Tag Archive: barry


The Tiny God

Here’s a short story I spent a few weeks writing.  I’d love to know what you think.  Feel free to comment. 🙂
    
     The Tiny God


     The Tiny God floated behind a cloud, steadily watching. Its diminutive stature and soft pink skin tone made It seem nonthreatening, but this little Deity could do things unimaginable by Craig, the man in the little coffee shop the tiny god was watching.  He was a perfectly ordinary man with sharp, yet handsome, features.  In his mid-twenties and dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, he gave off the air of an unemployed artist.
     For some reason, the Tiny God had taken a fascination in the human. He was completely unremarkable, sitting outside and slowly appreciating a scone. It had been watching him for about a week now.  The man had tripped on a sidewalk curb and caught the Gods eye from Its vantage perched on a gargoyle, high atop a building. Seeing great distances was no difficult feat for the god, but this shouldn’t have drawn Its attention as much as it did.
     Its wandering mind had not let It notice that Craig was staring straight at It. The Tiny God was surprised the human could see this high up in the clouds, but It remained motionless. It was possible the man was just staring blankly into space, as the God had seen him do many times before. Motion would only draw his attention. The Tiny God had lived long enough to at least know that. Truly, that the humans hadn’t yet discovered the existence of Its kind was a mystery to It.
     Its attention snapped back to Craig as the human was now standing and seemed to be waving It down. The Tiny God was flabbergasted. Never in all Its considerable life had a human managed to spot It, let alone be bold enough to make contact.
     With complete disregard for Its instincts, the Tiny God began to slowly descend down to the man. His face calm and assuring, the man simply waited patiently for the graceful being to meet his level. The Tiny God had never before let Itself be so exposed. It took everything It had not to flee into a shadow or behind a building. It had to let go of all the fear and be ready for whatever was coming.
     “It’s been a long time.” Said the man. There was definitely something familiar about Craig, but the God couldn’t quite remember.
     “How do you know me?” Despite having no mouth, words emanated from the God.
     “You don’t have to worry about anyone seeing you.” The man said, ignoring the question. “I know you have been very careful about revealing yourself, but look around.” Indeed, none of the other people in the cafe were looking at It. They weren’t even looking at the man.
     “No one can see me.” Said the God, Its small eyebrows furrowing. “What did you do? Who are you? What kind of trick is this?” Anger becoming more apparent.
     “This is no trick.” Craig made a flicking gesture with his wrist at the surrounding area that caught the Tiny God off guard. It had seen that motion done before. It just couldn’t remember where. “The people have never been able to see you.” He had a slight smile. “Knowing you, you’ve just been too scared to come out of your clouds and see for yourself.”
     “Hold your tongue, human. You have no idea what I could do to you if…”
     “How long have you been following me?” The man cut the God off.
     “Um…” The Tiny God was thrown off. “About a week, I guess, but who do you think you are? I demand an answer.” It was weaving Its body back and forth in mid-air.
     “Funny, I would have thought it would take me longer to spot you.” The man’s gaze had drifted off. “Even though I’ve been on the lookout for your kind, it’s incredibly difficult for humans to see you.” His eyes went back to the floating pink creature when It started to whiz around faster. “Alright, alright. I’ll answer your questions. I will have a few for you myself. Let’s go for a walk…” He noticed the God was flying. “…of sorts.”
     The man started walking towards a nearby park and the Tiny God followed. Who did this human think he was, ordering around an all powerful God? Not answering Its questions.  
    “I’m supposed to meet someone up ahead for lunch.” Craig gestured ahead with a casual hand. “I’d really like you to meet her.”
     The man’s smile was upturned when the Tiny God zoomed in front of him. “I’ve been patient long enough.” the Deity’s skin changed from a pale pink to pastel orange. “Who are you?”
     “Oh my, I’d forgotten how short tempered your kind can be.” He placed a hand on his hip.
     That’s when the God finally remembered. The gestures, the tones, the way he held himself.  The God’s eyes went wide. “I remember you. You’re…” It was at a loss for words.
     “Don’t hurt yourself trying. You’re not going to remember my name. I gave that up long ago.” He placed a hand on the Tiny God’s shoulder. “It truly is good to see you again, brother.”
    The Tiny God pulled away from the man’s touch. “But, that’s not possible. How can you be human?”
     “Come with me and I’ll tell you a story.” They both started moving through the park again. “Back when we were young, we toyed with the world as if it were our play thing. Land was rearranged, weather was disturbed, new creatures were created.” The Deity nodded Its remembrance. “For the most part, all was good for us.”
     Craig cleared his throat. “We all went our own way as we pleased, some more separated from the group than others. Then the humans came along. We all knew they were there, but we never realized that none of us were willing to interact with them.  We just knew to stay away from them.”
     “It’s not like we were afraid of them, or anything.” said the God. “We could have destroyed them with a single thought, if we had wanted to.”
     “Ah, you see that’s where you are wrong.” Craig responded.  “It wasn’t fear that was keeping us away. It was something else. When was the last time you’ve seen another of your kind?”
     The Tiny God thought for a minute. “I haven’t seen a member of the Brotherhood since long before the humans started erecting their structures.”
     “That explains it. A little while after the buildings started going up is when it all began.” He gestured up at the sky. “The most shy of us stayed up in our clouds, while one of the boldest gained the courage to explore amongst the humans.”
    He stepped aside so a cyclist wouldn’t run him over.  “The people of the small town welcomed him, but cautiously.  He felt no desire to change anything about these people or toy with them as they showed him their ways.  He was accepted into their world and before long something happened he didn’t expect.”  The man paused.
     “What happened next?”  The Tiny God was wrapped in the story.  It was surprising how fascinated It was to know some history of Its kind.
     “Love.”  Craig let the word hang in the air for a moment.  “He was the first of us to find love and he was the first to be transformed.  After that day, he was human.”
     The Tiny God was perplexed.  “Love is everywhere.  I’ve seen it on the streets and in windows.  Something so common can’t possibly cause such a change.”
     The pair had stopped and the man seated himself on a bench.  The God hovered in front of him.  “Underestimating the strength of emotions was always something your kind has been good at.” Craig looked hard into the God’s eyes. “Now, let me finish my story.”
     The Tiny God winced, but remained silent. “Thank you.” The man looked out into the trees. “The changed man went back to the creatures that used to be his kind and told his story. They rejected him as a whole, but one followed him after the man had left. He showed the God the love he shared with one of the humans and, soon after, the God found a love of his own. Just properly seeing love was enough to inspire him to find it for himself. The first to change went away to live with his beloved and never spoke to a God again.”
     A woman sat on the bench next to Craig, not seeing them, and began to eat a sandwich. She was wearing a sky blue skirt and beige blouse that, along with her light brown hair and slender figure, made her look like a peppy college student.  This didn’t stop the man from telling his tale.
     “The next man was eventually found by another curious God and told his story. That God found love as well and changed. It went on like this for a very long time, until I finally stumbled into one of the changed men.”
     The Tiny God looked away, but didn’t speak.
     “He showed me the spark he had between himself and a human woman. Seeing it changed me in a way I had never expected. It let me see the truth: that I had changed long ago.”
     “What do you mean?” The God turned back to the man. “We never change.”
     “No, you just never noticed. Your kind is too caught in your own heads to see what has been happening to you for centuries. You’ve lost your power.”
     “That’s not true!” It swooshed Its tail back and forth. “I can fly. I can see and hear great distances. I always know when something is coming.”
     “All just defenses to let you run away. You used to be able to change the world with a thought. Go ahead, try something destructive.”
     The Tiny God didn’t want to, but It turned to a tree anyway and attempted to set it aflame. Nothing happened. The God hadn’t tried anything like that in a long time, but It had never thought It needed to.
     Its mind went into a panic. It was defenseless. It was vulnerable. “What? What do I do?”
     “Calm yourself.” Craig placed his hand on Its shoulder again. The God instantly felt a little better. “This, believe it or not, is a good thing. It means you are ready.”
     “Ready for what?”  Its head was still in a bit of a fog.
     “Ready to see love.” He turned to the woman next to him. “Joy, there is someone I would like you to meet.”
     The woman choked a little on her sandwich. “Craig! I didn’t see you there.” She recovered herself and gave him a kiss. “When did you get here?”
     “A little before you did.” He winked at her then gestured to the floating Deity. “This is one of my former brethren.”
     She, once again, was startled that she hadn’t noticed the small pink figure, but recovered herself more quickly this time.  “It is a pleasure to finally meet you.”  She stood and took the hand of the Tiny God.  “Craig has told me so much about your people and it is truly an honor.”
     The God didn’t know how to react, so It just stared at her.  She broke the silence.  “You look an awful lot like Craig did when he first met me.  You do seem to have a lighter tone than he did, though.”  She turned to the man.  “You were so cute back then.”
     He stood and took her hand as she let go of the God’s.  “What do you mean ‘were’?”  His tone was playful.
     The Tiny God watched the two stare into each other’s eyes and saw that something was definitely different.  These two shared something more than any other humans It had seen.
     The man finally broke his gaze away from the woman.  “Before I show you, I have one piece of advice.”  The God looked back, apprehensive. “Try to remember, love is a beautiful thing.”
     Craig turned again to look back at the woman.  The Tiny God felt it before It saw it.  A spark connected the two as they drew closer together and kissed once again.  This kiss was more than the God had ever seen before.  It shined with its own brilliance.  It was as if their souls had come together like drops of water.  
     The Tiny God whimpered and shot into the sky, ignoring the branches that knocked its head on the way up.
     “Oh, my…”  Joy said with a startled gasp.  “It seemed really upset.  Will It be alright?”
     Craig wrapped an arm around her waist and looked up at where the Tiny God had fled.  “Yes, this is how it’s supposed to be.  I did the same thing when I first saw love.  It’s going to take a while.  It’s got a lot of thoughts and emotions to discover and work through, but eventually It will come back down.  It will find love, just like the rest of us did.”
     “Well, that’s good.  I hope It finds someone nice.”  The woman looked into her love’s eyes and he looked into hers.  “I know I did.”

 

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Instinctual by Barry Hansen

I have written an urban fantasy novel.  It was written in a few months and is my first attempt.  I’ve decided to share it for the world to read and tell me what you think.  It’s about a young man named Derek Adams who is thrust into a world of magic layered on top of our own.  He quickly discovers that his best friend is a magical bounty hunter, his cat can talk and has been protecting him his whole life, and someone is trying to kill him.  He has to try and stay alive as he finds out what is happening to him.  Enjoy!

Chapter 1

I leaned forward to better see my computer screen. It was 1:00 according to the clock in the corner of my screen. The only new email I received had the subject line, ‘Derek Adams, if you’ve been looking for cheaper Viagra, we’ve got a deal for you!’ I never understood how they kept getting my email, or even knew my name. Being in my early twenties, I wished my life was more interesting, if just so I could get better emails than that one.

I stood from the couch I was sitting on and walked around my room. The same room I’d lived in my entire life. I understood that it was pathetic to still live with my mother, little brother, and little sister/Satan, but with my father’s passing three years ago, I felt I owed it to my mom to help as best I could.

My mother had been a preschool teacher for the past thirty years and would be canonized if only she had the time to attend the ceremony. The fact that she adopted me and my two siblings proved, in my eyes, that she deserved everything in the world.

Standing in front of my dresser, I picked up the tiny snow globe that my sister had given me many years ago. Back then, she used to give me little tokens to make me happy. Now that she was thirteen, she was the perfect depiction of a teenage girl; sneaky, manipulative, and selfish. Somehow my mom put up with Selene, but I didn’t see how.

Setting down the glass sphere, I replaced it with a pair of green goggles. My brother, Chi, lent me those goggles one day and never asked for them back. That’s the kind of guy he was. Normally he appeared as emotionless as a rock, but he would be there for you if you asked. Not to say the rest of the family lived an unhealthy lifestyle, but his Chinese ancestry gave him a slender strength that was a little intimidating, especially for a boy of fourteen.

Most of his time was spent down in his room, where I had no idea what he did. I did know that sometimes he would come up and the scent of sulfur would be coming from his long black hair. I assumed he was doing some sort of chemistry experiments.

A glint caught the corner of my eye, not from a mirror or glass, but from the numerous pieces of metal artfully positioned throughout the room. I looked up at the wall that had steadily grown from a blank canvas to the masterpiece that was my collection of weapons. Most of my spare cash over the years had gone into the armory that was then my room. I had tried my best to collect every type of blade there was out there. This wall was filled with rows and columns of katana’s and short swords. Looking further around the room, I gazed at the various sized knives, throwing stars, and axes placed on tables. Each one meant something different to me; a memory, an emotion, an inspiration. Guns were never part of the collection. I never found them to hold the nobility of a sword.

Turning back to the dresser, I passed my hand over the medieval hand-and-a-half sword on the top of a two-sword stand, and gripped the handle of one of my favorite katana’s. Slowly pulling the chrome blade from its black sheath, I stared into my bluish green-eyed reflection. Attempting to peer into my soul had become a ritual for me whenever I released a blade.

My black cat, Johnny, didn’t flinch from his coiled position on my bed as I swung the sword around in wide arching movements. He had seen me do it hundreds of times before and had grown fully comfortable with my swordplay. I had been studying it for several years with little injury to myself or others. Since childhood I had been doing these motions with sticks in the front yard. The joy and calming feelings it gave me then never faded. Once I was old enough, I figured I might as well learn how to properly do what I had been playing with my entire life.

The following ten minutes passed like mere seconds as I cut and parried imaginary blows. I only stopped, panting slightly, because I felt the buzz and heard the beeps of my phone. As I slid the blade quickly back into its scabbard, I thought I saw something different. Pulling mirror polish back out a couple of inches, I checked to make sure my eyes weren’t the dull red they seemed to be a moment ago. Reassured, I placed the katana back on its stand and pulled my phone from my pocket.

My friend Dale had sent me a text that read: dude, you gotta check out this new game I got, Deadly Musashi. Its EPIC! Busy today, come over tomorrow. As usual, I had no idea what the game was about. Judging by the title, I would guess it was some sort of Japanese fighting game. He had been an addicted gamer since I’d known him.

I first met Dale when we were just freshmen. Day one of High School and I had no idea where my class was. Seeing my confusion as I stood in the center of campus, he shoved a school map in my face and pointed out where each of my classes would be. We found we had several classes together and were friends from that day on. We practiced swordplay together. We had been in fights together. He had always been there for me.

Typing quickly on my phone, I replied: Sure man, I’ve got no job any more so I’ve got plenty of time on my hands. I’ll drop by your place around 11. Later. Just after I pressed send, I glanced up to see a coffee mug I left on my dresser, which usually had a teddy bear on it, now had a swirl of vibrant colors slowly moving on its surface. I closed my eyes, shook my head, and looked back at the still swirling mug. Picking it up, I looked inside at its contents that, this morning, was leftover coffee, but now was a glowing violet liquid. No, it was more than just violet. It had to be described as ultraviolet; the end of the spectrum that humans weren’t supposed to see.

Mesmerized by all the amazing colors, it took me a while to finally put the mug back and glance at the clock. I was startle to see that it was now 2:30. An hour had gone by, unnoticed. I double checked the time on my phone, but it read the same. Looking around to see if anything else seemed out of place, I saw everything was as it should be. Even the mug had gone back to its teddy bear pictured state.

Briefly, I wondered if this was how hallucinogens worked; in short bursts that eventually went away. It sounded plausible, but I didn’t remember having taken any LSD. I also didn’t feel any different.

All of a sudden, I felt the world shake around me and the loudest CRASH I’d ever heard came from my living room, just on the other side of my wall.

Chapter 2

In a slight panic, I ran through my kitchen to see what had happened. Looking at the wreckage that was my living room, I saw that one of the giant pine trees from my front yard was lying angled against my house. It had only crashed half-way through the roof so that it didn’t take down the rest of the abode. Barely having time to realize that a piece of the roof had destroyed my Nintendo, I looked through the hole that was once a door frame and saw a giant brown wolf running past.

The wolf saw me and, with a determined look on his furry face, started running towards me when what looked like a ball of crackling lightning clipped it in the shoulder. After spinning around and slamming into the ground, it looked back at me, looked in the direction of the blast, got up, and started running down the street. A figure facing away from me stepped into view wearing a black trench coat, a dark grey beanie, and holding a gun in the direction of the wolf. The figure steadied the gun and fired another soccer-ball-sized lightning blast straight into the wolf’s back. The giant mass crashed, face-first, into the ground, remaining motionless.

The beanie capped stranger walked over to the wolf, poked it a couple of times with his gun, and watched as it transformed into a casually dressed dead man. He once again nudged the used-to-be-wolf’s face and, with a nod, turned in my direction.

“Dale?” I shouted with a little crack in my voice. I was too shocked to say anything else and too stunned to move. My best friend had just blasted a giant K9-man. A little shocked himself, he started walking toward me and put his gun in a holster at his hip.

“Derek? You can see me?” He said while strutting towards me with a broad grin on his face and panting from the chase. Stepping over the rubble of my living room, he stood in front of me. Looking down at my feet, he nodded and said “Johnny” with the casual lilt of a greeting.

I hadn’t noticed that my cat had followed me out and scurried behind my legs in fear. I finally found my voice and said “Ye… Yes, I can see you. What just happened?”

Chuckling a little, he said “Wow! You can hear me too!” He adjusted his beanie with one hand and continued, “I’ve never heard of anyone developing their sight this fast, let alone be able to hear us. Well, welcome to my world! Do you have any more soda? I know you do. I saw some in your room yesterday.” He looks behind me and starts to walk in the direction of my room.

In my dazed state I could barely think, but I darted after him, trying to keep up, with Johnny right behind. Catching him in the kitchen, I grabbed his shoulder to stop him. He turned towards me with a jovial look on his face and I said, a little frantically, “Will you stop for a minute?! You never stop moving, do you?” I gained a little composure and went on, “Will you please explain to me why my foyer has a few additions to it and what that thing you shot was!” Panting a little from frustration, I looked at him, waiting for a response.

“Oh… yeah. Sorry about that, man.” He said, looking a little guilty. He grabbed a small knife from behind his back and started nervously twirling it around. “Listen. I’ll call the Council; they’ll send a cleanup crew, set up a time barrier and have it repaired in literally no time.” He slapped me on the arm and started again to walk to my room as if that would fix everything.

“Council? What Council?” I said as I tried to keep on his heels. “And what is a time… oh, never mind. Just help me out with a little bit of understanding of what’s going on!” I shouted the last part as we came up on my bedroom door.

Dale swung open the door, darted inside and ushered me to come in after him. Waiting until Johnny was also in the room; he slowly shut the door and sat down on my bed where Johnny had chosen to lay. I had decided to sit on my couch near the front window and calm myself down. Looking a little more relaxed, Dale rested a hand on Johnny’s head as he said, “There. Now we can talk and no one will be able to listen. That spell I set up around your room a couple years ago should…” He abruptly cut himself off, pulled out his gun, and shot at the again swirling mug on my dresser. But this time, a dark ball of nothingness surrounded the mug and imploded. Leaving not even any remains. “Well now. Where did that nasty little piece of business come from?” He said as he, for the second time, put his gun in the holster at his side.

“I was just about to deal with that before you came crashing in here like a rogue!” Amazingly the response didn’t come from me, but from the small black lump of fur Dale was currently petting. “I can full well remove a simple spell from a mug without destroying it! That was Derek’s favorite mug. What are you doing in this area anyways? You could have notified another Hunter around these parts.” Johnny said with an almost comical cat voice. It was like one you’d hear in a Disney film.

Dale shifted a little defensively in the cat’s direction and stated in a matter-of-fact way, “I’ll have you know I chased that Shifter all the way from Area 34 to here before I finally got him.” He pulled a small phone out of one of the many pockets on his trench coat, pushed a single button, placed it to his ear, and said, “I’ll need 4 units at my location immediately.” He then put the phone back in his pocket and turned back to Johnny. “Why does he look so shocked anyways?” He said, pointing in my direction. “As his Guardian, didn’t you tell him about all this when he started showing signs of magic?”

Still in a daze, I just sat there and watched this conversation go on between my cat and my friend. Peering around at my room, I noticed many things looked different. Several of the swords and other weapons had a certain glow around them, like they were radiating energy of different colors. My samurai swords all had a silvery bluish aura around them; a couple of my more medieval swords had a brownish rocky aura, a few of my straight swords had a subtle reddish tint to them, and many other smaller implements had their own unique colors surrounding them.

“He hadn’t shown any signs until just now. And it appears he’s progressing faster than anyone I’ve seen in all of my 82 years.” Johnny said, pulling my attention back on them.

“That’s impossible!” Dale half shouted with an unbelieving look on his face. “People can’t just all of a sudden be able to see and hear me in my Sub-Worldly body. Especially him lately. I was fighting off a few zombies in his backyard just last night! He couldn’t hear me then?” He looked at me, expecting some kind of response.

All I could do was shake my head at him with a still shocked look on my face. Johnny also responded by saying, “There, you see? No warning! It might have had something to do with that spelled cup that had us entranced for about an hour. I would have been able to check it, if you hadn’t decided to send it to the void!” The cat then turned his head to look straight into my eyes. “Derek… look at me… and try to calm yourself.”

As soon as he’d said it, I felt a wave of euphoria flow over me and was able to think a little more clearly. Taking a deep breath, I looked back intensely at Johnny’s yellow eyes and slowly said, “What… is going… on?” Dale casually pulled out a small knife and started nervously playing with it again.

Suddenly, I felt a strong sense of danger I couldn’t explain. I tensed up my whole body, grabbed a bowie knife with a reddish tint from a small table next to me and clutched it to my chest. Almost immediately after, a dresser drawer burst open and out sprang a gremlin-looking creature with sharp claws soaring directly at my face. I tucked my chin to my chest, closed my eyes, and thrust the knife out at the small attacker. With my heart pounding, I felt the creature slide onto my blade and burst into flames. I looked up at the blazing gremlin writhing on the tip of this hideous kebab just in time to see Dale’s small knife fly straight into its head and explode with a slight POP.

Now everyone had shocked faces as I slid the little gargoyle body onto the floor. “How did you know?” Dale said as he plucked up his thrown blade. “Are you a Pre-Cog? No… I’ve never seen a Pre-Cog react that instinctively nor have a vision of something so close to the event. I’ve only seen that kind of reflexes from an Angel, but never so violent.” He scratched his head over his beanie and looked at me quizzically.

Johnny picked up on his thoughts, “Maybe it’s some sort of new sorcerers’ ability? That can’t be, his eyes wouldn’t be that color.” With an all-too-human expression, he also looked at me like an enigma he couldn’t solve.

“Wait! What do you mean ‘my eyes wouldn’t be that color’?” I said as I got off of the couch, threw the knife in my hand into a floorboard at my side, and ran to the mirror in the bathroom that was connected to my room. Staring back at me was a slightly glowing green version of my normal self, except for one very different feature. My eyes were now a bright red. They were the kind of red that jumps out at you and latches on like a frightened monkey.

As they stared intently at me, watching my reaction to such new and bazaar information, I looked at them both and said, in a very demanding voice, “EXPLAIN!”

“Ok, but under the circumstance I would suggest we get to a more secure location.” Johnny said.

Dale turned toward Johnny and said, “We can take my truck to my dimension. That’s the most secure place I have access to.” Turning back to me he continued, “You might want to bring one of your swords along. You know… for your protection. Be careful, though. Over the years, I’ve spelled most of them.”

“Is that what those colors are?” I said, curiously looking around again at all of my mounted weapons.

“You can see the Aura’s?” Dale asked with yet more shock in his voice. “Well…” His expression abruptly changed to his broad devilish grin. “This should be fun. I can’t wait to see what happens with you.” He clapped his hands, rubbing them together. Looking around and pointing at the katana’s, he said, “The silvery Auras are a slicing spell. The blades will move faster and cut cleaner, all depending on how much you put into them.” Pointing at the straight blades he said, “The red Aura’s are a fire spell. You’ve already seen what these can do with that little bowie knife demonstration you gave us.”

As he trailed, off looking around at the other apparently enchanted items in my rooms, I impatiently grabbed my favorite sword. It was a jet black katana with a finely detailed guard that was passed down from my adopted father before he died. I darted past them and walked out my door, heading through the kitchen, just wanting to get out of here so I could get answers.

“I wasn’t able to get that one…” Dale said, quickly grabbing a sheath of three yellowish aura throwing knives. Dale sped after me and said, “Here! At least take these too. The yellow Aura is a tracking spell. When you throw them, they’ll adjust to hit the target. Pretty cool, huh?” Dale, barely keeping up with Johnny on his heels, hands me the sheath, I put them in my pocket and kept walking until I got out the door and noticed a black van pulling up.

We all stopped just outside the door as the black van pulled into my driveway and eight men in strange looking cloaks get out. Two walked over to the dead man in the middle of the street, while the rest encircled my wrecked house, setting up hip-high cylinders with odd symbols all over them into the ground.

From behind me I heard Dale say, “Cleanup crew…” And take the front, guiding us up to the street.

Halfway up, I stopped him with a “Wait…” He turned half towards me, waiting for what question I might have next. “When did you get a car?”

Chapter 3

As I looked out the back window of Dale’s very unique truck at my ever-shrinking house, I saw a bright green flash come from the visible cylinders the cleanup crew had placed around. After shielding my eyes, I looked back to see the van, cylinders, and crew all gone. My house as well, at least from the outside, looked to be in perfect repair.

“There, see? No time at all.” Dale said, noticing what I was looking at from the drivers’ seat next to me. “What do you think of my sweet ride? Pretty great, huh?” Sweet wasn’t the best description for it, but great worked very well. He called it a truck, but it was more of a tank with an open back. It had a sleek black finish and looked mean at first glance.

“Yeah… it’s great, but can one of you at least explain a little bit of what’s going on here?” I said with a mix of fear and frustration in my voice as I set my katana on the back seat where Johnny was coiled.

“You take this one Johnny.” Dale said as he started to pick up speed, weaving around traffic like they couldn’t see him. Which, I guess they couldn’t. “You’re the Guardian, that’s your job.”

With a look of incredulity, Johnny turned away from Dale to look at me with a well practice explanatory face. “The world, as you know it, is only half of what truly is. Intertwined with the world you’ve lived in your whole life is a Sub-World. The world of magic.” He paused for dramatic effect, cleared his throat with a paw to his mouth, and went on. “Some creatures, like angels, demons, dragons, phoenix’s and that gremlin that attacked you, are beings that were born in the Sub-World and only exist there. Others, like vampires, werewolves and yourself, which started out in the real world, can travel in both. While yet others, live only in the real world and can see into this one. The rest of humanity goes about their regular lives, never knowing about the hidden actions going on around them.”

“OK, I’ve seen enough already to at least go along with what you’re saying.” I interjected. “But wait! You said I was one of the in-between? I don’t remember ever being bitten or scratched anytime lately…” My face turned to concern as I turned around and looked Johnny right into his yellow eyes. “What am I?”

“That… we don’t know yet.” He replied. “Our Council of elders detected the light of magic in you when you were found as an infant. This is common enough. To have a small child grow up, steadily enter our world, and learn about his latent gifts. These people often become sorcerer’s, pre-cognitive, wizards, or Hunters like Dale. But you don’t show signs of being any of these. At first, we thought the Council may have been wrong, when you didn’t steadily become more aware of the Sub-World around you. Your ‘jump’ into our realm has never been done before. That mug you were holding might have had something to do with it, but now we’ll never be sure.” He gave a disapproving glance in Dale’s direction before looking back at my eagerly listening face.

Turning quizzical, he said, “You’re taking this rather well, considering all that’s happened today. Are you sure you are alright?”

The truth was that I was doing alright. Even though I had seen a man killed, killed something myself, and been confronted by more senses than I knew I had, it all felt somehow… normal; like I’d been doing it all my life. Instinctual.

Turning back around to face forward, I watched as Dale sped around cars going thirty miles per hour, going at least ninety himself. Physically and mentally calming myself, I said, “I’m fine, really. Please go on. It sounds like I’ve got a lot to catch up on.”

“Alright.” He still sounded reluctant, but went on anyway. “The colors you have been seeing are called Auras. They are the energy that radiates from magic. The different colors usually indicate the kind of magic the object or being holds. There are few who can naturally see them and even fewer who have learned the art. I am one of the few naturally endowed…” Dale giggled. “…and Dale here is the youngest ever to have mastered it.”

Dale then turned to me and winked as he said, with evident pride, “It only took me a few years.”

“Years?” I said with surprise. “How long have you been a hunter?”

“Ever since I was 14, around the same time we met. But don’t let that fool ya.” He waggled a finger at me with that broad grin of his. “I’ve been training a lot longer than that.”

“Really?” I chuckle. “Maybe I could learn from you one day.”

“Oh, I’ve already got an apprentice.” He barked out a laugh. “I can’t wait for you to meet him. Oh, look. We’re here.”

We had pulled into that one spot that’s always empty outside of Dale’s apartment. I’d driven by it so many times without even considering it to park in. It’s as if, looking back, that spot had never existed to me.

We all got out of the car and, making sure to take our belongings with us, went into his apartment as I had done hundreds of times before. Except now, I could see all the things that I couldn’t before. It was a small space with just the bare essential. The walls all had a slight white glow to them and lying around were a few things anyone would have been suspicious of. Scattered throughout several surfaces were varying guns, all with a dark Aura around them, as well as on the kitchen table there was a box of bullets and a book entitled ‘Basic Spells For Dummies’.

I picked up the book, turned it around, and looked at the authors’ picture. He was a skinny pale man with a sharp-toothed smile and pointy ears. I turn to Dale, who was rummaging around in his fridge for that soda he had forgotten about in my room, and asked, “Hey, I hope this isn’t too rude to say, but what is this guy? He looks like a Vulcan from Star Trek.”

After a slight chuckle, Dale popped open a can of soda while walking over and said, “That guy’s a Vampire and a well respected author of magic books. Even though he can’t use the stuff he writes about, he’s devoted his life to their study. I’ve got most of his books, like ‘Artifact enchanting for the Hunter Dummy’, ‘The Unknown Language for Dummies’ and ‘Focusing Will for the Sorcerer Dummy’ along with that one there. He’s pretty much the encyclopedia of stuff in the Sub-World. I gave that book to my apprentice. “ Putting on that Dale grin of his at the thought of his apprentice, he continued, “He must have left it here. I just gave it to him to study. It doesn’t all work for him as a young Hunter, but it’s good to know about in case he comes up against this stuff.”

Flipping open the book, I begin to peruse the table of contents and headlines. It seemed to be a beginner’s look at spells of every kind summed up as descriptions. The book was divided into three main sections; Artifact Magic, Rune Magic, and Will Magic. Quickly skimming through the chapters, I was able to find out that all magic is directed by will and intent.

Artifact magic was something specific to Hunters and Guardians. They can focus their will into an item and, depending on how much time and effort they put into it, can direct it to influence the world in varying ways.

Rune magic can be used by most creatures with the light of magic in them. It is the willful concentration of future intent through the Unknown Language that is still currently being discovered. The book contained much of the vocabulary that is the Unknown Language, but it didn’t seem to be the size of a Webster’s dictionary.

Will magic is specific to Sorcerer’s, Wizards, Witches and the like. It’s a simple focusing of will to directly affect the world around you. There were several chapters devoted to telekinesis and levitation, as well as several more on conjuring and controlling fire balls. If this was in the basic book, I couldn’t wait to see what some practiced magic users could do.

Johnny had been lying on the table watching me read when he startled me by abruptly saying, “This is actually a good start. Quite a general introduction to the powers that are out there, but that book doesn’t mention anything about the culture that comes along with this world. There are businesses and governments, markets and bizarre’s, millennia of history for species that you haven’t even heard of.”

