The battle for the scroll of the particle bomb continues.
Your Dirty Work
Jadis Larsh, helmet still on, fell to her knees as the hologram opened, displaying a scarred and burned face, eyes burning red.
“I asked you to report daily, Larsh,” the face said.
“Well I’m sorry I was busy doing your dirty work,” Larsh said.
The face snarled. “Do not forget so quickly whose army you are surrounded by, Larsh. I am the Cunning One, your king and your deity. I give you orders, not the other way around. Now I expect a report daily. That was part of our deal. Understood?”
“Yes, my lord.”
“Now. What is the status of the scroll?”
“Unfortunately, it currently rests in the hands of Daridin Rix.”
“What?” the Cunning One exclaimed.
“My lord, I have them cornered, the Apocalypse on one side, my army on the other. All portals they have tried to conjure I have disrupted. There is no way the scroll will slip through my hands.”
“It better not. The scroll of the particle bomb is the most powerful weapon on Earth. Do not underestimate the Artensians while it remains in their hands.”
Larsh nodded. “Don’t worry, my lord. I have a plan.”
I awoke in a dimly lit, metal cell. The floor was ice cold. Light glared into my eyes. Shielding them, I looked around. The room was completely undecorated, walls unpainted; the only abnormality was the doorway.
My head throbbed. My limbs ached. I found myself unsure of where I was or how I’d gotten here. Then memories began flooding back- the attack on Lewisville, the fight with the plane, the battle at the house, and, above all, the memory of the Dark Mage plunging his sword into an unarmored chest, of my father crumpling to the ground, never to rise again.
The thought sent adrenaline rushing through me. I wanted to move, to fight. Standing up, I ran for the door and flung it open. Across the doorway was some sort of blurry energy field, reducing my view of the hallway to nothing but a random dance of colors. It didn’t look like it had any sort of antimatter, fire, lightning, or other nasty properties, so I did the stupid thing. I tried to walk right through it.
The second my body touched it I went flying backward, crashing into the wall behind me and breaking it with a loud thud.
“Oof,” I muttered.
Behind me, I heard Carson waking. I stood up and faced the door, scrutinizing it for any weakness I could find. I found nothing.
“What was that?” Carson asked groggily.
Carson stood as well. “What did you do to that desk?” he asked.
Ignoring him, I continued to face the door. Memories were again swarming through my head, refusing to leave no matter how hard I willed them to do so. I found myself shaking, unable to contain my emotions. They’d killed my father, the one person who’d ever truly loved me. Just when I thought I’d found a place to belong, they’d taken everything from me. She’d taken everything from me. I clenched my teeth.
Let it in, a little voice inside my head whispered. Just let the anger flow.
Finally, screaming in anger, I punched the door.
My hand jerked back immediately, and I felt my muscles twist. Sharp pain leaped up my arm.
But the rage remained. I punched the door again, with the same results.
“Krystal, stop!” Carson yelled.
I continued to punch the wall, muscles screaming in pain, but rage still remaining, until Carson finally grabbed me and pulled me backward.
“Krystal, that’s not going to do anything!”
“And standing around is?” I exclaimed.
“You’re hurting yourself. Stop.”
“It doesn’t matter if I hurt myself.”
“Yes, it does. Please, stop. Dad told me I had to protect you.”
“Don’t you see? Dad’s dead, Carson! Dad’s dead and now we’re in the middle of a war. So don’t you pretend that things are the same as they were yesterday. They’re not. Stop pretending and accept it.”
Carson winced, then let go of me. “I’m sorry.”
I pulled back my hand to punch again, but as I did, the wall disappeared to reveal two Darkness soldiers, each wielding a spear.
“Carson and Krystal Krot,” one of them spat. “Larsh wants to talk with you.”
“Who’s going to make me?” I spat.
Lightning crackled around the guard’s spear. “You can either come willingly or we can force you. Either way, you’re wearing these.” He held out two pairs of handcuffs.
My eyes flickered to the doorway, then to Carson, then to the two men, sizing them up. I quickly decided we didn’t have a chance.
So together we stepped towards the guards, each unsure of what our fate would be.
Larsh’s throne room carried a strange aura of mystique, though it was decidedly evil. The entire room was painted black. Red torches lit the room, their hiss constantly in the background. The room was circular, with locked doors leading to the hall on one side and to some other unknown room on the other. Towards the back of the room sat Larsh’s throne, elevated on a concentric set of circular platforms. Spikes protruded from it in all directions, though in a fashion such that Larsh could sit on it and rest her arms on the armrests without stabbing herself. Her red eyes followed us as the guards shoved us into the room and onto our knees.
“You,” Krystal said, looking at Larsh with an expression of pure hatred I had never seen from her before.
“Yes, me,” Larsh replied calmly.
“I’m going to kill you,” Krystal snarled.
“I’m sure you will. But in the meantime, I have a job for you to do.”
“We’ll never do anything for you,” I said.
Larsh snorted. “We shall see about that. Release them.”
The guards hesitated.
“Do it,” Larsh said. “I ordered it, didn’t I?”
The guards hesitantly released us. Immediately Krystal ran for Larsh, summoning a magic ball in her hand. But Larsh simply drew a remote from her hand and pressed a button, and red lightning arced across Krystal and she collapsed to the floor. Looking downward, I realized there was a metal band attached to my leg with a solid red light.
“That was the lowest setting,” Larsh said, rising to her feet and beginning to pace. “From now on, every time you misbehave, I will increase the pulse by one. At five, the device will shut down your cognitive functions and kill you instantly. Understood?”
Krystal rose to her feet, teeth bared. She raised her hand to attack again.
“Krystal don’t!” I yelled. “You heard him.” I turned toward Larsh. “We understand.
Krystal stood for a moment, then finally lowered her hand.
“Excellent,” Larsh laughed.
“What do you want?” I asked.
“Well, that’s an easy question. I want that scroll.”
“We don’t have it,” Krystal said.
“I’m aware of that. But you can get it for me.”
“You have an army, there’s nothing we can do for you,” I said.
