Subtle Year

By Charlotte Marsh All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Humor

Chapter 5: Rescue

The phone on the table in the corner of the room beeped and Onyx’s concerned voice came from the speaker.

“Flash, I’m on my way to the Freedom House now,” she sounded afraid. “Please, can you meet me there? I need to talk to you.”

Serpent chuckled and picked up the phone switching off the answerphone message before tossing the phone to the side.

“You’re not very good at looking after children are you, Blackguard?”

“If this is an intervention then I think you’ve got the concept wrong.”

“I want the key off your dear Onyx. She’s tough, smart to. It’s a shame she got mixed up with you. She would have fought tooth and nail to stop me from getting that key, so I’m going to make her hand it over. She’s better than I thought.”

Flash didn’t look impressed, he looked very angry in fact. This was just what Serpent wanted and Flash knew it but unfortunately, he couldn’t keep the emotion secret.

“Aw, are you getting angry? Are you getting flashbacks?” he paused and grinned. “Heh, get it? Flash-backs? Ah, humours wasted on you.”

Flash groaned and leaned back in the chair, his head lulling back for a moment. Serpent’s little trick was obviously working.

“Tell me something, Serpent,” he looked the fiendish man in the eye. “What exactly does that key unlock?”

“Why exactly should I tell you that?” Serpent raised an eyebrow.

“Oh, you don’t have to but I thought you’d prefer it to me bragging about the time I blew you up.”

“It never ceases to amaze me when you think you can worm information out of people.”

“I’m not worming information out of you Lorian, I just like to laugh when I think about you with dynamite in your underpants,” Flash chuckled.

Serpent sighed irritably and pulled a remote from his pocket. It then occurred to Flash that Serpent simply couldn’t take a joke anymore. Age had gotten to him. The two adversaries had often made quips around one another as a way of flexing their intelligence. On the plus side, Flash had finally won that battle. Unfortunately, Flash was only six years younger than Serpent. What if age was planning to get him too? Nah, Flash was too fabulous for that.

“You are here to answer my questions, Blackguard,” Serpent pushed the button and the electric shock pulsed through Flash. “Not the other way around.”

“There’s no way I’m getting you that key,” he growled.

“Oh, but you are,” Serpent chuckled. “Because your dear Onyx is going to get it here, safely packaged and everything, just for me. She’s such a cute little thing, she may as well be wrapped in a bow. You never know, I might just keep her.”

“We haven’t been able to find your castle for years,” Flash gritted his teeth. “What’s going to change it now?”

“The fact that I’m letting you find my castle,” he arched an eyebrow.

“And then the Freedom House will catch you and I can watch you rot in jail,” Flash sneered. “And believe me, I will watch.”

Serpent rolled his eyes and pushed the button on the remote again. Flash stiffened but didn’t make a sound. Serpent growled.

“I know the Freedom House won’t assist this plan,” he rolled his eyes. “Your friend Maven will find some idiot to help you and I’ll get that key. All you need to do is sit here.”

Flash’s phone beeped again and Serpent chuckled, the girl was terribly eager to find her missing magic mentor.

“Please Flash, I’m worried sick now, can you just call me?” Onyx’s voice sounded desperate and in pain.

“Perfectly to plan,” he smiled darkly.

Serpent opened the door but before leaving, he turned back around, clearly not content with his parting remark.

“Can you look a little desperate and helpless? It always makes a captor feel good.”

And then, he left.


We were now outside a huge castle in the country side. I had never known this was out here. There was an old castle not far from the town where I lived but that one was ruins from the Middle Ages. This one, while possibly being of a similar age, only just appeared to be falling to ruin. I’d guess it had been neglected over the past few years. It was a shame, it was a beautiful structure, if not a little creepy. We were hidden in the shadows of the trees that surrounded the castle, observing our surroundings.

“What now?” Isla asked.

“Window,” Rio pointed ahead of us.

It was low and cracked. It looked simple to shatter and get into but, for some reason, I didn’t think it would work. That seemed a little too easy when trying to break into the castle belonging to a man like Serpent.

“Uh-oh…” Isla clearly spotted the inevitable problem.

“Of course, the castle was protected,” Maven sighed.

“What is it?” I frowned.

“Look very closely at the castle walls and you’ll see them.”

I did as he said and I saw slight movements. It looked like… creatures breathing? Magic is so weird, what exactly is threatening here?

“Okay,” I spoke slowly. “What is that?”

“They’re elegy men. Creatures that are trained to killed anything they see unless their master tells them otherwise.”

“They sound positively adorable,” I muttered sarcastically.

“Oh, they really are,” Rio rolled his eyes. “One bite from them and you’re dead.”

I pulled a face instinctively and for the first time since we’d met I saw Rio smile. Of course, that’s what amuses him. Isla suddenly disappeared beside me and I jumped out of my skin. Rio chuckled and I glared at him.

“She can turn herself invisible,” he explained, not too bothered by my glare. “As irritating as she can be, it is handy.”

