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    Jesus disciple
    devotionals

    It is a design of kingdom college ministry towards; the conversion, crossing and the connection of the man born again to the spirit of Christ, the spirit of our age.
     
    We need to be converted from carnality unto spirituality, because this is a spiritual age where Allen born again must become spiritual to be able to connect and receive from Jesus, because He is spirit and only a spirit can connect to God. Even a s some of us bare born again, there are works that's needed to be done in order to crush and subdue the flesh so we can become  spiritual. The holy spirit is waiting to be made manifest, but the carnality of man stands as a great hindrance.
     
    Therefore a conversion is to take place, both in the physical and in the spiritual;
     
    In physical; to suffer the flesh and deny it of it's satisfaction which causes the spirit man to be heavy when it comes to spiritual things.
     
    In spiritual conversion; to give our life time to God, abiding in His presence to build the holy spirit in us into a giant in order for him to break out of this shell of flesh that encroaches. Then we can become spiritual enough to cross over to Jesus, because the tunnel is a spiritual tunnel where only spirits can cross with an ID of purity and no flesh can enter. The slightest fat or load of flesh will stand as a hindrance which will cause limitations in God's kingdom government. Note that this flesh is also a spirit.
     
    Crossing the tunnel is on sanctification, it's like a snake crawling through tight crevices to scratch it's old skin away to reveal the new. The course of sanctification is fifty : fifty, man has to pay the price by involving himself with God, which is his righteousness, to yield to the holy spirit. It is the holy spirit in a man they sanctifies and purges all that hinders to become a holy and sanctified vessel before God.
     
    God is holy and He wants to make His home in our heart and unless we're purges of all impurity He cannot come in. But when the cleaning is done; we are not the one cleaning the holy spirit is our cleaner. And the Lord is the one who knows when the cleaning will be over, not us, our job is just to wait and when He comes in, we'll be restored back to the original position he ordained us for, to be used as his vessel to establish his kingdom here on earth in the hearts of men.
     
    Vision is like our desire, our goal, we desire what we want to achieve and were we want to get to, but the desire of the kingdom is not of man, it is given by the holy spirit. When a man becomes born again, he has a desire given by the holy sprit to enter the kingdom of God. After standing his ground, defending his faith and being delivered from sin, a new desire is given by the holy spirit; a desire to manifest and establish God's kingdom here on earth,  no one can have this desire if he isn't filled with the holy spirit, these are those who are willing to sacrifice everything for the kingdom.
     
    Having a vision is good, yes, however ones vision becomes more clearer and vivid when he has been given revelations. If a man is not given revelations from God concerning what He has done, what He is doing and about to do, if one does not have revelations of God has destined him for, where God is taking him, God's plans and dealings for his generation and times, he'll not be able to pay the price to pursue his vision, he'll do it sluggishly and if possible eventually forgets about it, because his vision has become blurry and distorted.
     
    Doubts may arise, because if there's no revelation, he'll doubt if he's just spending time with God to get something God wants for him. A good example is; Abraham the father of faith, if Abraham hadn't had revelation of where God is taking him to, of God had not told him " you'll be a father of many nations " surely he would have doubts sacrificing Isaac his only son. Before every vision that propels man to ba a man of sacrifice, there is a revelation given by God of where he is going, he just needs to have faith.
     
    Same with me also, I was given revelations by God which I won't talk about, because it is not for the hearing of others. If God hadn't reveal that's He's with me, I wouldn't be able to make the sacrifices i have made to journey into God's presence, if I should tell a man about it he might falter if he tries to imitate, because it's not for him. Every revelation that created a vision is personal, designed by God unto anyone who desire to become His vessel.
     

    Jesus disciple
    devotionals

    The Lord Jesus is building a house, a temple of God in the hearts of men. He is no longer interested in the material temple made by physical materials, but in His temple to be built in the hearts of men.Except we accept our Lord Jesus as Lord and savior, believe and living in obedience to His word, we cannot have the foundation to be laid to start the construction.
     
    For the word of God is the solid foundation on which we shall be built spiritually to stand firm unshaken in Christ Jesus when the wind blows, ( sin, temptation, trials, issues of life, flesh, the world etc. ) and this structure when completed becomes the temple of God.
     
    As Solomon built the temple of God with costly materials, so also Jesus has come, that whoever will receive Him, He shall build a temple of costly materials more than gold in his heart. The riches of God's word is gotten on your works for Jesus and your in-depth in spirituality. Without these riches you can't manifest the power of God.
     
    In this spirituality, God no longer meets a man in the mountains, neither shall we worship God in the temple of Jerusalem. Anyone born of God must worship God in spirit and in truth. For a man to worship God he must be in spirit, for God is spirit and you cannot connect to a spirit being if you're not Spiritual. Our spirituality, the crossing of a man from flesh unto spirituality to be connected to God comes from the word of God built it a man. It is the word of God that breaks every barrier every shackles and tear off every vail that stands as a hindrance for a man being in spirit.
     
    Unless God's word rule our heart we cannot be given the holy Spirit which makes us spiritual, connecting us to the Father. When a man is born again he needs to feed on God's word to be filled to be have this spirit. By grace a man is saved, by grace the gospel found you, now if you've received Jesus, a foundation on the word has been laid in your heart, but not yet strong.
     
    Unless your foundation is fortified on regular hearing of God's word and apply it in obedience, this foundation cannot be fortified , and if it's not, when your house is built, it collapses. That's why a man can be born again today and tomorrow fall away, because he failed to fortify his foundation.
     
    The Lord Jesus always watching at the side line to see your faithfulness, after many failure when he sees your desire to follow Him, He then give you His holy spirit to sustain and to live a holy life without struggling. It is when you're given this holy spirit of God, then you can worship God in spirit, else your worship is in vain.
     
    Our holy life first, is the true act of worship, the holy life you live renders offering to God as an act of worship, before you talk of singing, praying, and other spiritual activities. If you're heart is corrupted of sin, your offering will be contaminated. That's why holiness first, is our connection to God. Our heart is the alter of God for rendering offerings and sacrifice. God only cares about our heart and nothing else, you can pretend to live a holy life but God knows the motive of the heart.
     
    If your heart is of evil, your alter has been corrupted and it will be broken down as a false alter. Therefore, you can no longer worship God in spirit, because the alter that keeps the presence of God in you has been destroyed and His spirit is no longer in you. To worship God in truth is to worship him, follow him from the depths of your heart, giving him your all in sincerity. You must have His spirit to have access to him and then have a heart that yearns for him, it works hand in hand.
     
    The Church in the physical is not the church of God it's just a physical structure to gather the children of God. It is the children of God when together forms the body of Christ, then it is called the church of Christ. Jesus is the neck that connects us to God the head and we are the body parts joined together connected to Jesus the neck which then connect us to God. The church cannot be separated because we are spiritually connected. It is when we come together in the physical we say; " the church of the Corinth"
    1chronicle 17:10-12

    I declare to you that the Lord will build a house for you; when your days are over and you go to be with your fathers, I'll raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He's the one who will build a house for me, and I'll establish His throne for ever.
     
    The temple the Lord was speaking of through Nathan was not the one Solomon built, Solomon building the temple of God was just an illustration, a preparation of what the Lord Jesus is about to do in the lives of men. Solomon built the temple for worship, fine, but there is a temple to be built in the hearts of men to house the spirit of God. whoever believes in the name Jesus and remains in his presence will no longer be far from God because God's is right there with him in his heart, living in his temple when completed.
     
    When a man becomes born again, his heart becomes the temple of God, first, a foundation is laid on the foundation of the word. Even as this foundation is laid, it needs to be built on the word. To fortify this foundation, he needs to be built on God's word, he needs to feed on God's word to strengthen his faith, for faith comes from the word and faith is our heavenly currency to purchase heavenly resources. Faith is built on a continual process till we leave this earth, and if your faith in Jesus doesn't grow you cannot go far in Him, you cannot please Him.
     
    When this foundation has been laid, you need to spend time on God's word to acquire spiritual resources gotten by your heavenly currency " faith, " to fortify your foundation and to begin the construction of God's  temple in your life to house His spirit. As you feed on God's word, you get more resources, more costly materials to build this temple of your heart. Even as you do, you need to purchase and employ security agents and equipment to guard the construction site, because the evil one will always come at night to bring it down.
     
    You must have the word to build your heart, the temple of God and you must pray to prevent the evil one from getting in. You cannot pray if you don't have the word of God in you. How can you purchase security equipment when you don't have money to get it. It is the word of God that builds your faith to have currency to by them. You now see that prayer without the word is useless.
     
    The more you grow on God's word, the more effective and weighty your prayers. You speak a word and there's immediate response from God. Why do you think men like Elijah, the Lord's generals were men of few words, it's because they were full of God and to be full of the spirit of God is to be built on the word. It's like pouring water into a jug till it overflows.
     
    It is In obedience and faithfulness, making sacrifices  in building your temple to completion, the Lord God will come and dwell in and you can have quick access to Him at any time. When you pray He hears you instantly, when you want to preach the gospel, He speaks through you as a medium because he is in you. The reason why men are in sin is because, an alter of evil has been built in there heart housing the devil acting through them, unless the alter and it's foundation is broken by Jesus they cannot be free to possess the temple of God.
     
    Do you not know your heart is a temple to a spirit being, the question is which spirit and how far have you gone building that temple.
    The Lord Jesus Christ has come to establish His kingdom here on earth in the hearts of men. Jesus always talked about the kingdom of God. However there is a kingdom of God he also talked about, " the one to be established in our heart "
    He said in Luke 17: 20-21
     
    " the kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say " here it is, " or " there it is, " because the kingdom of God is within you. "
     
    This kingdom of God is the personality of Jesus to live a holy life, the personality of a kingdom being is holiness, a life without sin. Now if that personality is given to you by Jesus you, then you are registered as a kingdom man, it's like an ambassador of heaven living here on Earth, only waiting to go back to his original home. When you have the kingdom personality, you live a holy life, a life of one in God's kingdom, a life of Jesus here on Earth.
     
    A kingdom encompasses many citizens, without it's citizens there's no kingdom. When a born again stands alone in Jesus the kingdom of God is established in his heart, but for it to be established on earth, it is when two or more are made in Jesus, this makes it a kingdom government on earth. This is the manifestation of the quality of Jesus here on Earth. This is the kingdom the Lord is establishing through His word.
     
    Just as there is a kingdom of God, there is also a kingdom of darkness, anyone in sin is bound in captivity to the Kingdom of darkness to manifest the personality of evil on earth, ( an ambassador of the devil ). Darkness has encroached too much, so the Lord Jesus went on the cross that men saved shall manifest His spirit to match forth as an end time army with the gospel and the life they live to conquer the kingdom of darkness.
     
    All the Lord Jesus is doing now in this last generation is the gathering of the elect, the elects are those who have vision to follow Jesus, although some are still in sin, but we who have been saved have been recruited into God's army to rescue the elect from captivity unto salvation.

    Once the elects are gathered by the Lord, he'll come to take His children home on the rapture and those who remain, shall be tried in the tribulation as it is written in Revelation 3:10
     
    " Since you've kept my command to endure patiently, I'll also keep you from the hour of trial that so going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth."
     
    Then we shall reign and rule with Jesus in His throne forever and ever. For we are sons of God, brethren of Jesus, heirs of His kingdom, for He is the first son amongst all brethren.
     

    MasterCole
    other

    PROLOGUE


























     
    Underneath the Rubble 
    “No. No!” 
    Terrace Larsen’s heart beat fast as he looked down on the ruined home from the window the resistance cruiser. Flames still flickered, and Terrace could glimpse bodies crushed in the rubble. 
    The cruiser landed, and as the doors slid open the other resistance soldiers fanned out, looking for survivors. Terrace stumbled slowly forward, dazed. Then something caught his eye. Kneeling beside the body of a fallen man, he saw a symbol on the dead man’s shoulder pauldron that he recognized all too well. 
    “The Darkness. Jadis Larsh,” he whispered. Despite having been defeated and driven into hiding by Terrace and the rest of the resistance at the Battle of Meridian seven years ago, the militant group had recently been unusually active, assassinating several members of the resistance… and now they might have killed Terrace’s best friends. 
    “Commander Larsen. We’ve found them.” 
    Terrace looked up to see the resistance officer standing beside him.
    “Are they alright?”
    The officer winced. “Come and see.”
    Slowly Terrace rose to his feet and walked over to where the other resistance soldiers stood, looking downward at the bodies of Caroline Krot and David Grail, ripped apart, crushed, and dead. Both had been members of the resistance key in the downfall of the Darkness. And both had been Terrace’s friends.
    “I’m sorry, Terrace.”
    Terrace looked away. “They were loyal members of the resistance. And they were good friends.”
    “We want to give them a flame burial.”
    “Can we not take their bodies back?”
    “We don’t have time, sir. The killers could be back at any moment.”
    “What of the children then? They have two. Twins.”
    “We scanned the area but could not find them, sir. The killers likely took them.”
    “Fine . Do it. Just don’t expect me to watch.”
    The resistance soldiers pointed their staffs down at the bodies as they chanted the burial salute. “May the ashes of these heroes fly forever on the wind!” Flames leapt from their staffs and consumed the bodies as the resistance men stood in reverent silence. Then, slowly, they began to make their way back to the copter. But Terrace stayed still, staring  into the distance. 
    “Terrace, it’s time to leave.”
    “I’m not leaving.”
    “Terrace, staying with them won’t make them come back.”
              “I’m not leaving.”
               “Terrace…”
    “You don’t understand. I’m not going back to Artensia, or Mage City, or anywhere else. I’ve had enough of this. I’m leaving for the mortal world. To live out the rest of my days in peace.”
    The resistance soldier sighed.“Are you sure?”
    “I’m positive.”
    “Then it’s been an honor serving with you, Commander Larsen.”
    The soldier walked into the helicopter, and the doors slid closed as the cruiser took off, leaving Larsen behind. He continued to stare into the distance for a moment, then turned away and began to walk away from the rubble. There was a mortal town nearby. From there, he could start a new life. It wouldn’t be much, but it would have to do. 
    “Dad! Help!”
    The voice of a young boy rang out suddenly. Terrace looked back, then shook his head. 
    “Enough. They’re gone.” He began to walk away again, but again the cry pierced the night:
    “Dad! Help! Please.”
    Terrace looked back again, then began striding back toward the rubble, eyes scanning for the source of the cries. And then he found it: a single blue eye staring out of the rubble, utterly terrified. 
    Kneeling down, Terrace waved his hand and the rubble fell away, revealing a young boy and a young girl. The young girl was face down, completely unconscious, but the young boy was awake and shaking. Terrace’s heart sank as he realized the terror that must be pumping through the boy’s veins. Slowly he knelt down and stretched his hand out to the boy. The boy shrank backwards.
    “It’s alright. I’m a friend. What’s your name?”
    “C-c-carson,” the boy stuttered. “C-c-c-carson Krot. What happened to… what happened to mom and dad?”
    Terrace hesitated. “They’re gone,” he said finally. “But I am here.”
    And slowly, the boy reached out and took his hand.








     
    PART I

















     
    12 Years Later…..




























     
    The Spy
    “It’s beautiful,” Jadis Larsh whispered.
    Out the window, legions of masked Darkness soldiers stood at attention, each in red full body armor and equipped with a powerful array of weapons. Squadrons of fighters roared through the skies, with dozens more in hangars on the ground. And in the center of it all sat the Apocalypse, a massive battleship, its hull armored with a bright blue energy shield, its deck bristling with the sheer firepower of a hundred cannons.
    Suddenly, the door to Larsh’s office burst open, and two guards stormed in, dragging a third, unmasked guard in between them. 
    “What’s this?” Jadis asked. 
    “A  resistance spy, my lord,” one of the masked guards replied. “We caught him attempting to make communication with Artensia.”
    “My lord,” the spy interrupted. “I was on Vorcix’s orders, he wanted to misinform the resistance…”
    “That’s not true,” the guard said, slapping the spy’s mouth shut. “We intercepted his message. He sent both the numbers of our army and the date of the attack, all correctly.”
    “Do you have the message?” Larsh asked.
    “Yes, my lord,” the second guard replied, pulling out a small metal tube and handing it to Larsh. Larsh took it and pulled it apart, a screen bursting into existence between the two halves. On the screen the spy’s face appeared.
    “This is Havier to Artensia. We’ve infiltrated Larsh’s base. He’s planning an attack on Artensia, Daridin. Her army is massive, she’s got ten thousand soldiers, at least ninety patrol boats, several hundred fighters ...if we can’t muster all our forces, we don’t stand a chance. And worst of all,” Havier said, lowering his voice, “he’s going after the scroll. It’s in Lewisville, right under our noses. Terrace Larsen is there guarding it, but he can’t stop them alone. We have to act, we have to stop them…”
    Larsh snapped the screen closed. “So they know we’re after the scroll. Good. I enjoy a challenge. Alert General Vorcix to begin mobilizing the army. And send scouts ahead. I think it’s time we pay Terrace Larsen a visit.”
    “It will be done, my lord. But what of the spy?”
    Larsh kneeled beside Havier, slowly drawing a knife from her belt. 
    “He is of no use to me now.”







     
    Parents
    Carson
    They say your life flashes before your eyes before you die. I used to wonder if, in all that I would see, there would be something worthwhile, something people would remember me by. I used to think, and sometimes almost hope that the answer would be no, that I would simply live out a normal life. 
    I was wrong.
              
     
    Carson
    Beep! Beep! Beep!
    I jerked awake to the sound of my alarm clock. Cold sweat ran down my face, and my breathing was loud and heavy. The night terror was quickly fading from my memory, but I could still 
    remember some vivid details: the heat of flames, a crushing weight falling atop me, and the pale, dead face of my mother. The same as it always was. 
    Gradually my breathing slowed, and my heart rate returned to normal. Realizing my alarm clock was still on, I reached over and switched it off. The time read 7:30; I was already running late. Krystal was going to kill me. 
    Sliding out of bed, I headed to the shower, my hands still shaking as I jumped in. Most of the time the major details of a dream fade from my mind only minutes after waking up. But this one always seemed to linger for days. 
              The thing was, though I’d always associated that dream with the night of the house fire where my parents had died, the details my father had given me of that didn’t match. I was barely in the house at all before getting out. I wouldn’t have seen my parents die. And I definitely wouldn’t have felt myself trapped underneath the rubble, screaming for help.
    With those thoughts still in the back of my mind, I turned off the shower, got dressed, and headed up for breakfast. My father was waiting for me, sipping a cup of coffee. Behind him was Krystal, arms folded. 
    “You’re late,” Krystal said. 
    “I’m sorry,” I said. 
    “Sorry doesn’t cut it, if I’m late again, Ms. Zaidi’s going to give me an F for attendance…”
    “Krystal, Ms. Zaidi doesn’t have an attendance policy,” my father said. “I read the syllabus, I’m not stupid. Please don’t bug your brother over the fact that you want to sluff.”
    Krystal turned red, huffed and walked away. I sat down and began eating breakfast, but found that my hands were shaking too badly to feed myself. 
    “Are you alright?” my father asked. 
    “Yeah, I’m fine,” I said. 
    “Are you sure? You were screaming in your sleep again.”
    “I’m fine. I just… had the nightmare again.”
    “Ah. I see.”
    We were silent for a few minutes as I ate breakfast, though my father continued to look quite concerned. 
    “Dad?” I finally asked. “Can I ask a question?”
    “That depends on the question, but generally, yes.”
    “Did you know my parents? You know, before the fire?”
    My father paused. “Yes. Yes I did.”
    “What were they like?”
    “They were good people. Your father was a good friend of mine, he was kind, empathetic, had a good sense of humor. And your mother was one of the bravest people I have ever met.”
    “What happened to me that night? The night of the house fire?”
    “Your mother got you and Krystal out of the house. Then she went back in to get your father. Neither of them ever came out.”
     “But... in my dreams, I always remember being crushed underneath the rubble, crying for help, no one coming. Always. Are you sure that’s what happened?”
    Suddenly a loud shriek pierced the air above us, louder than any sonic boom I’d ever heard. Both me and my father rushed to the window. I looked up to see a strange plane roaring through the sky at an incredible speed, leaving no contrail but a red light behind it. 
    “Larsh,” my father whispered.
    “That’s an odd plane,” I said. 
    “That’s no plane,” my father said. “That’s a fighter. Get to the car, Carson. You and Krystal need to get away from here.” He reached into his pocket and handed me the keys to the car. 
    “What do you mean get away from here?” Krystal asked incredulously. 
    “Like I said, that’s no normal plane, that’s danger incarnate. Now, you two need to take the car and get to school. Blend in as much as you can. If anyone looks out of place, avoid them. Assuming I’m still alive, I’ll meet you after you’re done with work.”
     My father turned to leave, but I grabbed him by the shoulder. 
    “Where are you going?”
    “Someplace you should not follow,” my father said, breaking away
    from me.
    “Dad, what’s going on?” Panic began to rise in my chest. 
    “I wish I could tell you. But I worry that if I do, something even worse than what happened to your parents will happen to you.” He ran into the garage. I didn’t follow. 
    “What was that all about?” Krystal asked .
    “I don’t know,” I said. 
    But I couldn’t shake the feeling that, once again, things were crumbling to rubble around me…. 





















     
    The Fighter
    Terrace seared his way through the closed door of the Darkness fighter as quietly as he could, then snuck in carefully. Looking around, he realized no one was there. 
    “All right, we’re clear,” he said. “Now just got to figure out why they’re here.”
    Fiddling with the cockpit controls, he found what he was looking for: the message log. Looking down at the messages, he stopped as one caught his eye. 
    “Jadis Larsh,” he whispered, opening it. 
    An image of Larsh appeared on the screen. 
    “Your orders are simple, captain. The scroll is in Lewisville, as is Terrace Larsen. You are to capture Larsen and bring him to me. But do not kill. I wish to destroy that lying piece of scum myself, just as I did with the Krots.”
    Terrace closed his eyes. So it was as he had feared. After the fall of the Darkness, he’d taken on Jadis Larsh, the daughter of the Darkness leader, hoping to drive out the hatred that her father had driven into her. He’d tried so hard to recondition her, to teach her to love, to love her… but he had failed. Driven by a raging desire to avenge her father, Larsh had escaped one night. No one had seen her since. But with this message, Terrace could assume what had happened: like her father, she had assumed the title of Dark Mage and was now leading the Darkness in their bloody acts of terrorism. It was almost more than he could bear to think of. 
    The message continued. “And speaking of the Krots, Larsen is harboring the two Krot teens, Carson and Krystal. Your orders regarding them are simple: extract what information you can and kill them.” 
    Terrace’s eyes widened. He’d thought he’d kept Carson and Krystal’s existence a secret… but evidently not. Rushing to his hovercar, he flipped the controls on as quickly as he could, only hoping he wasn’t too late……



















     
    Fire
    Krystal
    “One hamburger, no cheese, non onion, no pickle, no ketchup, no mayo, no mustard, just bun and meat, coming right up. Please don’t tell me you want fries with that,” I said, handing the last customer in line his cup and calling out the order back to the cooks. Finally, a pause in the nonstop stream of people.
    “Are you sure you don’t want to switch places?” I yelled back to Carson.
    “I already told you no. I’ve got homework to do. And we still need to get through to Dad.”
    I shook my head. Despite the fact that nothing had happened to us the whole day, Despite this, Carson had still been trying to contact Dad-the whole day. Part of me wondered if the spectacle this morning had all just been a clever ruse in order to hog the drive-thru.
    Just as I managed to slip my phone out of my pocket and get it out of sight of the manager, a man got out of his seat. Obese and balding, it was almost painful to glance at him; he looked like a cross between a whale and a human. I knew him, though, all too well. Every worker here did. He complained about something or another every time he came here- he didn’t get enough french fries, his chicken tasted more like turkey, why did I get charged for cheese- you name it, this guy could complain about it. And the worst part? Despite his constant whining, this guy still came in here every single day.
    The man walked up the counter. Here we go again, I thought.
    “Yes, “ I asked, restraining myself from making a comment about his size and the inadvisability of having seconds because of it.
    “I wanted my money back,” he stated in a high pitched voice.
    I sighed.”Why?”
    “I found a black hair in my food.”
    I looked up at his greasy, thin black hair. “None of our employees have black hair, and you do, so I’m going to assume that hair is yours. Have a nice day.”
    “I want my money back.”
    “Well, sorry, but all the evidence points to..”
    “I found a hair in my food. I want my money back.”
    “You’ve said that three times already!” I snapped.
    The man turned beet red. “Now, you see here,” he began to rant. “You need to learn to respect your superiors.”
    At this point all the eyes in the store were on us. But that didn’t stop from leaning right into the man’s face, his hot breath blowing against my face.
    “Stupid people are stupid no matter how old they are. Now get out.”
    The man scowled and left, slamming the door behind him. I sat back in my chair, a stupid grin on my face.
    Then I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to see my manager, Jason, looking down at me.
    “You’re fired.”
     
    Krystal
    Most towns have a mall, or a super grocer. Lewisville has Town Square. A block of solid cement surrounded by a single circular street, stores and restaurants of all sorts lined it’s perimeters, and people bustled through the middle. In the center of the square was a fountain, complete with a statue of Meriwether Lewis, water spewing from his bronze sword.
    I stood near the edge of the square, playing with a glowing ball of ice in my hand, but when I saw Carson I quickly extinguished it. I couldn’t let Carson know about my powers- not him, not anybody. 
    “It’s about time you got here,” I said to Carson. It had been an hour since Jason had kicked me out of the restaurant.
    “Dad’s going to be pissed,” Carson said. 
    “I know he is,” I replied vaguely, not looking him in the eye.
    “You think you’re going to get another job soon? I mean, to pay for college?”
    “Maybe.” To be honest, I didn’t really have a plan for after I turned eighteen. College was where everybody suggested going, but the idea of going to school for four more painful years just didn’t appeal to me. What else I would do, I didn’t know, but not that.  “Is the sun really setting already?”
    “Yeah. It’s cool, isn’t it?” Carson replied. We started to walk away from the fountain and towards the car.
    Not really, I thought. All those colors really just hide something darker- another day gone. Another day wasted.
    Truth is, Lewisville had never felt like home for me. I mean, my father’s fantastic. And my brother… well he’s a good person too, but he’s also a reminder of everything I’m not. 
    Carson has friends. I sit alone at lunch. Carson’s teachers and bosses love him. Mine, to say the least, do not. Carson goes on dates. There’s a running joke at my school that “it’s suicide to ask out Krystal Krot”. 
    We walked along, silent. Then, suddenly a crack split the air behind us. Carson jumped.
    “What was that?” he said, turning around to look behind us.
    “Probably just nothing,” I said.
    Then two more cracks rang out. And two more after that. I saw Carson freeze in my peripheral. “Oh, no.”
    I whipped around. The sharp cracks continued to ring out,but I couldn’t spot the source.
    Carson pointed.”There,” he whispered. 
    I followed his finger to see two men in black jackets. Their hair was shaved and instead of it a shining symbol covered their scalps, like two swastikas placed one on top of the other. And in their hands were two blazing guns.
    For a moment everything seemed to hold still. Then screams and shouts filled the air.
    “Shooting!”Run!”
    I started to bolt away, then turned back around. Carson was just standing there, still frozen in shock.
    “C’mon you dolt!” I yelled, grabbing him by the collar and pulling him along.
    Behind us, I could still hear gunshots splitting the air. Smoke began to fill my lungs, and the people ahead of us started to fall. Their earsplitting shrieks filled me with dread.
    At the sight of death, Carson shook away and stumbled into a run beside me.
    “We’ve got to get behind cover,” he said.
    “I know!” I snapped back. “Head to the fountain!”
    Carson nodded briefly and we dived behind the statue of Lewis. My heart pounded as the blaze continues, shot after shot ringing in cruel rhythm. We sat there for what felt like an age, trying to slow my breath.
    And then the shooting stopped.
    “Do you think?” Carson said hesitantly.
    And then the two men rounded the corner, pointing their guns directly at our chests. 









     
    Water
    Krystal
    “Alright,” the first gunman said. “No more running. We only have one question: where is your father?”
    “We don’t know,” I said. “He ran off earlier this morning.”
    “Don’t lie to me. We know he has the scroll. Now tell us where he is and you can live.”
    “I told you, we don’t know,” I said. 
    The second gunman grabbed Carson, who was still paralyzed in shock, and held his gun to my brother’s neck. He fought back, but was unable to break free and fell still as the gunman coiled his finger around the trigger. Slowly I reached my hand back and dipped it into the fountain water. 
    “Let me put this into perspective. You can either tell us where your
    father is, or your brother will never speak again. Understood?”  
    “For the last time, I don’t know where he is! Now let Carson go!”
    “You heard the girl. Kill him,” said the first gunman.
    “I don’t think so,” I yelled, and threw my hand forward. As I did, the water in the fountain lifted and crashed down on the two gunmen, dropping them to the ground and throwing Carson to the side, away from them. As they attempted to get to their feet, I willed the water back into two balls, then smashed those balls back into each of them. They sputtered and coughed. I walked over and kicked the first one in the gut.
    “Never mess with me again.”
    I raised my foot to kick him again, but as I did, the second gunman grabbed me from behind and threw me to the ground. 
    “We can play that way, vinsling scum.” 
    The gunman raised his hand and a bright fireball burst into existence above it. I barely managed to roll to the side as he threw it downwards, but the heat from the resultant explosion still singed my eyebrows. I rose to my feet and turned to run, but as I did the other gunman snapped and I felt a wall of force shove me into the statue. My vision blurred as I tried to get to my feet, then collapsed. The gunmen approached, one of them drawing a knife. 
    “Maybe you really don’t know anything. Either way, you’re useless to us now.”
    But just as he finished saying this, a knife suddenly sprouted in his neck, and he collapsed. I looked behind to see my father, the knife flying back to his hand. Turning away from me, the gunman drew a sword, but my father snapped and fire flew from his fingers, burning the gunman to death instantly. 
    “Hallelujah,” I breathed, slowly rising to my feet.
    “Next time don’t pick a fight after you’ve already won it,” my father said sternly. 
    “What in the name of?” Carson sputtered. “They just… and she just...and then you just….”
    “Yeah. That about describes it. Get in the car. We have a lot to talk about.”
     






