“But, it’s strange. Most of this I HAVE already heard of. Vampires, Sorcerers, Angels, these are all in stories in the real world. What’s that about?” I asked.

“That’s actually one of the neat bits about this world; it sort of has its own rules.” Johnny shifted excitedly to a more upright position. “There have been many studies into this, but apparently the activities of the Sub-World seep into the unconsciousness’ of the people in the real world. Not enough to affect what they do from day to day, but more into the creative portion of the brain. So many authors and painters draw from that part, along with their own imagination, to create partial truths about what is really happening around them.” Now standing, he flicked his tale from side to side.

“Another amazing fact about the Sub-World is that the people who only live in the real world can’t consciously conceive of what is happening in ours. If you are walking down the street against the flow of walkers, they will simply walk around you. They won’t know why, or even care why. They just do. It goes so far that even if a car from the Sub-World hit somebody, they would make up some story in their head to explain why they were just forced back ten feet and now have a broken arm and leg. There are spells that have the same effect. That’s why you never before felt the need to park in that space that is always reserved for Dale’s monster of a truck or wanted to go by that door that Dale is opening.”

I hadn’t noticed it before, but Dale had moved to a corner of his room that was usually vacant. How it had not been the first thing I saw when I walked in the room, I’ll never know. In that corner was a giant door stretching to the ceiling that was glowing bright white. Dale had one hand on the door, a large stone in the other, his head lowered, and was steadily mumbling something under his breath. After a few moments, I heard a barely audible click and the doors glow faded.

“I grant you all permission to enter my lair.” Dale grabbed the silver door knob and swung open the wooden door in a grand gesture. I couldn’t see directly into the room, but instead the threshold was a shimmering mirror. The surface wavered like water, but it perfectly reflected back what light hit it.

Dale walked straight through as the mirror flowed around him. A few seconds later, he walked back out, waved for us to hurry and strode right back in. Johnny and I looked briefly at each other before walking over to gleaming entrance. Johnny trotted right in, but I held back, examining the sheen intently. When I poked it, a wave rolled out just like a raindrop on a pond. It took me a minute to realize what it reminded me of. The Matrix. This looked just like the substance that covered Keanu Reeves right before he was pulled into the unplugged world. Chuckling to myself at this thought, I slowly and carefully crept through the glistening wall.

This turned out to be a mistake. The part of me that wasn’t all the way through felt alright, but the other half was screaming in frustration. The in half seemed to be urging the rest of me through, so I obliged it. Shoving myself all the way through, the first thing I felt was relief. The second was a touch of anger.

“You could have warned me!” I choked out at Dale who was leaning back in a chair at a desk on the far right of the room. Apparently, I had interrupted a conversation between him and Johnny. “You have to remember, I KNOW NOTHING! If I’m to be expected to walk through some strange mirror door, you’d better give me a little heads up that it’s going to be EXTREMELY PAINFUL!”

“Well if you had just gone through the way I did, you wouldn’t feel like crap now!” Dale shouted back as he lowered all four legs of his chair back to the floor.

“I’m sorry, Derek.” Interjected Johnny. “If I’d known fully what this place was, I would have warned you that it was best to go through the portal quickly. You see, this place is very special.”

“Don’t spoil it.” Dale cut in. “This is my surprise to tell people. Just because you’ve worked it out before I’ve told you, doesn’t mean you have to spoil this for him.” He stood up, spread his arms wide and said, “Welcome Derek! To my Fast-Time Dimension!”

Finally getting a chance to look around, my breath was taken away first by the sheer size of the place. Coming from the small apartment into a place that was as tall and wide as a warehouse and longer than the eye can see definitely left me with a dizzying sense of inferiority. Filling the space was row after row of shelves and book stands filled with volumes and boxes. There must have been millions of books and thousands of other random objects. Overlaying the whole place was a décor of old Victorian. The walls were a dull red with carpets laid throughout every floor surface. On the left side of the room was even a love seat, complete with throw pillows and straight backed chairs to match. The ceiling was painted in bright colors with some sort of tableau.

“This place is amazing!” It was all I could say. Anything else just wouldn’t come to me.

Dale came over to my side and put his hand on my shoulder. “You don’t even know the best part yet.” He said with that Dale grin of his. “Ok, well maybe not the best part, but definitely my favorite part. This place is actually moving faster than the rest of the world. Don’t worry; you’re not aging any faster. Just an hour in here is like a minute outside. That’s how I’ve been training longer than I’ve been alive.”

“This explains how you beat all those video games so quickly.” Dale chuckled a little at that. “Where did you get all this stuff?” I pointed around at all the furniture and shelves.

“Oh, most of it I got from my old teacher. The rest, well, I’ve found it’s incredibly easy and useful to copy small things from the real world into this one. If you walk around you’ll see I’ve got the Mona Lisa, Lots of gold trinkets and a few other bits of wealth or history you might recognize. Man, do I wish I could take some of it over to the real world where they couldn’t check to see if it’s fake. Here you can’t get a dime for a magical copy, but over there I’d be a billionaire. Hey look, I’ve got to go get my apprentice.” His grin broadened. “He’s kind of a ways down there in the training area of this place, so I’m going to be a while.” He turned to Johnny. “We’ll continue our discussion when I get back.”

And with that, he started walking down one of the unending aisles; all the confidence of a man who owned the world. I couldn’t believe this was the man I’d grown up with, taken swordplay classes with, and gone on my first double date with. This was the closest friend I’d ever had, and I felt like I knew absolutely nothing about him. This did explain a little about his personality, though. He always had to win, he was always watchful, and he was incredibly fit even though all I ever used to see him do was play video games and hit on girls. Yep, this explained it.

I stumbled over to Johnny sitting on the desk, still recovering from my grand entrance and gawking at the warehouse-mansion, to say, “This is incredible!”

“Yes, it’s quite expensive to get a dimension this big, let alone a Fast-Time one. That old teacher of his must have been one generous man for giving Dale this.” Johnny too was admiring the massive area.

“What were you two talking about before I came in? I was only out there a second.”

“We were discussing what to do with you.” The cat sighed. “I believe we should take you to the Council and explain the situation, but he thinks they are too bureaucratic and it would take too long to get anything done. He says he has people that can help us figure out why people keep trying to kill you and do it quickly. First some zombies are sent after you at night, then a wolf Shifter bounty hunter, and then a gremlin attacks from inside your room. Someone is surely out to get you.”

“Yeah, that’s not good.” I felt a little stupid after I said it. Of course it wasn’t good. “I mean, I’m adamant about returning my library books on time. I can’t think of anyone who couldn’t stand to be around me, let alone want me dead.”

“Yes, but we will find the answers. If what I’ve heard about Dale is accurate, this may be solved with more haste than you think. You’ve seen his marksmanship, you now see at least part of his magical standing, but you haven’t heard about his famous tracking abilities. It’s said that ever since he became a fully fledged Hunter, he has never missed a mark.” He put on his explanatory face. “That’s what Hunters do. The Council gives them orders to track down and capture or kill a fugitive on the run. Let me tell you, there are quite a few people who feel they can abuse the gifts they have.”

“Yeah, I could see why Hunters would be needed; with all those vampires and werewolves out to get people.”

“Don’t be so quick to judge. Most creatures just want to live a simple life. The Council has special blood banks for any well meaning vampire to get what they need. That bit about sunlight is a total farce though, and werewolves don’t exist.”

I finally broke my eyes away from the sight and turn to Johnny. “Then what was that thing that Dale blasted back at my house?”

“That was a Shifter.” He stated matter-of-factly as he, too, turned in my direction. “More specifically, a wolf Shifter. They don’t have a time of the month or anything; they can just turn into a wolf whenever they want. They never quite lose their human traits when they change or their wolf traits when they change back. Wolves aren’t the only animals Shifters can change to. Although it is more common, some people can turn into pigs, deer, or even bears.”

“Wow. All these different creatures. It’s a little overwhelming. I don’t suppose spirits exist, do they?” I wasn’t willing to count anything out at that point.

“Ah, you see, that’s a place where terminology is important. If you are talking about ghosts, we have pretty much discounted the theory. There are still people out there who are chasing them, just like in the real world, but there isn’t any true proof of their existence. Now Spirits, on the other hand, are beings of legend. It’s said that thousands of years ago, beings of pure energy would float around changing little things around them and being generally curious. They had immense power and could shape the world around them to their pleasing. It was because of this that they were so sought after by Demons. Demons are unique in that they can capture energy for themselves to use, so it wasn’t long before they found a way to capture the Spirits and drain them of life. The legend says that, being peaceful and good natured creatures, the Spirits went into hiding and were never seen again. This is all speculation of course, since no one is alive today who has seen them.”

Getting excited, Johnny stood up on all fours. “Did I mention that you are going to live about three hundred extra years?”

“Huh, well, with the addition of piercing red eyes, I thought something else might be in store.” Alright, so I was freaking out a little on the inside. I mean, I’d been astonished on the outside enough for one day. I would keep this one to myself. “Do you mind if I have a look around? It’s always been a fantasy of mine to be perusing a library and accidentally come across some kind of magic book and now I have an entire library just sitting in front of me.”

Johnny nodded, knowing that I needed a little more time to process before taking in any more crazy truths, and I walked over to a row labeled Library on the side of the stacks. I guess in a place like this, you can have enough time to label everything properly. Dale wasn’t usually this organized, but I had a feeling it was the previous owner who did most of the work. If fact, everything seemed to be perfectly laid out. There was a section for history, astronomy, biology, sciences, and the rest. This took up most of the stacks, but at least a third of the whole was magic and its uses; sub-divided into the three main forms of Artifact, Rune and Will.

I took the usual approach I do when I walk through a library, never settle on one thing and skim through bits of everything. One book had information on the biology of vampires and how they were just slightly stronger and faster than any normal human. Another had common Sub-World sale items like a wolf Shifters tooth (pulled before they would change back into a human), enchanted artifacts and Angels tears (which, once dried, leave a powder that is a popular drug to smoke).

Each book I picked up gave me some new bit of amazing trivia. Even a dictionary of the Unknown Language was fascinating to look through. I looked for some of my favorite words like Eternity (Byth) or Forest (Coedwig). Every page had some interesting word that I refused to even try to pronounce. I couldn’t tell why, but every word in the Unknown Language fit perfectly with its meaning. The ways they sounded and looked were just better connected with what they meant.

After probing through a book of Runes, I felt the same way. Each symbol was representative of a word, like Chinese. They used straight archaic lines with very few curves. To me it seemed that every line was part of the whole meaning, like each section of a symbol had to be put together in the right order or it wouldn’t mean the same thing. For example, the words wood and forest looked nearly the same. The only difference was a few scattered lines, but those lines clearly made the meaning plural. I didn’t know how I could tell, I just knew.

“No no, keep your mask on.” Dale’s voice came echoing down the row I was standing in. “It’s better as a big surprise.” Off in the distance I could see the two figures walking toward us. Johnny trotted up next to me and even he had a little cat smirk on his face. It seemed I was the only one not in the loop about this apprentice.

As they got closer, I could make them out more clearly. Dale’s beanie had changed from his dull grey one to a jet black with a red bull’s-eye on the forehead. This was most likely a choice suited to match the person walking next to him. That person was just over five feet and wearing black slipper shoes, loose black sweats, a long-sleeved black shirt and a simple black ski mask. I swore, this person even had the straight-backed, slightly crouched walk of a ninja.

A strange high pitched giggle came out of Johnny as they walked up to us. Dale gave him a look that said ‘don’t you spoil this for me’. He turned halfway between me and the black clad ninja and grasped the mask from its top. “Gentlemen and cats, I give you… My Apprentice!” His devilish grin returned as he slid the head covering off of the boy.

There, stand in front of me with his blank emotionless face and long black hair, was my brother, Chi. I couldn’t quite tell what expression my face was making, but I assumed it was something like a monkey that just got pricked in the butt.

What was he doing here? He couldn’t be Dale’s apprentice. Every time Dale would come over to my house to watch a movie or play video games, Chi acted completely normal around him. We would even all play together and there was still a comradery. It was nothing like that of a master and his apprentice.

“My apprentice, meet your brother. Derek, meet my apprentice. Apprentice… Johnny. Johnny… Apprentice.” He gestured his arms between us while Chi just stood there, looking uncaring. “He has been training for just over a year now, but with me that doesn’t mean much. Go on, Show ‘em a few of the things you’ve learned.”

Without any physical warning that he was going to move, Chi threw something on the ground at his feet and was immediately engulfed in yellow smoke. That explained the sulfur smell. A second later, he tapped me on the shoulder from behind. As I turned around, he was already five feet away from me with his back facing the far wall about thirty feet away from where the entrance was. Out of his sleeves, he pulled three ninja stars and threw them in quick succession into a dart board hanging on the wall. They didn’t hit the center, but they all hit the target and that was pretty impressive. As soon as they thunked in, he grabbed a book off the shelf and hurled it high up into the air. Swiftly and gracefully he darted forward out of the row of books and drew a shining straight short-sword from a sheath on his back. Once the book came soaring back down, he spun into a low crouch and split it at its spine in mid-air.

“Aw, come on!” Dale shouted while I stood there speechless. I’d only seen moves like that in martial arts films where most of it was special effects. “You know better than that. It takes forever to prepare a repair artifact for books.” That’s when Chi took a small octagonal stone with runes on it out of his pocket and touched it to the pile of loose pages and binding. A purplish glow surrounded the leavings and they all shifted back in order and un-tore the books spine. The runes on the stone disappeared. “Ahuh, well, you seemed to have thought ahead, didn’t you?” There was definitely a slight tone of embarrassment in his voice, but Chi just kept his emotionless face as he stood up and walked back over to us.

“A whole year… you have been training for a whole year under my best friend and now you’re a ninja?” My voice cracked a little at that last part. All Chi did was nod his head.

“He’s a little more than that.” Dale cut in, sounding hurt. “In this place, I’ve had more than enough time to bring him nearly to his full potential. At least, for someone his age.” Chi’s face broke from its blankness and a hint of frustration showed itself. Noticing this, Dale quickly said, “I’m sorry, I know you’re a little touchy about your age. Soon you’ll be ready to break out and become one of the youngest Hunters in the world, like I was.” He looked back at me. “Yep, my young apprentice is about ready to join the big bad world of employment.”

“He can’t do that.” Johnny jumped onto a shelf to match everyone’s eye level. “Fourteen years of age is not enough life experience for someone to just jump out and start catching dangerous people.”

“If that little performance he just gave you isn’t enough proof, then take my word as a practiced and respected Hunter.” Dale crossed his arms. “He’s gone on dozens of hunts with me and the past few months he’s even assisted me in nabbing some scumbags.”

“Well…” Johnny lowered his eyes and looked dejected. “I guess it’s not my place to judge, but in my opinion it’s far too dangerous. I’ve known you for years…” He looked up at Chi. “…and I guess I just don’t want to see you get hurt. At least as an apprentice you have Dale here to protect you.” He sighed. “I guess I’ll have to just accept it. You are a Hunter and, it appears, a rather gifted one.”

My ninja brother bowed slightly in respect and thanks for the cat’s acceptance. It made him look even more Asian. He has never been much of a talker and the present situation didn’t seem to be changing that fact.

“Great! Now that everyone’s good, we can go.” Dale walked over to the armchair that his coat had been hanging on and slipped the coat over his shoulders.

“I still say we should take him to the Council.” Johnny leapt off the shelf and we all walked over to where Dale was getting ready. “They can offer him proper protection and may be able to shed some light on our predicament.”

“You want to fight me on this one, Felix? We can take this outside if you like.” He tucked several smaller guns into different places around his body along with a small sack of jangling stones at his left hip. “Besides, he has all the protection he’ll ever need right here. I know people in the system that can help us out, without all the waiting around.”

Johnny waited for a few moments while he came to the realization that he wasn’t the one in control. I guessed that must have been one of the downfalls of being a cat. “Fine, but can’t we rest for a little while before we go running off?”

“Nope. No time to waist.” Dale had finished getting ready and threw me a leather shoulder strap. “…For your sword.” I had completely forgotten that I’d brought my dad’s old katana with me, but I didn’t have it on me. I looked around in confusion. Where had it gone?

Seeing my frantic searching eyes, Dale informed me that I had set it down in the apartment when I picked up ‘Basic Spells for Dummies’. “You might also want to hook those throwing knives onto your belt. It could get pretty uncomfortable leaving ‘em in your pocket like that.”

He was right. With all that has been going on I hadn’t realized that the sheathed knives had begun to chafe my leg. I pulled them out and hooked them onto a belt loop that was part of the holder.

“Where are we going, anyways?” Johnny asked.

“Hold on a minute.” Dale pulled out his phone from one of his many coat pockets and dialed a number. “Hey, it’s me. Oh, not much. Listen, looks like Derek has finally broken out of his shell, but in a bit of a rush. Also, there were two more attacks right after the one I told you about. Can we meet you at the usual place? Great, see ya there.” He shoved the phone back into its pocket.

He smiled that Dale grin of his. “Let’s go get a drink!”

Chapter 4

Dale refused to tell us where we were going or who we were going to see. The car ride was pleasant enough, but there were several awkward silences. Johnny and Dale were still frustrated at each other, while Chi was just always quiet. I still had a lot to process, so the lack of noise was helpful. Dale’s driving, on the other hand, was nerve wracking.

After thinking long and hard on all that had happened, I came to the conclusion that I just needed to accept everything that I’d been told and move on. This world seemed to be one you needed to rush headlong into without any reservations. Just like visiting a foreign country, I needed to take in every bit of information and store it for later use. Given the shear amount of knowledge that had been thrust at me, I would have thought my head might have been a little stuffed, but I could think clearly. My brain seemed to be completely open and willing to take in anything. That made me smile. At least I still had my head.

We seemed to have arrived in one of the more occupied ends of the business district right around dinner time, so we had to park several blocks down from our destination. Johnny was certainly right about people just unconsciously avoiding you. Even as a large group walking down the streets packed with pedestrians, people just swiveled their angle and went around us. There were a few exceptions of people who looked straight at us, but they just acknowledged us and went around as well. We must have looked like the strangest band of friends in the world; a ninja, a trench coat gunman, a T-shirt-and-jeans man with a sword slung across his back, and an intelligent looking cat.

During the walk, I turned to Dale. “So, how do you make it so people in the real world can see you again?”

Dale began to answer but was interrupted by Johnny. “Allow me to answer that. I am, after all, his Guardian and guide for coming into his new life.” Eye brows bunched in anger, Dale just waved his arm in the cats’ direction as if to say ‘go ahead’. “It’s a very simple concept, but one that takes several days to perfect enough to work. It involves intense concentration on an image of yourself materializing from a thousand tiny pieces. This may sound easy, but finding the focus to fully see into your mind’s eye can be very tricky.”

Suddenly, several people who had been walking past, turned, startled, in my direction. For a laugh, while he was talking I had tried to form the little visualization in my head. It must have worked, because everyone who walked past now looked right at me and gave me a wider berth. No one stopped or said anything to me, most likely because nobody would want to talk to a sword carrying man who appeared out of nowhere.

I stopped and gave the group the universal shrug for ‘what do I do now?’. Johnny quickly sputtered, “Dissolve yourself.” So I did. I took that image I had of myself in my mind and shattered it back into a million pieces. This seemed to work, because people no longer were staring at me. The ones who had seen me looked very confused, but didn’t walk back for a second look.

“Looks like we can add another thing you now naturally do well to the list.” Dale flashed me an impressed smirk. “Popping in on people like that, though, can be bad for their health. You don’t want to give some old geezer a heart attack.” We walked the rest of the way in silence.

Once we’d arrived, a large blinking neon sign that read ‘The Broken Rune’ greeted us above the door. The inside looked like a fairly normal tavern with a bar on one side, tables and chairs filling the rest of the space, and a stage in the back. There was a man on stage with a guitar playing a melodious tune, but no one was paying him any attention.

Nearly every seat in the place was taken by some sort of creature. Most of the tables were filled with mixed species; some vampires, some Shifters, even a few gremlins scattered about, but several tables were entirely occupied by a single class of creature. The beings at those tables had an air about them of being a little shifty.

Dale must have spotted who he was looking for, because he started quickly walking towards the far end of the bar. In my haste to keep up with the group I accidentally knocked straight into a woman who had abruptly risen to leave. Seeing as I had considerably more mass than she did, she began to topple backwards. With an unconscious grace, as if I had done it a thousand times, I sidestepped around her and caught her in my arms while she was halfway to the ground.

There, cradled in my hands, was the most beautiful creature I had seen in my life. Even with fear in her brown eyes, they seemed to have a certain excitement about them. Her long flowing auburn hair was like an avalanche of shining chocolate. It’s then, with a sudden surprise, that I noticed her pointed ears. As fair as she was, she had to be an elf.

I lift her up and place her back on her feet. “Are you alright?” Amazingly, I could keep my voice steady and strong. Normally when I talked to someone who was one tenth as lovely as she was, I’d be tripping over myself more than a circus clown.

“I am now.” Her voice was as smooth as satin but had a high pitched innocence about it. A strand of hair dangled across her face as it lit up, taking in my features.

The man who had been sitting with her at the table got up and quickly walked over to her side to make sure she was alright. He was a large aging man with a medium sized beard, wearing a casual business suit, who also had pointed ears. Weapons seemed to be a more common thing to carry around, because this elf had a giant claymore slung across his back in a similar fashion as I did with my katana. His gigantic frame was more than large enough to prevent the massive sword from dragging on the ground.

“I have to say, you are the most beautiful person I have ever met. Are you sure you aren’t harmed? That was entirely my fault.” My boldness even surprised me.

“Yes, well, since you caught me, I can let this one go.” She flashed a flirty smile at me and the huge man gave me a scowl. Normally my face would have been crimson at the look she gave me and I might have even felt like throwing up. My gaze wouldn’t leave her eyes, though, and that seemed to be calming me. A little feeling deep inside was telling me that I shouldn’t get involved with this person, but I brushed it aside. Standing in front of me was a goddess.

By that time, the rest of the gang had turned around and was heading back toward us. Dale’s eyes brightened and his grin returned when he saw the woman. “Kylie, you are looking ravishing, as usual.” Her face visible sunk when she saw him. Obviously, they already knew each other.

But now that he’d mentioned it, the rest of her did look amazing. She was dressed in a white blouse and a short black skirt. It was practically one of those secretary outfits you see in costume shops.

“Yes, thank you, Dale.” Her voice sounded a little irritated. They definitely knew each other. “What are you doing here?”

“Oh, just out to get a drink with some friends. I see you’ve met my friend, Derek.”

“Not really, we just bumped into each other.”

“Well, let me introduce my friend, Derek. He’s quite new to the Sub-World. Derek, This is Kylie; one of the secretaries to the Council.” He gestured up to the colossal man standing next to her, who had turned his scowl deeper on Dale. “And this strapping man is General Burrell; one of the head Council members, head of the Sub-World military, and this lovely young ladies father.”

At that last part, two things popped into my mind at once; oh my god, had I just flirted with a girl in front of her General father; and did Dale just do the same thing? I, at least, had no prior knowledge of his status.

General Burrell’s voice was deep, like you might imagine a bear would sound if they could talk. “Dale, how many times must my daughter turn you down before you stop hitting on her? Especially in front of me!”

“You know me, Ryan.”

“General Burrell!”

“Sorry. You know me, General Burrell. At least one more time.” Dale flashed his grin wider while the General somehow deepened his frown.

Grabbing Kylie by the arm, the General started to walk towards the exit. “Come on. We’ve still got work to do.” His hulking body and daunting presence forced everyone to move aside for him. He gave a nod to the rest of our group who had been standing to the side, watching in fear. Stumbling and barely keeping up with her father, Kylie managed to turn halfway around and gave me a small wave goodbye. My heart skipped a beat when she did.

As they were walking out the door, Dale leaned in a little closer to me. “Don’t mind him, he’s harmless. That daughter of his, though…”

“She’s beautiful!” I interrupted.

“Yeah, but you’ve got to be cautious when it comes to elf girls. They’re all really pretty, but they’ll bite your head off.” I was about to ask him what he meant by that when he said, “My contact is just over there”, and pointed back towards the end of the bar. “Let’s go.”

Dale set off while Johnny, Chi and I followed, looking sorry that we had ever agreed to let him lead the way. Once we had reached the end of the bar, Dale grasped hands with a tall man sitting in a bar stool. He was dressed in a brown leather coat, had a sack tied to his belt like Dale’s, and a cutlass tied to the other side.

“It’s so great to see you again, my young friend.” The tall man gave him an additional pat on the arm. He then turned his attention towards a man who was sitting next to him. “I’d like you to meet an old friend of mine. He said he wanted to come along.”

The other man was casually dressed and had medium length brown hair. He seemed to be staring at me, but broke his gaze to shake Dale’s hand. There was something in his eyes that looked familiar, but I couldn’t place it.

“Nicolas Swift.” The casually dressed man also had something in his voice that sounded familiar.

As soon as he said it, Johnny jumped up onto the counter. “Nicolas! I couldn’t see you from down there. I can’t believe it’s you. I thought you were dead!” His tail was flicking from side to side.

Nicolas seemed to be taken by surprise to suddenly see an old friend again. “I’m so sorry, Johnny. I had to go into hiding. Please know that if I had been allowed to tell you, I would have.” He paused for a moment to look at the cat. “I was so sorry to hear about your punishment, but this new body doesn’t look so bad.”

My old pet lowered his eyes. “Yes, but I do miss my thumbs.” He shook his head. “That’s all in the past now. I’m so glad to see you.” Nicolas’s eyes flicked back to me and Johnny also turned in my direction. “Derek, this is the man who trained me to be a Guardian. Back in the day, he was the best in the business.”

“That’s funny.” Dale cut in. “Julius here was my old teacher.” He indicated the tall man who he had first shaken hands with. “This is quite a mix of reunions.”

“Yes, that’s true.” Stated Julius. “But wasn’t there something you wanted to discuss with me about Derek here?”

“Right.” Dale cleared his throat and put on a more business-like expression. “Last night I was tailing a necromancer who was suspected of armed robbery via proxy when he proceeded to go to a warehouse and raise four zombies. As you know, raising zombies is not a crime, but then using them for breaking and entering into Derek’s property is. I managed to put the zombies back where they belonged, but the man who brought them back got away. I filed a warrant for his arrest this morning.”

Julius nodded and everyone else listened closely as Dale continued. “This afternoon I was following a wolf Shifter who was a known assassin when I overheard a conversation between him and a sorcerer. When they mentioned that Derek was the target, I must have flinched, because they spotted and recognized me. The sorcerer fled but the Shifter changed and attacked me. After he realized that he was no match for me, he ran and I chased. He must have thought he could still complete his mission, because he went straight for Derek’s house. I managed to take him out, but not before I accidentally brought a tree down onto Derek’s home.”

He shrugged apologetically towards me and I did my best imitation of Chi’s blank face. “It’s at that point I learned that Derek could both see and hear me. That may be the most interesting part about this. He’s never shown any kind of connection to the Sub-World before today and now he just jumps into it.” Julius’s face is calm and contemplative. “A few minutes later Derek is attacked by a gremlin that had been hiding in his dresser drawer. Derek somehow managed to sense it coming and stabbed the creature as it was springing through the air at him.”

It’s at that point that the two teachers looked at me as quizzically as Johnny and Dale did when they saw me do this first hand. I couldn’t help but feel bashful. “I swear, I have no idea what I did.” I sounded a little guilty, but I didn’t know why.

“Your reflexes are impressive.” Julius stared into my face. “But that only deepens the mystery of exactly what you are.” He straightened up, looking embarrassed. “My apologies, I didn’t mean to sound so rude. It’s just that in all my years, I’ve never seen eyes like yours.” I had completely forgotten about my eyes being as bright a flame. I guess it’s like forgetting that you’re wearing a hat or have a pencil in your ear.

“That’s exactly what I said!” Johnny shared a sympathetic look with him. Nicolas looked like he wanted to say something, but kept his mouth shut.

“As I was saying…” Dale grunted to get everyone to look back at him. “That’s when we called you and came here.” Everyone waited for him to continue, but apparently he didn’t have any more to say.

“Well, I know a couple of people I can ask if they’ve heard anything.” Julius offered as a plea to end the silence. “We’ll to need to go to my offices, though.” No one offered any better suggestions or complaints, so we all started heading off towards the door; Dale and Julius in the lead, Johnny and Nicolas next in line, me and Chi dragging behind.

All of a sudden, two vampires, sitting at a table drinking a dark liquid next to where Dale and Julius were walking, tackled them to the ground. Dale and Julius each struggled to get the enraged vampires off them as they clawed at their chests. The rest of the tavern, seeing that a fight had broken out between vampires and people who were obviously Hunters, swarmed out of the place. All left, except two other vampires and a cloaked man standing in the corner.

Johnny ran by me and Nicolas stood right in front of the closest person to him, which was Chi. One of the remaining blood suckers sprang at Nicolas while the other went straight for me. Right before it could start clawing at my face; a soft white glow emanated from Johnny and surrounded us both. The vampire fought against the shield with kicks and slashes, but couldn’t penetrate it. Johnny’s face was straining at my feet as he struggled to maintain our protection. Out the corner of my eye, I could see that Nicolas had done the same thing surrounding him and Chi, except his shield looked a lot more opaque and he didn’t seem to be trying as hard to maintain it.

Johnny couldn’t keep it up for very long before his concentration began to waver and the glow began to fade. Seeing this, Nicolas walked himself and chi over to me and Johnny, enveloping us as well into his protective bubble. The cat was finally able to relax his mind and collapsed to the ground. The need for relief on our new protector’s face became evident as two creatures were now attacking him at once and he had to worry about twice as many people.

While we were being constantly assaulted, I could see that Dale had blasted the arms off of his attacker with one of his hidden guns and was now aiming his main pistol at the one on top of Julius. The sprawled out attacker saw the gun and darted back as Dale fired off one of his lightening blast at where the vampires head had just been. The blast continued on to completely demolish a table and chair. The vampire could easily move out of the way of the barrel before Dale could properly aim, so it was good that Julius now had his arms free to throw a stone at it while its back was turned. As soon as it struck the vampire in the back, it exploded, sending body parts flying in every direction.

Now that their own attackers were properly dismembered, they took several stones out of their respective sacks and applied them to their wounds. For each stone they applied, the runes on it disappeared and a slash closed up. After they had been sufficiently healed, they noticed that we weren’t doing so hot. Nicolas’s face now had a vein bulging out of it and his shield was starting to wane.

Dale’s gun raised and Julius drew his cutlass. The cutlass, which I now noticed had a silver Aura about it, quickly sliced one of the fanged opponents in half from shoulder to adjacent hip. At the same time, Dale once again showed me his imploding bullet as it surrounded the remaining vampire and reduced it to nothing. The strained guardian could finally release his hold and slouched to one knee.

We all stood there panting, either from exhaustion or from fear. We had all survived and were practically unharmed. I was about to start appreciating that we had preserved our next breaths, when I heard a mumbling coming from somewhere in the room. We all looked around, trying to identify where the noise was coming from.

By the time I’d noticed that the cloaked man in the corner had basically faded into the shadows, it was too late. The remaining bits of the three fallen vampires began to pull themselves back together. The muscles stitched unevenly back in place and a limb or two attached backwards, but the opponents we had just defeated were back. They all had a dead look in their eyes, but they were standing and coming at us again.

By that time, we hadn’t had enough time to regroup, so Dale was across the room and away from any Guardians circle. The shadowy figure saw this and sent two of the three after him. The remaining vampire stood between the group and the one who brought them back. The vampires seemed to be a lot faster than before, but Dale still had enough time to hop backwards and fire a lightening shot in the direction of the cloaked figure. Dale’s expression of knowing and pure hatred showed me that this was the same necromancer he had been chasing the previous night.