“Oh, I could fight my way to the scroll, yes. And I will if you fail me. But how much sweeter would it be if the very children of Terrace Larsen were to undo his final act? How horribly ironic for the twin children of David Grail and Caroline Krot, the very people who killed my father, to perpetuate my revenge.”
“I won’t do that,” I said. “Not on my life.”
Larsh simply smiled and pressed a button on her remote. I looked down. The red light turned green.
Red energy burst from the band, arcing across me. Terrible pain ripped through me like I was being prodded with a sharp needle across my whole body. Barely restraining a scream, I collapsed and began to writhe.
“Leave him alone!” Krystal yelled.
“No, I don’t think I will,” Jadis said, pressing a second button. The energy intensified, and I could feel gashes open up in my skin and smell smoke as my flesh began to incinerate. Still, I said nothing, determined not to give in.
Larsh pressed a third button, and finally the pain was too much. I began to scream, scream just as loud as the night I had been crushed under rubble, not knowing if I would live to see the next minute…
I shouldn’t have rationalized it. I should have said no and died on the spot. To my endless regret, I didn’t.
“Fine!” I yelled. “Stop! Stop it! I’ll do it! I’ll do it.”
Larsh pressed a final button and the pain finally stopped. I laid down, trying to slow my pounding heart. Larsh kneeled beside me, smiling cruelly.
“Yes. Yes, you will do it for me. I want it to be your hand that gives it to me. You have a spark in you, a hero’s will. Getting that scroll for me will tear you apart. But you will do it. Because deep inside, Carson Krot, you are a coward.”
Wincing, I rose to my knees, and lowered my head. “What do you want us to do?”
“My men will take you to Lewisville. From there, you will infiltrate the Artensian stronghold and steal the scroll. Once you have done so, I will extract you from the stronghold and bring you back here.”
“Carson?” Krystal exclaimed. “What are you doing? We can’t give it to her.”
“We don’t have a choice, Krystal. It’s like you said. Dad’s gone. Nothing’s going to be the same again. We might as well accept it.”
Krystal was silent. Larsh rose and sat back down in her throne.
“Your bands are implanted with microphones. I will be listening in the whole time, so don’t get any ideas. If you betray me in any way, I will kill you. “ She turned to the guards. “Take them to Vorcix. He will arrange the rest.”
The guards stepped forward and grabbed each of us by the shoulders and began escorting us out of the room. As we left, Jadis called out:
“Remember, Carson. I want it to be your hand that gives me that scroll. No one else’s.”
I looked at Larsh, then lowered my head.
Dad was dead.
The resistance would soon be defeated.
And I had given in.
“So you’re telling me you lost them?”
The disappointment in my father’s voice was palpable. We stood in the council tent of the newly thrown together Artensian camp. At my side stood Jack, fiddling with the cartridge in his gun. Behind my father stood Tyler McKay, Jack’s grandmother and Daridin’s top advisor, leaning on a staff, her eyes long and weary.
“Father, we didn’t see them die….”
“But they’re most likely dead,” Jack interrupted. “And launching a rescue mission would be suicide with the forces Larsh has amassed.”
My father turned toward me. “How am I supposed to trust you to go on missions like these if this is what happens? Because of your failure, two innocents are dead. It could have easily been you. What do you expect me to tell your mother if that had happened?”
I lowered my head. “I’m sorry, father.”
“Sorry doesn’t cut it, Raubin. This is war. And if we lose, Larsh will get the particle bomb. That weapon’s killed billions before, it’ll kill billions again. I won’t risk it killing you. Please leave.”
I opened my mouth to protest but then decided against it, turned, and left.
It wasn’t as if I was doing any good anyway.
Jack watched as Raubin exited, frowning. Then he turned to Daridin.
“Sir, I was the head of the mission. I take full responsibility of the Krot twin’s deaths.”
“Note taken, Jack, but you’ve proven yourself many times. Raubin has not. I thought maybe he was ready… but I was gravely mistaken. Now if you’ll excuse us, we need to have a private meeting about that scroll. Blasted Larsh keeps disrupting our portals.”
Jack nodded and exited. Tyler turned to Daridin.
“Perhaps you were too hard on the boy,” she said quietly.
“In times of war one cannot be too harsh,” Daridin said. “I’d rather I hurt him then shoulder the blame if he dies.”
I sat outside the camp, head buried in my hands, trying to resist the urge to cry.
I was the last of the vinslings. I was supposed to be the hero, to save anyone. As the son of the leader of the resistance, you would think I’d be able to do just that. Instead, I got cast aside, stuck in my tiny little hall in Artensian military headquarters, waiting for something to happen to me. I had no friends, no one to turn to but my father, who inevitably just turns me away. Well, except for Jack. Jack’s a good friend. But he’s also a reminder of everything I’m not: where I’m a vinsling, I do nothing for the cause, while, he, a mortal with no powers, has managed to rise in the ranks to head of special ops. He’s so much stronger than I am that it’s absolutely ridiculous.
I’d gone on a few missions before this one. Nothing major, always someone there to hold my hand and make certain everything turned out ok. But this mission had been different. The situation was desperate. The Darkness could easily obtain the scroll. The world was at stake. This was my chance to prove myself.
And then everything went wrong.
First I got shoved into defending Terrace Larsen’s house. Of all the jobs in this mission, likely the most uneventful. Or so I thought until the Dark Mage herself showed up at our door, blew Jack out of the water, and advanced on us.
But instead of doing the brave thing, instead of facing her down, I’d run. I’d left Krystal and Carson in danger. I couldn’t even save Larsen. I’d failed. And now father would never forgive me.
At least the scroll was in our hands. Though I didn’t know everything, I knew it contained the instructions to a weapon called the particle bomb- a nuclear weapon capable of single-handedly destroying half a continent. In the ancient days, it had been used to destroy almost all of magedom, and consequently, there was no other weapon we mages feared more. Even mentioning it was akin to swearing.
I heard a rustle beside me and briefly looked over to see Jack sit beside me.
“Hey,” Jack said softly.