     
    Mages
    Carson
    “And that’s when you showed up,” Krystal said, finishing her account of what had just happened. I stayed silent as she told what had happened, hands still shaking from the battle. 
    My father shook his head. “You made all the wrong choices. You need to be more careful, Krystal. You’re not nearly experienced enough yet to defeat another mage. Your choice to fight would have gotten the both of you killed if I hadn’t showed up.”
    “Well what else was I supposed to do?” Krystal exclaimed. 
    “Run,” my father said. “There are forces at work here that are not to be trifled with. You are not the only mage in this world, and some of them are far more powerful than either of you will ever be.”
    “Mages?” I finally butted in. “What mages? There’s no such thing as magic?”
    “Were you completely blind that entire fight?” my father said dryly. “You belong to a much bigger world than you think you do.”
    “Then you have a lot to explain,” I said. 
    “Yes I do,” he said, pulling up to the driveway. “I’ll explain inside.”
     
    CARSON
    My father’s room was a simple place. A dresser sat in one corner, short and almost empty. A bed stood in another, covered in plain white sheets. There were no TV’s, no computers, no phones, nothing but an alarm clock on the dresser. The walls, too, were bare except for three pictures: One of me, one of Krystal, and a third of our parents that kept only for our sake. Me and Krystal sat on the bed. My father pulled in a chair, sipped a long drink of water, and then spoke. 
    “Alright,” my father said. “ I’m going to do my best to explain what happened tonight, but first I have some questions for you. First off, what do you know about what happened?”
    “All I know is that two men showed up with guns and tried to kill us, and darn well near succeeded. I have no idea why they did or what you have to do with it. Now can you explain?” I said. 
    “Patience, Carson. Second question: Krystal, how long have you known?”
    “A long time. Longer than I can remember. I always hid them from others, though. I was afraid of what they would do if I found out. Do you think they’re why…”
    “Partially,” my father said. “But there was more to it than your powers. What did the men say they were there for again?”
    “They said they wanted to know where you were,” I said. “Quite badly, apparently.” 
    “And a scroll. They said you had a scroll,” Krystal added.
    My father closed his eyes and let out a long breath. 
    “I had hoped they wouldn’t know about that. Though I expected they would.”
    “What are you talking about? Do you really have a scroll?” I asked.
    “I don’t have it. But I know where it is, and that’s dangerous enough.”
    “How is a scroll dangerous?” I asked. “They’re ancient, they belong in museums.”
    “Not this one. This one needs to be locked away somewhere it will never be found.. You know so little. I thought your lack of knowledge would protect you. Evidently I was wrong. Let’s start with the basics: What do you know about magic? “
    “Magic doesn’t exist. It’s just a happy little thing wizards use in fairytales,” I said. 
    “Whether for good or for ill, that is not true,” Terrace said. “The ability to generate energy and control that energy within one’s body is not common, but it does exist. I am a mage. Krystal is a mage. And you, too, are a mage.”
    I stood up, angry, frustrated, and tired. I’d had enough of this nightmare, and I’d certainly had enough of my fake father claiming he was a wizard.
    “I’ve had enough of this nonsense. This is all just a bad dream.” I turned and made my way to the door. Maybe if I got myself hit by a car, the dream would end.
    “Carson!” my father exclaimed angrily. 
    “Get out of my head,” I said. 
    “I know you don’t want to believe me, Carson. I know the very thought that this might be real brings you back to the night your parents died. But it is real, and I cannot change that.” As he spoke, images of the nightmare I’d had the night before flowed through my mind, and fear began to build up in my stomach….
    I shook my head, pushing out the memories. “Well, I don’t believe you,” I said. 
    But I couldn’t convince my feet to move any farther. 
    “Close your eyes, Carson. Reach inside. Find the energy, and will it to obey your command.”
    Slowly I closed my eyes and stretched out my hand, hesitantly searching myself for some unseen power, throwing all my anger, frustration and fear into it. And suddenly, I felt it: an energy, flowing through me, breathing life throughout my entire body….
    But as I exerted my will upon it, it became volatile, wild and uncontrollable, and as screams flowed through my head the ground began to shake beneath me, growing in intensity. Dishes crashed to the ground. The wood floor split beneath my feet. Krystal shrieked. I felt heat building up in my chest, and my heartbeat began to slow, giving me the familiar feeling of suffocating as if stuck underneath the crushing weight of rubble…
    And then my father’s hand grabbed me, shaking me out of it.
    “You can’t control it,” he whispered, speaking as if I weren’t there. He raised his voice. “Consider yourself lucky. Had I not stopped you, you would have destroyed yourself. But you felt it, didn’t you?”
    “This is real, isn’t it?” I asked.
    “I know you’re afraid, Carson,” my father said. “But this is reality, and we have to face it. Together.”
    “Alright,” I said. “Ok.”
    We slowly sat down in the now chaotic room.  
    “Soooooooo,” Krystal said, glancing at me with an annoyed look.
    “Back to the gunmen. And why they were here.”
    “That is a long story,” my father said.  “So I suppose I might as well begin. Most mages live away from the rest of humankind, in an advanced society hidden from their view. For millennia they have lived this way in peace, led by the Maestrom, a president of sorts for the mage nation. But twenty-one years ago, peace was broken. 
    “A man named John Larsh, commander of a military group named the Darkness, assembled an army of antimages, mages who have corrupted themselves so that they can manipulate the destructive powers of antienergy. He seized control of mage society and began squeezing the freedom from our lives. I tried to resist him. As a result, my friends and family were all slaughtered. 
    “Fortunately, I was not the only one who wanted him stopped. Together, we formed a resistance band, and, thanks to the heroism of a man named Daridin Rix, we were able to defeat him. 
    “But the conflict was not over as quickly as we thought. The new Maestrom was corrupt and greedy. He soon declared himself emperor of magedom and began weeding out the old resistance members. To this day we are in hiding because of him.”
    “So it was the Maestrom who sent the attackers?” Krystal asked. 
    “No. The Maestrom sits in his palace, content to watch as the powers of darkness rise again. No, the men who attacked you serve another master: The Dark Mage. A mysterious figure, she is gathering the Darkness forces back together. I fear if she is not stopped, the entire world will fall to her tyranny.”
    “What does a scroll have to do with any of this mess?” I asked.
    “The scroll contains the plans for a terrible weapon. If the Dark Mage gets ahold of it, he will be unstoppable. And, whether for good or ill, I know the location of that scroll. Thus, I must protect it.”
    “How do we do that?” Krystal asked.
    “That is a good question, and one that I cannot answer. I do not have the means to hide or protect it myself. And it’s magically reinforced, making it virtually impossible to destroy. I will have to contact our allies. And you will need to start preparing you for combat. I want to keep you out of this, but I fear you may be involved whether I like it or not. Seven am sharp tomorrow we start training. In the meantime, get to bed. I’m sure you have a long list of questions, but it’s been a long night for all of us. Best we get some rest.“
    I gladly rose and began to walk towards my bed, but as we did  a sudden thought struck me. 
    “Wait. One last thing.”
    “What?” 
    “The man who tried to kill me, he called me a...vinsling. What is that?”
    “A long time ago, there were mages far more powerful than others. We called them vinslings. Together, they used their powers to 
    protect the world. But that was not to last, and they were hunted near unto extinction.” He hesitated before adding,  “you are the last of their kind.”
    And with that he shut the door. Krystal walked off to her bed, stepping carefully over the new cracks in the floor. I looked down at my hand.
    It was still shaking. 















     
    I Will Finish What You Started
    Jadis Larsh sat in her throne room on the Apocalypse, fingering a small pocket watch with the name “John Larsh” inscribed on its face, whispering unintelligibly. General Nathzar Vorcix, her second in command, slowly approached and kneeled before the spiked throne. 
    “My lord.”
    “What? Do you finally have a report on that team you sent out twenty-five hours ago?” Jadis snapped.
    “My lord, we’re not certain what happened to them, but we haven’t received any transmission in twelve hours. As far as I am concerned, they are dead.”
    Jadis snorted. “By the hand of Terrace Larsen, no doubt. Incompetent scum. We must act quickly and decisively before he vanishes. Prepare the fleet. We will attack Lewisville and apprehend him before he can make his move.”
    “My lord, would it not be best to learn from the past?” Vorcix exclaimed. “After all, your father’s fatal mistake was invading the mortal world…”
    Larsh lunged forward, snapping her fingers and burning Vorcix with red lightning. 
    “Do not speak ill of my father! He was a great man, a visionary man, the ruler of all magedom. It is not his fault he was murdered by the filthy Daridin Rix. And I, the new Dark Mage, am his heir, and I will have my revenge!”
    “I am sorry, my lord. I did not intend to insult your father.”
    “Then do not do it again. Or I will be far less merciful next time.”
    “Understood. I will prepare the fleet immediately.” Vorcix left, rubbing the still raw burns and grimacing. Larsh’s eyes followed him as he left, then turned back to the watch.
    “Don’t worry, father. I will avenge you. And then I will finish what you started.”
     
     
















     
    Dire Times
    Taking a deep breath, Terrace opened the projection tube, opening the screen to his old resistance messenger. Slowly he reached out and tapped the message button, then tapped the “Tyler McKay” contact. The screen went black for a few moments as the device called, then changed to show the face of an old woman, grey haired and holding a cane, face weathered from the strain of a thousand battles, but still, somehow, smiling.
    “After all these years, you finally called back.”
    “It was not without reason,” Terrace said. 
    “That’s for sure. Why didn’t you contact us sooner? Things haven’t been going well, Terrace. The Darkness are rising. They’ve appointed a new Dark Mage. They grow stronger by the day. I fear if we do not stop them, apocalypse is nigh.”
    “I’ve had problems of my own.”
    “Raising the Krot children hardly counts as a problem.”
    “I think you’d be surprised how much trouble children can be.”
    Tyler laughed.  “Fair enough. Fair enough. But still. You knew the scroll was right under our noses this whole time, and you didn’t tell us?”
    “So it’s common knowledge now?”
    “Common enough. Daridin wants to retrieve it, Terrace. He’s put together a team already. They’re heading to Lewisville as we speak. He wants you to lead it.”
    “Retrieve it? Why? You know what power it holds, it needs to stay locked up forever. That was the ancient agreement.”
    “We don’t have the means to defend it, Terrace. You know that.”
    “Even if we have to retrieve it, Tyler, I… I can’t. My two kids got attacked today, they’re already in enough danger, I can’t put them in more.”
    “You know everyone’s in danger if we don’t stop Larsh, right?”
    “Yes, but… I can’t, Tyler. I can’t consciously throw them into something like this.”
    “I know how it feels. You want to protect them. But we only get them for an instant, Terrace. After that they’re on their own. The best thing we can do for them is to prepare them for that. I’m not asking this of you for me, Terrace. I’m asking it of you for the world.”
    Terrace hesitated for a moment, then made his decision.
    “Fine. I’ll do it.”
     

     
     




     
    Training
    Krystal
    I didn’t sleep at all that night. And frankly, I didn’t want to. With all that had happened that night, there was a lot to think about. 
    Ever since I could remember, I’d had magic. When I exerted my will, the water listened. And though it often drained my energy, it had always been exhilarating, a burst of euphoria in my tedious everyday life. I’d only kept it a secret for fear others would think of me as a freak because of it. 
    Ever since I’d discovered magic I had wondered if maybe, just maybe there were others like me out there. Eventually, though, after years of hoping, I’d given up. But now I knew there were more like me, a whole society even. And my father was one of them. 
    I didn’t know how I felt about the training. On the one hand, it would mean more power. On the other hand, that power came with a price. I couldn’t push angry thoughts away as images of the dead reeled through my mind. I felt guilty, too: all of the people who had died had died purely because of our powers. 
    We’d almost died, too. Had my father not arrived in the nick of time we would both be dead. And from what I understood, yesterday was only the beginning.
    Yet, despite all this, I couldn’t help but feel excited.
    After hours of pondering, my alarm clock finally went off. I slid out of bed and walked to the living room. Carson had already plopped down on one of the couches, red circles underneath his eyes from lack of rest. In front the TV was on, tuned to the news. Gruesome images of town square crossed the screen and a reporter began jabbering away:
    “Breaking news: a shooting has been reported in Lewisville, Oregon’s town square. According to the police, multiple gunmen opened fire at 8:40, killing at least two dozen and injuring many more. Most fled the scene, leaving the square empty until officials arrived. However, when they got there they found the two gunmen dead, lying next to the fountain, one of them with what appears to be a sword wound. Authorities have yet to run an autopsy to explain exactly how the two shooters died. Meanwhile, some victims claim to have seen the use of what they call “magic” during the shooting…”
    Carson turned off the TV, curled up, and groaned.
    Just then, our father walked into the room, looking so different I almost didn’t recognize him. Robes flowed over him, red with black trim. Embroidered into the collar was a symbol, four  triangles with a line 
    underneath.
     
    In his hands was a large staff, with a glowing orange crystal at the top. He wore a belt containing more weapons: two daggers and a long, sheathed broadsword. Even though I knew it was still him, I couldn’t help but be a little intimidated.
    “Good morning,” he said, as if nothing had changed. “I have something for you.” The two daggers on his belt unsheathed themselves, flying over to us. We took them hesitantly.
    “What good are these against magic?” I asked.
    “More than you would think,” my father responded. “I’ll teach you how to use them during your training. Now come outside. It’s time we begin.”
    We followed him out to the backyard. Completely redone, it had been made into what I imagined was a dueling field: metal poles portuded from the ground at various angles, trip wires extended between the poles, and several spots on the grass had been marked with glowing red X’s. My father led us out to one of the few clear pockets.
    “First off we need to lay some ground rules,” he said. “The number on rule is not to hurt anyone. The training I’m about to give you will grant you the ability to hurt, maim, or even kill people. That power is not to be taken lightly. You are not to use anything I am about to teach you except in a combat situation or other emergency.
    “The second rule is not to use magic in front of mortals. As I have stated, magic is a very dangerous tool, and it’s especially deadly to non-mages. There are mages out there who would exploit this weakness, and in order to prevent this the magical community has always forbidden interactions with nonmages, whom I will refer to as mortals. I expect you to do the same.
    “Third and finally don’t use magic outside of my presence or without my permission. Magic isn’t a playtoy. As beginners you could easily overstretch, hurt, and potentially even kill yourselves. The only exception to this rule, again, is in an emergency situation. Is this clear?”
    We both nodded, though I was somewhat disappointed. What fun was magic is we were only allowed to use it with permission?
    “So,” my father continued. “The understand combat magic, you must first understand magic in general.”
    “It all starts with what we call pure energy. This is the most basic form of energy in the universe. All other energies-heat, electricity, even matter itself are a product of it in some way.”
    “How have mortals not discovered that yet?” Carson asked.
    “Pure energy is invisible to all except mages, who see it as bright red. There’s also pure anti energy, the, well, purest form of anti energy, which will appear as dark purple.
    “As I was saying, in a mage, the body acquires pure energy by absorbing it from his or her surroundings. The body then stores this GE in an organ called the jetigan. When a mage uses the energy, it is then conducted through channels running through you until it manifests itself in the desired location. During the process, the energy is usually converted into a single form, meaning that most mages can only use on form of energy, referred to as your specialty. Krystal is a hydromage. Carson is a geomage.  And I,” he snapped and there was loud crackle of static, “am an electromage.”
    “Wait,” I said. “During the battle with the Darkness, you used fire. How is that possible?”
    “Certain engineered items can allow you to use energy beyond your specialty. As they are generally complex and hard to master, I will not be giving you any such items.
    Our father stepped back. “Not for your first combat lesson.” Suddenly he lunged forward, pointing his staff directly at Carson. A ball of fire burst forward, flying past just inches away from Carson.
    “Had I aimed true Carson would be dead right now,” my father said, leveling his staff. “As mages, you have higher resistance to energy, but it is still deadly.” He raised his free hand and a brilliant blue sheen of energy burst from it. “That is where shrouds come in.”
    “Shrouds, put simply, are magical shields. They block energy from coming in as well as coming out. The harder a shroud is hit the more energy is needed to maintain it, but they are your only way of defending against other mage’s attacks except for dodging, so you will need to get used to maintaining them. I want you two to practice summoning them.”
    We both spent several minutes producing the blue shields. I found they were relatively easy to conjure, it simply required exerting a slightly different mental force. Carson, too, easily mastered creating shrouds.
    “Good,” my father said, walking between us. “Next, let’s try maintaining them.” He snapped, and a bolt of lightning shot from his hands to each of our shrouds.  Instantly I felt a mental weight pushing on shroud, which began to collapse. I pushed back, and the shroud held, blocking the bolt of lightning completely.
    “Excellent!” my father praised. “You’re ready for one last lesson.” He drew a broadsword from his belt and summoned a shroud. “I want you to watch carefully what I’m about to do.” He stabbed the shroud. “Did you notice anything unusual?” 
    “The sword went right through the shroud,” Carson said.
    “Yes. Krystal asked earlier what use a dagger was against magic. The answer is that shrouds, unless specifically made to block matter, block only energy, not matter, making weapons like swords effective at close range. In addition, magic can hurt the user as well as the target when the two are near each other. Because of this, melee weapons can be just as effective as magic in combat situation. And hence the daggers.” He sheathed his sword.
    “So is there anything else?” Carson said.
    “The only teacher from here on is experience,” he responded. His staff began to glow and he pointed it straight at me. “Now, prepare for a practice duel.”
     
    Krystal
    My father fired, a bolt of lightning bursting from the staff
    Instinctively I ducked, and the bolt passed over my head. Then, dagger in hand, I charged. My father casually drew his sword and batted me away. I crumpled to the ground several yards away.
    As I stumbled to my feet, my father whipped around towards Carson, who hastily summoned a large shroud. My father leveled his staff and began pummeling the shroud with fireball after fireball. Somehow Carson’s shroud held for several seconds, but inevitably the shield collapsed, and Carson, too was knocked to the ground. 
    My father walked over and touched him the tip of his sword. “Dead.” Then he swiveled to face me, dropping his staff and striding towards me with his sword bared.
    I took a deep breath. Shrouds wouldn’t be any use against that sword. And I wouldn’t be able to get off a shot without my father blocking it.
    Or could I?
    My father picked up speed, grabbing the sword with two hands. I stood my ground, waiting. Closer and closer he came until he was right in front of me, the flat of his sword swinging directly at my chest….
    Then, at the last possible second, I collapsed to the ground. My father swung out of control, leaving his back open to me as he struggled to get his footing. I raised my hand and let a bolt of ice fly towards him.
    My father swung his sword around his back, blocking the blast and leaving the sword covered in ice. He then stretched out his hand and fried the piece of ground directly in front of me.
    “Dead.
    “But a good run for a first duel. If I was a lesser swordsman you would have taken me out. And Carson held that shroud for an extraordinary amount of time.”
    “Thanks,” Carson said, rising to his feet.
    “There’s still a lot to improve on though,” my father continued. “The charge at the beginning wasn’t a good move, Krystal you could easily have died if I hadn’t been distracted by Carson. And Carson could easily have dodged most of those fireballs. My father opened his mouth, but a sudden roar from above stopped him.
    I looked up. 
    A massive helicopter was descending from the sky. And it was going to land right on top of us.
















     
    Departure
    Krystal
    “Move!” I yelled, grabbing Carson and yanking him out of the way. The helicopter continued to descend. Wind roared, and my hair blew violently as the copter came to land directly in front of us. It was painted blue with black and gray trim, and its body was covered in heavy armor. Two forward cannons adorned the sides, and a rear cannon pointed straight at my face. Three hatches were embedded in the hull, one on each side and one in the back. The back hatch swung open, and a gray bearded mage strode out, staff in hand. Behind him was a younger mage, who looked to be Hispanic, though his skin had a strange tint to it that I couldn’t quite place with any sort of race I knew. 
    “Terrace Larsen!” the Mexican-ish man said, rushing forward and shaking my father’s hand. “Name’s Crelang di Onto, general, Artensian Army.”
    “So you took my job?” my father said playfully. 
    “Well, technically, yes….” Crelang said. “But I’m so pleased to meet you, I’ve heard so much about you…”
    The gray bearded mage remained silent, arms folded. Terrace brushed Crelang aside softly and stepped forward toward him. 
    “Terrace Larsen. The man in hiding. I didn’t think you of all people would be so cowardly to shy away from the Darkness,” the mage said. 
    “I had my reasons, Daridin,” my father responded.
    “I’m sure you did,” Daridin snapped.
    “I’m sorry.”
    Daridin raised his eyebrows. “I’ll believe that when the scroll is safe. Now get in the copter.”
    “Already?”
    “Time is of the essence. You know the importance of the scroll.”
    “Still I thought there would be more thought put into this.”
    “The plan is simple: recover the scroll, then get the rest of you to
    Artensia. A racer of all people should be able to understand the idea of a simple plan.”
    A resentful look flashed across my father’s eyes at the racer comment, but he nodded. “What about my children?” 
    Daridin gestured, and another mage stepped out of the dark pit of
    the copter. About two years our younger, he had bright red hair, freckles, and burning orange eyes.
    “This is Raubin Rix, my son.” Raubin nodded to us quietly. “He will man the house while we are gone. In the meantime, your children should get to their mortal school. The protection of a crowd is likely more protection than our modest force could bring.”
    “The Dark Mage showed no restraint in the presence of mortals last night,” my father retorted. “Why do you think he’ll show it today?”
    “The Dark Mage cares about the scroll much more than he cares about two young mages, Terrace, vinslings or not. Nevertheless, I will have operatives watching over them at all times.”
    My father turned to us. “Are you both going to be fine if I leave?”
    “Is this the resistance?” Carson asked.
    “Daridin is the leader of the resistance, yes. They want me to recover the scroll. It will be dangerous.”
    “Then go,” I said. “We’ll be fine.”
    My father nodded, then embraced us, tears welling up in his eyes. “Listen,” he said. “If I don’t come back…” he choked on his words. “Just...just promise me you’ll be strong. That you’ll stay together.”
    I gave my affirmation. My father walked over into the helicopter. “Get to school,” he yelled as the copter’s engines started up. “You’ll be safer there. I expect to come back to find both of you alive and well.”
    The copter began to pull away, and the hatch closed. With a sudden burst of speed, the vehicle burst off towards the distant forest around the town, leaving us in a crushed obstacle course with Raubin standing next to us.
    “You’re both very brave,” Raubin said. “If I had a say, I would never let somebody I loved do something like that.” His voice was quiet and so childlike it almost made you feel pity for him.
    “You came here, “ I said. “ That’s plenty brave.”
    “That’s one type. Letting someone you love go is a whole different brand of bravery in and of itself.” He walked into the house.
    “Do you think he’s right?” Carson said. “Do you think he won’t come back?”
    “He’ll come back,” I said. “He always does.”
    But deep inside I wasn’t so sure.

















     
    The Invasion
    CARSON
    Have you ever studied for a test for hours on end, done everything you possibly can, and then still feel anxious? That’s about how I felt at school as I walked through the halls of Lewisville High. My father had just been sent on a life-threatening mission. I might never see him again. Furthermore, our lives were in danger as the Darkness could strike any minute. And worst of all was the scroll, a secret so powerful it could mean losing everyone I loved.
         And yet here I was, wandering around as if it were a normal day.
         I walked into Geography class and sat down. The teacher, Mrs. Yardley, pulled up a Powerpoint  presentation. I glanced down at my pocket as she began to talk. Mrs. Yardley was an excellent teacher, but she had a tendency to get so caught up in her lessons that she noticed virtually nothing. I hadn’t talked with Krystal since morning, and the temptation was too strong. I pulled out my phone and began to text. 
         What do we do if the Darkness come?
         The response came swiftly.
         We run.
         Do you think we can trust Raubin?
         He doesn’t seem to have any dark intentions. Of course, he said all of about two words, so I don’t really know.
         I mean can we trust him to defend the house? 
         I don’t see any other alternative, Krystal texted back. If Dad’s willing to trust them with it so am I. 
        Leaving Lewisville. I still wasn’t sure how I felt about that. On the one hand it would get us to the resistance and sway from the reach of the Darkness. But on the other hand, I’d lived in Lewisville my whole life. It was my home, and leaving it would be one of the hardest things I’d ever do. 
         I’m just not sure about any of this, I texted. 
         Neither am I. We just need to wing it until all this is over.
         Assuming it ever is over.
         There was no response. 
         I waited for several minutes. Still nothing.
         She must have gotten her phone taken away, I realized with a smirk. But as I thought deeper, I found that it really wasn’t that funny. Our two phones were our only link to our father and with him the resistance. If Krystal had lost her phone that meant half of our communication line was down.
         Suddenly the class went silent. I looked up to see the teacher staring right at me.
         “Carson, please hand over your phone.”
         I gulped, but stayed silent, fingering the phone. 
         “Carson, hand it over.”
         I remained quiet.
         Fuming, Mrs. Yardley stormed over to my desk, yanked the phone out of my hand, and placed it back on her desk.
         I stood up. “You can’t take that.”
         She raised her eyebrows. “Can’t I?”
         I froze, unsure how to tell a geography teacher that evil mages might kill me and everyone in the room if she didn’t give me my phone so I could contact another group of supposed mages.
         For a long time there was silent tension between us. 
        And then the explosions began.
       
       Carson
      Ka-thump.
       The room shuddered, and I almost lost my footing. The sound was loud and crisp, leaving my ears ringing for seconds afterwards.
        “What in tarnation?” Mrs. Yardley muttered. Around me there was a flurry of activity as kids covered their ears, stood up, and rustled in their seats.  
         Ka-thump. Ka-thump. The sound came again, even louder this time. The room shook and books, binders, and electronics fell to the floor. 
         “Earthquake!” one student shouted. 
         Immediately the room became a blaze of chaos. People ducked under chairs, more rushed out the door, and others just crouched and shrieked.
         “All of you, shut up!” Mrs. Yardley screamed. “ I don’t know exactly what’s going on, but…”
         Her voice was drowned out by the noise as the thunks continued in perfect rhythm. I alone stood silent, collecting myself.
         “That’s no earthquake,” I said, lunging for the window. 
         Outside, explosions of violent red flashed throughout the parking lot, annihilating cars and throwing people tens of feet into the air. Those who weren’t dead were running for the building, screaming a word I could barely make out. I looked up. Sure enough, three shrieking planes, each the same as the one we had seen  earlier yesterday morning. 
          And each of their forward cannons was blazing.
         “It’s a bombing!” I yelled.
         For a moment everyone in the room froze, the terrifying truth setting in. Then they all began to sprint for the door.
         Mrs. Yardley stood still, eyes scanning the room, hands shaking. I ran across the room for my phone, reaching out to grab it.
         Then suddenly I was flying through the air, spinning in a wild roll. Red swarmed my eyes, refusing to clear even when I smashed into the ground. I could feel the sharp throbbing if bruises, cuts, and burns all over my body, but somehow I was still conscious.
        When the red finally gave way, I found myself staring up at the sun, the roof above my head completely destroyed. I rolled to see Mrs. Yardley and her desk gone. In their place was a smoking crater. 
        Gritting my teeth, I stumbled back to my feet, mind whirring. The Darkness was here. My phone was in cinders. Lewisville’s only hope of survival was contacting the resistance, and that meant I needed Krystal.
         Legs flaring, I walked outside.
         It was a living nightmare.
         Cars jammed the entire parking lot as everyone in the immediate vicinity tried to drive away. Others futilely attempted to run, only to be hit by the planes’ bombshecks. Still more stood sheck shocked until falling victim to the explosions. I watched in horror as people I had known my whole life began to die.
         “No,” I muttered. “No!” Adrenaline pumping, I scrambled across the lawn, trying to find Krystal so I could end the terrible slaughter. Unless she was one of the corpses littered on the ground…
         I shook the thought away. I couldn’t afford to think that way.
         Shecks exploded beside me, one even spraying sparks into my eyes and blinding me. 
         “Krystal!” I yelled. She was nowhere to be found.
         And then a strong hand gripped my shoulder. I jerked around to see my sister. 
        “Thank gosh,” I breathed. “My phone got destroyed in the fight, you’ve got to get ahold of Dad.”
         “I already tried, I think they blew the cell towers as they came in. We’re going to have to get to the car and make a break for it.”
        “No. We’ve got to save all these people, I’ll try the school phone..,”
        “Do you think the resistance doesn’t know about this?” Krystal cut me off. “We’re not heroes, Carson, and we’ve got to save ourselves before we end up not being alive, either.”
         I paused, torn. I couldn’t just leave without even trying to save them.
        But I was no hero.
        “You’re right.” We raced towards the car, dodging through a hail of explosions as we went. “Do you know where we’re going?” 
         “No idea. But I’m sure not staying here.” We arrived at our car, but just as we were about to get in, there was a bright flash of red, reducing it to a heap of rubble.
        “You have a backup plan, right?” I asked. 
        Krystal just stared, dumbfounded. Another explosion sounded not more than a hundred feet away. They’re aiming for us, I realized.
        “I’ll take that as a no,” I said.
         Another explosion, this time even closer. 
         “We could hotwire a car,” Krystal suggested.
        “Do you have any idea how?”
        “No.”
        A third flash, right by us. “We need to get under cover!” I shouted.
        We made for the school, but stopped. A dozen or more antimages were advancing across the grounds, armed with swords and staffs. For now they seemed not to have noticed us, but I knew that wouldn’t last for long. We both froze, unsure which way to run.
         Suddenly a force behind us threw me and Krystal to the cement. Heat enveloped me and I could feel flak entering my body at several different angles. When I finally skidded to a stop, the pain was so intense I could hardly move. I looked up to see the plane that had hit us swinging around for another run, no doubt to finish us off. I closed my eyes and prepared myself for death. 
         “Need a hand?” a voice behind me said. I checked behind me. A man, maybe in his late teens, was standing behind us, black haired and thin. In sunglasses and a mechanics smock, he didn’t seem panicked or frightened, in fact he almost looked comfortable. One hand stretched out to help me up, the other held a shining black pistol. Around his body was a metal exoskeleton, motors whirring each time he moved. 
                I hesitated. 
      “Name’s Jack. Jack McKay. Special operations, Artensian Air Force.
    “What?” Krystal asked.
    “I’m with the resistance,” Jack clarified.
    I hesitated. 
    “Your father sent me.”
      I probably shouldn’t have trusted him. There was no proof he was with the resistance. And to top it all off, he was holding a gun. 
    But when bombs are dropping and your life is in danger, trust goes out the window. 
    And so I reached out and took his hand.









