A Number's Game

The Kill

"No way!" I grab Six's shoulder and lurch her back, snapping her out of her concentration. She twists around to growl at me, the storm continuing the build despite herself. "You can't keep up a storm forever, and then what?" I yell over the wind.

"Then what do you propose?" She yells back. "Our attack on the wizard is the priority, we can't be wasting ourselves on this!"

Before I can even respond there's a sudden surge of people on the balcony. Rows of guards come running through the door, most if not all equipped with blasters. Sam is leading them from behind, and as the disperse along the rail to fight, I can see him sporting a sheepish smile to Six's glare.

"It's not you who should be fighting these things, it's us. We can meet up later, but the rest of you have to go." He says.

"I can hold them off!" Six crosses her arms. "The rest of you can get out of here!"

Sam puts a firm hand on the side of her arm. "You don't have to fight alone all the time, Six." And before she can say anything else he turns around and joins his soldiers in the fight.

"We don't even have a place to go!" She yells after him, clearly exasperated. "Nowhere is safe anyways!"

I grab Six's shoulder again, bringing her in close so she can hear me. "I think we might just have one place."

"No way!" Nine leans back in his seat, crossing his arms. "I heard she eats kids."

After a little bit of convincing, I'd managed to coax Six to come inside and talk escape. Of course I didn't want to have to run, but I wouldn't disagree when she said that defending the castle was not the biggest priority. We had settled around the coffee table in the library, the massive map of Oz spread out atop it. There were admittedly a lot of different places we could have gone, but I was sure of one place we would be safest.

"But Paradise is the only place they'd never think to look! He thinks the witch is clueless, and she'll help us!" I argue, drawing my finger over the river and the surrounding areas. "It's the safest bet."

"Not unless she eats us." Nine grumbles.

I glare at him and he rolls his eyes.

"He's right, though, Marina." John says. "How do we really know we can trust her?"

"I knew her from, uh, Earth." I say sheepishly. I mean, it's not like they didn't really know that already. I was just withholding the one detail by this point. "She's good, you gotta trust me on this."

"What's Earth?" Eight asks. Okay, most of them knew.

Six skips over Eight's question. "It's one thing for us to get out of the Beyond, it's a complete other to cross Oz. I mean, by the time we get there…"

"Right." I sign, leaning on my folded arms. "There's no way we could go that far…" I look up at Six. "Not unless you've got a giant chunk of Loraite sitting around?"

"What's Loralite?" The four of them say almost in unison.

I rest my head down again. "Nothing important unless we have any. It's just like a big red rock that—the crystal ball! Six, where is it?"

"On the shelf over there…?"

I shoot up and head over in the direction she points towards the bookshelves. How did I not notice it before? I grab the smooth, deep red rock from its stand on the shelf. I struggle a bit, it's a lot heavier than it looks. But I manage to carefully cross the room with it in my arms, dropping it on the coffee table. The table shakes and John shoots out a hand to steady it.

"Six's crystal ball is going to take us to our dooms?" Nine says sarcastically.

"No," I motion over towards Eight. "Eight is going to take us to Sarah, the Loralite is going to help him."

I met with four blank stares, and for once I'm the one explaining the situation. "This rock will enhance Eight's ability to teleport. We can go as far as we want, even all the way to Paradise."

"That's all it does?"

"No! It…" I scratch my head. "You know what, I'm not actually sure what else it can do. We only used it once on Earth." I shrug. "Eight was the expert."

I realize my mistake as soon as I say it. I clench my hands, knowing exactly what was coming next. I was becoming too lenient in what I said around them, I kept forgetting that these weren't my real friends.They just looked and acted exactly the same.

"I think I'd remember this thing." Eight laughs, putting a hand on the giant rock.

Six bites her lip down, graciously not saying anything. Nine isn't as thoughtful as he slits his eyes. "Are you seriously telling us that on Earth there are copies of—" The castle shakes once, throwing me off balance and onto the floor. The coffee table rattles and the rock nearly rolls off by Six extends her hands fast enough to catch it. Everything shakes on the shelves, and for a second it feels like the library is going to collapse in on us.

