Drake closed his eyes. There was only way he could imagine them defeating the blood oath: they would have to lure Dy’Ixion into a trap and attack from all sides while a group of earth users took advantage of the distraction to land a killing blow. But the sheer number of casualties… “We might,” he said at last, “but the cost will be high.”
“If only we had some type of equalizer,” Rex muttered.
Equalizer. The word caught in Drake’s mind. Traverse Wake was one, but not enough to tip the scale, he thought. Rex is right, if… Suddenly, he remembered where they were, and he spun towards the vice champion. “My father told me there is a room in the arena with a giant glowing symbol in it. Do you know where the room is located?”
“I uh,” he said. “I think so. Do you mean the room that won’t let anything in it?”
“What do you mean?” Drake asked.
“There is this large room on the lower level that we’ve tried to use as a storage area, but every time we try to stick something in there, it somehow manages to end up back in the hallway. There’s also a dim outline of some type of magical rune on the back wall.”
“That must be it. Would you take me there?”
Rex stared at him and tilted his head. “Sure, I guess. But why?”
“I’ll explain once we get there.”
Rex crouched and rolled his shoulders. “Okay then, follow me.”
The world blurred around Drake, and Rex became a green haze as he followed him via Traverse Wake.
Seconds later, Rex slid to a halt and casually waved his hand. “This is it.”
Before them lay a plain brown door, unmarked and unnoticeable compared to the hundreds of other doors in the arena.
Drake took hold of the doorknob, and pushing open the door, he entered a large, rectangular room. The cavernous space appeared empty, even devoid of the usual spider webs and dust such a room would normally collect. The only thing that stood out was a faint image carved into the back wall. Making his way to the back, Drake placed his left hand on the dim outline of an ancient rune. The wall pulsed at his touch, and lifting his right hand, the prince drew a blue, glowing symbol in the air.
The symbol sunk into the earthen surface, and a cascade of colors flickered and danced over the wall. Then the wall vanished as if it had never been there, revealing a staircase leading deep into the earth.
Rex jumped back. “What in Eldrin’s name!” He ripped off his mask and stared down into the endlessly long stairway. “How come I didn’t know about this? And how in the world do you know about it?”
Drake started to walk down the stairs and motioned for Rex to follow him. “Only the Imperial bloodline knows about this, and I know of it because I am Drakovian Rylarth Docdovinun the third, the Emperor’s forty-year old son and heir to the throne.”
Rex had put back on his mask and was in the process of taking his first step onto the stairs when Drake’s words caused him to misstep. He tumbled headfirst down the first seven feet of the staircase, his metallic armor clanking on the stone before he finally managed flip around and grab on to one of the stairs.
Drake dashed to his side as he asked. “Are you okay?”
Rex slowly pulled himself to a sitting position. He leaned against the wall and rubbed his shoulder. “Ya, I’ll survive, just a few more bruises to add to this wonderful day… Wait!” His head shot up towards Drake. “Did you just say you’re the forty year old son of the Emperor?”
“I did,” Drake answered with the slightest hint of amusement in his voice. “It might also interest you to know that you’re my cousin.”
“I’m your what?!” Rex shot back.
“Your father is my uncle.”
“Oh,” Rex took off his mask and hung it on his sword. His young face twisted in turmoil as he ran his hand through his dark hair. “I’m not actually my father’s son.”
Drake raised his eyebrow in question. “You’re not?”
“No, I’m not, and the story I told you earlier, well, it isn’t exactly true. You see, my real father was a dark mage, and I was his experiment.”
Some of the loose pieces fell into place in Drake’s mind. Rex’s earlier explanation had left him wondering why he hadn’t heard of such conditions before. This, however, made sense. “I see. And the healers you spoke of earlier weren’t actually hired by your father, were they?”
Rex shook his head. “Mr. Havanger’s great kindness stopped me from becoming a permanent lab rat, but he had to agree to let the Imperial mages run tests on me as I grew up.”
Drake reached out his hand to help Rex stand up. “Well, blood relative or not, I’m glad to have you as part of my family.”
Rex smiled at him and gratefully took his hand as he stood to his feet.
A soft blue glow lit the vice champion’s face as Drake used Ra’avah to examine the young warrior.
“I’m fine,” Rex protested and reached out to pat Drake on the head.
Drake pulled back and glared at Rex’s hand with nigh murderous intent. “Oh yeah, sorry…” Rex said as he quickly retracted his hand. “Are you really forty?”
“I am, and I do not appreciate being treated as a child. Now that you know who I am, I expect you to treat me as such.”
“I’ll try,” Rex answered somberly. “I guess it must be annoying to be treated as a kid all the time.”
“It is… aggravating, to say the least,” Drake replied. He glanced down the stairway. “Do you think you could run us down this?”
“Not really,” Rex stated as he took a few steps. “It’s almost too dark to see, and running downstairs is hard to begin with.”
“I can solve the light problem,” Drake answered. He brought up his hand and cast a small, but powerful light spell which illuminated the stairway several hundred feet in front of them.
Rex whistled. “Wow, I still can’t see the bottom.”
“This is most vexing. If Dy’Ixion attacks while we are traversing these stairs, the others will be massacred.”
“Then I had better run down them as fast as I can.” Rex moved in front of him and motioned for Drake to follow as he started to run down the stairs.