     
    Jack
    Carson
    Jack pulled me and then Krystal up to our feet. The plane finished circling around and flew towards us. Jack’s eyes followed it intently as he pulled us backwards.
    “On my mark, run for the nearest car. Three.”
    The plane continued to fly closer.
    “Two.”
          I could see the guns heating up now. 
    “One.”
    We bolted towards the parked vehicles, explosions ringing out behind us. Jack fell to the back, urging us forward. Suddenly he shoved us to the ground. As he did, a bolt of red flew over our heads smashing the pavement in front of us and burning it to cinders. I stared at it, dazed.
    “C’mon, before he come around again,” Jack yelled. We followed him to the nearest car. It was locked. I pounded on the windows, failing to break the glass.
    Jack raised his finger to stop me, pulling out a paperclip and inserting it into the lock. Eyes still on the sky, he carefully twisted it until the door popped open.
    “Hop on in,” he said, sliding to the driver's seat and opening the other doors. I jumped into shotgun and Krystal jumped in one of front passenger seats.
    “Jump in back,” Jack told Krystal. “I need you to spot.”
    “Spot?” I asked.
    “Look for enemies, planes, hot women, anything I need to know about,” Jack replied. Krystal moved to the back and scanned as Jack started the engine. Looking back myself, I saw that the fighter had broken off and was bombing another area, but two of the mages in the area had noticed us and were moving in quickly.
    “We’ve got company.”
    “I see them. Let’s give them a proper greeting, shall we?” Jack said.
    He shifted the car into reverse and slammed on the gas. We hurtled backwards towards the enemy mages. One of them jumped away to the side. The other, less fortunate mage got smacked by our rear bumper and sent flying into the wall. He hit his the ground and didn’t get up.
    The surviving mage shouted, and other Darkness surrounded our car in a circle, blasting out our windows with bolts of purple. One of these bolts nicked Jack across the face, leaving an ugly black mark.
    “You wanna play?” Jack snapped, aiming his gun out the driver seat window. Then in a sudden jerk he pulled the trigger and yanked the steering wheel, spinning the car around and creating a ring of fire as the gun let loose. After three or four rotations, Jack stopped, leaving all of the enemy mages dead of incapacitated.
    “Dang,” Krystal whistled.
    Jack lowered the pistol and shoved it in a holster on his belt. Then, again shoving on the gas, he pulled us out and onto the road.
    “Listen up,” he said. “I’ve contacted Raubin, and your father's house is clear. We’ll meet up there and prepare defenses. We’re going to have to hold out until the resistance arrives.”
    “So you’ve sent a signal to my father?” I asked.
    “Yes. We’ve told him to keep after the scroll. His lone transport won’t stand a chance against the Darkness.” My face must have fallen, because he continues, “but take heart. The rest of the resistance is on its way, and if anyone can fight off the Dark Mage, it’s Artensia.
    “Ah, crap.”
    “What?” Krystal said. 
    “One of the fighters has pulled off after us. Hold on to your horses, this is gonna get messy.”
    I looked out back. Sure enough, a plane was tailing us, flying low  and aiming directly at the car. As it came closer, its cannons came alive, forcing Jack to swerve to avoid being blasted into oblivion. Out the window I could see pavement flying into the air. I thought we were dead, but at the last second Jack managed to turn onto a side street, forcing the plane to loop around to continue pursuing us.
    Jack’s eyes darted around for a moment, then fixed on me. “Take the wheel.”
    “What?” We both said simultaneously. Me at the wheel was the last thing we needed right now.
    “Take the wheel,” Jack repeated, retrieving his pistol. “I’ve got to take down that fighter if we have any hope of making it out of this alive.”
          “But how am I supposed to…”
          “It’s simple. Swerve if there’s an explosion, turn around as much as possible to screw with the fighter, and sure as heckfire don’t mess up.” Jack swing through the broken window and onto the roof. I just sat in my seat, panicked. 
         “Get in the driver’s seat!” Krystal yelled. I obeyed, though only because me driving was better than no one driving.
    “All right,” Jack yelled down to the cab. “I need you to hold this thing as steady as possible so I can get a good scope on the pilot. Got it?”
    “Yes.”
    “All right. Prepare for some incoming fire in three, two, one…”
    The plane attacked again, explosions flinging cement and pavement all around us. Shrieking, I yanked the steering wheel, skidding the car onto a side street.
    “Hold it steady!” Jack yelled. Out the back I could see fireballs fly towards the fighter as Jack pulled the trigger. Several struck the plane’s armored hull, but none hit the cockpit.
    “Thos,” Jack said, and though I couldn’t tell exactly what it meant he was clearly cursing.  “I’m down to two shots, so you’re going to have to hold the car completely straight while I shoot. Let me emphasize that: completely straight. Clear?”
    “Clear,” I said, taking a deep breath. We continued straight. The plane finished turning around and began another attack run.
    Thunk. Thunk. Thunk. The explosions were even more accurate than usual, only feet away from a direct hit. Dust poured into the car.
    “Hold it steady!”
    A flash of red burst in front of us, shattering the windshield. Iyelped and let go of the steering wheel to shield herself.
    “Steady.”
    The plane lowered a little bit, it’s cannons pointing straight down at us as they heated up for another volley.
    “Swerve!” Krystal yelled.
    “Don’t!” Jack protested, but it was too late. I spun around, and Jack’s fireball went awry.
    “Ok. Ok,” Jack breathed. “I’m down to one shot. That means you’ve got to hold the car straight this time, or we will die. Understood?”
    I shakily affirmed, closing my eyes briefly. If I was going to die, I at least wanted to die ignorant. 
    Suddenly I heard a shout from above. I opened my eyes to see that two mages had turned the corner, staffs ablaze and pointed upward at the roof.
    “Hit them!” Jack cried.
    I slammed on the gas, and sparks flew as the car tumbled over the two antimages like a speed bump.
    “Are you ok?” I asked Jack.
    “Yes, but they got my arm,” Jack replied. “Doesn’t matter, we’ve got bigger problems.
    I looked behind me. Nothing. Then I looked ahead.
    While we had dealt with the antimages, the plane had pulled a full three sixty and now was racing directly towards us, so close I could see the pilot sitting in his cockpit.
    This time the fighter was dead on, the bolts of energy crumpling the sides and front of the car. 
    “Steady!” Jack yelled as I swerved to avoid what would have been a direct hit. Instead the bolt struck the roof, blowing a massive hole in it. Jack stumbled back and fell to his knees, but kept his pistol aimed.
    “I have to pull up!” 
    “Keep steady.”
    I could again see the plane’s cannons heating up for the final blow. 
    “We’re going to die if I don’t…”
    “Steady,” Jack repeated, voice growing quiet and calm.
    I gritted my teeth, took my hands off the steering wheel, and closed my eyes.
    And Jack fired.
    I opened my eyes and looked back. 
    The firebolt seemed to move in slow motion, slowly soaring towards the fighter, the trajectory undeterminable with the naked eye….
    Please, I thought.
    The bolt struck its destination and buried itself right into the pilot’s head.
    The fighter careened out of control, spinning around and around until finally crashing in a brilliant spray of red.
    “Yes!” I yelled, pumping my fist. Krystal let out a breath of relief.
    “Don’t celebrate yet,” Jack said, sliding into the passenger seat. “We’ve still got a long battle ahead of us.”
    But even he couldn’t suppress a grin.


















     
    The Enemy
    Terrace stumbled his way through the trees, bloodied and bruised, but still standing. Daridin Rix and Crelang di Onto stood waiting for him. 
    “Did you get it?” Crelang asked. 
    Terrace stretched out his hand to reveal a scroll clenched in his fist. 
    “How do we destroy it?” Daridin asked. 
    “We don’t,” Terrace said. “I’ve already tried a hundred times. It’s magically reinforced. I have to admit you were right, though. The traps in that vault were more than any of you could handle unprepared. You did need me.”
    “If only you could have done it a little faster,” Daridin said. “We have company.”
    “What?” Terrace asked. 
    “Look,” Daridin said, pointing away from the forest and down towards Lewisville. Terrace shuffled his way to Daridin’s position and looked down.
    The city was on fire. Fighters ducked in and out, destroying homes and buildings with incredible ease. A legion of Darkness soldiers marched toward the city square. Terrace looked behind him toward the ocean and in the distance he could see Larsh’s battleship inching towards the shore. 
    “Krystal and Carson,” Terrace muttered. “They’re down there, we have to get them out!” He broke out into an injured run towards the city, but Daridin stretched out his hand and magically stopped him.
    “Terrace! The scroll.”
    Terrace turned back and tossed the scroll at Daridin’s feet. 
    “You take it back. I’m headed to fight.”
    “You’re in no condition to fight, Mr. Larsen,” Crelang said. 
    “No, I’m not,” Terrace said. “But my kids are down there. And I’m not going to leave them.”
    “Jack and Raubin can take care of it,” Daridin said. “The scroll is the more pressing problem. C’mon, Terrace, it’s a couple of kids or the world.”
    “Those two kids are my world,” Terrace said slowly. “And I’m surprised your kid isn’t yours.”
    Terrace began walking away, but suddenly Daridin cried out:
    “Wait. You’re right. We can’t leave a mortal city to burn. Crelang, call in fighter squadrons A, B, and C, and Legions 1 and 2 of the ground force. If Larsh wants a fight, let’s give it to her.”
    “Gladly,” Crelang said.
    Terrace smiled. “That’s the Daridin I know.”
    “For the record,” Daridin said. “Raubin is my world. Everything I do I do 
    to  protect him. But I’m also the leader of Artensia, and because of that I have to protect the rest of the world, too.”
    “Sentiment understood,” Terrace said. “But if we can’t protect two teens, how can we protect the world?”
    Daridin shifted his gaze to the Darkness army ravaging the city. 
    “I’m going to be honest here, Terrace. I fear we may not end up protecting anything at all.”























     
    Siege
         Krystal
         Just minutes after the encounter with the fighter we pulled up into the driveway of our home. Euphoria rippled through me. Survival had seemed impossible but we had done it. Our doom had been inevitable, but here we stood. It didn’t matter to me that the car was wrecked or that Jack was injured or even that we were still in danger- all I felt was an intense liveliness. 
         Raubin, the boy who had been left to guard the house, darted down the front steps as we wearily hopped out. “What did you do?” he exclaimed. 
         “We thought we’d turn it into a convertible,” Jack said, gesturing to the gaping hole in the car’s roof.
         “I can see that.”
          “We had a scuffle with a fighter. We took it down, but by no means did we come out completely unscathed.”
          Raubin nodded. “If the fighter could find you so can the rest of them, right?” There was a tone of apprehension in his voice, as if he were afraid of asking.
          Jack nodded. “Of course.”
         “Ok. I’ll go get the shield up.” He started walking towards the front door. Jack followed close behind, and we followed him. 
         “Where are the supplies? Larsen’s got to have something up his sleeve.”
          “Everything I could salvage is in the kitchen. There’s probably more, but I don’t think we have time to look.”
          “Amen to that,” Jack muttered. “Get the shield up, I’ll inspect the weapons.”
    We all walked inside, Raubin rushing up the stairs to the upper floor while Jack escorted us to the kitchen. The entire room was covered in weapons. Staffs lay propped up against the windows, the crystals atop them glowing in radiant colors. Swords, knives, and other melee weapons of all kinds covered the dining room chairs, and the table had become an assortment of grenades, rifles, and sticks I could only assume were wands. 
           Jack inspected the table, then turned to us. “If we’re going to defend this house, I need to know everything about it- entrances, exits, weaknesses, anything an enemy could exploit.”
    “They could get in through the front, door, the back door, and the garage,” I said.
    Jack bit his lip. “Three entrances to cover with only four people. Anything else?” 
    “None that I can think of.”
    Jack nodded. “Then Carson, you take the back door. Krystal, I’ll have you take the front door. Your objective is to make certain nobody gets inside the house. Me and Raubin will be on the roof guarding the garage door and just generally trying to keep mages from entering the shield.”
    There was a sudden buzz, and out the window I could see a blue dome of energy envelop the yard. A second later, Raubin rushed down the stairs back into the room.
    “I got the shield up.”
    “Good. Get them equipped. I’m going up on the roof.” Jack grabbed a radio, a grenade, and a rifle and left.
    “I don’t like him,” Carson said after Jack was gone. “He’s arrogant.”
    “Don’t judge him so harshly,” Raubin said. “Jack was born with a rare defect that takes away his magic. But that didn’t stop him from becoming one of Artensia’s finest soldiers. He’s a little hardcore, and, like you said, a tad arrogant, but he’s a good friend.’”
    “What’s this?” I asked, picking up a metal vest. On the collar were strange diodes and slits almost like the ones in a CD player. The whole thing was made of strips that bent in when you grabbed it.
    “That’s a PSG,” Raubin said. “Personal shield generator.”
    I slid the vest on and turned up one of the diodes. Immediately a shroud appeared, fitting around my body almost perfectly.
    “There’s holes for your hands so you can still attack, but everything else is shielded. You can turn the knob to increase power, but it’s got a limited source, so be careful. You’ll need it.” Raubin handed one to Carson and put one on himself. Raubin considered the table for a moment before continuing.
    “I think I’ll equip you with the basics- a staff, a wand, and a grenade. Do  you know what you’re doing with them?” 
    “No,” Carson said.
    “Staffs store energy in their crystals. If you’re feeling tired, focus on the staff and you’ll be able to use its energy rather than deplete yourself. You can also use it to conduct your energy and attack. And the grenade is fairly simple- pull the pin and huck it as far away from you as you can.” He handed each of us our equipment.
    “Do you really think they’ll attack this place?” Carson asked.
    Raubin was about to answer when suddenly we heard a vibration on the table. Jack’s voice emitted from one of the radios.
    “They’re here.”
    Raubin turned to us. “Well, there’s your answer. Let’s get to our posts. We’ve got a long day ahead of us.”
     
    KRYSTAL
    “They’re coming in the shield.” Jack’s voice buzzed through the communicator. 
    “I see them,” I responded, staff pointed out an open window near the front door. The house was surrounded by Darkness, each dressed in black and red armor, with a helmet and visor hiding their faces. For a while now they had been probing the shield rather than trying to enter, but it appeared that time was over. 
    The enemy began flooding through the shield. I raised my staff and blasted. The shot missed. 
    “Hold your fire,” Jack said. “Wait until my signal.”
    Flickers of red began to dart across the yard toward us as the antimages fired back. Most weren’t even near their target, but a few nicked the edge of the window, the brick sizzling as they did. 
    “They’re getting awful close,” Carson said.
    “Keep holding your fire, I don’t want any wasted energy on desperate attacks,” Jack responded. “We don’t want to get tired on the warm up round.”
    The enemy fire continued, getting more accurate as the Darkness antimages got closer to the house.  One bolt flew straight at me, curving me to jump out of the window and duck behind the door
    “Now,” Jack said. 
    Swinging to kneel back in front of the window, I let loose a flurry of attacks. Most missed their target or were stopped against shrouds, but one struck home, encasing an unsuspecting soldier in ice. Fireballs rained down as Jack and Raubin assailed the enemy, lighting up mage after mage. The attackers fell back, sliding behind the shield for protection. 
    “That wasn’t too bad,” I said. 
    “That wasn’t a full on attack,” Jack said. “They were just scouting, testing out our defenses for weaknesses or unseen traps. Now that they know it’s just the four of us they’ll be much more aggressive.”
    “One of them made it the door,” Carson said suddenly. “I locked it, but he’s searing his way through. Can you take care of him?”
    “I can hear him but can’t see him. You’re going to have to take care of this one yourself. Use your grenade on him before he gets through.”
    “What if he gets me first?”
    “He won’t. Just open the door, drop the payload and run fast.”
    I heard Carson gulp, then swing open the door. There was a shriek of anti energy, and then silence.
    “Carson?” I asked, heart pounding. 
    Ka-boom! The house shook as the grenade exploded. 
    “I got him.” Carson’s voice rang through the radio. “It blew off the door, though.”
    I let out a long breath. 
    “Good work,” Jack praised. “We’ll have to defend that door more closely. Everyone back to your posts. They’ll be reforming and attacking again soon.” 
    I waited anxiously at the window, adrenaline pumping. The mages outside formed up, staffs and swords at the ready. 
    But no attack came.
    “What are they waiting for?” I heard Jack mutter to himself. 
    Then, three helicopters descended out of the sky, landing behind the shield and the antimages. More soldiers poured out of two of the transports. But out of the third emerged only one being, wearing a spiked mask and flowing metal armor. The other mages seemed to freeze in his presence.
    “Oh no,” Raubin said, his tone confirming my worst fears. “It’s the Dark Mage.”






























     
    The Dark Mage
    Krystal
    The Dark Mage advanced through the ranks of the mages, then passed through the shield. The eyes of her mask radiated black. As she advanced, she drew a long, sleek, sharp sword, and as she pulled it from its sheath, red energy flickered across the blade. She spun the sword in an arc, and as she did it emitted a terrible shriek. 
    Jack cleared his throat. “All right, “ he said. “Raubin, get in the house. You and the others need to make a break for it. I’ll hold her for as long as I can.”
    I got up to leave, then stopped. I could run, and leave Jack behind. That was the logical thing to do. But I knew that against the Dark Mage and her army alone, he would die, and the Dark Mage would take over Lewisville.
    But maybe if I joined Jack, together we could take the dark lord down. Lewisville would be saved and the war would be ended as swiftly as it had begun. And so I kneeled down and aimed my staff back at the Dark Mage.
    Jack leapt down from the roof, landing deftly on the concrete. “Well hecko there,” he yelled. “You know, you’re a little bit more..” he motioned horizontally at his waist. “I mean, is it just the suit, or have you been eating a little bit too many carbs?”
    “Fat jokes,” the Dark Mage snorted. “You know, my men told me you were intelligent, Jack McKay. But evidently you’re as stupid as any mortal.” She continued to advance. 
    “Well if we’re playing that game,” Jack said. “They tell me you’re just as reckless and quick to underestimate as your father.”
    The Dark Mage reacted to this insult, swinging her sword in an arc to point directly at Jack. “Don’t insult my father, mortal scum.” 
    “Well, sorry,” Jack replied. “Frankly, there’s a lot to insult.”
    The Dark Mage growled and charged. Jack raised his gun and fired repeatedly, forcing the Dark Mage to stop and summon a shroud.
    “Krystal,” I heard a voice behind me and turned to see Carson. “What are you doing? We have to go.”
    I looked at him in the eye. “Jack can’t fight him alone. I’m staying.”
    Carson looked at me for a moment. “Then I’m staying too.”
    I shifted my gaze back outside. Jack continued his stream of fireballs until suddenly it stopped, the pistol still pointed but nothing coming out of it.
    “Thos,” Jack cursed. “I’m out.”
    The Dark Mage snickered, then snapped. A bolt of red lightning flew from her hand, striking Jack straight in the chest. He crumpled to the ground.
    “No!” I yelled. Pulling the grenade from my pocket I hurled it at the Dark Mage. Landing directly in front of her feet, it beeped once, twice, three times, and exploded.
    “Yes!” I yelled.
    But my celebration was premature. The Dark Mage emerged from the smoke, unharmed, mask’s midnight eyes boring into us.
    “Krystal and Carson Krot. I hoped I’d find you here.” She raised her hand and more red lightning flew towards the window. I ducked away, pulling Carson down with me. The window did not shatter, but instead a burning hole opened in it, and sparks rained down on us. 
    “So you think you can hide,” the Dark Mage chimed. “You will soon find there is no hiding from me.”
    I heard a shriek above me, growing louder and louder. And then suddenly I was thrown back as a wall of flames engulfed me, the heat swarming my PSG. I hit the ground and skidded to a stop as the explosion ended.
    The house had been completely destroyed, reduced to a pile of rubble, the shield around it gone. The collar of my PSG lay beside me, fried and smoking. I was completely unharmed. 
    Adrenaline and anger pumping through me, I rose to my feet and attacked the Dark Mage, throwing all my energy into a single blast of ice. He blocked it easily, then snapped. I found myself frozen, an invisible force pushing my limbs back into place each time I tried to move.
    “You have spunk,” the Dark Mage said. “Come closer.” I slid to her, shoes grinding against the ground. As I did, the Dark Mage reached up and removed her mask, revealing the face of Jadis Larsh, a face much like my own: sharp features, blonde hair, thin lips. But there was one stark difference: her burning red eyes.  
    “Your father hasn’t told you everything,” Larsh continued. “You are a vinsling, Krystal Krot. You have the potential to become more powerful than any other mage in the last millennia. I could unlock that potential, teach you the power of your magic. All it takes is a word.”
    “I’m not joining you, you murdering piece of scum,” I spat. “My father might not have told me everything, but he told me enough.”
    Larsh  snorted. “We will see about that.” She turned to the army of antimages behind him. “Take them away. I will deal with them after I…”
    She was interrupted by a sudden burst of blue, throwing the enemy soldiers in all directions. More explosions continued, ripping apart the ranks of the antimages. Larsh bared her sword with a growl and turned away from me., and suddenly I was free. I looked back to see the three helicopters land behind us. Immediately more mages spilled out, each dressed in red plated armor. Rushing forward, they engaged Larsh and her minions in a violent charge. Leading the charge was a man clad only in loose robes, yelling commands as he too fought the enemy with a bright orange staff.
    My father had arrived.





















     
    Terrace Larsen
    Carson
    I crouched behind a chunk of rubble, unsure of what to do. The battle raged around me, the resistance soldiers and transports ripping apart the antimages as they desperately tried to form up. Energy balls flew in every direction, heating up the air around us to an almost intolerable level.   
    Krystal moved behind the rock with me, dragging Jack’s unconscious body with her. “We need to get to the transports!” she yelled. 
    “With him?” I asked incredulously. I looked over my shoulder towards the helicopters. The entire way was blocked by shrieking bolts of red anti energy. We wouldn’t last a second before we were torn to pieces.
    “Well?” Krystal said. “What are we waiting for?” Still dragging Jack, she darted out into the open. 
    “Wait!” I cried. But it was too late. I grabbed Jack’s feet, lifted them off the ground, and ran for the helicopter. Energy flew all around us. One antimage spotted us and fired into my arm. Gasping, I managed to hold onto Jack. In my peripheral I could see the mage aim again, this time at my head….
    A flash of flames suddenly struck the antimage, killing him instantly. I looked towards its source to see my father running towards us, summoning a large shroud. Darting behind it, we followed him back into one of the empty transports. He shut the door.
    “Stay in here,” he said. “The resistance is setting up base to the west of Lewisville. This helicopter will take you to them.”
    “What about the scroll?” I asked.
    “It’s with Daridin Rix. If all goes well, it will be taken back to Artensia soon. It’ll be safe there.”
    “So we won?” Krystal asked.
    My father smiled sadly. “I love you two. Whatever happens out there, always remember that.”
    My father opened the door and leapt out. “Fall back!” he yelled, ducking behind a large chunk of rubble.“Fall back!” 
    The soldiers obeyed without hesitation, each sprinting from their hiding spots back into the copters. We opened the door as Raubin and several others climbed inside.
    Others, however, weren’t so lucky. With half of their forces in the helicopters, the resistance soldiers were heavily outnumbered, and their element of surprise was gone. Seizing the opportunity, Larsh and her men began picking off the mages as they attempted to dart to the transport. Soon there were no more than a dozen, each one of them pinned down by heavy fire. I could see my father’s eyes look around him, looking at the fallen soldiers, then at the ones still pinned. Then, finally, when there were no more than seven left, he snapped.
    “Stop!” my father shouted, swinging out from his hiding spot. “Stop.” To my surprise, the entire battle seemed to pause, every eye swiveling to turn on my father.
    The antimages pointed their staffs hesitantly at him, but Larsh gestured for them to be lowered.
    “Terrace Larsen. I’ve been waiting for this day for a long, long time.” Swinging her sword, Larsh  began striding confidently towards Terrace. 
    “You don’t have to do this, Jadis. I know your father drove it into you, but you can drive his madness out. You don’t have to avenge him to prove your own worth.”
    “Don’t speak of my father!” Larsh yelled. 
    “I can and I will,” my father said. “He was evil. He lied, he killed, he oppressed. I didn’t know you for long, Jadis, but I know that you can be better than that.”
    Larsh raised her sword to level at my father’s chest. “Well I choose not to be.”
    Larsh lunged forward, slashing at my father. He sidestepped and struck back, splitting apart her shoulder pauldron. Snarling, Larsh spun around, swinging her sword viciously at my father’s chest. My father parried, and the two launched into a vigorous duel, swords gleaming as they were swung and energy hissing as they clashed.
    While they fought, the Artensians dashed into the copter, completely ignored by the Darkness, whose eyes were now fixed on the duel. Soon our father was the only one left on the battlefield. 
    “Dad!” I yelled. 
    Glancing back at me, my father began to fall backwards towards the copters. The helicopter buzzed as the engines started up and the rotor began to spin. 
    But as my father fell back, Larsh suddenly broke off, raising her hand towards our copter. Her hand began to glow red, shrieking even louder than the engines. 
    “Run, coward,” she said. 
    My father turned back. “I am no coward.”
    Rushing forward, my father blocked the bolt of red energy with his blade just as Larsh threw it, and the sword exploded in a flash of purple, throwing him to the ground. Unfazed, Larsh strode forward. Scrambling to his feet, my father blasted blue flames toward her, but she blocked them with her sword, then, with a wave of her hand, turned my father’s beam toward the ground and smacked him to the ground with the butt of her sword. I stood frozen, part of me wanting to run and help, but the other, greater part knowing there was nothing I could do. 
    “Please,” my father pleaded. “You don’t have to
    Larsh didn’t even respond to that, instead interrupting by thrusting her sword into my father’s chest, slowly ripping apart his flesh with a twist of her blade.  
    “No!” Krystal screamed, jumping out of the copter and running towards Larsh, knife in hand. But just as she was about to strike, Larsh flicked her hand and a wall of force threw her backwards.  
    “Krystal!” I jumped out of the copter after her, then suddenly stopped as I saw my father, still gasping for breath. I collapsed to my knees beside him. 
    “Dad.” It was the only word I could force from my lips.  
    My father didn’t respond. 
    “Dad!”
    My sister shrieked as she rose to her feet, only to be frozen in place.”
    “Take care of your sister, Carson,” my father said finally. Promise me that you’ll take care of your sister.”
    “I promise,” I said. 
    “I love you,” my father gasped. His hand slipped out of mine and he was still. Behind me, the helicopter doors slid shut and the ships began to take off as the Darkness army began firing towards the open bays. In front of me, Larsh slipped her helmet back on, then motioned toward me, and the Darkness soldiers began moving toward me, weapons bared. 
    Emotion welled up inside me: anger, sadness, and, most of all, fear, more emotion than I could possibly control. My hands began to spark, and then suddenly a wall of blue force burst from me. The ground shook and cracked. Buildings around us collapsed. Even Larsh was thrown to her knees. 
    But the moment passed as soon as it had begun, and Larsh rose to her feet, the eyes of her mask now intent on me. 
    “Impressive. Impressive indeed. But it will not be enough.”
    She snapped her fingers. Red lightning rushed toward me, and then everything went black. 



























     
    Your Dirty Work
    Jadis Larsh, helmet still on, fell to her knees as the image opened,  revealing a scarred and burned face, eyes burning red. 
    “I asked you to report every day, Larsh,” the face said. 
    “Well I’m sorry I was too busy doing your dirty work,” Larsh said. 
    “Do not forget so quickly whose army you are surrounded by, Larsh. I am the Cunning One, your king and your deity. You are my servant, not the other way around. Now I expect a report daily. That was part of our deal. Understood?”
    “Yes, my lord.”
    “Now. What is the status of that scroll?”
    “Unfortunately, it currently rests in the hands of Daridin Rix.”
    “What?” the face exclaimed. 
    “My lord, I have them cornered, the Apocalypse on one side, my army on the other. All portals they have tried to conjure I have disrupted. There is no way the scroll will slip through my hands.”
    “It better not. The scroll of the particle bomb is the most powerful weapon on Earth. Do not underestimate the Artensians while it remains in their hands.”
    “Don’t worry. I have a plan.”









