Larsh has acquired the particle bomb- and now it's up to Carson and Krystal to stop her.
In all my life, I have never seen anything as beautiful as the city of Artensia. Not that means much coming from me.
But nevertheless, the city is a jewel to behold. Even the outside of the city is beautiful, a white beach front that slowly fades into a mighty pine forest. Then there’s the city itself. The entire citadel is encased in a cobblestone wall, with only one tall, iron gate allowing access. The air was guarded by a bright blue energy dome, with the occasional hole opening up to let in air vehicles. Through the main gate leads a decorated, glittering road through the heart of the city, eventually leading to the centerpiece of the city: the military headquarters. Black with a red resistance symbol painted onto the front, it contained most of the Artensian military, including the hangar, command center, and barracks. I’d lived in that building most of my life, sparring, training, hoping that I’d finally be able to contribute.
Immediately after the explosion, the survivors had been ordered to retreat back to Artensia. Fortunately, we hadn’t been pursued by any of the Darkness fighters, or we likely would all have been destroyed. Instead, the luckiest of us escaped, less than a dozen helicopters of broken leaders and bettered soldiers.
We flew north for what seemed like an age, then finally touched down in the top hangar of the base, each exiting our helicopters in continual silence. In fact, I think the only words spoken through the entire flight were muttered by Krystal: “Just another reason to kill her.” Me and Jack say a word, preferring to stand and ponder our inevitable doom. Carson kneeled despondent at the window, staring outward blankly.
When we arrived at the landing pad, the helicopter doors slid open and I stumbled out slowly. Several Artensian soldiers waited for us. They had obviously already heard the news.
I looked around for my father, not daring to hope that he had survived the explosion. But, to my relief, there he was, Tyler McKay beside him.
A man I recognized as Commander James Rostro, the leader of the fleet, approached my father. “Where’s the rest?” he asked, though you could tell from his face he had heard the news.
“Destroyed,” my father responded. He had to pause for a moment before adding, “Larsh got the scroll. He has the particle bomb and he used it on Lewisville as we were attacking.”
“How did Larsh get the scroll? We had it in our hands.”
My father glanced briefly back at Carson and Krystal, still in the copter, before softly whispering: “the Krot twins stole it.”
“The Krot twins?”
“They were forced to. And she would have gotten it anyways. No need to press the matter.”
“They’ll have to stand in court, you know that.”
My father nodded. “Of course. Once this all blows over.
“If it blows over.”
I stayed kneeling in the copter, head bowed, unable to force my legs
It was gone. All of it. Not just the city, but my whole life. I’d grown up with the people there. Laughed with them, cried with them. And now they were gone. It was like moving, but a thousand times worse. Because they weren’t just gone, they were dead, their lives robbed from them by my own cowardice.
“Are you ok?” my sister asked, placing her hand on my shoulder. I
shook it off but remained silent.
“Look at what happened, Krystal. And it’s my fault that it did.”
“You know that’s not completely true.”
“How is that not true? Give me one good reason that it’s not. And if
you can’t then please leave.”
“Fine,” Krystal said, exiting the copter. I remained kneeling for a
while. Then, an old lady approached me.
“Carson Krot,” she said. “I’m Tyler McKay, Jack’s grandmother. I need
to thank you for saving my life from the particle bomb.”
“If it weren’t for me it never would have been in danger in the first place.”
“You know everyone makes mistakes sometimes, right?” Tyler said softly.
“Not everyone makes world shattering ones.”
“You’d be surprised. Just because you got thrown into this doesn’t make you below everyone else, Carson. We all mess up sometimes. We all have our shortcomings. It’s what we do about them that counts.”
“It’s too late to fix this,” I said.
“It’s never too late. That’s the beauty of being human. We’re weak, we mess up, but in the end, we can all become what we’re meant to be.”
“The direction of our future is infinitely more important than the wasteland of our past, Carson. Your past is dark, I will not lie. But the fate of your future lies in your hands. So I would choose wisely.”
Slowly Tyler got up and left.
I closed my eyes.
I just wanted to go home.
But home was gone.
And so I finally stood up and got out of the copter.
I Have A Plan
Jack sat in the Artensian council room, trying hard to stay still. Around him, the leaders of Artensia gathered: Crelang di Onto, leader of the army, James Rostro, captain of the fleet, Tyler McKay, council chairwoman, and, of course, Daridin Rix, president of Artensia. Several other minor officers and leaders crowded the room, but the room was eerily silent. The intelligence table, a massive computer in the center of the room used for battle calculations and holographic projection, showed an image showing the losses from the battle of Lewisville, with live units green and downed units red.
Far too much of the image was red.
After what seemed like an age of solemn silence, Daridin stepped up to the intelligence table and pressed a button. The image switched to a scan of the Apocalypse. Daridin zoomed in on the deck to show a heavily armored missile launcher.
“You all know why I called this meeting,” Daridin said. “Due to a fluke in our defenses, Larsh has acquired the means of creating the particle bomb. Furthermore, he used the bomb on the mortal city of Lewisville, utterly destroying it and about half of the Artensian army.
“Most of you lost friends in this explosion. Many of you likely lost family. And all of us will suffer the loss of many good men. I propose a moment of silence for those who died in the Battle of Lewisville.”
