The vice champion crouched on the warehouse’s roof as he watched group after group of Vackzilian’s men teleport in. He clenched his fist. He had tried everything he could think of to stop the blood oath, but the distorted creature was too smart and too strong. If he hadn’t fought him head-on himself, he would’ve never believed that someone could be that powerful.
Once again, the polished, circular slab of gray stone lit up and became translucent as millions of magical runes and symbols reflected and refracted light throughout it. The multi-colored lights lit up the darkened sky, adding to the soft yellow glow from the full harvest moon. Another group of thirty-odd men appeared on the teleportation stone’s surface, and the vice champion ground his teeth in frustration.
I have to do something! he thought as he crawled away from the edge of the roof and stood to his feet. Hundreds of people had died in the monstrous demon’s first attack. If it hadn’t been for the amazing sun spell…
He shook his head; he didn’t want to think about what might’ve happened… or what still could happen. He swallowed hard.
Taking off his mask, he ran his hand through his thick brown hair, letting his locks fall over his ears. “Think, Tairex Havanger. Think!” he muttered to himself. “There’s got to be something you can do.”
But as he pondered the situation, the only thing that came to mind was retrieving Alf and his friends. The supernova spell had to have come from them, which meant there was a high chance they could actually help. Of course, fetching Alf would mean Zaphaniea would be left to fend for herself. The thought of her being chased down by these horrid creatures all by herself sent shivers down his spine. On the other hand, if she came back with them and Vackzilian found out, he might just send even more men!
There was thousands of noncombatants still at the arena …
Tairex put his mask back on.
We’ll just have to take that chance! he decided as he ran to the edge of the warehouse and jumped down.
Landing lightly on his feet, he crouched and closed his eyes. Alf is headed for the Eastern gate. I’m at the southwest end of the city, which means… Tairex went over his mental map of the city and nodded to himself as he planned his route, adding an extra pit stop along the way. Coming to his feet, he took off sprinting, and the world blurred around him as he focused on weaving through Glandledale’s streets without smashing into random buildings.
As he came to the town square, he skidded to a halt, loose gravel and pavement flying as his feet smashed into them. The city square looked desolate without a soul in sight, something Tairex had never seen before. Stores and stands had been left open, their produce and merchandise left unattended. Silence permeated the streets, and long shadows cast themselves across the walkways. He had planned to warn them about the army gathering at the teleportation stone, but it looked like someone else already had. “I hope they found someplace safe,” he whispered to himself and took off.
Passing the arena, he weaved and dodged through the festive remains scattered throughout the plaza. Then, reaching open road, he poured on speed till he saw the blurred outline of Alf outside the Eastern gate, several hundred feet down the main highway.
There they are!
He stamped his right foot into the flagstone, sending a ripple down the road and bringing him to complete stop several feet in front of the group.
The blur faded away; the world came back into focus, and he grinned as he noticed the young boy from earlier was hanging on Alf’s arm and practically screaming something about not going.
“Children can be so annoying can’t they Alf?”
Alf tossed the child backwards and interposed his body between Tairex and the people behind him.
But as the muscular man swung around to see who was speaking, his stance relaxed. “Oh! It’s you. I was just coming back to see if everything was all right.”
The vice champion’s mind trailed back to the teleportation stone that even now was teleporting in more men. “Actually,” he said rubbing the back of his neck. “Things aren’t going so well. That beast and his army had obliterated us when your sun went supernova. Your spell healed all of us and turned all of his men into ash, but somehow the blood oath survived.”
The child scrambled to his feet and stepped out from behind Alf’s leg. “The effect of the spell reached all that way?”
Alf scratched the top of his head. “You said things weren’t going so well, but that sounds great.”
“Ya… well it would be if Vackzilian hadn’t contacted the blood oath,” Tairex spat and kicked a rock on the road back towards the city. “He’s sending four hundred more men and over a hundred fifty have already teleported in.” The rock tinged off the portcullis gate several hundred feet away and a loose donkey brayed in fright.
“I tried everything I could to kill him, but my sword couldn’t penetrate his shield, and when I tried singing, he drowned it out with lightning.”
“Interesting tactic,” the kid mused as he rubbed his chin. “Sounds like this one may be above average intelligence.”
Tairex ignored the child’s comment and looked back at Alf as he steeled himself to ask for help. “I was hoping that all of us together could end this freak permanently,” he said casually and quickly added, “I overheard him say he was almost out of energy. So we should have a chance.”
The child’s eyes grew wide and he stepped in front of Alf as he declared. “Absolutely not! Both Olivia and Zaphaniea are unconscious from the fight with the last two, and Zaphaniea needs a healer before she wakes up.”
With a start, Tairex realized for the first time he didn’t see Zaphaniea anywhere. “They’re hurt?! How bad?” he whisper shouted, panic edging his voice. Even though Zaphaniea called him froggy and teased him mercilessly, Tairex knew she was just putting on a bold front. Just like him, she had a past which had left emotional scars, a past she hid from even him.
“No, they’re fine,” Alf reassured him. “The champion just needs a doctor to fix her muscles, that’s all,” he continued as he stepped aside to reveal the unconscious forms of Zaphaniea and Olivia. Three young woman Rex could’ve sworn he’d seen before with Alf, but for some reason had no recollection of, tended to them.
Moving closer to Alf’s side, he looked at the unconscious women. Besides the muscles in Zaphaniea’s arms and legs looking misshapen, they both seemed to be sleeping peacefully.
The tall, slender, silver-haired woman stood up and looked at him, her violet eyes full of compassion. “As Alf said, their injuries are not serious. Olivia used too much energy, and the strain of casting the spell ripped Zaphaniea’s muscles.”
The vice champion cringed; he knew the pain of ripping muscles all too well. “Then the kid’s right. We need to get Zaphaniea to the healers asap. There are quality doctors at the arena—the ones that usually attend to her, in fact.”
“No,” the boy interjected again. “We will take them to our healers and see to them ourselves.”