Initially, he tried to take several stairs at a time, but after stumbling and almost tumbling head first again, he slowed his pace. As Rex found a comfortable gait, he said, “You know, you never told me, or my father, what’s up. All I know is that Vackzilian is now the Emperor, and somehow, he has insanely powerful minions.”
Drake stepped up beside him and repositioned his magic light. “Regrettably, that is the extent of our intelligence. All we know for sure is that yesterday, he appeared in the palace, turned my father to stone, and killed General Turik along with Varlin and most of the elite bodyguard. After a short, but bloody fight, he used a meteor to wipe out the entire House of Lirsdro. He then personally eliminated Algerian with an ice spike. Afterwards, the other nobles were required to bow to him and declare him Emperor. My last eyes-on report stated that Vackzilian was turning people into blood oaths in exchange for high positions in his court.”
“Whoa! Man that’s a lot to take in,” the vice champion exclaimed, then after several moments of silence said, “Wait, how is any of that even possible? I mean, I’ve been to the palace, and there’s no way even someone as strong as Vackzilian could get in.”
A scowl formed on Drake’s face. “I wish I knew. I’ve mentally dissected every part of the palace’s defenses, trying to find a single hole he could’ve exploited. There is none.” Drake closed his eyes and massaged his temples. “Alas, there are more pressing matters to be seen to right now. For instance, I noticed you achieved Patuah while rescuing Alf.”
Rex faltered. “I what? I mean I did? Really?”
“I do feel different, but I thought it was just some type of effect of my singing. To be honest, I have been quite worried about how I feel. Ever since freeing Alf, it sort of feels like I’m leaking inside.
Once again, Drake focused his eyes into Ra’avah and examined Rex. “I wouldn’t overly worry. From a quick glance, I would say you’re fine: most likely it’s just your magic pool filling up for the first time. With your muscle density and physical build, I believe it will be a rather substantial one at that. Have you imprinted any spell books on your brain?”
“That’s a tricky question. My real dad did something to me with basic wind spells, hoping I could use them without achieving Patuah before he… well, did this to me, but it didn’t work.”
“I see,” Drake said. That likely explains how he used that wind spell without knowing it, the prince thought to himself.
“Other than that though, no; we were always afraid of what might happen if I achieved Patuah and accidentally cast a spell without proper training.”
“Understandable. I suggest, if we have time, you imprint the basic book of magic. Your having some defense spells would be most useful.
“I’ll do that.” Rex fell into silence. “Are you really sure I achieved Patuah?”
A giant grin spread across Rex’s face. He skidded to a halt and started dancing around, pumping his arms as he shouted, “Yahooo!”
Drake stared at him and raised an eyebrow. Slowly, Rex’s ecstatic jubilation faded away, and he came to a shuffling standstill, wearing an embarrassed look on his face. “Are you finished?” he asked.
“I ah. . ya,” Rex answered sheepishly and promptly started to run down the stairs again.
“Now that you are able to use magic,” Drake said hiding a grin, “you can permanently learn skills like Alf did with Defender earlier today.”
Rex’s eyes lit up. “You’re right,” he exclaimed in excitement. Scrunching his face in concentration, he closed one eye.
“Stop! There’s only one skill you should be learning right now and it is in that sword.” Drake stared meaningfully at the Stone of Kay. “Hopefully, you have enough newly forming neural passageways or I’ll have to teach you the forbidden spell Vetrolix.”
“No way!” Rex said drawing back. “I’m not using that. It can wipe out entire portions of a person’s memory.”
“You may have to. We cannot afford a repeat of earlier, and your speed is one of the hinges my strategy depends on,” Drake stated in a tone that brooked no argument.
Rex’s hazel eyes darkened in speculation, and his face lit in curiosity as they traveled deeper into the belly of the cavern. “Just what do you have planned?”
“If all goes well, something that will enable us to obliterate the blood oath in our next encounter.”
Dy’Ixion punched at the scrying spell. It hissed and light flashed as the fog that comprised it dispersed.
He had been hoping his wall would send the plebeians scurrying like chickens with their heads cut off. Instead, that cursed old man had used his wall to his advantage! Over a thousand peasants had already joined the arena master’s army and more were clamoring to him.
Red sparks shot away from his clenched fists, burning gouges in the already mangled pavement. This… this wretched old fogey had destroyed his life once three years ago, and there was no way he would let him do it again! To this day, Dy’Ixion still remembered being trapped like a common rat behind that man’s hideous shield and then being dragged off to Victiles with just a wave of the Emperor’s hand—no trial, no jury, and no justice whatsoever. He still remembered the humiliation, the injustice, of it all. But now it was his turn. Lord Dy’Ixion would have his revenge, and that meddling man would die a slow, tortuous death.
But how? With the thousands of warriors from the expedition matches, and the remaining city’s populace on the old man’s side, it’d be nigh impossible for Dy’Ixion to stand his ground. Even with all of his amazing power, taking on that many at one time would be suicide. Eventually, a stray ice spell or fireball would penetrate his guard.
He rubbed his shoulder where the large warrior had pierced him with an ice spike earlier. Even though it had been healed, it still hurt—a few more hits like that would ruin his day.
“I could destroy the entire arena,” he grumbled to himself. “That would end this real quick.” In fact, doing so would be easy, but if he did, he would likely kill one, or more, of the four he was after.
And if he did that, Vackzilian would do a lot worse than poke a few holes in him.
