A projectile whizzed by his head and exploded a rock not five feet from where he was standing.
They’re gaining, he thought. Charles could hear their footsteps growing louder and quicker - they had caught sight of him.
Kicking aside part of the blown-up stone that was now in his way, he picked up his pace and continued oh his way. But the footfalls were getting louder, faster. They were closing in on him. He needed to put some distance in between them and him. Ducking under a low-lying branch, he started stumbling on roots and uneven grass, bearing left. The footsteps followed him almost effortlessly.
The trees grew thinner as Charles ducked and dodged as fast as he could. Once he cleared the trees and charged out on level ground again, he muttered, “Come on, freeze!” under his breath. The air grew thick for a split second, but nothing else seemed to happen. The Time Charge had been negated. “Damn,” Charles said. He grunted, then became air borne and flew quite a bit faster than he was running a moment ago. The footsteps died away completely now, and Charles was alone up in the sky, only a few dozen feet from the rolling hills below. He scanned above him and located his destination. An odd outset of trees poked out of the forest about a mile ahead that invertly pointed to where he needed to go.
Charles ears rang. It was momentary, but earsplitting. He looked around to see where the noise had come from, but it was no use. Something hit him from below and he was knocked rather roughly out of the air. He hit the ground and it was immediately apparent by the searing pain that bones were broken - several of them. Charles blacked out for a period of time and woke up lying on the grass.
He grunted to himself as he felt the bones mind and organs reposition themselves. No matter how fast it happened, the feeling was always rather unsettling.
Charles stood up rather quickly...more quickly than he should have perhaps, but he had no idea of how long he was unconscious. Ten seconds? Ten minutes? In either case, he needed to keep going.
Just as he was taking his first step, Charles heard the not-too-distant sound of a twig snapping. Instinctively, he whirled around faster than light itself, and swung his arms out toward the sound. About a hundred feet away, there was a man crouching behind a tree trunk that didn’t quite hide him. He was momentarily surprised, but was promptly lifted off the ground, flung backwards twenty feet, and squarely slammed into a tree like a rag doll. Charles grunted in approval as the man fell spread-eagled onto the ground, unconscious. Charles turned around without a second thought and plunged back into the cover of the trees.
He was no longer being pursued...at least, not by anyone who could readily reach him. Charles slackened his pace a bit, but only a bit; he couldn’t afford to lose his edge, just in case someone got past his heightened senses.
Then, finally, he saw it. The clearing in the forest lay dead ahead. Lydia was already there, standing with her hands on her hips.
“I know,” Charles grunted. She had the ‘you’re late’ look splayed on her face.
“Well you are. Come, we must make haste.”
Amongst the pine trees, Charles finally felt that danger was behind. In an odd way, he knew he’d miss it. This would be his final trip back home from the Gate. But now was the time to pass the torch. His time was over.
Lydia walked next to Charles, her gaze fixed forward, her strides long and deliberate. She glowed as all Light Magesses do, but tonight her glowing light was accompanied with a severity she often exuded. The white, billowy robes she wore starkly contrasted her expression and tempo, but Charles didn’t really notice - he was too busy focusing himself. He thought he’d better have a bit of fun before he lost his powers forever. He gave half a smile and started.
First, he was a few feet from Lydia, keeping up with her, and then he was suddenly walking toward her from fifteen feet away, and then walking across her path in another instance. It all seemed to happen quickly, but Lydia only took the slightest bit of notice.
“Very funny Charles. I think you’ve had enough fun with it for a lifetime now.”
Charles reappeared next to Lydia. “Yeah well, messing with Time was always my favorite.”
They continued on in relative silence. Lydia’s gentle glow became more pronounced as the day wore on and the sun fell further down in the sky.
Even so, Charles figured his avatar would be a good use at a time such as twilight, where it could literally light the way ahead and warn them, just in case. Charles put his hands together as if trying to catch water in them then blew hard.
From his fingertips, a bird of fire took shape roughly the size of a small tawny owl. It flew ten yards ahead of them without even flapping its wings.