Before the blast reached its destination, the shrouded figure’s guardian vampire jumped in front and took the brunt of it in the shoulder. As quickly as the pieces had hit the ground, the torn body brought itself back together. This desperate act left Dale to be mauled by the two attacking creatures. Seeing that this might happen, Julius had started in his old apprentice’s direction and was now slashing at the legs of the resurrected vampires. This was enough to allow Dale to back himself against a wall and remain unharmed.

Unfortunately, with the mumbling necromancer in the corner, the splayed parts again reassembled themselves. As it turned out, Chi had been waiting back for what he thought to be the right moment. That moment was now. He sprang out from behind Nicolas, drew his shining short-sword, and ran right for the remaining protective vampire.

The puppet master seemed to have picked up on some of his quarries moves. The two Hunters were having a much more difficult time. Dale’s opponent had managed to duck past point blank range and was now grappling with him hand to hand. Julius was delivering swift but ineffective cuts while his vampire kept trying to slash at where it thought he was vulnerable, but he was able to dodge the blows while maintaining his ground.

Chi jumped in on the fight less prepared than he had thought. He was stealthy enough to slip around and slash at normally vital parts, but they didn’t have his desired effect. Slinking around like a snake was helpful in avoiding most swipes, but when the zombie finally landed a blow, it sprawled him halfway across the room, nearly unconscious. Realizing that, in this case, he might not be of much assistance, he scurried over, in a daze, back behind Nicolas.

I hadn’t noticed before, most likely from fear causing me to only look at one thing at a time, that Nicolas had pulled out a large scroll from somewhere, laid it down on the ground, and was writing little runes all over the page in pencil. They looked like they were drawn in a specific order, but scattered over the whole thing.

The Guardian had his eyebrows furrowed in concentration, but he was still able to speak. “I’m going to try to knock out the necromancer!” He had to shout over the yells and growling.

“Look out!” Johnny’s still tired little voice called out at his old friend.

My eyes shot up to see that the third vampire had abandoned its defensive position and was lunging straight at my face. My heart pounded in my ears as Nicolas, just in time, enveloped the four of us in his glow. Either he was still tired from the last time he erected it or it was easier when you had more time to prepare, but Nicolas’s face looked like it was in pain as he defended us from the once-defender of the necromancer.

Even with my best friend and his mentor off on the other side of the room fighting, and my brother, my cat and a person I had just met preventing me from being torn apart, my eyes were locked on the scroll on the floor. I could see it, the pattern. The noise around me faded and time slowed as I noticed how every symbol was placed. Each in a specific place in correlation with the tavern it’s self and having their own specific meaning. Some I could tell were meant to negate some of the people in the room from the effects of the spell and some looked just necessary as a basic structure. Most of the runes were swirled around one larger rune that I knew had to be the target. Though, somehow it didn’t look complete.

I began to see the missing symbols and I knew what they meant. The specifics of each meaning escaped me, but I knew what they were supposed to represent. I kneeled down and picked up the discarded pencil to continue where he left off. My hand flowed with the same pattern as I saw Nicolas move, but with swifter strokes. The symbols seemed to appear in the blank spaces just before I drew them there. Into each stroke, I put the same intensions that Nicolas had seemed to be aiming for.

Once the last rune had been placed, I set down the writing utensil next to the scroll and felt that something was still missing. I looked around and noticed that only a few seconds had passed when it felt like hours. Johnny was wearily lying next to me, watching what I had been doing. Nicolas’s face was still strained in pain, so I wasn’t going to get any help from him on what to do next. I didn’t even know how I’d done what I had.

In the past, in times of mental stress, I had a routine I would usually do. I would close my eyes, relax my mind, and wait for a solution to come to me once I had stopped really trying. The technique often worked for me and it didn’t fail me now. Sitting in my own head, a word jumped out at me. It wasn’t a word I’d ever seen or heard before, but I knew what it meant. It meant ‘go’.

“Gwneuthur!” It shot out of my mouth with enough resonance and thunder to shake my bones. The weight of the scroll flowed into the sound and reverberated through the room. The shockwave passed over all of my old and new friends, sending the zombie vampires flying in three separate directions. Once it reached the shadowy necromancer, it swirled around in a vortex, surrounding him. He screamed and cried as he fell out into the bar light. Now fully visible, I could see that the swirling wind was attacking the tattoos he had all over his body. It stripped away rune after rune that I already knew were there, not from a prior glance, but from the symbols that Nicolas had drawn around the target on the scroll.

Once the torrent had completed its job, our attacker collapsed unconscious to the ground, completely bare of the runes that had covered his body. When he went down, the creatures he had been controlling fell into the numerous pieces they had been cut or blasted into throughout the fight.

Now that the running nightmare had now hopefully ended, Nicolas collapsed to his knees, Julius and Dale began to once again apply healing stones to their injuries, and Chi and Johnny sat back, trying to calm their nerves. All I could do was sit there, not knowing what I had just done. I guess I should have just appreciated that I was still alive, but given the rest of what had happened today, I was still hoping to make it to tomorrow.

“Dale…” A panting cat voice hummed through the air. “Now can we talk to the Council Hall?”

Chapter 5

Dale’s truck was massive before, but when he extended it to add an additional back seat, it could now fit six comfortably. It looked like the monster truck version of a stretched limo. I guessed I had earned my seat up front with Dale, because everyone else insisted they ride in the back.

The trip was very tense after what had just happened, but I was glad that no one felt the need to ask me how I had done what I had back in the bar. They now had a firsthand experience to back up all that they had heard or already seen. I couldn’t help but wonder myself, though.

Dale and Julius were talking about the fighting tactics they should have used in the tavern, while Johnny was asking little poignant questions about Chi’s training, in which he most often responded with a one word answer. Nicolas looked to be focusing on mentally recovering from the fight, but I would occasionally catch his staring at me. Whenever I did, he would turn his head away and look out the window. He didn’t look creepy or angry; he just looked at me like I was a lost puppy or someone he was very proud of. I couldn’t tell which.

I knew we were close to the Council Hall. It could be seen from a mile away. I had driven past this part of the business district on the way downtown before, but I could never have imagined that this massive castle was in the middle of it all. It had all the pillars and towers that you would expect from a medieval castle. All that was missing was the mote. It was even made entirely of stone and larger than any of the considerable buildings in the city. Its width almost matched its height.

As we pulled up to the main entrance, I could make out many of the statues and garden areas that would have put the Forbidden City to shame. A big difference was that many of the carvings made of dragons and other mythical creatures looked a lot more realistic. It must have helped having live models to base them on.

The front door had a green scaly man with a tail waiting there to park our car. Most of the group greeted him by name, Fred, but I just smiled as he drove away with Dale’s monster. We all proceeded to walk into the lobby, through automatic doors, where Kylie was sitting at the front desk, typing on a computer.

“Hey there.” I didn’t feel like I needed to say more as I stepped to the front of the group and admired the way her hair looked, up in a bun. It made her look older than she did back at the tavern. She looked more mid than early 20’s now. Glancing up at me, that little glimmer in her eyes returned. It was quickly replaced with a sulk as Dale leaned an elbow on my shoulder.

“What’s up, babe? We need to talk to the Council.” Dale’s voice put on that same lilt as it had when we first saw her.

“Have you made an appointment? Knowing you, probably not.” Her voice was irritated but it somehow still kept a whimsical tone.

“Come on, this is important!”

“Why should I help you? After all the damage you caused this afternoon in Area 51 and not feeling the need to stick around to fill out a report.” She crossed her arms. “Not to mention what just happened at the bar.”

“You heard about that already?”

“Heard about it? It’s all over the radio and I’ve gotten several complaints, one even from the bar owner demanding that we pay for all the damages. Just go away.”

At that point Johnny, Nicolas, Julius and Dale all broke out at once with various reasons why they needed to get through. All of them were very individual reasons, but were centered on trying to keep me alive. Being completely bombarded from different angles didn’t seem to agree with Kylie.

Her face visibly broke as she yelled, “Alright, already! Go wait in the room over there and I’ll let them know you’re here.” She pointed to a door off to the left; the rest of the gang thanked her and hurriedly went to wait. I hung back.

“I would like to apologize about Dale. He can be kind of reckless sometimes. Before today, I never knew it was to such a grand scale.”

“Oh, there’s way too much to apologize for, but you’re sweet to stick up for your friend.” Her face softened and her cute little smile returned. “Listen, my father is putting on a small gathering tonight. These things are really boring, so would you mind keeping me company?” Her smile grew a little wider and her head lowered a little. She looked so cute when she was nervous.

“Well, several things have tried to kill me today and I have no idea what the Council will do with me…” I flash a smile that has only been successful in a mirror at home, but worked now. “…but I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

She giggled a little. It sounded corny out loud, but it seemed to work. I gave a slight wave goodbye and she said, “See you there”, as I joined my waiting companions. I sat next to Dale. The rest were lined up next to us in the plain waiting room.

“What kept you?” Dale asked.

I had to keep my eyes straight ahead and my face motionless. “I think I got a date.”

“You bastard!” He wheeled on me. “I’ve been trying to get her to go out with me for years. What did you do?”

I had to look at him with a smirk. “I did the opposite of you.” He gave me the upside down version of his grin. “She invited me to a party put on by her father.”

“Damn! To get into one of those you either have to be invited or a guest of someone who is.” He folded his arms and slouched in his chair. “I don’t think I’m on the General’s good side right now.”

The wait wasn’t long, but when an Angel in a business suit came in, he asked for only Johnny and me to follow him. The walk took quite a while; up stairs, through hallways, and down corridors. I was able to get a good look at our guiding Angel. He had short, clean-cut, light brown hair and huge white-feather wings folded closed on his back. The most interesting thing about him had to be the glowing ring hovering above his head. It had the same look as the Auras, but it didn’t have a source. It just emanated its own light and stayed approximately four inches above his head.

We eventually reached an ominous wooden door located at what I had to assume was the center of the mansion. The Angel pulled open the door and waited for us to go in, not joining us himself. The room was large, like the rest of the building, and circular. There were a few seats in the back and center, but the main focus was in the front. High in chairs, behind a long arching podium, sat thirteen ancient beings. A few were human, but the rest were the varying dominant species I’d seen around; vampires, Angels, a wolf, and General Burrell. They all had the impression of being old and wise.

The center Council member, a bald man wearing white robes and a long white beard, spoke, “Why have you called a meeting of the Council?” His tone was calm, but his voice reverberated loudly.

“I know it has been a while since I last spoke to you and that wasn’t on the best of terms, but my charge has entered into the Sub-World.” Johnny spoke not only to the man who asked, but to all the members.

“That happens every day.” A wrinkly vampire with a scar across a dead left eye spoke up. “What makes this one so special?”

For the next forty five minutes, the black cat told the days’ story. He told everything from the swirling spelled cup, to the gremlin attack, to Dale’s reason for the actions he had taken, to my actions at the tavern, to now. He made several observations of his own about my immediate jump into this world and my unique eyes. Once it had all been said out loud, it didn’t seem like it could have all happened in one day.

After Johnny had finished his tale, the Council took a moment of silence before conferring silently amongst themselves. It took several minutes before the center Council member finally looked up and said, “Thank you for notifying us of this predicament. As of right now, we are currently unaware of who may be pursuing the young man, but the matter will be thoroughly investigated. As to the matter of his magical awakening, none of us have before seen one such as him. That matter, too, shall be investigated. In the mean time, the Council has decided that you both should remain here at the Hall, for your own protection. One of our secretaries will give you each a room. You are both dismissed.”

With a slight bow from Johnny, we exited the intimidating room. As we were leaving, I overheard the robed man talking to Kylie over an intercom on his lectern. “Would you please have two rooms prepared and send in Nicolas Swift.” I wanted to turn and ask why, but the large door had already been closed behind us by the business Angel.

We were, once again, guided by the Angel up and down corridors. It was difficult to properly remember, but it looked like we took the same path back to the lobby as we did on the way to the Council chambers. Awaiting me in exactly the same spot she had been before was Kylie.

“It looks like less is going to hinder my arrival tonight than I thought.” I, once again, sounded a lot more confident than I normally did. That nagging feeling that I shouldn’t be doing this flared up in the back of my mind again.

“Great! You can be my date.” Her voice was obviously seductive.

“What’s the usual dress code for these types of things?”

“I know you aren’t allowed to leave, so don’t even worry about it. I’ll have something sent up to your room, on the house.” She took out a notepad and pen, and started to write on it. “Here’s the address. It’s on the seventh floor of the northwest wing of the Hall, but without directions it’s pretty easy to get lost in this place.” She gave me yet another flash of a smile.

“Great, I guess I’ll see you at…”

“You should show up around 9:00.”

“Wonderful. I’ll see you at 9:00.”

With that, we said our goodbyes. Johnny and I were, for the final time that night, lead by our guide to our rooms. We happened to be staying in a tower that was very close to the northwest wing. On the way, Johnny and I got to talk.

“This may be a sore subject, but, from what I’ve picked up, you weren’t always a cat. What happened?” I asked.

“You’re right; it is quite a sore subject. I’d rather not go into the specifics, but I basically failed to protect my previous charge. As an experimental form of punishment, they changed me into the feline you see today. It was my greatest embarrassment and I will never be allowed to forget it. Don’t worry, though. I’ve grown quite comfortable in my new skin, even if it left me magically weaker than I once was. At least they didn’t strip me of all magical use and send me to live in the real world, as they usually do to those who have failed as completely as I had. They gave me a second chance to prove myself.”

“Johnny, I’m so sorry.”

“I know, thank you.”

“Hey, what happened to the rest of the group we came in with?”

“They all work here, and this kind of work can consume your life, so every employee has their own sleeping area attached to their office. They most likely all went to bed.”

It was then that we arrived at our rooms. They were side by side and spacious. Johnny went into his room and I went in mine. There was a king sized bed with several layers of sheets. An armchair rested by a fireplace on the other end of the room. Thick curtains open up to a window with a full view of the city. The room even had its own bathroom. The décor was a mixture of different shades of red and green that gave it the warm feeling of Christmas morning. I liked it.

On the bed was a pinstripe suit, complete with cufflinks and hat, which reminded me about the date I had tonight with Kylie. It also made me notice the clock that was mounted on the wall; it read 7:45.

Crap! This meant I only have an hour and fifteen minutes to get ready and head down to the party. I had to get started.

Chapter 6

The room was small, and so was the metal chair the old vampire was tied to. The smell of feces and rotting flesh was quickly become a minor nuisance to bear. He’d guessed his soiled red robes wouldn’t be able to make it to the gathering tonight.

He could think back to the war a thousand years ago, to that retched day when he had lost his eye. The pain and loss he felt that day could never compare to what this little girl had just done. He had been married to his wife since he had two eyes and he was sure that his right hand had served him well throughout his life, but this child had taken all that away now.

“Tell me what I want to know!” The worst part had to be her giggle. Even when she had been screaming at him, a giggle would soon follow. It was almost as if she was enjoying every part of it, even when the tired vampire wouldn’t comply.

“If you tell me what you know about him, I may let you live.” The blue skirt, white shirt and thin pink jacket seemed to clash colors with the dripping blood off her fingers. What could it hurt? He thought. She was going to kill him anyways. He had suffered too much over the millennia to take any more.

“Fine! I’ll tell you.” His voice was labored and wet. His life was pouring out of him as he thought about what little he had to lose. Her face steadily grew more angular as he told her about the boy. She looked so stern; her stare could cut flesh. Her giggling finally stopped.

Once the old captive had finished his tale, she swooped close and brought her hand across. The suffering he had endured was finally at an end. His head rolled to a corner of the room to join his former wife’s, but it didn’t end there. She continued to tantrum and tear at the corpse until there was nothing left but bones on the ground and splatters on the walls. Her straight black hair was in shambles, but she showed no signs of exertion.

“BERNARD!” A door opened and an oversized man-shaped lump of rock stepped into the small room, holding a pike.

“Yes, Mistress Cyrna.” The stone’s face was hard and obedient.

“Call our inside agents first, but then inform the rest of the units to move out immediately. The boy has now become our number one priority. We are going to attack the Council Hall!” She looked him in the face with none of the joy the previous torturing had brought her.

“Mistress, your word is law, but the Hall is heavily fortified. The army you have accumulated over the centuries may not be enough to…”

“NO! THE BOY WILL DIE AND NOTHING WILL STOP THAT! QUESTION MY ORDERS AGAIN AND I’LL TURN YOU INTO RUBBLE!” Her shrieking voice caused the giant rock to shrink back in fear.

“My apologies, Mistress. It will be done.” He retreated out the door, knocking a chunk of the frame off on his way. Nothing would keep her from this. She was going to kill the traitorous spawn and, hopefully, by her own hand.

Chapter 7

Speed walking down the hall eased my mind to the fact that I was ten minutes late. The suit fit remarkably well, but the little intricacies were a bit difficult to figure out. At least it went well with the sword strapped to my back. I’d only really worn a suit before at my adoptive father’s funeral, when I was ten years old. The shower helped to wash away the day’s exertions, which were many, and was a complete necessity. Everything I did had to be done, or maybe I was just trying to comfort the fact that I was still ten minutes late.

I had finally finished putting on the last cufflink when I reach the party. There was a man at the door who was checking coats. I had to inwardly chuckle at the fact that I had just put my coat on before it was taken from me.

As soon as the checker opened the door for me, I knew I was way out of my league. I was certainly dressed for the occasion, but the air around the place felt like I should be dabbing my cheeks with thousand dollar bills after every bite of an H’orderve. Every posture was perfectly straight, even the creatures that looked like they had no spines.

There was a catering staff walking around with trays full of those bill-dabbing munchies, as well as drinks of every variety, color, and texture. Nearly everyone had something they were sipping on as hundreds of them all stood around in little circles, chatting. A gorgeous Angel woman was singing a wordless melody with a small orchestral accompaniment on a stage near the wall adjacent to the main entrance.

I quickly snatched a champagne glass filled with some bubbly blue liquid as I spotted Dale by a chocolate fountain, surrounded by tables full of food. My eyes went wide as I walked closer and saw what he was wearing. He still had on a black beanie, but it seemed to go nicely with his pinstripe suit. Even at one of our high school formal dances, he wore a jacket and jeans. To see him in pants that matched his shirt and tie was quite a Kodak moment.

“Hey, man. How’d you get invited?” I was still looking him up and down, trying to make it obvious that this was a new experience for me.

“Well, being the charming person that I am, I bumped into Ryan in the halls and convinced him that I would be an invaluable addition to his little soiree.”

“You threatened to annoy him, didn’t you?”

“I would never resort to such tactics!” He mocked being appalled, but his broad grin spread on his face right after. We continued talking for a while, where he told me about trying to get an invite out of Kylie before failing miserably. After that he had scoured the castle, looking for the General. We were only conversing for a little while before I spotted Kylie on the other side of the room, talking with a small circle of people.

“If you’d excuse me, I have to mingle.” I tried to sound as snobby as I could and walked in her direction.

“You son of a…” He had seen where I was going, but the rest of his words were muffled by the crowd between us. She was a good distance away, but at least I didn’t see her father in the circle she was conversing with. I would have hated to embarrass myself in front of him again. Normally, my timing couldn’t be worse with things like this, but I actually managed to sneak my way into her circle between conversations, touching the small of her back to let her know I was here, and make it look completely natural.

“Bright eye’s, I’m glad you finally made it.” Her face looked both relieved and excited to see me.

“I told you, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” I smiled at her, trying to create the exact opposite effect that Dale’s would cause. It seemed to work, because her hand reached around to the small of my back as well.

“I would like to introduce you to Council member Cleddeu.” Her other arm swept towards a thin man in green robes with bright green eyes.

“Cleddeu. The name has a great ring to it.” I shook his outstretched hand firmly. “It almost cuts through the air.”

An impressed look came across his boney face. “Why, yes. It actually means ‘blade’ in the Unknown Language. Kylie was right in what she has told me about you. You are full of surprises.”

“Thank you very much, sir. She’s not so bad herself.” Mine and her eyes met and a spark of electricity flashed between us.

Cleddeu paused for a moment as he realized what had passed between us. “Kylie, I have a new assignment for you. I’m going over your fathers head on this one and say that I would like you to protect Derek here on behalf of the Council.”

“What?” Her face looked a little more shocked than mine.

“I know you have been training to be a field mage for a year now and I think this is the perfect chance for you to prove yourself.”

“But my father would never let me…” Her words were cut short by the man named blade.

“Let me deal with your father. I have complete faith that you can handle this assignment.” His voice was resolute. After that, nothing more could be said about the subject. I was ecstatic. This meant that I would be spending a lot more time with Kylie; getting to know her better. Her beauty was enough to send my head spinning, but with her smile of approval and excitement at the job, my heart could not stop pounding.

More pleasantries and small talk was passed back and forth; much of which was the Council member explaining some of the little nuances of his job. I found it fascinating. All of the big and small decisions of the Sub-World had to pass through them before the proper actions could be made. It spread throughout the whole world, as well. The Council members had to learn many languages over the years to be able to properly understand the requests of each country.

I also learned that Kylie was only one of hundreds of secretaries that work for the Council. It was often a starting point for young beings who would like to move up in government. They would struggle through their daily duties, while studying the specific field they were interested in. A field mage was basically an agent who used Will magic to investigate crimes that had not been solved; rather like a detective in the real world.

It wasn’t long before she and I were able to break out of the circle on our own. She pulled me over to a dance floor in front of the stage. Once she had stepped out onto the floor, I could properly see what she was wearing. Her hair was flowing again, like back at the tavern, but that wasn’t what drew your eyes first. The skin tight silken dress she had on could make a grown man cry. I, on the other hand, just followed her out into the gliding storm of dancers.

I had been to a few formal dances in high school and been embarrassed to dance with my adoptive mother at little school occasion she had to attend in her job. At every one, I moved like an epileptic monkey. Not to say that I spasmed around wildly, I just failed at every intentional action I made. This dance was nothing like those others. I started off slow, watching all the other people, to copy their movements. Then, in a similar, but less intense fashion than in the bar, I could see the patterns of movement and was swaying easily with the rest of them.

The dance was similar to a waltz in tempo, but had jazzier undertones. Our motions got grander as I built in confidence and we lost ourselves together. I was beginning to understand what Danny Kay was talking about in all of his movies. Dancing truly does become romancing when you hold a girl in your arms that you’ve never held before. She had obviously done this before, because she moved with as good a grace as any of the people around us.

The song ended and changed to a slow dance. Swaying with the music, I felt like I had found a new heightened sense of joy. Staring into each other’s eyes made me feel like we were floating on clouds and the only two people in the room. Her sparkling earrings twinkled from the overhead lights.

The moment just felt right. That pestering, yet easily ignorable voice in the back of my mind was still whispering for me to just walk away, but the rest of me knew that it was now or never. We were so close already, but my head moved closer still. Her face tilted up towards mine and we locked eyes with like intentions. Our lips were so close, I could feel her breath. Her eyes closed and my pulse quickened with anticipation.

CRASH! For the second time today, I heard the sound of a wall coming down. We pulled away from each other and saw that the stone wall on the east side of the room, by where Dale and I had been chatting, had been forced inward. Most of the fancy dressed guests ran the other way or out the entrance they had come through. We were nearly knocked over from the stampeding crowd, but I didn’t want to leave before I found Dale. He had saved my life several times today and possibly more times in the past.

The first things to come rushing through the demolished wall were a swarm of little gremlins. They snagged a couple of the running guests, but were quickly cut down. Much of the congregation had come to the festivities prepared for anything. Many different creatures on our side brandished weapons, including all of the Council members that had attended. Dale had tucked his pistol into his coat and was now using it to blast away at the various menacing creatures that came pouring from the hole.

I held back, pressed against a wall, watching the battle going on around me. Kylie had been hesitant, but joined the battle. She was conjuring small fire balls that would often miss their targets. She may have been training for a year, but she was not very proficient. Her father, on the other hand, was casting slices of air in one direction while cleaving something in half with his claymore in the other. The general had a brutality and grace about him that could only have come from thousands of years surviving wars. He would occasionally throw a stone at someone that turned them to glass or use his air cuts, but mostly he focused himself with his giant Scottish sword.

The rest of the Council had formed a tight formation in front of the entrance to prevent the intruders from leaving this room. I had crouched myself into a corner and managed to go unnoticed until the reinforcements arrived. Many of the able-bodied fighters who had taken residence at the Hall were joining the fight, including all of my friends who I had come here with.

Johnny and Nicolas found me quickly, while Julius and Chi fought their way to join Dale back-to-back with his struggles. The trifecta of masters and apprentice was a powerful thing to watch. They were like the cogs and springs of an old fashioned watch. The two Guardians were normally dressed, but had a look about them that said they had rushed here from their beds.

“We’ve got to get you out of here.” Johnny’s voice was tired and he had to yell over the clashing metal and screams.

“I won’t leave without my brother and Dale.” Even in the mixture of different adrenalins, my face remained firm. “Maybe I can help.” The cat was reluctant and Nicolas was very concerned himself, but Johnny had known about my swordplay classes. He knew about the many tournaments I had won without my opponent getting a scratch on me. My time had come to use my father’s sword for the purpose it was designed.

I stood up and drew the ornate katana from its sheath on my back. The first creature to attack me in this battle was also the first type of creature I had killed. The gremlin pulled almost the same maneuver the other one had and sprang for my face. My blade came down in a wide arc and chopped the small things’ leg off; flinging it to the ground. It writhed there for a moment before a loss of life fluids took it. The Guardians were fighting as well, with prepared artifacts inflicting various forms of damage while remaining unharmed in their protective shields. They remained close. They only seemed to waver slightly when someone got close enough to attack their shields, but they fortified themselves after the attacker had been slain.

The fight had gone on long enough for bodies from both sides to be scattered along the ground. Much of the excess Hall fighters had retreated, seeing that the space could only hold so much, and only so many could fight at a time. The Council members had managed to prevent anything from getting past them into the corridors, but the attackers had pushed the resistance away from the hole. They had stopped coming through and there was now a large area unoccupied, except for the dead.

A small figure, cloaked in black, stepped out of the hole as I continued to cut and parry the foes around me. Once the dainty person had reached the middle of the room, stepping over and on top of bodies along the way, all of the living opponents quickly retreated back inside the hole. The defenders stayed cautiously back in case it was some kind of trick. The three Hunters were the closest to it, but still far enough away to feel safe. I was next furthest away, but Johnny and Nicolas were right behind me. The half dozen Council members were the rest of the defense. They were still by the door, with Kylie by her father.

“I want the boy.” The young female voice resounded through the room. A hand had risen to point a finger in my direction.

“What business have you with him?” Cleddeu’s old voice went over my head.

“That is my business.” There was definitely familiarity in that voice. I knew who that was. It couldn’t be. What would she be doing here and what did she want from me, like this?

“Selene?” I shouted in confusion. She lifted down her hood and her long black hair tumbled out. I couldn’t believe it. There was my sister, standing around dead bodies, wearing her brightly colored outfit underneath a dark cloak, looking completely comfortable, and in charge. “Wha… wha…”

“I know, Derek.” A little giggle escaped her lips. “Your best friend, your brother, and now your sister. What a world, huh?”

“You caused all this? I knew you were evil, but I thought you were just a teenage girl.” I guess humor is as good as anything to turn to in all this carnage and confusion.

“Touché, big brother. But once I’d found out who you really were, I knew I had to kill you.” She slowly began to walk in my direction.

“Cyrna, don’t!” Nicolas had shouted, with hurt in his voice. “I’m the one you want, not him.”

“Oh, lover, I didn’t see you there.” Her head cocked to the side and grew a small smirk. “Don’t flatter yourself. You’ll get your turn, but you are only half the reason I want him. Besides, I’m pretty sure I already killed you once.” She continued forward.

“Over my dead body.” Julius looked like he saw this as good a time as any to cut in. He took a few steps forward and thrust at her heart. With such strength and precision, I was sure I was about to watch my sister die. I was wrong.

As the tip got about three inches away from its target, her small hand sped up and caught the blade between her thumb and forefinger. Julius had put his full weight into that strike, but was still brought to a standstill. She didn’t seem to have budged at all or exerted herself in any way. “As you wish.” Her voice was quiet and venomous as she gave him just enough time to let fear come across his face. She tugged the cutlass and him closer before, with a blur of motion, putting her hand and entire arm straight through the Hunters heart and out his back.

“NOOOOO!” Dale’s scream thundered through the room as my sister threw the limp body from around her arm across the room. Her smile looked so familiar, to a point where it broke my heart. That was a smile I’d seen, apparently faked, put on at ballet classes and playing in a park. Now it was worn in the murder of a new friend and old friend’s mentor.

Dale cast aside all of his own memories of her youth and raised his pistol, tears running down his face with more rage than I’d ever seen on it. As he fired one of his imploding shots at her, many other magical projectiles came flying over my head, straight for the still smiling girl. She just stood there, waiting for the onslaught of water, fire, wind, earth and void that came menacingly towards her.

There were several things that told me this was going to end badly. For one, this was my sister they were all trying to kill. She always got her way. Secondly, her incessant giggling was the most foreboding and menacing sound in the room. Her confidence in the face of what I thought to be certain doom was enough to give me chills. Thirdly, the glowing Auras that radiated from each of the conjured attacks that came at her fizzled out when they got close. The fires all snuffed out, the water and earth just fell to the ground, the wind just blew around her, and Dale’s ball of nothing seemed to be sucked right into her.

Everyone just stood there silent, except for the panting, while Selene did the same, unharmed and undisturbed in any way, giggling. It looked like her patience was starting to waver, because she moved in a blur and slammed Dale and Chi each with her palms, sending them flying towards opposite walls. They were instantly knocked unconscious.

This left her only twenty feet from me. A useless barrage of fire came at her as the two Guardians behind me stepped in front. Anything magically created seemed to just go away around her and even crossbow bolts were easily sidestepped. She seemed to be able to handle anything thrown at her with ease, while I was shivering, tightly clenching my sword, behind a man and a cat who had volunteered to protect me.

She halted for a moment to watch the spectacle of the General; the giant grizzly bear with a claymore, launch himself forty feet up and over our heads to come down on her swinging. This giant war general came down with the full force of the gravity he brought with him and all she did was bring up a hand and brush the huge sword aside. Her other hand stretched out and clenched, holding General Burrell up in the air in his self-inflicted punch. To see this four and a half foot girl easily hold up the massive elf with one hand, even after all that had happened today, was the most surreal thing I had ever seen. Last I could recall, an elephant could easily crush a mouse. This seemed to be the exception to the rule.

She savored this time. Obviously she had wanted to do this for a long time. She only threw the General back to the other Council members when she noticed the cat and the man running at her. Johnny seemed to be a preliminary shield for Nicolas to reach past and touch her with a large stone that had hundreds of runes etched into it.

She grabbed Johnny by the neck, passing her hand through his shield as if it weren’t there, but allowed the experienced Guardian to touch her on the forehead with the rock. Her evil smile never left her as the runes on the stone smoothed out and it crumbled into dust. Nicolas could only stand there, shocked that his plan had not worked.

“That’s not going to work on me again. I’m a lot stronger now than I was back then.” She snatched his outstretched wrist and threw him over by Dale at the same time as throwing Johnny by Chi. It was like she was just piling up the nuisances to the side, to be dealt with later.

With that, she now had a clear shot straight to me. I held my sword out in front of me strong, as if it would make a difference. She had just thwarted every magical attack as well as outmatched the strongest of physical assaults. I was too frightened to move. All I could do was stand there with my tip pointed at her as she darted at me.