Alf reached down and laid his hand on the child’s shoulder then looked past him towards the city. His jaw twitched as his eyes slowly drifted back to the girl lying beside Zaphaniea.
Tairex felt a twinge of guilt; he knew he was asking a complete stranger to not only put himself in harm’s way but also the ones he loved. If there was any other way, he’d never dream of asking him to do this, especially since, even working together, their chances were slim.
“You’re right,” Alf said and leaned down to pick up the girls. “I’ll be there in a minute. You tell them to be ready for us.”
A sense of relief welled up in Tairex and he nodded, spun around, took a deep breath, and shot off towards the coliseum as fast as his feet could take him. Alf was going to help, he thought to himself. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll stand a chance!
Alf watched as the vice champion disappeared into the gloom of the night.
“Alf, please don’t,” Drake begged. “If you die, the Empire is doomed.”
“I’m sorry. I have to help,” Alf said taking his sword back from the prince then lifting Olivia into his arms. “Do you think you can get the champion? I can’t run very well with both of them,” he asked the maids.
The eldest sister nodded and motioned to her sisters. Together, they formed a shield underneath the grand champion and gently lifted her.
“Fine, you leave me no choice,” the prince said as he moved to block the road. He cast aside all pretense of being a child. His voice deepened; his shoulders straightened, and his piercing blue eye revealed his true age as his noble bearing demanded respect. “I, Drakovian Rylarth Docdovinun, command you Alfonso Vivyander Brockovich, third Dragoon of Alfireá, to turn around at once and return to Brockovich.”
Taking a deep breath, Alf leaned down and looked Drake solidly in the eyes. “I know you’re the heir to the Empire,” he said softly, “and I’m the only noble you have left, and that you expect my fidelity to be to you, but it’s not.”
Drake’s face turned ashen white.
“I will respect you. I will obey you; I’ll even die for you, but my loyalty is to Jesus first. He is my Lord. Right now, in my heart of hearts, he’s telling me I have to go back. I know full well in the natural there’s no way I can defeat this blood oath. I also know, though, this is something I have to do, even if I die. I’m sorry.”
Drake didn’t reply. He simply stared at him in silence. Alf gave him a gentle smile, stood up, and stretched out his back.
“Is everybody ready?” he asked.
A black, indistinct scrying of the city stretched out before Dy’Ixion, and he watched as a red blotch appeared on top of the main Western entrance. Good. That only left the Eastern gate unchecked and his men would secure it soon. Which was excellent, seeing as Vackzilian had informed him the grand champion had reentered the city, and he was not to let her leave again.
A bead of sweat ran down his face and he brushed it away angrily. The Emperor’s energy flowed into him, replenishing his own, but not fast enough for his liking. Zooming his scrying in on the arena, he watched as thousands of people swarmed around inside its bowels like a frenzied colony of ants. Their numbers had swelled, and this time, they’d be more prepared.
This wouldn’t be easy.
Dy’Ixion pushed the scrying off to the side and glared at the so-called soldiers coming off the teleportation stone. Worthless scum, he thought. All of the ones who’d teleported in so far had achieved Patuah only this morning by means of dark magic, meaning they were nothing but useless fodder who were unable to control their energy. Dy’Ixion’s best option would be to use them as self-exploding bombs and then send in the true murderers from the D8 section of Victiles—men the Emperor would send through as soon as these lowlifes from the low security section finished porting in.
This is bound to be a bloody massacre on both sides, he thought with a twisted smile. He hated, and if he was truthful, feared the men from section D8; they were nothing but raving beasts, animals consumed with their own desires, brute creatures lacking in any intelligence or forethought. But today, they would serve his purpose well. Seeing them being crushed as they carved swaths through the enemy’s ranks was something he’d pay a fortune to watch, but commanding them as they did so… Truly, he breathed deeply of the night air—relishing in his command—this was better than his wildest dreams.
Alf plodded along at a steady pace, careful not to jostle Olivia as he carried her. Unlike a few minutes ago, the road stretching out before him now looked bare and devoid of human life. Leftover articles drifted in the wind, and wagons laid abandoned on their sides. All sounds of merry-making had ceased, and several loose animals wondered the streets aimlessly. In the distance, Alf heard the sound of the Eastern gate squeal as it’s portcullis slid shut, and a sickening feeling hit his gut. Vackzilian’s men were re-securing the city, and this time, they weren’t going to let any one out. His pace slowed as he thought about turning around to try and reopen the gate, but as he glanced back, he saw Drake’s face and thought better of it. The prince hadn’t said a word since they’d reentered the city and Alf-
Alf shook his head, trying to dislodge his wondering thoughts. He needed to focus on getting to the arena. The sooner he arrived, the sooner they could discuss battle tactics, and the sooner Olivia and Zaphaniea could receive medical attention. Suddenly, something soft hit his foot, and Alf jerked his leg forward in response, kicking the object away from him. As a large stuffed, purple hippopotamus went flying through the air, he laughed nervously and stepped back onto a fluffy stick of cotton candy. I really do need to focus, he thought. Shaking off his nerves, he kept a closer eye on the debris in front of him, and compelled himself to pick up the pace.
As they neared the coliseum, the smell of smoke and burnt flesh filled his nostrils, and his stomach lurched. The images of what had happened at Carlos flooded back into his mind, and he steeled himself for the gruesome visage he knew he was about to see.
But as he turned the last corner leading out onto the arena’s plaza, the sight stretched out before him was nothing like he’d expected. There were no large dents in the walls or pavement or signs of fire and blood like there had been in Carlos, and there was no evidence of death or mayhem. Oh, there was destruction; the entire left side of the arena looked as if it had been ripped off and melted like Swiss cheese over the plaza; several dead bodies lay scattered on the ground, and large trees lay on their sides, uprooted and broken, but everything had an unreal, pristine air. The arena’s walls glowed, its mineral deposits sparkling in the yellow moonlight. The dead people lay in perfect repose, their faces serene and peaceful, their skin clean and dewy. Lastly, the downed trees had bloomed, and their pink blossoms now floated in the breeze, littering the corpses and ground-up pavement in a carpet of blossoms. It was like nothing Alf had ever seen before.