"Can we just go?" She growls, lifting up the Loralite. "Whatever the issue, we can hash it out in Paradise."

Nine looks like he's preparing to argue, but John cuts him off. "Fine. How does this thing work, exactly?"

Like the last time, we drop to the ground in a pile of twisted arms and legs. After Eight transforms into a chipmunk and scrambles out of the pile I'm trapped between three squabbling Garde, who can't seem to decide who should stop being a complete pain in the rear first so that we could detach and get on our way. Eventually Eight is able to pull me from the pile, and like the load-bearing wire of a jumble the other three just fall apart.

I stand and reverse, quickly trying to back away from that developing argument. I breathe out a sigh of relief—Eight delivered us to where we needed to go. He was hesitant at first, to move so many people such a far distance for his first time. It had kind of developed into a no-brainer situation as the castle seemed like it was almost literally about to fall apart as it rocked back and forth like a ship.

I take a quick second to take in the whole of Paradise once again—the beautiful green forest, the flowers, the sounds of life playing itself out in the forest. It was magical, even in more of a way than the rest of Oz was. I was never given the opportunity to understand just exactly what a… Paradise this place was compared to the rest of this place.

The heel of my boot hits something hard and I'm reminded of the river. I glance over my shoulder to look at the sparkling water. In the daylight it almost shimmers with a pool-like clarity, like a million tiny rainbows were running along with the water. But something seemed… off. I felt like I was looked at the entire thing the wrong way. I tilt my head to the side.

It was almost like the whole thing was backwards. Kind of like… we were on the opposite side of the river as Sarah.

"I'm starting to understand your discrepancies towards wearing a dress," Six huffs at me, wobbling as she almost trips on the fabric, trying to right herself.

"Just rip it off," Nine says airily, his face to the sky as he inspected the place around him, his conventional attitude almost completely lost from his voice.

"You'd like that, wouldn't you?" Six mutters more to herself than anyone else, but visibly steps down onto the hem of her gown and starts to rip the fabric along her knees, bundling up the discards. "So, where is this witch, anyway?"

"Is this even the right place?" Eight asks worriedly, followed by a stifled yawn.

I look over to the other side of the river, maybe about a hundred feet across. We needed to cross, that's where we'd find her. "Yes. We're just on the wrong side."

Eight yawns again. "Well, I guess I could just teleport us across…"

"No," I say quietly, taking a few steps forward and kneeling by the water's edge. "I think I can do this…" Slightly scared to touch the pacing liquid, I reach out a hand over the bed. I close my eyes, thinking about what that witch of Dulce had said out by friends… or the time we were being chased by Sam's men in the Forest of Nightmares… or that blade being plunged through Eight's chest…

I'm just on the verge of having to hold back tears when I feel that spark in my wrist. The cold, icy feeling spreads to my palm, then travels in tendril-like coldness to the tips of my fingers. I open my eyes, breathing out with excitement as I see the now-familiar frost flowering on my hand. I slowly lower my hand down to above the water, and underneath my palm I begin to see ice forming on the surface. In a quick motion of confidence I bring my hand down to touch the surface—and like a strike of lightning, the ice explodes from the spot I touched, freezing the entire river over in one fluid motion.

"Yea Marina!" I hear John yell from behind me, followed by clapping. I turn to see Nine give me a proud grin—and from my left I feel Eight gingerly touch my arm.

"That was amazing," He says quietly.

"It's not amazing until it works." I respond, moving away from his touch to hover over the frozen water. More carelessly than I should have, I lean forward and quickly plant a foot solidly on the ice.

It holds.

I follow that one with the other, so I'm standing on the frozen water. I look down at my feet, then back up to my friends, a huge grin on my face, no doubt. "Okay, now you can say that was amazing."