The room was already completely silent. Shaking his head, Jack drew his gun and began to fiddle with it. No one here needed a reminder of what had happened. Better to focus on how to prevent it from happening again.
“Unfortunately,” Rix continued. “I have nothing good to report. But I do have important news.” Pressing some buttons on the intelligence table, he explained, “I received this transmission from Larsh approximately an hour ago. It… well, see for yourselves.”
The image changed again, this time to Jadis Larsh’s face.
“Daridin Rix, I urge you to pay close attention. As you must be aware by now, your army has been crushed by the might of my new weapon. And I don’t intend on stopping there. My battleship, the Apocalypse, is currently resting in the bay of my headquarters in Greenland. Within a week, it will be prepped with a new particle bomb. I intend on using this particle bomb on the city of Artensia. Thus I am issuing an ultimatum: surrender to me and I will slaughter you peacefully and take your civilians as slaves. Or you can continue your futile resistance and all die. Either way, know that no matter what you do, I have already won.”
The message ended and the image faded. Daridin looked at each member of the council in the eye before continuing. “We have one week to prepare before the Darkness are at our gates. One week.”
“So then what do we do to defend the city?” Crelang asked.
“I think the real question is do we defend the city,” Jack said.
“Do we defend the city?” Crelang said. “What sort of question is that?”
“What I’m saying is that the particle bomb is an undefeatable weapon,” Jack said. “If it gets to our home turf, we won’t be able to stop it. But what we can do is take the fight to Larsh.”
“I think that’s quite out of the question,” Rostro said. “Our forces have been utterly depleted by the first particle bomb. We cannot risk the rest of them in an attack. However, we can stall long enough to conduct some sort of evacuation.”
“Evacuate?” Jack exclaimed. “Are you suggesting we abandon the fight?”
“Do we have a choice?” Rostro said.
Jack opened his mouth to respond, but before he could the others in the room began urgently discussing the defense; discussing things such as where to put trenches in the beach, how to distribute the few survivors of the Lewisville blast among the remaining squadrons, and where to deploy the Justice, the Artensians’ main battle cruiser. Through it all, Jack stayed silent, fiddling with his gun.
The Artensian council might not launch an attack, Jack thought. But there was someone who might.
“Why not?!” Jack exclaimed. “You know in order to stop the particle bomb, we have to stop him from making them. The only way to do that is to get that scroll back.” Jack paced around Daridin’s office, gesturing wildly at the Artensian leader as he spoke.
“Jack, you saw what happened when we tried to fight back in Lewisville. Right now, we still have enough forces left here in the city to mount a defense when Larsh attacks. I’m not risking that to mount some desperate attack on Larsh’s base,” Daridin replied.
“But that’s our only chance at winning this. You understand no matter how many forces we muster there’s no winning against that bomb, right? No matter how long we hold him off, inevitably he’ll snuff us out.”
“And your solution is to snuff us out before we even have a chance to try? Please leave, Jack. I understand the last week’s been stressful for you, and thus I am giving you the benefit of the doubt.”
“Fine,” Jack said, storming out of the office. Tyler McKay stood waiting for him outside.
“How’d it go?” she asked.
“Awful. He rejected the idea without even considering it. But don’t worry, grandma. I have a plan.” Jack ran off.
“Oh dear,” Tyler whispered to herself. “I hate it when he says that.”
“C’mon.” I flicked myself again. “Wake up.”
I sat in the small, cold barracks Raubin had escorted me to shortly after I’d left the copter. Unadorned and grey, it served as a sharp reminder of how completely the color of my life had been drained in the last few days. It was past midnight now, the entire city covered in the dark drapes of night.
I pinched myself a couple more times, to no avail. Letting out a long sigh, I laid on the hard, unforgiving mattress, looking up to the grey ceiling of the room.
In just a few short days, my entire life had been utterly ripped to shreds. My safety and well being were now constantly under threat. Instead of a normal person, I was a freak with powers I could not control. My father was dead. My hometown had been destroyed by a weapon of mass destruction. And to top it all off, Larsh was coming in less than a week to end us once and for all.
“Life sucks,” I said.
I lay there for a long time, pondering.
I didn’t want to die here, I decided. I wanted to live a full life, get a career, get married, maybe even have kids. I wanted to live a normal life, devoid of the danger that seemed to so naturally come with being a mage.
And that wouldn’t happen if I stayed here. So I had to leave.
Rising up off the bed, I collected the few possessions I had let- the dagger from my father, and some food and toiletries Raubin had handed out. It wouldn’t last me long, but perhaps long enough to get to some sort of mortal town.
From what Raubin had told me, the military garage wasn’t far from here. From there I could steal a car and leave the city.
Walking through the halls of the empty barracks, I arrived at the nearest elevator and began the trip down. After a moment, the doors slid open to reveal a circular, cement arena. The entire area was caged off by a barbed-wire fence, with a single gate leading in. Several arenas dotted this floor of the base. Each circle held about four or five bedrooms worth of space, enough for two people to spar, and sure enough, on the barbed wire fence were lined melee weapons of all kinds. Several arenas
I had just begun to walk away from the first circle when suddenly I heard a voice behind me.
“Carson? What are you doing here?”
I whipped around to see Raubin standing at the gate of the arena, sword in hand.