I closed my eyes, not knowing what she was going to do with me, but nothing happened. She had sped forward, but stopped about five feet away from me. There was no Aura of magic, but she was struggling against an invisible wall, none-the-less. Her smile was replaced by rage as she pounded and thrashed against the force stopping her. Each punch and kick looked like it caused her pain, but she kept it up for quite a while. Everyone stood still, for fear of breaking whatever was holding her back. Eventually, a forceful punch recoiled back and left her on the ground, crying and looking like the little girl she was. Maybe this was another one of my surprising new talents? They did happen at the most convenient times.

In a manner that didn’t at all look like she had just killed a person and wounded many others, my sister ran crying back out the hole she had come from. The fight was suddenly back in full swing as more of the attackers came rushing out where she had just left. We did have time, however, to grab the unconscious and injured friends and drag them back behind the defending Council. The General had recovered enough to once again join his fellow members.

Dale was regaining his consciousness, but remained dazed. He seemed to know that this wasn’t the time to grieve for his fallen teacher. The incoming force had created more entrances throughout the Hall and was swarming in by the hundreds.

“Get the boy to a safe-house!” Cleddeu shouted at Kylie, who was kneeling in our little group, pressing healing stones against the people my sister had hurt. “He’s the one she’s after and I’ll be damned if she will lay one little finger on him.” The two shared a look that I barely caught, but it made Kylie’s face grow from scared to serious.

“Yes, Councilor.” And with that, the whole group; Johnny, Nicolas, Dale, Chi, Kylie and I started hobbling down the corridor. I had to set aside all emotion as I used my sword skills to cut down those in our way who would kill us in return. I have trouble killing a spider that is creeping out my mother in the bathroom, but now I’m able dismember creatures. I guess adrenalin and fear for your life can allow you to do things you never could before. I didn’t have time to think about it. We had to get out.

Dale was aware enough to blast some of the bigger foes that ran up. Even Chi could handle most opponents, as long as they weren’t three times his size. Kylie’s fighting skills were little better than a mild distraction, but it helped when you were huddled in a group that was looking out for each other.

My hands grew number with every time I cut something down. The cuts and scrapes I received became deadened as well, as we steadily worked our way towards an exit. Why did this place have to be so big?

We burst into a room that I hoped was a way out, but instead was a large oval office, where a dozen creatures had been waiting for someone to show up. I happened to be in front at the time, so I was in the perfect place to be tackled from the side by a bulky man with a rhino’s horn for a nose. Just like a rhino, he kept running until we hit a wall ten feet away. I had seen him coming in my peripheral vision, but didn’t have time to strike until we hit the wall, when my blade slid across his jugular. Blood poured from him as he collapsed on top of me.

Once I pushed him off, I was able to see the trouble we had gotten ourselves into. The majority had chosen to attack my group, but five, seeing that I was an easy target, had circled me. I sat still, covered in their friends gore, as the horde of what looked like various types of reptilian-men leapt over me at once.

Time, once again, slowed as I thought to myself, my friends were in danger and I was not there to help them. I would not let them get hurt. They had been there for me this whole time and I could not fail them.

My anger rose inside me; so much at the lack of control that I’d had with everything that had happened. I couldn’t stand it any longer. Something broke. I could feel a restraint in me, which I didn’t even know had been there, release itself and expand. The little ball I could feel in my chest grew quickly. It grew until it reached every surface of my body, and then kept going.

Just as the five reptiles were about to land on me, the force I created threw them all back in a circle. I stood up and could feel it flowing through my body; a sort of tingly electric power that coursed in any direction I willed it. The first thing I thought of was electricity, and my friends were still in danger, so I focused that Will into the palm of my right hand. The tingling increased there, but it wasn’t unpleasant. I let the rage flow out of my palm as I imagined lightening spread through the attackers, and it did. The stream of lightening even had thunder accompany it as it sprang from my hand and spread itself only through those that would do harm to the ones I loved.

They all dropped to the floor, scorched and smoking. Everyone just stared at me as I stood there, panting and trying to quell the rage that must have been evident in my face. Eventually, I was able to calm a little of the anger, but the tingling presence never left.

“What… was that?” Kylie’s voice was as shocked as all the others had been when they first saw me do something completely unexpected and extraordinary.

“As usual, I have no idea.” It was weird to be getting used to having strange things happen to me all the time. I looked at my hands and noticed the green glow had grown more prominent. “I’ve had enough of this. Let’s get out of here.” There was no reason to resist this feeling and the glow. It had helped me through all this and I was beginning to trust it. I would do the right thing, even if I didn’t know what I was doing at the time.

My Will stretched out beyond the wall behind me and I knew that fresh air was just on the other side. The stone wall was only about six inches thick. Without thinking, I focused my will to a coning point and thrust it through the center of the wall. It collapsed outwards, but the ceiling remained intact. Hearing sounds coming from just outside the door we had come in, everyone hurried up to my newly made exit.

Of course, we were on the seventh floor and it was a long way down. A decision had to be made quickly, because an onrush of large stone men with pikes came barging through the door. On yet another leap of faith, I jumped from the ledge. The wind rushed by my ears and I plummeted towards the grass below. The ground was coming at me a lot faster than I thought. I had to close my eyes as I felt a different tingling feeling in my body and barely heard something rush past my head.

It all happened so fast, I didn’t have time to react. I quickly flashed open my eyes as I saw a blue glow. Gravity seemed to reverse itself about three feet from hitting the ground. I dipped down about a foot before leveling off at that three foot mark. I stayed there, incredibly disoriented, until the rest of the gang landed the same way all around me. Below me I saw a little stone with runes that were quickly fading away. Someone must have thrown it ahead to stop us. Leap of faith, indeed.

Amazingly, we had landed in a park that was right in front of the lot where Dale’s monster was parked. We all limped over to the extended truck and got in, un-assaulted along the way. Once we were all in our seats, I began to settle my nerves. There was nothing to be accomplished by freaking out right now.

Kylie unsteadily took the wheel and drove us away from the ancient fortress. Why did I feel like everything I touched came to ruins?

Chapter 8

“Call up Canada and Mexico first. They will be the first ones to get here.” The General was commanding as usual, but right now he was also forceful. Lives were at risk and he was there to stop their loss.

He paced back and forth in the large, yet full, room. He was in a command center located near the Council chambers. Dozens of people were seated talking on phones while a comparable number were frantically typing on computers. Yet more were bustling around getting from place to place.

General Burrell stood in the center of it all, reading reports and giving corresponding orders for each of them. The northeast wing had been completely taken over, so he had to send down more reinforcements to stop them from gaining ground. Most of our initial forces had been stationed at the front entrance and center of the building, so those places held their positions without too much loss. It was almost as if this weren’t a planned attack. The enemy forces surrounded the entire building without checking to see where the weak points might be. This would seem like less of an advantage, but they would poke at an area and move to another spot if it got too heavy. It was like head on guerilla warfare.

Most of the other Council members were in the command center with him, doing the same as he was. Several of the more proficient fighters among them were out fighting with the troops. They had lost a few members. Casualties were always expected, but it had been many years since the General had to engage an enemy. He had grown close to these people and to be attacked in his own home was unacceptable. He would stop and destroy these intruders. It just disturbed him who was leading them.

It had been decades since Cyrna had shown her face, even if it was a different one back then. Nicolas had told them she had been forced to flee, but could have come back at any time. He didn’t expect her to show her face again. Then again, she had just single-handedly thwarted a dozen experienced fighters, including half of the Council itself. Nicolas had explained how dangerous she was, but this didn’t do his description justice.

“Sir, we’ve received a report that the south wing has been breached and the Angels are barely holding them back.” A young elf with a phone pressed to his ear announced.

“Send the banshee’s from the southeast wing to help. Angels and banshees may be natural enemies, but when they’re on the same side they are a force not to be reckoned with. And where in Tartarus is Cleddeu?” The young assistant didn’t have a response, but posed the question to several people on the phone. The Council member had not joined them in the trip up to the command center and the General feared the worst had come to him.

A large ruckus had come from the main entrance to the busy room just before swarms of varying creatures came rushing in with their specialized weapons. Little gremlins had tiny daggers, giant stone men had long pikes, serpentine creatures carried short swords with shields in the other hand, and many others held whatever weapons they could handle. Guns weren’t in high abundance, mostly because they didn’t work in the Council Hall. Once they reach a certain depth into the building, the powder is neutralized and won’t catch a spark.

Most of the assistants and people on different communication devices weren’t fighters, but the General was eager to jump into the maelstrom. To have snuck this far in, they must have only come in a small number. Still, about forty came running through the entrance. Most of the other Council members went with people going out the back exit. General Burrell understood this, but he was now in his element. War had been his first mistress and he would make sure it would be his last.

With claymore swinging, he separated heads from shoulders and boulders from joints. He had fought all types of creatures before, knew how to defeat each of them individually. Figuring out which was which before making a killing strike was turning out to be quite the challenge for him. That didn’t stop him from bellowing like a madman every time something thought they had gotten the better of him. Even surrounded, he could send out a circle of slicing air.

That wasn’t to say that the enemy didn’t have wizards of their own. Their spellcasters where very talented, but he wasn’t just a master swordsman. For every blast of heat or slice of air they threw at him, he had them countered and a blade through their hearts before they knew what happened. He flowed with a grace and savagery that was unmatched. Before he knew it, he was standing, sword clenched between his fists, surrounded by bodies and rubble, a little disappointed that there were no more. He wasn’t alone in the room. There were several Hunters, field agents and warriors all looking quite proud of themselves.

The General knew this was no time to take pride in his accomplishments. People had died and more were still at risk. He had to join the others and continue to help lead this battle to its victory. He thundered out the back door and ran down the corridor he knew the rest would have gone down. Finally he reached the secondary command center, just to run into more chaos and loss.

The initial attack had only been a diversion to get him out of the room, leaving the good fighters behind. A twice as large force had been waiting for them. They had waited for the majority to enter the room before attacking. Several Council members had been taken by surprise and were overwhelmed by the numbers before they could defend themselves. Now the room was packed with creatures killing each other. He could hardly tell which side many of them were on, but he did his best.

The General’s hulking force continued to be the tornado he had been through hundreds of wars. Slicing through beast after beast, evading blow after magical and physical blow. The rest of the Council members, now forced to defend their lives as well as the ones in the room, fought with all their hearts. Vampires would tear apart creatures with bare hands. Angels would kill in ways unseen. Dog-sized attack dragons would fly around the room, blowing fire on the heads of attacking beings. Eventually, the invaders in this room perished as well. Casualties were much higher. This was not going well.

Chapter 9

Everyone’s nerves were rattled for the extended car ride, especially mine. Johnny had explained that a person’s abilities normally arrived slowly, giving them time to adjust. That would really make my life a lot easier. I was shaking for a solid half hour of the trip. It took that long before the tingling that had helped before would fade.

Kylie mentioned something about the safe-house being way outside the city, in the middle of nowhere. Most of us were too tired to even try to stay awake, but the two guardians somehow found the energy to get everyone to safety. Johnny, being a cat, couldn’t drive us. Nicolas was more than willing to take up the task. I’m sure as much as he wanted to sleep like the rest of us; this was much easier than trying to defend a castle.

I was the last to fall asleep that wasn’t driving. One fortunate part of that was that I got to see Kylie’s face while she slept. All the tension leaving her face only made her look even more beautiful. She had an innocent quality right now; like a child dreaming of rainbows and kittens. The smooth yet angular features of an elf were prominent, but that didn’t deter me in the slightest. I didn’t care what species she was.

Dale grunted a snore that distracted me from my revelry. This may be the only time he will be tired enough to sleep this soundly again. He had just watched his mentor fall to the hand of my sister; a person he had seen thousands of times and never knew what she was capable of. For that matter, how could someone of such a nature live in the same household as me, and I have never known. I guess this is what therapy is for.

My brother slept huddled in a ball next to Dale. He must have been spending the last year hardening his heart, because he hadn’t shown any emotion after realizing that his sister was evil. He has always been distant and seemed to be blank. Maybe he’s actually dying inside. I wish I knew my own brother better.

I could feel myself fading to sleep. It was about time. It had to be around one o’clock in the morning. My last thought before drifting off was that far too much can happen in one day. It shouldn’t be allowed.

I woke up in an empty car, sunlight blaring through the windows. Even though it must have been in my eyes for some time, I couldn’t help but squint at it. We had parked in front of a two story cottage surrounded by fir trees and a barn to the left of it. The roads were all dirt and a large field was behind the cottage.

I got out of the car to survey the rest of the area. There wasn’t another structure within sight, just more thinly spaced trees. The air was thin and chilly, but the sunlight provided enough warmth to feel comfortable. It had the air of the beginnings of a good day. We shall see.

The cottage looked old yet structurally sound. I was still a little groggy, so I half stumbled my way to the white painted door of the cottage. Everyone turned to briefly look my direction as I walked in. Most of the furniture was made of wood. I walked into a living room where Johnny and Nicolas had been talking. I had overheard the cat saying something about needing to tell someone thing before it’s too late, but they stopped when I walked in.

“Well, look who’s finally awake.” Johnny spoke from a couch cushion sitting in front of a television. Nicolas was in an armchair to the left of the TV, facing the couch. They were the only ones in the room, but I could hear Dale and Chi talking through the wall.

“Yeah… well… some nights you need more sleep. What time is it?” I didn’t need anyone to answer. There was a clock on the wall that read 11:13. I really did need sleep.

“There is a fully stocked fridge in the kitchen.” The cat pointed his nose were I heard the voices coming from and turned back to the other Guardian. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to continue our conversation outside.” His voice was firm and insistent. Nicolas nodded and they went out the door. I walked into the kitchen.

The Hunter and apprentice were seated at a kitchen table and also stopped talking when I walked in. That was getting annoying; like I wasn’t welcome. Dale’s face was hard and sad. He had every reason to be. Chi looked as if he had no idea what to do about his tormented teacher. It was almost like his blank face was a little blanker.

“Hey…” It was all I could say. I didn’t know Julius very long and I wasn’t very good at handling people’s loss. I placed a sympathetic hand on his shoulder for a second before feeling the need to move on to something less emotional.

“Derek, I wish you could have known him.” He sounded like he was about to vent, so I decided to do something productive. I looked in the fridge and saw the fixings for a sandwich. “I spend years learning from him. Without him, I wouldn’t be the man I am today.” His voice was on the verge of tears. I started to make the sandwich. “He was amazing. He gave me my first beanie. Everything I did; every push up, every hour spent studying, was all for his approval. He was like a father to me.” Bread, lettuce, slices of ham, mustard, cheese, avocado, pepper, garlic powder. I made three. “He was also my best contact. Everything that happened, he knew about it first. At least he died fighting. That’s the only way he would have wanted it.”

I set three plates on the table, each with a sandwich on it. I sat at the round table with them. Chi’s face looked limp, but a tear ran down it. He must have known the old teacher as well. We sat there in silence while we ate lunch. We had all finished before I felt right about speaking again.

“Where’s Kylie?” My voice was still respectfully calm.

“She went for a walk early this morning. Said she was going to look for cell signal. Something about checking in with the Council, making sure her father was alright.” Dale’s voice had lost that luster that it always had. I wondered how long it would be before I saw that famous grin of his again.

As if on cue, Kylie walks in the kitchen door that lead from outside. “Hi.” I maintained the respectful calm, but still managed to put something in my voice that asked what she knew.

She had changed into shorts and a loose T-shirt. Her hair was tied up in a bun. There must have been spare clothes here in case of emergencies. This reminded me that I was still wearing black slacks and a white dress shirt. I had taken the coat off in the car last night, but I felt a little foolish in formal wear.

She leaned against the counter staring at the floor, not really paying attention to the room around her. She had taken note of who was there, but not of their general mood. Her face showed both relief and focus. “I have called the Council. The Hall suffered heavy casualties, but the attackers have pulled out in a full retreat. They didn’t get what they came for.” She seemed concerned as she continued to stare at the floor in front of her.

“What about General Burrell?” I felt odd asking, but I it needed to be asked.

Her expression didn’t change. “Many of the Council members fell, but my father is one of the fortunate few to hold their own.” Dale looked relieved to hear that. As much as he tried to annoy the General, he really liked the guy and didn’t want another person he looked up to, to die.

“Did they have any orders for us?” Dale sounded angry and business-like, but at least he wasn’t in tears anymore.

She finally looked up at us; her eyes first examining Dale’s face, then staring at me. “With all the loss we have suffered, there must be something very important about you.” She wasn’t harsh, just questioning. “The General has ordered us to stay put and lay low. In the mean time, they seemed to be very interested in what I had to tell them about your assistance in our escape. They want us to test you out.”

I was a little taken aback. “I am not a lab rat.”

“No, I mean they want to see what other kinds of abilities you might have and how well you can control what you’ve already shown us.” She smirked a little. “Gaia knows you have enough help here. Two Hunters, two Guardians, and a Sorceress. We should be able to figure you out.” She looked me up and down. I couldn’t help but blush a little, even in such dark times.

Chi got up and started for the door Kylie came from. He probably felt uncomfortable. He may be adult enough to help escape from a fortress, but he wasn’t adult enough to handle someone flirting with his brother. Dale stopped him. “Where are you going?”

“Training.” Of course, with as few words as possible, he had said enough for us to let him go. Out the window I could see him walk about a hundred feet out into the field and start a routine that was obviously well practiced. He would swing around with strikes and blocks, sometimes pulling out his sword, all with precision.

“When do we start?” I had to ask, hoping it wouldn’t be right away.

“The Council wants us to start right away.” Damn. “But I think we should take some more time to recover.” Yes.

“I couldn’t agree more.” I sneaked a look in Dale’s direction, seeing that he didn’t seem to care either way. He sat there, looking like the world could just go on without him.

“Would you like to go for a walk?” She was looking at me as I looked back up at her. Our eyes met with that spark of intimacy that happens so rarely to me. That little voice in the back of my head was barely noticeable, once again, as I nodded and followed her out the kitchen door.

We walked wordlessly passed my brother as he was doing pushups in the grass. She led me past the field and we walked into a thin forest. The fir trees around the area were young, but filled with life. Shrubs were scattered around, mixed with every variety of fern. The animal life didn’t seem to mind our intrusion. Squirrels and chipmunks scurried at our feet. I saw a deer off in the distance.

“So, where are we going?” I asked. A walk through the woods was pleasant enough, but she seemed to be heading in a certain direction.

“What? Don’t you trust me?” She looked back at me from up ahead with a teasing smile.

“Last night I saw my sister kill someone.” I didn’t want it to seem harsh, but it was difficult to lighten a sentence like that.

She stumbled over a rock and nearly went face down in a puddle of mud. It had obviously been raining last night. “I’m sorry, Derek. I didn’t mean…” Her voice was a little panicked.

“It’s ok.” I quickly interject. I didn’t mean to fluster her; it’s just that I couldn’t get it out of my mind. “I trust you. You helped save my life and I’ll be grateful for the rest of my life.” She smiled.

We continued our little tryst into the woods, making idle chat about all the wildlife and foliage around us. It was amazing how much she knew about all the things in the woods. It turns out all the fairy tales were right; elves did have a fascination with the forests.

Somehow the topic got changed to my weapons collection. I tried to scale down my enthusiasm during the descriptions of each sword and every knife, but it proved more difficult than expected. We were walking side-by-side and I could see her grinning as I explained the different uses of each blade. It took me a while to notice she wasn’t smiling about my impressive collection, she was smiling at my eccentric attitude towards them. I was just happy she was smiling at me. It made my heart pound harder with every step.

I was so focused on explaining the reason for the individual shapes of the edged weapons that I didn’t notice we had stopped. I was curving my hand through the air to exaggerate the arch of a scimitar when I saw she was looking out ahead of us. I stopped my motions when I saw we were standing at the bank of a river.

The water was so clear I could see all the little fish swimming in it all the way down to the multi-colored rocks at the bed. I was so mesmerized by the shining clarity and beauty that I didn’t, at first, hear the huge roaring sound coming from a ways up the stream. I first saw Kylie staring at it, then gazed at the fifty foot tall waterfall maybe a quarter mile away.

From this distance I could make out every rainbow, yet still be able to see the algae on the rocks to the side of the rushing torrent. At the base of the falls, once you moved a little away from the churning spot where the water first landed, was a large pool that was calm before flowing out to become the stream. It was like the giant version of a manmade Koi pond.

Kylie started walking towards the waterfall and beckoned for me to follow. Of course, I was right behind her the whole way. She walked in a way that made me think she had something mischievous planned. That assumption turned out to be completely correct.

About ten feet away from the pool she started to take her clothes off; first the shirt, then the shoes, then her shorts, before finishing with her socks at the edge of the water. I had to stop where I was. Just seeing her face took my breath away; taking in her full form was something else entirely. Perfect was the only word that could come to mind; round in all the right places and slender in all the others. Such curves almost seemed sacred, yet magnetic at the same time. She only had on pink lacy panties and a matching bra.

She turned back to me with a smile to match her walk. “Why don’t you join me?” With that, she jumped the five feet down into the water in a cannonball. It wouldn’t take any more prompting than that. Though, I was a little embarrassed that it took so long to strip down to my boxers. She just swam around while I struggled with the cufflinks that were even harder to take off than to put on.

“The water is great.” She spat out a little water as she tread in place, waving one hand to beckon me once again. I was a bit self-conscious about being so exposed, but her confidence and the way she was looking at me gave me the courage to dive in. “There, you see. Great?” She was lying completely. The water was ice cold, but clean and clear as crystal.

We swam a little ways from each other; diving under the waterfall and soaring through the current that ran ten feet under the surface. It didn’t take long to adjust to the temperature. Completely submerged, flowing through unpolluted water made me feel like a dolphin. Without the chlorine or muck that was in a pool or lake, I could see as clearly as if I were above the surface. Frequently I got distracted watching Kylie gracefully glide through the water that forgot to go back up for air and started to panic. This made her giggle every time it happened. She was watching me too and was much better at holding her breath.

On one of my frantic struggles to reach oxygen, she returned up to the surface with me. We were about five feet from each other. With her long wet brown hair, I couldn’t help but imagine her as Venus on a half shell.

“You are so… Beautiful.” I couldn’t help myself. The words came out before I could stop them. They had to be spoken. She didn’t say anything. She just had on that mischievous smile of hers as she swam closer. In spite of the freezing cold water, I could feel my face grow hot. I slowly swam to her, hoping my nerves didn’t make me do something stupid, like they always had done in the past.

To my relief, I didn’t do anything like kick her in the leg while treading water. We got close enough to hold each other by the arms. Her skin was so smooth. We gazed into each other’s eyes, pure longing taking control of me. I couldn’t feel my brain as we got yet closer, our bodies now touching, and our lips mere inches away. My head was swimming as much as my legs as she closed her eyes and leaned in.

Making sure my trajectory matched her, I also closed my eyes. It felt like an eternity before our lips finally met, but once they did, it felt like I was struck by a lightning bolt of joy. The initial jolt faded to a tingling of pleasure as we melted into each other. Her kiss was so passionate and engaging that it enveloped my soul and made my thoughts go blank with bliss. I didn’t want the moment to end. It was cut short.

My eyes snapped open and I pulled away from her. My vision was black and I couldn’t hear anything accept a dull buzzing that numbed my head. I couldn’t tell what was going on around me. I couldn’t even feel any kind of touch. The sensory deprivation was disorienting and caused my brain to panic, which is even more confusing when you can’t feel your heart pounding.

A dim light showed and I began to see a surrounding. I was kneeling on a carpet in a long room. There was broken furniture all around and Selene was standing twenty feet in front of me, giggling. She was wearing the cloak she had when I last saw her, but her clothes were different. Her giggle steadily became audible as my ears began to work. I heard panting coming from behind me. I knew it was Dale and Chi from the tone they made, along with a couple other people. I tried to turn my head to look at who else was back there, but I wasn’t in control of my body.

I heard one of Dale’s lightening balls soar past my head, but I didn’t flinch. The blast went straight for Selene’s head, but missed as she moved her head a foot to the left. Immediately after the failed shot, the shooter came sprinting from behind on my right; trench coat billowing behind, his red skull cap on, with Chi’s shining short-sword gripped in both hands. Quickly succeeding him was Chi on my left; all black outfit and a large stone in his hand.

They both took her on at once, but were easily side and back-stepped by her speed. She seemed to be toying with them, as she didn’t make any attempt to fight back. All she did was dodge and occasionally push a blade out of the way as it came down at her. This went on for a little while as I gained a sense of feeling.

The first thing I could feel was my face; eyebrows and lips scrunched in anger. The next thing I felt was my arms, holding a body. I couldn’t see who it was from this angle and I desperately wished I would look down. Then I did look. I saw Kylie, blood dripping down her face and soaking her shirt. She was in leather armor with brown tights and her hair in a bun. There was a cut on her forehead and a stab wound in her belly. Each was pouring out crimson life. She was dead.

I looked up to see Dale lying in a pile of rubble furniture and Chi being held by the throat. He was tossed on top of his master with that unnatural strength the little girl possessed. Seeming to have finished her amusement with them, she started casually walking towards me. I raised a hand and saw a ball of fire shoot from my palm, but she just blocked it with her hand, leaving nothing but a scorch mark.

My other hand flew up with a crackle of lightening flying from my finger tips. The act even felt like a final struggling effort. The bolt bounced off her speedy palm as she reached down with that same hand to grasp my throat. Her hands were cold and clammy as she lifted me up to the highest point she could hold. Her giggle persisted with a cruel finality. The look in her eyes said it would be over soon.

Chapter 10

My back arched and my eyes were filled with light. I could practically feel my pupils shrink as I blinked rapidly. I was lying in the dirt with the sun blaring into my retina. I had all of my faculties back, but was shaking a little from the experience. A little bit of it might have been from the cold. I sat up and looked around to find I was still in the forest. Kylie was leaning against a tree, still wet but fully dressed. I was still only in my boxers. She had moved me about ten feet away from the pool.

“What happened?” I was panting as I asked.

“What did you see?” Her face was serious and she didn’t move from her casual posture.

“There was a battle. Selene was there. And you…” I was still in a panic. “What happened to me?”

“Your eyes went solid black and every muscle in your body was tense. I knew I only had a minute before you’d go limp and sink to the bottom, so I pulled you to the bank. I’ve seen this before.”

“Does it happen every time someone kisses you?” She smiled at that.

“Not every time, just times like that.” She put on that smirk I was growing to like even more. “No, that’s something I’ve seen a few times only because I work for the Council. Pre-Cogs are steadily monitored for premonitions like the one you had.” She sighed and lowered her arms from the crossed position they were in. “You had a vision of the future.”

“Holy crap!” I couldn’t move. “Do they always come true?”

“There are a few cases of a premonition being completely wrong, but those were more… misinterpreted. The majority of visions come true, one way or another.” She sat beside me on the ground. “What did you see?”

I wasn’t sure if I should tell her. Information like when you are going to die is something no person is supposed to know. I wished I didn’t. For now, I thought I’d leave that part out.

“I saw a vision of a battle we were having against Selene.” Her face grew even more serious and concerned. “I’d never been in that room before, but I could see, hear and even feel everything like I was there. Dale, Chi and you were all there, maybe more. I’m a little fuzzy on the rest of the details.” I’ve never been very good at lying, but she seemed to buy it. I wasn’t quite sure what the last part of the premonition meant, either. Those might have been my last moments as well.

“Well… that seems kind of inevitable at this point.” The look she was giving me was starting to creep me out; like I couldn’t be right. She broke her gaze and went to retrieve my clothes. I put them back on, again embarrassed at how long it took. I thought I’d be a little better at this by now, but no.

We walked back to the cottage in silent contemplation; dressed but still wet. So, another little power had shown itself. That had to be three or four in the last twenty four hours. Each one has been helpful, but this one scared the crap out of me. I thought I’d seen enough death for a lifetime, let alone two days.

She looked like she was calculating tactical strategies. Every step was precise and military. At that moment, she looked like her father’s daughter. When she noticed I was watching her, I put my hand out to the side. She smiled and took my hand. I felt like a school boy walking to his next class with his crush.

When we could see Johnny resting on a table through the kitchen window, our palms separated. We walked in the same door we left from, first Kylie then me. The whole gang had congregated in the kitchen; The Guardians, the Hunters, and the wet ones. Someone had set out a bowl of mixed nuts on the counter, so I walked over and grabbed a handful. Something salty was always nice after a swim.

“What happened to you two?” Johnny asked as everyone saw our drenched apparel. Dale looked suspicious, Johnny looked concerned, Chi looked blank, and Nicolas looked disapproving.

All of their faces relaxed, except Chi’s, when Kylie answered. “We fell into a river.”

“I would say it was more of a stream.” She was much better at lying than I was, but I couldn’t help but play along. I didn’t like the looks everyone gave us.

“I’m so clumsy, I tripped over a rock while we were walking by and I grabbed his arm, pulling him in with me.” We chuckled for a moment and she abruptly changed topics. “Dale may have already told you, but we have received orders from the Council.”

“Yes, Dale did mention something about staying put and testing Derek’s abilities.” Johnny looked over at the sour Hunter as he slouched in his chair.

“Yeah, about that…” I reached up to scratch my head. Even if I wasn’t going to tell Kylie everything about the vision, the others deserved to know. “I kind of discovered another one.” The Guardians looked shocked and intrigued while Dale just chuckled quietly to himself.

“What this time? Can you fly?” Dale had a little amusement in his voice, which was good to hear.

I smiled to myself, but the memory of the vision straightened my face. “I had a vision of the future.” I smiled again. “It sounds ominous when I say it like that.”

“Tell them what you saw.” Kylie once again sounded serious and official.

“All right… well… I was kneeling in a room and we were fighting Selene. I could only see Dale and Chi battling her, but I knew others were behind me. The rest of the details are fuzzy.” I could tell from Nicolas’s face that he didn’t believe I was telling the whole story. Which was true, but I should tell the others in private.

“We will have to take this into consideration as we make our decisions.” The cat stood up on the table and stretched from head to toe. “Be sure to tell us if you have any more visions or any other abilities show themselves. Did anything trigger this one that you know of?”

I know I had to be blushing at least a little bit, but I maintained a cool complexion. “No, it just came out of nowhere.” I again scratched the back of my head. “If you guys would excuse me, I’ve been walking around for a while and haven’t had a chance to use the bathroom.” Dale explained the way to the bathroom and I went in the direction he was pointing.

Once I left the room and shut the door, I stood in the middle of the living room and put my hands in my face. What was I doing? Lying was never my thing, but now I was doing it in every which way. I was hiding what I knew about Kylie’s death from her and she wanted to hide us getting to know each other better. Alright, so that may have been a little bit of an understatement.

I brought my hands from my face and turned around when I heard Nicolas come from the kitchen. He quietly shut the door, making no indication to the others that he saw me.

He came close to me and talked in a whisper. “I know this is terribly confusing for you and you have lots of things going on in your head right now.” His voice was so warm and calming. I knew I could trust this man with my life. “You seemed like you were holding something back in there. Is there anything else you want to tell me, alone?”

“Well, I lied a little.” His face didn’t change as I spoke, it remained understanding. “The details of the vision were a lot clearer than I made them out to be. I saw, heard and felt everything as if I were actually there. The battle between Dale, Chi and Selene was true, but Kylie was dead in my arms.” His face darkened a little at that news. “I didn’t tell her, but she told me not all premonitions come true.”

“That’s correct.” Hope lightening the darkness that had been there before. “Visions are sometimes false. Often they can be avoided with the mere knowledge that the event can happen. For now, I’ll report this to the council, but let’s keep the rest of them out of this. Too many people knowing a prophecy can have unfortunate outcomes.” I nodded in agreement. “Was there anything else you’d like to tell me?”

I looked him in the eyes for a moment. “Only that I do actually have to use the bathroom.” It was the truth. He let me pass as I found my way up the stairs to the restroom on the second floor to relieve myself. I hadn’t noticed how much I had been holding it in until I let it all out. The last time I had the chance was back in my room before the party.