No, Dy’Ixion’s only option was to attack the arena head on. Of course, that meant he’d have to fight an entire army. If only he could break their will to fight somehow.
His pale grey eyes lit up and he grinned. “That’s it,” he said, his hands lighting up the dark night with a purplish glow as he knelt down and charged energy into the broken street. The earth pulsed as his power twisted and formed the gravel into a perfectly smooth circle five feet in diameter around him.
Then he released his charge, and the air whistled around him as his pillar shot forth from the ground, raising him high into the sky until the entire city lay out before him as far as the eye could see. This high up, the chilly air nipped at his arms, and the brisk wind tore at his clothes, but he ignored the discomfort as he walked to the edge of the pillar and looked down. Far below, black birds already feasted on the soldiers he had massacred. Dy’Ixion smirked and scanned the horizon until his eyes alighted upon the arena.
Only the area directly above the pit lay open to the sky, but from his angle, he could see thousands of people the size of ants moving around in the stands.
“This will be perfect,” he cackled.
Hervey sat scrunched up behind a pair of teenage girls playing patty cake. All around him, the stands were jammed pack full of people, and far below, tens-of-thousands crowded into the large battlefield. Just like him, they were all hiding, hoping against hope someone would vanquish the monster that had laid siege to the city.
Once again, one of Mr. Havanger’s men activated the arena’s voice amplifying spell as he stood in the announcer box and asked for volunteers.
Hervey scrunched further into his seat, hoping the man he only knew as Light-pierce didn’t see him as he scanned the crowd. Mr. Havanger would have his hide if he knew he was cowering in the stands, as well as his job, but there was no way on earth he was going to risk his life against that dark monster again! He absentmindedly touched the side of his face as he hid his head behind the girl in front of him; it was still pink and tender where the skin had been burned to the bone and then healed and made whole. Thanks to that, whatever he was, Hervey had not only lost part of his face, he had almost gurgled to death in his own blood—and he would have, if Zaphaniea’s spell hadn’t saved them all.
He closed his eyes, trying to close out the memory of the fire and screams of dying men all around him.
The mother of the girls in front of him turned to the father, a skinny wisp of a man, and angrily muttered, “They still haven’t told us who is attacking us and why.”
“I don’t think they know,” someone Hervey couldn’t see a row down answered.
An old lady sitting to his left crossed her arms and said, “I’d bet my last crypto it has something to do with Garvan’s constant mysterious business trips.”
“Garvan?” the mother asked.
“Mr. Havanger dear, the owner and proprietor of this arena,” the older lady explained. “He’s one of the most influential men in town, but he’s always gone on business and no one ever knows where to.”
Suddenly, an earth-shattering crack resounded throughout the arena, cutting the mother off mid-sentence and causing the crowds to come to a standstill. Then the glass awning far above them exploded. Screams filled the air as Hervey covered his head with both hands and rocked forward as thousands of pebble-sized shards of glass rained down, pelting his back.
As the sound of tinkling glass faded away, Hervey uncurled and looked up to see a dark cloud form above them and drift into the now roofless arena. A chill ran down his spine as the dark mass slowly formed into a black shadow of a man. As if it were a creature summoned from the abyss, blazing red eyes flashed to life in the hovering apparition and glared down at them.
“Shield!” Light-pierce’s amplified voice shouted from the announcer’s box, and a giant, blue channeled shield sprung to life over the whole area as hundreds stood to their feet and threw their hands skywards, adding their energy to the defense spell.
A deep, bellowing laugh erupted from the soulless specter. Seconds later, a large portion of the arena’s wall, high above Hervey, curled like a striking scorpion and smashed into the shield, shattering it and then exploding into a shower of dust and rock.
Once again, Hervey ducked and covered his head as debris rained down and women and children screamed in terror.
“Fools!” the shadow bellowed. “I am Lord Dy’Ixion, emissary of the supreme Emperor. If I so wished, I could crush every single one of you like the worthless worms you are. But I’m a benevolent man. I’ll give you all one chance to save your pathetic lives.”
A large, low-res scrying formed beside the red-eyed shadow, depicting pictures of Mr. Havanger, the grand and vice champion, the child who wore a black eye-patch, and a large man Hervey was certain was Alf.
“You have fifteen minutes to deliver these five people to me, chained and bound!” the specter bellowed. “If you fail to do so,” lighting erupted from the shadowy image and burned along the upper rim of the arena, leaving deep, smoldering gauges in the stone, “I will bring this building down around your ears and feed on your life energy for my own entertainment. The clock,” his voice hissed in the air, “starts now.”
The shadow vanished, leaving the low-res scrying, depicting the five fugitives, hanging in the night sky.
What in Eldrin’s name has Alf and the others done to incite the demon’s wrath? Hervey thought.
Unintelligible babble erupted all around him until someone climbed up on the railing and shouted, “Well, what are you all waiting for?! I’m not dying for these people. I say we hand them over to the monster and save our own hides. What say you!?”
The crowd roared in agreement.
“Wait, wait!” Light-pierce shouted from the announcer’s box, trying to calm down the people, but just as he started to say more, someone climbed over the side of the box and smashed a bottle over his head, then threw him down to the awaiting crowd below.
Hervey covered his mouth in horror as he clambered to his feet. He had to warn Mr. Havanger!
Back standing on his earthen pillar, Dy’Ixion cackled to himself as he watched the insects in the arena form into an organized mob.
The old man wouldn’t even know what hit him.