Suddenly the window shattered into pieces and the slight breathing shapes appeared again. Twigs snapped and the bushes separated as I realised Isla was running away from them and away from us. That was brave, if they were that dangerous, she’d have to rely on her speed and invisibility to stop them from catching her.

“We’re in,” Maven wasn’t so concerned.

“About time,” Rio muttered.

“I don’t see you contributing too much.”

Behind him, Rio mocked him rudely. Huh, is that a slight bit of humour I detect? I bit back a smile and looked over at Maven.

“Isla will meet us in there,” he seemed to notice my worry. “Come on, we’d better be quick.”

The three of us set off and ran for the window. Maven jumped nimbly in, then I pulled myself up into the room and Rio came in last. I didn’t see him jump and I didn’t see him land, all I saw was him stood behind me. I didn’t humiliate myself when pulling myself through the window so, you know, score for Onyx. Woo. We were stood in a drawing room; it was dusty but filled with expensive furniture.

“Not too shabby,” I noted.

“Used to be better,” Rio muttered. “Could be worse though.”

“So, we’ll split up,” Isla decided.

I turned around in surprise and saw her stood there with her hands on her hips. She grinned at me and I grinned back. She’s so cool.

“I’m not so sure,” Maven shook his head. “We don’t know what else he has hidden around here.”

“We’ll be able to handle it,” Rio rolled his eyes.

I noticed Maven looking sideways at me… stupid, normal me.

“Flash will kill us if anything happens to you.”

“I’ll be fine,” I assured him in a low voice.

“Fine,” he sighed, giving in. “We’ll split up.”

“Good,” Isla decided.

Maven then proceeded to split us up and told us where we were going. Why I was assigned the basement, I’m not sure. I searched for the door to the basement and I walked down into the dark abyss below, swallowing down a lump of fear in my throat.

I searched along the wall and found the light switch. I flicked it and groaned. The bulb must have blown. I tried again multiple times but there was no glimmer of light. You know to say he owned a castle; Serpent didn’t keep the place in good order.

“You really need magic,” Rio chuckled as the lights flickered to life.

Urgh, the one person I don’t like has the handiest power. Although I wasn’t a hundred percent sure what it was that Maven did. Oh well, go figure.

“That’s not my fault,” I folded my arms.

“Why do I doubt that?” he sauntered past me.

“How should I know?” I muttered.

Now I could see the place, I found that it was disgusting. There were layers of dusty spider webs caked over the walls, which were pretty much falling apart and the floor was covered in rubble so I had to watch my step.

“There’s no way Serpent would keep Flash down here,” I shook my head.

“Why wouldn’t he?” Rio turned to me.

“Well,” I gestured to the corridor around us. “Common courtesy is one thing.”

“We don’t do common courtesy,” he rolled his eyes. “It gets in the way of things and they always turn messy.”

“Everything has to be gory,” I muttered, annoyed. “Why does it all have to be gory?”

Rio didn’t say anything. He just walked down the corridor as if he knew the way. It seemed he’d been here before. He was very secretive; I couldn’t work anything out about him. I know he’s only helping Flash because he owes him this mysterious favour and there was a weird hint of evil about him, but I couldn’t even guess what his secrets were. I plucked up the courage to ask him the question that as plaguing me.

“What is this favour you owe Flash?”

“You’re too young,” he replied without turning around.

“I’m sixteen,” I scowled.

“Yeah, but…” he turned around to face me. “You’re sixteen?”

“I’m not even short for my age,” I grumbled quietly.

“Trust me, you don’t want to know what happened between Flash and I.”

“Why don’t you try me?” I challenged.

I took another step forwards and the floor I stepped on gave way slightly. The roof started to crumble and cave in on the spot I was standing on. I would have been crushed if Rio didn’t pull me out of the way in time. I hadn’t expected him to save me but his grip on my waist was like iron as the dust settled back again around us.

“Why Flash chose you as his assistant, I’ll never know,” he shook his head.

“Thanks,” I muttered.

He let go of me and started walking again, he disappeared into the shadows and I sighed, irritated. I didn’t like the fact that it was Rio who pulled me out of the way. Sure, I wouldn’t have liked being crushed but it was Rio, it was obvious to see that he hated me.

“Onyx,” he reappeared. “He’s down here.”

“He is?” I started to walk down there.

“Hurry up, would you?” he sounded annoyed. “He’s singing.”

I laughed ever so slightly and hurried up. He was stood outside the last door of the corridor with his arms folded.

“He’s in there,” he told me.

“It’s locked, isn’t it?”

“Naturally,” he shrugged.

“Damn,” I muttered.

“But, the key is right there,” he pointed up into the corner.

“You couldn’t have mentioned that before?”

“No.”

I muttered a few curses under my breath as I reached up to get the key, managing to lift it off the hook thanks to my heels. Rio held out his hand for me to give it to him but I shook my head, putting my hands on my hips.

“I might not have magic, but I’m perfectly capable of unlocking a door.”