“Freaky,” the redheaded maid muttered.
“You can say that again,” the vice champion said as he appeared. “Vackzilian’s beast shredded my arena in his first attack. We lost hundreds of people, and Olivia’s and Zaphaniea’s sun spell made it all look like some type of reenactment, or monument to the dead.”
“It is,” Alf shifted Olivia, holding her with his right arm and rubbing his face with his left-hand, “disturbing. To say the least.”
“It’s making it hard for me to get people here to start fortifying and cleaning the place up.” The warrior’s shoulders sagged as he gazed out over the oddly peaceful battlefield. “A lot of good people died, and I’m the one responsible for it.”
Alf turned to face him. “What do you mean?”
The vice champion’s voice dripped heavy with sorrow as he explained. “The blood oath caused all this destruction in a matter of seconds. It would’ve taken a hundred trained earth users an hour to do what he did…,” he trailed off and shook his head. “I never thought it was possible for any man to be that strong.” His voice cracked. “You all warned me, yet I didn’t realize the gravity of the situation. I should have tried to get everyone out of the arena instead of staying and fighting!”
Alf went to put his hand on the warrior’s shoulder to comfort him, but Drake stepped defiantly between them. “Then why don’t we evacuate the people now?”
The vice champion’s Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed. “Because, when the people in the city realized there was going to be another attack, they tried to run, only to find that all the roads out of the city are blocked. So they came to the arena, and now almost the entire city’s population is hiding in here. With this many people, where in the world can I take them? And frankly, even if we had a place, that blood oath moves way too fast for any group to outrun him.” The young man’s voice sounded raw with the weight of responsibility that had been thrust upon him. Gone was the hint of the former joviality or cheerfulness Alf had always heard in his voice.
The fire in Drake’s eyes died, and his voice became soft as he said. “The last part is not as big as a problem as you think; we could move them. Though you are right, there is no place, or way, we could take care of this many people.”
Alf wrapped his arm around the young warrior’s shoulder, comforting him. He knew what it was like to see hundreds of people die, and he knew the pain of being unable to help them could hurt more than any physical wound or ailment.
The man lifted his head. “I noticed you have some type of travel spell?” he asked, a tiny bit of hope creeping back into his voice.
“We do,” Alf nodded. “We could evacuate the entire city, and we may have to, but first, let’s try and take out the blood oath.”
“Why? Why not just run?” the vice champion asked.
“Because if we do, there’s no telling how many will end up dying from starvation or dehydration,” Alf explained. He reached down and detached his sword from his belt and handed it to Drake. “Just in case, though, Drake please explain how Traverse Wake works to-” Alf stopped. “You know what, I don’t think I ever got your name.”
The masked warrior tapped his face mask. “That’s because no one’s supposed to know. That’s why I wear the disguise. That, and I think it makes me look cool, but I guess I can probably tell you. My name is Tairex Julian Havanger, son of Garvan Ajax Havanger, owner and operator of Glandledale’s arena, but you can just call me Rex, most people do,” the vice champion answered. “Try not to let too many people know though. If word got out that the owner of the arena’s magicless son was vice champion…”
Alf smiled. “I understand. Rex it is then,” he said as he took Zaphaniea from the maids and laid her over his left shoulder. “Drake, you teach Rex about Traverse Wake and I’ll see to getting the girls to the healers.”
Drake nodded, his expression still distant and cold, and Rex pointed. “The healers are waiting for you at a secret entrance over there.”
Alf jogged over to where Rex had pointed. An older man with scars all over his face waited for him, along with a tall, bulky woman, and a young girl that couldn’t have been more than seventeen.
“I am Cretan, manager of the arena’s medical department,” the older man said. He motioned at the tall woman then the girl beside her. “She is Gerhard, chief healer, and this is her assistant Katerina. Please follow us,” he continued as he pulled away a section of the wall leading to the long, circular hallway of the undercroft.
Alf nodded and they led him inside and down the hallway to a giant medical room which appeared to stretch halfway around the arena. Medical equipment covered its walls and floors, just like his hospital at home, but the smell was quite different. The stench of body odor, and the acrid scent of lightning magic, along with herbs, earth, and the ambrosial aroma of healing magic, all mixed into one odd fragrance that lingered in the air.
He crinkled his nose as he softly set Olivia and Zaphaniea down on medical beds placed against the inner wall where Cretan indicated.
“You’ll get used to the smell,” Cretan told him as four men came over and immediately went to work on healing Zaphaniea’s arms. “Farther down that way doubles as the arena’s dorms. That’s why it smells so bad.”
Alf didn’t reply. He was too focused on watching Gerhard and Katerina pull out a medical scrying pot to examine Olivia. “Is that necessary?” he asked as he tried to move closer to her side. He wasn’t exactly comfortable with strangers poking and prodding around her.
Gerhard stepped in his path, interposing her large frame between him and Olivia. Her grey eyes looked at him sternly. “At first glance, it may seem like the classic case of overexertion, but one should never take chances. Trust me, a thorough examination is best.”
Alf opened his mouth to argue, but Gerhard placed her hand on his chest and held him back. “Sir, if I am not mistaken, your girlfriend is a healer, is she not?”
“Well, she’s not…,” Gerhard raised her eyebrow. “Well, ah ya,” he stuttered.
“Well then, I’m sure she would agree with me. Please don’t interfere.”
Alf let himself be pushed out of the way and walked to the other side of the room where he leaned against the wall. He breathed deeply. He knew the woman’s argument made sense, and he was just being overprotective, but it was still difficult to see the one you loved laying helpless on a medical bed. Closing his eyes, he bowed his head and started praying silently as two more men came in to administer resting potions to Zaphaniea and Olivia. Then he felt the familiar hum of PEMF frequency’s kick on. His shoulder’s relaxed and some of his anxiety faded away. They at least seemed to know what they were doing.