Rex carefully took one step at a time as he ran down the long stairway. A sense of urgency rode him hard and he struggled to concentrate; he needed to get back to his father before that creature attacked again. Still, despite his caution, his foot missed a step and he reached out with his left hand to steady himself against the wall. As his hand met the surface, he jerked it back in surprise, then placed it on the wall once more.
Warm energy thrummed beneath his fingers.
Glancing out of the corner of his eye, he studied the wall in curiosity as he made his way downward.
Plain and unmarked, much like the door from earlier, the simple walls were made out of some type of reddish-clay rock. In fact, as Rex looked around, he noticed the entire passageway was constructed out of the same reddish-brown substance. But, unlike most earthen walls, every square inch of this one was perfectly smooth, the kind of smooth only a master of earth magic could possibly achieve. It must’ve taken more than one master, he thought to himself.
As he descended ever deeper, the stairwell began to hum, and Rex’s arm hairs stood on end. The sizzling currents ran up his feet, through his legs, and flooded into his core. It felt like he was being embraced by a warm mother’s hug, not that he would know though, since Rex had never known his mother. Casting his glance forward, he quickly shook off the uncomfortable thought.
Hey, he noticed, this whole passageway is as straight as Hervey’s battlefields. If I had a stiff mat, I could slide down the entire stairway, he smiled to himself. It would be like the world’s largest slide. Then his smile abruptly faded as the more mature side of him reminded him about the possible sudden squash at the end of said slide.
Finally, the high ceiling suddenly shifted, and the bottom of the stairway came into view.
“When we reach the bottom, you need to learn Traverse Wake while I retrieve the artifact,” Drake stated with that strange authoritative voice of his.
“You’ve got it boss,” Rex answered. It was still hard for him to believe that the kid was forty years old and the Imperial heir to the Empire, but somehow, it kind of made sense. Everything about his mannerisms and posture was far too mature for him to be anything but.
As they reached the base of the stairs, a massive dome-shaped room loomed before them and Rex whistled.
Soaring over eighty feet into the air, Drake’s light barely illuminated the concave ceiling, but the sheer enormity of the chamber wasn’t what made him whistle; in the exact center of the room, a huge white machine towered over them, the likes he had never seen before.
“By the ten regions, what is this place?” Rex exclaimed. “And what is that thing!?” As if to punctuate his words, the massive contraption released a giant sigh, then squeaked and sighed again.
Drake didn’t answer his question right away; instead, he put his left arm in front of Rex to keep him from taking another step, then reached out his right hand as if he were messing with some type of invisible barrier. After a long moment, the tips of his fingers flashed blue, and the prince sighed and said, “We refer to it as a fountain. It endlessly generates magical energy. Though the people that made it called it a perpetual motion machine. They also referred to the energy it produced as ‘electricity’.”
Rex’s eyes traveled to the pinnacle at the top. “Sweet, so where did it come from?”
“Wait here,” Drake stated as he walked towards the machine and started examining the odd structure. “Approximately a thousand years ago, people made amazing devices, but unlike the magical devices of today that use the energy in our bodies, theirs were powered by everyday electricity. You see, back then electricity was produced by dams, giant furnaces, wind powered fans, and even unstable nuclear processes; however, as time went on, power-hungry people paid so-called scientists to say these mechanisms were destroying the world, when in fact, they really just had a hidden agenda. Using these excuses, the corrupt governments of the time put more regulations on the people. Eventually, they systematically shut down the places providing energy to the common citizens, and as a result, the prices of energy skyrocketed until only the rich could afford it.”
“The people who made this device hoped to solve that problem,” Drake said as he cautiously touched a glowing dial on the machine and the room lit up as bright as day. The prince stepped back, and the floor at his feet hissed as a section of earth slid away and a crystal pillar emerged from the red clay. Placing his right hand on the glass structure, his palm sunk into the glass.
Drake winced as a bead of blood flowed through the transparent surface, and an alien, female voice announced, “Welcome Dragon-kin.”
The prince sighed in relief and turned to Rex. “You’re free to move around now.”
“Man, that’s some security system,” Rex said as he watched the glass pillar sink back into the floor.
“That’s because only four of these machines were ever made,” he said as he healed the small prick in his hand. “Due to greed and love of money, most of the scientists that helped create them were killed in cold blood, and despite their best efforts, even the dragons could not replicate them.”
Free to move about, Rex walked along the outer edge of the room. Boring in comparison to the security system, the chamber looked dull and unadorned; only the white tower pierced its empty midst. Forming a perfect circle, the room had only one entrance and exit way. He paused and peered closely at the walls as he realized there were no cobwebs or insects, just like the room upstairs; in fact, there was no signs of life of any kind. The circular dome structure deep in the earth seemed amazingly sterile.
“So what happened after all that?” Rex asked.
Drake walked around the machine until he found four square knobs. Leaning closer, he used his hands to measure one of them. “I’m sad to say the entire world entered a very dark time in which the rich and powerful were the only ones with access to energy, while everyone else was forced to live lives akin to slavery. As you may suspect, the common people tried to rebel multiple times, but the difference in technology was too vast, it was like mortals fighting against demigods, and every rebellion quickly ended in a slaughter.”
“Ow,” Rex said as he imagined what it would be like if all the people who had achieved Patuah enslaved those who hadn’t. “So what happened? How did we end up like we have today?”