It lit the way with surprising accuracy in a soft yellow hue. The ground flickered as if a fire were floating several feet in front of them in mid air. And in a way, it was.
As they approached the edge of the Humboldt National Forest and with a snap of his fingers, Charles dissipated the phoenix in flight - the light from the manor would illuminate the lawns efficiently.
Charles grunted in approval as they cleared the trees and the sent of pine diminished. The manor stood before them - a beautiful collaboration of human effort and what an onlooker would call magic. A stone facade sprawled across the three story exterior, with high, steep angled rooflines and tall mullioned windows. It had taken the better part of three years and the best technology the turn of the century could afford, but it was well worth it. The only part of the mansion that stood apart from the rest was a rather large structure on the side of the second floor of the house. It didn’t match the rest of the construction at all.
“I take it that is what you need me to hide?”
“That’d be it, yeah,” Charles said.
“Very well.” Lydia closed her eyes, and brought her hands together as if in prayer. In between her two hands came a very bright glow of pure white light. She mumbled words under her breath that Charles couldn’t near, nor understand. When the glowing light became so massive that it engulfed her arms all the way up to her elbows, her eyes sprang open and she proceeded to hurl the ball of light like an Olympic athlete throws a disc. The ball of shimmering light connected with the object on the second floor (apparently amongst other things, Lydia had exceptional aim). The entire structure glowed from top to bottom with ethereal, beautiful white light. Charles was mesmerized. But it began to disappear from sight as if it was being erased.
When the structure was entirely gone from sight, Charles grunted.
“Thanks. And this will stay hidden, right?”
“Most definitely,” said Lydia, head cocked slightly in admiration of her work. “For as long as it takes until they find it, and introduce others to it. Or...” she added after a moment of thought “until another Light Mage removes or undoes the Charge.”
“Perfect. I’ve already had the town taking pictures of the front. I’ve kept them out of the back yard for the last few days, but they’re nosey here. Thanks, Lydia.”
“Any time. I knew you couldn’t do it without me, anyway.”
Charles gave a short but loud laugh. “Got me there.”
Lydia gazed back at the seemingly empty space again. “What do you think they’ll make of all this when the time comes?”
Charles considered this for a moment. “I don’t know. Hopefully they’ll have as much fun as I did.” He paused, and then took a deep breath. “And hopefully a lot less trouble.”
“Well, you saw the prophecy. It’s going to get bad. Very bad.”
Charles just nodded.
“I should go, in any case,” Lydia said.
“I know, I know... Goodbyes and all that.”
They hugged one another rather tight - for Charles it was like embracing a warm, crackling fire - minus the searing burns of course.
Lydia turned toward the dark mass of forest behind the house. “You’ll miss me.” It wasn’t a question.
“You all will miss me more,” Charles said without missing a beat.
Lydia winked, and disappeared - literally - into thin air.
Charles shook his head and said out loud, “Light Mages. Always gotta be flashy.”
At that moment, a sparkling firework shot up into the sky and lit up the lawns around the manor. Charles half hoped the neighbors down the road saw it, just so they’d have something else to talk about besides the manor.
Charles knew this had been planned for months, but he was still hesitant, even at this late hour. He knew this was years in the making, yet now, as he climbed the stairs one last time, he went as slowly as he could go despite the pressing darkness. Absence of light never frightened him; the fire he could generate at will always took care of that. But it would not any longer.
At forty years old, he was growing tired of running or fighting. He hadn’t been on a date in years, and found himself yearning for a wife. Now, he told himself, that was possible. Maybe even a child if he didn’t wait too long. In any case, the gray he saw in the mirror a year ago was the silent bomb he knew he’d soon have to face. And now was that moment.
Charles placed the Amulet on a pedestal in the middle of the room. He lit a candle he’d put in the room a few weeks ago, just for this moment because he knew he’d need it.
Taking one last look before closing the door, Charles hoped the Amulet would bring as much joy and adventure to its next charge as it did to him...perhaps with a touch less danger. Charles was never so wrong as he was in that fleeting moment.