Shalo Cahl turned the iron brand over in the fire, making sure that all of the sides were equally hot for when it was ready to use. He looked over at the girl laying motionless on the table, who for the past few weeks had been acting as a vessel for the Crier. The Crier had been called upon several times since Ryde had learned of the existence of this strange town to the north, Dunsmith. But since he had prisoners, he had insisted on saving their vessel until such time as the Crier was needed. After all, with prisoners, there was little that could be hidden, especially once Shalo Cahl had put them to the question.
But the old man, Andy, had been proving to be of the utmost difficulty. He’d given away very little, even going so far as to tell outright lies. Cahl, however, could smell out a lie in a room full of fibs, and all it earned Andy were more beatings, and being subjected to Cahl’s personal form of torture, a method he had used which had never failed him before– until now.
Cahl had literally removed the old man’s soul from his body. A procedure that induced intense, unbearable pain while the soul was out-of-body. He would then replace the soul, only to remove it again soon later. When the process was repeated, it usually resulted in the victim vomiting out the truth.
But this man… Andy, he proved to be the hardest shell to crack. Regardless of Ryde’s orders, he needed to summon the Crier. The girl wouldn’t likely last through the week either way. She was looking as close to death as the old man was. If this time, she didn’t perish due to the Crier’s presence within her, she definitely would the next time. Or perhaps, if she was lucky, the time after that.
After the first three summons, the girl had become far less spirited. She was now to the point where she would hardly flinch when the brand was applied to her. Her half-open eyes were dull and lifeless, and she hadn’t spoken a word for at the very least a week. She was broken, and thus wholly Cahl’s. He felt as though he were being robbed by Ryde’s order that she not be used. After all, she was his pet.
He pulled the brand from the fire and walked over to the table. Cahl’s brands covered her naked body, burns that had blackened and scarred her skin. He chose a spot on her hip, a spot clean of marks and pressed the brand into her.
Her eyes rolled back into her head and her back arched. Finally, her body came to a rest, and her eyes fixed on Cahl.
“You have ssssummoned me?” the Crier asked in its raspy voice.
“Crier,” Cahl began. “I wish to know of our prisoners. The men from this Dunsmith. I wish to know the secrets they keep.”
“The sssecretsss are many,” the Crier said. “They ssscream to usss. They cry and beckon to usss.”
“What secrets, Crier? What do they keep?”
“A trick,” the Crier replied. “They play their nasssty tricksss, pull the veil over you! Thessse men are not to be trusssted! They bring your fall, your doom, sssummoner! He will come for you. They come for you even now, and will not ressst until you are buried!”
Shalo Cahl was taken aback. “Who comes? Crier, who comes for me?”
“He ssscreamsss to them!” the Crier said. “He ssscreamsss without speaking. A parasssite within his garb! The one who hearsss your sssecretsss, who ssseesss your fearsss!”
“Who? Who, Crier?”
“A tall man,” the Crier exclaimed. “A tall man who movesss with wind and knowsss the dream!”
Cahl thought for a moment. Was the Crier speaking of the other prisoner? The one he’d not yet seen? Cahl thought it was folly for Ryde to disallow him from questioning the other.
“What do I do, Crier?” Cahl asked. “What do I do?”
“You mussst find their sssecretsss! They come for you already, Sssummoner!” it said. “They come for you on wingsss of metal and fire! The daughtersss of lightning and earth with the sssonsss of the sssky! They come to liberate thossse you have harvesssted!”
Cahl got up. “The old one? They come for him?”
The Crier looked directly at Cahl. It’s eyes were beginning to dim. He was losing it. “They come for the one who ssseesss,” it said. “They come for he who comesss for you even now!”
Finally, the Crier’s vessel arched her back once more, and then fell to a rest. Shalo quickly checked her pulse. It was weak, but she still lived. She would live to summon the Crier at least once more.
Shalo turned to his door and opened it. Outside, a guard stood at attention.
“Bring me the old man,” he said. “At once!”
The jungle was hot, even in the dead of night. The air was humid and moist, and Boomer could feel the sweat dripping off of him, trailing down the side of his face. Even through the darkness he could see the brightly colored flowers. He could catch glimpses of strange birds as they took flight in the canopy above. From beneath, he could see the twinkling of distant stars.