I turned away.
“Listen, I know the stuff your father said back there hurt you. But he’s just trying to protect you.”
“By keeping me out of the fight that determines the fate of the world? He’s not protecting me, Jack, he’s sidelining me. That’s what he always does.”
“He’s not sidelining you. He’s saving you for later. After all, you are the last of the vinslings. The only reason I’m out there is cause I’m a pitiful, good for nothing mortal.”
“That’s not what vinslings are supposed to do! With great power comes great responsibility. We’re supposed to be the great heroes who stop people like Larsh, not the ones that sit and let them do what they want.”
“I’m not going to convince you otherwise, am I?’
“Probably not,” I said.
“Well, I’ll tell you this. I don’t know about your father, but if I had to have one man to have my back, it would be you.”
I let myself smile a little. “Thanks.”
Suddenly I heard an engine rev in the distance. Looking out and squinting, I saw a truck driving towards the camp, heading from Lewisville. Brief red flashes burst across my vision near the truck, but I couldn’t tell if it was glare or actual anti-energy. The truck was approaching rapidly, however.
“What’s that?” I asked.
Jack pulled a pair of binoculars from his belt and looked toward where I was pointing, then hurriedly threw them aside.
“It’s the Krot twins. But they’ve got company.”
“We should alert my father,” I said.
“No time. They’ve almost been overtaken.”
Jack drew his gun and began to run toward the truck. I hesitated, then readied a fireball and followed. As we got closer, I could see the situation clearly: Krystal and Carson were in the truck, Krystal at the driver’s seat, desperately trying to get away from two Darkness mages, both of whom were slightly behind them, but close enough that they could send a spray of anti-energy bolts towards the truck. Krystal shrieked.
“Hey!” Jack shouted, leveling his gun as we got closer. “Pick on someone your own size!”
“And there goes the element of surprise,” I muttered.
The two Darkness mages turned on us, one of them drawing a longsword and running toward Jack at inhuman speed while the other stepped back and sent a ray of red lightning hurling towards me. I blocked it with a shroud, then threw my fireball. The lightning mage blocked it, but not before I summoned another, larger, fireball, and fried him.
Jack, however, didn’t fare so well. As the longsword wielding mage got closer, he shot at him several times, but all were blocked deftly by the sword, and before Jack could get up to run away, the mage knocked him to the ground and raised his sword to finish him off…
Then suddenly froze in place.
Jack hesitated, then slowly slipped out from under the mage and blasted him in the head as the truck rolled to a stop, Krystal and Carson emerging from the cab.
“Congratulations,” Jack said to Krystal, shaking her hand. “You’ve officially saved my life twice in less than two days. I’m impressed.”
“How’d you make it back here?” I asked.
“Larsh took us out of her cell to speak with her,” Carson said, stuttering slightly. “We managed to overpower the guards and escape. We wouldn’t have made it here without you, though.”
“Well, honestly, didn’t expect that from you, but good work nonetheless,” Jack said. “One less group of people to worry about saving. Now, shall we get into camp before Larsh gives us any more trouble?”
The twins nodded vigorously, and we all loaded into the truck as Jack started it up and began driving down the road toward the camp.
But neither of us noticed the metal bands on the Krot twins legs, still blinking red….
The Artensian Camp
“You know we can’t give it to her?” I said.
I stood, arms folded, in our newly appointed private tent in the Artensian camp, Carson sitting on the lone bed in the room, head lowered, not making eye contact with me. Or anyone, really.
“We don’t have a choice, Krystal,” he muttered. “If we don’t give it to her, she’ll take it anyways.”
“We can figure something out. What if we used it against her?”
“You know that won’t work,” Carson replied. “If it was too powerful for father, how are we supposed to use it?”
“I’ll do whatever it takes to kill her, Carson. Whatever it takes. Even if it means I have to lose my own life to do it, I’m going to stop her.”
“Won’t change the fact that Dad’s… that Dad’s dead.”
“No. We can’t change that. But we can avenge him, fulfill his purpose. Isn’t that what you want to do?”
“I want to go home, Krystal. Save what I can out of this mess. That’s all I want.”
“Home’s gone, Carson! Can you wrap your head around that please?”
“I can’t believe that,” Carson said. “This is all just a dream, and when I wake up…”
I shook my head and kicked the bed. “You know what, if stealing the scroll is what you want to do, then let’s do it. I need it to defeat Larsh, you need it to feel better about yourself or whatever you want out of this. But don’t expect me to just hand it to her, the way you would. I’m not a coward.”
“What did you say?”
I whipped around to see Raubin standing in the doorway, a look of utter horror on his face.
“Raubin,” I said quickly. “This isn’t what you think…”
“You came here to steal it,” Raubin whispered. “She turned you… I should have known that was too easy!”
“No, that’s not exactly what... “
Raubin didn’t listen, instead of opening his mouth to yell….
And then I blasted him with a bolt of ice, and he slumped to the ground, out cold. Carson turned and stared at his body, raising his eyebrows.
“Well the whole secrecy thing fell through real fast.”
I nodded slowly, still processing what I had done. “We need to get that scroll and get out of here. Fast.”
“What do we do with Raubin?” Carson asked, rising to his feet.
“We’ll have to leave him here, there’s no time,” I said. “Shove him under the bed, I guess?”
Carson nodded and began stuffing Raubin’s unconscious body underneath the bed. “Right. Do you know where the scroll is?”
“I have an idea.”
“It’s all we’ve got. C’mon!”
I ran out into the cold night. The reality was, I didn’t have any idea where the scroll was, but I knew I needed a plan of some sort, or Carson wouldn’t follow. Yet follow he did, crouching low to the ground and shuffling beside me.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Trying not to be seen,” he said.
“They’re going to see us,” I hissed. “Now get up and act natural.”
Carson rose to his feet, and we wandered through the camp, both shivering, both of us trying to resist the urge to tense as we passed patrolling soldiers and overheard whispered conversations.
“Look at the stars,” I said, mostly just to break the tension.