     
    PART II

















     
    Vengeance
    Krystal
    I awoke in a dimly lit, solid metal cell. The floor was cold. What little light there was glared into my eyes. Shielding them, I looked around. The room was completely undecorated, the only abnormality the doorway. 
    My head throbbed. My limbs ached. I found myself unsure of where I was or how I’d gotten here. Then memories began flooding back- the attack of Lewisville, the fight with the plane, the battle at the house, and, above all, the memory of the Dark Mage plunging his sword into an unarmored chest, of my father crumpling to the ground, never to rise again.
    The thought sent adrenaline rushing through me. I wanted to move, to fight. Standing up, I ran for the door and flung it open. Across the doorway was some sort of blurry energy field, reducing my view of the hallway to nothing but a random dance of colors. It didn’t look like it had any sort of antimatter, fire, lightning, or other nasty properties, so I did the stupid thing. I tried to walk right through it.
    The second my body touched it I went flying backwards, crashing into the wall  behind me and breaking it with a loud thud.
    “Oof,” I muttered.
    Behind me I heard Carson waking. I stood up and faced the door, scrutinizing it for any weakness I could find. I found nothing.
    “What was that?” Carson asked groggily. 
    Carson stood as well. “What did you do to that desk?” he asked.
    Ignoring him, I continued to face the door. Memories were again swarming through my head, refusing to leave no matter how hard I willed them to do so. I found myself shaking, unable to contain my emotions.
    Let them in, a little voice inside my head whispered. Just let the anger flow.
    Finally, screaming in anger, I punched the door. 
    My hand jerked back immediately, and I felt my muscles strain. Sharp pain leaped up my arm. 
    But the rage remained. I punched the door again, with the same results. 
    “Krystal, stop!” Carson yelled. 
    I continued to punch the wall, rage continuing to build, until Carson finally grabbed me and pulled me backwards. 
    “Krystal, that’s not going to do anything!”
    “And standing around is?” I exclaimed. 
    “You’re hurting yourself. Stop.”
    “It doesn’t matter if I hurt myself.”
    “Yes, it does, please, stop. Dad told me I had to protect you.”
    “Don’t you see? Dad’s dead, Carson! Dad’s dead and now we’re in the middle of a war. So don’t you pretend that things are the same as they were yesterday. They’re not. Stop pretending and accept it.”
    Carson winced, then let go of me. “I’m sorry.”
    I pulled back my hand to punch again, but as I did, the wall disappeared to reveal two Darkness soldiers, each wielding a spear. 
    “Carson and Krystal Krot,” one of them spat. “Larsh wants to talk with you.”
    “Who’s going to make me?” I spat.
    Lightning crackled around the guard’s spear. “You can either come willingly or we can force you. Either way, you’re wearing these.” He held out two pairs of handcuffs.
    My eyes flickered to the doorway, then to Carson, then to the two men, sizing them up. I quickly decided we didn’t have a chance.
    So together we stepped towards the guards, each unsure of what our fate would be. 









     
    Giving In
    CARSON
    Larsh’s throne room carried a strange aura of mystique, though it was decidedly evil. The entire room was painted black. Red torches lit the room, their hiss constantly in the background. The room was circular, with locked doors leading to the hall on one side and to some other unknown room on the other. Towards the back of the room sat Larsh’s throne, elevated on a concentric set of circular platforms. Spiked protruded from it in all directions, though in a fashion such that Larsh could sit on it and rest her arms on the armrests without stabbing herself.  Her red eyes followed us as the guards shoved us into the room and onto our knees. 
    “You,” Krystal said, looking at Larsh with an expression of pure hatred I had never seen from her before. 
    “Yes, me,” Larsh replied calmly. 
    “I’m going to kill you,” Krystal snarled. 
    “I’m sure you will. But in the meantime, I have a job for you to do.”
    “We’ll never do anything for you,” I said. 
    Larsh snorted. “We shall see about that. Release them.”
    The guards hesitated. 
    “Do it,” Larsh said. “I ordered it, didn’t I?”
    The guards hesitantly released us. Immediately Krystal ran for Larsh, summoning a magic ball in her hand. But Larsh simply drew a remote from her hand and pressed a button, and red lightning arced across Krystal and she collapsed to the floor. Looking downward, I realized there was a metal band attached to my leg with a solid red light. 
    “That was the lowest setting,” Larsh said, rising to her feet and beginning to pace.  “From now on, every time you misbehave, I will increase the pulse by one. At five, the device will shut down your cognitive functions and kill you instantly. Understood?”
    Krystal rose to her feet, teeth bared. She raised her hand to attack again. 
    “Krystal don’t!” I yelled. “You heard him.” I turned toward Larsh. “We understand. 
    Krystal stood for a moment, then finally lowered her hand. 
    “Excellent,” Larsh laughed. 
    “What do you want?” I asked. 
    “Well that’s an easy question. I want that scroll.”
    “We don’t have it,” Krystal said. 
    “I’m aware of that. But you can get it for me.”
    “You have an army, there’s nothing we can do for you,” I said. 
    “Oh, I could fight my way to the scroll, yes. And I will if you fail me. But how much sweeter would it be if the very children of Terrace Larsen were to undo his final act? How horribly ironic for the twin children of David Grail and Caroline Krot, the very people who killed my father, to perpetuate my revenge.”
    “I won’t do that,” I said. “Not on my life.”
    Larsh simply smiled and pressed a button on her remote. I looked down. The red light turned green.
    Red energy burst from the band, arcing across me. Terrible pain ripped through me, like I was being prodded with a sharp needle across my whole body. Barely restraining a scream, I collapsed and began to writhe. 
    “Leave him alone!” Krystal yelled. 
    “No, I don’t think I will,” Jadis said, pressing a second button. The energy intensified, and I could feel gashes open up in my skin and smell smoke as it began to incinerate. But still I said nothing, determined not to give in.
    But then Larsh pressed a third button, and finally the pain was too much. I began to scream, scream just as loud as the night I had been crushed under rubble, not knowing if I would live to see the next minute… 
    I shouldn’t have rationalized it. I should have said no and died on the spot. But I didn’t. 
    “Fine!” I yelled. “Stop! Stop it! I’ll do it! I’ll do it.”
    Larsh pressed a final button and the pain finally stopped. I layed down, trying to slow my pounding heart. Slowly Larsh kneeled beside me, smiling cruelly. 
    “Yes. Yes, you will do it for me. I want it to be your hand that gives it to me. You have a spark in you, a hero’s will. Getting that scroll for me will tear you apart. But you will do it. Because deep inside, Carson Krot, you are a coward.”
    I slowly rose to my knees and lowered my head. “What do you want us to do?”
    “My men will take you to Lewisville. From there, you will infiltrate the Artensian stronghold, and steal the scroll. Once you have stolen it, I will extract you.”
    “Carson?” Krystal exclaimed. “What are you doing? We can’t give it to her.” 
    “We don’t have a choice, Krystal. It’s like you said. Dad’s gone. Nothing’s going to be the same again. We might as well accept it.”
    Krystal was silent. Larsh rose and sat back down in her throne. 
    “Your bands are implanted with  microphones. I will be listening in the whole time, so don’t get any ideas. If you betray me in any way, I will kill you. “ She turned to the guards. “Take them to Vorcix. He will arrange the rest.” 
    The guards stepped forward and grabbed each of us by the shoulders and began escorting us out of the room. As we left, Jadis called out:
    “Remember, Carson. I want it to be your hand that gives me that scroll. No one else’s.”
    I looked at Larsh, then lowered my head. 
    Dad was dead. 
    The resistance would soon be defeated. 
    And I had given in. 



















     
    Rescue
    RAUBIN
    “So you’re telling me you lost them?”
    The disappointment in my father’s voice was palpable. We stood in the council tent of the newly thrown together Artensian camp. At my side stood Jack, fiddling with the cartridge in his gun. Behind my father stood Tyler McKay, Jack’s grandmother and Daridin’s top advisor, eyes long and weary. 
    “Father, we didn’t see them die….”
    “But they’re most likely dead,” Jack interrupted.  “And launching a rescue mission would be suicide with the forces Larsh has amassed.”
    My father turned toward me. “How am I supposed to trust you to go on missions like these if this is what happens? Because of your failure, two innocents are dead. It could have easily been you. What do you expect me to tell your mother if that had happened?”
    I lowered my head. “I’m sorry, father.”
    “Sorry doesn’t cut it, Raubin.  This is war. And if we lose, Larsh will get the particle bomb. That weapon’s killed billions before, it’ll kill billions again. I won’t risk it killing you. Please leave.”
    I opened my mouth to protest, but then left. 
    It wasn’t as if I was doing any good anyways. 

     
    Jack watched as Raubin exited, frowning. Then he turned to Daridin. 
    “Sir, I was the head of the mission. I take full responsibility of the Krot twin’s deaths.”
    “Note taken, Jack, but you’ve proven yourself many times. Raubin has not. I thought maybe he was ready… but I was gravely mistaken. Now if you’ll excuse us, we need to have a private meeting about that scroll. Blasted Larsh keeps disrupting our portals.”
    Jack nodded and exited. Tyler turned to Daridin. 
    “Perhaps you were too hard on the boy,” she said quietly. 
    “In times of war one cannot be too harsh,” Daridin said. “I’d rather I hurt them shoulder the blame if he dies.”
     
    RAUBIN
    I sat outside the camp, head buried in my hands, trying to resist the urge to cry. 
    I was the last of the vinslings. I was supposed to be the hero, to save anyone. And as the son of the leader of the resistance you would think I’d be able to do just that. But instead, I got cast aside, stuck in my tiny little hall in Artensian military headquarters, waiting for something to happen to me.  I have no friends, no one to turn to but my father, who inevitably just turns me right back to them. Well, except Jack. Jack’s a good friend. But he’s also a reminder of everything I’m not: where I’m a vinsling, I get sidelined, while, he, a mortal with no powers, has managed to rise in the ranks to head of special ops. He’s so much stronger than I am, it’s absolutely ridiculous.
    I’d gone on a few missions before this one. Nothing major, always someone there to hold my hand and make certain everything turned out ok. But this mission had been different. The situation was desperate. The Darkness could easily obtain the scroll. The world was at stake. This was my chance to prove myself. 
    And then everything went wrong. 
    First I got shoved into defending Terrace Larsen’s house. Of all the jobs in this mission, likely the most uneventful. Or so I thought until the Dark Mage herself showed up at our door, blew Jack out of the water, and advanced on us. 
    But instead of doing the brave thing, instead of facing her down, I’d run. I’d left Krystal and Carson in danger. I could have even saved Terrace Larsen. But I’d failed. And now father would never forgive me. 
    At least the scroll was in our hands. Though I didn’t know everything, I knew it contained the instructions to a weapon called the particle bomb- a nuclear weapon capable of single handedly destroying half a continent. In the ancient days, it had been used to destroy almost all of magedom, and consequently, there was no other weapon we feared more. 
    I heard a rustle beside me, and briefly looked over to see Jack sit beside me. 
    “Hey,” Jack said softly. 
    I turned away. 
    “Listen, I know the stuff your father said back there hurt you. But he’s just trying to protect you.”
    “By keeping me out of the fight that determines the fate of the world? He’s not protecting me, Jack, he’s sidelining me. That’s what he always does.”
    “He’s not sidelining you. He’s saving you for later. After all, you are the last of the vinslings. Only reason I’m out there is cause I’m a pitiful, good for nothing mortal.”
    “That’s not what vinslings are supposed to do! With great power comes great responsibility. We’re supposed to be the great heroes who stop things like the particle bomb, not the ones that sit and let it happen.”
    “I’m not going to convince you otherwise, am I?’
    “Probably not,” I said. 
    “Well, I’ll tell you this. I don’t know about your father, but if I had to have one man to have my back, it would be you.”
    I let myself smile a little. “Thanks.”
    Suddenly I heard an engine rev in the distance. Looking out and squinting, I saw a truck driving towards the camp,  heading from Lewisville. Brief red flashes burst across my vision near the truck, but I couldn’t tell if it was glare or actual antienergy. The truck was approaching rapidly, however. 
    “What’s that?” I asked. 
    Jack pulled a pair of binoculars from his belt and looked toward where I was pointing, then hurriedly threw them aside. 
    “It’s the Krot twins. But they’ve got company.”
    “We should alert my father,” I said. 
    “No time. They’ve almost been overtaken.”
    Jack drew his gun and began to run toward the truck. I hesitated, then readied a fireball and followed. As we got closer, I could see more clearly the situation: Krystal and Carson were in the truck, Krystal at the driver’s seat, desperately trying to get away from two Darkness mages, both of whom were slightly behind but close enough that they could send a spray of anti energy bolts towards the truck. Krystal shrieked. 
    “Hey!” Jack shouted, leveling his gun as we got closer. “Pick on someone your own size!”
    “And there goes the element of surprise,” I muttered. 
    The two Darkness mages turned on us, one of them drawing a longsword and running toward Jack at inhuman speed  while the other stepped back and sent a ray of red anti lightning hurling towards me. I blocked it with a shroud, then threw my fireball. The lightning mage blocked it, but not before I summoned another, larger, fireball, and fried him immediately afterward. 
    Jack, however, didn’t fare so lucky. As the longsword wielding mage got closer, he fired several times, but all were blocked deftly by the sword, and before Jack could get up to run away, the mage knocked him to the ground and raised his sword to finish him off…
    And then suddenly froze in place. 
    Jack hesitated, then slowly slipped out from under the mage and blasted him in the head as the truck rolled to a stop, Krystal and Carson emerging. 
    “Congratulations,” Jack said to Krystal, shaking her hand. “You’ve officially saved my life twice in less than two days. I’m impressed.”
    Krystal shrugged. 
    “How’d you make it back here?” I asked. 
    “Larsh took us out of her cell to speak with her,” Carson said, stuttering slightly. “We managed to overpower the guards and escape. We wouldn’t have made it here without you, though.”
    “Well, honestly I didn’t expect that from you, but good work nonetheless,” Jack said. “One less group of people to worry about saving. Now, shall we get into camp before Larsh gives us any more trouble?”
    The twins nodded vigorously, and we all loaded into the truck as Jack started it up and began driving down the road toward the camp.
    But neither of us noticed the metal bands on the Krot twins legs, still blinking red….










     
    The Artensian Camp
    KRYSTAL
    “You know we can’t give it to her?” I said. 
    I stood, arms folded, in our newly appointed private tent in the Artensian camp, Carson sitting on the lone bed in the room, head lowered, not making eye contact with anyone. 
    “We don’t have a choice, Krystal. If we don’t give it to her, she’ll take it anyways.”
    “We can figure something out. What if we used it against her?”
    “You know that won’t work,” Carson replied. “If it was too powerful for father, how are we supposed to use it.”
    “I’ll do whatever it takes to kill her, Carson. Whatever it takes. Even if it means I have to lose my own life to do it, I’m going to stop her.”
    “Won’t change the fact that Dad’s… that Dad’s dead.”
    “No. We can’t change that. But we can avenge him, fulfill his purpose. Isn’t that what you want to do?”
    “I just want to go home, Krystal. Save what I can out of this mess. That’s what I want.”
    “Home’s gone, Carson! Can you wrap your head around that please?”
    “I can’t believe that,” Carson said. “This is all just a dream, and when I wake up…”
    I shook my head and kicked the bed. “You know what, if stealing the scroll is what you want to do, then let’s do it. I need it to defeat Larsh anyways. But don’t expect me to expect me to just hand it to her the way you would. I’m not a coward.”
    “What did you say?” 
    I whipped around to see Raubin standing in the doorway, a look of utter horror on his face.
    “Raubin,” I said quickly. “This isn’t what you think…”
    “You came here to steal it,” Raubin whispered. “She turned you… I should have known it was too easy!”
    “No, that’s not exactly what... “
    But Raubin didn’t listen, instead opening his mouth to scream….
    And then I blasted him with a bolt of ice, and he slumped to the ground, out cold. Carson turned and stared at his body, raising his eyebrows. 
    “Well the whole secrecy thing fell through real fast.”
    I nodded slowly, still processing what I had done. “We need to get that scroll and get out of here. Fast.”
    “What do we do with Raubin?” Carson asked, rising to his feet. 
    “We’ll have to leave him here, there’s no time,” I said. “Shove him under the bed, I guess.”
    Carson nodded and began stuffing Raubin’s unconscious body underneath the bed. “Right. Do you know where the scroll is?”
    “I have an idea.”
    “An idea?”
    “It’s all we’ve got. C’mon!”
    I ran out into the cold night. The reality was, I didn’t have any idea where the scroll was, but I knew I needed a plan of some sort for Carson to follow. And follow he did, crouching to the ground. 
    “What are you doing?” I asked. 
    “Trying not to be seen,” he said. 
    “They’re going to see us,” I hissed. “Now get up and act natural.”
    Carson rose to his feet, and we wandered through the camp, both shivering, both of us trying to resist the urge to tense as we passed patrolling soldiers and overheard whispered conversations. 
    “Look at the stars,” I said finally, looking upwards. 
    “There’s not many out,” Carson said. “They’re all covered. By darkness.” His voice grew dim as he said the last sentence. 
    “I suppose we just need to look at the ones we’ve got,” I said slowly. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted something- a long, skinny tent lit with several blue flame torches, the entrance flanked by two well armed Artensian soldiers. 
    “There,” I said, pointing. 
    “That?” Carson said. “There’s only two guards.”
    “Closest we’re going to get,” I said. 
    “Hope isn’t a strategy.”
    “No,  it’s not, it’s an attitude,” I quipped. “Distract them.”
    “Distract them? How?”
    Ignoring him, I slipped off to the side of the tent, ducking behind the nearest tree.  Slowly, Carson stumbled forward into the light of the torches. The guards quickly leveled their weapons towards him. 
    “Who are you and what is your business here?” the right guard asked. 
    Carson opened his mouth to speak, then said, “I am a ghost. And I am here to...haunt you. We’ll go with that.”
    The left guard leaned over and whispered to the right guard. “I’m honestly not sure if he’s pranking us or if he’s insane.”
    “No,” Carson said. “I am a ghost. A legitimate, sane ghost. I’ll even prove it. With my ghost ID.”
    “Or both,” the left guard added. 
    “Well, perfectly sane ghost, I’m afraid we’re going to have to arrest you,” the right guard said. Both guards began to walk towards Carson. 
    “Now!” Carson squeaked. 
    I sighed. At this point I wasn’t going to get a better opportunity. Swinging out from behind the tree, I blasted ice bolts with both hands, dropping one of the guards to the ground, but missing the other, who turned on me. But before he could do anything, Carson swung out his leg and tripped him, and as he stumbled I knocked him, too, to the ground. 
    Carson breathed. “I didn’t do half bad, did I?”
    I rolled my eyes. “Get in the tent.”


















     
    Kill If Necessary
    Raubin
    Trashed by a pair of complete newbies. Typical me. 
    At least she hadn’t hit me too hard. She could have easily killed me. Instead I was able to regain consciousness shortly after the twins left.
    As the black faded and my memory snapped back into focus, I slid out from under the bed, rose to my feet, and sprinted  towards my father’s tent. When I arrived, a pair of guards stood in the way.
    “I need to speak with my father,” I said.
    “Your father is in a meeting right now,” the guard replied.
    “I need to speak with him now,” I replied forcefully. “It’s about the scroll.”
    The guards turned to each other. Normally they would follow protocol and block me. But when it comes to the particle bomb, every mage can make an exception. They swiftly swung open the doors. 
    My father sat talking with Tyler McKay and the young army general Crelang di Onto, a map of Lewisville and the surrounding area between them. Red forces on the board represented Larsh’s forces. Blue represented ours. I couldn’t help but notice how much less blue there was than red.  
    “Raubin,” he sighed. “I thought I’d taught you not to..”
    “The Krot twins are stealing the scroll,” I blurted. “They’re headed for the hall right now.”
    My father stood and Tyler both stood, while Crelang’s eyes widened visibly. “What?” 
    “I don’t know why,” I breathed. “But they’re going for it right now. They’re going to deliver it to Larsh.”
    My father walked over to a comm and turned it on. “Jack, this is Commander Rix. The Krot twins have gone rogue and are headed for the scroll. I need all soldiers to head to that tent right now. Stun if possible.
    “But kill if necessary.”

     
















     
    Stealing the Scroll
    Carson
    “How are we supposed to get past this?” I asked, dumbfounded. 
    Sure enough, the scroll was in this tent, sitting on the ground in the center. But the entire rest of the tent was a myriad of red triplasers, each projected by what looked like to be a mini gun attached to the wall. 
    “I… well, I honestly have no idea,” Krystal said. “I call keeping watch.”
    She ducked out of the tent, closing the door behind her. 
    “Krystal, you can’t just…” I groaned in frustration. Today could not get any worse. “Here goes nothing.”
    I jabbed my foot into the first triplaser, then yanked it back out. Electricity crackled, barely missing my leg.
    And the triplaser disappeared. 
    “Wait a second,” I muttered.
    Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out my wallet, took one last look at my school idea and modest wad of cash, and then threw it into the triplasers. 
    There was a bright blue flash, and a wave of heat washed over me. It took a moment for my eyes to clear. But when they did, the triplasers were all gone. 
    Slowly, carefully, I walked toward the scroll. It didn’t look to be anything extraordinary, just an old looking roll of paper. Leaning down, I picked it up, held it out in front of me, and attempted to tear it apart. But the second the paper flexed, energy flashed and my arms were yanked back into place as the scroll returned to it’s normal form. 
    “Ok,” I said. “Definitely a magical scroll. Krystal! I got it.”
    There was no reply. 
    “Krystal?”
    Suddenly the door to the tent burst open, and Jack McKay ran in, gun drawn, a slew of Artensian soldiers behind him. 
    “Give me one reason I shouldn’t shoot you, Carson Krot. One reason.”














     
    Tear You Apart
    Jadis Larsh sat in the cockpit of a lone cruiser, hovering over the Artensian camp. Beneath her, she could see lights flicker as the Artensians surrounded the tent and bound Krystal in chains. And through the headphones in her ears, she could hear the panicked breath of Carson Krot. 
    “My lord, shall we fire?” the pilot asked. 
    “Not yet,” Jadis Larsh said. “Not yet.”

     
    CARSON
    I hesitated, not certain whether to obey my conscience or logic. I glanced down at the band on my leg. Nothing. Yet. 
    “Hand it over,” Jack said. The band on my leg pulsed, not much, but enough to remind me it was there. 
    “I can’t, Jack.”
    “Or what? She’ll kill you? Your life is not worth the lives of everyone else, Carson.”
    “I’m sorry, Jack. But it’s already over.”
    “Okron curse it, Carson, just hand it over!”
    I stared down at the band, then slowly stepped forward. Instantly it pulsed, and I collapsed to the ground as lightning tore into me, burning my hands and arms. I felt my heart strain to beart. Jack began to run toward me, gun aimed at the band… 
    And then the room exploded. 
    CARSON
    I felt a wave of heat wash over me and sharp pain as flak stabbed into my back. The band ceased to shock me as it snapped in half, though I think my heart still stopped for a few beats. Through it all though, my hands remained clamped firmly on the scroll. When the red finally cleared from my eyes, I rolled over to see the Artensians in chaos, several, including Jack, lying face down on the ground. Krystal was nowhere in sight. But what I could see was a Darkness helicopter descending towards me, hangar sliding open. 
    Stumbling to my feet, I attempted to shuffle away, but felt an all too familiar force freeze me in place. The cruiser landed, and Jadis Larsh stepped out, a grin on her face. The few remaining Artensians attempted to attack her, but she magically cut them all down with ease. 
    “It did tear you apart,” she said, grinning cruelly. “But you did it. And now the whole world will pay.”
    “I won’t give it to you,” I said through my bloodied mouth. “You can take it, but I won’t give it to you.”
    “We’ll see,” Larsh said. I found myself unfrozen. “Hand it over.”
    There was a part of me that wanted to just give it to her right then. But something inside me had snapped, a part of me I didn’t know existed until then. Anger and determination flooded me. And I stood still.
    Larsh snapped, and I felt indescribable pain rack my chest once again. 
    But still I stood still. 
    Angrily Larsh waved her hand, and I felt a force exert itself on my arm, slowly forcing it to move forward and hand her the scroll.
    “There,” she said. “Now get in the copter.”
    “No,” I said. “You can’t tear me apart. You can try, but I won’t let you.”
    “We’ll see,” Larsh said. “We’ll see.” 
    She raised her hand toward me, and everything went black. 







     
    Joining the Resistance
    Krystal
    I awoke slowly as sunlight penetrated the door of the tent. My arms and legs were tied to the chair in which I sat, and when I tried to exert my mind to use magic, sharp pain screeched through my head, breaking my concentration. 
    The last thing I’d remembered was a bright flash of red as an explosion had seemingly descended out of the sky. And before that, Artensian soldiers apprehending me. And before that, the incident with Raubin and the guards. And before that, the faked chase that had gotten us into the camp. And before that… Larsh. 
    Anger surged through me. I’d been so close to getting the scroll. To defeating her. 
    “What the heckdid you think you were doing?” I looked up to see a gray bearded mage sitting in front of me. 
    “Who the heckare you?” I responded, struggling against my bands. 
    “My name is Daridin Rix. I lead the resistance you just blatantly betrayed. Now, let me ask you again. What the heckdid you think you were doing?”
    I realized I recognized him. He was the man who had yelled at my father and taken him away. The reason he’d had to come back in the first place. And part of the reason he was dead. 
    “I was trying to stop her, that’s what I was doing.” 
    “Stopping Larsh!” Daridin yelled. “Do you understand what you and your brother did? Because of your actions, the most powerful weapon on the planet now rests in her hands. You call that stopping her?”
    “What would you have done? She would have killed us if we didn’t.” 
    “Better to die a hero than to live a coward. You disgust me, Krot. I was going to offer to let you help us. I thought maybe you’d apologize, live up to your mistakes, and become something more. Evidently I was wrong. The court will decide your fate from here.”
    And with that Daridin stormed out. 

     
    Angry, frustrated, and, ultimately, afraid, Daridin exited the tent. 
    And ran right into the old, weathered face of Tyler McKay. 
    “How’d it go?” she asked. 
    “She has no remorse for actions. I tried, but she won’t cooperate. The court will decide her fate.”
    Daridin turned to walk off, but Tyler gently placed her hand on Daridin’s shoulder. 
    “Daridin.”
    “She’s a criminal, Tyler. I can’t let something like that slide.”
    “I did. For you. You must remember that.”
    “That’s different. I didn’t condemn the entire world. “
    “But it had the same spirit. John Larsh threatened you. And so you led his army for him. By your hand many good men fell. Far better men than you were at the time. But what did I do when you left Larsh and begged to join us?”
    Daridin sighed. “You forgave me.”
    “Can you forgive her?” 
    “You know I can’t risk it in these times.”
    “I know. But let me speak with her.”
    “Ok. But if it doesn’t go well…”
    “I understand.”

     
    KRYSTAL
    I struggled against my bindings, desperate to move, to do something. Did everyone in this world have to be evil or a moron? I’d done my best with what I’d had. Unfortunately, what I’d had was me and my incompetent brother, so that hadn’t gone so well. Not my fault. 
    Suddenly another figure stepped into the tent, an old lady with grey hair, a cane, and a somber face. Slowly she sat down on the ground in front of me. 
    Great. An old lady. Exactly what I needed right now. 
    “Krystal Krot,” she said softly. “A pleasure. My name is Tyler McKay.”
    “You here to play the good cop?” I demanded.
    “You know he’s not wrong, right?” the old lady said. 
    “I was going to take it,” I said. “I was going to use it to kill him and end this. That was the plan. It’s not my fault Carson screwed it up.”
    “And what would you do once you had it?” Tyler asked. 
    “I would use it to end the rest of the evil in this world,” I said. “I would destroy all of it.”
    “And then?”
    “I don’t know.”
    “Some knowledge is not for mortals, Krystal. Do you know what that scroll contains?”
    “No.”
    “The scroll contains the instructions to giving oneself the capability of powering the particle bomb, an antimatter nuclear weapon capable of destroying an entire continent. Once magekind used this knowledge freely. Billions died as a consequence, and the great mage Magean hid the scroll and forbid us contact with nonmagical mortals. But the scroll has no power in and of itself.”
    She spoke softly but somberly, and as she did, I felt the anger fade away, replaced by guilt.
    “I’m sorry,” I said. 
    “I’m not going to pretend that what you and Carson did was ok, Krystal. But I will tell you this: the direction of the future is infinitely more important than the wasteland of our past. Daridin is putting together a force to attack Lewisville and take back the scroll before Larsh can use it. You are the only one in this camp that might know where he’s keeping it.”
    “I have an idea,” I said. Larsh had set up a massive base in Lewisville, where we’d launched the fake chase from. Though I didn’t know exactly where it was, I had a general idea of where it could be. 
    “Then are you willing to lead us there?”
    “Whatever it takes to stop her.”
    Tyler snapped and the bands fell from me.
    “Then welcome to the resistance.”