“I’m…I don’t know,” I lied. “I was just wandering around the base.”
Raubin nodded, though I noticed he eyed the bag in my hands. He gestured toward the arena.“You want to come in for a spar?”
”Um….” I wasn’t sure what to do. Getting caught had not been part of the plan. “I don’t know, I’ve never used a sword before.”
“That’s not a problem. I’m not very good anyway. Come on in.”
“Fine,” I muttered. Setting aside my pack at the gate, I entered the arena. Raubin quickly found a sword about my build and height, attached a cover to it and his sword, and then assumed an aggressive posture, kneeling outwards, sword point shoved towards me.
“The first thing you should learn is to defend yourself,” he said. “Are you all right if I attack you?”
“Sure,” I said, though, truthfully, I was still itching to leave.
Suddenly Raubin lunged forward, attacking me with a quick stab. Jumping away, I deflected a flurry of follow up blows, slowly falling backward. Raubin continued to press the attack, slowly forcing me back towards the wall. Though I knew it was fake, a part of me was still terrified. I realized that if I didn’t do something soon, he would pin me against the wall and cut me down.
So in a last desperate move, I lunged outwards, stabbing at Raubin’s chest. Startled, Raubin lept back, temporarily leaving his sword hanging loosely at his side.
And so I lunged in and whacked him straight across the chest.
The slash did nothing because of the cover, of course, but Raubin still stared down at his shirt, shocked.
“Dang. I’ve been practicing for years and you still beat me.”
Breathing hard, I lowered my sword. “I was desperate. I didn’t expect it to actually work.”
“Well, I certainly didn’t expect it, either. And your defense was impressive, too. Your reactions to my attacks were really quick.”
“I used to play tennis,” I said. “I have a pretty fast reaction time because of it.”
Raubin nodded. “Well, I’m not certain I’m even fit to teach you anymore, but you want to go again?”
I smiled and pulled my sword into a defensive posture. “Go for it.”
We sparred for about another hour. I didn’t beat Raubin again- he was much more on guard than he had been before- but he was able to teach me quite a bit, like feinting and defending against feinting and how to deal with an opponent with a longer sword or heavier stroke.
“Of course,” he said after one round, “the biggest part of this is how to incorporate your own magical combat style into your melee style.”
I winced. “I don’t really know how to control my powers yet.”
“Huh,” Raubin said. “Usually it’s rather easy to learn, especially at your age.”
“Well, it’s not for me.”
“Interesting.” Raubin stayed off the subject for the rest of the night.
After a particularly intense duel, Raubin hung up his sword and headed for the gate. “It’s probably about time I go to bed. So, goodbye, I guess,” he said, glancing at my pack.
“Yeah,” I said. “Bye.”
Raubin started to walk away. Then he turned back.
“For the record, there are days where I want to leave, too. But I always stay. Because this is my home. And it can be yours, too.” Frowning, he stepped into the elevator.
I don’t know exactly how long I stood there, but I know it was for a long time. Finally, I stepped outside of the arena, picked up my pack, and looked towards where I knew the garage lay.
“Maybe next time,” I muttered to myself. “Maybe next time.”
I turned and headed back to my room.
I lay awake in bed, twisting the dagger in my hand, slowly growing more and more tense.
He’d destroyed my hometown. He’d killed my father. And I wasn’t going to let that slide. My heart pounded as I relished the thought of stabbing him, of the dagger entering his chest and taking from him all he’d taken from me.
Suddenly a knock came at my door. I hurriedly tucked my dagger away and rose to my feet. It was well past midnight. Who could want me at this hour? It must be important.
Carefully I opened the door.
And immediately I was met by a sword point pressing against my chest.
A man draped in black robes stood at the door, face covered in a mask with glowing, red, soulless eyes.
“You, my friend, are coming with me.”
“You’re going to pay for this,” I said as the figure shoved me into the bay of the helicopter. “I’ll make sure you pay for this.”
“Quiet,” Raubin said behind me as he, too, “Remember, he’s the one who’s got us tied up.” Carson, also tied up, shortly followed us into the helicopter, silent.
The man snorted. “You honestly think you’re in a position to make me pay? Idiot.” His voice was harsh and robotic. He slid the door shut, jumped into the cockpit, and started the helicopter.
“Help!” I began to scream. “Somebody help us with this lunatic!”
There was no response.
The helicopter lifted off, and soon the city was out of sight. Down on the floor with my hands tied behind my back, I couldn’t get to my feet, but eventually, I was able to rise up on my elbows to look out the window.
“What’s out there?” Carson asked.
“Ice,” I said. “Lots and lots of ice.”
“We must be headed to Larsh’s base,” Raubin said. “Jack once told me it was in the Arctic. You all ready to die?”
There was a grave silence. Then I spotted buildings in the distance.
As we drew closer, the outline of Larsh’s base became clearer. Set at the coast, it consisted of about a dozen grey, armored buildings, each set on a small island of ice and connected to each other by stone bridges. Each had its own assortment of turrets, some of which swiveled towards us as we drew near. In the center of the base was a dock filled with armed boats, though there was a large space unoccupied, presumably for the Apocalypse.
My view was cut off when our ship soared onto a landing pad on top of one of the buildings. A few seconds later, the door slid open and the black-clad man pulled us to our feet.