“I’ll tell you as you learn Traverse Wake,” Drake said as he used water magic to form a hardened tool of ice. “We don’t have much time.”
“Oh, ya.” Rex reached down with his left hand and gently pulled the Stone of Kay off of his old sword. He had forgotten about it in all the excitement.
Using the icy tool to turn one of the many metal knobs, Drake continued his history lesson, “The records in the Imperial archives are a bit sketchy on the details. Apparently, though, a young child to a wealthy family watched his parents die in front of him. Later in his life, he somehow managed to create the first spell ever made, and then he freely shared his discovery with everyone.”
“Expel skill Traverse Wake,” Rex whispered to the stone, then scratched his head as he watched the small green gem inside gradually make its way out. “Wait, do you mean to tell me that’s all we know about the man who created spells?”
The knob Drake had been twisting fell to the floor and he slid back a metal plating. “No, not exactly. After extensive research, I was able to find what seemed to be a journal written by the young man, published before the Great Wars.
“In this journal, he tells how as a young child he was eating a pastry covered in sugar. After eating it, he set the plate with the leftover sugar on a box that produced sound through a device called a ‘speaker’. To his amazement, the sound vibrations coming from the speaker made the sugar on the plate form weird symbols. This was the start of his fascination with sound waves, which eventually grew into experiments with all types of frequencies. To his dismay, though, finding things that produced substantial amount of frequencies proved difficult, and the devices he did acquire required significant amounts of electricity, which was expensive, so even if he discovered anything useful, the cost was just not worth anyone ever utilizing what he discovered. Then, one day, he found out that the white blood cells in the human body could emit all types of frequencies. This sent his young and curious mind spinning with thousands of ‘what if’ questions. By the time he was seventeen, he had developed a program that, when imprinted upon the human mind, would trick the caster’s white blood cells into believing the body was under attack. At the same time, it would tell them the only way they could defeat the attack was to emit certain wave lengths. He then used [audited by the watcher] to imprint the program on his brain.
“Once he was certain the program had imprinted properly, he went to try out the first spell ever made. The spell was a rather simple one, all it was supposed to do was to trick his white blood cells into emitting a twenty three Hertz sound wave frequency that would make water spiral as it fell. However, because the electricity in the human body is substantially more potent than the type he was used to using, his spell made all the water in his fountain twist in an ever-increasing speed counterclockwise until it stood up straight in a giant spiral.
“The young man was so excited, he made the world’s first magic books containing his ‘magic spell,’ as he referred to it, and handed them out freely to anyone who wanted them.
“At first, those in power thought it was just a fake illusionist trick for children, and didn’t think anything of it, but it wasn’t long before other spells were created using the first as their template. Within the following year, many new spells were formulated, and the poor, who were basically nothing but slaves, began to gain great power and influence. To add insult to injury, it was only the poorest of poor who were able to use these new spells and abilities. It wasn’t until the end of the second year that the bureaucracy finally concluded magic was indeed real, and it was a genuine threat to those in power. Laws were declared and an example set to be made, and that is when the upset in history took place. An army with their advanced technology and weaponry marched on the biggest hub of magic users, only to be utterly defeated, their tech out-classed and out-matched by spells designed specifically to counter them. After this unexpected turn of events, the powers that be tucked their tails and fled, afraid of what would happen if the masses revolted. With the laws against magic revoked, the rich and powerful lost the majority of their money and influence as the lower class created new jobs for themselves. In the end, most of the slaves freed themselves from their oppressors without ever picking up a weapon of any kind.”
Drake absentmindedly picked up the knob which had dropped earlier. “For over two hundred years, the world entered a new Golden Age. During this time, it was discovered that everyone could use magic, but they first had to have their magic opened, or achieve Patuah as we now call it. It turns out the reason only the poor could use magic in the beginning was because most of them had experienced unprecedented trauma and achieved Patuah without even realizing it.”
While he was listening, Rex had pushed the green gem housing Traverse Wake against his temple and absorbed it into his head. Now the skill lit up inside his mind and he smiled. “I have enough to learn it,” he yelled excitedly.
Drake stood up and rubbed his hand against his side. “That’s excellent news.” He produced a new tool and reached inside the machine outside of Rex’s view. “Remember to put the gem back when you’re done.”
Rex closed his eyes and allotted a massive swath of his newly formed neural passageways to the skill, learning it. “I’m on it,” he answered as he put his right hand to his forehead and commanded the skill gem to leave.
“That’s not the end of the story though is it?” Rex asked. “I mean, where do the dragons come into play in all this? I know they didn’t create the world as some of the legends say, but I haven’t a clue how things ended up like they are nowadays.”
Drake leaned over as he reached farther inside the machine. “Greed and lust for power, that’s how. The desire to rule over other men is one of the darkest parts of humankind. Two hundred and thirty-seven years after the first spell was made, the Great War broke out and the entire world was engulfed inside its never ending conflict. During that time, the spells we now call combat spells were made and every soldier used them. Eventually, one side of the warring factions achieved a biological breakthrough. Messing with DNA and genetic code, they made beasts with the intelligence of men, and they called these beasts ‘Dragons.’ These creatures could morph into human or beast at will, and one could easily shred a thousand trained soldiers at a time.