A breath of fresh air flooded the room, and Alf reopened his eyes as Rex appeared, followed by Drake and the three maids.
The door closed behind them, and Cretan stopped what he was doing to look up at the vice champion. “How long do we have before the next attack?” he asked.
“At the rate they’re transporting in, they’ll quickly eat through the transportation stone’s energy,” Rex answered. “That means they’ll have to wait until it recharges before they can finish. So we should have at least twenty-five minutes, if not thirty, before they get here.”
“Defenses?”Cretan asked, absentmindedly tracing one of the scars on his face.
“I have as many volunteers up there as I could get. They’re doing what they can.”
“It won’t matter,” one of the men healing Zaphaniea spat.”That, that thing! will just rip them apart. Then he’ll come for us next.”
At his words, the room fell into silence, and the healers’ faces displayed various degrees of fear, anger, and hopelessness.
Drake stepped forward; his black boots scuffed against the hard floor, and his young face looked set in stone. His jaw hardened and his eyes narrowed. Even if Alf had dragged him into this, the prince looked determined to see things through. “Do you think you can get them back on their feet in twenty-five minutes?” he asked.
Katerina swished her ebony-colored hand through the giant scrying above Olivia, dispelling it. “Not a chance. They’re both suffering from extreme cases of exhaustion. Even with the resting potions, and our combination of revitalizing frequencies, they’ll be out for a few hours.”
“Well,” Rex held up the sword. “If worst comes to worst, we’ll just evacuate everyone,” he said then tossed the weapon to Alf.
Alf caught it and reattached the blade to his belt.
“That’s an amazing skill you have in that stone,” Rex said. “Have you thought about permanently learning it, like you did the Defender skill? Because I would love to have it for myself.”
“I can’t. It requires far more neutral neural passages than what I have available,” Alf told him and pushed off the wall. Taking one more look at Olivia, he started to head for the door when he felt a pause in his spirit.
He stopped in the middle of the floor and let his eyes wander around the room.
“Hey,” Rex slapped him on the back. “Who knows. Maybe you’ll have enough after we obliterate an army and cream that blood oath,” the green clad warrior stated merrily, some of his former joviality returning.
“Maybe,” Alf replied as his eyes caught on the healers maneuvering each muscular strand in Zaphaniea’s left bicep back into place. “Let’s just pray we can do it.”
“Ya,” Rex mumbled.
Drake turned to Rex and said in a voice of steel. “If, at any point, you realize you are fighting a fruitless battle, you grab Alf and run as fast as you can. The Empire cannot afford to let Alf die. Is that clear?”
Rex stepped back in surprise. “Whoa there little squirt,” he said and looked over to Alf. “Where did you pick this kid up? He acts as if he’s the Emperor or something.”
Alf coughed and cleared his throat. If only Rex knew. “Cretan, your healers are rather skilled,” he said awkwardly. “They almost have Zaphaniea healed.”
Cretan swelled with pride. “That’s because we are her biggest fans,” he said jutting out his chest. “We constantly follow her every move and study her every motion.”
“Don’t say it like that,” Katerina interjected. “You make yourself sound like an old pervert.”
Rex laughed. “Those three are part of the group that claimed they could beat her,” he said motioning towards Cretan, Katerina, and Gerhard. “Not that I believe them mind you.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Alf watched something in Drake’s demeanor change as he asked, “You mean you are the ‘Shielded Sword’ that was supposed to fight her next?”
Katarina pushed the medical scrying pot against the far wall, and wiped her hands on her white healer’s robe. “Ya, our group consists of most of the healers in Glandledale. We’ve watched every single one of Zaphaniea’s fights for the past year, and we thought we finally found her weakness, but it turns out we were wrong,” she said, shaking her head. “There’s no way we could defeat her.”
Drake eyes narrowed. “Why do you say that?”
“Up until now,” Gerhard explained, “we thought she couldn’t cast any high-level spells. However, we were dead wrong. That sun spell of hers…,” she stared down at Zaphaniea in admiration. “She saved all of our lives.”
Drake’s face shifted, and his voice took on an excited, childish tone as he asked, “How were you planning on beating her?”
Alf scratched the side of his head in confusion. Why was Drake pursuing this conversation? They didn’t have time for it really. They should be doing something else, something to prepare for the oncoming fight.
“Ya, I’m with the kid on this,” Rex said, his voice brimming with interest. “How were you guys planning to beat her?”
“I don’t know. Maybe we shouldn’t be giving away trade secrets,” Katerina teased.
“Pleease?” Drake wheedled in a child-like voice, his eyes widening, and his shoulders leaning forward.
“Stop teasing them Katerina,” Gerhard scolded. She turned to her captive audience. “It’s not like it will work anymore, what with our theory having turned out wrong.”
“So,” she said, “it goes like this. Like I said earlier, up till now the grand champion’s never used any high-level spells. She’s just thrown everyone else’s back at them, and if anyone ever tried to attack with her with melee weapons, she just smashed them with an invisible force. Hence, we thought, if we could create shields that could deflect her invisible attacks, we could easily close in on her with swords and win.”
“Of course,” Katerina spoke up, “channeled shields would never be strong enough to deflect her normal attacks. A charged shield might withstand them, but everyone knows you can’t move one, so it would be useless in this instance. Unless…”
“Unless you could come up with a way to make them movable,” Gerhard finished.
The young girl glared at the older one for stealing her punch line.
“And that is exactly what we did,” Cretan boasted, tapping on a small metal disk strapped to his wrist. The disk unfolded, expanding out into a pint-sized shield. “We created a way to make shields bound to matter, which lets you make a small but powerful barrier that covers an object, and now all seventy-five of us have expandable steel guards with magic shields around them.” The gnarled healer raised his hand and an opaque blue shield sprung to life around the metal disc.