Walking across the river is quick and surprisingly pleasant. The ice shows no sign of giving way under our collective weight, which just adds to my newly developing confidence towards my powers. If I could freeze over a river solid, god knows what else I could do?

I hear Eight fall into step beside me to tell me how proud he is of me. I smile back as he takes my hand as we walk. I blush slightly, as his gaze meets my eyes. God, is it going to be like this with him all the time? I need to learn some restraint.

I'm about to say something to him, when I… something starts to feel off. He must sense it to, because we both stop at the same time and look down at the ice. It feels like it's moving… ever so slightly. How was that possible? It was frozen solid.

"Does anyone else feel that?" John voices, staring down into the ice. "We need to move, it feels like the ice is breaking." He looks over at me, but I shake my head.

"It can't be, I wouldn't let—"

All at once, the ice explodes not feet away from me and Eight. We're rather violently thrown backwards as the ice splits up into thick pieces and the angry gurgle of the river bubbles out between the cracks.

"What the hell!" Nine yells, backing away as the monster forces its way from underneath the ice; the piece he's standing on breaks off from the rest, shaking haphazardly and tossing him on his stomach. For a second it looks like he's going to slide off, but he digs his fingers into the ice and begins to pull himself up.

"Nine, don't fall in the water!" John wobbles as the piece he's standing on snaps off and starts to sink, forcing him to jump over to the next floating piece to his left.

"You think I'm not trying!?" Nine yells back, struggling to keep himself on his turbulent float.

I hold back a scream as I watch the monster break free from the ice. Three massive alligator heads pop up from the water, followed by its grossly elongated neck and furry, black body. A massive humanoid leg rises from the now rapid flow and smashes the ice in front of it to bits, breaking off more pieces and sending Six adrift as well.

As the creature unfolds it bat-like wings, there's no doubt in my mind where this monster came from. It was Five's monster, from back in the everglades. Eight killed it, but… Now I can understand what Five meant about there being more where that one came from.

The beast smashes down on the ice again and it continues to break apart. Suddenly there's rushing water all around me, and I slip onto my side just as I grab the other side of the small iceberg, keeping myself on the float by just a few fingers. I knew the consequences of falling in, and I knew I couldn't.

From the corner of my eye I see Eight flash by Nine's float, quickly picking him up and teleporting him to the safe side of the river.

There's water absorbing into my shirt, and I look down, confused. Of course the ice would be a little wet, but there was no way it could be this watery while being as sturdy as it was before. The fingers holding me onto the float are starting to feel wet, and now I can see why: the ice is melting.

I'm losing control.

"Marina!" Six shrieks, as he float gets more slippery as it gets wetter. "Stop it from melting!"

I try, feeling anywhere in me for that surge of emotion I need to use my Legacy—but it's gone. I'm too panicked to do anything. "I can't!" I yell back.

"You need to try—" She begins to yell back, but her ice jerks suddenly and she slips onto her back. I scream, letting go of my float with one hand to stop her from falling in with my telekinesis.

As soon as it's evident she's not falling any more she grasps onto her ice float with both hands. In another quick flash I see Eight teleport in and out, taking Six with him. I breath a sigh of relief, the panic starting to really pulse in my head.

The monster roars from behind me, and I feel a spray of water as it starts to follow after me. I blink a few times, my mind getting fuzzy as the water touches the skin on my arms. I feel my fingers slipping, and I lash back at it with my telekinesis as best I can. The beast whips to the side, but that just seems to make it angry.

A fire ball flies from somewhere behind me, and I twist a small bit to see John kneeling on his float, tossing handfuls of fire from nearly fifty feet away. Unfortunately, his block seems to be getting smaller as his hands get hotter.

"Move!" I yell at him, but he can't hear me over the rushing water.

The monster kicks up more water and screeches at John, who quickly leaps from his platform to the next to avoid the following wave.