“There’s not many out,” Carson said. His voice grew dim. “They’re all covered by darkness.”
“I suppose we just have to look at the ones we’ve got,” I said slowly. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted something- a long, skinny tent lit with several blue flame torches, the entrance flanked by two well-armed Artensian soldiers.
“There,” I said, pointing.
“That?” Carson said. “There’s only two guards.”
“Closest we’re going to get,” I said.
“Hope isn’t a strategy.”
“No, it’s not, it’s an attitude,” I quipped. “Distract them.”
“Distract them? How?”
Ignoring him, I slipped off to the side of the tent, ducking behind the nearest tree. Slowly, Carson stumbled forward into the light of the torches. The guards quickly leveled their weapons towards him.
“Who are you and what is your business here?” the right guard asked.
Carson opened his mouth to speak, then said, “I am a ghost. And I am here to...haunt you. We’ll go with that.”
The left guard leaned over and whispered to the right guard. “I’m honestly not sure if he’s pranking us or if he’s insane.”
“No,” Carson said. “I am a ghost. A legitimate, sane ghost. I’ll even prove it. With my ghost ID.”
“Or both,” the left guard added.
“Well, perfectly sane ghost, I’m afraid we’re going to have to arrest you,” the right guard said. Both guards began to walk towards Carson.
“Now!” Carson squeaked.
I sighed. At this point I wasn’t going to get a better opportunity. Swinging out from behind the tree, I blasted ice bolts with both hands, dropping one of the guards to the ground, but missing the other, who turned on me. But before he could do anything, Carson swung out his leg and tripped him, and as he stumbled I knocked him, too, to the ground.
Carson breathed. “I didn’t do half bad, did I?”
I rolled my eyes. “Get in the tent.”
Kill If Necessary
Trashed by a pair of complete newbies. Typical me.
At least she hadn’t hit me too hard. She could have easily killed me. Instead, I was able to regain consciousness shortly after the twins left.
As the black faded and my memory snapped back into focus, I slid out from under the bed, rose to my feet, and sprinted towards my father’s tent. When I arrived, a pair of guards stood in the way.
“I need to speak with my father,” I said.
“Your father is in a meeting right now,” the guard replied.
“I need to speak with him now,” I replied forcefully. “It’s about the scroll.”
The guards turned to each other. Normally they would follow protocol and block me. But when it comes to the particle bomb, every mage can make an exception. They swiftly swung open the doors.
My father sat talking with Tyler McKay and the young army general Crelang di Onto, a map of Lewisville and the surrounding area between them. Red forces on the board represented Larsh’s forces. Blue represented ours. I couldn’t help but notice how much less blue there was than red.
“Raubin,” he sighed. “I thought I’d taught you not to..”
“The Krot twins are stealing the scroll,” I blurted. “They’re headed for the hall right now.”
My father stood and Tyler both stood, while Crelang’s eyes widened visibly. “What?”
“I don’t know why,” I breathed. “But they’re going for it right now. They’re going to deliver it to Larsh.”
My father walked over to a comm and turned it on. “Jack, this is Commander Rix. The Krot twins have gone rogue and are headed for the scroll. I need all soldiers to head to that tent right now. Stun if possible.
“But kill if necessary.”
Stealing the Scroll
“How are we supposed to get past this?” I asked, dumbfounded.
Sure enough, the scroll was in this tent, sitting on the ground in the center. But the entire rest of the tent was a myriad of red trip lasers, each projected by what looked like to be a minigun attached to the wall.
“I… well, I honestly have no idea,” Krystal said. “I call keeping watch.”
She ducked out of the tent, closing the door behind her.
“Krystal, you can’t just…” I groaned in frustration. Today could not get any worse. “Here goes nothing.”
I jabbed my foot into the first trip laser, then yanked it back out. Electricity crackled, barely missing my leg.
And the trip laser disappeared.
“Wait a second,” I muttered.
Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out my wallet, took one last look at my school idea and modest wad of cash, and then threw it into the trip lasers.
There was a bright blue flash, and a wave of heat washed over me. It took a moment for my eyes to clear. But when they did, the trip lasers were all gone.
Slowly, carefully, I walked toward the scroll. It didn’t look to be anything extraordinary, just an old looking roll of paper. Leaning down, I picked it up, held it out in front of me, and attempted to tear it apart. But the second the paper flexed, energy flashed and my arms were yanked back into place as the scroll returned to its normal form.
“Ok,” I said. “Definitely a magical scroll. Krystal! I got it.”
There was no reply.
Suddenly the door to the tent burst open, and Jack McKay ran in, gun drawn, a slew of Artensian soldiers behind him.
“Give me one reason I shouldn’t shoot you, Carson Krot. One reason.”
Tear You Apart
Jadis Larsh sat in the cockpit of a lone cruiser, hovering over the Artensian camp. Beneath her, she could see lights flicker as the Artensians surrounded the tent and bound Krystal in chains. And through the headphones in her ears, she could hear the panicked breath of Carson Krot.
“My lord, shall we fire?” the pilot asked.
“Not yet,” Jadis Larsh said. “Not yet.”
I hesitated, not certain whether to obey my conscience or logic. I glanced down at the band on my leg. Nothing. Yet.
“Hand it over,” Jack said. The band on my leg pulsed, not much, but enough to remind me it was there.
“I can’t, Jack.”
“Or what? She’ll kill you? Your life is not worth the lives of everyone else, Carson.”
“I’m sorry, Jack. But it’s already over.”
“Okron curse it, Carson, just hand it over!”
I stared down at the band, then slowly stepped forward. Instantly it pulsed, and I collapsed to the ground as lightning tore into me, burning my hands and arms. I felt my heart strain to beat. Jack began to run toward me, gun aimed at the band…
And then the room exploded.
I felt a wave of heat wash over me and sharp pain as flak stabbed into my back. The band ceased to shock me as it snapped in half, though I think my heart still stopped for a few beats. Through it all though, my hands remained clamped firmly on the scroll. When the red finally cleared from my eyes, I rolled over to see the Artensians in chaos, several, including Jack, lying face down on the ground. Krystal was nowhere in sight. But what I could see was a Darkness helicopter descending towards me, hangar sliding open.