He wasn’t sure what had brought him back to the jungle, but he’d found himself there nearly every night since he’d arrived in Anastae. He didn’t quite understand the purpose of the strange dream. So far in his visits to the strange, dark jungle, he’d only been scrambling around, looking for some reason to be there.
He wasn’t quite sure if it was day or night. After all, he’d not been allowed to see daylight since he had been brought to meet with Ryde. He’d passed the time as best he could by talking with Jarrod. He found he liked the man. He didn’t look at Boomer like other Pactlandians did, but then, Boomer also knew that Jarrod thought he was full of it. He’d stated as much without Boomer having to sift through his thoughts.
It was amazing how quickly someone would lose comprehension of time when deprived of the normal sensations offered by freedom. Things like having the sun on your skin, and drinking fresh, cool water from a tap were gone. Boomer forced himself through it, though. He had to. He’d spent much of his time quietly exercising to make sure he would be in shape for when the time came, but the food he’d been given was hardly edible, and anything but nutritious. Still, he was faring better than Andy. He’d heard the screams on the second day after he was returned to his cell. Several times since then, he’d hear Andy’s screams echo off of the walls. Boomer wondered why they weren’t doing the same to him, but he already knew the answer.
Boomer was being cooperative. At least they believed he was.
Finally, he pushed through a thick fern and came out into a small clearing on the side of a cliff. He felt the cool breeze as it wafted up and over him. He was exhausted, and sticky with sweat, so the breeze was very welcome. He stepped over, carefully looking out over the cliff.
The sight was breathtaking. Stretched out for miles beneath him was an expanse of jungle. Green, rolling hills, rivers and waterfalls spread off into an endless ocean that went on as far as the eye could see. Boomer found himself so stricken by the sight that he could only stand and stare in awe of it.
Suddenly, he heard a movement from behind him. It was something he’d grown used to in this jungle. Animals and birds of all kinds were constantly moving about under the foliage, but this time it was different.
He could feel that presence again.
“You shouldn’t be here, you know,” a voice called from behind him. Boomer spun around, his eyes wild. He let them settle on the figure of a girl stepping out from the bush behind him. She couldn’t have been any older than twelve. Her hair was blond and straight, and she had piercingly blue eyes. She wore a thin white gown, barely draped over her limbs. She smiled at Boomer as she stood there.
“Who are you?” Boomer asked.
“I’m Kalla,” she said, walking out towards the cliff. As she drew closer to him, Boomer noticed that she was barefoot. She looked as though she had just been through an expensive makeover session. Not one hair on her head was out of place. Not a single bead of sweat welled up on her forehead. She walked right up to Boomer and looked him in the eye.
“They’ll be cross,” she said.
“Who will?” Boomer asked. “About what?”
The girl seemed to consider Boomer for a moment. “What’s your name?” she asked.
Boomer thought about it for a moment. Wherever he was, it obviously had nothing to do with Vector. Was he dreaming? It felt incredibly real. More than real, actually. He decided it was safe to tell her.
“Boomer,” he replied.
The girl giggled. “That’s not your name,” she said.
“Well,” Boomer began. “No, it’s not. My real name is Cecil, but–”
“That’s the name your Father gave you,” she said. “That’s not your name either. You left that name on Earth.”
Boomer looked down at her. “I don’t understand,” he said. “How did you know where I’m from?”
“I know all sorts of things,” Kalla said. “I know all about what goes on up there.”
“Up.. where?” Boomer asked.
Kalla pointed upwards, through the canopy of the jungle. As Boomer followed her finger, he noticed that the branches seemed to separate, as though the girl were bidding them to allow them a view of the sky.
What it revealed, however, filled Boomer with a sense of confusion, then shock, then, at last, understanding.
There, in the sky above, hung a planet.
It was the Pactlands… and more. The entire world. Eiden Myr. It was larger than he’d thought. The sun only lit up half the world, but he could see a definite pinprick of light on the darker portion, a pinprick that would have been precisely where Dunsmith was located near the Aegel coast. But on the lighter part, he could see a vast landmass, one that dwarfed the Pactlands in size.
He looked back to Kalla. “I’m on the Azure Dream?” he asked.
Kalla laughed. “I’ve always thought that a silly name,” she said. “We didn’t call it the Azure Dream. That was a name thought of by men who didn’t understand.”
She looked Boomer in the eye. “What the Azure Dream really is.”
“Okay,” Boomer said. “I’ll bite. What is it?”