“You aren’t perfectly capable of walking down a corridor without breaking it,” he remarked. “Why is a door any different?”

I decided against answering that. Instead I slipped the key into the lock and opened the door. Flash was sat there just humming to himself. Rio had been right on one thing. That song was really annoying.

“Ah,” he said looking at me with his intelligent brown eyes. “I was starting to get bored. Good timing.”

“Thanks,” I shrugged.

I quickly sent a text to Isla telling her to get Maven and get down to the basement. I then noticed that Rio had stayed outside.

“I take it Maven helped you.”

“Helped me? He did all the bloody work,” I folded my arms.

“I would take the time to sympathise with you, really I would, but if I’m right my handcuffs are about to electrocute me,” he smiled fleetingly then he jumped from an electric shock. “I’m right.”

“Electric handcuffs,” Maven chuckled as he entered the room. “He really does hate you.”

“I have tried to kill him a fair few times,” Flash shrugged, sighing wistfully. “And remember that time I blew him up? He went so high into the air and crashed through the dome on the old Freedom House. Ah, good times.”

“You really are an idiot.”

“My dear friend I am insane; it gives me the most wonderful view on life…” he paused. “I mean, I am an idiot too but that’s less philosophical.”

“I’ll have a look at these handcuffs, shall I?”

“Do you mind? I think all this electricity is playing havoc on my hair.”

He kneeled down behind Flash’s chair and examined the cuffs while I stood around uselessly. I’m starting to get used to being a deadweight. Yay. Isla had dragged Rio into the room and that was when Flash’s glare became ice cold.

“What the hell is he doing here?” he growled.

“Nice to see you too, Blackguard,” Rio smirked.

“Why bring Serpent’s old right-hand man? What’s with that thought process?” he looked very desperate to stand up.

“Old right-hand man?” I was shocked.

“A long time ago,” Rio rolled his eyes, folding his arms. “But Blackguard likes to remember the past and hold grudges.”

I raised my eyebrow to Isla and she shrugged her shoulders as she stood beside me, clearly just as unsure as I was.

“They hate each other,” she whispered to me. “It’s all to do with that favour. Something happened during the war and Flash can’t stand him.”

“Humph, I can see why,” I muttered.

Maven stood up again and he didn’t look impressed. There was a grave look on his face that Flash had to lean back awkwardly to see.

“He got some of the new ones,” he spoke eventually.

“Meaning?” Flash prompted.

“If I take them off the normal way, without the keys, you’ll be killed by the electricity that will be automatically charged through you,” he explained.

“That bastard.”

I looked sideways at Rio as he sighed, clearly noticing me looking. There was a slight crackle in the air despite the reluctance on his face.

“He’ll be fine,” he told Maven.

Flash looked like he desperately wanted to say something but he stayed quiet. Maven undid the handcuffs and the pair of them stood up.

“Where’s Serpent?” his gaze landed on Maven.

“Busy,” he shrugged.

There was an echo of footsteps coming down the corridor and an annoyingly familiar voice spoke before we saw him.

“I’m never too busy to miss a daring escape plan,” Serpent chuckled evilly. “Although I must say I’m disappointed. I expected you fifteen minutes earlier.”

He appeared in the doorway and the area around him twitched slightly. He had those weird creatures with him… oh, hell.

“We had you out of the house,” Maven narrowed his eyes. “How did you know we’d here?”

“You should keep up with the Freedom House news,” Serpent held up a phone. “You called Aleraw Boarpaladin. A dead man.”

Maven cursed but Serpent ignored him as he dropped the phone absently to the floor. I knew what he was going to say.

“Now,” his glittering green eyes landed on my necklace. “I’m in a merciful mood. I’ll let you all go if you give me the key.”

“What key?” Isla asked.

“The key that he murdered my uncle to try and get,” I spoke through gritted teeth. “But he didn’t get it.”

“I won’t be making that mistake again,” he smirked. “Give it to me.”

“No chance,” I folded my arms.

“Now, now, Miss Brooks, there’s nothing I would enjoy more than exchanging witty barbs before getting the key but you are running fifteen minutes late so I’m just going to cut to the chase and get you to hand it over,” he held out his hand to me.

Feeling fear prickling at my mind I looked to Flash. He looked like he was trying to figure out whether we could escape in any other way. Realising we couldn’t, he nodded sadly.

“Give him the key, Onyx,” he told me.

Damn. However, as I unhooked the necklace from around my neck, I noticed something just slightly protruding from his pocket. It was a piece of paper. I wonder if I could snatch that from him. The paper looked aged, I bet it was something. I slowly gave the necklace to Serpent and as my hand dropped, I took the paper from my pocket. A smug smile teased its way across his face and the pain that had been plaguing me all day disappeared immediately. So, he was behind that. I knew it.

“When you get back to the Freedom House, do let Abalone and his vices know that their time is up,” he slipped the necklace into his pocket and walked away.