Alf’s eyes flew wide open. This was what Drake had been getting at. Somehow, he’d known they had created something. “You made a way to bind a shield to an object? Can you teach me how?” he blurted excitedly.
Cretan stiffened and glared at him. “Absolutely not.”
“Why not?” Alf exclaimed.
“Because this is the discovery of the century! That’s why.”
Rex crossed his arms. “We’re on the brink of destruction here and you’re caught up on trade secrets? You better teach us how. This could change everything.”
Cretan gaped at him, his scars stretched comically across his weather-beaten face. “It cost us millions to come up with this, and you expect us just to give it away?”
“Huh, where would you get…” Rex’s arms dropped to his side as he seemed to come to a revelation. “You!” he spat. The vice champion’s armor creaked as his muscles bulged and voice boomed. “It was YOU! All along it was you!” The entire infirmary shook from the force of his voice and several glass objects fell to the floor, shattering into thousands of glittering pieces.
Gerhard took two long strides and slapped Cretan on the back of the head. “You loudmouth buffoon. You know he’s Mr. Havanger’s son.”
Rex reached out and grabbed Cretan by the lapels of his white coat, lifting him off the floor and over his head. “You are the ones that have been siphoning the money! Do you know how many sleepless nights I’ve had worrying that it was my father doing it? I oughta have you all tarred and feathered!”
“What else can you expect from a guy with a name like Cretan,” the shortest of the maids blithely whispered.
“We don’t have time for you to tar and feather them right now,” Drake told him, all pretense of childishness gone. “Alf needs their spell.”
Rex’s masked face looked down at Drake, and after a brief pause, he gave a barely perceptible nod.
The vice champion dropped the healer, and Cretan crumpled to the floor, landing squarely on his rump. Rex slowly kneeled down till he was eye level with him. “Tell me how to bind a shield to an object. Now!”
Cretan scrambled comically to his feet and scampered over to a partition. His hands shaking, he pushed a hidden button located behind a poster of Zaphaniea, and a wall behind one of the infirmary curtains retracted back into itself, revealing an advanced looking laboratory.
Without a word, Gerhard walked into it and retrieved an odd-looking, rectangular, black device.
Alf studied the thingamajig with unveiled curiosity as the chief healer held it out. “What does it do?”
Cretan coughed into his hand and straightened his white coat as he regained his composure then strolled over to Gerhard. “All magic shields are scientifically created on absolute coordinates. This piece of marvelous scientific engineering, that we have created, tags an object, giving it fake absolute coordinates that can be moved without changing. We call it the trans-automatic geographer or T.A.G. for short. Don’t ask me to explain the science behind it, that would take me weeks, and I’m sure none of you could understand it,” he said, all signs of his former penitence gone.
“Braggart,” Rex exclaimed.
Alf drew his sword and offered it to Gerhard. “Would you please tag my blade with it?”
The tall woman eyed him warily. “Why would you want to put a shield around your sword? That will make it useless, unless you’re trying to use it as a blunt weapon.”
“I have a skill called Defender that lets me see how to deflect any incoming attack. If my weapon is shielded, I should be able to block magic or magical attacks with it as well,” he explained to her. Gerhard shrugged and accepted the sword.
“That’s a nice concept,” Drake said. “But you’re forgetting something.”
“I know it’s dangerous,” Alf answered. “But I’ve seen spells bounce off shields all the time. I just have to get the angle right, something I am sure I can do with Defender’s help.”
“That’s not what I meant, though that is quite the gamble. I am referring to the fact that you’re planning on going against a creature that uses invisible attacks. You can’t deflect what you can’t see.”
Alf grinned wolfishly. “That would be true if you couldn’t see them.”
Drake raised an eyebrow.
“I saw how your head turned right before the blood oath’s knocked those poor soldiers out of the way. I’m betting you saw something.”
“Very observant,” Drake noted and glanced around the room at the healers. “And something we’ll discuss later. What’s your plan?”
Gerhard finished using the TAG system and handed the sword back to Alf. “Thank you,” he said as he began to charge a shield. “Simple really. You’ll be my eyes, and if need be, Rex will be my legs. Together, we should be able to bring down this blood oath.”
“It’s not that simple,” Drake said widening his stance and crossing his arms. “There are far too many unknown variables for it to be that straightforward. If you charge in, and something happens we haven’t accounted for, it will all be over before it even starts.”
“Wow, your kid sounds like one heck of a pessimist,” Rex stated as he moved closer to look at Alf’s sword. Then, without warning, he reached out like a striking snake and snatched the TAG from Gerhard.
Gerhard lurched with a start and tried to take it back from him, but Rex simply disappeared and reappeared at the doorway. He casually leaned against the wall and brought the trans-automatic geographer up to his chest with the obvious intent of using it on his armor.
Katerina threw up her arms. “Don’t do that!”
“Why not?” he asked.
“Because something about the way the absolute moving coordinates works, makes your epidermis shrivel, crack, and bleed profusely if it’s against your skin longer than three minutes,” she answered matter-of-factly.
“Oh,” Rex muttered. “I guess tagging my armor would be a bad idea then?”
Katerina stomped over and seized the TAG from him. “You bet your last dragon scale it would!”
“We were trying to duplicate the arena’s shield,” Cretan said. “But our research revealed that it’s a strange hybrid of a charged and channeled shield. So this is the closest we could get.”
Alf released his charge, and a thick blue layer of opaque shield hummed to life around the blade of his weapon. Clinging solely to its metal surface, the shield made his weapon appear like some sort of odd glow stick. He swung his sword experimentally. The shield hissed and whined as it moved unhindered through the air. “Excellent,” he proclaimed in exitement. “Anything else I should know?”
Gerhard shook her head. “No. It should work just like a regular shield now. You should be able to take it off and put it on anytime you want.”
“That’s good to know. Thank you.” Alf turned to the eldest sister. “Please watch over Olivia and Zaphaniea. We’ll be back shortly.”