“Approximately fifty of these creatures were fabricated. Using the dragons, the faction who created them won the Great War; however, the dragons soon turned on their creators and destroyed them and their entire government. They then decided to rule over mankind. Using their massive powers, they rearranged the continents, created one global language, and established their own form of government, but it wasn’t long before they began to fight amongst themselves. As you know, the Dragon Wars were long, destructive, and bloody, and resulted in the near-complete extinction of the dragons. When the wars finally ended, man continued fighting amongst themselves until the ten regions we have now formed. And that is where our history begins.”
“That sounds bleak,” Rex mused. “And not at all like the children books I read as a child. They paint this beautiful picture where the dragons created the earth and then ruled over man for thousands of years with kindness and justice until the wickedness and corruption that was in man began to affect them, and that’s why the Dragon Wars happened. I’ve never heard any of the history you just told me.”
“That’s because the dragons, being the pompous fools they were, tried their best to stamp out history,” Drake said as he practically crawled all the way inside the machine, and standing on his tippy toes, reached far into the mechanism.
“Ah ha, I got it.” A loud click reverberated throughout the chamber, and Drake clambered out of the white tower holding an object little bigger than his head.
“What is that?” Rex asked as he reattached the Stone of Kay back onto Alf’s sword.
“Honestly, I have no idea what it was called,” Drake replied as he lugged the device over to Rex. “Nonetheless, I am hoping it will enable us to defeat Dy’Ixion.”
Rex smiled to himself as he watched the forty-year-old boy struggle with the object. Drake may have been an old man at heart, but to Rex, the boy still looked like a cute kid playing at grown-up. “What does it do?”
“I’ll explain as we head back up the stairway. First, though, would you please take it from me? It is quite heavy for this small frame of mine.”
“Sure,” Rex answered. He reached out to take the device.
“Careful,” Drake warned. “It is not as light as it looks, and if you break it, the arena will never work again.”
“Oh, then I’d better be careful or my dad will kill me,” Rex said as he consciously took it from him with both hands. The weight of the machine pulled on his arms and he blinked in surprise. It was definitely heavier than it looked. Cradling the device, Rex carefully turned it in his arms and studied it with unbridled curiosity. The simple, white object consisted of two wheels attached to an axle in the middle; it reminded him a lot of one of his weights, and he found himself fighting the temptation to curl it with his right arm.
The lights dimmed and Drake said, “We should leave before the security system turns itself back on.”
Rex didn’t need to be told twice. He certainly didn’t want to be here when that happened. Holding the device close to his chest, he high-tailed it back up the stairs. It was far easier to go up than down, and he found himself bounding up the stairs two or three at a time. “So,” Rex asked as they left the chamber far below, “what is this thing?”
“It’s purpose is threefold. It is a receiver, converter, and transmitter. It receives the electricity from the perpetual motion machine, converts it to usable magic energy, then transmits it all the way up to the arena.”
“That sounds pretty nifty.” Rex frowned, “But why do we need it?”
Drake recast his magic light as the last of the chamber’s light faded from view. “It receives all the power produced by the massive machine down there. That means, as long as we don’t exceed its transmitting range, this thing will provide us with an endless supply of energy.”
Rex’s eyes lit up with excitement. “So it’s basically like having an infinite magic pool?”
“Indeed, just like when someone channels you energy, it will enter your core, travel through your muscles, and into the spell. As long as our bodies’ can withstand the exertion, we will be able to continuously cast powerful spells. I believe, with its help, your father’s army should be capable of overwhelming the blood oath’s defenses.”
The stairway blurred past them, and Drake watched in mild surprise as the room they had entered through earlier came into view. “We’re at the top already?”
“Yep,” Rex said. “I can run a lot faster up stairs then I can down,” he answered as he launched himself off the last step. Dashing into the room, Rex stumbled to a halt as he almost collided with the silver-haired maid.
“Thank God I found you,” she said as she calmly moved out of Rex’s way. “Something most disturbing happened while you were aw… ” The head maid’s eyes narrowed and she stared behind them.
Drake turned to see what she was looking at.
“Hey! the wall is back,” Rex blurted. “That’s so cool. It must be like some type of one-way thing.”
Drake wasn’t nearly as amused. “That is not important right now,” he said as he turned his attention back to the maid. An air of urgency hung about the eldest sister, and her normally calm demeanor looked pinched with worry. This couldn’t bode well. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
“The blood oath ripped the roof off of the arena and has threatened to kill everyone if they don’t deliver the five of you to him within the next fifteen minutes. Mr. Havanger has been forced to flee to the infirmary and activate the medical facility’s emergency lock down. At his behest, I managed to sneak through the rioting crowds and track your energy to this room.”
Drake’s mind scrambled in panic. One of the worst scenarios he had imagined had just occur- “Wait,” his mind caught on her last words. “You did what?”
“Was anyone hurt?” Rex asked seconds after his outburst, his face full of worry.
“Sadly, yes,” the leader of the maids said, ignoring Drake’s question. “Some people were trampled to death in the hysteria. Worse yet, a miniature war is taking place in the hallway leading to the infirmary. The lock down includes a magic suppression spell and has stopped both sides from casting any powerful magic as of yet. We must hurry, though; less than a minute ago I felt a substantial drop in the power flowing through this building, and it won’t be long before the spell fades.”
“Then let’s get going,” Rex stated as he crouched down.
“Wait!” Drake held up his hand. His eyes narrowed as he scrutinized the white-haired enigma in front of him. “She just casually stated that she tracked my energy signature to this room. The ability to track another’s energy is not something a maid should be capable of.” He reached out and grabbed the woman’s arm. “Who are you?”