“Keep quiet,” he whispered to us. But this time his tone wasn’t harsh at all, more like a genuine warning than a threat. Then, roughly, he directed us at swordpoint off onto the platform.
Waiting for us was a man in full body armor with a red pauldron on his shoulder, flanked by two also heavily armed guards. A short man with a pointy nose and high cheekbones, he grinned at the sight of us.
“Ah, the Krot twins. Larsh will be most pleased to hear that you’re finally locked up.” He turned to the man in black. “Excellent work. You will be paid handsomely for it.”
“I need to take them to the cell first, do I not?”
“No. Our troops can handle it. Feel free to go.” He gestured, and the two guards bared their pikes and headed for us.
“Yeah,” the man said. “About that….”
In a blink he drew a pistol from his belt, dropping the two guards before I could even register what he was doing. The officer only got a moment of panic before a third bullet struck him in the neck and threw him to the ground dead.
The man grabbed us and threw us back into the helicopter.
“Listen,” he said. “We need to get to the scroll, and we need to do it quick. Him not reporting back is going to cause a big stir….”
“Who are you?” I asked.
“That’s not for you to know. Anyhow, it’s contained in the third building on your right, again, we’ll have to move fast. Can I trust you enough to remove these bindings.”
“Seriously, who are you?” Carson interrupted. “You kidnapped us and now you’re expecting us to help you steal the scroll? Who are you?”
The man paused for a second. Then, slowly, he reached up and took off the mask to reveal the face of Jack McKay.
“Jack?” I exclaimed. “You did this?”
“Why?” I asked, shocked. Jack was my best friend. And he was the most loyal person to Artensia I’d ever met.
“Somebody has to get the scroll,” Jack said. “Without it the resistance is doomed. And if I’m the only man to do it then do it I will.”
“What does the scroll have to do with kidnapping us?” Krystal exclaimed.
“We were your ticket in,” I said, staring at Jack as I said it. “You sold us to Larsh to get into his base.”
Jack averted his eyes. “You know it had to be done.”
“That doesn’t make it any less wrong,” Carson whispered.
“But I need your help,” Jack said. “We have to get the scroll. Everything depends on it.”
“And what if the scroll doesn’t help us?” Krystal said. “You’re asking us to risk our lives for nothing but a chance.”
“Yes,” Jack said. “A chance. A chance to stop Larsh. A chance to save this world from his darkness. A chance to redeem yourself.” He pointed out the clear windows of the helicopter. “Look around you. This is the reality we face. If we do nothing, Larsh will unleash the darkness of the particle bomb all across the globe and usher in an age of terror.” His voice began to grow louder. “Real people will die if we don’t stop him. Not figures, not statistics, but people, just like you and I. And I will not stand and watch as he kills them.” His voice suddenly grew very soft. “I need your help. The world needs your help. Please.”
The Krot twins were silent behind me. I too remained silent.
“Alright,” Jack said. “I’ll do it alone then.” He started to walk off.
“Wait,” I said. “I’ll help you.”
“What?” Krystal exclaimed. “He kidnapped us. I’m not going to help him.”
“But he’s right. Artensia is my home. It’s my duty to save it.” I walked over to stand by Jack.
Jack smiled. “Thank you.”
Krystal looked between us and Carson, then walked over to stand by us. “You’re right. Larsh is a plague. It’s about time he got what he deserved.”
Carson frowned. “I’ll do it. But on one condition: after we get out of here I go back to the mortal world.”
“You know the mortal world isn’t safe right now with Larsh on the loose,” Jack said.
“I don’t care. I want out of this world. I don’t belong here.”
Jack frowned. “Fine. Deal.”
Carson hesitantly walked over to us.
“Alright,” Jack said. “Now for the hard part.”
Explosives Are Set
“You remember how to use the anthrenite?” Jack asked.
I responded into my radio.“Say the preprogrammed location, then twist the middle of it to activate the portal.”
“Good. Alright, set those explosives and we’ll do the rest.”
“You’re sure this will work?”
“As long as you lay those charges, we should be just fine. Now hop to it.”
Jack cut out. I took a deep breath.
Jack’s plan was fairly simple. The scroll was kept in a vault in a building on the south end of the compound. I was to head to the north end of the compound and set up the explosives Jack had brought with him on the helicopter. During this time, Jack, Raubin, and Krystal would slip on the uniforms of the guards Jack had killed on the landing platform and approach Larsh under the alibi of reporting our own escape. During that conversation, I would blow the charges, causing enough havoc for Jack to quietly steal Larsh’s key. Then, we would meet up at the vault, steal the scroll, and use the anthrenite Jack had given me to teleport back to Artensia.
It was a simple plan. But so many things could go wrong. I fingered the anthrenite in my pocket. According to Jack, the teleportation device was a weapon only Artensia had at its disposal: the knowledge of how to make it was long gone, and all other supplies of it had been drained. It will give us an edge of surprise against Larsh, Jack had said. It will get us back to Artensia before she even realizes what happened.
But I didn’t want to go back to Artensia. I wanted to go home.
For a moment I was tempted to use it right now, to get myself out of this cursed place. I pulled it from my pocket...
But no. I couldn’t leave my sister behind. I’d promised my father that much. We would get this scroll and then we could head home together.