After washing up and drying myself with a towel, I went back down to rejoin the others in the kitchen, but they had moved to the living room. There weren’t enough seats for everyone, so I was forced to stand by the couch. They looked like they had come to a decision as I walked up.

“Derek, I know I said we should give you some time to rest, but we just don’t know what else you can do and time might be running out.” Kylie spoke for the group as they all gauged my reaction.

“Ok, but other than the red eyes and green glow, I look and feel the same as I did yesterday. The same as before any of this started. All the feelings I had when I did those other weird things have faded.” I crossed my arms, almost in defiance of the challenges I knew were coming.

“Well then, we’re just going to have to find a way to bring them back.” Dale put on his mischievous grin as he said it. “I’ll shoot them out of you if I have to.” Now I was sure this was going to be difficult.

Chapter 11

The tests began with Nicolas. The group had decided to each take a crack at the specific field they were versed in alone. That way there wouldn’t be any distractions. We set up in the barn with a chalkboard. The building was larger than the cottage, but we only used a small unoccupied corner. We had to clear away hay to set up the board, but once we did we stood side by side and he wrote Runes on the board.

“Now, this symbol is one you drew yourself on the parchment in the bar to neutralize the necromancer.” He drew a square with a dot in the center. “It’s one of the most basic symbols, taught to everyone who can use the magic of Runes.”

I stared at the chalk symbol with absolutely no idea what it meant. I stood staring for a minute. “I have absolutely no idea what that rune means. I know I was somehow able to read and even properly use it in a complicated spell, but right now I can’t tell you at all what it means.”

“Guess.”

“If I have to, I would say it meant ‘room’.” I was just spit-balling, but that was the best I could come up with. A box with a dot in it could have any meaning. That’s just what first came to mind while looking at it.

“No, but you are looking at it the right way. You first noticed the outer part, but if a point is in the symbol, the focus is usually on that. This rune actually means ‘inside’. The dot often also indicates some kind of location, but not always. Let’s try this one.” He picked up the chalk again, drew a circle with a dot in it, and waited for me to say something.

The first image it brought to mind couldn’t have been something he was trying to teach me, but it put Kylie in my mind. The thought of her brought back that memory of swimming by the waterfall, which then led to the kiss. Luckily, I caught myself before Nicolas had noticed my mind wandering. “Is it a bull’s-eye?”

“I actually threw this in as a test. It doesn’t mean ‘bull’s-eye’. This wasn’t in the spell that you assisted me in casting. As simple as it is, this is actually one of the lesser known runes, because it is used so rarely. It means ‘eternity’.”

“Byth…” I mumbled under my breath. I hadn’t been paying much attention and didn’t realize I had said it. My mind had drifted back to Kylie’s supple form undressing.

“What did you say?” He looked back at me and my head shot up.

“What? Did I say something?” I looked quizzically up at him.

“Yes, you said Byth. Where did you learn that?”

I had to think for quite a while before I remembered. “I read it in a book. I had some time in a library of magic that Dale owns.” I had to stop and think about that. I guess he did own it, now that the original owner was gone. “It was in a dictionary of the Unknown Language.”

“Do you regularly read the dictionary?” He gave me a little amused smile.

“No.” I chuckled and felt once again like a school boy, but for a very different reason. “I just have certain words I like to look up in different languages, like eternity. I also look up words like forest, ancient, and power.”

“Don’t tell me, you found the Unknown Language word for power?” He spoke quickly with hope in his voice.

“No, I didn’t look that one up. Why?” His face sagged as I spoke. Obviously this wasn’t what he had wanted to hear.

“Oh… well… One of the projects I have been working on for the past few years is the discovery of the word for ‘power’. You would think we would have figured that out by now, but much of the Unknown Language is, ironically, unknown. Certain words have more strength than others. Knowing the word for ‘power’ could come in quite handy, but no one has been able to find out what it is. I believe that the person who discovers it and uses it might have enough power to be considered a god.” He stared off into space for a moment in revelry before shaking his head. “Well, this doesn’t really do anything to help your progress, now does it?”

He went over several more random runes that I, of course, got their meanings completely wrong every time. Each time I got one incorrect, he would explain their meaning and how they might be used. It felt more like a lesson than testing my abilities. It made sense, since I didn’t seem to have any natural talent for it any more. In fact, after a few symbols he would test me on the ones he had taught me before. It turned out my memory wasn’t even that good.

We went on like this for a couple of hours, without much success. “Maybe we’re going about this the wrong way.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Let’s see how you do with a full spell. You might have to see it in context for your brain to open up.”

“If you think that will work…” He swiped away what he had written on the board so far and started to draw a line of runes down from the top to the bottom of the surface. After stepping back away from the board, I took a long look at the spell. I examined the tall structure in every way I could think. I looked at the flow of the different lines from one rune to the next. I looked at how each symbol could relate to the one before it. I could see a certain beauty about it, but I had no idea what it meant. I just closed my eyes and shook my head.

Johnny had come into the room unnoticed and jumped onto a stool next to the board. “How is it coming?” He saw the look on our faces and knew he wasn’t going to get a good answer.

“I keep telling you guys, I don’t know anything. I’m sorry, but I have no clue what this spell does.” I probably shouldn’t have snapped at them, but I was frustrated at my lack of control over my own mind. They weren’t angry at my sudden outburst. They looked sympathetic.

“I know this is frustrating for you, Derek. I wish we had some precursor to look back on. I’ve always known you were special, I just didn’t know how much.” I still hadn’t grown used to seeing so much human emotion in my cat. It was also unsettling to once again catch someone staring at my bright red eyes. I looked to the side to see Nicolas was more interested in my green glow. I had noticed that nobody else had an Aura around them, but he looked at me like he was saddened to see it.

“I think I need a break.” I took out my phone to look at the time. It was half past three and I was starting to feel peckish.

“I think that’s a good idea.” Johnny jumped off his perch and started walking for the barn door. “That’s actually why I came in here. Kylie says she has received a report from the Council.” We all walked the twenty feet to the cottage. The closest door was the front entrance.

When we walked into the living room, Kylie and Chi were just getting seated. She must have gone to get him from training with Dale. I know Dale well enough to assume he’s going to find some way to be late, even if there isn’t one.

Everyone got settled and waited for the tardy Hunter to show up. Thankfully, this time I didn’t have to stand. I took a center seat next to Kylie on the couch with Johnny seated on my other side. Chi and Nicolas each had an armchair by the fireplace. We weren’t there for long before Dale came in from the kitchen, dragging a chair behind him. Why didn’t I think of that?

“Sorry I’m a little late. I had to find the right beanie for the occasion.” I was the only one to chuckle at his excuse. He was wearing a powder blue skull cap that just made him look silly. He set the chair up next to Chi and sat. “So, what’s the news?”

“Well…” Kylie cleared her throat. “The attack on the Council Hall went into a full retreat. The Counsel thinks the only reason they went in was to go after Derek. They still want us to stay out of sight, but we may need to change safe-houses at some point. As for a casualty report, my father is alive, but we have lost six Council members and hundreds of soldiers. The defenders did the best they could, but weren’t prepared for a fight that big.” She sighed.

“Damn.” Dale’s calm yet saddened voice pretty much spoke for the whole room.

“They will be sending out a group of field mages to investigate who this group is and how we can take them down.” She glanced at me. “Obviously we already know who their leader is.”

“Yeah, my sister.” I got up and started pacing back a forth in front of the fireplace. Remembering something, I looked at Nicolas. “Wait a minute. How do you know her and why did she call you lover?” I cringed a little at that last part. The thought of my thirteen year old sister like that was almost as disturbing an image as the ones she showed me yesterday.

“Ah, about that…” Nicolas looked up at me, a little taken aback by the suddenness of the harsh question. “There are certain things I’m not allowed to tell about that, but I do think everyone should be informed about Cyrna.”

“Who?” Dale looked confused. In fact, it took me a few seconds to remember when he had used that name. Dale might have been too angry or dazed to have noticed.

“Cyrna is Selene’s true name. Obviously you know by now that your sister isn’t who you thought she was.” He addressed me then turned to the rest. “Cyrna is a demon and, as we’ve all seen, a very powerful one. When I knew her she went by the name Wanda Crewn. She was posing as a secretary for the Council when we were seeing each other.” He looked down in shame and embarrassment. “At a point, she told me who she was. It was then that she tried to kill me, but I drove her away with an artifact I had been working on at the time. I had made some improvements to it since then, but it seems much less effective now.” He paused for a breath. “We thought she might be able to change her appearance, but it looks like she changes her age as well. That must be what made it so difficult to find her, because we never did. I have been working on something that might neutralize her, but I’m far away from getting it to work.” He glanced in my direction. “That pretty much covers what I know.”

“Ok, now we know a little about what we’re up against.” Johnny broke the silence. “As Kylie said, there’s not much else we can do except stay here, try to help Derek with his abilities, and hope that the Council figures out why she is trying to kill him.”

“Speaking of which…” Kylie spoke up. “I may just be in training, but I believe I can help him with the Will magic he demonstrated before.” She swallowed quickly. “I have mastered the basics and I think that’s the best place to start.” I smiled a little but straightened my face before anyone caught it.

“That’s fine with me.” Nicolas answered. “I need some time to think of a new teaching strategy for him.” With that, everyone got up and went to work. The Hunters went outside to train while the Guardians went into another room to work on various projects. Once they had gone, Kylie took my hand and led me to the barn.

“So, what do you have to teach me?” I teased as she led us to the opposite end of the barn that Nicolas and I had been using. She brought me by a few hay stacks and had me sit cross-legged on the ground. There were plenty of stray straws, so it was comfortable enough. She sat down opposite me about two feet from arms length.

She gazed into my eyes. “The key to Will magic is concentration and imagery.” She closed her eyes and nodded for me to do the same. With my eyes shut, I could fully feel the rough floorboards under me and the pounding of my heart. I had to calm myself or I wasn’t going to be any good for anything. “Ok, imagine a white room.”

So I did. I imagined a white room and put myself in it wearing a straight jacket. I couldn’t help it. It was just where my mind went. “Should I be wearing a straight jacket?”

“No, just open your mind. Try to put nothing in it. Clear you thoughts and focus on the emptiness inside. It’s not as scary as it sounds?” Her voice had gone mellow, like she was trying to hypnotize me. Her soothing tones only made me think about her soft lips. My mind was far from blank and I think she knew it. “Alright this isn’t working. I can feel that you’re not doing this right. Just watch me and step back.”

I got up and stood back a few yards. I watched her back go straight and her eyes start to relax. Her entire body went still except for a slow steady breathing, but a hay stack to her left began to shake. I tried to watch both her and the bale, but she didn’t seem to be doing anything as the hay lifted five feet from the ground and stayed there. A few moments later the bale moved in an arch above her head and rolled on the ground to her right. As soon as it hit the ground, she gasped a breath and opened her eyes.

“Are you alright?” I had to ask, the way she was panting. She had been perfectly still a second ago. “Do you want me to get you a glass of water?” I ran by her and put my hand on her shoulder. She waved me away.

“I’m fine, but you see?” She calmed down and looked to see if I had learned some kind of lesson.

“No. All I saw was you sitting there, still, and then the hay started to move. I don’t understand how you did it.”

“Huh, I thought since you can see the Aura’s, you might be able to just watch how my energy flowed. Ok, we’ll just have to try a few other methods. Sit back down and close your eyes again.” I did. “If clearing your mind won’t work, at least with me here…” I opened my eyes for a second to see her smiling at me. “…We’ll have to try focusing imagery. Imagine a box alone in your mind. Don’t put any divots in it to make dice, don’t think about what it’s made of, just keep a simple box in your thoughts.”

I pushed the thoughts of her from my mind, but even then, the box wouldn’t stay the same. What the box was made of wasn’t as much of an issue as keeping it in the simple shape. It would change into a sphere or tetrahedron before I would snap it back into a box. Occasionally it would shape itself into something more complex, like a dog.

“Ok, now give the box the texture of straw. Make that box into the bale of hay on your right. Feel out with your mind for that hay stack.” I did as she asked without opening my eyes. It was much easier to hold something in my thoughts that I had recently seen with my own eyes, but I didn’t understand what she meant by ‘feel out with my mind’. I tried to think about where I had seen the bale, but I was only guessing.

She went on. “Once you’ve wrapped your thoughts around the hay stack, focus on it being weightless. Think that it has less mass than a feather and lift it with just as much ease. It won’t be as easy as you think, but push until you feel it move.”

I furrowed my brows, trying to will something to happen. As a kid, I used to do things like this after watching some fantasy movie about telekinesis. It was just as affective then as it was now. I focused as best I could, but felt as useless as a child trying to lift a car. I relaxed and opened my eyes, looking at her disappointed face. “I don’t think I can do this. I know I did it before, but that was different. I just reacted because I had to. It wasn’t because I knew what I was doing, it was just instinct.”

“Fine.” She huffed in annoyance. “We’ll try starting more from the beginning.” She pulled out a small pink rubber bouncy ball from her pocket. “Normally, when people have done things with Will magic than I’ve seen you do they have already broken through their barrier. If we have to start there then we will.” She threw the ball to me. “Toss the ball at my head.” She closed her eyes.

I felt kind of worried about throwing a ball at her. If I hit her in the head she would be mad, but it I didn’t throw it she might get more frustrated. I decided to just lob it at the top of her scalp. That way it would do the least damage if it did hit her. When I lobbed it in the air, I watched it soar steady until it got about a foot away from her head, then stopped. It slowed to a halt and reversed its direction back at my head. I didn’t expect it, my arm shot up just after it ricocheted off my head, rolling six feet to my left. She was still unmoving, except for a small smile that crept onto her face.

“A basic principle of Will magic is being able to see without your eyes. When you can do that, you can manipulate the forces around you with your intent.” She retrieved the ball and sat back down. “I am going to pelt you with this ball until you stop it. Do not open your eyes, unless you are going to pick up the ball, which you are going to do from now on. Focus your entire mind on repelling the ball as it comes at you. Feel where it is and know when to stop it.” She indicated for me to close my eyes.

When I had my eyes shut I panicked a little. Not because a tiny rubber ball hurt very much, but because I didn’t know when it was coming. I thought she would give me a second to gather myself, but I jumped as the pink terror bounced off my forehead. I opened my eyes, thinking I would need to get the ball, but she had aimed it perfectly to come bounding back to her. I closed my eyes again. This was going to be a long lesson.

We sat there for another hour and a half, trying to break through the barrier in my mind with no success. Our mutual frustration had reached its peak. Her arm was growing tired and so was my forehead. As far as I could tell, we had just spent nearly two hours playing a one way game of catch. I began to chuckle at the silliness of this and, after a moment, she joined in.

“You know, I think we need a break.” She was still chuckling as she got up.

“I would like that very much. Now that you’ve pummeled me nearly to death, I’m starving.” It was now about five o’clock and I hadn’t eaten since that handful of nuts I had after our swim. We walked into the kitchen entrance and saw that Dale and Nicolas were cooking dinner.

“Ah, just in time.” Dale had on an apron and a white beanie with lines to make it look like a small chef’s hat. He was stirring a sauce pan on the stove. “Turns out Nick here can cook just as good as me. Nothing fancy though, just some breaded chicken, green beans, mashed potatoes, and gravy.” He walked away from the sauce pan and opened an oven. “Everything’s just about ready here, so go upstairs. There’s a room with a giant TV in it and I have the perfect movie to watch with this meal.” It was good to see him grin again.

We walked upstairs and found the room Dale was talking about. The television had to be fifty two inches and there were three couches arched towards the screen with a coffee table centering it all. Johnny was already coiled on the couch to the right.

He lifted his head when we came in. “Good, you are going to make it for the movie.” We sat on the middle couch, me closest to him. “You haven’t been able to see it until now, but there’s a whole line of cinema created in the Sub-World.”

“Is that so?” I curtly replied.

“Yes, in fact, Dale has picked out one of the most famous movies in our world and I think you’re going to like it. It’s called Twice Killed. This is packed with action, romance, drama, comedy, and giant spiders.” I chuckled.

We all jumped as the door flew open and Dale walked in carrying four plates of food by himself like a veteran waiter. He handed us each a plate before taking his from Nicolas who had walked in behind him. They obviously didn’t want to have to go back down for another trip, because each plate was piled with food. We had three pieces of chicken each, a mountain of potatoes, stacks of green beans, and all covered in gravy. All of Johnny’s food was cut into bite sized pieces and he didn’t have any silverware.

“Wow, you’ve outdone yourselves.” Everyone else agreed with my sentiments.

“Please, please, save your compliments for the worthy. This is just an average meal at my household.” He and Nicolas sat on the left couch while Chi slipped in behind them, darting his way to the plate that was left for him next to Johnny’s. Dale grabbed a remote and turn on the television to a DVD menu screen with explosions and action music in the background. “You’re going to love this. I’ve wanted you to see this for years.”

He started the movie and we ate while it played. It started off with a chase scene that was more imaginative than I had ever seen. They seemed to have mastered special effects as well as in the real world, but they mixed in magic to a point where I couldn’t tell the difference between them. The main character would be running down a street being followed by a group of men in suits and then suddenly start flying. The chasers would also start flying, but the pursuit was kept low to the ground, so they had to weave around people, cars and buildings. The action only got more intense from then on. It was amazing to watch how the different creatures and abilities so dramatically affected plot lines.

I was finished eating about half way through the movie, but I would occasionally pick off of my plate. There were plenty of leftovers. Once the movie had ended, we talked for a long time about the movie industry. Everyone was delighted to inform me about the differences between real world and Sub-World cinema. Nicolas knew a lot about the history and development of how the movies got made, while Johnny knew most of the famous actors’ names and about their lives. It didn’t surprise me really. Johnny must have been really bored sitting around my house all day, waiting for someone to come home. Dale even knew a remarkable amount about how the movie was filmed.

The night felt like it was coming to an end, so we all took our dishes down to the kitchen, storing our remaining food in the fridge. Everyone went to their respective rooms, but Kylie had to show me where mine was. We walked up together and she stopped in front of the door next to the movie room.

“You know, I probably could have found this on my own.” I smiled at her.

“Yeah, I just felt like bringing you up here myself. If I didn’t, how could I do this?” She brought her body close and leaned in. It was comforting to see in her eyes that she was a little nervous too. I leaned in at the same time as she did and our lips met. I have to admit that I was a little afraid another vision would happen, but this time I just got to enjoy the full power of her touch. It felt like a wonderfully long time before we separated. Her taste was no less sweet than back at the waterfall.

Our faces parted and I saw she was as rapt as I was in that kiss. “You’re right. That would have been much more difficult if you weren’t here.” She giggled and started walking slowly backwards.

“I’ll be just down the hall if you need anything.” She turned but kept her head in my direction. “Good night.”

“Sweet dreams.” I said as I watched her open the door to her own room. Once she had gone in, I went into mine. It was a basic room, but after that kiss I didn’t care much about the bed and small desk in the corner. I just felt like crawling under the covers and savoring the feeling.

Today had been a strange day in its own right, but nothing like yesterday. At least it was calmer and there wasn’t any danger. I hoped tomorrow would be just as good as today, without any more strange abilities. Although, I did hope I could get a hold of the abilities I had already used. I had seen what I could do in my vision of the future, but I couldn’t imagine how I got there. I guess I would just have to wait and find out.

Chapter 12

Dale supplied the next morning’s breakfast; scrambled eggs, bacon and toast. I had found a blue dress shirt and some jeans in my room, so I didn’t have to go around dressed like James Bond.

We all woke up pretty late and didn’t have much of anywhere to go. The kitchen table was full with all six of us there. Once again, Dale made too much for all of us to eat, but it was nice to have a hot meal in the morning.

“So, what do we have planned for today?” I spoke between bites.

“Well, Kylie and Chi are going into town for supplies.” Dale talked with his mouth full. “Mr. and Mrs. Guardian over here have some projects they’re working on.” Johnny shot him a look. “So that means you’re with me today.” He put on his famous grin.

“Great.” I couldn’t help but feel dejected. “What do you have in mind?”

“Oh, you’ll see. Just bring your sword and your will to stay alive.” His grin broadened.

Everyone finished eating and went about their chores. Dale told me to meet him outside in ten minutes, so I went out to the car to retrieve my katana and stood out in the field waiting for him. It was a full twenty minutes before he showed up with five guns, several throwing knives and three different swords. He set them all down a little ways away, except for one of his katana’s, and walked up to me.

“Alright, I know we’ve sparred in class before, but this time I want you to go all out.” He pulled his sword from its sheath, a stick of soapstone, and started to write on the blade. Once he had finished, he held out his hand. “Give me yours; I’m putting a spell on them so they won’t hurt us.” I handed him mine and he did the same thing to it before giving it back.

“Oh, no. I’ve seen you fight here in the Sub-World. You’re a lot better than you used to be. This won’t be fair.” I held my blade out in front of me. He picked up his sword and faced me.

“You may not have realized it, but I saw you executing some moves while we were fighting our way out of the Hall that I’ve never seen you do properly. You fought like General Burrell.” He held up his sword to match mine and started stalking towards me.

“What are you talking about? I’m a great swordsman!” I had to step back to avoid the jab he sent at my chest. I batted his blade aside and stepped forward for a head strike. He sidestepped the attack, blocked it, and slammed me across the jaw with an elbow. “Ow! That’s cheating!”

He jumped back, preparing for another strike. “I know you didn’t stay alive in that castle fighting like that. Fight like your life depends on it.” He went in for a side slash, but feinted down and around just as I was blocking, hitting me in the ribs. It was scary as hell, seeing a blade go straight up towards my spleen, but a little comfort came when it didn’t cut into my skin. Still, getting hit in the ribs by a baseball bat isn’t fun either. He stepped back and lowered his blade after he landed his second blow to me.

I crouched for a moment, holding my ribs with my free arm. I stood straight, feeling the stretch in my side where I was hit. “Ok, like I said, you are a lot better than you used to be. I guess I’m not that great of a swordsman.”

“No, you took down some fighters that might have been close to being able to defeat me, and I’m awesome. I know you know the moves and I’ve seen how fast you can be. Let’s keep going.” He resumed his attacks.

We went on like this for thirty minutes. Every few moves we made, he would land a blow on me. I wasn’t getting any better and the bruises were starting to affect my swordplay. “Wait, can we stop for a minute? Half an hour straight of getting my ass kicked is starting to tire me out.” We were both panting, but me more than him.

“Yeah, sure. I just don’t understand how you could fight yourself out of an attacked mansion and not be able to hold your own now.” He crossed his arms and stood there for a moment before reaching into the sack he kept at his hip. He pulled out a medium stone and tossed it to me. “Press that to the places I hit you for five seconds each. It’ll get rid of the bruising.”

“You couldn’t have given me this twenty minutes ago?” I caught it and held it to my ribs first before moving on to other injuries.

“I didn’t want to heal anything until I could make sure pain wasn’t something that would bring you out of your shell. I just can’t figure this out. Come over here.” I followed him; still pressing the stone to various places. He gathered the throwing knives he had brought and walked over to the trees. “Alright, let’s throw some knives like we used to do all the time.” He handed me half of the dozen knives and threw one at a tree ten feet away. It thunked straight and solidly into the dead center at chest level.

It had been a few months since I had done this with the tree in my front yard, but the weight and size of the knives were about the same as mine. I threw one of the blades he gave me carefully and precisely. It soared through the air and cut into the tree, a little under rotated, but close enough to Dale’s.

He flipped another knife in his hand and threw it straight in to the tree, an inch to the right of the previous one he had thrown. I looked at him, amazed. He had thrown well in the past, but nothing like what he could now.

“There is a certain precision that comes with being a Hunter and I saw that come out in the way you fought two nights ago. I want you to reach into the warrior inside and bring out that precision. Your brother has mastered this and he’s only fourteen. Are you worse than a fourteen year old?”

I looked at him. “I’ve seen Chi do a back flip while throwing a ninja star into a person. Yes, he’s better than me.” He put on his grin and flung another knife an inch to the left of the first.

“Alright, so I trained him well. That doesn’t mean you can’t do this. You just need to break through your barrier.”

I threw another knife and it bounced off, clanging to the ground. “That’s exactly what Kylie told me yesterday in her testing.”

“She’s right. I guess sorceresses and Hunters have the same state of mind when we do what we do. That’s kind of how magic works, all flowing together.” He had me stand at a certain angle and told me to close my eyes.

At first I was going to make some snide remark, but I didn’t want to provoke him when he had weapons in his hands, which is always. “She tried this one too. I can’t see the world without my eyes.”

He whacked me in the back of my head, which turned out to be a nice reprimand from the front. “This isn’t about seeing what’s around you. It’s about killing intent. Feel the blade in your hand and know its purpose. Flow your intent into the blade to make it do what you want. If you know it will stick straight into the tree, then it will. Throw it.”

I threw it, still with my eyes closed, and heard it clatter against the ground. It sounded like it didn’t even hit a tree. When I opened my eyes I found that I was right. “That was terrible.” He whacked me over the head again.

“”Ow! Stop it. You guys have beaten me up enough with this testing. If my sister doesn’t kill me, you guys will.” He chuckled, punched me in the arm, and walked over to retrieve his knives.

We walked back to the weapons he had brought. He dropped the knives onto the pile and picked up the guns. We walked further down the field to where I could see a fence already set up with a row of cans.

“What’s this for?” I asked as he handed me a gun.

“No reason, I just want to see how you shoot.” He lifted his pistol and fired, hitting a can a hundred yards away.

“I don’t like guns, no offence.” He shrugged. “I’ve never even fired one before.”

He chuckled and pointed for me to take a shot. “Well, this should be an entertaining experience.” He waited for me to fire.

Someone should warn people before they fire a gun. If you don’t know how, the instant it goes off, your hand goes numb from the pain. That’s what happened to me. Apparently, I wasn’t holding it tight enough and it back lashed on me. I dropped it and held my hand with the other, rubbing it vigorously. Dale could not stop laughing.

After a few moments, he showed me how to properly hold the gun. Once I got it down, it was easy enough. That didn’t solve the problem of hitting the cans. None of the shots I fired so far had connected. Statistically, I should have hit one by now. We even got half the distance away without helping. It was official, I still didn’t like guns.

After pressing that stone against my hand for a minute, we collected the rest of his weapons and went back to the cottage. Kylie and Chi hadn’t yet returned from their trip into town and Nicolas was in the kitchen nursing a bowl of soup. I saw him get tense as we walked in, but relax when he realized it was us.

“How goes your testing? Are you having the same difficulty as I did?” Nicolas spoke between mouthfuls.

“You know, I can’t quite put my finger on it.” Dale said as he pulled a bowl from the cupboard to spoon some soup for himself. “I know I saw him do it before, but he’s just not feeling it right now.”

“Hey, I’m in the room.” I frowned at him as I also grabbed a bowl. It was now around one in the afternoon, so lunch was welcome. “And I’ve told you guys before, I have no idea how I did what I did before.” I sat down with them at the table and started to enjoy the tender meats and soft carrots. “This is amazing. What did you put in this?” I’ve never been much of a cook, but it was so good I felt I had to say something.

“Oh, just a few carrots, onions, celery, beef, pork, and an assortment of various spices that are a family recipe for any soup. If you like, I can give it to you some time.” He spooned up another bowl with pride and flinched, spilling a little on the stove. He grabbed a paper towel, quickly cleaned it up, and came quietly back to the table to finish his meal.

“So, got any ideas why we can’t crack this egg?” Dale jabbed a thumb at me. He had finished his soup and was leaning back in his chair.

“I have a few. Some, I’m sorry to say, can’t be discussed in front of you, Derek.” He looked at me apologetically. “I believe we haven’t given our current traditional methods enough time to be affective. We’ve never had someone just jump into the Sub-World, so your body might be a little overloaded. If the current tactics don’t work, I’ll let you know about the experimental methods I’ve come up with so far.”

“Speaking of things you’ve been working on, what have you and Johnny been doing cooped up in your room all day?” Dale wasn’t harsh, just quizzical.

“Yes…” He set down his spoon, pushed his empty bowl away, and cleared his throat. “I believe that he and I have come quite close to discovering the proper spell form to capture Cyrna. She may have become too powerful to destroy completely, so this is our next best bet.”

We heard the door open in the living room and Kylie’s voice comes from the living room. “We’re back.” She came walking into the kitchen with a grocery bag in each hand. I could see lettuce and long carrots sticking out of the top of one bag. Another had meats and replacement eggs. Chi was trailing behind holding three bags in each hand. It looked like a lot more than he should have been able to carry, but nobody seemed to notice so I just accepted it too. Kylie began to load in what needed to go in the fridge as my brother set the bags on the counter and went back out for more.

“You know, I can take you upstairs and show you what we’ve come up with so far.” Nicolas had placed his bowl in the sink and was now taking ours over. “Johnny ate earlier and is up there trying to figure out the proper connection trace to connect two of the spells.”

I had no idea what he was talking about, but Dale seemed interested so I followed his lead. Chi had started to do the dished we had left behind as we got up to leave. He always did the dishes at home too, even when he wasn’t asked. It must be one of his little obsessive compulsive disorders. Not that I’m complaining.

“Have fun boys.” Kylie called to us as I closed the door behind us. Before I did, I snuck a small smile through the crack of the door at her and she smiled back. We walked up the stairs and went into his room to see Johnny up on the bed staring at two scrolls of parchment. The room had papers and books scattered around in no apparent order.

“Alright, I think I’ve discovered the proper rune sequence to join these two.” He hadn’t heard who had come in and was surprised to see so many people when he turned around.

“The boys here wanted to see what we are working on. Show them the two spell forms we’ve created so far.” He walked to one side of the bed while Dale and I went to the other side. From this vantage point I could see the runes clearly.

“We? I would say you have done most of the work on these.” Johnny turned around to look at us. “I’ve never seen anyone as gifted at devising spells as this man here.” The compliment was met by silence, so he turned to the first scroll on the left. “This first one here is an incapacitating spell. From what we saw in the last battle against Selene, most magic simply dissolves before it can contact her. What this does, which is quite brilliant, is create hundreds of tiny shields all layered on top of each other.”

“We believe that her power simply breaks through any spell as if it were a twig, no matter what the spell does.” Nicolas had cut in and was pointing at hundreds of tiny identical clusters of runes. “It’s like that old proverb, breaking one stick is easy, but breaking several together is very difficult. Hundreds should be impossible.”

“Exactly!” Johnny interjected enthusiastically. “It’s the perfect casing for any spell to get through. We plan to wrap this spell around this other one.” He nudged the scroll to the right with his nose. “This is the real heart of what will take her down.” He chuckled. “That actually seems like the perfect way to put it.”

“This may be the second best work I’ve ever done.” Nicolas had taken the lead again. “Years ago I discovered an element of magic that has never before been tapped. The Council and I have been keeping it a great secret and I am hesitant to experiment with it, given the moral issues.” He cleared his throat and took a moment before continuing. “I have learned to manipulate the power of souls.”

We stood there in silence, me not knowing at all what to think and Dale staring in shock until he broke the silence. “I don’t know any of the specifics of what this can do, but I know it sounds too dangerous to mess with.”

“That’s exactly the conclusion I came to, but everything else has been ineffective. The way I see it, she can’t defend against something she’s never encountered before.” Nicolas tapped the scroll. “This isn’t what you’re thinking it is, anyways. From the little tests I did years ago, all I know is generally that it exists. Proof that the soul exists would be a great revelation for the world, but the potential I saw in harnessing it is too much for any one person to control. All this spell does is create a sort of cage to trap a person’s soul in.”

Dale put on an amused face. “’All it does’… nice way of putting it.” He leaned in closer to examine the symbols. “So you two are close to finished?”