Nobody moved for a few moments, long after his footsteps faded away. Maven looked just as annoyed as Flash; Isla was simply staring at the empty doorway and Rio just looked entirely indifferent.

“I hate him,” Flash scowled. “He’ll have fled now, let’s get to the Freedom House.”

Everything went suddenly moved quite quickly after that and soon we were in the Oval Chamber. I really didn’t want to be there, but I had no choice but to stay and put up with it all. What I wanted to do was to go home and scream into a pillow or something. I had to settle for swearing a lot in my head, good thing I was so creative or I’d have run out of curses long ago.

“Your grandness,” Flash spoke despite the empty room. “We have some, ahem, bad news.”

Abalone Jacobson appeared from thin air along with his three vices. Ah, joy, Vice Ludwhig. Round two, ding-ding.

“Ah, detective,” Abalone spoke with some relief in his tone. “You did escape. What’s this bad news you have?”

Flash cleared his throat awkwardly, glancing at all of us who had elected him as speaker before continuing.

“Serpent might have the key,” he spoke slowly as if that would delay the backlash.

“By might you mean?” Ludwhig didn’t look happy.

“He has it,” Maven took over, a more confident voice.

“You idiot,” he glared at Flash.

“You really are the height of political charisma,” I couldn’t stop myself before I spoke.

“Your grandness,” Ludwhig turned from me to Abalone. “If I may, I mentioned the fact that the girl shouldn’t be trusted with a key of such importance.”

“Humph, polite too,” I put my hands on my hips. “You know better than to insult people when they’re standing right in front of you.”

“For goodness sake, can you not be quiet?” he snapped at me.

“When you’re quite clearly insulting me? No, not really.”

“Oh, hell,” Flash pinched the bridge of his nose.

“You are the exact reason we should never work with children or mortals.”

“I’m not a child. A child would laugh at the jester who’s in front of me. Look at me, I’m keeping a perfectly straight face.”

“Vice Ludwhig, Miss Brooks,” Abalone’s tone was firm and stopped our quarrelling swiftly. “This no time to be fighting, the world is at stake.”

“Of course, your Grandness,” Ludwhig promptly shut up.

I decided now wouldn’t be the time to smirk at his obedience and stayed quiet. I still think he’s a little lap dog though.

“Blackguard,” Abalone focused his attention on Flash. “Can you get it back?”

“Maybe,” he didn’t look convinced. “But we can certainly stop him.”

“You sound confident,” Vice Waltham noted.

“I am,” Flash replied. “We know he’s going to be at the mansion, if we beat him there then we’ll be able to stop him.”

“He’s probably there now,” Rio spoke up.

“I doubt it,” Maven shook his head. “He’ll have more preparations to do. He’ll have some lackeys to protect him while he’s there and it didn’t look like he had them with him back there.”

“What about those elegy men?” I raised my eyebrow.

“They’ll be no good for him. Their loyalty is unquestionable but he needs to be faster. Plus, he wants to make sure we don’t follow him to the lock.”

“Blackguard,” Abalone makes us focus our attention to him. “You need a Freedom House assisted plan. We’ll provide you with anything you need.”

All three vices didn’t look impressed. Vice St Alde opened his mouth to speak but Vice Ludwhig swiftly raised his hand and stopped him silently. He was the youngest of the group but Ludwhig seemed to have the most authority. I wonder if he just threw temper tantrums to get himself there. Abalone turned to his vices and they all spoke in hushed words. I raised my eyebrow at Flash but he shook his head.

“They need to talk their ideas through before they decide anything concrete,” Isla whispered. “If the vices don’t agree they won’t do it. It’s a democracy thing, sorcery politics can get a little bit messy. That’s why I’m freelance and Rio is…”

“Antisocial?”

“Yeah.”

The vices stopped talking and Abalone turned around. They still didn’t look impressed and I started to think the worst. I got the funny feeling that without the Freedom House, it’d be a struggle to stop Serpent.

“You have anything you need,” Abalone promised.

Flash went off to get some sort of vehicle and I was surprised when Abalone asked me to walk with him. I was worried that he was going to ask me to leave because I lost the necklace and had proven myself to be entirely useless, but in fact, it was a totally different reason.

“I believe my time here is almost up,” he didn’t speak with any sign of worry. “And, as you have no magic, I fear that the person who follows me shall have no patience for you.”

Of course, it was entirely thanks to Abalone and the Vices that I was even allowed to know about these things and be dragged around by Flash. The Vices were hardly fond of me, once this was other they would be perfectly capable of kicking me out.

“I didn’t think of that…” I frowned.

“I’m glad to hear that, I was hoping you’d be far too busy,” he laughed slightly. “But the person who follows me shall have to let you stay on here. I would like to make you an official Freedom House agent.”

“Are you sure?” I was stunned. “I mean… I haven’t exactly done much to help. I’ve been quite useless. I think there’s a reason Vice Ludwhig isn’t fond of me.”