Stumbling to my feet, I attempted to shuffle away but felt an all too familiar force freeze me in place. The cruiser landed, and Jadis Larsh stepped out, a grin on her face. The few remaining Artensians attempted to attack her, but she magically cut them all down with ease.
“It did tear you apart,” she said, grinning cruelly. “But you did it. And now the whole world will pay.”
“I won’t give it to you,” I said through my bloodied mouth. “You can take it, but I won’t give it to you.”
“We’ll see,” Larsh said. I found myself unfrozen. “Hand it over.”
There was a part of me that wanted to just give it to her right then. But something inside me had snapped, a part of me I didn’t know existed until then. Anger and determination flooded me. And I stood still.
Larsh snapped, and I felt indescribable pain rack my chest once again.
But still I stood still.
Angrily Larsh waved her hand, and I felt a force exert itself on my arm, slowly forcing it to move forward and hand her the scroll.
“There,” she said. “Now get in the copter.”
“No,” I said. “You can’t tear me apart. You can try, but I won’t let you.”
“We’ll see,” Larsh said. “We’ll see.”
She raised her hand toward me, and everything went black.
Joining the Resistance
I awoke slowly as sunlight penetrated the door of the tent. My arms and legs were tied to the chair in which I sat, and when I tried to exert my mind to use magic, sharp pain screeched through my head, breaking my concentration.
The last thing I’d remembered was a bright flash of red as an explosion had seemingly descended out of the sky. And before that, Artensian soldiers apprehending me. And before that, the incident with Raubin and the guards. And before that, the faked chase that had gotten us into the camp. And before that… Larsh.
Anger surged through me. I’d been so close to getting the scroll. To defeating her.
“What the heck did you think you were doing?” I looked up to see a gray-bearded mage sitting in front of me.
“Who the heck are you?” I responded, struggling against my bands.
“My name is Daridin Rix. I lead the resistance you just blatantly betrayed. Now, let me ask you again. What the heck did you think you were doing?”
I realized I recognized him. He was the man who had yelled at my father and taken him away. The reason he’d had to come back in the first place. And part of the reason he was dead.
“I was trying to stop her, that’s what I was doing.”
“Stopping Larsh!” Daridin yelled. “Do you understand what you and your brother did? Because of your actions, the most powerful weapon on the planet now rests in her hands. You call that stopping her?”
“What would you have done? She would have killed us if we didn’t.”
“Better to die a hero than to live a coward. You disgust me, Krot. I was going to offer to let you help us. I thought maybe you’d apologize, live up to your mistakes, and become something more. Evidently, I was wrong. The court will decide your fate from here.”
And with that Daridin stormed out.
Angry, frustrated, and, ultimately, afraid, Daridin exited the tent.
And ran right into the old, weathered face of Tyler McKay.
“How’d it go?” she asked.
“She has no remorse for actions. I tried, but she won’t cooperate. The court will decide her fate.”
Daridin turned to walk off, but Tyler gently placed her hand on Daridin’s shoulder.
“She’s a criminal, Tyler. I can’t let something like that slide.”
“I did. For you. You must remember that.”
“That’s different. I didn’t condemn the entire world. “
“But it had the same spirit. John Larsh threatened you. And so you led his army for him. By your hand many good men fell. Far better men than you were at the time. But what did I do when you left Larsh and begged to join us?”
Daridin sighed. “You forgave me.”
“Can you forgive her?”
“You know I can’t risk it in these times.”
“I know. But let me speak with her.”
“Ok. But if it doesn’t go well…”
I struggled against my bindings, desperate to move, to do something. Did everyone in this world have to be evil or a moron? I’d done my best with what I’d had. Unfortunately, what I’d had was me and my incompetent brother, so that hadn’t gone so well. Not my fault.
Suddenly another figure stepped into the tent, an old lady with grey hair, a cane, and a somber face. Slowly she sat down on the ground in front of me.
Great. An old lady. Exactly what I needed right now.
“Krystal Krot,” she said softly. “A pleasure. My name is Tyler McKay.”
“You here to play the good cop?” I demanded.
“You know he’s not wrong, right?” the old lady said.
“I was going to take it,” I said. “I was going to use it to kill him and end this. That was the plan. It’s not my fault Carson screwed it up.”
“And what would you do once you had it?” Tyler asked.
“I would use it to end the rest of the evil in this world,” I said. “I would destroy all of it.”
“I don’t know.”
“Some knowledge is not for mortals or mages, Krystal. Do you know what that scroll contains?”
“The scroll contains the instructions to giving oneself the capability of powering the particle bomb, an antimatter nuclear weapon capable of destroying an entire continent. Once magekind used this knowledge freely. Billions died as a consequence, and the great mage Magean hid the scroll and forbid us contact with nonmagical mortals. But the scroll has no power in and of itself. Even if it did, we wouldn’t use it. What you must understand, Krystal, is that we don’t fight for power, vengeance, or anything material this world can offer. We fight for Okron.”
She spoke softly but somberly, and as she did, I felt the anger fade away, replaced by guilt. “What’s Okron?” I asked.
“Question,” I asked softly. “What’s Okron?”
She twisted her arm to reveal a symbol:
“It’s an old word in ancient mage… it stands for everything good in this world-harmony, love, hope, and most of all, the cause of peace. That is what we fight for, not vengeance, not power, but Okron.”
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“I’m not going to pretend that what you and Carson did was ok, Krystal. But I will tell you this: the direction of the future is infinitely more important than the wasteland of our past. Daridin is putting together a force to attack Lewisville and take back the scroll before Larsh can use it. You are the only one in this camp that might know where he’s keeping it.”
“I have an idea,” I said. Larsh had set up a massive base in Lewisville, where we’d launched the fake chase from. Though I didn’t know exactly where it was, I had a general idea of where it could be.
“Then are you willing to lead us there?”
“Whatever it takes to stop her.”
