but I know that you can do better than that.”
Larsh raised her sword to level at my father’s chest. “I choose not to.”
Larsh lunged forward, slashing at my father. He sidestepped and struck back, splitting apart her shoulder pauldron. Snarling, Larsh spun around, swinging her sword viciously at my father’s chest. My father parried, and the two launched into a vigorous duel, swords gleaming as they were swung and energy hissing as they clashed.
While they fought, the Artensians dashed into the copter, completely ignored by the Darkness, whose eyes were now fixed on the duel. Soon our father was the only one left on the battlefield.
“Dad!” I yelled.
Glancing back at me, my father began to fall back towards the copters. The helicopter buzzed as the engines started up and the rotor began to spin.
But as my father fell back, Larsh suddenly broke off, raising her hand towards our copter. Her hand began to glow red, shrieking even louder than the engines.
“Run, coward,” she said.
My father turned back. “I am no coward.”
Rushing forward, my father blocked the bolt of red energy with his blade just as Larsh threw it, and the sword exploded in a flash of maroon, throwing him to the ground. Unfazed, Larsh strode forward. Scrambling to his feet, my father blasted blue flames toward her, but she blocked them with her sword, then, with a wave of her hand, turned my father’s beam toward the ground and smacked him to the ground with the butt of her sword. I stood frozen, part of me wanting to run and help, but the other, greater part knowing there was nothing I could do.
“Please,” my father pleaded. “You don’t have to…”
Larsh didn’t even respond, instead thrusting her sword into my father’s chest, ripping apart his flesh with a twist of her blade.
“No!” Krystal screamed, jumping out of the copter and running towards Larsh, knife in hand. But just as she was about to strike, Larsh flicked her hand and a wall of force threw Krystal backward.
“Krystal!” I jumped out of the copter after her, then suddenly stopped as I saw my father, still gasping for breath. I collapsed to my knees beside him.
“Dad.” It was the only word I could force from my lips.
My father didn’t respond.
My sister shrieked as she rose to her feet, only to be frozen in place.
“Take care of your sister, Carson,” my father said finally. Promise me that you’ll take care of your sister.”
“I promise,” I said.
“I love you,” my father gasped. His hand slipped out of mine, and he was still. Behind me, the helicopter doors slid shut and the ships began to take off as the Darkness army began firing towards the open bays. In front of me, Larsh slipped her helmet back on, then motioned toward me, and the Darkness soldiers began moving toward me, weapons bared.
Emotion welled up inside me: anger, sadness, and, most of all, fear, more than I could possibly control. My hands began to spark, and then suddenly a wall of blue force burst from me. The ground shook and cracked. Buildings around us collapsed. Even Larsh was thrown to her knees.
But the moment passed as soon as it had begun, and Larsh rose to her feet, the midnight black eyes of her mask now intent on me.
“Impressive. Impressive indeed. But it will not be enough.”
She snapped her fingers. Red lightning rushed toward me, and then everything went black.