Shoving the anthrenite back in my pocket and picking up the charges, I walked out into the open of the compound. Arranged in a circle, the grey buildings that made up the base were connected by simple wooden boardwalk. Mages bustled about, most of them carrying weapons or supplies. At one point, an entire legion of armored soldiers passed by me. I tried not to look too hard at them, but my eyes followed them nervously, and as they did I got my first glimpse of the Apocalypse.
The battleship was colossal. I’d been to navy bases along the coast of Oregon before, but this made the ships I’d seen their look like patrol boats. Turrets lined its deck. Fighters dove in and out of its hull. In the front, a hatch had lowered to allow hundreds of soldiers to march their way in.
I gulped. We had one week before that arrived in Artensia. One week to stop the unstoppable.
But it wasn’t my problem. After this, I was heading back to the mortal world. Period.
I turned my head away and walked down the boardwalk to the north end. To my surprise, no one disturbed me. Ducking into the building, I slipped into an empty pipe room and dropped the explosives. Then, trying to look as casual as I could, I left the building and began walking away from it as fast as I can.
“Explosives are set, Jack. Waiting on your command.”
Light It Up
The elevator doors clanged shut, and Jack, Raubin, and I, each clad in full-body Darkness began our ascent towards Larsh’s office.
“Raubin you got that expander?” Jack asked. Raubin nodded and tapped it. A small ring on his left hand, it gave him the capabilities of a force mage, which would allow him to summon Larsh’s ID off of his robe during the chaos.
“Remember,” Jack said. “This should be simple. We go in, report our own escape, Carson blows the charges, we steal the key and run. Larsh has no reason to suspect us, so as long as we don’t give her a reason to we should be just fine.”
“Right,” I said. “We’re walking right into the Dark Mage’s office and we’re going to be just fine.”
“Just don’t do anything stupid,” Raubin said.
The elevator stopped, the doors slid open, and we stepped out into the heart of the Dark Mage’s lair.
The Dark Mage’s office was extravagant: on the far wall a waterfall gushed into a granite sink, on the right was an extravagant painting of an armored mage riding into battle, and on the left was a great glass pane, from which we could see the entirety of the compound. More than a dozen guards lined the walls, each armed with a gleaming ax.
And in the center of the room stood Larsh herself, talking urgently with a Darkness soldier.
“The entire fleet has been loaded then?” Larsh asked.
“Except for a small squadron to defend the base, sir,” the Darkness soldier said.
“Load that squadron in as well. I want every ship we have to be put in this attack. Artensia will be destroyed.”
“Yes, my lord,” the Darkness soldier said, then exited the room. Larsh turned her gaze on us.
“Sir,” Jack said.
“My lord,” Larsh interrupted. “I am your lord, and you shall refer to me as my lord, not sir.”
My hand twitched toward my knife. She was so close- it would be so simple to plunge the knife into her chest and end all this.
“Sorry, my lord. We have come to report that the vinslings have escaped.”
Larsh strode closer and shoved her nose in Jack’s face. I pulled the knife off my belt. It would be so easy….
But before I could stab, Raubin’s hand clamped down on mine and he shook his head.
“I was already aware of that,” Larsh said. “Furthermore, you should have reported to your squad captain, not immediately to me. But instead of doing so you barged into my office. Now get out.”
Larsh stormed away from us.
“Now,” Jack whispered.
There was a pause, then a low, thunderous rumble. I watched as the building teetered and then tumbled with a large crash into the water below.
For a moment everyone stood still. Then Larsh began screaming:
“You saw that, now get down there, all of you! I want those vinsling scum dead before the hours out! Now move!”
The guards began running for the elevator door. Raubin opened his hand and a small card flew into it- Larsh’s ID. Raubin tucked it into his pocket just as Larsh turned on us.
“You two,” he said, gesturing to Jack and Raubin. “Get out of here.”
Letting out a silent breath of relief, we all began walking toward the elevator. But before I could leave a hand clamped down on my shoulder.
“Not you. You have some explaining to do.”
“What are we going to do about Krystal?” I asked as me and Jack ran across the boardwalk towards the vault.
“I don’t know, this plan has fallen apart so much that I’m just winging it at this point,” Jack replied. “All I know is we’ve got to get to that scroll. And if it comes between the scroll and one of our lives, we have to choose the scroll.”
“One of has to get out of here alive,” I murmured.
Finally, we arrived at the vault building. Tall but with no bigger of a base than a bedroom, the elevator to the top was guarded by four soldiers, each armed with a spear.
“What business do you have here?” one asked as we approached.
“Larsh sent us to ascertain the contents of the vault were safe despite the current commotion,” Jack said.
“There is no need for that,” the guard replied. “I have remained at my post. No man has entered.”
“You know what, screw the formalities,” Jack said, blasting the man who had spoken. The other guards reacted with astonishing speed, rushing towards us. Gripping the expander, I blasted them backward, and Jack finished them off with ease.
“See, that wasn’t too hard,” Jack said as he swiped Larsh’s ID card across the scanner. The elevator doors opened.
“They’re getting in!” a voice exclaimed from behind us. I turned to see a platoon of guards rushing across the boardwalk towards us. Bolts of anti-energy flew past us as we ducked into the elevator and shut the door.