Tyler snapped and the bands fell from me.
“Then welcome to the resistance.”
I hit the ground on all fours as the Darkness antimages shoved me into a cell. My fingers burned as the unsanded wood floor sent splinters stabbing into my skin. A strong hand shoved my face to the floor. I didn’t bother lifting it.
The men exited and I heard a buzz as an energy field surrounding me in a wavy dome burst into effect. Gradually I rose to my knees and closed my eyes.
It isn’t over yet, I told myself. I can steal the scroll back. Or the resistance can kill Larsh before he has a chance to use it.
But deep inside I knew the truth. Larsh had the scroll. We were doomed.
And I was the fool who had gotten it for him.
Slowly my thoughts shifted to my death. Larsh would kill me, I was sure of that. The only question would be how I died. Would I die kicking and screaming just to spite those who would destroy me? Or would I die with my head held low, not even able to bear the thought of all those my actions had killed?
I would die defiant, I decided. Like my father. Did he know he was about to die, I wondered? Or was that sword in his chest a terrible surprise of pain and finality? Either way, he’d died bravely.
And either way, he’d be disappointed in me now. That was my last thought before sleep overtook me.
“No,” I found myself whispering as the dream took me again. “No!”
Fire. Swords. My mother’s body hitting the ground, limp. The ground-shaking, throwing my small frame to the floor.
And above all, the crushing pain of rubble falling on top of me.
And then suddenly I was awake, a man kneeling beside me with his hand raking into my shoulder.
“Carson Krot,” he said. “Get up. The Dark Mage wishes to see you.”
Minutes later, I found myself again stepping into Larsh’s throne room. Larsh sat upon her throne, a smug smile on her face, her hand resting on the mask of the woman that had killed my father. When he saw me, she rose, striding toward me.
“Carson Krot,” she said. “How excellent to see you. I’ve been looking forward to your regaining consciousness.”
“Where is it?” I said through clenched teeth. “Where is the scroll?”
“I find it ironic how you ask the very same question I asked only weeks ago,” Larsh said. “It’s here, on the Apocalypse, of course. Even now I have a missile under construction to finish the resistance once and for all.”
Somehow the information that the resistance was about to be destroyed didn’t cause me to give up hope. Instead, it galvanized me. Slowly I reached down for my dagger- Larsh’s men hadn’t bothered to take it from me, only prevented me from using it. Now, however, their eyes were all fixated on Larsh. Perhaps if I could draw it I could kill Larsh before they killed me….
“Truly you have granted me power, Carson,” Larsh continued. “With the destructive capabilities of the particle bomb, I will exact revenge on every last one who opposed my father- Daridin Rix, Tyler McKay, Jason Grail- they will all burn. Then, once the resistance is destroyed, I will overthrow the Maestrom. And finally, I will use my new power to destroy every last mortal alive. Once again mages will rule the globe unchallenged!”
As he spoke, I slowly slid the dagger from its sheath. None of the guards noticed.
“And my reign will never end, for the powers in that scroll have not only given me the ability to use the particle bomb, but it has also given me the secret to immortality. To destroy me is impossible.”
“Yes, I have reason to thank you indeed,” Larsh said, stepping towards me. “Of course, you will have to die. Your parents were enemies of my father, and as part of my vengeance I must eliminate every last remnant of them- including you.” She was very close now, not even an arms width away. It was now or never.
I lunged forward, flinging my dagger outward and plunging it into Larsh’s chest, then turned to run. Before I could take another step, however, Larsh snapped, and I flew across the room, crumbling in a heap by the window. I tried to get up but found myself frozen.
Groaning, Larsh pulled the dagger from her chest. To my surprise, the wound sealed itself instantly, red tendrils of energy solidifying into flesh that closed the gaping hole completely. Larsh tossed the dagger across the room and walked over to me, motioning for the guards to hold still. Instantly, the paralyzing magic holding me in place ended, and I collapsed to the floor.
“A brave move, Carson,” she said quietly. “But futile. I told you, the scroll has granted me the secret to immortality.”
“Can you just kill me already?” I asked.
Larsh knelt down beside me, her eyes locking in mine. They burned a furious red.
“You are a son without parents, a mage without magic, and a hero without a cause,” he muttered. “I don’t even need to kill you. You’re already nothing.”
I averted my eyes. The words stung. Larsh slowly rose to her feet.
“Do you like games, Carson?”
I didn’t respond.
“Well, I hope you do, because you’re going to play one. For instead of the resistance cowards in the forest I have decided on a different target altogether for my test of the particle bomb- Lewisville.”
“No!” I exclaimed, rising. “You can’t, there are innocent people there, you can’t just kill them.”
“Correction,” Larsh said. “There are mortals there. To kill them is to kill an animal. And I will kill them. Now back to the game. You will be bound in Lewisville- no guards, no supervision, just bindings. The particle bomb will be tested in six hours. If you can escape before then, I will let you live. If you fail- we’ll let’s just say the particle bomb does not show nearly as much mercy as I do.”
“No!” I yelled. “You can’t..”
“Yes I can. Take him away.” The guards seized me, dragging me out into the hall.
“The resistance will stop you!” I yelled.
“Thanks to you, the resistance has lost,” Larsh said. “Don’t forget that so quickly.”
The door slammed shut, and I was left feeling more alone than I ever had in my life.
The next few hours were a blaze of preparation. Daridin briefed me on the plan: the vast majority of the Artensian army would dedicate their forces to the main attack on the north side of the city in an attempt to distract Larsh’s forces from his base and keep the main force as far as way from Larsh’s battleship, the Apocalypse, as possible. Meanwhile, I was to lead a small strike force (which literally comprised of just Jack and Raubin) into the main base and systematically search it for the scroll.
While most of the army assembled for the attack, I and my strike force met and discussed our route into the base. Though I’d expected Jack and Raubin to be resentful toward me, neither of them had said anything, though Jack had shot me a few dirty looks. You would almost think they’d forgotten about it.