“Vice Ludwhig isn’t fond of many people, don’t take it to heart. He’s suffered from a great deal of betrayal and that has hardened his heart. I’m afraid many sorcerer’s have that tragedy within them, including Detective Blackguard. I’m afraid the futility of revenge is not a concept that he understands. While I disagree with his reasons for wanting to find Serpent, I have to be impressed by the vitality that seems to have consumed him since he met you,” he smiled. “I think you’re a benefit to him, Miss Brooks, and I think you have a future in this world that none of us are quite aware of yet.”

“I’m not sure I’m in any sort of position to argue, so, thank you, your Grandness. I sincerely hope you’re right,” I was at a loss for words.

“I hope I’m around to see your work with Detective Blackguard, if not, I wish you luck, Miss Brooks.”

“Thank you.”

He left me outside the Oval Chamber and walked on, not seeming to be looking for anything in particular. I wandered inside and ignored Ludwhig’s glare, even if it did hurt. Literally. I would never get used to that. I sat beside Isla and she smiled at me. At least Isla liked me. I liked her too, she was genuinely so kind.

“What’s the whole story with you and Rio?” I plucked up the courage to ask.

Her smile slipped and she sighed in a frustrated manner. She didn’t look like she was reluctant to tell me, she just looked unhappy with having to think about.

“We grew up together,” she admitted.

“You’re kidding,” I breathed a laugh. “You two hate each other.”

“We do now,” she nodded in agreement. “But we didn’t always. We were actually best friends for years. Our families had always been very close so we grew up very close too. Our fathers were in the same regiment in the second world war. When we were kids we used to watch the dog fights over the city together, when we could risk it, and talk about how we couldn’t wait to live in a world without so much conflict.”

“What happened?” I frowned.

“We discovered our magic. It was lucky that both of us had it, or so we thought. We didn’t understand it, we just thought it was something amazing and we worked incredibly hard developing it. We were ecstatic when we found our ageing had stopped too. It was a gift, an astonishing, wonderful gift.”

“So far so good,” I mused. “So, what happened after that?”

Rio entered the room and neither of them looked at each other. It’s hard to believe that they used to be best friends. She lowered her voice to just above a whisper.

“Someone found out about our magic and word must have spread. Soon people came looking for us, two best friends who both had magic was a big thing in the magical community. With the war that was going on at the time, two people who were very close was a good thing to have on side. Abalone came to talk to us back before he was Grand High Sorcerer. He was so nice and I wanted to help him, at the time Rio did too. And then… Machiavellian came to see us, it was actually him in the flesh.”

“Who’s Machiavellian?”

“He was the bad guy, he started the war because he wanted sorcerers to reveal themselves to mortals and rule over them. Some wars make the bad guy ambiguous, you know? The bad guy is the loser. Not in this war. You chose good or bad. The Freedom House or Machiavellian. The Freedom House as it is now is young, barely out of its formative years. The old way of doing things allowed Machiavellian to rise so things changed. It was apparent to most that Machiavellian only wanted supreme power. He thought mortals were no better than dirt.”

“Why would he think that? If he’d won, he’d have changed the world and not for the better.”

“I know,” she sighed. “That’s exactly what I thought.”

“So, how did you become… how you are now?”

“Rio was always power obsessed,” we both looked at him; I wasn’t surprised to be honest. “I always knew it, but I didn’t think he’d go as far as he did. Nobody’s perfect after all. When he heard about ruling over mortals, he thought it was a great idea, while I wanted to fight for Abalone. We argued about it a hell of a lot, ended any friendship we ever had and in the end, we went our separate ways. I was trained by some of the best fighters in the world, soon nobody could beat me with a sword but I was always scared of meeting Rio on the battle field. I’d heard of him while I was fighting, he became a master of torture. People often killed themselves because they didn’t want to feel any more pain. We hadn’t exactly ended on good terms so I decided that he wouldn’t be merciful on me.”

“You sent me to his house,” I shuddered.

She chuckled slightly and glanced shyly over at him again, checking that he wasn’t able to overhear our conversation.

“Yeah, sorry about that, I didn’t think he’d hurt you though. I don’t even think he hates you all that much.”

“Yeah, right,” I muttered.

“I didn’t see Rio at all during the war, you know? I thought that was my luck finally coming through for me. But then, it was the last battle of the war and I saw him. I tried my hardest to avoid him but he was protecting Machiavellian and I was trying to kill him. I didn’t get at all close to where Machiavellian was retreating to. However, I think Rio being distracted with me was one of the reasons why they were able take down Machiavellian. He wasn’t a general, but he was trained by one and that was enough. I’m glad I contributed somehow, it makes it a bit better. The pain that I felt that day was incredible; I couldn’t help but be in awe of him. He was amazing at what he did, but so was I. It was only when Machiavellian was killed and Rio was forced to flee, that I learned what an impact he’d had on me.”

“What do you mean?” I almost dreaded the answer.

She rolled up a trouser leg and I saw the long ugly scar going up from her ankle to her knee. It looked like one of those scars that people got when they were struck by lightning, it spread like roots across her skin.