Kalla giggled. “I can’t tell you that.”
“Because it’s a secret,” she said. She put a finger to her lips. “Even the others don’t truly know.”
“What others?” Boomer asked. He was beginning to grow impatient.
“Why, the ones in the city, of course,” Kalla replied.
“You’re not making any sense,” Boomer said.
Kalla sighed, then shook her head. “Earthborn are always the most difficult. The city is over there,” she said, pointing. “Through the trees.”
Boomer eyes shot over to where she was pointing, through the trees and beyond the cliff. He couldn’t see anything. Just a few strangely-shaped tall mountains and–
Boomer paled when he realized what he was looking at. It was a city, to be sure, but it had long since grown over with weeds and plants. The buildings were old and decrepit, but the shape of them were unmistakable.
They were skyscrapers. He could see the steel girder skeletons, the overgrown roads. It wasn’t a city native to Eiden Myr, it would have looked much more at home on Earth, in some place like downtown Manhattan. He stared at the city for a moment, his jaw hanging loosely. Finally, he turned back to Kalla.
“What is that?” he asked.
Kalla shrugged. “Nobody remembers what they called it before. Not even the others. But in this place and time, it’s called Celephi.” She seemed to freeze up for a second, whipping her head around. “We aren’t alone here,” she said. She looked Boomer in the eye. “You must go,” she said. “If they find you here, they’ll kill you.”
“Who? The others?”
Kalla nodded. She grabbed Boomer by the shirtsleeve and dragged him with her towards the jungle. “Your friends are coming for you. Now,” she said. “When you awaken, you must bring the vessel back with you. She will help you find your true name, and the names of the other three.” She pushed him in front of her, scrambling through the brush.
“True name? Other three?” Boomer hadn’t been this confused since he’d seen a tyrannosaur looming over the trailer park.
Suddenly, his skin started to crawl inexplicably. The hairs on the back of his neck started rising. It was as though he were being watched.
No, it was as though he were being chased. By what, or whom, he couldn’t be certain. Kalla continued to lead him through the foliage. They pushed their way through the trees quickly, scrambling to get away.
Suddenly, they entered into a clearing. Boomer allowed himself a brief look behind him, but turned back when he felt Kalla’s hand slip away from his own. He blinked in surprise.
Kalla was nowhere to be found. He didn’t allow himself to spend the time to seek her out, however. His heart was still pounding and whatever it was that was pursuing him was still on his trail. He could feel it. He pushed through another cluster of bushes, and then suddenly found himself breathing damp, cool air.
He whipped his head about, looking around, but could see nothing. It was too dark. Finally, the strange presence seemed to fade, and Boomer realized that he was back in his cell.
“Bond?” Jarrod’s voice called from across the hall. “Are you all right?”
Boomer rubbed his face, wiping the sweat off. It was so real, as if he was really there. He remembered the sensations as though he were still feeling them.
“Yeah,” he called back.
Suddenly, he remembered what Kalla had told him. He scrambled up to his feet, looked out the cell door. “Have the guards come by recently?” he asked.
“Not too long ago,” he replied. “They’ll be gone for some time, I should think. I believe it’s night.”
Boomer tried his best to look down the hallway, even going so far as to reach out with his mind to see if he could pick up any stray thoughts. Nothing. They were either too far away, or thinking about absolutely nothing.
Boomer sighed. If Kalla had been telling him the truth, and Boomer hadn’t merely hallucinated the whole thing, then that meant his rescue was en route. At best, that gave him no more than an hour or two. He needed to act now.
“Jarrod,” he said. “I think I might need your help.”
“Help?” Jarrod asked. “Of course, but I don’t know what help I’ll be from behind this door.”
Boomer knelt down, running his hands along the inside of the door. The Vectorans were smart, and they’d only built the lock on the one side to prevent whoever was inside from being able to pick the lock, but Boomer had an advantage over them. He ran his hand down, locating where the lock was on the other side of the door. He closed his eyes and focused on it.
In his mind’s eye he could see the wooden grain of the door, the metal latch of the lock and the tumbler inside. An image of the lock formed in his mind, an exact replica of its physical form. Already he was surprising himself. He’d had such a hard time moving a simple quarter across a table, but now… it was as though he’d always known.
Finally, he identified what he needed to do. He started to push against the latch, turning the lock. In his mind, he could see it move slightly. He was concentrating so hard that his head pounded.