She nodded. “We will, and we will be praying for you.”
Alf smiled kindly at her and headed for the door. “Alright, Drake, Rex, let’s rid this world of one more dark creature.”
Rex leaned towards Cretan and pointed his gloved finger at him. “We will talk later,” he threatened; then he grabbed Drake by the arm. “Come on kid,” he said as he hauled him out the door.
“Stop, both of you, right now!” Drake shouted as Rex dragged him down the long circular hallway.
“What is it now kid?” Rex said as he and Alf skidded to a halt. Alf didn’t have to ask; he knew what it was about. He had dragged the prince around long enough and now he had had enough.
Drake yanked his arm out of Rex’s grasp and exclaimed. “This is insanity. You can’t just attack a superior foe because you have some new shield tech, which neither of you have tested I might add.”
“Why not?” the vice champion asked. “If worse comes to worst, we can just use my speed to run away.”
The prince glared up at him. “And that’s just one of the multitude of problems with this absurdity. Alf wants me to be both of your eyes, but I don’t know anything about you or your skills, much less how they work.”
“Well, I’m fast and pretty strong to. That’s all a runt like you needs to know.”
Alf cringed as the look on Drake’s face turned stone cold. This was not going well.
“Fine then. I am not moving another inch.”
“Oh yes you are you spoiled rotten brat,” the vice champion retorted as he went to pick the boy up by the scruff of the neck.
Alf reached out and grabbed Rex’s hand, stopping him. “He’s right. We can’t force him to risk his life.”
Dark eyes looked at him through the holes in the metallic face mask. “Then what are we supposed to do. He’s the only one who’s claimed they can see the blood oath’s attacks. Without his sight, we’re dead ducks.”
“I didn’t say I wouldn’t help,” the prince stated. “But I want more information before we go charging in.”
“Like what?” Rex asked in a huff.
“For starters, I want to know how your abilities work and how you got them.”
Rex looked around the empty hallway, making sure no one else was in earshot, then said, “Fine. When I was a child, I was kidnapped by a dark mage and held for ransom. Things didn’t go so well for him, and my dad found out where he was hiding. But as my dad and his men charged in to get me, the mage tossed me into dark mist, you know, the first level of dark magic, to get revenge. My father dove in and pulled me out, just not in time.”
Alf frowned. “What do you mean not in time? From what I can tell, you’re alive and your magic is still closed.”
“True, the dark magic didn’t break my energy lines, but it did stretch them to many times their normal size. Now energy just sits in there, and when I flex my muscles, they receive up to ten times the normal amount of energy.” The vice champion shrugged. “When I was a kid, that would cause my muscles to rip over and over, and I had a rather hard childhood because of it. Now, though, not just my muscles, but all my organs too, are strong enough to handle the extra energy, which in turn means I’m strong and extremely fast.”
Drake’s eyes narrowed and he flipped his eye patch up, revealing his dragon eye as he leaned forward to study Rex’s left arm.
“Whoa! How in the world did you get that?” the vice champion asked, his face staring down at the child’s golden dragon eye with unbridled curiosity.
“That answer will have to wait until another time,” Drake answered absentmindedly as he examined Rex’s internal muscular structure. “Interesting,” he commented, stroking his nonexistent beard. “I’ve never heard or seen anything like this before. Do you think it’s possible for you to use magic if you achieved Patuah? And if so, how do you think it would affect what you have now?”
Rex shrugged. “My father has paid thousands of crypto to healers to answer that question, and they said that I should be able to open my magic without any adverse effects. The problem is, all the normal ways of achieving Patuah have not worked on me. I believe there was only one man that could have helped me, and he was a High Lord by the name of Alfonso Vivyander Brockovich. My father never let me go see him though. Every time I asked, he’d always say something like, ‘The guy is a sickly white vampire living off other people’s energy like some dark mage. There’s no way I’ll let him touch you.’ I fought with him about it a few times since I was sure Alfonso could help me. Regrettably, he died a few weeks back trying to defeat Vackzilian of all people. You know, that’s when the teleportation stones opened back up for bit.”
“I’m no-,” Drake put his hand up, cutting off his protest.
At seeing Alf’s reaction, the vice champion hung his head. “I see that you knew him. I’m sorry for bringing it up.”
“That’s quite alright,” Drake told him.
Alf muttered under his breath. “It’s not all right. I’m not a vampire!”
Drake lowered his hand and turned his attention back to Rex as he flipped his eye patch back down. “How does your voice work?”
“Wow, your one nosy kid aren’t you?”
The prince raised an eyebrow.
“Ah fine, whatever, it’s the same thing really. My lungs and larynx are muscles as well. So just like all my other muscles, they’re stronger. Though to be honest, I only recently figured out I could do weird things with my voice. I was out trying to run on water for the umpteenth time. I once saw a lizard do it, and I figured if I ran fast enough I should be able to as well. I know it’s all about how you hit the water with your foot, but I just couldn’t figure it out, and I got so frustrated that I started singing as loud as I could. As I was singing, I twisted my voice in weird ways I had never tried before. Imagine my surprise when the water began to bubble and then it suddenly froze. So I kept singing and trying different sounds. The next thing I knew, the ice shattered.
“Since that day, I’ve been secretly practicing with my voice to do different things.”
“I see, you’re manipulating sound frequency with your voice, at least, to a certain extent it seems.”
Rex shrugged. “I—”
“They’re coming!” Hervey shouted as he barged in through the secret door a few feet down the hallway. His face shone beet red and sweat dripped in waves down his forehead as he gasped for breath. “The army! They’re coming!”
Dy’Ixion watched as Vackzilian once again recharged the teleportation stone from the other end, and the gray slab lit up. From what he’d seen, the green warrior must have told the defenders another attack was coming. They probably thought they’d have more time to prepare, but due to the Emperor’s ability to manipulate the stones, they’d soon be in for a nasty surprise. “I do like a good surprise party,” he purred.