My ice float jerks against a part that's jutting out from the side of the river we came, and I take the opportunity to push myself from my float to the mainland still attached to the side we came from. I push with one foot, my feet slip in the water and my jump is caught short. I struggle to pull myself up as my hands try and grip the ice in a puddle of water. I kick against the broken side of the ice and push myself up, sliding in the water and soaking my shirt but making it to the other side safely.

Eight appears in front of me, losing his balance for a second before sluggishly reaching for me.

"Get John, it's my ice, I can wait!" I yell at him breathlessly, and he nods and disappears. A small part of me—the part that isn't completely terrified right now—is pleased that he actually listened to me. If it had been any of the others they wouldn't have even given me the chance to tell them to get someone else. Someone was taking me seriously.

More water sprays from behind me and I'm scared to look behind me and see how close that monster is.

That thought is jerked from my mind as Eight reappears in front of me. He's only on his feet for a second before his legs seem to give out and he slips onto his rear. He dry heaves into his arm once before groaning and falling onto his back.

"Eight!" I scream, slipping as I clamber to my feet and slide my way over to him. I grab his head, and he looks up at me through one eye. "I don't feel that great," He mumbles weakly.

It was too much, the jump from Six's castle to here, and now all that teleporting to get us to the other side. He was drained, there was no way he was going to be able to teleport for a while now.

The shrieking from the monster is closer than before, and I glance behind me to see it very, very close. It wasn't about waiting it out any more. I had to fight this thing, or the both of us would be finished.

I'm kneeling in nearly two inches of water, and I know that we won't be able to stay here for much longer. The water angrily hums, as if taunting me for freezing it.

I spin around and slowly stand up, facing the monster as it walks within twenty feet of me, waves coming from its massive strides and lapping up against the side of the broken ice. From above, lighting strikes the monster, but it pays it almost no attention as it comes towards us. Towards me, most likely.

I lash out again with my telekinesis, hitting it across the face while simultaneously batting at its side. It keeps walking and I continue to hit it, but it doesn't seem to be taking any effect. A fireball and a lightning strike hit it at the same time from behind, and although its black fur seems to singe a bit, it doesn't stop its march.

I reach out an arm, squeezing invisible fingers around the monster's neck. It hacks a little, it's eyes bugging out as it desperately begins to claw at its own throat in an attempt to hit away my telekinesis.

I tighten my grip ever so slightly, and suddenly it seems to notice me. It screams something awful despite the pressure on its windpipe as it bats its wings once and lunges at me. Massive paws grab into the ice on either side of me, and I fall backwards into the watery mess with the shock of its landing. My head connects with the ice and I moan, feeling the bump beginning to rise on the back of my head.

I'm disoriented for a second, and by the time I can bring myself back to my right mind, one of its ugly gator faces is metres from mine. Its jaw snaps open, sharp teeth coming threateningly close as it seems like it's just about to eat me.


It was like Sarah's voice was being projected over the invisible PA speaker overlooking Paradise. Her tone is flat and even and I raise my head slightly, trying to see her but I can't. She's nowhere to be found, and yet, the whole of Paradise seems to freeze over at her very simple command. The River stops it's moaning, growing silent as it slows to almost a trickle. The monster seems to stop as well, confusion somehow present in its soulless black eyes.

Sarah's voice is now incredibly clear in the stunning silence. "Your presence in Paradise has been denied." And just like that, the beast rears back, sinking into the river until it's just gone.

"Marina!" I sit up, and now I can see Sarah waving at me from the other side of the river, along with the rest of the Garde.

I wave back weakly, spinning around on my knees to look back over at Eight. He's managed to get to his feet, but he's struggling to keep himself upright.

"Hey!" I call over, sliding as I try and get myself standing again. "Just sit down, you're too—"

But the words are caught in my throat as he dizzily teeters on the edge of the ice and collapses into the river.

Now I'm yelling obscenities, my mind reeling as I try to stand but end up skidding and sliding over to the ice's edge. But I already know he's gone, carried away or much worse. I don't know what to do, and I let out a helpless sob.

The river licks its lips and gurgles a laugh at me.

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