“Thanks to his brilliance and my assistance…” The cat flicked a tail in his partners’ direction. “…We are about ready to start imprinting the inscriptions onto a power stone. I’m even almost completed with the combining spell to allow these two to be put together. It’s combining something brand new and incredibly strong with an area of magic that is completely unknown.”

“I’m new to this whole magic thing and this might seem like kind of a silly question, but how are you going to fit all of that writing onto a single holdable rock?” I guess I wasn’t out of line for asking, because Dale agreed with my sentiments.

“Well, normally a spell as long and complex would simply be written on a scroll, but because of the nature of the elements involved it has to be put onto something with enough mass to hold a soul. That sounds kind of strange, but I assure you it is necessary.” Nicolas had put on his teacher voice again. It sounded a lot like the tone that Johnny used when explaining something. “The method we will be using on the power stone is rarely used because it’s not often necessary. We will be putting the spells on in waves. To put it simply, we will be soaking the spells in gradually in layers.”

“I read about that somewhere.” Dale cut in, casually pointing a finger at him. “Isn’t that supposed to be highly dangerous?” He nudged me in the arm with his elbow. “Like… massive explosion dangerous?”

Nicolas didn’t waver in his confidence. “We are not dealing with some petty criminal Shifter with a gun and some sharp teeth. This is a demon with enough strength to take on the entire Council single handed. To contain her, drastic measures must be taken. The risk is worth the consequences. Besides, I have performed this kind of imprinting before. It’s not as difficult as you might think, as long as you know what you are doing.”

Dale held up his hand defensively. “Whoa, uncock your trigger. I meant no disrespect. I had to ask. I’m sure your abilities are up to snuff.” He nudged my arm again. “Even if you can’t hold a candle to my man here.” He flashed me one of his famous grins.

“Oh, come on. It was nothing.” I nudged him back and we chuckled a little. “I would be amazed if someday I could become half as good at magic as you are.” It was directed at Nicolas and his face lit up with more pride than I thought it should have.

“It’s in your blood.” Johnny looked up, completely horrified that he’d let it slip out under his breath.

“What?” I looked at him. “You know something about my parents?” It had come into my mind a few times since this all happened. Obviously my birth parents had to play a part in what I am, but I wasn’t sure how much. Everyone else in the room also stiffened.

The cat looked nervously between the other three people in the room. “I… uh… knew your father.” His voice was hasty and panicked.

“Really? Who was he? What did he do? Did you know my mother?” The questions came pouring out before I could stop them. Every adopted child wants to know about their birth parents. At that moment, all the fears of him being a horrible person flew out the window. He used to be friends with my cat.

Johnny looked afraid for a second more before closing his eyes and taking a deep breath to calm himself. “It’s not my place to tell you.” His eyes opened and stared straight into mine.

“What do you mean ‘not your place’? You’re my Guardian! Aren’t you supposed to be the one to tell me about things?” I took a step closer to the bed, bunching my hands into fists.

He didn’t move. He kept his gaze fixed on mine. “I’m sorry, Derek. I made a promise to him that I would let him be the one to find you. You are just going to have to wait for him to reveal himself.”

I turned around and started pacing back and forth between the door and the bed. It wasn’t fair. He couldn’t just let slip that he knew my father, and then try to take it back. The mystery of who an adopted persons real parents are is something that we all have to get used to. When you find out the slightest bit of knowledge about them, that isn’t enough.

I had been pacing for about half a minute, silently in my head. Everyone had been waiting to see if I was going to do something rash. When I noticed that they were all a little nervous that I might accidentally tear apart the room with some undiscovered power, I took a deep breath of my own and calmed myself a bit. Johnny had done nothing but help me through all of this, like a true friend.

“If it is that important to you, I will let it go.” I looked around at the others before looking Johnny in the eyes again. “But promise me, if he doesn’t find me in a couple of years you will tell me about him.”

Johnny looked around at the others before turning back to me. “Fine, I’ll see what I can do.” I nodded my thanks to him. “Well, why don’t we head down to the barn? We think we’ve come up with a method to help you unlock your abilities.”

“Alright, as long as you’re not going to throw anything at my head.” Everyone laughed and we started to head downstairs. Nicolas gathered the scrolls and some papers into a satchel before leaving the room. I went into my room to collect my sword and throwing knives. I was starting to wonder why I had brought them along in the first place.

While we were walking down the stairs we heard the clatter of pots coming from the kitchen. The yell that sounded like Chi’s voice was what really got us running, though. When we opened the door, a scaly lizard-man had his back on the kitchen table with a sword stuck in his chest. Standing on the table and holding his shining black blade was my brother.

I wanted to run to him, but three more creatures came through the kitchen door. Dale raised his pistol and fired a lightning blast at the lead guy. Unfortunately, it was a stone soldier holding a pike, so it hit his chest and only slid him back a few feet, knocking against the two lizard-men behind him. He pulled back the guns hammer and heard a small click as nothing happened when he pulled the trigger.

“Damn it! Always keep a full clip!” Dale reprimanded himself as he put his gun away and reached into the small bag at his hip. When he pulled out two small stones and tightly squeezed one in each hand, a coating of silver flowed out around his fists. His hands were now surrounded by steel. He turned back to me. “Run for the car. We’ll handle these guys.” He strutted towards the three sprawling attackers with two shielded Guardians right behind him for backup.

Chi darted into the battle as two more stone soldiers came in the kitchen door to join the fight. I ran for the living room door and burst through it. I hadn’t noticed it until I was in the center of the room, but it was filled with stone soldiers. There had to be at least a half dozen spanning each corner. I was surrounded.

Time once again slowed as the pike wielding stone men came at me like a pointy rock slide. I looked back and could see Nicolas staring pain faced through the door I had left opened that he couldn’t help me. He was too far away and preoccupied at the moment. I crossed my arms, closed my eyes and put my chin to my chest. I looked inside myself for the warmth and protection I wasn’t going to get from around me.

I stood there clenching everything, waiting for the end. All I felt was a dull pushing that I’d never felt before. I slowly opened my eyes and quickly shut them again. The stone soldiers were still there and were still jabbing at me. Curiosity overcame fear as I opened my eyes again to see that I was surrounded in a glow. It had the same radiating texture as the shields of the Guardians, but it was green. Not just green, my green. It was the color of the Aura I gave off, just stronger.

I lifted my head and saw that every one of the soldiers’ pikes was stabbing my shield with the ferocity of a bear. Some had even abandoned their weapons to just pound at me with their fists. It was a strange feeling; like having a second, much tougher, translucent skin surrounding my body. I could feel every strike as if it were a light tap on the chest, but not enough to hurt. It also didn’t hurt in any specific place, but more in a place in my mind I hadn’t known was there. It came from a place deep down that had brought itself to the surface.

I stood there, watching them pound around me with an odd fascination until one of them split in half at the torso. Chi had come up from behind and cut it clean in half with his shining short-sword. Getting a good look at it from the inside out, I could see that it was entirely made of rock. Chi quickly slashed through another before, with Dale’s fists of steel not far behind, jumping into my protective field. I knew they weren’t the threat, so my shield just let them come on through.

“Wow, another awesome ability. Huh, dude?” Dale yelled as he smashed in the face of a nearby soldier through my membrane with his shining fist. I didn’t speak for fear of breaking whatever it was that was keeping us alive right now.

After a few more moments, the two Guardians joined in my protection. When their shields joined with mine I could feel a part of them. It was obvious that neither of theirs was as strong as mine, but I could also sense that neither of them was completely whole. I could guess why Johnny’s was weakened, because of his transformation, but why wasn’t Nicolas fully himself?

Our combined power was stronger than any of us would have been alone and, because of that, our circle grew wider. The stone soldiers had little room between our circle and the wall, but it gave us plenty of room to run out the door together. The attackers were much slower, but came after us anyways.

Kylie was crouching by Dale’s monster, urging us to hurry. We all ran into the truck, Dale in the driver’s seat with me next to him, and turned it on. The shield now completely surrounded the truck, which was helpful, because the pounding fists of the stone warriors would definitely have broken a few windows. Dale put the vehicle in reverse and rolled over two now piles of rubble.

As we pulled onto the road at high speed, I learned something new. I learned that rocks could ride motorcycles. Speeding down the road, I could feel bullets ricochet off our shield as the four pursuing stone soldiers abandoned their pikes for pistols.

“I’ve got a few bullets in the glove compartment. Would you get them for me?” Dale was pulling out his pistol while he was driving.

I opened it and fumbled with red and blue colored bullets. I handed him a blue one and he loaded it into the cartridge. He rolled down the window and I held the wheel as he leaned backwards out of it. The combination of gunpowder igniting and lightning crackling rang through the car as the blast shot a cyclist square in the face.

He took the wheel again as he sat back down and tossed the still hot gun into my lap. “Why don’t you just load that up for me?”

I pushed open the cartridge and looked at him. “You want the red or the blue, Neo?”

“Surprise me.” He put on that Dale grin of his as I randomly shoved bullets into the gun. When I handed the full pistol back to him, he turned out the window again. The next shot sucked the sound out of the air. The ball of nothing flew through the air and took the motorcycle one was riding out of existence. Without anything to support or stop him, the stone warrior sprayed off into disarray across the pavement. The debris from their fallen friend caused another biker to skid across the road, creating more debris for the final cyclist to go down in a similar fashion.

“Dale, you’re the only person I know who can kill three birds with one stone.” Despite the adrenaline, I couldn’t help myself. Everyone in the truck broke out laughing. I may have been getting used to the fast pace of this world. Once the extended laughter died down, I was able to get out my question. “So, where to now?”

Everyone relaxed a little as the action slowed and Kylie spoke. “We have a secondary safe house for you. I’ll give you the directions.” With that, we went on our way. I was really hoping we could have gone a week without being attacked. I guessed that was pushing my luck.

Chapter 13

Once we finally pulled into the parking spot that I’d passed over for hundreds of times, our suspicions had been confirmed. Kylie hadn’t known it at the time, but the secondary safehouse was actually Dale’s apartment. She was a little embarrassed that she didn’t know who the location belonged to, especially when everyone except Nicolas and her started laughing.

“I think that next time you won’t need to give me directions to my own home.” Dale chuckled as we got our stuff out of the trunk and walked up to the front door.

“Does the Council really think an apartment is the best environment for our testing and safety?” Nicolas slid his satchel over his head as he talked and shut the back of the truck.

“Julius never told you about this place?” Johnny asked as they all waited outside for Dale to unlock the door.

He finally got it unlocked and when we walked in no more explanation was necessary. “Ah, I see.” He walked over to a glowing door on the wall and examined the locks. “There are only a couple of these in the city. You keep one in your apartment?”

Dale walked to his side. “Yeah, Julius was an incredible teacher. He pulled every string he had to get this for me to train in. I guess he saw my true potential.” He flashed that Dale smile of his and pulled out a stone from his pocket while putting a hand on the door. Nicolas stepped back and watched as Dale lowered his head and began to mumble.

“Remarkable, this place must be very valuable to you or it wouldn’t be so heavily fortified.” Nicolas commented as Dale finished his incantation and opened the entrance. The rest of his questions fell away as we all entered Dale’s lair.

I had much more fun this time watching the faces of Kylie and Nicolas as they saw something wholly unique that could match the Hall in size, well length anyway. Kylie’s face showed an innocent amazement while the Guardian was more of an intrigued fascination. His eyes fell on the valuables and library most of all while hers tried their best to see to the end of the place.

Dale walked with Johnny and me to the far right of the building. Off by the wall were a few wheel-less scooters that I hadn’t noticed the last time I was here.

“What are those?” I asked as we headed straight for them.

“These are for getting from one end of this place to the other.” He turned around, started walking backwards and gave me that Dale smile of his. “These are my hover scooters.”

I had seen many things more incredible than these, but I knew by his look that they were going to be fun. “Why didn’t you use those to go get Chi last time I was here?”

“He likes to run the entire length, thinks it will strengthen him or something. Anyways, you can’t ride two of these at the same time and I thought I might as well walk back with him.” He stepped onto one and it made a high pitched whooshing noise as it supported his weight.

“So how hard are these things to operate?” The others had broken from their revelry to join beside me. Chi also walked in the entrance a little after everyone else, rubbing his hands as if he had just washed them. To answer my question, Dale pulled back on the throttle and zoomed in a blur behind a column. It was only a few seconds as he came blazing back out and doing circles around me.

I stood perfectly still, trying not to do something stupid like stick my hand out. “I don’t think this is helping me.” He slowed to a stop between me and the rest of the group. He dismounted and walked the green scooter over to me.

“It’s easier than riding a bike; just make sure you don’t fall off. That hurts. From now on I want each of you to keep one of these with you, even you.” He pointed an accusing finger at his apprentice. “The instructions are simple; the right throttle controls the gas and the left one controls the brake. The further you pull back on one, the more it will do. It just takes a little practice, so give it a try.”

Everyone watched as I was the first victim to try this out. I thought I saw a small smirk come over my brothers face, but it was impossible to tell if I imagined it or not. I stepped onto the scooter, grabbed the handle bars and took a moment to get used to the floating feeling it had. It rocked from side to side, but I knew it wasn’t going to fall over.

Slowly and steadily I twisted back the right handle. Not much could have prepared me for the torque it gave off. Just like with the gun, I was hurt by a lack of information. The scooter had been facing the center of the room and everyone had cleared a path for me, so it just pushed forward about ten feet before gliding to a halt. I, on the other hand, flew off and landed on my back.

“You were right. That does hurt.” I rolled over on my side, trying to move away the pain. Nicolas ran up to see if I was ok, which I was for the most part, while the others sat back and laughed quietly.

Once I had recovered myself, the rest retrieved a scooter of their own. They had all learned from my mistake, because no one else fell off of theirs. My second go of it was also a bit more pleasant. Holding on much more firmly, I started with a small burst forward before jerking to a halt.

We spent a good twenty minutes just messing around, trying to perfect our use of the vehicles. By the end of it, we could all navigate our way through the stacks of books and artifacts. The scooters themselves could reach speeds of up to fifty miles per hour, but no one accept Dale and Chi were brave enough to give it a go. Johnny road around on the back of Nicolas’s scooter and looked like a dog with his head out of a moving car.

“Alright, I think you guys have got the hang of it. Follow me to your rooms and try to remember the way we got there. I haven’t drawn a map of this place yet.” Dale sped off down a column and this time we all followed.

As we soared down the center of this giant tunnel, I could see that there were distinct rooms. None were separated by walls, but they were all unique in their purposes. We flew through a kitchen, training room, meditation room, exercise room, another library, an arcade, and many more before we finally came to what had to be the end of the line. The tunnel abruptly narrowed and we all slowed down. We were in a hallway with dozens of doors. It had to be the only other walls in the whole place other than the four that surrounded it.

“These will be your rooms, just try to remember how you got here. It’s a straight line from one end to the other.” He opened a door and looked into a room. “I’ll stay in this one so I can keep an eye on you guys. Now, pick one.”

I looked in a few doors, most looked the same. All were very similar to the rooms in the cottage, simple and easy to maintain. Ultimately, I waited for Kylie to pick one then chose the one next to hers. It didn’t turn out to look that suspicious, because everyone ended up picking a room that was next to everyone else.

“Great. Get all your stuff settled and meet me in the kitchen we flew past on the way here.” Dale hopped back on his scooter and was off. It didn’t take long to get unpacked. I just set down my sword on the bed and put the throwing knives in a drawer. I hoped I wouldn’t get too used to moving around this much. I haven’t even officially moved out of my parent’s house yet.

I went out on my own green scooter to the kitchen. As there were no walls to separate the rooms from each other, I parked it in the training room that came just before it. As I walked in, I looked across the way to see the exercise room. It must have been pretty handy to have the workout areas right next to the fridge.

“I’m making a sandwich. You want one?” Dale was over at a counter, slicing a tomato into sections. Somehow he had put on the tiny chef’s hat beanie since he had left us. Maybe he had one in every kitchen he went to.

“Sure, just no tomato’s for me.” No one else was there yet, so I walked by him to see what else he was planning to put in the meal. I could see from a clock on the wall that it was just past five; just the right time for a late afternoon snack.

“Dude, we’ve been friends for years. I think I know you don’t like tomatoes.” He applied the rest of the fixings to both sandwiches; mustard, mayonnaise, ham, cheese, lettuce, avocado, garlic powder, pepper, and a couple tomato slices for his. We sat at the table and ate our delicious snacks, waiting for the others to catch up.

It was only a few minutes before the others showed and we were half way through our sandwiches. Chi was the first to arrive, followed by Nicolas and Johnny and finishing with Kylie. As they each showed up, they saw that we had already started eating and went to fix themselves something. Chi made some sort of soup concoction while the others followed our lead and made different types of sandwiches.

“I must say, it is a much more enjoyable experience to ride up on the handle bars.” The cat spoke between instructions to Nicolas for his sandwich. “Someday I wish all of you could be a cat, so you too could feel the air rushing past your fur and whistling in your large ears.” Everyone chuckled as they sat down at the large kitchen table Dale and I were at.

“So, have we heard any news back from the Council yet?” I asked as I finished my meal and pushed my plate away.

“Yeah, I called my father just before I got here.” Kylie spoke after swallowing a bite of her turkey sandwich. “I’m actually amazed at what good reception you get in here.” Dale tipped an invisible rim of his hat at her.

“Does the Council know how they found us?” Johnny took a bite of a sandwich square he had cut up on his plate.

“Not yet, but they have the field mages working as hard as they can to track down Cyrna and the rest of her forces. They still can’t believe someone was able to amass an army right under their noses without them knowing about it.” She took a breath and another bite before going on. “They still want us all to stay with Derek and test him. They believe that she may see him as some sort of threat, so she’s trying to eliminate him. There are a few other theories, but I won’t go into those right now.”

“Great, so I’m stuck with more poking and prodding.” The past couple of days, as interesting as they’ve been, have been pretty annoying. More pain and frustration without results wasn’t my plan for a good time.

“Given recent developments, I think I’ve determined what brings out your abilities.” Nicolas spoke up between bites of his cream cheese and sprouts sandwich.

“Really, How?” My heart jumped at this news. It shouldn’t have surprised me as much as it did, but being able to control the things I do would be nice.

“I don’t think I should tell you the specifics until we’ve tested it out. Prior knowledge may make it less effective. In fact, if you wouldn’t mind stepping into the other room, I’d like to discuss it with the others.”

I was a little offended, for no reason that I could exactly say, but I did as he asked and went into the training room. I took my plate over to the sink on the way. I had wanted to look at that room more closely anyways. It was exactly where you might think a ninja would practice. There were little obstacle courses all around of every sort. Tangled ropes in odd places, swiveling wooden punching men, and a wall with various targets and pointed objects stuck in them.

I walked over to two adjacent walls that were about three feet apart. I figured it must be some sort of scaling training, so I put a hand to each wall and jumped. I put my feet up against each wall for support, but even with all four limbs I wasn’t able to support myself in that position. I walked further back to the third wall. I thought that if I had my back braced against a wall too, I might be able to support myself. No such luck. These Hunters are stronger than I could ever be.

I heard a snap and looked up. Swinging from two ropes attached to the ceiling was a giant log heading right at me. The log was swinging too fast for me to get out and the walls were too thin to squeeze to the side. I was a dead man.

I felt something in me click. My mind cleared and face relaxed. Once again I could feel the strange tingle as I stuck out my arm. My focus lengthened into a thin crackle as it shot out of my palm in the form of a lightning bolt. The eminent death that was flying at me shattered into a thousand splinters and the ropes swung limp with nothing for them to hold.

I lowered my hand and my head, relieved that my life was no longer in danger. This wall obviously wasn’t for climbing. I heard the others talking nearby, so I walked out of the death trap to see them.

The Guardians were arguing with Dale who was obviously pleased with something. Chi was standing back, arms crossed, watching the conversation. Kylie had a broad grin on her face and was coming towards me.

“You did it! We’ve figured out what brings out your abilities.” My nerves were still rattled from the ordeal and I was staring down at nothing. When she touched my arm I flinched back and looked her in the eyes.

“You did that on purpose?” I could feel the anger rising, but I kept it in check. I wanted to find out why they tried to kill me before I did the same to them.

“Yes, but it was perfectly safe.” Dale had broken away from the other two who were still yelling at him. “As I’ve been trying to tell them, the log would have stopped a foot away from you if you hadn’t blown it to smithereens.” The Guardians stopped speaking long enough for Dale to finish. “There are loads of magical protections around this place to prevent people from getting killed. We train here to capture or kill powerful beings. We have to train hard.”

“That doesn’t give you the right to…” Johnny had been yelling when I cut him off.

“No! He was right. I felt something break inside me. I’m not sure it would have happened if I didn’t think my life was in danger.” My eyes widened and I finally looked up at them. “I think that’s how I can control it. Quick, someone try to kill me!”

I stood there for a few moments, thinking no one would believe me, before Dale pulled out his pistol and fired. Even I thought the idea was crazy, but that didn’t stop my best friend from shooting me. I could still feel that clarity of mind I had before, but this time I tried to push it to my will. As soon as I saw him pull out the gun, I knew a shield would be the best option. I pulled from that warm place in my mind and brought forth my green shimmery protective circle. The bullet bounced off of it and ricocheted into the outer wall.

Everyone stared as I withdrew the warmth I felt from that spot in my mind. Now that I had broken through that barrier they were all talking about, I dove into my mind. It was even more vast than Dale’s lair. I could feel all the abilities lingering around in dark corners that I had used before. They all felt like little creatures, waiting patiently for their master to command them. The little pets that had come to my aid so far were only the ones up front. Deeper down I could feel an uncountable number of locked doors. Others were wide open, but their occupants unwilling to come out.

I wanted to spend eternity wading through my mind, coaxing the forces into being my friends, but I knew the others would be curious to find out what I’ve discovered. I withdrew from my inner self and felt the hole to that place shrink. Not to the point of disappearing, I could still open it up and go inside, but I couldn’t feel their presences as strongly.

When I opened my eyes, everyone was staring at me, stock still. When I looked up at Dale and a slow smile crept onto my face, he raised a fist in the air and yelled “Yes!” before everyone started yelling again. The Guardians were once again screeching at Dale while Kylie gave me a big hug. Finally, something positive shows its face.

“You see, I told you that you had the right idea.” Kylie and I turned, still holding each other, to watch Dale’s grinning face yell at Nicolas. “It was true that life threatening situations would be what broke through to his abilities. You should be thanking me for seeing an opportunity and pulling the lever for that log.”

“That doesn’t mean you should have leapt in half-cocked to a situation you weren’t sure was controlled. If you had been a little bit more patient, I would have come up with a more controlled environment to test the theory.”

“Geese, you sound just like Julius. This got the job done, didn’t it?” Dale put on a victorious look. Nicolas saw that he wasn’t going to accomplish anything, so he stayed quiet.

“Look, it doesn’t matter now.” I let go of Kylie and walked over to them. “The fact of the matter is that it worked and I think you are going to want to know what I’ve found out.” They gathered around, even Chi, as I tried my best to explain what I saw inside in terms they had been using about magic. The vast interior was something none of them had heard of, but the little feelings I described were very familiar to them. Each one of them could relate to the feelings I described from the creatures.

The Guardians could relate to the warm protective glow that allows me to use the shield. Kylie understood the tingly moving force that flowed to allow me to manipulate without touching. I even found a little strict precise creature for Dale to relate to. Everyone was overjoyed to see that there was hope for the future and hopefully less frustration in their testing. I was just happy to know I better understood what was going on. There was still much unknown, but being one step closer wasn’t a bad thing.

After more praise, everyone agreed that was enough excitement for today. I saw Kylie lingering, so I did the same. The Guardians and Chi were the first to leave. Dale also left, but reluctant to leave the two of us alone. I had to give him the ‘move along’ look without her seeing before he got the message and took off.

I turned to her and put on a smile. “If you’re up for it, I’ve got something for us to do.” She put on that wonderful mischievous smile of hers and nodded her head. “Alright, follow me.” We each got on our hover scooters, my green and her pink, and I led her in the opposite direction of our rooms. We teased each other along the way, pretending to run into the other, but it was only a short trip.

I slowed in a meditation room and stopped when I came to the end of it. We left our scooters behind and walked into a medium sized park. There were trees, bushes, and large rocks scattered throughout the whole area. There was even a picnic table with matching benches.

We took each other’s hand and walked a small dirt path that led in a figure-eight. I felt a great appreciation for having people here to help me through what was happening, but no one more than this beautiful creature walking beside me. We walked around the relaxing atmosphere for a long while, barely speaking, until we decided to sit at the base of a tree.

We sat there in each other’s arms for a short while. It was yet another amazing thing about this place that there was somehow a warm breeze. I wasn’t even sure where the light was coming from. There weren’t any fluorescent’s on the ceiling, the light just filled everything perfectly. It was pretty spectacular. So was the person leaning against me.

I stared at her face as she watched the swaying grass, most likely thinking of the wonders of this place too. She caught me watching her and gave me a kiss. The sweet comfort of those magical lips was almost more than I could bear. She could bear more. She pulled me in and laid back. The night was not going to end, if I was lucky.

Chapter 14

The next morning I woke up and felt like singing. Last night she insisted we keep this just between us, so I had to tone down my joy. My assumption that everyone would meet up for breakfast in the kitchen turned out to be right. The Hunter and apprentice were the only ones there when I arrived. That was odd; I am usually the last one to wake up. Kylie I could understand, but what about the rest?

Chi had set the table with enough plates and silverware for everyone, so I took a seat. Dale had on his chef’s beanie and was scrambling about two dozen eggs in a skillet. He was as good a cook as he claimed. He moved from one skillet to another, cooking bacon just long enough for four pieces of toast to pop up. He would finish buttering the toast just in time to flip the bacon for the final time a stir the slow cooking eggs. When everything was ready, he quickly pulled the assorted breakfast items onto trays he had set aside. It was, once again, way more than we were going to eat, but it looked delicious.

“Dale, how is it that you’re not four times your size?” I asked as he set the food on the table and I dished up for myself.

“A strict exercise regiment and pure awesomeness.” He flashed me his grin and walked into the training room. “I’ll be right back. Go ahead and start without me.” He walked out of sight as Chi sat down and spooned eggs onto his plate.

The Guardians showed up next, but were shortly followed by Kylie. Everyone had brought all they thought they might need, including me. I brought my sword and throwing knives with me wherever I went. It was for both safety and convenience. It would get pretty tiresome to be forced to make the trip back to my room every time I needed something.

When Kylie sat down across from me, we shared a quiet smile before she filled her plate. Dale returned, wearing a solid black beanie, and joined us for breakfast. It was one of the most pleasant meals I’d had since this ordeal started. We joked and laughed over our bacon. Fascinating information was passed around like candy. These people were starting to feel less like my protectors and teachers, and more like a family.

“Are we going to continue our testing today?” I asked as I finished my last bite of toast. We all finished eating around the same time.

“Yes, I’m a little anxious to see what you can do now.” Johnny stood from the coiled comfort he was in. “In fact, I would like to sit in on your testing for today, if you don’t mind.”

I wanted to object, but everyone else spoke up that they too would like to watch, so I had no choice. “Fine, but I’m not sure what I’ll be able to do yet. I’m just going to have to learn as I go.”

“Great.” Kylie spoke up. “I would love to be the first one to try you out.” I blushed and Dale burst out a laugh. “Oh, you know what I mean.” He settled down at her stern glance.

Everyone agreed that now was as good a time as any to get started, so we all scooted our way to one of the meditation rooms. Once we got there, Kylie sat cross legged like before and I sat a little away from her. The spectators sat a respectable distance away; close enough to see and hear everything clearly, but not enough to hinder the lesson.

She took out the pink terror from her pocket and I let out a small groan. She smiled at that and bounced the ball off my forehead, for good measure.

“Alright, so we’re going to try this again.” She picked up the ball. “I’m going to give you a second to get ready, and then I want you to stop the ball when I throw it. Close your eyes.”

I did as she asked and drew into myself. Opening the hole to my inner power, I called to the tingly feeling I knew to be Will magic. It rushed into me like a puppy that missed its owner. It flowed into and around the areas of my body I told it to. Once I felt comfortable in the feeling, I let it leak out to places outside my body.

The further I spread it, the more I could see. First I felt Kylie’s body sitting in front of me, patiently tossing the rubber ball up and down. Living things gave out a stronger sense, but it was like seeing everything in the room at once. I knew exactly where everything in the room was, without having to dart eyes back and forth. My attention still jumped from one thing to the next, but if anything happened, I would know about it. The people in the room also gave out feelings of their own. The watching crowd was mostly anxious for something to happen, but Kylie was just pleased to have someone else’s consciousness wandering the room.

I could feel her poking and prodding at my mind, sensing whether I was ready or not. I could feel her mind too, but it was heavily guarded. This seemed like a good idea, so I tried it. When she found that my defenses had grown, she took that as a sign that I was ready.

I saw with my mind’s eye that she had thrown the ball fairly hard at my head. I wrapped my thoughts around the oncoming projectile and found that I could will not only the ball, but every layer and molecule in it. I slowed and stopped it in mid air. Feeling a little adventurous, I made the ball fly in short circles and figure-eight’s.

I could sense from the others that their anticipation had turned to amazement. Kylie was still impossible to read, so I gently lobbed the ball at her forehead with my mind. I opened my eyes and watched it bounce off her head, for a change. She had a blank face as she retrieved the ball. The tingle didn’t go away when I opened my eyes, it just stepped a little aside for the extra sense.

As an experiment, I lifted my hand toward the ball in hers. It was much easier to control the flow of will when my physical body helped to guide the actions. As my hand rose, so did the ball. I pulled it back between the two of us. Every atom in the pink terror still felt malleable. I balled my hand into a fist to simulate the ball itself. When my fingers sprang out in an exploding motion, the ball did just that. It broke into a dozen different pieces that fell to the floor.

Kylie looked up at me, smiled, and nodded. The watching group broke into applause. “Johnny was right, you do progress quickly.” Nicolas exclaimed over the clapping.

“At least, this time it’s on purpose.” I grinned back at him.

“You do seem to be getting the hang of this.” Kylie pulled back my attention. “Let’s see if you can create fire without any kind of instruction.” She crossed her arms, still smiling.

I tried to hold back my glee at my accomplishment as I held out my hand, palm up, in front of me. I consulted my little pet of Will magic and thought I felt the word passion. It made sense that passion would be the key to fire, so I did my best to remember last night, which will forever be burned into my mind. I could feel the strength of it surging around through my blood, so I directed it all into my open palm. Above it, a blaze three feet high burst into existence.

The heat actually hurt my face, so I quickly toned it down to an ember the size of a baseball. Once I had it formed, I found that I could manipulate it around the room just like rubber ball.

Satisfied that I was a natural, Kylie had me extinguish the flame. “Not bad.” She now had on her own look of amazement. “It took me two months to master a maneuver like that.”

“Hold on, I’ve got an idea.” I felt inspired. Magic didn’t have to just be about destruction. Maybe I could use it to repair. I lifted my hand and willed the pieces that once were the pink terror up and together. Using the two things I had just learned, I put a tiny heat in between the cracks of the broken ball. I had to close my eyes to be able to concentrate hard enough to not make it too hot. The heat rose to just hot enough to melt the rubber back together. Taking the heat away, I let the ball drop and once again bounce.

Everyone just stared in amazement. I didn’t feel right about probing their emotions, so I just asked. “Well, what did you think?” It took a while for someone to speak.

Kylie finally took up the challenge. “I only know a few masters who have the concentration and focus to do something like that.” She blinked.

“Yeah… well… I did have to close my eyes to do it.” I now felt a little bashful at doing something that normally takes decades to learn, but came so naturally to me now. The thought came to me almost out of instinct. They can’t hold that against me. “Um, maybe we should take a break?”