The tall, fragile looking woman glanced down at him innocently. “What do you mean who am I?”
“I mean exactly what I said.” He returned her stare with an icy-cold stillness in his eyes. “Every time I look at you three girls, your energy pattern shifts, and I lose focus. It’s as if you’re hiding something from me. This fact alone has unnerved me for quite some time. Not only that, there is no record of you in the Imperial Registry whatsoever, and every time I try to assign a mental marker or name to you three, nothing sticks, as if you are somehow messing with my mind. You also arrived far too fast at the town of Carlos the other day. According to my calculations, you would have had to been traveling nearly as fast as Alf to arrive by the time you did. Now you tell me that you tracked my magical signature. This, coupled with your ability to turn invisible, is something I cannot afford to look past! Such ignorance on my part could easily lead to my death.”
The maid’s violet eyes shifted colors, and she calmly, and surprisingly kindly, said, “Neither I, nor any of my kin, would ever bring you harm. This I promise you.” Her eyes flashed silver. “Now, Sire, we must go; the situation is dire.”
Drake found himself mesmerized as he looked into her large eyes, and his grip loosened as she gently tugged her arm away. At the last moment, though, he ripped his gaze from her face. His mind cleared, and he instinctively reached out to touch the device Rex carried. With all of his might, he drew energy from it and channeled it into his hand, strengthening his muscles. Tightening his grasp like a steel vice, he proclaimed, “You are right. We don’t have time for this. So you better tell me who you are right now.”
She looked at him in contemplation for a moment as if pondering a great decision. “As you wish,” she said and closed her eyes.
An intense, brilliant light washed over them as every pore of the maid lit up. Her face and limbs began to glow as if the sun shone from within her. Her silver hair floated in the air, shimmering like diamonds, and as the light saturated the room, the woman’s wrist started changing shape in his hand.
Drake jerked his hand away and stumbled backwards.
As he stumbled away, the maid drifted skywards and a shimmering wave of light flooded the room, burning away the shadows and eclipsing her from view.
Drake raised his arm to protect his eyes as an enchanting sound akin to the fluttering of birds wings and rustling skirts sounded in his ears, and the ambrosial smell of healing magic, coupled with the scent of the first flowers in spring, washed over him. Then, from the glowing starburst of light, the sound of four hoofs landing solidly on the hardened rock floor echoed throughout the room.
The prince slowly lowered his hand as a beautiful, snow-white horse emerged from the light.
He gasped in disbelief as he stared at the stunning creature before him. From the top of her ears to the tip of her delicate silver hooves, she was the most breathtaking creature he had ever laid eyes on. With a coat the color of moonlight, eyes the shade of freshly bloomed violets, and a slender, statuesque form even his finest steed could not match, she looked like a creature crafted by heaven itself. Her long elegant legs shifted beneath her, and her snowy white mane rippled as it fell in shiny waves down her neck and withers.
Finally, Drake’s eyes drifted to her forehead, and his mind reeled as he did a double take. It can’t be, he thought in disbelief. They only exist in fantasies and fairytales; they’re not real. But the evidence was right in front of him. There, on her forehead, a magnificent, diamond-like, spiraling horn glowed in the dim room. His thought’s stuttered in amazement. She’s not a horse at all! She’s a, a…
“A unicorn,” Rex choked.
The mare tossed her head, as if laughing at Drake’s dumbfoundment, and her horn caught the light. Beams of energy reflected and refracted throughout its crystalline depths, sending a cascade of rainbow colors swirling around the room. It was as if the horn was created from an ocean of diamonds and fantastical dreams.
Drake shook his head as he fully came to comprehend what had just happened.
The maid had transformed into a unicorn!
“I can’t believe you’re a unicorn!” Rex’s jaw practically hit the floor as he took a small step forward. “This is so awesome,” he whispered. “How could I have missed such a beautiful creature standing in front of me all this time?”
On the other hand, all Drake could think to say was, “How?”
The unicorn held its head high, and her voice echoed through the air. “The dragons weren’t the only genetic creatures created during the Great War. All of the warring factions strove to produce new weapons and spells. Many unspeakable experiments were committed, all in the desperate desire to gain the upper hand.” Her long, dark eyelashes fluttered as she closed her eyes and shifted her weight to her back hoofs.
The slightest of shudders rippled her gleaming hide and Drake felt her discomfort. Her reaction was understandable. Those times had been dark indeed, he thought as recalled the history of some of the horror stories he had read, atrocities all wrought in the name of the greater good.
As if she had read his thoughts, she opened her eyes and slightly tilted her head towards him. “There were many atrocities sanctioned on all sides of the war. It is not something to dwell on. We were made by the same faction that contrived the dragons. The unicorn species was supposed to be the opposite side of the same coin. They were death and destruction, and we were to be life and resurrection.
“The original intent was for us to be capable of bringing the dead back to life and keeping people alive indefinitely. But we were genetically sabotaged and became more or less just another failed experiment. We would have been disposed of, except it was discovered that our horns amplify all frequencies by a factor of ten.” Her tail swooshed, and the unicorn turned her full attention on Drake, as if waiting for his reaction to her statement.
His mind reeled as he stared at her majestic horn. With her, or maybe just her horn, at his side, even with his weak body he could be a warrior of substantial aptitude. He could take back his kingdom without Alf’s assistance and do things as he saw fit. The unicorn’s eyes narrowed, and he read the inherent disgust in them. In royal defiance, he held her gaze.