     
     
     
     









     
    Already Nothing
    Carson 
         I hit the ground on all fours as the Darkness antimages shoved me into a cell. My fingers burned as the unsanded wood floor sent splinters stabbing into my skin. A strong hand shoved my face to the floor. I didn’t bother lifting it. 
         The men exited and I heard a buzz as an energy field surrounding me in a wavy dome bursted into effect. Gradually I rose to my knees and closed my eyes. 
          It isn’t over yet, I told myself. I can steal the scroll back. Or the resistance can kill Larsh before he has a chance to use it. 
           But deep inside I knew the truth. Larsh had the scroll. We were doomed. 
          And I was the fool who had gotten it for him. 
           Slowly my thoughts shifted to my death. Larsh would kill me, I was sure of that. The only question would be how I died. Would I die kicking and screaming just to spite those who would destroy me? Or would I die with my head held low, not even able to bear the thought of all those my actions had killed? 
         I would die defiant, I decided. Like my father. Did he know he was about to die, I wondered? Or was that sword in his chest a terrible surprise of pain and finality? Either way he’d died bravely. 
         And either way he’d be disappointed in me now. That was my last thought before sleep overtook me.    

     
    Carson
       “No,” I found myself whispering as the dream took me again. “No!”
         Fire. Swords. My mother’s body hitting the ground limp. The ground shaking, throwing my small frame to the floor. 
         And above all, the crushing pain of rubble falling on top of me. 
         And then suddenly I was awake, a man kneeling beside me with his hand raking into my shoulder. 
       “Carson Krot,” he said. “Get up. The Dark Mage wishes to see you.”

     
    Carson
          Minutes later, I found myself again stepping into Larsh’s throne room. Larsh sat upon her throne, a smug smile on her face, her hand resting on the mask of the woman that had killed my father. When he saw me, she rose, striding toward me. 
           “Carson Krot,” she said. “How excellent to see you. I’ve been looking forward to your regaining consciousness.”
    “Where is it?” I said through clenched teeth. “Where is the scroll?”
    “I find it ironic how you ask the very same question I asked only weeks ago,” Larsh said. “It’s here, on the Apocalypse, of course. Even now I have a missile under construction to finish the resistance once and for all.”
          Somehow the information that the resistance was about to be destroyed didn’t cause me to give up hope. Instead it galvanized me. Slowly I reached down for my dagger- Larsh’s men hadn’t bothered to take it from me, only prevented me from using it. Now, however, their eyes were all fixated on Larsh. Perhaps if I could draw it I could kill Larsh before they killed me….
           “Truly you have granted me power, Carson,” Larsh continued. “With the destructive capabilities of the particle bomb, I will exact revenge on every last one who opposed my father- Daridin Rix, Tyler McKay, Jason Grail- they will all burn. Then, once the resistance is destroyed, I will overthrow the Maestrom. And finally, I will use my new power to destroy every last mortal alive. Once again mages will rule the globe unchallenged!”
         As he spoke, I slowly slid the dagger from its sheath. None of the guards noticed.
          “And my reign will never end, for the powers in that scroll have not only given me the ability to use the particle bomb, it has given me the secret to immortality. To destroy me is impossible.”
         “Yes, I have reason to thank you indeed,” Larsh said, stepping towards me. “Of course, you will have to die. Your parents were enemies of my father, and as part of my vengeance I must eliminate every last remnant of them- including you.” She was very close now, not even an arms width away. It was now or never. 
          I lunges forward, flinging my dagger outward and plunging it into Larsh’s chest, then turned to run. Before I could make another step, however, Larsh snapped, and I flew across the room, crumbling in a heap by the window. I tried to get up, but found myself frozen. 
         Groaning, Larsh pulled the dagger from her chest. To my surprise, the wound sealed itself instantly, red tendrils of energy solidifying into flesh that closed the gaping hole completely. Larsh tossed the dagger across the room and walked over to me, motioning for the guards to hold still. Instantly, the paralyzing magic holding me in place ended, and I collapsed to the floor.
         “A brave move, Carson,” she said quietly. “But futile. I told you, the scroll has granted me the secret to immortality.”
          “Can you just kill me already?” I asked. 
          Larsh knelt down beside me, her eyes locking in mine. They burned a furious red. 
          “You are a son without parents, a mage without magic, and a hero without a cause,” he muttered. “I don’t even need to kill you. You’re already nothing.”
          I averted my eyes. The words stung. Larsh slowly rose to her feet. 
         “Do you like games, Carson?”
          I didn’t respond. 
          “Well I hope you do, because you’re going to playing one. For instead of the resistance cowards in the forest I have decided on a different target altogether for my test of the particle bomb- Lewisville.”
          “No!” I exclaimed, rising. “You can’t, there’s innocent people there, you can’t just kill them.”
         “Correction,” Larsh said. “There are mortals there. To kill them is to kill an animal. And I will kill them. Now back to the game. You will be bound in  Lewisville- no guards, no supervision, just bindings. The particle bomb will be tested in six hours. If you can escape before then, I will let you live. If you fail- we’ll lets just say the particle bomb does not show nearly as much mercy as I do.”
         “No!” I yelled. “You can’t..”
         “Yes I can. Take him away.” The guards seized me, dragging me out into the hall. 
         “The resistance will stop you!” I yelled. 
          “Thanks to you, the resistance has lost,” Larsh said. “Don’t forget that so quickly.” 
          The door slammed shut, and I was left feeling more alone than I ever had in my life.










     
    Battle Plan
    KRYSTAL
    The next few hours were a blaze of preparation. Daridin briefed me on the plan: the vast majority of the Artensian army would attack dedicate their forces to a main attack on the north side of the city in an attempt to distract Larsh’s forces from his base and keep the main force as far as way from Larsh’s battleship, the Apocalypse, as possible. Meanwhile, I was to lead a small strike force (which literally comprised of just Jack and Raubin) into the main base, and systematically search it for the scroll. 
    While most of the army assembled for the attack, me and my strike force met and discussed our route into the base. Though I’d expected Jack and Raubin to be resentful toward me, neither of them had said anything, though Jack had shot me a few dirty looks. You would almost think they’d forgotten about it.
    But as I looked at our plan, I couldn’t help but see all the flaws. What if the scroll wasn’t in Lewisville? Or what if we couldn’t find it in time? And even if we did, how would we get it back to the Artensian base?
    And then there was Carson. I didn’t know where he was, but he had to be with Larsh. I’d already lost my father. I wasn’t going to lose him. 
    But it was our only shot. I guess that’s all we can do sometimes: take what we’re given.
    Finally, after a small debate and a good two and a half hours of sitting doing nothing, the order came. 
    “Launch the attack.”

     
    CARSON
    Guards shoved me into a chair, snapping metal handcuffs on my arms and legs. The office TV screen in front of me turned on to reveal a timer. 
    Five hours, six minutes, and thirteen seconds until I died. 
    To my left I could see out a large glass window out on the city. It was quiet, not a single car on the streets. At least the people would die in their homes, I thought. With their families. 
    My thoughts turned to my sister. I didn’t know where she was. 
    But I sure as heckhoped she wasn’t here. 











     
    The Battle of Lewisville
    KRYSTAL
    Ka-boom. 
    The unlucky soldier careened through the air, a bright, spinning column of flames. His screech rang in my ears even after he fell silent.
    “This is not what I thought war was like,” I said. 
    The battle was now in full swing, Artensian soldiers pushing the outnumbered Darkness farther into the city. Fighters dogfight in the sky, occasionally strafing down fire on the soldiers below. Bodies lay everywhere. Explosions burst randomly across the  battlefield. It was utter chaos. Me, Jack, and Raubin crouched behind a tipped, armored supply truck, waiting for the signal that we were clear to begin moving towards the base. 
    “What, did you think it would be  party?” Jack said. 
    Jack’s radio buzzed, and the voice of Daridin Rix came through: 
    “The coast is clear. Move south and then east towards the base. Keep as quiet as possible, we’re all busy fighting so you can get in there, if you lose the element of surprise you’re dead in the water. Understood?”
    “Yes, father,” Raubin replied.
    “That’s sir to you,” Daridin said. “Good luck. For Artensia!”
    The radio cut silent. “Alright,” Jack said. “You heard him. Coast is
    clear. And better we go sooner than later. On my command. Three, two, one, go!”
    We charged out into the battlefield, ducking through heavy fire toward the street. Explosions sounded around us, some striking incredibly close, but none hitting their mark. Some Darkness attempted to bar us, but Jack easily gunned them down, and we snuck our way through the streets until we arrived at the base of Larsh’s main outpost- the Wells Fargo building on 18th West. Though it wasn’t a tall building, it was the tallest in Lewisville, and where me and Carson had been sent after our meeting with Larsh, making it the most likely candidate for the scroll if Larsh was keeping it in Lewisville. 
    And, by extension, the most likely candidate for where Carson was. 
    Carson
         I sat in my cell, tied down to a chair, eyes closed as I tried to deny my impending doom. 
          “It’s all a dream,” I whispered to myself. “None of this is real. Soon I’ll wake up, and all of this will be over.”
          But I couldn’t ignore the horrible screeches of war outside. I opened my eyes and turned to look out the window toward the sound. Smoke billowed, coming from the direction of the forest. Inside the haze flashes of color streaked as hoards of dots smashed into one another. In the sky, I could see fighters engaged in ferocious dogfights. The resistance fighters seemed to be slowly pushing back the Darkness, who continued to retreat backwards as bombshecks rained down. 
    Initially when I’d seen the Artensians my heart leapt. The resistance was winning! There was a chance that I could be freed and my town saved. 
    But then I’d looked at the clock.
    Ten minutes. 
    I closed my eyes as the implications of that timer revealed themselves. Larsh was only ten minutes away from dropping the particle bomb on the city. 
    And if the resistance was there, they would be utterly destroyed.












     
    Getting In
    KRystaL
    The parking lot of the Wells Fargo tower was bare, with only a few sideways parked cars positioned as barriers around the gated fence surrounding the premises. No Darkness were in sight.
    “It looks like they’re all gone,” I said.
    “Look again,” Raubin replied, pointing upwards.
    I looked up to where he had pointed. It took me a second, but I spotted it- a lone soldier manning an oversized gun that gazed down on our side of the parking lot.
    “We can take him,” I said.
    Jack snorted. “He’s got an entire turret and all of the parking lot to hit us. One of us might make it in, but no one of us is going to make it all the way to the top of that tower.” He tensed. “Wait. Has he…”
    Jack was interrupted by an eruption of red right in front of us- gunfire from the turret. Jack and Raubin swung back behind the building. I froze. The gunman turned and fired straight at me. 
    And then a firm hand pulled me back, barely saving me from being pulverized to a crisp. I collapsed to my knees, catching my breath.
    “I was afraid of that,” Jack said. “Now that he’s spotted us, we’ll have to do some maneuvering to get him. I’ll attack from the left side and distract him, you two move in and knock him out. On my signal.” He jumped out from behind the building and started rapid firing towards the gunner, who turned and began firing back. Jack responded by running backwards in a curved path, throwing off the gunner’s aim just enough to stay alive.
    Shakily I stood up. “You saved me,” I said weakly.
    “Well,” Raubin said uncomfortably. “What are comrades for?”
    “Now!” Jack yelled.
    Taking a deep breath, we ran out into the open, squeezing in between the car barricade and into the barren parking lot. Following Raubin, I knelt down, carefully positioned my staff, and launched a bolt of ice at the unsuspecting Darkness.
    The bolt flew straight at him, poised to hit him in the head. Then, just before contact, a shield of blue appeared, blocking the bolt just in time. 
    The gunman turned his head towards me and Raubin, then turned his weapon, then pulled the trigger. I summoned a shroud covering the two of us just before a flash of red shoved me backwards and sent a wave of heat washing over me. I felt my skin rip apart as I skidded across the pavement.
    “Ow,” Raubin yelped beside me. My vision barely starting to clear, I looked up to see the gunman repositioning for another shot. 
    And then suddenly the entire balcony exploded, sending rubble raining down to the ground and killing the gunman instantly. I slowly stood back up, then helped Raubin to his feet. 
    Jack strode into the parking lot, gun in hand. “Didn’t want to take that long of a shot. But I didn’t really have a choice, either. Good work.”
    His gaze shifted to the top of the tower. It wasn’t that tall of a structure, but the top still seemed miles away.
    “Hold in there, Carson,” I muttered. “Hold in there.”














     
    I Have A Game to Play
    Larsh stood on the command bay of the Apocalypse, looking out over the city and the battle raging upon it, helmet in hand. Slowly General Vorcix approached her. 
    “My lord, the particle bomb is ready. Shall we…”
    “Not yet,” Larsh said, eyes still fixed on the battle. 
    “But my lord,” Vorcix said. 
    “He still has time,” Larsh said, glancing down at her watch. “But not much. Not much.”
    “My lord, we will not have a more opportune time, the boy doesn’t matter…”
    “I am in command here,” Larsh said softly, eyes still on the watch. “And you will do what I command. And right now, I have a game to play.”





     
    The Tower
    Krystal
    “Agh!”
          The last remaining Darkness in the control center shrieked as he burst into flames, stumbling back through the glass window and falling to his doom. Breathing, I slipped out from behind cover and looked around the room. 
           Dials and switches had been installed hastily in a square of panels, along with a labeled map of the city that hung on the far wall. Strangely, none of the panels were plugged into anything, though they all seemed to function. Video feed from cameras throughout the building lined the upper walls, ominously quiet.
    “Raubin, lock the door,” Jack said. Raubin hastily headed for it while I began panning through the security cameras. 
    “Alright, all we’ve got to find is where that scroll, get to it, and get of here. No raiding mortal vending machines this time,” Jack continued, pointing to Raubin. 
    “Oh come on, it was one time,” Raubin said. 
    Jack raised his eyebrows. 
    “Fine,” Raubin said. “Promise I won’t do it this time.”
    I continued looking over the cameras, seeing nothing. Then suddenly I stopped. 
    “Carson’s in here.”
    As I flipped the switch next to the feed from him, the audio from his cell came through loud and clear. 
    “Fall back! Please, somebody hear me! Larsh is about to blow up the city. She already has the bomb prepared, it’s too late, fall back! Please. Don’t lose your lives too.”
    “What did he say?” Jack said. “I need to make certain I heard that right.”
    “He said they already have it,” Raubin said. 
    Jack lunged for the nearest window, looking out towards the ocean, then dropped the binoculars and stumbled back. 
    “They’re putting the missile out on the deck right now. They’ll be ready to fire any minute.”
    “Oh no,” Raubin said. “My father. The army’s within blast range.”
    Jack’s eyes widened. “We have to warn them.”
    “I’m going to get Carson,” I said. 
    “Krystal, don’t…” Jack said. 
    But it was too late. I’d already run out of the room. 

     
    Jack turned to Raubin. 
    “Make the call.”

     
    CARSON
    Taking a deep breath, I yelled out again. There was no response. I knew it was futile, of course. But it was all I could do. 
    Frustrated, I focused on my hands, willing my mind to tap into the same energy source I’d used when Larsh had killed my father, the force that had shaken the ground and intimidated even Larsh herself. Blue sparks briefly flew from my hands. 
    But nothing else happened.
    I looked up at the timer. 
    One minute. 
    Suddenly the door to the room burst open and Krystal ran in. My heart sank.
    “Krystal! Of all the places to be, this is not the one.”
    “Yes, I know, I know, the particle bomb. Now let’s get you out of here.”
    Krystal sprayed ice on my bands, and they snapped. I rose to my feet. 
    “We’ve only got one more minute, we have to warn them.”
    “Jack and Raubin are already on it. Now c’mon, let’s go.”
    “Listen,” I said. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have given in to Larsh. I should have fought like you told me to. And now we’re both going to die.”
    “It’s ok,” Krystal said. “We both made mistakes. Now we’ve just got to fix them. And we’re not going to die. Not on my watch.”
    Suddenly there was a groan and the glass window burst apart as a helicopter descended until level with the room. The door slid open to reveal Jack in the hold. 
    “Get in!”
     
    RAUBIN
    I practically yelled into the radio at my father. 
    “Yes, that’s what I said, Larsh already has a particle bomb and she’s about to use it on Lewisville, we have to get our forces off the ground.”
    “That’s not advisable,” Daridin said. “Crelang’s men have almost retaken the city. We can’t pull out now. What source did you get this from?”
    “There’s no time! You’re going to have to trust me. For once in your life, please trust me.”
    There was a pause. Too long of a pause. 
    “Alright.” 
     
    Aboard the Apocalypse, the timer beeped. And as it did, the command finally exited Jadis Larsh’s lips. 
    “Fire at will.”


























     
    The Particle Bomb
    Carson 
      I don’t know how long it took for the missile to hit the ground. It could have been one, two, or even a hundred seconds. All I know is that for me it seemed like an eternity, and that eventually that missile hit the ground square in the center of Lewisville and exploded in a massive burst of light. 
      In less than a second thousands of lives were obliterated. Men and women, young and old, the violent blast destroyed all. In less than a second houses, businesses, churches, and schools were all annihilated. In less than a second Lewisville was gone. 
    But the death didn’t end there. Continuing outward in a ring of destruction, the entire resistance army was eaten up by the hungry fumes of the explosion. Some, seeing the wall of energy, desperately tried to shield themselves with shrouds. Others attempted to fly away. In the end, few of them escaped, the vast majority not just being incinerated but utterly annihilated, their atoms literally destroyed by the rush of anti energy.
      “Hit it!” I heard a voice in the cockpit yell. Alarmed I stumbled back from the window as the dome of red rushed towards us at an alarming speed. The engine revved, and we accelerated just enough to escape the blast, though not enough to dodge the shock wave that rocked the ship, knocking me to the floor as the helicopter rolled through the air.
    When the ship finally came to rest, I rose to my feet and looked out the window. 
    The entire valley had been reduced to nothing but a fuming wasteland. Only the occasional bits of rubble even indicated that there had been a city there at all. 
    “My gosh,” Raubin said. “What are we going to do?”
    “She did it,” Jack said. “She really did it.”
    “No,” I muttered. “No!” I collapsed to my knees. 
               I’d known it was going to happen. But somehow it hadn’t been real until now- my father's death, the war, all of it.
              Yet now, with Lewisville, my home, in ashes, it finally struck me. Everything I loved was gone. 
             And it was all my fault. 
         
     
          Jadis  Larsh watched and chuckled as the cloud of smoke slowly dissipated, the last remnant of the city disappearing with it. 
          “My lord,” Vorcix’s voice rang out of the comm. “Some of the resistance ships made it off the ground before the explosion. Shall we pursue?”
         “No need,” Larsh said. “Hope is already dead.”






















     
    PART III


















     
    Artensia
           Raubin
           In all my life, I have never seen anything as beautiful as the city of Artensia. Not that means much coming from me.
            But nevertheless, the city is a jewel to behold. The entire citadel is encased in a cobblestone wall, with only one tall, iron gate allowing access. The air was guarded by a bright blue energy dome, with the occasional hole opening up to let in air vehicles. Through the main gate leads a decorated, glittering road through the heart of the city, eventually leading to the centerpiece of the city: the military headquarters. Black with a red resistance symbol painted onto the front, it contained most of the Artensian military, including the hangar, barracks, and command center. 
           Of course, after the battle at Lewisville, most of the inhabitants wouldn’t be returning to their bunks. 
        Immediately after the explosion, the survivors had been ordered to retreat back to Artensia. Fortunately, we hadn’t been pursued by any of the Darkness fighters, or we likely would all have been destroyed. Instead, the luckiest of us escaped, less than a dozen helicopters of broken leaders and bettered soldiers. 
           We flew north for what seemed like an age, then finally touched down in the top hangar of the base, each exiting our helicopters in continual silence. In fact, I think the only words spoken through the entire flight were muttered by Krystal: “Just another reason to kill Larsh.” The rest of didn’t say a word, preferring to stand and ponder our now inevitable doom. 
    When we arrived at the landing pad, the helicopter doors slid open and I stumbled out slowly. Several Artensian soldiers waited for us. They had obviously already heard the news. 
    I looked around for my father, not daring to hope that he had survived the explosion. But somehow there he was, Tyler McKay beside him. 
    A man I recognized as Commander James Rostro, the leader of the fleet, approached my father. “Where’s the rest?” he asked, though you could tell from his face he had heard the news.  
           “Destroyed,” my father responded. He had to pause for a moment before adding, “Larsh got the scroll. He has the particle bomb and he used it on Lewisville as we were attacking.”
           “How did Larsh get the scroll? We had it in our hands.”
    My father glanced briefly back at Carson and Krystal, still in the copter, before softly whispering: “the Krot twins stole it.”
          “The Krot twins?”
    “They were forced to. And she would have gotten it anyways. No need to press the matter.”
    “They’ll have to stand in court, you know that.”
    My father nodded. “Of course. Once this all blows over. 
    “If it blows over.”
     
     
    CARSON
    I stayed kneeling in the copter, head bowed, unable to force my legs
    to move.
    It was gone. All of it. Not just the city, but my whole life. I’d grown up with the people there. Laughed with them, cried with them. And now they were gone. It was like moving, but a thousand times worse. Because they weren’t just gone, they were dead, their lives robbed from them by my own cowardice. 
    “Are you ok?” my sister asked, placing her hand on my shoulder. I
    shook it off, but remained silent.  
    “Carson?” 
    “Look at what happened, Krystal. And it’s my fault that it did.”
    “You know that’s not completely true.”
    “How is that not true? Give me one good reason that it’s not. And if
    you can’t then please leave.” 
    “Fine,” Krystal said, exiting the copter. I remained kneeling for a
    while. Then, an old lady approached me.
    “Carson Krot,” she said. “I’m Tyler McKay, Jack’s grandmother. I need
    to thank you for saving my life from the particle bomb.”
    “If it weren’t for me it never would have been in danger in the first place.”
    “You know everyone makes mistakes sometimes, right?” Tyler said softly. 
    “Not everyone makes world shattering ones.”
    “You’d be surprised. Just because you got thrown into this doesn’t make you below everyone else, Carson. We all mess up sometimes. We all have our shortcomings. It’s what we do about them that counts.”
    “It’s too late to fix this,” I said. 
    “It’s never too late. That’s the beauty of being human. We’re weak, we mess up, but in the end, we can all become what we’re meant to be.”
    “How?”
    “The direction of our future is infinitely more important than the wasteland of our past, Carson. Your past is dark, I will not lie. But the fate of your future lies in your hands. So I would choose wisely.”
    Slowly Tyler got up and left. 
    I closed my eyes. 
    I just wanted to go home. 
    But home was gone.
    And so I finally stood up and got out of the copter. 









     
    I Have A Plan
    Jack sat in the Artensian council room, trying hard to stay still. Around him the leaders of Artensia gathered: Crelang di Onto, leader of the army, Rostro Adrium, captain of the fleet, Tyler McKay, council chairwoman, and, of course, Daridin Rix, president of Artensia. Several other minor officers and leaders crowded the room, but the room was eerily silent. The intelligence table, a massive computer in the center of the room used for battle calculations and holographic projection, showed an image showing the losses from the battle of Lewisville, with live units green and downed units red.
    Far too much of the image was red. 
    After what seemed like an age of solemn silence, Daridin stepped up to the intelligence table and pressed a button. The image switched to a scan of the Apocalypse. Daridin zoomed in on the deck to show a heavily armored missile launcher. 
    “You all know why I called this meeting,” Daridin said. “Due to a fluke in our defenses, Larsh has acquired the means of creating the particle bomb. Furthermore, he used the bomb on the mortal city of Lewisville, utterly destroying it and about half of the Artensian army.
    “Most of you lost friends in this explosion. Many of you likely lost family. And all of us will suffer the loss of many good men. I propose a moment of silence for those who died in the Battle of Lewisville.”
    The room was already completely silent. Shaking his head, Jack drew his gun and began to fiddle with it. No one here needed a reminder of what had happened. Better to focus on how to prevent it from happening again. 
    “Unfortunately,” Rix continued. “I have nothing good to report. But I do have important news.” Pressing some buttons on the intelligence table, he explained, “I received this transmission from Larsh approximately an hour ago. It… well, see for yourselves.”
    The image changed again, this time to Jadis Larsh’s face. 
    “Daridin Rix, I urge you to pay close attention. As you must be aware by now, your army has been crushed by the might of my new weapon. And I don’t intend on stopping there. My battleship, the Apocalypse is currently resting in the bay of my headquarters in Greenland. Within a week, it will be prepped with a new particle bomb. I intend on using this particle bomb on the city of Artensia. And thus I am issuing an ultimatum: surrender to me and I will slaughter you peacefully and take your civilians as slaves. Or you can continue your futile resistance and all die. Either way, know that no matter what you do, I have already won.”
          The message ended and the image faded. Daridin looked each member of the council in the eye before continuing. “We have one week to prepare before the Darkness are at our gates. One week.”
    “So then what do we do to defend the city?” Crelang asked. 
    “I think the real question is do we defend the city,” Jack said. 
    “Do we defend the city?” Crelang said. “What sort of question is that?”
    “What I’m saying is that the particle bomb is an undefeatable weapon,” Jack said. “If it gets to our home turf, we won’t be able to stop it. But what we can do is take the fight to Larsh.”
    “I think that’s quite out of the question,” Rostro said. “Our forces have been utterly depleted by the first particle bomb. We cannot risk the rest of them in an attack. However, we can stall long enough to conduct some sort of evacuation.”
    “Evacuate?” Jack exclaimed. “Are you suggesting we abandon the fight?”
    “Do we have a choice?” Rostro said. 
    Jack opened his mouth to respond, but before he could the others in the room began urgently discussing the defense; discussing things such as where to put trenches in the beach, how to distribute the few survivors of the Lewisville blast among the remaining squadrons, and where to deploy the Justice, the Artensians’ main battle cruiser. Through it all, Jack stayed silent, fiddling with his gun.
    The Artensian council might not launch an attack, Jack thought. But there was someone who might.


     
    “Why not?!” Jack exclaimed. “You know in order to stop the particle bomb, we have to stop him from making them. The only way to do that is to get that scroll back.” Jack paced around Daridin’s office, gesturing wildly at the Artensian leader as he spoke. 
    “Jack, you saw what happened when we tried to fight back in Lewisville. Right now, we still have enough forces left here in the city to mount a defense when Larsh attacks. I’m not risking that to mount some desperate attack on Larsh’s base,” Daridin replied.
    “But that’s our only chance at winning this. You understand no matter how many forces we muster there’s no winning against that bomb, right? No matter how long we hold him off, inevitably he’ll snuff us out.”
    “And your solution is to snuff us out before we even have a chance to try? Please leave, Jack. I understand the last week’s been stressful for you, and thus I am giving you the benefit of the doubt.”
    “Fine,” Jack said, storming out of the office. Tyler McKay stood waiting for him outside.
    “How’d it go?” she asked.
    “Awful. He rejected the idea without even considering it. But don’t worry, grandma. I have a plan.” Jack ran off.
    “Oh dear,” Tyler whispered to herself. “I hate it when he says that.”































     
    Near Departure
    Carson
    “C’mon.” I flicked myself again. “Wake up.”
    I sat in the small, cold room Raubin had escorted me to shortly after I’d left the copter. Unadorned and grey, it served as a sharp reminder of how completely the color of my life had been drained in the last few days. It was past midnight now, the entire city covered in the dark drapes of night. 
    I pinched myself a couple more times, to no avail. Letting out a long sigh, I laid on the hard, unforgiving mattress, looking up to the grey ceiling of the room. 
    In just a few short days, my entire life had been utterly ripped to shreds. My safety and well being were now constantly under threat. Instead of a normal person, I was a freak with powers I could not control. My father was dead. My hometown had been destroyed by a weapon of mass destruction. And to top it all off, Larsh was coming in less than a week to end us once and for all. 
           “Life sucks,” I said. 
           I lay there for a long time, pondering. 
          I didn’t want to die here, I decided. I wanted to live a full life, get a career, get married, maybe even have kids. I wanted to live a normal life, devoid of the danger that seemed to so naturally come with being a mage. 
           And that wouldn’t happen if I stayed here. So I had to leave. 
           Rising up off the bed, I collected the few possessions I had let- the dagger from my father, and some food and toiletries Raubin had handed out. It wouldn’t last me long, but perhaps long enough to get to some sort of mortal town. 
          From what Raubin had told me, the military garage wasn’t far from here. From there I could steal a car and leave the city. 
         Walking through the halls of the empty barracks, I arrived at the nearest elevator and began the trip down. After a moment, the doors slid open to reveal a circular, cement arena. The entire area was caged off by a barbed wire fence, with a single gate leading in. Several arenas dotted this floor of the base. Each circle held about four or five bedrooms worth of space, enough for two people to spar, and sure enough, on the barbed wire fence were lined melee weapons of all kinds. Several arenas 
         I had just begun to walk away from the first circle when suddenly I heard a voice behind me. 
          “Carson? What are you doing here?”
          I whipped around to see Raubin standing at the gate of the arena, sword in hand. 
          “I’m…I don’t know,” I lied. “I was just wandering around the base.”
          Raubin nodded, though I noticed he eyed the bag in my hands. He gestured toward the arena.“You want to come in for a spar?” 
           ”Um….” I wasn’t sure what to do. Getting caught had not been part of the plan. “I don’t know, I’ve never used a sword before.”
          “That’s not a problem. I’m not very good anyways. Come on in.”
          “Fine,” I muttered. Setting aside my pack at the gate, I entered the arena. Raubin quickly found a sword about my build and height, attached a cover to it and his sword, and then assumed an aggressive posture, kneeling outwards, sword point shoved towards me.
          “The first thing you should learn is to defend yourself,” he said. “Are you all right if I attack you?”
           “Sure,” I said, though, truthfully, I was still itching to leave. 
           Suddenly Raubin lunged forward, attacking me with a quick stab. Jumping away, I deflected a flurry of follow up blows, slowly falling backwards. Raubin continued to press the attack, slowly forcing me back towards the wall. Though I knew it was fake, a part of me was still terrified. I realized that if I didn’t do something soon, he would pin me against the wall and cut me down. 
    So in a last desperate move, I lunged outwards, stabbing at Raubin’s chest. Startled, Raubin lept back, temporarily leaving his sword hanging loosely at his side.
    And so I lunged in and whacked him straight across the chest. 
    The slash did nothing because of the cover, of course, but Raubin still stared down at his shirt, shocked.
    “Dang. I’ve been practicing for years and you still beat me.”
    Breathing hard, I lowered my sword. “I was desperate. I didn’t expect it to actually work.”
    “Well, I certainly didn’t expect it, either. And your defense was impressive, too. Your reactions to my attacks were really quick.”
    “I used to play tennis,” I said. “I have a pretty fast reaction time because of it.”
    Raubin nodded. “Well, I’m not certain I’m even fit to teach you anymore, but you want to go again?”
    I smiled and pulled my sword into a defensive posture. “Go for it.”
    We sparred for about another hour. I didn’t beat Raubin again- he was much more on guard than he had been before- but he was able to teach me quite a bit, like feinting and defending against feinting and how to deal with an opponent with a longer sword or heavier stroke. 
    “Of course,” he said after one round, “the biggest part of this is how to incorporate your own magical combat style into your melee style.”
    I winced. “I don’t really know how to control my powers yet.” 
    “Huh,” Raubin said. “Usually it’s rather easy to learn, especially at your age.”
    “Well, it’s not for me.”
    “Interesting.” Raubin stayed off the subject for the rest of the night.
    After a particularly intense duel about an hour in, Raubin hung up his sword and headed for the gate. “It’s probably about time I go to bed. So, goodbye, I guess,” he said, glancing at my pack. 
    “Yeah,” I said. “Bye.”
    Raubin started to walk away. Then he turned back.
    “For the record, there are days where I want to leave, too. But I always stay. Because this is my home. And it can be yours, too.” Frowning, he stepped into the elevator.
    I don’t know exactly how long I stood there, but I know it was for a long time. Finally I stepped outside of the arena, picked up my pack, and looked towards where I knew the garage lay. 
    “Maybe next time,” I muttered to myself. “Maybe next time.” 
    And with that I turned and headed back to my room.