“Yes, I think that would be a good idea.” Nicolas said as he got up and walked toward us. We also stood, nodding along with his idea. “It seems now all we have to do is tell you what your options are and you can do it.” He smiled and clapped a hand on my back. I smiled back.

“This was just a Will magic test, but I feel pretty confident about the rest. Something inside is telling me I’ll do just fine.” I chuckled a little to myself at that, because it was true.

The break didn’t last long and consisted of everyone else standing around talking about me. I didn’t want to hear it, so I wandered off a few rooms down. I had gotten to the kitchen before I decided to turn back. It felt good to be alone for once. I’m the kind of person that is usually alone. I find a comfort in solitude.

When I got back, the rest of the gang was finishing a conversation about my new lesson plan. “Hey man, you ready to get started?” Dale had seen me coming and everyone turned to watch my arrival. “You’ve got me next.”

“Hopefully this time I won’t get beat up too much.” I joined their little circle.

“Right, I’ll try to take it easy on you.” He smiled and we all got on our scooters, following Dale. He led us down the rooms for a while before stopping at the park. It made sense. Lots of open space without much that could get destroyed. Everyone else dismounted from their scooters and went to sit at the picnic table while Dale and I went into the open grass field.

He took out his soap stone and drew the protective spell onto the sword he had brought with him. Seeing that mine was next, I took mine from my back and pulled out the blade. I held out my blade for him to draw on it, watching closely in case I may need to use it later. My mind had also changed since this morning. As he drew the symbols I committed them to memory and felt that it would stick. The whimsical swirl that used to be my thoughts was now more like an endless well where ideas and memories could be easily called up in an instant.

He finished the spell and stepped back with his sword in both hands. This time he was wielding a hand-and-a-half sword, which meant this would be a completely different battle. There was going to be less cutting and more stabbing and chopping from him.

“Alright, none of that Will magic stuff. Let’s just see what you’re made of now.” I nodded after he finished and held myself firm. He gave me a moment when I closed my eyes and delved into the steadily widening hole that separated me from my magic. I looked around for something that could help in a fight, but that something found me. Seeing an eminent brawl, I felt a precise warrior creature join with me and whisper into my ear. It didn’t speak in words as much as intentions.

I followed its suggestions and let it guide my actions. Dale attacked with a forward jab and I easily brushed it aside, stepping forward as well and bringing an elbow down to knock his sword from his hands. It was like he was moving in slow motion. I could also tell from this quick action that I was stronger, maybe a lot stronger. My mind told the aiding force what I wanted to happen and my body followed it through.

I stepped back and let him pick up his blade. He was a little upset that he had just lost, but I could still see that he was proud of what I had done. When he had repositioned himself, he came at me with full force feinting and slashing at every opportunity. I held back without countering, but blocked or dodged every blow he threw my way. I walked backwards and around in a small circle to prevent myself from being cornered against a tree.

Finally I decided it was time to fight back, so after he did one of his stronger strikes I stepped back and went into a crouch. Springing with my haunches, I did a one eighty flip up and over his head. He watched me the whole time as I whacked his back with my blade before landing behind, facing him. He fell on his face, sword thudding on the ground next to him.

“Ok, you’re pretty good.” He said as he rolled over onto his aching back, admitting defeat. I lowered my katana and held out a hand to help him up. He took it and pulled himself to his feet.

“Sorry about that. I just wanted to see what I could do.” He brushed himself off while I spoke.

“Don’t worry about it, man. I’ve hit you just as hard many times before.” He smiled. “Besides, it won’t be the last time.” We laughed and patted each other on the back as the watching group broke into applause again. I hoped this wasn’t going to turn into a common practice. I wasn’t used to this much praise.

We walked back over to the others and I endured more admiration. “There’s no doubt in my mind this is going to be a pointless test, but throw a knife into that tree over there.” Dale looked like after this he didn’t feel the need to test me anymore. I pulled out a throwing knife from the sheath at my hip, but he gestured for me to put it away. “Those are spelled to hit the center, remember?”

I nodded and stuck it back in its home. He reached inside his giant coat and pulled out a ten inch knife that didn’t have a yellow Aura around it. I took it from him and turned toward the nearest tree, which was just over thirty feet away. I consulted my warrior instinct and it assured me all would be well.

I pulled my arm back and felt the quick calculation go through my head; how hard I would need to throw, the angle I would need to hit the knot I could see on the tree, and the rate of the rotation I would need to stick it in straight. Before the blade flew from my hand, I knew it would meet its target. It struck home in the knot I had been aiming for. Everyone just smiled more broadly while I retrieved the knife.

“Well, I see we can cross that one off the list as well.” Nicolas clapped me on the back after I handed Dale back his thrower. “If you are up to it, I would like to take you back to the library for another go at Rune magic.”

I wasn’t at all tired from my fight with Dale and everyone seemed still eager to continue the testing, so I agreed. We hopped on our scooters once again and headed to the library more towards the center of the long building. This one was larger and set up more like a traditional library; with long tables for study groups and lounge chairs scattered around.

Chi laid down a large sheet of paper onto one end of a long table. Nicolas and I went over by the paper, each taking a marker from Chi, while the others went to sit at the other end. I was amazed that the fact there were spectators didn’t seem to be affecting my performance. Usually with people watching, I get all clammy and nervous. These people have made me as comfortable as if I were completely by myself.

“I am still not sure how you are supposed to know about runes without prior study, but let’s give it a try.” Nicolas uncapped his marker and drew a square with a dot in the center.

My memory well pushed forward that first lesson I had with him in the barn. “You showed me that last time. It means ‘inside’.”

“Very good, I was just checking your memory. Now I will show you one I think you haven’t seen before.” The next rune he drew was much more complicated, even for a single symbol. It had curves through circles and lines with little triangles places in little corners.

Once he had finished, the marking stirred something in one of the open doors of my mind. A large hesitant entity came forward, spurred by my lack of knowledge. It seemed like it felt the need to fill in the gaps in what I didn’t know. The creature felt like it wanted to pour buckets of knowledge about the subject on me, but it only told me what would be relevant.

“This is the rune for transitioning a spell from one element to another. On its own, it’s the symbol for ‘change’. Newid.” As I spoke I knew what it all meant in general, but any further knowledge waited for its turn.

“Amazing! You even knew the Unknown Language word for it.” He turned to me, but my attention was still centered on the paper.

“Most often the rune is used to move an object from one spell to another, like moving a plate from being washed to being dried.” I plucked the top off of my pen. “There are certain runes that surround this one to cause this to happen.” I started to draw the two spells for each task to either side of the symbol Nicolas drew. I knew a portion of myself had to be put into the spell to make it work, so I let it flow through the pen as I wrote. “The structures for the other two spells are almost simpler than what it takes for one to hand off a task from one to the other.” I finished the spells and stepped back smiling to admire my work. “There, finished.”

I looked over at the others, expecting them to be pleased with yet another of my accomplishments. Instead they were all staring at me a little concerned. “What?”

“Derek…” Kylie talked slowly. “You honestly didn’t realize you have been speaking another language for the past few minutes?” I jerked my head up straighter in surprise.

“I didn’t until now, but I guess I was. None of you could understand me?” Everyone shook their heads.

“You were speaking in the Unknown Language.” Nicolas cut in. “I could understand about half of what you said, but you spoke it as if it were your native tongue.”

“Yeah, sorry about that. I’ll try not to do that anymore.” I shrugged. “I guess it’s just another of those little quirks about me.”

“Little quirks!? You could make some of the most powerful spells with a talent like that.” Johnny stood up on the table in front of the spell I had drawn, examining it closely. “This spell is active.”

“I’m pretty sure I designed it to do the dishes.” I felt a little silly saying that out loud.

The cat examined it a little while longer before speaking again. “Yes, but you somehow left enough leeway for it to handle anything you subject to it. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a strainer or a long glass, it’s going to get cleaned and dry. This is brilliant.”

I flashed him a smile. “Why, thank you.” Everyone seemed to have reached their peak of weird things for me to do for the day. Even though they were impressed with another of my talents, I could tell they were starting to be more skeptical about my true nature. “Alright, why don’t we call that enough for the day? I think I’m starting to get worn out by all of this.” I wasn’t, but everyone else was.

“That’s a great idea. It is almost dinner time anyways.” Nicolas turned to Kylie. “Can I borrow your phone? I would like to deliver this report to the Council myself.”

“Of course.” She handed him her cell. “Say hello to my father for me.” He nodded as he started to dial and walked away. “I think I’d like to go for a walk anyways.”

“I’ll join you.” I walked over to her while she was getting up.

Dale had gone past jealous and now looked happy for us. “Chi and I have missed out on a couple of days training and we need to catch up.” Dale slapped his apprentice hard on the back. My brother groaned in resignation and walked off with his teacher to their scooters.

“I’m going to stay behind with Nicolas.” Johnny leapt off the table and headed in his peers direction. “I have a few things to talk with him about.”

Kylie and I waved them goodbye as we went off in our own direction. We were walking for a long time before we started to talk.

“You’ve been making so much progress. I can’t tell you how proud I am of you.” She smiled as she held my arm.

“All of these things that are happening to me are still so confusing.” I stared out into the next room as we walked.

“That’s why I’m here; to help you through this.” Her voice sounded so warm and understanding. “That’s why all of us are here.”

“You’re right. Every one of you has been more than supportive, but especially you. You have been there for me in ways no one else could.” I stopped, took my sword off of my back, and held it out to her. “I want you to have this.” Her eyes lit up like I was giving her diamonds as I handed it to her. “This was given to me by my adoptive father before he passed away. I’ve had it for most of my life and I want you to take it.”

She held it up and took the blade out of its sheath, admiring the shine. She looked through every detail in the guard before sliding it back in. With a half running leap, she jumped into my arms and kissed me. The little voice that warned me to not do this was completely overpowered by the sound of my pounding heart.

“Thank you so much.” She kissed me again. “You have no idea how much this means to me.” She slung it over her shoulder and continued to giggle as we walked back to our scooters. It gave me so much joy to see her that happy.

No one else was there as we arrived back at the library. We got on our scooters, but I stopped when I saw her turning the opposite way to our rooms.

“I’ve got a small errand to run. You go on without me.” She leaned across and gave me another kiss. “I’ll be right back, promise.” I offered no objection, so she sped off.

I pulled back the throttle and flew through books shelved and other various rooms. I was in the park when I heard someone call my name. The lights were mimicking that of twilight, so when I looked in that direction it was easier to make out the campfire that everyone was gathered around. I changed course and met up with them.

“Hey, man. Come and join us.” Dale was holding a skewer, roasting a hotdog over the fire. “We’ve got s’mores!” He gave me one of his famous grins as I dismounted and took a seat next to him. The Guardians and Chi were also cooking hotdogs on various sticks. “Sorry, I only had one fire cooker. You’ll have to get a stick.”

I rolled my eyes and began the hunt. I found a decent thin branch that was bent at the tip. Sitting back down, Dale handed me a dog of my own and I stuck it on. Just for fun, I conjured a grapefruit sized ball of flame and hovered it a couple feet in front of me. The flame was perfect for roasting the assortment of meats that was to be my dinner.

They all watched with casual amusement, but Dale looked at me with a new respect. I could understand why. He had been my friend for so many years without being able to share this side of his life with me. Now I not only knew about his career, we shared a common talent.

“Where’s Kylie?” Dale asked as he wrapped his hotdog around a bun and pulled it off his skewer.

“She’ll be right back. She said she had an errand to run.” Everyone nodded understanding and continued tending to their food, but that brought back the conversation I had with her. “I have to say something, you guys.” They looked up at me. “I just wanted to tell you all that I am so grateful for what you have done for me.” I looked them each in the eyes as I spoke. “I wouldn’t be alive right now if it wasn’t for friends like you. Thank you.”

Dale clapped me on the shoulder and gave me his ‘no problem, buddy’ look. Everyone else mumbled thanks and agreement. We ate for a few minutes in silence.

I saw Nicolas bring his hands down to his lap when he finished his hotdog. He let out a big sigh and had his head down when he started talking. “Derek, I feel I have gotten to know you over these past few days and I couldn’t be more proud of you. There is something that I need to tell you I think you deserve to hear.” Johnny’s eyes widened and everyone else had their attention wrapped on Nicolas. He lifted his head. “I’m your father.” The flame I had called forth went out.

Everyone sat in quiet stillness, waiting for my reaction. I wasn’t sure what to say. I had always imagined the day when I would meet my birth father. I had always imagined setting up some awkward meeting over a phone call and having a withdrawn first hug in some café.

This was nothing like that. My heart was overjoyed with this revelation. I had come to respect this man as well. He had helped protect me at all costs, been a teacher, and been generally wonderful.

I set down my food and stood. He did the same, watching for what I was going to do. My face was straight as I walked over to him. He faced me, ready to take whatever I chose to happen. I brought my arms up and gave him a big hug. After a moment he hugged back.

“Great.” I barely got it out of my choked up throat. I hadn’t noticed the tears running down my face at first, but it became very obvious when I tried to speak. We broke from our embrace and sat down, this time next to each other. I could see him wipe away a tear of his own. Everyone else was smiling as they watched.

“You have to understand, I never wanted to give you up. It was for your protection.” As he spoke, I nodded and wiped my eyes with my fists like I was four years old again.

“What happened?” I spoke only after giving myself a little time to calm down.

“I’ve been waiting your entire life to tell you this story.” He leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees. “I think it’s best to start when I met your mother.” My eyes perked up even more. “She was the most beautiful person I would ever know and we fell in love nearly at first sight. Unfortunately I was dating a woman at the time by the name of Wanda Crewn.”

“I think it creeps me out even more now that I know you’re my father and that you used to date my sister.” I cringed a little while I was talking.

“You have to remember, she wasn’t a thirteen year old girl at the time. She was a fully grown woman who I thought worked as a secretary for the Council. Our relationship was not doing well and I felt this instant attraction to your mother, who was also a Council secretary. She had the most incredible smile. It was like watching a sunset for the first time. When I caught her daydreaming she would glow green a little, like you only not as brightly.” He was staring at nothing.

“What was her name?” Basic questions seemed to be the only things my mind could form.

“Your mother’s name was Dharma Glass. She’s no longer with us.” His face got very sad. “She and I had an affair for a year and a half behind Wanda’s back. I tried to break it off with Wanda many times, but she wouldn’t accept us not being together. I also feared what she might do if I told her about your mother. Wanda was incredibly jealous and overly in love with me.”

He took a deep breath before going on. “I knew that she would do something rash when she found out that Dharma and I had a child together. That turned out to be a horrendous understatement. She followed me one day as I was going to Dharma’s house. She barged in and started screaming when she saw you, Dharma and me all together.”

He closed his eyes, trying not to remember yet still tell the story. “Dharma confronted her and told her about our entire affair and that the baby was mine. I was too slow to stop her. Cyrna explained who she was and killed your mother.” It was plain that he could see the rage on my face, but I urged him to go on.

“Now knowing who and what she was, I was able to act. I had been working on soul magic for the first time and happened to have a spell I was working on with me. I was able to hold her off long enough not to kill you while I cast the enchantment into an object. Untested and incredibly dangerous I poured a piece of my own soul into it so that it would always protect and conceal you from her. With this new weapon, I was able to drive her off, but not kill her. Believe me, I wanted to. She had just murdered the one I truly loved and tried to murder my son.” He balled his hands into fists. “At that moment, I wanted to seek her out and rip her limb from limb.” At that moment, I agreed with him. “The Council had different plans. They had been hunting her for decades and knew how dangerous she was. They decided to keep the object in your possession and adopt you to a family in secret. You were given a new home and a chance for a normal life, while I was to go into hiding and continue my work for the Council.”

He turned to Johnny. “At my request they assigned a great Guardian to you.” The cat nodded his appreciation. “There hasn’t been a problem until now.”

I sat there, staring at the ground, trying to take it all in. “What was the object that you placed part of your soul in?” I asked.

“The item that I gave to your adoptive father, yet was always yours, is the ornate katana that you carry around with you.” My eyes went wide. “As long as you own it she can’t find you and as long as you hold it she can’t hurt you.” He looked around my back, noticing for the first time that I didn’t have it with me. “Where is it?”

“I gave it to Kylie!” My eyes were still wide as I was talking.

“When will she be back with it?”

“No, I don’t mean she’s holding it for me. I mean I gave it to her.”

He panicked for a second before calming down. “It’s fine. We’ll just explain to her when she returns why she has to give it back. She’ll understand.”

It was getting late and she still wasn’t back yet, but I wasn’t going to worry about it for now. I had questions for my dad. “This still doesn’t explain why I am the way I am.”

“Ah, there I’m sorry to say I can’t help you.” He sat up straight. “Most of the time, a child will inherit the talents of one if not both of its parents. I am a Guardian and your mother didn’t have any magic at all. She could only see into the magical and interact with it.”

“You mentioned she would occasionally have a green glow like mine.” I sat forward while I spoke.

“It happened so rarely that I thought I might be imagining it. When I brought it up, she would change the subject. She had this way about her that could make you feel all your worries were trivial. Anyways, I didn’t think much of her glow until I saw you all grown up. It’s possible someone somehow did this to you, but the fact that I saw it in your mother still makes me wonder.”

“Let me guess, her eyes weren’t bright red either?” I switched to a more comfortable position, realizing that I’d been sitting still for too long.

“No, quite the opposite. She had the deepest blue eyes you would ever see.” He chuckled to himself. “I can still remember her lovely eyes darting from place to place. She was the most curious person in the world. Everything fascinated her and she never tired of learning new things.”

“She sounds amazing.” I stared at him in wonder, wishing that I could have had a chance to meet her.

“She was.” He looked up at my face. “You have her nose.” I reflexively touched the bridge of my nose. “You also have my jaw line.” My hand moved to my chin. I hadn’t noticed it before, but he was right. I had to imagine the last time I looked into a mirror, but it was true. I had to smile.

We sat for a few moments in quiet revelry before Dale spoke up. “S’mores anyone?” He flashed us that Dale grin of his. We grinned back as he handed us each a marshmallow for roasting and the chocolate and graham crackers for later. He picked the best times to break any tension.

“Did you know about this?” I asked him as I stuck my fluffy sugar ball on my stick.

He placed his marshmallow on its stick over the fire. “Nope, not a clue. I met Nicolas here at the same time as you. But I’m happy for you guys. You can’t have enough family.” He gave me one of those looks that you can only give a friend of almost a decade.

He was just to my left, so I gave him a slap on the shoulder, which caused his dessert to lower into the flames and catch fire. He quickly pulled it from the hearth and blew it out. Everyone chuckled.

The night wore on as we ate our s’mores and talked. I would ask Nicolas things about his life and my mothers, while he would in turn ask about mine. He told me about the research he has been doing for the Council, while I told him everything I could think of about my hobbies, likes and dislikes. Dale would occasionally cut in with little details I had left out about myself.

The more Nicolas talked about my mother, the more I understood how incredible she was. He made her sound like a goddess that no other person could hope to live up to. I was just happy to be learning what she was like. For the first time in my life, I felt like I knew where I came from.

I looked over at my brother. He was watching us with his blank face, but when he noticed that I was looking at him, he smiled very faintly. I gave him a look that I tried to make mean ‘you’re still my brother and I’ll always love you’. It must have worked, because in a subtler way, he returned it.

It was getting late and Kylie still hadn’t returned. I was getting worried so I suggested we call her, but Nicolas showed me that he still had her phone. Nobody knew where she had gone, so we decided to let her arrive in her own time.

We had long finished our food and decided to pack it in for the night. Johnny had something he wanted to go over with Nicolas in the library, so the Guardians went off while the Hunters and I headed back for our rooms. The long scooter ride back was spent contemplating the amazing advancements of the day. It seemed I’d unlocked my abilities and gained a father, all in the same day.

I was walking behind the others down the hall to our rooms, when the Hunters suddenly stopped. They simultaneously drew their pistol and short-sword as they turned around toward me.

Dale lifted his gun at my head and yelled, “Duck!”. I dropped to a crouch just before he fired off a crackling lightning blast. I watched it sail over my head and turned to see it slam into the chest of a gremlin that had been springing through the air. When the crispy critter fell to the ground, I could see dozens more twenty feet away, all trotting in our direction. “How did they get in without setting off any of the alarms? All well, doesn’t matter now.” Dale grinned and started blasting anything he saw move.

My brother, stone faced, ran around Dale’s line of fire and ran head on into the fray, slashing through the thin necks of the little invaders. He was faster than them and could dodge their springing at his face while still slicing limbs off others.

Seeing a battle, the warrior instinct felt the need to come forward. Lacking in a weapon, it stepped a little aside for the tingly magic feeling to fill me. I wanted to maintain my distance for now, so I remembered back to the death log of this morning and called forth a thin crackle of my own lightning to shoot out of a finger.

I would fry gremlin after gremlin, but their massive numbers still managed to get too close for comfort. As one jumped at my chest, claws and teeth bared, I pulled the warmth from inside and extended out my radiating green shield, pushing it back for Dale to consume it in his void shot.

My circle also enveloped my friend, but it was difficult to maintain enough concentration to hold a shield and shoot the lightning bolts. I abandoned my firing attempts when I saw that my brother was starting to get overwhelmed. He had several bleeding cuts and was surrounded on all sides. Dale and I charged through the crowd into the meditation room that Chi had been cornered in. I managed to shove aside the surrounding attackers with my shield while allowing the apprentice into my protection.

Even with Dale blasting and Chi slicing, the onslaught of little hellions continued to pile up. The sheer number of claws digging into my circle was causing me to weaken. I could feel the shield start to waver as I went to one knee.

My eyes snapped open as my vision went dark and the thundering roar of the screeching gremlins went silent. I could still feel my circle protecting us, but my senses had all been redirected. I could tell I was having another vision. Fading into light, I could see the library. Swarming in were stone soldiers. Nicolas and Johnny were huddled together, struggling to maintain their combined shield and a half dozen rock men pounded on them. They didn’t have much time.

My regular vision returned and there were even more gremlins surrounding us. I had to get to them. The rage inside churned to a boiling point and leaked into my circle. I was not going to let these monsters kill them, but these things were in my way. I poured my rage into the shield and felt it grow hot. For me to get through, they all needed to be gone. I shoved my fists out to either side as my fiery circle shot out and engulfed everything around. Flesh sizzled and crisped as the walls were scorched. Nothing was left standing except the three of us, untouched in the eye of the fire storm.

When the flames had settled, Dale said something behind my shoulder, but I wasn’t paying attention to him as I rose to my feet. I had gotten the little nuisances out of the way, now I had to get to them. A light little creature inside my mind saw that I was in need and came to my aid. I let it lift me as my feet began to rise above the ground.

I could hear the two behind me step back as wind began to swirl around me. I looked in the direction I knew they were and sped off with enormous velocity. My shield, newly fueled by determination, knocked aside shelves and furniture along with anything else that got in my way. I had just gotten my father and I wasn’t going to lose him.

I was too late. I landed in the library and their circle was down. NO! Rock bodies were piled on top of Nicolas. I extended my hand and shot a blast so hot lava splashed against the walls after it hit. I ran over to him, but he was already gone. Blood was streaked down his face.

I kneeled by his body, examining his limp features and barely noticing the pikes spearing at my shield. There were two of them behind me, but they felt like barely more than nudges. Johnny darted from behind a shelf in front of me into my protective circle.

“He’s gone!” I was too angry to cry. Johnny looked a little beat up, but otherwise alright.

“I’m sorry, Derek. Our shield fell and I only survived because of my size. I was able to slip between them and hide.” He was panting as hard as me and I could tell he had a swollen lip from the way he was talking.

I didn’t have anything more to say. I was starting to get annoyed by the roaring of the final two stone soldier behind me, so in a huff, I half turned around and shot two lightning bolts from my palm. They shattered into rubble and it was once again quiet. I sat in quiet sadness until I heard the scooters of the Hunters approach.

“Derek… I know this is difficult for you, but we need to go.” I looked up at Johnny’s urging face and he stared sympathetically back.

“He was my father.” Tears began to fall. Seeing the scene before them, my friend and brother walked up slowly.

“I know… but more of Cyrna’s army could show up at any time. They know about this place now and will send reinforcements when they learn we are still alive.” I felt Dale put his hand on my shoulder. I didn’t want to leave him, but they were right. Without my sword, they could find me anywhere. It was time to stop hiding.

Chapter 15

“You can’t do this!” I yelled at the eight remaining Council members sitting up on their podiums. Johnny remained quiet next to me. He had more sense than to yell at the highest powers of government, but I was angry.

“You have seen firsthand how powerful she is.” General Burrell was now in the center seat. “I’m sure you believe you are strong enough to take her on, but just because we have located Cyrna, does not mean we are going to let you kill yourself trying to do the same to her.”

I took a step forward. “If you would just tell me where…”

“You are the only reason, as far as we can see, that she has caused so much destruction.” He slowly bellowed over me. “Don’t think I haven’t thought of just giving you to her.” I took a step back but maintained my defiant face. “The only reason we haven’t is because there must be something very important about you that she is willing to cause this much death over.”

I held up a finger, a little more calmly than before. “She has been trying to kill me ever since I was a baby. You know that. My father told me.” The Council members only seemed shocked for a moment before all coming to the same conclusion.

“I see Nicolas told you of his true identity before he passed.” The General lowered his head. “He was a great friend to most of us. We lost a friend and you lost a father, but revenge isn’t a valid reason to barge into an army led by someone who can take on this entire Council at once. Besides, she started the attacks on you while the sword was still in your possession. It would have been impossible for her to even look for Nicolas’s son.”

I wanted to retort, but all I could do was lower my finger. He had me cornered and I was out of excuses. Seeing the defeat on my face, General Burrell began dictating. “You are to stay here under our protection. With the reinforcements from Canada and Mexico, our defenses have increased fourfold. She won’t be surprising us again.” He took a deep breath. “While you are here, we will be doing extended testing. Now that you have control over at least some of your potential, we should be able to progress quickly. For now, you should get some sleep. According to these reports, you’ve had quite a day.”

With that, he dismissed me and my Guardian. Fred the suited angel was there to guide us to our rooms. I still didn’t like that guy, but he got us there unharmed. The walk was silent. I didn’t want to talk in front of Fred. His uptight attitude made me uncomfortable.

Johnny followed me into my room when we got there. We made sure to shut the door behind us before the angel could follow. We didn’t want him to see that Dale and Chi were already in there, waiting for us.

Dale waited a few moments to make sure our escort had gone before speaking. “Man, we’re lucky they put you guys in the same rooms as before, otherwise we would have been screwed.” He grinned. “When do we leave?”

“Immediately.” My voice was solid.

“I still don’t agree with this plan.” Johnny jumped up onto the bed while we began packing supplies. “We aren’t even sure exactly where she is.”

“Do you doubt my flirting abilities?” Dale wheeled on the cat. “I’ll let you know that Kylie happened to just be a fluke for me. I can sweet talk almost any information out of any secretary.” Johnny stepped back in the bed as Dale waved a finger at him. “I happen to know for a fact the area we can find Cyrna. If you’re implying that I can’t find an army with that kind of information, you’re insulting me as a Hunter.” He turned back to assorting the stones in his bag.

Johnny could only sit there in stunned silence. He had been verbally defeated. “Fine, we’ll go, but if we get killed, I’m haunting your family.” I chuckled at possibly the first joke I had heard my cat make. It somehow sounded even funnier coming from him.

“So, how are you going to get me out of here?” Dale looked up when I asked. “I’m not supposed to leave under order of the Council, remember?”

“Oh, you leave that to me.” He smiled as he pulled a large black cloak out of a bag. “It’s going to be simpler than you think.”

Once we had finished packing and gone to the front entrance, it turned out he was completely right. It was a simple matter of Dale distracting the front desk secretary long enough for me to slip out the door. He was immensely good at that part. On my way out, I’m pretty sure I heard at least three things that could be filed under sexual harassment.

I kept walking with Chi right beside me until we reached Dale’s monster. We didn’t have to wait long for Dale and Johnny to catch up, but Dale looked like he had been slapped by the way he was rubbing his cheek.

We drove off and chatted about our general plan. In the end, what it came down to was trusting our instincts. Somehow, the four of us had to go unnoticed through a place none of us had ever been while the Hunters tracked down our target. It sounded like a video game, except a lot more dangerous.

We parked a little ways away from the area she was supposed to be in; an abandoned district downtown Dale referred to as Area Twelve. It was the middle of the night, so no one was in sight. It turned out Johnny knew the area pretty well. He had worked around here many years ago, before it had been shut down.

Working from memory, he explained the general layout of what used to be there. The buildings were in three by three rows with the center building missing. Replacing that building had been a park for the employees to spend their free time. Any one of the buildings could have Cyrna in it.

As we approached, we saw the grouping of buildings was surrounded by fencing. Each structure had six stories and was painted a dull grey. It looked like a good place to brainwash someone.

We stopped a couple blocks away from the fence, because we saw a guard on patrol around the perimeter. He was a hulking mammoth of a man; at least nine feet tall with a giant chest and holding a club over his shoulder. He had to be classified as a troll.

Ducking behind a building and huddling together, we discussed how we would take care of this guy. Dale thought we should just rush him, but Johnny was fearful there might be more just out of sight. He purposed that we find another way around. We hadn’t been talking long when Chi, who was watching the sentry, grunted for us to come and look.

The decision had been made for us. The lumbering patrol troll was now running to our left in front of the fence with another, who had been just behind another building. Johnny gave Dale an ‘I told you so’ look that the Hunter completely ignored. The guards ran out of sight in a hurry, which gave us the opportunity to make our move.

Dale led the way as we all jogged right behind him, watching for any other sign of movement. My heart pounded stronger with every step, but my determination and rage kept me moving. We could see that just beyond the fence was the front door to the center most building. The Hunter and apprentice easily scaled the fence while I, calling forth my flittering little friend inside, flew myself and my Guardian over the top.

We landed smoothly on the other side, steadily keeping up with the other two. I found it odd that there were no more guards at the entrance, but just thought of it as a blessing. We slowed as we approached the outer door, checking in the windows to either side of the threshold for people inside. We didn’t see any, so we opened the unlocked door and went in.

My first thought was that this could be a trap, but my instincts told me otherwise. Just inside was what looked to me like a DMV waiting room with a front desk. No one was in here, so we continued down a hallway to our right. It was a craps shoot either way, but something in my gut told me to take the lead and go that way.

We moved down the hallway slowly and steadily. I kept walking forward with my cat right beside me. The two Hunters were checking inside each door we passed. Dale informed me that they were all empty of life, but all looked like they had a purpose. Some looked to be someone’s bedroom, while others were classrooms. Some were cleared out with weapons lining the walls, like a sparring room. This was definitely some type of training compound.

We continued down until we came upon an elevator. I pushed the button and went inside when the doors swooshed open. Everyone followed without objection. They didn’t have any idea where they were going, so why not follow me. Once in, I pushed the button for the fourth floor which also read ‘Bridge’.

As we rose, I felt an impending sense of danger steadily growing. Just before the doors opened to reveal the thin snake eyes of nearly ten lizard men all armed with stout swords, I expanded my shield around the lifts occupants. When he saw that I had, Johnny did the same to bolster our defenses.

Behind the reptiles, a thin man in green robes I thought I recognized shouted the order to attack. He stepped back to watch, while the lizards charged. I didn’t have a chance to get a better look at him. The stout swords were obviously enchanted to battle shields just like mine. What, from previous experience, should have been nothing more than a dull thudding was more like a bee sting from each of the sharp points.

I looked at Dale, who was fiddling with his gun. He loaded in a black bullet that looked odd, considering the bright red Aura that surrounded it. Once the chamber was clicked into place, I clenched myself tight. He fired the shot and a boom louder than even his lightning blast thundered around.