But as I looked at our plan, I couldn’t help but see all the flaws. What if the scroll wasn’t in Lewisville? Or what if we couldn’t find it in time? And even if we did, how would we get it back to the Artensian base?
And then there was Carson. I didn’t know where he was, but he had to be with Larsh. I’d already lost my father. I wasn’t going to lose him.
But it was our only shot. I guess that’s all we can do sometimes: take what we’re given.
Finally, after a small debate and a good two and a half hours of sitting doing nothing, the order came.
“Launch the attack.”
Guards shoved me into a chair, snapping metal handcuffs on my arms and legs. The office TV screen in front of me turned on to reveal a timer.
Five hours, six minutes, and thirteen seconds until I died.
To my left, I could see out a large glass window out on the city. It was quiet, not a single car on the streets. At least the people would die in their homes, I thought. With their families.
My thoughts turned to my sister. I didn’t know where she was.
But I sure as heck hoped she wasn’t here.
The Battle of Lewisville
The unlucky soldier careened through the air, a bright, spinning column of flames. His screech rang in my ears even after he fell silent.
“This is not what I thought war was like,” I said.
The battle was now in full swing, Artensian soldiers pushing the outnumbered Darkness farther into the city. Fighters dogfight in the sky, occasionally strafing down fire on the soldiers below. Bodies lay everywhere. Explosions burst randomly across the battlefield. It was utter chaos. Jack, Raubin, and I crouched behind a tipped, armored supply truck, waiting for the signal that we were clear to begin moving towards the base.
“What, did you think it would be a party?” Jack said.
Jack’s radio buzzed, and the voice of Daridin Rix came through:
“The coast is clear. Move south and then east towards the base. Keep as quiet as possible, we’re all busy fighting so you can get in there if you lose the element of surprise you’re dead in the water. Understood?”
“Yes, father,” Raubin replied.
“That’s sir to you,” Daridin said. “Good luck. For Artensia!”
The radio cut silent. “Alright,” Jack said. “You heard him. Coast is
clear. And better we go sooner than later. On my command. Three, two, one, go!”
We charged out into the battlefield, ducking through heavy fire toward the street. Explosions sounded around us, some striking incredibly close, but none hitting their mark. Some Darkness attempted to bar us, but Jack easily gunned them down, and we snuck our way through the streets until we arrived at the base of Larsh’s main outpost- the Wells Fargo building on 18th West. Though it wasn’t a tall building, it was the tallest in Lewisville, and where Carson and I had been sent after our meeting with Larsh, making it the most likely candidate for the scroll if Larsh was keeping it in Lewisville.
And, by extension, the most likely candidate for where Carson was.
I sat in my cell, tied down to a chair, eyes closed as I tried to deny my impending doom.
“It’s all a dream,” I whispered to myself. “None of this is real. Soon I’ll wake up, and all of this will be over.”
But I couldn’t ignore the horrible screeches of war outside. I opened my eyes and turned to look out the window toward the sound. Smoke billowed, coming from the direction of the forest. Inside the haze flashes of color streaked as hoards of dots smashed into one another. In the sky, I could see fighters engaged in ferocious dogfights. The resistance fighters seemed to be slowly pushing back the Darkness, who continued to retreat backward as bombshells rained down.
Initially when I’d seen the Artensians my heart leapt. The resistance was winning! There was a chance that I could be freed and my town saved.
But then I’d looked at the clock.
I closed my eyes as the implications of that timer revealed themselves. Larsh was only ten minutes away from dropping the particle bomb on the city.
And if the resistance was there, they would be utterly destroyed.
The parking lot of the Wells Fargo tower was bare, with only a few sideways parked cars positioned as barriers around the gated fence surrounding the premises. No Darkness were in sight.
“It looks like they’re all gone,” I said.
“Look again,” Raubin replied, pointing upwards.
I looked up to where he had pointed. It took me a second, but I spotted it- a lone soldier manning an oversized gun that gazed down on our side of the parking lot.
“We can take him,” I said.
Jack snorted. “He’s got an entire turret and all of the parking lot to hit us. One of us might make it in, but no one of us is going to make it all the way to the top of that tower.” He tensed. “Wait. Has he…”
Jack was interrupted by an eruption of red right in front of us- gunfire from the turret. Jack and Raubin swung back behind the building. I froze. The gunman turned and fired straight at me.
And then a firm hand pulled me back, barely saving me from being pulverized to a crisp. I collapsed to my knees, catching my breath.
“I was afraid of that,” Jack said. “Now that he’s spotted us, we’ll have to do some maneuvering to get him. I’ll attack from the left side and distract him, you two move in and knock him out. On my signal.” He jumped out from behind the building and started rapid firing towards the gunner, who turned and began firing back. Jack responded by running backward in a curved path, throwing off the gunner’s aim just enough to stay alive.
Shakily I stood up. “You saved me,” I said weakly.
“Well,” Raubin said uncomfortably. “What are comrades for?”
“Now!” Jack yelled.
Taking a deep breath, we ran out into the open, squeezing in between the car barricade and into the barren parking lot. Following Raubin, I knelt down, carefully positioned my staff, and launched a bolt of ice at the unsuspecting Darkness.
The bolt flew straight at him, poised to hit him in the head. Then, just before contact, a shield of blue appeared, blocking the bolt just in time.
The gunman turned his head towards me and Raubin, then turned his weapon, then pulled the trigger. I summoned a shroud covering the two of us just before a flash of red shoved me backward and sent a wave of heat washing over me. I felt my skin rip apart as I skidded across the pavement.
“Ow,” Raubin yelped beside me. My vision barely starting to clear, I looked up to see the gunman repositioning for another shot.
Then the entire balcony exploded, sending rubble raining down to the ground and killing the gunman instantly. I slowly stood back up, then helped Raubin to his feet.
Jack strode into the parking lot, gun in hand. “Didn’t want to take that long of a shot. But I didn’t really have a choice, either. Good work.”
His gaze shifted to the top of the tower. It wasn’t that tall of a structure, but the top still seemed miles away.
“Hang in there, Carson,” I muttered. “Hang in there.”