     
    Abducted
    Krystal 
    I lay awake in bed, twisting the dagger in my hand, slowly growing more and more tense.
    He’d destroyed my hometown. He’d killed my father. And I wasn’t going to let that slide. My heart pounded as I relished the thought of stabbing him, of the dagger entering his chest and taking from him all he’d taken from me. 
    Suddenly a knock came at my door. I hurriedly tucked my dagger away and rose to my feet. It was well past midnight. Who could want me at this hour? It must be important. 
    Carefully I opened the door. 
    And immediately I was met by a sword point pressing against my chest.
    A man draped in black robes stood at the door, face covered in a mask with glowing, red, soulless eyes. 
    “You, my friend, are coming with me.”
     
    Krystal
    “You’re going to pay for this,” I said as the figure shoved me into the bay of the helicopter. “I’ll make sure you pay for this.”
    “Quiet,” Raubin said behind me as he, too,  “Remember, he’s the one who’s got us tied up.” Carson, also tied up, shortly followed us into the helicopter, silent. 
    The man snorted. “You honestly think you’re in a position to make me pay? Idiot.” His voice was harsh and robotic. He slid the door shut, jumped into the cockpit, and started the helicopter.
    “Help!” I began to scream. “Somebody help us with this lunatic!” 
    There was no response.
    The helicopter lifted off, and soon the city was out of sight. Down on the floor with my hands tied behind my back, I couldn’t get to my feet, but eventually I was able to rise up on my elbows to look out the window. 
    “What’s out there?” Carson asked.
    “Ice,” I said. “Lots and lots of ice.”
    “We must be headed to Larsh’s base,” Raubin said. “Jack once told me it was in the Arctic. You all ready to die?”
    There was a grave silence. Then I spotted buildings in the distance.
    As we drew closer, the outline of Larsh’s base became clearer. Set at the coast, it consisted of about a dozen grey, armored buildings, each set on a small island of ice and connected to each other by stone bridges. Each had its own assortment of turrets, some of which swiveled towards us as we drew near. In the center of the base was a dock filled with armed boats, though there was a large space unoccupied, presumably for the Apocalypse. 
    My view was cut off when our ship soared onto a landing pad on top of one of the buildings. A few seconds later, the door slid open and the black clad man pulled us to our feet. 
    “Keep quiet,” he whispered to us. But this time his tone wasn’t harsh at all, more like a genuine warning than a threat. Then, roughly, he directed us at swordpoint off onto the platform. 
    Waiting for us was a man in full body armor with an red pauldron on his shoulder, flanked by two also heavily armed guards. A short man with a pointy nose and high cheekbones, he grinned at the sight of us. 
    “Ah, the Krot twins. Finally come back home. Larsh will be most pleased to hear that you’re finally locked up.” He turned to the man in black. “Excellent work. You will be paid handsomely for it.”
    “I need to take them to the cell first, do I not?”
    “No. Our troops can handle it. Feel free to go.” He gestured, and the two guards bared their pikes and headed for us. 
    “Yeah,” the man said. “About that….”
    In a blink he drew a pistol from his belt, dropping the two guards before I could even register what he was doing. The officer only got a moment of panic before a third bullet struck him in the neck and threw him to the ground dead. 
    The man grabbed us and threw us back into the helicopter. 
    “Listen,” he said. “We need to get to the scroll, and we need to do it quick. Him not reporting back is going to cause a big stir….”
    “Who are you?” I asked.
    “That’s not for you to know. Anyhow, it’s contained in the third building on your right, again, we’ll have to move fast. Can I trust you enough to remove these bindings.”
    “Seriously, who are you?” Carson interrupted. “You kidnapped us and now you’re expecting us to help you steal the scroll? Who are you?”
    The man paused for a second. Then, slowly, he reached up and took off the mask to reveal the face of Jack McKay.
     



















     
    Choice
    Raubin
    “Jack?” I exclaimed. “You did this?”
    He nodded.
    “Why?” I asked, shocked. Jack was my best friend. And he was the most loyal person to Artensia I’d ever met. 
    “Somebody has to get the scroll,” Jack said. “Without it the resistance is doomed. And if I’m the only man to do it then do it I will.”
    “What does the scroll have to do with kidnapping us?” Krystal exclaimed. 
    “We were your ticket in,” I said, staring at Jack as I said it. “You sold us to Larsh to get into his base.”
    Jack averted his eyes. “You know it had to be done.”
    “That doesn’t make it any less wrong,” Carson whispered. 
    “But I need your help,” Jack said. “We have to get the scroll. Everything depends on it.”
    “And what if the scroll doesn’t help us?” Krystal said. “You’re asking us to risk our lives for nothing but a chance.”
    “Yes,” Jack said. “A chance. A chance to stop Larsh. A chance to save this world from his darkness. A chance to redeem yourself.” He pointed out the clear windows of the helicopter. “Look around you. This is the reality we face. If we do nothing, Larsh will unleash the darkness of the particle bomb all across the globe and usher in an age of terror.” His voice began to grow louder. “Real people will die if we don’t stop him. Not figures, not statistics, but people, just like you and I. And I will not stand and watch as he kills them.” His voice suddenly grew very soft. “I need your help. The world needs your help. Please.”
    The Krot twins were silent behind me. I too, remained silent. 
    “Alright,” Jack said. “I’ll do it alone then.” He started to walk off. 
    “Wait,” I said. “I’ll help you.”
    “What?” Krystal exclaimed. “He kidnapped us. I’m not going to help him.”
    “But he’s right. Artensia is my home. It’s my duty to save it.” I walked over to stand by Jack.
    Jack smiled. “Thank you.”
    Krystal looked between us and Carson, then walked over to stand by us. “You’re right. Larsh is a plague. It’s about time he got what he deserved.”
    Carson frowned. “Alright I’ll do it. But on one condition: after we get out of here I go back to the mortal world.”
    “You know the mortal world isn’t safe right now with Larsh on the loose,” Jack said. 
    “I don’t care. I want out of this world. I don’t belong here.”
    Jack frowned. “Fine. Deal.”
    Carson hesitantly walked over to us. 
    “Alright,” Jack said. “Now for the hard part.”























     
    Explosives Are Set
    Carson
    “You remember how to use the anthrenite?” Jack asked. 
    I responded into my radio.“Say the preprogrammed location, then twist the middle of it to activate the portal.”
    “Good. Alright, set those explosives and we’ll do the rest.”
    “Your sure this will work?”
    “As long as you lay those charges, we should be just fine. Now hop to it.”
    Jack cut out. I took a deep breath. 
    Jack’s plan was fairly simple. The scroll was kept in a vault in a building on the south end of the compound.  I was to head to the north end of the compound and set up the explosives Jack had brought with him on the helicopter. During this time, Jack, Raubin, and Krystal would slip on the uniforms of the guards Jack had killed on the landing platform and approach Larsh under the alibi of reporting our own escape. During that conversation, I would blow the charges, causing enough havoc for Jack to quietly steal Larsh’s key. Then, we would meet up at the vault, steal the scroll, and use the anthrenite Jack had given me to teleport back to Artensia.
    It was a simple plan. But so many things could go wrong. I fingered the anthrenite in my pocket. According to Jack, the teleportation device was a weapon only Artensia had at its disposal: the knowledge of how to make it was long gone, and all other supplies of it had been drained. It will give us an edge of surprise against Larsh, Jack had  said. It will get us back to  Artensia before she even realizes what happened. 
    But I didn’t want to go back to Artensia. I wanted to go home. 
    For a moment I was tempted to use it right now, to get myself out of this cursed place. I pulled it from my pocket...
    But no. I couldn’t leave my sister behind. I’d promised my father that much. We would get this scroll and then we could head home together. 
    Shoving the anthrenite back in my pocket and picking up the charges, I walked out into the open of the compound. Arranged in a circle, the grey buildings that made up the base were connected by simple wooden boardwalk. Mages bustled about, most of them carrying weapons or supplies. At one point, an entire legion of armored soldiers passed by me. I tried not to look too hard at them, but my eyes followed them nervously, and as they did I got my first glimpse of the Apocalypse.
    The battleship was colossal. I’d been to navy bases along the coast of Oregon before, but this made the ships I’d seen their look like patrol boats. Turrets lined its deck. Fighters dove in and out of its hull. In the front, a hatch had lowered to allow hundreds of soldiers to march their way in. 
    I gulped. We had one week before that arrived in Artensia. One week to stop the unstoppable. 
    But it wasn’t my problem. After this, I was heading back to the mortal world. Period. 
    I turned my head away and walked down the boardwalk to the north end. To my surprise, no one disturbed me. Ducking into the building, I slipped into an empty pipe room and dropped the explosives. Then, trying to look as casual as I could, I left the building and began walking away from it as fast as I can. 
    “Explosives are set, Jack. Waiting on your command.”














     
    Light It Up
    Krystal
            Thunk. 
            The elevator doors clanged shut, and Jack, Raubin, and I, each clad in full body Darkness began our ascent towards Larsh’s office. 
              “Raubin you got that expander?” Jack asked. Raubin nodded and tapped it. A small ring on his left hand, it gave him the capabilities of a force mage, which would allow him to summon Larsh’s ID off of his robe during the chaos. 
              “Remember,” Jack said. “This should be simple. We go in, report our own escape, Carson blows the charges, we steal the key and run. Larsh has no reason to suspect us, so as long as we don’t give her a reason to we should be just fine.”
              “Right,” I said. “We’re walking right into the Dark Mage’s office and we’re going to be just fine.”
            “Just don’t do anything stupid,” Raubin said. 
             The elevator stopped, the doors slid open, and we stepped out into the heart of the Dark Mage’s lair. 
              
               Krystal
               The Dark Mage’s office was extravagant: on the far wall a waterfall gushed into a granite sink, on the right was an extravagant painting of an armored mage riding into battle, and on the left was a great glass pane, from which we could see the entirety of the compound. More than a dozen guards lined the walls, each armed with a gleaming axe. 
             And in the center of the room stood Larsh herself, talking urgently with a Darkness soldier. 
            “The entire fleet has been loaded then?” Larsh asked. 
            “Except for a small squadron to defend the base, sir,” the Darkness soldier said. 
           “Load that squadron in as well. I want every ship we have to be put in this attack. Artensia will be destroyed.”
            “Yes, my lord,” the Darkness soldier said, then exited the room. Larsh turned her gaze on us.
            “What now?”
            “Sir,” Jack said. 
            “My lord,” Larsh interrupted. “I am your lord, and you shall refer to me as my lord, not sir.”
            My hand twitched toward my knife. She was so close- it would be so simple to plunge the knife into her chest and end all this. 
           “Sorry, my lord. We have come to report that the vinslings have escaped.”
             Larsh strode closer and shoved his nose in Jack’s face. I pulled the knife off my belt. It would be so easy….
             But before I could stab, Raubin’s hand clamped down on mine and he shook his head. 
            “I was already aware of that,” Larsh said. “Furthermore, you should have reported to your squad captain, not immediately to me. But instead of doing so you barged into my office. Now get out.” 
           Larsh stormed away from us.
           “Now,” Jack whispered. 
            There a pause, then a low grumble like thunder. I watched as the building teetered and then tumbled with a large crash into the water below. 
            For a moment everyone stood still. Then Larsh began screaming:
           “You saw that, now get down there, all of you! I want those vinsling scum dead before the hours out! Now move!” 
          The guards began running for the elevator door. Raubin opened his hand and a small card flew into it- Larsh’s ID. Raubin tucked it into his pocket just as Larsh turned on us. 
          “You two,” he said, gesturing to Jack and Raubin. “Get out of here.”
          Letting out a silent breath of relief, we all began walking toward the elevator. But before I could leave a hand clamped down on my shoulder. 
          “Not you. You have some explaining to do.”
            
         
      
     
           







     
    The Vault
    Raubin
    “What are we going to do about Krystal?” I asked as me and Jack ran across the boardwalk towards the vault. 
    “I don’t know, this plan has fallen apart so much that I’m just winging it at this point,” Jack replied. “All I know is we’ve got to get to that scroll. And if it comes between the scroll and one of our lives, we have to choose the scroll.”
    “One of has to get out of here alive,” I murmured.
    Finally we arrived at the vault building. Tall but with no bigger of a base than a bedroom, the elevator to the top was guarded by four soldiers, each armed with a spear. 
    “What business do you have here?” one asked as we approached. 
    “Larsh sent us to ascertain the contents of the vault were safe despite the current commotion,” Jack said. 
    “There is no need for that,” the guard replied. “I have remained at my post. No man has entered.”
    “You know what, screw the formalities,” Jack said, blasting the man who had spoken. The other guards reacted with astonishing speed, rushing towards us. Gripping the expander, I blasted them backwards, and Jack finished them off with ease. 
    “See, that wasn’t too hard,” Jack said as he swiped Larsh’s ID card across the scanner. The elevator doors opened. 
    “They’re getting in!” a voice exclaimed from behind us. I turned to see a platoon of guards rushing across the boardwalk towards us. Bolts of antienergy flew past us as we ducked into the elevator and shut the door. 
    “Think you spoke too soon,” I said.
    Jack pulled out his radio. “Carson, we need backup. Get over here.”
    “I’m coming,” Carson replied. 
    The elevator doors slid open and we stepped into the vault. A small room, it was lined with all kinds of weapons and other powerful objects. 
    But no scroll. 
    “It must be in here,” Jack said, motioning toward a small box in the corner of the room. As he felt around it, there was a beep.”
    “Touch ID failed. Please try again.”
    “Touch ID, seriously? C’mon? Raubin, can you sear through this?”
    “It’s made of solid steel, that’ll take time,” I said. 
    “I can buy you time.” 
    At that moment, the elevator doors, swung open, and two Darkness soldiers emerged from it, blasting Jack in the shoulder. I promptly shot a beam of fire at both of them, killing them both.
    “Thos,” Jack said, grabbing his arm.
    “Are you alright?” I asked.
    “I think so,” Jack said. “Get melting through that case.”
    I nodded and began searing through the metal box. 
    “This day is not going like I thought it would.”






















     
    Apprehended
    Carson
    I bolted as fast as I could from the blast site, ducking through hoardes of Darkness running the opposite direction. All ignored me through the chaos. When I arrived at the vault, it was completely empty- nothing but a few bodies lying on the ground. I stepped up to the elevator doors. 
    “Jack, I need you to send down the elevator.”
    “Little busy right now!” came Jack’s reply. I could hear the shriek of energy through the radio, and then Jack cut out suddenly. 
    “Jack! Jack!”
    There was no reply- but I did feel a sudden warmth as cold crystal pressed to my neck.
    “Carson Krot. How nice of you to join us.”












     
    Launch
    “Play it again.”
    Tyler flipped the switch, and Jack’s voice played through the speakers:
    “As y’all are too cowardly to actually try winning this war, I’ve taken things into my own hands. I’ve recruited Carson, Krystal, and Raubin to infiltrate Larsh’s base and retrieve the scroll. By the time you get this message, we’ll all likely be dead, but if any of you decide to man up and join the fight be my guest. Just don’t count on using Helicopter 593. Cause I’m stealing it. Goodbye.”
    The message shut off. 
    “Thos!” Daridin swore. “And they’re all gone from their bedrooms?”
    “Every last one of them.”
    Daridin clenched his teeth and punched the wall. “I let them go on one mission together, one mission, and now they think they can do anything!” He punched the wall again. “One mission! Freaking teenagers and their idiotic drama.” He punched the wall again, then looked down at his fist. “You know, that kind of hurts.”
    Tyler raised his eyebrows. “Well, to be honest it’s kind of what you get for ranting about teenage drama while simultaneously punching a wall.”
    “Touche.”
    “You know, they’re probably right. We chickened out.”
    “What am I supposed to do? I tried, the council said no, it’s over. All we can do is evacuate the city and hope Larsh has mercy on the rest of the world. And now, because of Jack, both of our sons are likely dead.”
    “I seriously doubt they’re dead. Jack’s not an idiot. He wouldn’t attack without a plan.”
    “You just heard that recording and you think Jack’s not an idiot?”
    “I think he’s headstrong, overconfident, and a little bit arrogant. But ultimately, I think he’s right. We were cowards, Daridin. We let Larsh win in Lewisville, and we’re letting him win now. But we can’t escape this fight. We have to help them, Daridin. We won’t be around forever. And when we’re gone, they’re the ones who will have to fight this battle.”
    “I’m trying, Tyler, I try everyday to prepare Raubin, to prepare all of them. But they’re not ready. Not yet. They’re still teenagers, I can’t just let them….”
    “Yes, they are, Daridin. Let go. Stop trying to control their destiny and instead help them find it. That’s the only way they can become what you want them to be.” He smiled. “I remember when you were first thrown into this world. You were headstrong, overconfident, arrogant- still are, actually. But you’ve changed, too. You went from a selfish criminal to a hero. And they can, too.”
    Daridin nodded. “You’re right.” Reaching down, he pulled a radio upwards and to his mouth.
    “Crelang, I need you to launch as many fighters as you can spare. We have a scroll to get.”



















     
    Revealed 
    Krystal
    I stood in silence as Larsh angrily directed guards out the door, not certain whether to run or wait it out. When all the guards were gone, Larsh sat back down in her chair and unclipped the watch from her wrist, then began stroking it softly. 
    “Don’t worry, father. We’re so close. Nothing can stop us now. I will finish what you started.”
    “Ok that’s just weird.” I couldn’t restrain myself from whispering the words. Larsh whipped around toward me, eyes ablaze. 
    “You. What did you see on that landing platform and why did you not report it over radio?” 
    “I saw a bunch of dead guards, sir. Our men, I mean. And when I went to investigate, the perpetrators were not there.”
    “And why did you not report it over radio?”
    “I, uh, thought it was important enough to report in person?”
    Larsh snorted. “Incompetent idiot. Because of your stupidity those prisoners are now wreaking havoc. And because of your stupidity of your stupidity you deserve nothing less than death.” He raised his hand and it began to glow. 
    “Sir,” I said, stepping back and summoning a shroud. “Sir, I don’t think you’re being reasonable!” 
    “Are you afraid of death? Pathetic. I thought I’d trained my men better than that.”
    Suddenly the radio on Larsh’s desk rang.
    Larsh turned away from me. “What?” 
    “Sir, we’ve captured Carson Krot. He was running away from the site of the explosion.”
    “Oh no,” I whispered. 
    “Excellent. Keep him where he is until the others are apprehended. Then bring them all to me.” He turned back to me. 
    “You know, there’s something familiar about your voice. I can’t quite place it. Remove your mask.”
    I stood with my shroud still up, fear intensifying.
    “Let me repeat that. Take off your mask.” Larsh snapped and I felt the mask crumble off my head, revealing my face.
    Larsh smiled. “That’s what I thought.”










     
    The Scroll
    Raubin
              “Thos!” Jack cursed, throwing aside the destroyed radio. “You almost done?”
            “Just a second,” I said as I finished searing through the metal. Reaching in carefully, I slowly withdrew it- a thin, paper scroll. Such a simple thing to risk our lives for. And yet here we were.
          “I’ve got it!” I yelled. 
          “Good. Now we just have to fight our way out of here,” Jack said. 
         I looked up. “Or I could blow through the roof.”
          “Yeah, that’s a better idea.”
           I handed Jack the scroll, then summoned a fireball and threw it upwards, searing a hole into the roof. Jack and I climbed onto the roof. 
          “Where from here?” Jack asked. 
          “I don’t know I thought you would figure that out.”
          Jack nodded, then pointed toward a helicopter pad a few buildings away from us. “If you use the expander, we might be able to jump our way over there.”
          “Alright,” I said. “On three. Three. Two…”
          “Not so fast,” said a voice behind us. 
          I turned to see Jadis Larsh, blade poised to plunge itself straight into Krystal’s neck. 
          “Hand over the scroll or she dies.”
        




















     
    My Revenge
    Raubin
               I stood still, unsure of what to do. Larsh pressed the blade closer to Krystal’s neck. 
    “I said hand over the scroll, or I will kill her.”
    “I’m not going to give it to you,” Jack said. 
    “Three.”
    “Give it to her,” I said suddenly. 
    “Two.”
    “Krystal’s life isn’t worth our only hope,” Jack maintained. 
    “One...”
    “Give it to her!” I yelled. 
    Jack looked between me and Larsh, then withdrew the scroll from his pocket and tossed it lightly into Larsh’s hand. 
    “So you can be cooperative,” Larsh said, pulling the sword away from my neck. “Unfortunately, now that that’s resolved, I have to kill you.”
    Larsh raised her sword and it began to glow. But before he could strike, Krystal snatched a knife from her belt and plunged it into his neck. He stumbled backwards, choking on his own blood. 
    “I swore I would destroy you for killing my father,” Krystal said, letting go of the knife. “And now I’m going to enjoy every second of my revenge.”
    Larsh laughed and pulled the knife out of her neck. Instantaneously, purple energy pulsed and healed the cut, not even leaving a scar. 
    “You can’t kill me that way, Krot.”
    Krystal lunged to attack again, but before she could Larsh snapped and she froze in place. Drawing his gun, Jack fired several rounds into Larsh’s chest, but every time the wound closed itself up before a drop of blood even struck the ground. Larsh snapped again, and Jack went flying as a bolt of purple lightning struck his arm. 
    “Now for you,” Larsh said, turning on me and swinging her sword. Fumbling through my belt, I drew my knife just before Larsh attacked, only to be beaten blow by blow to the ground. But as Larsh raised her sword above my chest to stab me, I rolled away, kicking his leg and throwing him off balance. Jumping to my feet, I gripped the expander ring and summoned the scroll to my hand. Larsh snarled and snapped again, and I felt my muscles freeze in place. 
    “Nice try, Rix. But when your father took everything I loved I swore I would do the same to him. And my revenge will start with you.”
    But before he could strike the roof burst apart in a violent explosion, throwing Larsh off of the building and down into the water below. I felt myself unfreeze as rubble and heat washed over me. Looking up, I saw a helicopter descending, bay doors open. 
    And inside of it was my father. 
    Artensia had arrived. 























     
    Fighter Parade
    Jadis Larsh lifted herself from the water and onto the boardwalk, burnt and with exposed flesh. As red energy healed her, she looked up at the sky to see Artensian fighters flowing into the base, ripping apart the buildings with blazing cannons. She growled. 
    “My lord, don’t panic,” the voice of Vorcix came through the radio. “I’ve ordered all the ships we have to deploy. We outnumber them ten to one, it will be under control within minutes.”
    “Activate the shield!” Larsh yelled. 
    “But my lord that’ll interfere with our fighter’s ability to...”
    “Do it!” Larsh yelled. 
    Vorcix sighed. “It will be done.”
    Jadis looked up at the sky. “Oh, I’m going to enjoy killing you, Krot. I’m going to enjoy every second of it.”


     
    KRYSTAL
    “Well, what are you waiting for?” Daridin said. Scrambling to our feet, we hopped in the copter, Raubin clenching the scroll in a white knuckled fist. 
    “Strap in,” Jack said, clipping himself to the wall with ropes hanging down from the ceiling. He winced a little as the straps tightened. 
    I raised my eyebrows. “I’m good.”
    “Trust me, you want to,” Jack said. 
    “I think I’ll be fine,” I replied.
    “Whatever,” Jack snorted. 
    “Do you have it?” Daridin asked. 
    Raubin revealed the scroll. 
    “Excellent. Now we’ve just got to fly away.”
    “That might be easier said than done, sir,” the pilot said from the cockpit. We’ve got company.”
    I lunged for the window. Sure enough, three Darkness fighters were now tailing us. Firing, their shots rocked the ship, and I had to grab onto a handlebar to keep from collapsing. 
    Daridin pulled out a radio. “Commander Rostro, we’ve got several tailing us.”
    “On it,” Rostro replied. 
    I watched as three Artensian fighters pulled in behind us, destroying the Darkness ones. I couldn’t help but notice how ragtag the Artensian fighters looked though, hoses, switches, and other various parts showing through the patched armor. They hardly looked ready for battle. 
    “Got ‘em, sir,” Rostro said. 
    “Alright. Order all squadrons to pull away. Let’s get this piece of paper out of here and go home.”
    I relaxed as we pulled away from the base, no Darkness following us. I pulled my face away from the window and sat down in the cockpit, looking out the front windshield. 
    But suddenly a giant blue wall of energy buzzed into existence in front of us. 
    “Pull up!” Daridin yelled. 
    The pilot yanked the controls, and I fell head over heels as we swung away from the newly created shield. Two of the fighters escorting us also managed to pull up, but the last smashed into the shield, blowing apart in a bright flash of orange. 
    “Ugh,” I said, peeling my face from the ground. 
    “That’s why you strap in,” Jack said.
    The ship wheeled around, now facing the Apocalypse. Darkness fighters flowed out of it’s hull, heading straight for us.
    “What do we do now?” Rostro asked. 
    “I don’t know,” Daridin said. “We’re trapped. 












     
    Homeward Bound
    CARSON
    The guards dropped me and ran for their lives as Artensian fighters sped into the base, ripping apart the boardwalk. Running myself, I ducked into the nearest building. No one seemed to mind me now, their eyes all focused on the resistance fleet as they bombed the base and dog fought with the now deploying Darkness. 
    I watched for a minute, not certain whether to be relieved or not. On the one hand, the resistance was here. On the other, there was a decent chance I was about to figure out what friendly fire really meant. 
    I hastily pulled out my radio and dialed Jack. 
    “I’m on the ground,” I said. “What do you want me to do?”
    “Hang tight, stay safe,” Jack said. “We’ve got the scroll, but Larsh has deployed a shield around the perimeter, meaning we’re trapped. I’ll try to get a copter down there to retrieve you.”
    “Ok.” I turned the radio off, reached in my pocket, and retrieved the piece of anthrenite. 
    “Set location to Portland, Oregon,” I said. It was the closest big city to Lewisville. 
    My job here was done. I’d done my part to help with the scroll. Now it was time to go home. 
    Or you could use the anthrenite to help them, a voice in my head said. 
    I shook the thought away. They’d be fine. They were the resistance, after all. 
    “In the mortal world?” the robotic voice of the device asked. 
    “Yes.”
    “Are you sure?”
    “Yes!”
    “Location set. Press button to activate portal.”
    And slowly I let my finger inch toward the button….

     
    RAUBIN
    We flew threw a swarm of Darkness fighters, the ship rocking as our shield was battered by bolts of antienergy. I briefly glanced at the dashboard on the cockpit. The bar indicating shield energy was almost gone. 
    “Pull away, we can’t sustain this damage!” Daridin exclaimed. 
    “I’m trying!” the pilot yelled. 
    CARSON
    My finger slowly touched the button, but I hesitated, somehow unable to press it. All it took was a flick of my finger and I could go home….

     
    RAUBIN
    “We’re taking heavy losses.” Rostro’s voice rang through my father’s radio. Out the window I saw yet another Artensian fighter fall. 
    “So this is how it ends,” I said softly. 

     
    Jadis Larsh sat watching as the Darkness fighters swarmed the Artensian fleet, smiling. 
    “Now you know what it feels like, Rix. Now you know what it feels like.”