“Think you spoke too soon,” I said.
Jack pulled out his radio. “Carson, we need backup. Get over here.”
“I’m coming,” Carson replied.
The elevator doors slid open and we stepped into the vault. A small room, it was lined with all kinds of weapons and other powerful objects.
But no scroll.
“It must be in here,” Jack said, motioning toward a small box in the corner of the room. As he felt around it, there was a beep.”
“Touch ID failed. Please try again.”
“Touch ID, seriously? C’mon? Raubin, can you sear through this?”
“It’s made of solid steel, that’ll take time,” I said.
“I can buy you time.”
At that moment, the elevator doors swung open, and two Darkness soldiers emerged from it, blasting Jack in the shoulder. I promptly shot a beam of fire at both of them, killing them both.
“Thos,” Jack said, grabbing his arm.
“Are you alright?” I asked.
“I think so,” Jack said. “Get melting through that case.”
I nodded and began searing through the metal box.
“This day is not going like I thought it would.”
I bolted as fast as I could from the blast site, ducking through hordes of Darkness running the opposite direction. All ignored me through the chaos. When I arrived at the vault, it was completely empty- nothing but a few bodies lying on the ground. I stepped up to the elevator doors.
“Jack, I need you to send down the elevator.”
“Little busy right now!” came Jack’s reply. I could hear the shriek of energy through the radio, and then Jack cut out suddenly.
There was no reply- but I did feel a sudden warmth as cold crystal pressed to my neck.
“Carson Krot. How nice of you to join us.”
“Play it again.”
Tyler flipped the switch, and Jack’s voice played through the speakers:
“As y’all are too cowardly to actually try winning this war, I’ve taken things into my own hands. I’ve recruited Carson, Krystal, and Raubin to infiltrate Larsh’s base and retrieve the scroll. By the time you get this message, we’ll all likely be dead, but if any of you decide to man up and join the fight be my guest. Just don’t count on using Helicopter 593. Cause I’m stealing it. Goodbye.”
The message shut off.
“Thos!” Daridin swore. “And they’re all gone from their bedrooms?”
“Every last one of them.”
Daridin clenched his teeth and punched the wall. “I let them go on one mission together, one mission, and now they think they can do anything!” He punched the wall again. “One mission! Freaking teenagers and their idiotic drama.” He punched the wall again, then looked down at his fist. “You know, that kind of hurts.”
Tyler raised his eyebrows. “Well, to be honest, it’s kind of what you get for ranting about teenage drama while simultaneously punching a wall.”
“You know, they’re probably right. We chickened out.”
“What am I supposed to do? I tried, the council said no, it’s over. All we can do is evacuate the city and hope Larsh has mercy on the rest of the world. And now, because of Jack, both of our sons are likely dead.”
“I seriously doubt they’re dead. Jack’s not an idiot. He wouldn’t attack without a plan.”
“You just heard that recording and you think Jack’s not an idiot?”
“I think he’s headstrong, overconfident, and a little bit arrogant. But ultimately, I think he’s right. We were cowards, Daridin. We let Larsh win in Lewisville, and we’re letting him win now. But we can’t escape this fight. We have to help them, Daridin. We won’t be around forever. And when we’re gone, they’re the ones who will have to fight this battle.”
“I’m trying, Tyler, I try every day to prepare Raubin, to prepare all of them. But they’re not ready. Not yet. They’re still teenagers, I can’t just let them….”
“Yes, they are, Daridin. Let go. Stop trying to control their destiny and instead help them find it. That’s the only way they can become what you want them to be.” He smiled. “I remember when you were first thrown into this world. You were headstrong, overconfident, arrogant- still are, actually. But you’ve changed, too. You went from a selfish criminal to a hero. And they can, too.”
Daridin nodded. “You’re right.” Reaching down, he pulled a radio upwards and to his mouth.
“Crelang, I need you to launch as many fighters as you can spare. We have a scroll to get.”
I stood in silence as Larsh angrily directed guards out the door, not certain whether to run or wait it out. When all the guards were gone, Larsh sat back down in her chair and unclipped the watch from her wrist, then began stroking it softly.
“Don’t worry, father. We’re so close. Nothing can stop us now. I will finish what you started.”
“Ok, that’s just weird.” I couldn’t restrain myself from whispering the words. Larsh whipped around toward me, eyes ablaze.
“You. What did you see on that landing platform and why did you not report it over radio?”
“I saw a bunch of dead guards, sir. Our men, I mean. And when I went to investigate, the perpetrators were not there.”
“And why did you not report it over the radio?”
“I, uh, thought it was important enough to report in person?”
Larsh snorted. “Incompetent idiot. Because of your stupidity, those prisoners are now wreaking havoc. And because of that stupidity, you deserve nothing less than death.” She raised his hand. It began to glow.
“Sir,” I said, stepping back and summoning a shroud. “Sir, I don’t think you’re being reasonable!”
“Are you afraid of death? Pathetic. I thought I’d trained my men better than that.”
Suddenly the radio on Larsh’s desk rang.
Larsh turned away from me. “What?”
“Sir, we’ve captured Carson Krot. He was running away from the site of the explosion.”
“Oh no,” I whispered.
“Excellent. Keep him where he is until the others are apprehended. Then bring them all to me.” He turned back to me.