As another group of men appeared on the stone, he raised his right arm and waved the scarred, and oddly dressed, convicted felons onto the backside of the formation of his army.
Right arm might be too loose of a term, he thought to himself; it was more like a black mass of swirling shadows. He was not physically at the teleportation stone. He, himself, was actually on his merry way to the arena with two-hundred conscripted soldiers, while his holographic form watched over the rest of the men from section-D8 teleporting in. He had learned the holographic technique from Vackzilian, and this was the first time he’d had a reason to try it out.
This spell consisted of a rather interesting science that used something called a tachyon to instantly transfer information from one location to the next. Vackzilian used this knowledge of tachyons to manipulate distant energy and light to form a hologram of himself.
Holograms, in and of themselves, were a simple enough magic, but they required at least three different sets of frequencies all coming from different directions. This meant they required more than one person to cast, or the assistance of some type of mechanical apparatus like a scrying pot. However, with Vackzilian’s superior knowledge of quantum physics, one person could achieve the otherwise impossible, not only projecting a hologram by themselves, but also doing so from any distance. What proved even more fascinating, was that once one fully mastered this technique, they would be capable of not only forming illusions, but casting spells through them as well.
Dy’Ixion looked forward to that day. For now, though, the best he could do was more or less an ugly stick figure of himself. This, however, proved perfect for his needs. The black shadow floating over the men from section-D8 struck terror and fear deep into their hearts.
His lips curled in a sinister smile. It was ironic how the tables had turned, and now he had complete authority and power over the men that had once done such vile things to him.
As the images of what he’d endured in prison flooded his mind, feelings of anger rose in Dy’Ixion, and red lightning flashed throughout his shadow. Blast you old man. I will have my revenge. How dare you stick me in prison with such uncivilized barbarians!
His hologram flickered and his consciousness started to flow back into his physical body as his anger made him lose focus. Pulling in a deep breath, Dy’Ixion calmed himself by visualizing how he would soon torture and maim the one who’d personally seen to his incarceration. He would make him scream and beg for mercy as he sucked the life out of him and destroyed all that was precious to him right before his eyes. Soon, he whispered soothingly in his mind. Soon, sweet, sweet revenge will be mine.
At last, the angry haze in his mind dissipated and his consciousness stabilized. The teleportation stone lit up again, casting an array of rainbow colors on the walls and ground. Seeing the joyous display for the umpteenth time, Dy’Ixion wanted to puke. The world should be painted in the blistering red of fire and blood, and engulfed in the obsidian smoke of soot and ashes. And soon it will be, he thought comfortingly as he waved the newly transported men into position.
Unlike before, he would not squander his men so uselessly. This time, using his hologram, he split the men into different groups as they came through the teleporter. Then he strategically placed the fire casters in the back and those good at shield and earth magic in the front. Everyone else, he stuck in the middle; thanks to his horrible three years in prison, he had learned the hard way how to tell who was good at what by their scars, muscle mass, and various other body markings.
Contrary to these gifted section-D8 magic users amassing around the teleportation stone, the two-hundred men marching towards the arena with him were nothing but a bunch of worthless scum. Most of them would probably blow themselves up with their own magic in a matter of minutes. Indeed, he was counting on it.
The teleportation stone flashed once again and one of the new arrivals, a hefty woman with hard etched, blocky features, jutted her chin at his shadow and held up two fingers.
He waved her to the front of the formation.
Only two more, he thought to himself when suddenly, out of nowhere, the entire night sky hue’s changed to the bright red and gold of fire.
Dy’Ixion’s ghostly apparition spun around.
Several hundred feet in front of him, on top of an old derelict building, crouched the green clad warrior from earlier. Beside him stood a man completely eclipsed from view by a gargantuan fireball.
The orb spewed massive flames in all directions. Giant drips of sizzling liquid dropped from its surface and burned holes straight through the roof at the man’s feet. Cinders flew into the air, popping and hissing as the sphere grew in circumference. It was the largest, most out-of-control, fireball Dy’Ixion had ever seen in his life.
The man took control of the fire with his right hand and held it off to his side as he stared directly down at him, his hair whipping around his face from the heat of the blazing inferno. Dy’Ixion’s heart skipped a beat in fear as their eyes met and he felt the man’s all-encompassing intent to destroy him. Then the warrior drew his arm back and hurled the sphere of death.
The flames burned their way over the great expanse, turning the whole world fiery red, and charging forward like a flaming chariot flung from the heavens, as it screamed towards him. Dy’Ixion’s senses wailed in horror as he desperately tried to channel a shield through his hologram, but only a faint blue light fizzled to life in front of him. With an ear-sizzling hiss, the fire devoured the blue light, then sucked him into its depths as it shot straight through him and smashed into the unprepared ranks of his army.
Everything went black.
Milliseconds later, Dy’Ixion found himself back in his own body, marching towards the arena.
Suddenly, the world lurched around him, and Dy’Ixion flew towards the ground face first. His nose and teeth smashed into the gravel, and his hands skidded along the pavement as an immense wave of heat burned into his backside, scorching the hairs on his legs and arms.
Spitting rocks out of his teeth, he rolled to his back and threw up his arms in an attempt to ward off the heat as he gazed in transfixed awe at a colossal mushroom cloud rising skyward.
What in Eldrin’s name? he thought as he scrambled to his feet and used a powerful gust of wind to extinguish the few flames which had kindled on the men around him.
“What just happened?” one of the soldiers moaned.
“Stay here!” Dy’Ixion shouted as he dashed off towards the billowing cloud.
Alf landed hard on his back as the building beneath him crumpled into the ever-expanding fire. “Let’s get out of here!” Rex shouted as he landed beside him, rolled head over heels, and sprung to his feet. Grabbing Alf by the back of his shirt, he hauled him into the air as he took two large, bounding steps and jumped.