     
    CARSON 
    I closed my eyes. My finger shook. 
    I wanted to go home so badly. I wanted this all to be a dream, and when I woke up, I’d be back in my father’s house, his smile waiting for me. 
    But that world was gone. Forever. 
    And this one wasn’t. 
    I opened my eyes, determination surging through me as I withdrew my finger back from the button.
    “Set location to Artensia.”
    “Are you sure?” the robotic voice replied. 
    “Yes.”
    “Location set.”
    I took a deep breath, then charged out onto the boardwalk, raised the generator to the sky, and opened the portal. 

     
    RAUBIN
    “Carson!” Jack yelled. “He’s opened a portal!” 
    I looked out the window. Sure enough, Carson stood in the center of 
    the action, hand raised to the sky, a golden portal glowing above him.  
    “All units, head for the golden light!” my father yelled. Then, to himself, almost as if surprised, “the boy came through.”
     Peeling toward the portal, the helicopter hit full thrusters, and I felt myself lurch as we raced toward the portal, then felt another, stronger lurch in my stomach as we struck the portal and teleported home. 

     
    CARSON
    Darkness soldiers surrounded me. Several raised their staffs toward 
    me and fired. Most of the bolts missed, but one struck my abdomen, and I fell to my knees, gasping. But still I kept my hand held above me. 
    The Artensian fighters all turned toward the portal, racing into it. Several times I thought they would hit me, but every time they struck the portal they disappeared in a flash of gold. 
    Blood poured from my wound, and my vision began to blur. But still I kept my hand held above me. 
    Finally the last Artensian fighter ducked through. And only then did I collapse, my hand dropping the portal directly onto me as everything went black.
















     
    PART III






























     
    Coming For You
    “So you lost the scroll?” the Cunning One exclaimed. 
    “Yes,” Jadis Larsh replied calmly. She sat in her throne room on the now departed Apocalyse, a hologram of the Cunning One before her. 
    “Do you understand what that means, Larsh? We cannot attack while they have that knowledge in their possession.”
    “You know, you’ve always annoyed me,” Larsh responded. 
    The Cunning One’s face grew dark. “Are you challenging me, Larsh?”
    “Yes,” Larsh said. “That’s exactly what I’m doing. I’ve had enough of being reigned in by you.  A new age is starting. One where I and I alone hold the power. And you are nothing to defy me.”
    “I will destroy you,” the Cunning One growled. 
    “We’ll see,” Larsh said. “We’ll see.”
    She flicked her finger to dismiss the hologram, then phoned Vorcix. “How long until we reach Artensia?”
    “Approximately twelve hours, my lord,” came the reply. 
    “Good,” Larsh said. She switched off the phone. “Watch out, Carson Krot,” she muttered.
    “Because I’m coming for you.”
     













     
    One Last Chance
    KRYSTAL
    The remaining fighters slowly glided in to land softly on the Artensian landing pad. As soon as the doors slid open, I ran outside, breathing in the fresh air. We were alive. And we had the scroll. We’d succeeded. For a moment I felt nothing but relief. 
    And then I remembered the reason we were all alive in the first place. 
    “Carson,” I said. “My brother, where is he?”
    “He made it through the portal shortly after we did,” Daridin said. “According to medical, he’s ripped up but he’ll survive. Now, I’ve got to get the scroll to intelligence. They’ll be a meeting to discuss the coming invasion soon. I want you to be there,” he said. “Krystal, Jack, Raubin, all three of you. You did a very good thing today. I’m very proud.”
    He turned and walked off. 
    “Well,” I said. “What do we do now?”
    “We hope there’s something we can do,” Jack replied. 
    “And if not?” Raubin said. 
    None of us answered. Even though we all knew the answer, none of 
    us wanted to hear it. 
     
    RAUBIN
    A few hours later, we stepped into the back of the council room, which was packed full of every officer, fleet commander, and special official you could think of. In the center of the room was a stone table equipped with a large holographic projector used for showing battle maps and other important information. At the head of the room was Crelang di Onto, quietly tapping a pencil while looking out at the murmuring crowd. Finally, after several minutes, my father and Tyler McKay stepped into the room, and all were silent as my father spoke. 
    “As you all know, we are in dire times. Larsh has launched her fleet for Artensia. We estimate it will arrive in about eleven hours, armed with a ninety percent charged particle bomb. This gives us the near impossible task of destroying the bomb in about half an hour. Fortunately, there is a small glimmer of hope. Crelang.” He nodded toward the commander. 
    “Our intelligence team just finished decoding the scroll,” Crelang said. “From it, we now have an understanding of how the particle bomb works. It’s charged by an Eye, a rip in space and time that allows energy to flow freely into the person who created it. Essentially, the Eye charges the person, and the person charges the particle bomb.”
    “So she’s literally charging the particle bomb from her body?” Jack said. 
    “Essentially,” Crelang said. “But killing her will be nigh unto impossible; with that much energy available to her core systems, she can heal herself faster than we could possibly damage her. The only practical way to destroy the bomb would be to destroy the Eye.”
    “So how do we do that?” Jack asked.
    “Based on our energy readings from Larsh’s ship we believe the Eye is located in a cargo hold in the center of the ship, directly attached to Larsh’s throne room. If we destroy the Eye, the particle bomb will destabilize and blow the entire ship apart.”
    “So we open up a portal, destroy the Eye and portal out.”
    “It’s not that simple,” my father said. “The portal generator is only precise enough to get us within a thousand feet of the Eye. Between where we teleport and the Eye, Larsh and her men could destroy any force we could send at her before they could get there. Furthermore, we only have enough anthrenite to send four people. We have to send her something she wants.”
    “What do you mean?” Jack asked. 
    “What I’m saying is Larsh is driven by revenge. If we send her our best men, she’ll kill them, no problem. But if we send her someone she wants to kill herself, she’ll wait. That person could hold her off while the rest fight their way to the Eye. And, of course, that person is me.”
    “You can’t go alone, Daridin,” Crelang said. “She’ll destroy you.”
    “I’m the only one she wants dead so badly that she’ll do it herself,” my father maintained. “It has to be me, and me alone.”
    “That’s not true,” Krystal interjected suddenly. The eyes of the entire council turned toward her. 
    “I was part of the team that stole the scroll,” Krystal said. “She wants me dead just as much as you. And I want to stop her. So you can count me in.”
    “And me, too,” I added.
    “Raubin, Krystal,” my father said. “I can’t let you do this.”
    “Why not?” I said, both frustrated and bolstered by my father’s immediate dismissal of the idea. “I’ve fought Larsh face to face and lived. I can do it again.”
    “Raubin, I can’t risk you,” my father said. 
    “Why?” I said. “If we don’t pull this off, all of us are going to die. Please. Let me do this.”
    My father hesitated for a long moment. 
    “I know you love me,” I continued. “But I’ve got to do this. I’ve got to. Please. You must understand that.”
    “Alright,” my father said slowly. “The three of us. We infiltrate the ship, destroy the Eye, and leave. Is that a plan?”
    The entire council affirmed.  
    “Alright then. You all know your stations. Let’s get moving.” 
     
    The council room quickly emptied itself, leaving Daridin standing alone at the table, gazing downward, not certain if he had just done the right thing or if he had just killed his son. Slowly Tyler McKay approached him. 
    “You know there’s one more person Larsh hates, perhaps more than any of you,” she said softly. 
    “He’s in no condition to fight, Tyler, physically or emotionally,” Daridin said. 
    “You need every man you can spare, Daridin.”
    Daridin sighed. “You’re right. I’ll talk to him.”










     
    The Dream
    CARSON
    The room is warmly lit, the couches soft, the carpet like a blanket on my feet. I sit in my mother’s arms as she reads a book to me. It is my favorite book. Krystal sits in my father’s arms, listening to us. 
    Then, suddenly, the roar of an engine pierces the night. My father sets Krystal down and walks cautiously towards the door. My mother rose to her feet.
     Then, suddenly, the door bursts open and Jadis Larsh enters the room, a barbed sword in her hand and with several other Darkness behind her. My father is gunned down and stabbed within seconds, but my mother manages to summon a shroud, blocking the flow of energy attacks. I whimper and slide back toward the wall. My mother begins to sweat as the attacks on her shroud intensify. She looks back.
    “I love the both of you. I’m sorry.”
    My mother releases the shroud and is ripped to shreds by antienergy bolts, but as she falls to the ground she snaps and the ground rumbles as the house collapses. Rubble falls towards me, and the last thing I remember is screaming for help as the weight slowly crushes me…. 












     
    The Life of a Hero
    CARSON
    I awoke, sweating and breathing hard. Looking up, I saw Daridin Rix sitting beside me, hands clasped together. 
    “I was wondering when you would awake.”
    “I want out of here,” I said. “Now. Send me home.”
    “I can do that,” Rix said, to my surprise. “But first, we have something to talk about.”
     
    CARSON
    I soon found myself walking through the halls of the Artensian military base, barely keeping up with Daridin through the bustling crowds of soldiers, officers, and pilots. 
    “So you’re saying you want me to teleport right into the middle of Larsh’s ship in some desperate attempt to destroy the bomb?” I said. 
    “Essentially,” Daridin said. 
    I shook my head. “No. I’m done. I don’t want any part of this. Send me home.”
    Suddenly we stopped at a metal, circular door. Daridin raised an ID card to it, and it opened to reveal a room full of magical artifacts: swords, staffs, guns, axes, and other devices I didn’t recognize. 
    “Allow me to attempt to convince you otherwise,” Daridin said. 
    “What’s this?” I asked, stepping slowly into the room, not daring to touch anything. 
    “Our vault. Crafted from Artensian steel, the strongest metal in the world. Only I and a few select others have access to it. Here we keep our most powerful assets, like the anthrenite you used, the tablet you retrieved, and this.” 
    Daridin retrieved a sword from the wall. Glimmering white, I could see a blue, softly glowing jewel imbedded in the hilt. Daridin held it out to me. 
    “Listen,” I said. “If you think giving me some weapon is going to motivate me to do this, it’s not. I want to go home.”
    But something about the sword seemed strangely familiar. 
    “I’m not giving you anything,” Daridin said. “Simply returning what already belongs to you.”
    “What do you mean?” I asked. 
    “Take it,” Daridin said. Tentatively, I reached out and took the sword, inspecting it. On the hilt I found two letters: CK.
    “This was my mother’s, wasn’t it?”
    “It was. Larsen probably told you this already, but she was a resistance hero. Like you, she was a powerful earth mage, and she used that power to fight with the resistance against the Darkness. Along with both your father and Terrace, she was one of the warriors who faced John Larsh with me. They were all great heroes.”
    I shook my head. “Just because my parents were heroes doesn’t make me one.”
    “No, it doesn’t. But what I’m saying Carson, is that this is your world. And whether you like it or not, it is your world to save.”
    Fear flooded through me as he said those words, dark memories flowing through my head. Before I could even catch myself, I drew the sword and pointed it directly at Daridin’s chest.
    “No! I’m not going back to that. Not again.”
    “Carson!” Daridin exclaimed, stepping backward.  
    The fear faded suddenly, and I let the sword drop, collapsing to my knees. 
    “I’m sorry,” I said. “I just… I just want to go home. I want life to be easy again.”
    “The life of a hero is not an easy one, Carson,” Daridin said, putting his hand on my shoulder. “But life is not all about the easy things. It’s about the hard things too. Your parents gave their lives so you could live. But it’s up to you to make that sacrifice worthwhile.” He held out his hand to me, and I let him help me to my feet. I picked up the sword again and looked down at it for a long time. 
    “Alright,” I finally said. “I’ll do it.”


     
    Okron
    CARSON
    The next few hours were a blur of preparation. The Artensians dug trenches in the sand of the beach. A large cruiser deployed from the hangars below the base, flying over to hover near the edge of the water. Krystal and Raubin spent their time practicing dueling, while Jack prepared his fighter for the coming battle. 
    I, too, spent my time preparing, unable to rest. While I was able to make some progress on my swordfighting, I made none on my magic. Every time I tried to use it, nothing would happen except the creation  of a few blue sparks. 
    Finally, after hours of trying with no luck, the call came. The Apocalypse had been sighted. It was time for the battle to begin.  

     
    KRYSTAL
    Carson, Raubin, and I stood alone in the Artensian council room, 
    waiting for Daridin Rix. I drew my dagger, the one my father had given me, and began to fidget with it. 
    Now was the time. Larsh was waiting for us. And I intended to kill her for real this time. 
    “You ready for this?” Raubin said, breaking the silence. 
    “As I’ll ever be, I suppose,” Carson said. 
    “We’ve got this,” I said. “There’s four of us on one of her, and she has a weak spot. We’ll rip her to shreds.” I clenched my teeth on the last sentence, my fists tight. 
    Raubin looked at me, concerned. “I hope so,” he said. 
    Finally, Daridin Rix walked in, Tyler McKay behind him.  
    “Attention,” Daridin ordered. We all stiffened.
    “The ship’s been spotted,” Daridin continued. “Currently, it’s sitting still, but that won't last for long. As soon as the enemy hits the beach, we teleport as close as we can to the Eye and destroy it. Tyler will calculate the coordinates you need to do that. If you don’t teleport directly into the cargo hold, it is connected directly to Larsh’s throne room, so find that and meet up there. Once we’ve destroyed the Eye, Raubin will be carrying the exit portal generator. Everyone understand?”
    We all nodded. Tyler withdrew the portal generators from our her pocket and handed them to us, then began punching numbers on a screen attached to the table. 
    “Daridin, the ship has stopped moving.” Jack’s voice buzzed through the speakers on the table. He and his special ops squadron had been deployed to the air above Artensia, where the entire fleet waited for Larsh’s arrival. Daridin pressed a button and a holographic image of the Apocalypse burst into existence above the table. It sat ominously still in the water. “It’s only a matter of time before she attacks,” Jack continued.
    “Alright,” Daridin said. “Patch me through to the rest of the army. I have something I want to say.”

     
    The sky and sea were eerily calm, but it did not feel so to the Artensian soldiers camped out in the ditches on the beach. Every time a wave slapped against the sand it felt like thunder roaring. Every time a cloud’s shadow passed over them they tensed. Even the slightest shift in the sand caused every eye to turn, though inevitably they would all return to the foreboding silhouette of the battleship in the distance. Even the Artensian cruiser and fighters waiting above in the sky were no comfort. 
    Staring through binoculars, Crelang watched as slowly the bottom hull of the ship peeled away and down into the water, allowing dozens of smaller patrol boats to begin deploying. On the upper levels, hangars slid open and fighters began to pour outward. 
    Yells sounded in the trenches as the Artensian soldiers notified each other of the coming attack. Then, Daridin’s voice came through their helmets.
    “Liste up, men. There is a lot at stake here. If we fail, Larsh will destroy Artensia, ravage the mortal world, and unleash an era of tyranny upon magekind. 
    “But it is not as bleak as it may seem. The colors of the Darkness are black and red. Our colors are blue and white.  Look around you. The sky, the sea, and the clouds are all blue and white. The Darkness may have numbers, yes. They may have stronger weapons, too. But today the sky and the sea are in our favor. Nature has never favored evil over good, and it will not do so today. So hold your staffs steady and keep your shrouds bright. For Okron!” 

     
    KRYSTAL
    Daridin cut off his speech as the Darkness vehicles began racing towards the beach. 
    “Question,” I asked softly. “What’s Okron?”
    “It’s an old word in ancient mage… it stands for everything good in this world-harmony, love, hope, and most of all, the cause of peace. That is what we fight for, not vengeance, not power, but Okron. And that is why we will win today.”
    As he spoke, the vehicles struck the beach, the two fleets of ships collided, and chaos began, explosions ripping into the trenches, Artensians gunning down the Darkness as they attempted to get out of their boats, the fighters and the giant Artensian cruiser exchanging fire.
    We stood silent. All of this was to keep Artensia safe until we destroyed the ship. Everything rested on us. 
    “Coordinates calculated,” Tyler said suddenly. “Set your portal generators to 116 37 42.”
    We all set our generators and looked at one another. 
    “On my command,” Daridin said. 
    “Three.”
    “Weapons ready,” Raubin said. 
    “Two.”
    “Oh dear,” Carson breathed.
    “One.”
    “Let’s kill this dark lord,” I said. 
    “Now!” 
    We all pressed our buttons, and there was a tug in my gut as I vanished in a gold flash.

     
    Daridin stood alone in the council room, the portal generator in his hand burnt to a crisp. The others had vanished- but the second he had felt the familiar tug in his gut it had been replaced by a burning sensation, and he’d rematerialized here. 
    “What?” he said, confused. Then he realized what had happened.
    “Larsh,” Tyler McKay scowled. “She knows. She disrupted yoru portal.”
    “Oh no,” Daridin said. “Raubin!” 
    Daridin began pacing the room, hands held to his head, hyperventilating. “I just sent him to his death,” he muttered. “I just sent him to his death, I just sent my son to his death…”
    “Daridin,” Tyler said. “They’ll be fine. There’s nothing you can do. Let go. She motioned toward the hologram of the battle on the beach, now in full swing as wave after wave of Darkness hit the Artensian lines. “Your men need you. Get down there.”
    Daridin nodded. “Alright.” He shook his head. “This day is not going how I thought it would go. And I already thought it would go pretty poorly.”




























     
    The First Blow
    CArson
    I felt a tug in my gut and suddenly I was standing in an open, metallic room, covered in red and black paint. On the left wall was a giant spiked chair, in front of us the locked door to the cargo hold.  Raubin and Krystal both materialized beside me, but no Daridin. We waited for a few seconds, but he did not appear. 
    “Where’s Daridin?” I finally asked. 
    “I don’t know,” Raubin said, pressing some buttons on his wrist radio. “This is Raubin, father, are you coming?”
    There was no response. Then suddenly I heard a voice to my side. 
    “Your father will not be coming, as will anyone else.” I turned to see Jadis Larsh turning in her throne and rising to her feet. “You Artensian scum are so predictable. When I outnumber you ten to one, when I outgun you with the most powerful weapon in the known universe, what do you do? Give up? No. Instead you send some desperate team on nothing but a small sliver of hope. And who do you send? Not your strongest, but your weakest. Pathetic. Daridin Rix will pay for his mistakes. And so will you. “
    “You underestimate us,” Krystal said.
    “Maybe,” Larsh replied, drawing her sword. “We’ll see.”
    Suddenly Larsh charged forward, swinging at Krystal, who barely managed to block the blow with her knife. Stepping away, Raubin summoned a fireball and pulled back to throw it, but before he could Larsh kicked Krystal to the ground and shot the fireball with a quick bolt of antienergy, causing it to explode and throw Raubin into the wall. Fumbling with my belt, I managed to draw my sword just in time to block Larsh as she turned on me. Pure instinct was the only thing that kept me alive as she launched a series of attacks, forcing me backwards and to my knees. As our swords locked, she pressed her blade closer to my neck, and though I resisted with all the force I could muster she steadily overpowered me. 
    “You are brave,” Larsh whispered. “But at heart you are afraid. And because of that you will die.”
    Suddenly an ice bolt struck Larsh in the back, throwing her off balance and away from me. Krystal charged Larsh, holding her back with the sheer furious chaos of her attacks. Jumping to my feet, I rushed Larsh as well, and together we held her back. As we did, Raubin rolled over to the door and attempted to sear his way through it, but his efforts did nothing but create a few sparks. 
    “I can’t get through!” he yelled. Larsh snarled and drove her sword into the ground, a red shockwave bursting in a hemisphere from the strike point and throwing me and Krystal away from her, antienergy crackling across us and ripping gashes in our skin. Then Larsh turned on Raubin, summoning a shrieking bolt of antienergy and throwing it at him. Raubin barely managed to duck aside, and the bolt smashed into the door, incinerating it instantly. 
    “That works,” Raubin said. 
    However, before any of us could get to our feet, Larsh snapped and Raubin froze in place. Larsh began to pace towards him, swinging her sword loosely through the air. Krystal charged at Larsh again, but this time Larsh magically batted her aside. Snatching my sword from the ground beside me, I hesitated, unsure of what to do. 
    “Pathetic,” Larsh said, pressing her sword to Raubin’s neck. “You couldn’t even land a blow.”
    She cocked her sword back to swing it down on Raubin’s head, and as she did, I made a split second decision, hurling my sword as hard as I could. To my surprise the blade spun through the air and embedded itself directly in Larsh’s chest. She gasped, momentarily collapsing, and Raubin unfroze. Then her eyes turned on me, burning red. 
    “I’ve had enough of you, Krot.”
    Larsh magically expelled the sword out of her chest, then charged me, swinging her sword wildly, cutting apart the walls and forcing me to run backwards. Krystal and Raubin moved to join the fight, but I yelled to them:
    “Get the Eye! It’s the only way we can beat her anyway!”
    Raubin and Krystal hesitated, but ultimately ducked through the door and into the cargo hold, leaving me alone and weaponless to face the wrath of the Dark Mage. 

     
    RAUBIN
    I ducked through the door and into the cargo hold. The hold was a maze of boxes and pipes, and I couldn’t see any obvious indication of the Eye anywhere.
    “You go left, I’ll go right,” I said to Krystal. She nodded and I broke off to the right, searching through the mess of cargo for any sign of the Eye. Suddenly I stopped. In front of me was a long hall covered in triplasers, a blue shield at the end of it. I dialed Krystal on my wristwatch. 
    “I found it.”
















     
    Bombing Run
    Jack sat in the cockpit of his personal fighter, dodging and blasting 
    his way through the haze of Darkness ships. Below, he could see the fight on the beach. Though the Artensian lines were holding, the Darkness were gaining ground, and it was only a matter of time before the resistance formation collapsed. 
    Lowering his fighter, Jack opened fire on the patrol boats, taking down three before pulling back up as a trio of Darkness fighters pursued. Swinging behind the three Darkness fighters, he destroyed all three in rapid succession, then shifted his gaze toward the battleship in the distance. It was almost completely undefended, the bulk of the Darkness fleet concentrated towards attacking Artensian soil. On the deck was a missile mount, glowing a dark shade of red as the particle bomb continued to charge.
    “A Squadron, we’ve got a wide open shot at that particle bomb. I say we take it. Follow my lead.”
    “On it, Jack,” one of the special ops men replied, and the squadron broke off and soared toward the battleship. As they did, the cannons swiveled toward them, and fighters began to once pour out of the hangars. 
    “They’ve got more of them?” Jack protested. “Thos. Alright. A1, A2, A3, you keep those enemy fighters at bay.” A4, A5, you’re on cannon duty, keep ‘em distracted as you can. The rest of you, hit that missile with everything you’ve got. 
    The fighters soared in toward the battleship, three breaking off into a dogfight with the Darkness, two attacking the ship’s cannons, and the other five, including Jack, soared towards the particle bomb, unleashing a hail of missiles and dotting it in explosions. 
    “Yeah!” one cheered as they split away. 
    But as the smoke cleared, Jack could see that they had done no damage, the ship’s armor easily absorbing the explosions. 
    “Thos!” he cursed. “Alright, let’s do another run.”
    The ships wheeled around for another run, but this time the Apocalypse was prepared. Cannons swiveled toward the attacking fighters, and two blew apart as they fired a hail of missiles.
    “Thos! Pull up!” Jack yelled.  The fighters pulled away from the battleship. The Darkness ships did not pursue, instead hovering around the battleship, guarding it. 
    “Ok, this is going to be harder than I thought, but we can still do this,” Jack said. “A1, A2…”
    “Jack,” one of the pilots interrupted. “We’re not going to destroy that bomb. The entire fleet couldn’t if it tried. It’s all up to the vinslings now.”
    Jack sighed. “You’re right. Head back to the beach. And say your prayers. We could use a little gosh right now.”
     
     















     
    You’re No Hero
    CARSON
    I dived for my sword, barely managing to grab it and get to my feet before Larsh struck. Even then I barely held my ground, staying just ahead of Larsh’s furious strikes. Every moment took all my concentration. Every stroke was barely parried. I wasn’t fighting to win, I was fighting to stay alive. 
    After what seemed like an age but probably wasn’t any longer than five seconds, Larsh slipped through my defenses and bashed me in the chest with the butt of her sword, throwing me to the ground. I rolled to the side to avoid her next stab and rose to my feet, shaking from the sheer amount of adrenaline in my veins.
    Larsh stopped attacking for a moment, pacing around me and swinging her sword around angrily. Then she lunged and knocked me back to the ground with a single, violent swing.
    “Give up, Krot.”
     I slid backwards and rose to my feet. Larsh struck again. Our swords crossed twice before she kicked me in the crotch and back to the floor. 
    “You’re no hero. You’re just a scared little boy with a sword.”
    I bared my teeth. The words stung, but I’d had enough. I rose to my feet again. 
    And again Larsh threw me back down.
    “I’m not letting you beat me,” I said. “Not again.”
    “Your will does not overcome reality,” Larsh snapped.
    I rolled onto my arms to rise again, but as I did a magical force shoved me back downward.
    “No. No getting back up this time, Krot.”
    Larsh raised her hand at the ceiling and twisted. The ceiling crumbled and collapsed atop me, crushing me underneath it. Immediately I began to gasp, the nightmare flashing through my mind over and over again in the space of seconds, the fear amplifying each time….
    “Help!” I cried.
    “There’s no Terrace Larsen to save you now,” Larsh said. “Enjoy.”
    She left the room just as I began to scream.




     
    WARNING!!!
    SPOILERS AHEAD!!!
    STORY NO LONGER COHERENT!!!






























     
    Triplasers
    RAUBIN
    I stared down the laser covered hall, looking down at the blue shield that marked the end of it. Carefully I stuck my sword into the first laser and pulled it out. Instantly, that section of the hall burst in a violent spurt of flames. I stumbled backwards, then looked at my sword to see that the blade was now completely gone. I tossed the hilt aside and took a deep breath. 
    There was no way I was going to make it through this hall. Jack might be able to. But not me. I wasn’t fast or dexterous enough.
    But I had to try. 
    “Here goes nothing,” I muttered.
    Carefully I began ducking and twisting through the trip lasers. At first, I did ok, but as I progressed, the lasers became more dense, and I had to twist in all sorts of wild convulsions to avoid tripping one. 
    Then, when I was about halfway through the hall, I looked down to see my foot right in the middle of the triplaser. It hadn’t activated yet, but the moment I removed my foot, it would. 
    I began to hyperventilate. I didn’t want to die. I wanted to see the world, do all the things I hadn’t done while locked up in Artensia. 
    I wanted to make my father proud.
    “Oh my gosh,” I yelled. “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh.”
    Suddenly I heard a screech of motors above me and the whine of energy. 
    The particle bomb. 
    Sudden calm washed over me. I knew what I had to do. And no matter what my father thought, I knew I had the strength to do it. 
    I fastened my eyes on the end of the tunnel, then lifted my foot from the trip laser and sprinted for the end. As I did, the hall blew apart behind me. Just as the flames were about to overtake me, I dove behind the blue shield, the explosions smashing up against it like a shockwave, but not penetrating.”
    I collapsed to the floor, relief flooding over me. 
    “Hallelujah jordan.” 
    I rose to my feet and began feeling along the wall. I found a handle with a keypad beside it. Searing through it, I reached my hand into the vault-and felt nothing.
    I felt around more. Still nothing. 
    “No,” I said, desperately searching for something. Nothing came. “No!”
    Finally I pulled my hand out and retrieved my radio. “Guys,” I said. “There’s nothing in here.”



























     
    The Beach
    Waves of armored, masked Darkness soldiers smashed into the ragtag Artensian force, each side throwing grenades, firing magical bolts, and melee fighting in a crazy dance of death. Hydromages, fire mages, geomages, every kind and sort of magic could be seen on the battlefield used in almost any way thinkable. Swords flew through the air. One Artensian soldier used a grenade as melee weapon to defend against a Darkness swordsman. In short, the battlefield only had one rule: Darkness vs. Artensia
    Crelang di Onto supervised the Artensian side of the chaos, barking orders from his trench near the back of the battle while doing his best to contribute to the fray. He was so fixed on the battle it took him several seconds to notice that Daridin Rix had slid into the trench. 
    “Well hecko there,” Crelang said, startled. “Aren’t you supposed to be on the Apocalypse ending this mess?”
    “My portal got disrupted.” 
    “Ah. Welcome to the beach party!”
    “I shouldn’t be here.”
    “Relax. Raubin can handle it.”
    Daridin looked out at the battleship. The missile glowed bright against the sky. 
    “I certainly hope so.”













     
    The Difference
    General Vorcix stood in the command brig of the Apocalypse, staring at the battle on the beach and in the sky. A waste, he thought, but Larsh had insisted that they send a strike force. 
    “Sir, the particle bomb is 99% charged,” one of the soldiers informed him.
    “Good. Order the army to retreat,” he said. “We’ve held them long enough. All that’s left now is to fire.”
     