Finally, the latch gave, and the door made an audible click. Boomer took a deep breath and pulled the door open.
“Bond?” Jarrod asked, looking out the door. “How…?”
“There’s no time, so don’t ask me to explain right now,” he said. “Do you want to get out of here, or not?”
Jarrod said nothing. He merely looked out at him. A moment later, he gave a sharp nod.
“Good,” he said, then went to work on Jarrod’s lock, making sure to check the hallway to make sure the coast was clear. Jarrod’s lock was easier than his own. The door clicked open, and Jarrod peeked out. He looked at Boomer questioningly.
“Bond?” he asked.
“Actually,” he said. “It’s Boomer. Now, do you know where they’re keeping Elle?”
Jarrod blinked. He nodded. “Yes, she’s in this building.”
“Good,” Boomer said. “For some reason I think she’s important to all of this. We need to find her.”
“What are you talking about?”
“If all goes well, you’ll be back in Stone’s Mouth by tonight,” Boomer said. “With your sister, but I need you to listen very closely. Are you with me?”
Jarrod only stared blankly at Boomer for a moment. “Tonight?” he asked. Finally, he gave a sharp nod. “Lead the way,” he said.
Boone grumbled to himself. As if he hadn’t been dealing with enough as it was. What, with the three men he’d lost up the logging roads, the constant testing of their defenses by Vector’s forces, and the duties and responsibilities that his station entailed, the last thing he wanted to deal with was vandals.
But as he had come back into town after dropping Arie and Lily off at the airport, he realized that he was going to be forever tied to his job as a cop. The crowd that had gathered in front of the Journeyman was a mixture of Society members and those few that had become notorious throughout town as Council supporters. Bloody morons.
When he had pulled into town, the sun had already gone down over the horizon, shrouding Dunsmith in artificial light from street lamps, but from the crowd, he half expected torches and pitchforks.
He climbed out of the car to a barrage of yells, all directed at various people in the crowd. He could see Kayla Winder at the forefront, getting up close and personal with a Society member who looked ready to snap. Across the building, people had spray painted such niceties as “Magii get lost!” and “DMS no, Council yes!”
He walked into the crowd, pushing people out of his way, and walked straight up to Kayla Winder.
“What the hell is going on?” he asked.
Kayla looked back at him, momentarily speechless, but it wasn’t long before she was berating Boone for his part in the whole shebang.
“We’re not going to sit back and let you do this to our town!” she exclaimed. “We want the magii gone. We want the Halish soldiers run out of town, and we want to enter into the Pact with Shavi!” she exclaimed.
Boone raised a speculative eyebrow. “What?” he asked.
“You heard me,” Kayla said, shoving her finger right into Boone’s chest. Boone wasn’t a patient man by any stretch, but he was a cop first. He tried his best to ignore her breach of his personal space and listened calmly. “We’re standing up for our rights! We don’t want them here!”
“Yeah!” someone in the crowd exclaimed. “Send them to Shavi!”
“Yeah?” Boone asked. “What about their rights?” he asked. “They didn’t ask for this, it just happened. And for that matter, what about your rights? The second Vector breaks through those Halish men, that I should remind you are risking their lives for you and your loud mouth, your rights are null and void.” He laughed.
“Vector won’t attack if we enter into the Pact!” Kayla argued.
“Yeah?” he asked. He could feel himself starting to get angry. He grabbed Kayla by the shirtsleeve and dragged her over to a place a little bit more quiet. “And how long do you think that will take? Minutes? A couple of hours, maybe? A phone call? The Council doesn’t even know we exist right now so far as I know. And even if they did, they consider us as Freemen. You want to run up to them and demand to be entered into the Pact? Good luck on that. Maybe a couple years down the road they’ll have time to consider the request. Right now, however, we’ve got an army massing just south of town. We’ve got men in the field, good men that are risking their lives to protect yours, and most of those men are Halish. The others are members of this Society,” he jabbed a finger at the building. “And you want us to kick them out?” he asked. “Our only source of protection against these fucks?”
Kayla shook her head. “Shavi won’t help unless we follow their rules!”
“News flash, Kayla,” Boone said. “Shavi won’t help. Period.” He paused for a second. “That Tome guy. He brought this on,” he said.
“He had nothing to do with it,” Kayla said. “We made this choice. We won’t rest until you agree to our demands. We’re not moving from this spot until the committee agrees, and that’s that.” She crossed her arms, challenging him to say more.