I Have A Game to Play
Larsh stood on the command bay of the Apocalypse, looking out over the city and the battle raging upon it, helmet in hand. Slowly General Vorcix approached her.
“My lord, the particle bomb is ready. Shall we…”
“Not yet,” Larsh said, eyes still fixed on the battle.
“But my lord,” Vorcix said.
“He still has time,” Larsh said, glancing down at her watch. “But not much. Not much.”
“My lord, we will not have a more opportune time, the boy doesn’t matter…”
“I am in command here,” Larsh said softly, eyes still on the watch. “And you will do what I command. And right now, I have a game to play.”
The last remaining Darkness in the control center shrieked as he burst into flames, stumbling back through the glass window and falling to his doom. Breathing, I slipped out from behind cover and looked around the room.
Dials and switches had been installed hastily in a square of panels, along with a labeled map of the city that hung on the far wall. Strangely, none of the panels were plugged into anything, though they all seemed to function. Video feed from cameras throughout the building lined the upper walls, ominously quiet.
“Raubin, lock the door,” Jack said. Raubin hastily headed for it while I began panning through the security cameras.
“Alright, all we’ve got to find is where that scroll, get to it, and get of here. No raiding mortal vending machines this time,” Jack continued, pointing to Raubin.
“Oh come on, it was one time,” Raubin said.
Jack raised his eyebrows.
“Fine,” Raubin said. “Promise I won’t do it this time.”
I continued looking over the cameras, seeing nothing. Then suddenly I stopped.
“Carson’s in here.”
As I flipped the switch next to the feed from him, the audio from his cell came through loud and clear.
“Fall back! Please, somebody, hear me! Larsh is about to blow up the city. She already has the bomb prepared, it’s too late, fall back! Please. Don’t lose your lives too.”
“What did he say?” Jack said. “I need to make certain I heard that right.”
“He said they already have it,” Raubin said.
Jack lunged for the nearest window, looking out towards the ocean, then dropped the binoculars and stumbled back.
“They’re putting the missile out on the deck right now. They’ll be ready to fire any minute.”
“Oh no,” Raubin said. “My father. The army’s within blast range.”
Jack’s eyes widened. “We have to warn them.”
“I’m going to get Carson,” I said.
“Krystal, don’t…” Jack said.
But it was too late. I’d already run out of the room.
Jack turned to Raubin.
“Make the call.”
Taking a deep breath, I yelled out again. There was no response. I knew it was futile, of course. But it was all I could do.
Frustrated, I focused on my hands, willing my mind to tap into the same energy source I’d used when Larsh had killed my father, the force that had shaken the ground and intimidated even Larsh herself. Blue sparks briefly flew from my hands.
But nothing else happened.
I looked up at the timer.
Suddenly the door to the room burst open and Krystal ran in. My heart sank.
“Krystal! Of all the places to be, this is not the one.”
“Yes, I know, I know, the particle bomb. Now let’s get you out of here.”
Krystal sprayed ice on my bands, and they snapped. I rose to my feet.
“We’ve only got one more minute, we have to warn them.”
“Jack and Raubin are already on it. Now c’mon, let’s go.”
“Listen,” I said. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have given in to Larsh. I should have fought like you told me to. And now we’re both going to die.”
“It’s ok,” Krystal said. “We both made mistakes. Now we’ve just got to fix them. And we’re not going to die. Not on my watch.”
Suddenly there was a groan and the glass window burst apart as a helicopter descended until level with the room. The door slid open to reveal Jack in the hold.
I practically yelled into the radio at my father.
“Yes, that’s what I said, Larsh already has a particle bomb and she’s about to use it on Lewisville, we have to get our forces off the ground.”
“That’s not advisable,” Daridin said. “Crelang’s men have almost retaken the city. We can’t pull out now. What source did you get this from?”
“There’s no time! You’re going to have to trust me. For once in your life, please trust me.”
There was a pause. Too long of a pause.
Aboard the Apocalypse, the timer beeped. And as it did, the command finally exited Jadis Larsh’s lips.
“Fire at will.”
The Particle Bomb
I don’t know how long it took for the missile to hit the ground. It could have been one, two, or even a hundred seconds. All I know is that for me it seemed like an eternity and that eventually that missile hit the ground square in the center of Lewisville and exploded in a massive burst of light.
In less than a second, thousands of lives were obliterated. Men and women, young and old, the violent blast destroyed all. In less than a second, houses, businesses, churches, and schools were all annihilated. In less than a second Lewisville was gone.
But the death didn’t end there. Continuing outward in a ring of destruction, the entire resistance army was eaten up by the hungry fumes of the explosion. Some, seeing the wall of energy, desperately tried to shield themselves with shrouds. Others attempted to fly away. In the end, few of them escaped, the vast majority not just being incinerated but utterly annihilated, their atoms literally destroyed by the rush of anti-energy.
“Hit it!” I heard a voice in the cockpit yell. Alarmed I stumbled back from the window as the dome of red rushed towards us at an alarming speed. The engine revved, and we accelerated just enough to escape the blast, though not enough to dodge the shock wave that rocked the ship, knocking me to the floor as the helicopter rolled through the air.
When the ship finally came to rest, I rose to my feet and looked out the window.
The entire valley had been reduced to nothing but a fuming wasteland. Only the occasional bits of rubble even indicated that there had been a city there at all.
“My gosh,” Raubin said. “What are we going to do?”
“She did it,” Jack said. “She really did it.”
“No,” I muttered. “No!” I collapsed to my knees.
I’d known it was going to happen. But somehow it hadn’t been real until now- my father's death, the war, all of it.
Yet now, with Lewisville, my home, in ashes, it finally struck me. Everything I loved was gone.
And it was all my fault.
Jadis Larsh watched and chuckled as the cloud of smoke slowly dissipated, the last remnant of the city disappearing with it.
“My lord,” Vorcix’s voice rang out of the comm. “Some of the resistance ships made it off the ground before the explosion. Shall we pursue?”
“No need,” Larsh said. “Hope is already dead.”