    Krystal
    “Are you sure?” I asked.
    “Positive,” Raubin replied through the wrist radio. “The Eye’s not here.”
    “Then it must be somewhere else in here,” I said. “We’ll find it and destroy her.”
    “No, Krystal,” Raubin said. “It’s over. We lost. She outsmarted us. All we have left is to…”
    Angrily I shut him out, mind racing. Obviously Larsh had chosen to hide the Eye instead of defend it. Which meant we needed to think of the best spots to hide it in the cargo hold. 
    But the Eye could be anything. And we only had a few minutes until the particle bomb was charged.
    “Carson!” I yelled into the dark. “Carson!”
    “He’s dead.”
    Startled, I whipped around to see Jadis Larsh, blade in hand, bathing her stony face in red light. 
    Anger and sadness surged through me as the words sank in, but the grief was nothing new. “Then you will pay for that, too,” I said through gritted teeth.
    “You know, we’re not so different, you and I,” Larsh said slowly. 
    “I think you’ll find we’re worlds apart,” I said, brandishing my knife and charging Larsh. Larsh simply flicked the finger of her resting hand and batted me into the wall.
    “Your father died at my hand,” Larsh said. I ran at her again, but Larsh again batted me aside.
    “Mine died at the hands of Daridin Rix,” Larsh continued. “We both lost our worlds to the death of our parents. And both of us seek nothing more than to avenge that wrong and take what is rightfully ours.”
    “Your father was a liar,” I said. “Mine was a great man.”
    “My father was a visionary. He knew the democracy that governed us was corrupt, ripe to fall to an even darker reign. So he destroyed it, and made us a great empire. And then Daridin Rix, in his pathetic ignorance, ripped it all apart.”
    “That’s not visionary,” I said. “That’s insane.”
    “And you aren’t, Krystal Krot? Look at yourself. Even when you’re beyond outmatched, you keep fighting, just to have your little taste of revenge. Stop pretending that you’re on some higher moral ground than I am, Krot. We’ve both killed for our cause. The only difference is, I’ll win in the end.”
    I looked down at my knife, the knife my father had given me. On the hilt were engraved his initials: TL. Terrace Larsen. Sadness welled up inside of me, sadness I’d been trying to hold back ever since Larsh had struck him down back on the ruins of our house. I closed my eyes and let a single tear run down my face.
    I’d been so excited to join this new world.So caught up in the rush of being a mage that I’d forgotten to consider the possibility that perhaps that power came with a price. And when my father had died- well it had torn me apart, took my wildest dreams and twisted them in the darkest way imaginable. And I’d been so angry, so lost inside, that all I could think to do was to do something to take those dreams back. 
    But it wasn’t all about my dreams, I realized. It was about the dreams of everyone. Of Jack McKay, out there fighting off the Darkness to protect the place he called home. Of Raubin Rix, hoping so desperately to prove to his father that he could do it. Of all of Artensia, huddled in their homes, hoping that I could stop the inevitable doom that awaited them, only minutes away. And of the whole world, oblivious to this fight, yet in danger all the same. Yes, my dreams may be important, but they were insignificant compared to this, compared to the Okron that Daridin believed in so firmly. 
    “I’m going to give you one last chance, Krystal,” Larsh said. “Joint the Darkness, and you wreak vengeance on this cruel world all you want”
    I rose to my feet slowly, eyes opening and fixing on Larsh. 
    “No. No, there is one difference between you and I, one difference that makes all the difference. You fight for yourself, so you can have what you want, whatever the cost to others. But me, I fight for Artensia. For the billions you would kill in innocent blood. For Okron!”
    Larsh snarled. 
    “So be it.”
    Swinging her sword, Larsh broke out in a run towards me. Desperately, instinctively, I cocked back my hand and threw my knife. The projectile bounced off Larsh’s leg, striking a watch on her wrist. As it did, Larsh froze, her entire body glowing bright red for a brief moment. 
    “The watch,” I realized. “It’s your Eye. Of course it is.”
    Larsh unfroze and leveled her hand at me, eyes ablaze with pure hatred. Red lightning burst from it, headed directly toward me. 
    “Enough games.”












     
    Heaven Help Us All 
    Daridin summoned a shroud as he slid upward in the trench to look out at the Darkness army, which was now in full retreat, a few lone soldiers attempting to hold off the Artensians fire, but ultimately falling.
    “Full pursuit!” Crelang yelled, hurling himself out of the trench. The Artensian soldiers followed, raining fire on the Darkness. 
    “Wait!” Daridin yelled. “Hold your fire! Let them retreat. The bomb’s almost charged. Raubin’s our only hope now.”
    “Well we might as well take some of them with us,” Crelang said, moving to charge again. Daridin held him back. 
    “No. No more blood needs to be shed today. Hold your fire.”
    Crelang hesitated, then stepped back, and the Artensians fell back into their trenches as the Darkness fell back unfettered. 
    “I hope they hit that Eye soon,” Crelang said. “But in the meantime…”
    “There is no meantime, Crelang,” Daridin said. “Sometimes all we can do is hope.”
    But as he looked out on the massive battleship, even his hope began to die. 

     
    Raubin
    Furiously I attempted to blast my way through the shield, but to no avail. As soon as I had ducked through it, the shroud had flashed red and I’d been unable to step through it. 
    Finally, when all my energy had been spent, I collapsed to the floor and laid my head against the wall, staring upwards to where I knew the heavens lay.
    “C’mon, gosh. I gave it my all. Where are you?”
     
    KRYSTAL
    I quickly summoned a shroud, barely managing to block the wall of red that surged toward me. For the first few seconds the shroud held fine. Then Larsh intensified the red beam, and I collapsed to my knees, mind straining to hold the shroud together. Every second I had to fight harder and harder, but somehow Larsh continued the stream of red steadily on. 
    “You know, perhaps there is one key difference between us,” Larsh said. “While I am strong enough to exact my will on others, you are too weak to do so. And like all weak things, you will inevitably die. 
    Larsh bared her teeth, and the beam became even stronger. I began to scream as sustaining my shroud became not just exhausting but physically painful. I could feel the energy draining from me, and in my peripheral I could see my skin becoming paler. 
    I was lasting. 
    But not for very much longer. 

     
    Jack ducked through the haze of red bullets, aiming carefully and pulling the trigger. The bullets hit true, ripping apart the Darkness fighters engine and sending it spiraling to the ocean below. But almost immediately two more flew in behind him, clipping one of his wings and nearly sending him spinning out of control. Cursing, he cut his engines, pulled behind them, and blasted them to bits. 
    “Holy name of Okron there’s a lot of these things,” he said into his comm. 
    “The good news is they’re retreating,” Rostro replied. “Our casualties are stabilizing.”
    “I’m not certain that’s good news,” Jack said, looking towards the missile launcher on the Apocalypse. 
    “Jack, there’s nothing we can do about the particle bomb. We tried. It’s all up to them now.”
    “I know,” Jack said, switching off his comm, still staring at the Apocalypse. “Heaven help us all,” he muttered. “Cause if not, we’re going to be in a whole lot of trouble.”
     



















     
    Out of the Rubble
              Carson 
              “Agh!”
              I gritted my teeth as I shoved upwards once last time on the crushing weight of the metal above me. Sweat poured down my face. My arms shook. I could feel muscles tearing as they overexerted themselves. My frame lifted itself off the ground…
             And then promptly collapsed.
             I bowed my head and closed my eyes. “Help! Somebody help! Please.” 
             There was no reply but the echo of a young five year old boy’s cry as he lay encased in rubble, more terrified than any five year old ever should be.
             Memories and voices flooded my head:
            “There is no Terrace Larsen to save you now.”
             The particle bomb falling on Lewisville, in a single moment decimating everyone and everything  I’d ever loved. 
               “I don’t even need to kill you. You’re already nothing.”
               Jadis Larsh’s blade piercing my father’s chest, ending the man who had raised me with a single motion of his hand.
             “You’re no hero.”
             And finally, my worst nightmare, the nightmare that was a memory, of watching my parents cut down, then finding myself as crushed in rubble physically as I was emotionally. 
               Tears slipped from my eyes and I began to sob. I just wanted to go home. But my home was gone. There was no one left to save me. I was no hero. I’d lost everything, and it was all my fault. 
             I let myself slump to the ground and prepared myself for death. 
             And then in the distance I heard Krystal scream. 
             She would die if I didn’t do anything, I realized. She was counting on me. Jack, Raubin, Daridin… all of them were counting on me. 
              I couldn’t fail them. And I couldn’t fail my sister. 
             Opening my eyes I looked up at my hands. My physical strength couldn’t get me out of here. But maybe my magic could. 
             I shoved at the rubble above me with my mind, willing it to lift itself away from me. I felt the metal vibrate a little  above me. 
             Artensia was my home. 
             I shoved again. This time the metal vibrated violently.
             Terrace Larsen might not be here to save me this time. But that didn’t mean I couldn't save myself. 
            I shoved again. This time the rubble began to lift, then crashed back down on me. 
            I had lost a lot. But I hadn’t lost everything. No one ever really does. 
            I shoved again, and this time the rubble lifted itself completely off of me before the effort finally became too much.
           I may not be a hero. 
           But I could become one. 
           I shoved again. 
           And this time the burst away from me, lifting itself above me and hovering in the air rather than touch my frame. I stood up and brushed it aside and to the ground. My sword laid on the ground in front of me. I summoned it my hand, and as I gripped it, blue flames licked up the blade, illuminating the bright letters “CK”. 
             I shifted my gaze down the hall. 
             I had a Dark Mage to kill. 
           
              
            
           











     
    The Eye
    KRYSTAL
    I continued to struggle underneath the red lightning. My shroud flickered, and electricity ran up my arm. I shouted in pain, trying desperately to hold my shroud. Larsh growled and the lightning again intensified, and I began to scream.
    “You know, there is one key difference between us,” Larsh said. “You are weak, I am strong. And because of that you will die.”
    The lightning intensified again, and I felt my shroud begin to fail, but just as I was about to collapse, a massive blue fireball struck Larsh in the chest, throwing her into the wall, and I turned to see Carson enter the hall, sword outstretched.
    “Not on my watch.”
     
     
    CARSON
    “What?” Larsh exclaimed. “How?”
    “You think a few rocks can stop me?” I yelled, angry. I’d promised my father I’d protect my sister. And I wasn’t going to break that promise.
    “Maybe not. But I will,” Larsh said. 
    “Bring it on.”
    Larsh charged me and we burst into a sword fight as she swung wildly. But this time I had the edge, and after a few strokes I swatted her aside, slashing her across the chest. Larsh rolled back to her feet, the wound quickly healing. 
    “The Eye!” Krystal exclaimed. “It’s her watch!”
    Larshs’ eyes widened and she attacked me again. This time she held her own, driving me back down the hall. Finally, after a couple of close blows, I twisted aside and threw my sword. But Larsh dodged it easily, and I barely managed to summon it back in time to block her next blow. Our swords locked, and we struggled against each other, sparks flying as Larsh pushed her blade slowly toward my chest.
    “You can never beat me, Krot,” Larsh snarled. “Because no matter what, you will always be alone.”
     “I am many things,” I said, looking behind me and smiling. “But I am not alone.”
    Suddenly I yanked my sword out from under Larsh’s, knocking her off balance. As I did, Krystal slid in from behind, slashing Larsh’s watch in half as she did. It fell off her wrist and clattered to the floor, shattering. 
    Immediately Larsh dropped her sword and kneeled beside the shattered watch, desperately fumbling with the broken pieces. 
    “No. No!”
    Standing up, she stumbled backwards, staring at her hands. Beams of red began to burst out from inside her, and she screamed as she vanished in a violent flash of red, not even a speck of blood left to fall to the ground.
     
    KRYSTAL
    “We did it,” I said, looking at Carson.
    “Yeah,” Carson said. “Yeah we did.”
     Joy and relief flooded over me. Against all odds, we had succeeded. Artensia was safe. The constant fear was gone, because we’d overcome it. 
    But I couldn’t help but feel an acute sadness about the death of Jadis Larsh. She’d been so caught up in revenge she’d lost herself to it. And now she was dead because of it. 
    And the scariest part was how close I’d come to being like her. 
    I will never give in, I swore to myself silently. Even if it means dying, I won’t become like her. 
    Suddenly Raubin burst into the room, sword drawn. “Where is she?” 
    “She’s gone,” I said. “We won.”
    And for the first time this week, I let myself smile. 













     
    Celebration
    “The ship’s blowing apart!” Crelang yelled. “They did it!” 
    Daridin withdrew a pair of binoculars from his belt. Sure enough, the Apocalypse had begun to destabilize, beams of red bursting through it’s armored hull. Relief flooded over him. It was quickly replaced by anxiety.
    “Raubin’s on that ship,” he muttered. 

     
    CARSON
    “Punch it!” I yelled, and Raubin engaged the thrusters of the hijacked cruiser just as the hangar blew apart. Heart still racing, I looked back as we ascended above the Apocalypse to see it explode completely, the entire ship disappearing in a violent flash of red. 
    I let out a long breath. We’d done it. Larsh was gone. The Darkness was defeated. And as an added plus, we’d made it out alive. 
    I turned my gaze toward the beach. The Artensian fighters had all landed, the few remaining Darkness fighters now in full retreat after the destruction of the Apocalypse. We descended down to rest beside them. Artensian soldiers fell into position around us, staffs aimed at the newly parked Darkness cruiser. 
    “It’s us!” Raubin yelled, swinging open the cockpit. 
    There was a moment of hesitation.
    And then the whole beach burst into cheers. 
    Slowly we all climbed out of the ship as the Artensians began dancing, whooping and pumping their fists in the air. Several approached us and began shaking our hands. One even hugged me. Finally, Jack approached me, still in full pilot gear. Raising his hand, he saluted me. 
    “Good work, brother,” Jack said. 
    I saluted back, smiling. 
    Krystal and Raubin embraced, for an amount of time that I found a little suspicious, then joined the Artensians celebrating. I joined the party, too, but I couldn’t help but notice as Daridin Rix approaching his son. 
     
     
    RAUBIN
    My spirits sank a little bit as my father approached me. I couldn’t help but notice the bodies still on the beach. The Artensians had held their ground well, but we’d still taken losses.
    “We did it,” I said hesitantly. “We defeated her, dad.”
    “What took you so long?” he said, voice dead serious. I gulped. 
    “I’m sorry, dad, we ran into some…”
    Suddenly my father ran forward and embraced me.
    “I’m proud of you, son. Very proud.”
    I slowly embraced him back. “Thanks, dad.”

     
    Jack sat on the hijacked cruiser, sipping a bottle of water. Reaching for his radio, he phoned his grandmother. 
    “I’m going to be honest, I didn’t they would pull it off,” he said. “Though I’m very glad they did.”
    “Never underestimate a vinsling, Jack,” came the reply. “More often than not they’ll prove you wrong.”
    Jack smiled. His grandmother was right. 
    She always was.   






     
    The Cunning One
    Vorcix knelt before the hologram of the Cunning One as the helicopter pulled away from the destroyed Apocalypse.
    “The ship has broken apart, my lord. Only a few of us escaped.”
    “This is most disappointing,” the Cunning One said. “But it is to be expected from one so pitifully weak as Larsh. How did she fall?’
    “She was slain by the Krot twins.”
    “The Krot twins? Impossible. I personally ordered the death of their family.”
    “Nevertheless, they were the ones who defeated her.”
    The Cunning One leaned forward. “If what you say is true, General, then they must be destroyed. I will now allow a return of the vinslings. 
    “Don’t worry, my lord,” Vorcix said. “I have a plan.”






     
    Recruiters 
    CArson
    The next few weeks were a blur. The entire city was a mix of both celebration for the victory over the Darkness and mourning of those who had lost their lives in the fight. I spent most of my time helping Jack out with various aftermath cleanup, such as salvaging parts from the downed helicopters as well as fixing the vehicles that had survived. 
    I was worried that once the thrill of victory had faded, the Artensian soldiers would start to resent me for the fact that, well, my own cowardice had caused a lot of their problems. But the soldiers were remarkably kind, not even mentioning my mistakes, but instead complimenting me on defeating the Dark Mage. 
    Gradually, I became comfortable with the Artensians. I made new friends with many of the soldiers. Jack told me it was only a matter of time before me and Krystal were assigned to his special forces squadron. The pain of losing my father and my old city still stung, but Artensia was quickly becoming my home. 
    Or so I thought until Daridin Rix called us into his office one day. 
     
    CARSON
    “By order of the court you are hereby convicted of high treason and sentenced to life in prison.”
    I winced. Krystal and I stood in Daridin Rix’s office, Daridin Rix holding our court file out in front of us. Setting the file on the desk, he stamped it, then ripped it apart. 
    “And by unanimous vote of the court, you are also pardoned.”
    “You know pardoning me doesn’t change what I did?” I said. 
    “No, it doesn’t,” Daridin replied. But you have risen above it. Nevertheless, there is still much to be done. That is why I brought you here. Our armies have taken severe losses in the last week. And the Darkness are not the only threat to mage kind. Thus, I am sending out new recruiters all across the globe to establish strongholds against our enemies. If you are willing, I wish to send you two as some of those recruiters.”
    “Where would we be going?” Krystal asked.
    “A city called Grahala. It’s on an island near the Phillipines. It will be dangerous. Grahala is positioned quite near Mage City, the capital of magedom, and the Maestrom will not take kindly to Artensians so near him were he to find our presence there.”
    “I’m willing,” Krystal said. “When do we leave.”
    “The ship departs in an hour.”
    “An hour?” I exclaimed. 
    “I’m sorry,” Daridin said. “I couldn’t officially inform you until the court business wrapped itself up. You should have enough time to pack your things and say your goodbyes.”
    I hesitated. Originally, I’d loved the idea of leaving Artensia. But now,  I had friends here, good friends like Jack and Raubin. Artensia had become my new home; and I didn’t want to leave it. 
    But I also knew the damage I had caused. Because of me, the Artensian military was crippled and vulnerable. If Artensia were to be attacked by someone like the Maestrom, it would certainly fall. 
    And I wasn’t going to lose my home again.
    “I’ll go,” I said. 

















     
    Return of the Vinslings
    Krystal
    I sat in my room, packing my things into the duffel bag Rix had provided for us. Despite the small size of the bag, I had more than enough room; it’s not like I’d accumulated a lot of stuff during the war. 
    A few changes of clothes, basic toiletries, a foldable staff, a wand, all went straight into the bag. And then I stopped.
    My father’s dagger sat in front of me, his initials glowing in the light of the window. Slowly I picked it up, turning it in my hand. Blood still stained the blade from when I had stabbed Larsh back on the roof of the vault. Even though it had only been a few weeks, it already seemed so long ago. I turned back to the front, staring at my father’s initials, carefully seared into the hilt. The blade was the last thing he had given me.
    But slowly I set it back down, making my decision. 
    I didn’t need a keepsake to remind me of my father. He was gone. 
    There was nothing I could do to change that. The only thing I could do was to use the most important gift he had given me: who I was. I didn’t need a dagger for that. 
    And so, zipping up my duffel bag, I met up with Carson and headed up to the launch pad. 
     
     
    CARSON
    “I’ll miss the two of you,” Raubin said. 
    Raubin and Jack stood in front of Krystal and I as we said our goodbyes. Behind us, the helicopter to Grahala sat idling. Everyone else had boarded. Only me and Krystal lingered on the launch pad. 
    “We’ll video in as often as we can,” I  said. 
    “You’re sure you don’t want to come with us?” Krystal asked.
    “Father offered,” Raubin said. “But I turned him down. A special ops position with Jack seemed a little bit more… exciting.”
    “Don’t be fooled by him,” Jack said. “You’re either staring at a computer waiting or you’re stuck in the middle of a Darkness base desperately hoping you make it out alive. No in between. You two have got the good job.”
    Krystal laughed. “We’re basically going to be Artensian missionaries,” she said. 
    We all chuckled. “Still. Whether you’re in immediate danger or not, watch yourselves,” Jack said seriously. “It’s a dangerous world out there.”
    “I think we can handle ourselves,” I said. 
    “I know you can,” Jack said, smiling. “I know you can.”
    Suddenly a voice from the copter cried out:
    “Hurry up! We don’t have a century!”
    “Well, I suppose that’s our cue to go,” I said. 
    “See you, mate,” Raubin said. “Take care.”
    Jack raised his finger and saluted. I saluted back. Then, slowly, I turned and walked toward the copter. The journey seemed to take forever, but finally I arrived at the doorway. I hesitated for a moment, looking backwards to Jack and Raubin. But finally, I forced my feet through the doorway. 
    The doors to the copter shut and we began to lift into the air. I looked downward, taking in the view of Artensia: the brilliant blue shield, the shining houses, the majestic buildings, and the grand military base in the center of it all. 
    But as I did, my eyes found and fixed on one symbol atop it all: a 
    diamond with a  simple cross in the middle, the symbol of Okron, the cause of peace. It was the symbol my father had worn on his robes. It was the symbol of Artensia. And it would be my symbol too, I decided. 
    I let my gaze linger for a few seconds longer, then, as the ship began to accelerate, I turned my gaze forward into the rising sun.
    “For Okron,” I whispered. “For Okron.”

     
    Raubin
    Back on the launch pad, me and Jack watched as the ship faded from view, both of us silent. 
    “You know,” Jack said. “In the days of the ancient mages, the world was a far more dangerous place. Nations rose and fell, tyrants abounded, and darkness rose and fell like a mighty wave crashing upon the shore.”
    “You think that’s happening again?” I asked, confused. 
    “Yes,” Jack said. “But it will be alright. For whenever darkness arose, the vinslings, too, arose to meet it. We may have a return of darkness. But we will also have a return of the vinslings. A return of heroes.”
    Jack walked back inside. I stared into the sun for a long time. 
    “Fly well, vinslings,” I said finally. “Fly well.”
     

    Jesus disciple
    devotionals

    There  is  no  other  firm  foundation  other  than  that  of  our  lord  Jesus  Christ. Every other foundation not of Him is of evil, because man born into sin has a foundation and a structure of evil in Him. Glory to God, He sent His son, that receiving him to gain Lordship over outlives, every old foundation of sin shall be broken down and a new one in Christ Jesus established.
     
    Everybody born again  has  a  foundation on the word in  their  heart,  you're  not  the  one  who  sets  it,  it  is  Jesus  Christ  through  his  word.  Just  as  he sets  it,  it  is  up  to  you  the  workman,  to  decide  if  you'll  continue  with  the  construction  or  even  worse,  destroy  the foundation.  The  moment  we  heard  the  Gospel,  a  foundation  was  laid  in  our  heart,  I  don't  know  from  whom  or  where you've  heard  it,  even  I  don't  know  when  moment  I  heard  the  true  gospel,  but  as  the  scripture  says;
     
    " Paul  planted,  Apollos  waters,"  that  is;  Paul  delivered  the  gospel  and  then,  Apollos  was  the  one  in  charge  to  strengthen  the converts  so  they  won't  falter.  Now  it's  your  turn  to  water  your  heart,  keep  building  it,  or will you  leave  it  unchecked?
    Corinthians  3:10-15
     
    " By  the  grace  God  has  given  me,  i  laid  a  foundation  as  an  expert  builder,  and  someone  else  is  building  on  it.  But  each  one should  be  careful  how  he  builds. For  no  one  can  lay  any  foundation  other  than  the  one  already  laid,  which  is  Jesus  Christ.  If  any  man  builds  in  this foundation  using  gold,  silver,  costly  stones,  wood,  hay  or  straw,  his  work  will  be  shown  for  what  it  is,  because  the  day  will bring  it  to  light.  It  will  be  revealed  with  fire,  and  the  fire  will  test  the  quality  of  each  man's  work.  If  what  he  has  built survives,  he'll  receive  his  reward.  If  it  is  burnt  up  he'll  suffer  loss,  he  himself  will  be  saved,  but  only  as  one  escaping through  the  flames. "
     
    The  foundation  has  already  been  laid  in  the  hearts  of  every  believer,  but  right  from  time,  more especially  today,  most believers  are  having  a  hard  time  building  on  this  foundation  which  is  the  word  of  God  to establish God's  kingdom  in  our  heart.
     
    " But  each  one  should  be  careful  how  he  builds."
     
    We are  building  God's  word  in  our  heart  to  prepare  us  for  his  glorious  kingdom,  our  heavenly  dwelling.  God  has  a  place prepared  for  us,  but  in  other  to  get  there  we  need  to  pass  through  the  fire,  the  trials  of  life,  these  fire  has  destroyed  many, those  who  chose  to  be  ungodly,  forgetting  that  indulging  in  ungodly  things  leads  to  more  ungodliness,  the  true  believers will  scale  through  unscathed,  some  will  get  burnt,  but  still  survive.
    God  has  laid  the  foundation,  but  the  attitude of the  heart,  of  the  builder  matters.  Today  we  are  faced  with  the  trials  of  life, not  to  destroy  us,  but  to  strengthen  us,  to  make  us  fit  to  reign  and  rule  with  Christ  forever.  But  some  of  us  who  are  weak, instead  of  facing  these  trials  head  on,  knowing  that  suffering  produces perseverance;  perseverance,  character;  and character,  hope.  And  hope  does  not  fail  because  we  know  that  Christ  will  see  us  through,  because  He  will  never  let  us face  a  trial  more  than  we  can  bear. They  tend  to  lay  other  foundations  other  than  that  of  Jesus  Christ.
     
    You  know  what  happens  when  the  backbone  of  a  construction  is  weak.  Take  for  example;  during  a  bridge  construction, the  foundations  are  firmly  driven  into  the  riverbeds,  but  no  matter  how  well  laid  the  foundations  are,  as  long  as  you  used the  wrong  material  in  constructing  the  other  sections  of  the  bridge,  when  the  weights,  and  pressure  keeps  building  up,  it'll eventually  come  crashing  down.  So  it  is  with  our  Christian  lives.
     
    Every  Christian  is  to  be  tested  to qualify into God's kingdom, so  they  won't  turn  out  like  Lucifer.  But  this  is  where  most  of  our problems  comes from  today,  because  we  lack  the  word  of  God  in  our  heart,  our  foundation  isn't  strong  enough,  so  when faced  with  trials,  some  tend  not  to  remember  that  in  every  trial  there  is  a  silver  lining,  that  at  the  end  of  it  we'll  be strengthened  and  achieve  our  rewards  both  here  on  earth  and  in  heaven.
     
    Many  want  a way out of  their  trials  quickly  rather  than  perseverance,  they  don't  call  it  trial,  they  call  it  suffering.  Your  trial could  be  poverty,  sickness,  death  of  someone  dear  to  you,  so  many  kinds  of  trial.  But  the  devil  as  cunning  as  he  is,  will start  speaking  to  your  heart;
     
    " if  you  truly  are  a  child  of  God  why  are  you  sick,"
     
    You  know  some of us will  pray  for  others  to  get  well  and  they  will,  but  when  they  are  sick  and  pray,  and  nothing  happens, they'll  say;
     
    " well,  maybe  I  don't  have  faith,  maybe  I'm  a  sinner."
     
     If  you  continue  to  wallow  in  these  doubt  that  you  are not God's  own,  Satan  will  pull  you  away  slowly. Is  it  in  your  business,  you  want  to  find  every  possible  means  to  top  up  your  income,  either  through  cheating,  bribery  or embezzlement.  The  faith  of  students  are  being  tested  even  more  these  days,  instead  of  studying  and  trusting  God, some,  even  after  cheating  will  still  pray  to  God  to  give  them  good  grades.
     
    All  these  shortcuts  will  solve  our  problems quickly,  but  only  temporarily,  you'll  eventually  end  up  postponing  the  evil  day,  and  when  the  bag  is  full,  it'll  burst  open  and the  worst  possible  outcome  you'll  get.  All  that  you  have  enjoyed  will  be  replace  with  the  worse  possible  suffering,  and this  might  draw  most  of  them  even  farther  from  God.  This  is  the  reason  most  believers  suffer  today.
     
    As  for  the  wise  they'll  wait  in  patience,  trusting  the  Lord  and  build  their  houses  with  golds  and  costly  material,  that  when passed  through  the  fire  they  won't  get  burnt.  While  those  who  builds  with  wood  and  straws,  wanting  to  find  their  own way  through  life  instead  of  walking  diligently  with  God,  will  get  burnt,  though  might  have  eternal  life,  but  still  struggle through  life  to  get  there.  They  have  their  life  rough  not  because  they  were  unfortunate,  yes  God  has  the  time  set  for  men and  the  particular  place  for  them  to  stay,  but  still  he  has  a  great  purpose  for  each  and  everyone  of  us,  only  if  you  choose to  walk  with  Him  always  will  his  purpose  for  you  be  fulfilled,  and  a  life  of  rest  and  peace.
     
    Most  of  our  achievement  today  aren't  what  God  wants  for  us,  if  you  know  what  He  wants  for  you,  you'll  drop  everything and  following  His  path,  that  is  why  no  matter  how  rich  some  may  become,  they  still  live  in  suffering  and  loss.
     
    Every  child  of  God  has  a  duty  to  build  on  the  foundation  of  Christ  laid  in  his  heart,  there  is  no  such  thing  as  a  stagnant Christian,  the  height  you  attain  in  your  spiritual  growth,  is  the  maximum  level the  powers  of  hell  will  challenge you.  The  more  you  grow,  the  more  Satan  and  his  cahoots  tries  harder,  but  with  Christ,  you'll  always  be  above  them, because  he  has  authority  over  them  all. Jesus  has all authority,  and  if you  in  Him  and  Him  in  you,  so  also  you  share  in  His power  to  be  victorious.  But  if  you  choose  not  to  build,  these  forces  will  come  in  like  a  flood  and  sweep  you  house  away.
     
    A true  believer  has  his  place  already  in  God's  kingdom,  but  as  far  as  life  is  concerned,  failure  to  build  with  costly materials,  that  is;  following  and  trusting  God  at  all  cost,  losing  it  all  for  Him,  will  make  him  end  up  getting  burnt  on  his way  to  the  Kingdom,  and  even  reduces  his  heavenly  reward,  because  those  who  run  the  race  following  all  it's  rule  will  be rewarded  greatly  than  he  who  bends  the  rule  a  little.
     

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