“Oh, my god,” I gasped. “That’s awful, no wonder it was painful.”

“Rio wasn’t too peachy either,” she rolled back down her trouser leg and grinned sombrely. “He’s got a scar from my sword too. I didn’t know it at first but he’s got a scar up his arm and around his shoulder. I’m bloody glad about it to be honest.”

I think I’d spotted that scar actually, I’d got a glimpse of a scar at the base of his neck at the very least. They’d done a number on each other, it was hard to believe two friends could have such a rift grow between them.

A little while later, I was still sat in the Oval Room and playing on my phone when all the others arrived. Isla and Rio seemed to be in a heated quarrel. She was right though; they seem to really hate each other. That’s quite sad actually. Maven was stood talking with Flash and Abalone. Abalone said something and Flash looked at me. I raised my eyebrow but he looked away immediately. He said something to Abalone and the old man nodded. Isla flopped down beside me and mumbled a few curse words.

“Hey, are you alright?” I frowned.

“Some people,” she gnawed on her top lip and shook her head. “Some people just never change.”

“Was that a yes or a no?” I asked, confused.

“He just thinks he’s superior!” she scrunched up her fists. “His side didn’t even win and he just acts like he’s got so much to be smug about. He thinks he’s great because during that stupid war he tortured and killed people, how is that something to be proud of?”

“Is the rant over?”

“Not even close,” she shook her head.

“Go on,” I sighed, smiling slightly.

“He’s not even that much older than me! He’s like three months older than me and yet for years he’s always been the leader of everything. Sure, they mainly wanted him on their team but that was because he was always so shallow and callous!”

“Are you done yet?”

“Still nowhere near,” she replied. “Just ignore me.”

“Come on, Isla, your rants are quite entertaining,” I pushed her with my shoulder.

“We’re going to be such good friends,” she wrapped an arm around me. “Finally, someone who listens to me when I complain.”

I shook my head and laughed, little did Isla know that in return for listening to her complain, she’d have to listen to my rants too.

“Onyx,” Flash approached me. “Are you ready to go?”

“Is it just us?” I looked up at him.

“Yeah, just us” he nodded. “The others have things to do.”

“Alright,” I pushed myself up onto my feet.

Isla winked at me and I grinned back at her, waving slightly as I followed Flash from the Freedom House.

We got in the Mercedes which had been fixed incredibly quickly. Probably by magic, I loved magic and I loved this car.

“You know, Onyx, I didn’t get a chance to thank you earlier. Maven told me how you went alone to Calypso’s and then to Rio’s. That was brave of you.”

“Apart from Rio nearly blinding me, it was all fine,” I shook my head. “I did what I could to help, Maven did most of the work.”

“Onyx, you should stop putting yourself down. Magic isn’t the be all and end all, you know? I meant it when I said you have a lot to offer. You’ll realise it eventually, I’m sure.”

“I’m glad one of us thinks so,” I crossed my arms over my stomach. “What was it you were talking to Abalone and Maven about earlier?”

“It was about you and magic,” he replied, keeping his eyes fixated on the road.

“What about me and magic?” I prompted.

“Abalone has a strange ability, it was one of the things that helped him become a leader. He can detect magic in this strange way, he knows about it before most do,” he explained. “He says yours is very strong and he suggested letting you stay out of this until it kicks in, but I told him that I know you wouldn’t want that. I was right, wasn’t I?”

“Yeah, yeah, thanks,” I nodded, but I was stunned. “So, I have magic?”

“Yes,” he finally took his eyes off the road. “Lucky for you, don’t you think?”

“Yeah,” I breathed and leaned back in my seat. “I never considered I would have any.”

“I suspected you might, you take after Callum in so many ways, after all. We just need to find out what it is.”

“Yeah, that would help.”

“Do you have the keys to Callum’s mansion?” it suddenly occurred to me.

“On me? I do not.”

“I was really hoping you wouldn’t say that,” he sighed.

“I’m notorious for losing keys, that’s why I’m not allowed a locker at school anymore.”

“Please don’t tell me any more. I really should have gotten to know you better. I’ll drop you off at your house quickly and you can pick them up.”

He pulled up near my house and I hurriedly got out of the car, rushing to the front door. The lights in the living room were on… why were they on? I didn’t think anybody would be home right now.

“Hello?” I called.

“Hey, honey,” mum replied and I cursed under my breath. “Are you back from Connie’s house already?”

“Actually, I’m just about to go back out,” I walked through to the living room. “I just wanted to pick something up.”

“What are you picking up?”

I felt myself cringe as I realised the keys to the mansion were hung up in the hallway. What excuse could I make up? I had a jacket, I had my phone and I couldn’t necessarily tell her that I wanted the keys because she’d ask questions like, why did I want them? Which in fairness was a very normal question to ask but I could hardly say that I needed to stop some crazy magic guy from ending the world because it’s ridiculous.