Alf barely had time to twist himself around and brace for impact as they landed on another roof before he was once again unceremoniously lifted up and carried into the sky. This time, however, he managed to channel a shield around them as they crashed into a small crane mounted on the roof of one of the buildings hundreds of feet away from where they’d started. The rusted out crane cracked then slowly toppled over as he regained his balance.
“Well I know who to call if I ever need several large buildings demolished at the same time,” the vice champion said as he brushed off the cinders lingering on his armor and looked back.
“Ah, ya,” Alf said. Rex’s statement wasn’t an exaggeration. Alf had not only managed to obliterate the whole plaza surrounding the teleportation stone but also all three warehouses standing adjacent to it as well, including the one they had been standing on.
A small lightning bolt hit the lightning rod of one of the buildings north-east of them where they had left the prince.
“That was the signal,” Drake’s voice said in his ear. “It worked. The other half of the army has stopped advancing.”
Two more lightning bolts struck the rod.
“I guess that means he’s coming alone then, huh?” Rex said as he read the signal.
“It seems so,” Alf replied as he observed the last standing wall of one of the warehouses melt into the burning crater. He had just incinerated an entire army, he thought to himself.
His felt his body go numb as though he were watching himself from the outside.
His eyes glazed over and his ears rang.
He had just killed hundreds.
A series of lightning bolts sprung from the lightning rod next to Drake. “Gerhard wants to know if she should gather everyone and attack,” the prince informed them.
Rex shook his head, “No, did you see the bruises on their arms and legs?”
“I did,” Drake’s voice said. “You think they achieved Patuah by dark magic?”
“Wow, for a kid you know a lot.”
The prince didn’t answer, instead, he turned around and started to send small arcs of lighting into the rod. “I’ll tell them it’s too dangerous and to wait till after you and Alf have dealt with the blood oath.”
As Dy’Ixion ran towards the teleportation stone, a holograph of Vackzilian appeared floating along the ground several paces in front of him. “One of the men I was sending just reported in and said the teleportation stone to Glandledale was no longer functioning. Pray tell why.”
Dy’Ixion skidded to a halt and quickly saluted. “A fireball my liege. The largest I’ve ever laid eyes upon. It was even larger than the one you used yesterday in the Indonesian caverns. And,” Dieiexion took a deep breath as he recalled the man’s terrifying expression, “it was cast by one man.”
Vackzilian’s eyes narrowed. “Is it possible it was a group charged spell?”
He shook his head. “He was still charging energy into it for the last few seconds before he launched it. If it had been group charged, he would have blown himself up during that time.”
An eerie smile, that chilled Dy’Ixion down to the bone, crept across Vackzilian’s face. “It appears you have an interesting fight on your hands.” Vackzilian’s hologram swirled and started to disappear. “This will be a good test of your ability and your right to leadership. I expect you to give me a good show,” he said as the last of the hologram faded.
Dy’Ixion stood there, his face ashen white. Interesting fight? Test of my right to leadership? Did Vackzilian truly think anyone could pose a threat to him!?
His left hand started to shake and he grabbed it angrily with his right. He would not succumb to petty fear. He, Dy’Ixion, was an all-powerful blood oath. No mere man was his equal. He would crush this interloper and prove to the Emperor how powerful he truly was.
I’ll show you who you are messing with, whoever you are. When I’m done, not even the birds will find enough of your scraps to feast upon.
Pushing the fear clawing his insides to the deepest recesses of his mind, Dy’Ixion clenched his fists and took off towards the red horizon.
As he neared the place the teleportation stone had once stood, he noticed many of the old, dilapidated buildings were set ablaze, even though they were mostly made of earth. The astronomical amount of heat required to achieve such a feat was downright unimaginable. Who in the world could be strong enough to cast a fireball that powerful!? the back of his mind screamed.
He didn’t have to wonder long, though. As he turned the corner, he saw a massive crater where his army had once stood, and there, standing in the middle of it, was the man who had cast the fireball.
Alf stood in the middle of the crater, waiting for the blood oath with his sword drawn.
As the wind howled and the fire raged around him, he tried not to think about the men and women’s lives he had just snuffed out, but everywhere his eyes fell, he saw the remnants of blackened bones and melted armor.
He swallowed hard.
There was no denying it. He had just killed over two hundred people. With a deep shuddering breath, he covered his face with his left hand. He knew they were all Vackzilian’s minions, but they were people nonetheless. They all had had lives—lives he had incinerated in the blink of an eye.
Blue and brown lights flickered from Drake’s hands as he used Alf’s energy to cool the ground they stood on. “If you hadn’t killed them,” he said, “those men would have murdered and raped everyone in this city.”
Alf didn’t answer.
“They were slated for death,” he continued. “If not by your hand, then by someone else’s, and perchance they had survived long enough to be captured, I personally would’ve signed their death warrants. In the end, all you did is save hundreds, if not thousands, of lives.”
Alf lowered his hand and looked at Drake. “I know, and I keep telling myself that too, but no matter how I look at it, I just murdered them and sent their souls off into eternity. Most, if not all of them, I sent straight to hell.”
Drake’s complex spell collapsed and a wave of heat washed over them as the boy locked gazes with Alf. “You did not murder them! You’re surprise attack was a perfectly executed strategic strike. It was not murder!”
He was right of course, but still, Alf couldn’t-
Rex appeared at the crest of the crater, cutting his thoughts short. “He’s here,” the vice champion said as he dashed down the side and grabbed Drake by the waist then hauled him away.
Alf shook his head, attempting to dislodge his doubts and prepare for battle, but as the thought of the oncoming confrontation began to take their place, his limbs started to freeze with fear. What if he failed? What if he had heard wrong from God? What if this really wasn’t the right course of action? No! Alf thought. I know this is where I should be. Even if the fear tries to overwhelm me I will trust, and not be afraid: for you oh Lord Jehovah are my strength and my song; and you alone are my salvation.
Lifting his head, Alf looked into the burning night and resumed his pose. He would face this foe and he would win!