“Whoa,” Rex finally blurted, freed from his ketosis. “When you say amplify frequencies, you mean you can make spells ten times more powerful?”
Without breaking eye contact with Drake, she nodded.
“Wow! That’s awso…m-” Rex stopped as he realized the inherent problem of such a predicament. “Oh, not so cool for unicorns was it?”
“It wasn’t,” she answered. “At first, they tried to genetically reproduce what they had achieved but were not able to. In the end, unicorns were turned into breeding slaves and harvested for their horns.”
In shame, Drake closed his eyes and gazed down at the floor as she continued, “After the Great Wars, the Great Evil enslaved the unicorns until the Brockovich family defeated it and freed our kind. My kin have served and watched over the Brockovich family ever since, though they have long forgotten us and no longer know we live among them.”
Drake swallowed. Unlike Rex, whose thoughts had been of innocent amazement, his own had been of grasping power. He’d always seen the Great Wars as foolish, and the dragons as fools, as well. Now he realized that the way he had currently calculated and reacted would lead him down a path just as destructive, and foolish, as theirs. He slowly raised his head to see the ethereal unicorn in front of him still staring at him. Just like before, it was as if she were able to read his mind, and to his surprise, a small smile seemed to play at the corner of her mouth.
The unicorn lowered her head till her horn touched his forehead. Her voice resounded clearly inside his mind. “Your father was kind to me and my kin, and though your heart is clouded and muddy right now, I pray that one day you will be even a better man than he was.”
A tear trickled down his right cheek, and a warm feeling akin to waves flowing over sun-drenched sand washed over him as she continued, “To help you on your path of becoming a better man, I bequeath upon you the ability to see the truth, even when it is hidden from you.”
A bright light flooded the room, and the unicorn disappeared, replaced once again by the silver-haired maid.
Drake wiped his eyes as the woman walked over to Rex. With the faint rustle of fabric, her sleeves brushed the magical device as she placed her left hand on top, then softly touched her right palm to his forehead.
Rex looked at her in bewilderment.
She smiled kindly at him. “I’m going to stabilize your magic.”
“Huh?” he asked, frowning, his eyes pinched in confusion.
“You feel like you’re leaking inside right now, and to an extent, you are. If it’s all right with you, I’m going to fix it.”
Rex’s eyes lit up. “Sure,” he answered.
Electricity crackled down the maid’s left arm and into her body. A gentle hum filled the air. Then the young man’s body stiffened and his eyes glazed over.
Warning bells sounded in Drake’s mind. “What are you doing!?”
Keeping her attention on Rex, she replied in a crystal, bell-like voice. “I am stabilizing his magic, as I said, and for my own safety, and that of my kin, I am erasing the last few seconds from his mind.”
“You can do that?” Drake choked.
“Rex is a good lad, but as you have probably already noticed, it’s hard for him to keep a secret, and to answer your question, normally no. Something like this takes a substantial amount of energy, and because of my small body size, along with my genetic defect, I have a very limited magic pool.” Her eyes motioned at the barbell shaped device in Rex’s hand. “But with this object’s help, I can.”
Drake watched in fascination, trying his best to analyze the frequencies she currently used, when she casually stated, “All of my kin are great healers.”
The prince’s eyes grew to the size of saucers. “Are you telling me all of the healers at the Brockovich mansion are unicorns?”
“Not all, however, most of them have trace amounts of unicorn blood in them. Very few, though, have enough to take their true form.”
“What about Olivia and Harold?”
“Harold has a small amount, though he does not know it. Olivia does not. She is a descendent of one that helped the Brockovich family defeat the Great Evil long ago. There is more to her history than any of you realize, but her secrets are not mine to tell.”
Drake’s mind spun as he tried to take in everything she was sharing. “That is the second time you mentioned this Great Evil. May I ask who, or what, it was?”
The maid’s eyes clouded over; she blinked and shook her head. “It is something that neither I, nor you, will ever have to worry about thanks to the Brokoviches.”
Rex’s body twitched and she softly smiled. “I am about done here. I will resume my normal demeanor and we shall never talk in this manner again.”
The silver-haired woman’s shoulder’s relaxed. She closed her eyes, and all the aspects of her unicorn self were once again hidden to Drake’s senses. He desperately wanted to ask her more questions, especially about what she said concerning Olivia, but her body language made it quite clear she was finished talking.
The unicorn, disguised as a human, took her hand off of Rex’s forehead and strode over to the corner of the room.
Rex blinked and drew back, then shook his head and scanned the area. “What happened?”
Drake glanced at the maid then back at Rex. “She used a light spell to get away from me.”
“Ha!” A giant smile spread across Rex’s face. “She doesn’t like the would-be Emperor prying into her personal business I see.”
The maid played her part, glaring at Drake with disdain. “We don’t have time for this. We need to get to the infirmary before the fighting gets serious.”
“You’re right,” Rex said as he put back on his mask. “Let’s go.”
With that, Rex dashed out the door, but neither of them followed him. A second later he reappeared. “My father is in danger! You can question her all you want later.”
Drake sighed. “Fine, but I will find out what you are hiding from me.”
The maid shrugged and nodded at Rex.
“Finally,” he stated as he once again ran out of the room. This time, the two of them followed him.