Boone was growing frustrated, as though he were ready to snap. The radio at his side suddenly flared to life, Sam Whittaker’s voice coming through clearly. “Boone?” she asked. “Boone, we’ve got trouble.”
He threw his arms in the air. What now? He picked up the radio.
“Don’t you ignore me!” Kayla demanded.
“You just shut the hell up,” Boone said. Kayla sputtered as though she were offended. “Go ahead,” he replied to Sam.
“Boone, we’ve got more soldiers,” she said. “A lot more.”
“What? When?” he asked.
“Just now,” she replied. “They’re filling up the camp. They look like they’re gearing up for something. It doesn’t look good.”
“Shit,” Boone exclaimed. Just what he needed. He looked back to Kayla. Ah well, at least his choices were narrowed down. “Sam, I want you and Harriet to get in Andy’s truck and get up here into town,” he said. “We need the whole town to fall back to the area north of Crown Square.” Vector had reinforcements now. Likely they’d be able to push into the town now, and the last thing he wanted was innocents in their path. He fastened the radio back to his belt and took a deep breath. Kayla was still standing there, a look of indignation on her face.
“Well?” she squawked.
Boone leaned in close to her and lowered his voice just enough so that she’d be able to hear him clearly. “I’m going to give you five minutes to clear these people out of here,” he said. “If they’re not gone in five, I’m going to start arresting people.”
“What, you’re going to arrest all of us?” Kayla said. She twisted up her face into a scowl. “I’d like to see you try. We still have our rights.”
“Honey,” Boone said. “Vector’s making their move. Right now, as we speak,” he said. “Right now, your rights are what I say they are. Now get your little posse together and move them out before I have to start cracking skulls,” he said. “Dunsmith’s now under martial law.”
It hadn’t taken long for the old man to be brought to his chambers. He arrived in a useless heap, brought by a soldier who took little care in transporting him in one piece. Not that Cahl cared, either way. It wasn’t as if he had summoned the man for tea.
He instructed the soldier to bind him to a second table in his chambers, and then started to anoint the man with water, using it to wipe off the dirt and grime from the man’s chest. He needed it to be clean, free of dirt and sweat to ease the soul transfer.
“A little late for torture, isn’t it?” the old man asked, looking out the window into the night.
Cahl had to respect the man’s humor. Even in the face of death, he had to jest. It made things much more difficult for Cahl’s questioning, but nonetheless, he’d done what no other man under the question had done. He’d taken it and spit in Cahl’s face the moment his soul was back in his body.
“I’ve spoken with the Crier,” Cahl informed the man. “I know you hold a secret.”
“Okay, okay, I give. It was me on the grassy knoll. Oswald was innocent,” he replied.
Cahl didn’t understand what the man was talking about, but it mattered little. He simply continued to clean him off to make the transference that much more smooth.
“Don’t worry,” Cahl said. “Even if you don’t say anything, is your friend going to fare any better?”
The old man’s eyes narrowed. “What friend?”
“The tall one,” he said. “The one you came with.”
“He’s no friend of mine.”
“Oh, but I think that he is,” Cahl replied. “And I think that he, unlike you, was placed here to spread his lies and foolery.”
The old man only stared back. He said nothing.
Cahl smiled. He knew that he had them. He was about to gloat when something attracted his attention. From outside, he could hear men yelling at each other, but there was something else. A dull droning sound. A continuing buzz, as though some large insect were flying around outside the window.
The old man’s head suddenly turned towards the window. A wide smile grew across his face. Cahl ignored the noise and finished cleaning up and then placed his hand on the man’s chest.
He looked on in confusion as the man’s smile began to grow into a steady laugh.
“You fool,” Cahl said. “You laugh even in the face of your demise. What can be so funny?”
The old man only laughed. The sound was growing louder, the distinct buzzing coming from outside.
“Buddy,” he said. “You are so fucked.”
Shalo’s face twisted up into a scowl. “Fool!” he exclaimed, then plunged his hand into the man’s chest, drawing the soul from his body. His scream drowned out the sound coming from outside for a moment. He had drawn his soul into his arm, felt its warmth and vibrancy. He knew the longer he held the soul, the more it would overpower him, but the more pain would be inflicted upon the old man.