“You know, there’s something familiar about your voice. I can’t quite place it. Remove your mask.”
I stood with my shroud still up, fear intensifying.
“Let me repeat that. Take off your mask.” Larsh snapped and I felt the mask crumble off my head, revealing my face.
Larsh smiled. “That’s what I thought.”
“Thos!” Jack cursed, throwing aside the destroyed radio. “You almost done?”
“Just a second,” I said as I finished searing through the metal. Reaching in carefully, I slowly withdrew it- a thin, paper scroll. Such a simple thing to risk our lives for. And yet here we were.
“I’ve got it!” I yelled.
“Good. Now we just have to fight our way out of here,” Jack said.
I looked up. “Or I could blow through the roof.”
“Yeah, that’s a better idea.”
I handed Jack the scroll, then summoned a fireball and threw it upwards, searing a hole into the roof. Jack and I climbed onto the roof.
“Where from here?” Jack asked.
“I don’t know I thought you would figure that out.”
Jack nodded, then pointed toward a helicopter pad a few buildings away from us. “If you use the expander, we might be able to jump our way over there.”
“Alright,” I said. “On three. Three. Two…”
“Not so fast,” said a voice behind us.
I turned to see Jadis Larsh, blade poised to plunge itself straight into Krystal’s neck.
“Hand over the scroll or she dies.”
I stood still, unsure of what to do. Larsh pressed the blade closer to Krystal’s neck.
“I said hand over the scroll, or I will kill her.”
“I’m not going to give it to you,” Jack said.
“Don’t,” Krystal said. “I’m not worth it.”
“Give it to her,” I said suddenly.
“Don’t,” Krystal maintained. ‘It’s ok. I’m willing to die for this.”
“Krystal’s life isn’t worth our only hope,” Jack maintained.
“Give it to her!” I yelled.
Jack looked between me and Larsh, then withdrew the scroll from his pocket and tossed it lightly into Larsh’s hand.
“So you can be cooperative,” Larsh said, pulling the sword away from her neck. “Unfortunately, now that that’s resolved, I have to kill you.”
Larsh raised her sword and it began to glow. But before he could strike, Krystal snatched a knife from her belt and plunged it into her neck. She stumbled backward, choking on his own blood.
“I swore I would destroy you for killing my father,” Krystal said, letting go of the knife. “And now I’m going to enjoy every second of my revenge.”
Larsh laughed and pulled the knife out of her neck. Instantaneously, red energy pulsed and healed the cut, not even leaving a scar.
“You can’t kill me that way, Krot.”
Krystal lunged to attack again, but before she could Larsh snapped her fingers and she crumpled to the ground. Drawing his gun, Jack fired several rounds into Larsh’s chest, but every time the wound closed itself up before a drop of blood even struck the ground. Larsh snapped again, and Jack went flying as a bolt of purple lightning struck his arm.
“Now for you,” Larsh said, turning on me and swinging her sword. Fumbling through my belt, I drew my knife just before Larsh attacked, only to be beaten blow by blow to the ground. As Larsh raised her sword above my chest to stab me, I rolled away, kicking her leg and throwing her off balance. Jumping to my feet, I gripped the expander ring and summoned the scroll to my hand. Larsh snarled and snapped again, and I felt my muscles freeze in place.
“Nice try, Rix. But when your father took everything I loved I swore I would do the same to him. And my revenge will start with you.”
She swung for me, but as she did, Krystal appeared out of nowhere, parrying with her dagger. Larsh stumbled backward, momentarily surprised, then knocked Krystal’s dagger from her hand and slashed her across her face. She shrieked and fell to the ground, gripping her face as she desperately kicked at Larsh. Looking down at Krystal with an expression of disgust, she waved her hand and Krystal, too froze.
“You Artensians and your heroism. It’s about time I teach you a lesson- power is the only moral a person needs.” She raised her sword to strike me down.
But before she could strike the roof burst apart in a violent explosion, throwing Larsh off of the building and down into the water below. I felt myself unfreeze as rubble and heat washed over me. Looking up, I saw a helicopter descending, bay doors open.
Inside of it was my father.
Artensia had arrived.
Jadis Larsh lifted herself from the water and onto the boardwalk, burnt and with exposed flesh. As red energy healed her, she looked up at the sky to see Artensian fighters flowing into the base, ripping apart the buildings with blazing cannons. She growled.
“My lord, don’t panic,” the voice of Vorcix came through the radio. “I’ve ordered all the ships we have to deploy. We outnumber them ten to one, it will be under control within minutes.”
“Activate the shield!” Larsh yelled.
“But my lord that’ll interfere with our fighter’s ability to...”
“Do it!” Larsh yelled.
Vorcix sighed. “It will be done.”
Jadis looked up at the sky. “Oh, I’m going to enjoy killing you, Krot. I’m going to enjoy every second of it.”
“Well, what are you waiting for?” Daridin said. Scrambling to our feet, we hopped in the copter, Raubin clenching the scroll in a white-knuckled fist.
“Strap in,” Jack said, clipping himself to the wall with ropes hanging down from the ceiling. He winced a little as the straps tightened.
I raised my eyebrows. “I’m good.”
“Trust me, you want to,” Jack said.