And as if it could get worse…

“I’m home!” dad called as the front door opened again.

He walked into the living room and both mum and I burst out laughing purely at the sight of him and what he was wearing.

“Dad,” I cackled, temporarily forgetting all my problems. “What the hell are you wearing?”

He was in a bright yellow, ill-fitting, polyester suit and, as if it wasn’t bad enough, he was wearing bright white gloves.

“What’s wrong with it?” he asked looking at himself in the reflection in the window. “I think I look quite dapper.”

“Mum,” I looked at her, my jaw dropping. “Please tell him.”

“Honey, the kids don’t use the word ‘dapper’ anymore,” she folded her hands together.

“Really? But, I thought-”

“Dad,” I interrupted, so sad to see him in such a way. “If someone uses dapper they get bullied.”

“And, honey?” mum’s voice was still gentle.

“What is it?” dad sighed, a broken man.

“You don’t look good in the suit!” we decided to break it to him in unison.

“You’re charming you two, you know that?” he muttered indignantly.

“What actually happened?” mum asked.

“Well, you’ll have to keep up with me here, because it’s a wild ride. Plus, you’ll need an imagination. If you don’t have one… pretend,” he gestured elaborately. “So, there I was, minding my own business when a platoon of flying monkeys swooped into my office window, like those ones in tha Judy Garland film you watch, Onyx.”

“The Wizard of Oz dad,” I folded my arms. “Literally one of the most famous films of all time.”

“This is why we had you. You keep us in touch with the past,” he waved me away. “These monkeys were trying to take over the world, so I bravely fought them with my office chair and I killed them all but I tragically got monkey blood all over my suit. So, to thank me, the boys gave me this suit which, believe it or not is spun from solid gold, and I even got to meet the queen today.”

“Dad, seriously what happened?”

“I got tomato ketchup on my suit after I snuck out to McDonald’s,” he admitted, lowering his head.

“And where did this one come from?” mum raised an eyebrow, clearly unimpressed.

“Lost property,” he mumbled.

“So, it wasn’t the queen you met,” I spoke slowly. “It was Keith in IT.”

“Pretty much…” he nodded. “Wait, how do you know Keith?”

I sighed and put my head in my hands. That’s dad in a nutshell. My father is a great man but he’s also a ridiculous one.

“You’re an idiot, Derek.”

“You say that like I didn’t know, Melissa,” dad shot back.

“Oh, Onyx I almost forgot,” mum turned to me. “What was it you wanted?”

“A drink,” I decided after a moment.

“Didn’t they have drinks at Connie’s house?”

“Well, of course,” I drawled. “But, you know what her mum’s like. She didn’t have anything fizzy and that’s what I need.”

“I thought carbonate drinks were unhealthy?” she raised an eyebrow.

“Yeah, but look at me, I’m fabulous, I can risk it.”

“Just remember to be back by six,” she shook her head with a smile.

“Will do,” I called as I wondered through to the kitchen.

“Don’t tell anybody about the suit either,” she added.

“I won’t. I don’t want the embarrassment of that.”

“Love you too, Bambi,” dad called sarcastically.

I gulped down a quick drink, then I rushed down the hallway to get the keys. Conveniently for me, mum had put the key to the mansion on my key ring. I unhooked it and I walked outside, saying goodbye as I shut the door. If mum asked any questions I could just say that I needed one of the other keys. I opened the passenger door to the Mercedes and flopped in the seat.

“What took you so long?” Flash frowned.

“Mum was home from work early and dad was in a bright yellow suit.”

“You have a strange family,” he decided after falling silent for a moment. “Did you get the keys?”

“That I did.”

“Good, I was starting to worry.”

“No need, I can at least do that.”

“By the way, this fell out of your pocket before,” he held out a piece of folded paper in a gloved hand.

“Oh, I totally forgot about that,” I realised it was the sheet of paper I’d taken from Serpent. “Thank you.”

I unfolded it, surprised by what I found. It was the torn-out page from the poetry book. In the bottom corner, beneath the poem, was a simple sketch. It showed a stable stall and the floor within it falling into a cave beneath it.

“Huh,” I was at a loss for words.

Flash took his eyes off the road for a few moments and leaning over to peer at the sheet of paper, clearly curious.

“Where did you get that?”

“I stole it from Serpent when he took my necklace, it was an unwilling, but yet, fair trade.”

“I didn’t see you do that,” he looked impressed. “I’ll bet he didn’t either. No wonder he tore the page from the book. Is that our location, do you think?”

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” I agreed as he concentrated on the road again. “Callum named a horse after my grandmother a few years ago, I’ll bet that’s the stall that’s pictured.”

“And I’ll bet we need the necklace as a way in,” he sighed. “We’re going to have to wait for Serpent to arrive. At least we know what we’re looking for.”

“I think we need everything we can to level the playing ground.”

“You may be right.”