Sometimes, being able to see things in slow motion can be a gift. I watched, fascinated, as the bullet left the barrel, burst into a large fiery arrow, and burned through vital organs of every lizard man. When the arrow reached the thin man, his arms went up and the projectile did as well. It flew into the ceiling and dissipated away.

With his arms raised and the reptiles out of the way, I could see clearly who he was. His face had the bright green eyes of Council Member Cleddeu. I couldn’t believe it, and clearly neither could my companions. She had gotten to at least one of the Council Members. If she could turn someone as old as he must be, who knows who else she has working for her.

The thought was cut short as a thin smile grew on Cleddeu’s face and he pointed an arm at the four of us. His fingers spread wide with a springing motion and tiny white lights shot from each of his fingertips. My first thought was to stand strong and let my shield protect me, but the warrior inside had me twist to the side.

This was fortunate, because the lights flew straight through both our shields and stuck into the chests of the other three. I wound around and out of the way of the other two that had been heading towards me. They flew past and dissipated. Everyone but me and Cleddeu dropped to the ground, in enough pain to debilitate them. The glow persisted, but didn’t seem to have actually done physical damage.

I stood erect, looking the traitorous Council member in the eyes. I may have done some remarkable things, even for the magical world, but this was an ancient wizard with thousands of year’s survival under his belt. I was not going to win this, unless I let go. I had to let the instincts that had gotten me this far take over.

He lowered his hand into a gripping position as something began to form in it. As a person who knows his swords, I can honestly say that the blade he manifested was something to be feared. Gripped in his hand was more a slab of sharp and pointy metal than a sword. It was nearly as long as the man and almost a foot wide, yet he wielded it as if it were light as a feather.

The massive blade came up and into a downward strike. I jumped back, barely avoiding its tip. He went straight through the ceiling above, but stopped short of slicing through the floor. A fair chunk of the above level’s floor fell between us. This gave me enough time to grab onto that tingly will of mine and push my still writhing companions back towards the elevator. I didn’t want them in the way.

Turning back, I saw that he had already cleared away the rubble and was only a few feet away from his next strike. Once again, being able to see the Aura’s had come in handy. I had been watching as he brought that massive energy sword into being, and I could feel another of those little creatures inside pushing to be heard. I let it free.

This was an entirely different feeling from any of the others. The little creature called down to the abyss in my head to a place farther than I could see. From that place came a material so substantial it felt like there had been rocks buried there. It flowed through my arms like the tingly will, but there was weight behind it. Forming in my mind, I created a perfect replica of the katana I had given to Kylie. Once it had fully taken hold in my hand, it lost all the weight that had poured from my head.

Cleddeu had been in such a rush for the attack, he didn’t realize what I had just done. A very surprised look came on his face when my thin katana easy blocked his gargantuan sword. Both of our blades had a light brown Aura around them, but mine glowed much brighter.

He moved quickly into a rage as our blades and eyes met. It might have been the little smile I was wearing, but when he pulled back, his strikes doubled in their ferocity. He was faster than Dale, but I was still able to match him blow for blow. With each cut and parry, I noticed that the size of his weapon had little to do with its strength. Though his blade was easily six times the size of mine, the force it gave off weighed mostly on the strength of his arms.

The close courters combat was restricting. When I saw an opening, I launched myself from a deep crouch straight into his chest with my shoulder. The light little creature inside carried us ever forward. I chuckled a little when I felt his back graze the ceiling before starting to come down again. We burst through double doors at the end of the hall, tumbling to the ground about ten feet apart.

When I got up, I noticed a breeze and the sun in my eyes. We had flown out onto the bridge that connected one building to another. Our blades had never left our hands and we got up at the same time. The distance between us gave the ancient wizard the space he needed. His unoccupied hand went to his side and spread out, palm up.

With a small smirk, little blue Aura’s formed above his hand. I could barely make them out from this distance, but they looked like millions of crystal shards. All were sharp and pointing in my direction. He thrust his hand at me and the swarm of shining death spread out to the size of the building.

My warrior could not dodge, my shield could not block, and my flight would not be fast enough. Closing my eyes, I remembered the escape I made when the Council Hall was attacked. The coned will that had once broken walls was now to aid my charge. I formed it right in front of me and charged forward.

Neither of us could see through the shining wall, which is why the Council member didn’t see my blade in time to stop it thrusting into his gut. The shards had been strong enough to get through my force, but only on the outer edges where it was weakest. They cut a shallow gash on my cheek under my right eye and another on my left leg, but I was left unharmed enough to remain strong.

As soon as my conjured sword penetrated his sternum, the wizards face slackened and his massive blade disappeared. The shards behind me also vanished as he slid down off my blade. He went limp and pail on the ground, dead. It felt horrible, taking away the millennia of life that had once been, but all the little voices inside reassured me that he was not one of the good guys and I shouldn’t regret what had to be done.

Behind me I heard Dale shout something. When I turned, they were all fine, but rubbing their chests. Each glanced at me and my fallen foe before shifting their gaze down and to the left. I had been so preoccupied with my immediate fight; I hadn’t heard the roar of battle going on below.

Chapter 16

What once had been a relaxing park for loyal employees to spend their leisure time was now a dirt and pavement laid clearing. It looked like a place to practice marching or spar, but now had creatures of every variety fighting for their lives. Banshees fought stone soldiers, magic flew about wildly, ravenous gremlins and armor-clad angels were scattered about. Enemies poured from the buildings as the military forces came in through a wide front entrance.

I could spot several people I recognized. From my vantage point, it was difficult not to see the raging tornado that was General Burrell. Though he was at least the size of the stone men, he moved with the speed and grace of the angels that fought beside him. He quickly moved from one opponent to the next, once he made sure the first was disposed of.

Surprising to see, the angel Fred stayed not far from the Council member. He had abandoned his suit for shining golden armor and a long sword. The uptight face he usually wore was replaced with a ferocity to match the banshees. It was such a drastic change, I had trouble recognizing him. He fought like the other angels; using his white feather wings not to fly, but to aid in long lunges and high strikes.

The banshees had almost an opposite style to the angels; they fought low to the ground, taking small incapacitating jabs. They seemed to be the perfect counter to the gremlins that were scurrying around, biting and scratching whatever they could get a hold of.

Human fighters were mixed in just as much as the other creatures. Mages, sorcerers, and wizards were all in their preferred positions; many staying back, firing projectiles while a few were in the middle of the fray. Seeing regular men fighting such beasts made it seem futile, but they did just as well as any reptile.

I had a feeling that to anyone else’s eyes, it would have looked like complete chaos. To me, it all melded like a pattern. The chess pieces all making their moves with a clear distinction between black and white. That is why it came as a complete surprise to both; see Kylie running into the building connected to the one I came out of, and see that she was clearly one of the black chess pieces.

I looked back to see that Dale had also seen her go in. I wiped a drop of blood away from my cheek and we all started for the other side of the bridge. Once the four of us got inside the door, we saw that this building was quite different. The floors and ceilings had been removed up to this floor except for the outer edge walkways. This left us looking down into a completely hollowed out area.

There were ropes and ladders everywhere, along with large training structures. Lizard men were scampering down several of them, heading for the exit to join the fight they had been training for. No one seemed to have spotted us coming in, so we crouched down and held back, watching through the railing.

Kylie was nowhere to be seen. I know she came into this building, so she must be higher up. Johnny had said that each of these buildings had six floors, so there were still two above us. I mentioned this to the others and we all agreed to take the fifth and work our way up.

As we were running down the hall, I spotted the Council forces entering the building. The General spotted us running as soon as he came in. Dale, who was ahead of me now, pointed a finger up then five fingers out. General Burrell seemed to understand, because he headed straight for the elevator, Fred at his heels.

We reached a staircase and decided that they would be faster than the elevator for one floor. Dale scooped up Johnny and we all bound up two steps at a time. Once we had reached the next level up, we seemed to forget that barging through doors was most likely a bad idea.

The fifth level had all of its walls removed except the four protecting it from the elements. Beams were scattered around for structural support, but other than that, the floor looked bare. The large open space with little space between the floor and ceiling made looking at it disorienting, or it would have if it weren’t nearly filled with armed lizard men.

The nearest group was thirty feet away. The majority were on the other end of the building, protecting a large table. From this distance, I could barely make out Kylie frantically shuffling through papers. A small dark figure was seated at the center. There was something about the posture of the center person. Even though the hood of the black cloak she was wearing was up, I knew it was Selene.

The first wave of fighters started to move toward us and I turned to Dale. “I don’t think Kylie’s on our side anymore.” I couldn’t keep the hurt from my voice.

“Yeah, I can see that.” His voice was serious and he was staring straight ahead. Without turning, he holstered his gun and held a hand out to my brother. “I’m almost out of bullets. Give me your sword.” Without a word, Chi hands over his shining black blade and pulls out a pair of Sais. The pointy fork-like weapons made him look even more like a ninja.

“The one in the black cloak is Selene.” My voice was low and filled with anger.

“I know.” Dale was gritting his teeth. “I can smell her.” Before my eyes, his beanie changed from black to a crimson red. I had always wondered how he kept changing hats.

A cluster of over a dozen blade-wielding lizard men were almost on us, so I extended out my shield and pulled forth a ball of fire from my mind. The flame formed in my left hand, since my right was occupied by my manifested blade.

Before they got to us, a long slice of wind flew past my ear and dismembered three attackers. I let fly my ball of flame to take out the two that were just to the right and turn to see the assistance had come from General Burrell.

He and Fred had come from the elevator and looked ready for more action. They were covered in minor wounds, but relatively unharmed.

Our helpers rushed forward into the mess. Looking, I see that my companions have also jumped into the fray. Even Johnny was providing protection for one person or another. My head snapped back to the task at hand and my warrior instinct kicked in. He almost wanted to drop my shield, but I kept it up.

My quick new blade worked much better for fighting multiple opponents. A smooth cut could take out one and leave me able to turn on a dime. The warrior creature was more than pleased with the new addition. I still guided all the actions, but I could tell when I ended up taking a little longer on a single opponent, that my little helper was taking his pleasant time.

Only needing part of my attention on the battle at hand, I looked over at the table to see my sister casually getting up and strolling over to the door behind her. When she closed the door, I could see the sign indicating it lead to the stairs.

My attention was pulled back to the fight when I noticed it was more than just lizards we were against. I found myself thrusting into the heart of a vampire. From right behind the fallen blood sucker, a huge bear’s paw swung through the air into my side. My shield was still up, but it was enough strength to force me into a side roll.

As I came to my feet, my blade went through the tail of a lizard man. He fell to the ground screeching as I turned back to the bear. At first, I was surprised I hadn’t seen the beast when we first came in. It was so tall and wide that it had to slouch to keep from hitting the ceiling. Then I realized it had to be a Shifter.

The giant bear roared and took one slow step towards me. I braced myself for the oncoming charge, but it was cut short. From the bear’s left, the second biggest thing in the room barreled into its side. The look on General Burrell’s face was two sided. The first impression he gave was assisting my fight, but under that I could see that he was just glad to have found an opponent who was larger than him. That smile he wore was definitely one of challenge.

The two massive forms rolled on their backs, each gripping the others hands. In a side pull maneuver, the General gave himself enough time pull out a Scottish dirk from his hip and stab the bear in the chest. Its roar caused all around them to flinch, friend and foe alike. The bear’s paw flew out and pounded the ground next to it. Unfortunately, the lizard whose tail I had cut off was lying right there. His screeching stopped.

As they struggled on the ground, the General waiting for his opponent to tire and die, I noticed an ebb in my strength. I went to one knee, seeing and feeling my shield waver. After the constant fighting and use of my magic, I was starting to feel the drain it was doing to me.

Now I could feel the true amount of energy it took to maintain these abilities. My circle was fading, but the sword was the real problem. I had to release the blade from existence. Luckily, there was a replacement short sword on the ground next to me that one of the lizard men had lost. I followed my warrior’s advice, dropping my protection.

Without the magical weights, my strength returned and I felt lighter. My warrior felt less hindered and was ready again to do his job. This delay had only taken a moment. I rejoined my friends in the fight, working my way over to Dale and Chi, who were slicing their way through the center of the attackers.

Without the shield, I found I could maneuver around blows better. Instead of absorbing strikes, I would dance around them to perform a mortal wound of my own. My muscles stayed loose until they were truly needed. This conservation of energy was useful in steadily working my way to aid my friends.

General Burrell and the angel Fred were fighting back to back on the left side of the room. Dale, Chi, and Johnny were huddled together and fighting on the right side of the room. I was in the center and, after cutting down the face of a vampire, I saw a thin path to the other end of the building. Kylie had finished what she was doing at the table and was running to the door Selene had gone through.

I could see that I wasn’t going to just be able to run through dozens of enemies without serious consequences. My flittering little friend inside knew what to do. I bent my knees and dropped my arms. With a forward spring, I flew past them before anyone knew what had happened.

I landed on the table, but jumped off as my forward momentum continued. I extended my arms to absorb the impact as I crashed into the wall. Recovering myself, I ran over and opened the door to the stairs.

Past the door, there were only one set of stairs that lead up. I could hear the door shut one level up, so I sprinted up the stairs as fast as I could. I was right behind her and I wasn’t going to let her get away.

Reaching the top, I burst through the door and yell, “Wait!”

Kylie froze mid-stride in the center of the room. This floor was the same length as the lower, but only a third as wide. A thick Persian carpet went its entire length and there was elegant furniture everywhere. Looking past Kylie, I could see my sister standing on a step stool to reach the height of the bar in the back of the room.

I watched my thirteen year old sister casually pour a large glass of brandy while, between us, Kylie slowly turned to look at me. Her face was pained. She looked at me with pity and fear. Selene stood in the back, sipping her glass with a smirk.

“What are you doing?” I ask, desperately hoping she can offer me some explanation to convince me she was still on my side. Praying she’s just under some sort of spell. I wouldn’t move, not without answers.

“I serve Cyrna.” Her voice was solid as she said it, but softened a little when she went on. “She gives us purpose. She practically raised me. My life is hers.” She looked at me, partly regretting what she was saying.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Selene’s voice was calm but rang clearly. “A little unknown fact about Demons is that the more followers we have, the stronger we get. I didn’t know that myself until about a hundred years ago and, believe me, I wouldn’t tell you if I didn’t know you were going to die soon.” She giggled her eerie laugh for a few seconds.

“Why do you follow her?” I directed it at Kylie, but Selene replied instead.

“It’s a matter of persistence.” She took another sip of her brandy. “I have been doing this for decades. Getting them in the early years, I can mold their minds to the loyal creatures they are now. That’s why our mother has been so useful.”

My eyes went wide and I took a step forward. “What did you do to my mom?” It was a shout I was sure she would hear.

“Human minds are so easy to manipulate.” She stepped off the stool and walked forward a few paces. “She doesn’t know it, but she’s been shaping those little minds she teaches to obey me. Little suggestions in the subconscious can do wonders when done properly. Once the little tykes grow up a bit, I change them into the reptiles and bring them to this world.”

My brows furrowed more than they already were. “You’re telling me those lizard men used to be human?”

“Yes, but tails or not, they still serve me.” She giggled briefly.

“Why are you trying to kill me?” I spoke through my gritted teeth. “Why would you kill so many people, just to get to me? Is it only because you feel my father betrayed you?”

“Ah, it’s a funny thing, that.” Her casual tone only enraged me more. “I had lived with you for this entire body’s life and not known what you had inside. I’m always on the hunt for energy like yours, but at the time yours suddenly made itself known, I was off at a training facility for my soldiers.”

“Hmh, so you weren’t at a sleepover?” I mused.

“Like I said, the human mind is so easy to manipulate. Once I figured out who this power was coming from, I sent some of my loyal minions to collect you before your full strength could manifest itself. At the time, you weren’t a high priority for me, just another mission for my men to carry out.”

“What changed?”

“A not-so-willing old vampire told me who you really are; the son of Nicolas Swift.” Her face scrunched a little when she said his name. “I loved him more than he could ever have known.” She grew angrier as she spoke. “He came along and changed my life. I was lowly and weak when I first met him. He gave me strength. I cared for him so much; I was even able to suppress my Demon tendencies. I was ready to give up everything for him.”

“That doesn’t mean you had the right to…”

“YES, IT DOES!” She sharply cut me off. Her voice softened, but only a little. “If it weren’t for that sword of yours, I would have found you years ago.” With her free hand, she reached up to the bar and grabbed something long. She threw it over Kylie’s head with her unnatural strength for me to catch. “It has no power now. With Nicolas dead, it won’t do you any good.”

She sagged a little where she was standing while Kylie just continued to stare at me. “That traitor lied to me for a year. That bitch mistress of his had to die… and so do you, spawn of lies!”

At some unspoken command, Kylie held up a hand and shot a fireball from her palm at me. My warrior instinct dropped the lizard’s short sword and jumped out of the way. In mid-air, I reached behind my back and threw a yellow Aura blur in the direction of Kylie’s face.

When I landed, I realized what I had just done. The knife that was always supposed to hit its target was heading straight for her head. Luckily, she saw it coming, tilted back and to the side, using her will to help push it away. Even with all that, she only managed to deflect it enough to graze by her forehead, leaving a long bleeding gash.

She looked at me, with her left eye closed from blood, and our eyes met. I stood there, crouched, pleading with my face for her not to do this. I cared for her. She still had a choice. All of my instincts yelled at me. Telling me she could never be trusted again. I fought them all.

Her one clear eye only showed determination now. I’m not sure if her prior actions towards me had been a lie or not, but I didn’t care. She brought her hands together and started forming a massive ball of flames. Once the sphere had reached about three feet wide, she launched it at me with a screech.

To preserve my life, I let my warrior take control. I snatched up the straight backed chair next to me and flung it at the fireball. Before I could stop myself, I also threw another guided knife right behind it. I couldn’t see her, but I knew what the fighter in me had been aiming for.

The two projectiles met half way between Kylie and me, shattering in an explosion of wood, fabric, and flames. The knife passed through the debris and, before she could see it, stuck itself into her stomach with a thud.

I ducked and covered my face with my arms to protect myself from the flying bits of chair. Unharmed, I looked up to see her kneeling on the ground, back straight and eyes wide. Selene stood thirty feet behind her, finishing her brandy, setting down the cup, and watched uncaring as her loyal servant fell to the ground.

I sprinted to Kylie, dropped my sword to the ground, and knelt in front of her. I pulled the knife from her and threw it to the side. Leaning down, I picked her up into my arms.

Looking into her limp face, I closed her lifeless eyes with my hand. My head was numb, my hands were numb, sounds dimmed to a whisper. I couldn’t believe what I had just done. I had just killed this person I hadn’t known very long, but grown to care for deeply. I had given her my sword, my trust, my love. I had given her death.

Faintly, I could hear someone open the door far behind me. A loud bellow that sounded like the General rang through the room. An incredible roaring wind rushed around me, destroying everything in its path, but leaving Kylie and I untouched. I looked up to see the cutting wind entirely absorbed by my sister.

As the last breezes went into her, she started to giggle and took a few steps forward. I heard more people come through the door. The angel Fred was talking worriedly to General Burrell, who was panting heavily.

Dale spoke, “Take the stone. We’ll take her together.”

It was then I knew he had to be handing the capture stone to my brother. Back at the Hall earlier that day, we cast my father’s spell onto a large stone. It was dangerous, and without Nicolas there to help us, we had to try a couple of times, but nothing exploded. That was the plan. If nothing could kill her, we would at least trap her.

Past my head whizzed one of Dale’s lightning blasts. I hear both of them running behind me as I watched Selene easily dodge the shot. Dale came running by on my right, still with my brother’s sword, and Chi came running by on my left with the capture stone in his hand. This seemed best, as Chi was the fastest and slipperiest of the group.

I was still too shocked to move, so I watched. The Hunters moved together like a single entity, Dale just trying to distract her, while Chi moved in to touch her with the rock. As fast and impressive as they were, she was better. A lot better. It only took one little touch of the stone to possibly trap her forever, but she just seemed to be toying with them.

That’s when it struck me. This was it. This was the premonition I had. There was nothing I could do to stop it. I, in fact, caused it. For the courtesy of my past self, I looked down one more time at the bloody body of the General’s daughter.

I looked up again and Dale was exactly where he had been in the vision, lying on a pile of broken furniture and against a wall. Chi was being held by the throat and tossed on top of him.

She was still giggling as she began to slowly walk toward me. Every instinct urged for me to keep fighting, no matter how hopeless it seemed. I raised a hand and shot a fireball from my palm. She blocked it with her hand, like I knew she would. I shot a blast of lightning from my other hand, which she deflected. Was I really still fighting, or just going through the motions?

She reached down and grasped me by the throat with her clammy hands, lifting me up to the highest point her arm could stretch. She looked into my eyes, giggle ever persisting, a small smile to remind me this was it.

Fighting back with every bit of strength I had only made her giggle louder. She reached her free hand back, to the same position she took right before she killed Julius.

Her voice was hissy and full of venom. “Good bye, brother. Spawn of lies!”

Her hand moved so quickly at first. My curse once again took hold as her lightning quick death slowed for me to watch. Time played its little trick on me. All sound dimmed to a whisper. Her strike slowed even more as it neared my heart. How long must I suffer, watching my own life end?

It wasn’t until she was an inch from my chest that I noticed how much she had slowed. She had come to nearly a complete stop. All the noise that had been humming around came to a full silence. I tested my limbs and found I could move freely. Even though I was still held by my sister, she was moving no further.

A green glow, similar to the one I gave off, lightly covered everything. I stopped my struggling as a force gently grabbed me from nowhere in particular and pulled me from my sister’s grasp. This was not a force of my creation, not from my mind, not one of the little creatures that have been helping me stay alive so far. This was something different.

It pulled me back and carefully set me on the ground. I could tell the light was coming from behind me and I should have been afraid, but my instincts told me to turn around without fear.

My breath caught and my mouth gaped at the beauty that floated before me. The glow intensified closer to the center of this amazing being, with little red spots dotted around. It had no shape, but your mind would tell you it was round. Its radiance washed over me with such love. All of the little creatures in my mind stared along with me in wonder. They knew who she was, and so did I. Mother.

Hello, my son. My name is Tyme, and I am a Spirit. Her voice was melodic and came from nowhere.

“Mother.” I whispered it out loud. The happiness I felt couldn’t be described.

Yes, I am your mother. Feelings and emotions came along with her words and I knew she had been waiting a long time to say that. Her joy was almost overwhelming, but underneath it was a sense of urgency.

“How?” It was all I could get out. I didn’t understand it, but I knew this was my mom.

I don’t have much time, I must make this quick. The tone had definitely changed, but lost none of its affection. As you may know, we Spirits were hunted by Demons long ago and forced to go into hiding.

“Yes, I know.” Even if I hadn’t been told before, I felt only truth could come out of this incredible creature.

We hid for a very long time, but curiosity got the better of me. I went out into your world to explore. In my travels, I came across a woman who had recently died. Having already gone against the rest of my people, I did something none of my kind had ever done before. I took the mind and body of this fallen woman, to learn from her. Her name was Dharma Glass.

“And then you met him.” Her feelings and memories were flowing into me as she spoke. I almost knew what she was going to say next.

Yes. With the memories of this essentially normal woman, I went on in her life and quickly met Nicolas. When she said his name, something inside her swelled with joy. I was able to suppress my glow most of the time and remain undetected. He gave me something our kind hasn’t before felt, love. Even if it had to end.

“Why didn’t you stop it?” I hadn’t really noticed, but I was kneeling now. “You didn’t have to leave.” As I said it, I felt her mood lessen a little.

My son, I’m sorry, but there was nothing I could have done. The first time I met Cyrna, was when she killed the body I was in. It was then I found out she was a Demon. I had to flee. I am a creature of pure magic. A Demon of any age and strength can still consume my essence. Even then, I wanted to stay and protect you.

“What stopped you?” I spoke with only compassion in my voice and felt a tear run down my cheek.

Nicolas. The spell he cast to protect you from her is also what has been keeping me from you. As she spoke, I understood. More of her memories and emotions came into me in waves.

“You enchanted my coffee the morning this all started.”

Yes, you had started to give off my kind’s energy. I knew I couldn’t help you directly, but I also knew what would be coming after you. I quickened your entry into this world, for your own safety. She paused, but only for a moment. You must understand, nothing like you has ever been made before. I thought that if I awakened my power in you, you would have the strength to run. But, you are also human, and your fathers son. You chose to fight and I had to watch from a distance.

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to disappoint you. I didn’t know.” Another tear ran down my cheek.

New warmth emanated from her. Do not be sorry, my child. I could not be more proud of your actions than I already am. You have been courageous, strong, and caring. She let me feel the reassurance of her thoughts before she went on. The problem now is what will happen with Cyrna.

My heart sank and turned to the rage I felt for my sister. “She’s killed many people, she killed my father, and she killed you. Nothing can stop her.”

Tyme remained calm. I would not be able to slow us as much as I have if it weren’t for you. You are helping me with this and I believe that together, and without your father’s spell to hold us back, we can stop her. The method, I leave to you. As she spoke, she moved closer to me. I believe in you!

I knelt there, weak from battle, and watched her come towards me. The closer she got, the more I could feel her mind. It was much more alien than mine, but somehow familiar. It felt like a simpler version of my mind after it was unlocked. Not simpler, just different. There weren’t the many different creatures that mine had, but more of a solid connection to the universe. It was like seeing life.

As her physical form came into mine, a strength came over me that I’d never felt before. My arms spread wide and I rose without stepping. I could feel every cell in my body and they were all on fire with life. I looked through my eyes, but somehow saw more. The universe was floating around me, waiting for me.

My mind changed as well. The individual creatures merged into a single consciousness, which merged with my own. Tyme’s was there as well, but more as an observer than anything else. I ascended my own thoughts to that one purpose, Cyrna.

Suspended in the air, I turned around and felt time right itself. Once Selene had realized I was no longer under her grasp, she took a stumbling step back. Through my new eyes I saw what she truly was, and I knew she could see me too. She was a sponge and I had just become the ocean. To simply snuff out her flame wouldn’t be enough. I wanted her to live, but not harm anyone ever again.

She watched me, fear for the first time in her eyes, as I held out my hand. At the mere thought of it, the capture stone came to me from its hidden spot amongst the debris. Looking at it now, it didn’t have a chance of holding her. The consuming power of her soul would have destroyed the cage my father had built.

I could feel that the core of the magic was strong, but needed more. Pulling from my newly added well of strength, I took the essence of the spells involved and doubled them. Once again, I redoubled them again. Folding the spells in on themselves, adding to its own strength as well as contributing my own. This only took an instant.

Cyrna tried to run, but I held her in place with a thought. She tried to absorb the magic, but I stopped her consuming force by plugging her like a drain.

I left no time for words to be spoken. In the next instant I was in front of her, holding the spell to her forehead. I couldn’t imagine what my expression was, but she had a look of shock that only lasted a moment before turning to terror. She knew what was happening and was powerless to stop it.

The spell took effect and started to pull her in. It took not only her soul, but the body it was attached to. Her figure thinned and contorted to be sucked into this prison. Her screams only died down when she was fully inside the stone, locked away forever.

The task had been completed. The evil that had caused so much death and pain had been trapped. I felt no joy at the accomplishment, only assurance that the struggle had ended.

I lowered to the ground and felt my mind calm. My mother separated from my thoughts, forever changing something in me, and floated by my side. I could feel that she was pleased with what I had done, but I knew she had to leave.

Having been connected to her thoughts, I knew all the dangers that were out there for her kind, for my kind. I would have the advantage of being human, a solid connection to the physical world, but she was more vulnerable. The little creatures in my head, returned to their former state, all said their goodbyes. I did as well, knowing that she would visit me from time to time.

The green glow in the room lessened as she rose into the ceiling. As she passed through the wall, I saw my glow dim as well. Holding the capture stone firmly in my hand, panting, I looked around at the scene.

General Burrell; panting on the ground from a wasted spell and the loss of his daughter, the supportive Angel at his side. Johnny; a tired cat standing behind the Council member, unable to move after seeing what he had just seen. Dale and Chi; two fallen Hunters, bruised and bleeding, but conscious and sitting up.

The room was silent for so long, it was surprising when somebody said something. “Wow!” The word rang around the room in confusion. It took me a while to figure out who had spoken, but when I did, everyone looked at Chi. His face was still the blank stare that he always had.

I couldn’t help myself; I chuckled a little at the absurdity of it. Looking at Dale, I saw he was looking back with that famous Dale grin of his. The sounds of battle down below faded into silence and a sense of finality fell over me. It was over.

Epilogue

“Man, I can’t tell you what a relief it is to be home.” I say, not pulling my eyes away from the screen.

“I hear you there.” Dale also refused to pull his gaze from the newest video game he’s brought over for us. “Chi, cover me. I’m going around this building to loot the ninja’s you just sniped.” I chuckled at the thought of a real ninja shooting fake ninja’s in a video game. To my right on the couch, I saw my brother’s head nod. “Personally, I’m just glad to be out of the ceremonies.”

“Really? I found them quite pleasant.” Johnny spoke up from his coiled position on an armchair next to the couch. He wasn’t paying any attention to the game and only raised his head to speak when we changed the subject to one he could relate to. “Despite the fact that the first half was a memorial, I thought it honored our victory well. A grand and fitting send off to the fallen.”

“Memorials, I’m used to. It’s the medals of Honor we received that unnerved me. I’m usually just paid for my services, not commended for them. Rushing into battle, I can handle. Standing in front of hundreds of people, I have a problem with.” He chuckled. “At least I didn’t embarrass myself like you.” He gave me a nudge on my left arm with his elbow.

“I’m telling you, I tripped over something.” I retaliate.

“You were standing still!” Dale’s giant grin appeared on his face. “Anyways, I’m still glad it’s over and I can get back to life as normal.”

“Ha, normal.” I barked a laugh. “I have no idea what normal is anymore.” I point at the television. “Look out behind you. There’s a demon about to kill you.”

“Thanks. Yeah, normal is about to change drastically for you.” Dale stood up briefly and yelled, “Die!” pressing the buttons on his controller far harder than necessary.

“It’s not that bad.” Johnny said. “I’ll still be here to watch over you, Derek. The Council assures me that, despite minimal testing, they’ll leave your life well enough alone. The course of your life is still your decision. Isn’t that what really matters…” He cut himself off quickly at the sound of a door opening down the hall.

My mother poked her head out of her work room just enough for us to see her. “Derek, don’t forget to take the trash out.”

“I won’t, mom.” At my reassurance she ducks back into her office. “I still don’t quite understand how that spell works. They made her forget she ever had a daughter?”

The question was directed at the entire room, but Dale stoke first. “It’s kinda like that. I don’t understand it fully myself, but I think it works like the spell that keeps the real world from knowing about the Sub-World.”

“It’s a little more complicated than that.” Johnny took over. “It’s a spell that only the Council can cast and it actually works in tandem with the spell Dale mentioned. It weaves itself in and scours itself through the minds of all who can’t conceive of our world. In essence, if you don’t have magic, you won’t remember that Selene ever existed.” The cat looked like he was about to go on, but I held up a hand.

“I get it. It’s kind of creepy, but effective.” I didn’t know how to feel about it fully, but I guess it’s better than having to explain to my mother that her only daughter was an evil demon bent on killing her oldest son and needed to be magically trapped away forever. “So, what’s next on my agenda?”

Well, seeing as you are a very unique person, the usual methods of training might not be as effective.” My Guardian said. “None-the-less, I will do my best to bring you to your fullest potential. From there, it’s up to you.”

He was right. Even though a new world had opened up to me and I had gained extraordinary abilities, my future was still in my hands. I guess I’d just have to wait and see what happened. At least I got my wish. My life was definitely more interesting.