“I think I’ll be fine,” I replied.
“Whatever,” Jack snorted.
“Do you have it?” Daridin asked.
Raubin revealed the scroll.
“Excellent. Now we’ve just got to fly away.”
“That might be easier said than done, sir,” the pilot said from the cockpit. We’ve got company.”
I lunged for the window. Sure enough, three Darkness fighters were now tailing us. Firing, their shots rocked the ship, and I had to grab onto a handlebar to keep from collapsing.
Daridin pulled out a radio. “Commander Rostro, we’ve got several tailing us.”
“On it,” Rostro replied.
I watched as three Artensian fighters pulled in behind us, destroying the Darkness ones. I couldn’t help but notice how ragtag the Artensian fighters looked though, hoses, switches, and other various parts showing through the patched armor. They hardly looked ready for battle.
“Got ‘em, sir,” Rostro said.
“Alright. Order all squadrons to pull away. Let’s get this piece of paper out of here and go home.”
I relaxed as we pulled away from the base, no Darkness following us. I pulled my face away from the window and sat down in the cockpit, looking out the front windshield.
But suddenly a giant blue wall of energy buzzed into existence in front of us.
“Pull up!” Daridin yelled.
The pilot yanked the controls, and I fell head over heels as we swung away from the newly created shield. Two of the fighters escorting us also managed to pull up, but the last smashed into the shield, blowing apart in a bright flash of orange.
“Ugh,” I said, peeling my face from the ground.
“That’s why you strap in,” Jack said.
The ship wheeled around, now facing the Apocalypse. Darkness fighters flowed out of its hull, heading straight for us.
“What do we do now?” Rostro asked.
“I don’t know,” Daridin said. “We’re trapped.”
I sighed. Another wild ride.
“How do I use those straps?”
The guards dropped me and ran for their lives as Artensian fighters sped into the base, ripping apart the boardwalk. Running myself, I ducked into the nearest building. No one seemed to mind me now, their eyes all focused on the resistance fleet as they bombed the base and dog fought with the now deploying Darkness.
I watched for a minute, not certain whether to be relieved or not. On the one hand, the resistance was here. On the other, there was a decent chance I was about to figure out what friendly fire really meant.
I hastily pulled out my radio and dialed Jack.
“I’m on the ground,” I said. “What do you want me to do?”
“Hang tight, stay safe,” Jack said. “We’ve got the scroll, but Larsh has deployed a shield around the perimeter, meaning we’re trapped. I’ll try to get a copter down there to retrieve you.”
“Ok.” I turned the radio off, reached in my pocket, and retrieved the piece of anthrenite.
“Set location to Portland, Oregon,” I said. It was the closest big city to Lewisville.
My job here was done. I’d done my part to help with the scroll. Now it was time to go home.
Or you could use the anthrenite to help them, a voice in my head said.
I shook the thought away. They’d be fine. They were the resistance, after all.
“In the mortal world?” the robotic voice of the device asked.
“Are you sure?”
“Location set. Press button to activate the portal.”
And slowly I let my finger inch toward the button….
We flew threw a swarm of Darkness fighters, the ship rocking as our shield was battered by bolts of anti-energy. I briefly glanced at the dashboard on the cockpit. The bar indicating shield energy was almost gone.
“Pull away, we can’t sustain this damage!” Daridin exclaimed.
“I’m trying!” the pilot yelled.
My finger slowly touched the button, but I hesitated, somehow unable to press it. All it took was a flick of my finger and I could go home….
“We’re taking heavy losses.” Rostro’s voice rang through my father’s radio. Out the window, I saw yet another Artensian fighter fall.
“So this is how it ends,” I said softly.
Jadis Larsh sat watching as the Darkness fighters swarmed the Artensian fleet, smiling.
“Now you know what it feels like, Rix. Now you know what it feels like.”
I closed my eyes. My finger shook.
I wanted to go home so badly. I wanted this all to be a dream, and when I woke up, I’d be back in my father’s house, his smile waiting for me.
But that world was gone. Forever.
And this one wasn’t.
I opened my eyes, determination surging through me as I withdrew my finger back from the button.
“Set location to Artensia.”
“Are you sure?” the robotic voice replied.
I took a deep breath, then charged out onto the boardwalk, raised the generator to the sky, and opened the portal.
“Carson!” Jack yelled. “He’s opened a portal!”
I looked out the window. Sure enough, Carson stood in the center of
the action, hand raised to the sky, a golden portal glowing above him.
“All units, head for the golden light!” my father yelled. Then, to himself, almost as if surprised, “the boy came through.”
Peeling toward the portal, the helicopter hit full thrusters, and I felt myself lurch as we raced toward the portal, then felt another, stronger lurch in my stomach as we struck the portal and teleported home.
Darkness soldiers surrounded me. Several raised their staffs toward
me and fired. Most of the bolts missed, but one struck my abdomen, and I fell to my knees, gasping.
But I kept my hand held above me.
The Artensian fighters all turned toward the portal, racing into it. Several times I thought they would hit me, but every time they struck the portal they disappeared in a flash of gold.
Blood poured from my wound, and my vision began to blur. Still, I kept my hand held above me.
Finally the last Artensian fighter ducked through. And only then did I collapse, my hand dropping the portal directly onto me as everything went black.