As he neared Callum’s mansion, a thought suddenly struck my mind. Why didn’t they just beat Serpent up? It was five against one if you count me, those things of Serpent’s surely wouldn’t be able to do anything if Rio like electrocuted him or Flash set him on fire or something. When I asked this, Flash just heaved a sigh.

“Serpent had blocked the magical supply to the room,” he explained. “None of us could use our magic… it all went to him. Magic is an entirely strange thing that we can’t understand. We know magical can be blocked in areas or manipulated so one person gets all the power while everyone else is reduced to an essentially mortal state. We make binding bands too, but they’re hard to get hold of. Illegal, mostly.”

“So, you had no magic and he had lots of magic?”

“Exactly.”

“Talk about your unfair advantage.”

I recognised the road we were on. Callum’s mansion wasn’t far away now. Whatever was going to happen, it was going to happen soon.

“Is Serpent’s power the same as Vice Ludwhig’s?” I felt compelled to ask.

“Yes…” Flash replied slowly, confused. “How did you know that?”

“Well, I err…” I sighed and told him the truth, figuring it was best to tell him.

Flash looked incredibly far from happy. I felt a little nervous as I wondered what he was going to say next.

“I’m going to kill him,” he spoke quietly.

I gulped slightly. I wasn’t a fan of Flash when he was like this. He had the ability to be intimidating and scary. I noticed it when we rescued him. It seemed like he hated Serpent and Rio but I don’t exactly understand why. I wonder if they’re connected. They must be, I suppose. Rio was once Serpent’s right-hand man once upon a time and Isla had told me that Serpent had trained Rio to torture. All of this seems to be based around the war. I still didn’t know much about the war, I knew two sides were fighting against each other and that Machiavellian was the undisputed bad guy but there was nothing else. I think I was glad not to know. Everybody who’d been affected by the war was clearly very deeply scarred, physically and emotionally.

He pulled up in the driveway of the mansion and the pair of us got out of the car, looking around for any sign of somebody else being around. I couldn’t tell, the expanse of land around the mansion was so vast.

“So, he isn’t here yet?” I looked at Flash.

“I’m not sure,” he admitted. “We’ll find out when we get in there. You might want this.”

He held out a very shiny, very real gun and I stared at him in absolute shock. He looked surprised by my reaction.

“What? You’ll need it,” he shrugged.

“Have we met?” my jaw dropped. “I am not safe with keys or a house, let alone a bloody gun!”

“Then don’t use it,” he rolled his eyes. “Just keep it with you, just to be on the safe side. I don’t want you to get hurt, Onyx. Also, don’t lose it, that’s my only one.”

I took the gun, looking at it as it felt heavy in my hand before I slipped it in my pocket and followed Flash to the door. He held out his hand and I gave him the key. He paused for a moment and raised his eyebrow at me.

“What is that?” he asked, gesturing to my key ring.

“A voodoo doll,” I said innocently. “They’re good luck.”

“I really should’ve gotten to know you better,” he muttered.

He unlocked the door and took a cautious step inside. When he was sure it was clear, he beckoned me inside.

“What do we do now then?” I lingered by the door.

“I’m not sure,” he replied then turned to me. “I suppose we have to wait for Serpent to arrive. There’s a view of the stables from the window, at least being here, he won’t know we’re on his tail.”

“He’ll probably loop around the back and take the route to the stables, I doubt he’ll even notice you where you parked.”

“Hmm,” he looked out of the window. “You’re right, he’s here.”

I followed his gaze and saw what he saw. A sleek black Jaguar was parked by the elaborate stables. I couldn’t see properly but I was pretty sure that the person getting out of the car was Serpent. He looked up at the dark grey clouds and then walked into the stables.

I cautiously looked over to Flash and he sighed. I was okay to talk. I hadn’t been sure if I should risk it.

“What do we do now?” I asked him.

“We wait for him to find the lock and then we follow him,” he decided.

“And then?”

“Then we make it up as we go along,” he strolled away.

“Improvisation never works out,” I followed him.

“Maybe not for you,” he chuckled slightly. “But for me, it works better than fully thought out plans.”

“Plans are unimaginative,” I mused.

“Plans are just plain boring.”

I leaned against the wall and looked up at the grand painting of Callum as a young man. He wasn’t much older than me then, I wonder if he’d ever thought that he was going to be thrown into this world. He’d left me that necklace for a reason and I’d handed it over to the man he was trying to keep it from. I could imagine Callum’s voice telling me that Bunny-Ears wasn’t a man to be messed with. I’d let him down. That broke my heart.

“Come on, Onyx,” Flash started for the door.

I shook the thoughts from my head, not having time to dwell on that sort of thing and hurried to catch up with him.

The air around us was heavy and cold, I never understood people when they said they ‘felt’ like something bad was going to happen but I did now. The atmosphere was practically screamed that we should turn back before we reached the stables but, of course, we didn’t listen.

We found the stable stall that had long stood empty and now the floor had collapsed in, revealing a dark and foreboding entrance to an underground cave. Why, Callum? Just, why?

“Let’s get going,” Flash decided.

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