When Andy’s scream died down as a result of his body becoming a vacant shell, the strange buzzing had given way to a new sound. A strange whistling that grew in volume by the moment. He held the old man’s soul within him for a moment longer. He waited until his arm grew numb and started to ache before he set himself to replacing it.
Suddenly, the whistle became deafening, and then the world exploded from around him. A large fireball erupted through the window, sending pieces of rubble and debris all around the room. Cahl fell back to the floor, covering himself.
What had happened? From outside, he could hear the frantic yelling of soldiers as explosions went off all around the city. Cahl shook his head, shaking off the dizziness from being struck in the head. He put his hand to his forehead, and saw the blood as he moved it away.
An attack? Was Anastae under attack? It was impossible.
The aching in Cahl’s arm was growing. He needed to get back to his feet, restore the old man’s soul to his body. He stood up, fighting to keep his balance, clambering over to Andy’s body.
The body bled profusely from several fresh wounds, gaping holes in his chest and body where he had been struck by flying debris. His skull was crushed. Cahl looked on in horror.
Impossible! The body was dead! He stared at nothing but a useless corpse. The pain was now starting to grow and spread into his shoulders. Cahl looked around frantically. If he couldn’t place the soul back in its body, it would take Cahl entirely, killing the both of them. He needed to do something!
The pain spread into his chest, aching sharply. He needed to do something, he needed to put the soul into a vessel. He looked around frantically. The Crier’s vessel lay on the tabletop nearby, hardly bothered by the explosions and yelling coming from outside, but he couldn’t use that. He still needed the girl. Cahl frantically ran around the room. Finally, his eyes rested upon a gnarled oaken staff that lay in the corner. The staff was Cahl’s own, fashioned for him by the Council. It was meant to be his resting place, for when Cahl was close to death, another Summoner would place his soul into it and he would continue to serve. The staff had been prepared for that very purpose.
Cahl ran over, crippled by the pain and falling to the ground several times as it spread throughout his body. He didn’t have long, moments perhaps before the pain would completely overcome him, killing them both.
Finally, his hand made contact with the staff, and he pushed with all of his might to force the old man’s soul from him. The pain died abruptly. He took a moment to catch his breath, then stood up and ran to the ruined window, looking outside. Fires burned everywhere, and Cahl watched in amazement and wonder as an object fell out of the sky, striking the ground nearby and exploding into a haze of light, sending dirt and debris flying everywhere.
Was the sky falling? How could they be doing such a thing, sending the heavens to rain down upon them?
Suddenly, Cahl caught sight of something very odd. Further away, shining in the night’s sky was something he’d never seen before. It made a sound he could only relate to the noise of something being rapidly chopped with a sharp blade, and it weaved through the sky towards him. A blinding light emerged from it, flowing across the ground and lighting part of the city as though it were day. As it drew nearer to the ground, he caught sight of a stream of lightning shooting out towards the ground, followed by long stalactite-shaped bits of stone.
Cahl narrowed his eyes. Wings of metal and fire, the Crier had said. This is what he meant. It was a machine, of course, much like the others he’d heard of. A machine that rode the air as though it were a road, carrying magii.
The strange machine drew nearer, pausing and hovering within the empty courtyard next to the building. It lowered to the ground and he watched as two shapes dropped out of it. The Vectoran men fled, fueled by the fear of the unknown.
Cahl turned back. He needed to do something. They were here to rescue the other prisoner, he was certain of it. He was no exile, he was a spy. That fool Ryde could not see through it, but Cahl could. He’d seen through it from the start.
Cahl grasped the staff he had placed the old man’s soul into and ran to the door. It swung open, and he ran out into the hallway. If Anastae was under attack, Cahl needed to get out. These strange men with their machines were more dangerous than even Cahl could have guessed. Whatever he did, he needed to get back to Vector and make a report, Ryde be damned.
And he needed to get out as quickly as he could.
Lily hit the ground rolling. It was only a six foot drop from the helicopter, but she didn’t want to risk any unneeded injury. Especially with what lay ahead of her. Arie dropped down afterwards and managed to get back to her feet before Lily. The courtyard was clear, the presence of the helicopter sending soldiers scattering. A few stragglers lingered around, trying to decide whether or not to rush the two girls, but Arie send a volley of large stones careening towards them. If that hadn’t been enough, they had a sniper in the helicopter that was picking them off, one at a time.
It had taken them a moment to get their bearings. The RFID tag that had been sewn into Boomer’s clothes had a weak signal, and it was hard to bear down on it, but as they approached the large stone building, it was evident that that’s where he was. After they had touched down, they scrambled for cover while the helicopter climbed high enough so that it wouldn’t be in the range of arrows or magick, although Lily had noticed that of the attacks they were dealing with, magick was rare. In fact, the whole city seemed to be manned by a skeleton crew of sorts. There were not nearly as many as she expected, which could only mean that the men were already en route to Dunsmith, or worse. They were already there.
“He’s in there,” Lily said, pointing towards the building. Arie nodded and rushed in ahead, while Lily came up from behind her, staying low to the ground. The last thing she wanted was for a stray arrow or bullet to catch her in the shoulder.
They approached a large wooden door and pushed it open. Inside, three Vectoran soldiers snapped to attention amidst the confusion, turning to face the two girls.
They were nothing. One man attempted to rush her, but she zapped him instantly, causing him to fall limply to the ground. She didn’t know if he was dead or not, but she wasn’t going to worry about that at the moment. They needed to get to Boomer and Andy. Arie took out the other two soldiers, sending pieces of the stone wall out, striking them hard and throwing them like rag dolls against the far wall.
After they had made their way inside, Lily considered her choices. There were a number of long hallways, and she had no idea which one to take. She was about to go barreling down a hallway when, all of a sudden, a soldier came literally flying out of one of them, thrown against the far wall and falling to the ground.
A second later, Boomer erupted out of the hallway, followed by a very confused looking man. He noticed Arie at first, then looked over to Lily.
“Am I ever glad to see you guys,” he said.
“Where’s Andy?” Lily asked. “We’ve got to move!”
“I don’t know,” Boomer replied. “He wasn’t in his cell. I think Cahl’s got him.”
“Great,” Arie said. “So where is Cahl?”
“His chambers are upstairs,” the man with Boomer said. “He’ll have Elle there, as well.”
“Elle?” Lily asked, looking to Boomer.
“It’s a long story,” Boomer said. “Let’s just hope there’s room for two more in the chopper.”
Lily shrugged. “We’ll drag someone under us in the netting if we have to,” she said. “Come on, let’s get this done.” She bounded up the stairs, taking two at a time until she reached the top. The man with Boomer was right behind her, and he took off down a long hallway while Lily followed.
Suddenly, the man rounded a corner, and then fell back, cradling his arm and yelling out in pain.
“You!” she heard from around the corner. “Fool! Get out of my way!”
A bald man rounded the corner wearing thick robes. He had a wild look on his face, desperate, and he poised his staff to strike down on the man. Lily didn’t waste a second, she lashed out with her power towards the man.
He was quicker than he appeared. Once he had noticed Lily, he dived for the corner.
“It’ Cahl!” the other man yelled. “It’s the Summoner!”
It didn’t take long for Boomer and Arie to catch up. The hallways were beginning to fill with smoke. By the time they had reached the corner, Cahl had already already made it down the hall, where he rounded another corner.
“Come on,” Boomer said, helping the other man to his feet and bounding after Cahl.
They followed him down a twisting maze of hallways, until finally he went into a doorway and closed it shut behind him. Lily hit the door hard with her shoulder, but she bounced off as if it were made of solid stone. She rubbed her shoulder and got back up to her feet.
“He’s in there,” she said, pointing at the door.
Boomer placed his hands on the door and closed his eyes. “Stand back,” he warned.
Lily didn’t ask, she only did as he said. The second she was out of the way, she felt as though the air around her were vibrating. Suddenly, the wooden door started to splinter, breaking off piece by piece as though it were being ripped apart from the inside out. The very air around her seemed to tense up for a moment, and the door finally exploded into bits and pieces. Lily watched in shock as Boomer opened his eyes and looked inside.
When Boomer had finally managed to remove the door from existence, the look on Cahl’s face was one of shock and dismay. It was obvious to Boomer that he had no idea what had just occurred. No idea how they had broken through the door so quickly. Cahl was on the opposite end of the room, attempting to climb down through a large hole in the wall.
On a nearby table, he could see a naked girl, emaciated from weeks of undernourishment, scores of infected wounds covering her body, each with a specific shape. This, he knew, was Elle. Jarrod’s sister, the vessel. He could hear Jarrod gasp as he caught up with them.
Cahl quickly scrambled to his feet and brandished his staff. He stood in front of another table. A table with a very familiar form on it.
Andy was still, lifeless. He covered in blood and his skull had been crushed.
Boomer realized with a sudden shock that he was dead. He could tell that Lily and Arie had noticed much the same.
Boomer’s jaw hung open. He was dead? How? Why? Suddenly, his gaze turned to Cahl.
“Stay back,” Cahl warned. “I warn you, you will regret this day!”
Boomer set his jaw and glared at the man. Andy was dead. He was too late. He took a step forward.
Cahl raised his staff into the air and made as though he were going to strike, but Boomer merely made a gesture, causing the very air itself to rip the staff violently from Cahl’s hands, landing near Arie. Cahl yelped out in pain, several fingers having been broken as a result of the staff being ripped from his grasp. He cradled his wounded hands and looked back at Boomer, a look of horror upon his face.
“How… you couldn’t have–” he began, but then slowly, realization dawned upon his face. Cahl was thoroughly awed.
“You killed him,” Boomer said.
“No,” Cahl replied, begging and lowering himself to his knees. “No, I didn’t, I–”
But Cahl said nothing else. Boomer watched as his voice caught in mid-sentence, a look of utter terror upon his face. Cahl started to grasp his throat, gasping out for air.
Boomer was choking him.
“Boomer, no!” Arie exclaimed. “No, please stop!”
But he didn’t listen. Cahl’s body slowly started to rise from the ground, lifted by an invisible hand to his throat. Within moments, he hung in midair, his legs dangling uselessly as he tried to gasp for air. His skin was beginning to turn blue, his eyes starting to bug out. With a final gasp, he stopped moving and hung limply in midair.
Finally, Lily laid a hand on his shoulder. “Boomer, he’s dead. That’s enough,” she said.
Boomer snapped out of it suddenly, and Cahl’s body fell to the floor, blood pooling and spreading across the room. He looked at what he had done, and could only stare.
“Oh my God,” he said, then promptly vomited. He’d never killed anyone before.
Arie picked up Cahl’s staff, then knelt next to Boomer, rubbing him gently on the back. “It’s all right,” she said. “He deserved far worse. But we can’t stay. The helicopter is waiting.”
Boomer took another moment to make sure he wasn’t going to throw up again, then looked up to Andy. “The bastard killed him,” he said.
“And you killed him,” Arie said. “Blood for blood.”
Boomer only stared a moment longer. Finally, he walked over to Andy’s body and hoisted it up over his shoulder.
“I’ll be damned if I leave him here,” he said. He turned and saw Jarrod tending to Elle, who rose to her feet, a vacant look on her face. Boomer looked out the window to the circling chopper and noticed that the courtyard was starting to fill up with soldiers. The sniper in the chopper must have run out of bullets.
“Come on,” he said, heading towards the door, Andy’s body hanging limply from him. “We’ve got to get back to town.”
Arie stayed ahead of the rest of the group. While Lily helped Jarrod carry Elle and Boomer was carrying Andy’s corpse, she was the one on point. The foyer was empty when they reached it, the soldiers they had taken out still laying in lifeless heaps on the floor.
She had been surprised by what Boomer had done. She knew psimagii were powerful beyond comprehension, but even she had no idea they were capable of such things. She still held Cahl’s staff in her hand, for some reason she couldn’t put it down. There was something about it that struck her as familiar, but she couldn’t place it, and she wasn’t interested in placing it at the moment. Still, she felt that she should bring it with her, as a trophy if nothing else.
She reached the ground floor and turned back. Boomer was almost directly behind her, having little trouble keeping up, even with Andy’s added weight. Lily and Jarrod were further up the stairs, trying to keep Elle conscious while they made their way down.
“Hurry up,” she called. She turned and headed straight for the door, pulling it open.
“Arie, no!” Boomer called.
She turned to face him, distracted by his frantic yelling and suddenly felt a strange thump and an intense pressure in her back. She was about to ask what the problem was when she realized the answer all-to-quickly.
She watched as Boomer dropped Andy to the floor, and time seemed to slow as he ran towards her.
Arie fell to her knees and ran her hand up her back. She stopped as it reached the shaft of the arrow that had buried itself into her.
“I…” she began, but her voice caught in her throat. Her vision was starting to blur “I’m… I’m sorry,” she said.
After that, it all went black.